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.
Crash Course is one of my favorite things in the universe. Before they were on Patreon, I supported them on Subbable, and before they were on Subbable I supported them by watching everything they produced on YouTube and evangelizing to my friends. It is run by John and Hank Green, the Vlogbrothers, and my personal heroes. I highly, highly recommend their history courses.
We create free, high-quality educational videos used by teachers and learners of all kinds. That’s all we want to do. After 200,000,000 views, it turns out people like this. And our videos aren’t just for schools; the majority of our viewers, around 60% – 70%, watch Crash Course without being currently enrolled in an associated class.
So far, we’ve taught Chemistry, World History, Biology, Ecology, US History, Psychology, Big History, Literature, and we’re in the middle of Anatomy and Physiology, Astronomy, US Government, and World History (again.)
Sometimes you’re doing a deep Google search on your own name and you discover new things about yourself — I discovered a Table of Contents that included me.
An article I wrote about feminism and atheism that was published in CrossCurrents last year was put into a women’s studies anthology textbook — apparently the #1 one on Amazon: Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings. So now there is a thing about atheism and women in the most recent edition of, according to Amazon, the #1 gender studies textbook. So hurray for atheism being included in discussions of gender in academia!
Of course, this inclusion happened last April and no one told me that it happened so…? I’m going to contact the editors of the book and talk to them to see if I can get some more information on what happened and see if I can get a copy for less than the $110 it’s going for. I’ve asked my local library to pick up a copy and it looks like the school library has one that you can’t check out because it is required reading in a class. I was contacted last year because my article was the required reading in that class, but I guess no one thought to mention that it was in a textbook rather than a journal. Internet searching also reveals to me that the article has been cited in at least four academic papers and assigned in at least three courses. That’s not bad for something that’s been published only 18 months.
Torn between being confused that no one told me it existed, to ecstatic that I am considered anywhere close to the same caliber as these other writers and thinkers, to fighting down imposter syndrome, to super stoked to include this on my resume. Gonna go die now. And not just from the mono. Will update if/when I find out more information or locate the Discussion Questions! Discussion Questions, people!
I will be speaking at both CONvergence and SSA East, and I’m getting an awful lot of stage time! This is a preview for anyone interested.
You can start looking out for me at about 1pm Friday at CONvergence.
FRIDAY, July 4th
5pm Paranormal Romance vs Urban Fantasy
With the popularity of paranormal romance, has romance become a fixture in most urban fantasy to a degree? What about the combo of romance, action, and magic keeps drawing readers? What’s out there for readers who want less kissing and more butt-kicking? Panelists: Ashley F. Miller, Cetius d’Raven (mod), Emma Bull, Melissa Olson, Rory Ni Coileain
7pm Coming Out Atheist
Join us to discuss what it’s like to come out as an atheist in various parts of the country, with different religious backgrounds, and the intersection for many of us with coming out in other ways, such as in sexual orientation and gender identity. Panelists: Ashley F. Miller, Heina Dadabhoy, PZ Myers, Debbie Goddard, Brianne Bilyeu
SATURDAY, July 5th
11am Evolution of Disney Princesses
They started out helpless (Snow White), and now they’re shooting arrows. What changed, and why? Panelists: Ashley F. Miller, Kathryn Sullivan, Michelle Farley, Windy Bowlsby, Madeleine Rowe, Greg Guler
SUNDAY, July 6th
9:30am Skepchick and FreethoughtBlog Readings
In room 2201
11am Protofeminists in Shakespeare
Shakespeare portrayed several intelligent, independent, and self-aware women–Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Katharine, Beatrice, Viola, Rosalind. We’ll discuss the problematic and the remarkably (for the era) fleshed-out aspects of their representation. Panelists: Elizabeth Bear, Ashley F. Miller, Greg Weisman, Joseph Erickson, Alexandra Howes
12:30pm Loving Problematic Media
Social justice doesn’t have to ruin your fun! We’ll discuss ways to be a literate fan of problematic media, from reality TV to video games, recognizing (rather than rationalizing) its problems, and still finding ways to enjoy it without getting defensive. Panelists: Rebecca Watson, Ashley F. Miller, Emily Finke, Courtney Caldwell, Amanda Marcotte
I will be leaving for the airport as soon as there are no more people with questions for me after this panel.
I will be at SSAEast for the entire program, I’m speaking in one of the 45 minute slots in union.
