The Joy of Sects

May 6, 2013


sect (sekt), n 4.  any group, party, or faction united by a specific doctrine or under a doctrinal leader. (Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1996)


 I look forward to being at the Women in Secularism conference next week. The line-up is chock-full of smart, interesting speakers, many of the attendees are friends and colleagues, and D.C. is a great place to spend a weekend. 

Not everyone feels that way. Some of the people who are not going are not just passing on the conference, they’re also criticizing that it’s happening at all. It’s not needed; it’s a waste of resources; it dilutes our mission, they say. 

I have a specific and a general response to all that.  

Specifically – obviously – women (who are over ½ the U.S. population) have been getting screwed by religion since well before whatever fiction writer dreamt up the story of The Fall in Genesis.  (There, Eve is forever blamed for original sin because she... what now? Ate from the Tree of Knowledge? Oh, please. If God were just, he would have given her a medal instead of kicking her out of the Garden.) 

Anyone who can’t see that most of Christianity (for one) has for millennia institutionalized the unequal treatment of women isn’t looking very hard. Catholic women can’t even vote for a Pope, much less be one.

Should women be motivated to strengthen their specific secular position in our society? Hell yes! Or do what? Sit back and take it for another 1000 years? I wouldn’t… 

Which brings me to a general response… 

ANY large group who feels like they have a particular beef with religion (or pseudoscience, or other wacky beliefs) has a legitimate interest in addressing that problem as a group.  

At CFI-L.A. we’ve hosted Black Skeptics, Spanish-speaking atheists, gay and lesbian humanists, and others who’ve had specific troubles in our society based on who they fundamentally are. And I say, welcome to our tent. 

Ideally, our whole movement is a coalition of individuals and groups who all have an interest in promoting a secular and reason-based society. And if some of those groups want to get together to fine-tune their methods for dealing with and changing this uber-religious society we live in, more power to them.


How can we help?


#1 S.Hill on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 6:46am

“Some of the people who are not going are not just passing on the conference, they’re also criticizing that it’s happening at all. It’s not needed; it’s a waste of resources; it dilutes our mission, they say. “

That is not at all why I am passing on this conference but I do consider it misguided. Some of the people involved in this event have been rude, hateful and nasty to other women within the secular community, berating them and “shunning” them. There is little chance that with those people involved that any progress can be made as a whole until the egos are left at the door and cooperation, not competition, is the order of the day. I have not yet seen much of an effort to cooperate on fleshing out and then aiming to FIX any of the many problems that exist. Lots of talk talk talk. No cooperation. Talk is cheap. Cooperation means considering others views without prejudice. That is DAMNED hard.

#2 Stacy (Guest) on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 10:37am

Gee, Sharon, nobody involved in this conference has done anything like contacting the Westboro Baptist Church to tell them about WiS2. That was done by somebody who shares your point of view about the conference.

Some of the women “involved in this event” have been relentlessly mocked, followed online, trolled, and cyber-harassed. Rape jokes and jokes about vials of acid have been made.

I notice you don’t adduce any specific examples of the “rude, nasty, and hateful” behavior you allege on our part. Perhaps, in the spirit of cooperation and the leaving aside of egos, you will simply allow WiS2 to proceed without further attempts to smear those involved.

#3 S.Hill on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 11:15am

It is well known that I have been “shunned” because I don’t tow a certain feminist view and that I have been publicly accused of being a hater, a “gender-traitor”, and accused of Twitter “follow crime”. All unhelpful divisiveness sowed by those who do not seem at all interested in forming allies and solving problems but of creating drama. Stacy, you have mischaracterized my statements and did exactly the same.

I have in the past offered to be part of various cooperative projects but they have never materialized. Ultimately, secularism is not my area of particular interest but since the problems have spilled over into other fields, and I do not consider them unimportant, it’s a topic worthy of discussion. And civility.

