A year and a half ago I wrote about the idea of liberal cannibalism, saying, "If you lock enough liberals in a room together they will start to eat each other."
My example at the time was anti-capitalist rhetoric being lobbed at the Human Rights Campaign from the left during its fight for gay marriage, but that same problem is front and center with the ongoing civil war in the atheist and skeptical movements. The two movements have a lot of overlap so I will just refer to them as the "secular movements."
The secular movements have allowed progressive politics to flesh out a lot of their approaches, languages and choices of targets, and in my opinion this has weakened and compromised their missions. It's also set the stage for a civil war launched by social justice advocates.
But, let's be honest here: The flat-out truth is there is something very liberal about the missions of the secular movements. They want to radically change the role religion plays in modern life, and they want science to be held above faith. They also want to dethrone quacks and fools who trick people into believing things that aren't true, even when those quacks and fools have good public reputations.
Conservatives also tend to be more religious, and are very public about their religiosity. Progressives are also on the right side of history on issues like gay marriage, and the major arguments against gay marriage are religious in nature.
Coupled with overt anti-science boasts from conservatives, it makes sense that the secular movements would end up being more progressive and less conservative. However, that doesn't mean every approach and decision from secular activists must be made from a progressive mindset.
One of the greatest virtues the left has is its ability to question authority and tradition. Unfortunately, two of its greatest flaws are failing to question some of its own sacred cows and irrationally rejecting old ideas that have no worthy replacements (capitalism, hygiene, animal testing, chemical fertilizers, etc.).
Notice how much more attention climate change deniers get from the secular movements than denial over the consensus for free trade or against rent control policies, even though all three are major issues of our time marked by a high level of public ignorance, and failure to understand all three leads to poverty and death.
Prominent skeptics I like, such as Dr. David Gorski, will do a take-down on the notion that the anti-vaccination movement is left wing, but no one wants to talk about how one in four registered democrats are creationists (and not too long ago is was nearly one in three) and creationism is a lot more bipartisan than people realize. Battles are being picked and right-wing science denial isn't just a bigger target, but a more tempting target.
It's telling that "Friendly Atheist" blogger Hermant Mehta chose this example when asking people to be more skeptical of alleged false quotes used by Neil deGrasse Tyson:
If a pastor or right-wing conservative did it, we’d be calling them out on it immediately. Tyson doesn’t deserve a free pass just because his intentions are pure.
This implies that he believes his secular audience would have more zeal swarming on a right-wing conservative than a left-wing progressive public intellectual for the same act. Isn't that a problem?
At the least, it's a failure to the mission of secular movements that want to defeat ignorance from every corner.
Arnold King proposed in his three axes of politics theory that left-wing progressives tend to view issues on an oppressor-oppressed axis. The civil rights struggle in the 1960's was about whites using their political power to make life harder for blacks. Left-wingers often believe the drug war was created to keep blacks down.
That's not to say this is the wrong way to look at things. Sometimes the oppressor-oppressed axis is the only view that makes sense. I have a hard time seeing the civil right's movement any other way, but as a libertarian I see the drug war along the lines of a different axis, one of freedom and security, with well-meaning but flawed approaches. If you only use one axis for every problem, you will fatally misunderstand some issues.
That perfectly describes the ongoing, frustrating social justice civil war within the secular movements. Young, furious thin-skinned left-wing extremists have been poisoning the secular movement from within and routinely howl like coyotes. Simply put, they see racism, sexism, oppression and rape culture under every tea cup and salad fork, and they stomp and yell every time they think they've found some more.
For example, since more men are prevalent in the secular movements, they think there must be an evil force behind it like sexism. When they see a white male, even a gay white male, in a leadership position within the movement, their inner bell hooks comes pouring out. Hence the hatred for Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.
They aren't willing to accept other explanations, like that there may be something about secularism movements themselves that attracts more men than women, such as telling people to their faces that their deeply-held beliefs are wrong. So, the critics turn to what they know: Oppression! Next comes the purges and the inter-movement cannibalism.
All because they limit their thoughts to that single oppressor/oppressed axis.
A lot of these critics are social misfits, perpetual victims and crybabies who exist in a perpetual state of outrage and are quick to pile on women in the secular movements who disagree with them. These kind of shenanigans would never fly in a movement that wasn't wormy with progressivism. The bomb-throwers would be laughed out and excommunicated in a heartbeat, but instead here they are presented as if they have something wise and important to tell us.
I'm not saying that atheists need to advocate for low taxes, or let up on fighting for gay rights. There's plenty of right-wing malarkey and anti-science to fight. There just needs to be a little more self-examination when progressive ideas like affirmative action are eagerly swallowed. The attempts to purge Richard Dawkins need to be recognized as a consequence of unquestioned acceptance of a leftward mindset, not of a movement full of bigots.
Don't forget, when the extremist leftist in our ranks have to choose between the secular movement and their social justice instincts, they choose social justice. Look at skepticism over sexual assault allegations or how the Yale Humanists jumped on board The Good Ship Liberal when they went sailing against Ayaan Hirsi Ali for being critical of Islam.