Manifesto for Universalism

David Rand & Pierre Marchand, for Atheist Freethinkers

Adopted by AFT at its Annual General Meeting on 2022-10-29

We Draw Our Values from the Enlightenment

Our atheism is inspired by the values of the Enlightenment and is inherited from them. The Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that spread across Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, a movement against the religious and political oppressions of the time and promoting ideals such as reason, science, tolerance, freedom, progress, universalism, human rights and secularism. Taken collectively, they are sometimes referred to as modernism.

These ideas led to the abolition of slavery, the 1789 “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” and ultimately the 1948 “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” of the United Nations. Enlightenment ideals are central to the values that are normally associated with the political left. Unlike the right, the left also advocates the sharing of wealth, rather than concentrating it among hereditary exploiters or other oligarchs, a redistribution which is implemented in particular through social programs.

This Enlightenment heritage is evident in the statement of principles of Atheist Freethinkers, that is, our Atheist Manifesto, such as in the following passage:

“We value reason, critical thinking, science and knowledge. We value the material, intellectual and moral advancement of humanity.”

The Manifesto expresses our opposition to the obscurantism conveyed by religions and to all forms of superstition. This approach is entirely in the spirit of the Enlightenment. In What Is Enlightenment? (1784), philosopher Kant summarizes this spirit:

“Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) ‘Have the courage to use your own understanding,’ is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.”

We Oppose the Religious Right

We therefore oppose those traditions which seek to confine human beings to tribes, races, ethnic groups or religious “communities.” These anti-Enlightenment traditions are normally associated with the political right, especially the religious right. This includes Islamists, evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Hindus—finally, any fundamentalist or extremist of any religion whatsoever.

On the contrary, we value universalism, that is to say, that which unites us as humans, what we all have in common, regardless of our particular affiliations. We are therefore anti-racist. Also, if by “feminism” we mean “the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes” (Wikipedia), then we are also feminists and actively promote that equality.

We Oppose the so-called “Woke” Movement

We also oppose another, but relatively recent anti-Enlightenment movement, a movement which claims to be leftist, but, like the right, tries to confine everyone to particular identities. This movement has several names: “regressive left,” “identitarian left,” “anti-Enlightenment pseudo-left,” “post-left,” etc., but has over the last few years become known by the label “woke.” Despite its pretensions, it is not on the political left because it has abandoned the ideals of the Enlightenment which constitute the very definition of the left.

This “woke” movement has a particularly exaggerated obsession for issues of race and racism. It claims to be anti-racist, but through this racialist obsession and because of its habit of seeing racism everywhere, indiscriminately, it inflames racism much more than fighting against it. This movement denounces European colonialism, of a era when the white man claimed to be superior to all others and the savior of civilization. Very well. But in the “woke” mentality, this white man has now become the embodiment of evil, whose values are to be strictly rejected, yet remaining at the center of the universe. This attitude practically becomes anti-white racism.

Furthermore, the “woke” racialize—i.e., they essentialize—religious affiliation, which implies a neglect for freedom of conscience and, as a result, the abandonment of secularism.

We reject the concept of cultural appropriation because it impedes cultural exchanges and imposes an unacceptable constraint on creativity in all areas of human endeavour: the arts, cuisine, architecture, etc.

The “Woke” Mentality Benefits the Political Right

The “woke” movement is extremely Manichean. Specious accusations of “racism” uttered by the “woke” are so numerous that they end up discrediting the very notion of racism and giving courage to real racists. The same goes for gratuitous accusations of sexism or misogyny. Just as the political right confuses the woke with the political left in general, in order to completely discredit that left, the right also confuses intersectional feminism with feminism in general, in order to discredit the latter.

The folly of trans extremists, who throw accusations of “transphobia” against anyone who merely expresses some doubt about Gender Theory, is a stroke of luck for fundamentalist Christians. This gives encouragement to real transphobes—i.e., those who oppose any gender transition, even done by an adult under proper medical supervision, who nevertheless has the right to dispose of his/her own body. Moreover, conflating sexual orientation with gender dysphoria in this context discredits the gay and lesbian movement and encourages homophobes.

Accusations of “Islamophobia,” made against anyone who merely criticizes some beliefs of the religion Islam, are a benediction for Islamists and for all opponents of secularism. However, a religion that forbids apostasy, under pain of very severe punishment, even death, is an extremely dangerous religion that must be severely criticized.

The False Conflation of the “Woke” and the Left

The “woke” do not represent the left. There is a universalist left, one which fights against these prejudices but with nuance and discernment, which values freedom of expression, which avoids false accusations and censorship, a left which does not exaggerate our differences but instead emphasizes our common humanity.

Finally, this false conflation between the left and the “woke” serves the purposes of both the “woke” themselves (who claim to be on the left) and the political right (who take advantage of the excesses of the “woke” in order to discredit the entire left).

For Equality of Opportunity, Against Absolute Equity

We, Atheist Freethinkers, advocate equality of opportunity, where anyone can attain any position for which they have the necessary skills and qualifications, regardless of gender, “race,” etc.

However, we reject the dogma which declares that any failure to achieve absolute equity—that is, equality of outcomes—necessarily constitutes an injustice. A profession cannot be required to manipulate its admission criteria so that the proportion of every minority is equal to the demographic weight of that minority in the general population. On the contrary, these criteria should normally not even take into account personal characteristics not relevant to professional duties. The only acceptable form of positive discrimination, and applicable only temporarily in the event of serious injustice, is that, if the candidates are equally competent, a member of the minority who has suffered that injustice may be chosen, if there is one. Under no circumstances should a category of people be excluded on the basis of race, sex, etc.


We, Atheist Freethinkers, do not support any political party. Our approach to atheism and secularism follows the tradition inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment, that which is universalist, rejecting all forms of racism and obscurantism, which criticizes all religions, which promotes emancipation by moving beyond confining identities which stifle freedom.

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