No one can be exhaustive, but I keep an eye on both atheist blogs (mostly through Planet Atheism) as well as blogs that mention atheism. I've been seeing some atheist bloggers pushing back hard against Atheism+, and these bloggers seems to be associating Atheism+ with FreethoughBlogs (cf. Jeremy's recent post). As best I can tell, a lot of the hostility to FtB started when they expelled Thunderf00t for what the FtB organizers characterized as extreme assholiness. All of this hostility seems extraordinarily stupid; indeed, this post rose to the level of burning stupidity. The rest has not quite achieved burning stupidity, but it's stupid enough that it's not worth bothering rebutting in detail. The stupidity is high enough that it's impossible to decide if the critics of A+ and FtB are just incompetent or if they've intentionally abandoned intellectual good will. Either way, direct engagement is a waste of time.
I'm not here to defend FtB; Although I read some blogs that happen to be on FtB, I don't follow the group as a group, and I'm far too minor to ever be invited to join them. I'm not here to defend Atheism+; as I said, I don't identify specifically with any group; all the labels I self-identify with (atheist, communist, humanist) are descriptive, not inclusive. But there are some more abstract philosophical concepts in play, concepts I think I can shed some light on.
As noted above, that creating groups based on shared ideas, circumstances, interests, and value is the most numbingly prosaic human activities. It's so common that it's (part of) one of the four primary categories* of cultural anthropological descriptive theory, only one step above the economic foundation. When I see someone complaining, "Holy Shit! Those folks over there are forming a group! Something must be done!" my bullshit detector hits the red. Yes, and they also have jobs! They use money! They express political positions!! (In a democracy, no less!) Some of them even vote! Stop the presses! This must not stand! The thesis that it's wrong to form a group is entirely nonsensical.
*Economics, "Kinship" (Group Formation), Politics, Religion
Of course, we can have opinions and judgements, good and bad, about particular groups. I'm not a big fan, for example, of the Catholic church. I do not in any sense object that people with similar religious beliefs have organized themselves into a group; instead, I object to many of the specific beliefs and the actual ways the clergy manages and administers the church. I don't object that they share many religious beliefs; instead, I object to the coercive and fraudulent ways they maintain conformity of opinion. I do not object that they try to influence secular policy in democratic countries; I object to the specific policies they promote and the arguments they use to promote them. Criticizing how a group actually behaves is not criticizing that they exist as a group.
All of the polemics against FtB and Atheism+ seem to be outrage that they are a group, or baseless and evidence-free (or even false-to-fact) assertions that the group has behaved badly. I don't really want to examine these positions in detail, but I suppose I must.
Let's take Jeremy, whose recent post, Free Thought Bloggers: where they stand on Atheism+, impelled this article. That post is a completely pointless exercise demonstrating that
Jeremy starts off with On Atheism+ and humanism. The majority of this post has nothing to do with either humanism and Atheism+; Jeremy mostly criticizes Jen McCreight and her "boobquake" project; he then opines that sexism is not a particular problem within the atheist community. I think Jeremy is not only mistaken but obtuse, but whatever; that's just the give and take of differing opinions. About two thirds into the post, he gets into his objections to Atheism+. According to Jeremy, Atheism+ is objectionable because its members "expect all atheists to be good people." The founders of Atheism+ will not achieve equality by "by proclaiming that you have invented a new movement and requesting that these offensive atheists play nice." They "want a perfect society, or even a movement, free of offensive people," which is a delusional fantasy. I am completely unable to comprehend these charges. Jeremy offers no evidence whatsoever that for any of his charges, and they do not in any sense follow from the information he's presented in his article.
Jeremy then asserts that it's "too soon" to create a new movement and that it is insufficiently distinct from humanism. These arguments are so inherently specious, especially when Jeremy quotes McCreight as saying that Atheism+ is more than happy to ally with other groups with similar agendas, that the discerning reader is astonished at the stupidity. The right time to form a group is when a people what want a group like that think it's the right time; they distinguish themselves from other groups if they they think that other groups do not adequately address their interests. The people who are part of Atheism+ think it's the right time, and they think that humanism does not adequately address their interests: these are the only opinions that matter. What could Jeremy possibly do if he thinks their interests do not align with his own? It's a mystery.
