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.

Postscript
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.

Comments:

#201 julian (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 12:53pm

Igloo is lying. Feminists (especially atheist feminists) are often critical of one another and of different schools. I don’t know nor care why Igloo would lie like that but I doubt it matters as this is all entirely besides the point. We are not talking about feminism. We are not talking about FtB. I don’t see myself being able to stay on topic either so I’m going to remove myself. 200 comments and maybe a tenth actually addressing the article.

Sorry for the derail.

#202 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 12:54pm

@ Amy

“you seem to be sending me an implicit message . . .”

I just don’t think this is the place for a big discussion about the many faults of atheism+. I don’t think it will be appreciated by the others here.

You can contact me on youtube, KevinSolway, if you want more information.

#203 Igloo lynx (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:05pm

@Amy

That is good to hear.  I’m confident that my views are shared by many feminists.  However I’m also aware that some of my views conflict with the view of other feminists.  My concern with atheism plus is that it is predicated on a platform of feminism that expresses views that I disagree with and because of that disagreement I will be unwelcome and ostracized. I’m worried that the lack of tolerance for difference in opinion on topics external to atheism and secularism that has been expressed by many of the supporters of atheism plus will begin to impact other atheist organizations like cfi.  Although atheism plus promotes itself as safe place for certain minorities and social justice concerns I’m worried it will not be a safe place for skeptical expression.

#204 Amy (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:19pm

@Igloo: I totally understand the concerns of people who are afraid of being labeled “not the right kind of feminist.” It seems to me that the majority of A+ers fall somewhere within third-wave feminism (myself included), where the emphasis is on diversity. But there are lots of different types of feminists.

I got into a discussion with a friend of a friend who is liberal Christian and identifies as feminist. I asked her how she reconciles her feminism with misogyny in the Bible, and she got very upset with me, thinking I was challenging her claim of feminism. In fact I wasn’t, I am just honestly curious how someone can reconcile, for instance, Genesis with feminist beliefs. But you can see how touchy people can be.

(I apologize… this is not at all on topic.)

#205 Ophelia Benson on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:31pm

Dammit. I want to stay out of this because it’s so choked with trollers, but another lie about me -

Speaking of language. Don’t forget Sikivu Hutichison called Richard Dawkins “a white supremacist” at a conference. Along side her at the time was Ophelia Benson and Rebecca Watson, who nodded along with approval!

That is a brazen lie. I disagreed with much of what Sikivu said and I said so. I did not nod along with approval. (I don’t remember her calling Dawkins a white supremacist, but I do remember that her approach seems to make science and reason inherently white and male and elitist, which is a view I’ve been opposing for years. I’m not familiar with the work of “Commander Tuvok” in this line.)

#206 rempetis (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:36pm

Reading this post is funny to me. It reminds me 1 1/2 month ago when i first saw skepchick and freethought blogs, i thought that they were very good people and what they said was the truth etc.

Then i noticed that even on the slightest difference of opinion their commenters / fans are on your throat and they (the ftb bloggers) don’t seem too keen on stopping them. The opposite is happening really, they’re rewarding such aggresive behaviours by things like “Molly of the month” etc, and only seem to intervene to help their defenders/ fans / commenters. So, maximum conformity.

Also, the ftb bunch are keen on twisting things and on labeling people things. They have done this on numerous ocasions.

Here’s an easy example of their twisting:

Ashley:

#207 rempetis (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:37pm

(continued)

#208 rempetis on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:42pm

(Damn, needed registration for links)

Ashley: http://ashleyfmiller.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/harassment-at-tam9/

“but DJ’s claims that no harassment ever happens”

PZ Myers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fi_OsT7frPg 

@00:50 “He (D.J. Grothe) also denied that sexual harassment had ever occurred”

etc etc (this twisted version was going around ftb at the time)

Actual D.J. Grothe quote: “It should be said that there has never been a report filed of sexual harassment at TAM to my knowledge and there have been zero reports of harassment at the TAMs we’ve put on while I’ve been at JREF. Of course that doesn’t mean such didn’t happen.”

Do you see the difference? There’s a huge difference, the guy even goes to the trouble to say “Of course that doesn’t mean such didn’t happen” but still they have no problem twisting his words to make them sound like he said the opposite.


