I’m going to whiff my date with James Croft for the second week in a row and for similar reasons. I’m worn out and tired of being under attack for addressing a problem we’ve been talking about for years. What brain I have left isn’t really something I care to dedicate to more conflict, even the kind that’s supposed to be fun.

Luckily, Crommunist is on it. Not for my sake, but as a musician addressing the use of music.

James is absolutely correct to note the emotive power of song. It’s no accident that song is used as a part of religious ceremony – it bypasses the rational part of the brain. As your brain is primed to process emotional content, it becomes less willing/able to critique it rationally. The very thing that makes music useful in building community also makes it inherently dangerous when it comes to utilizing reason. If reason is one of the fundamental underpinnings of modern humanism, then creating an environment specifically designed to suppress reason is anti-humanist.

If James’ vision of an ‘emotive humanism’ does not prioritize reason over emotion, then the criticisms of the Harvard Humanist project are true: he is simply attempting to create a new religion. The reason why religion is dangerous has nothing to do with the specific beliefs – those vary widely both between and within religious affiliations. The danger of religion comes from its overt attempts to suppress or subvert reason. This is the anti-theist position laid pretty bare: religion is bad because it’s inherently dangerous, not because some people are bad.

Go read the whole thing. It deserves James’s detailed attention more than anything I could cobble together this week, and I’d like to see his answer.

Then, hopefully, by next week, I won’t be dealing with anyone who feels they need to tell the world how I’m destroying their movement.

The Series



"The Problem of Dogmatic Feminism"

I was an unannounced guest on yesterday’s Ask an Atheist. The topic was “The Problem of Dogmatic Feminism“. From the notes posted before the show:

I am a woman. I have attended and spoken at conferences. I have diligently and thoughtfully explored and studied issues of sexism, privilege, social constructs, diversity, and equity. I was steeped in a college culture that, despite being single-sex, eschews gender binaries and celebrates women as integral components in all levels of society. I am a product of a college whose founder intended her institution to serve as “a perennial blessing to the country and the world” for educating women, a college whose tradition “educates women of promise for lives of distinction.” I continue to explore and study these issues as an educator dedicated to equitable opportunity and the ideals of egalitarian responsibility, and atheism/Humanism is a natural home for many seeking to be free of religion’s tendency to reinforce negative gender stereotypes and rigid gender roles through dogma.

That said, I am struck by the dogma that characterizes the discourse surrounding the issue of sexual harassment at atheist conferences. When prominent religious voices espouse dogma, we spot it and denigrate the thinking behind it with ease. I can’t help but listen in disbelief (ha!) as my female peers—gulp—dogmatically insist that any gathering worth its spit adopt and publicize a strict policy, indignantly assign sexual predation to entire categories of people (men), unflinchingly insist that speakers who make romantic advances are inherently abusive, and reactively denigrate and dismiss those who question the tone or content of these cries. Is our womanhood and feminism so holy that we cannot and will not open ourselves to criticism, discussion, and questions? Because the tone I’ve seen is unforgiving:

I sent the show an email. Continue reading “"The Problem of Dogmatic Feminism"”

"The Problem of Dogmatic Feminism"

Doing Away With "Drama"

Are you one of the skeptics talking about how tired you are of the “drama” between Rebecca and D.J.? I hate to break it to you, but what you are doing and saying is part of what is dragging these discussions out so long.

Something women and especialy teenage girls thrive on. consisting of any number of situations that have an easy solution, wich would bring a fairly good outcome, but these girls choose another, shitty, bad way to deal with it, again consisting of backstabbing, blackmailing/gossiping/betraying their friends, or the all-too-common “I want to break up with him but i still love him!”
it drives men and what i like to call “normal” girls nuts.

The above definition is the top-rated for “drama” currently at Urban Dictionary. It isn’t a definition you’ll find in the major dictionaries, but it’s a very common use. The next several definitions are similarly gendered. The fact that I’ve seen it in use in skeptical fora and subreddits isn’t surprising. They have already earned reputations as places where misogyny is tolerated.

It is disturbing to see similar characterizations used among the broader community, however, even if many of them don’t intend to evoke the gendered nature of the word. The implication that what is happening right now with D.J. Grothe is some sort of personal tiff between him and Rebecca Watson is…well, it’s discouraging. It is, once again, a reduction of broad societal problems and philosophical disagreements on the shape of our movements to a he-said/she-said that can be endlessly argued over in minute detail without ever addressing, much less resolving the actual issues involved.

The word we should be using if we want to accurately describe what’s going on is “conflict”. Yes, I know conflict isn’t any more appealing for a lot of people. It’s uncomfortable and messy. It involves sorting through words and claims, not just their emotional valences, to identify the issues rather than the personalities involved. Still, if there’s any hope of settling these issues–if not broadly then on a community-by-community basis within the movement–those issues have to be both identified and discussed.

