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.


#51 julian (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 11:31am

Wow, so this thread went downhill. Starts off on a discussion about devisiveness. Comes to be about how sexist Melody is. And of course we hear from Franc Hoggle (who literally rage faps to people he hates and then let’s them know). Think this’ll be my last comment.

#52 Tay (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 11:34am

@ #57
You can’t leave, it’s divisive!!!

#53 Dex34 on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 11:35am


Attacking me with an insult is exactly what I said was the problem in the first place, as I never insulted you. I was simply stating that while yes he was booted from FtB, none of the blogs on it outside of the moderator said he was in the wrong. He was harassed, yes, and that is wrong, but he also threatened someone else as well. Regardless this is not about him, as it was just an example that you seem to have missed while saying I am not using english. That sort of insult-throwing behaviour is what I was talking about. My point for it all was clearly laid out (in “english”), everyone should be held accountable for any insults/mean-spirited behaviour/harassment they do, no one is off the hook. Feel free to insult me all you want, but know it does nothing to further anything other to derail what is an important issue and post written by Ron.

#54 julian (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 11:42am

And for the record, I don’t think Melody is sexist. Women (and minorities, really) rising to prominence by taking anti feminist (or any liberal philosophy) isn’t new. I’m sure everyone here is familiar with Ann Coulter.

#55 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 11:59am

Attacking me with an insult is exactly what I said was the problem in the first place, as I never insulted you.

No, that’s not what you said at all. You were claiming that Melody, responding to an attack, was being given a “free pass” for her words. That’s entirely false, as this very thread has demonstrated.

You may not think you’ve insulted me, but you have. You’ve insulted everyone who’s stood up for themselves against this harassment. You’ve insulted everyone who’s tried to get this problem fixed. Not a single one of us who has done that has walked away without being punished for that activism. Frequently, we’ve been punished twice, first by the harassment itself, then for reacting to the harassment or the people who refuse to see the harassment in a less than perfectly thoughtful and serene way. Suggesting that any one of us has gotten a “free pass” is not just contrafactual, it’s damned insulting.

#56 CommanderTuvok (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:00pm

We again see the double standards of many people on one side of the “divide”.

Stephanie talks a lot about bullying, but has defended a fellow FreeThoughtBlogger who sent threats of violence to another FTB blogger. She even held a toast to him on the very night. The same person also bullied and harrassed a woman on his blog, revealing her personal information. Then, perhaps worst of all, the person she defends attempted to endanger someone’s employment by getting in touch with her seniors.

Opheliar is another one made of the cloth that Stephanie is made from. Always moaning about the treatment of women, but having radically different standards when it comes to women who disagree with her. She in fact endorses a series of terms aimed towards women who have a different opinion than her, namely “Gender Traitor”, “Sister Punisher” and “Chill Girl”. She also uses her blog to cover up lies. One such incident occured when another FTB blogger (they tend to chime in on each others’ blogs) accused Sara Mayhew of bullying Ophelia out of a convention. Sara attempted to post on Ophelia’s blog to correct the lie about her, but was then accused by Ophelia of “changing the subject”. It was tactical censorship.

Oh, and the FTBers, Skepchicks, and AtheismPlus brigades are hypocritical about the insults they use. They are horribly offended when the brilliant Jerry Coyne makes a reference to “slavering dogs”, but they ignore statements telling people to “die in a fire”, and PZ Myers actual threat of violence towards a shop owner. To them, an insult is literal (Zvan is stating that “slavering dogs” is a reference to bitches, and all other kinds of twisted crap”) when aimed towards them, but metaphorical when they are insulting others.

They fail by their own “standards”.

PS - You (the author) have a lot of guts for posting this - you are in danger of becoming the next “witch of the week”. They really don’t like it when you give their opponents the chance to speak. They really hate it when they can’t control, can’t censor, can’t banhammer, can’t edit, and can’t mob attack individuals.

