Greta has some questions for you. So does Stephanie.

Ever notice that pushback against certain ideas always develops internal themes and memetics that need to be directly countered before we can move on to actually talking about the ideas themselves? Ever notice that pushback tends to cluster around irrational objections to otherwise unobjectionable suggestions or ideas? One of the pushbacks against those of us who primarily identify as atheists who also care about and talk about social justice, humanism and atheism in equal measure, who’ve declared an appropriate label for that nexus of issues “Atheism Plus”, is that we’re somehow “divisive of the movement”. Greta has a few questions for those of you repeating that meme. Well, really, they all boil down to one singular one if you think about it.

Why is Atheism Plus being seen a terrible threat to the cohesion of the movement… and yet a solid year of feminist women being subjected to actions and words that demean us, objectify us, inappropriately sexualize us, and literally threaten us and make us unsafe is not getting called “divisive”?

reddit screenshot
A 15 year old girl posted a photo of herself holding a Carl Sagan book to r/atheism, and got a flood of rape jokes in return. Why was that not “divisive”?

A leader of a major skeptical organization speculated on the causes of low female attendance at his conference… and blamed it on women who were speaking out about sexual harassment. Why was that not “divisive”?

A widely respected and beloved atheist celebrity publicly called a woman he disagreed with a cunt. And when this was brought up and criticized in an atheist blog, the comments were flooded with people defending him, and defending his use of the word. Why was that not “divisive”?

As part of a dispute about feminism, an atheist blogger and local atheist organization leader publicly posted Surly Amy’s address, with photos of the building. Why was that not “divisive”?

A popular atheist videoblogger deliberately tried to trigger a rape victim, by posting graphic threats of rape. Why was that not “divisive”?

A thread was posted on an atheist forum posing the question, “Would it be immoral to rape a Skepchick? Not for sexual gratification or power or anything like that, just because they’re so annoying.” Why was that not “divisive”?

Stephanie also has some questions for followers of Christina Hoff Sommers’ strange libertarian conservative definitions of “feminism” (you can tell, because they call themselves “equity feminists”, who believe that everyone else in every feminist movement represents “gender feminism” – a.k.a. misandry). That question is a simple one: what’s your evidence?

Many of the people complaining most insistently about the formation of Atheist+ are also among the number who claim that they are feminists, just “equity feminists”. They claim to be the true advocates for social justice. They claim that the “gender feminists” at FtB, Skepchick, and elsewhere are the oppressive force in this argument. We, of course, disagree. But who is correct? Is there one form of feminism that is based more on real-world data? Is there one that leads to more freedom?

The false dichotomy of “equity feminists” (e.g., libertarians who don’t like trying to fix tilts to the playing field) vs “gender feminists” (e.g., the subset of radical feminists who hate men and want to subjugate them to the Gynocracy) is reductionist to the point of absurdity. Hey, isn’t there a fallacy for that?

Greta has some questions for you. So does Stephanie.

46 thoughts on “Greta has some questions for you. So does Stephanie.

  1. 3


    I like the “Last 20 Comments” widget in the sidebar.

    Do you know if there is any version of that for the entirety of FreeThoughtBlogs?

    That would be a very fun page.

  2. 6

    I think it’s divisive because it’s a term meaning ‘good person’ that’s controlled by a rather politicized group. It won’t necessarily be used to lump past-opponents into a group with assholes.

    The situation seems not-unlike a half-dozen democratic house members proposing the label “American+” to mean Americans who want a strong, safe society.

    The goal-as-stated isn’t divisive. Some people really do oppose a strong, safe america. Those people should be marked as assholes.

    However, I don’t think it’d be too long before lines got drawn, and I’d be shocked if the division between ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’ didn’t happen to fall right along the partisan divide.

    If this happened, it’d be the same partisan split from before, but with some extra “if you disagree with us, you clearly hate america” subtext.

    A+ hasn’t gotten there yet, but it sure is coincidental that every example of harassment happened to be someone who agrees with FtB on one of the various blog fights.

  3. 8

    If you don’t want to be associated with A+ then you don’t have to join. If you support social justice, then you’re not an asshole, regardless of whether or not you’re part of A+.

  4. 9

    I, for one, agree with everything ever written on FTB.

    For example, I agree with Taslima that porn is always exploitative. I agree with Greta the porn is not always exploitative.

