Atheist Activist: Modern Atheist Movement Is ‘Elitist’ Lacks Concern for Poor

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An interfaith atheist activist has claimed that the modern atheist movement in the United States and Europe lacks concern for the poor. Walker Bristol, a blogger for The Huffington Post, wrote an essay posted on Saturday arguing that the “new atheism” of the 21st century has been rightly stereotyped as “elitist” and “self-satisfied.”


“The atheist movement, in composition and purpose, has in the last decade failed to demonstrate a meaningful dedication to fighting economic inequality and building a safe space for nontheists regardless of their socioeconomic class,” wrote Bristol.

“Despite all their talk of building a better world and upholding diversity, contemporary atheism and humanism’s most prominent authors and leaders have been suspiciously silent on the topic of poverty.”

According to Bristol, while some local nontheist groups engage in philanthropy to benefit the poor, far too many atheist organizations solely attack religious communities via “self-righteous billboard campaigns.”

“While the current movement limits itself to honing arguments and gleefully ridiculing the religious, others who don’t share their educational privilege, those in poor communities are often bound by a strong local church,” wrote Bristol.

“The last decade is peppered with blatant examples of outright classist language and motivation that has directly distanced the atheist movement from peer religious communities.”

Written By: Michael Gryboski
continue to source article at christianpost.com

30 COMMENTS

  1. Pay taxes and then I’ll begin to accept your position on where I come up short compared to you. Otherwise FUCK OFF. I sit with the gov’t taking 39% of my earnings. when you begin to approach that number (like let’s start with 1%) then it will matter what YOU think about my contribution to the charities, meek, and poor of the world. I ALREADY SUPPORT THEM.

    Religion could do the ultimate in charity by paying their fair share for a transient, short amount of time. They could bail out the masses. Where’s their charity when it comes time to stand up and be counted? Whtever happened to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s????”

    Yeah, that’s what I thought.

  2. In reply to #1 by crookedshoes:

    Pay taxes and then I’ll begin to accept your position on where I come up short compared to you. Otherwise FUCK OFF. I sit with the gov’t taking 39% of my earnings. when you begin to approach that number (like let’s start with 1%) then it will matter what YOU think about my contribution to the charities, meek, and poor of the world. I ALREADY SUPPORT THEM.

    Religion could do the ultimate in charity by paying their fair share for a transient, short amount of time. They could bail out the masses. Where’s their charity when it comes time to stand up and be counted? Whtever happened to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s????”

    Yeah, that’s what I thought.

    I generally agree with you. But it must be noted that sometimes religious institutions do support the poor by organizing charities and donating to them.

  3. In reply to #5 by adiroth:

    Walker Bristol, the guy who is heavily quoted in the article is the President of the Tufts Freethought Society and the Director of Communications for Foundation Beyond Belief.

    http://nonprophetstatus.com/author/walker-bristol/

    Check his background before lashing back.
    I think he’s right, but it’s more of an issue of the distasteful prospect of atheists buying the convert with aid money rather than them not caring.

    Why on earth would I wont to check his background. If I do not agree with someone it has no bearing on what their background is.

  4. “The atheist movement, in composition and purpose, has in the last decade failed to demonstrate a meaningful dedication to fighting economic inequality and building a safe space for nontheists regardless of their socioeconomic class,” wrote Bristol.

    Wrong! Economic inequality amongst atheists have never been a major problem. Faiths treat women as baby-making machines resulting in large, unsustainable families that end up putting pressure on social solidarity. Faiths entrench its followers in superstition & futile rituals, pushing people further into poverty. So yes atheists are fighting poverty, by combating religions that con people into giving their money & time. Faith creates a class of extremely rich popes & priests living in big mansions & cathedrals, while the poor work for the ones at top. So yes, breaking this pyramid scheme would address the economic inequality.

  5. utter bollox

    usual ad-hominem, there’s nothing elitist about gnu atheism other than you need to be an atheist which might make some feel excluded. utter lies about poverty, attacking the very cause of it in places like africa and the middle east where religioun keeps the lower classes in their place

    this says it all though

    “While the current movement limits itself to honing arguments and gleefully ridiculing the religious, others who don’t share their educational privilege, those in poor communities are often bound by a strong local church,”

    turn your church into a school. problem solved

  6. What a horrible site. Did you see some of the other articles–what would Jesus say to Ellen DeGeneris and RD losing the debate?