#57 Jack Rawlinson (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:00pm

I am glad that more and more people are now calling out the excesses of some of the A+/FtB community. We looked away in embarrassment for a while. Like you do when a good friend or relative gets drunk and makes a fool of themselves. You hope it will pass.

No more. They’re hurting good people. We have to speak out.

#58 mspry (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:17pm

The biggest reason there is so much diversity in the movement. is because the word ‘atheist’ implies only one very small thing—that a person does not believe in a god.  There is absolutely no philosophy which is inherent to atheism.  Thus individuals and organizations wind up being all over the map.  An atheist can be a humanist or someone like Joseph Stalin.  I cover this in my book, No Santa, No Tooth Fairy, No God—The Need To Challenge Faith In America.  No organization of atheists can infer that other atheists are supportive of its agenda.  People must actively subscribe or groups of organizations must coalesce.

#59 julian (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:19pm

Last comment. Looking at the names I know where this is going.

Melody did not say Mayhew got her gigs by being anti-feminist. If Mayhew took that from the conversation (which I was reading at the time) she is mistaken. It was, as she’s already clarified here, a general complaint/observation of how some women approach feminist discussion.

Similarly she didn’t belittle her “girlishness” either (before that gets brought up)

Mayhew may feel slighted but to describe the exchange as sexist is absurd. There was anger, yes, but no sexism.

I doubt any of you will stop equating this with the rape threats and the other harassment the “radfems” you disdain so much have received but that won’t stop it from being misleading.

PS There is no witch hunt. Some have disagreed with how Lindsay has characterized the problem. Since when is that a witch hunt?

#60 SimonSays on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:20pm

Chiming In: You’re taking quotes out of context. Melody did not say anything about Sara’s shoes or her being vain or her being girly (as has been asserted elsewhere).

#61 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:21pm

Yeah, here’s that “free pass” in action. Good to see this sort of completely non-divisive behavior so quickly and effectively repudiated.

#62 sigh (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:31pm

I didn’t know about that Twitter exchange.  I was sympathetic to Surly Amy before I saw that.  Now I wonder what else I don’t know.

#63 oolon (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:32pm

#63,#64… Did CommanderTuvok and Jack Rawlinson actually read the post or was it too long? You seem so desperate for anything to be attacking FtBs that you miss Stephanie actually agrees with the majority of the post. So no need to be witch of the week - maybe you need to back pedal and decry Ron as a FtBs mouthpiece given they appear to mostly like the post

#64 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:37pm

sigh, what do you know about Amy after the comments here that you didn’t know before that would change your opinion of her?

#65 Quine (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:46pm

I am sad to see so many buy into the fallacy of the excluded middle by believing that “if you are not with us, you are against us.” This form of division is well studied in human history (Google “Schismogenesis” for details) and acts to sweep out a middle ground in the space between warring camps. Anyone who makes even the smallest critical observation in the middle ground is pushed to the other side by insults and demonization, thus keeping the divide going.

I ask everyone involved to stop and think. Just think.

#66 John D (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:47pm

Language is actually a very big part of the problem.  Most A+ supports use vile language and violent reference about men regularly.  Take this brilliant joke made by Rebecca Watson on a tweet:

” Rebecca Watson @rebeccawatson
  I’m gonna start advising men on how not to get kicked in the balls. “Don’t talk to any women in heels. Don’t leave the house w/out a cup.”

I could be wrong, but I suspect that if a man had implied this kind of violence against a woman he would be called a “rape apologist” and a “misogynist”.

It is this kind of hypocrisy that is so infuriating about the various “leaders” of the Atheism Plus crew.  I don’t know how they can call themselves skeptics and still sleep at night.  These are not the kind of people who should lead anything, as I suspect they will lead people down the gutter.

#67 John Moriarty (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:50pm

HI Ron,
ex-believer here, atheistic humanist secularist is close enough.  Pro ALL human rights including unborn rights…am I welcome? I would like to be, but get the vibe that if you are not pro choice, you will not fit in, is this true?  Where do I fit?  DJ IIRC did have a speaker on once, surname of Roth but not Amy.  Anyone else?

