Atheist Activist: Modern Atheist Movement Is 'Elitist,' Lacks Concern for Poor

An interfaith atheist activist has claimed that the modern atheist movement in the United States and Europe lacks concern for the poor. Walker Bristol, a blogger for The Huffington Post, wrote an essay posted on Saturday arguing that the "new atheism" of the 21st century has been rightly stereotyped as "elitist" and "self-satisfied."

"The atheist movement, in composition and purpose, has in the last decade failed to demonstrate a meaningful dedication to fighting economic inequality and building a safe space for nontheists regardless of their socioeconomic class," wrote Bristol.

"Despite all their talk of building a better world and upholding diversity, contemporary atheism and humanism's most prominent authors and leaders have been suspiciously silent on the topic of poverty."

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According to Bristol, while some local nontheist groups engage in philanthropy to benefit the poor, far too many atheist organizations solely attack religious communities via "self-righteous billboard campaigns."

"While the current movement limits itself to honing arguments and gleefully ridiculing the religious, others who don't share their educational privilege, those in poor communities are often bound by a strong local church," wrote Bristol.

"The last decade is peppered with blatant examples of outright classist language and motivation that has directly distanced the atheist movement from peer religious communities."

Bristol pointed the finger at several notable atheist public figures, such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, as evidence for his argument regarding 21st century atheism.

Currently enrolled at Tufts University studying religion and politics, Bristol also serves as communications coordinator for the secular humanist charity group Foundation Beyond Belief.

Roy Speckhardt, executive director for the American Humanist Association, told The Christian Post that "Bristol raises issues that are relevant in some ways but not others."

"Humanists have a long history of unapologetically recognizing great scholarship and intellectual achievement. That's why American Humanist Association awardees are peppered with Nobel Prize winners," said Speckhardt.

"Most atheist and humanist groups are very interested in issues of alleviating poverty but are somewhat limited regarding action in this area because atheists span the spectrum from socialist leaning progressive to fiscally conservative libertarians…"

Speckhardt also told CP that while Bristol decried the ad campaigns that secular groups do, like the many billboards posted across the country, it aids in reaching out to a broader audience.

"It's ironic that Bristol keeps citing Richard Dawkins as evidence of his charges of elitism, but Dawkins is among the leaders in expanding our outreach," said Speckhardt.

"It's Dawkins' talks that draw thousands, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science is reaching 600K on Twitter and is about to launch a Spanish language version of their online presence."

Speckhardt also detailed certain anti-poverty efforts AHA has been involved in, including signing a coalition letter to the United States House of Representatives "urging them to support the Senate's fiscal year 2013 overall funding level for the International Affairs Budget in order to protect its poverty-focused accounts throughout all upcoming budget negotiations."

According to a 2010 study by sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, a person who never attends church has a six-in-ten chance that he will give money to a secular charity, while the figure for religious people is eight-in-10.

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