So this was an interesting Newsweek article that m.snowe was kindly forwarded the other week. What is not interesting or controversial is the premise of atheists in America, given that many people are atheists (the article claims 12 %), and usually live comfortably even in a nation with such extreme sectors of evangelism.
Regardless of your theology (or lack thereof), the author of this article, Miller, isn’t doing herself, or atheists, any favors with her tepid and, frankly, elementary assault of the three horsemen of the non-religious apocalypse: Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens.
m.snowe will fight on the front line for causes that attempt to widen the audience and the speakers for a given issue, be it political, social, philosophical. But the one thing that should not happen is the use of tactics that she herself would call foul on. You can point out that a conversation of atheism needs to happen between atheists of all shapes, sizes, colors, and sexes. You can point out that right now the authorities and centers of debate on atheism as most people know them are these three men–that is a statement of fact. But you cannot dismiss their arguments due to their sex or skin color, or try and say they are not scholars because of these factors. Sadly, how does one reconcile the need to let other voices in without silencing the other legitimate voices due to stereotype, sight-unseen?
This is a hard point of contention for m.snowe (and she has a feeling, other femiladies) because you want to be purely objective, but you also know that these men who are the leaders in the field did receive advantages that many women growing up beside them did not (in terms of education, social acceptance, etc.). It’s not fair to punish the “three smartest guys in school” because they flourished in the environment given to them that allowed them to become smart, but it is also not fair that that environment or selective exclusion of ladies and minorities existed in the first place. The image of “two white men sparring in a pub” might not be sexy, but if two women sparring in a pub is, then isn’t that just as un-nuanced and unnecessary too (not to mention sexist)? We need to open up the forum for more voices, but they should all be free to approach the podium without assumptions based on factors such as sex. Woolf pleaded for ambiguity, and if an atheist needs help with that, perhaps they should start talking to the agnostics.
To be fair to Miller, religion is an especially thorny area of debate for feminists, given its extensive tendency to subject them, and the outright inability of most religions to supply women with an equal framework to start from. So it’s understandable that Miller would want to point out that even the current conversation about non-religion is being run by a small panel of well-to-do men. But at least, if she used some sort of historical argument to ask for inclusion of women and people of different racial backgrounds, she’d have published a much more persuasive piece. There is nothing more wonderful than an eloquent and well-thought-out response, one written with conviction and strength, not name-calling. m.snowe engages in some good old bullying now and then, but would never consider it a 100% effective tool for getting people to support your ideology.
So how does one reconcile? Luckily, there is no divine answer.