#68 Tezcatlipoca (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:53pm

Thanks for the post Ron, it is much appreciated.

#69 SimonSays on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 12:58pm

John D: The opposite actually does happen all the time and it is misogynistic. Women are constantly told that being sexually assaulted is their own fault. That’s exactly the point.

#70 julian (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:01pm


Ok so I can’t leave. To do so would be giving up the field to people determined to misinform, lie and misrepresent.

John D’s quote is taken entirely out of context. Watson was responding (and ribbing on, obviously) advice on how to not be groped, sexually harassed and raped. Instead of showing “misandry” (or a general disdain for men) as is implied we see the opposite. Watson recognizes the absurdities of both and uses one illustrate the other.

#71 oolon (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:02pm

#74, John D, A+ lot are totally awful.. So yeah lets compare Rebeccas joke to the site you probably got the quote from ... Titled,
“Little skeptic twat Rhys not so hot at science”. Very nice to treat a young sceptic who flunked his exams, in part due to Crohn’s disease, as a ‘twat’ and ridicule him for the poor results. Mainly because he has the temerity to identify as a feminist who likes the Skepchicks and FtBs.

So personally I’ll prefer those horrible A+ lot with their dodgy jokes over your side with their extreme hate. No hypocrisy there eh?

#72 Adriana (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:21pm

I agree with the thought that hurling insults at each other is not conducive to intelligent discussions; however, from what I’ve followed online in the past year or so, it took a lot of insults and threats directed at women bloggers for people to start paying attention. I feel that Melody Hensley is right when she says that sexism and misogyny, in minor and major degrees, are so pervasive in our society that many times they fly under most people’s radar. Sometimes disparaging comments towards women even fly under my radar! We get inured to this kind of treatment, and simply try to shrug it off. I used to think ignoring the behavior and viewing it as a “fringe”, as “outside of the movement” was the best solution, but now I’m doubtful. Certainly answering back with insults or equally disparaging remarks does not seem to be a good solution either. I agree with Ron Lindsay on this aspect.
However, I’m totally missing Ron’s point about how worries about “atheism plus” potential divisiveness make any sense at this point. Maybe I’m missing something, but I cannot find the relationship between the first part of the post, and the last part about the potential divisive impact of “atheism plus.”

#73 Ronald A. Lindsay on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:26pm

Just a few comments for now.

Although I thank everyone for taking the time to comment, I think the attention to Melody Hensley’s tweet is excessive and unproductive. It’s been addressed already by me in communications I had with some individuals who complained about the tweet. The substance of my response has been made public by them. Nothing more to be said, I think.

@Ophelia. You could be right that I have misstated the unanimity of leaders of the movement on the issue of whether misogynists and haters are welcome in the movement. But if so, then someone is dissembling because I have attended the Heads meeting for several years now and I think I have a pretty good read on their (expressed) sentiments. BTW, as indicated in my post I was limiting myself to the US.

@Greta. Respectfully, I think you misinterpret my remarks. Let’s pick up where I left off with Ophelia, that is, with the issue of whether haters are part of the movement. As I clearly stated in my post, I don’t consider someone part of the movement just because they’re an atheist. They have to actively support the work of the secular movement in some way. All the major secular organizations in the United States: CFI/CSH, AHA, AA, AAA, AEU, SSA, FFRF, MAAF, SHJ, FBB have been strong advocates for women’s rights for as long as I can remember. Why would a misogynist want to support such organizations? Sure, it’s possible that could happen, just as I suppose it’s possible an African American would join a white supremacist group, but it seems highly unlikely. In any event, as Amy Roth’s series indicates, we don’t want the haters. If they submitted their dues in error, they should request a refund.

