Misogyny and the Atheist Movement
September 12, 2014 3:26 PM   Subscribe

Will Misogyny Bring Down The Atheist Movement? "The continuing debate over a murky sexual encounter at a 2008 convention for cheekily anti-establishment skeptics underscores a broader dilemma: How can a progressive, important intellectual community behave so poorly towards its female peers?"
posted by homunculus (332 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
Previously
posted by metaquarry at 3:31 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Not entirely sure what else the "Atheist Movement" does other than picking pointless and embarrassing fights.
posted by Artw at 3:34 PM on September 12, 2014 [34 favorites]


How can a progressive, important intellectual community behave so poorly towards its female peers?

It's almost like the fact that someone does horrible things has nothing to do with whether there is or is not a God. If only there were some group of people dedicated to examining questions like that.
posted by The World Famous at 3:36 PM on September 12, 2014 [93 favorites]


Easy - they're so focused on the motes in everyone else's eyes that they can't see the 2x4 in their own.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:36 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


a progressive, important intellectual community

I've never considered the "atheist community" guys I know to be particularly progressive (and that was long before Elevatorgate).
posted by immlass at 3:39 PM on September 12, 2014 [25 favorites]


Atheist movement

While I'm an atheist by any practical measure, the movement thing baffles me. If I wanted to join a spiritual movement I'd return to the bosom of Holy Mother Church.
posted by octobersurprise at 3:39 PM on September 12, 2014 [57 favorites]


This includes a good history of how and why the movement ended up so heavily male. It's an interesting read that people should perhaps consider reading before making knee-jerk comments.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:39 PM on September 12, 2014 [17 favorites]


Yes
posted by charlesminus at 3:39 PM on September 12, 2014


Does TFA cut off with an assortment of random characters for anyone else?
This was before Skepchick.org, but the party “was referred to as the Skepchick PYkama #��:0!0b�M:Cs�6�!�1’�I��©$�G�l�KA
posted by Etrigan at 3:41 PM on September 12, 2014 [14 favorites]


Yeah, like the body text was so disgusted by the jerkitude of Shermer that it just gave the fuck up.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:43 PM on September 12, 2014 [36 favorites]


To those outside the community, freethought would seem an unlikely candidate for this sort of internal strife. Aren’t atheists and agnostics supposed to be liberal, forward-thinking types? But from the beginning, there has been a division in freethought between the humanists, who see atheism as one part of a larger progressive vision for society, and the libertarians, for whom the banishment of God sits comfortably with capitalism, gun rights, and free-speech absolutism. One group sees men like Michael Shermer as freethought’s big problem, while the other sees defending them as crucial to freethought’s mission.
Yep.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 3:43 PM on September 12, 2014 [9 favorites]


Does any progressive, important intellectual community behave with basic humanity towards its female peers?
posted by youarenothere at 3:44 PM on September 12, 2014 [37 favorites]


Wow, atheist white dudes in positions of power and acclaim acting just like all the other white dudes in positions of power and acclaim? who'da thunk it.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 3:45 PM on September 12, 2014 [59 favorites]


"Asshole" is a quality that knows no demographic.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:46 PM on September 12, 2014 [15 favorites]


I don't know if Dawkins has already deleted the second of today's extra special tweets, but it was "Officer, it's not my fault I was drunk driving. You see, somebody got me drunk."
posted by Lyn Never at 3:47 PM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


Wow, atheist white dudes in positions of power and acclaim acting just like all the other white dudes in positions of power and acclaim? who'da thunk it.

I'm reminded of one of the criticisms of the political movement in Silicon Valley: they're not too bothered with how society is actually structured - they just think they should be on top.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:48 PM on September 12, 2014 [30 favorites]


the thing is to beware of movements in general. Somebody said that to me back in the latter days of early punk, and it's most definitely stuck.
posted by philip-random at 3:49 PM on September 12, 2014 [12 favorites]


I always enjoy recalling how outraged Richard Dawkins gets when someone refers to him as Dick Dorkins.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:50 PM on September 12, 2014 [22 favorites]


As an atheist I want to ask, what the hell is the atheist movement?
posted by xmutex at 3:51 PM on September 12, 2014 [19 favorites]


Does any progressive, important intellectual community behave with basic humanity towards its female peers?

Maybe not, but it's probably more likely to do so than any regressive, unimportant anti-intellectual clusterfuck would be.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:51 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Speaking as an atheist... God, I hope so.
posted by SansPoint at 3:51 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I know that every desire I have to rejoin the skeptical community has been quashed by Dawkins. It makes me sad that Shermer is a creep, he was one of my few heroes from my teenage years who's feet of clay I had not yet encountered.

I remember running into the first political article I can remember in Skeptical Inquirer. It was an argument for libertarianism, stating that it could be shown that government intervention was ineffective at best and usually harmful. I did not find it terribly convincing.

I suppose that the skeptical movement does have an attraction to the people who moved beyond the Rand worshiping objectivism (in face, in Why People Believe Weird Things, Shermer spends a chapter describing objectivism as a cult) but still think that most of her ideas are good ones. I came at it from the other side, my teenage rejection of religion and all the "claptrap" that came with it. Before this blew up, I tended to assume that the sexist attitudes that I associate with conservative religion were discarded with the rest of the religious beliefs. In retrospect, this was naive, but it was before I really started to see the misogyny coming from some of the luminaries of the movement.

I have a good number of books by these people and I used to value their opinions. These days, while I still consider myself a skeptic and will go out of my way to try to talk my friends out of buying Airborne, I have quit reading their writings (with the exception of the Science Based Medicine blog, which a.) actually has useful ideas and b.) is not filled with horrible people).

The other thing that originally had me lose interest in the movement was that it felt like these days all of the work is simply preaching to the choir. TAM (if it is anything like NYCSS) is a con, with fans attending. It is not a meeting of activists who go out and try to (for example) increase the vaccination rates in the US.

The fundamentally philosophy is sound, but I am saddened that I have moved beyond it. The cover of the first issue of Skeptic that I bought had the following quote from Spinoza on it: “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.” The statement is still on their website. But it feels like this principle has been lost.
posted by Hactar at 3:52 PM on September 12, 2014 [26 favorites]


This includes a good history of how and why the movement ended up so heavily male. It's an interesting read that people should perhaps consider reading before making knee-jerk comments.

