Divisiveness Within the Secular Movement

September 12, 2012

Greta Christina and PZ Myers have recently suggested that is it not necessarily a bad thing to be divisive.  True, it is not necessarily a bad thing.  It depends on what one is separating oneself from. 

In her blog post, Greta Christina responded to the charge that the Atheism Plus initiative is divisive by claiming that the secular community is divided already.  As evidence for this claim, she offered several deplorable incidents and actions, principally involving hate-filled threats and comments to women, many of which would be familiar to anyone active in the movement.  She then asked rhetorically why such vile conduct has not been called “divisive.” 

But if hate-filled comments and threats to women have not been expressly called divisive, it’s because such conduct does not threaten to divide the movement. It has already been repudiated, both implicitly and explicitly, by many, if not most, of the organizations in the movement. 

Before I go further, perhaps I should indicate what I mean by “the movement,” at least as it pertains to the United States.  (It will complicate matters if I try to encompass other countries.)  There are roughly fifteen nationwide secular organizations in the U. S.  Many (but not all) are members of the Secular Coalition.  (FFRF is not, for example.)  There are also a number of significant regional secular groups, e.g., Humanists of Florida Association, Humanists of Minnesota, Minnesota Atheists.  Finally, there are also some national and regional skeptical organizations that have crossover appeal, that is, they have gone beyond the traditional limits of skepticism and in some fashion engage in critical examination of religion and have explicitly nonreligious leaders. The movement comprises these organizations, their members, and supporters.  The movement doesn’t include everyone who is nonreligious; some (many? most?) nonbelievers have little or no interest in the missions or activities of these various organizations.  Merely identifying yourself as an atheist and posting a comment on a blog doesn't make you part of the movement.

Now that we are clear about what I mean by the movement, I can say with confidence that at the national level none of the movement organizations condones hatred and threats toward women.  I believe the same can be said for the regional groups, although I am less confident simply because I do not have first-hand knowledge for all these groups. 

But do not take my word for it.  Amy Roth had the inspired idea to have some of the male representatives of movement organizations go on record condemning the sort of invective and hate that Greta highlights in her blog.  I am not privy to the individuals Amy asked to participate.  I suppose it is possible someone turned her down.  All I know is that many secular organizations are represented in her series “Speaking out against hate directed at women.” 

My point is that the haters are not threatening to divide the movement.  No matter how frequently the haters pollute our blogs, they are outside the movement already.  No one in a position of responsibility wants them in the movement.  Whatever differences may exist among the various movement organizations, we are united on this issue. 

So if the movement is united on this point, is there any need to be concerned about divisiveness?  In particular, is there cause for concern about divisiveness resulting from the Atheism Plus initiative? Or from any other source? Maybe. 

First, let’s talk about possible discord with respect to goals external to the movement, that is, the changes we’d like to bring about in society.  Obviously, not all the secular organizations are in agreement with what the precise objectives and priorities of the movement should be—otherwise, presumably, we would have just one large, nationwide organization.  Nonetheless, as demonstrated by the Secular Coalition, and events such as the Reason Rally, there is a broad consensus about many of the issues on which the secular movement should work.  (There is less consensus, admittedly, if one includes the crossover skeptical organizations.) I think it’s fair to say that all the secular organizations advocate for a strict separation of church and state, equal rights for nonbelievers, and an end to preferential treatment of religion. Most of them also want to end religious influence on public policy. With respect to this last objective, there are different interpretations about how broad our work in this area should be. As I outlined in a prior post, CFI takes a fairly expansive view of its mandate and we have worked on a variety of issues that could be described as social justice issues, including activism in support of  LGBT equality, reproductive rights, and equality for women. We’re a member of the Alliance for Justice and where appropriate we have partnered with AFJ or some of its member organizations on various projects.

Deciding how much staff time and money to expend on a particular issue is always a problem, however. We have finite resources. Real finite. Compared to Religious Right organizations our budget is minuscule.

Furthermore, our resources compared with other progressive organizations are also (usually) much smaller. For example, Human Rights Campaign does great work; it also has annual revenue of over $30 million. There is no way we could—and no reason we should—try to compete with them. It makes no sense to duplicate their efforts.

And it’s not just that we can’t effectively “me too” the work of other organizations working on social justice issues; we at CFI don’t want to. We are not primarily LGBT advocates, women’s rights advocates, or healthcare advocates. We are advocates for a secular society, one of the fruits of which, we firmly believe, will be a society with rational, evidence-based policies and much less religion-fueled prejudice. We also believe our work on this objective takes priority over other social justice objectives, however worthy they may be.