    After Sandy Hook, I took note from one of the comments regarding community help and atheism. There are plenty of organizations like Red Cross that are secular. Atheist giving aid would be an invisible force. People would simply help people without any religious agenda. I’m sure there were nonbelievers present. Perhaps even some of the relatives, police, rescue were quietly helping out with no thought to religious beliefs or lack or beliefs. Giving aid to anyone poor or injured while holding an “A” flag would be setting an agenda. Atheism is simply a lack of belief. Yes, there are atheist groups and organizations, but expecting atheists to be an organized “religion” while dealing with issues of separation of church and state is not understanding the primary reason why atheists take on political and personal stands. Organized help and assistance should simply be organized help with no agenda. To have news media report the incident without running to the nearest church would be golden to us.

    I’m also taken back by the conservative religious view of helping the poor. Considering their support for certain political candidates, are they really concerned about the poor? Perhaps we should take a poll of individuals. My guess is that it would reveal a disdain for the impoverished. Let’s remember what Mr. Mormon said about the majority of citizens of the US. That comment probably killed his chances for the presidency. Most impoverished people are viewed as slackers, ignorant, too lazy to get a job or skills, inadequate parents, rough around the edges, poorly educated, lacking religion……… Few people really consider that poor people are down on their luck; a common view is that it is their own fault. So what is the religious solution to this problem? First get God and he will help clean you up.

  7. In reply to #6 by sbooder:

    In reply to #5 by adiroth:

    Walker Bristol, the guy who is heavily quoted in the article is the President of the Tufts Freethought Society and the Director of Communications for Foundation Beyond Belief.

    http://nonprophetstatus.com/author/walker-bristol/

    Check his background before lashing back.
    I think he’s right, but it’s more of an issue of the distasteful prospect of atheists buying the convert with aid money rather than them not caring.

    Why on earth would I wont to check his background. If I do not agree with someone it has no bearing on what their background is.

    It was directed to crooked shoes.

    BTW, do you actually check sources? The article is linked to christianpost.com, an obviously biased site that’s citing an atheist’s blog entry that’s filtered through their lens. Are you just waiting to be jerked to a direction they want you to go or are you going to investigate the truth and read what the guy actually wrote in his blog?

    You can find the original blog post here:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/walker-bristol/the-new-atheist-movement-poverty_b_2606959.html

    It is more thoroughly scathing there, there’s a lot more you can disagree with than just a pithy line.

    On another note, I agree more with questioningkat’s assessment of this issue. Atheists do not stamp their logo on the money they donated and at the same time he’s being completely unfair for comparing atheism to a religious organisation. Humanism, meanwhile, is relatively small & you can’t really compare it to large religious organisation, but maybe you can compare it to smaller ones like some Buddhist sects. They’ve their pet issues to worry about, and they can’t focus enough on poverty either.

  8. Translations:

    “elitist” : 1. do not suffer fools gladly 2. value education

    “self-satisfied” : 1. correct 2. confident based on evidence 3. vociferous about the flaws in zombie arguments

  9. How can he know if an atheist gives to charity?

    Most major charities claim to be secular and there is no way to know if a doner is religous or not.
    Even Christian Aid says it does not push religion altho it won’t get a penny from me with that name.

    The bread and bible charities shout the loudest but are a lot fewer than they appear.

    Atheists give to charities. They just don’t boast about it.

  10. In reply to #13 by Richard01:

    How naive can you be! Assuming atheists are part of a ‘club’ is like saying ‘not collecting stamps’ is a hobby. What an arrogant presumptious person.

    So being an atheist is as inconsequential and neutral as not collecting stamps?

    Some people really need to decide if they want to be recognized as a distinctive “force” or not. We can’t alternate between “yay largest growing group” and “there is no atheist group or agenda”. Either we want a piece of the pie and the power to form things our way, or we are just individuals that just dont’ feel bothering with religion at all, without that meaning that we consider other atheists as “brethen” simply because we both happen to not believe in Thor.(and yes, I’m firmly in the second category).

