Opening a topic: asexual atheists

Part of the reason I started this blog, instead of someone else starting it, is that I have years and years of experience blogging.  I’ve been blogging since 2007, years before I ever thought about asexuality, because I was involved in internet atheism and skepticism.  Being an atheist, and part of the internet atheist community, is an important part of my life.

Now that Laura is talking about being asexual and Muslim, and Ace Theist has done their church e-mail project, I should also talk about the intersection of asexuality and atheism, or at least what it is to me. (Mind you, it’s not like I’ve been quiet about it this whole time.  I have been talking about this forever on my other blog, and have mentioned it here several times too.)

But the way we talk about intersectionality doesn’t quite work for atheists.  Just by saying I’m an atheist, I’m telling you that I think your theistic beliefs are wrong.  By telling you I’m a “new” atheist, I’m telling you that I think you’re wrong and you should stop being wrong.  To speak of intersectionality is to look for allies.  But we are not allies, we are opposed.

Yes, I am one of the bad atheists, the ones you’ve heard horror stories about.  My blogging idols include PZ Myers (known for desecrating a communion wafer in 2008) and Greta Christina (author of Why Are You Atheists So Angry?).  I am not rude or disagreeable by nature but by gods I try!

The thing is, in this particular context, non-religious people, agnostics, and atheists make up the majority of asexual communities.  Atheists by themselves are not a majority (23%), but we are overrepresented.  This community serves a rightful purpose for people of all religious views, and there’s a risk of us making people of various religious views needlessly uncomfortable.  I do want to make people uncomfortable, but only in the right ways and circumstances.


But enough talking about theistic people.  What’s it like being an asexual atheist?

I’m afraid of saying it’s “peachy”, because probably there are asexual atheists out there who did not have a peachy experience.  For me, it’s like eating a sweet and juicy fruit, sort of like a nectarine but fuzzier.

Being an asexual in an online atheist community is a lot like being an asexual in an LGBTQ group.  There are problems, sure, and people talk about sex a lot, but the level of education is by and large better than the general population.  I’ve seen atheists bring up asexuality on their own, multiple times!  I’ve seen atheists in comment threads mention their asexuality, multiple times!  And nothing bad happened!  Nobody believes that there’s any particular ideal lifestyle that we must conform to, or anything like that.

But it does depend on which atheist community we’re speaking of.  The internet atheist community has such Deep Rifts that frankly asexual community divisions seem piddly in comparison.  Let’s just say that there are some atheist communities with more social justice leanings than others.  If you go far down enough in the spectrum, you eventually encounter MRAs, who are predominantly atheists, no kidding.  The less social justicey an atheist community is, the less confidence I have in it to be ace-friendly.

So with that, I open the topic of asexuality & atheism.  But it’s all lopsided since I only have my own perspective.  To seed further discussion, I’d like to know, what questions and issues do you see relating to asexual atheists?

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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58 Responses to Opening a topic: asexual atheists

  1. luvtheheaven says:

    In my brand new blog post I posted a mere couple of hours ago:
    I mentioned:
    “I was internalizing a lot of ace-phobia and compulsory sexuality, and the fact that I’d immersed myself in the sex-positivity movement & atheism movement for years, without really ever having heard of asexuality, was certainly not helping. I had been convinced by all of Laci Green’s videos, by Dr. Darrel Ray and even Greta Christina… and so many other people that sex was healthy, natural, enjoyable, and so much more. ”
    So this feels very timely for me. (And in the blog post I have some links during that paragraph…).

    For me, being an atheist meant specifically being around the sentiment that “sex is one thing religious people do wrong and atheists do right” and as a person who was not-yet-aware that asexuality and sex-aversion were even things that existed, I felt a sort of cognitive dissonance for years about all of it. I agreed, full-heartedly, with everything every scientific skeptic and atheist said about sexuality. It all sounded logical and reasonable given my own chosen morality (if it’s not hurting anyone it probably isn’t wrong) and they had studies to back themselves up. Yet at the same time, they were participating in ace-erasure and promoting the idea of compulsory sexuality and it was making me feel some negative feelings, deep down inside of me.

    There’s more to it too, though. Being an atheist who is surrounded by a very secular set of family members and friends who, even when they are religious, respect my atheism means I don’t have to worry about any religious sentiment being tossed at me when I come out as asexual. What “God intended”, what is or isn’t a sin isn’t relevant. I think in that sense it makes the concept of asexuality easier for me and for others around me to grasp, and to accept.

    I think my scientific skeptic mindset let to me asking questions about my religion before I really knew atheism was a valid place to land – before I even knew that lots of other people truly didn’t believe in God at all too. The same scientific skeptic mindset I think helped me be more open-minded about asexuality when I first heard of it, to consider it as potentially real without immediately dismissing it – and I actually first heard of it thanks to Angie the Anti-Theist on twitter mentioning that she had asexual friends, and when I curiously asked what “asexual” meant she linked me to AVEN! 😛 Me being involved in this community led to me first finding out about asexuality!

    I clearly have a lot of thoughts on this topic, but I’ve written enough for now, lol… so let’s see if anyone else has anything to say. 😉

    • Siggy says:

      The atheist community is very sex-positive, so all the problematic interactions between sex-positive people and asexuals come into play with atheists and asexuals. But above and beyond that, prudishness, sexual shame, and virginity are associated with their religious opponents. I think this is an oversimplification of religious attitudes towards sex, but people will maintain that oversimplification as long as it serves their purposes.

      The other thing I’m interested in is the scientific skepticism approach to adopting an asexual identity. I’m happy to hear that it helped you, but in my case I’m not sure whether it helped, or hurt, or had no effect.

  2. sablin27 says:

    I think the question doesn’t work very well outside a country that is quite religiously polarised.

    I’m an agnostic atheist – I don’t believe that any God like the one posited by the Judaic religions exists, but I suppose it’s vaguely possible – but I’ve never had any contact with the atheist community outside academic investigation into the likelihood of such gods. It simply never occurred to me that there was much to discuss or bond over in not accepting a handful of common religions as correct.

    I don’t know how many of the aforementioned atheists are from very religious countries, but I think you probably have more questions and issues in common with the Christians, Muslims and Jews of your country than the non-religious, agnostics and atheists of more secular countries.

    • luvtheheaven says:

      It’s true that the more secularly you are able to live your entire life, the less being an atheist “matters”. I personally am from the USA – but not the most extremely Christian part of it. Our country is very varied in terms of how secular vs. religious certain areas are. It’s a huge country and “The South” is different, the rural areas are different than the cities, etc.

      • sablin27 says:

        Treating whole countries as a unit is definitely over-generalising even when they’re not as massive as the USA, so I apologise for the exaggeration.