#4 Stacy (Guest) on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 12:00pm

Sharon, I’m not interested in dredging up old grudges or highjacking Jim’s comment thread with recitals of who allegedly wronged you. If you’ve been wronged, I’m sincerely sorry about that. But here you’ve made general, unsubstantiated allegations about unnamed people wronging you, and claiming that as the reason you feel WiS2 is somehow “misguided.” Then in the same comment you call for cooperation and the laying aside of egos and of drama.

I cannot see that I have in any way mischaracterized your statements.

I have done “exactly the same” as what? I haven’t called you a “gender traitor” (for the record, I could, if provoked, provide links to the origins of that silly meme) or accused you of anything more than writing a vague post that tends to poison the well vis-a-vis WiS2.

“It is well known that I have been “shunned” ...”

I certainly did not know it. Not sure what, precisely, you mean by “shunned.” I’m sure we can agree that people have the right to choose their own company. If anyone has tried to keep you from attending any gathering, without sufficient reason, I haven’t heard about it, and I would decry any such attempt.

“and accused of Twitter “follow crime”.”

I don’t know how you can be accused of a “crime” that doesn’t exist. I’ve heard of people objecting when others continued to follow and tweet about them after they’d been blocked. That’s not the most civil behavior—but it certainly isn’t a crime.

#5 Stephanie Zvan on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 12:01pm

Sharon, I’m fairly sure no one has called you “gender traitor” or told you that following someone on Twitter was a crime, despite your use of quotes here. Please clarify that you’re not saying any of the people involved in WiS actually did these things.

If that’s the case, your complaint seems to be that some of the people attending don’t want to work with or be friendly to you. You also seem to be saying that no progress can be made until they do work with you, and that they need to put aside their egos in order to do so. Finally, you seem to be saying that you’re not going to a conference that is on a topic you have no interest in because these unnamed people have big egos.

Am I reading all that correctly?

#6 S.Hill on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 12:17pm

I won’t call attention to sites that cause more division than anything. But here is Ron’s post about it.

I guess it’s good it’s not that well known, then. I didn’t call much attention to it.

And, yes, Stephanie, there seems to be no chance at resolution with some people. Unfortunately. But, they can try to resolve things however they wish. It is my opinion that this current path is not going to work. In fact, I’m not even clear what the goals are.

#7 Snoma (Guest) on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 12:27pm

Stacy and Zvan.

Amy Davis Roth, a speaker at this year’s WIS conference, is the one who accused Sharon of follow crime on Twitter. This is old news, it happened a year ago. So like Stacy said, it’s no reason be dregde up old issues. Just thought I’d point it that yes, someone at WIS did do it.

And as Sharon points out above, there has been anonymous calls for her to be blacklisted from speaking at CFI related events.

#8 Stephanie Zvan on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 12:28pm

Sharon, you didn’t answer my question. Nor did you provide the requested clarification. On top of that, your commenting here is precisely calling attention to whatever happened that Ron refers to while tying that behavior to quotes that aren’t quotes and pointing fingers at a group of people who—as one of them, I can safely say—certainly did not all do what you claim.

I don’t know what your goals are here either, but I can’t say I care for the behavior.

#9 Stephanie Zvan on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 12:29pm

No, Snoma, Amy did not accuse anyone of a “follow crime”. That’s a nonsensical phrase.

#10 Snoma (Guest) on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 12:53pm


“Amy Davis Roth @SurlyAmy

It’s also really sad that there are ‘speakers’ at TAM who Follow /RT and think this is acceptable. You should be embarrassed. @IDoubtIt
6:09 PM - 30 Jun 2012”

“Sharon Hill @IDoubtIt

Judging me about who I follow? Really?! RT @SurlyAmy: You should be embarrassed. @IDoubtIt
6:54 PM - 30 Jun 2012”

“Amy Davis Roth @SurlyAmy

Yep, if u follow those accounts I am unfollowing you. If you want me 2 refollow get in touch and explain. If not, enjoy ur playground, kids.”

