I Worked Hard for That Grade
Jen McCreight, aka Blag Hag, has suggested an interesting addition to the atheist/skeptical movement: A+. There has been some disagreement with the idea, as there ought to be in any intellectually robust community filled with intellectuals, but I, for one, want my Atheism Plus, please — and not just because my final University of California GPA reflected so few of those particular letter-and-symbol combinations.
With no further ado, I present: Top 5 Reasons to Be Graded
5. “Humanism” just isn’t enough, either as a concept or as a term.
Ashley Miller broke down why humanism isn’t enough in the way of a concept for self-identified atheists: there are concerns that are peculiarly atheistic ones and thus do not apply to those who identify as humanists and not atheists. As for the semantics, the term “humanist” applies to so many things and people. I majored in “the humanities” (blasphemy, I know). Furthermore, plenty of Christians identify as “humanist.” Even adding the tag “secular” to “humanist” doesn’t quite work. As I’ve found in my recent interfaith work, progressive Christians and Jews can say that they work to promote secular humanism in the public sphere while maintaining their own beliefs privately. Though atheists might share some common goals with them, there is a point at which the two groups would, naturally, diverge.
4. So many have rallied behind the term “atheist” for a reason.
There are a lot of words in (alleged) competition with “atheist” besides the already-addressed “secular humanist”: “Bright,” which never seemed to quite take off; “naturalist,” which makes people think that you’re either John Muir or a nudist; “rationalist,” which is almost more combative than “atheist” to some since it implies that those with faith cannot be rational; “secular,” which is somewhat broad and doesn’t quite encapsulate as much as “atheist” does; “skeptic,” which doesn’t necessarily mean without a religion or belief in a deity; “apatheist,” which implies a lack of caring that can’t be true for people who form a movement; and, of course, agnostic, though it isn’t mutually exclusive from “atheist.”
Unless I’m grossly mistaken, the terms most favored, or at least bandied about, seem to be “skeptic” and “atheist.” In the war of the words, they’ve won. Adding to one of them, especially the one that is viewed as the clearest (and, arguably, the most confrontational) via the “+” symbol is far more convenient than to introduce a whole new term and then have to increase awareness for it. On that note….
3. It puts the focus on intra-, rather than inter-, community issues.
New names or terms, or even redefining old ones, mean having to market the new word and/or definition. A+ takes a symbol and word that is a known quantity and neither changes its meaning nor creates a new term, instead merely adding to it in a very literal sense. Clever, in my opinion.
2. It clearly connects to the atheism movement as a whole.
Fixing atheism, not creating a whole new movement, is the idea here. Indeed, I think A+ reflect a kind of optimism: it’s saying that there can be more from within the movement rather than that we need to create something separate to deal with the issues that have been cropping up as of late.
1. It weeds out the uninterested from social justice issues while keeping a cohesive movement.
Whether you agree with them or not, there are some people in the movement who are far more interested in issues that are not social justice related than that are. I’m not talking about those who are actively opposed to combating oppressiveness in the community, but those for whom such issues simply do not mean very much. A+ means that those of us who are interested in social justice can continue to work with those folks on issues of mutual concern while still going forward on issues that do concern us — we can unite for the “A”-related matters under the same term. A separate term, or lack of term at all, would not simultaneously join and delineate things.
As I said at the beginning, there can and should be disagreement. I am not saying that anyone who isn’t A+ must then automatically be part of the problem — far from it. However, A+ is something with which I can feel comfortable in that it addresses my social justice concerns (at least in theory, since it’s not even a week old) in addition to my atheism, rather than separately from it.
Nomenclature aside, even if you don’t like the A+ idea, the conversation is exciting. To echo the sentiments of many others, I’m glad for so-called “divisiveness”: I, for one, am not interested in uniting with people who do not respect the full scope of my humanity, i.e. those things that make me not the standard-issue White Male™. Prior to certain incidents, there was a palpable yet quiet undercurrent of sexism, hetero-centrism, cissexism, ableism, classism, and so on that lay dormant and unquestioned among skeptics and atheists. Not so, anymore.