I’ve heard that MRA’s are woman hating misogynists that are labeled as a hate group by some very valid thing called “Souther Povery Law Center” Anyone who they even suspect that has any relation to them gets instantly banned etc.

Truth? “It should be mentioned that the SPLC did not label MRAs as members of a hate movement; nor did our article claim that the grievances they air on their websites – false rape accusations, ruinous divorce settlements and the like – are all without merit. But we did call out specific examples of misogyny and the threat, overt or implicit, of violence.”

http://www.splcenter.org/blog/2012/05/15/intelligence-report-article-provokes-outrage-among-mens-rights-activists/

These people are anti-feminists for some reason, i don’t agree with them about that but that doesn’t make them misogynists, a hate group etc etc.

The Slyme Pit, very bad place where all the bad guys are, full of misogyny etc. Anyone who we even suspect that has any relation to it we instantly ban etc.

Truth? There’s no misogyny, there might be the occasional obvious ftb bait (like the “kick in the cunt” thing) but there’s no misogyny. They do hate ftb and skepchick and ahtheismplus but that doesn’t equal misogyny etc.

Check it out for yourselfs, it won’t bite you: http://slymepit.com/


That’s nothing, there’s loads more where that came from. So, stop your lies, we’re on to you.

#209 Christopher Camp (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:44pm

#210 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:47pm

@Amy

“misogyny in the Bible”

There’s a big danger with imputing “hatred of women” onto people.

Very often they don’t hate women, but have other reasons for doing what they do.  Sometimes people genuinely believe that women have to play a certain role in order for there to be social cohesiveness.  They may, or may not be wrong to have such a belief, but they don’t necessarily hate women, and they don’t necessarily have mal-intent.

I think what separates a feminist from a radical feminist is that the former is reasonable, and doesn’t make unnecessary assumptions.

#211 Igloo lynx (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:47pm

@julian

I’m lying? About what?  That’s a strange accusation.  :/ perhaps incorrect, or wrong in my analysis, but lying? That implies quite the intimate knowledge of my mind and what I’ve read.

And feminism is mentioned in the original post. So why wouldnt we talk about it?  Feminism is one of the wedge issues, and a driving force behind atheism plus and the possible divisiveness in the secular movement. 

Like Amy suggests I evaluate people more by their ideas and actions and not how they say they identify, particularly when it comes to feminism. 

And like you mention, there is a lot of conflict within feminism.  Which is one reason why I am off put by some feminists who wish to sanctify their ideas as true feminism and those who criticize them as hostile-to-women; it’s just my observation that it happens sometimes in the atheist community. I never mentioned ftb.  Although, I have seen it there.  That incohesiveness is one reason I don’t identify as feminist.

#212 Christopher Camp on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:51pm

http://youtu.be/xhYKlEggiNY

That stupid degenerate actually did call Richard Dawkins and three other people (who, unlike her, actually achieved things in their lives) white supremacists. Watson did her usual the-lights-are-on-but-nobody’s-home nodding dog and Ophelia Benson, rather than telling that indolent, good-for-nothing-non-achiever that she was in no position to make that kind of a statement, served up some ultra weak sauce non-defense of Dawkins, in which she took some mild issue with him being labeld with ‘scientism’.

#213 Christopher Camp on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:53pm

Fast forward to 45:45 to see the relevant part.

#214 Amy (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:55pm

@Kevin: I misspoke (typed?). We were having a civil argument as to whether or not religion is a source of misogyny in our society. I pointed to sexism in the Bible and suggested that some people might use it to justify an irrational hatred for women.

#215 SimonSays on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 2:06pm

rempetis: The one thing I agree with on your post is for un-bigoted people of reason to check out the slymepit.com

The rest…well you’re a fellow Greek it seems and so I’ll cut you some slack and hope there is a translation error in your perception of misogyny.

#216 A Hermit on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 2:06pm

#213 Christopher Camp on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 1:53pm

Fast forward to 45:45 to see the relevant part.

OK, I watched it and what I saw was Rebecca Watson politely keeping quiet and Greta quite clearly disagreeing with that part of Sikuvu’s argument. Turning that into them agreeing with her is just dishonest.

