For the Sake of Feminism, Elitism Around Religion Has to Stop

Feminism can’t be intersectional if white atheists think they’re superior to everyone else.

Last year, researchers claimed that atheists were more intelligent than religious people. It was an unsurprising attempt by researchers to prove this, and even less surprising how the media spun this. Religious people though don’t deserve stigma, and we must remember that our views around religion are filtered through a Western lens. If we are to be intersectional, then we must wholeheartedly support religious people, especially women.

Intellectual superiority should have no place in feminism. Not everyone has the same access to education. The movement should be based solely on the pursuit of rights and of support. A competition about who is more smart – religious people or atheists detracts from what should be the true aims of feminism.

The idea that atheism is inevitably superior, verges on Western-superiority. There are many communities globally that engage in different religious and/or spiritual practices. The idea that they know nothing about their own complex lives, communities and the natural world around them but a white college-educated Westerner knows their lives better is a joke. Furthermore, there are many ways in which to be religious. Some may be more rigid in their faith, others may apply practices loosely and how it suits them. It is a personal decision. Feminists in particular must consider how on earth a Muslim woman who wears the hijab or niqab is going to feel within feminist spaces if we say that they don’t know their own mind? What does it say to Sikhs or Jewish people when atheists say that they can’t really be good people if they require a religious framework to live their lives? It is staggeringly arrogant to dismiss someone’s moral code. The truth is, if people lost their religion, they would likely still be good people. They don’t need religion to be good people, but they follow their different faiths for often many different reasons.

“The idea that atheism is inevitably superior, verges on Western-superiority”

There are some atheists too who are, frankly, repulsive. Dawkins is just the tip of the iceberg. His fans are often even worse. Islamophobia isn’t unusual within atheist spaces, and often queer people are used as shields. There’s an argument that atheists are better on queer rights, as though they’ve never heard of China. Usually these atheist-bros (there is always a bro somewhere) throw out condescension, awfully outdated science to be transphobic while arguing that atheism is better for queer people. Sorry, but both of the Hitchens brothers are awful so stop saying we should get Christopher back.

There is tension in UK society. Our country is skewed massively in favour of Christians, despite the fact that Christianity is actually on the decline. There are automatic seats in the House of Lords for Bishops and there are serious concerns about the Church of England (and the Catholic Church) regarding political power, as well as the handling of child abuse allegations. It is possible to resist the superiority of Christianity within the UK, and to ask for robust scrutiny of political and financial actions within powerful organisations, without isolating people of faith and personally attacking them. To suggest otherwise is as insipid as saying those who believe in democracy cannot then scrutinise the government. There can be inclusivity while looking at the elements of power and how organisations wield their influence. The problem is that most arguments revolving around religion turn into a shouting match with atheists insisting that they are smarter. We need more than to listen to the drivel of insecurities that come from atheists.

The cornerstone of feminism is achieving gender equality so that all women and girls may exert autonomy over their own lives. It is therefore staggeringly hypocritical to then dismiss religious women for their beliefs. Feminist spaces do not need to be religious spaces, but they do have to be inclusive of religious people. That may mean rescheduling meetings around any observed events/holidays, providing time for prayer, or just ensuring that people of faith feel safe to access these spaces.

There will be some suspicion. Those who may have been abused (particularly if it was queerphobic) at the hands of religious institutions – not necessarily sexually, but by being demeaned in the name of religion – may find that they are triggered or anxious whenever religion is mentioned, as though waiting for the discrimination to begin. There must be patience and respect for those who have been victimised, but with the aim of building bridges and ensuring that all those who support equality are working together.

White Christians do enjoy privilege in this country, but marginalised people shouldn’t suffer abuse because of the politics of white men. Ultimately, it is largely white atheist men arguing with white Christian men about ideology, while the real work to bring about progress is left to marginalised people on all sides. Atheism isn’t superior. If it’s used to push others down and undermine, then it is causing more harm than good. So let’s stop arguing about who’s smarter, and start talking about what we’re going to do to improve social justice together.

One thought on “For the Sake of Feminism, Elitism Around Religion Has to Stop

  1. I am an atheist who chooses not to associate myself with any of the White dudebros of atheist politics. Not just because they are repulsive but also because, as a Black woman, I could never feel safe in such places.

    I also happen to be a little more loose in my acceptance of religion. Some people need a religious framework with which to ground their lives. Just because I don’t, doesn’t make me superior to them, or give me the right to disparage them, (although I do reserve the right to roll my eyes at magical thinking of any kind.)

    I think quite a few atheists just use that as yet another excuse to sh@t on other people.


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