Hmm...

...Objectivists... and Magicians...

I'm gonna have to kneejerk a little to that.
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Atheist Movement" is an oxymoron. All attempts to make it a 'movement' inevitably devolve into 'another religion' with all the wrongness that ensues.

Related quote from famed philosopher Julius Henry Marx: "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member."
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:55 PM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


phew if only the organized theist movement was as easily derailed.
posted by edgeways at 3:56 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


The problem with New Atheism is that it's a movement based on the idea that you should be an atheist. That doesn't really imply anything beyond "Don't believe in God(s)." The more important thing that's needed is for secularism, not atheism as such. Atheists should be focusing on the idea that public life – laws, education and so on – should be free of religion. Requiring distinct nontheism from people is counter-productive if you want them to be on your side as far as keeping religion out of your life.
posted by graymouser at 3:58 PM on September 12, 2014 [46 favorites]


phew if only the organized theist movement was as easily derailed.

Psh. It was derailed, fragmented, and plagued by in-fighting from the start, and spends more time fueling fights between its various factions than it ever has focused on those outside it.
posted by The World Famous at 3:59 PM on September 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


I would love to see someone do an analysis of what the overlap is between these guys and the gamergate bros, because while i don't think it's a perfect circle, i bet it looks more like an oval than a peanut.

On reddit at least, where the atheism community is giant and active(and easy to make fun of for being fucking moronic) if you actually start paying attention to the loud terrible shitposters you see regularly, you'll start noticing the same names popping up all over the place. And there's sort of this default template of an atheist gamer bro that spews garbage and hates women. It's like the default redditor, almost.
posted by emptythought at 3:59 PM on September 12, 2014 [24 favorites]


Christ [is a fiction], what assholes.
posted by univac at 4:02 PM on September 12, 2014 [14 favorites]


"the thing is to beware of movements in general. Somebody said that to me back in the latter days of early punk, and it's most definitely stuck."

Or, as someone said to me around the same time: "the only good movements in the world come from classical music - and bowels".
posted by Pinback at 4:04 PM on September 12, 2014 [17 favorites]


Again, who behaves in such a gross way? Not me.

Case closed, then!
posted by Greg Nog at 4:08 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Aren’t atheists and agnostics supposed to be liberal, forward-thinking types?

Many people do suppose this, but it turns out supposing something doesn't make it true.
posted by aubilenon at 4:09 PM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


I have been an atheist for almost forever, and I can't think of one reason I would ever want to go to an atheist convention. I'd probably sooner go to a church service.
posted by univac at 4:12 PM on September 12, 2014 [42 favorites]


Sure hasn't hurt the religious movement!
posted by OverlappingElvis at 4:15 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


but it's probably more likely to do so than any regressive, unimportant anti-intellectual clusterfuck

Sometimes I think that's a better description of the atheist movement than the one in the article. Bitch about Madalyn Murray O'Hair all you like, but she actually got compulsory Bible reading out of public schools. What has the new atheist movement done lately on that scale? Even if the change in the courts in the US means they couldn't succeed on that scale now, what are they trying to do?

But seriously, I thought people knew that the skeptical/atheist movement was home to a lot of free-thinkers in the libertarian mode and old skool pre-internet atheists were at least as likely to be of that broader philosophical vein as a more liberal/progressive sort. Probably more so, in my experience. That they then turn out to be FYGM about the women in the movement (or trying to FYGM with the women in the movement, willing or no) is not a terrible shock.
posted by immlass at 4:16 PM on September 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


Not entirely sure what else the "Atheist Movement" does other than picking pointless and embarrassing fights.

Ostensibly they exist to prevent things like the Air Force cadet being kicked out for refusing to swear an oath to (a) God, or fighting mandatory Bible swearing-in ceremonies in courts, or mandatory or public prayers in public schools, and all sorts of other ways that religion intrudes on state.

While they do these things, in reality there are a lot of pointless fights and insensitive stupidity, yeah.
posted by loquacious at 4:17 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


> I have been an atheist for almost forever, and I can't think of one reason I would ever want
> to go to an atheist convention

That's the great mystery. Who are the people who could want to spent their weekend doing that when there are comics cons, sci fi cons, cosplay cons, fun shit, and not nearly enough weekends?
posted by jfuller at 4:19 PM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


comics cons, sci fi cons, cosplay cons

Yeah, I already have other plans during those things, too.
posted by univac at 4:25 PM on September 12, 2014 [20 favorites]


Ostensibly they exist to prevent things like the Air Force cadet being kicked out for refusing to swear an oath to (a) God, or fighting mandatory Bible swearing-in ceremonies in courts, or mandatory or public prayers in public schools, and all sorts of other ways that religion intrudes on state.

They do those things? How?
posted by The World Famous at 4:26 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd probably sooner go to a church service.
I would way, way rather go to a church service. I typically enjoy church services. There's pretty music and they're interesting and it's a window onto a different culture and belief system. But I've never quite understood why not believing in God was supposed to translate into having some sort of gripe with people who do believe in God. The whole thing is just very weird to me.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:30 PM on September 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


To me, joining an atheist community would be like joining a 'the sky is blue' community.
posted by empath at 4:32 PM on September 12, 2014 [9 favorites]


They do those things? How?

They don't. They don't accomplish anything. They're like MRAs.
posted by emptythought at 4:33 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm friends with some members of the Skepchick community on Twitter and holy shit, the tweets they have lobbed at them by their fellow atheist male compatriots are horrifying. It's disturbing how large a number of the male atheist community seem to be PUW (progressive until women).

Also, I would like someone to take away Dawkins' ability to tweet please. It seems like not a week goes by without him talking out of his ass and his sycophants acting as though he has dropped an amazing pearl of knowledge.
posted by Kitteh at 4:37 PM on September 12, 2014 [11 favorites]




Are they even progressive until women? A lot of them just seem kind of not very progressive to me.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:45 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've stopped identifying as an atheist just because these douchebags are so awful; I use capital-H Humanist or Bokononist or Discordian now, depending on my mood. I find it really offensive that a group of people can call themselves "skeptics" and still buy into so many cults of personality with backwards fucking ideologies about sex and gender that are totally unsupported by data and anathema to the academic disciplines, like sociology, that actually study that shit. I used to follow some of Movement Atheism, listen to the Geologic podcast, stuff like that, but I've totally given it up because I can't conscience listening to people who are willingly blind about their support of a toxically misogynist institution.
posted by NoraReed at 4:46 PM on September 12, 2014 [14 favorites]


I think it depends. I find that when libertarianism and atheist overlap, there's no progressive viewpoints anywhere if it doesn't involve white dudes.
posted by Kitteh at 4:46 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


take away Dawkins' ability to tweet

But Dawkins' twitter has given us some of the best comedy moments ever!
posted by fleetmouse at 4:47 PM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


Aren’t atheists and agnostics supposed to be liberal, forward-thinking types?

