I’m an atheist, but I had to walk away from the toxic side of online atheism

I’ve watched as many of the activists and writers I respect most in atheism — especially women and people of color — have left the movement, each expressing (privately, if not publicly) that the state of the discourse among atheists was one of the primary reasons they were leaving.

Beyond the nastiness directed at me, I was even more frustrated with the ways the atheist movement, especially online, has resisted efforts to address racism, sexism and xenophobia among our own. I’ve been researching the intersection of atheism and the “alt-right” this year, and things don’t seem to have improved much in the years since I stepped back.

I also felt a gnawing sense of smallness during my years as an atheist writer, exhausted with having to represent a singular identity. When I appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor,” the chyron that appeared below me read, “CHRIS STEDMAN, ATHEIST.” My friends and I had a good laugh about it, but it represented a bigger problem: to be understood as an atheist, I was often asked to reduce myself to just that.