3 Questions – The Results Part Three

Posted by on September 21, 2012 in 3Q, Featured, Thoughts | 3 comments

I’ve finally worked my way through all the data collected in my 3 Questions Survey, and found question 3 to be the most interesting and enlightening of them. the question was:

“What are the political and social ramifications of atheism, skepticism or agnosticism? Should these movements embrace political ideas that are outside of the description of atheism, skepticism or agnosticism?”

I asked this question specifically as it relates to the emergence of the Atheism+ movement, as many were torn by the idea that simply being atheist implicitly extended a person to become active in issues of social justice. The results, as you will see, show that there is an overwhelming amount of support for the idea of being an activist in many social spheres, but many still wish to distance themselves from the A+ movement. The main response can be summarised by this response:

Being an atheist is great, but there’s more to life than disbelief. We have to fight to make the world a better place by engaging in politics and society as atheists. – (name withheld)

The point made again and again in the answers is, in precis, that while disbelief in gods is a rational standpoint, and one worth pursuing in conversation, the standpoint itself leaves little room for movement, and does not inherently make a difference in the world.

…wrongness is not limited to spirituality and has consequences. To truly improve the world, we have to do much more than easy things like refuting creationism and patting ourselves in the back for not believing in UFOs. In a way, those are really bad measures of skepticism. They are much like the first level of the game. A more rational world has no place for discrimination and douchebaggery. These things need to die just as wrong ideas and religion and aging should. – (name withheld)
The political and social ramification is that we are (collectively) responsible to each other for the harm that we do. We must all strive to do less harm. I see these ideas as following directly from the atheist position, supported by evidence and very important to support. – Carl Baker
Atheists should certainly embrace political ideas outside of strictly “no god(s)”. We are political animals; everything is political. To assert that feminism, for one, is outside the purview of atheism is absurd. – Christ Davis
Without a supernatural judge, we’re all we have. Skepticism helps tell us how to think and approach problems in a reliable way. Sexism, misogyny, and racism are all based on irrationality, and I can’t rely on a cosmic judge to right that wrong. – Besomyka

So it is widely agreed that people should, if they wish to, embrace a larger scope of activism than strictly “atheism”, because from a humanist standpoint, religion is just one of many areas that impinge on our ability to move forward as a society. The problem for many arises when only the literal meaning of atheism is used to describe people. We are many and varied, and our interests are kaleidoscopic in nature. There should be (and in my opinion is) room for all types of people within the community.

What good is atheism or skepticism if you don’t apply it to anything else? – (name withheld)
Strictly atheism is the disbelief in gods. Strictly literacy is the ability to read and write. But what is read and written is more important than the mere ability to read a newspaper and write a note to your child’s teacher excusing an absence. If one is going to use one’s literacy, then one should be reading more than comic books and writing more than grocery lists. Similarly, atheism requires more than just not believing in gods. As I wrote above, atheism requires the denunciation of the evils of gods and religions. Because I dislike the effects of religion on society, it’s not a stretch to dislike other evils found in society. Sexism, racism, and other forms of social inequality should be acted against regardless of whether caused by religion or caused by some other factor. Unless one is dealing with the causes of social inequality, it’s easier to ignore the proximate causes and just deal with the inequality. – Michael
Yes – theism has formed culture by default and it gives them strength to “fight” for their culture. For Atheism to be relevant, there needs to be a counter culture. I feel the ties with humanism should be stronger. People who rely on their “rights” are no better, to me, than fundamentalists to cling to their holy book because they have no other way of determining a course of action. – (name withheld)
A secular stance in government is most ideal. … Yes we should CONTINUE to embrace ideas outside of strictly atheism. Typical of anyone who cares, we don’t just sit around and talk about how we don’t believe in a god… We almost always are talking about social situations and how to improve them. if you choose to adopt the A+ tag or not… what matters most is working toward the change… that most of us see that’s needed. – Gadget – The Layman Atheist

The extension of atheism into the social political fields, for many, is a natural one; many of society’s ills are to be found in the realm of religion, forcing its doctrines upon the people, and can either be traced directly or indirectly back to the fact that believing in unprovable claims can cause all kinds of problems.