Aren't Christians supposed to love thy neighbor?
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:48 PM on September 12, 2014 [25 favorites]


I have done a little bit of work on the art installation mentioned in the article, which was an interesting experience just to be handling/looking at the tweets and emails we used. I'm looking forward to seeing it all put together tomorrow night.

I don't think the group I hang with has taken any cases to court or anything, but I also don't think we're as bad as MRAs, or as awful as most of the people in this thread think atheists are. I am personally only a little awful, and that's mostly because I get anxious.

In other words, #notallatheists, but seriously. The "they" you guys keep talking about includes the people who are the targets of this misogyny.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:48 PM on September 12, 2014 [21 favorites]


At least Catholic priests and Cliff Richard (allegedly) have God to keep them in check.
posted by davemee at 4:49 PM on September 12, 2014


I would love to see someone do an analysis of what the overlap is between these guys and the gamergate bros, because while i don't think it's a perfect circle, i bet it looks more like an oval than a peanut.

I was thinking this too.
posted by homunculus at 4:50 PM on September 12, 2014


Aren’t atheists and agnostics supposed to be liberal, forward-thinking types?

Aren't Christians supposed to love thy neighbor?


The answer to the first question is no, while the answer to the second question is a qualified yes (with room for disagreement and nuance).
posted by The World Famous at 4:53 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Lyn, this thread reads to me as if most of the thread is atheists being horrified at other atheists behaving like jerks.

Which makes perfect sense to me, honestly, because the only thing I have in common with other atheists as a group is that I don't believe in god(s), so there's not necessarily a shared ethos.
posted by winna at 4:54 PM on September 12, 2014 [12 favorites]


I've been an atheist since I was 25 (35 years ago) and I was never part of any "movement". To the extent that I was aware of them at all, I thought they were a pain in the ass. If this is the end of the movement, good riddance.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:57 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


What is supposed to hold atheists together? Lack of belief in the supernatural? That's it? In religion you have elaborate rituals and rules and so on. But atheists are like the non-tea drinkers (or kool-aid, as you may prefer) - what's binding them apart from this?

You could say, well, there's a political dimension to this, but apart from keeping god and religion from impacting our lives, what other aspects of politics are supposed to bind us? Nothing whatsoever says atheists have to be liberal. Heck, not all atheists may even agree on keeping religion out of state affairs.

So when you nonetheless try to frankenstein a movement out of a single premise, you will have a ton of disparate interests colliding. Getting some herded in a given direction will often promote neanderthal power trippers at the top, who have the interest in running things.

It was ever so. I happened to be reading recently about the Black Panthers, and their struggle with the position of women in the movement. It wasn't pretty. And hardly unique. Go back to any number of political cause movements, and women - and minorities of various kind - are often the victims of very rigid social structures taken wholesale from the 'oppressors' book. Tunnel vision. Or at best "we'll get to your cause once we've accomplished our main objective". It's been even true of the gay liberation movement.

Why do we think that atheists would somehow break the mold? Fat chance.

It'll be messy. The misogyny is deplorable. But it doesn't define all atheists, and therefore even if a particular organization may be brought down by such horrible practices, it will not in the long run destroy the cause. Atheism doesn't depend on enmity toward women, and so misogyny will be abhorred and in due course eliminated, while freedom from religion - for those who don't wish to be governed by religion - will prevail (one day, probably pretty far off into the future). Meanwhile we should denounce these clowns, whenever they decide to attack and discriminate against anyone - atheism means one thing only, and they'd better stick to that.
posted by VikingSword at 5:00 PM on September 12, 2014 [20 favorites]


i am not an atheist, but i dislike organized religion intensely (and have had comments deleted here for saying so).

any "movement" imperiled by a "murky sexual encounter at a 2008 convention" is no movement we need to be any further concerned about.

[pro forma denunciation of sexism/harrassment directed toward skeptics of the fairer gender]

can i help pare this "movement" down to one essential? TAX THE CHURCHES!
posted by bruce at 5:02 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


atheists being horrified at other atheists behaving like jerks

I think the reason this is horrifying that the atheists behaving like jerks are claiming to speak for all atheists. Which has sort of been an undercurrent of New Atheism, getting up on a soapbox as if they speak for all nonbelievers.
posted by graymouser at 5:02 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Atheism will survive the “atheist movement”.
posted by acb at 5:03 PM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


A few loud atheists claiming to speak for all nonbelievers are just doing the same thing as a few loud religious people claiming to speak for all believers. They're both wrong and it makes life harder for the people they claim to be speaking for.
posted by downtohisturtles at 5:05 PM on September 12, 2014 [11 favorites]


Atheism movement. Heh. I wonder if they'd realize how ridiculous that sounds if you called it the 'I'm pretty sure you're full of shit' movement.

Either way, misogynists gonna misogynge, or whatever. You're not exempted from being an asshole in one arena by virtue of being on the right side of history in another.
posted by Mooski at 5:07 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think the reason this is horrifying that the atheists behaving like jerks are claiming to speak for all atheists.

Indeed. It's godless-splaining!
posted by winna at 5:09 PM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


Mark 12:31 "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, with room for disagreement and nuance."
posted by fleetmouse at 5:10 PM on September 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


What is supposed to hold atheists together?

O.k. so, not as a defense of the Atheist Movement, which is horrible and I would never want to be a part of, but in defense atheists getting together to talk about being atheists:

People are social critters, we want to be around others that have the same views and experiences as us. Atheists are going to have similar experiences as other atheists, and maybe will want to talk about that. There's no reason they shouldn't, we're not super or sub humans, just humans.

