The Problem of Naive Multiculturalism

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

Multiculturalism is a problem, we’re told. Recognizing other cultures as being as valid as our own keeps bad, oppressive ideas alive and empowered. Endorsing multiculturalism is what leads to feminists in Muslim countries being branded “native informants” instead of interested parties in their own societies.

It also situates Ms. Eltahawy’s work within a growing trend of “native informants” whose personal testimonies of oppression under Islam have generated significant support for military aggression against Muslim-majority countries in recent years.

If we believe in multiculturalism, we’re told, Mona Eltahawy’s protests against harassment, assault, and exclusion aren’t real because they can be used to serve American goals. They aren’t valid because her statements on the her interests and the interests of other women like her don’t reflect the positions of every woman enmeshed in Egyptian Islamism.

Embracing multiculturalism is what leads feminists and LGBT activists to support Islamist men in shutting down a talk by an ex-Muslim woman speaking about the costs of Islamism borne by women.

Goldsmiths Feminist Society stands in solidarity with Goldsmiths Islamic Society. We support them in condemning the actions of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society and agree that hosting known islamophobes at our university creates a climate of hatred.

If we embrace multiculturalism, we’re told, we must always side with the people in power in any society. We can’t question their motives, their means, or their effects on others. We must respect them as they are, or we are simply foisting our own views on another culture.

So we’re told. Of course, we’re told a lot of things. It’s good to take a step back every once in a while and question whether they’re true. In this case, they aren’t. Continue reading “The Problem of Naive Multiculturalism”

The Problem of Naive Multiculturalism

Susan Jacoby in Minneapolis Tonight

When we talked to Susan Jacoby on Sunday, we mentioned on the air that she was making two appearances tonight in Uptown. They’re at 6 and 7 p.m., just a couple of blocks apart. From the Minnesota Atheists Meetup site:

Discussion with Susan Jacoby

Uptown Church and Magers & Quinn Booksellers present Susan Jacoby

Join us for a SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION with the author at Uptown Church at 6:00pm before the main event. This is a special opportunity to meet Susan and hold an extended conversation with her about her work.

Registration is requested at:

If you’re curious, as I was, what kind of church would host Susan Jacoby talking about religious conversion as a secular event, well, I looked them up online Sunday. This is what I found. Continue reading “Susan Jacoby in Minneapolis Tonight”

Susan Jacoby in Minneapolis Tonight

Saturday Storytime: Your Orisons May Be Recorded

Somehow I’d missed that Laurie Penny writes short fiction. I won’t make that mistake again.

They tell you not to fall for human beings because they always die. For me that’s part of it. That’s their beauty and their tragedy—everything is always rotting, puckering and falling apart under your hands, and you claw at them with your kisses to slow the tug of time but you can’t. The panic in their eyes when they reach the age when they realize that, yes, it’s happening to them too.

The way they swallow their breath at the point of orgasm.

I can’t get enough.

Some of us are perfectly happy counting dust motes in sunlight, or recording the little lives of the luminous creatures at the bottom of the ocean trenches who live and die and drift to the sea floor and know nothing but darkness.

Not me.

Loving humans is what got me demoted.

A long time ago, before the current system, when there were far fewer of them, it was our job to walk among men and women and all the other human creatures and teach them things they needed to know. Writing and calculus and basic food hygiene. We were allowed to give real advice, back then, and we taught them a lot. But they taught us things, too.

They taught us what it is to fear death and to nourish hope. They taught us about pleasure. And passion. And love. Love more than anything. I have always been drawn to the ones who burn with it, the ones who take their tiny lives in trembling hands and try to wring out all the juices before it’s too late.

I love fucking human men.

I love loving them, too, though if I’m honest, the fucking is quite a significant part of it. Nothing is ever just sex.

I loved a scientist, once, in Babylon, in the land between the two rivers. His beard was slight and his eyes were black and fronded with long, long lashes, and it was the eighth century after they killed the Nazarene, and he found me in a decorative jar in the market, where a witch whose son I had seduced kept me prisoner for a decade.

He took me home and broke the glass and out I blossomed, fully-formed and heavy-breasted, and he rushed for his notebooks.

He was tortured by the impulse to understand everything. A fatal condition in humans. He was full of rage at his own ignorance, and the more he eked out through his art and philosophy and mathematics—which in those days were all part of the same discipline—the more he discovered he did not know, and the more that knowledge consumed him.

I loved him for it, and he resented me. Even in our bed, he resented me. His fingertips would outline my contours as if I were drawn on a manuscript, searching for the secrets of my substance.

It hurt him to love me because I was a door to the wisdom of eons that he couldn’t unlock. I knew the names of all the stars, and I wouldn’t tell them to him. I couldn’t. It would have driven him mad, and he would have ended up wandering the streets with the beggars and the crazed soothsayers.

