Thursday, June 15, 2006

Atheists Don't Respect You

I was halfway through my fucking post on atheism and my fucking computer decided to just pass out on me, like a guy who’s had a hard day boozing and beating his bitch and can’t even stay awake to rape her that night. My fucking computer is such a fucking typical sexist male. Fuck. If I make less sense this time around, it’s not my fault, it’s my asshole misogynist computer’s.

You all want me to write about sexism and(in) atheism, and I didn’t understand what the appeal was at first but now I think I get it. It’s a common argument, after all, about how religion is sexist. It’s a somewhat less common argument about how religion can be feminist. But atheism pretty much gets a pass on any feminist interpretation because if we argue, for instance, that atheism isn’t feminist or is sexist, then what are we saying? Are we saying that the only way to be feminist is to be religious? But what about all that documented religious sexism? None of this seems to make any sense at all!

Indeed it doesn’t, because we’re playing that same zero sum game that makes some feminists a bit peevish about my saying that makeup isn’t feminist. If makeup isn’t feminist, and I like makeup, that must mean I am not feminist? Well fuck you, Edith!

Man, I would be mad at me too if that were my conclusion! But I’ve simply maintained that we don’t live in an either/or universe and we don’t live in a world where our actions never contradict our beliefs and vice versa. I’m not as concerned with how feminist and anti-feminist choices reflect on your personal identity; I’m concerned with how feminist and anti-feminist choices reflect on women and men in a society as a whole.

Having said that, let’s talk about the personal identity of the avowed atheist. First of all, most people are not avowed atheists, and that includes most atheists. If you don’t believe in a higher power, you’re an atheist. There are an awful lot of default atheists out there that probably wouldn’t call themselves “atheists.” Lapsed Catholics, secular Jews, cultural Muslims, and general “celebrate Christmas and Easter because they’re fun traditions but chuck all that religious stuff other than a few pretty songs” might all be called default atheists, but I don’t know if they would claim that term as their own. In any event, people sometimes willingly engage in religious practice and don’t consider themselves apart of that religion and many people don’t engage in any religious practice yet do consider themselves part of that religion. Kind of like some people are involved in pro-choice or domestic violence activism but don’t call themselves feminists, while others don’t do anything explicitly feminist yet happily call themselves feminists based on their beliefs.

By the way, this probably won’t be the last time I compare feminism to religion. I get that that pisses people off. I’ve heard some of the arguments – feminism isn’t a religion because it is not about worshipping some infallible being or code; feminism isn’t a religion because we aren’t offering up explanations of how the world came to be or what will happen in the world’s future; feminism doesn’t employ the mystic or the supernatural or use allegories; feminism doesn’t expect itself to be a higher purpose and does not consider its followers “chosen” or “saved” or “enlightened” in the spiritual sense; feminism does not deny other forms of beliefs as unmitigated heresy.

I could go on, but you should be getting the picture: it’s not so hard to argue that feminism is a religion if you know a bit about either feminism or religion. So why does this comparison bother some of us so much?

I believe the reason this bothers us is because we are greatly uneasy with religion. Most of us will say that we are tolerant of other religions besides our own but really, we’re just lying. Atheists that have no special allegiance to another religion (usually the non-default atheists in this case, as most default atheists tend to still defend the religion they grew up with) are generally the most intolerant of religion of all. Why? Because a person who considers herself an atheist as an essential part of her identity (in the classic psychology exercise, where you’re asked “Who are you?” over and over, each time expected to reveal another part of your identity [i.e., “Who are you?” “A woman.” “Who are you?” “A sister.” “Who are you?” “A feminist.”], an identity-defining atheist would say “an atheist” within the first dozen) also considers as an essential part of her identity as someone who is against religion, or anti-religion. This may seem like, DUH, to you, but it’s very un-PC to point out that anyone is anti-religion in progressive climates where everyone is generally (falsely) tolerant of religion. People will get all worked up and resentful, like the little hypocrites we all are.

