Subject: Gays & Gay Rights
Mr Austin Cline seems bent on associating atheism with gays and gays rights.
This complaint came because of an article in a newsletter a while ago: Protecting Marriage is No Reason for Discrimination
It's not really true that I "associate" atheism with gays and gay rights. It would, however, be true to say that I associate freethought and church/state separation with gay rights. I also associate Liberation Atheology with Gay Liberation. The reason is quite simple: bigotry and discrimination against gays today is due almost solely to religion -- and specifically, right-wing conservative religion. Anti-gay animus is also an important tool in the culture war being waged by conservative evangelicals in their efforts to undermine liberal democracy, secularism, and Enlightenment values.
Thus I believe and regularly argue that atheists who want to promote liberal democracy, secularism, and Enlightenment values must also specifically promote full civil and political equality for gays -- just as they must also promote equality for women, equality for all races, and so forth. This means supporting full marriage equality for gays as well as the inclusion of sexual orientation in anti-discrimination laws (housing, employment, etc.).
1) Atheism has nothing to do with gays or gay marriage.
I'm not sure if it qualifies as "irony" or not, but in the same newsletter that this was sent in response to, I promoted the article Atheists & Political Issues: What Do Atheists Believe About Political Issues?. In this article I state quite explicitly: "The only thing all atheists share in common is an absence of belief in the existence of gods. Beyond that, atheists may hold any position on any political issue, and in fact atheists often disagree strongly in political debates."
I even address the question of gay marriage and write:
"Disbelief in gods has nothing to do with marriage, gay or straight, but atheists are more likely to support legal gay marriage than not. Opposition to gay marriage is based more upon traditional theistic and religious assumptions which atheists don't share, so there are few arguments against gay marriage which atheists are predisposed to accept. Most atheists recognize that banning gay marriage on the basis of religious definitions of marriage is contrary to their own interests in many ways."
So Mario is right that atheism has no inherent or necessary connection to gay rights or gay marriage, but Mario's error lies in thinking that this is significant. The simple fact of the matter is, as I explain in the aforementioned article, that there are absolutely no political issues or positions on any political issues which have any inherent or necessary connection to atheism. There is nothing about mere disbelief in gods which implies absolutely anything about any political question.
If the absence of this inherent connection means that taking or advocating a position on gay marriage is inappropriate, then it is equally inappropriate to take or advocate a position on teaching creationism in schools or school prayer, posting the Ten Commandments in court houses, government support for Christianity, religious arguments for patriarchal oppression of women, religious opposition to abortion or birth control, religious wars, and so forth.
In fact, if we don't limit ourselves to just politics, then it's equally inappropriate to take or advocate a position on religion or theism. Just because I'm an atheist doesn't mean I should care about whether others are members of theistic religions or theistic in the first place, so why I am I "bent on associating atheism with" critique of religion, religious apologetics, theism, or theology? That's not a bizarre question -- I get it regularly in various forms from religious theists all the time.
The answer really isn't very difficult: the absence of any inherent or necessary connection isn't the absence of any sort of connection at all. The reality on the ground in modern America is that certain political and social positions are justified, defending, and promoted based entirely or almost entirely on religious, theological, and theistic arguments. Atheists may not be obligated to counter those arguments, even though as atheists we don't accept those arguments' premises, but I believe it is important that we do so in many cases because as outsiders to the relevant theological systems we can offer critiques, perspectives, and responses that more liberal believers would find it difficult or impossible to make.
It's not a coincidence that just about every atheist organization and atheist blogger you can find not only feels the same way, but ends up taking similar positions to what you find here. Once you strip away religion and theism, positions like opposition to gay marriage and abortion or support for patriarchy and religious privilege become almost impossible. There are reasons why atheist opponents to gay marriage or supporters for criminalized abortion are so rare.
2) I am an atheist and I am against gay marriage.
OK, I said that they were rare -- I didn't say that they were non-existent. I suppose I should accept at face value Mario's claim that he is an atheist, but I have trouble not being a little suspicious. My skepticism stems from the fact that plenty of atheists have commented here disagreeing with this or that political or social position which I have taken, but none have actually argued that I shouldn't be writing about that political issue because there is no necessary connection between atheism and that political issue.