        I simply meant that being an atheist does not necessarily imply assuming the belief and value systems espoused by the online atheist community(/ies) or even being aware of them, so “non-religious people, agnostics, and atheists” in asexual communities (or even just atheists) may well be a group too diverse to meaningfully assign common attitudes or motivations to. It’s a good question, but I think it works better limited to people who are a part of atheist communities, not all non-theists.

    • Siggy says:

      The atheist community is rather similar to the asexual community in that there is a major online component. As a result, the community is an international one, except that there’s a major bias towards English-speaking countries, and another major bias towards the US. I would not be too quick to assume that there is no movement atheism in your country, just because you are unaware of it. But yes, it’s probably different from the US.

      For my own part, I live in a very liberal part of the country, grew up nominally Catholic, and work in physics research, where most people are not religious. Reaction against the US religious right is a major motivation for many movement atheists, but is not the only one.

    • Siggy says:

      Oh, also. Even in the US, there are lots and lots of people who are in the vast fuzzy realm between atheist and religious. Unafilliated religious people, spiritual but not religious people, deists, pantheists, agnostics, agnostic atheists, freethinkers, apatheists, atheists who don’t particularly care, atheists who care but don’t talk to other atheists, you name it. Atheists who care about the movement and community like I do are in a small (but vocal) minority, and always will be.

      But I would *love* to also hear from asexuals who are from those other less vocal groups.

    • Sciatrix says:

      “….I think you probably have more questions and issues in common with the Christians, Muslims and Jews of your country than the non-religious, agnostics and atheists of more secular countries.”

      Am I the only person who finds this vaguely offensive? Sure, I’m steeped in a pretty religious part of a pretty religious culture. Fine. But that necessarily follows that I think in ways closer to them than to, say, my atheist British friends whose countries are more secular? Not on your life, pal. My questions about religion boil down to “how can I get it not to interfere with things like public policy and educational mandates?” I’m pretty sure that your average Christian isn’t thinking too strongly about that.

      I daresay that if you had the kinds of policy issues we do in my state, you’d be acting pretty similarly to US atheists yourself. Are you seriously insisting that atheists who are reacting to strong religious majorities that inject themselves into public spheres must think more similarly to religious people on a basic level than to atheists who don’t have to deal with that pressure? On what topics?

      • Aydan says:

        “My questions about religion boil down to “how can I get it not to interfere with things like public policy and educational mandates?” I’m pretty sure that your average Christian isn’t thinking too strongly about that.”

        I’m not sure about that.

        A couple of years ago, as Louisiana was debating implementing education vouchers, representatives were shocked and horrified to realize that this meant money could go to schools affiliated with religions other than Christianity. I’m not sure whether this is true of the average Christian, but I think the Christians who are most vocal about injecting their religion into their politics are actually quite concerned about preventing religion from interfering in public policy and educational mandates– specifically, other people’s religion. There tends to be a strong correlation between the subset of Christians I’m describing, and Christians who believe that all other Christians besides their small group are not real Christians. Consider also the reactions to the lawsuit filed in North Carolina, challenging the same-sex marriage ban, by, if memory serves, a group of Episcopalian, Lutheran, Jewish, Baptist, and UCC clergy and congregations: they were quickly denounced as having a perverted faith that should not be allowed to influence public policy. As an evolutionary biologist myself, many fundamentalist Christians would consider me to have the kind of “tainted” faith that should be kept out of schools and away from children. etc, etc.

        This also ties into the fascinating and disquieting phenomenon where certain fundamentalist and/or evangelical Christians will take an outraged stand as representatives of the country’s “solid Christian majority” when it suits them, but claim to be a persecuted minority at other times when that suits them better. Other Christians who don’t really believe the right things can be roped in as silent allies of dubious willingness, or turned into the enemy, as need be.

    • Ace in Translation says:

      Coming from a non-USian country myself, the remark about cultural/regional context is roughly what I was going to reply myself. My experiences as a non-religious-and-I-don’t-care-to-name-whatever-it-is-that-I-am person in the Netherlands (and other European countries where I’ve lived) and the US are very different. Both during my travels on the West Coast and my stay at an East Coast university I was struck by how religious the US really is (and I haven’t even visited/lived in the most religious parts at that). When you meet someone, you’ll very soon afterwards will know what their religious affiliation is. People go to church far more regularly (before coming to the US, I thought that everyone going to church every week was part of a highly religious minority, because that just isn’t very common where I’m from… Yet in the US, most of the people I met went to church weekly). And most of all: everybody seems to think religion has a valid place in politics. That was a bit of a shock. All of a sudden, I had to think about what I am, what my place on the religious field is, and how I feel about religious people, about atheists, etc. And I can’t help but suspect that the new (online) Atheist movements, though undoubtedly having international members, is highly influenced by and reactionary to this American religious context which forces you to think about these things whether you want to or not.

      As for my experiences in the Netherlands? I grew up in the Dutch bible belt (though luckily is not a closed community but has plenty of people from different backgrounds), but I’ve never experienced the kind of religious overkill like in the US.

      As for my experiences as an asexual who’s not religious, I think not being religious does mean I never applied the “religious sex-negativity”, or perhaps more precisely “the controlling of sexual behavior through shaming some of the sexual activities”, to myself. On top of that the “sex positive movement” is just not something that is happening in the Netherlands (once again, a movement that is reactionary to the USian context). However, I do live and grew up in an environment in which it is assumed that everybody has sex, that it was natural and healthy. That was only reinforced by the sex-ed in high school. In that respect, I think it’s not so much my non-religious environment, as it is the Dutch liberal mindset about sex that influences my experiences, and how f-ed up I felt for not wanting sex (because I’m not a prude, so why should I not want sex?).
      At the same time, that same Dutch liberal mindset made/makes it very easy for me to accept my own asexuality, as well as the reactions I’ve had from others. After all, most people will think “live and let live”, shrug their shoulders and move on. Up to now, I haven’t had one negative reaction (knock on wood).

      Perhaps this response is a bit of a ramble, but the Dutch religious context/Dutch culture in general is a bit hard to explain in a paragraph or two. I do think that the responses below are too quick to assume that just because there are less religious and more religious parts in the US that you can just dismiss a comment about the extremely different experiences people will have in other countries compared to the US. Don’t just assume that things are “similar” in other countries. The US is vastly different from the Netherlands, which is in turn also different from other European countries (once again: my experience) when it comes to religion and non-religion/atheism/what-have-you. And then we haven’t even taken into account regional differences within those countries (and yes: even within the Netherlands, which is so very small, there are enormous differences when it comes to religion).