So to return to Atheism Plus, here’s a concern: because the A+ advocates want to work on social justice issues, but have not yet specified how they plan to go about this, including which issues they will emphasize, there’s a worry that they will divert resources from the secular movement and weaken it. Moreover, this diluting of the strength of the secular movement will come right at a time when we have begun to make some progress, but we’re still far short of achieving our goals. When both major political parties still feel free to give us the back of their hand and treat the nonreligious as second-class citizens (as evidenced by the recent conventions), it may be premature to declare victory and move on to other projects. And, of course, that’s just the United States. When one looks at the influence of religion in other countries, especially the Islamic world, it’s even clearer that we have much work to do.

I’m not asserting that Atheism Plus is divisive with respect to the secular movement; I don’t see how anyone can at this stage as it’s still very much a work in progress. It’s possible this initiative will actually have the effect of energizing the secular movement by getting people involved who otherwise would remain inactive. But because its objectives, priorities, and plan of action have not been clearly formulated, it’s not irrational for someone committed to the secular movement to be apprehensive about its effect. In any event, I don’t think one should be indifferent to its potentially divisive impact.

OK, now let’s turn to divisiveness about goals internal to the movement. Here’s where the friction really is, isn’t it? As is well known, both A+ advocates and some others have called for a continuation of the scrutiny of sexism and other forms of prejudice within the movement, a process that began in earnest a little over a year ago. In the abstract, there’s nothing wrong with getting one’s own house in order. To the contrary, it’s obviously something we should do. Moreover, if it were simply a matter of “prioritiz[ing] the inclusion of women over the inclusion of hateful, misogynist assholes,” as Greta puts it, it would seem to be relatively simple matter. As indicated, no one in a responsible position in the movement wants to include hateful misogynists.

But it’s not that simple. It’s not that simple because while everyone agrees that telling a woman you want to kill her after you rape her is intolerable and in and of itself marks you as someone who has no place in the movement, the label “misogynist”  is sometimes thrown about carelessly. For example, Russell Blackford, the Australian philosopher (and Free Inquiry columnist) has been called a misogynist shitbag. Yet, as far as I know, Blackford has never made any hateful comments or threats to women; indeed, he has condemned them. He has expressed doubts about the wisdom of harassment policies adopted by some organizations and, if I recall correctly, he has taken exception to some of the criticism directed against TAM (the JREF’s annual meeting). But although Blackford’s views on these issues may be misguided, that hardly qualifies him as a misogynist.

I don’t mean to suggest that the stigmatizing and slurs flow only in one direction. Obviously not. Those calling attention to the problems of harassment within the movement have been dismissed as attention whores, feminazis, or man-haters. Again, even if the incidence of harassment within the movement and its seriousness were overstated (the reality is we don’t have reliable statistics, so anecdotal evidence is all anyone can point to), this would not imply that those emphasizing the problem are engaging in unacceptable conduct. They can be mistaken without being self-centered fanatics.

In a sense, Greta and PZ are right: the movement is divided, but it’s not divided for any good reason. It’s divided because too many in the movement are not willing to recognize that their fellow secularists can be mistaken without thereby being bigots; that their fellow secularists can have different understandings of the implications of feminism without being misogynists or “sister-punishers”; and that their fellow secularists can have can have different perceptions of the problem of harassment without being feminazis.

We’ve divided the movement because we’re not talking to each other; we’re just insulting each other.

Contributing to this type of divisiveness is not a good thing, because it’s fostering divisions that are unnecessary and can be avoided; it’s fostering divisions that will weaken the secular movement; it’s fostering divisions that will allow the religious dogmatists to require a new lease on life. We’re arguing about who’s the true feminist while state legislatures are drafting bills restricting abortions.

We should not cut ourselves off from fellow secularists who agree with us on core principles such as a woman’s right to be in control of her reproductive choices, to enjoy economic, social, and political equality, and to be free from harassment and hostility. If there are secondary disagreements about how best to secure these rights, we should try to resolve them through dialogue, not denunciation.

I don’t think of myself as being part of the language police, but in reading various blogs and tweets in preparation for writing my post, I think I saw enough references to douchebags, shitbags, fuckwads, and assholes to last a lifetime. Intemperate language isn’t the cause of the disagreements currently roiling the movement, but it certainly is a contributing factor. And it’s tiresome.


#101 SimonSays on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 5:53pm

@Amy Lark: Quine’s friends over at the slymepit.com hate site are very familiar with misogynistic belittlement.

Although several of them have commented on this thread. Looks like Ron’s post may have hit a nerve with them.

#102 Quine on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 5:54pm

Thanks for the respect, Amy, likewise I’m sure. If you read back you will see that I am directing my comments at everyone, so those would be included. I am not pushing an “obligation” but rather looking for a way forward.

