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“”It’s time for a new wave of atheism ... that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime.
Atheism Plus (also rendered Atheism+) was a movement proposed in 2012 by blogger Jen McCreight. Its original definition was rather nebulous, but in general, it encouraged progressive atheists to move beyond the question of (non-)belief and to address additional issues, including critical thinking, skepticism, social justice, feminism, anti-racism, and combating homophobia and transphobia.
The idea originated as a reaction to the nastiness flung about during a controversy over (sexual) harassment policies at atheist/skeptical conferences, which in turn was a re-ignition of the controversy over sexism in those two movements that had been smoldering since Elevatorgate.
The initiative largely went nowhere, and even proponents don't really use the term anymore. The phrase remains current, deployed as a snarl word by Reddit anti-feminists, Gamergate, the Slymepit, fans of Thunderf00t and other assholes who are active in atheist circles.
According to McCreight's original "Atheism+" blog post:
The concept originated in August of 2012 from a blog post by Jen McCreight. McCreight, who is an atheist plus a feminist, had previously spearheaded a protest known as "Boobquake", in which women dressed in revealing clothing on a specific day to lampoon the claim of Kazem Seddiqi (Iran's answer to Jerry Falwell) that earthquakes were caused by women dressing in revealing clothing. (Islamic leaders were noticeably quiet when no remarkable seismic events happened on that day.)
Many atheists, particularly the creepy sexist men, assumed that McCreight would only dress revealingly or call attention to her breasts if she were a slut. McCreight was swamped with invitations from simple-minded greasy creeps, not to talk about atheism or anything of that sort, but to have sex; and on the occasions when she was invited to give a talk, appalling online comments by other mouth-breathers centered around her appearance and her breasts.
This is sexual harassment, and McCreight asked people to stop, but Internet cranks, creeps, and such types are notoriously bad at doing what they are told, and things continued much as before. Furthermore, McCreight recounts being told that she could not credibly object to all this attention being paid to her breasts because she had drawn attention to them herself during Boobquake; according to these adversaries, "a joke about my boobs was eternal 'consent'."
The misogynistic backlash she experienced caused McCreight to become more political on her blog. However, each post she made about feminism attracted an assault of vile comments by sexist assholes describing her in highly gendered and less-than-flattering terms. This caused her to realize that many atheists were also misogynists, a realization that crystallized in the wake of the Elevatorgate controversy and the more egregious antics of that eminent YouTube jerk, TheAmazingAtheist, after which she felt less safe in the atheist movement than she did "walking down the fucking sidewalk" (emphasis hers).
This caused her to conclude that the atheist movement needed to re-brand itself in order to shut these unruly and vain talkers up. Drawing an analogy with the successive waves of feminism, she called this proposed re-branding a new "wave" of atheism. The first wave she identified as being "the traditional philosophers, freethinkers, and academics". The second wave were those who broke bold new ground by publicly criticizing religion - generally identified as Richard Dawkins and the other New Atheists.[note 1] The latest wave, then, would be the new wave McCreight was proposing, a wave that focuses more on sociopolitical issues and "applies skepticism to everything".
Very surprisingly, the deluge of disgusting comments that had slimed her similar articles on these topics abruptly ceased, and 95% of the comments on this post were positive. Her hand strengthened by this show of support, she officially kicked off her proposed third wave of atheism, calling it "Atheism+".
After these two posts, however, vicious comments resumed, reaching such a fever pitch that it caused her to step back from blogging regularly for an indeterminate amount of time. It didn't stop the hatestorm.
Atheism Plus vs. humanism
According to PZ Myers, Atheism Plus represents an attempt at a new variant of secular humanism that does not appropriate the religious trappings of many secular humanist groups. Alternatively, Atheism Plus represents a wedding of the New Atheist's in-your-face attitude about religion with social justice concerns. Either way, Atheism Plus is secular humanism that explicitly takes a skeptical approach to common social prejudices such as misogyny and racism; the specific reference to atheism acknowledges that atheism itself is only part of a skeptical take on the world.
In response to these questions, Jen McCreight wrote a blog post to clarify her position. McCreight maintained that not all humanists are atheists or skeptical, and that not all skeptics are atheists or humanists. She further argued that general public does not really understand what "humanist" means. Furthermore, the humanist community puts a lot of focus on replicating church-like communities and having chaplaincies, a standard that atheists could be opposed to.