Not to mention, you know that American culture writ large treats atheism pretty badly, and you know sometimes it's nice to have a large group to stand with to say "Hey, I'm a person too!"
posted by Gygesringtone at 5:10 PM on September 12, 2014 [19 favorites]


stumbled across this today and I am so fucking sick of people being raped and threatened. I am sick of it. I am done.
posted by bq at 5:12 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


OMG, that Dawkins twitter reads like it's written by Bird's Rights.
posted by klangklangston at 5:14 PM on September 12, 2014 [23 favorites]


To me, joining an atheist community would be like joining a 'the sky is blue' community.

This is likely true for a lot of people, for whom atheism--and rigorous, rational, empirical scientific method--are taken for granted, rather than considered topics to crow about.

The problem with the atheist conventioneers is equivalent to the problem in the word "atheism" itself: It's a word defined by its opposite. Atheism, a-theism, can't exist separately from the philosophy of god which it negates; it's a word (and movement) that lacks positive, independent content. The same appears to be true of the bombastic, self-satisfied atheists who attend the conventions and argue against the irrationality of theism. They define themselves as free thinkers, but they're anything but free, because they're totally dependent on the viewpoints they oppose. Take theism, the enemy, out of the equation, and you end up with a group of muddleheads with nothing to say.

If everybody, down to the last fundamentalist holdout, gave up theism tomorrow, the conventions would come to an end. The deposit on the convention hall would need to be returned, and everybody would need to go home. The post mortem write-up of the conference would consist of a single, blank page.

What would be left to talk about?
posted by Gordion Knott at 5:17 PM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


James Randi came to speak at my college ten years ago (as I'm sure he's done at many colleges) and gave a very compelling and sincere presentation sprinkled with impressive sleight of hand tricks.

I don't recall any atheism-as-worldview/identity type material. Maybe some general stuff about "rationality" and the scientific method. But what I do remember was an articulate and sincere anger at "magicians" who faked supernatural powers, particularly in ways that took advantage of people at their most vulnerable -- like psychics who tried to contact dead relatives, or homeopaths who offered cancer treatments. (Although with some of his more famous debunking targets, like Uri Geller, it's not clear to me that their motives for fakery were quite that evil.)

In any case, I'm not sure that would be my #1 cause but I certainly see his point and he was quite sincere about it. He reminded me a little of the old John Scarne books I read as a kid where I was warned in the strongest terms about all kinds of elaborate card cheating that I was vanishingly unlikely to ever encounter.

I'm not sure how he wound up associating with creeps like Dawkins or Shermer, is what I guess I'm saying.
posted by neat graffitist at 5:18 PM on September 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


Seriously? Someone I'd wondering about how pervasive sexism can permeate everything we do?

We are literally soaking in it.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:18 PM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


Gordion Knott: What would be left to talk about?

Probably science or philosophy? Religions are just systems of beliefs about how the world works. You can have other beliefs, and atheists don't disbelieve in everything.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:20 PM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


Atheism isn't nearly as important as secularism, skepticism, and the idea that rationality is something worth thinking and talking about. None of those (okay, except secularism I guess) is defined as the negation of anything. That's what Randi gets at, and what makes him worth listening to.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:23 PM on September 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


Why would people identify themselves as "atheists"? If you don't believe in God, why is your self image as someone who doesn't believe in something that you don't believe exists important to you?

I don't believe in God, and I don't consider myself an "atheist". I don't believe in talking rocks, and I don't identify as a "rockscan'ttalkist".

On a more serious note, I can sometimes be a big mouthed jerk who says things to provoke feminists just because it's in my nature to be contrary. But the fact that I share a gender with anyone who would engage in "rape threat" disgusts me. Can't we do better than that?
posted by crazylegs at 5:24 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't believe in God, and I don't consider myself an "atheist". I don't believe in talking rocks, and I don't identify as a "rockscan'ttalkist".

You probably would if you lived in a country where 83 percent of the people did believe in talking rocks and frequently cited what their particular rock was saying as justification of policies and laws that would govern your life as well.
posted by Etrigan at 5:28 PM on September 12, 2014 [52 favorites]


I believe in the Atheist movement. I have it every morning around 9ish.
posted by srboisvert at 5:30 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


You probably would if you lived in a country where 83 percent of the people did believe in talking rocks and frequently cited what their particular rock was saying as justification of policies and laws that would govern your life as well.

And on the flip side, people who do believe in talking rocks don't define themselves as talking-rocks-ist because thats what rocks do and everyone agrees.

Many (perhaps most) identities don't really exist without something in opposition.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:34 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


What would be left to talk about?

butts, football, and the walking dead
posted by poffin boffin at 5:35 PM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


Nth-ing the "what is the atheist movement even for" sentiment here. There's a societal niche for skepticism, rational scientific inquiry and even polemicism, and nonbelivers should stand together in the face of religious oppression all too common in the US. But whatever it is that the formal "atheist movement" stands for, the only thing it appears capable of accomplishing is collecting all the worst assholes together in the same place (online or IRL) for a counter productive circle-jerk. And apparently being shitty to the few women who were invited.
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:36 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


People are social critters, we want to be around others that have the same views and experiences as us.
In theory, I can see that, but in practice, it just isn't true for me. I don't think any of my closest friends are atheists. A couple of them are really religious. I don't believe in God, but it's not a central part of my identity. I don't think there's anything wrong with believing in God, and sometimes I think it would be kind of nice to be a believer. I didn't choose not to believe in God; I just don't. And going to an atheist convention would, to me, be like going to a convention for people who don't like carbonated beverages. I don't like carbonated beverages, and that's sort of unusual where I live, but it's not something that defines who I am or who I want to hang out with.

It's important to me that my friends aren't jerks or bigots or theocrats, but there are plenty of theists who aren't jerks, bigots or theocrats, no matter what Richard Dawkins would probably say about it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:36 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I believe in the Atheist movement. I have it every morning around 9ish.

LOL Athiests!
posted by zixyer at 5:40 PM on September 12, 2014


I'm reminded of the way that the initial publication of Darwin's theory of natural selection allowed some people to justify really gross "scientific racism", which had previously been impossible because the Bible said we were all children of Adam & Eve.

I remember reading that history, and being struck really hard by the realization that the factual accuracy of one's beliefs about the world had no logical connection to that person's kindness or compassion. So it goes, I guess.
posted by DGStieber at 5:41 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't believe in God, and I don't consider myself an "atheist".