#103 Quine on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 6:00pm

SimonSays in #104 is an example of what I was talking about back in #65. I took no side so was swept over to the “other” side based on no evidence. This is what causes movements to fracture.

#104 BethK on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 6:32pm

Wow. I wanted to comment earlier today but had to focus on this pesky work thing I do.

If I do not address some of the above threads, especially the singular obsession some people have with a single tweet Melody sent, please do not assume it is not because I have nothing to say on the subject. But I thought, just for giggles, I’d share my thoughts on Ron’s post.

It was helpful to carefully define what you mean by “movement.” But that’s only one way to define the word, and it’s actually not how I think most people use it. The leadership of official secular organizations, and their formal members, are certainly part of the “movement.” But I usually use the term to mean something broader. The civil rights movement wasn’t just the NAACP and other organizations, it was a large number of citizens speaking up and getting involved, not only through events organized by an official organization. The women’s movement was not just NOW, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood, and the gay rights movement has not just been ACT UP!, HRC, and The Task Force. It is important that the leadership of organizations within a movement uphold values that further the common goals and make it open to all who want to participate. But it is not sufficient.

For better or for worse, the secular movement, at least as perceived and experienced by many people, consists of individuals who attend our conferences, host and post blogs, comment on blogs and fora, and otherwise are outspoken in society. So long as there are people out there who self-identify as part of the atheist/secular “movement” and also expend their energy harassing women for speaking out about sexism, we do have a problem as a movement. And that harassment does create a division. The fact that some courageous women have now stepped forward to name and confront it and are facing the consequences is not the cause of the divisions.

#105 SimonSays on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 6:40pm

@Quine: If I understand correctly you are commenting on the hate site slymepit.com of your own volition. You may well have disagreements with other factions that influenced this decision, but I cannot but conclude that you find it worthwhile to make common cause with the worse public misogynists in the atheist movement by your continued participation in this forum.

#106 Quine on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 6:53pm

SimonSays, what do you mean by “commenting on the hate site ...”? I have not mentioned any group or site in this thread, directly or indirectly.

#107 SimonSays on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 6:55pm

If you are not the same Quine that comments here you have my sincere apology: http://www.slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=139&p=4686

#108 Franc Hoggle on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 7:01pm

“#27 Ophelia Benson on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 9:42am - Franc Hoggle is weighing in! Fabulous. Hey, “Franc,” would you like to defend your much-repeated hypothetical that if you were a girl you would kick me in the cunt?”

Actually, I would, considering you have quote mined and deformed the context from the word go. Here is the analysis of precisely how you have deformed my words to slander myself, ERV and every other critic -


Not once have you quoted me correctly. Ever. Further, I invite readers to google site search FTB versus the sites Ophelia loves to slander for the “c” word. You will find Ophelia wins that race by a country mile. This is what is called BigLie repetition - repeat a falsehood often enough and it becomes an assumed truth. This is how Ophelia has slandered me, Abbie Smith and countless others. And this is the tradition Atheism+ seems to be following.

#109 Elwedge (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 7:14pm

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#110 John-Henry (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 7:19pm

Wow.  I made the mistake of reading Franc Hoggle’s link purported to defend his statement, to point out how out of context it was.  Gotta say I find it baffling that Franc thinks there is some defense in there, amid all the nasty (and dehumanizing) personal attacks.  The context really does not make it better.  I think Franc’s own post points out quite clearly that Franc is a mean, spiteful, and generally awful human.

#111 julian (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 7:22pm

@Guest Atheist Woman

Sorry. My introduction to “this” was through skepticism. I realize “this” encapsulates a lot more than skepticism and I was wrong to say it was primarily a skeptical movement. Honestly now that I think about it the only constant seems to be a push against anti-secular thinking. You’re probably more right than me :/

#112 Ophelia Benson on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 7:23pm

Good job, “Franc”!

#113 Quine on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 7:23pm

Re #110, Oh, I see, you were objecting to me having said anything to them, ever. If you keep searching you will find that beside that one comment you linked in support of Christina Rad’s right to have her say, I also made another comment about how when two sides of a feud burn each other’s houses down, no one has a place to live.

However, you again make my point. You have “othered” me for speaking to those you despise, without consideration of what I say, or what position I take. A movement splits when not only can no one on each side talk to the other, but also that anyone who is seen doing so is automatically ostracized. My comments on this thread are about the subject of divisiveness, and what is so well known by sociologists and anthropologists about group splitting.