    I agree that I should identify as A+ like Stephanie, and I agree with Kylie that I should not identify as A+.

    I also stand by and do not stand by DJ Grothe.

    I… I think I need to sit down. I’m feeling kind of dizzy… must… agree with… FTB…

  5. 12

    You’re asking for a mathematically rigorous definition of ‘consensus’? Unless you’ll be as rigorously precise when talking about groups in your own arguments, this seems like nitpicking.

  6. 13

    It’s not nitpicking. I want to know exactly which bloggers you consider “FtB” in describing a “consensus”. If you don’t want to give me a percentage, give me the names.

  7. 14

    I’m confused at the question. I understand it, someone has an active blog on this site, or they don’t.

    Is ‘consensus’ going to be a key word here? Like, does the list have an example of someone who received poor treatment and also gets attacked and supported by FtBloggers in about equal measure?

    So I’m clear where I’m going with the analogy, I actually support the Democrats. So ‘partisan and democrat’ wouldn’t be a flaw in my view. But I’d have no trouble seeing why democratic leaders proposing an Am+ movement would be seen as divisive.

  8. 15

    I read a few FtB bloggers most of the time and most some of the time. I agree with many of the positions I’ve read on many of the blogs here and elsewhere in the skeptical community. I truly enjoy the diversity of opinions and points of view.

    That said, I have yet to see a rape or cunt reference that I laughed at or agreed with or regarded as thoughtful. If a blogger posted it in jest or to get a reaction, I chalk it up to a lapse in judgement and usually move on. Repeating such divisive references reduce my enjoyment of the blog and my judgement of the character of the blogger. Rapidly. These types of posts as comments I ignore completely as the commenter is generally not worth the effort to argue with. I suppose I tire of the fight too easily.

    I like FtB for the richness of the points of view, the talent of the writers and the generally high quality of the comments. I studied the Venn diagram of A+ (posted here I think) mostly because I like and use Venn diagrams, not because I personally identify the concepts discussed or how they place me in a particular intersection.

    The best thing about the diversity here is the ability of a post or poster to alter how I look at a topic or situation. I truly love the ability of an idea, well presented, to move me from one bubble to another, nudging me with prose, poetry and passion to a better informed, more consistent position. If others join, great. If not, change is part of life.

    As a male, I make no pretense of understanding how rape or cunt references affect the individual reader/hearer. But, I have enough sensitivity to recognize them as universally divisive. My experience may differ from others. We will not inhabit the same intersection.

    Sorry for the long post. Carry on!

  9. 16

    Drew, I get what you’re saying — there’s a skew in ideas against generalized bigoted behaviour around these parts. There are very few representations of the “bigot perspective” at FtB. You can say we cluster around those ideas. But each blogger is an island — influenced by one another’s writings, you might say, but not necessarily so. There is enough division between individual bloggers on this network that saying we are a consensus is very subjective, though. It entirely depends on which bloggers you mean. And on what topic.

    For instance, we are all atheists — none of us believe in God or gods. That doesn’t mean we’re being divisive of the greater community by demanding that there be no theists on this network — this network that was built for the purpose of bringing together some great atheist bloggers under one “roof” (to share the hardware and hold sacrosanct the individuality of the bloggers, and to provide a collegiate atmosphere between bloggers where we disagree civilly (and sometimes even uncivilly), but we all pitch in to maintain the house itself. That’s the closest to “groupthink” you get around here. You might as well call a groupthink hivemind and that people “agree with the WordPress consensus” when there are three or more bloggers that agree on a point.

    So I’m really not sure where the pushback is coming from.

  10. 17

    I think the comparison to WordPress is an unreasonable understatement. In his youtube response to Thunderf00t, PZ was pretty clear that FtB is more than shared hosting. He suggested that the blog has a human interest mission.

    I do not see this as a flaw.

    Like the democrats you’re a coalition of people who are working together for a common interest. And, like them, FtB has been at the center of some disputes that got rather acrimonious (many for legitimate reasons).

    However, this sort of dispute seems to leave feeling of bad blood and creates divisions can carry over into new conflicts.

    Take, for instance, your use of ‘groupthink hivemind’. I didn’t accuse you of group-think, nor do I conflate that with consensus. I also don’t think it’s something you made up in bad faith. My strong suspicion is that you’ve responded to ‘groupthink hivemind’ many times in the past and this previous division colored your view of a new conversation.

