One could argue the atheist community has an unspoken rule to respect the esteemed biologist and controversial atheist Richard Dawkins. People have several reasons to respect the man: he has advocated for atheism, he has communicated the science of evolution to the masses, he has written many beloved books; hell, the man invented the word “meme”. For many of us, there has been a lot to like about Dawkins. But a line must be drawn somewhere. Just because someone has done good things at their best, does that mean we can ignore the hurtful things they say and do at their worst?
Obviously, I say no. And this applies not only to Dawkins but to all scientists.
Dawkins’ latest offense to a marginalized group is a tweet from April 10th which read,
In 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a white chapter president of NAACP, was vilified for identifying as Black. Some men choose to identify as women, and some women choose to identify as men. You will be vilified if you deny that they literally are what they identify as.
I wish that I could trust that you, my reader, can easily see how this tweet is both deeply transphobic and racist. Unfortunately, there were scores of transphobic comments on this tweet agreeing with Dawkins—presumably, mostly from atheists. (Who outside of the atheist community would like someone so anti-theistic to begin with?) Whether you see the issue or not, I highly recommend this article by non-problematic atheist Hemant Mehta, explaining why this tweet is so bad as well as sharing other transphobic Dawkins tweets (which are only the tip of a very large iceberg—here’s a thread of a few) and some of the best and most scathing replies to Dawkins’ original tweet.
In addition to what Hemant said, I’d like to emphasize that while yes, both gender and race are social constructs, they are not the same thing. They are both linked to physical phenomena which are not really similar in any way. To be transgender is to suffer from gender dysphoria when presenting as the gender you were assigned at birth, because it is not consistent with the gender that best aligns with your brain structure and functions. To be clear, transitioning does not make a person transgender. Transitioning makes an already transgender person more comfortable in their own skin because it is their only way to truly be themselves. And no, Richard, your gender identity (and experiencing gender dysphoria) is not a choice.
On the other hand, race seems to be a collective word referring to someone’s skin color and genetic ancestry, even though the two do not always go hand-in-hand. Someone can be a mix of any number of ancestral lineages, and have a skin color that lands anywhere along a big and beautiful spectrum. So while “race” itself is not something that has any real biological meaning, there are such things as ancestry, genetics, and skin color as influenced by the skin’s amount of melanin. The biggest difference between race and gender is that people of varying “races” don’t have different brain structures. Cliché as it is to say, race is only skin deep. The only real “racial” differences, outside of those that are cultural, might have to do with phenotypes like being lactose intolerant or being prone to different kinds of diseases. But like gender, your DNA is not a choice, either. (You would think a biologist would know this!)
(Please be patient with me as I continue to educate myself on the scientific and cultural meaning of both race and gender, and feel free to kindly correct me if I am wrong.)
So yes, based off things he himself has said, Richard Dawkins seems to be pretty transphobic. Pretty bigoted. And I know that the word “bigoted” hurts atheists especially because they claim to hate the bigotry of religion without addressing their own. Transphobia from atheists is just as bad as transphobia from Christians, if not worse: in many churches transphobia is taught, but if you are an atheist, that means that you more than likely came to that conclusion on your own. Shameful.
As an atheist, I find it sad that people like Dawkins represent our community. Fellow atheists, I know what you’re thinking: “He’s not our leader. We don’t have leaders. We believe in freethought.” Some of you might even think that the entire idea of an atheist community doesn’t make sense, because how do you commune around a lack of belief? The truth is, atheists share something in common and they do have a community. Naturally, any community is going to have people who rise to the top, achieve fame, and are (even subconsciously) seen as representatives or leaders of that community. Unlike in churches, these leaders do not make rules that the rest of us have to follow, but also naturally, any community is going to have rules—even if it claims not to. The rules in the atheist community are generally to agree with Hitchens that Religion Poisons Everything. What’s the punishment for not agreeing? Well, you might not land in eternal hellfire, but you will not be accepted into the group. If you are, you will receive nothing but pushback.
This may or may not have been part of the reason for renaming my blog and dropping the word “atheist” from the title. I don’t really feel like a part of the atheist community in any way. That’s okay, because I don’t want to be associated with anyone who uses words like “religitard”. When I started identifying as an atheist, I thought that that meant shedding the dogma, intolerance, and transphobia of conservative Christianity. What I found was that this was far from the truth! I thought that transitioning my blog from discussing the existence of God to trying to be an advocate for good would be easy. I expected my fellow atheists to agree with me, to believe in basic human rights for everyone. I was wrong.
Atheists spend so much time proclaiming how good they are without God, debating whether morality is objective or subjective, and treating goodness and morals like hypotheticals instead of actually practicing true goodness, acknowledging their privilege, standing up for the marginalized, taking accountability, and saying the hard truths. I don’t see it all that radical to advocate for equality for everyone. Isn’t that just basic goodness? So why, when one attempts to do so, is one labeled as “a social justice warrior”, “a radical feminist”, “a radical leftist”, “politically correct”, or my personal least favorite, “woke”? Labeling justice with words that we have done our best to connote as violently radical doesn’t make it less just. It only makes you an asshole who uses these negative labels to self-righteously turn the other way and ignore the cries of the marginalized.
Honestly. Atheists and Christians alike would do well to remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 and Matthew 7:1-5. (They ring true whether he really said them or not, although he likely did.)
I can agree to disagree with someone on whether God exists, but not about the validity of trans people, the reproductive rights of women, the religious freedom of Muslim women, or whether our Black and Brown siblings deserve to be shot just for existing. If you disagree with me on any of these points, I don’t want your views and I don’t want your support. I certainly don’t want your opinion so don’t bother commenting, as bigoted comments will be swiftly deleted.
Note: I want to be clear that I know not all atheists are like this. Hemant’s article was great. Many atheists are publicly denouncing Dawkins, and the American Humanist Association has stripped Dawkins of his 1996 Humanist of the Year Award. His April 10th tweet has also been condemned by American Atheists. I’m proud of both of these organizations for not letting this slide. You can find many atheists with great progressive values; you do not have to look very far. I especially recommend supporting atheists who are women, people of color, and/or in the LGBTQ+ community. There are many atheists to be admired. Dawkins does not have to be one of them.
Edit: A couple of people have kindly pointed out to me that one must not necessarily experience gender dysphoria in order to be transgender. Gender dysphoria is a clinical diagnosis of the stress felt when one’s assigned gender does not represent their gender identity, but that stress does not need to be clinically diagnosed to be valid. Additionally, I would like to note an additional factor that contributes to one’s racial identity outside of genetics and skin color, and that is lived experience. While the way you are treated by others obviously does not change your genetic makeup, your experience in society as shaped by others’ perception of your race will also play a role in your racial identity.