To know where you’re heading, it helps to know where you’ve come from. And with the last grains of sand slipping through the hourglass, now is the perfect time to look back over the year that was and survey the major themes which wove throughout my writing during the past twelve months. So, without further ado, here are the threads of 2012:
The Emergence of Atheism Plus
As I expected, the battle against sexism and other prejudice in the atheist community and beyond continued to smolder this year. I defined the phenomenon of mansplaining (twice), and wrote about privilege as it applies to the different risks and burdens faced by men and by women. I also argued that building a strong, vigorous atheist community means doing our utmost to make everyone feel welcome, and offered some suggestions as to what we can do to accomplish that.
But the biggest development of the year was the emergence of Atheism Plus, an explicitly social-justice-oriented version of activist atheism, which I greeted eagerly and wrote about in severalposts here and in a column on Salon. It came not a moment too soon, either, since this year also saw some prominent skeptical figures disappoint us with ignorantly sexist statements, like Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer. While I still believe the atheist community is more feminist-friendly than the woman-killing dogmas of religion, we still have a lot of consciousness-raising to do.
The Reason Rally
When the history of the atheist movement is written, the massive gathering of nonbelievers that took place on the National Mall in March may turn out to be one of the pivotal moments. Even the cold, drizzly weather couldn’t dampen the buoyant spirits of the crowd, and being there for it was one of my personal high points of the year. I wrote a three-part wrap-up, with lots of pictures taken throughout the day (parts one, two and three), and later rebutted Christian commentators who got very huffy about the whole event while somehow managing to avoid discussing what actually happened there.
A gathering as major as the Reason Rally inevitably brings its own politics. I wrote about some of the controversies that came along for the ride, including the National Atheist Party’s inviting a hate group to attend, and the activists who thought we were compromising our purity by inviting politicians to speak. I also addressed the question of why nonbelievers gather in the first place.
In June, I attended another major national convention: Netroots Nation, formerly called Yearly Kos, which is a gathering of politically involved American progressives. The conference itself was well-planned and ran smoothly, but some of the talks left me feeling dispirited: about the tiny slice of the population that usually determines elections, the Citizens United ruling that unleashed massive political spending by corporations, and a disappointingly curt address from President Obama, only partially redeemed by a fiery convention-closing speech by Van Jones.
Optimism, Pessimism and Disillusionment
Whether it was the discouraging news at Netroots Nation or, more likely, just the national political climate in general, the summer of 2012 was a low-water mark for me in both personal and political enthusiasm. In February, I overcame a brief spell of discouragement, the story of which I told in “Another Day, Another Dragon“. But the gloom that draped me during the summer was much deeper and harder to overcome. My old adversary the Tempter returned for another rhetorical battle, and even after I sent him packing, it took me a while longer to shake off my black mood. I chronicled that struggle in “On Getting Through the Dry Spells“.
The 2012 Elections
But almost as soon as I had written that, something in the air started to change. The first herald was the Supreme Court’s dramatically upholding Obamacare. As the summer passed and the campaign season wore on, it became more and more clear that, despite the depressed economy, President Obama was holding a small but solid lead which Republican attacks weren’t budging. Also, the GOP didn’t help itself with several of their prominent candidates making incredibly offensive and idiotic remarks about rape.
All the sound and the fury culminated in election night, when Barack Obama won a resounding victory over Mitt Romney and progressive causes and candidates triumphed all over the nation. In the aftermath, I wrote about the epistemic bubble that deluded the Republicans into believing victory was certain, as well as their long-term dilemma of the party faithful being dominated by kooks and intellectual dead-enders.
The Rise of the Nones
One of the most underreported stories of the year was the ascent of the “nones”, the demographic shift of America toward freethought and away from organized religion. When President Obama defeated Mitt Romney due largely to strong support from the non-religious, many people were surprised; but if you’d been reading Daylight Atheism, you weren’t surprised! I wrote about rising secularism in the Millennial generation and in the population at large. I also reported on the WIN-Gallup poll which showed atheism surging all around the world, a result so welcome that even I hesitated to believe it at first. I also reported on surveys which found that American nonbelievers are strongly progressive and broke heavily for Obama in the voting booth.
Beyond all the political ephemera, 2012 saw some magnificent scientific accomplishments, including the apparent discovery of the Higgs boson and the successful landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars. It wasn’t all good news, though, as evidence mounted that our heedless burning of fossil fuels is bringing back climate not seen since the time of the dinosaurs. Among other things, a warming ocean means stronger storms, as we found out when Hurricane Sandy inundated my home city. I was fortunate and rode it out just fine; although not everyone was so lucky, I did remark on the esprit de corps shown by New Yorkers in the aftermath.
I asked theists whether they’d commit violence if God told them to, and reported on their answers; I challenged opponents of abortion to flesh out their worldview, and reported ontheir answers as well.
I spoke at the Secular Student Alliance’s annual conference in July, attracted notice from Dan Savage when I struck back at Christian accusations that he was bullying them by accurately citing the Bible, and of course, published my first book.
It’s been a great year on the old blog, but there’s more brewing behind the scenes. Look for a major announcement sometime soon after New Year’s!