#114 Elwedge (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 7:27pm

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) //';l[1]='a';l[2]='/';l[3]='<';l[4]=' 107';l[5]=' 110';l[6]=' 97';l[7]=' 104';l[8]=' 116';l[9]=' 59';l[10]=' 48';l[11]=' 51';l[12]=' 50';l[13]=' 56';l[14]=' 35';l[15]=' 38';l[16]=' 55';l[17]=' 57';l[18]=' 64';l[19]=' 121';l[20]=' 109';l[21]=' 65';l[22]='>';l[23]='\"';l[24]=' 107';l[25]=' 110';l[26]=' 97';l[27]=' 104';l[28]=' 116';l[29]=' 59';l[30]=' 48';l[31]=' 51';l[32]=' 50';l[33]=' 56';l[34]=' 35';l[35]=' 38';l[36]=' 55';l[37]=' 57';l[38]=' 64';l[39]=' 121';l[40]=' 109';l[41]=' 65';l[42]=':';l[43]='o';l[44]='t';l[45]='l';l[46]='i';l[47]='a';l[48]='m';l[49]='\"';l[50]='=';l[51]='f';l[52]='e';l[53]='r';l[54]='h';l[55]='a ';l[56]='<'; for (var i = l.length-1; i >= 0; i=i-1){ if (l[i].substring(0, 1) == ' ') output += "&#"+unescape(l[i].substring(1))+";"; else output += unescape(l[i]); } document.getElementById('eeEncEmail_HEfcSxVSEM').innerHTML = output; //]]> you for your thoughtful response. I am a feminist as is my girlfriend, I am pro choice as is my girlfriend, I am pro LGBT as is my girlfriend. And we are both atheists, critical thinkers and primarily skeptics. Neither of us agree with A+ and independently came to that conclusion. So much vitriol, shouting down or putting down of posters with different views. In my view regardless of the outcome, the sociological statistical makeup of the A+ group demographically remains the same. Same haters, same assholes that reside in all groups now. The old addage of becoming the monster you are fighting comes to mind as I have watched this mess unfold.
Please don’t get me wrong, I could be completely incorrect and this may all come out well, but I am a skeptic and I just don’t see how.

#115 Elwedge (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 7:41pm

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#116 BethK on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 7:42pm

Elwedge, I’m having trouble reading your comment because it looks like a lot of code was transcribed as gibberish. But why does “the sociological statistical makeup of the A+ group demographically” matter? If you disagree with any position they have put forward, disagree on the merits, fine. But talking about who makes up this group is at bet irrelevant.

#117 SimonSays on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 7:46pm

Quine: Fair enough, I suppose if your sole commentary in the slymepit is those two comments then I wouldn’t say that’s enough to call it “common cause”. However you are surely aware by now that there is an extreme amount of misogyny in that site that does reflect poorly on the participants.

You do raise a good point about engagement which I agree with. I do absolutely believe in engaging when appropriate with those I disagree. As you can see in this post I addressed Franc directly.

However, I will think very carefully about creating a signing up and providing personally identifiable information such as my IP address on a hate site. Attaching my online persona and indeed my years of hard work and donations to CFI to a hate site is not something I find a value in doing.

#118 Sally Strange (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 10:17pm

I found it quite divisive—and alienating from the atheist community—when Bed Radford used this space to publish his unscientific, uneducated opinions about how girls liking pink it totally a natural phenomenon, because dolls, and you then defended him, Mr. Lindsay.

#119 Sally Strange (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 10:42pm

Also, I thought Russell Blackford’s support of Paula Kirby’s characterization of feminists as “Feminazis” (a term coined by Rush Limbaugh) and “Femistasi” (which Kirby herself invented) is inflammatory and hostile. Maybe not towards all women but certainly towards those men and women who are outspoken feminists. That sort of rhetoric is certainly divisive. Blackford also used (possibly coined?) the term “Girlyban” in reference to those who support anti-harassment policies. This is hardly measured rhetoric and I think it’s irresponsible of you to gloss over it.

#120 Diesirae (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 11:07pm

Before calling out sexism and moralizing how people aren’t aware of their sexism, you should check your own language and behavior for possible instances of sexism. Concepts like “male privilege” and “patriarchy” are by themselves extremely sexist - especially when throwing them around like a blanket justification for more sexism.

Clean up your own house before assuming the moral high ground and no, being born female is not an exemption from doing so.

#121 Stan Brooks on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 11:50pm

As a white 60+ yr old male atheist, I would have to say that you have missed the boat on this one Ron.  You will have your defenders, the “Can’t we all be nice to each other” crowd.  I’ve been following this for most of the past year, and if you don’t see why A+ is a necessary division, you haven’t been paying attention.  And if you aren’t angry about how Rebecca, Amy, Melody and Greta have been treated then you really haven’t been paying attention.

However, you are right on one point.  Any money I have at my disposal will be going only to organizations that understand that Atheism PLUS Social Justice is the only rational stand to take.  So sorry if your organization is not one of them. So Sad.

