Atheism and Social Justice


I’m an atheist. I’m an atheist because the idea of a higher power seems, to me, absurd on the face of it. I find it downright impossible to believe in something like that. There are a myriad number of reasons for that, but this post isn’t about that.

I’m also a feminist… or, at least, I try to be an ally… as good an ally as a white, straight, able-bodied, cis-gendered man can be. I don’t think we have true equality in this world, yet, and so I am one. I am also a Secular Humanist, and left-wing Progressive (Obama is quite far to the right of me… extremely far to the right of me… basically, I’m a Socialist), and so on.

Back when I was religious, I was much more conservative. I was a fan of Bush II, I really did believe the bullshit that the Democrats were left wing (hint: they’re not even close)… and as I got more religious, I moved more towards the right, before identifying as a Libertarian. I was really big on free speech, and even wrote a song, Middle Man, about how I’ll say whatever I like and if you don’t like it, you can fuck right off (side note… I’ve kept the tune to that song because it’s awesome and catchy and has a sick guitar solo, if I do say so myself :D, but wrote new lyrics under the title of “Look in the Mirror”, directed at people whose response to mild and polite criticism is to scream and whine and cry).

But as I rejected first religion and then faith, I started moving more towards the left. I finally understood the lie behind the cliché “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”. To anyone with half a brain, the lie in the phrase is obvious: in many cases words can be more powerful, and more dangerous, than sticks and stones. There’s a reason for the other cliché “the pen is mightier than the sword”.

The worst of it, I noticed, was in religion.

I’m going to stick with the Bible because it’s what I know best, as I’ve read it more than once.

The Bible is undoubtedly one of the most racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic texts ever published by the human species. It demands the death penalty for homosexuals, it constantly rags on “outsiders” and how “unclean” they are, creating a phobia out of “mixing” with “outsiders” (while ignoring the fact that there are no outsiders… not only are we all human, but all life on this planet, both plant and animal, is connected by a common ancestor some 3.5 to 4 billion years ago… and everything that exists in this universe is made out of the same elements, all of which are made in stars)…

The Bible’s treatment of women is one of the worst things about it. To those horrid, bigoted cavemen who wrote it, women were the possessions of men: first their fathers, then their brothers, then their husbands. Women were not allowed, or even shown to have, their own personal agency and independence, unless they were in sin. It starts with Eve (for the record… how in the hell could she have “disobeyed” if she didn’t know any better in the first place?… after all, she had no understanding of right and wrong, so how could she know that disobeying God’s command would be wrong, if she didn’t even know what “wrong” was?), goes all the way to Paul demanding that women be silent in church and only speak elsewhere with permission from their husbands and look to their husbands to give them opinions, and continues until this day.

And that’s the crux, isn’t it?

Continues until this day.

That misogyny… that vile and sick treatment of women in the Bible… is still around today, and not just in third world countries, but in first world countries, like the US, as well. And not just with fanatics, either. The myth of virginity is still a popular thing. Some very wide-spread and popular pictures of women show everything from the neck down, completely dehumanizing the woman by removing her face. Gendered slurs are still in common use. Slut-shaming is still a thing, as is the blaming of rape victims. Men are still very much seen as the default human, with women being the “other”.

But it isn’t just misogyny. It’s homophobia, too. Today’s Civil Rights movement is the homosexual movement; the fight for non-straight marriage, for basic acceptance… transphobia springs out of this biblical homophobia, because the Bible described and enforced two specific genders: male and female, man and woman, and there was no deviation from that binary.

Xenophobia, especially in the US, is yet another form of bigotry still widespread, especially amongst conservatives. Xenophobia seems to be the US’s foreign policy what with all the utterly unnecessary army bases we have around the world, and our constant need to start worthless wars.

All of these things are things I rejected after I became an atheist.

Why would I tolerate them in secular society?

This is why I believe atheism leads to fighting for social justice. I would not be a feminist, or a progressive, if I did not first become an atheist. When those faith-tinted glasses were removed from my eyes, I saw all there is to see.

This doesn’t mean that I think atheism is feminism. Indeed, I’m an advocate for the dictionary definition of atheism precisely because any other definition of atheism (specifically: the doctrine or belief that God does not exist) only contributes to negative stereotypes of atheists. “The lack of belief in a higher power or powers” and “not a theist” set the tone for a conversation that very simply makes more sense. Atheism has no doctrines, no beliefs, on its own. Since (I contend that) everyone is agnostic about the question of the existence of a higher power or powers, regardless of their protestations to the contrary, I am very much an adamant supporter of “dictionary atheism”.

But that doesn’t say very much either, does it? Such a generalized and vague definition of atheism likely increases the percentage of USians, and humans in general worldwide, who would identify then as atheists by a lot (side note: it’d be fascinating to see the Pew and Gallup forums conduct a poll asking “do you believe in a higher power or powers” or “do you consider yourself to be a theist, in that you believe in a higher power or powers?” and qualify that with “note that I’m asking about what you believe, not what you know”… the numbers from that poll would be amazing to see). So I don’t think one can just be an atheist.

This is why I support Atheism+, and further, don’t think the name is all that bad. Anyone with a lick of common sense knows that plus means “in addition to”, not as in the grade A+.  And I do think there’s a difference with Secular Humanism, because Secular Humanism is open to theists. I have no problem with that, of course, but I am not a theist. Hence Atheism+ allows me to say that I’m a feminist and a social justice advocate because I’m an atheist…

Does atheism explicitly lead to progressive politics and social justice advocacy, including humanism? Judging by the amount of MRA Randians who are also atheists, I guess not. But it certainly did for me, and I’m proud of that, and I support it.

So I of course support the Deep Rifts™ that have opened up within this… what… atheosphere, atheist movement?…, also, because I simply don’t want to share a movement with Men’s Rights Activists and Free-Market-worshipping Randians. I don’t want to have anything to do with these assholes. I also don’t want to share a movement with people who think it’s okay, even funny, to say that activism is “a guy thing”. I don’t want to be represented in the public sphere by people who don’t think women can be funny, and who post rants to twitter about how the Sociological definition of racism is “wrong” because it means that white people can’t be victims of racism (hint: because of the classic power imbalance in the West such that white people have been the ones in power for a couple hundred years at least, and that “white” is seen as the default in Western society, we can’t be the victims of institutionalized racist oppression, because we’re the ones who make up that institution).

The idea that atheism leads to social justice advocacy exists for a reason. Even if you don’t fight for the rights of women, people of color, trans*, homosexuals, etc, you are fighting for the rights of atheists simply by declaring yourself to be an atheist… so if you’re an atheist, because you’re part of an underprivileged class in world society, you’re a social justice warrior whether you like it or not (hear that, S.E. Cupp?).

Commenting note: I’m going to engage in blatant censorship on this post. If you want to call it an echo chamber, be my guest, because I don’t give a fuck. I’m a-okay with dissent, but I will not tolerate: intellectual dishonesty, disingenuous bullshit, name calling, and ad hominems. So take note: if you are a known troll and/or have been banned from FtB, the A+ forums, Skepchicks, and so on, I will not allow you to post here, because I simply don’t want to. As this is my blog, I don’t need to provide any other explanation that that. If you have a problem with that, then go make fun of me on the Slymepit or wherever it is you like to be an asshole, because I don’t give a shit. If you do have some honest objections and wish to engage RESPECTFULLY and IN GOOD FAITH, then by all means… comment. I’ll approve your post and we can have an honest discussion.

And if you’re wondering what criteria I’ll be using to make these judgements, they are my own subjective criteria, which I have every right to use on my personal, private blog. This blog is not owned by the US Government. I do not have to abide by the first amendment of the US Constitution.

And I won’t. So don’t expect me to.

About Nathan Hevenstone

I hate straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied men.
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19 Responses to Atheism and Social Justice

  1. John Palowitch says:

    No problems about the shortness or delay with any response. I’m busy too; in fact I usually wait until I have a good hour to respond to what I read, otherwise I’ll be thinking about your ideas all day :).

