Living Our Secular Values

Earlier this month, I spoke at the Minnesota Atheists Day of Reason event at the state capitol. The theme for the day was secular values.

Last month was the 100th anniversary of the birth of American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair. O’Hair had something of a reputation for being a difficult person. Yes, really. She would have that reputation even correcting for the smaller leeway we give to difficult women, but part of her reputation was almost certainly due to her militant feminism. Among the many fights she took up was her fight against the idea that women were created for men’s pleasure.

As atheists, we understand that women weren’t created at all. We evolved. And I hope that after so many years of fighting for good education on evolution, we understand that evolution is not directed. It has no end goal. So any discussion of our secular values must be informed by the knowledge that women, like men, exist for themselves, not in service to others.

You can read the whole thing on the Secular Woman site.

Living Our Secular Values

Everyone (Not You) Should Be Welcome in the Atheist Movement

It’s funny how things change.

Back in the dim recesses of history, otherwise known as about five years ago, I was ruining the atheist and skeptic movements, otherwise known as advocating for codes of conduct at conferences. It was a lonely process.

The other people working on the issue were great. I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had. There just weren’t a lot of us. Institutional support was…uneven. A few organizations were happy for our help. Others claimed we were persecuting them for the money.

Atheist media? Well. Let’s just say that we were generally spoken about, not with. We were called dogmatic and divisive, as though divisions have only one side. The interviews I did on harassment were mostly outside these movements. And the group of media hosts who stood up for our place in the movement were—I’m kidding. That didn’t happen.

Today, however. Oh, today is a glorious new day in atheism and skepticism, in which critical voices are welcomed as our movements’ immune systems. We are hailed for our work to improve our collective thinking and positions on important topics. We are, as every atheist and skeptic is, seen as a crucial part of these movement.

Yeah, I’m kidding about that too.

I’d avoided getting deeply into the recent golden mean piece blaming the left yet once again for destroying the atheist movement. It’s been done. It’s stale and trite, and anyone who’s been in these movements for a few years but doesn’t bother to address the old objections to both-sides-but-really-you-rabble-rousing-SJWs isn’t going to respond to me repeating myself.

I could have done a links post of old work, I suppose, but then Thomas Smith came out with a response. There are pieces of it I disagree with, mostly in places where he was willing to concede equivalencies I’d argue against and his acceptance of labels as demonizing, but it covered most of the bases. I could let it go and let someone else pick up the work this time. It felt like freedom.

Then came the weekend of the Gateway to Reason conference. Continue reading “Everyone (Not You) Should Be Welcome in the Atheist Movement”

Everyone (Not You) Should Be Welcome in the Atheist Movement

Doubting the Messenger

Let’s start with disclosures, since at least Sarah Morehead, the person at the heart of this story, is trying to make this a personal dispute rather than whistleblowing on financial and organizational impropriety.

I’ve never met Sarah Morehead that I can recall. I might have, since I attended the conference that was a precursor to Apostacon in Omaha in 2012 and we’ve been at other conferences at the same time, but it would have been in passing only. I interviewed her by phone for Atheists Talk radio regarding her work with Recovering from Religion. I was ambivalent about her work, supporting Recovering from Religion while not being very impressed with the celebrity-driven direction Apostacon took. Nonetheless, last fall, I reached out to her about the possibility of her doing a workshop at Skepticon with Secular Women Work.

I’ve worked with Steph, putting her in front of audiences for both the Secular Women Work conference and the workshops at Skepticon. We’ve socialized at CONvergence, and I expect we will again.

Of the Omaha/Apostacon crew, Josiah Mannion is on my very short list of favorite people. We’ve geeked out about organizational effectiveness together for a couple of years. I’ve made sure he and his camera could get to several conferences and conventions, including raising money for us to travel together to the Secular Social Justice conference in January and report out. We’ve traded critique and advice and personal confidences. I just conspired with a bunch of other local atheists to get him up to Minneapolis for a week, where he stayed in our guest room. If I’m going to be biased anywhere in this, here’s where.

I’m Facebook friends with many of the rest of the interested parties without having met them more than briefly at best. The main exception is JT Eberhard, with whom I had a fairly public falling out a few years ago.

All that said, my introduction to allegations of financial mismanagement against Sarah Morehead didn’t come out of Omaha. Continue reading “Doubting the Messenger”

Doubting the Messenger

Abuse and Power in Activist Spaces

This is the most recent essay I delivered to my patrons. If you want to support more work like this, you can sign up here.

Over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of talk about toxicity or abuse in activist cultures. The overwhelming majority of this talk has been crap scapegoating some of the most vulnerable people in activism. As it turns out, when the largest space is given to privileged voices talking about social justice activism, Sturgeon’s Law is an understatement.

Still, there are good, thoughtful people doing good, thoughtful work on the topic. A few pieces worth reading:

I would argue with some of those pieces here and there, but they’re all written by activists putting in work to think about and articulate what activist spaces need from and for their members. Beyond pieces like these, there is a small world of internet writers unpacking different social interactions and general approaches to social interaction that is worth checking in on if the topic interests you. I recommend Miri’s Brute Reason Tumblr and Kate Donovan’s Monday Miscellany posts as aggregators, though both contain plenty other interesting content as well.

