Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Righteous Battles of Privileged Atheists

The other day, my friend Bridget McKinney made the following statement on her excellent tumblr Greater Than Lapsed:
"I’m increasingly convinced that the reason that movement atheism is so dominated by white men is because there is no other way they can experience oppression."
She received a flood of rebuttals, rebukes, and high-fives on this statement, but one of the more interesting thoughts that came out of this conversation is a statement by Bridget that--to pararaphrase--many white atheist men, unaware of their privilege, are overwhelmingly concerned with the few first world problems that their lifestyle and our social structure allow to get through to them. I.E., whether or not 'under god' is on our currency, keeping 'merry christmas' greetings out of public schools, etc.

David Silverman of the American Atheists' group seems to have made it his goal in life to  embody this complaint. From the Friendly Atheist site:
"This morning, American Atheists’ Dave Silverman made an offer to Cee Lo Green after the singer altered the lyrics to “Imagine” on New Years Eve:
Come to the Reason Rally and sing the song with the line “And no religion, too.” Dave even offered to pay the expenses for the trip."
I don't know. When movement atheists go after Tim Tebow, or make too big of a deal out of vulgarities like Cee Lo Green's embarrassing (to him) rendition of Imagine, I can only roll my eyes. It's fine to engage in trifles. It can be fun. But when a group that is supposed to represent America's Atheists becomes overly identified in the popular consciousness with waging righteous battles over the kinds of issues listed in this post, I think it trivializes them.That's too bad. In movement politics, it's important to consider the perceptions of the casual follower.


There was a lot of misunderstanding of this piece over at Daily Kos, so I thought it might be useful to clarify a few things.

This is by no means a piece telling anyone to shut up. I think it's great and important to put the spotlight on stupid and regressive things that occur in our culture. There are a lot of stupid things that we could turn our spotlight on, and some stupid things deserve our attention and scorn more than others.  I also should say that I'm a member of the American Atheists'. I support the group, and think Dave Silverman is a charming and thoughtful spokesperson. However, he has made a series of public comments that have been groan-worthy, and I think the initiative against the 9-11 cross was a terrible waste of time and energy that was totally counter-productive. I suppose the bottom line is that I wish more atheists in the public sphere would put their gravitas behind issues like poverty and homelessness. When atheism fuels the pursuit of social justice, you get a bigger sense of urgency, I think. We also have all of these charming and intelligent spokespeople out there (way more charming and intelligent than me) who I think would be great advocates. Atheism and social justice fit beautifully together, and I'd like to see more freethinkers speak up about these issues publicly.

Leave Cee Lo to the Lennon fans.


Lodo Grdzak said...

Good post Spence:

By the way, we've got a problem w/ your book. I want to buy one, but I also want to maintain my anonymity (not that I'm concerned about you, but I have my reasons). If you email me an address, I can mail you payment. Then you can send the book.

What do you think?

Spencer Troxell said...

Thanks for the support, Lodo. Why don't we just make it less complicated and have me send you a copy free of charge? You could look me up on facebook and send the the address you want it to go to.

Lodo Grdzak said...

Well shit, that'll work! I'll shoot you my info over the weekend.