He told me that there were worse places to end.

He longed to know the names of the stars, the true names that they only tell each other, how they were born, the exact latitude of this or that red giant. I told him that I had walked on a star once and it was nothing special. After that he didn’t fuck me for weeks.

He liked me in feathers, though. One morning I found that he had plucked out all the filoplumes on my left side and was dissolving them in acid, trying to determine what I was made of.

So I took him walking on a star. He didn’t like it as much as he thought he would.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Your Orisons May Be Recorded

“Strange Gods”, Susan Jacoby on Atheists Talk

Susan Jacoby is a writer and author whose works have focused on atheism, secularism, American history and public discourse. She is the author of thirteen books, and spent much of her career as a reporter for various publications including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, The Nation, Glamour, and the AARP Bulletin and AARP Magazine. Susan Jacoby is a member of the honorary boards of the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Center for Inquiry, a secular think tank.

Susan Jacoby joins Atheists Talk radio on Sunday to discuss her newest book, Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion.

Focusing on the long, tense convergence of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—each claiming possession of absolute truth—Jacoby examines conversions within a social and economic framework that includes theocratic coercion (unto torture and death) and the more friendly persuasion of political advantage, economic opportunism, and interreligious marriage. Moving through time, continents, and cultures—the triumph of Christianity over paganism in late antiquity, the Spanish Inquisition, John Calvin’s dour theocracy, Southern plantations where African slaves had to accept their masters’ religion—the narrative is punctuated by portraits of individual converts embodying the sacred and profane.

Finally, Jacoby offers a powerful case for religious choice as a product of the secular Enlightenment. In a forthright and unsettling conclusion linking the present with the most violent parts of the West’s religious past, she reminds us that in the absence of Enlightenment values, radical Islamists are persecuting Christians, many other Muslims, and atheists in ways that recall the worst of the Middle Ages.

Tune in this Sunday for our discussion with Susan Jacoby!

Related Links:

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“Strange Gods”, Susan Jacoby on Atheists Talk

Catching Up on The Humanist Hour

I’m catching up on a lot of stuff and easing back into writing for the blog. While I’m doing that, we put up a couple of shows at The Humanist Hour that I’m pretty proud of. You might want to take the opportunity to catch up.

The Humanist Hour #190: Getting “SciCurious” with Bethany Brookshire

On this week’s show, Stephanie Zvan interviews Dr. Bethany “SciCurious” Brookshire about effective strategies for convincing people of scientific truths, the common mistakes we make when we set out to teach people about science. Brookshire recently co-edited Science Blogging: The Essential Guide.

For nearly a decade, former neuroscientist Dr. Bethany Brookshire has been writing about science for online audiences. Best known to science-blogging fans as “SciCurious,” Dr. Brookshire writes about – among other topics – neurotransmitters (the chemicals that make our brains run), evaluating scientific results in context, rats in tiny pants, and duck penises. You can’t forget the duck penises.

SciCurious’s Links:

The Humanist Hour #191: Sincere Kirabo on Building Social Justice

Over the past year or so, the American Humanist Association has been making changes to reflect its commitment to social justice. These changes can be found in the pages of The Humanist magazine and the words of its leaders. Change can also be found more recently in the announcement that Sincere Kirabo would be stepping into the role of the AHA’s social justice coordinator.

This week, we welcome Sincere back to the show. He speaks with Peggy Knudtson and Jenn Wilson about his new role, what social justice and intersectionality mean, and the ways that social media can be used to further the cause of social justice.

Sincere’s links:

Catching Up on The Humanist Hour

Saturday Storytime: The Angel of Divine Intent

It’s a good thing when a story makes you want to go back to an old idea and write fiction of your own. This from Tim Akers accomplishes that for me easily. I really need to make time to write that story one of these days.

The angel waited for her among the eight golden spires of the reliquary. Shredded wings of chain and feather brushed the air. Her body was gaunt and frail beneath the starlight robes, flesh the color of beaten silver, no more substantial than fog or memory. Haelice bowed, touching her forehead to the command icon, waiting there until she felt the nether-soft touch of the cathedral’s fallen host. Only then did she straighten her back to face the divine.”Your absence was noted, initiate,” the angel whispered. Her voice was the gentle chime of crystals, her eyes pierced through with sunlight.

“The choir sings without me, divine. The song to drive, the cathedral to carry, and your wisdom to guide,” Haelice answered. “I am barely needed.”

“The saints need you, child. I need you. Someone must give their will focus. Someone must inhabit the Vapor.” The angel hovered closer. “There must always be a pilot.”

