Western atheism, schisms and political polarization

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In his essay Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose, the atheist Francois Tremblay compared unifying atheists to herding cats.[1] See: Atheist factions

Historically, most atheists have been on left side of the political divide and today most atheists are leftists (see: Atheism and politics). However, in recent years the secular right has been growing.

At Splice Today, Dylan Green wrote about the Mythcon 2017 Conference and the atheist movement: "If there’s a point in time where atheism’s cold war of progressive versus reactionary flavors came into being, it would be the day when Mythcon was held."[2] At Mythcon 2017, Carl Benjamin and other anti-progressive YouTube atheists spoke which upset many progressive atheists.[3][4] Shortly after the conference, the progressive atheist PZ Myers wrote a blog post entitled Time to nuke the fault line and split the rift deeper[5]

In 2017, the atheist PZ Myers, quoting fellow leftist Alex Nichols, wrote: "...the growing popularity of jibes associating outspoken atheists with fedoras, neckbeards, and virginity, led to an exodus of liberals and leftists from the “atheist” tent. Those who remained for the most part lacked in social skills and self-awareness, and the results were disastrous."[6]

The Journal of Contemporary Religion says about schisms within atheism: "The persistence of internal schisms and regular outbreaks of in-fighting within the atheist movement also ensure that much energy is effectively wasted on parochial concerns and further undermine attempts to establish a genuine sense of group cohesion."[7]

The Journal of Contemporary Religion indicates that internal divisions within the American atheist movement have to do with: "...internal divisions within the movement around issues relating to goals, strategies, and direction. These can be seen most notably in debates about the formation of a collective ‘atheist’ identity, in disputes about the effectiveness of confrontationalism and accommodationism, and in concerns about the movement’s ethnic, racial, and gender profile."[7]

The atheist David Smalley said about the atheist movement and atheist infighting: "We're eating our own... We’re disintegrating."[8] See also: Atheist factions

Jacques Rousseau wrote in the Daily Maverick: "Elevatorgate..has resulted in three weeks of infighting in the secular community. Some might observe that we indulge in these squabbles fairly frequently."[9] See also: Atheism and social/interpersonal intelligence

The website Atheism and the City wrote about the 2018 cancellation of the first major atheist conference to be held in New York City:

But none of this is going to happen now because the event has just been canceled. The reasons why are complicated, but it started out difficult enough. The atheist community has splintered into a million shards in recent years. There are the atheist feminists and the atheist anti-feminists, the social justice warrior atheists and the anti-social justice warrior atheists. The pro-PC atheists and the anti-PC atheists. There are pro-Trump atheists and anti pro-Trump atheists. Atheists are split over gamergate, elevatorgate, whether we should organize, or whether we should even call ourselves atheists at all. The divisions go on and on.[10]

Growing hatred between progressive atheists and non-progressive atheists

See also: Atheism and intolerance and Militant atheism and Atheism and anger

Peter McGrath wrote in The Guardian about the pro-feminism/progressivism Atheism plus movement: "In the passionate world of American atheism, the venom usually directed at believers has now been turned against the wrong kind of atheists."[11]

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins was a key figure in the Elevatorgate controversy.

Post the Elevatorgate controversy, there has been additional increased conflict between atheists who espouse political progressivism (feminism, identity politics, multiculturalism) and atheists who disagree with all or part of political progressivism.

In recent years, the secular right has increased within Western atheism (see: Decline of the secular left and Atheism and the alt-right).

Oxford Scholarship Online, citing the work of author Stephen LaDrew's book entitled The Evolution of Atheism: The Politics of a Modern Movement declares:

...right-wing movement within atheism is evident in three major areas of politics: foreign relations, economics, and gender. Opposition to the “atheist Right,” particularly on the issue of gender, produced a reaction by a group of self-described feminist atheists who called attention to misogyny in the movement. This resulted in the emergence of another group seeking to tie scientific atheism to feminism and a movement for social justice, which is opposed by libertarians who consider atheism to be a movement for scientific authority, and individual and economic liberty. This polarization has produced an evolutionary moment in atheism, as it produces distinct new forms: the atheist Right, and scientific atheists for social justice. The atheist Right illustrates the secular movement’s relationship to the Christian Right. Both are fundamentalisms that advance a reactionary political ideology, and despite their apparent conflict, they pursue goals that sometimes overlap.[12]

In 2016, the atheist Martin Hughes wrote:

I’ve been hearing, time and again, that discussions on social justice are breaking up the atheist “community.” Most recently, fellow Patheos blogger David Smalley of Dogma Debate wrote a blog post saying that the disagreements we keep having are killing the atheist movement, but he’s hardly the first one to say this. Different people have been protesting this for years...