    I’ll drop the Shermer and Benson thing. But if anything I say in the second section below moves you in any way, about intellectual purging and its effect on social movements, you should probably reconsider barraging Shermer with too much “disappointment” in your next piece.

    I went back to the Watson video so I can stop paraphrasing. She says this verbatim beginning at 4:28:

    “You were all fantastic; I loved talking to you guys…all of you except for the one man who I think didn’t really grasp what I was saying on the panel, because…”

    And then she went on to describe the incident. She justified her claim “[the man] didn’t really grasp what I was saying on the panel” by describing his actions, which directly implies she found his actions contradictory to her ideas. Yes, she also described her feelings about his approach and named it the Creepy that it was. But, as I said earlier, this was separate and apart from her introduction to the incident, in which she directly linked his actions to her ideas. She was wrong to do so. Creepiness is not an inherently misogynistic profile, and neither does it betray a misunderstanding of misogyny and the harm it can cause. Again, I can’t say it any more clearly than that.

    However, I can provide a neutral analogy that will hopefully more clearly illustrate the logic. Suppose I gave a 10 minute talk about jazz music and why it’s still relevant to modern music, and society in general (this is, in fact, a talk I could conceivably give). After the talk, I walk into an elevator, and a woman from the audience walks in after me and starts creeping me out by trying to get me to go out with her (this is in fact, much less conceivable than me giving the talk). I get off the elevator frazzled, and the next day I upload a video to all my fans in the jazz community. During the video, I say “You were all fantastic; I loved talking to you guys…all of you except for the one woman who I think didn’t really grasp what I was saying in my talk, because she totally creeped me out on the elevator. Ladies, don’t do this to a guy. It’s just not cool, and there’s little to no chance we’ll respond well if you approach us in this way.” (That I would upload this video is, in fact, not at all conceivable.)

    Now suppose you are a jazz fan, and you are listening to this video. Your first response should be “what? O.K., I get that she was being creepy, and I agree, but why did he say that she didn’t grasp the ideas from his talk? Having a creepy pick-up style doesn’t make you a jazz-hater. I totally need to call this out on the internet.”

    Which is exactly what Dawkins did. Because having a creepy pick-up style also doesn’t make you someone who doesn’t understand misogyny and why it’s a problem, even though Watson clearly implied her elevator creep does have such a misunderstanding.

    If you don’t get it after all that, you’re blinding yourself.

    —————————-

    “As to Sam Haris… again, I’m not saying he’s not an atheist. I’m deciding, as many are, that I do not want him representing me, personally, in public. That does not mean you can’t be happy with him representing you, and that’s fine. It’s like I also don’t want Republicans representing me an public. That doesn’t mean I’m trying to purge them from politics… I just don’t agree with their politics. At all.”

    What does it mean, specifically, when you say “I don’t want him representing me, personally, in public?” What does it mean to be “represented” someone? By one definition, it doesn’t take any extra work on your part to convince me that he doesn’t represent you: you don’t like torture and profiling, so clearly on that issue, Harris doesn’t represent you.

    But I don’t think that’s the way you’re using “represent.” Your statement is stronger. What I think it means, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, is that you don’t want him representing you AS AN ATHEIST. (Sorry for all the caps; I don’t know how to do italics, so this will have to serve). It means, because of his ideas, you want him out of the atheist community, because you’re ashamed to be labeled the same way as someone who acts/thinks/writes like him. If it doesn’t mean this, then you’re back to the first usage of “represented”; if you’re O.K. with Harris remaining very publicly atheist (or at the very least have no preference one way or the other), then all you’re saying is “Oh, I just don’t want people to think we have the same views on everything,” which they will think the moment you simply tell them your views and how they’re different from his.

    If you are using “I don’t want him representing me” in the strong way, if it truly does mean that you would prefer him not to be one of the most public faces of atheism, then you are engaging in a purge. Clearly it is not the physical, ethnic cleansing purges dictators have enacted across the centuries, but it is still a purge of the intellectual, social variety. It is precisely this kind of purge Shermer referenced as being so harmful to social movements of the past, and it is precisely this kind of purge happening weakly across the atheist movement at the moment. The more newcomers to the atheist movement have to sift through the political spears being thrown in all directions, the less likely it is said newcomers will join, and the more likely it is people fed up with the whole thing will just leave and cease to be vocal and supportive.

    But if you’re not using “I don’t want him representing me” in the strong way, if it just means “he doesn’t represent me,” then you have nothing to write your next blog post about, assuming you feel the same way toward all the other atheists in which you’re “disappointed.” In the weaker case of being “anti-represented,” all you have are differences of views, and all atheists have those. It is precisely those differences that should be making the atheist movement stronger and more numerous, if only we didn’t have people like the author of that Salon article I linked.

    ————————-

    Regarding torture and racism, it sounds like you’re again putting your foot down on words and concepts rather than actual human suffering. Nothing is 100% bad all the time, except for human suffering. There is always a conceivable fringe case in which something which is bad 99.99% of the time is actually the best option. You briefly went in the right direction with torture: I agree that some methods of torture are worthless and therefore should obviously not be used. But if, in an ideal world, there was a method of torture that worked 100% of the time, and it happened to be the only option available to save lives in a time of crisis, it should be used.

    If you want to demonize racial profiling just because it technically is “racism”, it’s kind of like tea party members demonizing taxes because it technically is “stealing.” And since ALL stealing is bad, taxes must be bad. This is a cheap semantic trick, and completely removes the speaker from actually considering the real consequences of actions. Clearly some taxes are good, and even though it is technically “stealing,” we don’t use that word for it because colloquially, a “steal” is something done with malicious intent that most people agree is harmful to society. I don’t care how corrupt some people (cough, cough, tea partiers and libertarian crazies) think politicians are, NO taxes fall under that category. Neither does racial profiling deserve to be called “racism”, UNLESS the person in charge of said profiling is deliberately misusing his duties with malicious intent (and this exception can be used in the stealing vs. taxes case as well).

    If you’re willing to think about racial profiling in a utilitarian, consequentialist way, you should read the Harris blog posts you linked to, if you haven’t already. He does a better job than me in setting up realistic fringe (and maybe not-so-fringe) cases in which racial profiling would actually be a positive force. Same goes for his torture pieces. If you’re still against these things for good reasons like ineffective torture methods (which I’m pretty sure Harris addresses), then we have a good disagreement that we can attempt to settle by talking about actual human suffering and well-being.

    But, if all torture is still bad by definition, and if all racial profiling is still racism and if ALL racism is still bad by definition, don’t bother reading his articles, and we shouldn’t bother to continue talking about these two issues.

    • On Rebecca… did you see or read her original speech? Because Elevatorguy did exactly what she said makes some women uncomfortable… like… exactly. The whole point of her speech was that women in the atheist movement are neither token nor booth babes. Recognize that they have more to offer atheist movement than their bodies, sex skills, cooking and cleaning skills, and… well… other stereotypically “feminine” stuff.

      So she was exactly right in saying that this guy didn’t grok what she was saying, because he clearly didn’t. And if he actually did, that just makes him look worse. He basically sexualized Rebecca after she had given a speech on why atheist women shouldn’t just be sexualized (to be clear… being sexually attracted to someone and outright sexualizing them are two very different things, and I think that difference may be the biggest reason for this particular fight in the atheist movement; no one has ever said that sexual attraction is wrong, here… the difference is… when you’re talking to a woman at an atheist conference that you happen to be sexually attracted to, are you looking more at her eyes or her breasts? If the former, awesome! Then you’re fine! If the latter… well… that is the difference between sexual attraction and just plain sexualizing).