      • luvtheheaven says:

        I never meant to dismiss that other countries can be different than the US, but I think I live in the US and my experience is more similar to yours than you might think. In my day-to-day life religion often is not relevant. And in that sense, perhaps atheism intersects with asexuality the same way being white in the US/certain European countries intersects with being asexual – it’s like a non-race, this non-religion, and the absence of it means it doesn’t really intersect much at all, or if it does it’s much more subtle and hard to notice until you’re outside of it. It’s atheist-privilege, and white-privilege, rather than having to somehow co-exist as multiple minorities (asexual and a minority race and… religious of some minority kind). Being in the majority means intentionality loses most of its meaning, and being in the US usually does mean being in the minority for your atheism, while being in other countries often can mean atheism is a majority.

        • luvtheheaven says:

          *intersectionality (not intentionality lol) – sorry for any other typos too.

          • luvtheheaven says:

            I saw your comment and yes, I see what you mean. I do. I just wanted to stress that my life experiences here in the US has not been all that different. Other experiences, yes, have been different, and I do of course think both countries have different norms about how religion is treated. The condolence thing is one I’ve noticed since my uncle died in November – “in a better place” sentiments are luckily not the majority of things his immediate family has to endure, but they come up every once in a while because unfortunately a noticeable minority of their religious Christian friends in Indiana (where they live) seem to assume Heaven’s existence is a given without thinking.

            Also, I meant “living your life in a secular fashion” meaning your actions don’t, in some obvious way, have anything to do with your religion. It’s not like you call them “secular people”, especially not as a way of describing them in general – obviously I accept that they are religious – but calling their language/behaviors secular is just an accurate description. If you can’t tell if some action is being done by a religious person or by an atheist, that means the action is neutral, aka “secular”.

          • Ace in Translation says:

            @luvinheaven (I’m afraid our discussion is becoming difficult to follow, so I’ve linked to the comment I’m replying to)

            I think by now, it’s clear to me that though we don’t have much disagreement (though I appreciate all the cultural context and explanation you’ve given!), we’ve got different approaches to this discussion. You emphasize our similarities, while I emphasize our differences. Nothing wrong with that. I don’t deny that there are many similarities in our experiences, but I do think it’s important to remember the differences.
            The reason why I insist so much on those differences is because in discussions on asexuality, there is a heavy focus on American or Anglophone experiences, largely because those who participate in the discussions, or who create the blog posts are from those countries. In doing so, it creates the impression that those experiences are universal. And I think it’s very important to remember that things can be very differently for people in other cultures. I do hope there will be more international voices in the future, but for now, I’d have to content myself by adding my own (Dutch) perspective to the American perspectives given in posts like this, to try not only to add more voices, but also to try and find the differences in our experiences for myself.
            There is little to no discussion on what “Dutch asexual experiences” are, and the American experience is always treated as the “standard experience” (often simply by omitting that whatever is being written is written from an American perspective). That makes it very difficult to determine whether differences are due to cultural differences or something else. And if there are similarities, are these superficial similarities? Are there different mechanisms at play behind – for instance – the easy acceptance of asexuality by non-religious Dutch people and non-religious Americans, or not? I don’t know. I have to disentangle these things on my own. So I do appreciate conversations like this, because that helps me contextualise what is being written about the American experiences, and in turn that helps me see what is and isn’t similar.

        • Ace in Translation says:

          Interesting perspective! I never looked at comparing being non-religious to being white. Though I don’t think that comparison will work in every aspect. The white/poc relations are not about being a majority/minority with regards to numbers, but with regards to (social) power, and I don’t think that relationship is that clear cut between religious and non religious groups – at least not in the Netherlands. Religious and non-religious elements strongly influence our society and politics, and I wouldn’t be able to say which one wields power over the other like it would be possible for the race relations.

          Just to clarify what I wrote in my previous comment on my own experiences: I don’t think my non-religiousness is an unmarked state, not even in the Netherlands. However, Dutch society does have a tendency to stratify along the lines of religious groups, to the point that it’s possible for groups to create their own societal infrastructures (your own schools, media, political party, and a social group mainly consisting of people of your own group), which is called pillarisation. So I grew up in a non-religious bubble – even though I live in the Bible Belt (!!).
          If you add to that that religion is not part of your public identity, like it is in the US, but it’s part of a private identity, it becomes very easy to never have your religious identity challenged. Would you believe that you can be friends/collegues for ages without finding out someone’s religious affiliations? I’ve had some very silly situations of mutual surprise with friends when we found out that I was not religious, and they were. Perhaps we were both thinking the other was surely of the same denomination.

          So yeah, I think that Dutch people living in their own bubbles, with less vocally expressing their religious affiliation, is far more likely to contribute to me feeling that my non-religion didn’t mark my experiences as an asexual. Even though they surely did – after all, if I were part of a religious group, I’d have lived in a different cultural environment, would have received different sex-ed, consumed different media, and had different friends – all of which would have influenced what I’d think is the “mainstream” opinion on sex and sexuality.

          • luvtheheaven says:

            Sure, I could believe being friends/colleagues for years and not knowing someone’s religious/non-religious status, potentially.

            I mean, I’ve had a female friend since 2nd grade (age 7) who recently got married at age 23, and I was surprised to find myself attending a VERY Catholic service complete with my friend’s sisters reading bible passages about Eve being made from Adam’s rib meaning my friend is a woman who was, like all women, made for her husband. I didn’t know she was Catholic. She never talked about it. She’s one of my best friends. I am friendly with her parents. I knew about her major in college. I knew about the musical instrument she plays, I’d heard the story about how her boyfriend proposed, and so much more. But her Catholicism didn’t matter to her enough to feel the need to share it, I guess.

            In general, if you’re religious but live your life quite secularly, you probably will have few reasons to bring up your religion to me or to ask/force me to reveal my atheism to you. But it all depends on how secular you really live – if you have to cut plans short because you need to make it to church this weekend, or if we’re eating a meal together because you have to stipulate your diet based on religious rules (Kosher, Halal, Lent, no alcohol, etc), if your way of giving condolences for the death of my loved one is to say “Well, they’re with God in Heaven now”… then yeah maybe religion is gonna come up.

            But there are a *lot* of religious-but-it-doesn’t-really-matter in everyday life people who I come across in my everyday life.

            I had random roommates assigned to me every year in college – and ended up with 7 roommates total, over the years – and my Sophomore year I really don’t know if my 2 roommates were religious or not. It never came up and the three of us were living together for a whole year.

          • Ace in Translation says:

            @luvtheheaven: I can’t reply to your comment (possibly too far into the thread that it can’t be embedded anymore?), so I’ll post it like this and hope you can see it.