Jeremy continues his critique in On Atheism+ and humanism: part 2. According to Jeremy, "Atheism+ is not only redundant" but also "actually corrosive to the legacies of atheists and freethinkers." Jeremy's argument, however, consists mostly of non sequiturs, with a few other logical fallacies and outright contradictions for variety. First, Jeremy asserts that New Atheism is not a movement. I happen to disagree, but even if he were right, so what? Jeremy completely fails to connect the status of New Atheism to Atheism+. Second, Jeremy asserts that any change to atheism and humanism is disrespectful to atheists and humanists past and present who fight and have fought for the very things that those who identify as Atheist+ claim to fight for. It is an admission that atheists and humanists have already lost. "atheism needs no improvements or additions to make it better, and attempts to do so actually blacken the legacy of atheists who did work and are working to make the world a better place because of their love of humanity." This argument is a complete non sequitur. What disservice does creating a new name or organization for those advancing some goals do to those who also advance and have advanced those goals? There are so many dimensions to group formation — goals, methods, focus, interests, audience, media, membership, environment, etc. — and significant change to even one dimension is sufficient reason to make a new group. Seeing a new group as a complete repudiation of everything everyone else does or has ever done in older groups goes beyond obtusity into the realm of complete stupidity.
Jeremy then blatantly contradicts himself. He first charges that Greta "Christina never quite gets around the explaining the clear difference between Atheism+." However, he quotes several clear distinctions. First, Jeremy quotes Christina saying that, presumably unlike Atheism+, "Humanism is . . . more engaged with creating secular replacements for the rituals and structures of religious communities." Furthermore, "[M]any humanists are actively hostile to the word 'atheist.' It’s not just that they don’t choose to use the word themselves. They don’t want anyone else to use it, either." Jeremy also quotes Christina objecting to the prevalence of soft sexism* among humanists; Atheism+, presumably, would exclude soft sexism. Jeremy does not object to the idea of soft sexism; instead he claims that Christina has made a hasty generalization, that soft sexism is aberrant within humanism: Christina is "relying on anecdotal evidence ('total douchebags about feminism') to describe what is wrong with the humanists she has met." Even if Jeremy disagrees with their importance and relevance, Christina does draw clear and definite distinctions. It is of course ironic, perhaps even self-parody, that Jeremy himself is an advocate of soft sexism — he does not consider feminism to be an especially important priority — the very distinction Christina draws between humanism and Atheism+.
*Soft sexism is the idea that feminism per se is unimportant, as opposed to hard sexism, the active disparagement, marginalization, and subordination of women.
Jeremy makes one argument that is not complete nonsense: he asserts, "If a humanist is not concerned and committed to stamping out hate, racism, bigotry, misogyny, anti-gay sentiment and other social ills, he or she is not a humanist. Plain and simple." Perhaps so. Still, humanism has institutional structures. If those structures are not adequately implementing Jeremy's definition, or if some group wants to implement these goals in different ways, it is a completely legitimate response to create a new group with new structures rather than trying to reform or replace the existing structures.
Finally, according to Jeremy, Atheism+
seems to suggest that this very small group of people (Free Thought Blogs and their supporters) are preparing to carry the banner of social justice for the rest of us, and for a group of people that inherently eschew cliques and in-groups and chafe at being told how they should think or act, this is contemptible.Why should we think the proponents are doing anything for anyone but themselves? Why should we regard them as a "clique"? Most importantly, why should we think they are telling us how to think and act in some objectionable way? I have to add the last qualifier because everyone is always telling others how to think and act. Jeremy is telling us to think that sexism is not a problem in atheism and humanism; he is telling us not to form a new group and, presumably, to work within existing structures. The "clique" charge reveals Jeremy's fundamental Junior High attitude: your group sucks and you're meanies for not letting me in.
We have to draw a careful distinction here. It is one thing to argue that the views, opinions, ideas, interests, and positions of one group are mistaken or morally reprehensible. If Jeremy does not think sexism and misogyny are particular problems in the atheist community, it's certainly legitimate to argue those views. Even if he were mistaken or obtuse, it's important that we protect the right to be wrong. But to attack the existence of the group itself is to say that they must not argue what they see as their own interests. Jeremy does not want to argue any position. He objects to being criticized, and wants to shut down the criticism. Happily, he cannot do so; he can only appear increasingly petty and stupid.