See, I do call myself an atheist. Mainly because, similar to a lot of people in the atheist movement today, I was a believer but at some point (in my case, a decade ago) I stopped believing. It was a pretty world-rocking thing to me and I spent a while figuring out what that meant.

Eventually I decided to move on from atheism as a central idea; it doesn't play the role that religion had in my life. I don't believe in God. Sleep in on Sundays, save 10%. My wife has some religious beliefs; we had a quasi-pagan handfasting wedding, and our daughter has never been a part of any religious ritual in her life. Secularism has stuck with me, though, as a general value. Which is why it's a pity that the atheist movement is so bad at generally promoting skepticism without bashing potential religious allies.
posted by graymouser at 5:45 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


"scientific racism", which had previously been impossible because the Bible said

Google the Curse of Ham. If evolution's been abused, so has the Bible.
posted by graymouser at 5:46 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


What won't misogyny bring down?
posted by clarknova at 5:47 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've never understood the appeal of rallying around an idea you *don't* believe in.

Sure I'm an atheist in the strictest definitions of the term, but I find most people I meet who strongly identify that way to be just as annoyingly smug about their beliefs as the worst evangelical Christians.
posted by scelerat at 5:48 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Betteridge's Law aside, Oppenheimer's piece is a good overview for the most part. Melody Hensley tweeted some corrections this morning. Those interested in more first-hand accounts should check out the blog archives and tweets of Stephanie Zvan, Ashley Miller, the Skepchicks (e.g. Sarah Moglia's experiences with Dawkins), Ophelia Benson, and Jason Thibeault among others.

The work of feminists and women in atheist circles against this misogyny is quite powerful. If you haven't checked out the web preview for Amy Roth's A Woman's Room Online, I highly recommend it. The Secular Woman website has some good responses to Dawkins' irresponsible tweeting such as “Ought Richard Dawkins be locked in jail? (Thought Experiment).”

As for the idea of an "atheist movement," there's really a complex set of overlapping groups at play. There's the libertarian skepticism approach headed by Shermer and associated with the Randi's Amazing Meeting. There's the consciously intersectional, social justice approach of Skepchicks and many of the bloggers at Free Thought Blogs. There's the older Humanist organizations with roots dating to Unitarian Humanism in the early 20th century. There's the interbelief approach of Chris Stedman. There's the approach of redressing anti-atheist stigma pursued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

One important function of atheism groups qua atheism, as opposed to groups working toward secularism or science education or other goals is serving as support for those, especially young people, experience anti-atheist stigma. Thus the growth of college Secular Student Alliance groups, who also tend to pursue other goals such as science education and skepticism.

I don't fault Oppenheimer for beginning his history analysis post-WWII, because you have to start somewhere, but there's a deeper history to the predecessors of today's public atheists that demonstrates how long and closely sexist thinking has plagued freethought groups. Wendy McElroy's biography of Queen Silver offers a fascinating look at the predecessors of both today's libertarian atheists and feminist atheists on the west coast in the early 20th century. As discussed by Annie Laurie Gaylor in Women Without Superstition, Matilda Joslyn Gage faced ugly sexist resistance to her proposal for a Women's Liberal Union to compliment the male-dominated national Liberal League.

Incidentally, The Liberal League and American Secular Union offer useful historical sources for answering the question of what it means for there to be an atheist movement or movements (e.g. the Union pursued some similar work to that of the FFRF or American Humanist Association in terms of defending church-state separation and educating about this-wordly philosophies).
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:49 PM on September 12, 2014 [33 favorites]


I think the atheist movement as it expresses itself on reddit, primarily, but the internet in general, is in large part a reaction to the adolescent experience of growing up on the outside of the social structure, of not being one of the kids the adults held up as an example and of being excluded from the in group consequently. As a kid going online for the first time, when you first find out you're not alone, it's a tremendously liberating and thrilling experience. Now, suddenly, you find yourself able to be an arbiter of cool and a gatekeeper of social acceptance! In this sense, it's not as much a movement in the sense of politics (what are its policy aims?) as it is a social brand or cultural identity to be ruthlessly protected.

It's been a long time since I was that teenager finally finding people like myself on the proto-internet but I doubt the experience of finally feeling power and belonging for the first time has changed much. Misogyny often becomes, for the unreflective, another outlet for these feelings, and how many young men value reflection?
posted by feloniousmonk at 5:51 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


The Secular Women website has some good responses to Dawkins' irresponsible tweeting such as “Ought Richard Dawkins be locked in jail? (Thought Experiment).”

That's "good"? Are you kidding me?
posted by clarknova at 5:53 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I had to wonder why this old shit was being dragged up again and reheated in such a heavily biased way, so I Googled Mark Oppenheimer and spent some time seeing what he's about and what his angle is on religion. Now it's clear.

The schism's over, sides have been picked and are unlikely to be changed now, and this highly slanted attempt to restart the fight is an exercise in shit-stirring, pure and simple.
posted by Decani at 5:56 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


That's "good"? Are you kidding me?

No I am not kidding. That was my good faith assessment. I realize satire isn't for everyone and won't be appropriate in all situations, but I think it works in that context. Dawkin's tweets can be very problematic and he and his defenders resist seeing how that might be so. The satire tries to draw out the problematic aspect of the tweet it responds to.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:57 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'd probably sooner go to a church service.


I would way, way rather go to a church service.


I'd rather go to neither.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:00 PM on September 12, 2014


In theory, I can see that, but in practice, it just isn't true for me

Right, and not all religious people go to church, not all quilters belong to quilting circles, not everyone who reads belongs to a book group, and I find the idea of playing video games where I have to interact with a lot of people also playing the game the definition of "not fun."

These people aren't doing atheism wrong because they like to get together, and that's not what the FPP is about, it's about a lot of them doing "not being a horrible person" wrong because of how they treat women.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:06 PM on September 12, 2014 [21 favorites]


I've never understood the appeal of rallying around an idea you *don't* believe in.

posted by scelerat at 1:48 AM on September 12


So, I guess the Anti-Nazi League wouldn't have been your thing, then.

Christ, the amount of truly stupid, knee-jerk anti-atheist cliches on this thread makes me think I'd better butt out before I get myself "moderated" in that special way Mefi has when this topic comes up. See ya in the next kitties thread.
posted by Decani at 6:06 PM on September 12, 2014 [16 favorites]


The satire tries to draw out the problematic aspect of the tweet it responds to.

