Atheism Plus. Or Not. Or Something Else..

UPDATE: See – although I don’t (see below!) wholly agree with Atheism Plus, the harrassment Jen McCreight  has had to put up with is totally uncalled for. It goes way beyond reasonable disagreement, and has often featured real, nasty misognyny. It reminds me of Laurie Penny’s piece about the huge abuse that women get online. I am very sorry to see her go, but understand why..

Well, while I’ve been mostly offline (at least in terms of serious blogging, due to factors some know about) this summer, there have been some very odd developments. At least they seem odd to me. Atheists, particularly in the

Atheism Plus logoUSA have been falling out. Nothing new in that, you might think, as they always have; sharing only a disbelief hardly inclines towards unity. However, the falling out here has had odd consequences, such as the proposal of ‘Atheism+’ as a possible solution. Here I want to take a look at this development and what, if anything, it might mean.

The whole A+ (for short.. it is annoying, but I’m using it – my ability to type is seriously impeded!) thing requires an appreciation of the context, which some of us here in Europe might lack. The atheism/scepticism/free-thought people in the US seem more organised to start with. It may be that they need to be- faced with a deeply religious culture, the Bible-Belt, religious TV and radio, and the like. It may also be a cultural thing about joining, organising and meeting. Maybe. There are events, blogs and ‘movements’ on a greater scale, and some trace the current issues to one of these events. This have become known as ‘elevatorgate’ (in Dublin, not the US, but the community and response seems centred there) – I won’t say more but see  – and you’ll see that Dawkins seemed to act like an idiot, and add to the perception that atheist, etc groups were dominated by male, middle-aged white guys (like society?).

The debates on (various) blogs became more divisive. More bitter and futile. A bit like in religions that forget about converting unbelievers and obsess about orthodoxy in those who do believe. Not that some weren’t in the right here, and others in the wrong, it just seems to have got beyond being about that. The whole ‘FreeThought Bullies’ meme/hashtag got started. Different sides complained of being bullied, silenced, marginalised and excluded. You can read about the whole unedifying business here:

That is (some) of the background.. There’s a summary at (it being in the New Statesman helped it gather a lot more UK notoriety)…

So – this is where it comes out of – but what is it? Much of it is to be found on the Free Though blog pages, such as where Jen McCreight calls for a new wave of atheism. An atheism that won’t put up with rape jokes, social inequity, anti-feminism, anti-diversity monoculturalism and the like. Sounds good.

Click here for cartoon source, and more discussion..Now – quite a few have pointed out that a form of atheism that goes beyond mere disbelief towards political secularism and social justice already exists. It’s called humanism. Now – readers of the book are aware that I don’t much like humanism, for various reasons, and although Greta Christina has nicer things to say about Humanism – she is keen to distinguish it from Atheism+ see:  Atheism+ is less polite/genteel/apologetic, less about replicating religious structures, and not as apolitical (about broader issues outside secularism) as humanism. Furthermore, many young people recognise atheism as describing them where they don’t for humanism. See the blog post for more differences, though I’m slightly of the view that they are over-done for much of the piece.

So – how so: what, you’d be entitled to ask is it? It’s own blog defines it at – but is vague so far.. However, a handy sidebar gives the key tenets:

Atheists plus we care about social justice.

Atheists plus we support women’s rights.

Atheists plus we protest racism.

Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia.

Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

A place where people can discuss atheism, social justice, and other topics without the risk of threats or harassment. Take part in the conversation!

Well – who apart from homophobic, bigoted, racist atheists wouldn’t agree?

There does seem a need to (mostly in the US it seems) to stand up to idiots in the atheism ‘community’ – particularly on certain blog platforms. So far – these seem in favour of A+ as a notion. But..

There seem two possible responses here, neither seeing a need for A+ as a movement, (though as a blogging platform away from those who driven people away from others it seems fine). I tend towards the latter position, but I’ll outline the former.

This initial position is that atheism doesn’t entail any social justice conclusions. It means a lack of belief in God- nothing more. From this you can’t deduce that feminism is preferable to patriarchy, or that justice even makes sense. In this context, atheism is just a denial – it needs something different and positive in order to make to claims outlined above. Something extra- but that ‘plus’ just adds to the atheism – it doesn’t say what it is that people believe in. They actually seem to believe in people, and their equality and dignity. In humans. Maybe atheism should stand for the disbelief and another term for the positive beliefs in the equality and worth of all human. Perhaps something like ‘humanism’?