            I’m not saying there aren’t any people in the US who won’t bring up religion. I guess there are people like that, though that oddly hasn’t been my experience (I thought New England wasn’t such a religious part of the US?). What I’m saying is that in the Netherlands, there are – over the entire spectrum of highly religious to stout atheists – extremely few people (next to none) who would bring up religion. That means not only no religion talk, but also no religious phrasings (how rude to bring up your religion in condolances to someone whom you either know is not religious, or whom you don’t know the religion of – I honestly can’t imagine that happening in the Netherlands). So what I’m saying is that being “more or less secular” has little to do with how open people are about their (non)religion. Calling the most devout religious people in the Netherlands “secular” would be quite an affront to them, even though they don’t bring up religion in conversation with people outside their church. In that, they are the same as me: I don’t bring up my “non-religion” unless I know I’m in company of people I know well enough to know where the lines are of what can and can’t be said – that’s close friends and family. Religion rarely comes up in random conversation with people I don’t know as well, and people tend to not disclose their own religious affiliations even then. It’s just culturally not done to bring it up.

      • Siggy says:

        The Netherlands is one of the least religious countries in the world. Over here, many atheist liberals make much of the studies showing happiness in the Netherlands, and uphold it as an example of what we could be like (though I distrust such statements without learning more about the Netherlands). So yeah, I would agree that things are different there. Thanks for your perspective!

        • Aydan says:

          “The Netherlands is one of the least religious countries in the world. Over here, many atheist liberals make much of the studies showing happiness in the Netherlands, and uphold it as an example of what we could be like (though I distrust such statements without learning more about the Netherlands).”

          Yeah, the Netherlands also has a substantial public safety net compared to the U.S. and a mindset that is so different from the U.S. that, reputedly, when kids in the ’70s were being hit by automobiles in increasing numbers, people came together to put kids over automobiles and created the massive Netherlands biking movement and infrastructure. That’s not something I can see the U.S. ever doing. I’m not sure how much of that second part is a nice urban legend that jealous American bicyclists tell each other, but I would definitely agree with your hesitation to attribute the happiness of the Dutch people to their atheism.

          • Ace in Translation says:

            I can report you that everything they tell you about Dutch biking culture is true. The bike is king on the road here.

        • Ace in Translation says:

          I’m always curious about people making the Netherlands or the Scandinavian countries out to be some sort of utopia (It’s always the Dutch, the Danish or the Swedish in those discussions…. very curious). I would take links between levels of happiness and non-religiousness with a kilo of salt. Also, do these people realise that even though many Dutch people are not religious, or if they are religious, they’re not practicing (ie. they might only show up once a year during the Christmas mass), we still have some very religious elements in our society? The shops are closed on Sundays (a measure that only remains in place because the Christian political parties get the support of the Socialists of all people…), many people go to religious schools which are funded by the government, and we’ve got one political party which up to this year refused women the right to stand for election for their party (and btw it was the European court, not the Dutch one, that ruled they were acting contrary to our constitution). So yeah, I would say that religion is still very much present in our society, and the situation is far more complex than the numbers of religious denomination would suggest. The Netherlands being named as one of the least religious countries in the world makes me wonder how you’d mesure the “religiousness” of a country.

          • Kaz says:

            This is the point where things quite twisty, I think! The US is super-religious, has politicians talking about their personal beliefs all the time and the majority of people wouldn’t want an atheist for president… and yet, it has separation of church and state laws on the books. I’m from Germany – one of the Protestant areas, most of what you say about the Netherlands sounds pretty much like my own experience – and the level of overt religiosity that is not just common but frequently mandatory in the US would be met with overt horror… and yet, we have a state church, the shops are closed on Sundays and one of our two main parties has the word “Christian” in the name. Things which have made even some of the religious Americans I’ve spoken to recoil. *shrugs*

  3. timberwraith says:

    From your post:

    Just by saying I’m an atheist, I’m telling you that I think your theistic beliefs are wrong. By telling you I’m a “new” atheist, I’m telling you that I think you’re wrong and you should stop being wrong. To speak of intersectionality is to look for allies. But we are not allies, we are opposed.

    From Greta’s post:

    Being openly atheist means telling people you think they’re wrong… but so does being openly religious.

    People’s notions about divinity and religion are a dime a dozen, and even that is an inflated price point. Group A has a viewpoint which says that Group B is wrong and should get their act together. Group B feels the same about Group A and thinks they are horribly misguided. Get the rest of the alphabet involved and you’ve got a really noisy shouting match. Yay religious stuff. Middle school cafeterias are far quieter, far more civilized places.

    And, as Greta indicates, atheism isn’t unique in its oppositional relationship with other groups’ notions regarding religious matters. The A might stand for Ásatrú and the B might stand for Baptist. Or the A might stand for Atheist and the B for Bahá’í Faith. Fundamental disagreements are likely, regardless.

    And yet, when a group of people who hold a minority position regarding deities and religion are being kicked around, once in a while, the world finds that other groups with opposing beliefs will actually act as allies and help call out the oppression faced by that minority. It would be ahistorical, for example, to suggest that the battle against antisemitism was solely fought by Jewish people. It would be unrealistic to suggest that today, the battle against anti-Muslim prejudice is only being fought by Muslims. One need not be a Muslim or a Jew to recognize the fear and hatred that those groups of people experience, historically or otherwise.

    Here in the US, we’re still living in a precarious place where a powerful subset of the Christian majority is perfectly happy to treat religious minorities and non-believers as moving targets. They might hate some minorities more than others but they are always happy to pour on the pain when given half a chance. I suppose all the folks in minority positions could say, “Screw it. We’re just too different. We’re going it alone.” but that tends not to work as well as banding together to protect each other’s well being. There is a time and a place for being an ally. A theological or philosophical discussion may not be the proper setting but the struggle for securing rights and fighting bigotry is another consideration entirely.

    Put more simply, you don’t have to agree with another person’s theology to tell the bigots who are bullying one or the both of you to f*k off. When a group of people from disparate beliefs and backgrounds gather together to face down bigotry and injustice, those folks tend to be acting as allies.

    I’m not a Muslim and I’m not a Jew. I don’t believe in their theology or their notions of divinity, but I’ve been perfectly happy to tell prejudiced people where they can stick their prejudices, their fear, and their hatred. I’m more than happy to be an ally to someone who’s being treated as subhuman. I’ve been kicked around enough to value the importance of reaching out to another person facing the fist blows of the powerful majority.

    Simply put, in the larger milieu of cosmic navel gazing, I’ll fight for another person’s right to be wrong if they’ll fight for my right to be be wrong. Seems fair enough.

    In the end, I suppose it depends upon how you define ally and what you include in the boundaries of that definition.

    • Siggy says:

      You seem to be arguing that I don’t need to be so oppositional. But it’s not just a matter of need. I *want* to be oppositional because being oppositional is a good thing. That’s why I choose to emphasize the opposition inherent in telling theistic people that I am an atheist. Christians are also being oppositional when they tell Muslims they are Christian, but it’s up to them whether they choose to emphasize it.

      • timberwraith says:

        You seem to be arguing that I don’t need to be so oppositional.

        Only if your definition of being oppositional includes a reluctance to stand up to the bigotry that religious minorities face at the hands of the majority.