Did Dawkins tweet that some X should be locked in jail #ThoughtExperimentLOL ?

I don't pretend to be up on the Dawkins twitfeed...
posted by clarknova at 6:10 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I actually went to an atheist convention when I was in 8th grade. I traveled across country by bus, New York to San Francisco, with two classmates and someone's mom (who had actually threatened me with a law suit not long before -- a story for another time).

I enjoyed the trip but didn't have a great time at the convention. No one was actually dickish to me (except perhaps Douglas Adams, who made us feel like assholes for wanting to get a picture taken with him. I don't think I have the picture. I didn't look at it very much after the trip. The memories didn't warm the heart.).

Anyway, what I felt then and have since felt increasingly confirmed in is: I don't fit in. These people were atheists but I didn't connect to them. Of course, I don't connect to lots of people. As I have said here before, I'm not a joiner -- and I suspect this is psychologically connected to the fact of my atheism. (Lately I have been tempted by the idea that my atheism is partly genetic. Not only both my parents, but all my grandparents, are / were atheists -- even though they came from very different social backgrounds. Religious beliefs are obviously socially conditioned, but our propensity to form them or not may depend on more basic psychological facts, the kind of thing that makes us see faces in the clouds.) I feel like "belongingness" is one of the things that tends to make people religious; atheists will be a population with lower belongingness overall. This doesn't bode well for the formation atheist groups.

But I know I'm not completely representative, and there are in fact lots of atheist groups, and sometimes they do shitty stuff apparently.
posted by grobstein at 6:15 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


So, I guess the Anti-Nazi League wouldn't have been your thing, then.
Wow. Really?

No offense, but you seem to be comparing religion to Nazism, which seems sort of overwrought, even by your usual standards.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:17 PM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


Why would people identify themselves as "atheists"? If you don't believe in God, why is your self image as someone who doesn't believe in something that you don't believe exists important to you?

Because most people in the culture I live in assume I believe in deity, and they often believe that people who don't are morally deficient. In line with Greta Christina's arguments, I think it worthwhile to accurately identify my disbelief in the hope that such misconceptions might be lessened.

Did Dawkins tweet...

This was when Dawkins was tweeting about how some rapes were less bad than others, starting with an abstract exercise in formal logic, so the outrageous sense of "should Dawkins be jailed" corresponded to the outrage of those who felt Dawkins was belittling the real life experiences those who have been raped.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:18 PM on September 12, 2014 [11 favorites]


I wonder whether BuzzFeed is going to get sued for libel for that article. They didn't even bother with the "allegedly"s for the most part when talking about the "liberties" Shermer has supposedly taken with women at conferences.
posted by jingzuo at 6:24 PM on September 12, 2014


My belief is that there are no gods, nor were there ever, and nobody's going to show up late to the party either, much less come back for his keys. Even though a loooooot of people think one or more of those things is true. I am a/theist. (Could you argue that I am also anti-theist? Privately yes, but I will put up with other people's gods up to the line where they start dictating my life and trying to overthrow science and mutilate/kill children and things like that.) I do accept people don't like the term, just as skeptic and rational and all that all have people who agree but don't want the label (and I am those things too, and have never found a word for all of it that wasn't problematic or too clunky). Given: it's a large amorphous group of people who have some key points in common.

Possibly I would be less disgruntled by this conversation if the headline had framed it as "Will the Misogynist Movement bring down the atheist community?" Because the Misogynist Movement* seems to be on a real tipping point in a LOT of communities.

*I wish the article hadn't used "movement", unless that phrase "Atheist Movement" is an actual name of a thing I had not been aware of, and that's the thing everyone seems to hate so much here. I believe there is a large community of atheists who are interested in political/educational/social issues related to secularism(/rationalism/etc), and that giant blob includes some real shitstains with whom I viciously do not wish to be lumped in with (Dawkins, Jillette, Shermer) and some people I am totally ok lumping with (Watson, Savage, my awesomely subversive required Phil 101 teacher in college, and even Randi who is problematic but not The Problem in the way Dawkins is).

As a member of the subcommunity of feminist atheists(or -ish), when I see person after person pile on with "I'm an atheist but I don't care about the people being attacked here because atheists amirite hurf durf 'movement' poop", that makes me sad, though it wasn't anything I didn't know already. I don't have any issue with apolitical atheists, we still have plenty of other things to talk about, but I think you can be an apolitical atheist and still be a passive ally of people who are wanting to accomplish positive things and having to daily face online abuse and get tweeted child porn just for presenting as female and having an opinion.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:44 PM on September 12, 2014 [23 favorites]


Does any progressive, important intellectual community behave with basic humanity towards its female peers?

Feminists? Though white, straight, feminsts have pulled some shit with feminists who didn't meet those definitions, sadly. But there are lots of encouraging conversations still going on around those issues, and as far as I know, few to no rape threats involved.

I understand completely why a group of atheists would get together. We don't know what a non-theist world would look like or how it would work; these things are worth discussing. Knowing what bills to support/fight in Congress, what causes to donate to, what places you could volunteer, would all be good reasons to have a movement. The Capital-M Movement might be a particularly virulent basket of angry dicks, but the basic idea is perfectly sound.

I wanted to also point out that I recently heard a UU minister sternly disagree with atheists calling themselves "humanists" in our church, because in her view humanism simply focuses on humans without necessarily being atheist, whereas atheist is specifically in opposition to religion. I have no dog in this particular fight but I thought that was interesting.
posted by emjaybee at 6:48 PM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


Rebecca Watson is awesome. Although she posted a picture of the world's most mysterious frog the other day and I wish I knew what species it is.
posted by winna at 6:49 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


What the fuck is going on with so many of the comments here? Is this just a thing MetaFilter is bad at?

"I'm an atheist, sure, but I don't actually hang out with any. They're so obnoxious, right?" Well, barf. Replace "atheist" with the name of any other minority group and you'll barf, too. Pause for self-reflection between each retch, if you feel so inclined.

And "Oh my oh my I can't possibly imagine what all these skeptics have to be so skeptical about all the time," because that's a literally impossible thing to find out when all of the computers in the world are connected by wires and light. If only there were some organizations or something you could investigate to learn more. Gosh, it's not like the article mentioned any.

