I’d like to know what you think skepticism means. For me, it’s a constructive doubt. We try to tear things apart; if they break, they were probably never any good to begin with; if they persevere, then we know that we might have just gotten a bit closer to some truth. We try to make things better; we put away broken things because we believe that we deserve better, that we can create better lives for ourselves. I suppose this is pessimistic optimism.
I want to think that other people who identify as skeptics, as atheists agree with me. I want to think that we can become a community of positive change, of meta-participants in our society.
I just can’t reconcile that ideal with the current community.
As a community, we seem to be so confused and even misguided. There’s an obsession on picking on the easy targets — homeopaths and merchants of snake oil panaceas. I understand that someone must be there to pick the low-hanging fruit, but… that job should be saved for skeptic newbies trying to level up their reasoning skills with internet arguments or for magazines, television, or other forms of mass media. In the same vein, it’s okay to have a long, cathartic laugh at the idea of religion… once or twice, at most; then you shut up and start trying to improve the system. There’s nothing to be gained with undirected anti-theist venom.
There’s an interesting dynamic in the skeptic and atheist communities. We’ve set it up such that we are at once a privileged and marginalized class in the kyriarchy. I won’t deny that it sucks to be a skeptic or atheist in lots of the world; some people are kicked out of their homes, are denied employment or public office, are threatened with death, are killed! because of it. Yet we’ve set up communities — mostly on the wobs; mostly, if not entirely, full of Westerners — that are glorified circlejerks.
To be quite honest, the never-ending debate over whether or not religion has caused the most deaths in the history of society is pointless. I despise the idea of engaging in unthinking or unaware adherence to the worst parts of the Torah, Bible, Koran, or other religious texts. I also despise these dick-waving contests, especially when they erase the marvelous work done by groups like the Rainbow Push Coalition, Fred Clark’s religious deconstructions of Tribulation propaganda, the Slacktiverse safespace, or I Am Not Haraam.
Do you want some useful reasons why aspects of organized (Abrahamic) religions are bad? Something more constructive, more substantive than “believing in a Sky-Person is ridonkulous”? Here you are:
- A section of the Old Testament is incredibly sex-negative. It says that all menstruating peoples must be avoided as long as they bleed; that all ejaculating peoples must be avoided until sundown of the day they have orgasmed.
- The Catholic Church as an institution goes one step further, making masturbation into a mortal sin; ie., the kind from which you cannot redeem yourself.
- There are, of course, the prohibitions against male gay sex and the erasure of lesbian women and all people with non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, or agender identities. Heteronormativity and binary-normativity are fail.
- The Banishment of Eden being the “fault” of a woman is problematic.
- The Catholic Church encourages people to set aside one day a week for the eating of fish.
There’s a specific verse in the Gospel of Matthew that encourages classism and the further stratification of wealth:
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath. (source: Matthew 25:29, KJV)
- The Virgin Mary is holy because of her purity, because she has not succumbed to carnal desires; it’s in her damned name, after all. She is the Platonic ideal embodied in her half of the virgin-madonna complex that is used to ensnare all female-spectrum people in compulsory sexuality.
All of those are a lot more problematic than the leap of faith required to believe in a deity. How much are they talked about in mainstream atheist or skeptic communities? More often than not, they’re crowded out by pictures of atheist billboards or stills of Jesus and Judas from Jesus Christ Superstar in very compromising positions. They’re amusing and they depict my OTP, but they’re not productive.
There’s a large difference between creating a safe-space for marginalized people and creating your own exclusive, homogenized space. There’s a large difference between spreading awareness of the subtle ways in which organized religions can support existing paradigms of power and mocking those with less education than you, with more ‘faith’ than you, with no other affirming communities in their lives but a church or a youth group. There’s a large difference between spreading around an Oreo or Wells Fargo branded poster “supporting” queer people and actively disseminating information to dismantle the kyriarchy, pointing out problematic or oppressive structures in society, promoting an inclusive, loving, and engaging womanism, feminism, or other positive philosophy.
I am wary, my friends are wary of the mainstream enclaves of skepticism/atheism because they appear to be dominated by rich, aging white men engaging in a perpetual Dawkins-Darwin-Hitchens fangasm. If I may quote from Natalie Reed, this is what the major enclaves of the community embody!:
The creepy thought that the reason a lot of outspoken, committed, passionate atheists are choosing this as their arena is because they’re too selfish, too entitled, or too sheltered, to allow any other issues to really matter to them. That they choose this ONE civil rights issue to dedicate themselves to, because it’s the ONLY legitimate civil rights issue that actually effects them, secure in their absence of ovaries, melanin, exogenous hormones, medical devices/supports, welfare checks, track scars and rainbow flags.
And what I worry is how much Atheism might be offering a similar sort of [hive mind or persecution complex] without requiring the same levels of divorcing oneself from reality and diving into some kind of Bizarro World inversion of actual social dynamics [that supremacist cults require.] That what atheism is offering so many middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men is the capacity to see themselves as these savvy, smart, daring, controversial rogues who are standing up against an oppressive dogma in order to liberate the deluded sheeple. They’re, like, totally against swallowing the blue pill, dude. And so they get to be the heroes of their own narratives, instead of a passive passenger adrift on social forces more or less beyond their control… social forces that happened to guide them into a relatively safe and comfy position. (source: All In [bolded emphasis mine, italic emphasis hers])
For all of us skeptics in need of another safe haven, the community needs to Level Up. We need to live up to the philosophy we allegedly support and start deconstructing all aspects of our society. And yeah, this means that we each have to take a bit of responsibility for our own actions, for our own thoughts, for how we each contribute to the machinery of an oppressive society. That one reflective step is the most painful, in my experience. It hurts to be told or to realize that we are part of the problem, but we can’t let that pain stop us from growing as self-aware agents.
Ask yourself why affirmative action is necessary. How the inertia of hundreds of years of denying women, people of color, poor people education can still be felt today.
Also ask what it means for white women to be the largest beneficiaries of affirmative action programs. How does that dynamic feed into white supremacy?
Ask yourself why so many people define their sexualities under the assumption that there are only Men and Women.
Why are straight men and lesbian women so needlessly threatened by the existence of trans* women or genderqueer people?
Why are “radical feminist” lesbians so willing to go against their identities and court trans* men, and why do so many trans* men go along with it?
Why do chromosomes allegedly matter to so many people when there’s no accessible way to test the chromosomes of everyone you meet? Why do so many essentialists refuse to acknowledge the existences of chromosomal diversity, or intersex people ?
What underlying systems shape how we go about society?
White supremacy? Sexism? Heteronormativity? Cissexism? Dyadism? Class warfare? Ableism?
Why do so many marginalized people assert that mechanisms like racism, sexism must involve a dynamic of power as well as discrimination based on race, sex?
Question everything, including society. Only hold on to the things that survive your scrutiny. Be honest with yourself and with me.