Monday, 7 October 2013

The Snowy Peak syndrome of Atheism and Apologetics

When I studied politics (briefly) in college we were introduced to the term "Snowy Peak Syndrome" which refers to the top of organisations / fields/ professions being dominated by white middle class men. It was a term coined by Trevor Phillips, this was his original statement:

'Across the private sector we have what I call the ‘snowy peaks syndrome’ - a mountain represents an organisation’s workforce. At the base you find large numbers of women and ethnic minority workers whereas at the summit you find a small amount of white, middle class men.' Source
It's not just the workplace or industry that suffers from Snowy Peak Syndrome it appears it is also the sphere of religious debate.When doing a quick search for "most well known atheists" I stumbled upon this page The 25 Most Influential Atheists. Here's a sample of them put together in this poorly made graphic:

At the top -  the forefront of atheism is lacking in diversity

If you looked yes you will notice a distinct lack of women  and racial diversity. Why is this? Is religion still a part culturally of black and asian communities that accounts for the lack of representation in these areas?  For example Black female atheist Jamilla Bey suggests that being religious is seen as part of black identity, she said "It's a problem that amongst African Americans there's this narrative that says in order to be authentically black, one must be God-fearing, or one must be a good godly woman or a good godly man."

That doesn't mean though that there is a shortage of black atheists, indeed there appears to be an increase in black and minority atheists, with websites such as and of course the work of Sikivu Hutchinson who is leading the way not just for black people but for women also.
Sikivu Hutchinson - feminist and atheist writer

 Her work Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars addressed areas not covered by the leaders in new atheism noted above. Hutchinson, like Jamilla Bey, wants to deconstruct the myth that being christian is part of black identity more so that as a  woman the bibles patriarchal narrative is paradoxical to the powerful black women who so often use it as a source of encouragement and enlightenment. 

But if culture had influence on the reluctance to enter the atheist debate why are there no black christian apologists as you reach the summit. The leading names in apologetics are still white men, with what seems like slightly more diversity at the top than in the circle of new atheist writers. Well know apologists include William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel and Gary Habermas you also have well known apologists like Ravi Zacharias and Dinesg D'souza that have made it to the top of the apologetics circuit. 

Ravi Zacharias - leading Christian Apologist
To look for answers I made it broader. I  believe that apologetics on either side is an extension of philosophy. Therefor studies into the racial and gender imbalance in philosophical writers and speakers may shed some light on this. 

Jennifer Saul writing for the website suggests two prominent reasons including two well known psychological phenomena; Implicit Bias and 'Stereotype Threat.


Stereotype Threat-  is the experience of anxiety or concern in a situation where a person has the potential to confirm a negative stereotype about their social group.  Source

Implicit Bias- Implicit bias occurs when someone consciously rejects stereotypes and supports anti-discrimination efforts but also holds negative associations in his/her mind unconsciously. Source

She writes: 
'In the cases of implicit bias most relevant to this topic, people are found to hold unconscious biases against members of those groups that are negatively stigmatised in their culture. The biases take the form of, for example, a tendency to associate men rather than women more strongly with leadership. These biases are extremely widespread, and found both in members of the stigmatised groups and in those who are consciously highly egalitarian. Importantly, these biases are also very likely to be part of the explanation for the under-representation of other groups as well. We lack good data on the racial, class, sexual orientation or disability makeup of philosophy, but surely it is difficult to doubt that philosophy is overwhelmingly white, middle class, straight and non-disabled (and to a far greater degree, in fact, than it is male).'   Source

There may well be an underlying psychological explanation for the continuing gender and race gap in the top of academic fields. It may be that middle/ upper class white men have in the past had a lot of privilege (due to social standing of women and minority groups) and this is a continuation of that privilege that over time can be and will be changed. Also I feel it is engrained in us at some level due to this history to view the said type as the voice box for knowledge and information, it is driven home to us via news, politics and media that this is the face of authority. What other face could be applied to answering and debating about such a complex question? Obviously, education has a big factor to play in apologetics, it is no surprise that many top apologists or new atheist writers are well educated often in highly esteemed universities or schools. The same can be said for politicians who in the UK are mostly educated in Eton.I understand that education helps and research into several fields is often what makes these writers able to contemplate and argue on such matters, but diversity is key to understanding issues that are global. 

But what I hope will happen and what needs to happen is the success of a variety of races, classes and genders to rise to the top because only then can we have true debate, why would the realm of philosophy, which effects us all be left only to only one portion of society? Shouldn't this complex and lengthy debate be taking place all around us and not just with the select few. It is something that needs opinions from all sides.

What do you think? And are there any emerging talents in the religious debate circuit that are challenging the face of new atheism?

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