      So yeah. He didn’t get it. Or if he did, then I would argue that that’s worse… perhaps Watson was actually being too easy on him…
      ———————————————
      On “I do not want him representing me”…

      It is and always has been in the “soft” sense as you put it. For better or worse, people like Sam Harris are and have been the public face of atheism, and they have (all too their credit) forced atheism into the limelight and forced a public dialogue on it, and they are to be commended and thanked and all of it for that.

      I think you misunderstand what I’m planning on writing, here. In one atheist group I belong to, I talked about, for example, why I’m so disappointed in Richard Dawkins. I still admire things the man has done. “God Delusion” still played a roll in my deconversion. I still have that amazingly brilliant passage from “Unweaving the Rainbow” earmarked for my funeral (when my body gets shot off into the sun… I know… it is weird to have my funeral planned when I’m only 26 and I plan on living to at least 100, but still… :D ). I still think his answer to “what if you’re wrong” (“What if you’re wrong about the great juju at the bottom of the sea?”) is the most brilliant answer to that question there is. I still think he’s a really damn good speaker. Hell… I very recently got his autograph on both “God Delusion” and “Greatest Show” (although that experience contributes partly to why I no longer like him).

      And there’s also Christopher Hitchens. I still think he’s probably the best speaker/debater for atheism there was in the late 20th/early 21st centuries. I still adore his performance at the IQ2 debate on the Catholic Church with Stephen Fry (I literally watch that debate all the time, because it is beautiful). His Hitchslaps against religious people were and are uniquely beautiful.

      But I can still be mad at them; angry at them. I can still feel that they have positions and have said things that I simply cannot forgive and/or forget/ignore.

      I would personally rather be publically represented now by people like PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson and so on because I simply agree with them more on issues I consider to be of paramount importance to the atheist movement and the world at large. That doesn’t mean I want Harris and Dawkins and Shermer and so on to stop. I just don’t like them anymore. And there really is a big difference.
      ———————————————
      As to torture and racial profiling…

      Okay… if you want to move into theoretical territory, then yeah, I’m sure we can both find cases where both could work. We can also find theoretical situations where the death penalty can work.

      I just don’t think they can be morally justified in real situations. They are both way too easy to abuse, and the numbers in real life cases simply don’t add up.

      Have actual horrific people who were actually guilty of heinous crimes received justice by the death penalty? Yes. But how many more innocent people have been murdered under the death penalty? Even one innocent person… one mistake… is one too many. And how many criminals has it actually deterred? None.

      Same goes for torture and racial profiling. Can one think of cases where they can work? Sure! Can one find examples in the past where they did work? Yes. But have they been all too often abused and ultimately proved too immoral, inhuman, and even ineffective to be even slightly worth it? In my humble opinion, absolutely.
      ———————————————
      Also, comments here do html as opposed to BBCode. So for bold, underline, and italics, it’s this:
      <i> italics </i>
      <b> bold </b>
      <u> underline </u>

      And links should look like this:
      <a href=” “> link </a href> (you put the actual link inside the quotation marks)

      • John Palowitch says:

        Whelp. Things got busy, sorry for the delay. Thanks for the conversation. I can find at least one or two points of agreement in each of the three sections above. I’ll listen to Rebecca’s speech again, and if I still feel like something needs to be said I’ll do my own blog post about it. All the best, and looking forward to more reading from you.

      • I know how that feels, believe me. I’m now going through the process of moving (*grits teeth* grrrrr), so… yeah…

        If you do that blog post, link me to it. And thanks.

        Also, thanks for proving that there really are intelligent, rational, good-faith people on the “other side” or… whatever. What with all the trolls we keep getting, it’s nice to have rational, good-faith conversation even when we disagree. :)

  2. John Palowitch says:

    You assumed I was awake to see this last reply :). Also, I don’t know what you mean about re-approving…I’m not seeing any problems on my end. Finally, it seems I can no longer comment on my original comment, so unfortunately this is probably going on the top of the comment stack. For new readers, know that this comment is in response to Nathan’s comment on 6/23 at 2:57am (below).
    I have re-watched Watson’s video, recently. I agree completely with your interpretation of her (short) testimony about the incident. I also agree that the guy she met was probably a creep, acted creepily in this instance, and should definitely re-evaluate his strategies for civil interactions with people, especially women in whom he might be romantically interested.
    BUT that does not mean the incident she endured is an example of misogyny in the atheist movement. She claimed as much to the contrary in her video: she had just given (an awesome) 10 minute panel talk about misogyny in the atheist movement, and according to her, this guy “apparently didn’t get it” (paraphrased, but pretty close if I remember correctly). An atheist, conference-attending male requesting of an atheist, conference-attending female what is clearly a one-on-one date, indeed in an inappropriate manner, is not an example of misogyny in the atheist movement. It’s not an example of misogyny. It’s an example of immaturity, disrespect, and a lack of understanding about how people feel when they’re propositioned to in an elevator, but it’s not inherently misogynistic.
    To illustrate this point, let’s turn the tables. Suppose Watson didn’t experience her incident, but the next morning she spoke with a male friend who told her a story: “Hey Rebecca, remember that woman having drinks with us who said hardly anything? Well, she followed me into the elevator last night and said ‘I find you really interesting. Do you want to come to my room right now? We can talk and order some room service.’ I felt really uncomfortable because I was just trying to go to bed, and this woman seemed a bit strange.” I highly doubt Rebecca, in her next video, would have used this as an example of disrespect on par with misogyny, or as an incident exemplifying the concerns she laid out in her panel discussion.
    This is why Dawkins’ balks were warranted. Other members of the atheist community, skeptical as they are, love to hear good evidence for real problems in their own movement. I was president of the secular student organization at my university, and the female members’ stories of experiences elsewhere with atheism groups were never lost on me. The gender imbalance in our own organization was made me worried and uncomfortable. Watson’s stories from her panel talk, and stories of other female atheists who experience misogyny, make me angry.
    But crying wolf makes me angry too, because it de-legitimizes testimonies of real misogyny. Furthermore, it makes leading feminist voices and fighters of misogyny within the atheist movement look as if they are willing to say anything or demonize anyone (the more popular the better), to make their point. I’ve seen people make comments calling Dawkins a (paraphrasing) “cranky misogynist who shouldn’t be allowed to write or speak publicly,” just because of this incident (as far as I could tell…were there others?). And now Shermer is being treated similarly (though not as harshly or uniformly), as he tries to explain this exact phenomenon and why it’s a problem.
    So on to Shermer. Nazis yes, McCarthy yes, Stasis no. Why was it wrong for Shermer to bring up these topics? After delivering an equally polite (and short) response to Benson’s polite concern, Shermer used the incident to deliver an entirely lucid review, using his expertise in psychology and sociology, of tribalism within the secular community. He provided numerous real incidents of concern, and made relevant comparisons to McCarthyism (a few times) and a certain dynamic in Nazi politics (once). All of his responses and expositions were measured and free of both exaggeration and understatement: much unlike Benson’s re-response here http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2013/01/shermer-responds-again/. This, I think, directly contradicts your claim “She never made it personal.” It was Shermer who never took the incident personally, and in fact generalized the incident to other occurrences he witnessed.
    No, Benson did not call Shermer a misogynist, nor did he defend himself against such a claim in either of his responses. Benson did not misquote Shermer, nor did he say she did, in either of his responses. She DID, however, take Shermer out of context, and the rest of his dialogue, as Shermer lays out in full, reveals his comment to be harmless. She DID charge Shermer with saying women don’t like to think:

    “Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because ‘that’s a guy thing.’
    Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that during a panel discussion on the online talk-show The Point.”

