Naturalistic Neurodiversity

Exploring our differences through science.

Ableism in Atheism Anonymous #4

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Do you consider yourself to be a person with a disability?

Mental Health – Endogenous Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (apparently – I’m not convinced, I think diagnoses of Endogenous Depression are the go-to for a lot of GPs and psychiatrists – quick and easy, and they can dole out the drugs and move on to the next patient without being particularly thorough)

Have you (or do you personally know someone who has) felt out-of-place or limited your involvement with an atheist community because of disability-related situations?

When I’ve said that I have mental health issues in the past, a number of people I know in supposedly ‘rationalist’, atheist circles have taken that as a license to disregard anything I might say on any particular subject, but especially those pertaining to whether having children is justifiable in an already overpopulated world, the morality of suicide and assisted dying for the elderly and terminally ill, the evidence (or lack thereof) for homosexuality as an inborn genetic trait, the gay/lesbian marriage debate, the wisdom of ‘Draw Muhammad Day‘, and feminism/gender. It’s as if they’ll accept my agreement that the existence of a god or gods is highly unlikely, and that Christianity and Islam are irrational, but my depression excludes me from having opinions on anything else.

What steps could atheist communities take to become more inclusive?

The message really needs to be promulgated that a person’s sometimes poor mental health does not preclude them from having put a lot of thought into an issue or issues, more education is needed about issues of mental and emotional  health in general. However, I think the bigger issue is that there appears to be a real problem of ‘we’ll be nice and accepting if you agree with us/tow the party line’ in online atheist communities (I don’t know about in real life, my real-world community being quite religious), and the ‘party line’ appears to be set by whoever is most popular (The Amazing Atheist, Richard Coughlan, JT Eberhard, Thunderfoot, The Friendly Atheist) or most famous (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens etc) — a bunch of white guys, basically, some of whom are complete tools.

Seriously, what’s with that? A lot of people in atheist communities don’t seem to be thinking for themselves yet, they’re just parroting the members of the community who get the most attention – and sadly, the people in atheist communities who get the most attention seem to be antagonistic Caucasian males. We need to celebrate the voices of atheist women and queer people, atheists from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds and ‘racial groups’ and people of different levels of ability. The only way I can see this happening is if the dominance of arrogant, argumentative white guys is consciously challenged (speaking as a white guy myself).

Any other thoughts about ableism and atheism?

There doesn’t appear to be much discussion about how we as a community can help the most vulnerable in the wider community – often those living with physical and mental disabilities – to replace reliance on religious beliefs and institutions with more helpful secular alternatives, or even discussion as to whether that is desirable and ethical. I’d like to see more of those sorts of discussions occurring,  my own mental health issues, it seems, are acceptable justification to ignore me when I try and have these sorts of conversations.

Response #4 from the Ableism in Atheism survey.


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