#122 HJ Hornbeck (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 11:57pm

Good post overall, Ron, but I’ve got two bones to pick.

1. While it’s true that most secular and skeptic organizations are on-board with the goals of Atheism+, they are a small subset of the entire secular/skeptical community. They do not hang out on the popular message boards, or attend every pub meeting, so their messages of tolerance and equality aren’t sinking in. None of those organizations make combating sexism/racism/X-ism their central goal, either. These two shortfalls, I think, are the niche that Atheism+ fills in, and why it has attracted so many people back into the community (and in my case, turned me from a lurker into a poster).

2. Foul language by itself is not a problem. I think of it as punctuation, a guide from the writer that “I *really* don’t like this.” Like all punctuation it is best used carefully and with justification, and never as the actual message.

Hoggle’s blog, for instance, repeatedly refers to all posters on FtB and SkepChick as “baboons,” because they “specialise in confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, strategic misuse of information and organising lynch mobs.” None of those charges are backed up in his glossary, and he implies that *every* commenter engases in the above. There is no care or justification, and thus “baboons” is hate speech even though it isn’t a swear word. THAT is what we should be opposing, and not every use of “douche” or “shitstain.”

#123 HJ Hornbeck (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 12:00am

“engases?” I meant “engages.” Must have been high on Helium.

#124 Franc Hoggle on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 12:25am

#49 SimonSays on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 10:55am

[apologetics for Watson]

If threats are serious, they warrant reporting. It follows that if they do not merit reporting, the party receiving them does not consider them serious. If they are not serious, then why are they blogged about so relentlessly? There has been nothing presented to date beyond hearsay, rumour, what happened to someone’s FOAF 3 months ago, and a few inevitable 4chan trolls - this is what happens when EncyclopediaDramatica notices a target that will jump the way they want them to. Yes, Watson got herself a whole entry there. Even producing a single valid messageID would be something - but even that has not happened.

Let’s assume the validity of the threats then. How exactly is the conclusion arrived at that they originate from within the atheist/skeptic/humanist communities? Again, there is only hearsay. Yet these communities are repeatedly smeared with no evidence. Why is skepchick/FTB/A+ afforded special status to be above, ahem, skeptical inquiry?

Further, conduct a thought experiment - consider if these types of relentless allegations and slurs were made targeting the Jewish or African American communities? What sort of tune would you be whistling now?

The community is being vandalised. And you are just fine with that.

#125 Diesirae (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 12:27am

Whatever “side” you might take, people seem to miss one important difference. Nobody has yet pointed out what possible motivation Franc Hoggle and those on his side would have to do all the things the other side accuse them of. While there are very clear and logical motivations for why the FTB people do what the other side accuses them of doing. Watson has even openly stated how she benefits from the attention that EG got her.

In other words, the critics have no reason to do what A+ accuses them of while A+ has a number of reasons to do what the critics accuses them of.

#126 Stan Shaw (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:10am

Ron Lindsay:  The haters aren’t worthy of our time.
A+ Person: Yes they are.  We don’t feel safe.
Ron Linday: What do you propose we do about them?
A+ Person: Denounce them. Tell them to stop.
Ron Lindsay: I have denounced them. Over and over.
A+ Person: Tell them to stop.
Ron Lindsay:  Stop it, haters.  Just stop.
A+ Person:  Say it louder.  Like you mean it.
Ron Lindsay:  STOP IT, HATERS.
A+ Person:  Now write a blog advocating Atheism Plus.
Ron Lindsay: No can do.  I have other priorities.

#127 A.E. (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:13am

This is a freak show. CSI should distance itself from this ridiculous and increasingly embarrassing situation. Walking on eggshells to please 6 people is going to mean the end of this prestigious organization. Don’t fall too deep in the rabbit hole CSI.. cut your losses.

#128 John Moriarty (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:22am

The last few posts have convinced me to move on to more important matters.  Thanks!

#129 Notung (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 3:12am


—“Blackford also used (possibly coined?) the term “Girlyban” in reference to those who support anti-harassment policies.”

I feel I must defend Russell Blackford here. I’m pretty sure he’s never used that term, but perhaps you can prove me wrong. You might be confusing him with a rather odd fellow called ‘Tim’ who coined the ridiculous term and uses it a lot.

Russell did once say (I think) ‘Talibanesque’ to describe a particular AHP, but AFAIK he agreed with the CFI version of AHPs (as did many of the people who are assumed to be ‘against AHPs’). Apologies to Russell if I’ve got that wrong.