“Yes, well . . .” Haelice kept her head dipped to shield her eyes from the angel’s brilliance. Vapor. Virtual Presence Rig, an awkward name for her bones and blood and biofield. The idea that she was nothing more than a host of the saints of old made her uncomfortable. But she’d left her body long ago, her mind transmitted to this distant ship by the church’s divine frequency, to accept her role as pilot to one of the divine. She was sealed into this cathedral, bound to travel the stars on the inscrutable business of the gods, far from the warm light of Sol and the empire. The creature raised a finger to Haelice’s chin, edging her face up. It was difficult to look into those eyes.

“The blink is unsettling,” Haelice confessed.

“It is a place devoid of your gods and your saints, a place where souls only gutter in the shadows . . . it should be unsettling, initiate. But you must be brave.”

“Next time,” Haelice said, pulling away from the goddess. “Now. Where have you brought us?”

She swiped her hands over the reliquary’s icons, drawing the displays into being, filling the room with brilliant vectors, trajectories, star phases and gravity wells. Haelice blinked up at the information.

“Where are we?”

“At the beck of our brother,” the angel answered. “He has called, and I have come.”

“Which brother?” Haelice knew the ranks of the host as well as any pilot, but none of them appeared on her scans. The only sacred icon on her screen was her own asteroid cathedral, Sanctuary of Divine Intent, named as much for its function as its occupant. “There are no cathedrals in this sector,” Haelice said. She swiped hard across the starmap, searching for anything that was familiar. “There are no cathedrals anywhere. How far have you taken us?”

“There are no cathedrals because there is no choir for this god,” the angel said. “No saints, no pilot, no ship to carry his will.”

“Did they die?” Haelice asked. She began drawing up other displays, trawling for the numinous trace lines of divine power that would leak from any member of the host of angels. It wasn’t common for the massive asteroid sanctuaries to break apart in the blink, but it did happen. She suppressed a shudder thinking of the unwinding blossom of dead saints, breaching into real space from the blink in an ever-expanding scream of final sacrament.

“No. They never were.” The angel settled into the spindles of her berth, drawing numinous light into her being. Very satisfied with herself, Haelice thought. “Our brother is feral. He is undiscovered.”

Haelice knit her brows together, trying to twist the angel’s words into meaning. She turned back to the displays, zooming in on the sacred lines that emanated from her own ship, arcs of purple light that defined the angel’s will. She followed them, slowly, until they crossed another.

A god, buried among the stars, waiting to be found.

“Wake the choir,” the angel whispered. “My brother is in need.”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The Angel of Divine Intent

Where I’ve Been and Where I’m Going

Oh, hello there. As you can see, we’re getting all moved in and cozy here. It’ll take a while, I’m sure. We’ll try not to leave too many boxes unpacked in too many corners for too long, but, well, you know how it goes.

In my copious spare time as I’ve been getting ready to launch our Kickstarter (oh, by the way, did you know we have a Kickstarter?), I’ve been thinking about the things I might want to say when we launch. Today, though, as much as it’s about the future and what it may hold for us, I’m thinking about how we got here.

In particular, I’d like to take a little time to thank Ed and PZ for making Freethought Blogs happen and accepting me when I asked to join. Nearly five years ago now, I approached a brand new, shiny blog network with the world’s biggest case of impostor syndrome, swallowed my terror, and asked whether they might, maybe, you know, let me sign up. Pretty, pretty please.

I’ll forever be grateful that they said, “Yes”, but I’m even more grateful for what came after. Freethought Blogs helped me build an audience and gave me a platform from which to do effective activism. It also gave me an education in what it takes to build and run something as complicated as a blog network with a bunch of headstrong, opinionated, determined, righteous bloggers.

The Orbit isn’t FtB Lite. It isn’t FtB Heavy for that matter. It certainly isn’t the Anti-FtB. It is its own new thing, with lots we still have to learn about how it works and what it can accomplish. But without the framework Ed set up at Freethought Blogs and without all the things PZ pushed us to accomplish within that framework or demonstrated could be accomplished within that framework, The Orbit wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have the skills or experience I’ve contributed to getting us set up. I wouldn’t have the confidence or the vision required to take the plunge. I wouldn’t have the colleagues or the social network it takes to pull something like this off.

I also wouldn’t have the experience of working with colleagues I like, admire, find frustrating, and occasionally clash with to build something bigger than all of us. I wouldn’t know that magic that is building something with almost no resources beyond our own wits, reputations, and determination. I wouldn’t know how to ask for the little else we do need with the knowledge that people want us to succeed rather than shame over not being entirely independent. I wouldn’t know what it feels like to take big, necessary risks and find a group of people willing to back my plays.