And the reference to “white supremacism” itself, in the context of the whole discussion, looks like an unfortunate choice of words, but not quite the slur you’re making it out to be. Certainly no worse than calling someone a “stupid degenerate” just because you disagree with them…

#217 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 2:07pm

@Christopher Camp

“That stupid degenerate actually did call Richard Dawkins and three other people (who, unlike her, actually achieved things in their lives) white supremacists.”

I saw a video of a skepchick conference where one of the panelists said that all men are brain-damaged by testosterone.  Not a single one of the ten or more panelists offered any disagreement, or even a question.  At least, not that I saw.

#218 Mary Ellen Sikes (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 2:08pm

@Stephanie Zvan,

Thanks for the thoughtful, courteous reply. When I discussed priorities I was addressing Ron’s own statement defending CFI’s focus: “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 ...”  My point, if it wasn’t clear, was that in today’s political climate a secular society cannot be achieved without a defense of women’s rights, and that the tension between theocracy and secularism is exactly the unique spin that a secular org could apply to avoid duplicating the work of groups like NARAL that address these issues without being in a position to add that particular ingredient. The real reason is that, as Ron states, “We at CFI don’t want to.” I appreciate his honesty and clarity on that point and I leave it to CFI’s donors and subscribers to decide if they agree.

On the question of organizational culture, I apologize if my comments appeared to be a criticism of FTB or bloggers in general for not covering that topic. It was more my way of saying, “...and now here is a new wrinkle.” Organizations tend to have unique personalities that affect behind-the-scenes interactions in ways that I believe are far more telling than a policy for conferences or a statement that harassment won’t be tolerated. (What else would we expect an interviewee to say?) I will not be convinced of a movement-wide sea change in the area of diversity until *insiders* are just as quick to call out and halt hidden offenses as bloggers and other activists are outspoken about addressing the public ones.

#219 Igloo lynx (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 2:11pm

@amy

Yes… I find the idea of a feminist Christian hard to reconcile. However, I think it is hard to reconcile a liberal Christian.  Both require a view of the bible that is intellectually dishonest. 

@kevin solway

It’s usually more than a mere concern for social cohesiveness, there is also an assumption of women as inferior.  That may not be hatred per se, but I’m not sure if it’s any better.  Slave masters didn’t necessarily hate their slaves in the south, but that doesn’t mean they treated them much better than someone who they in fact hated.

#220 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 2:19pm

@Igloo lynx

“That may not be hatred per se, but I’m not sure if it’s any better.”

Perhaps so, but it’s not misogyny.  It might be “unjust” or “unwise” treatment or suchlike.

And I strongly suspect that women actually are inferior in some respects, and on the average. And this may be genetic.

These differences may have been the basis for some unwise judgements made with regard to the assigment of roles to the genders.

#221 Sally Strange (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 2:19pm

“I saw a video of a skepchick conference where one of the panelists said that all men are brain-damaged by testosterone.  Not a single one of the ten or more panelists offered any disagreement, or even a question.  At least, not that I saw.”

Yes, and Rebecca Watson thinks sexualized violence against men is hilarious.

There is so much that is taken out of context, it’s ridiculous. It’s impossible to wade through it all. That was Greg Laden, right? Joking around, more or less, about a half-assed theory that was making the rounds, if I recall correctly.

Also don’t forget that I personally think rape jokes are high-larious!

#222 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 2:25pm

@Sally Strange

Re: Laden

His “clarification” on the matter was that he thinks he spoke the truth, but that his main intent was to hurt men by poking them in the eye.

Probably the same intent as these “rape threats”.

#223 Christopher Camp on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 2:25pm

@ Kevon Solway, yes I saw that disgraceful panel with that idiotic pseudo-scientist Greg Laden. By the way, that guy is a proven stalker and he threatened one of his fellow blogger with violence. By the way, I love the Men of the Infinite.

@ hermit. Well, I’ll leave it up to the audience to decide who’s lying and who isn’t. That Benson took that idiotic term ‘scientism’ and ran with it, I think speaks for itself. Oh, what exactly did that degenerate achieve in her life to render that characterisation ‘degenerate’ unfair?