    This is exactly the kind of coloring that would make me uncomfortable with giving Democratic representatives (even though I agree with their politics) control of a label like ‘American+’ and it is why I think a politicized group taking control of a label used to identify the atheists who are real skeptical humanists will be divisive. Old fights will likely carry strongly into the new definition.

    But, at this point, I feel like I’m over-writing in comments on someone else’s blog, so I will bow out and let my view stand on what merits it might have.

  11. 18


    Thinking about your hypothetical “American+” idea, I realized that it’s not so hypothetical. Did you know that in the 1910’s and 1920’s there was a movement in the U.S. called “100 percent Americanism”? These were white nationalists who, among other things, believed that white Anglo-Saxon Americans were the true Americans, culturally superior to the immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe who had been arriving in prior decades. I’m sure you can see the fallacy there.

    The phrase “100 percent Americanism” even became a principle of the Silver Shirts and a slogan of the revived Ku Klux Klan.

    In contrast, I think what the A+ folks are asserting is rather the opposite, that one can be an atheist and also prioritize other social commitments. To make the analogy, they’re saying that someone can be an American-plus-Lithuanian, or American-plus-African and participate in both that particular diaspora community and the larger American society without having to just choose one. In fact, “American-ness” can be strengthened by having a broad base of participants from many walks of life, rather than a thin and fragile reed built on exclusion.

    At least, that’s what I see from over here. I’m taking a semi-interested wait-and-see attitude, and don’t pretend to speak for them.

  12. 19

    That’s fine Drew, I’m not trying to encourage you to bow out. I really did want to know what you meant by “consensus.” I am asking those pointed questions because I want to hold you to it — I want to know exactly where the “consensus” came from and where and how you came to that conclusion.

    Yes, the “groupthink” thing is a dig at troll factions who actually think this, whom I know read the place (via referrers). There is built-up acrimony, and I don’t think it’s fair to say FtB bears any of the responsibility for it. I see it as something like the Sinister Six, when Spider-Man puts a bunch of supervillains repeatedly behind bars, they get out and commit more crimes and get locked up again, and they say “hey why don’t we team up!” Only these troll factions don’t think of themselves as bad guys, and they don’t recognize that what they’ve done is actually contra anyone’s autonomy as bloggers here. They honestly think that by all being collectively dismissed from ONE FtB blog for some transgression, usually a transgression they refuse to acknowledge as a transgression, that they’re all wronged “by FtB”, collectively. And therefore all of US are groupthinking hiveminds, baboons, FTBullies, et cetera. In their minds, they’re the good guys, fighting for “freedom of speech” (which means freedom to speak anywhere, and say anything, including in your living room, and about you).

    So yeah. There’s raw nerves around that. And around other troll touchstones. That’s all due to chipping damage. That’s due to hundreds if not thousands of individuals attacking a single solitary spot til you get so fed up with addressing that one line over and over again that you start getting curt, then start blocking people from commenting. Or where you’re attacking people’s freedom to call each other sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, et cetera slurs. That’s where a lot of this acrimony is coming from — we’re calling people on their bad behaviour and these people don’t like that.

    So if there’s any actual appearance of consensus, I honestly want to know about it so I can point to the breadth of that consensus and say “that’s only xx% of Freethought Blogs, and there’s great variation amongst that percentage. Can you kindly address me and my arguments as an individual now?”

  13. 20

    scrutationaryarchivist: very astute. That’s my take on this as well. I, like a few others, consider “Atheist Plus” to be a modifier label, not a movement. It’s just a special-purpose adjective for shorthand self-identification.

  14. 21

    “Why was that not ‘divisive’?”

    Because, unlike A+, it wasn’t a movement leader stating a position with which xir followers are expected to agree. Possible exception: DJ’s comments regarding TAM, which were undoubtedly quite divisive.

  15. 22

    I honestly want to know about it so I can point to the breadth of that consensus and say “that’s only xx% of Freethought Blogs, and there’s great variation amongst that percentage

    How about: Trollish behavior on the internet is an important social issue and should be a central part of a nascent skeptical-humanist movement.