Sounds to me like Amy judged her and publicly tried to shame her for following the Angry Skepchick account.

Amy even tried to discredit Sharon’s then upcoming TAM workshop by asking silly questions like this:

“Amy Davis Roth @SurlyAmy

. @IDoubtIt Why do you think that Angry Skepchick account is funny? Will you be including that in your working as a community workshop?
6:00 PM - 30 Jun 2012”

As if there would be any reason for Sharon to do that. It was unnecessary and reads like a try to undermine Sharon’s workshop.

You can take a look at the whole conversation here:

#11 Stephanie Zvan on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 12:56pm

So, what you’re saying, Snoma, is that no one accused Sharon of a follow crime?

#12 Stacy (Guest) on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 1:00pm

“And as Sharon points out above, there has been anonymous calls for her to be blacklisted from speaking at CFI related events”

Thanks for the information, Snoma. I must point out though that Sharon didn’t put it that way, she said that people involved with this event have “been shunning” other women. She held people involved with WiS to blame for some unspecified shunning. That’s hardly fair: anonymous calls for blacklisting are 1) Anonymous, and 2) Calls—they can be and are easily ignored. Ron Lindsey has stated publicly that he’s not about to blacklist anyone for anything other than serious misconduct.

Ron has also pointed out that there have been anonymous calls for the blacklisting of practically everyone and anyone, including people on both sides of this particular rift.

#13 S.Hill on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 3:38pm

Aaaaaand, this is why I have no interest in these discussions.

Once again I will state my point: There is a hostile environment that has been created with regards to these events and certain people involved in them. When cooler heads prevail, maybe forward progress can be made.

#14 Stacy (Guest) on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 8:11pm

“There is a hostile environment that has been created”

Indeed. Vague, factually dubious, and unsubstantiated allegations create a hostile environment.

Interesting use of the passive voice, there.

#15 Stacy (Guest) on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 8:18pm

Moving on—terrific post, Jim!

I’m so excited. I’ve been communicating on Facebook with so many wonderful women and men. Can’t wait to meet them in person! I have a great deal to thank CFI for.

“How can we help?”

You rock.

#16 thefemalearchetype on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 8:24pm

Jim, I just wanted to thank you for this post. You really reduced it to it’s most essential elements.  So many people have been trying to make space for diversity in the movement and it is really nice to have your voice added to it. I wish more people understood that to make a diverse and thriving movement you have to enlist a number of approaches to make people feel welcome and emboldened to participate.  So, thank you.

#17 Elwedge (Guest) on Tuesday May 07, 2013 at 10:05pm

“Indeed. Vague, factually dubious, and unsubstantiated allegations create a hostile environment.”

You are certainly entitled to this opinion. I respectfully disagree. I think there have been several people that have been extremely devisive in the name of diversity and shout down anyone with dissenting perspective. I enjoy reading the blogs but several are works of fiction wrapped up as fact.  And in the end, the nones movement in general has been hurt.

The old addage"why can’t we all get along”, well it’s really simple, if folks don’t get their way they don’t want to.

#18 Mrs A.S. (Guest) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 at 2:05pm

If there isn’t a divisive atmosphere rather than a spirit of cooperation within the secular community, then why is Ron Lindsay being contacted by those who feel that some should be excluded?

As a woman, I am very unhappy with how the debate about ‘women in the secular community’ has been conducted.  The messaging has been very negative.  Furthermore, those women who do not accept this negative view of the secular community are being maligned.  This is not a constructive and productive approach to solving problems.  We should have dealt with this issue rationally rather than creating a ‘100% with us, or 100% against us’ narrative where debate is unacceptable and unwelcome.