There’s a rift being created across the Western atheist community...

This rift hasn’t diminished. It’s deepening into a wider and wider chasm...

This story has created a large category of purists who try to “protect” atheism from feminists, people intent on fighting racism... - basically anyone who threatens to, in their view, use marginalized people to control individuals in the atheism movement.

We’re really starting to hate each other, which leads to us attacking each other more, which leads to the atheist movement becoming less and less about attacking religion, and more and more about whether you’re a social justice advocate or an anti-SJW in the atheist arena.

We’re not showing any signs of agreeing with each other. Keeping us in the same atheist movement is going to continue this tug of war.[13]

The sociologist Stephen LeDrew declared about the new atheists:

As I got to know these thinkers better, I began to see some of their ideas as quite dangerous—such as the intolerance they have for cultural diversity and some seeds of social Darwinism. So part of the motivation for it was that I think atheism can do much better than people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.[14]

The Shadow To Light blog commented about the schism between progressive atheists and non-progressive atheists:

Because of the arguments between the New Atheists and the Social Justice atheists..., it’s tempting to think that at least the New Atheists are the reasonable ones when it comes to things like free speech. But be careful. I don’t think many New Atheists truly believe in some universal principle of free speech. I think it’s more about them worrying that they won’t be freely able to criticize and mock religion.

In other words, I think at their core, most New Atheists are social justice atheists and the debate is simply about the target of social justice retribution and aggression. In fact, the whole blow up triggered by Elevatorgate seems to be about the Social Justice Atheists not agreeing to restrict their attacks to Christians and Jews. When the SCA’s broadened their attacks to include secular white men, that’s when things derailed. Things became even more heated when the SCA’s decided to take Islam off the table when it came to bashing religion.[15]

Jerry Coyne speaking at a 2013 atheist meeting.

The Shadow To Light blog also notes:

It’s good to see that New Atheists have begun to figure out how reality works. For a long time now, I have criticized one of the central claims of the New Atheist movement, the notion that if we could only get rid of religion, the world would be a much better place. Not only was there no evidence to support this belief (which, ironically, was little more than faith), but the evidence we did have pointed in the other direction. And what was that evidence? The atheist community itself. A crystal clear example of what I was talking about was Elevatorgate and the rage-filled rhetorical wars between the New Atheists and Social Justice atheists. The existence of the Social Justice atheists, along with their power and influence, clearly showed there is no reason to believe that a world without religion would be any better than the one we have. It could even be worse.

Now, for some time I have noticed that Jerry Coyne, a prominent New Atheist leader, has spent less time on criticizing religion and more time on criticizing the Social Justice atheists (referred to as the Regressive Left). It’s as if the New Atheists did some soul searching and asked themselves, “Who killed our movement?” It wasn’t the Christians or the Religious Right. In fact, it wasn’t any outside force. Their movement was torn apart from within by the Regressive Left. As a result, the New Atheists no longer find themselves on the offensive, but often find themselves reacting to the social and cultural changes being imposed on all of us by the Regressive Left.

Peter Boghossian, another New Atheist leader, has been rather explicit about this (HT to Kevin)[16]

The atheist Ashley F. Miller wrote at The Orbit:

I have a lot of problems with the atheist movement, and I’ve struggled with engaging with it recently. The level of hostility towards women and hatred for the social justice framework, especially online, makes it really unappealing at times, and almost always exhausting."[17]

2018 Global Atheist Convention speaker controversy

See also: 2018 Global Atheist Convention that was cancelled and Atheism and women and Atheist feminism and Sexual harassment at atheist conferences and Atheism and rape

After the actress and feminist author/commentator Clementine Ford was picked as a speaker as part of creating gender parity in atheist speakers to the 2018 Global Atheist Convention, it was reported that a substantial number of rape and death threats occurred on a Facebook page promoting the convention.[18]

The 2018 Global Atheist Convention that was cancelled was billed as the third Global Atheist Convention and its theme was "Reason to Hope".[19][20] It was sponsored by the Atheist Foundation of Australia.[21]

Robert Martin from Melbourne's City Bible Forum indicated about the cancellation of the 2018 Global Atheist Convention: "This is a massive blow to the Atheist Foundation as an organisation and to organised atheism in Australia. Where to next? What do they stand for?”[22]

Andrew Street wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald about the 2018 Global Atheist Convention that was cancelled:

Thus in recent times there has been a concerted, deliberate effort to overcome the not-inaccurate perception that atheism is exclusively a boys' club. And there has been predictable pushback from members of said community who are deeply concerned that this progressive attitude may yet expose them to dangerous levels of girl germs.

