Atheist Heterosexism

A tweet from @findingdoubt that reads "May more and more fundamentalists give birth to homosexual children!  Maybe then they will learn."

an example of a straight atheist

Let’s talk about atheists and heterosexism.  Or rather: let’s talk about atheists being heterosexist while thinking they’re fighting heterosexism.

Gay kids are not a punishment.  Their lives are not your rhetorical tools, and it is hateful and evil to wish abusive parenting on them for the sake of “Maybe then they will learn”.  I’m not gay, but I’m not straight either, and I have Catholic grandparents who vote Republican and watch Fox News.  I haven’t come out to them yet for fear of their reactions.  The fact that someone out there would be celebrating that situation, like my existence is some kind of amusing jab at them, betrays the fact that straight atheists such as these (pictured above) don’t actually care about helping any of the gsrm identities — they care about taking shots at theists, even at the expense of the oppressed.

This is not the first time I’ve seen this brand of rhetoric (wishing gay kids upon fundamentalists).  I don’t consider this an isolated thought or a one-time occurrence.  Don’t try to argue that it is.  White atheism is also notoriously racist and oblivious to the history and effects of colonialism, and it produces exactly the kind of rhetoric that you’d expect from that.  Point being, this junk is predictable along the lines of whatever sorts of privileges an atheists has.

The chief issue I take with atheism — that is, “atheism” here meaning the most common patterns of atheist discourse, not all the individuals themselves (although straight, White, and male atheists are particularly susceptible) — is that it does not oppose oppression.  It opposes theism, and in doing so, it uses oppression and the suffering of others as a rhetorical tool for a smear campaign without actually showing real compassion or support for the targets of violence.

I’m uninterested in making the argument that atheism, itself, is evil, or that all atheists act the same way (they don’t), or that religious institutions do not also have the same issues (they do).  What I want to address is that straight White atheists are not fighting oppression simply by arguing against theism.  Oppression occurs on its own terms, with or without religion’s help, and neglecting to acknowledge that religious fundamentalism isn’t the sole source of oppression is nothing but a transparent show of resistance toward critical self-reflection, of a kind which results in real, economic and physical harm to real people.

We need people to fight oppressive and irrational beliefs.  Fight White supremacy.  Fight heteronormativity.  Fight cissexism.  Fight misogyny.  Fight compulsory sexuality.  Fight rape culture.  Fight ableism.  Fight colonialism and classism.  And fight theism when it gets in the way of any of the former.  But understand this: even if, somehow, you were able to wipe all traces of theism from the earth, the rest of these would still persist, and it will take more focused and deliberate efforts than that to eliminate them.  If you think they’re tied to theism alone, you’re underestimating their pervasiveness, and that makes you not only naive but complicit.  You are not neutral, you do not exist outside these dynamics, and you never will until these dynamics cease to exist.

So take a skeptical position toward religion if you like.  I’ll be there with you, as long as you understand that being an atheist does not exempt you from your privileges and does not render you incapable of enabling and participating in systematic harm.  These issues, too, deserve to be examined with logical consideration and a critical eye, the kind you so often crow about.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
— Desmond Tutu

10 responses to “Atheist Heterosexism

  • Taviante Queens

    “The fact that someone out there would be celebrating that situation, like my existence is some kind of amusing jab at them, betrays the fact that straight atheists such as these (pictured above) don’t actually care about helping any of the gsrm identities — they care about taking shots at theists, even at the expense of the oppressed.”

    YES, there is nothing I could add to what you’ve written here with a comment.

  • Calum P Cameron

    An eloquent response to a very depressing pattern. Well said.

    And, just for the record, they DON’T learn. My mother is a Fundamentalist, and my coming out to her didn’t help. She was briefly comforting, then she went through an extended period of demanding to know why I was attacking God with my sexuality or some incoherent thing like that, and then she just decided to pretend that the issue didn’t exist and never speak of it again.

  • Midori Skies

    Not to mention that fundamentalists having gay kids is a major cause of homelessness in youth.

    Plain old sexism is also a major issue in the atheist movement. For instance, I don’t understand what is so controversial about the proposal that atheist conventions ought to have sexual harrassment policies, but that idea still got a lot of pushback. And that’s not even touching on the blatant sexism of leaders like Richard Dawkins, and the fanboys who defend them.

    Sadly, I agree with pretty much everything you say in this post.

    But I am glad that things like Atheism Plus exist (the idea being atheism plus social justice). There’s been a lot of pushback against things like Atheim Plus by the white straight cis male atheist crowd, though.

    • acetheist

      Exactly. Thank you for bringing that up.

      Never heard of Atheism Plus before, but it sounds like a good idea. That’s the thing about atheism alone — not a problem with the ideological component itself, but the fact that “atheism” describes something so very specific — and as a result, it doesn’t say anything about what you believe on the subject of anything else. So I can see how having a concept/term like that would remedy the problem, at least lexically.

  • timberwraith

    The chief issue I take with atheism — that is, “atheism” here meaning the most common patterns of atheist discourse, not all the individuals themselves (although straight, White, and male atheists are particularly susceptible) — is that it does not oppose oppression. It opposes theism, and in doing so, it uses oppression and the suffering of others as a rhetorical tool for a smear campaign without actually showing real compassion or support for the targets of violence.

    *sigh* Indeed. This is sadly all too accurate.

    The most vocal, well populated atheist spaces on the internet are currently, very, very antitheist. Their primary focus is to promote opposition to religion and supernatural belief. There is a fair amount of compassion shown to those who are victims of various oppressions but that focus, unfortunately, is usually limited to those particular victims who experienced that oppression as a result of some religious institution or religious belief system. There is a marked shortsightedness of scope when examining oppression that occurs outside of the realm of religion.

    I long for the day in which organized atheism drops its reflexive tribalism and matures into a movement whose focus is upon challenging oppression rather than eradicating all religious/spiritual philosophies.

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