Interview with John Richards, Anti-Theism International Convention (Updated)

Have you been following the saga that is the new Anti-Theism International Convention? Probably not, so long story short: A new conference was set up in Britain to honor the legacy of Christopher Hitchens. It claimed to have very prestigious (brand new) awards and high tickets prices to match.

Then one of the organizers did an interview on YouTube to promote the conference, and the whole thing was bizarre. It was antagonistic, incoherent, and peaked with sexual assault apologetics that claimed all men had committed assault and involved a (probably joking) threat to assault the interviewer if he attended the conference. Yes, really.

When Hemant Mehta picked up the story, the convention’s other organizer showed up in the comments to say he’d fired the, er, outspoken organizer and was willing to be interviewed. So I did that, or at least I started to. I’m reproducing the exchange here, because edits, deletions, and out-of-order comments make it difficult to follow there. Comments here are posted in the order they occurred.

John Richards [comment edited after my response]: Hi Guys,

It’s John Richards here.

I’m the organizer of the Anti-Theism International Convention.
I hope you might be willing to hear what I’ve got to say about this subject…

Firstly, I’ve sacked Lance Gregorchuk.

Secondly, I have school age daughters and I do not want them to be sexually, physically or mentally abused, or in any way treated badly. NeIther do I want them to think they can get away with making false accusations in future. Continue reading “Interview with John Richards, Anti-Theism International Convention (Updated)”

Interview with John Richards, Anti-Theism International Convention (Updated)
{advertisement}

Mock the Movie: True Story Edition

Once upon a time, before the internet, you could claim anything was a true story as long as you set it somewhere your audience would never go. Now, with the internet, you don’t even have to do that. But it does help in either case to set your “true story” somewhere that actually exists. The makers of Monstroid didn’t bother. This Tuesday, we’ll find out what else they skimped on.

This one is available on YouTube.

Continue reading “Mock the Movie: True Story Edition”

Mock the Movie: True Story Edition

The Town Hero

This is another post pulled from Facebook while I wasn’t blogging much. It took me a bit of time to figure out it was related to an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It could apply to so many things.

Once upon a time, there was a town dealing with a hungry dragon. It had all the usual elements of such a town, with scheduled sacrifices, princesses who were somehow exempt from the sacrifice, chaos among the town council, and a hero with a sword.

The dragon didn’t demand sacrifice terribly often. (Honestly, it probably would have preferred goats over village maidens, but no one had figured out how to ask. And after all, they were only maidens.) The timing was regular and long enough that the town eventually stopped panicking and started thinking. They built a fireproof shelter, losing only five maidens during construction. They built weapons (two more maidens, but who was counting).

During this period, the town hero made many rousing speeches. In fact, he spent so much time speechifying that he simply couldn’t help with any of the construction. Opinion is divided on whether the final maiden was lost for lack of labor, but debate is muted and sometimes condemned as helping the dragon.

Finally, everything was ready. The princesses, who had also been exempt from hard labor, of course, helped to provision the shelter. They trained on the weapons. (They understood that the supply of maidens was not unending.)

The hero showed up at the last minute. The walls of the shelter protected him from dragonfire as well as they did everyone else. As the weapons fired, he stepped outside. His sword landed hard on one claw of the harpoon-riddled beast.

“It is slain!”, he cried. Then the town boosted him into the air, carried him back to the square, and made him senator.

The end

The Town Hero

“Atheist Volunteering”, Phil Session on Atheists Talk

When I first invited Phil Session to the show, he had to turn me down. He had a conflict with an Atheists Helping the Homeless event he was coordinating. He’s a busy man these days, having recently joined the boards of Recovering From Religion and Foundation Beyond Belief. But this Sunday, Phil will join me to talk a little bit about the stereotype of community volunteers as religious and about finding or creating volunteer opportunities for atheists.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF Sundays at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to [email protected] during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation. Or sign up on Patreon for exclusive content.

“Atheist Volunteering”, Phil Session on Atheists Talk

Let Them Complain

I saw someone on social media yesterday or today say that they agreed with a positive humanist sentiment but weren’t going to post a similar statement on their wall because people would complain. I get it. Sometimes it’s too much or the wrong people to muck with or behavior that goes beyond mere complaints. I’ve been there.

On the other hand, there can be value in staking out territory and letting those people complain about it. I’m not talking about being “edgy” in hopes you‘ll offend people. I’m talking about claiming a space for your values and allowing others to try to make you move.