  16. 23

    . But each blogger is an island

    John Donne would disagree with you:

    No blogger is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thine own or of thine friend’s were. Each blogger’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in FtB. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

  17. 24

    D4M10N: So once you get “big” enough, you’re no longer allowed to point out boorish behaviour. Nor to actually support boorishness, when supporting boorishness drives divisiveness. Got it.

    Meanwhile, remember Christopher Hitchens? He who embraced divisiveness in his fight against religion? Did you have a problem with his tactics when levelled against the religious? How is this any different?

  18. 25

    Drew: remove “on the internet” and you’ve got something. The internet is a subset of reality — things that happen on it are, in fact, happening in reality too. The people doing those things might be disingenuous and misrepresenting themselves for lulz, but that’s a phenomenon worthy of skeptical scrutiny and fighting as divisive in and of itself, is it not?

    Additionally, when well-placed folks are making the same arguments as the supposed “just-a-troll’s”, and people call them out on it, why is it we — who call people out on that boorish behaviour — get called bullies? Not only by the trolls but by many of those well-placed “big names”?

  19. Me

    I just cannot believe that there are still people who object to one group of people choosing to identify themselves with multiple adjectives based on a shared series of values and beliefs, rather than just one adjective that they may share with a much larger group of people. Would those same objectors have a problem with me saying that I’m a progressive liberal vs. just a liberal? Or that I’m Irish American vs. just American? Why does anyone else have a problem with my decision to further identify my perspective on shared issues? My choice to identify with A+ is a good thing- it gives you more information about who I am and what we may or may not have in common than just calling myself an atheist would. How is that possibly a bad thing? It doesn’t mean we don’t still have atheism in common. That common ground isn’t going away just because I refine that description to include an additional perspective. If you feel alienated because you don’t agree with me on social justice issues and would rather not have to even think about the fact that I have opinions you don’t agree with, I guess I just don’t care. If me being who I am and gently announcing who I am in a manner that in no way expects anything from you makes you uncomfortable, that makes you an entitled jerk, and I make it a habit not to give much credence to the opinions of entitled jerks when I’m deciding which issues are important to me, or how I want to communicate my position on those issues to others. I’m just baffled by this entire “controversy”.

  20. F

    To give an answer to the questions posed*: Uh, yeah?

    In fact, just in the comments here is the first decent question/reservation about atheism plus. First one. Not divisive, not evidence-free, and not a completely spam question. First evar.

    Now, you may certainly disagree with me about what constitutes a technically valid question here, but I stand by my comparison-for-scale.

    *the yes/no questions, which was most of them. Unless I missed something.

  21. 28

    Here’s “Fuzzy atheism”, a label indicating you also happen to like small soft mammals with big eyes.
    You’re not obligated to renounce reptiles. And opting out doesn’t make you a bad person. We just want a concise way to distinguish ourselves as having additional interests, which conflict with some creepy individuals who also lurk in the grab bag of general atheism.

    “Atheism says nothing about bunnies.”

    “It’s fascist to force people to buy puppies.”

    “I’m not on board with vandalizing test facilities.”

    “You’ll turn allergic people away from atheism.”

    “Now hamster-lovers will choose between supporting the Fuzz or Recovering from Religion. A choice they weren’t making already… for some reason.”

    “But there’s overlap with Falconers Associations.
    They like animals, and a lot of members don’t like religion. Go join them.”

    “You’re ostracising the seal clubbers, you monster.”

  22. 31

    Jason wrote:

    Meanwhile, remember Christopher Hitchens? He who embraced divisiveness in his fight against religion? Did you have a problem with his tactics when levelled against the religious? How is this any different?

    I suspect it’s different because this time they’re the ones being left behind on the wrong side of the divide. It’s astonishing how people rarely complain about divisiveness being a problem unless that’s the case.

  23. 32

    My strong suspicion is that you’ve responded to ‘groupthink hivemind’ many times in the past and this previous division colored your view of a new conversation.


    I think this is a good meta point. One tends, when processing one days discussion, to read into it the text and the subtext of previous conversations, say from the last week, month or year, if the arguments appear similar.

    I don’t think anyone is simplistic enough to think that there is a Red side and a Blue side and no purple or other outlying colors (in the context of online atheism arguments). However, I think our brains sometimes want to reduce muliplayer conversations down to dialogs. We are very accustomed to talking to one person at a time, and we read the posts here one at a time. It’s easy to fall into old patterns. Which is why the “troll detection radar” trips so easily, and why there is so much confirmation bias in the whole “I read something outrageously liberal in the comments at FtB, so the blogs and comments at FtB are always of that flavor. Always.”

