Last April, I wrote this entry about why I’m not anti-theist. In that piece of writing, I essentially argue that anti-theism is a dogmatic view of the world that denies its own nature as dogma, denies itself doubt, and promotes cultural imperialism. These are three damning strikes against my core principles as a human being and an activist interested in social justice. I’ve been watching as approximately half the hits today on my blog are on that particular entry, so I’ve decided to expound further on the issue. Last April, I was still marginally involved in the local “skepticism” movement, as I had been for years. After that particular piece of writing, I tried to become more involved, and even gave passionate calls to concrete action against the pro-life movement. In particular, one night stands out in my memory, when I stood up at one such “skeptics” meeting and announced that these local pro-life fucks are going to picket a hospital for forty days, and that I’d like to talk to anyone willing to take a stand of any kind, to begin organizing with me. While I had clearly managed to gain interest from several people, their ability to commit and communicate with me about it was sorely lacking (i.e., almost completely absent until months after the fact). I had also attracted the attention of a blithering drunk who tried to mansplain his personal definition of sexism to me while another politically comatose male tried to convince me that issues of sexism and misogyny are “irrelevant” to skepticism (even if this standpoint springs up in Canadian Parliament of all the fucking places, coupled with extraordinary scientific claims in the distinguished absence of any supporting evidence whatsoever).
I have since become completely divorced from the local “skepticism” movement; largely because my politics have become radicalized to the point that makes skeptics’ politics look glaringly lukewarm at best. The tipping point finally arrived for me when I stopped caring enough to spare anyone’s delicate feelings if they are going to insist upon shielding Richard Dawkins from any sort of criticism for his blatant racisms. I had written an open call to voluntarily boycott him and two other authors who have perpetrated similar injustices and will continue to do so, as long as their devout atheist following keeps throwing money and admiration at them. This, of course, came at approximately the same time as Centre for Inquiry’s open letter pleading with the entire secular community across North America to be “nicer” to each other at these meetings and online, to which I responded with a particularly feminist counter-argument packaged in a deliberate excess of profanity. This was followed shortly after by my completely washing my hands of the “skepticism” movement, in one final blast at an atheist claiming (after misgendering me) that I was silencing and oppressing him, because I was calling him out in regards to his social privileges as a Settler here. While the skeptics and atheists of the local community wring their hands over the “tone” of my unspoken words, or clutch their pearls over the audacity of someone like myself telling them that they might not appreciate how socially privileged they really are, indigenous peoples are filling the streets (along with non-indigenous allies, among whom I count myself) and fighting against the genocide of their people within Canada’s borders and beyond. There’s certainly something powerful to be said there about the current and enduring arrangement of priorities among local skeptics, atheists, and anti-theists. But instead, here’s a relevant quote from my piece of writing last year:
Remember that anti-theism is an aspect of skepticism — well, skepticism is a dedicated interrogation of one’s beliefs in the search for biases, fallacies, and internalized dogma, so that it can be eradicated, thus leaving a further enlightened mind. Doubt plays an essential role in this process. I personally subscribe to the view that this is the most right way to engage with the world as a human being. And I believe that because I am always going to be a human being (until I’m not, in which case, I’m no longer an individual because I’m decaying organic matter, no different from detritus), I will probably never be capable of objectivity, which is itself a construct of an imperfect human mind. But that I’m not capable of it doesn’t stop me from trying. And so, I need doubt to keep myself humble. I can’t resist quoting at this time, from The Satanic Bible: “The truth alone has never set anyone free. It is only DOUBT which will bring mental emancipation.”