        Again, opposing injustice and bigotry doesn’t require that one agree with the philosophies of the group that is being bullied by the majority. It does require that you recognize the injustice of the bullying you have witnessed and then be willing to act upon that acknowledgement. As I said, “When a group of people from disparate beliefs and backgrounds gather together to face down bigotry and injustice, those folks tend to be acting as allies.” Does your need to be oppositional make it impossible to function as an ally in this way? Would you sit quietly while watching these matters take place?

        • Siggy says:

          Why are you assuming that being oppositional includes a reluctance to stand up against bigotry? Call it out when you see it, or you’re just prejudging.

          • timberwraith says:

            To speak of intersectionality is to look for allies. But we are not allies, we are opposed.

            Intersectionality is a concept originated by black feminists. It specifically refers to the intersection of two or more forms of oppression and how that intersection modulates the individual’s experience of oppression and prejudice. When I read the excerpt above, what I saw was a statement indicating a reluctance to recognize all forms of oppression should religion be involved, and hence, an unwillingness to challenge that oppression. The statement appears to indicate that considering issues of intersecting oppressions are a hindrance to the goals of some forms of atheism, thus rendering the prospect of being an ally in the context of that oppression, a logistical impossibility.

          • timberwraith says:

            Oops, my coding for that link was messed up.

            Moderator’s note: fixed!

          • Siggy says:

            “Why can’t atheists just cooperate?” is practically on the anti-atheist bingo card, so pardon me if I don’t take your convoluted rationale at face value.

            If we’re talking about the intersectionality of atheism/asexuality, we’re clearly not talking about me being an ally to religious people, we’re talking about religious people being an ally to me, and fighting the oppression I experience. So if I’m expressing reluctance about this intersectionality, it’s reluctance to ask religious people to fight my fights. And that makes sense, if my fight is a fight against religious beliefs.

          • Cleander says:

            re: timberwaith’s comment:

            “When I read the excerpt above, what I saw was a statement indicating a reluctance to recognize all forms of oppression should religion be involved, and hence, an unwillingness to challenge that oppression. The statement appears to indicate that considering issues of intersecting oppressions are a hindrance to the goals of some forms of atheism, thus rendering the prospect of being an ally in the context of that oppression, a logistical impossibility.”

            Can you explain? Because I did not get that interpretation at all.

            First, I think there are two mentions of intersectionality here: the first is the use of intersectionality to describe basically the fact that multivariable interactions exist – that oppressions can be influence by multiple factors that interact in unique ways. I don’t think this is being questioned.

            However, in common feminist and other parlance, “intersectionality” is used to further imply that because of this, various groups owe it to each other to support and ally with each other. This is what I think Siggy is disagreeing with.

            As for opposing bigotry, you can oppose wrongful act and still be completely opposed to “allying” with certain groups. For example, I can think that heterosexual men sending death threats to anti-porn feminists is wrong, because death threats are an action I have a problem with. However, that doesn’t mean I will ever consider myself an ally of anti-porn feminists, because I oppose their views and believe they can be harmful.

            Similarly, I (as an atheist) can consider myself opposed to say, fundamentalist muslims in the US – while still acknowledging that the racist and anti-islamic prejudices and bigoted actions against them are wrong. Recognizing that a group is oppressed in unjust ways doesn’t mean that I have to actually be their ally, and doesn’t mean I can’t still find many of their beliefs harmful and/or wrong. And being oppressed doesn’t make a group morally righteous or incapable of harm. You can be both opposed to the bigotry against certain groups while also still being opposed to that groups views. These aren’t mutually exclusive views.

            (I have no idea if this is nesting properly, so sorry if this goes somewhere weird…)

      • timberwraith says:

        My larger point here is that people largely can’t agree on gods, cosmic forces, religion and what have you. That’s almost universal but because religious bigotry and oppression are a widespread, potent force in the world, it is important that people can find a moment to look past their differences and challenge oppression and bigotry. If no one is willing to cooperate in opposing the bullies, then the bullies win. In this way, learning to function as allies, regardless of differences in “cosmic philosophies” is crucial to challenging injustice. Otherwise, all religions minorities and non-believers are vulnerable. It is in our collective self-interest (and a simple outgrowth of empathy for that matter) to be willing to move beyond our differences when facing down injustice.

        • Siggy says:

          I reject this entire line of inquiry. As soon as I declare that I am opposed to some views, you talk about a hypothetical unwillingness to cooperate, despite the fact that I obviously admin a blog with religious bloggers on it. You are explaining to me stuff that I have already thought about, stuff which is obvious to anyone who declares an oppositional stance. Repetitively upholding cooperation as the supreme value, and minimizing the importance of all disagreements, is just a way of maintaining the status quo.

  4. Sciatrix says:

    Well, since you asked–I’m closest to “atheists who care but don’t talk to other atheists,” although that’s also not quite true since I talk to other atheists all the time. (It would be hard not to–evolutionary biology attracts a lot of very frustrated, vocal atheists. Or possibly makes the atheists who would already be there more vocal.) Maybe I count as “atheists who don’t care.”

    Generally speaking, I wind up nodding along with the things New Atheists are saying, particularly with respect to things like objecting to breaches of the separation of church and state. I think, deep in my bones, that religion as an institution promotes fuzzy thinking. (I’m ignoring the places where philosophies bleed into religions at the edge cases; I know that things like nontheistic religions exist, but I’m ignoring them for the moment.) My opinions on the concept of faith are not complimentary. I have a lot of respect for religious people, but very little for the actual belief systems.

    But it’s really not a cause that I have a lot of interest in investing a lot of time and energy into. Actually, a friend of mine is moving to my city soon and getting excited about all the fun things we are going to do together! Including getting super involved in my city’s atheism/skepticism community! And I confess I’m aggressively uninterested in doing that right now and have been assiduously avoiding the whole idea. I do pay attention to a couple of atheism blogs–pretty much yours and PZ Myers, and I follow Myers half for the evo-devo comments. And Queereka. And of course I pay attention to New Atheism insofar as it overlaps with evolution discussion, which is reasonably frequently. That being said, I nearly never comment on these conversations, I tend not to link them around, and I tend to follow these spaces fairly perfunctorily.

    I have found that I primarily get interested in atheism when I’m pissed off about something religious people are doing to atheists (or other people who don’t share their beliefs). And even then, I care more about changing people’s behaviors than changing their beliefs. I reserve the right to tell someone that what they think is stupid–and I have been known to get really angry when someone tells me I can’t do that–but I tend not to bring the topic up unless someone pisses me off or unless someone else brings it up first. Why would I want to? It almost never leads anywhere good, and mostly what I want out of religious people is for them to keep their faith sufficiently to themselves so that I don’t have to interact with it. I’m happy to do the same with my atheism, insofar as I’m allowed to.

