My views on Atheism Plus

So there's apparently been a bit of a flurry over Atheism Plus - which is, depending on how you want to define it, humanism, a new religion, a bit of idiocy, or atheism plus social justice/not being a dick. Some people are coming out in favour of it; some, including a fair few of the Twitter atheists I follow (though I could just be mistaking being vocal with actual numbers - I've not seriously tried to tot up any statistics, being a lazy shit), are opposed to it.

I suppose it wouldn't be fair of me to launch into my opinion without first trying to provide a definition of Atheism Plus, so here's Jen McCreight, who appears to have launched the whole thing, in her own words:
"We are…
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism."
As some people have pointed out, this is humanism and just generally being a good person. And atheism plus humanism (note how I differentiate the two, because it's a point I want to develop later on) is a combination that I consider very good indeed - although given the choice between atheism without humanism and humanism without atheism, I'd pick the latter. I consider matters of good more important than matters of God.

The first thing to note is that if this is a movement, it's a very new one - it seems to have sprung up in the past couple of days, though depending on who you ask it's been brewing for more than a year now. I therefore think that the best thing to do would be to watch and wait what comes of it rather than giving in to emotional reactions immediately. A+ also seems to have attracted quite a large backlash, which may itself cause a deeper schism; it may quash the movement or it may make it grow stronger. There are too many variables at play here for me to be able to predict what's going to happen.

The second thing to note is the idea that the founders of Atheism Plus have something...well, something off about them, be it something cultish, not treating people who disagree with them with respect, that sort of thing...I've heard about the many fallouts and schisms in atheist and sceptic movements and, being a shy individualist, I've largely stayed out of it. Again, I would reserve judgement and if possible rethink my prejudices - though the @atheism_plus account on Twitter sometimes gets on my nerves, I won't lie! (I don't follow them but they sometimes show up in retweets.)

Right, now that that's over with, I can get on with stating my opinion!

I agree with social justice, women's rights, anti-racism and fighting homophobia and transphobia, as well as a whole load of other things in that vein. But - unlike the A+ gang - I don't mix my atheism in with my ethics. I keep them separate, because my values do not logically follow from my atheism.

I also think that the A+ movement smacks more than a little bit of trying to create an atheist creed. I've seen these things before, and each time they worry me. Atheism is the lack of belief in a deity or deities. That's it. No more, no less. Nothing about moral values in there. And that's the way I like it. I detest organised thought, because where organised thought leads, dogma follows. Seeing dogma in a movement that tries to combat religious dogma would kill a part of me. Actually, if I may be so bold, seeing dogma in a movement of people who should be standing against dogma is utterly vile and I oppose it with every fibre of my being. A+ also seems to have rules about what people should believe in addition to being atheists, which worries me. One of the things I like about being an atheist and being in the atheist community is that there are no rules about what I should believe. None. Nada. The only requirement is a lack of belief in a deity or deities, but apart from that, anything goes. I've met a lot of people with a lot of diverse views and while I don't always agree with said views, I've never tried to say that people aren't True Atheists for holding views different from mine. To do that would be to go against the idea that there are no rules, that you can think freely, and to replace that with yet another set of requirements to be a True Whatever. You know, the very thing that I thought atheism was opposed to. And this is where A+ differs from being, say, an Atheist Knitting Club or a group targeted at students, since neither make the claim that not joining the group means you're a worse person or Not A True Atheist. The @atheism_plus account has openly said "if you don't agree with our (very simple) values you are a douche". How's that for being intolerant, and in your own group as well?!

Another concern with trying to create atheist creeds - apart from the risk of dogma - is that it splits the atheist community. I've heard people defend this idea of a split, saying that they don't want to be associated with (say) racist, homophobic or transphobic atheists. I can understand where they're coming from - I'd rather work with a kind and accepting theist than a bigoted atheist, because doing right in the world is more important to me than whether people believe in deities. (Yes, I understand that the two issues are not completely separate, but I tend to focus on the morality of things rather than on what people believe.) However, not only is the atheist community quite dangerously small, especially at a time when the religious right only seems to be getting more extreme and hateful, but splitting the community creates a risk of infighting and various people screaming about whether their atheism is the One True Atheism or not. As I've mentioned above, we cannot afford this. We cannot afford to be weakened, no matter the good intentions of the people doing the weakening.

The last concern I'd like to speak about here is one I've already touched on: I've seen some A+ accounts who assume that if you're not an atheist+, you must not be a good person. I don't know if all do this, but it worries me because it shows closed-minded thinking. This isn't just a problem with A+, religion, or whatever group you care to slate, it's a problem that seems to exist in all groups I've met to some extent. This doesn't mean it should be tolerated - especially in a movement that would like to pride itself on thinking freely.

I'm an atheist, yes. I am also a feminist who stands against the kyriarchy and all forms of prejudice and oppression, or I would like to be, but my privilege gets in the way and I am acutely aware that I'm highly likely to fuck up and need to take a back seat. But I'm against A+ for muddling those two things up, for being more than a little dogmatic, for assuming that if I don't join I must not be a good person, and for already managing to create schisms. I separate my atheism and my values and consider myself an atheist without adjectives. Simple as that.

I'd really like to be able to say "Yes, I support A+". I really do. I think it's a good thing that people are trying to not be dicks to the world. I would really like to not have objections to it, because I agree with most of its ideas (the ones about not being an asshole). But there are too many flaws and too many worrying aspects for me to turn a blind, intellectually dishonest eye to them, and as a responsible atheist and humanist I consider it my duty to point them out. Besides, if A+ is such a good idea it should be able to withstand my criticism.

Overall, I agree with the humanistic values A+ preaches (yes, I think preaches is the right word here). In fact, I would encourage more people to take them up, simply because I think they're better for the world. But I would not agree with A+'s muddling of atheism and humanism, its danger of slipping into dogma, or its risk of creating schisms and infighting. Having considered this, I say think freely - but I advise you not to jump on the A+ bandwagon.