Random thoughts on ‘Atheism Plus’

Edit: 29th October – I have updated the post to make it a bit clearer following some feedback on Twitter and in the comments.

One of the things that’s been making a few waves on Twitter lately is “Atheism Plus“. In case you haven’t heard of it, this is the official definition according to the FAQ:

Atheism Plus is a term used to designate spaces, persons, and groups dedicated to promoting social justice and countering misogyny, racism, homo/bi/transphobia, ableism and other such bigotry inside and outside of the atheist community

In other words, it is seeking to add on to atheism – which only has as a definition the lack of belief in God / gods – some kind of concern for moral or social issues. Kind of like a cross between atheism and humanism (I don’t want to do the definition a disservice though – read the website for the proper info).

One of the interesting things about this for me is that it seems to have sprung from – at least in part – sexism (or perceived sexism) within the skeptical community. I’ve been vaguely following the story for a while now, but I was prompted to put, um, keyboard to blog (?!) by this article: how a number of prominent female members of the skeptical community had suffered from sexist treatment, followed by abuse once it had been outed. All this is particularly interesting for me, given what I’ve previously written about secularism. Allow me to explain.

One of the messages of secularism – explicitly or implicitly – is that the world would be a better place without religion. We wouldn’t be relying on superstition any more, we could make rational decisions – and, what’s more, ethics would be based on reason rather than some ‘old book’. So, for example, no rational person would have a problem with gay marriage: gay people could just get on with their lives without fear of oppression from religious ‘bigots‘.

The thing is, what the whole skeptical-sexism debacle says to me is that the skeptical community don’t have a better grasp on ethics or morality than anyone else. In that article which prompted me to write, Rebecca Watson says she started investigating those people she was receiving abuse from:

I started checking out the social media profiles of the people sending me these messages, and learned that they were often adults who were active in the skeptic and atheist communities. They were reading the same blogs as I was and attending the same events. These were “my people,” and they were the worst.

Now this is interesting. It seems to me that, for a worldview which claims to have a better grasp on ethics (free of the shackles of religiously-motivated bigotry, as it would probably claim) – some people still behave, well, badly. It seems that everyone’s happy to get behind big ideas about ethics and morality and all that jazz, as long as it doesn’t actually mean they have to behave any differently day-by-day.

This is what I believe to be atheism’s biggest problem: how to explain the massive disconnect between what the world should be like – the ideal – and what the world is like – the reality. Those atheists who were being abusive were probably well-educated, intelligent people. I expect they knew that what they were doing was unethical, and yet they did it anyway. Does atheism – more importantly, can atheism – propose any solution to that particular problem? I believe not.

Note: I am NOT saying here that ‘atheists are immoral’. But, at the same time, you have to ask the question: what is it that’s causing those atheists to behave in that way? If it’s human nature – then at what level is atheism helping them? And, if it doesn’t provide any help, to what extent can we be confident that it could have any beneficial effect on a wider level?

So, secularism – far from being the ethical powerhouse it might claim to be – would actually be somewhat ineffectual: as much as people can make rules and decree what is ‘ethical’ or not (and, indeed, in this area I don’t think secularism has exactly provided any amazing new ethical advances), it provides no power to individuals to actually obey.

Once again, it seems to me the Christian worldview is the only one which makes any coherent sense of the world: why is the world the way it is? Why do people do the bad things that they do? Because we have rebelled against a good creator and our hearts are turned to evil. To my mind, that’s the only thing that can explain what we see in the world today, why there is so much evil.

But – God hasn’t left us on our own. There is still healing, there is still transformation. Have a watch of this video – ‘Cardboard Testimonies’. This is what God can do. I wonder if there’s any atheist equivalent, i.e. “I used to be addicted to meth, but then I became an atheist – now I’m transformed!” I’m betting probably not.


3 responses to “Random thoughts on ‘Atheism Plus’”

  1. So because there are a few bad apples in the atheist camp it means that the religious route is the correct one?

    “It seems to me that, for a worldview which claims to have a better grasp on ethics (free of the shackles of religiously-motivated bigotry, as it would probably claim) – people still behave, well, badly.”

    Of course! Every society, group etc has bad apples, (priests… children need I say more) and what the Atheist plus is trying to do is to make society better, rather than relying on people who have a very in my opinion skewed view of the world (priests etc).

    No body is perfect but at least Atheism tries and is open, religion is closed and set in its ways, and as a result is alienating many people.

    I may not be good with words, but I know that a few years from now Christianity in the UK will almost certainly have died a death, as it is at the moment. due to its intolerance and moral judgement (and this is coming from someone who was a roman catholic, brought up, schooled etc. I know my stuff). Unless something drastic changes.

    I’m not saying all religion is bad, but I am saying atheism is better!


    By the way I love your posts – really make me think – even if I don’t agree with them, they are great!

    1. “So because there are a few bad apples in the atheist camp it means that the religious route is the correct one?”


      I think you misunderstand me. I’m NOT saying that atheists are immoral. Well, not more immoral than anybody else (in God’s eyes I believe everyone is ‘immoral’, or to put it a more traditional way, sinners).

      Those ‘bad apples’ as you call them – what is your explanation for why they behaved the way that they do? Why does their atheism not help them to behave better? And, if it doesn’t help, on what basis could you say that society would be better if it became atheistic?

      The Christian story explains that all people do bad things, including Christians. That is the whole point. That is why I think it’s a much, much better explanation for the way that the world actually is. Also, I believe the Holy Spirit helps people to overcome things which they wouldn’t have been able to overcome on their own.

      In contrast, I don’t think atheism provides people with the tools they need to live a better life.

      “No body is perfect but at least Atheism tries and is open, religion is closed and set in its ways, and as a result is alienating many people.”

      I think you’re pretty much talking exclusively about the gay issue here (apologies if you were thinking about something else, but that’s the issue which you’ve commented on before).

      Firstly, what possible improvement could there be on Christianity’s two greatest commandments (Love God and love your neighbour)? What could atheism possibly bring that could do better than that? What needs improving?

      Secondly, about the gay issue… let’s just think about what atheism *might* say about it. Surely, if you hold to a naturalistic worldview (which atheists have to – the idea that ‘nature’ is all there is and all there ever has been), if we are *only* products of evolution, than it must logically follow that the ‘ethical’ thing to do is the continuation of our species. However you get there, ethics and morality must in some way be products of evolution. As such, homosexual people are essentially evolutionary blind alleys… so surely, the logical naturalist thing would be to ensure that homosexuality died out? To push that a bit further, if a ‘gay gene’ was found wouldn’t the most ethical thing to do be to terminate gay foetuses? It would help with the continuation of our species.

      Let me make it clear – THIS IS NOT WHAT I BELIEVE, NOR WHAT I THINK YOU (OR ANYONE) BELIEVES. I’m just asking you to point out the logical flaws in that argument, rationally and scientifically (since, as an atheist, everything has to be rational and scientific).

      Thanks for your compliments about my posts, I’m glad someone appreciates them 🙂

  2. […] some excellent points about punishment. It makes quite a neat follow-up to my previous post on Atheism Plus and ethics. What I was talking about in that post was personal morality: does atheism have the power to change […]

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