Or, you know, read all the deep and insightful posts here at The Orbit, but, come on, it’s a new site that features the images predominantly on the main page. How could I miss that opportunity? Being point person on the press release means that the pretty pictures I already had are just the ticket for a first post!
Lyz Liddell reached out to me to talk about the Reason Rally, including the concerns I had about diversity and the response I got regarding the current line-up. We agreed to do a written interview. Here on, everything italics is me, otherwise, it’s her.
Ashley’s blog post went up on January 15, while I was living out of a suitcase doing site visits for the Reason Rally. But I knew that she had a pretty good point, and so I reached out to her. I really appreciate Ashley’s response to that outreach, and her offer to do this written interview. She and I both want the Reason Rally to be successful and we both support the secular community. So we decided to get out here and chat about it a bit.
I sent a web form message to Reason Rally expressing concern about the people who were speaking and their ability to appeal to a broad base of non-believers. I thought, especially with both Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins in the line up, that they might need a nudge to understand that they were turning off a lot of potential attendees. They should consider finding more women and people of color to speak. I submitted it via web form quite a while ago, so I don’t remember the wording exactly, but that was the gist — be more inclusive, add diversity, get a bigger audience.
This is the email I got back.
Thank you for your interest in Reason Really. We appreciate your concerns regarding minority speakers. Please visit the website to view the 7 confirmed speakers thus far.
You mention James Randi, who is homosexual. Of the remaining 6 confirmed speakers, 3 are women, and Lawrence Krauss was raised Jewish. At this moment, the 7 speakers are 71% minority and 42% female.
Of course, we are always striving to improve and hope to bring a diverse and interesting variety of personalities together in an effort to appeal to a very wide audience.
Atheists, we need to talk. We need to talk about our tendency to think we are better than other people and better than religious people in particular. We need to talk about how we think that religion is the reason that bad things happen in the world. We need to talk about our culture of turning a blind eye towards the despicable behavior we see among ourselves. All of those things we do are exactly the problem with the religious institutions we hate: tribalism at the cost of morality.
Reason without decency is useless. If it’s unreasonable for the pope to hide rapists, why do we accept it from our organizations? If it’s unreasonable for the Catholic Church to trivialize child molestation, why do we accept it from our supposed leaders? If we don’t like Christian politicians peddling untrue stereotypes of Muslims, why are we ok with it when it comes from bestselling atheist authors? Atheists heal thyself.
There is anger and fear from atheists today upon the revelation that the most recent of the mass shooters in America was a non-believer who targeted Christians. They will blame us, they will think this is all atheists, they will think we are all the same as him.
Yes. They will. Just like we do to Muslims and Christians. “Oh look,” we smirk, “another religious person killing a dozen people. Just goes to show religion poisons everything.”
Hitchens was wrong. Human institutions and tribalism poison everything, regardless of creed, and atheism is no different. Radical atheists who want to kill people are not different from radical Christians and Muslims doing the same thing.
This is not the first atheist shooter, there have been many throughout history. Earlier this year, Craig Hicks took the lives of three brilliant humanitarian Muslims over a parking dispute. Atheists tried to distance themselves and label him as “anti-theist” and others thought he was secretly really a Christian. Still others labeled him as a redneck from NRA-land, because hatred of the ignorant South is acceptable among educated atheists. I am sure atheists will be eager to point out that the current shooter was a Republican and No True Atheist.
I don’t know enough about the current shooter to say. But Craig Hicks was a typical atheist until he pulled the trigger. He was friends with a lot of atheists on Facebook, we had many mutual friends. If you went through his Facebook feed, he did not come off as an Islamophobe or a racist or someone likely to go on a shooting spree. The guy acted like literally hundreds of atheists I know on Facebook. The majority of his posts were reposting things from George Takei. He was friends with feminist activists. He hated right-wingers and country music, but loved Obamacare.
He was one of us. So was the shooter yesterday.
I want us not to flinch away from that fact, because it’s not useful to us to ignore it. Stop with your buts and your wells and whatever you want to add, just sit with it and live with it for a minute. Let it make you uncomfortable.
Atheism can motivate terrible crimes, just like religion can. This is a thing we have to get used to. Atheists are so used to being exceptional, to being smarter and less criminal than other Americans, that the fact that someone was an atheist and did a bad thing seems to be exceedingly difficult for us to understand. Atheist exceptionalism cannot survive the exponential growth of atheism — all atheists are not better than all religious people.
Furthermore, the atheist community is culpable of spreading bad ideas. We share memes and the belief that religious people are bad and that all religions and expressions of those religions are bad. That people who are religious aren’t worthwhile and are certainly too stupid to be respected. We dehumanize people who disagree with us instead of arguing about ideas. This is because we are human, but we have to guard against. Atheism itself doesn’t create these ideas, but atheist culture does — just like religions don’t encourage the bombing of abortion clinics, but some religious culture does.
My article, “The Non-Religious Patriarchy,” delved into why removing religion did not remove sexism from the atheist movement, but we have to remember that removing religion is not going to remove any basic human behavior or system of power. Humans are tribal, humans are sometimes sociopaths, humans are power-hungry, humans get angry. The atheist demographic being dominated by young white men means that it’s not surprising that there are mass shooters who are atheists, shooters are predominately young white men (the Oregon shooter was mixed race).
Atheism is a rejection of a belief, but it is not a philosophy or creed. The atheist community online builds up creeds and philosophies in light of that absence. It is reactionary. Many of us have come from environments that were hostile to our non-belief and so we respond with hostility to the kind of beliefs and people who were responsible for our unhappiness. We, like nerds have always done, take refuge in our intellectual superiority to salve wounds of rejection and, in doing so, think other people are less worthy than we are.