[A more cynical writer might claim that all A+ want is in Humanism, except for the credit for starting a movement, and the sense of a new-beginning. I wouldn’t dream of it..]

Actually, although I am tempted by this position, and see a role for older uses of humanism perhaps, I favour a different position.

I don’t agree that atheism has no intellectual or political consequences. Even if many atheists don’t think through what atheism implies, and refuse to take those consequences on board, it still implies them. I don’t see a need for atheism plus, as I take the view that atheism already, actually, implies all the things that A+ is seeking.

Atheism implies a lack of ‘essences’ that make men, or women, or people of this or that sexual orientation, or with this disability, or lack thereof, better than each other. All privilege is socially constructed, in an atheist context there is no intrinsic basis for any of it.

I agree with Sartre when he writes 

Existentialism is nothing else but an attempt to draw the full conclusions from a consistently atheistic position‘ – He sees that  atheism sees us as equally thrown, alone and in need of value. What, though, of social justice? Well, the personal demand for equal recognition, for being valued irrespective of race,  gender, orientation, disability and ethnicity isn’t divorced from having a social dimension. Just as atheism itself implies equality of worth amongst persons, this equality of worth has socio-political implications of equality and mutual respect. While we, quite rightly, need to argue about what they look like, some might take the view that the feminist, social justice, human worth consequences of atheism already have a name: surely that’s called Marxism?

We might balk at that term, call it atheistic existentialism or socialism, but ‘atheism plus’ seems to be better captured by these terms. While I really think the term itself will falter (and I don’t much like it, as I hint here), and go the way of ‘brights’, and that it actually represents a return to (legitimate) concerns that have been sidelined rather than a ‘new wave of thinking’, I do hope that it does give us pause to consider where being a atheist actually leads, and what it implies for questions of equality and diversity.


Other engagements:

Blog readers may enjoy this..

Robinince's Blog

this weekend I attended the Greenbelt festival and various thoughts came uninvited into my head about the presumed battle between the faithful and the faithless. here are some of them. This is a reflection of this conversation in the UK, i realise that readers outside the UK might have a very different experience of the religion versus atheism discussion/feud/fist fight (note – as usual please remember this is not journalism so no editorial process has taken place – expect poor spelling, ugly punctuation or peculiar phrasing, my brain has an erratic toolbar) 


Does it matter to me if someone is religious?


Does it matter to me if someone justifies their cruelty or oppression to others because of their religion?


Does it matter to me if someone is a creationist?


Does it matter to me if a creationist insists it should be taught with science at school?

View original post 1,342 more words

American Buddhist Perspective – Review


Just a quick post to note the book review at the American Buddhist Perspective blog:

Webster teaches Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics not far from me and as a fellow traveler on the road of Buddhist studies (Webster’s fist book is on Buddhism and Desire) and philosophy, I have been looking forward to reading this book for some time. At just over 70 pages, it’s written as a pamphlet almost, perhaps a manifesto: light on footnotes, jargon, and the kind of verbiage that can turn a lot of people off from intelligent writing. I highly recommend it.

That said, it may come as no surprise that the book seems to have been misunderstood by some readers. Perhaps this is due to its polemical opening words:

When someone tells me that they are not really religious, but that they are a very spiritual person, I want to punch their face. Hard.

Not exactly the best way to make friends. But Webster does explain. The problem is confusion: his own. Religion for him is deeply spiritual, and spirituality is inseparable from religion.

Thus the book reads less like an attack on ‘spiritual’ life (which Webster notes is multifaceted and not always pernicious – e.g. in Pierre Hadot’s “Philosophy as a Way of Life“) and more as an exploration of and ultimately an attack on a very pernicious marketplace of spirituality in the contemporary world. The problematic notion of spirituality is narrowed, in developing detail, to the kind of superficial, non-committed, materialistic nonsense which so often surrounds people proffering the above violent-desire-producing phrase.

In fact, despite his committed atheism, Webster praises.. CONTINUE READING

The full review is at :

The Momus Report review..

Over at there is another review… It begins:


Throughout this book author David Webster makes disparaging remarks to the current interest in Mind, Body, Spirit with the acronym MBS. It is the last two letters that are probably the most significant. This book is nothing less than an attack on the confusion of pseudo-science and the arrogance of faith-based certainties. In this regard Webster thankfully joins.. CONTINUE READING…