We Are Not Allies


I was 21 when I first realized I was an atheist, and the same age when I told my mom and brother. I told my dad only a few months later, but after I turned 22.

During this period, it was all I was. I was just an atheist. I wasn’t anything else. I lived and breathed atheism, searched for atheists and atheist stuff online, and my antitheism came screaming out like never before. Because I was an antitheist first. Bill Hicks indulged my antitheism long before I realized I didn’t even believe in a higher power or powers. I realized I was an antitheist when I was 16 and started hating authority. It was only natural that I’d abhor religion, while still believing in a living god who’d talk directly to you, without the aid of some pathetic book or middle-man (clergy).

But then I read The God Delusion, and then the Bible. And I was an atheist.

And for years, I was happy with anyone who was an atheist. I didn’t care if they were feminists or misogynists. I didn’t care if they tried to fight patriarchy and rape culture or denied their existence. But I would only fight alongside atheists and I would never fight alongside a theist, because theists were crazy/delusional and faith was a virus… and “The God Delusion” was my bible.

So it’s safe to say I did the whole “critical thinking” thing wrong.

Because the longer I’ve been part of the atheist and skeptic communities, the more I’ve realized how absolutely screwed up that way of thinking is.

In short: atheism is no longer enough. It’s not even essential, anymore. Just because you don’t believe in god doesn’t mean you and I will get along.

And that, right there, is the crux of the issue, now.

There is a phrase that popular atheists have been using that makes me cringe… even moreso because I’ve used it myself in the past:

“Atheists are the last minority it’s still okay to hate.”

The problem with this statement is simple: it’s a lie! Atheists are not the last minority it’s still okay to hate, because if you’re aware of society even a little bit, then you’ll realize that it’s still okay to hate all minorities!

I should probably note now that I’m talking about political minorities, not numbers minorities. I say that because if we go by numbers alone, then straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, Christian, wealthy males are clearly a minority. But when talking about the balance of power, that minority holds the balance of power almost completely in Western Society. So when I say “minority”, I mean political minority, not numbers minority.

It’s still okay to hate anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum, no matter where they might fall. It’s still okay to hate people of color. It’s still okay to hate women. And yes, it’s still okay to hate atheists, as well.

It’s also okay in this country to hate vegans, and Jews, and Muslims, and fat people, and skinny people, and Sikhs, and Hindus, and Buddhists, and people who are physically and/or mentally disabled… in short… bigoted intolerance is still acceptable in western society.

So when people say that atheists are the last minority it’s still okay to hate, it makes me wonder if they’re paying attention… at all.

You see… acceptance of atheists simply isn’t enough for me anymore. I want acceptance of all people, regardless of worldview, race, gender, sexuality, etc. This is why I’m a progressive.

This is why I’m a feminist.

And I’m no longer above working alongside religious people to achieve those goals. Malala Yousafzai is a Muslim. John Fugelsang believes in Jesus. Melissa Harris-Perry is a Unitarian Universalist. bell hooks is very spiritual. Kelly Barnhill is Catholic. Nelson Mandela was a Methodist.

And yet I would rather fight alongside all of them for social justice than Michael Shermer and Penn Jillette for even just atheism.

I also no longer accept the idea that faith is a delusion. I’m still thinking about the idea that faith is a virus, but if that’s the case, then memes should be considered cultural viruses, as well… in fact, if we’re taking the basic definition of a virus minus the negative baggage, anything you’re taught through education qualifies as a cultural virus. Which sort of makes the term “virus” rather useless. Calling faith a disability of any kind is offensive, but Miri Mogilevsky has already covered this one wonderfully, and since she is always right, you should read what she has to say on it.

For the record, this isn’t “faitheism” or “accomodationism”. I still think religion is a net bad in society and that the entire world would be better off without it. I do think that the idea of a higher power is ridiculous on the face of it. And if they give me the chance (that is, they question my atheism), I will gladly question Malala’s, John’s, Melissa’s, bell hooks’s, and Kelly’s faith. I do not like Christianity (including Mormonism, Catholicism, Quaker, Methodist, Amish, and all other iterations of Jesus-believing faiths) at all. I like Islam even less. I love Judaism as a culture, but hate the religious aspects of it, and I am very critical of Zionism. I’m not even a fan of Hinduism and Buddhism!