"Misogynist atheists all total shitstains. Let's shit all over atheists instead of fighting misogyny." Alright, keep at it. I'll be over here maybe trying to do something productive.

Also (though it's apparently irrelevant to the discussion here), the article cuts off in mid-paragraph for me, too. Is there a trick to seeing the rest of it?

So, meta-discussion aside, the article is a bit of a trainwreck. Let me count the ways:
  1. Oppenheimer conflates atheism and skepticism, probably because religion is sort of his beat and because atheism gets fucking hits on the internet.
  2. Shermer is a major creep. We get it. Does it deserve a dozen paragraphs in a piece ostensibly about a movement?
  3. Do we really need an outsider to discredit and proclaim the death of the skeptical community, even while he (briefly) points out the gains that Watson and others have made in recent years?
  4. Oppenheimer makes hay out of the fact that a non-politcal demographic is not particularly progressive – a lame insight.
  5. Feminists being threatened and women being harassed is terrible, but those things probably don't even remotely represent a threat to the movement. How does this behavior distinguish the group under scrutiny from any other demographic? And once again, the last five years alone have seen enormous progress in the skeptical community.
So, yeah, broken, link-bait article, mostly shitty comments. Move on everyone, nothing to see here.
posted by WCWedin at 6:56 PM on September 12, 2014 [16 favorites]


To me, this is a story about how people in positions of power and influence often do bad things. Especially if there is some rock star status that comes with it. This is true of both atheists and religious people. Popularity and influence affords opportunities and can distort a personal ethic until the person in power often feels as if they are exceptions to general rules of goodness that they might actually espouse on the surface. While not universally true, this is often the problem of unchecked power, as I understand it. It tends to distort, and it makes people and institutions worse, if left unchecked. People rarely become better because of ideology alone. They often become better people because there are boundaries of accountability in their community that keep them grounded and also give room to feel loved and affirmed regardless of whether they have power at all.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:56 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't think we need an "Atheist" movement, but I think we need an "Atheist Pride" movement. Dawkins going out there and saying "why won't you stupid people listen to my brilliance" isn't helping much. But there's a lot of discrimination (bigotry, if you will) against atheists, and I'd like to see some sort of "we're here, we're not believers, get used to it" thing happening.
posted by uosuaq at 6:58 PM on September 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


But there's a lot of discrimination (bigotry, if you will) against atheists, and I'd like to see some sort of "we're here, we're not believers, get used to it" thing happening.

It is. There have been rallies, and there are letter-writing campaigns to politicians, and funds raised for lawsuits, and support given to high school students who've gotten into trouble for objecting to prayers in their public schools, and so on. These are things that have and are happening.
posted by rtha at 7:01 PM on September 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


Let me rephrase then as "I'd like to see the Atheist movement replaced with that".
posted by uosuaq at 7:07 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


There have been rallies, and there are letter-writing campaigns to politicians, and funds raised for lawsuits, and support given to high school students who've gotten into trouble for objecting to prayers in their public schools, and so on.

As an atheist, I would be a lot more interested in joining a movement that engaged in this kind of political action instead of the sorts of things "new atheist" leaders like Dawkins actually seems to be doing (which, based on when I see Dawkins in actual news and a quick skim of his twitter feed, seems to mostly involve sounding like a conservative politician with the Islam-bashing and anti-feminism).

conflates atheism and skepticism

The Brights movement didn't help with that.
posted by immlass at 7:13 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I would like to see an atheist organization that embraced religious pluralism, rather than arguing that religious people were deluded, the enemy, automatically anti-science, dingbats who talk to invisible sky fairies, etc. I'd like for atheists to be equally accepted in society, not for everyone to become an atheist. And boy does there not seem to be any room for a pluralistic viewpoint in the atheist movement.

But Lyn Never is right that I should support women who are struggling against misogyny, no matter what I think of their other views. How can those of us outside the movement support women in it?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:15 PM on September 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


advent calendar? guess what i eat 5 mars bar 4 breakfast u xtian idiot

that's real bright of you, richard
posted by pyramid termite at 7:18 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Man, lot of defensive "Big A" Atheists in here tonight.

Let it go, guys, there's nothing good in there for you.
posted by Artw at 7:20 PM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


Feminists being threatened and women being harassed is terrible, but those things probably don't even remotely represent a threat to the movement. How does this behavior distinguish the group under scrutiny from any other demographic? And once again, the last five years alone have seen enormous progress in the skeptical community.

Well, for one, atheism is supposed to be, you know, better than religious groups, because you don't have god to fall back on or anything, so when you find out that a bunch of the leaders of Movement Atheism are gigantic creepers and/or rapists and/or misogynists, it sort of puts a lot of things in question.

The fact that these leaders get to keep doing shit like this and are frequently unquestioned is, well, a problem. Lots of atheist communities online are really heavily polluted by misogynistic bullshit. I know that the people who choose to engage in the atheist community are a pretty small portion of atheists, but they do control most of the resources people find when they look up stuff about atheism and the perception of a lot of non-atheist types of what atheists are like. What I'm saying is, uh, this stuff matters?

And yeah, I've seen the same kind of narrative play out in all kinds of other communities too, from science fiction to religion, but being like "oh well one dude was creepy and hey every other community also has deep-seated issues with rape culture" and shrugging as long as it's not gonna "threaten the movement" is kind of a dick move
posted by NoraReed at 7:26 PM on September 12, 2014 [16 favorites]


Man, I'm just glad I'm a secular animist right now.
posted by mikurski at 7:26 PM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


As an atheist, I would be a lot more interested in joining a movement that engaged in this kind of political action instead of the sorts of things "new atheist" leaders like Dawkins actually seems to be doing

When you form your opinion on a group based on the info you get from mainstream media, the information you get is screwed and biased. Anyone does even a little bit of investigation into atheist besides the ones that get on tv knows about the activism that rtha mentioned.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:27 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't think there's so much an atheist movement as that most of the big names in atheism have also become big names in skepticism. Unfortunately that includes those without the sense god gave a rock (Dawkins) along with those who actually understand that women are humans, not a separate species (Meyers). The common foe of creationism tends to draw the two together. It's less of an issue these days after Dover, as it cannot be introduced officially without an instant lawsuit smackdown, but that was one of the unifying factors.
posted by Hactar at 7:28 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'd like to see some sort of "we're here, we're not believers, get used to it" thing happening.

