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Atheism and social justice - the funcrunch files

Aug. 25th, 2012 01:18 am Atheism and social justice

I've been reading Greta Christina's blog entries about "Atheism Plus", an attempt to focus on social justice issues including sexism, racism, and homophobia, within the context of the atheist movement. This movement is partly in response to repeated insulting, vile comments and behavior directed at female atheist bloggers over the last year or more.

I have been an atheist for over 25 years. I have been open about my lack of beliefs that entire time, but not always particularly outspoken about it. I haven't attended meetings or conventions on the subject, haven't worn T-shirts, crossed out "In God We Trust" on my money or done any other even mildly activist atheist things really. (Though I'm seriously considering doing something graphically and publicly damaging to the thinly disguised Jews for Jesus missionary book I received unsolicited in the mail today).

I am also black - actually mixed black/white race - which puts me apart from the predominantly white face of mainstream atheism. I'm aware of the rarity of publicly outspoken black atheists. I particularly felt uncomfortable while watching the Summer Olympics, when I saw many black athletes at the track and field events pray to God before their races and publicly thank God afterward when they won. One woman actually pulled an image of the Virgin Mary out from her shirt and shoved it in front of the cameras after winning her race. (I admit that as I watched track and field and gymnastics almost exclusively, I cannot say whether many white athletes from other events also made such public displays of religion.)

I am also a bisexual female, which puts me apart from the predominantly male face of mainstream atheism. Of course I am deeply troubled by the horrible sexist harassment Greta and others have endured on their blogs. These comments are not acceptable from anyone, believer or not.

As I've written before about gender, I just basically want it to disappear. That isn't going to happen, but I have the freedom to comport myself in as androgynous a way as possible, which is how I'm trending at the moment. I don't consider myself either feminist or anti-feminist, I just think that everyone needs to be treated with equal respect, and it's sad that even has to be said.

As far as social justice, I'm continuing to volunteer with Food Not Bombs, The Free Farm, and The Free Farm Stand, and we give food to everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual identity, religious persuasion, or even income level. If someone came up to me at UN Plaza wearing a three-piece suit and carrying an expensive briefcase I would still give them the same cup of soup as anyone else. My new mission in life is to feed the hungry, as I've decided that basic food should be a human right, and I'm doing this totally independent of any religious or lack of religious affiliation.

I realize the need for those who think atheism is inherently immoral to see atheists doing good acts, however. On the Free Rice site, which donates rice to the hungry, I joined the "atheists giving aid" group, which is currently ranking at the top of the list. But when one of the people at Wednesday's Food Not Bombs serving asked if we were with a church, I explained that we were not affiliated with any religious organization, but stopped short of saying that I was an atheist. It just didn't seem relevant or necessary, especially as it only referred to me, not our group as a whole. Like polyamory, I will identify as poly and explain what that means to anyone who asks, but I don't go out of my way to advertise it.

The Jews for Jesus book I got today though made me angry, and made me think maybe I should be more activist and vocal about atheism. Giving out free food is still my top priority though. It will be interesting to see what concrete steps this "Atheism Plus" movement comes up with to foster social justice within atheism.

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Date:August 25th, 2012 02:42 pm (UTC)
I think you are very articulate in your position about where you stand in terms of expressing your identity, whether it's about atheism, gender, bisexuality, or polyamory. I see the value in not being in someone's face about being (insert label here) and just being you, and only answering questions about your identity if they come up. I sometimes wonder when we'll get to the point in society where we interact with people as individuals and not because of (insert label here), whatever that label is. Because surely, as handy as some labels are for conversational shortcuts -- they fall short of reality.

Edited at 2012-08-25 02:43 pm (UTC)
Date:August 25th, 2012 04:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks. As Greta has pointed out on her blogs, atheism is by its nature more confrontational than many other labels as it implies that someone who believes in a god is wrong, not merely different. Regardless, I have no desire to convert anyone, and resent attempts to convert my beliefs.
Date:August 25th, 2012 05:33 pm (UTC)
I agree with the point that atheism and agnosticism are more confrontational than other differences because they imply somebody is wrong. But not just wrong about something mundane, or some minor idea, but wrong about a claim to absolute truth. That's hard for a lot of religious people to hear - that their absolute truth is not just wrong, but corrosive.

No wonder "blasphemy" is considered a crime in so many places.
Date:August 25th, 2012 04:43 pm (UTC)
I think we will always sort and categorize people because that's just one of the ways our brains are set up to deal with the massive complexity of our environment. What we need, though, is for those categories not to be judgmental, damaging, or just plain wrong.
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Date:August 28th, 2012 05:10 am (UTC)
Aww, you're so sweet, thanks :-)