A little while ago Shannon Q released a video of her speech from Better 2022. Better is a conference organised by The Atheist Network Group, or TANG for short. The title of the video, and I’m assuming the speech also, is ‘Are you in the “Atheist Community”?’. Are you not already subscribed to Shannon Q’s channel? I highly recommend rectifying that by immediately subscribing to her channel if not!
The speech itself is very interesting and covers lots of ideas surrounding the idea of the atheist community. Ideas such as why we identify with certain groups, group cohesion and they cohere, common goals, value, and much more. Shannon Q also discusses Bruce Tuckman’s ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing Model’ of team cohesion. There is also talk about accepting and bringer others into the fold of the atheist community. Like I said, it’s a very interesting talk with lots of food for thought in it. Which sort of brings me to the point of this article. If you were hoping for a critique of Shannon Q’s talk, then I’m afraid you’ll be a little disappointed.
Instead, this article is simply discussing some of my own feelings and motivations when it comes to the atheist community. As well as relating it to some of the things that Shannon talked about in her speech. Most people who know me also know that I have plenty to say about the atheist and sceptic community. Sometimes good things, and sometimes critical things. This ranges from the average atheist/sceptic on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, to bigger names like Matt Dillahunty and Aron Ra. This doesn’t win me a lot of friends obviously. And it often gets me called a troll, insulted, yelled at, blocked, and more. These things don’t particularly bother me, it’s to be expected.
Contrary to Popular Belief…
However, I am not a troll. I do not challenge these arguments and ideas simply to get a rise out of people. I challenge these arguments because I find them to be faulty, and because they are coming from a group of people I identify with to some degree. Perhaps before continuing, going back to something mentioned by Shannon in her talk might help to clarify things.
Automatic Atheist and Skeptic Associations
As Shannon mentioned, there are groups we belong to automatically, even if we don’t necessarily identify with them. A non-smoker belongs to the larger group of non-smokers. Just as someone who enjoys watching football belongs to the larger group of football fans. And yes, just say someone who does not collect stamps belongs to the larger group of people who do not collect stamps. These are just simple sets of people that have a particular attribute. By this connection alone I belong to the larger group of both sceptics and atheists. Though I also go further than this group.
Choosing to Associate as an Atheist and Skeptic
It is also mentioned in the speech that we join groups we identify with. This means that I not only have a connection to the larger group by virtue of the label. I consider myself as part of the group by virtue of how I identify, and choose to join this larger group. Not only that, I choose to join these groups because I also share values and goals with them. Values and goals such as promoting critical thinking, scepticism, better epistemic frameworks, the normalisation of atheism, the questioning of religion, and much more. There are also a lot of values and goals I don’t share with others in the community too of course.
Most of those goals and values I don’t share seem to be separate from the actual goals and values of scepticism itself though. They are personal disagreements, rather than disagreements about the value of scepticism, and the goal of promoting critical thinking. So, these should not really affect me when it comes to wanting to be a part of the sceptic community. At best these are just encouragements to become involved in discussion with others in the sceptic community. At worst it means that there are those in the sceptic community I do not and will not get along with due to a clash of personal values. Yet I find myself unable to cohere with the sceptic community.
It Is Me… Kind Of…
The simplest answer here of course is that perhaps it is just me, and my personality, that stops others in the sceptic community and me from cohering. It is me that is causing others in the sceptic community to mock me, and get angry at me, and block me. To that I will say I absolutely agree it is my behaviour that causes these reactions. However, my behaviour shouldn’t be causing these reactions and these blocks. Let’s have a look at an example to see why.
In her speech, Shannon discusses trivial arguments, and mentions as one of those trivial arguments the definition of atheism. It may come as a shock to many that I somewhat agree with Shannon here. I mention in my video ‘Atheism: A Tale of Two Usages’ that arguing over what the ‘true definition’ of atheism is has no real value and only further helps divide the atheist community. Not only does it have no real value and further divides the atheist community it is also any argument that can never be true. Arguing there is one true definition of atheism is an argument that is immediately lost, and based on a false premise. That false premise is that there can be one true definition of atheism. However, I don’t think that arguing with those claiming there is a singular correct definition has no value or is a trivial argument.
Definitional Arguments Aren’t Always Pointless
Those calling themselves sceptics should not find it to have no value either. Nor should they think it a trivial argument. For it is, in fact, promoting scepticism and critical thinking. Though the target may be the in-group rather than the out-group, scepticism and critical thinking should not, and does not, apply only to the out-group. Not only does it apply to the in-group of those considering themselves to be part of the sceptic community, it also ought to apply more. For it is that group that is arguing for the promotion of better critical thinking and scepticism. Yet, it becomes more apparent that there is a large amount of unquestionable dogma that exists within the sceptic and atheist community.
Challenging Dogma In The Atheist and Skeptic Community
Being sceptical of and challenging that dogma gets you ‘othered’ by those that exist within the sceptic community. These seems to be something completely at odds with the promotion of scepticism and critical thinking. It is this that gets me blocked, and mocked, by those calling themselves sceptics, and promoters of logic, reason, and critical thinking.
Another example of this can be seen when it comes to the arguments of Tim O’Neill. Tim can often be found to be challenging the bad historical understanding and arguments made by sceptics and atheists. For this, he is often dogpiled, mocked, and blocked, also. Again, this is something that should be welcomed by the very people that mock, dogpile, and block him. After all, he is applying critical thinking and scepticism to their claims. Yet, just as with claims about there being a singular definition of atheism, the dogma is more important than whether or not it is true, or is the result of good critical thinking.
My Perspective on the Atheist and Skeptic Community
So, from my perspective at least, the coherence of the sceptic community is not one based on the stated common goals. For turning those goals back onto the claims made by those belonging to the sceptic and atheist community will get you ostracized from those communities. As will questioning larger well-known personalities within those communities. Many in the sceptic and atheist community accept things uncritically, and unquestioningly. So long as it is popular within those communities. Or targets certain out-groups unfavouringly.
Instead, it seems that the coherence of the sceptic and atheist community is one that is also based on uncritically accepting certain claims. Along with certain dogmas, and saying the right things about common out-groups. And not challenging those dogmas, claims, and arguments. The ideology of the sceptic community plays a greater part in the coherence of the group than the goal of the promotion of critical thinking and scepticism. This is fine of course. If that is the shared goal of the community then that is the shared goal of the community. However, those in that community should be more honest that anti-theism is the goal of the sceptic and atheist community. Rather than the promotion of critical thinking, scepticism, logic, reason, and the many things that they claim to be promoting.
This should not detract from how insightful and valuable Shannon’s speech is though. It was a very well thought out, very informative, and very interesting speech. As I said, it gave me a lot of food for thought. And it should give anyone listening to it much food for thought too. My thoughts will obviously differ from those that exist within that community. I expect much of what I say here to be dismissed by those in that community. As I stated, my goals and values as a sceptic clearly differ from those within the community. Which makes cohesion with the atheist and sceptic community problematic, sadly. Such is life though. Often times we find ourselves unable to cohere with groups that promote the same ideals, goals, and values as we hold.
For now, though, I will continue on as I do. Hopefully those that have spent the time to read this article will understand a little better why I challenge the many bad arguments and claims of those in the sceptic and atheist community. And also why I am so disappointed every time I see those in the communities blocked for challenging those bad claims and dogmas which exist within the communities.