  24. 33

    Meanwhile, remember Christopher Hitchens? He who embraced divisiveness in his fight against religion? Did you have a problem with his tactics when levelled against the religious? How is this any different?

    Aren’t you just committing the “KKK Fallacy” here? (“You have to be tolerant of our intolerance, or else you’re as bad as we are!”)

    I mean, Christopher Hitchens is angrily reacting to demonstrable harm caused by specific religious beliefs. The people in Greta’s links up above aren’t reacting to demonstrable harm of any sort; they’re just being jerks. That’s make a big difference; don’t you agree?

  25. 34

    I mean, Christopher Hitchens is angrily reacting to demonstrable harm caused by specific religious beliefs. The people in Greta’s links up above aren’t reacting to demonstrable harm of any sort; they’re just being jerks. That’s make a big difference; don’t you agree?

    I’m confused by this statement. My post and Greta’s post are both about how people are repeatedly claiming that Atheism Plus is divisive. The people in those links are being jerks; we’re reacting to the demonstrable harm done to our images, our sanity, and our ability to carry out actual discourse by saying “let’s divide from them”. We don’t want to be TOLERANT of the jerks. We’re reacting to jerks saying “you have to be tolerant of our intolerance”. So… you’ve got the actors backward in your “KKK fallacy”.

  26. 35

    I’m confused by this statement.

    My fault – I lost track of who was writing what and misunderstood your argument. Of course you were arguing against the KKK fallacy.

  27. 36

    Michael #29

    Jason, some of us who don’t want atheism to contrast on social justice issues WANT you to form your A+ movement ASAP:

    Trust a conservative to sneer at people giving a damn about their fellow humans. Us normal people will try to make Earth a better place to live and the conservatives will clutch their hatred for anyone who isn’t them (or ultra-rich) to their bosoms.

  28. 37

    Jason, some of us who don’t want atheism to contrast on social justice issues WANT you to form your A+ movement ASAP

    That’s a relief! I admit that I was laying awake nights worrying that narcissistic privileged white kids might not approve of the idea. Sorry, I meant young, hip, narcissistic privileged white kids.

  29. 38

    Dear Mr. #36 Who is sneering? I am in support of what this group of bloggers is doing. There are a lot of issues I support that I don’t have an interest in becoming and activist for. For example, if I opposed Skepticism from being turned into a Star Wars fan club, would you say I hate the Jedi?

    Mr. or Mz. #37 Thank you for demonstrating what I wrote as a joke in paragraph 5 is actually serious.

    “I’m sure believing that my support has value violates some hidden white male privilege list, but I really want to express my joy that they will be pushing their political agenda elsewhere.”

  30. 39


    Where is this “elsewhere” of which you speak? Where is the “home” to which they are going with their ball? How would it effect you if they were to “stay” where they “are”?

    It takes zero effort to not join or not comment on A+; why expend the energy to even show up on this blog if the goals and interests of A+ interest you so little? Why bother at all?

  31. 40

    Michael, how exactly can atheism “concentrate” on something?

    First we hear that atheism is just a position on one question, now we’re told that this position on a question is going to be forced to “concentrate” on something?

    Michael, some PEOPLE want to concentrate on social issues, and they want their atheism to inform their goals.
    If you don’t like the idea of doing that, there’s a simple solution.


  32. 41

    @Jason Thibeault:

    The false dichotomy […] is reductionist to the point of absurdity. Hey, isn’t there a fallacy for that?

    Not sure what you were going for at the end there.
    Dichotomy’s the fallacy. Reductio’s an argument that’s doomed when premised on a bogus two-option choice.
    Article: Wikipedia – Reductio ad absurdum:

    Reductio ad absurdum (Latin: “reduction to absurdity”) is a common form of argument which seeks to demonstrate that a statement is true by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its denial. […] this technique has been used throughout history in both formal mathematical and philosophical reasoning, as well as informal debate.

  33. 46

    It’s just hilarious that some of the people claiming A+ is divisive are often the same people who are actually being divisive by spreading lies and misinformation and false assumptions regarding the A+ label.

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