Richard Carrier And ‘Being With Or Against Atheism+’

Richard Carrier and Atheism+
A ‘champion’ of compassion, Richard Carrier is quick to label you a douche if you’re not with Atheism+, or at least willing to champion it.

Atheism+ is a new movement within atheism that is championed by Richard Carrier.  I’m sure there’s plenty of others who champion this movement, but for the purposes of brevity and an examination of this influential figure within the movement, I’ll focus on him in this article.

First let’s examine the basic values of Atheism+, as found within Richard Carrier’s article here.

Examining The Basic and Principle Values of Atheism+


Its basic values (and the reason for its moniker) Jen stated thus:  We are…

Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

These values are positive.  As a progressive, I’m for social justice, woman’s rights, and I see the dissolution of racism as an obvious path to a better world.  I do what I can to think critically and skeptically to the best of my intellectual capacity, though I’m sure, as with us all, I have my limits.  OK, nothing wrong here, so far as basic values go.

Below, from the same article, are the three principle values.

And the three principle values I discover to be fundamental truths about how all humans ought to govern themselves are reasonableness, compassion, and integrity, generally in that order.

Well, that seems reasonable.  I have meditated on compassion before and have found it to be a positive influence in how I go about interacting with other people and how I perceive the world.  Oddly though, Richard Carrier has another article entitled,  Being with or against Atheism+.  Below is an excerpt from the full article found here.

In the meantime, are you an atheist? Do you identify as an atheist? Then I call upon you to pick sides within our movement (not in comments here, but publicly, via Facebook or other social media): are you with us, or with them; are you now a part of the Atheism+ movement,or do you at least cheer and approve it’s values and aims (since you don’t have to label yourself), or are you going to stick with Atheism Less and its sexism and cruelty and irrationality? Then at least we’ll know who to work with. And who to avoid.

Of course, even the original statement should have been clear enough, since who would side with sexism and cruelty and irrationality? Lots of people, apparently. Many atheists declared themselves for Atheism Less in the comments. Then acted all surprised when I treated them like those who side with sexism and cruelty and irrationality. You reap what you sow, people.

Alright, now I have enough to work with.  We have the basic and principle values of Atheism+ as described and endorsed by Richard Carrier, and an interesting excerpt elaborating on what it means to be with, or against Atheism+.

First, I’m not entirely sure what it means to be with atheism, period.  The most honest and straight forward definition of atheism is disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.  I am an atheist.  I am with other atheists insofar as we share this commonality.  It’s true that many atheists would like to extend the term to meaning that we’re able to think more rationally, reasonably, and intelligently than those who are theists, or deists to a slightly lesser extent.  But let’s be honest, on the face of it, this isn’t necessarily true, no matter how much it appeals to our sensibilities.

It’s perfectly possible to be an atheist and to be a stupid, close minded person.  You could have a low IQ, care nothing about other people, and be a sheep to any number of ideological concepts the way atheists think theists are sheep to their irrational belief in god.  There are certainly atheists of great intellect, but Francis Collins, the head administrator of the human genome project and a renowned scientist, was convinced that there exists a god because he came across a waterfall with three streams.  He proclaims he fell to his knees and accepted god and the holy trinity into his life because of this.  Irrational indeed.  But the man’s certainly smarter than I am by many a measure.

Now, I think it would be a positive thing for all atheists to strive to be more open minded, intellectually honest, and rationale, but that’s different than assuming that by default they naturally are.  Perhaps many people become atheists because they are more naturally inclined towards critical examination and skepticism, but I cannot make that claim as a scientific certainty, because I don’t have the empirical data in front of me.

But above and beyond, most importantly, we must recognize the desire to be associated with a group – atheists – that are more intelligent, reasonable, and rationale than others is simply an aspect of the ego.  It’s a way of feeling superior to others, and a way of forming a group.  Not a religion, but a group, yes.  I stress the not a religion because that assertion against atheists has been made many a time by theists, that atheists are in their own right part of their own religion with their own dogma, and I see a false equivalency in that notion.

Now let’s talk about compassion, and how Richard Carrier appears conspicuously lacking in the understanding of the concept.  It’s easy to be compassionate towards people that hold to your own values, or choose to side with you, but it’s rather a different thing altogether when perceiving people who do not wish to align themselves with you.  One thing compassion is not is a propensity to refer to people as a ‘douche’, or referring to their behavior as ‘douchery’.

Don’t take my word for it, explore the links I supplied above and use the ctrl F function, and search the word douche.  You’ll see how attached Richard is to labeling people and their behavior with the word.  Occasionally I use the word too, but I do not self aggrandize myself as being particularly compassionate.  I strive for it, I fall short, and sometimes I succeed to one degree or another.

What Is Compassion?

The word itself is synomous with mercy and empathy.  According to the definition is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. In Eastern traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, where compassion is a lifelong practice, to be cultivated at the core of one’s being, it has to do with dissolving the perceptual boundaries between you and the other.  One can also practice this in meditation without any belief system operating whatsoever as software on the brain.  That’s why I find the very concept of ‘with us or against us,’ to be contrary to one of their principle values.

Here’s one more quote from Richard Carrier from his article, Being with or against Atheism+.  