    …and Shermer responded to this appropriately. By saying no. That’s not what I said, and it’s not what I think.
    And for doing all this, Shermer, in your mind, gets a black mark that makes him a net disappointment? In spite of all the fabulous work he’s done in the past (including the latter halves of his two responses to Benson)? (Here I’m referring to your comment “I looked forward to his take-downs of bullshit and enjoyed them very much… until his ridiculous response to Ophelia Benson.”) Benson called wolf, and Shermer called her out for it. Don’t jump on the blindly feminist bandwagon and call out Shermer for his call-out. He’s one of the most reasonable, pro-atheist, pro-female, pro-human public faces of secularism out there.
    And no, he’s not a Randian libertarian, nor does libertarianism imply Randian Objectivism. Objectivism is intellectually bankrupt as a philosophy; it can no more help you arrive at libertarianism as it can any of the other wild claims Rand makes about human interactions and morality. Shermer is as skeptical about his politics as he is about everything else, and has demonstrated as much in his books, as well as in a few talks during which he expounds briefly on studies of democracies and free markets. Disagree with his conclusions all you want, but don’t use them as a reason to relegate him to the “disappointing” heroes, and certainly don’t lump him in with the Randians.
    Finally, Sam Harris. I won’t defend him until he’s had a chance himself. Read the following blog entries, and then tell me if you still think he’s Islamaphobic, how you define Islamaphobia, and WHY you still think he’s Islamaphobic.

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/dear-fellow-liberal2

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/on-islamophobia-and-libels

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/islam-and-the-misuses-of-ecstasy

    Also, Sam Harris a “neoconservative?” From how I’ve heard that word used, that seems to me an egregious claim. Can you define neoconservative, and why you think Harris is one?
    Regarding the other members of the Salon piece, I either don’t know enough about them, or I generally agree with the author’s critique of their particular views. I was using the Salon piece not necessarily as an example of atheists who I think are being unfairly criticized, but as an example of tribalism within the secular community. The author could have chosen to discuss actual misogyny and racism in religious communities, or the more powerful, widespread anti-science sentiments found in certain other communities, but instead decided to name-call, point fingers, and further alienate members of the atheist community who, despite not being lockstep with the rest of the pure liberal atheists, have done and are doing tons of good for the atheist movement. For all his anti-science nutjobbery, I can’t tell you how happily shocked I am every time Maher takes a stab at religion, and the entire audience applauds noisily. Ten years ago this kind of public mockery (of something that definitely deserves mockery) would not have aired so prominently.
    Dawkins, Shermer, and Harris definitely do not deserve a place in your piece about disappointing heroes. They should not be blindly lambasted every time they cross swords with a knight or knightess of feminism/social justice. They are thinking critically about claims of those most vocal in arguably some of the best living social movements; in doing so they are exemplifying the best traits of rigorous skepticism, and hoping to strengthen social progress by focusing on the good and weeding out the bullshit.

    • See… you and I have the exact opposite view on who was being measured and who wasn’t. Again, Ophelia never attacked Shermer. His statement was used to point out certain stereotype and attack that stereotype. Shermer’s response made it personal.

      Also, Ophelia quoted exactly what Shermer said in the initial interview:

      “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it, you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”

      Ophelia broke that down as such:
      Women don’t do thinky: “who’s intellectually active about it”
      They don’t speak up: “who wants to stand up and talk about it”
      they don’t talk at conferences or get involved: “go to conferences and speak about it”

      you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”

      That women are passive humans who don’t like having opinions and such is a very pervasive stereotype about women. Shermer’s little statement pretty much defined that stereotype. So I think Ophelia was spot on in her critique of it.

      And yes, I do think Shermer’s stories abut McCarthy and witch hunts were unwarranted, unhelpful, and unbalanced. They did nothing but contribute to the wider stereotype of Feminazis, a trope started by Rush Limbaugh. And the only real difference between what Shermer wrote and what Limbaugh spews on a regular basis is that Shermer is about hundred times more intelligent and a thousand times better writer.

      Ophelia said this referring to Dawkins and them:

      Wait, what? Purging? Who has, what has? No it hasn’t. Many of us strongly disagree with Dawkins’s “Dear Muslima” but that isn’t purging him. Oddly enough, we don’t have the power to “purge” people. “This unfortunate trend” isn’t the KGB nor even the Stasi, and it can’t purge people.

      Some people are deciding for themselves who they want to represent them in public. These people don’t want it to be Dawkins. That’s not a purge.

      As to Rebecca…

      BUT that does not mean the incident she endured is an example of misogyny in the atheist movement. She claimed as much to the contrary in her video: she had just given (an awesome) 10 minute panel talk about misogyny in the atheist movement, and according to her, this guy “apparently didn’t get it” (paraphrased, but pretty close if I remember correctly).

      Right. He didn’t get what she was trying to say. I never got the impression that Rebecca was using him as an example of the atheist movement having a misogyny problem, and I’d be willing to bet that, if you asked her, she’d say as much. It was the response, including the continuous rape and death threats (some with private information including her personal phone # and home address) that she continues to receive to this day, that gives us the evidence we need. The whole reason she relayed the incident, as I understand it, was simply to say “yeah… that’s creepy… it’s probably a bad idea to do that”. It was not meant as a “I’m using this as definitive proof that atheists are misogynists!!!!!!!!eleventy!!!”, and I don’t even think it came across that way.

      As to Sam Harris…
      Neoconservatism is pretty much what governs the US today.
      As to what it is, I think Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke provide a decent overview in their 2004 book America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order:

      Today’s neo-conservatives unite around three common themes:

      1. A belief deriving from religious conviction that the human condition is defined as a choice between good and evil and that the true measure of political character is to be found in the willingness by the former (themselves) to confront the latter.
      2. An assertion that the fundamental determinant of the relationship between states rests on military power and the willingness to use it.
      3. A primary focus on the Middle East and global Islam as the principal theater for American overseas interests.

      In putting these themes into practice, neo-conservatives:

      1. Analyze international issues in black-and-white, absolute moral categories. They are fortified by a conviction that they alone hold the moral high ground and argue that disagreement is tantamount to defeatism.
      2. Focus on the “unipolar” power of the United States, seeing the use of military force as the first, not the last, option of foreign policy. They repudiate the “lessons of Vietnam,” which they interpret as undermining American will toward the use of force, and embrace the “lessons of Munich,” interpreted as establishing the virtues of preemptive military action.
      3. Disdain conventional diplomatic agencies such as the State Department and conventional country-specific, realist, and pragmatic, analysis. They are hostile toward nonmilitary multilateral institutions and instinctively antagonistic toward international treaties and agreements. “Global unilateralism” is their watchword. They are fortified by international criticism, believing that it confirms American virtue.

      Look to the Reagan administration as the exemplar of all these virtues and seek to establish their version of Reagan’s legacy as the Republican and national orthodoxy.

      Sam Harris has defended both torture and racial profiling, two things which I feel are unforgivable as both are things which deny human agency and autonomy. And I consider bodily autonomy to be the most fundamental right of all.

      • John Palowitch says:

        If Benson was measured, so was Shermer; if Shermer took it personally, so did Benson. I’ll admit there’s an equal serving of each tone in both their responses, and I’m prepared to say they both share about equal blame in the whole “implying that their counterpart called them something they actually didn’t” thing. There’s a specific example in Benson’s response (I’ll post the link again http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2013/01/shermer-responds-again/); never did Shermer call Benson a Nazi, or an inquisitor.

        Shermer wasn’t specifically addressing feminism concerns when he wrote about the inquisition-style banter going on in the atheist movement. If you think he’s reinforcing Feminazi stereotypes, you’re too sensitive to that particular stereotype. Shermer was writing about a pattern of prominent atheists getting publicly lambasted for relatively little, how this pattern has hurt movements in the past, and how it’s hurting the movement now. And he didn’t shy away from calling the social pattern what it is: “witch-hunt” and “inquisition” are the most accurate and descriptive terms for something like the Salon article I posted earlier. If you have a problem with this, you’re being too politically correct.

        The harm such a social pattern does to a movement is a slightly separate issue from whether or not each target of inquisition is actually as blameworthy as the inquisitors purport. I say “slightly” separate, because if outspoken feminists, for instance, had a very low error rate when trying to point out examples of public misogyny, or examples of public insensitivity to misogynistic stereotypes, their actions wouldn’t be seen nearly as senseless as, say, McCarthyism. Their actions wouldn’t even be fairly labeled “senseless.” Unfortunately for them, they missed the mark on Shermer and Dawkins, two of the world’s most prominent voices for secularism, which makes their method of inquiry highly suspect.