On the contrary, they have generally been interested in debating the issue on a secular level. I suspect that, in at least some cases, they are happy to have the opportunity to discuss this and other matters in purely secular terms, without religion or theism playing any sort of role. That I disagree with them and have advocated a position they oppose is far less important than the fact that a truly secular space is created where politics can be discussed.
I don't think it's a coincidence that the Agnosticism / Atheism forum has always been filled with conversations about more than just atheism, theism, and religion. Not only are there the obvious political discussions, but also discussions about movies, sports, video games, and more. Why? Well, we can expect such discussions to develop in any online community, but there is more than that: in this forum, there's little-to-no chance that anyone is going to bring up religion or God, offer to pray, start castigating secular atheism, and so forth. Atheists have here a secular space where they can discuss all manner of issues without someone else dragging religion into it.
What's more, it's nice to be able to chat about non-religious things with atheists, too. Few atheists want to talk about nothing but religion. In this site's forum they can indeed talk about religion with other atheists, but when they get tired of that they can easily shift to talking about sports, movies, politics, and other things -- and with other atheists, thus avoiding expectations of theism and religion that are so common elsewhere.
So while it's true that anti-gay atheists exists, it's suspicious that one is so bothered that they object to another atheist who makes secular arguments on behalf of equality for gays and against faith-based oppression of gays. When you get right down to it, Mario's complaint is ultimately that there is something wrong with an atheist promoting secular arguments in favor of equality and against faith-based discrimination or oppression. Once that's made clear, though, the superficial plausibility which his complaint originally had falls away and it appears that not much more may be going on than simple anti-gay animus.
3) If Mr Austin Cline insists on using an Atheism newsletter to associate atheism with gays, and to agitprop on behalf of gays and gays rights, that can only be understood by assuming that either Mr Austin Cline is ignorant or Mr Austin Cline is homosexual or both.
It never ceases to amaze me how many homophobes seem to automatically assume that anyone who argues on behalf of equality for gays and against popular faith-based arguments for discrimination must be gay themselves. It's as if it lies outside their conceptual universe that someone outside a minority could genuinely regard discrimination against and oppression of that minority as immoral, unjust, irrational, and worth fighting.
I also argue against faith-based oppression of women through traditional, religious, patriarchal power structures. Does that mean I'm really a woman? I've argued against systems and cases where Christian privilege is used to discriminate against and oppress religious minorities, like Jews. So am I really Jewish? I've argued against faith-based systems which perpetuate racial discrimination, so am I really black? If it were common to still see religious attacks on left-handed people then I'd offer secular critiques of that as well. Would it mean that I'm really left-handed?
Put all together, I must actually be a queer, black, Jewish, female, cross-dressing atheist. And possibly left-handed. Feel free to add more adjectives as I continue to make a secular cases against various forms of discrimination, prejudice, and oppression which have been and/or continue to be justified, defended, and/or encouraged by traditional religion.
Most likely, he is acting in bad faith and he should be stopped. He is misleading people.
Was I misleading people when I pointed out that there are no political positions which are necessitated by atheism? No. Was I misleading people when I pointed out that there is nothing about atheism which necessitates any particular stance when it comes to gay rights generally or gay marriage in particular? No. Is there anything misleading about making a vigorous case for the idea that a free, secular society should recognize the equality of gay relationships and that all of the faith-based arguments against equality for gays or gay marriage are immoral, irrational, false, or just irrelevant? No.
The allegation that I am "acting in bad faith" is the allegation that I am acting on the basis of malicious motives -- that I am doing wrong, that I know I am doing wrong, and that I am doing wrong for the purpose of causing others harm. The problem here is that Mario cannot and does not show where or how I am even doing wrong in the first place, never mind that I am doing wrong from malicious motives.
On the other hand, I think I've shown above that there are valid reasons to at least be suspicious of Mario's own motives as well as the statements he makes about himself.