And I still hate the bad thinking that can go along with faith, like pseudoscience, alternative medicine, using God as a stop-gap, etc.

I’m also still pretty sure I’d have trouble being married to (or otherwise in a long-term, committed relationship with) a theist… but that’s another blog post for another time (and is actually not as certain as it once was).

So this is not about accomodationism or faitheism in any way, shape, or form. It’s about what matters.

And so we get to the point of this post.

If you do not think bigotry is a problem…

If you are against shining a critical light onto atheist and skeptic communities…

If you think Ayn Rand was a great, or even good, thinker…

If you don’t think harassment of women is a problem…

If you are skeptical of privilege and patriarchy and rape culture…

If you’re first thought when you see a picture of a 15-year-old girl with her new book by Carl Sagan given to her by her deeply religious mom is “tears are nature’s lubricant”, or you would defend someone posting that on the picture with “it was just a joke!”…

If you think making fun of victims of rape because they were raped is even remotely funny…

If you think a woman saying “guys, don’t do that” is the worst thing to ever happen to men ever…

If you think that a lonely hotel elevator at 4:00am in a foreign country is the only possible setting for you to “pick up chicks”…

If you (as a white person) think it’s okay to call a woman of color out because she calls out very clear and very obvious racism, and then try to explain to her why she (someone who has experiences you will never have) is wrong…

If you think that getting a woman so drunk she can’t even consent is not rape…

If you really do think that false rape accusations are so prevalent that it’s helpful to even suggest that a victim is lying…

And in that vein… if you think “innocent until proven guilty” is a legitimate concept outside a court of law…

If you think the free speech clause in the first amendment is a “FREEDOM TO SAY WHATEVER I WANT TO WHOMEVER I WANT WITHOUT FACING THE CONSEQUENCES” clause that applies even to private spaces, such as private blogs (instead of a clause protecting you from government persecution if you happen to dislike the government and thus only protects you in government-owned spaces)…

If you think that men are an oppressed minority who need activists to fight for our rights…

If you’ve managed to replace God with “The Invisible Hand of the Market”, or if you’ve ever used that phrase non-ironically or uncritically…

If you think “no” is just a yes that needs coaxing…

If you think that mansplaining is not a thing…

If you think misandry is equivalent to misogyny…

Another note, here… I do in fact think misandry is a thing, but I think misandry is perpetuated far more by Men’s Rights Activists, Nice GuysTM, and as a side-effect of our patriarchal society, than by feminists… and it is clearly not an institutionalized bigotry like misogyny is…

If you use the term Social Justice Warrior as a derogatory term…

If you are Pro-Life…

If you think people of color can be racist like white people have been and are racist…

If you “don’t get” trans* people…

Then I really don’t care how much of an atheist you are. I really don’t care how much you hate religion. I really don’t care how badly you want to see atheists accepted in society.

I have no interest in fighting alongside you for anything… not even for atheism.

So yeah… simply being an atheist isn’t good enough any more. You need to be more than that. You need to be better than that. Or I’m simply not interested in forming an alliance with you.

It really is that simple. I don’t believe that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, because the enemy of my enemy may in fact be my enemy, as well, and may ultimately stab me in the back. Why should I extend that trust when I have no idea if you’ll extend the same trust to me? You have to prove yourself, first, and if we can’t even agree on basic social justice issues, then we aren’t allies.

Period.

About Nathan Hevenstone

All this is stream-of-consciousness. See my "About" page to find our more about me...
This entry was posted in Abortion, Activism, Anti-Choice, Atheism, Bigotry, Bullying, Catholicism, Christianity, Feminism, Free Speech, Government, Homophobia, Islam, Judaism, Law, Misogyny, Politics, Pro-Choice, Racism, Rape Culture, Religion, Secularism, Sexism, Skepticism, Social Justice and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to We Are Not Allies

  1. Loved this! I deeply relate to how you used to see someone being atheist as being enough, since it was the exact same way for me. Then, for me, it was “enough” when someone was not homophobic. Now it’s those plus being feminist (not-racist seemed a given for me). But you’re right. It still isn’t enough. We should, ideally, be vigilant to all forms of oppression. And since invisibility is one of the most insidious forms and allies of oppression, we should also be, when the topics arise, conversant about all we stand for and against.