If you disagree with me, you just might be an atheist, default or otherwise, because most religious people who deal happily with the secular world will get this. Here’s a common scenario: feminist woman tells religious Muslim woman that she totally respects her religion. Muslim woman looks at her and smiles, but might be thinking something like, “If she respects my religion so much, then why doesn’t she practice it? Does she think I really appreciate being condescended to like this, being told my beliefs that she so obviously does not share are being ‘respected’ by her? Like I somehow need her respect?” If the religious woman says anything, the secular woman will likely be really confused and try, earnestly, to explain how she really does respect her beliefs. And the religious woman might keep getting mad, because obviously she can see through this. Fellow feminist congregants, how many of us “respect” someone who is anti-feminist? How many of would take seriously an anti-feminist who says that she really “respects” our beliefs? How many of us might feel a wee bit uncomfortable and wonder, perhaps openly, that if she respects feminism and feminists so much, WHY. ISN’T. SHE. ONE?

So back to moral codes – atheism does not have one. Religious people argue that moral codes are what keep societies from not totally going to shit. Atheism, like anarchy, is a totally free-for-all philosophy. A person can have whatever morals a person wants, which you know, is both the appeal and the problem. Though the same could be said about religious people, because really, how many times has hell really been any kind of deterrent? The fear is more if a person has nothing to believe in or live for, then why bother developing morality at all? We could get rid of guilt! But of course, most people, without a religion, develop a different kind of belief system. But what if you didn’t? What if we really did get rid of right and wrong? What if ethics were totally left up to every individual?

Now I don’t know about you, but as a member of the religions Judaism and Feminism, that scares the shit out of me. Let me tell you how much I trust my fellow person: not a damn bit.

Other things about atheism could be argued to be sexist, like, oh, say, the classic positioning of atheism as “logical and rational” and religion as “irrational and emotional.” Guess which one is male, by the way. Does that make you feel loved there? I always love it when a feminist woman, an atheist, goes on and on and on about how patriarchal and bad and wrong a religion is because gee, I guess that’s really easy to say when A) you can’t say much anything definitive about atheists because they ALL BELIEVE WHATEVER THEY WANT, so uh, yeah, that’s bound to include a fair share of sexists, B) you get to get off on denouncing religious folk as having all these stereotypical feminist traits (without calling them that, of course) yet somehow religious folks are the sexists not you, and C) congratulations, you just alienated over 90% of women on the planet. Because, guess what? Most people have a religion! Guess what else?! More women are religious than men! Isn’t that something!

Makes me wonder if this whole slamming religious people thing is really just a veiled attempt at having a little fun with woman bashing. Makes it all the weirder when a person bashes religious folk in the name of feminism, doesn’t it.
The powers that be (pun intended) would like me to remind you that, of course, just like atheists are sometimes sexists, sometimes not, religious folk are sometimes sexists, sometimes not. And as mentioned earlier, some people are religious in belief, others in action. Religion has always had a big woman scene in it, regardless of the level of fundamentalism. But just remember: if atheists say that all religion is unreasonable, and most women are religious, then atheists are saying that most women are unreasonable. Or at least, most women have unreasonable beliefs and are involved with unreasonable organizations. But don’t worry, hun. They still totally “respect” you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kick fucking ass!

2 things must be commented upon by the patriarchal authority structure (me):

1. "We" must mention Soren Kierkegaard here. I mean come on. Not only was he sexist, but basically came up with the idea that it was the intensity and "faith contrary to evidence" of a belief that mattered, not the belief particularly. Or at least he's been interpreted that way by a lot of authoritarian patriarchal college jerk off professors aklsdfjakldsvadf.

So yeah, this means that the default atheists may be the REAL atheists, and the virulent "lets crush the patriarchy of religion" atheists aren't atheists at all, but RELIGIOUS because they seem to CARE A LOT ONE WAY OR THE OTHER! Yeah!

2. Those classical positionings of reason/logic = male emotion/intuition = female certainly would imply the scenario you described. But first, REASONABLY speaking, atheism isn't more or less rational than religion.
Second, are these positionings really about sex, or are they about gender? The feminine may be more emotional/intuitional and all that shit, but are WOMEN? And if so, is it because they are WOMEN? It's amazing how quickly everything goes back to that one issue.
Is feminism about women or is it about the feminine? You're the feminist, you tell me!