Composite photo of a woman pictured twice, once in the background with tape on her mouth and once in the foreground holding out her arms to shield her silent self.
“Don’t Speak” by Kristin Schmit, CC BY 2.0

Quibbles aren’t what this post is about, however. This post is about making sure we don’t underestimate what it will take to deal with abuse in communities of activists who are themselves marginalized. This is about understanding the costs of viewing abusive behavior primarily as something to be excised. It’s about recognizing the skill required to navigate desperation and conflict. It’s also about recognizing the power that good communicators have within these communities even as they remain otherwise marginalized. Continue reading “Abuse and Power in Activist Spaces”

Abuse and Power in Activist Spaces

Farewell and Thank You to the Ada Initiative

Today, the Ada Initiative announced that it will be shutting down in October. It wasn’t a surprise to me. Having worked closely with Valerie in the past, I was told last week, but even before that, I knew it might be coming. The announced end of AdaCamp a month ago was only one hint.

Ada Initiative founders Val and Mary are working to make all their projects open source, and others have already expressed determination to keep those projects growing and changing to meet the needs of more women in open technology and culture. This is a very good thing indeed. In fact, it might turn the end of the Ada Initiative into exactly what we all need. Continue reading “Farewell and Thank You to the Ada Initiative”

Farewell and Thank You to the Ada Initiative

Volunteers Are Awesome

CONvergence was this past weekend. It was generally wonderful. I was finally able to meet people I’ve admired and interacted with for years. I was able to take some time with old and dear friends and some with newer friends I only see in Beigeland. I enjoyed a parade of cosplay that were works of art and imagination and absurdity, including the tiniest Harley Quinn, who lives only in my memory because she wasn’t there to have her picture taken. I had great discussions with complete strangers that other people seemed to find helpful. I entertained and educated.

I also missed some people I really wanted to see entirely and got to speak only a few words to others. I left a wedding reception early. I let some ugly and harmfully wrong things that were said pass or be marked only with a broad disagreement. I missed out on other discussions I know would have been fascinating. I dealt with a remarkable number of men who implied I was worth more if I didn’t look my age, one of whom–a complete stranger–put his hand on my shoulder “comfortingly” while saying it. I went with little sleep and came home with minor injuries.

All that happened because I volunteered. Continue reading “Volunteers Are Awesome”

Volunteers Are Awesome

A Little Background on the Secular Policy Institute (Updated)

A few months back, organizations I’m part of started receiving invitations from the Secular Policy Institute.

The Secular Policy Insititute is the world’s biggest secular think tank, where Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, and dozens more spread secularism.

Now we’re pushing Congress and would like to list [organization] as supporting secular values!

It costs nothing. Just let us to list you as a coalition participant and you get:

— Influence our national campaign for secular values

— Weekly call on national issues

— Individual attention from our superstar thinkers for your local issues*

— Funding and support for your local secular projects

— VIP Invitation to the World Future Forum

The more we come together, the more clout we have with Congress, just like the Heritage Foundation and CATO Institute!

Call me if you’d like to chat!

Do you support secular values and can we list you?


Johnny Monsarrat
Alliance Director
Secular Policy Institute

“Oh, yes”, I thought, “These guys.” Continue reading “A Little Background on the Secular Policy Institute (Updated)”

A Little Background on the Secular Policy Institute (Updated)

A Crisis of Professionalism

That is what the secular and skeptics movements face right now: a crisis of professionalism. We’re not the only ones, of course. The gaming industry faces one. The industry of science fiction and fantasy publishing is facing one. Several disciplines of science face them.

What we all have in common is that we used to be relatively exclusive clubs. As the world in which we exist has grown, we can’t be that anymore, not if we want to thrive, possibly even not if we want to survive. We have to change.

We are relatively young movements, at least from where I sit here in the U.S. We’ve barely grown past the point where a few charismatic figures have an idea or two about what we should do and convince others around them that this is a good idea. We even still have some of those leaders in place. Paul Kurtz we only lost last year, though his leadership role had been sharply curtailed for a few years before that.

Charismatic leaders like Kurtz and O’Hair can start a movement , but they leave particular marks when they do. Continue reading “A Crisis of Professionalism”

A Crisis of Professionalism

The Role of Feminism in Secular Organizations

Ron Lindsay has asked for input going into a meeting of national secular organizations.

Specifically, I’d like your input on these two questions: 1. What specific steps do you think secular groups should take to increase diversity within our movement, in particular with respect to the participation of minority groups? 2. As you are aware, there are some stark differences of opinion within the movement about the appropriate understanding of feminism and how feminism (however defined) should influence the practices and mission of secular organizations. How do you think these differences can best be narrowed or resolved?

I answered the first question already, but the second required some more thought. After all, if I knew how to resolve those differences, I would do something about them.

Then I realized that there is one thing I do fairly regularly in this respect because I think it’s important. I try to make sure that the apparent starkness of those differences of opinion isn’t due to misrepresentation of my position. So here is my position on feminism and its role within secular organizations.

Continue reading “The Role of Feminism in Secular Organizations”

The Role of Feminism in Secular Organizations

How Organizations Can Improve Movement Diversity

Ron Lindsay asked for input going into a meeting of national secular organizations.

Specifically, I’d like your input on these two questions: 1. What specific steps do you think secular groups should take to increase diversity within our movement, in particular with respect to the participation of minority groups? 2. As you are aware, there are some stark differences of opinion within the movement about the appropriate understanding of feminism and how feminism (however defined) should influence the practices and mission of secular organizations. How do you think these differences can best be narrowed or resolved?

The second question is not an easy one to answer from the perspective of what national organizations can do, so I’ll give that one more thought before answering. The first is one of those things I talk about and promote other people talking about, so I have things to say. I started to get long-winded and detailed, so I’m moving my answer here. Luckily, Ron promised to read even treatises. Continue reading “How Organizations Can Improve Movement Diversity”

How Organizations Can Improve Movement Diversity