  11. The catholic church in Ireland was the biggest oppressor of the poor in Ireland, they worked hand in glove with the British during the so called “famine” in Ireland where millions of Irish citizens men women and children starved to death while Ireland supplied the British empire with food. Manouth collage for priests which is still open for businesses today was built by the British as a’ thank you’ to the catholic church for not highlighting the genocide that was committed against the Irish people, to say the Irish died due to lack of food is the equivalent to saying the Jews in the gas chambers died due to lack of oxygen.

  12. Well, like it or not religious organizations do have a lot of infrastructure that is tied to helping poor and disadvantaged people (in their particular religion, at least). Just the free/cheap daycare and the cheap/free eldercare provides a remarkable service.

    Every time a large tornado plows through a town, churches open their doors as shelters, and again they have an infrastructure set up. Are you one of the lucky ones whose house didn’t get flatted by an F-4? You can donate at churches/shelters X, Y, and Z.

    These are infrastructures that athiest groups have yet to really duplicate. Yes, yes, we “donate” and yes we “volunteer”, but c’mon people. My grandmother gets picked up three times a week by her church to go to her church to meet her friends, play some bingo, sing some hymns, and then the church drives her back home.

    All that said, I do feel that this quote: “The atheist movement, in composition and purpose, has in the last decade failed to demonstrate a meaningful dedication to fighting economic inequality and building a safe space for nontheists regardless of their socioeconomic class,” is a bit disingenous.

    Is fighting economic inequality and building a safe space etc., etc., etc., really what the athiest movement is about at this time? Not really. It’s a small but growing movement and has nothing near the existing infrastructure that religious organizations do. That isn’t the battle that it is fighting, at least not yet.

    I think the athiest movement will eventually fight those battles, eventually have the free daycare and eldercare and the big open space that you can fill with cots for the refugees from the latest disaster. At that point I also believe the movement will truly be embraced as “part of the community”.

  13. Mitranim

    Isn’t that the point, if I wasn’t paying 30+ % in taxes I would look a shit more charitable than I do. Whatever small and very public ways the churches give back they are still taking. Taking from people would have to pay taxes then tides which are gutted and the crumbs thrown to the poor with a big pile of BS.

    Having said that I am morally opposed to charities other than for raising awareness so I actually prefer to give my money to the government. The only thing more wasteful than private sector and the government is charities and the most wasteful charities are the ones who have to build churches before they start to care.

    In reply to #2 by Mitranim:

    In reply to #1 by crookedshoes:

    I generally agree with you. But it must be noted that sometimes religious institutions do support the poor by organizing charities and donating to them.

  14. I generally agree with you. But it must be noted that sometimes religious institutions do support the poor by organizing charities and donating to them.

    This is BS. Churches take money from the government and don’t pay taxes, = stealing money from us. They keep most of the money for themselves and give a little to charity. We donate from our after-tax dollars.

  15. In my opinion we the atheists are the most charitable of all people. Not only do we donate whatever we can but we also care much more about humanity’s wellbeing and its future in that we want to eradicate the one thing that holds ‘the poor masses’ to random in most countries across the globe, namely religion.

    We care about children’s and young people’s education which should be the springboard to better life no matter what part of the world you look at. Rather than teach them mystical nonsense, we care that they receive rational education which will put them in good stead for the future wherever they are, and not be shot in the head in the process.

    We care about women and their wellbeing, their safety and health across the globe so that they can fulfil their potential as free individuals and not be covered in black from head to toe, and not suffer ‘honour killings’, rapes and death for imaginary offences.

    We care about young children so that they won’t be molested by every deviant priest or cleric of any and all denomination. We care about babies so that they won’t be draped in burkas and taught to hate those who are different from them.

    The list of those we care for goes on and on, and that even before we mention global warming and the fate of our globe, so please don’t insult us, you are only making yourself looking mean and uninformed.

  16. In reply to #14 by JoxerTheMighty:

    In reply to #13 by Richard01:

    How naive can you be! Assuming atheists are part of a ‘club’ is like saying ‘not collecting stamps’ is a hobby. What an arrogant presumptious person.

    So being an atheist is as inconsequential and neutral as not collecting stamps?