I think by now everyone’s seen the status quo warriors charging about to combat the great scourge of “complainers”. “You’re always looking for something to complain about. You’re no fun. You’re so negative. Why can’t you just let people be and be happy?” You’ve also seen that this can undercut even the most sound of complaints.

One of the things I hate most about our current positivity culture is the way it lumps all types of complaints and complainers under the heading of “bad things”. If it’s negative, it must be bad, yeah? But complaining about someone’s else private choice of music is a very different thing than complaining that you can’t sleep at night because your neighbors play their music so loudly. There’s an important difference between spoiling someone’s fun because they “shouldn’t” have fun and standing up for yourself that positivity culture obscures.

Unfortunately, I can’t just make positivity culture go away. But while I chip away at it, I can subvert it, and I do. Where I might phrase something as a complaint, I can instead say, “This is what I believe. This is what I value. This is what I want for the world.”

“I want our events to be accessible to all the people we say we want to help.”

“I want to see the work of women in this movement rewarded on par with men’s work, with recognition, power, accountability, and a safe, welcoming environment.”

“I want us to demonstrate the appreciation of expertise that we espouse, particularly in discussions of important matters like human rights.”

When I do that, yes, some people still complain. That’s not going to stop anytime soon for reasons that are a whole other discussion. But by complaining, these people take up the role they try to assign to me. They become the killjoys. They become the people who can’t just let others be (and it’s all the more obvious when I’m stating values they say they share).

I’ve spent enough time on the defensive. I mean, I’ll complain when I can do some good by complaining, but I prefer doing this when I can. I’m happy to throw them off kilter instead.

Try it yourself. Talk about the world you want, the world you’ve trying to build, even when you know people will complain. Let them complain. See what good it does them.

Let Them Complain

Mock the Movie: Whitewashing Edition

Netflix exec: All right. Tell me about the property.

Development assistant*: It’s called Death Note. It’s very popular in manga form for the—

Netflix exec: Who’s the protagonist?

Development assistant: Light Yagami. He’s a student who—

Netflix exec: What kind of name is that? We’ll have to change it.

Development assistant: I…noted. Change the name.

Netflix exec: Who is this kid?

Development assistant: As I said, he’s a student. He finds a book that kills people.

Netflix exec: And he has to figure out how to stop it?

Development assistant: Not…exactly.

Netflix exec: Well?

Development assistant: He uses it.

Netflix exec: An all-American kid like him? Hmm. We’re going to have to do something about that. All right. I think we’re done here. Next meeting!

  • No, I have no idea what title belongs to the poor schmuck in this scenario. I have people I could ask, but I feel like that would be more effort than Netflix put in on getting things right.

This one is, of course, available on Netflix. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Whitewashing Edition”

Mock the Movie: Whitewashing Edition

“Racism in Artificial Intelligence”, Alix Jules on Atheists Talk

Once upon a time, we thought artificial intelligence would be less racist than people. After all, machines are objective, right? Then we started teaching them how to think and made some discoveries of our own. When racism permeates our society and our IT infrastructure, how do we teach machines to do better than we do?

This Sunday, we’re talking with Alix Jules about the point where technology, cognitive sciences, and sociology collide.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF Sundays at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to [email protected] during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation. Or sign up on Patreon for exclusive content.

“Racism in Artificial Intelligence”, Alix Jules on Atheists Talk

The Limits of the Office

This was originally posted on Facebook in the wake of Trump’s at best awkward visit to England. It isn’t terribly profound, but I remain struck by the way Trump’s term in office makes us revisit what we know about governance because he’s so terrible at it.

What struck me yesterday, seeing Trump with Elizabeth, wasn’t that he didn’t know how to behave with royalty. I don’t either, though I’d study up if that were the job I’d signed up to do.

It struck me that Elizabeth is the embodiment of this bizarre, archaic institution of hereditary governance, that she sits on a throne that’s held rulers so bad they’ve prompted shifts in European philosophies of power, that her blood is the symbol of a country that has literally tried to take over the world.

What has she done with that? Mostly she’s embraced the small-c conservatism of the position, remained a symbol as a monarch. That leaves governance to the elected bodies and protects their claim to legitimacy of power. It isn’t a radical use of her power for good by any means, and she’s been very well compensated for it, partly through imperial (colonial) holdings. Still, that long period of stability has produced a real possibility that the British monarchy will end peacefully in another generation.

