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Third wave atheism or the ‘new skepticism’? August 20, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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edit: I saw Jen’s follow-up post as well.  I like this image best:

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A couple of days ago (I’ve been moving and such), Jen wrote this post on her blog about how the atheist community has been a “boy’s club” and how we need to help progress towards a “third wave” of atheism.  The key part is this:

I don’t want good causes like secularism and skepticism to die because they’re infested with people who see issues of equality as mission drift. I want Deep Rifts. I want to be able to truthfully say that I feel safe in this movement. I want the misogynists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and downright trolls out of the movement for the same reason I wouldn’t invite them over for dinner or to play Mario Kart: because they’re not good people. We throw up billboards claiming we’re Good Without God, but how are we proving that as a movement? Litter clean-ups and blood drives can only say so much when you’re simultaneously threatening your fellow activists with rape and death.

It’s time for a new wave of atheism, just like there were different waves of feminism. I’d argue that it’s already happened before. The “first wave” of atheism were the traditional philosophers, freethinkers, and academics. Then came the second wave of “New Atheists” like Dawkins and Hitchens, whose trademark was their unabashed public criticism of religion. Now it’s time for a third wave – a wave that isn’t just a bunch of “middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men” patting themselves on the back for debunking homeopathy for the 983258th time or thinking up yet another great zinger to use against Young Earth Creationists. It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime. We can criticize religion and irrational thinking just as unabashedly and just as publicly, but we need to stop exempting ourselves from that criticism.

Yes, I agree.  We, in the blogosphere have been talking a lot about “new” (or “gnu”) atheism, but in the same way that a Jr. leads to a III, we can have the future of the skeptic/atheist movement be a third wave where we include all of the various effects that religion, theological thinking, and non-skepticism generally affects our lives.

In short, we need to transcend mere atheism and move onto application of skepticism to all aspects of culture, beliefs, and actions.  We need a new skepticism.

I have been trying to do just that for years at this blog.  I saw the kinds of arguments that people had about god, religion, and things like science, and saw parallels between how we think about monogamy and polyamory.  I saw unskeptical thinking leading people towards conservative views about sex and relationships, and I began to draw those lines using what I had seen in the skeptical community since I ran into it a decade ago.

In the years that I have run this blog (and after subsequently adding some new writers), I have broadened my focus to include questions of orientation, gender, and have even wrote about my own neuro-atypicality.  Yes, I still focus on atheism and polyamory most of the time, but that is because these are the subjects I know best.  I look to people like Ginny (my lovely wife) to write about gender, trans, sexology issues (when she’s not burdened by grad school work, that is).  And Wes and Gina do their things, whether controversy or convulsions of laughter.

In doing this, I have come to a fairly progressive perspective, which I suppose is no surprise to anyone who knows me.  I support LGBT rights, including the right to marry, raise children, etc.  I support people who are simply trying to live their lives with political and legal freedom afforded to them not according to theological concerns, but by rational and empirical arguments based on fairness and compassion.

But most importantly, I support the freedom of speech and thought, without which the freedom to act would be parochial and hindered.  As Keenan Malik recently said,

Whatever one’s beliefs, secular or religious, there should be complete freedom to express them, short of inciting violence or other forms of physical harm to others. Whatever one’s beliefs, secular or religious, there should be freedom to assemble to promote them. And whatever one’s beliefs, secular or religious, there should be freedom to act upon those beliefs, so long as in so doing one neither physically harms another individual without their consent nor transgresses that individual’s rights in the public sphere. These should be the fundamental principles by which we judge the permissibility of any belief or act, whether religious or secular.

(H/T Greg Mayer over at WEIT)

I support maintaining a skeptical community that fights for the truth, is aware of concepts like privilege and how it influences or worldviews, and which perpetually self-improves by allowing for criticism and dissent, when dissent is warranted.

To conclude, I agree with Jen that we need a third wave of atheism.  And whether we think of it as an atheist movement, a skeptical movement, or a social justice movement led by skeptics and atheists, the important thing is that we must keep challenging ourselves to understand more, listen better, and remember that religion and non-skeptical thinking has effects which may not be immediately obvious to us, with our perspective.  Religion effects different groups in different ways, and so we need to be inclusive in order to progress towards the goal.

The goal of making ourselves, as activists, obsolete.

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