The meme that the atheist movement is a joke is quickly gaining popularity in the atheist social justice warrior crowd. Here is one of many recent examples of what one now finds with some regularity on Twitter:
In other words, "anybody who disagrees with me should just fuck off." Maybe I was wrong to dismiss the claim that the atheist movement is a joke as quickly as I did. Maybe there is something to this. I'll get to that, but first, I'd like to share some general reactions here.
First, I think that Matt Dillahunty was correct that characterizing the atheist movement as a joke is a "grossly unfair generalization" in this exchange. This point about it being an unfair generalization was what I sought to examine in the previous post I wrote about this subject. Still, Dillahunty did not go far enough, and neither did I.
Characterizing the atheist movement as a joke is dismissive of all the good work being done by those who are part of that movement. Much of the atheist movement, at least the part happening in the United States, overlaps with the secular movement and aims to strengthen the separation of church and state. Is this a joke too? Are all the brave kids who step forward to engage in secular activism in their schools or serve as plaintiffs in church-state lawsuits just a joke?
The social justice warriors are quick to forget that Secular Woman, at least some of those who write for Freethought Blogs, and the Women in Secularism conferences organized by the Center for Inquiry are all part of the atheist movement. Are they all jokes too?
Think about all the atheists who take risks to make a difference in their local communities to advance social justice goals as they promote atheism. Are they jokes too? All of them, or just the ones who disagree with some aspect of your ideology?
If everybody but you is a joke, then I have to ask what you are doing that is so superior to what everyone else is doing. Is calling people names on Twitter going to change the world? What is it that makes you and your band of social justice warriors so much better than everybody else?
If someone feels strongly that the atheist movement is a joke, I cannot help wondering why he or she would seek to remain a part of it. Why not just opt out of it and do something else? Those of us who were raised in a particular religious tradition opted out rather than stay connected to something we decided wasn't for us. Most of us have been happier for having done so. Perhaps those who seem so adamantly opposed to the atheist movement would be happier if they left it behind.
Last, please understand that nobody is saying that atheists are above criticism. We are not. Nobody is suggesting that atheist organizations do not deserve criticism at times. They certainly deserve criticism when they screw up. We all do. I'll say that again - we all do. And yes, this includes the perpetually outraged social justice warrior types whose primary contribution to our movement appears to involve chronic malcontent, poorly articulated rage, and endless sniping. When they behave like this, they invite criticism.
Yes, it appears that some small parts of the atheist movement have become something of a joke. They have marginalized themselves through their own behavior. Their constant howls of outrage no longer have the impact they once did. Perhaps it is time for them to move on. There remains plenty of work for the rest of us to do.