We have to let it go. We have to stop thinking we are better than other people just because we know something they don’t — that’s exactly why religious people act the way they do. We aren’t better than anybody and we never were.
After months of doctors and no answers, the appointment in which I got diagnosed with Narcolepsy was a bit of a non-event. All the build-up, but the payoff was a foregone conclusion. I had so much time to read about it that I wasn’t surprised by the diagnosis.
I was surprised by my sleep test results. As you may recall, the test involves sleeping 8 hours overnight and then being left in a dark room every 2 hours to see if you nap and how long it takes to fall asleep. A normal person might not fall asleep at all if they got enough sleep the night before. I fell asleep in every nap – it took me an average of 4.5 minutes to fall asleep in each – 8 minutes or less is the general consensus on what is pathological sleepiness and I was half that. Continue reading “Adventures in Narcolepsy, Part 6: The Sleep Doctor”
A letter from the night before diagnosis. I didn’t originally write this for publication, but just to work through my feelings. After re-reading it with a little distance, I decided it offered some insight into what it is like to have chronic conditions and what it is like to be facing a diagnosis of something incurable. It’s important to note that this was simply me at my nadir, I have, for the most part, been a lot more positive both before and since, and being diagnosed came primarily as a relief. Content note: It’s a real downer.
What followed for me was an obsession. An obsession with law, an obsession with the Prop 8 case, and an obsession with the intricacies of the Supreme Court. That obsession led to my writing being published somewhere outside my blog for the first time, it led to me spending the night outside the Supreme Court to hear the Prop 8 arguments, and it led me to today — sitting home alone, watching SCOTUSblog live-blogging the legalization of marriage nationwide and sobbing so hard my Fitbit thinks I’m jogging.
I knew gay marriage across the US was coming, but I am still an emotional wreck, experiencing a full rainbow flag of conflicting emotions.
I am, of course, ecstatic and relieved. It’s as though a huge weight has been lifted, but it’s also like that weight was holding the blood in from a lot of old wounds. That night in 2008, that day almost exactly 2 years ago when California got marriage but the justices would not deliver it to the rest of the country, the passing of dozens of state constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and women, my mother’s best friend who died of AIDS twenty years ago, the struggle of so many of my friends in coming out or being dragged out in a hostile culture, and on, and on.
And I am exhausted because this was a drop in the bucket of injustices in the world and it took so much energy from so many people to manage this change.
There are other battles, other fronts, other wars waging. Marriage was a fight for inclusion in a conservative institution — for LGBT (although, let’s be real, it’s mostly G here) people to become more accepted by mainstream society and have access to institutions of that society. Radicals are right to worry that we are buying into broken institutions with deep flaws, not just marriage, but the entire idea of a mainstream, conservative respectability. I disagree with radicals that the way to do this is entirely from outside, we need outsiders AND insiders, but the worry is that if queers get acceptance they will no longer be interested in changing the problematic social institutions in the world — prison, gun violence, homelessness, climate change, the war on drugs, the war on terror, racism, sexism, and a host of other problems that exist in the world. The worry is that the fight for marriage will have fully drained them of resources, and we’ve seen organizations lose funding while the focus was on marriage.
It’s like the flag at the SC State House, flying today during the funeral of Senator Reverend Clementa Pinckney. Yes, it must come down. Yes, it’s horrifying that that is even under discussion. Yes, it is a symbol of racism and hatred. But removing the flag won’t fix the problem, it’s not enough. That flag didn’t go to Dylann Roof’s house and point him the way to the Conservative Council of Citizens or Stormfront. Taking down the flag is necessary but it is also a band-aid over a gaping wound we can’t heal with hiding flags, and we’re focusing on it because it’s the only thing politicians can get done to address the social issues brought up by this act of racial terrorism.
It takes obvious, in-your-face, undeniable injustice to get action, and too often the action is the easy action. We aren’t dealing with racial inequality or access to guns or the reality that white men are our homegrown terrorists, we’re taking flags down. Gay marriage was the easy thing to fix, which is hard to believe considering how much time and money and energy and heartbreak went into the thing, but that’s true of that flag too. And gay marriage matters, it matters so much, if for no other reason than it offers same-sex couples a place from which to fight for other issues, but Loving v Virginia didn’t end racism or even create full mainstream acceptance of interracial marriage.
And so today I cry. I weep with joy and relief for a victory that was hard-fought and well-deserved. I weep for the people who didn’t make it to today, for the millions who died in the AIDS crisis, and for those who simply were born too soon to see this justice. And I weep because there’s still so much to do, more than can ever be done in my lifetime, more than can ever be done by my exhausted hands. I weep for the future person who will be crying like I am because you and I didn’t make it to see justice done.
But I also celebrate because today is a good day, a day in which massive good was done in this world, and that’s not nothing.
ETA: For similar commentary with a little bit of a different perspective and details, see Greta Christina’s post.
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If you’re at all interested in how Dylann Roof decided to murder 9 black churchgoers, the internet has discovered his manifesto.
One of the most interesting things about it, though not at all surprising, is that internet hate sites were key to Roof’s development of racial animosity. He claims he was raised in a non-racist household and in a mostly non-racist environment.
The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up. I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens. There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders. I was in disbelief. At this moment I realized that something was very wrong. How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?
The Council of Conservative Citizens was formerly the White Citizens Council. They are dedicated to the separation and segregation of the races. The first post on their website today is them mourning the loss of the 9 lives in Charleston. An early post says this (they obviously haven’t seen the manifesto yet):