Next time Today Christian poses questions for atheists, its authors and editors might consider some sort of mechanism by which said atheists might answer them rather than declare “Atheist [sic] Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer” them, lest the questions be mistaken for something that “leads to some interesting conclusions” as to their true motives for asking.
I’m sure you or someone you know has seen or posted Michael Luciano’s Atheists Don’t Owe Your Social Justice Agenda a Damn Thing piece on The Daily Banter. It’s a short piece using the conference I attended this weekend, Moving Social Justice, to claim that expecting atheists to care about such outlandish things as equality diversity is “silly” because the dictionary definition of an atheist is someone who believes in no god(s). Also implicit in the title is the idea that those of us who care deeply about social justice are not “atheists” even though many of us say we are.
Well, okay, then. Michael Luciano thinks that I’m not atheist since this is “my social justice agenda”, not that of atheists. If that’s true, then atheists like Michael Luciano have no right to bring up Cosmos (i.e. Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan), Christian right-wing sexism, the normalization of atheism, religious sex scandals, and Islam’s perceived flaws in their promotion of their purely-atheist agenda. Continue reading “Top Five Arguments the Atheist Agenda Doesn’t Have the Right to Use”→
I’ll mince no words here: the premise contained in the title of Sam Harris’s response to #EstrogenVibe (you can easily find his piece if you want to read it) doesn’t offend me — it disgusts me to my core. As it’s on his personal site, the title can’t be blamed on a clickbait-hungry editor or website, either. He defensively chose to claim that atheist feminists like me are constantly and eagerly looking for a sexist pig to chide.
Speaking personally, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically [sic] male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”
Of course, as soon as some of us took to the Intertubes to call people’s attention to its wildly gender essentialist nature, others took to our corners of the Intertubes to tell us that we were wrong. Nothing sexist or misogynist — I’m sorry, “misogynistic” — about it.
The pedant who so bravely corrected me on my misuse of “misogynist” for “misogynistic” very misandrically asserted that the statement made sense because men are naturally more violent than women. Furthermore, he cited the term “evolutionary psychology” but provided no citations. Since neither assertion is very credible, how could such a blatantly generalizing statement be neither sexist nor misogynistic? It seems to blame hormones for a lack of participation by women in a community in the grand tradition of hysteria.
When you’re ethically non-monogamous, you end up engaging in a lot of meta relationship conversations. When you’re polyamorous and dating someone you met because you were both speakers at the same secular event, you end up discussing the potential effects of your relationship, likely and unlikely alike, on your respective careers. This is especially true when one of you has strong feminist values and works for the advancement of secular causes and the other is a loudmouthed, keyboards-a-blazin’ firebrand-in-waiting.
What I didn’t think to discuss was what actually ended up happening.
Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) fills a vacuum in a school district that has few programs that specifically address the intersection of sexism, racism, misogyny and heterosexism in the lives of young women of color. The program is designed to redress the normalized violence that young women of color encounter on a daily basis and has trained hundreds of 10-12th students to question and challenge the normalization of violence against women and advocate for safer school-communities.
As the project is run by secular author and activist extraordinaire Sikivu Hutchinson, along with Diane Arellano, it has a heartily humanist bent to it. The campaign ended last night having raised just over its $1500 matching funds goal.
As one atheist-aimed project reached its end on January 6th, another had begun earlier in the day. This one was for Ryan J. Bell, the pastor who decided that, for 2014, he would try being an atheist in the sense that he would live as if there were no god. An interesting thought experiment, to be sure, but after the announcement of the experiment, the man lost his sources of income with his perhaps unsurprisingly irate Christian employers. A GoFundMe campaign was created in response which asked for $5000. By the end of its first day, it had raised triple that amount.
When I re-posted the link to the WLP project last night, I got responses that attempted to explain why it didn’t garner as much attention and raise as much money as the fundraiser for Ryan J. Bell. There were the “well, what did you expect?/Welcome to reality where page views and click-bait rule” type; these express a sense of capitulation and resignation to the status quo that I do not share. However, most of them were more along the lines of “Oh, I never heard of this so it must not have been promoted enough.”
I am not suggesting that the disparity was on purpose on the part of anyone involved. I am not suggesting that anyone promoting one fundraiser and/or not promoting the other is an evil, awful person in any way. I doubt that anyone deliberately looked at the one and then the other and said “meh, those lower-income female students of color can fend for themselves, I’m going to give my money to a white male Christian.”
That’s precisely the problem. So many of us don’t critically examine to what we pay attention and why, to whom we give our money and why, of what sort of news we keep abreast and why, about what we find out and why. We fail to recognize the disturbing patterns indicating structural injustices that emerge when we consider all the factors at hand and how these sorts of situations play out.
Obviously, fundraising isn’t a zero-sum game. There is more than one cause in the world that is worthy of attention and money. As someone who has suffered financially as a result of religion, I don’t begrudge Mr. Bell the money he will need as he figures out what to do in this brutal American economic climate. In the end, thankfully, WLP did exceed its matching funds goal.
Why do I bring this up?
One of my friends is a Christian minister and he jokes that every atheist in America must have at least 3 websites apiece. He is on-point in that we godless types tend to have strong Internet presences. It’s about time that we take a good, hard look at which causes and individuals we choose to follow, talk about, and promote using these platforms. Furthermore, given that atheists tend to be in the upper income bracket of society, it is also important to look at to whom we choose to give our money.