    Maybe it’s just that I come from a different background than you do? My family is very religious. I’ve lived in the Bible Belt for nearly my entire life. I work in a field that is an aggressive target of several religions. I’m fairly invested into scientific outreach for that field, which means that I spend a lot of time bumping up against religious people. Outside of my work, every place I’ve ever lived has been fairly saturated with religion.

    If I was to get seriously emotionally invested in actually challenging people’s religious beliefs, when would I have the time to do anything else? There’s so much to do on other topics as it is.

    • Sciatrix says:

      ETA, with respect to how that interacts with asexuality–my experience is that it doesn’t. By and large, people within the ace community are happy to leave me alone about being an atheist if they aren’t one themselves, so I don’t have issues within community. Outside the community, the main thing is getting really bitterly amused when people assume that “asexuality” = religiously celibate or ask me if I ever wanted to be a nun.

  5. Pingback: Atheism, Truth and Morality | A life unexamined

  6. Cleander says:

    I guess I can chime in as someone who is atheist, and cares, but doesn’t really interact with or follow the “Capital-A Atheist” movement.

    I think that for me, because I was born and raised atheist – and in a family where my close family were all atheist or at least minimally religious – I sort of tend to take atheism for granted sometimes. And I think I also grew up in a bit of a bubble, because I lived in an area where things like religion were very strictly separated out from school and most social activities. Furthermore, most of my experiences of religion came from attending temple or bar/bat mitzvahs, etc. with jewish friends – many of whom were more secular jews. And I think that because the jewish community has such a large portion of secular members, it’s often more about culture and heritage than it is “belief in god”, so I never had much conflict as an atheist. An even now, most of my friends, while not necessarily atheist, are not very religious at all.

    Of course, that means that when I do encounter more evangelical religious environments – especially evangelical christians – it kind of hits me like a brick to the face. I lived for two years in college with one of my christian friends from high school, and two people she knew from church, and because of that got invited to several church related events – and I had sort of forgotten how incredibly uncomfortable being in religious spaces made me.

    That said, though, I kind of notably haven’t mentioned anything about how my atheism has interacted with my asexuality, because at least in terms of things I notice day to day – it mostly doesn’t. But then, atheism to me is kind of like background noise – I hardly ever think about it, and it’s not necessarily a large part of my identity because, as I mentioned before, I kind of take it for granted. I think that maybe that might be something that’s different for me because I never went through the process of questioning religion and turning to atheism – I’ve just always had an attitude of “well, duh, of course there’s no god? Why would you even think that?”. And so I guess I don’t think about atheism except for when I get religion shoved in my face (by say, the woman who preaches on the campus sometimes and came up to me at the Queer-Straight Alliance table to tell me that “she tells all her gay and lesbian friends that she apologises for the sixties because it deluded them into thinking it was ok to be what they are – but don’t worry, we can still be saved!”). But things like that are luckily rare, especially in the area I live in.

    Overall though, the main interactions I get are from either A. Asexual atheists, who make up the majority of the ace community and thus are kind of the status quo; B. The occasional religious person who comes to asexual spaces and rants on and on about purity, which often makes us atheists uncomfortable, or C. Talking (positively or negatively) with religious people about queer sexuality (and who may or may not assume I am one), but who rarely know about or talk about asexuality. If I spent more time in either atheist or religious spaces, it might be more of an issue – but I don’t, so right now they have minimal noticable interaction.

    (Oh, but I did have that time on the way to LA pride that a random lady at a bus stop asked me about my asexuality patch on my bag and then warned me that they sounded like a cult and to be wary and that god still loves me)

    • Siggy says:

      Since both you and Sciatrix brought up strange comments from religious people, I’m curious how you feel about them? I would probably just go “wtf”, and not feel very emotionally impacted, but I don’t want to assume that this is your reaction as well.

      • Sciatrix says:

        No, I react the same way, except that in addition to being incredulous I also find it kind of hilarious. They’re usually so off-base that it’s hard to get offended.

        The exception is the people who go on about how asexuality is a sign of inner purity, who creep me out. But I find them much less common than the ones who ask if I want to be a nun or ask if I’m asexuality because of religious faith or whatever, and I know I don’t run into them nearly as much offline as women who present as more traditionally femme do. In particular, having short hair seems to be an effective defense against them. I don’t think the creepy fetishy thing happens so much to men–it really seems to tie in tight with religious (especially conservative Christian) ideas about female sexuality. But I could be wrong about that?

        • I don’t know if you are thinking fetishy in terms of sexualizing or just in terms of idolizing, but I have occasionally had responses from Christians that are along the lines of “that must make life easier” (in this context, they are referring to avoiding sinful sex) or some comments about how that makes me “not an asshole” (unlike, apparently, all non-asexual men). But it’s worth noting that I’ve had similar responses from atheists too.

      • Cleander says:

        To be honest, with most of the comments I get (especially the unprompted in-person ones from strangers like I mentioned above) I kinda find them too ridiculous to even be offended. It’s just like, wow, do people really act like this in real life? If it were from someone I actually knew and cared about or who I knew actually had any influence that might be different, but in all the experiences I’ve had they’ve been from people who as far as I could tell were relatively harmless.

        But then again, I’m also ridiculously hard to upset or offend in general. I usually just sort of shrug off negative comments with a “wow, what an ill-informed foolish person”.

        As for the inner purity thing, they kinda skeeve me out a bit but they’re usually not too hard to avoid; and it’s also something I encounter more as an attitude on larger internet communities (facebook, AVEN, etc.) and less commonly in my offline life.

  7. I have to admit I usually feel like there isn’t much overlap for me. But then again, the communities I’m in (both geographically and interest wise) tend to be overwhelmingly atheist or something close to atheist, even if I’ve never been part of any real movement atheist type groups.

    To religious people, these days I’m usually just lumped in with other LGBT groups- so I don’t really know how much there is to say about that.

    I actually feel like I get more shit from atheists for being asexual (but, as mentioned above, I know a lot more atheists)- usually along the lines of stuff like the Amazing Atheist flame wars awhile ago (back before he went and started intentionally triggering people, but when it should have been obvious to everyone that he was the kind of guy who would do that). For whatever reason a few people take “skepticism” to mean “I can’t trust your self assessment and you need to objectively and scientifically demonstrate your emotions/attraction/etc. or else I’ll believe you are just like me”- so they try to come up with experiment designs such as suggesting that I watch porn while hooked up to a machine that measures arousal, or things like that where I need to objectively “prove” my asexuality.

    Last night I was starting to wonder if there is something interesting to be said about the kind of norms and rules of thumb that skeptic communities encourage and how they don’t apply well in certain other contexts- such as when dealing with mostly unknown communities that revolve around identities. I’m thinking of the tendency to demand scientific studies before accepting people’s personal experiences, or when people seem to be skeptical only of things that challenge their assumptions and not of the assumptions or beliefs they actually hold. But that is a much broader issue than just the asexuality intersection, even if I feel like it may be informative about when atheists react badly to asexuality.

