Atheism+: the new New Atheists

This new movement has an energy that makes it hard to ignore.

Let me introduce you to Atheism+, the nascent movement that might be the most exciting thing to hit the world of unbelief since Richard Dawkins teamed up with Christopher Hitchens to tell the world that God was a Delusion and, worse than that, Not Great.  

Less than a week old in its current form, Atheism+ is the brainchild of Jen McCreight, a Seattle-based biology postgrad and blogger at the secularist Freethought network. She has called for a "new wave" of atheism on that "cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime." 

On one level, this is just the logical culmination of the huge upsurge in interest prompted by the so-called "New Atheists" and the growth over the last few years of a recognisable community or movement based around ideas of atheism, scientific scepticism and a progressive political agenda. While atheism is, by definition, no more or less than a non-belief in God, in practice it clusters with a variety of other positions, from pro-choice to campaigns against homeopathy. People who espouse "liberal atheism" as it might be called, oppose religion for political as well as philosophical reasons, just as the forces of religion seem to line up - though of course not exclusively - behind seemingly unconnected issues such as opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage and, in the US, gun-control.  

Atheism+ is, at its most basic, an attempt wrap things together more formally, to create a movement that prioritises issues of equality  and does so from an explicitly non-religious perspective. Some would say that such a philosophy already exists in the form of humanism. Others prefer the label Skeptic. Atheism+, however, seeks to capitalise on the sense of identity that has grown up around the word "atheism" during the past few years. One supporter of the idea, Greta Christina, celebrates the term as "a slap in the face that wakes people up." 

In this early phase Atheism+ is fired by anger as much as by as idealism. And, at least initially, much of this anger is directed inward towards the world of atheism itself.

Any community, new or old, has its tensions, and in the past year the atheist/sceptical community has been rocked by a divisive and increasingly bad-tempered debate over sexism and, more generally, a sense that the dominant voices have tended to be white, male and middle-class.  On the one hand, there have been suggestions that atheism and scepticism are philosophies disproportionately attractive to men. Indeed, the stereotype of the atheist as white, intellectually overconfident male - as Richard Dawkins - has long been a favourite among religious apologists. More seriously, there are definite feelings of exclusion, especially on the part of younger women.  

A number of incidents have served to crystallise the sense that all is not right in the world of unbelief.  Most notoriously, there was "Elevatorgate", an late-night incident in a lift during an atheist conference in Dublin during which the blogger Rebecca Watson was propositioned. Her subsequent public complaint about the man's behaviour and sexual harassment within the Skeptic movement drew criticism from Richard Dawkins himself and fuelled an ugly flame war.  She received, and continues to receive, rape and death threats.  

McCreight (it rhymes with "right") has her own experience to draw on.  She first came to prominence as the creator of 2010's "Boobquake", a satirical response to claims by an Iranian ayatollah that women who dressed immodestly were responsible for earthquakes.  McCreight wondered if encouraging women to wear tight t-shirts on a certain day would lead to a noticeable increase in seismic activity worldwide.  It didn't, though it did produce a small earthquake in parts of the skeptical community, in the form of a debate about whether such a stunt was compatible with feminism.

For McCreight personally, the "experiment" had an ambiguous outcome:

I’ve always considered myself a feminist, but I used to be one of those teenagers who assumed the awesome ladies before me had solved everything. But Boobquake made me wake up. What I originally envisioned as an empowering event about supporting women’s freedoms and calling out dangerous superstitious thinking devolved into “Show us your tits!”

McCreight recalls receiving unsolicited sexual invitations and, when she appeared in public, gratuitous comments about her appearance. It all made her feel that atheism was a "boys' club". It might welcome "a young, not-hideous woman who ... I made them look diverse" but  "rescinds its invitation once they realize you’re a rabble-rousing feminist." A movement that claimed to be rationalistic and against prejudice was not simply replicating the sexism of wider society, she felt, but actually magnified it.  Whenever she wrote or spoke about feminism she received hundreds of insulting and hateful comments.  Atheism had become - perhaps it always was - a bolthole for misogyny.  Worse, she wrote, "I don’t feel safe as a woman in this community – and I feel less safe than I do as a woman in science, or a woman in gaming, or hell, as a woman walking down the fucking sidewalk."

The first item on the Atheism+ agenda, then, is a cleansing one. McCreight herself says: "We need to recognize that there’s still room for self-improvement and to address the root of why we’ve been having these problems in atheism and skepticism." Greta Christina has gone so far as to devise a checklist of goals to which atheist organisations should aspire, including anti-harassment policies and ensuring diversity among both members and invited speakers. "To remember that not all atheists look like Richard Dawkins."

