Aug 13

Treading water

Yesterday Jarreg and I were talking in the car. Today’s post is borne out of that conversation, and I apologize if the the ideas feel a little rough. I haven’t fleshed them out as much as I want too. Nonetheless, we amble carelessly into some shaky territory to discuss this movement.

There is something I have been feeling lately about the atheism movement. Jarreg’s felt it too.


Truly the best word for how I feel because I thought we were better than this. I thought I could walk along in this movement with my head held high. When I encounter stories like this though:

The story so far: Thunderf00t/Phil Mason was invited to join our blog network last month. All he wrote during the short week he was here was incoherent, unprofessional rages against feminism and the whole network he was on; we could not understand why he even accepted the offer to join us if he hated us so much, and his inane rants certainly weren’t going to persuade us that we were wrong, so we kicked him off. And ever since he has been obsessed with howling about our perfidy.

The latest development is that it turns out that almost as soon as he’d been evicted, he snuck back onto our mailing list and has been reading all the confidential discussions we’ve been having. He has leaked these to third parties as well. When we shut down the security hole last week, he then tried to hack back in, to no avail. We have logs of all of this computer activity on his part.

I just feel shame. These are the fucking people I have chosen to associate with. Thunderf00t is petty in a way that I can’t imagine “rational,” “thinking,” adults could be. I said on Twitter, I might have read private emails myself. Not saying for sure that I would have, but given certain circumstances I might find it prudent to exploit a loophole just to make sure that nothing dangerous was going on.  I would not be so stupid to expose that I had done so, especially if the “dirt” I uncovered was no more substantial than water cooler gossip. That is shitty middle school behavior. Not only petty but stupid.

I am not getting into the whole story about Thunderf00t’s behavior as it’s clear I find him utterly contemptible. I do want to say that if and when he chooses to “doc drop” private communication, I won’t be able to forgive that behavior. On a core level I believe that if someone chooses to interact under a pseudonym, threatening or exposing their real name is a serious wrong not to be undertaken lightly.

Beyond seething at the possibility that Tunderf00t may choose to out someone’s real name for petty gain, I am mostly just disappointed in him and those like him.

And the really frustrating part is there are a lot of atheists like Thunderf00t. Elevatorgate might have opened the stupid, petty asshole floodgates, but ever since we have had a steady stream of disappointment in people I thought should be better than the other side.

I was wrong. We aren’t better.

And the truth is, atheism means so little to me. I could spend the rest of my life pretending like I believe if it put me in a community that treated people fairly.

Let that sink in.

I would rather be with believers who treat people well than with racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic atheists. Why? Because I am many things. Atheist is one small part. Nonbelief is insignificant because god isn’t real. People on the other hand, people are real. Feelings are real. Humanity is real, even if we haven’t yet fully defined it. Those tangible things I can hold onto, those fellow humans will always be more important to me than a silly little thing like whether god exists.

Atheism I can quit. I can’t give up on humanity.

We are treading water with history, my fellow atheists. We can choose to take the stand that social justice is important or we can fight against it tooth and nail. I made my choice. It’s time to make yours.


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  1. 1

    I understand where many people are coming from on this. The only thing I am trying to caution is to remember how many good people there are in the athiest/skeptic movement. Every movement I have ever been associated with has had its share of awful nasty people. Athiesm is not immune to that. I am a leftist and there are quite a number of leftists I dislike and feel bring shame on the movement. I still consider those values worth fighting for.

    I don’t want to live in a world dominated by superstition and nonsense. Its too easy for hatred and bigotry to flourish under such a system. I am rarely ever hurt by a well intentioned athiest but I am frequently hurt by well intentioned christians and people of other religeons. A world where people are responsible for their own actions and who think about their actions and try to understand the world around them is worth fighting for. That is what atheiesm/skepticism is for me.

  2. 2
    Timid Athiest

    Atheism I can quit. I can’t give up on humanity.

    This, exactly this.

    What’s the point in being in an athiest community that treats people like they’re less than?

    I am not at all happy with most religious communities in how they treat the LGBT Community, women, children, people with disabilities, people of color and so forth. But they at least have an excuse, it’s their religious upbringing and many are willing to change when pointed in the right direction. Athiests should already be on the right track. Hell I became athiest because I starting researching feminism. So it sure as hell is in there somewhere.

    Reading Natalie Reeds “All In” post really hit it home for me. I’ll never have to worry like she does, but still. Why should I take on a term for myself that’ll just get me into trouble (mostly because of custody issues) and have such a community decided they don’t give a flying fuck about me anyway? I’m regretting the use of the word atheist in my moniker. I’ve started using humanist because it makes me feel less associated with the stupid I’ve been seeing flying around.

    So yeah, I made my choice too.

  3. 3

    Co-signed. Sure I don’t believe in gods, so I’m an atheist, but what consequence does that have in the greater scheme of things? Not much. I don’t want the trolls to define atheism, so I’ll support those whose atheism is leavened by humanism – which most definitely insists that people recognise social justice issues.

  4. 4

    On the one hand, no movement is ever so noble that it won’t attract fuckheads. On the other hand, who the fuck cares about atheism per se. Like Willo, I’d rather be in a religious community where everyone was treated fairly and well. I just don’t think that such a religious community is actually possible. That said, I’m a humanist first and always have been. Atheism is a position I defaulted to as a child, and I’ve never seen any evidence suficent for me to beleive in the existence of any gods. Humanism is about building a better world to be a human in. This, of course, is also incompatible with religious thought, as it relies on evidence and empiricism to figure out how to build such a world. But just being an atheist gets you nowhere at all.

  5. 5
    Michael Harley

    I agree with you… even so far to start considering myself a lower case atheist as opposed to the Atheist of the upper case variety. If you didn’t read this, please do: http://freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed/2012/08/10/all-in/

  6. 6

    Hi Willo, and my regards to Jarreg,

    It’s been a while; I’m not tied to the Internet 24 hours a day and for some time I missed seeing you around because things like my Twitter stream would only go back so far and your contributions had already been swept away by the usual daily deluge. I’ve been missing you, and really hope all is well.

    I hope your current low spirits are just a blip, rather than a prolonged feeling of burn-out and despair. I really appreciate your views and admire the strength and beauty of character you show. I just wanted to let you know I’m around on-line and will always try to offer an outlet if you need to confide in a friend or vent your dismay.

    *hugs* Cathy xx

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