One of the most sobering facts about the perpetual colonization of indigenous peoples, the systematic deprivation of their inalienable human rights, the undermining of their Crown treaties and the rights they are due by virtue of those treaties, and the systemic genocide all of this amounts to, is that when the government is not only allowing this to continue but refusing to hold anyone accountable for past wrongs, justice has been actively deprived — and that means that injustice is a threat to everyone in this country, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, and/or religious/political affiliation. And what Canada is seeing right now is a colonial government that is systematically breaking down all prior protective measures for the preservation of the environment, without consulting anyone or even informing the general public until after the government has signed a series of omnibus bills and corporate investment deals such as CC-FIPPA, which work together to break down the last remaining barriers for the protection of the environment upon which we all depend, while setting Canada up to be sued by China for hundreds of millions of dollars every time the people of Canada resist in the name of their own safety and future generations. If you weren’t sitting in to listen to the arguments in the court of appeal like I was, you can take my word for it on this one. It’s already happened before, to the tune of $250 million. All of this impacts every single person in this country, regardless of who they are and where they come from, or how much money they have in the bank. All of us have a fundamental right to be consulted, and none of us were. I am simply shocked at exactly how much work various pockets of anti-theists, atheists, and skeptics alike invest in avoiding the work of defending their democracy or even their future, while they sit around drinking together because they all believe that doubt is such a fundamental exercise as long as it’s directed anywhere other than at each other.
Further on Doubt
I doubt that there is such a thing as a higher power, or an externalized power, that one might call God. I also doubt that people can be legitimately sensitive to WiFi signals or BC Hydro’s smart meters without also being equally sensitive to radio signals passing through our bodies along similar (or even identical) frequencies, every moment of every day of our lives. I doubt that genetically modifying rice to cause it to independently produce nutrients that are vital to human nutrition and that prevent premature death and blindness is somehow also causing premature death or escalated cancer rates (although Monsanto’s “frankenfoods” are a whole other problem entirely, and I doubt that a lot of anti-GMO conspiracy theorists are capable or even willing to make this distinction). I doubt that vaccines cause autism, and that even if this could be proven despite several thousands of scientific studies debunking the only study that ever even suggested this correlation, I doubt that there is something so inherently horrific about all forms of autism that it legitimates all this blatantly ableist fear-mongering in any way. I also doubt that any of these ideas are so central to my identity as a human being, that my life needs to revolve exclusively around my position on them.
An anti-theist is a person who takes the doubt that I harbour, about the existence of God(s), and plunges himself several fathoms beyond my standpoint. Whereas I conceptualize (and criticize) religion as an inherently colonial institution, an anti-theist sees religion as the primary source of all the world’s problems of inequity — if not the sole source. Whereas I perceive of a personification of the entire manifest universe (i.e., animism) as a root belief in pre-colonial spirituality around the globe, and one which is not necessarily in contradiction to my atheism or anyone else’s (e.g., the Earth as our mother and all of humanity and nature as her dependants); an anti-theist sees this as an immediate and enduring threat to reason, and an insurmountable barrier to any rational conversation between himself and all spiritually- or mystically-inclined people. Whereas I remain open to the possibility of even having spiritual needs that can cause me to experience an imbalance in some way that is otherwise difficult or impossible to attribute to any clear cause, an anti-theist aggressively attacks this idea and associates the very concept of it with the polemic extremes of oppression (which are actually being caused by colonialism and the continuing globalization of systemic violence through colonial institutions such as corporate personhood, though the anti-theist seems to be the only kind of person in the world who has yet to acknowledge this as fact). Whereas I perceive of spirituality and mysticism as separate and distinct from religion, an anti-theist sees them as indistinguishable. Whereas I perceive of the preservation of pre-colonial culture and traditions as inherently valuable; an anti-theist sees these behaviours and values as worthless, idle trash, holding the “uncivilized” back from the joys of a “rational” existence—which, to be certain, exalts people such as himself to the maximal height of rationality, objectivity, achievement, and human worth.
I doubt that anyone can identify as an anti-theist and be involved in legitimate social justice activism that furthers the rights of anyone except intellectually elite, heteronormative white men who deny the perpetuation of colonialism to this very day. I also doubt that anyone who wilfully identifies as anti-theist can see precisely why that is. I’d recommend anyone who is still confused at this point to take the time to bookmark my colonialism 101 entry for further reflection. Perhaps piecemeal by topic.