1:02 AM  
Blogger nectarine said...

hey can I send you an email? my email is

2:49 AM  
Blogger Phemisaurus Terribilis said...

But, but...

I'm an atheist and a feminist and I am religious too. Basically, I don't recognise any gods, my religion is the belief system upon which I base my interactions with the world and I think women matter.

Will have to read your post again. Wasn't able to take it all in first time around.

6:06 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

Edith: I felt very dull-witted as I read your post. I THOUGHT you were first "knocking" religion, then I think I discovered it was atheism you're taking issue with?

If so, you've rather blown my mind. I have NEVER to date heard a feminist say anything negative about atheism, but have plenty to say about yes, the patriarchal structure of most forms of organized religion.

The issue of "I respect your (insert specific religion/atheism)but I am not/will not chose that myself self" is interesting and another mind-blowing thought to chew on.

We are taught to "respect" all religions in our liberal, PCness, what have you. I never once thought of that could be condescending.

I don't get offended when folks knock/dutifully tolerated my very un-hip Christianity (Yup, I admitted it AGAIN!) But now that you mention it, sometimes there is definately tinges of possible patronzing, etc. in there.

Thanks for the food for thought.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

Apologies for my Mad Typoz Skillz.

7:18 AM  
Blogger ms. jared said...

hmm. i'm not sure i think your argument really demonstrates how atheism is sexist. i mean, i think not believing in god *is* logical and rational but i don't think that's sexist. women are logical and rational too, it's sexism that tries to imply that we aren't, not atheism or religion.

and more women may be religious than men, but the "face" of religion is a man, i.e jerry falwell, pat robertson, billy graham, benny hinn, robert schuler, etc. etc. when i think of "godbag freak" i think of jimmy swaggart or some other white dude pounding his fist on the pulpit and shouting "repent sinner!"

i'm an atheist, but i don't really think about it much. it's not a part of my daily life because there's nothing you really have to do. it's a non-action: i don't believe - all done.

the only time i even think about it is when a religious person is trying to shove theirs down my throat or base laws on it. i don't need a book or "higher power" to tell me how to live my life, i have a conscience and life experiences to do that. i don't think abortion or gay marriage or whatever should be up for debate just because they might be against someone's religion.

as far as the respect part though, you're probably right. whenever someone starts going on about their religion i pretty much zone out or dismiss them (in my head if not to their face) and think "whatever jesus freak." i'll admit it's not very PC, but there you have it. if you want to be religious, fine by me, i'm just not interested in all the gory details ya know?

so i guess if you're saying that atheists can be sexist too i would agree 100% but as far as atheism being MORE sexist than religion, or sexist in and of itself, i'd disagree. there are no "principles" or "teachings" of atheism so there's not really a way for it to be sexist. if you don't believe in god or a higher power or whatever, you're an atheist. the end. mission accomplished. work all done. proceed to next task. and so on.

xoxo, jared (recovering mormon)

8:35 AM  
Blogger Vicky Vengeance said...

Oh my God Jared. You're a recovering Mormon? But . . . but . . . so am I! Or my family is anyway. And you like horror movies? And you're an only child? And you're a CRAZY FEMINIST PERSON?!!! AAHHHHH!!!! Stop stealing my identity! My head is literally about to explode. ;)

Edith: HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. That is all.

8:48 AM  
Blogger spotted elephant said...

You got it perfect with saying the person may be sexist/may not be sexist if religious or if atheist.

I'm a non-default atheist, and there's no real community among atheists because all we necessarily share is not believing in a higher power. Now there are several atheists I relate to-see ms. jared, but there are many more I don't. There are many pig-dog atheists I want nothing to do with, and luckily, I learned this early.

As far as respect, well you got that right too. However, I respect the right to *practice* whatever religion, right up until it starts causing harm, and that matters. I didn't say I respected the religion, just the right to practice. I'm not getting on board with anything that oppresses women, and that includes all religions and atheism, wherever it applies.

