Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Let’s see…I’m a skeptic, humanist, atheist…

Posted by Ethan Clow on August 23, 2012

There’s been a lot of discussion lately regarding the new Atheism + group/ideology proposed by Jen McCreight, which I think is great. I wanted to throw in my two cents regarding this, Don has already started discussing the topic as well so you can see what he has to say about it. But to start with, let’s consider what’s on the table here. Jen’s new wave of atheism would expand the circle of previous atheist advocacy to include discussion of social justice issues like racism, homophobia, feminism, political issues and more.

To quote her:

“This new wave of atheism isn’t about declaring “We’ve already achieved something better” or “We’re not like those assholes.” You don’t just get your shiny membership pin and get to say you’re done. This is about saying “We want to work TOWARDS something better.” We need to recognize that there’s still room for self-improvement and to address the root of why we’ve been having these problems in atheism and skepticism. We need to focus on actual change instead of prematurely crowning ourselves victorious.”

I think this will be a great project and I really hope this expanded “big tent” wave of atheism activism takes hold of people and really energizes the movement. Of course I suspect there will be some who will dig in their heels and refuse to acknowledge that atheists can have a position on such “wishy washy” topics like politics or social justice.  Or point out the fatal flaw that you can’t take social justice under the microscope like you can with homeopathy.

That of course comes with a bit of irony since there are plenty of skeptics out there that feel the same about atheism in general. You can’t put God under the microscope.

I pretty much left that way of thinking behind years ago. In fact I’m still routinely face palming every time I see some skeptic/atheist/humanist wag their finger at someone because they are attempting to apply some avenue of free thought to a topic that said finger wagging -ist doesn’t think falls under the limited scope of their preferred -ism.

This debate, the question of what we should be skeptical of/what should we focus our resources on, has been going on since there was an organized free thought movement.

When I first joined in I took a look around to see what the pulse of the various groups and organizations was like. I was surveying the room so to speak. Trying to figure out which conversation I would have the most to say in, and coincidently, which conversation I wanted the most to be a part of.

I happen to love the term “skeptic.” I felt then and now, it most accurately describes what I am. Even though I also identify as an atheist, a humanist, a free thinker, a feminist, a progressive, a liberal and so forth.

See, my background, I was an atheist first, more in the teenage rebellion aspect, but I also had a huge love of critical thinking spurred on by reading books by Carl Sagan. This was all before I even knew there was a free thought movement. When I encountered the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast I had this great moment of realization “holy crap there are people who think like I do!”  That was my first clue that there was an organized effort out there to promote the values I saw as important; skepticism, science, atheism, critical thinking…

Perhaps that’s why I really like the term “skeptic” it was the first way of describing my thought process that I heard. Even though the SGU podcast rarely talked about religion or atheism, or dived into political or social justice issues, I felt that with a mandate like skepticism – vigorous rational inquiry into the world, how could you not being on the side of social justice?

Of course not everyone agrees with me. There are some skeptics who just as vigorously deny any connection between skepticism and atheism. Likewise with humanism. Meh. Fuck them I guess. Okay, that was harsh. No, in all seriousness, I wish them well with their chosen goals. Finger wagging aside, I have long said we need every voice possible promoting this rational movement. Those who do wag fingers… yes they can go fuck off because they are in fact hurting our movement. They push away allies and demoralize the rest of us.

I really have no problem with groups like the JREF not engaging in social justice issues because, well, they would suck at that. Who are the JREF’s experts? Magicians and scientists. These aren’t the kind of people who I want weighing in on social justice. Does that mean that when the JREF puts on a big skeptical conference they should avoid having speakers who are historians, sociologists, harm reduction drug activists, criminologists or whomever? No, because in that case those speakers would be experts on those topics and they there’s nothing anti-skeptical about those topics for a bunch of evidence loving folks to digest and debate.

Of course I do have a problem with groups make statements about the limits of our inquiry (it’s free inquiry for a reason, yes?) Obviously we need these groups to be aware of the effect of making events and conferences safe places and welcoming to people who don’t love to hear homeopathy debunked for the umpteenth time. That’s a given and I’m flabbergasted anyone anywhere actually doubts that.

What I like about this Atheism+ thing is that Jen and her other supporters seem keen on brining in the social justice experts, including them in the conversation, and that’s a great way to expand our diversity of topics. Making a point of talking about social justice is great. Having something intelligent to say on it is better.

Here on Radio Freethinker, we have unequivocally supported the “big tent” mentality. By our twentieth episode we had covered such “big tent” ideas like morality, religion, politics, racism and history. And we were just getting started. We’ve discussed everything from ‘how to debate ghost believers’ to harm reduction drug policy and corporal punishment. (Also for the record, we admit to not being experts on anything. We do research and invite people to disagree with us. Sometimes we’re wrong but we’re doing our best to apply our skepticism.)

I joked on Facebook that I was skeptical everything before being skeptical of everything was cool.

So will I identify as an Atheist+? Sure I guess so. I’ll add it to my list. Let me see if I can get this right, bear with me.

I’m a skeptic, I navigate the world around me with a skeptical method of inquiry, I gain my sense of morality and ethics from humanism and when possible, they are informed by science. I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in gods and this is informed by my scientific understanding of how the universe works. Plus(!) I extend my skepticism to my views of social justice; freedom, equality, and kindness. In that, I not only skeptically investigate what social justice policies work, but that I encourage those social justice policies in my skeptical activism.

There. A bit long for a button or logo but that’s what I think.


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