So what are the issues? Let’s take a look. Continue reading “Doing Away With "Drama"”

Doing Away With "Drama"

Saturday Storytime: The Ruby Incomparable

Kage Baker was one of the best-loved writers in science fiction in the decade before her death in 2010, both as a writer and as a person. In April, a collection of 20 of her best short stories was released, the following story included. This story is included in that collection, as is another story set in the same world. Baker set two novels, The Anvil of the World and its prequel, The House of the Stag, in this world as well.

He looked down at her, astounded; but she stood there looking patiently back at him, clutching her red rose. He knelt beside her. “Do you know what Power is?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Power is when you stand up here and make all the clouds come to you across the sky, and shoot lightning and make thunder crash. That’s what I want.”

“I can make magic for you,” he said, and with a wave of his gauntleted hand produced three tiny fire elementals dressed in scarlet, blue and yellow, who danced enchantingly for Svnae before vanishing in a puff of smoke.

“Thank you, Daddy,” she said, “but no. I want me to be able to do it.”

Slowly he nodded his head. “Power you were born with; you’re my child. But you must learn to use it, and that doesn’t come easily, or quickly. Are you sure this is what you really want?”

“Yes,” she said without hesitation.

“Not eldritch toys to play with? Not beautiful clothes? Not sweets?”

“If I learn Power, I can have all those things anyway,” Svnae observed.

The Master was pleased with her answer. “Then you will learn to use your Power,” he said. “What would you like to do first?”

“I want to learn to fly,” she said. “Not like my brother Eyrdway. He just turns into birds. I want to stay me and fly.”

“Watch my hands,” her father said. In his right hand he held out a stone; in his left, a paper dart. He put them both over the parapet and let go. The stone dropped; the paper dart drifted lazily down.

“Now, tell me,” he said. “Why did the stone drop and the paper fly?”

“Because the stone is heavy and the paper isn’t,” she said.

“Nearly so; and not so. Look.” And he pulled from the air an egg. He held it out in his palm, and the egg cracked. A tiny thing crawled from it, and lay shivering there a moment; white down covered it like dandelion fluff, and it drew itself upright and shook tiny stubby wings. The down transformed to shining feathers, and the young bird beat its wide wings and flew off rejoicing.

“Now, tell me,” said the Master, “Was that magic?”

“No,” said Svnae. “That’s just what happens with birds.”

“Nearly so; and not so. Look.” And he took out another stone. He held it up and uttered a Word of Power; the stone sprouted bright wings, and improbably flew away into the morning.

“How did you make it do that?” Svnae cried. Her father smiled at her.

“With Power; but Power is not enough. I was able to transform the stone because I understand that the bird and the stone, and even the paper dart, are all the same thing.”

“But they’re not,” said Svnae.

“Aren’t they?” said her father. “When you understand that the stone and the bird are one, the next step is convincing the stone that the bird and the stone are one. And then the stone can fly.”

Svnae bit her lip. “This is hard, isn’t it?” she said.

“Very,” said the Master of the Mountain. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a doll instead?”

“Yes,” said Svnae stubbornly. “I will understand.”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The Ruby Incomparable

Those Oversensitive, Lying Women

Ever since I suggested that event organizers adopt anti-harassment policies for their events, I’ve been seeing two sorts of deeply concerned comments on the idea. (Well, three really, but the complaint that I suggested a policy put together by feminists just makes me laugh.) The first is captured in this comment:

One can try to set some more solid standards but you immediately hit the issue that some people will consider it simply normal behaviour and some people will consider it out of place and harassment. This is why it’s generally better to place the standard on the “reasonable person” standard, which says that it is if a reasonable person under those circumstances ought to know that it will be unacceptable. “Wanna fuck?” might hit that in most cases, while “Go for coffee” might not.

The problem is that by that standard you will indeed, and MUST, have incidents be examined on the basis of whether or not it was obvious to a reasonable person. This can feel like victim-blaming, but not everything that a “victim” thinks is a problem reasonably is. If someone, for example, cried harassment because someone coming up behind them said “Excuse me” to get them to move aside, surely we’d all agree that that wouldn’t be reasonable. And groping and sexual insults are obvious to the reasonable person. It’s the things in-between where we’re seeing most of the problems, it seems to me.

You see, we have this huge problem that might make us hem and haw and hesitate in putting policies in place because what if–what if?!–two people had a different definition of harassment on that all so perfectly reasonable border cases! Whatever would we do?!!?