After I Washed my Hands
Doors that have always been closed to me began opening for the first time in my life, once I divorced myself entirely from anti-theism and the skepticism movement that harbours it in enormous proportions. I began learning, first hand, skills and ceremonies that have been passed down from generation to generation throughout this continent since it was covered in ice thousands of years ago. Some of those skills involve working with my hands. Many of those skills involve a sort of creation or art form. All of those skills have a relationship to ceremony, which in turn perpetually teaches me new ways to relate to myself and the people around me. Virtually none of these skills and ceremonies require me to abandon my atheism or my belief in what’s written in The Satanic Bible. And in fact, many of these skills and ceremonies are giving me social skills and self-care skills that I would otherwise still be lacking. All of this has helped me renew, nurture, and nourish my relationships like never before — including my relationship to myself. All that was required of me to start receiving these teachings was to drop all pretences and simply exhibit the willingness to listen, without the need to project Western arrogance or The Need To Be Right upon whoever was teaching me. I’ve learned a deep sense of humility that doubt alone could never provide me with, and my life is remarkably more peaceful than it ever was before; even despite the fact that I am more vocal and more active than ever before as a social justice activist. Even the people who are involved in my life are astoundingly more at peace within themselves, and more willing to communicate humanely when problems do emerge between us.
I no longer find myself in drawn-out, traumatizing conflicts with “friends” (as I frequently did while still involved in the skeptics movement) or so-called “chosen family” (as was a frequent occurrence in other, similarly polemicist communities) who have been secretly harbouring an axe to grind against me for an extended duration of time—conflicts during which the only party being held accountable for any wrong-doing is myself, and during which I am more or less demonized for anything that I have said or done while my sudden opponent abuses me, marginalizes me from as many people as possible, and declares victim status for him/herself using categorical accusations against my character as a person. Anyone who is aware of either the local “Reasonable Women” scandal with CFI Vancouver, or the “Elevatorgate” scandal engulfing Rebecca Watson and several other female atheist advocates in the states, is certainly intimately familiar with exactly what this looks like, whether or not it was apparent to them at the time.
In fact, you could say that I have embraced a sense of spirituality. And in fact, even I say exactly that. But unlike the anti-theist’s diatribes about the hypothetical relationship between “woo” and systemic oppression, my still-evolving spirituality has in fact made me a stronger, immediately more effective, and significantly better-informed activist in the name of social justice. While I can’t say that this is going to result for every person who is experiencing a profound sense of frustration with anti-theists, atheists, and skeptics, or the general movement within which all three types nearly indistinguishably circulate, I would never even begin to suggest that anyway — except that knowing and acknowledging where one comes from, and the history of exactly how one arrived now from then, are important types of knowledge that I would encourage virtually everyone to learn about themselves and begin frequently sharing with others (though this is directly to do with social justice in the face of colonialism, rather than with any specific kind of spirituality, religion, or atheism). My spirituality has no bearing on whether or not I believe in an externalized higher power one might call God (I still don’t), and it still has no bearing on whether or not anyone else does.
I’ve also learned to begin distinguishing between aggression, hostility, and violence. Whereas the anti-theist standpoint doesn’t perceive of the inherent violence it promotes in the form of cultural imperialism, I certainly do, and it is tantamount to cultural genocide (as I argued a year ago). And whereas the anti-theist standpoint (and the skepticism movement in general) does not distinguish between hostility and aggression, this distinction is not at all lost on me. Thus, I am aggressive, but not hostile, in my efforts to demand social justice. Unlike my flailing anti-theist opponent claiming how abusive I am towards him and what a victim they are of my “hostile tone”, who until being called out has been perpetrating hostility towards unseen masses on the basis of a difference in belief, I don’t believe that aggression is inherently violent, or that I need to whine and cry about it when a portion of what I’ve been dishing out to people I refuse to see as human beings with the same inalienable rights finally comes back to me. I think this is perhaps one of the most important things I’ve learned from washing my hands of anti-theists and the skepticism movement in general.
Cultural Relativism Isn’t Satan’s Left Testicle
I argued last year that I believe cultural relativism to be an important function of intellectual and political empathy, and that I subscribe to interfaith dialogue over the anti-theist alternative. Well, I’ve realized a lot in the past year, about what anti-theists are really saying when they claim, in so many words, that cultural relativism is categorically bunk. It amounts to a complete denial that other peoples, from a different cultural background (which is often also a different racial/ethnic background, even within one’s own home country), have the same inalienable rights to pride in their culture or community self-determination that North American and Northwestern European (see: white) anti-theists feel inherently entitled to. This is called cultural chauvinism, and it is such a powerful groundwork for infinite varieties of bigotry, that it’s a wonder I couldn’t put it into words while I still had one foot planted in the local skepticism movement. Although, I did frequently talk around this very issue, all the way up to the moment I finally took that last step to remove myself from it.
