Last week, skeptics descended on St. Louis. For the first time in its more than ten year history, Skepticon – one of the largest conventions in the USA for skeptics, atheists, agnostics, Humanists, and the secular – was help not in Springfield, Missouri (its ancestral home and birthplace) but the Gateway to the West. I first attended Skepticon back in 2011, and the differences between that convention and this reveal a shift in priorities for the secular movement – or at least for some of it.
My first Skepticon – the fourth of its name – was primarily focused on two things: science, and the non-existence of god. These were the passions of organized nonreligion back then. It was a time of debates: debates about the existence of god, and debates about the best way for nonreligious people to confront and counter the outsize role religion plays in US public life. The participants were mostly white, and mostly male. The speakers list of that 2011 con shows that of the 16 presenters, 11 were white men, four were white women, and there was a lone speaker of color (a brave Hemant Mehta).
Skepticon 11 couldn’t have been more different. This year, of all the main presenters, there wasn’t a single white man – in their place, instead, a queer and colorful array of social justice warriors, exploring topics like intersectionality, race and racism, and secular ritual. The participants, too, were notably more diverse, with more women and genderqueer people than I have even seen at a skeptics event.
This is a marked shift in a relatively short time: something has happened to organized secularism, such that its priorities and population have rapidly changed. Today, there is a deepening rift between two wings of the movement, and the changes in Skepticon demonstrate this perfectly. The new rift in the secular community, it seems to me, parallels one deepening in the culture at large: it is between those who are on board with contemporary social justice culture, and those who are not. […]