Growing Pains & Labels

Author Emily Dietle

My focus is on state-church separation & social issues. I'm an avid reader, and feel that one of our most valuable tools is the free movement of information and ideas. | @emilyhasbooks

The atheist movement is experiencing growing pains. Blogger extraordinaire Ashley F. Miller has written a post addressing Jennifer McCreight’s newly coined ‘Atheism Plus‘ which opens:

I am an atheist.  I am also a humanist.  Being a humanist is actually far more important to my worldview than being an atheist is.  In fact, the reason I care about religion and atheism is because I am a humanist.

In my opinion, organized religion is responsible for many evils in the world, a lot of which come down to human nature and the nature of large organizations, but many of which are made far worse by the nature of religion itself.

I support gay rights, I am a feminist, I am against the drug war, I am for social support systems and changing the way the world treats the poor — all of these things I am because I live my life from a humanist perspective.  Imperfectly, no doubt, but that is where I am coming from.

All of this could not apply more accurately to myself. The similarities split at the next paragraph though, where Ashley states, “And yet, if asked how I define myself, I say atheist rather than humanist.” While I use both terms regularly, atheism doesn’t completely ‘cut it’ for me. This lack of god(s)-belief is only one facet of my life, and though I strive to fight inequalities around it, atheism cannot -by definition*- address issues of social/racial/LGBT/gender inequalities. Be yourself, define yourself, and address the issues that you choose.

The new term, Atheism Plus, has surfaced because many mere atheists are wanting to direct their activism to encompass issues broader than SOCAS, and because we are looking to form an inclusive and welcoming community forall atheists, including some very important social equality issues that I fully embrace. While this is a very positive growth and one that I’m please to see, such a movement is better defined as Secular Humanism, or even Atheist Humanism- and when it comes to making great change, why re-invent the wheel?

Whether a new dawn brings Atheism Plus, Atheist Humanism, A++ or any other new term- we are each complex and unique individuals and we can have many labels. Two that I apply to myself are atheist and secular humanist, though frequently simply say humanist, as it gives me an opportunity to open up dialogues with mainstream religious persons. Let’s just be sure that no matter what labels we apply to ourselves, we don’t let them get in the way of working with each other to create an inclusive, safe, and welcoming community.


As you could fairly infer from this post, when I heard of the proposal for Atheism+ I was entirely turned off by the idea. This was accurate until reading Rebecca‘s take on the issue.

This fits in with what my ideal scenario would be: leave atheism alone and work on fixing humanism, because it’s actually already in pretty good shape. Unlike atheism, it already has many organizations working on social justice issues … And unlike atheism, that social justice goal is already built into the accepted definition and scope of humanism. So it would be nice, I think, if we could work on kicking the assholes out of humanism and helping the humanists march forward on all these issues we find important.

But hey, if wishes and buts were clusters of nuts, we’d all have a bowl of granola. Atheism currently has a bigger audience than the humanists, and A+ is catchy and fun and has people excited. … Humanism won’t die out, and A+ could become a handy bridge for atheists to cross over and start doing something positive with their philosophical outlook. What more could I ask for?

If atheism+ only means “I’m an atheist, plus I do all this other great stuff like humanism, feminism, social work, etc.” and it acts as a device to motivate people out of their apathy, then that’s fantastic, and an idea that I’ll support. From the posts that I’ve seen, even from Jennifer, the initiator, the core of atheism+ is equivalent to this. Note the following from @jennifurret’s latest:

This new wave of atheism isn’t about declaring “We’ve already achieved something better” or “We’re not like those assholes.” You don’t just get your shiny membership pin and get to say you’re done. This is about saying “We want to work TOWARDS something better.” We need to recognize that there’s still room for self-improvement and to address the root of why we’ve been having these problems in atheism and skepticism. We need to focus on actual change instead of prematurely crowning ourselves victorious.

Though I don’t foresee myself using the a+ label, or wearing a+ paraphanalia, I wouldn’t mark it out as an option, if atheism+ is developing into something positive, and non-divisive. Now, if it doesn’t progress into simply being a rallying banner, and is going to represent and exclusionary club, I’m not in*. I would be far more comfortable continuing to profess the vebose: atheist, humanist, feminist, skeptic, liberal, etc etc etc..

So, in conclusion, I’ll repeat, let us just be sure that no matter what labels we apply to ourselves, we don’t let them get in the way of working with each other to create an inclusive, safe, and welcoming community.


*Words have meaning, and that’s exactly why this wonderful conversation is forming amongst atheists right now, and why we should continue the dialogue to figure it all out.

*Don’t worry, Richard, I still like you.