The irony, perhaps, is that most anti-theists, atheists, and skeptics I have encountered, in cyberspace and in meatspace, seem unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge the distinction between Christianity as a religion (and colonial institution) and cultural Christianity (also a colonial institution). So while atheists and anti-theists alike want to believe that atheism is in and of itself a distinct cultural entity, a majority are still culturally Christian and simply living in denial that apostasy alone does not constitute a rejection of cultural values or world views inherited from a Christian upbringing and early childhood socialization (and that this is true whether that was religious Christianity or cultural Christianity). I happen to be acutely aware of this distinction now, as a person whose childhood was dominated by cultural Christianity, and whose attachments to Christianity as a religious institution were not only fairly casual, but actively persecuted even by my own family—who disproportionately exaggerated the nature of my supposed religious faith in order to suit their whim and fancy in calling me Bible Thumper, or in the specific case of my middle sister, publicly ridiculing me in our high school on the basis of my alleged faith (which I had long ago lost by that point) to ensure that I would become instantly socially marginalized when I was most vulnerable as a freshman. Though I had become completely disenfranchised with religious Christianity by the time I was 11 or 12 years old, I was still very much culturally Christian, and continued to seek new friendships through a church youth group for years, to make up for the lack of friends I experienced by virtue of persecution on the basis of a faith I didn’t even buy into beyond an intellectual curiosity. I would even argue that until I started to whole-heartedly reject culturally Christian social institutions such as what constitutes heteronormative marriage in this country, and until I finally slammed the door on my biological family’s cultural Christianity baggage for the last time, I was still very much steeped in cultural Christianity.
I literally never see anti-theists, atheists, or skeptics forming this distinction independently, openly acknowledging it, or even expressing what makes atheism a distinct cultural entity. It’s tragically ironic that a movement so culturally chauvinistic can’t see that it is perpetually defending the very cultural institutions it claims to rail against. This is especially true of those atheists who claim that, based on a few tragic but anecdotal narratives of atheists who were exposed in religiously saturated communities, persecuted, abused, and/or humiliated for their lack of beliefs, that this is evidence of oppression against all atheists. The plain and ordinary fact, which is also rather ironically spouted at a high frequency by the very same atheists, is that secular values are systemically embedded throughout Western (colonial) civilization. Evidence in support of this claim are the very existence and nature of our scientific, educational, and philosophical institutions, which dictate what is legitimate knowledge and what is not; legislative and judicial systems, which serve as the foundations of North American settler society; Western medicine, which not only satisfies the unquestioned primary role of healthcare, but also creates and maintains the standards of care and research for everything that constitutes Western medicine; and even the North American (and increasingly globalized) economy, at virtually all levels of exchange. Whether or not many of these same institutions are also culturally Christian is perhaps worth debating, but I do not see either the truth or the value in claiming that atheism is somehow “oppressed” when the dominant culture and many of its institutions are so clearly and immediately structured systemically in favour of those who privilege secular values (culturally Christian or otherwise) to the exclusion of all other kinds of knowledge or culture. One certainly can’t even begin to say the same in regards to indigenous peoples, whose histories are systemically erased, for whom justice has been consistently denied since European contact, and whose inalienable rights are treated as negotiable at best and disposable at worst.
To conclude my thoughts here, the very movement that taught me what an anti-theist even is has itself radically disenfranchised me through its own actions and inactions; through its inability to apply its core uniting principles towards itself; and through its denial of the rights of other peoples, whose beliefs tend to have no legitimate bearing on the day-to-day lives of anti-theists (except where the very same people exhibit hostility towards other people, motivated primarily by blindness to their own cultural chauvinism). As each day passes, and as its priorities remain in the same arrangement as outlined throughout this piece of writing, the movement makes itself increasingly irrelevant. And yet, as each day passes, more anti-theists claim to be activists, declaring themselves leaders for social justice without ever having taken the time to listen to what that even means to peoples who have survived several hundred years of attempted genocide throughout North and South America. What is cultural chauvinism in principle and in deed now could very easily become much, much more without nearly as much effort. Just look at what Richard Dawkins has done without thinking.