    Some people really need to decide if they want to be recognized as a distinctive “force” or not. We can’t alternate between “yay largest growing group” and “there is no atheist group or agenda”. Either we want a piece of the pie and the power to form things our way, or we are just individuals that just dont’ feel bothering with religion at all, without that meaning that we consider other atheists as “brethen” simply because we both happen to not believe in Thor.(and yes, I’m firmly in the second category).

    Of course there is a group – dedicated to separation of church and state, promoting science, living rationally, living life based in reality, etc. Why must baking and selling cookies to raise money for the poor be involved? Religions are comparing atheism to themselves. They claim that they are in the business of human service and proudly wave their flag. (Even though some of their “service” is questionable, discriminates against certain people, places unnatural restrictions on people, covers up crimes against children, keeps women under their thumb, blah blah blah, yada yada….)

    What will happen when those increasing atheist numbers get so big that conversations like these end? There will be human service with no logo or at least a logo from an organization that doesn’t even think about conversations like the ones here at RDnet.

  17. In reply to #20 by QuestioningKat:

    In reply to #14 by JoxerTheMighty:
    What will happen when those increasing atheist numbers get so big that conversations like these end? There >will be human service with no logo or at least a logo from an organization that doesn’t even think about >conversations like the ones here at RDnet.

    You’re assuming the atheist population will continue to grow until it reaches 100%, or 90% or I don’t know, somewhere among these numbers,and reach a kind of “End of History” state. I don’t see much evidence of this. The fact that is growing does not mean it will be ever-growing. That is a desire atheists have. Doesn’t mean that’s what’s going to happen. Every significant “group” that exists today was once nothing, and had to grow to reach its current state. Christians were once a tiny cult that at some point grew exponentially to reach billions, but it didn’t grow for ever.

    The way I see it, it’s more possible that the atheist population grows until it reaches an equibrillium and stabilizes in a certain percentage. Maybe even a majority. Perhaps. I don’t really see the common people getting more interested in science than sports, beer and TV, but who knows. But even then, the “discussion” and conflict of ideas will still exist.

  18. Maybe not so much a “lack of belief” as a “firmer understanding of reality.” Saying that we are lacking or have lost anything (even if it is superstition) makes us sound as if we are wanting and somehow less fulfilled.

    BTW Kat, I love reading your posts on this site. They are so succinct and insightful.

    In reply to #9 by QuestioningKat:
    Atheism is simply a lack of belief.

  19. You’re assuming the atheist population will continue to grow until it reaches 100%, or 90% or I don’t know,

    Nah, just a majority.

    BTW Kat, I love reading your posts on this site. They are so succinct and insightful.

    Thanks. I’ll take insightful. Succinct…? I’m no Sam Harris. I tend to blabber on or get anecdotal.

  20. In reply to #19 by HenMie:

    In my opinion we the atheists are the most charitable of all people. Not only do we donate whatever we can but we also care much more about humanity’s wellbeing and its future in that we want to eradicate the one thing that holds ‘the poor masses’ to random in most countries across the globe, namely religion.We care about children’s and young people’s education which should be the springboard to better life no matter what part of the world you look at. Rather than teach them mystical nonsense, we care that they receive rational education which will put them in good stead for the future wherever they are, and not be shot in the head in the process.We care about women and their wellbeing, their safety and health across the globe so that they can fulfil their potential as free individuals and not be covered in black from head to toe, and not suffer ‘honour killings’, rapes and death for imaginary offences.We care about young children so that they won’t be molested by every deviant priest or cleric of any and all denomination. We care about babies so that they won’t be draped in burkas and taught to hate those who are different from them.The list of those we care for goes on and on, and that even before we mention global warming and the fate of our globe, so please don’t insult us, you are only making yourself looking mean and uninformed.

    But can you actually, hand on heart say all of that? How do you know for starters?

    Would you donate to a religiously based organisation if it were the only one in an area handing out food? Would you close down an outstanding faith school in an area where the only alternative was a failing one? Removing the right to a good education instead of actually fighting the harder battle of raising educational standards across the board first.