SUNDAY, July 13th
10:30am Feminism, Atheism, and Welcoming Women to Your Group
In case you have ever wondered whether I continue to get racist comments for having, of all terrible things, dated someone who was not white and discovered that my DNA was not 100% white, the answer is yes, I still get hateful shit.
My number one incoming link for the last couple weeks has been from a site called Chimp Out which I have no interest in linking to, but I’m happy to just give you a taste of how awful these racist white people are. Interestingly, these people also hate atheism+ (something I’m not particularly involved in).
Coalburner discovers she isn’t 100% white and says daddy is wrong for disowning her
Free thought blogs, despite the name encourages anything but free thought. It’s your typical hive of brain dead left leaning shit streaks all circle jerking their respective brand of victimhood(racism, feminism, homosexuality) It hosts a number of writers including the truly odious Richard Carrier of Atheism plus. Atheism+ is basically an attempt by the far left to attach their pet causes like nigger coddling, radical feminism and so on to atheism in an attempt to make them look rational. The atheists don’t care enough about people’s feelings you see.
Anyway, not sure if this has been shared but this woman discovers a STAGGERING 0.5% of her ancestral composition is sub-Saharan nigger and states her old man is wrong for disowning her for dating a buck. It’s a sad read because you can see her pathetically obvious attempts at trying to twist the science to fit her views and her angst over daddy rejecting her.
she is a confirm nigger, if you out yourself to have nigger dna than you are a nigger. no human should touch her.
Why would you even want to pay $100.00 to this site which will sell your information to others including handing it to the government, people are so stupid, as far as that coal burner, if your mammy is white, you pappy is white and grandparents are yt, then why push the issue? Now as far as your pappy disowning you, that’s your fault for for being a coal burner, but you went and fucked a nigger! Now you are damaged goods.
A “Coalburner” is a white girl who is spoiled rotten and rebels against her wealthy or middle class parents for some imagined affront sometime in their short lives. This rebellion manifests itself in the form of fucking any sloppy pussy-ass fake gangbanger nigger they can get their nasty dick-skinners on. Also see “Mud-Duck” punishing parents by giving them 4 grandchildren from 4 sperm donors with cream-colored skin, red afros, big lips and flat noses.Also see dumb bitch riding in the passenger seat of her own car , pumping the gas and paying for it. Also see treated like shit by any white man who could have ever been an equal co-habitating partner and possible non-financial sponge, not because he’s a racist but because only someone with absolutely no self respect would confine themselves to random sexual partners of a different race who’s self- imposed disenfranchisement and liberal suborned laziness only furthers their own deep self-loathing and constant rape of the english language. example- see the names of coalburners offspring, stupid-ass names made up by people unable to spell real names correctly, ie. “spell it like it sounds”, Shawon (shawn), laqueesha (?????).
I wrote this, originally, to console someone who was sick to death of her efforts being met with rape threats and death threats and inaccurate accusations. I debated posting it, knowing it would undoubtedly bring with it some backlash. I spend my free time volunteering for atheist, humanist, and skeptic causes only to be constantly met with people telling me that I am not a “real” activist. There are other things I could be doing. It is hard to watch all of the misogyny and sexism go on in this movement. It’s hard to watch people as wonderful as Pamela Gay be torn down for coming forward with her story.
It’s exhausting to know that there are people who hate you and believe ridiculous, untrue things about you, no matter how clear and unoffensive you have tried to be. I am tired of being accused of being in it for the money when being involved in atheism costs me loads of money every year — travel costs I don’t ever expect to see returned by my blog. I’m tired of every post being a target and rage commenters trying to tear me down for my appearance, education, and family. I have never been targeted by religious people the way I am by atheists. And how much worse is it to be targeted by a group of people you spend your free time working to help.
I am tired of being worried about legal threats and hackers, people who have targeted me as “collateral damage” to others as well as those who’ve directly targeted me. I am tired of getting flooded on Facebook by people I don’t know whenever I post something vaguely in the area of things they label social justice warrioring. I’m tired of everything being a fight. I’m tired of trying to be the bigger person. I’m tired of feeling like all the abuse is pointless because there’s no movement. I’m tired of people with power laughing or shrugging off sexual assault and harassment. I’m tired of people making value judgments about those who’ve been harassed — demanding you have had certain experiences to be able to comment on them and then mocking you if you come forward with those experiences.