Everything is political. Every label, every identification, every action, every word is political. In some way it supports *something*, somewhere, that has political ramifications. We need to stop running away from the idea of politics and realize that political aims and ideas can be tested and examined, that political ideology can be approached skeptically and scientifically, and we should embrace positions as being *objectively better*. Atheism leads toward skepticism, skepticism will lead, eventually, to liberal ideas. No libertarian idea, no conservative idea, no oppressive idea will hold up under scrutiny (or at least hasn’t thus far). We, as the atheist community, need to embrace these facts *because they are facts*. The movement needs to be comfortable being political because it’s already political by being a movement, by having a label. It’s high time we held *Everyone* to the intellectual rigors of skepticism and asked *Everyone* to examine their ideals and beliefs, even our own compatriots in arms, and see if they hold water. – Daniel Samuelson
Without religious “rules”, there’s a different set of definitions for morality, rights, and justice. Takes a while sometimes for that to sink in, but eventually you realize that to NOT fight for someone’s rights is to allow those rights to be taken from them. – (name withheld)
Of course they should. Atheism to me is simply using reason to come to a conclusion about religion. Why shouldn’t reason be applied to all that we do in life. – (name withheld)
As of today, in the US, the non-religious are stripped of many rights, including discrimination enshrined into law in many states that atheists may not hold public office. Socially, we are lepers, shunned and vilified by the population at large. Politically, we are non-entities – our voices are deliberately drowned by the cacophony of religion. This HAS to be addressed by the atheist/skeptic/agnostic movements, otherwise we will continue to be disenfranchised and vilified in political and social life. The atheist/skeptic/agnostic movements should absolutely embrace political ideas outside the basic description, because what people do is informed (or at the very least, influenced) by all facets of their worldview. Just relying on the usual debates about “does a god/gods exist”, etc doesn’t advance anything in society. If we sit on our asses, having the same well-worn debates with the same people, while the religious majority go around meddling in the political process and enshrining their biased views into law and public policy, WHAT GOOD WILL THAT DO? Fighting creationism in schools (in the US) is every bit as political as fighting discrimination against minorities (women, people of color, LGBTQ, people who are ill mentally or physically, people outside the mainstream of society – I could keep going for pages upon pages). If fighting creationism is within the purview of the atheists/skeptics/agnostics movement, then so is everything else that’s impacting people’s lives! – Radi
There are no political ideas that fall outside of skepticism. All political stances can be analysed critically and judged by their morality and their impact on society, particularly as this affects differences in privilege. – Stephen Bain
We’re not atheists, skeptics, or agnostics in a vacuum – well, few of us are anyway, and none of us should be. We’re that way because of a commitment to sensible thinking in general, or at the very least to opposing the dangers of theism. That’s got ramifications for the rest of our rational worldviews. If we don’t play that out, we’re betraying those values for a single arbitrary position. – Jeff Engel
Many, many social ills are based on bad thinking – in particular essentially all prejudices, stereotyping and related forms of bigotry are the result of unfounded myths accepted without good reason. There are also unrealistic and counterproductive public policy positions that are based on myths and failures to apply skeptical thought. The more we use rational, results-based methodologies to refine our policies, the more able we are to actually achieve the goals we set as a society. – BT Murtagh
The primary political ramification is rejection of religiously imposed values enshrined into law. Gay marriage is the most common current example, feminism may be a more important one. Atheist movements should embrace ideas that are consistent with their ideals. That may not be the same for all movements. – (name withheld)

The mindset that sent people down the path of leaving religion, for many, is the same continuing mindset that sees inequality in the world, and wishes to strive to correct these problems. For many, they are inseparable. For many, the ideas around removing religion from the public spheres has many of the same desired outcomes as being active against racism, sexism, xenophobia et al.