        However, even if the author of the Salon piece was spot-on with every atheist on the list (he wasn’t), and even if Benson and the community supporting Watson were spot-on in their criticisms of their targets (they weren’t), I would still argue that it’s extremely inefficient, with respect to the atheist movement, to exert so much energy criticizing atheists who are anti-vax, or who make sexist slips, or who hold such and such political ideology. There are simply better things to talk about, and as Shermer argued, such in-fighting is the death of minority social movements like atheism.
        That being said, it’s still important to me to defend Dawkins and Harris now, just as an example of how overblown their cases have become.

        With regard to Watson, I can’t say it any clearer than this. Watson said “he didn’t get what I was trying to say [in my panel talk],” which implies she thinks his actions flew in the face of her panel talk, which implies she thinks his actions were an example of misogyny in the atheist movement. There is no other logically valid interpretation of her comment. Your claim that “the whole reason she relayed the incident…was simply to say ‘yeah… that’s creepy… it’s probably a bad idea to do that,’” is foolish and wishful. You’re reading into it like Christians read into the Bible.

        It’s perfectly conceivable that the man in question got Watson’s point full-on, and then proceeded to make a totally creepy and uncomfortable proposition to her in an elevator. In claiming that, in fact, “he didn’t get it,” Watson is discounting this possibility, and saying that his disrespectful actions are one in the same with his misunderstanding of her ideas; i.e., that his actions amounted to exactly the misogyny problem to which she was referring. And Dawkins was 100% correct to point out her error, because his actions were NOT an example of misogyny.

        With regard to Harris, have you dropped the Islamophobia charge? And I appreciate the detailed definition of neoconservativism, but according to said definition, defending torture and racial profiling does not make one a neoconservative. Have you other evidence that Harris falls into the majority of characteristics laid out by the profile you posted?

        Finally, your claimed devotion to bodily autonomy as the baseline fundamental right of humans is as morally ludicrous as an Objectivist’s devotion to Rand’s three precepts. As a thought experiment, suppose in the future we lived in a society in which laws were set up so that bodily autonomy WAS the baseline fundamental right, and that these laws were enforced regularly and effectively. Now imagine that an obscenely powerful alien race finds Earth and commands us to sacrifice the bodily autonomy of one random person, per day, in some non-trivial, but ultimately non-lethal manner. If we don’t comply, they will torture every living human for 18 hours a day until the human’s death, and they will breed more humans to continue this torture for the rest of the existence of the human race. What is the moral action in this situation? If you don’t say “suspend the baseline fundamental right of bodily autonomy to comply with the aliens’ wishes,” we are probably incapable of discussing moral issues, and as far as I’m concerned you’re as morally (and philosophically, in this case) bankrupt as Objectivists. If you do say this, however, you’re forced to admit that the true baseline of morality is human well-being, and that bodily autonomy is a right that is convenient and moral to give to people only in most cases.

        I’m glad you linked to those Harris articles, because I agree with him that torture and racial profiling can absolutely be some of those fringe cases. We can easily reign in the imaginative thought experiment I laid out to a more realistic case where one citizen is known to be concealing the location of a bomb that is about to kill 1,000 people. To not do anything in our power to force him to disclose this information would be a moral travesty. If torture methods are known to force people to disclose secret information with good effectiveness, it would be a moral travesty not to torture such a person.

        That Harris has the intellectual and moral fortitude to discuss and publish about these issues should only be a testament of his value to the atheist movement. Instead, he is publicly slandered by other secular intellectuals too morally uncertain and politically correct to even think critically about his ideas.

      • Please forgive my all-too-short reply. I’ve begun the process of moving and the amount of time I have to kill has dried up considerably…

        You got me on bodily autonomy. That is a great point I hadn’t thought of and so, yes, I concede to you on that.

        As to Shermer and Benson… we may have to agree to disagree on this one. I’ve read all those articles in real time, and again recently, and I simply do not agree that Shermer was measured in his response. I do not agree that there is any witch hunt or purge in the atheist movement because I don’t think people deciding who they want and don’t want representing them in public is equivalent to a purge in any way, shape, or form. I think Shermer’s response was angry and petty. I think Benson remained calm throughout, and held her position firm. I don’t think she ever attacked Shermer except when he put her on the defensive.

        On Watson:

        “he didn’t get what I was trying to say [in my panel talk],” which implies she thinks his actions flew in the face of her panel talk, which implies she thinks his actions were an example of misogyny in the atheist movement.

        See, I feel like you’re reading more into it than I am. I’m taking Rebecca’s words at face value. She was talking about Elevatorguy alone. She didn’t mention or even implicate “every male atheist everywhere”. She just offered a bit of advice. I think the whole misogyny context was brought about by the ridiculous and pathetic response, not by Rebecca herself. The response, I think, shored up the point of her initial talk, while her statement in the video was referring to one person in a very specific incident and wasn’t meant to implicate the whole atheist movement and I’ll bet that Rebecca herself would tell you that.

        As to Sam Haris… again, I’m not saying he’s not an atheist. I’m deciding, as many are, that I do not want him representing me, personally, in public. That does not mean you can’t be happy with him representing you, and that’s fine. It’s like I also don’t want Republicans representing me an public. That doesn’t mean I’m trying to purge them from politics… I just don’t agree with their politics. At all.

        I simply do not support torture. All studies have proven that torture victims will tell you whatever you want just to stop being tortured. Sometimes it’s the truth, but more often it’s lies that they know you want to hear. That we got the info about Osama Bin Laden from torture is an anomaly, and not the rule. There are better, more humane ways to get information, like psychedelics (truth serums, essentially), and I’d much prefer that those are used. Torture is a tool of barbarians, and in the 21st century there should be no barbarians. Us using torture makes us no better than our enemies, and I’m not okay with that.

        I’m also not okay with racial profiling because it is racism and I’m not okay with racism.

        Both torture and racial profiling go against everything I believe in. I cannot, as an intellectually honest and consistent person, support them, nor can I support people who support them, like Sam Harris.

  3. David Fowler says:

    You say “Secular Humanism is open to theists”. I don’t get that. Doesn’t “secular” by definition shut out theists?

    • No it doesn’t. Theists can, and very well should, be secular, if they value their freedom of religion. Secularism is basically the freedom of, and from, religion. One truly does not have to be an atheist to be secular.

  4. John Palowitch says:

    Errata: there shouldn’t be an “anti-” attached to the front of that extraordinarily long hyphenated word in the fourth paragraph.

  5. John Palowitch says:

    Hi Nathan,

    I’ve discussed this topic with a number of atheist friends. Having grown up in white-suburbiahood, I know a fair number of theists who fall into more than one of the categories of people you describe as assholes not to be associated with in an activist movement. I also know them to be fairly reasonable people who apply the principles of skepticism to pretty much all parts of their lives that don’t touch their religion (which in the hotbed of moderate theism that was my hometown, is quite a bit), or that don’t touch whatever other various forms of bigotry they participate in.

    Many of the cultural, philosophical, and memetic nuances present among people like those in Atheism+ are not at all present in cultures like the one in which I was raised. Merely mentioning to a person from my hometown, or in my extended family, that so-and-so is an atheist immediately conjures images of “edgy” lifestyles, rife with societal “rebellion,” “shrill” activism, and possibly drugs and homosexuality (oh noes). Most of them would also immediately assume that so-and-so is far left, economically and socially.

    Clearly they are wrong about this generalization of atheists, and wrong to think so negatively of such a person who happens to fall into the stereotype. But it’s extremely hard to convince them otherwise when movements like Atheism+ are working hard to ensure that the only atheists who are accepted by the majority of other atheists are the ones who DO completely satisfy the politically-left personage.

