At the end of their statement, the Secular Policy Institute asked, “What are your thoughts?” Since the SPI invited me to join their organization not that long ago — an invitation I declined — I thought they might want to hear my thoughts. Here are some of them.
The secular movement has a problem, in that some of our foremost leaders get media attention by causing controversy.
Can you please specify who, exactly, you’re talking about — and can you give examples of the behavior you object to?
See, in my experience, words like “controversy,” “infighting,” “bashing,” and “discord” are very subjective. As I’ve written before: When we disagree with someone or think the point they’re arguing is trivial, we tend to call their arguments “infighting,” “bashing,” “discord,” “strident,” and “creating controversy”; when we agree with someone or think the point they’re arguing is important, we’re more likely to call their arguments something like “constructive debate.” If you don’t specify the people you’re talking about, and cite examples of the behavior you’re criticizing, it makes it difficult to have a discussion about the behavior in question, or to decide whether we agree with your characterization of it. Your readers will likely assume that your accusations apply to whoever and whatever they happen to not like.
So, specifically: Does the “problem” of atheist leaders “getting media attention by causing controversy” include Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Peter Boghossian, or any other fellows in your institute known for making controversial statements, both about religion and about other atheists? Also, does it include Michael Nugent, who in recent months has written 32 blog posts, totaling 75,000 words, criticizing PZ Myers? If not — why not? How do you decide which controversies are acceptable and which are not — and who gets to make that decision?
While this helps them draw in followers…
…it causes an atmosphere of infighting in the secular community that hinders us from partnering, takes our eye off the ball of important issues, and makes us look crankypants to outsiders.
Can you please define “infighting ” — in a way that distinguishes it from the “constructive debate” you seem to support? I’ve written my own essay proposing some distinctions between infighting and healthy debate — I’d be interested to see yours. More specifically, can you please explain why your statement, the one I’m discussing right now, does not constitute “infighting”?
No wonder the stereotype of a secular person is condescending and angry.
Do you have a problem with the image of atheists being condescending and angry when it comes to Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Peter Boghossian, or any other fellows in your institute known for their angry, cutting criticism of religion?
For that matter, did you have a problem with perpetuating the image of atheists as angry when you invited me — the person who literally wrote the book on atheist anger — to join your institute?
“We don’t bash religion…
Does this “we” include Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or any other fellows in your institute known for harshly criticizing religion?
We believe the secular movement should stop rewarding those who cause discord.
Discord with whom? Again — does this apply to Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Peter Boghossian, or any other fellows in your institute known for harshly criticizing other atheists? For that matter, does it apply to Michael Nugent, and his 75,000 words in 32 blog posts criticizing PZ Myers? And does it apply to your institute, and to this statement, the one I’m responding to right now? If not, why not?
We believe the secular movement should stop rewarding those who cause discord. Why are “shock jock” bloggers invited to lecture at major secular conferences?
Can you please specify who these “shock jock” bloggers are — and can you provide links to some of the blog posts you object to? Again: If you don’t specify the people you’re talking about, and cite examples of the behavior you’re criticizing, it makes it very difficult to actually have a discussion about it.
Some other good posts on this topic:
A Little Background on the Secular Policy Institute (Updated), Stephanie Zvan
Thoughts on a movemnent: a “shock jock” blogger responds to the Secular Policy Institute, Alex Gabriel
Note: Yes, I’m back from my break.