    Nowadays, regarding faiths, I’m less concerned with our ideas of supreme beings and more concerned with our ideas of human beings.

    And even THOSE concerns are enough to boggle my mind :P

  2. missdisplaced says:

    Question: Is it possible to be a pagan – Atheist?
    I would generally say that I am atheist. As in, I have no special belief in a so-called divine being called “god” that rules our every move in life, nor subscribe to any particular religion.
    However, I do feel a more general (belief?, feeling?) the life on our planet Earth is connected, as well being connected to our universe in general. Many say this makes me pagan, though I don’t worship or follow any “pagan” gods or deities. I would say that I am often drawn to Buddhist teachings, but only in the sense that I think Buddhism comes about the closest I’ve found to explaining an understanding of life, death and our place in the world and the universe.

  3. Gwen says:

    Hi. I’m a Quaker. At the moment I don’t attend worship regularly, but I do still identify myself as a Quaker and for the most part live by the Testimonies (peace, simplicity, equality, truth). I do believe in some kind of divinity, but having been raised to see God as being within people, I find myself very humanist and lately just… the more science I learn, the more fascinating and beautiful it reveals itself to be, the more I just feel worshipful of the universe. I studied philosophy in university so I could examine the intersections between faith and science, ended up focusing more on feminism instead.

    Anyway, two things. First and less importantly on Quakerism, as you mention it briefly; it’s actually debatable whether we’re Christians. I’m not, and I’ve certainly had mainstream Christians make it very plain that they wouldn’t consider me one anyway! Yet I’ve met more than a few Pagan Quakers, at least one Buddhist Quaker and, yes, a couple of Atheist Quakers. (Sometimes thought I might be one of them.) I’m not sure I’ve ever met a real live Quaker who accepted Jesus as their saviour – that’s actually in direct contradiction of the main point about Quakerism, which is that you are your OWN saviour. Or priest, anyway. We’re not big on the “saving” thing.

    Second, more importantly. It was nice to read this. I have had run-ins with militant atheists – even lived with one for a year, oi vey was that a bad plan – of the type you neatly sum up with “I was happy with *anyone* who was an atheist. ” I make a point of being open to discussion and having my beliefs questioned, and not to bring them up otherwise unless it’s actually relevant, but some of these folks have given me a whole new understanding of “turning the other cheek”, y’know? So it was really nice to read a post from someone who has had that outlook and come to realize that it’s not okay, that there are things that are even more important. Because yeah, I don’t care what you believe or what I believe, if you make a rape joke at me I’m probably going to punch you, Peace testimony be damned. :P

    At the same time, this kind of comes off to me as reciting a list of social justice meme (in the sense that Dawkins would use the word).without engaging a lot of the critical thinking you mentioned. I could be entirely off-base, this is the only post I’ve read from you. But it comes across that way. Part of it may be that saying “I want acceptance of all people, regardless of worldview, race, gender, sexuality, etc.” and then listing off various religions and your relative dislike of them seems, well… hm. Not incredibly accepting. (I’m NOT doing the whole “boo hoo atheists are totally persecuting believers!” thing here. I don’t think that and don’t have a problem with your views on religions. It just seemed unnecessary in this context, like you’re taking time out of a post about acceptance to make sure it doesn’t nerf your atheist cred too much. Dunno.)

    Sorry, this has gotten a bit rambly. Good post though. I have the feeling it’d be interesting to get into a conversation about this stuff with you. :)

    • Hi! Welcome! Most of the Quakers I’ve known were Christian Quakers, and thus my experience with it has been through that lense.

      I’ll start with noting my dislike of religion… you have to understand something. When I look at the world, I see a lot of problems: disease and starvation, bigotry in the extreme, war… things everyone recognizes. But so many people turn to their god to try and help, without ever thinking about it. Because if a deity who could actually help existed, where has he/she/it/they been all these centuries? Why is it always privileged people who seem to get help, and under-privileged people who get screwed?