    As for women – you’ve a very long way to go! Do you really care about the wellbeing of all women or just the victims of religion? Would you join a campaign to get rid of page three in a newspaper because of its negative effects on girls? After all it is hardly religious but is damaging. Would you campaign against human trafficking by non religious people for non religious prostitution?

    Where are the howls of indignation about non religious abuse of young girls by gangs in the UK on this site? Has this site ever campaigned about or taken notice of the low rape convictions in this country? Has this site been as disgusted by the BBC and Jimmy Saville as it was by the RCC? Where are the howls of indignation about abused babies and children who aren’t victims of religion but of drug abuse, alcholism or poverty? Or the victims of non religious domestic violence?

    Would you ever acknowledge the good things done by religion – like trying to end poverty, shouting about the banks, trying to stop it? You may not like it but they do do the occassional good thing.

    The problem I’m finding is that we are very good at criticising religion – and rightly so – but very poor at trying to improve things across the board. I think the article has a point. And we do ignore the fact religion does do some good in the world, and has the means to do so.

    It is almost like atheists think they’re already perfect and that all the worlds ills come from religion. But religions were invented by people!!! The sexism, homophobia, inequality and every other thing in the holy books were placed there by people to make them appealing to other people! So why do we think atheist people are going to be any different and aren’t just going to replace the bible and koran with non deity based tools of oppression? Maybe we could keep women in their place for example, by replacing the biible, koran and burkha with something like zoo and nuts? Bad things happen without religion as well as with it!

    I think the article is a wake up call to stop being smug and realise the world won’t be perfect without religion because atheists are just people too and people wrote the holy books to suit. Unless you make an effort to have some insight beyond ‘religion bad atheism good’ won’t you just end up making the same mistakes religion has?

  21. I just noticed your reply to my post – thank you. Yes, I can, with hand on heart. say that the world would be better, much better without religion. Notice that I am not advocating that atheism would solve all social ills, just that at a stroke, life for everybody would be better immediately. Education of children would be better immediately (not perfect) if their young minds weren’t encumbered by fairy stories, and women’s lives would be immediately easier (not perfect) if they had rationally thinking partners, and not fanatical religious nutcases wanting to throw acid in their faces.

    I totally agree with you on various causes of any number of social ills, which will persist regardless of religion, however, one major cause would be removed with demise of religion, and then the rest could be tackled unhindered by this major poison. I only enumerated ‘the ills’ directly caused by the presence and influence of religion, and stated how much we the atheists care about its removal. I may wish that life in general was perfect and all the horrid social problems you describe did not exist, but I don’t propose that atheists have solutions and even empathy for them all. I’m merely stating that one huge burden would be removed from society’s shoulders at once, and that that is our greatest concern as atheists. In such an equation, ‘religion is bad, and atheism good’.

    You know that you yourself can bring on ‘howls of indignation’ on this site by posting an article for comments or discussion about any and all societal problems you mention, it’s easily done, and I’m sure you would be surprised at the outcry and numbers of respondents. Looking forward to discussing those with you perhaps in the future. :)

    In reply to #25 by atheistengineer:

    In reply to #19 by HenMie:

    In my opinion we the atheists are the most charitable of all people. Not only do we donate whatever we can but we also care much more about humanity’s wellbeing and its future in that we want to eradicate the one thing that holds ‘the poor masses’ to random in most countries across the globe, namely religion.We care about children’s and young people’s education which should be the springboard to better life no matter what part of the world you look at. Rather than teach them mystical nonsense, we care that they receive rational education which will put them in good stead for the future wherever they are, and not be shot in the head in the process.We care about women and their wellbeing, their safety and health across the globe so that they can fulfil their potential as free individuals and not be covered in black from head to toe, and not suffer ‘honour killings’, rapes and death for imaginary offences.We care about young children so that they won’t be molested by every deviant priest or cleric of any and all denomination. We care about babies so that they won’t be draped in burkas and taught to hate those who are different from them.The list of those we care for goes on and on, and that even before we mention global warming and the fate of our globe, so please don’t insult us, you are only making yourself looking mean and uninformed.

    But can you actually, hand on heart say all of that? How do you know for starters?

    Would you donate to a religiously based organisation if it were the only one in an area handing out food? Would you close down an outstanding faith school in an area where the only alternative was a failing one? Removing the right to a good education instead of actually fighting the harder battle of raising educational standards across the board first.

