Disappearance of the “Scarlet A”, and musings on “Atheism Plus”…

AIn October of 2007, if you were a reader of my old blog, you may have noticed my signing up to The Out Campaign; a campaign where atheists donned the now near-ubiquitous (in one form of another) “Scarlet A” – outing or presenting themselves as godless in response to a world where godlessness isn’t always tolerated.

I make no reservations about declaring my “post-atheist” condition; I have never actually been religious; I don’t live in a culture where I am oppressed on account of my lack of religion; I live in a culture where in general, I am tolerated. Unlike some of my fellow Freethinkers from “post-atheist” cultures though, I have no intention of belittling the struggles of atheists in less tolerant climates, even in less-than-tolerant developed nations like the US.

(I.e. I’m not going to play that game).

Back in 2007, I had a Catholic friend who shunned me when I revealed that in fact, I was irreligious. Our friendship was originally fuelled in no small part by our mutual concerns about social justice. And then it was over…

Did I suddenly identify as oppressed? No. However, in a process resulting from this shunning, somewhat like being injected with the proteins of a virus, I was in a sense inoculated against the real thing. I found it easier to empathise with people who were oppressed, or at least marginalised on account of their atheism.

The “Scarlet A” then, was about solidarity.

It’s now 2014, and things have changed. The website for The Out Campaign is clearly no longer properly maintained, at the time of writing featuring broken image URLs. Iterations of the “Scarlet A” have mutated, speciated and in some cases metastasized.

While I don’t object to most instances of the use of the “Scarlet A” still in use, it’s just lost relevance to me. It’s not clear that it symbolizes what I wish to convey by displaying it, so I’ve recently dropped it from my sidebar. Indeed, I’ve been  meaning to do so for some time.


“Atheist plussers”…

I’ve nothing against the “Atheism Plus” crowd, and I utterly object to the abuse they’ve received – abuse both leading to the creation of “Atheism Plus” in the first place, and abuse directed at them afterward. I wish them all needed respite from this abuse as well. This alone, depending on your definitions, may or may not make me one of them, although I’m not giving you a stake in my identity either way.

My interest in social justice has me holding a number of values also shared by the “Atheism Plus” crowd (“Atheism Plus” essentially being atheism “plus” social justice). This may or may not, depending on your definitions, also mark me as objectively fitting in.

Only, I have next to no interest in identifying, nor being interpellated* as such.

I’ve said it before over the years and I’ll say it again; I’m a lefty before I’m an atheist. While I may have many of the same priorities on my list as “Atheist Plus” atheists, I’m likely to order my priorities differently. Also, given my experiences on the left seemingly being different to that of many of the “Atheist Plus” crowd, I suspect it is likely that there will be concerns I have that we don’t share.

There’s also differences between the American and Australian left to consider. In Australia, we haven’t slid as far down the path of neo-liberalism and anti-unionist culture, and hence aren’t likely to have all the same invisible assumptions about such things – the kinds of assumptions that can be unwittingly adopted even by their opponents.

(I see this to some extent in the small-business-owner-like culture surrounding a number of social-justice-oriented public speakers and writers from the US, not limited purely to those from an atheistic background).

Generally, what’s the “Atheist Plus” take on the Reaganite union bashing of the 1980s, and its spread via globalisation? I don’t know. This isn’t a criticism of “Atheism Plus”, but rather an observation of potential sources of difference of priority.

This may or may not signal a conflict between myself and any given “Atheist Plus” position in the future. And if it does, people involved may want to know where I’ll be coming from should this happen; all else being equal, if it’s a choice between acting on the material left-wing concerns of a unionist/worker who happens to be religious, and entertaining an abstract theological point raised by an atheist who happens to be leftish, I’m not going to be siding with the atheist. (Also, theology doesn’t interest me that much).

(I happen to suspect that there is too much of what could be considered tantamount to class blindness in “Atheism Plus”, albeit not wilfully so. Considerations of class aren’t as prevalent amongst “Atheism Plus” as I’d be happy to see in a left-wing movement/organisation. It all comes across as being a bit too exclusively white collar).