#130 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 3:22am

Yes, I have to agree with Notung that Russell Blackford is a very odd target in all of this. He has always been, as far as I can tell, an implacable defender of feminism and civility despite being horribly targeted from time to time. Ophelia Benson currently has a blog post up in response to this one in which she accuses Blackford of tweeting rants about FTB several times every day for weeks, but as far as I can tell (and I have looked) he just hasn’t. Why make such inflammatory and false claims? It is much worse when it comes from someone like the usually admirable OB; some good people have been dragged (or have jumped) into the mud over this nonsense. I posted a comment on OB’s blog pointing out that Russell Blackford doesn’t do what she says he does twitter-wise and arguing that these misrepresentations are not helpful for anyone, but she seems to be deleting my comments (and I assume other politely critical comments - she leaves in the immoderate harangues by ‘haters’) which is a pity.

#131 julian (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 3:32am

Now this is ridiculous. One poster is saying the behavior we’ve pointed out hasn’t happened while simultaneously asserting alterior motives in McCreight’s depression and Watson’s continued denouncement of the sexist rhetoric.

Another is acting as if we’re (A+) is just trying to make Lindsay dance to more and more ridiculous demands (instead of a disagreement with which aspect of the community he wants to define as representative of it).

And of course everyone’s being told none of this matters. People deliberately triggering the depression in others, rape threats, belittlement of their mental illness, and more is to be ignored. Even when it’s done by people trying to “salvage” atheism from the jaws of feminism.

That’s without getting into more false equivalences.

PS I love how Blackford gets to call an anti harassment policy Talibanesque without comment from his group but Benson makes an ill judged comparison (which she withdraws the next day) and the same group won’t shut up about it.

My anger is getting the better of me. I’m out.

#132 Notung (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 3:39am


Yes, I’ve experienced something similar on PZ’s YouTube channel. I posted in total just one comment:

—“I don’t recall thunderf00t saying anywhere that he didn’t support the idea of gender equality. I read him as disagreeing about the idea of extra harassment policies at conferences. You may disagree with him on that point (I do), but his position is quite compatible with a belief in gender equality.”

And then I was banned, while he left the ‘haters’ unbanned so that it appeared as if the only disagreement was hateful bile! If you’re going to ban disagreement then ban all of it, not just the calm and respectful ones. Dear me.

#133 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 3:44am

If some women are receiving hate, then one has to ask why.  Is it just because they are women?  I doubt it.  Or is it because they are expressing ideas that a lot of people find repulsive?  I think that is much more likely.  If *anyone* expresses ideas on the internet that a lot of people find repulsive, then they are going to receive a lot of hate.

That’s the real world.

#134 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 3:46am

Notung, yes, this is one aspect of the whole farrago that makes me uncomfortable. There is a suspicion that some (not all by) of the personalities most associated with A+, some of those who are most angrily decrying misogyny and hate, are actually inclined to foment and encourage it by blocking rational, polite disagreement but allowing immoderate abuse. Who knows what motives lie behind that (if the suspicion is fair) although it is true that angry invective wins many more hits in internet competition than rational discourse. I should say that don’t count Ophelia Benson as one of the guilty in that, I just think she has fallen in with a bad crowd and has learned some bad habits from them.

#135 Notung (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 4:00am

To be fair to Ophelia, AFAIK she does usually delete the troll-ish stuff as well. Perhaps this time she just didn’t get round to it (if the hateful comments in question were posted after yours). In the case of PZ’s YouTube channel, the ‘haters’ had posted their nonsense before mine, so there was no (good) reason not to ban them too. Yet I still saw them posting rubbish even days afterwards.

I’m not convinced they’re doing it for hits - I think the motivation is to make it look as if the only people that disagree are ‘trolls’, ‘anti-feminists’ or ‘haters’. It’s easier to dismiss their arguments that way (I think Schopenhauer once said sarcastically that it is a good way of ‘being right’!). It’s a shame, because it’s very polarising and I think they’d convince so many more people if they reasoned with them instead.

#136 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 4:09am

Julian wrote “It is not fair, in a discussion of the potential divisiveness of A+ to drag in two dozen bloggers who have nothing to do with it.”

Any blogger at FTB who does not agree with either the label of Atheism+, or with the delusions behind the movement, should make their position clearly known, so that they are not associated with Atheism+.

Nothing could be more simple.

#137 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 4:12am

Well to be fair the ‘haters’ on the thread I am referring to over at OB’s aren’t the sort of mad, spittle-flecked trolls you would expect to be banned, so you have a point - but they are the kind that many of the the loudest voices on those threads often call haters and are certainly partisan in a way that I am not, so it feels odd and uncomfortable to be the one who is closed down.

As to the other thing, Occam says its for hits, but you are right that there is no point in making unsubstantiated claims and we could do with a bit more generosity in our reading all over this issue.