A mega-church is defined as a church that has “2,000 or more in average weekend attendance.” Seeing as Sunday Assembly can measure its attendance in hundreds, not thousands, it doesn’t quite qualify. Nor have there been enough Sunday Assemblies for there to be anything approximately approaching “average weekend attendance.” So much for the AP’s reporting choices (which have gone on to influence ABC News, Voice of Russia, Salon, and even The Raw Story).
In terms of connotations rather than strict denotation, I’m going to quote Hemant.
Atheist mega churches are just like Christian mega churches. Minus the money, staff, bands, pastoral mansions, and rockin’ worships.
Semantics aside, there’s another problem with the coverage. As many of you have alerted me to the fact, I’d be remiss in not mentioning the fact that a picture of me is trending on Yahoo News. What the Associated Press missed what that I was not only an attendee, I was the main speaker for the Los Angeles iteration of Sunday Assembly.
Yes, this out and proud atheist was invited to be the main speaker for Sunday Assembly Los Angeles, which was held this past weekend. The LA event page listed the word “atheist” and there were plenty of allusions to atheism, godlessness, and even hints of anti-theism at Sunday Assembly LA. Whatever might have happened at other locations, the Los Angeles version of Sunday Assembly had a very clear target audience: those who believe in no gods and follow no religions, including those who self-identify as atheists.
As I mentioned in my talk there, which was about people overlooked by history to whom we can be grateful, the gathering was, by far, the most church-like thing I’ve ever attended in my ex-Muslim life. It felt odd and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself when asked to clap, stamp, sing, and otherwise show my enthusiasm in a vocal way. All the same, as the picture of me that’s trending shows, I had an awesome time.
If only the the caption had managed to mention the fact that I was, as I mentioned, the main speaker for the event.
Why is this important to me? Obviously, it represents something of a missed opportunity for promotion for me. More importantly, the erasure of my name and my role in the event angers me because it’s coverage like this that promotes the notion that atheism is still a white-dominated old boys’ club. The reason I’m happy to put my name and face on things is to directly combat and challenge that idea, to ensure that both those curious about and wary of atheism are aware that it isn’t just for a certain class of people. I cannot work to do so if reporters at an event fail to recognize that one of the pictures they chose to depict the event just happens to include its main longform speaker. Such neglect contributes towards the further stigmatization and marginalization of non-white, non-male atheists.
To the contributors at the Associated Press responsible for this omission, I ask that you do your job and amend the caption to include my name and my role in Sunday Assembly Los Angeles.
Saturday night was a heartbreaking, if not surprising, one for many of us, when George Zimmerman walked away to a legally consequence-free life after having killed an unarmed teenage boy. He currently fears the same vigilante justice he so unceremoniously doled out. As of right now, the NRA has made no calls for young black men to arm themselves in self-defense against vigilantes.
If you take issue with my use of the term “vigilantes,” let me fix it for you. I meant “Neighborhood Watch” types who violate their own rules and, if I might venture to suggest, have personal histories that render them terrible candidates for gun ownership.
I repeat: not only is there an article with a title like “The George Zimmerman jury reached the right verdict” on an atheist website, but there exist people who are invested in defending it because it is made of facts.
On the face of it, sure. To say that the verdict reached was legally sound, correct as per the law, in accordance with Stand Your Ground in Florida — that’s all fine. Ta-Nehisi Coates, an incredibly well-known writer and activist on matters including race, knows that the law was followed in the verdict and explains the whys and hows very well. Avicenna at Freethought Blogs wrote all about how the verdict was legally correct, as did Think Progress.
There is a way to talk about how Zimmerman’s verdict was legally sound that doesn’t utterly disregard and disrespect people of color. People of color, like the ones I’ve mentioned above, have been doing so. Indeed, so have those white people who have been paying attention to how the “justice” system serves certain people in certain ways and is far from the neutral(ish) body many would love to imagine it to be.
The approach of titling a piece that way, especially with its usage of the word “right” (a term that has moral implications), then, is clueless given the context in which it exists. Whether the author intended it to provoke or not, it hit all the wrong notes. On a day when the country was in mourning for a young honor student whose life was taken from him in cold blood, the author approached the matter in a way that utterly disregarded context.
There’s nothing “factual” about writing in a vacuum. The last time I checked, there was no requirement to check in one’s ability to grasp nuance and context at the door when entering into the hallowed halls of (dis)organized atheism.
Why am I fixating on this piece? Because it represents exactly what is wrong with the conversation around racism in general society — a wrongness that seems, to me at least, to be amplified in the white-dominated spaces of skepticism and atheism. Think Atheist carried the piece I’m addressing. The notoriously atheist-dominated Reddit failed to impress, as usual. Those atheist, humanist, and/or skeptical activists and laypeople with whom I am connected on Facebook had to do Racism 101 over and over again, sometimes to the point of un-friending. Too many of us tired on Twitter trying to explain, over and over again, that racism is A Thing, and one that is not the exclusive province of the KKK.
People of color do not have the luxury of ignoring the context from which emerged the verdict that allowed a man to walk after stalking and killing an unarmed minor. White people might often escape this awareness, but that’s where education comes in. Anyone writing on the Internet has access to a wealth of information, perspectives, and resources at their fingertips.
Here are your tools. For the love of all that is noodly and delicious, use them.
And until more people do, I’m going to retreat to a corner and cringe until someone tells my face and my palm to get a room.
The American Secular Census is something I had seen but in which I had not participated before today because I am mostly interested in seeing the results without someone as (ahem) loud as I am skewing it in any possible way. Many of us here at Skepchick felt the same and did not join.