I've been seeing a lot of opinion pieces lately about TJ Kirk, who runs the YouTube channel The Amazing Atheist. He's highly controversial, and has a reputation for being outspoken and bombastic. Patheos blogger Martin Hughes wrote a series of blogs criticizing Kirk for racist comments, and his sentiments were echoed in a piece by Chris Hall.
I was somewhat familiar with The Amazing Atheist prior to reading those articles. I had watched a couple of his videos, and wasn't even able to make it a halfway through them because I found him so insufferable. His rants are often filled with rage and littered with misogyny, ableism, and transphobia. About a quarter of the way into a video responding to a transgender vlogger, I couldn't take it anymore. I stopped the video and thought, "This guy is the most pretentious jackass I've ever laid eyes on."
I viewed some more of his videos before writing this, and some are more tame and show a softer side of Kirk. He even has some insightful thoughts on racism in America, and acknowledges the reality that people of color still face systemic racism.
But his softer side doesn't make up for his darker side, which is more extreme than I initially thought. In reading commentary about Kirk, I stumbled upon a reddit thread, in which Kirk responded to a female reddit user accordingly:
I will make you a rape victim if you don’t f*ck off.
I’m going to rape you with my fist.
Go get raped in whatever orifice you have to get f*cking raped in. I am sick of your sh*t. I regret nothing.
These are only excerpts, as much of what he said is too extreme to include in this article. But Kirk should have been investigated by the police for this kind of drivel. Rape threats should not be protected by the First Amendment.
Sadly, the kind of bigotry perpetuated by Kirk is indicative of a deeper problem within atheist and skeptic communities. Though I consider myself an atheist, I do not consider myself a "big A" atheist. In other words, I don't wear the "atheism" label on my sleeve, nor do I actively advocate for the advancement of humanistic principles, though I take no issue with those who do.
I care far more about advancing feminism, human rights, and social justice, which is why I felt compelled to write this. This problem is not limited to the Amazing Atheist. An in-depth Vox article analyzing so-called "men's rights" activists, notorious for their blatant misogyny, noted a common contempt for religion among them, and found that 94 percent of surveyed users of a Men's Rights subreddit threat identified as atheists, which is noteworthy considering that TJ Kirk essentially peddles MRA talking points.
Another looming problem in the atheist community is a wall of silence that surrounds sexual harassment and assault. Michael Shermer, a prominent "big A" atheist, has a litany of allegations against him by women accusing him of sexual harassment and assault. Rebecca Watson, founder of Skepchick.org, sparked ire at an atheist convention when she called out a man for inviting her for coffee in his hotel room at four in the morning.
That apathy toward sexual harassment and assault extends all the way up to Richard Dawkins, arguably the most influential "big A" atheist, who has a history of misogynistic remarks. Most notoriously, he offered this advice to sexual assault victims: “If you want… to testify and jail a man, don’t get drunk." This was among other tweets with similarly victim-blamey sentiments.
And the problem extends beyond apathy toward sexual assault to lack of diversity in general among atheist and skeptic communities. In the most subtle sense, when I saw pictures of the recent Reason Rally, I couldn't help but notice that the attendees consisted of predominantly white males. And that lack of diversity is clearly having a negative impact. Blogger and author Greta Christina notes: “I can’t tell you how many women, people of color, other marginalized people I’ve talked with who’ve told me, ‘I’m an atheist, but I don’t want anything to do with organized atheism if these guys are the leaders.’”
Vlogger Kat Blaque, a black trans woman and self-described atheist, recounted her experiences with atheist communities in depth in a YouTube video, and this was something she said that stood out to me:
"You’d think that the atheist community, a marginalized minority would do its best not do to the same to other people. But shockingly, in my experience, it spends a lot of time doing the same oppressive things that Christians do. They just don’t have the power or money to actually oppress."
And that's the whole point. I've heard it argued that the apathy toward bigotry within atheist and skeptic communities is rooted in the belief that bigotry can only exist in religion, so those who don't practice religion cannot possibly be prejudiced. But that isn't true. Marginalized groups are held back largely because of ingrained societal attitudes toward said groups, and the influence of those mindsets does not discriminate based on religion. You don't get a free pass to be racist, sexist, homo/bi/transphobic, etc., simply because your prejudice isn't in the name of some deity. Doing so makes you just as bad as religious institutions and individuals who promote the same bigoted mindsets.
Some might argue that the only purpose of atheist and skeptic communities is to promote secular values, and they shouldn't be a platform for other political agendas. I wouldn't disagree with the notion of that being the primary purpose, but that isn't mutually exclusive to addressing these problems. This is more than a political agenda. This is about people who feel unwelcome and alienated in these communities because of hostility toward qualities and identities that they cannot change about themselves. Is that really what "big A" atheism is about? Do those who support it really think that is the best way to advance their cause?
So I call on atheists within skeptic communities--as well as those outside of them, and everyone really--to speak out against racism, sexism, ableism, homo/bi/transphobia, and any other -isms within these communities. Fortunately, some prominent atheists are getting the memo. PZ Myers regularly speaks out against sexism in skeptic communities, calling out the Amazing Atheist and publicizing allegations against Michael Shermer, and Adam Savage and Rebecca Watson have joined in. Many secular advocacy groups are also stepping up to the plate; the American Humanist Association has affiliates within the group that include the Black Humanist Alliance, the Feminist Humanist Alliance, and the LGBTQ Humanist Alliance.
For the marginalized to feel welcome, that means provocateurs like TJ Kirk should not be welcome, and that the Reason Rally shouldn't comprise primarily of a bunch of white men. Those who don't believe in or actively worship any deity have nothing holding them back from being inclusive of everyone, because they feel no need to appease any deity compelling them to stand in the way of an inclusive society.
So what are we waiting for? Let's use our brief time on this earth to make it inclusive for everyone, and give everyone the opportunity to live their lives as they choose. There is nothing more humanistic than that.