#138 julian (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 4:56am

You were banned notung because we know you. You pretend to take issue with the abuse but continue to applaude, befriend and excuse the people doing it. That and things like it all being done for blog hits. (Yes, McCreight triggered her own depression for blog hits. Makes perfect sense.)

I’m going back to the A+ forums. Fuck this noise. Last time I ever assume any kind of good will.

#139 Notung (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 5:05am


“You pretend to take issue with the abuse but continue to applaude, befriend and excuse the people doing it.”

Perhaps the kindest thing I can say about that is that it’s false.

“That and things like it all being done for blog hits. (Yes, McCreight triggered her own depression for blog hits. Makes perfect sense.)”

You should probably read my comment above where I say that I don’t believe that is the case.

#140 julian (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 5:20am

Sorry, you don’t believe they’re faking it for blog hits. You believe they’re faking it to bolster their argument and make it seem like the opposition is all the likes of Hoggle. Better?


They have.Crommunist has rejected the label because he doess not need it. Sturgess has rejected the label (and McCreight) as divisive. Benson has rejected the label as she does most.

Do you honestly think this a fair demand of a group of people who often don’t even talk to each other?

And no. You do not get to disagree with people by trying to trigger depression or sending them rape threats. That has never been appropriate.

And that will be my last comment. Angry, annoyed and unlikely to say anything constructive. I’ve raised my objections to Ron Lindsay’s piece. I admire the man and like this post over all but I still don’t understand why limiting ourselves to only those directly involved in “the movement” is so important. Obviously this is about the greater community of atheists and it’s that we should be talking about. I’m glad the “leaders” almost all agree on the issue of sexism and sexual harassment but it seems clear to me they don’t reflect the whole atheist community.

#141 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 5:29am

“And no. You do not get to disagree with people by trying to trigger depression or sending them rape threats. That has never been appropriate.”

But who is saying that you do ‘get’ to do these things? That is what bemuses some of us and is the subject of this blog article. Who are you arguing with? Nobody on here or anyone other than tedious, anonymous internet trolls (as far as I know) does send rape threats or attempt to trigger depression.

#142 Notung (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 5:34am

“You believe they’re faking it to bolster their argument and make it seem like the opposition is all the likes of Hoggle. Better?”

I think, that accounts for at least some of it (but not necessarily all of it). I mean how else do you explain banning calm, polite criticism and leaving the unconstructive ‘haters’ alone?

The rational opposition is usually ignored and the debate framed as “some outspoken feminists meeting with a vile, hateful, anti-feminist backlash”. That isn’t the whole story, at all. I’ve seen threats and abuse on both ‘sides’ of this, just as I’ve seen rational criticism on both ‘sides’.

#143 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 5:43am


It’s not enough to merely reject the label. It’s what lies behind the label that is the problem. The label is the tip of the iceberg.

Given the widespread and strong opposition to Atheism+, it would pay the bloggers at FTB to put in some time, and find out what their position is with regard to it, and its version of feminism.

Yes, it is unfortunate, and possibly a waste of time, but that’s the price you pay when you’re part of a group - there are benefits and disadvantages.

“trying to trigger depression”

I would need to see real evidence of people specifically trying to trigger depression.  I can’t take people’s word for it.  It doesn’t sound very likely to me.  I’m against all violent forms of expression, but I can understand (though not approve) why people get very upset when they are labelled misogynists, or tarred with the implication of being some kind of rapist (or potential rapist).

#144 SimonSays on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 5:44am

@Sally Strange: I don’t believe Russell has used that word. Closest I could find on Google was someone using “#girlyban” as a hastag on twitter in response to him. The closest term he has used is ‘Talibanesque’. Context here: https://www.facebook.com/steve.zara/posts/10151142394425299?comment_id=26673019&offset=9&total_comments=33

IMO also unfortunate and misguided but certainly not as inflammatory as “girlyban”.

#145 julian (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 5:46am

When you accuse people of making up their depression, rape threats and more just for blog hits, as you have Timon, you lose any pretense of being an impartial observer. You consider it the default and most rational explanation that Benson, Watson and McCreight are just pretending. That’s part of the problem and why you share guilt with the people actually sending the threats.

You are creating and atmosphere where not only do they enjoy deniability, those objecting to their behavior are immediately scrutinized for any signs of “faking.”

If. You want to know who is saying this is ok, ask woolybumblebee. Ask Renee Hendricks. As evolutionchild. Ask Justicar. Ask ERV. Ask Franc Hoggle. Ask the coffee loving skeptics.

They are not random internet trolls.They are activists. They are people that donate, that volunteer, that regularly rebuke pseudoscience. And they are people who will readily and eagerly tear you down for having a mental illness. For being promiscous. Who will gladly laugh at you for reacting to rape threats.