    • Siggy says:

      The Amazing Atheist was actually one of the ones I was thinking about when I referred to atheist MRAs. Did he say something about asexuality specifically?

      I agree with you about skeptical norms causing difficulties for self-identification. And I think this is an important issue for atheist asexuals (even if it doesn’t apply to all atheists, and applies to many non-atheists). I find that a lot of trans atheist discourse resonates with me (eg see because it recognizes that atheism may actually be a source of problems.

      • Yeah, on his tumblr he did, probably about 3 years ago? I have a feeling most of it has been lost in tumblr. I seem to recall several posts all around the same time period, but I’m in a public cafe and all attempts to browse his page are making me feel uncomfortable about the possibility of children looking over my shoulder, so here’s some examples of people quoting him in a tumblr thread:

        As far as I can remember, he basically thought “These people are lying, we should prove they are lying through SCIENCE”, and it all (predictably) went downhill from there. A little while later all my atheist friends started talking about him and how awful he was for intentionally triggering people and I was totally not surprised. I’m surprised anyone even remembers him now? I was under the impression the internet buried him into obscurity, because who would want to deal with that asshole.

        • Siggy says:

          The Amazing Atheist is unfortunately rather high profile, as a YouTube blogger (I wasn’t even aware of his Tumblr). I just checked and he has 500k followers. I remember seeing the first minute of his “rebuttal” of Anita Sarkeesian, but it was so intolerably stupid that I had to stop.

      • Cleander says:

        Yeah, they had a few posts a couple years back saying they thought most self-identifying asexuals were lying, and that they should take plethysmography tests to prove they had no arousal (which suggests they don’t know all that much about plethysmography…).

        I can’t find the original post but I reblogged at least one of the later ones here:

        I see that kind of attitude sometimes from atheist but more frequently from “science nerds” (who may or may not be atheists) – a sort of “well I don’t agree with you because SCIENCE says so”. (Another trend: these people usually aren’t actually familiar with the specific science or research on the topic, just general pop science ideas like “if a trait doesn’t help reproduction it can’t exist”)

        • Yeah, I always feel weird because the “science nerds” are always so bad at science. They don’t know the science, and they don’t know how to design an experiment (for example: measuring arousal is not a good proxy for measuring attraction, but they don’t even realize they are using a proxy).

  8. Miriel says:

    I’m another asexual atheist. I was raised in a nonreligious household, and my atheism has little effect on my life. I neither follow nor have much to say about the organized atheist community (though I what I _do_ have to say is largely unkind).

    As for how it interacts with asexuality, my answer is, well, not much. I don’t trust the atheist community to not be acephobic, but I don’t trust any community besides the ace one (and, very occasionally, sometimes the bisexual community) to not be acephobic. I suppose that, without religious notions of purity and heterosexism acting as a bulwark, I was initially hit harder by the compulsory sexuality and sexual normativity of secular culture (and I’ve been hit hard indeed by those things). In the end, though, as I had time to adjust to the reality of being asexual, it’s likely I’d have ended up contending with secular _and_ religious ideas about sex, neither of which are asexual friendly. The intersection of secular compulsory sexuality, religious ideas of purity, _and_ religious compulsory sexuality is a knot I’m glad I don’t have to untangle.

  9. PurplesShade says:

    So, I’m going to tentatively add my thoughts, with the forewarning that I’m still exploring my identity, but at this point I’ve concluded that I’m somewhere demi or gray.
    (Rarely romantically attracted, when I was only to people I knew, and my partner now is the only one I can recall having experienced something in addition to romantic attraction, which I *think* is sexual attraction, but it’s hard to tell if it’s what an allo person experiences.)

    I pass for both allo and hetero because I’m married, and externally my husband and I look like we conform to society, mostly because we simply don’t go out of our way not to.
    It seems that my partner is not exactly allo himself, for instance, he had assumed it was normal to only be interested in having sex with someone after you got to know them for a while, and that you’d only be attracted to a very small number of those people you got to know.
    As such, being demi/grey and bi only matter to me before I had a partner. Then I got questioned as to why I hadn’t made any significant attempts to find a partner. Fortunately, I had at least 3 other friends (at least two of whom identify as allo) who had not also sought out any relationships, so I could point in their direction and be like “see, it’s not just me!”
    Mostly though, it didn’t really have an impact on my life, except that I knew some of my friends were a lot more keen on people than I was. I chalked it up to simple variation from person to person, and like my partner, I had also assumed it was normal to not be attracted to people you didn’t know well.

    My skepticism and subsequent atheism are a lot bigger a part of me, I tend to enjoy reading, and following various skeptics. I find it gives me a lot of think about given how strongly there are religious people trying to push their beliefs into the legal system both in the states, and Canada.
    I also have religious family members, as does my partner, and there have been some significant blow ups because of our open atheism. Most of his family, and large swaths of mine refused to come to our wedding for instance. They also don’t really talk to us.
    I’ve also lost IRL friends over just liking atheist and anti-theist pages on facebook. Yeah, that.
    And I’m not even in a very religious part of the my country/the world. (Canada’s west coast)

    Atheism is the reason I looked into asexuality the second time I heard about it. The first time, I embarrassingly thought the person must be using the wrong term (since I only knew the biologically relevant one), or be confused since she still had romantic-crushes, I’m glad I decided it would be rude to tell her that. When I started associating with atheism I re-encountered asexuality because there were asexuals in some of the skeptical groups I followed, and this time I knew what the A actually stood for thanks to having learned the definition of atheism, so I looked into it further, and discovered it has some relevance to me personally.
    I’ve not really mentioned to almost anyone that I’m demi, since that’s not really relevant to almost anything in my life, but I do give links to anyone I see who seems confused about the term. (Excepting MRA’s because frankly they’re just… uhhhg, even engaging with them long enough to find our their position for sure can prove stomach knotting.)
    Since many of the online places I see people confused are the places I’m keen on, in other words science or skepticism relevant places, it does seem that many atheists are aware of asexuality, and those who are confused seem interested in getting links and learning more. (at least if they are atheism+ friendly, and even more so in disability-activism spaces — As luvtheheaven mentioned, Angie the Anti-Theist in particular is good for that.)
    This is however just my experience, as someone who isn’t loud about the demisexual portion of my identity, and who hasn’t really been associating with the ace community as of yet.

    Though given that there are a fuck-ton of atheists who are not skeptical, and a fuck-ton more who have ideologies incompatible with accepting others experiences or identities (as mentioned MRA’s) I’m not surprised to hear that there are many who aren’t very ace friendly.
    And people who would deny that I could be bi might also deny that others experience no sexual attraction at all, or that someone could not identify with the same gender as the one assigned at birth. This is simply because not all gay friendly spaces are fully friendly to the rest of the LGBTQA community after all. (For one thing, there are some really bigoted gays out there. I’ve met a few, it was not a pleasant experience.)
    I’m not sure if this really adds much, and I’m sorry if it’s kind of rambly.
    Basically though it can be summed up that my atheism lead to me learning about asexuality, and at least some of the communities seem fairly ace friendly in my experience.