Such a conflict may never occur, however a fundamental difference in the sorting of our priorities remains, even if our values are largely compatible. This matters to me.


Nothing has fundamentally changed about me regarding these matters over the past ten years. The only thing that has changed is the broader context I find myself engulfed in. I doubt I’m alone in this.

At any rate, I’m not going to make declarations of loyalty to groups that I know in advance that I may not be able to honour. And the “Scarlet A”? Gone.

I will however say this much; I am still an atheist writer, only I’m not just an atheist who writes. Often I will focus on issues from an atheist perspective, however my perspective isn’t solely defined along such lines. This may be a source of future conflict.

Allies who fail to understand this may wind up feeling betrayed. Enemies who fail to understand this risk making themselves look foolish.

~ Bruce

* Also, I don’t think my status as a subject is secondary in the generation of my identity, thank you very much anti-humanists.


Depressing and wonderful at the same time…

I’ve been a (not entirely bleeding edge) user of social media for some time now, particularly taking an interest in what Australian political/media wonks of a generally left inclination have had to say about this, that and whatever. I’ve been lurking, mostly, satisfied to let other people do the speaking, despite finding a few incidents, and a few individuals, repugnant.

Anyone who’s familiar with my writing, I think will find that I’m one to extend the benefit of the doubt, taking accusations and the like seriously. Serious claims needing serious evidence, not just in the courts, but in discussion in general.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of incidents over the past six years of this escapade where I’ve given the benefit of the doubt. At not insignificant risk of being mistaken as naive, I might add.

(It’s funny in these instances, when people think they’re humoring you).

In most cases, I think I’ve been vindicated. Not in a ‘guilt has yet to be established’ kind of way, but rather in that in many cases, best expectations have been exceeded.

In particular (I’ll name names on this side of the ledger) I think Rod McGuinness, Dave Gaukroger and a handful of others, come across as being better than I’d ever given them credit for at first glances. Not that I ever thought they were slouches to begin with.

This is the wonderful upside. I’m glad these people are alive and sharing their minds with us.

I’ve had reason to reflect a little (actually a lot) of late, especially after a brief online conversation with Tammi Jonas. I’ve been scratching my beardless chin in rumination about what it is to be genuinely left, as opposed to being someone who merely identifies uncritically with concerns seen to be left, as if these were accessories to be worn like a scarf. Moreover, I’ve been thinking about how this can actually constitute a kind of right-wingedness, when superficially espoused leftishness is a means to a purely self-interested end (career, attention-seeking and so on).

(You can imagine what I think of so-called progressives who peddle the Othering of bogans).

There is a downside to all of this of course. I’m rummaging through the sum of my experiences over a long period of time, in a way I’d usually parse in an ad hoc fashion.

The downside is that while some people seem better, more genuine upon reflection, others…

I’ve defended some of these others, on occasion, and on the merits of these defences, I can’t say that I regret doing so. I can’t say in any honesty though, that everyone I’ve interacted with online, or who’ve I’ve been watching, specifically those who outwardly demonstrate typically left leanings, fare very well against a charge of fake leftishness.

And this is assuming a pretty broad definition of left – I’m not assuming that people have to be a politically radical Marxist to be genuinely left, rather just committed to increasing the lot of the down-and-out. Even then, I’m finding myself losing respect for people on account of not being what they claim to be.

I’m occasionally seeing what I once passed off as human error, as more significant that I’d admitted. I’m finding that I’ve been too fair in the past with people I’ve associated with. I’m finding that I may have been inconsistent.

(The fear is that this is a tribal thing, which would make me somewhat of a hypocrite, because I don’t like political tribalism).

I’m finding I can’t agree to disagree on a lot where I have in the past. While there are many things with many answers and solutions, granting ample space for people to reasonably disagree, some things just can’t be right, by definition.

At worst, it’s when one of these supposed lefties have expected some kind of deference, or peer-status, or recognition, when they are obviously wrong, and when it’s obvious they haven’t done the legwork of someone who genuinely cares. I’m finding good reason, upon reflection, to really not like some people.

So I’m glad for the upside, of course!

~ Bruce