#224 Sally Strange (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 2:26pm

I saw Russell Blackford use “Girlyban” in a conversation on Facebook. I didn’t think to bookmark it, I didn’t realize this shit would still be going on months and months later.

#225 Amy (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 2:26pm

@Kevin: I don’t have to tell you that asserting women are, on average, inferior to men is offensive as hell. You already know that.

What are your criteria for inferiority/superiority? How is it measured? What evidence is there that these differences are genetic? Christina Rad just posted a piece where she talks about patriarchy being a result of the advent of agriculture.

Needless to say, I disagree with you.

#226 Amy (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 2:31pm

“Scientism” isn’t an idiotic term. Unless maybe if you’re a positivist. If you are… I’m sorry.

#227 @Evolution_Child (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 2:32pm

To comment #145 @Julian: This is twice now you have put false words in my mouth because you have either jumped to conclusions or simply not been reading what I’ve been saying, but instead, you regard any and all criticism toward AtheismPlus as a direct attack toward its supporters and/or cause.

You said in your comment, “When you accuse people…” and then went on to accuse people of things that are simply untrue. I cannot speak for anyone else you named, but I have explained to you numerous times that the validity of Feminism is not what is in question, but rather, how it is relevant to Atheism. Feminism has a home - it’s called “FEMINISM”. LGBT has a home, it’s called ‘LGBT’. And so on. But it seems that you consider any conflict of opinion as “hate” and now you are spinning out right fabrication and lies of people you don’t even know… for what? What could you possibly have to gain by this? And in the same breath you preach about ‘character’? May I suggest you take a really good step back and examine your own character instead of obsessing about the character of others.

You may think that by making false accusations you will somehow gain an audience to your favour, and perhaps you will… but if your intent was to simply discredit someone’s character for having a view point that conflicts with yours… you have failed, because the only character you have discredited is your own.

#228 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 3:17pm

Mary Ellen, no criticism assumed. I’m personally a little frustrated to not be able to help on that score, which is where my comment came from.

#229 LicoriceAllsort on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 3:17pm

I disagree that Atheism+ divides the movement—in contrast, I think it adds depth to the movement that is necessary for retention of (some unknown number of) atheist activists.

Speaking for myself for a moment, after several years it has become increasingly uninteresting for me to read more theist takedowns, more about logical fallacies in religious belief, and more about the poisonous effects of religion in society. Not that I don’t think those topics are important, but for me personally, it’s all lecturing to the deconverted.

As a woman who’s becoming confident enough in my own lack of belief to seriously consider acting on it, I’m ready to get more involved in the atheist movement. Right now, though, I see these broad options for involvement: (1) join in efforts to expose errors in religious thinking—I think of this as “recruitment”, because while we’re often not trying to deconvert specific believers, we are trying to promote skepticism about religious belief with the hope that it will lead to more tolerance for atheism and/or more atheists; (2) fight for secularism to protect the rights of all forms of (non-)believers; (3) reduce the perceived need for religion by producing answers through scientific investigation.

I’m sure there are other broad categories, or different ways to group them, but the point is that options for involvement are still limited to a handful of umbrellas that are going to motivate a limited number of atheists to action. It’s unreasonable to expect ALL atheists to have talents or interests in these few areas, particularly as atheism becomes appealing to growing numbers of people.

Increasingly, though, I’m seeing another option for involvement: (4) provide atheist counterpoints on social topics that have been traditionally addressed by religion—e.g., how we treat others, what we value. That strikes at one of the big reasons why people turn to religion in the first place (few people believe in a god just because they find the idea of a god convincing; they want to know the implications of a god belief, and, more specifically, what god says about how they interact with society and the environment). This area also complements other topics in which the movement is currently active. Yes, this is skepticism applied to other issues beyond religion, but, more specifically, it is skepticism in response to a void that is left by lack of religious belief, and thus I think it could be a fruitful area for atheist input.

So, by diversifying, we’re creating more options for atheists to get involved. There is still value in the other avenues of activism within the movement, but now there’s 1 more way to appeal to atheists once they arrive, to motivate even more atheists not just to stay but to get involved.

#230 Mary Ellen Sikes (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 3:22pm

@Stephanie: Frustration noted and shared. <sigh>

#231 igloo lynx (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 3:30pm

@kevin solway


“Perhaps so, but it’s not misogyny.  It might be ‘unjust’ or ‘unwise’ treatment or suchlike.”