    • PurplesShade says:

      Apologies ahead of time for all the spelling mistakes, my ability to spell or write with appropriate grammar worsens the more nervous I am about the thing I’m writing. This is the first time I’ve admitted that I think I’m demi to strangers.

    • Siggy says:

      I’m happy to hear another story (in addition to Luvtheheaven’s) where someone learned about the asexual spectrum *through* the atheist/skeptical community. Spreading asexual awareness within non-asexual communities is critical because it reaches people who otherwise would not have been reached. I think awareness has been rising especially since elevatorgate, although the flipside of elevatorgate is all those MRAs…

      • PurplesShade says:

        In that case I’m glad to have spoken up. 🙂
        Well, there is more than one atheist community, but I’m quite happy to contribute in some small way to that continued awareness raising in the circles of it I run in.

        Yes, I think awareness of aces has definitely been on the rise, I’ve even seen more ace awareness in LGBT facebook groups I watch too, which I think is a positive sign.

        Elevatorgate was a catalyst, though since atheism unto itself has no additional ideologies, I think pre-existing differences in memeplexs would eventually have surfaced.
        The statements RW made were quite innocuous, and if the statement “men, please don’t do that” results in someone feeling victimized, I think it is safe to say there’s a preconception which is contributing to their view.
        I’m not going to say it was inevitable, but I do think the split was fueled by under currents/preconceptions, which were already present, it just happened that they were crystallized into fairly solid ‘in group’ and ‘out group’ sentiments because of so many people reacting to the same event at once. (which is rather unfortunate really.)

        Bright side, I do think that it pushed the more accepting portions of the atheist community into realizing they need to be more accepting and in some cases protective of their minority groups.

  10. Katie says:

    I don’t quite understand how declaring one’s atheism is “inherently” oppositional. Or, for that matter, declaring one’s Christianity being inherently oppositional. This line of reasoning seems to hinge on the conception of personal/tribal cosmic belief as a prescription of the objective state of the world that -requires- consensus. It’s distinct from a cultural lens that places religious affiliation away from the public sphere, where it is not subject to consensus or external inquiry. This recognition of the personal component to belief makes it nonsensical to interpret “coming out” as an opposition at all.

    I think there is something distinctly American/western-scientific about the pairing of the statements, “This is how I see the world” = “This is how the world is, and therefore, how you should see it too.” I mean that both in the sense of implying the latter statement when we voice the former, and when we hear the latter statement implied when the former is voiced. We make a kind of generalizing leap that drags an idea out of its subjective context that doesn’t make sense in a lot of other cultures.

    I’d argue that American/scientific culture has a tendency towards confrontation and an aversion to ideological multiplicities – we are uncomfortable with the expression of statements/hypotheses we view as being in conflict in our constructed objective sphere, and have this ingrained urge to resolve the two, either by eliminating one, or eliminating both. It’s this tendency that I think makes American Christians and American atheists ideologically more similar to each other than would American atheists and non-American atheists – the logical processes that both sides use are predictably similar, and predictably erasive. And I think this is what bothers non-American atheists (and others) about the American atheist movement, in that it is only repeating the same processes that led to Christian dominance and threatening to replace one homogeneous ideology with another homogeneous ideology, rather than creating space for ideological multiplicity.

    • Sara K. says:

      I am an American atheist who has lived in Taiwan for a few years.

      Not all religions are inherently oppositional – for example, two of the most popular religions in Taiwan – Buddhism and Matsu worship – are mostly ideologically compatible with each other and many people believe in both. Within Buddhism there are many different sects, and at least within Taiwanese Buddhism, the different sects are generally regarded as different paths to the same destination rather than there being one true correct one.

      That said, there are still many conflicts internal to both Taiwanese Buddhism and Matsu worship – for example, in Matsu worship there are conflicts regarding which temple has greater seniority than another. This is partially due to competition over resources/money/patrons, but they use ideological arguments to claim somebody is correct and somebody else is wrong.

      Enter Christianity in Taiwan. This is a complicated subject which I cannot hope to do justice to in a few short sentences, so I will just say 1) Christianity is a minority religion in Taiwan, and Taiwanese Christians are generally display much more humility than American Christians b) many (though not all) Taiwanese Christians still often act oppositionally to other religions in Taiwan i.e. claim that they are right and other religions (including other sects of Christianity) are wrong.

      Now, as far as the claims of these religions … one of the claims of Matsu worship is that Matsu, who is a sea goddess, can protect people who are on boats at sea. This is not simply a matter of opinion such as whether or not it is okay to do [something], this is a claim about reality. Either there is an entity called Matsu who can affect safety at sea, or there is not. As an atheist, I am almost certain that somebody who prays to Matsu for protection is no safer than somebody who does not, but the Matsu worshippers disagree with that. I do not think there is anything unethical about praying to Matsu, and I have way more important things than to persuade Matsu worshippers to change their beliefs, but I think the claim that an entity called Matsu exists and directly affects the world we live in (the claim of the Matsu worshippers) is inherently oppositional to the claim that Matsu does not exist outside of the human imagination (the claim of atheists, Christians, Muslims, etc.)

    • Siggy says:

      Last week, I expanded on the idea of being oppositional on my personal blog.

      While I’m appreciative of the differences between different parts of the world, I think in contrasting the US with the rest of the world, you are saying something about the US which is not true. The American atheist movement is oppositional, and considers itself mutually exclusive with religious views. But this is largely a reaction against a culture where people are predominantly *not* oppositional (yes, even most atheists). This is especially true in my particular case, where I had a nominal liberal Catholic upbringing.

      You think you’re saying something new to me based on a more worldly perspective, but in reality it’s all stuff I’ve heard before, because people in the US make the exact same arguments. In fact, comparing atheism to fundamentalism is so trite, that *in 2007*, people named a law after it, similar to Godwin’s law. If you don’t mind, I’d rather not even respond to that argument right now.

      • Katie says:

        Hmm I went to Catholic school until university and saw a lot of my classmates harassed by their superiors over their religious views (I was too) so I may have a much more oppositional impression of our culture in general. I didn’t realize that people could be raised without religion until I was 18 so I guess I’m not the best measure of religious lucidity. I was vocally atheist for a while in high school as an act of rebellion and desecrated a lot of Eucharist wafers until I discovered nihilism so that’s where I’m at. I just like negating things.

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  12. Pingback: Thinking of Asexual Culture as Indefinite, Ephemeral, and Sometimes Incompatible | The Asexual Agenda

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