I am, in short, very tired. And I don’t have it the worst, by any stretch of the imagination.
But then, sometimes, strangers come up to me or email me and thank me. They thank me specifically for talking about things that get me the most bile. There are people who hear what you say and change their mind, but they’re usually not very loud, because changing your mind is hard and takes a while and is difficult to talk about when you’re in the middle of it. I have many friends who became not very close friends for a little while because I was on the SJW side of things and they weren’t sure which way to go who are now among my strongest allies.
That said, I’ve had a hard time blogging lately because, on top of all the drama of day to day life, it’s so infuriating and upsetting to deal with the internet assholes. It’s hard to find the reward. Every post is a constant decision to put up with attacks. I have to remind myself that it’s worth it. And sometimes, it’s just not. Sometimes, I am just not in a place where I can deal with the abuse. Ultimately, while changing minds is a lofty and important goal, it’s also not our responsibility. If you’re tapped out, you are, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no reason to subject yourself to this if you don’t find it rewarding. And there are less hostile audiences within the movement as well. The SSA, for example, has been nothing but wonderful to me.
I don’t know if that helps at all, just know I feel what you’re feeling an awful lot. You’re not alone.
Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities.
Sarah Jones wrote a post yesterday about why, despite the fact that she’s an atheist, she is not a secular activist. This made me think long and hard about how our movement receives wonderful activists who agree with us on the God question, and how we sell what our movement is doing. I have a lot of problems with the atheist movement, and I’ve struggled with engaging with it recently. The level of hostility towards women and hatred for the social justice framework, especially online, makes it really unappealing at times, and almost always exhausting. But Sarah, sort of ironically, reminded me that I got involved with atheism because of the social justice imperative.
I care more about social justice than I do about atheism, and I think a person can be a strong ally for social justice causes without being an atheist. Your belief in God matters less to me than your position on gender equality. I don’t strive for a godless world. I would rather see a world defined by respect and tolerance than by spirituality or the lack thereof.
I very much respect Sarah’s greater interest in gender equality and agree with her that respect is a better goal than ending all theistic leanings. She also has an interest in social justice in the south (particularly Appalachia), which is also close to my heart. And there is nothing about being an atheist and an activist means you have to be an atheist activist, there’s a lot of causes that are worthy. If you are someone who cares a lot about equity, racial and gender justice, and you don’t see religion as the primary root of these problems (which I do not), addressing individual issues nothing directly to do with atheism might be more appealing or important to you. So I have no problem with Sarah’s choice of focus and I think it’s got nothing to do with how secular/atheist she is, and anyone who accuses her of being not atheist enough is being absurd. And I think it’s a shame that she, justifiably, feels the need to define herself against atheism as a movement. But I need to push back against the idea that social justice does not or cannot include atheism as a cause. (The rest of this is not about Sarah, just inspired by her post.)
Atheist equality is very much a social justice cause.
Atheists are not treated as equals in the US. I know that for my friends and colleagues in various causes I’m invested in, especially those who live in blue areas and big cities, this isn’t always as transparent as it is to those of us from rural, red, or very religious areas. The amount of social isolation and judgment the non-religious face is shocking. We are the most reviled group in the US, below Muslims and gay people, on par with rapists. There’s a reason we borrow the term “coming out” to describe letting people know our non-religious status — because there’s a lot stigma involved in the label and family, work, and social strife comes with openness.
Religious people get special tax consideration. You functionally have to claim religion to be elected to public office. There are states (including my own) with unconstitutional and unenforcible laws on the books to prevent atheists from holding public office as small as public notary. We have prisons where only Bibles are allowed as reading material (also South Carolina). Under God in the pledge, God on the money, court mandated religious drug/alcohol treatment, child custody being determined against non-religious parents because they’re necessarily seen as immoral, discrimination and forced religious events in the armed services, religion being pushed into public schools, inability for non-religious to get credentialed to perform marriages or funerals, and it goes on in ways big and small.
There are a lot of places in the US where it really sucks to be an atheist. Where your boss will fire you if he finds out. Where you can’t get jobs if it’s known. This is not oppression olympics, a lot of people have it worse. And it’s much harder when you are on the receiving end of multiple systems of oppression. But a truly intersectional examination of these systems of oppression reveals religion as an important source of injustice, socially, politically, and legally and atheists as victims of the cultural majority. I think a lot of the anger in the movement is drawn from feeling disenfranchised because of minority status and the evangelism comes partially from wanting people to also be “freed from the shackles of religion” but also so that there are more people like you to be around.