Yes, but misogyny is not necessarily any worse than injustice of the likes that has been systematically leveled upon women. Thus, although technically correct that misogyny, if it means hatred of women, may be an inaccurate term, it is morally equivalent to whatever the term is.  And I wouldnt object to including the feeling/thought that women are naturally inferior and should be servants to men as part of the concept of misogyny.

“And I strongly suspect that women actually are inferior in some respects, and on the average. And this may be genetic.”

And from this statement, I strongly suspect that word which is unknown, probably applies to you.  Although perhaps you just mean upper body strength. I doubt that, but you are welcome to clarify. 

“These differences may have been the basis for some unwise judgements made with regard to the assigment of roles to the genders. “

Certainly upper body strength may have allowed some men to oppress women; however, that wouldn’t be the “basis” of assignment of roles, as upper body strength has little to do with say, being a political representative.  So I have even more reason now to suspect that term which isnt misogyny but is morally equal, applies to you.  But maybe my suspicion is wrong.

#232 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 3:54pm

“I wouldnt object to including the feeling/thought that women are naturally inferior and should be servants to men as part of the concept of misogyny.”

Then you want to change the dictionary definition of misogyny, which is fine.  But I wish people would be clear about what they mean by the term before they throw the term around. If a person uses the word “misogyny” but doesn’t mean “hatred of women” then I think they should make that very clear. It sounds like you would use the word to mean something like “badly mistaken”.

I am personally of the opinion that women are inferior, on average, in some regards, but that all people should be judged on their individual merits.

#233 igloo lynx (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 4:23pm

@Ophelia Benson

“That is a brazen lie. I disagreed with much of what Sikivu said and I said so. I did not nod along with approval. (I don’t remember her calling Dawkins a white supremacist..:

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a lie.  I just watched the youtube video of the conference:  this is what she said:

“We have obviously the four horsemen of apocalypse model, um you know super star white male atheist that have institutionalized a very narrow prescriptive white supremacist version of atheism for the masses”

This she said right after her comment about scientism.  You did address scientism.  You did not address the above statement at all.  Neither did anyone else on the panel—at least from what I saw.  If I missed something, please quote it.  You werent nodding in approval like watson though; you werent visible.  But again, you didnt address the “white supremacist” part—and that in the least is just as erroneous as the scientism part, and much more personally offensive to the “four horsemen.”  You may not remember it, but the fact that you do not just says such things dont enter your radar of offensive things, which it really should. Jennifer McCreight later speaks about sexism that isnt noticed by some men—well, you just all ignored some pretty brazenly offensive stuff :/ Some major “othering” must have occurred for that comment to go by unnoticed.

I am not a white male, and nothing from what Ive read from Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet, or Harris, has given any hint at all of “white supremacy.”  I don’t agree with everything they say, but I certainly dont think they promote white supremacy.  That’s absurd. And embarrassing no one contradicted it. Someone from that panel really should address that.  If stuff like that routinely comes out of the Women of Secularism conference without a peep of dissent, I suspect there will not be a broad support for it from atheists.

#234 igloo lynx (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 4:33pm

@Kevin Solway

“then you want to change the dictionary definition of misogyny, which is fine.  But I wish people would be clear about what they mean by the term before they throw the term around. If a person uses the word “misogyny” but doesn’t mean “hatred of women” then I think they should make that very clear. It sounds like you would use the word to mean something like “badly mistaken”.” 

No, Id only use it in such a way out of spite toward people who feel it is appropriate to oppress women, but dont necessarily feel hatred toward them.  “Badly mistaken” doesn’t really cover the moral gravity of it.  Keep working on that one.  How about “tyrant? 

“I am personally of the opinion that women are inferior, on average, in some regards, but that all people should be judged on their individual merits. “

I wish tyrants would be clear about about what exactly they feel women, “on average”, are inferior in before they start throwing the idea around.

#235 Ophelia Benson on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 4:34pm

Oh bloody hell. I couldn’t do a ten minute dissection of everything Sikivu said! I also didn’t have a recording or transcript of what she said to consult. I disagreed with much of it but I had to keep it brief and succinct.

