The Orbit: Why Social Justice Atheism Needs Many Homes

Christina2

YOU MAY HAVE already heard the news. There’s a new kid in town—The Orbit, at the-orbit.net, a diverse collective of atheist and nonreligious bloggers committed to social justice within and outside the secular community. Launched in March 2016 and home to over twenty bloggers, The Orbit is the first atheist media site founded explicitly to work on all forms of social justice. I’m one of the members of the collective—it’s my new baby (albeit a baby I share with over twenty other parents), and of course I’m hugely excited about it.

But we’re not the only game in town. The American Humanist Association, to give an obvious example, has recently adopted social justice as an explicit part of its mission. The Secular Student Alliance has done the same. The Foundation Beyond Belief has always been dedicated to translating humanist values into action, and has long been a supporter of marginalized people and communities. And other online sites and communities, including Freethought Blogs and Skepchick, are home to atheist advocates of social justice and work to make the secular movement more welcoming to marginalized people. So what makes The Orbit different? And why should humanists care?

At The Orbit, social justice is one of our core principles, and it has been since the very beginning. That’s an important difference, and it gives us a different focus. Sometimes we write about atheism, skepticism, critiques of religion, meaning and morality without God, and other traditional secular topics. A lot of the time, we don’t. We write about race, gender, class, disability, mental illness, age, sexual orientation—without worrying what it has to do with atheism or religion. And a lot of the time, we write about literally whatever. Consider our tagline: “Atheism, Activism, Culture.” Culture covers a whole lot of ground—food and films, sports and sex, theater and TV, comics, cocktails, coloring books, and cats.

That’s going to appeal to different people. There are some who will love it: “Woo hoo! I get to read about non-monogamy, terrible Bible stories, the ethics of veganism, disability,  abortion, why it’s okay for adults to like superhero movies, social justice issues in Dungeons & Dragons, feminism and the hijab, subtle and not-so-subtle racism in Zootopia, body issues for transgender people, and Steven Universe—all in the same place!” There are some who won’t like that at all, and who’ll seek a more specific editorial focus in their media.

And that’s fine. It’s more than fine—it’s important. If the humanist community is going to welcome and support a wide variety of people, we need to build a variety of homes. Different people are drawn to different core values. Different focuses. Different vibes, for lack of a better word. Some prefer voices that are more gentle or more strident, writing that’s more scholarly or more conversational, communities that are more social or more activist, and online homes that are more sprawling or more tightly focused.

That’s good for all of us. It’s good for you because you might find your old favorite writers at The Orbit, or find new writers who will become your new favorites. And it’s good for you even if you don’t become a regular reader, or don’t care for the site at all—because other people will love it, and some of those people will be inspired to join your local community, to support your favorite national organization, to become activists or leaders in the secular movement, to do better-informed advocacy about diversity within the secular movement, to become representatives of humanism and atheism in their own communities and movements. It’s good for you because we’re creating atheist and humanist visibility in places that other organizations and sites aren’t going to reach—just like other groups will reach people we won’t. The more humanist homes we have, the more people we’ll draw to our movement, and the stronger we’ll all become. We are all gateways to each other.

A few other things make The Orbit different. Diversity has been one of our guiding principles from the very beginning, and this means our readers are exposed to a wide variety of secular experiences and perspectives. And we’re a democratic collective instead of a top-down organization. I won’t get into the details of how the sausage is made, since that’s probably not interesting to anyone but us—but there are lots of ways this collective structure affects our readers. Our website is deliberately designed to expose people to all of our blogs and bloggers, rather than prioritize the most popular ones or the ones at the top of the alphabet. Our bloggers write about more or less whatever we like, within a specific but fairly broad mission. Because our structure is collective and our bloggers are so diverse, our policies and structures are shaped by a variety of voices—and the fact that we’re all working together makes us all better educated about each other. Our collective structure also means we’re more likely to take on projects other than just blogging. For example, we’re already starting to organize an online conference, and we’re looking at the possibility of compiling an anthology of our work.

Of course, the focus on social justice, explicit and central and foundational, will appeal to different people. It’s not news that organized atheism—and yes, even humanism—has turned a lot of people off. Refusing to listen when people say they don’t feel welcome, shrugging off homogenous communities as impossible to fix or someone else’s problem, assuming that the only thing needed to support marginalized people is not being a conscious bigot, focusing on the hurt feelings of people being criticized instead of people who have been injured, continuing to embrace public figures even when they’ve been repeatedly horrible, ignoring or derailing or victim-blaming when people speak out—all of this has given organized secularism a major black eye. The Orbit plans to be a home for nonbelievers who were once part of the movement and left in disgust, or who never got involved because they never felt it was about them. Making social justice a central focus will help us make that happen.

But a lot of what makes us different is just that—we’re different. We have a different mission; we’re founded and run by different people; we have different writers. And that doesn’t just make us strong and interesting and appealing. It makes all of humanism strong and interesting and appealing. Every blog network and podcast in our community, every book and magazine, every local community and national organization is different. And that’s good news for all of us.