But the resistance to unfairness that drove me to fight for LGBT issues, to fight for women’s rights, to fight racial injustice, to fight economic injustice, to work for progressive causes, to work in reproductive justice, is the same drive that brought me to atheism and keeps me here, despite the high level of pushback from a vocal minority in the movement who are more interested in being mean and boundary policing than effecting change. I can’t blame anyone for leaving, I can’t promise never to leave myself, but it’s good to know why I am here.
There is a tendency for people to take criticism of ideas personally. It’s true of all people, though I noticed it particularly this weekend at the Women in Secularism conference. People also have a bad habit of criticizing individuals rather than their ideas. I do not claim freedom from this tendency, although I do work very hard to try to be clear in that distinction. I do not like the speech that Ron Lindsay used to open the conference with, but this doesn’t mean that I do not like Ron Lindsay. I don’t know him, he is quite probably a pretty cool guy generally speaking.
Of course, I am not the only person who took umbrage at his opening speech. I wasn’t particularly upset by it, I just felt it was wrongheaded as an opening speech for this event in particular and demonstrated poor understanding of the cultural theory behind the terms of “privilege” and the intent of “shut up and listen.” I think it’s inappropriate to use the opening speech to criticize the conference goals rather than introduce it. I also think that the way he talked about critical theory indicated a lack of familiarity with the scholarship on the subject and the power dynamics at play. At best it was terrible tone deafness which was then exacerbated by his position of power in the organization, his race and gender and socioeconomic status, and the fact that he was giving the opening address not a lecture.
I also agreed with Rebecca Watson that it was particularly bad for these apparent misunderstandings to be delivered by a wealthy white man who was part of the organization in charge of the Women in Secularism conference. In other words, it was a poorly expressed, poorly timed message delivered by exactly the wrong person for the message.
For stating that, I have been accused of being sexist, of having it out for men, for having it out for Ron Lindsay, of quote-mining, of being dismissive, of shutting down dialogue by calling people names, and just good old “fuck you” and “fuck off” from strangers. I am dogmatic and hateful and trying to tear people down.
Rebecca Watson has also gotten this kind of response, but far more intense, for level-headed criticism of the talk. In response, Ron Lindsay felt the need to make it about how Rebecca Watson is a Bad Person. (At least further accusations of quote-mining will be justified by the use of quotes):
Perhaps Watson was too busy tweeting about how “strange” it was to have a “white man” open the conference to pay attention to what I was actually saying
I’m just glad Watson didn’t notify security: “white man loose on stage, white man loose on stage!”
There are also places where it continues to be clear that he doesn’t understand the “shut up and listen” suggestion, but at least those aren’t unnecessary and unprofessional attacks on someone who has criticized something he said.
Now I’d like to offer some advice to Ron Lindsay: Shut up and listen.
Shut up because you’re just making this more and more of a PR disaster.
Shut up because you’re hurting Melody Hensley and the amazing event she put together.
Shut up because if you’re so busy coming up with ways to defend yourself, you’re failing to understand why people are upset.
Shut up because it is so very clear that you are not listening.
Shut up because you can’t talk and listen at the same time.
Listen to what other people in your organization have to say.
Listen to what other people in the cause have to say.
Listen to women and men who are upset about the opening speech.
Listen to criticism of what you said and remember that it’s not about who you are as a person, but the argument that you’ve made.
Listen because it’s the right thing to do.
I appreciate that there are those who somehow think that this “shut up and listen” thing means don’t use critical thinking, but it’s actually about defensiveness. People always take things personally. When someone says, “You’ve got privilege,” most of us want to yell, “I worked really hard to get what I’ve got.” And most of us have worked really hard, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t privileged — learning to see the privilege is difficult, and to see it we’ve got to be willing to shut up for a little while and recognize the possibility that there are things that we didn’t know before. In other words, if you’re not prepared to just listen for a little while, you’re going to spend the entire time trying to prove someone wrong instead of considering the possibility that they may have a point.
Ron Lindsay presents this as a war where either you “believe reason and evidence should ultimately guide our discussions, or you think they should be held hostage to identity politics.” This negates the possibility that this is a fight between factions who think that reason and evidence point to the necessity of identity politics and those who refuse to listen.