For a few days now I've been seeing comments about something called "Atheism Plus" or "A+" all over Twitter. I didn't know what it was but I could see it was generating strong feeling, so I googled it earlier. The first post I found on the subject was at Greta Christina's blog, which can be found here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2012/08/21/why-atheism-plus-is-good-for-atheism/
Now, I have to say that when I read this my initial reaction was to wonder what on earth the problem was; I've seen some people come down pretty hard against A+, but based on what I read here I couldn't see why. Much as I admire thinkers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett and other names typically associated with "New Atheism", I've thought for a while now that it would be good to let people see that not all atheists are posh, uber-educated, straight white dudes aged forty to eighty - they're not actually all that representative.
Atheists and secularists, in my experience, do tend to be more progressive in terms of promoting social equality. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I think as a rule we're pretty consistently ahead of the curve. And I want to make this clear right now; I am totally, totally, in favour of improving the culture of atheism such that it is more welcoming, more supportive and more inclusive to everyone. If we have been guilty of making people feel excluded, I consider that something that should be addressed.
But after reading Greta's comments, I read around a bit further and was increasingly horrified by what I found. Now, it's rare for me to disagree with Greta, and in fact I can't help thinking that maybe the A+ movement's spun out of control since she registered her approval of it, that maybe it started out far more sensibly. In fact, from looking at Jen McCreight's blog where the whole thing seems to have started, I think it probably WAS quite laudable at first: http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/08/atheism/
But then the problems start to creep in. Notable among them is Richard Carrier's particularly charmless post which can be seen here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/2207/ You know you're on dodgy territory when the opening sentence reads "There is a new atheism brewing, and it’s the rift we need, to cut free the dead weight so we can kick the C.H.U.D.’s back into the sewers and finally disown them, once and for all." It doesn't bode well, does it? What that essentially amounts to is "I'm sick of hearing opposing opinions, it's time to brand dissenters subhuman, generate a bit of mob mentality and forcibly eject them from our movement". With that kind of mentality, your reasons for trying to exclude the given group/s are all but irrelevant - you've become at least as scary as they are. From that beginning, it's not a huge surprise to end with "I call everyone now to pick sides (not in comments here, but publicly, via Facebook or other social media): are you with us, or with them; are you now a part of the Atheism+ movement, or are you going to stick with Atheism Less? Then at least we’ll know who to work with. And who to avoid."
In practical terms, what this seems to have led to is an assumption that only people willing to sign up to the A+ movement are in favour of social equality. When I registered the irony of this - that based on my refusal to label myself according to other people's definition of an acceptable person, I am assumed to be a bigot - on Twitter, I was met with comments like this:
@Jitterysquirrel: "When you fight against social progress and equality, you are a bigot. When you shit on those who don't, you're an asshole too."
What?! I'm not fighting against social progress, that's just ridiculous! All I'm doing is arguing that A+ does not equal good person, and that good person does not equal A+. I'm in favour of equality and progress as I hope other posts in this blog illustrate; I'm just not going to buy into the mentality that one must wordlessly submit to the A+ movement and promise never to disagree with any other member ever again in order to be a decent person. You know, because that's ridiculous.
I think the thing that bothers me most about the A+ movement, though, is how needlessly pessimistic - even plain cynical - it is. When I meet a new person, be it online or IRL, I assume they're NOT a dick until they give me reason to think otherwise (and occasionally, they do, of course). I would like to have the same courtesy extended to me, that's all. If I say something that betrays prejudice, bigotry or even just thoughtlessness, by all means call me on that because I don't want to be that kind of person - I want to know about my mistake and learn from it... but at least wait until I've actually cocked up before you start calling me an arsehole.
Atheism Plus is in many ways very deserving of praise. I am completely behind most of its values and aims. But by adopting the attitude of "if you're not with us, you're against us, against our values and therefore a bigot", they've shot themselves in the - well, not even in the foot. They've shot themselves in the head. I'm an A+ by everything except the label - but give me a ridiculously unnecessary (and hilariously melodramatic) ultimatum like that, and I'm out on principle. If that kind of bullying mob mentality worked, I'd still be a christian.