I count myself a member of the atheist, humanist, science community. It’s a new group, only really coming together over the last decade or so. It has become visible, in large part because it has some amazingly eloquent speakers, but increasingly because it has something important to say.
A community has to have ways of defining itself, however. It has to have standards, both the minimum acceptable ones and the ones to aspire to. And the most fundamental standard of this group is a binary: your belief, or rather lack of belief, in a supernatural being.
Unfortunately this standard says nothing about how those within the community should interact with one another. The sceptics came along because many of them were happy to examine the truth claims of religion and find them wanting. The scientists did the same, plus they added their exasperation with alternative beliefs, alternative medicine, climate change denial and so on.
And then people joined who felt we should be about more than secularism and science. In part because the statement often thrown our way was that we had nothing to say about ethics or morality, about how people should actually live their lives. That made us look at one another, and ask what was important about how we live, and how we interact with one another. And the humanists came together and offered a term that many of the atheists and sceptics and scientists hadn’t really considered before.
It was, they explained, the real-world implications of the statement that all people are equal. It means that men should treat women as human beings. It means that white people should treat POC as human beings. It means that able-bodied people should treat those with a disability as human beings. It means the cisgendered should treat those of other gender and sexual identities as human beings. It means the rich should treat the poor as human beings. It means shucking off ageism and listening to kids.
It means approaching everyone you meet with the intention of finding out who they are as a human being. Not as an opportunity for sex, not as a racial stereotype, not as someone with lesser quality of life.
It means not demanding respect, but demonstrating why you are a person worthy of it.
And so some very hard discussions are taking place, because there are people within our community who think they should be able to disregard some or all of this. These people are making others uncomfortable, and distressed, and downright scared.
Physical and verbal assault. Rape threats. An attitude that whatever you say to someone, in whatever context, you cannot be held responsible for the consequences
And we are looking at them, and thinking how much more pleasant our community would be without them. Not because there would be less discussion (there wouldn’t), not because there would be less work to do to build something lasting (there’s still plenty of that to go round), but because it would be safer.
Think about that.
This discussion, this impending divide, is happening because people do not feel safe. They expected that finding a group with whom they had much in common would lead to mutual respect, to fascinating conversations, to new friends and great times. They did not expect it to lead to threats, to verbal and physical harassment, to groping, to cameras pointed up their skirts, to dismissal and blame for being the cause of the problem.
So I think the time has come to divide. I’m perfectly happy for the gropers and harassers, the MRAs and their sidekicks, to keep TAM as their trophy. Hopefully it will take them a few years to realise it was actually the booby prize. We’ll go with the Global Atheist Convention, Women in Secularism and the many other meetings that show a firm commitment to creating the kind of community we’re proud to be part of.
Let’s do it.