Many atheists declared themselves for Atheism Less in the comments. Then acted all surprised when I treated them like those who side with sexism and cruelty and irrationality. You reap what you sow, people.

Did they really, Richard?  You invented this term, Atheism Less, which serves to put on a pedestal your own movement, Atheism Plus.  I would venture It must make you feel quite good about yourself to be identified with the plus, rather than the less.  I went through the comments, and I didn’t see people declaring themselves to be atheism less, or that were siding themselves with sexism, cruelty, and irrationality. Instead it appears they are stating they would rather simply be atheists, and not associate themselves with your doctrine.

You were quick to hoist labels such as douche, cruel, sexist and irrational to those communicating in one way or another that they did not feel comfortable conforming to your rhetoric and impositions.  I’m an atheist, I try and do well by others as best I can, I try and be fair and compassionate, but I want nothing to do with your movement, Richard.  Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable.  It reeks of egotism.  

Please do yourself a service and examine your own thought patterns.  Do you feel superior to those who consider themselves mere atheists and don’t wish to be a part of your cause?  I know you nuance your conversation throughout articles, stating one can be an atheist and not join atheism +, and that it doesn’t necessarily make them a douche, so long as they cheer and approve of its values and aims.  Well, I like the values, but that doesn’t mean I see you, or Atheism+ as actually encompassing those values in the way that you conduct yourself.

If you were truly compassionate you would not be so openly divisive, and create a straw man called ‘Lesser Atheism’, to group people into and so easily label them as douches and their feedback acts of douchery.

To be fair I’ll share your own speech below, as well as two others to broaden the scope of the conversation.  Accusations that those who don’t choose to associate themselves, or champion your cause as being associated with sexism are rife.  There are trolls on the internet, we learn to ignore those trolls, they do not represent any group, they represent a type of behavior.

For my part, and from my observations, I have seen zero evidence that sexism is more common among atheists than among any other group of people.  From my subjective perspective there is less racism and sexism within atheism, since we are not weighed down by the baggage of biblical morality which has condoned slavery and demeaned womans place in society for thousands of years.

Perhaps you have a genuine subjective experience that differs from my own, but in order to establish that your perspective is more valid, and to a point where it warrants the imposed rift you are seeking to create within the ‘atheist movement’, you would need to conduct scientific studies or at least hire independent third parties to conduct polls over a large spectrum.

Alright, now for your video.

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Now for balance here’s a shorter video by Thunderf00t, another prominent figure in the atheist community – perhaps you would attribute him to the less than section, thus doing yourself the service of elevating yourself to the plus.  Here he critiques you and your movement.

[embedplusvideo height=”281″ width=”450″ standard=”″ vars=”ytid=95LG9crl3yo&width=450&height=281&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep6370″ /]

And last, but never least, a you tube video of Sam Harris talking at an atheist convention in 2007 regarding the label atheist itself, and how it might not be useful.  He raises a lot of hairs with this talk, but I believe it helps to highlight just how far we can go in labeling ourselves, and associating ourselves as a group, which makes it easier for others to box us into their preconceived notions of what that label forebodes.

[embedplusvideo height=”365″ width=”450″ standard=”″ vars=”ytid=ODz7kRS2XPs&width=450&height=365&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep7472″ /]

For my part, atheism is enough.  Richard, the fact I find your writings distasteful, and not something I wish to take part in, or even champion, does not necessarily mean I’m a douche.  It just means I’m myself, and I’ll share my own thoughts and ideas, and associate with whoever I feel is more genuine, and less interested in the service of their ego, than in discussing good ideas, and denouncing bad ideas.


3 thoughts on “Richard Carrier And ‘Being With Or Against Atheism+’”

  1. There is so much snobbery and smugness centred around atheism. Sadly, it is the few atheists that crow on about how they are above and beyond any religious group that give it a bad name. I would argue that atheism isn’t a religion because you don’t all have one uniformed belief. It is a lack of belief in a God that makes you atheist. There are no set of rules which all atheists agree to follow or be bound by.

    • I agree to a large extent. That’s one of the things I find troublesome about the idea of atheism+ / it is elitist, divisive, and preaches values that aren’t followed by the preacher – a hypocrisy found too commonly in religion. I do think it’s a good thing for atheists to be outspoken though, and there’s several worthy reasons for this. In the US, for instance, the politicians do not cater at all to their atheist or secular constituents. When it comes to matters where religion and lack thereof clash, they often side with religion. This is dangerous when it comes to matters of education and medicine especially. I also think it’s generally a good thing to challenge bad ideas in a conversation, whether it’s about religion, science, or around the conference table in the boardroom. The ideas can easily be challenged without attacking the person – though it’s easy for someone to identify with their beliefs as part of themselves, and thus feel personally attacked.

    • I agree, also. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God. That’s all that can be concluded from such a statement. To insert a plus-symbol at the end of the word in order to identify with a set of values which have been arbitrarily determined by a third party, to me, appears to be dogmatic.

      Atheism+ seems to be little more than the atheist answer to fundamentalist religion. It has the same divisive and exclusionary methodology that churches have relied on for centuries. It’s a “you’re with us or against us” mentality that leads me to the simple conclusion that I do not want to be associated with a viewpoint which is so far removed from my own.

      I will no more be preached to about morality by them than I would any holy book.

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