One more point, many religious people take the perspective that atheists have no moral code (you didn't, you just suggested it as a possibility). This really chaps my ass. Religion does not have the market cornered on morality and ethics. An atheist, like a religious person, can choose to do terrible things. But which is better: developing your own moral code and helping others because it's the right thing to do, or being good because bad things will happen if you're caught? Non-damaged people have consciences and reason, and that's all one absolutely must have to develop a moral code.

Misogyny exists everywhere, no exceptions. No group can claim otherwise. You're right that the default thinking is often that, if religion is patriarchical, then atheism is above that. But anyone who's spent any time around atheists knows better (worse?).

10:28 AM  
Blogger A Pang said...

First visit here - found you at the Happy Feminist's.

Feminist atheist Jew here - I don't agree with your argument, but your post is intriguing! Certainly some of it strikes very true; I've been arguing with fellow atheists about the need to genuinely respect religion, and why science and "rationality" a) can't answer every question and b) is a social process too.

Thanks for the food for thought!

7:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Atheism could be considered a religion in that it requires a faith in something that cannot be proven. After all, we cannot prove that there is no god anymore than we can prove that there is a god. I used to consider myself an atheist but now define myself as a nontheist. The difference is in the semantics: atheist meaning a belief in no god, nontheist meaning no belief in a god. The difference is subtle but crucial to maintaining scientific integrity.

That being said, I disagree with the illogical theory that atheism implicies a lack of moral code. I am a nontheist (close enough to atheist) yet I consider myself to have a strong moral code. Perhaps I am the exception and not the rule, but this still invalidates the statement that atheists cannot have a moral code. To (greatly) paraphrase Michael Shermer, stating that morals are rooted in religion rather than the natural behavior of humans is a scary thought. This implies that humans are immoral creatures, held back from utter anarchy merely by the threats of hellfire. Many people question/turn away from their religions at some point in their lives- does this mean that they abandon their morals as well? If character is defined as how you behave when no one is watching, then atheists must have a stronger character- for they don't believe that god is standing over their shoulder observing their every transgression. My mortality derives from my adherence to societal ethics, my conscience, and my personal judgement on right and wrong- not from fearing the wrath of an invisible god.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Edith said...

Damn it. Blogger just ate my comment.

I'm too lazy to type it out again, so let's make this short and sweet:

DG - Right on. You win. Thanks.

All y'all -- thanks for the comments, and thanks for taking this seriously, you all, in addition, have given me some yum to chew on, too.

About the moral code stuff -- I did, in fact, say that "ATHEISM" has no moral code. Not atheists. This is true. There is no moral code in atheism. Now, individual atheists can have their OWN moral code, certainly. However, this does put things into each individual's hands independently, and although that is a very enticing proposition, it is also very dangerous. As I mentioned before, just because their is a religious moral code in most (probably all) religions, this doesn't mean that individual religious people can choose to ignore it or, by following THEIR code, they somehow crash into another person of another religion following HER code. Feminism, it can be argued, has a moral code as well, as do many political "religions" of sorts. I do believe the idea of an agreed upon moral code taught to a society is a good thing, and although it doesn't have to come from religion, that's where it comes for most people. Atheists, particularly atheists raised without any religion, have to forge their own moral code. My concern is that, simply, most people are fuckers. I don't trust most people to create, objectively, their own moral code. It's bad enough trying to get people to follow the moral codes that we ALREADY have, let alone trying to get people to follow the arbitrary code they create for themselves and can alter whenever they see fit.

12:50 PM  
Blogger ms. jared said...

edith, why do you hate freedom?!

hee hee. just kidding.

seriously though. since only something like 8% of people in the entire world don't believe in god, i'd venture a guess that more than 90% of the world's evil is committed by "believers" therefore, religion has nothing to do with morality or whether or not someone behaves in a kind and decent manner.

i think morals and ethics are taught to us first by our parents, then by society/media/cultural cues and peers.

religion doesn't play any part in morality as is clear to see from the way so many relgious people commit heinous crimes against humanity on a daily basis. (george bush/catholic church/FLDS/etc. i'm talking to you!)

i think religion works for some people, but i think it works more as a source of comfort than of guidance. people feel better believing that something bigger than themselves is out that watching over them and caring for them. it makes them feel less alone in the world.