The latest example came on Tuesday when the upcoming Atheist Global Convention in Melbourne announced that feminist author and commentator Clementine Ford would be one of the speakers.

Predictably, this made a few people unhappy - but the venom levelled at Ford and the conference generally for daring to have a line up of speakers which approached gender parity was a shock.

And that's despite the moderators on the Facebook page making clear that "we have been deleting specific rape and death threats as they occur… there have been substantial numbers", just in case there was any doubt about the calibre of awesome dudes weighing in with their important opinions about the line up.[23]

The atheist Adam Lee wrote about Clementine Ford and the online hostility about her being a speaker at the 2018 Global Atheist Convention:

Even so, the sheer number of comments that had to be deleted for extreme rudeness, slurs, misogyny or outright threats of violence is a depressing commentary on how unenlightened the atheist community is.[24]

Leading American atheist organizations lean to the left politically

According to Republican Atheists' President Lauren Ell, the leading atheist organizations such as American Atheists, Freedom From Religion Foundation and Secular Student Alliance lean left politically.[25]

Atheist schisms, political polarization and its effect on national atheist organizations in the United States

See also: Atheist fundraising vs. religious fundraising

In 2017, the atheist activist Lee Moore declared about American atheist organizations:

If you look at the major atheist groups right now, like the national groups, the ones that are doing the real activist work... They are not bringing in the kind of donations they used to. Most of them are starved for cash. They're downsizing left and right. Because people aren't just giving like they used to. And I talked to a lot of the major donors out there and they said, "Well, we're kind of tired of seeing the atheist community just fight amongst itself and not really get anything done. We'd rather not give money if we don't think it's going to go somewhere."[26]

See also


External links


  1. Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose by Francois Tremblay
  2. The Post-Mythcon Crossroads of Atheism by Dylan Greene
  3. The Post-Mythcon Crossroads of Atheism by Dylan Greene
  4. Chaos during Social Justice and Feminism Debate at Milwaukee Atheism Conference
  5. Time to nuke the fault line and split the rift deeper, PZ Myers
  6. Poisoning of a movement by PZ Myers
  7. 7.0 7.1 Divided We Stand: The Politics of the Atheist Movement in the United States by Steven KettellJournal of Contemporary Religion, Volume 29, Issue 3, 2014
  8. Reasonably Controversial: How the Regressive Left Is Killing the Atheist Movement by David Smalley
  9. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can rip my soul
  10. The Atheist Conference is Dead
  11. Is American atheism heading for a schism? by Peter McGrath, The Guardian, 2012
  12. The Evolution of Atheism: The Politics of a Modern Movement, Peter LaDrew, Oxford Scholarship
  13. The Atheist “Movement” Needs A Divorce by Martin Hughes
  14. Sociologist Stephen LeDrew on the Rift in the Atheism Movement
  15. Are New Atheists Really That Different From Social Justice Atheists?, Shadow To Light blog
  16. Peter Boghossian Sees the Light, Shadow To Light blog, May 21, 2017
  17. Atheism as Social Justice by Ashley F. Miller
  18. Why do public atheists have to behave like such jerks by Andrew Street, The Sydney Morning Herald, June 21, 2017
  19. AFA Media Releases & Announcements
  20. AFA Media Releases & Announcements
  21. AFA Media Releases & Announcements
  22. Global Atheist Convention cancelled due to lack of interest, Eternity News
  23. Why do public atheists have to behave like such jerks by Andrew Street, The Sydney Morning Herald, June 21, 2017
  24. The Online Atheist Community: Still Terrible by Adam Lee, Daylight Atheism
  25. Atheist and humanist organizations are prioritizing left-leaning political views above all else
  26. Lee Moore and Steve Shives Talk About the Future of the Atheist Movement, - video quote comes 21 minutes and 13 seconds into the video