The good thing about the increase of the number of nonreligious in the US is that there has been an increase; the bad thing is with that this increase, and the accessibility that the Internet offers, we now have some people who have no substantive connection to secular activism, but like to write hateful messages against women prominent in the movement. This is very unfortunate.

But I don’t think this unfortunate fact means we ditch the current secular organizations; rather it means we need to work together to try to contain/expel those who don’t share our support for women’s values and are intent on disrupting our work.

You are distorting what I am saying when you suggest that by expressing the concern that Atheism + might (depending on how it’s program of action is eventually formulated) divert resources from the secular movement, I am expressing an entitlement to your work. Nope, nothing could be further from the truth. You’re free to devote your energies how you see fit. Moreover, CFI, like other secular organizations, indeed, like other organizations in general, has to earn the support of its members. If you don’t support what CFI does (or AA or AHA, etc.) then you should devote your efforts to other work. What I’m stating is merely the obvious fact that if Atheism+  winds up with a plan of action that doesn’t advance secularism, then resources will be diverted from the cause of secularism.  To take an example from another area: If the government decides not to promote education as vigorously, but instead to pursue a space program, then resources will be diverted from education. It’s not more complicated than that.

@Guest Atheist Woman. Saw your comment after I wrote the above. Yes, I do think that, in general, you have to be active in some way other than merely commenting on blogs to be part of the movement. If you have a routine of making substantive proposals on blogs/forums and discussing them and others’ proposals in a productive manner that could count, sure, but comments of the sort we’ve been considering today obviously don’t count.  Being part of the movement doesn’t mean you have to be formally aligned with a group. Moreover, one’s activism doesn’t have to be that time-consuming. It could be just a matter of responding to a call to action on some proposed legislation, attending a meeting, participating in a march, and so forth. But you have to do something. There was no Internet in the 1950’s, but I don’t think people considered themselves part of the Civil Rights movement just because they commented on newspaper articles about segregation by saying “this stinks” to their neighbors.

The movement organizations can do a better job in reaching out to and empowering women and minorities. I don’t dispute that.

If people feel disenfranchised they should speak up. I have no problem with that. I welcome that.

@Me. Never called myself a “good guy.”  And it would be irrelevant if I tried to label myself that way. Either my assertions and arguments are sound or they’re not. 

To others: just because I have not specifically addressed your comments does not imply I think they are unimportant. Unfortunately, I have to turn to other work.

#74 John D (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:28pm

To #81 Adriana - Perhaps these so called insults fly under your radar because they are not even insults.  I am all for a blog space that uses polite and safe language.  But… this has to go both ways.  Even Ron points out a case where a prominent person is called a misogynist for no good reason.  This kind of labeling of men is so common amongst the A+ crew that scores of people are complaining about it.  I will be the first one to join a slander free blog or site.  So far, the A+ crew has just created an echo chamber where certain insults are hurled at random while other insults result in banning.  The hypocrisy burns.

#75 Amy (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:31pm

Hi there everyone. I’m going to let you keep arguing, but I have something to say first, and I hope some of you will at least consider it.

I’ve been following this movement for about 7 years. I’ve tried dipping my toe in the sea of activism a couple of times, but I’ve always been somewhat cautious. Last year, when I saw how ugly people in the movement really are, I decided I wanted no part. I kept reading blogs, and was getting angrier and angrier, but I very rarely commented. After I read about how Amy Roth was treated at TAM this year, I was ready to throw in the towel. That really was the last straw for me. I’d had it. I thought, you people can keep your movement. It’s not a place I could ever feel safe or welcome.

Then people on Jen McCreight’s blog started talking about forming a new sub-culture and calling it Atheism+.

You know what? It brought me back, and it brought me back fighting.

FINALLY - something I can be a part of where I can raise my voice and be supported. A movement that cares about the same things I care about. A movement where I can go to conventions and not have to worry about harassment or running into those horrible people I see commenting at Freethought Blogs or Skepchick. A place I can feel safe and feel proud to be involved.

