Monday, 13 October 2014

Political diversity in US Atheist Movements

Much is made of the lack of diversity in atheist, secular and skeptic movements within the USA.

However, there is some irony wrapped up in the fact that those who shout for an increase in diversity the loudest also seem to be hell bent on on narrowing the political spectrum represented to the exclusion of those who are politcally right wing or central by tying atheism into a particular set of sociopolitical beliefs

Part of the justification for this seems to be that in the USA the conservative right shows far greater levels of religiosity than the left, so the expectation comes that one would expect less from the politcal right to attend.

So why is this not being challenged?

When Greta Christina recently tackled Sam Harris on the numbers of women who read his books she was very quick to point out that the male-female balance of atheism in the USA was not mirrored around the world, thus (at least in terms of her argument) showing that the assumption that this status quo is an inevitability is something to do more about than simply shrug your shoulders.

So why do these same people see atheism as "largely a left-wing thing" (paraphrasing there)?

If we take a look at the British Social Attitudes Survey 28 we see the following results:

As you can clearly see, 44% of the major right wing party are of no religion as opposed to 46% of the major left wing party. Hardly any difference to speak of and clear evidence that a left-right split in lack of religiosity is far from a foregone conclusion and an axis along which diversity can be pursued.

So whilst it is a laudable goal for atheist movements to try and increase representation amongst underrepresented groups by making sure they feel welcome, is it really consistent to do exactly the opposite with those on the political right by going out of your way to make them feel LESS welcome? Shouldn't these conferences be making sure that right wing speakers take to the platform alongside left wing speakers? Or is diversity something that only gets lip service and when the group in question is one you don't like you quietly forget about it?

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  1. While you have painted a fairly convincing argument about the Left-Right spectrum in the UK and perhaps overseas as well (such as in my country Australia) i think the description of the Right as more religious in the US than other countries is a fair one.

    Part of the problem from my perspective is that trying to draw Left-Right spectrums across various countries can be at times problematic. tbh the whole Left-Right spectrum is pretty poorly defined.

    As an example, compare the Moderate Left and Moderate Right parties in your country(UK for e.g.) with those of one of the countries often considered left leaning (say one of the Scandinavian countries) and then compare that to the US which is often considered right leaning.
    In the most extreme you might see things that would be considered extremely left leaning in one country being a policy platform of another right wing political party in another.

    So when someone is in the US and says they dont like the ideology of the Right i see that differently to someone in the Australia saying the same thing.

    In conclusion, i have a fair amount of sympathy for people who have a strong dislike of the (specifically)US political right and its strong religious leanings, especially considering its (often public) disdain for Atheism and Church State Separation.


    1. "i think the description of the Right as more religious in the US than other countries is a fair one."

      OTOH, libertarians in the US have more "religiously unaffiliated" than either the traditional right or left, but the proponents of diversity in atheism don't tend to sound very inclusive towards them.

    2. So Libertarians who sit on the Left or the Right are less religious than the average politician? Good to hear I guess. It might explain why I've seen several of them in the online Atheist circuit on youtube.
      On the other part of your point, about people promoting diversity not being inclusive of Libertarians, you'd have to ask them why they do that. Its not something I've either done or can explain.

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  3. One thing I think you're leaving out is how atheism is viewed by irreligious people. If you look at Pew poll from 2012 ( they found 58% of people identified as "nothing in particular" were democrats or left-leaning, but for "atheist/agnostic" that jumps to 73%. When they simply ask who wants smaller vs bigger governments, the numbers are much closer (50%/42%). We could actually be seeing the product of two biases here. Firstly, atheists may shy away from identifying as right-wing even if they hold conservative views. Secondly, conservative nonbelievers may shun the label of atheist if they feel religion is important in our culture, or respect religious rules.

    All this of course doesn't mean we should try to exclude conservatives and others, and I do know what you're talking about. Being inclusive of many types of thinkers can make the atheist movement larger and stronger, and it can keep it from becoming polemic and narrow-minded.

    There is, I think, a lot of diversity of thought and attitude in the grand scheme of people seeking diversity. What we tend to see, however, is that very narrow ideals push to the forefront of speech and overtake media and communities. In this sense groups that exclude and hunt ideas are very powerful. I said all atheists and nonbelievers, together, can make a strong group to fight for protections against religion. However it's very difficult to take this group and fight a polemic sub-group of atheists because they're by definition not organized toward that smaller picture. Typically a convert-or-destroy ideology either falls apart of its own devices, or is defeated by a competitor.

    (edited comment to fix a data error)

  4. I'm some kind of new-age Euro liberaltarian with a nanny state bent, but that's enough about politics. Let's talk about social justice!! LOL. Anyway, I've got something that is only tangentially (I can't help myself these days....) related to social justice warrior #gamergate #girlyban crap. It's a love story about me and my Mac Mini moving to Yosemite last night. Pardon my blogwhoring (I'm a blogslut...still giving it away) but it's what I do best and at the end of the day there's ALWAYS a plausible connection between the subject I comment on and the links I leave behind. Enjoy.

  5. Only superficial diversity matters, as I'm sure you well know.

    And lack of diversity is only a problem when the dominant group is White men, when was the last time you saw anyone complain about the over representation of Indian doctors? Not that it's a problem, just pointing out the SJW hypocrisy.