    As you posed, why should we want to convince them otherwise? Nobody wants to be an activist, or an atheist, beside a xenophobic, misogynist white guy. While this might be true, acting on such an anti-preference is slightly backward, especially in light of one of your main points: that atheism leads more progressive positions on other things. I completely agree with this: for me, atheism was certainly the catalyst for a commitment to skeptical thinking in other areas. But if Atheism+ and other groups continue to be the anti-anything-not-completely-lockstep-with-the-left bashers that they are, conservative theists who would otherwise be open to thinking skeptically about the god question will always reject any such efforts out-of-hand, and this closes the door to what I believe is a common process: atheism —> skepticism.

    Shouldn’t we be promoting this process, especially among the conservative population?

    That is not my only concern with your ideas. The second is more personal, and I hope you don’t take any of this as a vindictive strike, because it’s not. As background, I used to be a Rand devotee until I realized that skepticism is a better more basic principle than Objectivism, and that most of Rand’s conclusions about economics and philosophy don’t stand up to skeptical inquiry. (Of the conclusions that do, her methods of forming them are complete b.s., and her books deserve no place among important philosophical works.)

    I am, however, still unconvinced of the need for most government intrusions into the economy or society, whether they are currently law or currently proposed. I think, for instance, that the Affordable Care Act, minimum wage laws, Medicaid, and Social Security do more harm than good. I don’t “worship” the ideal of a world without these institutions, but I am currently unconvinced we need them, though I am prepared to be shown otherwise. I don’t “worship” the free market, but I’m not convinced we can make the economy healthier by entrusting a small number of citizens to put a lot of our money where they think it belongs.

    According to your post, this immediately relegates me to the class of assholes not to be engaged with. Otherwise, I am an atheist, a feminist, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-marijuana (and many others) legalization, anti-anti-vax, anti-anti-gmo…etc. I’m also, as you may guess from this long-winded reply, incredibly vocal about what I believe/do not believe. Atheism+ could use me as a supporter, but as of right now, I am not: because of the very sentiments you expressed in your post.

    Take another example: a woman in my graduate department is economically a social democrat, and she is everything else I just listed above: except pro-choice. She takes a well-being-of-the-fetus/child-to-be philosophical approach to the question, and her current position is that the correct moral choice is often to give birth rather than abort. To give some more detail, she was president of her undergraduate atheist organization at an extremely prominent U.S. college. Is she to be shunned from the atheism+ movement?

    Michael Shermer is one of the nation’s leading scientists/authors promoting atheism and skepticism. He is also a free-market libertarian, and I would expect he is all of the pro/anti/isms that I ascribe to. Is he to be shunned from the Atheism+ movement?

    In conclusion, I think your ideas are harmful and backward for two reasons: making public atheism a solely liberal adventure discourages a good third of the nation (mostly conservatives) from even considering the philosophical points of atheism; and prescribing a list of acceptable beliefs for atheist activism divides and therefore weakens the atheist population, and the atheist movement.

    I welcome your response and/or clarifications.

    • John Palowitch says:

      Errata: my acquaintance in my department is pro-life, not pro-choice.

    • First, I just want to say thank you. This kind of dissenting comment I’m more than happy to let through, because it’s thoughtful and free of ad hominems. So I really do appreciate that.

      And now…

      But it’s extremely hard to convince them otherwise when movements like Atheism+ are working hard to ensure that the only atheists who are accepted by the majority of other atheists are the ones who DO completely satisfy the politically-left personage.

      This is actually something I should have clarified in my post, though I did attempt to with the following:

      Does atheism explicitly lead to progressive politics and social justice advocacy, including humanism? Judging by the amount of MRA Randians who are also atheists, I guess not. But it certainly did for me, and I’m proud of that, and I support it.

      Though I’ll grant that was a bad job since I’m not a good writer.

      In point of fact, certain things like “edgy lifestyles”, non-straight sexuality, and left-wing politics are not bad things. It doesn’t bother me that, in the minds of theists looking to denigrate us, that they associate these things with atheism, because in point of fact, their use of such things to “damn” atheists only says anything negative about them, and not us.

      I realize you know this, but not being straight, having not-socially-acceptable lifestyles, being left wing… there’s nothing particularly wrong with any of this. But theists think there is something wrong with this, so is it any wonder that who do have such lifestyles tend to also be atheists? I don’t consider any of those to be insults or in any way bad, so that they’re associated with atheism doesn’t actually bother me.

      A+ is a decidedly left-wing organization within atheism, yes.

      But this is where I feel you and other detractors of A+ have been going wrong: we aren’t trying to usurp atheism.

      I’m not at all trying to say that Penn Jillette and Michael Shermer aren’t atheists. Of course they are. And if anyone ever attacked their atheism, I’d be the first to come to their defense. The thing, is, I don’t believe that the fact that we don’t believe in a higher power or powers means I can ignore all of our other differences.

      I want to be part of A+ because I simply want to be part of a movement that’s like me. I want to be surrounded by, and represented by, left-wing progressives who are pro-choice, who are feminists, and who are intersectional. That doesn’t mean I don’t think that, for instance, Justin Vacula is an atheist. Of course Justin Vacula is an atheist. He’s just not an atheist I want to be associated with.

      I am, however, still unconvinced of the need for most government intrusions into the economy or society, whether they are currently law or currently proposed. I think, for instance, that the Affordable Care Act, minimum wage laws, Medicaid, and Social Security do more harm than good. I don’t “worship” the ideal of a world without these institutions, but I am currently unconvinced we need them, though I am prepared to be shown otherwise. I don’t “worship” the free market, but I’m not convinced we can make the economy healthier by entrusting a small number of citizens to put a lot of our money where they think it belongs.

      Then you need to take a look at most of the rest of the first world. These “small government” ideas are quite literally antithetical to almost every single first world country on the planet, yet they outrank us in everything except for defense spending, prison population, obesity, religiosity, and the size of the poorest classes.

      Nearly every other first world country on the planet has national health care, fully public schools, their own versions of social security, medicare, and medicaid, market regulations, and other such social safety nets, and they are doing better than us in almost everything. If the rest of the first world is not the perfect argument in favor of these programs, then nothing is.

      According to your post, this immediately relegates me to the class of assholes not to be engaged with.

      Not quite. You’d have to an MRA and Rand-worshipper in order to qualify as one of those assholes. So I don’t think you qualify. I do think you’re wrong, but no, you’re not one of those assholes…

      Otherwise, I am an atheist, a feminist, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-marijuana (and many others) legalization, anti-anti-vax, anti-anti-gmo…etc. I’m also, as you may guess from this long-winded reply, incredibly vocal about what I believe/do not believe. Atheism+ could use me as a supporter, but as of right now, I am not: because of the very sentiments you expressed in your post.

      I think then maybe you should get to know Atheism+.

      Not the forums. The forums were set up specifically as a safe space for people who suffer from things and thus can be triggered. This is why those forums are moderated the way they are and why the atmosphere is the way it is. It is a highly censored forum for that purpose. In other words, the A+ forums are basically a shelter. I think they need to stay that way, too. I think people who want spaces like that should get spaces like that, partly because I sometimes do, too. I’m a survivor of more-than-one suicide attempt, and I can get triggered easily sometimes (there are days when I need to stay as far away from sharp objects as humanly possible… though I haven’t had one of those days for over a year, which is incredible). So I like that the forums are the way they are. Does that make the forums an echo chamber? Yes, it does. But they have to be in order to maintain their purpose.

      You need to actually read the main page, the FAQs, the wiki, and so on. That should hopefully give you a better understanding of what A+ is all about.

      Michael Shermer is one of the nation’s leading scientists/authors promoting atheism and skepticism. He is also a free-market libertarian, and I would expect he is all of the pro/anti/isms that I ascribe to. Is he to be shunned from the Atheism+ movement?