And it’s not just me. Go look at how many comments Jen’s blog posts on A+ have received. Look at how many people de-lurked to say, “This is the first time I’ve commented”, throwing in their support, wanting to be a part of this. Look at how many people who were thisclose to saying the hell with it and leaving the whole movement behind for something more productive are now sticking around. Just look.

Regarding concern about money… I can’t speak for anyone else, but you (general “you”) didn’t have me to begin with, neither my money nor my time. I wasn’t about to get involved with a movement that was hostile toward me because I am feminist as well as atheist. If you had really been concerned about making the movement more inclusive of women I might not have felt that way. But you blew it, and lost a potential activist. It shouldn’t make any difference to you now if I become actively involved in A+ because you’ll have lost nothing.

The people you should be concerned about are those who were supportive of the movement, who were pushed away because so many of you refused to take their concerns seriously.

Atheism+ isn’t divisive. It isn’t the problem. The problem is the people who refuse to listen to what women in the movement have been telling them all along. They had a chance to fix things and they didn’t. They had a chance to reach out to people like me, to make us feel safe and welcome. Because they failed to do so, we’ve moved on and found something better. That’s just the way it is.

Thanks. You can go back to arguing now.

#76 julian (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:34pm

@Ron Lindsay

Great reply. But I don’t see your focus on who’s part of the movement as particularly relevant. Isn’t the issue who’s part of the atheist/skeptic/humanist community? The movement, as you’ve defined it, is a much smaller subset of the people involved in the community. That is people who identify as atheist/skeptic/humanist and occupy spaces won by the movement or made by the growing free thinker orgs.

#77 Cthandhs (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:48pm

Look at this comment thread. This is why I am am no longer willing to contribute time and resources to the mainstream atheist movement and organizations. I made a vow at the beginning of the year after watching the systematic, misogynistic, abuse of active women in atheism and in the American political system. I will *only* donate money and work to support causes that have a feminist or social justice focus, which means I *will not* support the mainstream “atheist movement” whose definition of feminism appears to be telling women to tone it down because there’s not really a problem. Don’t think of A+ as removing members from mainstream atheism, A+ is the only way atheism gets to keep us.

#78 CommanderTuvok (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:51pm

Amy says: “The people you should be concerned about are those who were supportive of the movement, who were pushed away because so many of you refused to take their concerns seriously.”

I think the FTB crew tried their best to push as many people (mainly women) away from the current movement. If any woman voiced support of the current movement, they were dismissed, harrassed and censored.

Further, A+ is a minority movement that mirrors all the things they hate - white, privileged, middle class, educated. It is not the problem of the wider atheist/skeptic communities that this breakaway group hate themselves.

The A/S communities will continue to grow from strength to strength - even more so now certain troublemakers have distanced themselves from it. Women don’t want to be infantilised by the A+ movement, and don’t want to bullied if they disagree with it.

#79 Adriana (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:52pm

@John D: I was not referring to online comments only: I was referring to disparaging comments about women in our society at large. I was not talking about any specific blog, or about “atheism plus” either. For example, in real life, I often hear passing comments about a bad driver that hint that this is typical of “women driving”, or a stupid comment dismissing a woman’s justified irritation regarding a work issue as “she must be in PMS”, or some other apparently innocuous comment like that. Not to mention comments I was exposed to as a woman scientist. I’m kind of old, and it got much better for women in science but I still get to hear stuff like “concerns” about a female scientist who just became a mother, etc.  Comments like this would immediately raise a red flag if directed towards a non-white person, but if it’s directed against women, they tend to be dismissed as simple silliness or antiquated ideas as opposed to outright sexist, which is what they are.
Of course I agree that politeness has to go EVERY way; in fact, that’s the first thing I wrote about in my comment.

#80 julian (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:54pm

Ron Lindsay is drawing a distinction between people who are actually part of the movement and those who just identify as atheist or skeptic or humanist. I don’t see why that’s wrong. Obviously there’s a difference between those who are active in a movement and those who benifit from it.