The Orbit isn’t Freethought Blogs. We have different missions, even with overlap. We have different operating structures. We have different people. But there’s still going to be a lot of FtB in The Orbit. There has to be. FtB was one of the forces that made many of us who we are.

For that, I’d just like to stop today and thank Ed and PZ for making Freethought Blogs way back when and letting me be part of it. I hope I can do you proud here.

Where I’ve Been and Where I’m Going

Choice and Other Things I Am Pro

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

This weekend at the clinic, there was a protester talking to a couple who were pulling into the parking garage. She had her hands and sometimes her head in their window, so I walked over to make sure she wasn’t doing anything that would impede their ability to drive away when they wanted to. Talking to her is just fine. Talking to her because they can’t drive away without hurting her is something else entirely.

When I got there, she had all her body comfortably outside the vehicle. They didn’t look distressed, and they didn’t make eye contact with me, so I held back to keep an eye on the situation. After another minute or so, they drove on into the garage.

I turned around to walk back to my spot and my coffee cup. That was when the protester said behind me, “She’s keeping the baby!”

The vitriol isn’t particularly new or disturbing. In their minds, we’re there to disrupt God’s bidding, and that slips out from time to time. Usually, I’m a liar. Sometimes I’m a baby-killer. They’re not terribly creative.

The idea that I’m set on every pregnant who comes to the clinic having an abortion isn’t new either. It’s absurd, particularly given that I’m volunteering for a clinic that offers prenatal care, but the idea is fixed. It isn’t going to evaporate any time soon.

So in the interest of educating people who probably won’t read this anyway, let me talk about what I do actually want that puts me in front of the clinic most Saturday mornings. What am I pro? Continue reading “Choice and Other Things I Am Pro”

Choice and Other Things I Am Pro

Saturday Storytime: There’s Always a Nuclear Bomb at the End

I’m not entirely sure that this story by Jennifer Mason-Black is a story. At the same time, it’s all our stories.

Sometimes it belongs to terrorists, their lives devoted to this one thing, this one chance to blow up a city peopled entirely with women, children, frightened middle-aged cab drivers, young executives. They will detonate it whether their demands are met or not, because it’s never the demand that matters. Never. It is always the anger beneath the demand, or the greed, or the hatred.

Sometimes it belongs to the President, or the Army, or a secret council populated with secret councilors. People who are kept in a drawer, folded between sheets of paper, tidy, pressed, spotless, retrieved just for the scene where they say that there is no other choice, the city must be destroyed. They have no children, no spouses, no hobbies. They can almost be seen through, tissue-thin, would be if they stood in front of a bright window instead of a wall covered with a dark seal. Scene over, they are tucked away again, until the next time the bomb arises.

It is always a city as well. Buildings will collapse, people will scream. It is never a real wasteland. Never a place where the tap water can be lit with a match. Never a place where the trees have been stripped from hillside after hillside and the soil runs down the incline in waves, or where the air is silent from the death of the songbirds. Never a place where families pack their things into a beat-up car, an eviction notice on the door behind them.

No, it’s always a city, and the buildings always fall. There’s always a woman, somewhere. Someone will point her out, later, in reviews. See, a woman, they say. She might be a wife, a girlfriend, a sister. She will be beautiful.

Sometimes she suffers. Sometimes she ends up dead. If she does, it’s okay. Her cold corpse is as powerful as a nuclear bomb. Her lifeless body is the thing that turns the tide, forces the hand, sounds the alarm. She becomes a holy relic. She lives in the refrigerator, they all do, all these women waiting for their moment to prove evil is, well, evil.

Sometimes she’s something else. Sometimes she dressed in black. Sometimes she knows how to break men’s necks between her thighs. Sometimes she wears the highest of heels, but surprise! They are just part of her deadly tool set. See, she says, I am sexy for a reason. I am sexy because I’m clever, because I have a sense of the absurd, because this is a sly commentary on the sexism inherent in our culture.

She is sexy because someone dressed her in tight black leather and insisted it was right.

She doesn’t look like me. She doesn’t look like you either, even if you think she does. She doesn’t even look like herself, not when she wakes up, hair artfully tousled, not when she is bleeding, or hurt. Not when she is scared.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: There’s Always a Nuclear Bomb at the End

Mock the Movie: Exploding Cars Edition

You’d think we could title about half the bad movies out there “exploding cars” for short, but this one is special. Near as we can tell, it turns out that being a stunt driver requires some sort of supernatural ability to cause every car in you vicinity to explode on contact with any inanimate object. The interminable chase scenes are just icing.

But really, we’re watching Executive Target for Keith David.


This one is available on YouTube. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Exploding Cars Edition”

Mock the Movie: Exploding Cars Edition