I don’t need an exclusive group of people who share my superficial characteristics to tell me what issues I face and what needs to be done about them.  I want to hear the perspectives from all people who share my concerns about secular issues, in an effort to understand how best to deal with these issues.  The assumption that there are certain issues that only women care about and that only women have solutions for is exclusionary.  Many people of all genders, ethnicities, etc, who have experience in working to make the world a better place, have worthwhile perspectives we should consider when fighting against the purveyors of woo.

I want a “Success in Promoting Secularism” conference which includes speakers who have been making forward progress in fighting against religious oppression.  Religious oppression that affects women affects all of us.  You don’t need to be a woman to care about this and be successful in fighting against this oppression.

#19 thefemalearchetype on Wednesday May 08, 2013 at 6:22pm

Mrs. A.S.  I actually think your stated goals and the conference reality are not that far apart; the perception of the conference as colored by internet fighting that is the main problem here.  I went to the conference last year after I got a flier at the Reason Rally.  I was really excited because the Reason Rally championed a new direction of inclusiveness and a commitment to diversity and Women in Secularism seemed like the first of what I hoped would be a number of conferences that would work toward that goal. 
  In activism multiple approaches, styles and opportunities for outreach tends to have the greatest overall impact in reaching the largest number of disparate people.  Not everyone responds to a specific approach positively and therefore it is more effective to work on multiple fronts.  In having listened to the speakers at the RR and WIS I got the sense that Secularism and movement Atheism has begun to realize that necessity and was expanding its outreach by offering diverse events and specialized spaces for people to explore the intersection of atheism with their own unique perspectives; the goal being to make people feel they have a seat at the table and they have a space to better advocate for a broader secular agenda.  Asking everyone to do activism the same way or start down the secular path is not a sustainable model for a growing movement and in the long run alienates non theist allies we need for political leverage to make our collective voice to count. 
    The panels at Women in Secularism looked at how we could do this better, looked at how we could divest more people from the stranglehold of religious communities that use poverty, class, gender and race as extra bonds to control and manipulate the population at large.  These are issues that secularism has to deal with to grow.  Indoctrination starts early and is most often transmitted matrilineally in religious communities through women as primary caregivers and early educators.  It is re-enforced through services, social ties, and community structures that make it difficult for the less than privileged to escape.  By having a conference that addresses the inadequacy of current strategies in breaking these bonds and the unique challenges gender and race pose to a one size fits all approach we can start to attack religious harm at its foundations. 
Inclusiveness is something activist communities have struggled with throughout history and one that as so many better people have said we would be best to get right early on. I am thrilled that you feel welcome and at home in the secular movement.  But not everyone does or will so having a diverse set of options will in turn welcome of diverse set of voices and only make this movement better.  That was pretty much the theme of the conference and it sounds like one you would get behind if there were not all the internet baggage tacked on to it.  It was exactly what I needed to bring me out of the atheist closet.  I imagine I am not the only voice to benefit from it.

#20 Mrs A.S. (Guest) on Thursday May 09, 2013 at 12:17am

Thanks for the response, thefemalearchtype.  I have to say that I am painfully aware of the views many devoutly religious have about the role of women in society.  I grew up in an environment where women were considered only of value as helpmates to men.  I walked away from that world when I was 17 years old.

I felt welcome in the secular community because it was a place where rational thinking was championed, and all ideas were open to debate based on evidence.  In such a place, internet mudslinging should be considered completely inappropriate and unacceptable.  Instead, we have people who claim to be fighting for women taking potshots at those who don’t agree 100% with what these ‘champions for women’ are saying.  This internet fighting is an embarrassment to women like me who thought they were supporting efforts to promote a rational world view.  I once felt welcome in the secular community but I no longer do.  This infighting is something I want no part of.  It is hypocritical in the extreme, just like the religious world I walked away from. 

If we are not allowed to engage in debate about how best to reach our goals on an issue, (including issues of inclusiveness and diversity), without the mudslinging and rancor, then we are not living up to our most important goal of promoting rational thinking based on evidence.

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