Jesus h fucking christ. Would you like to go through my garbage can? Check my tax returns? Fingerprint me? Report me to the FBI for having an overdue library book?

#236 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 4:51pm

@igloo lynx

“Id only use it in such a way out of spite . . . “

You would use the word “misogyny” out of spite, to mean what?

Are you saying that you would you use the word “misogyny” to mean “hatred of women” even though the person you are applying it to doesn’t hate women?

I think that’s what most feminists do. And I think that’s why they get so much bad press.

#237 rempetis on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 4:59pm

@Simon> Don’t do me any favors συνονόματε (yeh, i’m a Simon too ). I’m sure that if you know Greek, like i do, there’s no chance in hell that you don’t know the exact meaning of misogyny (μισογυνισμός, μίσος ). Some people have chosen to use that word extremely liberally, throwing it around like it’s nothing - like it’s just meant to convey people who don’t like ftb/skepchick.

I think that Μπαμπινιώτης (the leading Greek linguist) wouldn’t like that, he’d say that they’re ruining the language by not using the precise meaning that the word is supposed to convey. They should use other words to describe people that they don’t like don’t you think? Languages have many words, they can use some of the rest. Also, it would make their descriptions of those people better understood by the people reading their texts.

#238 Dorion on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 5:03pm

I didn’t enjoy high school when I was IN high school.

#239 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 5:14pm

@rempetis

“Some people have chosen to use that word extremely liberally, throwing it around like it’s nothing “

I have a theory that radical feminists purposely misuse language, because that’s the only way their arguments can possibly have any traction - since the arguments will be so entirely nonsensical that nobody could ever refute them.

Language represents logic, and that’s why it is treated with disdain.

#240 Valerie (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 5:45pm

Ophelia Benson said: “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?”

Ophelia, omfg, would you please stop repeating that story! Franc posted that in a comment thread about a year ago (not even directly to you either), and you repeat it every chance you get. It’s like you wear it as a badge of honor. Could you please move on? If not for your sake, then for the rest of us? You sound like a broken record.

#241 Stan Shaw (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:08pm

A quick reply to Julian:

Who, pray tell, gives a FLYING FUCK if you’re angry?

That is all.

#242 Stan Shaw (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:10pm

Sorry for the derail.

#243 A Hermit on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:44pm

Well, I’ll leave it up to the audience to decide who’s lying and who isn’t. That Benson took that idiotic term ‘scientism’ and ran with it, I think speaks for itself.”

Well scientism was the topic being discussed, why wouldn’t she talk about it????

AS for calling people “degenerates” that’s not a term I’d throw at people who haven’t actually demonstrated some kind of degenerate behaviour. Hoggle might qualify there…

And for everyone’s information, this is Kevin Solway, in his own words:
http://www.theabsolute.net/minefield/aboutme.html

blockquote>Increasingly I realized the inseparability of reason and masculinity. At the same time I could not help noticing the increasing feminization of society. The only course open to me was to attack femininity at the root. My life’s work, I decided, would focus on making people aware of the shortcomings of femininity and the great benefits of masculinity. For there to be wise men, there must first be men.</blockquote>

If not misogyny that is at least pretty clearly an advanced case of sexism, apparently grounded in the idiotic, antisemtic ranting of Otto Weininger; a man whose genius is surpassed only by the great de-Selby himself…>;-}

#244 A Hermit on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:45pm

blockquote FIAL!

#245 A Hermit on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 8:45pm

Back on topic, I was struck by this part of Lindsey’s post:

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.”

That just strikes me as incredibly naive; it’s the hate and the threats and the failure by so many prominent members of “the movement” as well as some very vocal and well organized people on the internet to take them seriously before now that has created division. It’s nice to see leaders like Lindsey stepping up and denouncing the nonsense that goes on, and adopting anti-harassment policies for conferences but it’s going to take more than that to fix things. Being polite isn’t going to fix it wither; the harassers won’t respond positively to niceness; they need to be be exposed and shamed.

