Ships and Harbors: Why the Atheism Plus Forums are Incompatible with Atheism+

There exists a fundamental, irreconcilable philosophy difference between the Atheism+ movement and the goals of the official Atheism Plus Forum.

According to the official Atheism+ FAQ:

Atheism Plus is a term used to designate spaces, persons, and groups dedicated to promoting social justice and countering misogyny, racism, homo/bi/transphobia, ableism and other such bigotry inside and outside of the atheist community.

And according to the official Atheism Plus Forum Primer:

These forums are a safe space intended to facilitate discussions about social justice in the context of atheism. A “safe space” for our purposes is a place where the oppressed do not face the usual mainstream stereotypes and marginalization or in which a shared emphasis on the principles of social justice is expected of participants.

But just as a ship is not meant to stay in a harbor, it is impossible to “promote” anything from a designated “safe space”.

A History of Safe Spaces

The term “safe space” goes back to the early Feminist movement, where it meant a place where women could go and not feel marginalized. The concept has far deeper roots, however. For millennia, religious organizations have used the word “sanctuary” to mean a safe place for their  religion’s followers to not be persecuted. Monasteries and convents are similar spaces. “Asylum” is used to describe a safe space for political dissidents. “Refuge” and “retreat” are, again, similar spaces.

The underlying theme to all these words is that they describe places to get away from those who think differently than the person seeking the safe space.

A History of Social Movements

The term “social movement” has its roots in the mod-19th century, when German sociologist Lorenz von Stein used the term to describe political movements fighting for welfare rights.

American sociologist Charles Tilly argued that there are three major elements to a social movement (courtesy Wikipedia):

  1. Campaigns. A sustained, organized public effort making collective claims of target authorities;
  2. Repertoire. Employment of combinations from among the following forms of political action: creation of special-purpose associations and coalitions, public meetings, solemn processions, vigils, rallies, demonstrations, petition drives, statements to and in public media, and pamphleteering; and
  3. WUNC displays. Participants’ concerted public representation of worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitments on the part of themselves and/or their constituencies.

The point of a social movement, then, is to interact vigorously with those who think differently in order to effect societal changes.

The Incompatibility

Essential to the very definition of “social movement” is the idea of doing things in public. People active in the movement must interact with people outside the movement in order for change to occur.

But equally essential to the definition of “safe space” is the idea of retreating to a private place. People who need a safe space don’t want to interact with people outside the movement.

This is where the philosophy behind the Atheism Plus Forum fails the philosophy of Atheism Plus. The people who use the forum want to have a safe space; there is nothing conceptually wrong with that. But to then pretend that the safe space contributes to the social movement is like pretending a harbor is what the ship was built for.

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6 Responses to Ships and Harbors: Why the Atheism Plus Forums are Incompatible with Atheism+

  1. Most excellent article!

    • skepdigger says:

      Thank you very much! Keep reading SkepDirt!

  2. Secular Steve says:

    The atheism plus members will naturally disagree witih this article. I asked the same question to the subscribers on the atheismplus Facebook group. Why the A+ label when the furthest thing from your mind is atheism, and the most discussed topic is related to segregation from the rest of the big bad mean world. I was then called many things that i am not. But it didn’t mean much because these people are shouting insults from inside their shoebox. No one else can really hear them. Similarly, no one can hear or see their efforts on activism because it rarely extends outside the walls of their sanctuary.

    • skepdigger says:

      Thanks for your comment, Secular Steve! If anyone has an issue with the facts or opinions expressed in this op-ed piece, they are welcome to express it here in the Comments section. They may even remain anonymous if they so wish. This opiner extends an especially eager invitation to any A+ forum member.

      Keep reading SkepDirt!

  3. franc hoggle says:

    You’re using logic. Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

  4. Prepagan says:

    Nice article.

    I’m particularly impressed that you managed to avoid using the term “special snowflake club” – admirable restraint 🙂

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