My atheism came from skepticism applied to religion/spirituality. The same skepticism applied to the conditions of real, this-world life leads me to support social justice. History shows me that religion thrives on social injustice. As a practical matter, I don’t think any attempt to invalidate religion(s) can succeed without first creating more broadly just and equitable conditions. Spread fairness and religion will decline on its own. – Nualle Schallenberger
Even though Atheism certainly doesn’t imply feminism, vegetarianism, et cetera, I can’t imagine an honest critical thinker rejecting such liberal principles. – Santiago Hardgrave
If you’re a skeptic, you should be a feminist, a supporter of LGBTQ and a protester of racism. All of these positions have well-conducted scientific research supporting them. There is simply no way you could wiggle out and still call yourself a skeptic. – Dominik Miketa
Political and social opinions and constructs are frequently arrived at by an individual’s worldview and I feel it is very important that this not be separated. – Joe Running
Yes! Yes! Yes! If there is no “god”, then it is up to human beings to provide justice, aid to those in trouble, protection for those persecuted and make sure people have the basic necessities of life, education and freedom. Without “god” it must be people who combat racist, sexism and all the other “isms” that deny human equality and freedom. These, I feel with all my heart. If there is a flood, atheists won’t be waiting for “god” to drop lifelines from the heavens, we must be the ones manning the lifeboat. – Jeanette

This is not to say, however, that everyone is in agreement about this. One look at the #atheismplus hashtag on twitter will reveal this. Many see the rise of a formalised groups such as Atheism+ as an affront to their individuality. Others see it as divisive. Others still, while agreeing with the ideas put forth by Atheism+, see the group as a deliberate attempt to create an “in-group” of like-minded individuals, at the exclusion of those who don’t toe the line. The fear of any kind of dogmatic or prescribed code of conduct is apparent.

I think its good to encourage an environment where people are free to participate without prejudice against their innate characteristics; and its appropriate to recognize and attempt to rectify traditional biases and privileges inherit in current system. But anything outside of that doesn’t belong. I already see a few Atheism Plus participants who seem eager to enforce political and economic dogma that one must adhere to in order to remain included in the group. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not optimistic about it. – (name withheld)
It depends on how specific you get with the other ideas. A lot of atheists and skeptics lean left politically naturally, comes with the fact that the right doesn’t want us and that it’s hard to justify some right wing ideas without resorting to “God Said So”. But saying “You aren’t a REAL atheist unless you hold these very specific views” smacks of enforced group-think, no matter how high minded the goals. – Ron Strong

A theme I see emerging from those who dislike the idea of Atheism+ is one that by formalising the ideas that come from an atheistic worldview, atheism becomes too much like religion.

I remain wary of thinking of atheism/skepticism/agnosticism falling into the trappings of a “movement,” and I personally feel that individuals should retain the right to align themselves politically with whomever their individual research and conscience dictates. I am wary of a movement embracing a specific political orientation, save to ensure that the Great Wall of Separation remain intact, and no further breaking down of that wall be allowed. – (name withheld)
My concern would be that atheism would become like religion in many ways. I think that atheists, as individuals, should certainly embrace social justice causes and fight oppression where they find it including our exploitation and oppression of nonhuman animals. In my mind, if you’re going to say that no one should be systematically tortured and killed, you have to include nonhuman animals in that equation. Speciesism is just as rotten as sexism and racism and homophobia. Now, again, I come back to critical thinking as the core here. I don’t know if atheists should have a mission and goals. I don’t know how quickly that would degenerate into a quasi-religious nightmare. But that shouldn’t stop each individual from having her own mission and goals, and linking that mission and those goals to her atheism. When you don’t live in fear of an unfavorable rebirth or an eternity in hell, what you’re doing in this lifetime is of the utmost importance and should be treated as such. – Mary Martin
We all are aware of the statistics that show the more Atheist societies are, the better their Social health is.Thus it is important to try and push Atheism as the way forward. However, trying to form Atheists into some sort of Political Party is doomed to failure, Atheists tend to cover a lot of varying Political views that could potentially clash. – Peter C

This experiment has been eye opening, but has confirmed many of the thoughts I have about the atheist/agnostic/skeptic communities. There are those who see these standpoints on religion and society as the key to making progress in the world, and there are those who don’t; there are people who see a formalisation of atheism into a political or social movement with a “name” as a natural progression from an atheistic, agnostic or skeptical standpoint, and those who don’t. The full gamut of responses is represented in the data, and unfortunately there are too many answers to address them all.