i do think that some people also use their faith as a moral compass, but i don't think it's the larger part or that it ULTIMATELY keeps people on "the straight and narrow". they still do fucked up shit, they just repent for it and feel forgiven or whatever.

i was raised without religion. neither of my parents went to church or discussed god or anything. they were hippies and the main lesson they taught me was DON'T TRUST THE GOVERNMENT!!!!

i chose mormonism for myself when i was fifteen, much to my parents dismay. i liked it because i had just moved to a new school and it was a good way to meet people my own age at the weekly dances. the "lessons" and whatnot that we learned didn't really sink in. i mean, i heard them, but i didn't necessarily agree with many of them.

when i got to college and started taking relgion and philosophy courses i realized that i wasn't a believer after all and went back to my "heathenous" ways.

i learned to be good and kind and caring and compassionate and generous and all that from my parents. i think that's where most of us learn it, with or without a "heavenly father" involved.

xoxo, jared

1:43 PM  
Anonymous dreamer said...

Totally agree ms jared. So few people globally 'don't' believe in anything that to suggest that things would get worse morally without religion is a terrifying prospect indeed. I think there is a lot of sexism in most political movements and I don't associate with any 'group' of atheists, because I simply don't want to be told by anyone what to believe/not believe. I happen to not believe in a deity, but it's a *choice*.

I don't believe science is advanced enough (or possibly will never be advanced enough) to explain the universe. I have weird ideas about the limitations of our understanding, but most dogmatic atheists would probably not agree :P

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Maria Wood said...


One of the biggest problems I have is when someone learns I'm both feminist and religious (non-denominational Christian, in my case) and then promptly tells me that this means I'm either not a real feminist, not a real Christian, insane, or stupid. YES, heinous things have been/are being done in the name of religion, but just as religion has no monopoly on morality, religion also has no monopoly on cruelty or sexism either.

(Sorry I'm posting so late. I just found this blog.)

1:09 AM  
Blogger ybworld said...

The respect issue goes like this: I respect your belief in ... means that I can suspend disbelief and not judge you as a person just because you believe ...

That's my two cents. Its one thing to view the world in black and white, for a person to have all their 'belief switches' on, all of the time, and it's another to turn them say, you're a human being just like have a unique upbringing, culture, etc, and in this context, in this situation, your perspective on ... is important to you and I understand that. That's it. I have nothing to say about whether its important to me, because that is not relevant in this context. It certainly lends itself to ignorance of sorts, but that is a lower priority than the ability to respect other people and relate positively with people who are simply different from who you are.

Finally, there is a sense of reason, and there are levels to this...some contexts have no room for ignorance; I'm sure you can think of exceptions to this 'I respect your beliefs' thing, extreme circumstances I'm sure. Hopefully extreme circumstances are the only ones. If not...maybe you see the world in black and white. By the way that is classification without judgement, it is your interpretation of the meaning of the label that passes judgement. We could all simply consult a dictionary everytime feelings get too involved.

6:09 AM  
Blogger ybworld said...

Something to add--

It's possible to misinterpret something by taking it literally.

"I respect your beliefs or your belief in ..." might literally mean I respect your position, perspective, or point of view...but in context (I think) it means "I respect you as a person, and do not judge / (specifically- do not look down on) you, knowing that you believe ... "

That's what most 'default people' mean when they take these 'default' or what I am interpreting from this post to mean as ignorant, not-well-thought-out, or (if actually thought out then) hypocritical positions.

And something to add here...because I'm getting a perspective from this post...there is a balance between being a chump and a social robot, between letting people take advantage of you, letting them lie to your face and talk about you behind your back or just disrespect you or marginalize you socially...there is a balance between this and being a ranting, raving, or even calmly, silently distrustful, exacting, very discriminate personality that reacts to everything with fervor and is unable to relax on an ideological level, simply because of all the 'ill' or 'imbalance' in the world...

There is a higher priority that makes this balance worthwhile (for most people, specifically the complacent, ignorant, or hypocritical sort...) though I don't know how much value it has here...I think this whole topic is interesting, and I must admit I have not heard religion and feminism presented in this light in particular.

9:12 AM  

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