We’ve seen the response women get when they try to be nice and just say “Hey guys, don’t do that…”

#246 Igloo lynx (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 8:48pm

@ophelia benson

Not interested in your trash…
Of course you couldn’t address everything she said.  But if what she had said was sexist toward women I suspect someone on the panel would have made a comment about it and there wouldn’t be any robotic head nodding.  You chose to address the scientism aspect of her comments (which i did appreciate in isolation)and no one addressed her white supremacist comment despite there being many comments about sexism and the treatment of women by male atheists.  It’ was just an egregious display of delusional contempt; for it to be ignored by a panel of people committed to awareness of prejudice is… Ironic and an example of the double standard many people have seen on display by some people who support atheism plus. 

If you in fact do find her comment troubling now after reading it, perhaps you can understand why some people express concern for atheism plus.  And maybe those detractors aren’t all sexist.  Because they do hear the white supremacy absurdities in the comments by some people, even if others are totally oblivious to it and nod along or think its no big deal.  Just like those same others pick up on every morsel of disrespect dished to womenkind. 

Women in secularism is a safe place obviously to call cis male heterosexuals white supremacists for absolutely no good reason, but I wonder if it would be a safe place for a multiracial pansexual gender skeptic male to question the feminist theory that many women wish to mount on top of atheism.  Or gawk forbid, a mens rights activist. (you needn’t worry though, I am not a men’s rights activist.). I am perfectly okay with sikivu saying whatever nonsense she likes, I’d just like to see people in these panels that have views that strongly contradict hers.  For a movement grounded on skepticism, i see a very low tolerance for differing opinions on some subjects and a tendency to circle the wagon.  I’d like a skeptics movement to have a bigger umbrella than it has now, a movement that is tolerant of dissent, a safe place to discuss disagreements and doubts(which will inevitably include heated debate).  Yes there will be boundaries, but I’m not particularly comfortable with where the boundaries are being drawn by some.

I am outside of those boundaries. And I suspect so are white supremacists.  I don’t want to spend my time with them really.  You do seem to be much better company. I might be male, and you female, but in this situation you and all those women on that panel have more power than me.  I don’t have your voice, so please when stuff like what sikivu says is spoken at one of these conferences, call it out for being just pseudo intellectual invective.  Given that too much of what she said during that panel was fashionable nonsense, I forgive that you may have begun to shut off your brain.  The nodding from Rebecca surely does look like someone who had given up on comprehending what gibberish was being said…but since it is from a feminist(tm) gotta nod yes!    :(. That is giving her the benefit of the doubt…

#247 Igloo lynx (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 8:53pm

@kevin solway

I’d use the word misogyny to refer to “tyrants” out of spite.

#248 HJ Hornbeck (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 9:25pm

Hmmm… I can’t help but notice this thread has long since stopped talking about atheism+, and instead started focussing on various bloggers on FreeThoughtBlogs and Skepchick. Come to think of it, EVERY atheism+ thread I’ve been on (outside the above two websites, of course) inevitably derails into the evils of those two websites.

To me, this suggests very few people have a beef with atheism+. Instead, FtB and SkepChick are the real irritant, and atheism+ is just getting caught in the crossfire. Had that “movement” been invented on Patheos instead of FtB, there’d be nowhere near the hate and vitriol we see here.

#249 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 9:36pm

@Igloo lynx

“I’d use the word misogyny to refer to “tyrants” out of spite.”

I think dictionaries should be modified to reflect this common usage.

That is, “misogyny” means “tyranny” when the word is used out of spite.

#250 Iamcuriousblue (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 10:15pm

“I can’t help but notice this thread has long since stopped talking about atheism+, and instead started focussing on various bloggers on FreeThoughtBlogs and Skepchick. Come to think of it, EVERY atheism+ thread I’ve been on (outside the above two websites, of course) inevitably derails into the evils of those two websites.”

Don’t be disingenuous here. A+ barely exists independently of these two blogging networks, plus the forum they just set up. The problems of FtB and Skepchick are inherently the problems of Atheism+.

“Had that “movement” been invented on Patheos instead of FtB, there’d be nowhere near the hate and vitriol we see here.”

It stands to reason that if A+ had come out of something like Patheos or CFI it would have a *very* different character and wouldn’t be spewing the level of vitriol that stirs up so much counter-vitriol. In that case, even if it wasn’t exactly embraced, it would at worst quietly fade away, much the way the “Brights” movement did.

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