      You know up at the beginning of this blog post, where I mention that song I wrote, about people who react to mild and polite criticism by screaming about Nazis and Stasis and McCarthy and witch hunts?

      I was talking about Michael Shermer. He’s the one who said, without any obvious humor, that atheist activism was “more of a guy thing” (a blatantly misogynistic stereotype, BTW), and when Ophelia Benson called him out on it, he wrote an article (or maybe two… can’t remember at the moment) ranting and raving about Nazis and Stasis and McCarthy and witch hunts (or at least one or two of those things). Ophelia didn’t even attack Shermer… she just attacked his statement, and did so rather mildly and politely, I thought. Shermer’s response was… immature.

      Honestly? I’m not saying Shermer should be shunned from atheism. I’m not even sure that’s possible. And he’s more than welcome to represent Libertarian atheists who like Ayn Rand and all that. And his magazine is actually a good magazine and I like it! But I do not think Shermer is a good fit for Atheism+ at all, and beyond our mutual lack of belief in a higher power or powers, I doubt he and I would agree on much of anything else. It’s nothing personal… I just don’t want to be represented by him because I think he and I have fundamental disagreements about how the world works. Which is totally fine and I can totally respect that he sees things differently from me! It’s just that those differences are very important to me, and are a bit of a deal-breaker. Not believing in God just isn’t enough.

      Or, another way to say it… I would absolutely love it if Michael Shermer could run for president without his atheism ever being brought up by anyone but blind fanatics. But I wouldn’t vote for him.

      In conclusion, I think your ideas are harmful and backward for two reasons: making public atheism a solely liberal adventure discourages a good third of the nation (mostly conservatives) from even considering the philosophical points of atheism; and prescribing a list of acceptable beliefs for atheist activism divides and therefore weakens the atheist population, and the atheist movement.

      But see, it’s not about public atheism as a whole. It’s just another movement within atheism. No one is saying that if you aren’t an A+, then you aren’t an atheist.

      I mean… okay… some people at the beginning did, but I was one of the first ones to criticize that viewpoint because “with us or against us” is not at all a position anyone should ever take, and one can be a left wing progressive, a social justice warrior, a feminist, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-marijuana (and many others) legalization, anti-anti-vax, anti-anti-gmo…etc (BTW… which “anti” specifically did you want to remove? If you can’t edit it yourself, I’d be more than happy to do so if you want) and not have to identify as an A+. I did feel like some people within A+ were adopting that language and I was one of the first to speak up against it, because it is a harmful position to take.

      I don’t see Atheism+ as trying to usurp atheism and kick everyone who isn’t A+ out of atheism itself. I see Atheism+ as just another organization, like American Atheists, and the Secular Student Alliance, and Center For Inquiry, and so on. We’re just another part of movement atheism, carving out a niche for atheists who also identify with feminism and left-wing politics and so on.

      The reason we at A+ have been so vehement and angry is because we can’t get a break. First, we speak up about what seems to be just a tiny number of creeps who don’t understand personal boundaries. We thought this wouldn’t be controversial, and it was. Eventually we were told to go away… so we did, and hence Atheism+ came about. Now we’re being yelled at for going away, which is what we were told to do in the first place! In other words, we feel like we’re constantly on the defensive. If people would just leave us alone to do our thing, than all this anger and fighting wouldn’t happen.

      That’s what all this has been about.

      • John Palowitch says:

        The Atheism+ FAQ was good to read. I should have read it before responding to your post, but unfortunately I thought I already had a good impression Atheism+ and its goals. It appears I was wrong. Most people I’ve talked to about Atheism+ are rigorously committed to aligning atheism with a specific set of social agendas, and some of them are quite vocal about criticizing any and all atheists who don’t fit. I don’t mind people criticizing others for their views, but certain people (and now I’m only thinking of a few specifics, but I’m sure there are many others) seem to be angered much more by atheists with contrary views simply because they too are atheists. Here’s an example: http://www.salon.com/2012/08/04/five_most_awful_atheists_salpart/. Anyway, these people put a lot of importance on a concerted effort to push certain political ideas hand-in-hand with atheism, and they cited Atheism+ as a community who does this.

        After reading the FAQ, I don’t believe anymore that this is the primary goal of Atheism+. Certainly, they are a group that cares about a good number of social issues, and who are willing to take political action, and they are also atheists, but I don’t see anything that necessarily decries atheists who don’t also care about every issue they do. In fact, I much like what seems to be the goal of Atheism+, which seems to be a way for the non-religious to talk publicly about hard social issues in a 100% secular environment. Nobody to say “have you tried prayer?” After reading more about Atheism+, I can see why it’s not particularly relevant to care about whether or not people like Michael Shermer are involved. I can also see why I could be involved, as well as other people who might not be lockstep with a certain political recipe.

        I’m not here to discuss economic policy, so I’ll let that bit go. However, your comments about Michael Shermer are highly relevant: I think you may be giving him too hard a time, possibly for the reasons I brought up in the first paragraph, or maybe because he’s libertarian, and I think this is important for precisely the reasons Shermer brought up in his first response. I’ll post it here so there’s no question about to which response I am referring. http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/12-12-12/#feature. Just in case you haven’t read both, here’s the second. http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=fi&page=shermer_33_2. In fact, for the record, I thought his responses were immaculate, and his extended sections about witch-hunts highly relevant (the salon article, for instance). Richard Dawkins is another victim; I’ll assume you followed the incident. Yes, he made the stupid comment about U.S. feminist problems not being problems because of Middle-East feminist problems. But I still challenge anyone to tell me his comments about Rebecca Watson’s concerns weren’t warranted. And here’s the thing: even if they weren’t, he still doesn’t deserve the slander that he’s getting from people in the atheist movement, notably those who identify from Atheism+. The same goes for Michael Shermer. You don’t get to be a rank misogynist because you made one remark that doesn’t blindly support the cause of feminism. These men are some of the world’s BEST contributors to atheism/skepticism/science literature. As far as I’m concerned, their comments spelled their doom not because of the comments themselves, but because their speakers were successful, white, privileged, and in one case, libertarian (to support this accusation, see Ophelia’s fourth-to-last paragraph here http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/12/michael-shermer-was-not-quoted-inaccurately/).

        Yes, there is a problem with misogyny in the atheist movement. I heard as much from a number of people directly affected. There’s also a problem with misogyny in general. I will agree, to an extent, that misogyny in the atheist movement is particularly acrid compared to in general. But that doesn’t mean you get to demonize every atheist who says something that could possibly be construed as anti-feminist.

        I have been looking for the opportunity to talk to an interested (and preferably opposing) party about the Dawkins and Shermer incidents, as I think both men were mostly in the right. Feel free to respond to this claim as much as you desire here, but I may respond in an email so as not to stray too far off topic in the comments.

      • John Palowitch says:

        Dang, I should really read this before posting them. I’m missing a word or two, and there may be a preposition that’s completely wrong. I’ll assume you’ll correct mentally as you go :).

      • John Palowitch says:

        *these (again with the reading)

      • First… I have no idea why I had to approve your comment again. It may be because of the length of your comments? Or maybe a glitch on my end? Not sure, though, so I’m sorry about that, and rest assured it is a glitch and not intentional.

        I’m glad you got that out of the A+ FAQ. That’s why I always try to refer people to it, because they’ll get the most honest explanation for what A+ is and is meant to be there. So that’s awesome.

        Onto Shermer and Dawkins. I’m actually happy to have that discussion here. I think it is actually relevant to my topic, and also relevant to a post I’ll be putting up in the near future about having heroes and how I’ve been hit hard by people I admire due to actions they’ve taken.