Oh, I don’t know, look at the proposed policy maybe? What kind of horrible events would result in this case? Continue reading “Those Oversensitive, Lying Women”

Those Oversensitive, Lying Women

Atheists Talk: Robert M. Price on "The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems"

Even among those who don’t believe that Jesus was divine, disagreement remains over whether he existed at all. On one side, there are the historicists, who believe that Jesus was a fully human preacher who founded a small cult. On the other side, there are the mythicists, who believe that the cult was formed later and Jesus was hallucinated and/or invented to support the cult.

The academic fight between the historicists and the mythicists is heating up at the moment. A number of leading scholars have released or are about to release books making their cases to the public. In his recent book The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems, Robert Price makes a case for the mythicists.

The Christ-Myth theory … “Worse Than Atheism”? New Testament scholar Robert M. Price, one of America’s leading authorities on the Bible, has assembled in his book evidence that shows that almost the entire “biography of Jesus” is a conscious reworking of earlier literature.It is one thing to say “There are no gods” or “Jesus was not a god, just a man.” It is quite another thing to say “Jesus of Nazareth never existed at all” or that “Christ is a myth.” But scholars have been saying exactly that since at least 1793 when the Enlightenment scholar Charles Dupuis began to publish his 13-volume Origine de Tous les Cultes, ou Religion Universelle, which elucidated the astral origins not only of Christianity but of other ancient religions as well.

New Testament scholar Robert M. Price, one of America’s leading authorities on the Bible, here summarizes much of the scholarship that has led him and a growing number of modern scholars to conclude that Christ — a partial synonym for Jesus of Nazareth — is mythical. Most usefully, Price has assembled evidence that shows that almost the entire “biography of Jesus” has been created from Greek Old Testament stories and themes and even incorporates motifs from Homer, Euripides, and perhaps Aesop. Because readers will have a hard time “taking it on faith” that the Jesus biography is merely a reworking of previous material, broad swaths of “Old Testament” context are quoted in association with each New Testament equivalent, so readers can judge for themselves whether or not Dr. Price’s claim be true: the “Live of Christ” was not fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies; it was, rather, a conscious reworking of earlier literature.

On Sunday, the ever-entertaining Dr. Price will join us to discuss his book. We hope you’ll tune in.

Related Links

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Atheists Talk: Robert M. Price on "The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems"

How Long Do We Put Up With This?

Susan Jacoby opened the talks at the Women in Secularism with a talk titled “The Dearth of Women in the Secular Movement”. Some of the talk was a clear, uncompromising, and remarkably funny look at what faces women who do participate in the movement face from their fellow secularists. Some of it was a good look at what secular women have done outside the movement.

There were a couple of rough moments in the talk, as it is still fairly new. Still, I enjoyed the whole thing. Also, I find it appalling that more major conferences don’t have Jacoby in as a speaker. She’s highly entertaining.

Also, this talk provided the background for one of the more controversial tweets of the conference. Continue reading “How Long Do We Put Up With This?”

How Long Do We Put Up With This?

Black and White

I was going to write something nice and reasonable answering a set of those stupid questions that keep coming up about those scary, scary anti-harassment policies, but then I ran into the very last “both sides” skeptic that I could handle right now. So I wrote this instead.

This is not about “divisiveness”. If the movement has to be torn in two to cut out the people who think women have no right to not be harassed, where is the value in sticking together?

And where the hell were you when D.J. was being “divisive” by suggesting the people working to get harassment policies in place were driving women away from TAM? Where was your skepticism when he pinned the decrease in the percentage of female attendees on week-old blog posts?

If you’re already angry at some people, fine, but try to figure out some priorities here.

Then I got this. Continue reading “Black and White”

Black and White

The Art of Misogyny

It turns out that MRA’s don’t confine themselves to writing screeds against child support, whining that domestic abuse shelters built by women for women don’t house men instead of building new shelters, and falling for ridiculous spermjacking stories on Reddit. They also steal icons make art to convey their totally positive, man-centric messages. They store some of that art here.

What sorts of messages will you find there to build up men without tearing down women? Things like this. Continue reading “The Art of Misogyny”

The Art of Misogyny

What Did D.J. Apologize For?

Today I would normally post my next installment in the dialog James Croft and I are having. James has very graciously allowed me to beg off for this week.

When D.J. Grothe posted his apology yesterday, I posted a prompt response. I was then taken to task for responding only to the negative in D.J.’s statement. I feel perfectly entitled to have a personal, emotional response, having been blamed and mischaracterized. However, I do agree that there is value in a more detailed response.

Presented below the fold, because the original, before I add any comment, is over 1,500 words long. Continue reading “What Did D.J. Apologize For?”

What Did D.J. Apologize For?