As I said at the top of this piece, the answers ARE overwhelmingly in favour of the idea that the atheist, agnostic and skeptical standpoints lead inherently toward social and political activism, but it is clear, however, that many do not want to see this become formalised into a movement such as Atheism+.  For them, formalisation draws these ideas closer to becoming a religion, something which many have striven to free themselves from. This is completely understandable. This, I think, is the cause for the backlash against Atheism+; formalisation for standpoints on belief may lead down the path of doctrine and dogma, and none of us want to see that. Above all, the apparent need for individuality is paramount; many people have worked hard to remove themselves from a mindset that was thrust upon them by religious tenets, so to “join a group” goes against all that.

Of course, for those who see Atheism+ as filling a gap in the communities, this is just what is needed; a deliberate defining of the natural political ramifications of the atheist, agnostic or skeptical standpoint. I can’t see how this can be a problem in the long run, except possibly as ammunition for those who claim that atheism is, in fact, a religion in and of itself. (This standpoint is of course is a red-herring, and should be treated as such.) Any attempt to formalise will be presented with these claims, and great care should be taken to not prove these people correct.

Of course, the failing in this survey, as with all surveys, is that I only have answers from a very small slice of these communities. Only the people who answered the survey are represented, and there are 1.6 billion+ others who did not answer and are therefore not represented.

I would like to thank the people who took part in this survey. It has been a (self-imposed) challenge to organise, and has taken many weeks to pour through all the data. Of course there are many hundreds of answers I have not been able to address in these blogs, but for the most part, I have tried to give a representation of what the data means.

For those who are interested, here you can see the results from question one and question two.

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3 Comments

  1. That was extremely interesting to read, Martin. What a wide variety of replies. This only serves to solidify why we need to have a little more solidarity and a lot less arguing among ourselves. Our common goal is pretty clear to me. Kudos, props and Kewpie dolls, dude :)

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  2. <blockquote>Above all, the apparent need for individuality is paramount; many people have worked hard to remove themselves from a mindset that was thrust upon them by religious tenets, so to “join a group” goes against all that.</blockquote>
     
    We saw something like this with the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy. This whole mess has made me rethink my initial hostility towards it.
     
    For the most part I keep coming back to this
     
    <blockquote>the answers ARE overwhelmingly in favour of the idea that the atheist, agnostic and skeptical standpoints lead inherently toward social and political activism, </blockquote>
     
    We already share similar life outlooks, similar principles, commitments, conclusions about life. We (collectively) have more in common than most denominations do with one another.
     
    And yet we reject atheism as any kind of standard. It’s so puzzling. Many will readily identify as feminist or libertarian or skeptical but atheist seems to be it’s own special little sphere.
     
    Anyway, sorry for the jumbled thoughts.

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  3. As many of us will tell you, many of us have been involved with social justice and civil rights for years, we just don’t need to bring atheism into it. In fact it can be unhelpful For example, I have been involved in Palestinian civil rights in the past… I asked some #AtheismPlus supporters where they might stand on this, one said they supported Israel, the other called me anti-semitic!
     
    We are able to sign petitions, write letters, protest, boycott, march… with groups already protesting social issues. Many of whom are not atheist. 
     
    Meanwhile, from what I have seen of Atheism+, they seem most concerned with policing the conference and online atheist community.  They are barely focused outward at all, they are either sitting on their arses moaning about how hard-done-by they are, or pointing the finger of blame (or privilege) at the rest of us. They are completely pointless — other than to push some really shitty, harmful feminist dogma into the cross-hairs of the skeptic community. For that I guess we have to thank them. 

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