That sounds like, at least party, a negative programme - "getting rid of the garbage". Yet the name - or at least the symbol - is pleasingly double-edged. "Atheism plus", the natural reading, implies incompleteness: that other, associated principles need to be added to the core idea to produce a rounded philosophy. But it can also be read as "Atheism positive", going beyond the mere negation of belief. Time will tell whether McCreight's initiative leads to permanent changes in the atheist and sceptical movement, or to the formation of a new and distinct nexus of atheism and progressive politics, or is soon forgotten. But I'd bet against the latter. Whether or not the name sticks, there is an energy behind this new wave that makes it hard to ignore.

Atheism+ is a reaction against the "New Atheism" of Richard Dawkins. Photograph: Getty Images
Belief, disbelief and beyond belief
Image: Shutterstock
Show Hide image

Are you ready to comply with the EU GDPR?

Alan Calder, the founder and executive chairman of IT Governance, discusses the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and how your organisation can achieve compliance.

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will supersede the UK Data Protection Act 1998 on 25 May 2018, introducing new obligations for all organisations that process the personal data of EU residents.

The GDPR introduces significant changes in the areas of data subject and child consent, privacy by design, data breach notification, international data transfers and data protection officers, among others.

With the prospect of multi-million pound fines for non-compliance, and less than two years until the Regulation is enforced, organisations in the UK should urgently be considering what they need to do to comply.

The skills and resources required under the GDPR

The GDPR requires certain organisations to appoint a data protection officer (DPO). The role of a DPO includes informing and advising the controller and processor of their data protection obligations, monitoring the organisation’s compliance and performance, providing advice on data protection impact assessments, and giving due regard to risks associated with data processing operations. DPOs must have the legal and information security knowledge and skills necessary to help organisations achieve compliance with the Regulation.

As an expert in information security and data protection compliance, IT Governance has developed Europe’s first certified EU General Data Protection Regulation Foundation and Practitioner training courses to help individuals who are involved in data protection or who are looking to fulfil the role of data protection officer in order to achieve compliance with the Regulation. The certified training programme is designed to equip individuals with a comprehensive understanding of the GDPR requirements and a practical guide to planning, implementing and maintaining compliance with the GDPR.  

Inform GDPR transition planning through data flow mapping and gap analysis

An important first step in achieving compliance with the GDPR is to review your organisation’s data flows. A data flow audit will allow your organisation to map the locations of all personally identifiable information (PII), gain visibility over your data flows, develop effective strategies to protect PII, improve data lifecycle management and introduce efficiencies into your processes, and reduce privacy-related risks. 

Organisations that plan to comply with the GDPR but that lack visibility over their data flows are encouraged to conduct a data flow audit. The process involves mapping out the organisation’s data flows to get a comprehensive understanding of the sources from which the data flows. IT Governance can help organisations prepare for the GDPR with an extensive data flow audit that will enable you to identify the measures, policies and procedures needed to reduce the risk of a data breach.

Implement technical and organisational measures with ISO 27001

ISO 27001 is the international best-practice standard for information security management and encompasses three essentials aspects: people, processes and technology. The Standard is designed not only to defend your company against technology-based risks but also to prevent common security issues such as those caused by lack of staff awareness around current threats or ineffective information security procedures.  

Moreover, the GDPR clearly states that “the controller and the processor shall implement appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure a level of security appropriate to the risk”. These measures relate to personal data encryption and pseudonymisation; access and availability of data; the confidentiality, integrity and availability of processing systems and services; and regular assessment and evaluation of technical and organisational measures to ensure the security of processing.

An ISO 27001-compliant information security management system (ISMS) is founded on an enterprise-wide a culture of information security, led by the board. It necessitates that your organisation’s information security strategy be constantly monitored, updated and reviewed, and this process is amenable to helping you implement the technical and organisational measures of the GDPR.   

ISO 27001 can help you meet parallel GDPR and NIS Directive requirements

The NIS Directive, which is set to come into force at the same time as the GDPR, is designed to help organisations within the EU achieve a common level of security across their networks and information systems. The Directive applies to organisations providing essential services in sectors such as finance, energy and transport, as well as digital service providers.

Similar to the GDPR, the NIS Directive requires a robust ISMS and encourages a security culture. As a result, more and more organisations preparing to comply with both the GDPR and the NIS Directive are also seeking certification to ISO 27001. The Standard contains information security requirements that, when met, can allow your organisation to centralise and simplify your compliance efforts for the NIS Directive and the GDPR.

IT Governance’s ISO 27001 packaged solutions can help you tackle your organisation’s GDPR and NIS Directive compliance requirements as well as implement a robust  ISMS. The ISO 27001 packaged solutions provide a unique blend of expertly developed tools and resources that complement your organisation’s skills and resources at a fixed price and in a timely manner.

To find out more about GDPR compliance or ISO 27001 packaged solutions please visit (, email, or call us on +44 (0)845 070 1750.

Alan Calder is the founder and executive chairman of IT Governance.