In general, atheists are united by one factor: disbelief in deities. While many atheists share similar views (skepticism, humanism), not all of them do; atheists may be superstitious, selfish, fanatical, or bigoted. The fact that atheism is not a framework of values leaves individuals seeking such a framework with few options. While humanism is popular, the term itself has a long history, with attendant baggage, and historically most humanists were not atheists. Atheism Plus, like humanism, presents itself as a set of values not only concerned with the general morality or goodwill but also with more explicit attitudes regarding social equality and justice; but unlike humanism, it includes atheism as an essential component.
In addition to the continuing personal attacks against McCreight, Atheism Plus itself has provoked fierce opposition from groups that see it as a feminist incursion on atheism, especially misogynist groups like the Men's Rights movement. Their critiques misrepresent Atheism Plus as a simple repackaging of old-school feminism, or at least a straw-man version thereof, in which feminists are leading a secret and powerful conspiracy to cut men's gonads off and/or spoil their fun, a la Andrea Dworkin or Valerie Solanas. Under this belief, they have launched massive broadsides of abuse at Atheism Plus supporters, specifically the women among them, who became the targets of, i.a., sexualized insults and rape threats.
In contrast to this straw-man vision of feminism, Atheism Plus is explicitly not sex-negative, although it is emphatically opposed to creepiness and sexual harassment. Thus, while those who bring such flak against it probably think they are arguing for Free Love or something of the kind, in the real world it works out to arguing for the legitimization of sexual harassment.
Although Atheism Plus began with a strong emphasis on the feminist part of its formal agenda, this was partially due to its roots in a response to sexual harassment and sexually violent language being tossed at women within the atheist community, and partially due to the actions of the misogynists themselves, who have kept the focus on gender issues. For example, there has been nowhere near this level of controversy over the anti-racist plank of the Atheism Plus platform (but no doubt there are some Bell Curvers out there waiting to inject some "race realism" into the matter).
There have also been objections from atheists who believe that atheism, as a concept, should not be tied to a specific socio-political agenda, including some humanists who support the agenda in question. McCreight has also described how some atheists believe that the concept is needlessly tearing the atheist movement apart, or that the atheist movement should be tackling more relevant issues, such as "debunking homeopathy for the 983258th time or thinking up yet another great zinger to use against Young Earth Creationists," rather than engaging in socio-political advocacy.
Shortly after the introduction of the symbol it came to light that the Atheism Plus symbol is almost identical to a symbol that's been used by Non-Believers Giving Aid for at least four years. This may be intentional plagiarism, cryptomnesia (unintentional plagiarism), or (most likely) coincidental. Adding a + sign to the atheism symbol is fairly obvious and perhaps two groups can think that up independently.
In any case, the Atheism Plus website wound up picking a somewhat different symbol resembling an @ sign with a + in it.
Several other bloggers/writers have advocated nearly identical viewpoints, adopting names like Positive Atheism (as distinct from positive atheism) or Ethical Atheism.
It is commonplace for people who don't like Atheism+ and don't like RationalWiki to assert that RW is A+ or was taken over by A+. However, there are still 0 people we know of in common between them.
- FTB - Blag Hag: Atheism+
- An article about Atheism Plus on New Statesman
- Official Atheism Plus forums
- Atheism+ Wiki
- Which is not to say others haven't done much the same thing, notably the communists who were doing it en masse a century earlier for much the same reasons, consequently giving atheism a bad name in many quarters.
- Jen McCreight. How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism. Blag Hag. 2012 August 18.
- Jen McCreight. Atheism+. Blag Hag. 2012 August 19.
- Jen McCreight. Goodbye for now. Blag Hag. 2012 September 4.
- Jen McCreight. You know how I was afraid the hate would spread to my family? Blag Hag. 2012 September 10.
- Amplified Atheist. Atheism Plus. What's the point? 2012 August 23.
- Massimo Pigliucci. On A+, with a comment about Richard Carrier’s intemperance. Rationally Speaking. 2012 August 29.
- Libby Anne. "Humanism" and "Atheism+": What's the Difference? Love, Joy, Feminism. 2012 August 20.
- PZ Myers. Following up on last night’s Atheism+ discussion. Pharyngula. 2012 August 27.
- Jen McCreight. Why Atheism+ and not Humanism?. Blag Hag. 2012 August 20.
- McCreight responds
- Agent of Doubt. A+ Plagiarism. YouTube. 2012 August 31.