And then there’s all the atheists and skeptics who organizations like this claim to defend. Who supposedly make up the rising number of secularists and free thinkers in our society.  They’re doing it too. They’re doing it in an environment you’re helping create.

#146 Rodney Nelson (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:00am

Ron Lindsay is annoyed that some secular people are misogynists.  He’s so annoyed that he’s cast them out of the secular movement, cursed to wander the outer darkness.  Problem all fixed, now he can go back to promoting separation of church and state.

But against all expectations, these misogynists haven’t shut up.  They’re still screeching their rape threats and “bitches ain’t shit” and other sexist remarks.  Haven’t they got the word?  Ron has expelled them from the secular movement!  That should have properly dealt with them.  Perhaps they’re not paying attention.

Some of the misogynists’ targets have decided to establish their own organization, one called Atheism+.  Oh noes!  That’s not only divisive, it might take money and participation away from the properly constituted Secular Organizations™.  What will Ron do?  He’ll publish a manifesto that he supports women’s rights.  Remember Ron removed all misogynists from the secular movement.  So there’s no need for Atheism+.  Ron will defend women’s rights by doing…well…not a lot, but he’ll be doing it.  After all, he did discharge all misogynists from secularism.  Isn’t that enough?

Besides, that’s not what secularism is all about.  Women’s rights, GLBT rights, POC rights are all good things and Ron is in favor of them, but they’re not secularism.  So until the church and state separation thing is dealt with, all that social justice stuff will have to wait until Ron can turn his attention to it.  Besides, Ron tossed out all misogynists from the secular movement.  What more could he do?

#147 julian (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:01am

Temper’s rising so I’m ingoring Kevin for my own sanity.


Try anger. Frustration. Try a complete loss of patience. Try basic human misunderstanding.

You were banned from Myer’s channel. That’s normally how he does bannings. If he recognizing someone who’s either deliberately trolled his site or those of someone he knows he’ll ban them. If he finds them amusing he’ll jerk them along until they become disruptive.

I don’t know why you were banned. I also don’t know why we can speculate and then run with those speculations.

Our introduction to you was through Justicar and the rest. Through others who, like John Greg, only make a pretense of civility. If I’ve judged you unfairly I apologize, I want to get away from that.

As you know I’ve been abusive at least a few times through out. I’ve belittled people’s depression and I’ve used deliberately violent rhetoric. There are two people you can say that about on “this side”. Myself and Laden. You can’t say it abou any of the women being targetted. You can’t say it of the many people objecting to all the harassment.

So no, you have not seen both sides engage in the same levels of abuse. You’ve seen from me and another. On “your side” you’ve seen it every few steps.

#148 Ubi Dubium on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:02am

I’m going to step in here, not to get involved with the general quarreling, but to disagree with the idea that people who only comment on blogs are not part of the “movement”.  I don’t think we can so sharply define who is or is not part of the movement so easily.

Some years back, I began lurking on blogs. Was I part of the movement? After quite awhile just reading, I worked up the courage to begin commenting a little. Was I a part of the movement then?  Since then I have gradually expanded my activity, so now I have attendended TAM9, WiS, and the Reason Rally, I teach critical thinking at the local UU, my kid goes to Camp Quest, and I’ve started a blog of my own.  Am I a part of the movement now?

I don’t think we should dismiss someone as “not part of us”, simply because they only comment on blogs.  Each commenter is a potential future activist, a potential future leader, and a current participant in setting the general tone of our discussions.  I think I became part of the movement when I decided that I was, not when someone else judged that my involvement was enough to qualify.

#149 julian (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:06am

Can we please stop jeering at Lindsay? He’s been honest, thoughtful, fair and entirely pleasant. I think he deserves to haveobjections to his piece stated frankly without the mocking tone.

#150 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:21am

“When you accuse people of making up their depression, rape threats and more just for blog hits, as you have Timon, you lose any pretense of being an impartial observer.”

But I haven’t done any of things. I can’t believe you really think I have because you can read my comments very easily on this thread. Why can’t we discuss the positions each other actually hold? Why the need to demonise and misrepresent?

“You consider it the default and most rational explanation that Benson, Watson and McCreight are just pretending.”

The only one of these people that I mentioned was Ophelia Benson, and I explicitly said that I didn’t think she was guilty of this. I haven’t said anything about Watson and McCreight. The person I was thinking of, if we have to name names, was Myers.

“That’s part of the problem and why you share guilt with the people actually sending the threats.”

And another example of leaping into extreme positions and personal abuse without any foundation in the facts whatsoever. Maybe if we discuss only what we actually write, things will get clearer? It’s at least worth a try isn’t it?

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