      On the hours and days after 9/11/2001, it was sickening how many survivors praised God and thanked God… and all I could think was… “so all those people who died weren’t good enough for God? He felt it was good to put your privileged ass on the first or second floor so you could run out of there and find some relative safety, but thousands of others… what… pissed him off?” And then the fucking cross… to this day that is something I abhor completely and utterly. I don’t understand how more people didn’t look at that and either stopped believing in, or started hating, God. “Gee. Sorry… I didn’t have enough time to save those thousands of people because I was busy killing children in Africa. But here… I threw together this little cross to remind you of how much I ‘love’ you”.

      And to compound this shitty thinking taught, yes, by religion, we have anti-science problems (Christians trying to force Young-Earth Creationism and Global Warming denialism into science classrooms), “alternative medicine”, anti-vaxxers (I’ve yet to meet atheist/agnostic anti-vaxxers, but of course that does not mean they aren’t out there), faith healing, etc.

      And let’s look at Africa. For me, Africa is a very huge example of the general evil of the Catholic Church. Popes have, in the past, actually spread the lie in Africa that condoms can spread and cause AIDs.

      Actually, for the Catholic Church, you should watch this IQ2 debate in which Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry utterly destroy Archbishop John Onaiyekan and MP Anne Widdecombe over the question of whether or not the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world. I’m really not a fan of Christopher Hitchens, but it is absolutely my favorite debate of all time, and one of the few times, I think, when there was a clear and obvious winner.

      Also consider the Middle East. It’s pretty obvious that we’re staring down the barrel of World War 3 with that situation, and I think it’s pretty obvious that the problem here is indeed religion. This is three religions fighting over what they mistakenly believe is “the Cradle of Civilization” because it says so in the Bible. people can talk about oil and land and xenophobia all they want, but at the end of the day, as long as the issue of religion is ignored and allowed to be a continued influence in the Middle East, peace is very likely impossible.

      And yes, I’ll grant that these are ultimately on people, but religion itself is also ultimately on people, and religion is part of the circular continuum causing all of this. And I think religion is what we need to pull out to break that circle. Some people say that if we lose religion, humans will find other excuses to fight, but I don’t think that’ll necessarily be the case because nothing has been used as an excuse so readily and so easily as religion has.

      As to this being a sort of laundry list… it is, and that’s the point. I’m not being short with you, so please don’t take this that way, but I’m trying to avoid this being a 101 blog. There are a lot of places online that discuss this stuff at the basic, take on the “beginner” questions, and even engage in critical thinking. My blog is for those who’ve already passed the 101 level and have moved on.

      I should probably also note that I’m a bad writer and I’ve never claimed otherwise. My posts are “stream of consciousness”, meaning they’re often thought out as I write them, and then I post them. If I feel I need to get deeper into subjects, I just write new posts. And when posts do indeed require deeper discussion, they take longer. This is why I haven’t updated my two series: “In Defense of Activist Atheism”, and “Portrait of a Left-Winger”… both are predicated on research, and thus require time I don’t really have. So new posts will be written and posted for both series, but only as I have time I can put aside to work on them.

      I hope this response didn’t come across too snippy. It’s stream-of-consciousness, as well, so… um… I’m not upset or anything and I’m very happy to have a conversation with you. Please feel welcome to continue posting… :)

      • ZenGwen says:

        Hi Nathan,

        Sorry for delay in replying – I signed up for follow-ups by email, but it must have gone to spam? Anyway!

        No, you didn’t come across as snippy. :)

        And yes, I’m right there with you on a lot of this stuff. ESPECIALLY the anti-science and anti-vaxxing. That last one…. I just… Arrrgghh! Makes me incredibly angry. And I’m sure that you and I have very similar problems with the Catholic church. I do disagree about 9/11… I’m not sure how many people you know were directly involved – I wasn’t, but we lived fairly nearby and I did have a few classmates who lost parents in the attacks. (I’m 2 years younger than you, for reference.) Having lost my dad to cancer just a few years later, I’m not going to deny anyone any kind of psychological comfort in that situation. It’s just hard to comprehend. Even if looking to God is a placebo (and I think it may well be), fine. Do what you gotta do. If it helps someone make sense of the horror they just experienced, or of the unexpected loss of a family member, great. Personally I didn’t find any comfort in God after my dad died, but I did find comfort in the tradition of Meeting for Worship, the quiet, the community. There are very few things that can help in those situations, so whatever works.

