When I was a newbie atheist, fresh from my first reading of The God Delusion, The End of Faith, and every amateur Xanga blog I could find, I had a firm belief that no good could possibly exist within religion. “At its best, religion is nothing more than a lie! Even when not causing outright harm, it is a delusion on par with mental illness,” I would argue. An active frequenter of r/atheism, my so-called humanism came in the form of memes and petty jabs at religion.
It also came in the form of internalized misogyny, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and various other forms of oppression. When I created my first Twitter account, dipping my toe into the loosely-organized online community that is atheism, my profile picture was a man with the words, “STOP BEING A CUNT” splashed on top. I was never called out on it. That sort of thing was acceptable, if not the norm.
I was a firebrand atheist, and my manifestation of that said, “I’m here, I’m an atheist, and fuck you if you aren’t!” Books like Faitheist pissed me off to no end – how dare anyone try to tell me that religion was anything other than an irredeemable bastion of oppression! I gleefully shared every news story about abuse at the hands of religion. Every one of those stories acted as proof that I was right, I was morally superior, and I was certainly smarter than those damned theists. My glee about those stories was in no way undone by the fact that those stories were about real people whose lives, like mine, had been affected by the negative aspects of religion.
Some humanism I had there.
Then, one day, I did the unthinkable. I started talking to my religious friends instead of talking at them. I befriended some interfaith activists. Out of curiosity, I decided to actually read Faitheist instead of just sharing the spittle-spewing articles I’d found across the blogosphere. And (begrudgingly) I liked what I found.
The more I researched, the more I found that many communities rely on religious groups to organize for their causes, because the atheist community is ambivalent at best toward issues such as race. I’d never encountered this. So long as I acted like one of the boys and didn’t challenge the status quo, atheism was perfectly accepting of me as a straight-presenting, able-bodied, white, cis-gendered woman. Recently, this was summed up perfectly by Sikivu Hutchinson, who said, “The vast majority of people of color in the U.S. are religious or religiously identified because, again, these are the most visible and active institutions in our communities. Hence atheists and humanists of color cannot do viable community work without engaging proactively with humanistic religious and interfaith organizations.” I view that statement as a wake-up call to organized atheism. If Tibetan monks can travel thousands of miles to Ferguson in an effort to show solidarity, why can’t atheists? To put it simply, why aren’t atheists doing more?
So where do I fall? After flirting with both sides of the Firebrand vs. Faitheist Rift, I find my own time is best spent amongst the interfaith activists. That isn’t to say that I see absolutely no use for firebrands (obligatory #NotAllFirebrands). My feminism, queer politics, and other activist ideals have been molded by the likes of Jason Thibeault, Greta Christina, PZ Myers, and others who identify as firebrand atheists. We may have differing approaches to religion, but I’m glad there are others interested in making atheism compatible with social justice. I’m particularly glad that there are self-identified firebrands who show that being an asshole (like I was) isn’t a requirement for being a firebrand.
If the staunchly anti-“faitheist” segment of atheism is truly interested in eradicating the need for interfaith work, they will start by making the atheist community a place that holds its own on intersectional issues. They’ll disrupt the status quo (the one I admittedly helped perpetuate for so long). I’ll certainly take that over standing around complaining that people are being too friendly with religion.
Featured Image: Church of St. Teresa