#81 Paul the Morning Heretic on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:54pm

Hi folks, moderator here—there are some folks using “sock puppet” accounts, posing as multiple users, and we don’t allow that here. So those comments that you’ve found to be mysteriously missing are gone for that reason.

#82 CommanderTuvok (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:55pm

“Atheism+ isn’t divisive. It isn’t the problem. The problem is the people who refuse to listen to what women in the movement have been telling them all along. They had a chance to fix things and they didn’t. They had a chance to reach out to people like me, to make us feel safe and welcome.”

Challenge any aspect of A+ or FTB, and then get back to us.

I would never feel safe at a convention that thought having Greg Laden write the anti-harrassment policy was a wise move. Good lord - the irony!

#83 Amy (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 1:55pm

@ Cthandhs: Yes. Exactly. You and I understand each other perfectly.

@ CommanderTuvok: Look at what you did right there. That’s what I’m talking about. You’re not helping.

Furthermore, you have no way of knowing whether you’re right in your claim. Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m tired of it.

#84 julian (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 2:07pm

I am obviously not a moderator here but, should this thread really become a referendum on FtB? I realize why discussing A+ is relevant but FtB is made up of a lot more than A+. Only 3 bloggers have said they’re on board while the rest have expressed skepticism or rejected the label (or remained entirely silent). 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.

#85 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 2:12pm

julian, I don’t know that it’s particularly productive, but it’s certainly a solid demonstration of how people “outside” movement atheism don’t stay outside at all.

#86 Amy (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 2:14pm

@julian: Sorry, I only mentioned them because that’s where I tend to “hang out.” I was actually reading Jen’s blog when A+ was originally proposed (it was pretty exciting). And FTB is where I witnessed much of the hostility (from the anti-feminists) that kept me from becoming more involved.

I’m actually fine with people who don’t want to slap a new label on themselves. I am just annoyed at how those of us who are enthusiastic about the idea have been demonized. If it wasn’t for A+, I wouldn’t be speaking out. The fact that it’s got people de-lurking and wanting to do more than armchair activism should count for something, no?

#87 Elwedge (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 2:20pm

I’m really curious how anyone thinks that A+ will cure the issues they find so abhorrent in Atheism. Do you believe that the folks you are describing causing this distress are going to magically evaporate? They will not invade the safe space you are trying to create? That you can build a treehouse that high?
Just from a sociological statistics perspective you will have the same bad behavior as a percent to total in this movement that there is in every movement in society. I am not wishing you to fail but I do believe you are deluding yourselves.
And Ophelia, don’t you think enough is enough.

#88 Amy (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 2:33pm

@Elwedge: So the worst that can happen is that everything will stay just as bad as it is currently? Then why not give it a shot?

#89 Cthandhs (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 2:38pm

@ Amy: Hi Amy, nice to meet you, What say we blow this pop stand and go do some life-affirming social justice work? I should stop reading these “divisiveness” posts, but I can’t look away. I can’t understand where all this BS is coming from. We’re all “Hey, let’s go do something AWESOME that helps EVERYBODY with people who LIKE US!” and people come out of the woodwork with “Noooooooooo! It BURNS ussssss!” or “As a privileged white dude, let me tell you why you’re making a horrible mistake/ill-considered decision/will destroy atheism.”

@Ronald Lindsay: I spent 3 hours being mansplained about why my beliefs were wrong while volunteering at my first (and last) AU booth. This isn’t something that just happens on the internet. I am DEFINITELY disenfranchised and I am DEFINITELY not interested in any movement that does not embrace feminism and social justice as key values. You’re right that there are other organizations working on those efforts. Atheism+ is my alternative to going to those organizations and leaving the mainstream secular movement entirely.