        But for the most part, yeah, I’m with you.

        That’s all really beside the point, though, because I honestly wasn’t trying to attack your dislike of religion. I can absolutely understand that, and I wasn’t looking for debates on atheism, “beginner” or not. I think you and my husband have a lot in common on this stuff, actually – and when I met him his parents were doing missionary work in Rwanda, so yeah, I hear a lot of these “discussions”! Unsurprisingly, I usually come down on the side of my atheist husband. :)

        What I was trying to get at was more that in this post, the dislike of religion seems kind of shoehorned in and does the piece a disservice. It was so good with the acceptance and the message of “Look, sometimes, some things really are important enough that we can put this aside.” And then you kind of undermined that message by going “But no really guys I still don’t like religion, let me tell you about some ones I don’t like!” I dunno. I understand why you do, and I understand why you write about, and for the most part I think that’s a good thing to be doing, but in this post, it undermined your message.

        Probably just down to it being stream-of-consciousness. :)

      • ZenGwen says:

        (Also, apologies for occasional terrible grammar. I’m doing brief editing before posting and seem to keep cutting out small words. Oops.)

      • It’s my turn to apologize for the late reply. It’s been a year! Heh… :D

        (… okay… look… I never claimed to be funny! I know those new year jokes are lame… but my jokes are always lame, so there! :P )

        I admit to throwing that anti-religion bit in partially, at least, to head off the faitheist/accomodationist slurs I know I’d otherwise get from some atheists. I did feel it was necessary to note that I hadn’t lost my general anti-theism because that’s true.. I haven’t. Even if by some weird and twisted miracle I ever regain faith, I’ll very likely die a proud and unabashed religion-hater.

        However, my point is that I’ll no longer let that be a hindrance to me forming alliances with people who champion the cause of social justice if those people happen to be religious. I may disagree with them, vehemently, on matters of faith and gods and the supernatural and whatnot, and if they bring it up, I won’t mince words about my feelings on all of that, but we agree on so much else and are fighting for so many of the same goals that I can, actually rather easily, overlook the fact that they believe in a higher power and life after death and ghosts and so on.

        Mainly because it really isn’t religious people I hate, so much as the institution itself.

  4. kawb1011 says:

    I, too, am an atheist, but I’ve never been particularly activist or vocal about it or joined any kind of group or movement, so I never went through the phase you describe. Maybe because I realized I was an atheist when I was still in elementary school, but was still surrounded by small-town churchgoers, so I had to keep it to myself. I’ve seen it secondhand, though…internet’s full of blind solidarity.

    When you get down to it, theists who mind their own business (which is most religious folks–the jerks are an outspoken minority, and in this case I mean by numbers) have the same personal goal we do: to believe whatever we believe and not face mistreatment because of it. Their faith is just as valid a choice as my lack of it, and they have as much right to make that choice as I do mine; it’s not a stretch to show them the same respect I’d like to receive, myself, when I think of it that way.

  5. Mich says:

    Where’s the like button on this thing? Wait, no, like is too weak. F**K YEAH is more like it. (And I don’t wish to sound flippant by saying that; few times have I read something so cogent and well-stated, with real thought behind it. Turns me into a cheerleader every time.)

  6. laisa says:

    I… don’t have much to add to what you said, so I’ll just say: I agree with everything in this post.

  7. Yukimi says:

    That was a great post. I’m going to share it with my boyfriend who is in the way to be where you are or so I hope. He has always being a progressive but he had and has certain blind spots. It’s nice to be in the same group as people like you =)
    Paula G V aka Yukimi

  8. Miri says:

    I have a correction: I’m not always right. And it actually makes me highly uncomfortable when people say things like that, even jokingly, because if people believe I’m always right, who’s going to point it out when I’m wrong?

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