The first “them” in this case is the set of the American Atheists No God Blog, PZ Myers, JT Eberhard, and Al Stefanelli. Their crime? Not mincing words in calling Islam particularly violent, cowardly, and misogynistic. The problem?
None of these are reasonable critiques of any specific Islamic beliefs. They are broad generalizations and they do nothing to further the discourse on ethics — atheistic or Islamic.
What Stedman cites as objectionable are (except for Stefanelli’s, which is in the middle of a post that cites relevant passages from the Koran, making it rather bizarre that Stedman would level that particular criticism at it) offhand remarks in blog posts about things like threatening the lives of cartoonists who have depicted Mohammed or condoning forced child marriage and rape. The actions being condemned are, in fact, spurred by specific beliefs with their basis in the Koran, even if the bloggers don’t stop to cite chapter and verse.
I’m not sure what Stedman thinks would be a “reasonable critique” of these situations that would “further the discourse on ethics.” Perhaps a nice roundtable discussion of the various accepted interpretations of the passages in question? We could have a fundamentalist representative or two, a few more liberal members who think this sort of behavior should be reserved for Allah only (who could argue amongst themselves whether it was also acceptable for the prophet or whether his flaws merely proved his humanity), and someone who insists it’s all poetry, highly suitable for meditation.
This is, of course, the problem with much of the accommodationist set. They purse up their lips and flutter their fingertips in the general direction of all that strife, but they never tell you what the alternatives are.
What people like Stedman like to tell you is that they are practicing outreach, furthering dialog, enhancing trust. That’s all well and good, if that’s your thing (I actually do a certain amount of it as well, though no one pays me for it). As far as it goes. The problem is that it doesn’t go anywhere near problems more pressing than hurt feelings and bruised religious privilege.
Stedman has read the blog posts he cites, right? He knows that people are dying, that others are in hiding or pretending to be someone they’re not so they don’t die, that children are being mutilated and raped, that they’re being groomed for martyrdom instead of educated and employed–and that the authority conferred by Islam plays a huge part in making these intractable problems? He knows that most if not all of those things, plus a few special others, happen in places where Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism plays the role of the heavy instead?
He has to know this, if he allows himself to. So what is he offering in confrontation’s stead to deal with these problems?
If you look at the face he’s showing the religious, he’s offering nothing. There was the Common Ground Campaign, which has a dead Facebook page and website, just a few months after it started planning to set up a conference to brainstorm solutions to the problems of religious hatred.
We have problems. He doesn’t want confrontation. The alternative is passivity. The alternative is allowing the problems to go on without any kind of fight.
Of course, when you look at what he offers the atheist community in response to all these problems, he longer has nothing. For us, he has…criticisms that aren’t based in what we’re saying. In addition to the examples above, Stedman apparently needed to misrepresent Greta Christina’s post from yesterday on the diversity of goals within the atheist movement.
Furthermore, I disagree with Christina’s claim that “confrontationalism” is “the best strategy for achieving our other goals.” Focusing one’s activism on criticizing a caricature of religion does nothing to improve atheism’s image; in fact, it actively hampers attempts to improve the conditions of life for nonreligious people.
First off, that’s not at all what Greta said. But you could tell that from the fact that he had to put two quotes together to make his point, right? Here’s what she said about the “best strategy.”
But convincing the world that atheists are nice is not our main goal. Not for everyone. For many of us, getting legal rights for atheists and making sure they’re enforced — such as the right to organize high school groups, or the right to keep custody of our kids, or the right to not have religious ideas taught to our kids in public schools, or the right to be soldiers in the U.S. military and not have religion shoved down our throats — is our top priority… regardless of whether people think we’re nice along the way. And for many of us, persuading more people out of religion and into atheism is our top priority. We think that’s the best strategy for achieving our other goals. And we think it’s a hugely worthwhile goal just for its own sake.
Persuasion and confrontation are very different things, despite Stedman’s attempt to pretend his own confrontational message is aimed at us with love and reason. Nor can I think of any atheist activists who engage with only one facet of religion in their activism. Mondays may be for superstition, Tuesdays for dominionism, Wednesdays for misogyny, etc. While activists do usually focus on one aspect of religion at a time, that just makes them effective, albeit vulnerable to that “No True Muslim” argument of his.
So, when it comes right down to it, Chris Stedman is offering us two different alternatives to confrontation: passivity and some weird passive aggression with an honesty problem.
Either of those sound appealing to anyone out there?