#90 Elwedge (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 3:26pm

@90 Amy…You’re recommending an analogy to Pascal’s Wager.  The problem is we had continuity, momentum and the beginnings of a political movement. Now we are a polarized and divided community. And bty, I don’t agree with Ron’s definition of being active in the community. Regardless,I think It would be better to fix what we have.

#91 julian (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 3:47pm

Elwedge, if you are so concerned about lost momentum, perhaps you could spend a little less time chastizing the people upset over rape threats and more time stopping the rape threats. You, as Greta Christina points out, are not owed anyone’s time. If they support the same movement as you it is only because they see it as worthwhile. If they find something more meaningful to them or grow disillusioned they are under no obligation to continue under the same banner as you.

@stephanie zvan

Agreed. That’s one of the reasons I don’t think the focus on movement atheists is helpful. There’s obviously no giant wall seperating those doing the lifting and those making things less welcoming. (And it’s not as if the people doing the lifting are all “friendlies.”)


I’m with you on that. I really don’t care what you identify as and I know some people have real reasons to be apprehensive about A+. It’s more important we all stay commited to doing good work than what we call ourselves.

@Guest Atheist Woman

I don’t disagree.

#92 Quine on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 3:48pm

I would also ask people to think about the example set by M. K. Gandhi, who spent his entire life moving human societies. He learned that hurling insults and calling people names did not move those people to join your cause. We all know that getting to the human level where you can make a connection is more difficult with some resistant people than others, but please don’t shut that down re the general population because you are overcome with frustration over those few.

#93 julian (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 3:53pm

@Guest Atheism Woman

This is still a skeptic movement. Feminism (and woman’s issues) isn’t going to be the core concern nor should it be. Similarly anti-vax paranoia shouldn’t be the core concern of feminism.

#94 Amy Lark (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 4:00pm

@Elwedge: I can see how you would have interpreted my comment that way. Let me try to put it differently. If I thought things were going to remain as they have been, we wouldn’t be discussing this right now. A+ has given me hope. I’m willing to give it a chance. If it doesn’t work out, then I’m out. Point is that I don’t see how I fit into this movement that is so full of hate and animosity.

I personally try very hard to not sling insults at people or ridicule them. I’m not above sarcasm, but I don’t believe that attacking people is at all constructive. That’s just me. I see it coming from both sides, but I will point out that I have not seen rape and death threats coming from the side that I associate with.

#95 Amy Lark (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 4:03pm

@julian #96: Understood. However, when the A/S movement has difficulty recruiting women to the cause, women’s issues *do* become much more central. Right?

#96 Ophelia Benson on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 4:31pm

Elwedge - don’t I think enough what is enough? Me saying something? No, not particularly. Something else?

#97 Ms. Daisy Cutter (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 5:21pm

Cthandhs: I agree with you entirely.

Elwedge: “And Ophelia, don’t you think enough is enough.” Yes, I think the misogynist abuse that Ophelia and other women in the atheist movement have gotten over the last year-plus is *quite* enough, don’t you?

Oh, and we already *were* “a polarized and divided community.” You just don’t like having it called out.

Quine, Gandhi sexually exploited young women and didn’t care a fig for the people abused by the caste system. I can see why you’re eager for the atheist movement to emulate him.

#98 Quine on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 5:38pm

Ms. Daisy Cutter, I see you reached right for the ad hominem button. At least get your facts straight; Gandhi was one of the very first to do widespread work against the caste system, starting at the bottom with the “untouchables” who were the most marginalized and least privileged in the nation. I did not advocate emulating anything about the man, but simply that we should learned from what he spent a life finding out (as did the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. decades ago).

#99 Ms. Daisy Cutter (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 5:44pm

Are you going to mention MLK, Jr. next, Quine? Perhaps you should read “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” You can Google it.

#100 Amy Lark (Guest) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 at 5:44pm

@Quine: With all due respect, I think the people you should be telling that to are the ones belittling and sending threats to women in the movement. I don’t think those who are at the receiving end are under any obligation to behave charitably.

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