Friday, September 14, 2012

Nonplussed

I'm perplexed at the uproar over the Atheism Plus idea. I'm absolutely nonplussed.

Instead of rehashing everything that's already been said about it, I'd like to present my own ideas about it. Here's my disclaimer first:

I intend to adopt the A+ label for the purposes of some discussions but, at other times, I will use other labels. I reserve the right to use whichever label or labels that I think will best inform my audience. Likewise, I believe that you should be free to use whatever label best describes you.

The purpose of a label is to inform others about some facet of your life or some belief (or lack thereof) that you hold. Some labels are have inherently negative connotations (racist, sexist, bigot, etc.) but most just serve to give you a general idea about something. For example, the only thing you can know from the "atheist" label is that the person does not believe in any gods. You can't correctly read anything else into this label. You can't automatically know that this atheist accepts evolution, hates religion, or cares whether IGWT is on our coins. It takes conversation for you to discern that. This brings me to my first major point:

1. Labels work best when used as a springboard for conversation in order to get to know a person better. They do not work well when we make assumptions and value judgments that are not inherently tied into the label's definition.

If you see a person wearing an A+ pin, don't assume s/he is a man-hater. Talk to that person and ask them about their views. Likewise, if you see someone at a gathering who isn't wearing an A+ pin, talk to that person as well. There is no reason to automatically assume that either person hates anybody. In fact, jumping to conclusions is lazy and a poor substitute for making the effort to get to know the other person.

2. When we question something, we use the scientific method to try to discover what's right. I see A+ as a scientific experiment - it will either stand or fall on its merits. If it is a kind and welcoming place for atheists of good will, I believe it will stand. If it chooses to promote misandry, control/censor people, and such, then I believe it will fail. As much as we might feel invested in the outcome, it's critical that we take a step back and let this experiment run its course.

3. The final thing I want to bring out is that I've seen people conflate "secular humanism" with "humanism" in order to make secular humanism far more different from atheism plus. I can't speak for every secular humanist group in the world but I will say that my understanding of secular humanism is that there are no gods to do good works so we must do them ourselves. I understand that many (if not most) secular humanist groups are atheistic at their core even though they may not use that word. I see such a tremendous overlap in A+ and secular humanism that, to me, they are practically the same thing in deed. But I understand the need for different wording: A+ wants to retain the word "atheist" and promote that as much as possible. Secular humanists often shy away from the atheist label so they can work more effectively with community and church groups to accomplish their goals. When it comes to religion, I consider myself an unapologetic atheist. When it comes to my philosophy or ethics, I call myself a secular humanist. I see no real difference but some do. To each his own, I say, but please don't consider me any less of an atheist because I sometimes choose to call myself a secular humanist.

And that brings me to my conclusion: let A+ do it's thing. Join the effort if you want and, if you don't, that's ok. I'm not going to treat you any differently and I'd hope that no one else would treat you badly. We benefit when all atheists of good will can come together at the table under many banners and work together toward our common goals. Our labels should not be an excuse for us to distrust each other; rather they can be our opportunity to get to know each other better.