Monday, November 26, 2012

Liberationism in atheism?

On my other blog, I wrote about the liberationist/assimilationist distinction in LGBT politics.  Basically, we have the choice of emphasizing that LGBT people are the same (assimilationism), and thus deserve equal rights, or emphasizing that LGBT people have the right to be different (liberationism).  For those of us who don't live in the land of politicking and soundbites, it's obvious that there's no contradiction between the two messages.  But when it comes down to the overall message of the movement, and funding priorities, there's a lot of conflict.  For instance, a lot of people question the prioritizing of same-sex marriage, when it's basically only important to LGB people who want monogamous relationships which conform to current marriage norms.

So I was thinking about whether this distinction is useful in other movements as well... say the atheist movement.  Are there atheist liberationists and atheist assimilationists?

I enjoy drawing parallels between different social movements that I participate in, but in this case my answer is no.

Emphasizing similarities and emphasizing differences are two strategies for achieving social acceptance and equal rights.  But my sense is that this isn't really all that vocal atheists fight for?  Sure, it's partly about fighting for social acceptance, but it's also about criticizing religion, fighting for the acceptability of criticizing religion (which should be no more taboo than criticizing political beliefs), and fighting against policies and social values that are boosted by religious beliefs.  Instead of arguing over different possible strategies to gain social acceptance, atheists instead tend to argue the priorities of their different goals.

 I suppose that this is the blogging equivalent of publishing negative results even when they're less interesting.  But maybe there's more to say about this?

The primary distinction drawn in atheist circles is the militant/accomodationist distinction (I use pejorative terms for each side because there is a lack of neutral terms).  Might this be mapped to liberationism and assimilationism somehow?  Assimilationists argue that accepting LGB people provides a large benefit for a rather minimal change to the status quo, while liberationists argue that a large change to the status quo is called for.  You could say that "militant" atheists want to change the status quo more drastically than "accomodationist" atheists.

This could mean nothing, but my sympathy for the "militants" grew when I learned more about queer politics.  I saw people like PZ Myers and Greta Christina applying their "pull no punches" attitude equally to religion and to queer and feminist politics.  By contrast, Friendly Atheist has been more equivocal about feminism and assimilationist in its queer coverage.  My views assimilationism/liberationism are mostly moderate, but the "moderate" views of queer people tend to be much more liberationist than the "moderate" views of straight people.

Eh, I don't know.  The connection seems weak.  Any thoughts?