Oh, and then there was that time WWII happened and she badgered her da (the king) until he let her serve in an official military capacity along with her state duties. This too was largely symbolism, but her country recognized the power of that symbol.

Contrast that with Trump. The United States’ Constitution was written to be a radical change from and challenge to British imperial power. That we recognize many of its failures of imagination and courage now doesn’t change that it was meant to be a manifestation of the ideals of freedom and representative democracy.

Trump, on the other hand, acts as though his power is a divine right, as though any check on it were a personal affront. Anyone who challenges or criticizes him is a terrible person or illegitimate institution. The people who didn’t vote for him must not be real citizens, and he’ll see to it that they’re treated that way. His position is for personal enrichment, and if he sends the people of our country to war, well, so what? He and his won’t be fighting.

I’m not a fan of the queen. It says something about the direness of our situation that simply putting Trump next to her makes me admire her for being more than her position would allow her to be because he is so much less than his demands.

The Limits of the Office

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

While I wasn’t doing a lot of blogging here, I was still doing podcasts. If you’ve been missing me-related content, you can check out the interview I did with Monette Richards about Secular Woman:

You’d think that a movement that’s so focused on growing wouldn’t want to chase off a large chunk of their potential membership. You’d think an organization dedicated to supporting that constituency within the larger movement would be considered useful instead of unwanted. The history of Secular Woman demonstrates that reality is way more complicated than that. Today’s guest is Monette Richards, current president of Secular Woman.

If you enjoyed this show, we’d love to have you come back next week for another episode. You can catch Atheists Talk live, every Sunday Morning at 9am Central on AM950 KTNF online at http://www.am950radio.com/listen-live/ Contact us during the show with questions or comments at 952-946-6205 or contact us anytime via [email protected] or tweet us @atheiststalk

And the interview I did with Cory Johnston about issues in the skeptical movement:

Cory Johnston of the Brainstorm Podcast joins Stephanie Zvan to talk about skeptics failing to be skeptical in their public work and what he does to fight that on his podcasts.

And the interview I did with Alison Gill about the U.S. Secular Survey and about Project Blitz:

The nonreligious population of the U.S. has grown significantly in the last couple of decades. We’re relatively young. We’re only a minority non-believer. But who are we? What issues are important to us? What do we want from the secular organizations that represent us.

Today we’re talking with Alison Gill, American Atheists’ Vice President of Legal and Policy, about the U.S. Secular Survey. This is an ambitious survey with a goal of getting a better picture of American nonbelievers and other nonreligious populations, now and for the future.

There are also somewhat more irreverent extras for these available (or soon to be available) on the Atheists Talk Patreon, if you’d like to support us there.

If you’re looking to hear me talking, there are quite a few I haven’t promoted yet. I did an interview on Women Beyond Belief, where we talked about me for some reason. Kristi Winters and I chatted about the problem of sexism in the atheist movement. I joined the crew of Inciting Incident for their live 150th episode and said, “impeach”, rather a lot.

I watched Jurassic Park for the first time (yes, I know) and discussed it with A Reel Education. Cory Johnston and I sat down on Brainstorm Podcast for coffee, sort of. And I’ve been an irregular regular on Humans Holler at News.

Happy listening!

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Secular “Mission Drift” and the Faith-Washing of Conservative Politics

I was on the Embrace the Void podcast earlier this month to talk about the state of the secular movement. As I discussed the concept of “mission drift”, I realized a problem with the idea. Rather, I realized another problem with the idea. It came up again this weekend, which means it’s time to write about it.

If you’re not familiar with arguments about “mission drift” in the secular movement, it’s a term often invoked by the same people who complain about identity politics. The basic idea is that U.S. secular groups who organize around or work on social and economic justice-related political issues are moving away from the core mission of the movement: maintaining and increasing the separation of church and state.

Those of us who do this activism have spoken at length about why it’s absurd to consider something like good education in science and critical thinking part of the core mission of the secular movement but to leave out feminism and anti-racism. Greta Christina ran an excellent series taking the arguments apart and drilling down to people’s actual objections. However, we haven’t talked in any depth about how ahistorical the argument is.

Organized religious interference in U.S. politics has always been about economic and social justice. That is its entire point. The story of building the religious right is a story that starts with religion being offered as a solution when more honest politicking had failed. Continue reading “Secular “Mission Drift” and the Faith-Washing of Conservative Politics”

Secular “Mission Drift” and the Faith-Washing of Conservative Politics