        I’ll start with Dawkins:

        I think perhaps you should go back again and watch Rebecca’s original video. There’s been a lot of distortion surrounding what was said in the original video. It’s been blown up as if she posted a whole 30-minute video ranting about dudes in elevators. In point of fact, she spent barely any time on it at all. I went back to watch the video recently, to see if maybe it was my memory that was incorrect, and I came away with the exact same impression I had when I first watched the video: damn I wish I had seen that evolution display! That was quite literally the main thing that stuck with me about the video. The part about elevators I just shrugged off because it never seemed to be that big of a deal, and even now, after rewatching it, I still don’t understand what the big deal is.

        Here’s why I don’t think it was a straightforward request for coffee (keep in mind this all based on Watson’s testimony, which is quite literally all we have):
        1) He sat at the bar with the group during the whole conversation and never said a word.
        2) She had said she was tired and wanted to go to bed. She didn’t leave any kind of room for accepting offers to do anything else other than go to her room and go to bed.
        3) He didn’t ask her if they could meet up at the bar the next day; he wanted to go specifically to his hotel room with her right then and there. At 4:00 am. After she said she was tired and going to bed.
        4) He approached her in an elevator when she was alone, when he could have asked her this at the bar.

        Pretty much everything he did screamed “creepy”. I am, of course, going from my own understandings and experiences. See, if I had been in his place, and absent my high social phobia, here’s how I would have handled this:
        1) i would have participated in the group conversation at the bar.
        2) Immediately after she said “I’m tired and want to go to bed”, I would have spoken up and said “you know, this is actually a pretty cool conversation. Maybe all of us who want could continue it with you, Rebecca, back down here tomorrow morning or afternoon over coffee and food?”
        3) I would have taken whatever answer she gave, and then… went to bed or stayed at the bar to have a conversation with anybody who decided to stay up.

        His actions, I think, betrayed his intentions. You don’t invite strange women to your hotel room at 4:00 am for “coffee” unless you’re expecting more than coffee. What he did was creepy. And I think Rebecca was right to point it out. And I don’t accept that it can be put down to his being “socially awkward” because I am socially awkward. In fact, I feel pretty confident in saying that I’m a bit of an expert on it because being socially awkward has defined my life, in the absolute worst of ways. I would never have even gotten on the elevator with her… would have been too intimidated. And what’s more, I don’t know anyone who’s socially awkward who would have done anything remotely like this.

        Assuming Rebecca’s account of the incident is accurate, he did not take the actions of someone who is socially awkward, but instead he took the actions of someone who had a very specific idea in his head of how such encounters were supposed to go according to him, perhaps maybe because they’ve worked for him before, or because he was told by others to do it, or something else. But when you suffer from Social awkwardness (and sometimes social phobia), you very simply don’t do what he did.

        This is why I think Dawkins was wrong. For one thing, I’d be willing to bet he’s never actually seen her initial video… ever. He probably has no idea it was even in a video that she talked about it in the first place. He probably heard about it through the grapevine due to the utterly surprising and bewildering shitstorm such a simple and common-sense request stirred up, and decided, in his infinite wisdom, to make that incredibly stupid and utterly off base comment and the even worse follow-up.

        Of course, there’s the whole blow-up with Stef McGraw (who, by the way, was at WiS2 and seemed to be on very friendly terms with a lot of people surrounding the initial incident, including Rebecca herself, so either a truce was called, apologies were made, or I am really that terrible at reading body language… which, to be honest, is probably true :D), but that bit isn’t relevant to Dawkins actions, I think, and the initial video that started it all.

        As to Shermer. I had read his responses before, but I did read them again just now. I’m still left with the same impression I always had; his posts were an extreme overreaction to a mild criticism of a single statement he made. One of the huge distortions out of this was that Ophelia had called Shermer a misogynist, when in fact she hadn’t. She had noted that his statement “it’s more of a guy thing” feeds in to misogynistic stereotypes about women; there’s a huge difference between that and outright calling Michael a misogynist. Even feminists, who don’t have a misogynistic bone in their body, can still slip up and say things that feed into a larger patriarchal culture. I can, and have. But when I’m called out on it, I apologize, learn from my mistake, and check myself to ensure that I don’t say it again. When Shermer got called out on it, he took it personally (it was never personal on Ophelia’s part) and went on about witch hunts.

        And the reason she later tweets about him being anti-Feminist is because of things he tweeted (that I saw in real time, BTW) that were, indeed, rather anti-Feminist.

        As to his Libertarianism… first off, I have issues with the use of that word as it relates to people who base their political philosophies on Ayn Rand. In one extremely important way, I am a Libertarian, in that I do very strongly believe that you have the right to do whatever you want as long as you do not violate another person’s right to do whatever they want. This is why I’m, for example, vocally and strongly against the War on Drugs and in favor of recreational legalization while also in favor of any and all laws making, for example, intoxicated driving illegal. I’m also, by the way, in favor of laws that force any companies that do sell marijuana cigarettes from putting in additives… that is, laws that force them to sell pure marijuana or not sell them at all (so as to stop them from doing what they did to tobacco for cigarettes). It is also why I do not support the idea of an unregulated free market.

        I don’t believe that Ayn Rand, and people who take her philosophies as their own, are Libertarians, because no Libertarian would be as enamored with an unregulated market as they are. So for a lot of reasons, I hate Randian Objectivism… with a passion. And by extension, it’s very hard for me to have a conversation with people who are Randian Objectivists. It’s mainly because of their views on the free market. The market that Ayn Rand idolized is the market that caused the Great Depression, the recession of the 80’s, and the current Great Recession we’re still not really out of, yet (and I was taught that, by the way, by Libertarians… actual Libertarians, in economics classes, accounting classes, and economics history classes, and nearly every leading economic expert in the country and the world [with some exceptions, of course] will tell you this).

        So I’ve always had a problem with Shermer’s politics in that regard. But I was also able to forgive them before this because he was and is a brilliant skeptic with a great magazine. I looked forward to his take-downs of bullshit and enjoyed them very much… until his ridiculous response to Ophelia Benson.

        She never made it personal. It was always, on her end, about the statement he made and how it fed in to misogynistic stereotypes about women. It was Shermer himself who made it personal, and that was his big mistake.

        As to your link to that Salon article… I agree with the author because what he points out is extremely problematic thinking on the part of those atheists.

        Sam Harris and Ayaan Hirsi Ali supported the Iraq War, a war which was a total and complete lie on the face of it, simply because of their Islamophobia. Now I’m not one to throw that term around willy-nilly. Indeed, I’ve come to side-eye the term in most cases because it’s clearly being used these days in ways it shouldn’t be. And I also realize what it means to accuse Hirsi Ali of such, considering her background. But she and Harris have a very bad habit (as many neoconservatives do) of confusing most Muslims for the fanatics. They are both in favor of denying US Muslims their Constitutional rights as US citizens. I’m not okay with that. And I am definitely not okay with vocal support of Bush II’s shitty, disgusting, worthless, economy-ruining lie of a “war”. The narrative around what happened on 9/11 is most certainly true, but Bush’s narrative to prop up a fake war with a man and a country who had not even a whisper of a connection to 9/11 was… well… Bush and his cronies should be in prison as war criminals for it.

        Indeed, it wasn’t Hitchen’s misogynistic article about how women can’t be funny that lost me (though that was bad enough); it was his support of Bush II’s war crimes.

        Bill Maher is not a skeptic. How someone can support anti-vax and HIV/AIDS-denialist causes and win a Dawkins award I will never understand. And sure, Sarah Palin is easy to attack, but his attacks on her were misogynistic at best. Why does the fact that she’s a woman ever have to be part of criticisms about her? Her policies and beliefs and ideas would be just as inane if she were a he. Her gender has nothing to do with it. But Bill certainly used her gender as part of it a lot.

        As to S.E. Cupp… I’m waiting patiently for her public conversion to evangelical Christianity. She’s pretty much already there… the last step she needs to take is actually quite small. Mark my words… it’s coming. And I will be able to take her much more seriously when she finally does admit that she’s an evangelical Christian… at least then I can actually say she’s honest.

      • I’m going to bed, BTW, so apologies if I don’t get back to you tonight.

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