Natalie Reed recently wrote a blog post on her views regarding religion and the trans community. Or rather, her views regarding religion and the trans community, people of color, indigenous people, and so on. She claims that her target is “religious faith itself”, not Abrahamic religion. She claims that she isn’t racist or ethnocentric in her perspective because she condemns all religion equally.
She’s not the only white atheist to push this kind of argument. So has Greta Christina. In one of her more nuanced posts, Greta says that her main argument against religion is that atheism is more correct, not that religion is inherently harmful. That is all and good, except that we white atheists don’t leave well enough alone. Let’s be honest: Maybe we keep our opinions personal on an individual basis, but on the whole we stick our noses into places we don’t belong. Take, for instance, the recent billboard by American Atheists in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that targeted the black community.
This is where “I’m just more correct” goes horribly wrong, as Sikivu Hutchinson explains. Secular “reasoning” has driven well-meaning white activists to Africa, where they have done more harm than good (while pushing ulterior motives, to boot). Secular “reasoning” has driven well-meaning Western feminists into Islamic communities to tell women there the proper way to empower themselves. Guess what, that didn’t go as planned, either.
Let’s be honest: Maybe [us white people] keep our opinions personal on an individual basis, but on the whole we stick our noses into places we don’t belong.
The takeaway lesson is that we do not empower other people to make better decisions by invading their cultures and telling them they’re wrong. When you dictate what others should believe from a position of privilege, all you do is kick people who are already down. White people already make ourselves into patriarchal authority figures; telling people of color what they should believe just amplifies that reality.
If you truly care about the harm religion causes in cultures outside of your own, then learn about those cultures. Sacrifice your own resources to help them–not to tell them the Right Way to do things, but to empower them to make their own decisions. First and foremost, keep quiet and listen. A proper scientist walks into new territory with humility. You step gently, you take careful measurements, you leave no trace. Atheist crusaders, by comparison, hack and slash their way through other people’s communities with no regard for who they crush in the process.
Do you think atheists are absent from non-white cultures? Do you think they want white people bursting into their world to tell their families what is right and what is wrong? Do you think the white atheist invasion of marginalized spaces helps atheists living in those spaces, or hurts them? Do you think your “rightness” on the subject of religion gives you the right to preach to communities you don’t belong to? Let atheists in Islamic countries speak for themselves. Let atheists in black and latin@ communities speak for themselves. Let African atheists speak for themselves. This is how we build community. An actual community, rather than a kingdom run by whites.
I’ll leave you once again with a person of color who says it better than I ever could, Kavita Ramdas, on the related subject of authoritarian Western feminism.