    As for women – you’ve a very long way to go! Do you really care about the wellbeing of all women or just the victims of religion? Would you join a campaign to get rid of page three in a newspaper because of its negative effects on girls? After all it is hardly religious but is damaging. Would you campaign against human trafficking by non religious people for non religious prostitution?

    Where are the howls of indignation about non religious abuse of young girls by gangs in the UK on this site? Has this site ever campaigned about or taken notice of the low rape convictions in this country? Has this site been as disgusted by the BBC and Jimmy Saville as it was by the RCC? Where are the howls of indignation about abused babies and children who aren’t victims of religion but of drug abuse, alcholism or poverty? Or the victims of non religious domestic violence?

    Would you ever acknowledge the good things done by religion – like trying to end poverty, shouting about the banks, trying to stop it? You may not like it but they do do the occassional good thing.

    The problem I’m finding is that we are very good at criticising religion – and rightly so – but very poor at trying to improve things across the board. I think the article has a point. And we do ignore the fact religion does do some good in the world, and has the means to do so.

    It is almost like atheists think they’re already perfect and that all the worlds ills come from religion. But religions were invented by people!!! The sexism, homophobia, inequality and every other thing in the holy books were placed there by people to make them appealing to other people! So why do we think atheist people are going to be any different and aren’t just going to replace the bible and koran with non deity based tools of oppression? Maybe we could keep women in their place for example, by replacing the biible, koran and burkha with something like zoo and nuts? Bad things happen without religion as well as with it!

    I think the article is a wake up call to stop being smug and realise the world won’t be perfect without religion because atheists are just people too and people wrote the holy books to suit. Unless you make an effort to have some insight beyond ‘religion bad atheism good’ won’t you just end up making the same mistakes religion has?

    • In reply to #26 by HenMie:

      Yes, I can, with hand on heart. say that the world would be better, much better without religion.

      This is thoroughly reasonable. The comparatively atheist countries of northern Europe and Japan stand out as the fairest, most equal and most caring countries. With the simple device of wiping away the lying preconceptions religions foist upon their flock, harms are more clearly seen in the wider population.

      Charity is pretty sick making as a way to fix the unfairness of happenstance, so often left to the whims of inadequately informed individuals for their personal feelgood frison and for the religious as a clear mark in God’s “nice” ledger. How much better in the fairer countries where charities have less to do, where the good and caring behaviour is built into a society by voting and then no longer noticed by individuals who need to move on to as yet unaddressed harms.

      I contribute to charities as there is often inadequate coverage, especially for the more random events, but they have to count as an indication of societal failure. Is it fair the problems they cover be funded in so fickle a way?

      (not HenMie) I think the article is a wake up call to stop being smug

      Then it can fuck right the way off.

      The atheist advantage can be used by those on both political and economic wings. We have seen how exclusionary and hobbled atheism can become when it hitches itself to one or other of these. Its strength as a political (in the non partisan sense) movement is is in the utter simplicity of its single truth claim. There is no discernible evidence for the supernatural authority of religions over individuals or societies.

  22. Can society get angry with people with significant disabilities who are not inspirational? There seems a confusion between a religious based tribe and people who just don’t believe. Most of us on the humanist side give to secular chairties and progressive causes, on the extreme of the other side are cyncial opportunits like Joseph Rattzinger.

  23. Found this article hard to follow. But lets look at the situation anyway…
    First of all religions get generous tax exemptions. At least one has had tax exemptions for 2000 years and seems able to choose which laws it obeys and which it doesn’t. For example what other employer can dictate that its employees cant marry or can refuse roles to women.
    Secondly, when faced with poverty what do the religious do? They offer prayers, god, an afterlife, some counselling and sometimes some financial help. What would atheists do if we had the same resources. We would solve the problem. Here are some examples of what we have done even without such resources. We have developed an understanding of disease and how to prevent or control it. Eradicating smallpox. Polio has been almost eradicated. We are working on malaria. We allow birth control so people can have smaller families. We support science and education. We invent labour saving devices. And I could go on… These things help poor people and have solved more poverty than any amount of prayers could ever have done.

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