Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Seat at the Table

A few months ago, I put together a piece that contemplated the relationship between my autism and my atheism. It wasn't that I thought that they were necessarily connected, but that some of the ways that I felt about belief seemed to be affected by my inability to grasp certain social concepts. In it, I also tackled the issue of believers who seem to think that atheism and autism are linked, and that use that assertion to dismiss or marginalize my viewpoints when we clash. I didn't explicitly link religious privilege to ableism in the piece, mainly because I have met many wonderful people who do unfortunately take advantage of religious privilege, but who do not behave in ableist ways.

The main thrust of the piece was to ask the question "Do I get a seat at the table?" with regard to the skepticism/atheism movements. Since faith is not a concept that has a meaning to me, since "spirituality", even when people try to explain it in a secular context rings no bells for me, since my ethics are based entirely on abstract principles that are designed to avoid stepping on emotional toes that I can't detect in real time, do I get a seat at the table?

At the time, most of the answers I got were "no." Some people told me that since I had no interest in debates about god(s), that I probably did not want to get involved in the atheist movement, since that is pretty integral to what they do. Some people even told me that I could not really participate in the conversation because it was just one of those areas where my communication skills would break down for lack of concepts that others took for granted. A few, the more flattering ones, told me not to bother with any form of atheist advocacy because "you're doing calculus while everyone else is struggling with their multiplication tables." I'm not sure that's accurate, but I'll take any praise I can get at this point.

None of those reasons for detaching from the movement really seemed like good ones to me, though. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I knew that I had passions outside of neurodiversity and autism awareness. I might not care to participate in the debate about whether gods exist, but I do care deeply about religion encroaching on public policy. I also care about issues which are often reinforced by religion, including the ableism that I touched on earlier in this post.

The feedback from that post left me feeling like I didn't have anywhere to go within the atheist movements. And there are several. So, instead of making a lot of follow-up posts about my lack of belief or the way that lack of belief informs my everyday ethics, I backed off and did some reading. In the course of my studies, I checked out a lot of organizations--the religion blogs (including the atheism one) at patheos.com gave me a bit to think about. Then I went to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and I found a lot of news articles and science articles, but not so much meditation on the movement. I've checked out the Atheist Revolution by vjack, Thunderf00t's blog, the A-Unicorn, and a plethora of others.

Yes, I've also been reading freethoughtblogs. And Skepchick. I know at least a few of the people who came to this site will tune me out now.

When I first found Skepchick, I will admit that I didn't really care much about the feminism posts. "Elevatorgate" seemed to me to be what Dawkins made it out as--just a single incident, not worthy of a long debate. I didn't hate Rebecca Watson for blogging about it, I just read and moved on, considering it a minor problem that, once aired, could be moved past. Then I started to see other people's reactions to it.

If the incident in the elevator wasn't really a major issue, then I am confused as to why so many people have spent so much time and vitriol on it. A short time after I became aware of "Elevatorgate", I started to notice the anti-harassment policy discussions. I liked that this was an issue we were starting to discuss, especially once I saw that American Atheists had adopted a policy that included language about people who might have particular sensory sensitivities (especially smell). It was encouraging, and it made me think that perhaps there was something here for me. Liz and I started to discuss the possibility of budgeting to go to conventions, something we haven't been able to afford for either Autism or Atheism-relate events yet.

Then I saw the backlash. Rape threats. Name calling. Name calling over name calling. Inconsistent logical statements (sometimes on both sides). Twitter storms.

This was not a table I wanted a seat at. It was worse than trying to discuss the self-advocacy movement with an Autism Speaks representative.

A very short time ago, though, I saw Jen McCreight's article on atheism+. Well, her articles. That's when I saw this:
What issues should we be addressing and how? What actions should we be taking? How can we prevent this from having the same exact flaws that worried us enough to call for a new wave?
To start us off, here are some issues I envision A+ addressing from a secular, skeptical perspective:
  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Homophobia
  • Transphobia
  • Ableism
  • Classism
  • Ageism
  • Neurotypicalism
The list goes on from there, but the thing I needed to see is what I stopped at.

In the short time since A+ has been proposed, I've seen an awful lot of backlash starting already. Some of it is just downright dismissive--people claiming that there are sufficient atheist groups already and that starting a new one is pointless, for example. Others have put words in the mouths of the bloggers that are proposing this movement, accusing them of trying to "purify" atheism or of trying to "hijack it with feminism". Yet, when I read the numerous blog posts out there that identify as atheism+ related, I continuously see bloggers asserting that they view themselves as a subset of atheism. A movement within a movement.

It seems to me that the people who claim that atheism+ is pointless or that it's trying to hijack the movement are being a bit silly. To use an analogy, it's like the bigfoot and UFO skeptics accusing the homeopathy skeptics of trying to "purify" the movement just because some homeopathy skeptics want to focus on just medical woo.

Atheism+ doesn't seem like it's trying to "be" atheism to me. It just sounds like it's trying to do something other than contrarianism.

I'm in. I don't have a place in debates about the existence of gods. I don't have a place in the discussion of spirituality and lifestyle. But I would very much like to talk about the ways in which religious indoctrination can harm neurAtypical people and stunt their growth. It seems like you A+ people are open to that.

You can count me in, but I do think the name is a bit awkward to pronounce.