In my brief stint with American Atheists as a regional director, I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to really get acquainted with many of the state leaders. However, I was able to interview two of these atheist activists for the American Atheist magazine. One of them was Aron Ra.
I was already acquainted with Aron Ra’s work through his YouTube channel where he discusses biology and atheism and counters creationist claims with scientific education. But I decided to probe a bit further about Aron Ra’s thoughts regarding humanism and secular activism, going beyond dishing about evolution and the flaws in theistic belief.
Sincere Kirabo: First, let me say I enjoy your work regarding scientific communication and progressive secular activism. Could you please describe what thoughts, doubts, and experiences led you from a Mormon upbringing to the path you currently travel as a self-described “infidel”?
Aron Ra: The advantage to being raised as a Mormon was that, once we moved out of areas dominated by Mormons, I got to experience the bigotry of different Christian denominations against each other. I learned that if you want to know what a Mormon believes, you shouldn’t ask a Baptist.
This prompted me to compare the different denominations, and then the different religions. I decided that even if every denomination was based on a kernel of truth, that truth would be at the root of them all, and not in any of the newer sects that keep emerging—those would be further from that truth. But once I compared Abrahamic religions to Hinduism and others, I realized that the only common bond between them were faith-based assertions of what is essentially magic.
There is no truth to any of them, meaning that there is nothing we can actually show to be true—except that they all appear to be nothing more than manmade mythology.
Kirabo: We have met in person a couple times. Once at last year’s American Atheists convention as a fellow State Director and more recently at the Secular Social Justice Conference that was held at Rice University.
As you know, Secular Social Justice was a stark departure from the more “mainstream” tenor of atheist-oriented events as it centered on the intersecting social, economic, and political issues that impact the daily life of secular people of color. What motivated you to attend and what were your takeaways from the discussions?
Aron Ra: As a YouTube atheist, what I see of the social justice movement is limited to the various hate groups whining about SJWs [Social Justice Warriors]. As a contrast, it was important to see how real people feel about the realities they experience.
At that conference, I learned something about my own sense of privilege. I saw a man surrender his turn to speak to a woman, explaining that this panel was talking about the issues women experience and he saw her opportunity to speak as a priority over his own. I respected that, but didn’t even notice that I didn’t continue that trend.
Someone on one of the panels asked how they could get leaders in the atheist movement to be supportive of feminism, and I felt compelled to explain about the absurd amount of hate being spread against feminists online. This from people who insist that feminism isn’t what the dictionary and all of these feminists in attendance say it is. I was then criticized for having absorbed other people’s time with my unwelcome explanation.
Although I still think it was important to point that out, it still came from a cis white male. Regardless of how I feel about the way that room reacted, I should have remembered that I have a voice through a popular YouTube channel, podcast, and blog, whereas others in that room are not so well-connected and could have used that time to get out questions that they couldn’t get addressed otherwise.
Kirabo: In a recent article for the Huffington Post, Roy Speckhardt—executive director of the American Humanist Association—stated, “There’s a natural tie between humanist thought and support for social justice.” What is your perspective concerning this connection?
Aron Ra: Having identified as a feminist (one who believes that women should have social, economic, and political equality with men), I’ve gotten an awful lot of hate from other atheists online. Many of whom say that I should have identified as a humanist instead.
Indeed humanism is feminist as well as egalitarian, though anti-feminists have a different idea of what all those words mean. I have noticed that we also generate a lot of hate online whenever we bring up issues of racism, even though what we say is, I think, completely defensible, admirable, and accurate.
We’re not denigrating anyone when we try to raise awareness of how people are being treated. But we bear a lot of resentment every time we speak up for anyone. Whether we advocate for gender or racial equality, we get a lot of blowback, and most of that seems to come from other atheists, I’m sorry to say.
Kirabo: I receive a decent amount of criticism for centering much of my work on social justice issues and reflecting on how these matters intersect, and how they can also relate to humanist and even atheist agendas.
While I appreciate the more nuanced efforts produced by activists such as yourself, Justin Schieber with Real Atheology, and podcasts like Ryan Bell’s Life After God project, I feel like there’s a shortfall within our community regarding both appropriately addressing inclusivity and consistent, proper critiques of intersectional issues.
Aron Ra: Tell me about it.
Kirabo: Given the single-issue-oriented trajectory of the atheist movement (e.g., opposition to religious hegemony), how would you assess our ability and willingness to adapt and perhaps better recognize the multiplicity of issues that affect our lives beyond the direct influence of religiosity-inspired bigotry and marginalization?
Aron Ra: I can’t give you an informed answer, because I’m mystified at this situation. The way I see it, if someone else wants to talk about gender equality, racial equality, transphobia, or whatever else, and you don’t have an interest in that topic, you can’t relate to it and therefore can’t make a meaningful contribution, then you don’t have to be in that conversation. You don’t have to spread your ignorance and dismiss or minimize and otherwise disrespect other people’s situations. You can post in some other thread or blog or what have you and talk about what you know.
It makes no sense to me why there are substantial groups of people unified in their hatred of other people’s problems that they can’t pretend to understand themselves. Instead of posting yet another video whining about Anita Sarkeesian or hating on Rebecca Watson, stop paying attention to them and find something productive to do, something that might actually be useful to someone.
Because I guarantee wherever you post this, you will see comments criticizing me for saying any of this. They’ll give all the same wrong reasons they always do, and that will probably include the assertion that feminism isn’t really about gender equality—that you and me and every other feminist somehow got that wrong. That we should all call ourselves something else. As if only those who hate feminism know what it is, and not anyone who identifies as such.