In the last year or so I have tried to be more open to friends/acquaintances about my atheism. Not obnoxious or weird about it, but just mentioning it in the same casual way that religious people drop it in when appropriate and natural. I previously kept quiet about it out of fear of starting arguments, getting judged, or making others feel like I was judging them. I decided that my fears were possibly well-taken but were ultimately never going to get me to the world that I would like to live in, which is a world where it isn't a Thing to be an atheist. A Thing that will keep you from being elected to public office, etc., but instead just the same as any other belief.

Interestingly though, rather than making an impact on any believers, you know what happened when I started saying "I'm atheist"? It created a little safety bubble where a number of acquaintances told me that they are atheist/agnostic/nonreligious, too, and it was apparent how relieved they were to get it out in the open like it's just a normal everyday thing. I don't understand how people aren't groking the idea that atheists might want to know other atheists out there; wanting to be known and understood by others is a pretty basic human desire.
posted by gatorae at 7:35 PM on September 12, 2014 [24 favorites]


Where's your messiah now?
posted by No Robots at 7:37 PM on September 12, 2014


Atheism and theism are cut from pretty much the same cloth. Agnosticism is the only "-ism" which is even remotely undogmatic. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure there are a lot of agnostics who are misogynists as well.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:41 PM on September 12, 2014


And yeah, I've seen the same kind of narrative play out in all kinds of other communities too, from science fiction to religion, but being like "oh well one dude was creepy and hey every other community also has deep-seated issues with rape culture" and shrugging as long as it's not gonna "threaten the movement" is kind of a dick move

That is a blatant mischaracterization of what I said. The thesis of the article is that misogyny is a threat to organized atheism. I was pointing out that the premise is absurd. I think the context makes it really super clear that was I addressing the article specifically; I never once tried to make the case that misogyny was not a problem.
posted by WCWedin at 7:41 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Atheist Movement" is an oxymoron.

Speaking as an atheist myself, my sense is that there is no "atheist movement" in any objective sense. What we're seeing is an "atheist market." Attendance of atheist/freethinker conventions are no more reflective of a "movement" than are attendance of PAX or E3 reflective of a "gamer movement." There is a pro-science sensibility among some politically active groups, and atheist activists certainly exist, but most of what we're seeing in this case is consumer activity.

That's why the bad behavior of a few celebrities isn't going to "undermine the movement." There is no movement and no organizing leadership. People like Shermer may have influenced some people through his writing, but he was never able to mobilize large groups of people to exert political power, so there's no sense in which he can be called a leader. So if he is in fact a scumbag (and the allegations don't look good), shunning him doesn't exactly create a power vacuum. He'll just be replaced by someone else whose books present similar ideas.
posted by belarius at 7:42 PM on September 12, 2014 [11 favorites]


the leaders of Movement Atheism are gigantic creepers and/or rapists and/or misogynists

But not child molesters and child molester cover uppers so they've got that going for them, which is nice.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:48 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Anyone does even a little bit of investigation into atheist besides the ones that get on tv knows about the activism that rtha mentioned.

Sure, American Atheists are out there, but looking at what they're actually doing, they're mostly talking about Atheist TV (nice, but not relevant as I'm not a tv person) and their big lawsuit to get tax exemption for churches removed from the taxes removed from the tax code (probably correct on the legal merits but realistically the expected effect is nil). If I want to see the political and legal work I'm interested in getting done, I tend to look to the ACLU or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State--neither of which are specifically atheist organizations. But I'm also more interested in the protection of the rights of atheists than I am in "the movement".
posted by immlass at 7:49 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


For the record, since some people seem confused, @RichardDawkins is the real Richard Dawkins. Both @RICHARDDAWKINS and @RichardDawkens are parody accounts.

(I'm surprised Twitter allowed the @RICHARDDAWKINS account, given the @RichardDawkins account. Anybody know how that's possible? Do I need to go register eVerY vARiAtION on my Twitter handle to forestall parodists?)
posted by Lexica at 7:52 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Like, wouldn't a movement FOR the separation of church and state contain people of many faiths or lack of faiths? Everyone can and should get behind a movement to curtail religion's abuses. But if the movement is just going to be anti-religion itself seems like it's destined to be kinda unfocused contrarianism looking for someone to berate.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:56 PM on September 12, 2014


So would a athe-atheist not believe in atheists like this?
posted by nickggully at 7:56 PM on September 12, 2014


immlass, as orgs go I was thinking more of Freedom From Religion Foundation than American Atheists. FFRF seems to focus on the small random atheist discrimination that goes on. But what I was actually thinking about was that when I first started looking at atheism on the internet I read blogs written by atheists and about atheism. The good bloggers were usually on top of the atheism activism that was going on. However, it's been years since I've followed any so I don't have any recs.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:58 PM on September 12, 2014


(I'm surprised Twitter allowed the @RICHARDDAWKINS account, given the @RichardDawkins account. Anybody know how that's possible? Do I need to go register eVerY vARiAtION on my Twitter handle to forestall parodists?)

@RlCHARDDAWKlNS actually uses a lower-case L for the "i" but you can't tell because of the caps.
posted by NoraReed at 7:58 PM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


The framing of this is pretty convoluted. Although many atheists attend, TAM is not an atheist convention, and JREF is not an atheist movement. It's much more dedicated to science, skepticism, and critical thinking.

That said, yeah- the skeptical movement clearly has a problem with misogyny.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:58 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Atheism and theism are cut from pretty much the same cloth. Agnosticism is the only "-ism" which is even remotely undogmatic. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure there are a lot of agnostics who are misogynists as well.

As an agnostic atheist, I think you don't know what you're on about.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:07 PM on September 12, 2014 [13 favorites]


As an atheist, I would be a lot more interested in joining a movement that engaged in this kind of political action instead of the sorts of things "new atheist" leaders like Dawkins

Dawkins, Harris & Shermer get a lot of attention, while smaller names & smaller organizations with very different approaches aren't widely discussed even within the more populous online atheism fora let alone known to the general public. There's a lot of complexity that gets overlooked.

The Black Skeptics Los Angeles organization does work recruiting more diverse STEM students & they run a First in the Family Humanist Scholarship for college students (which gets paltry funding compared to the money flowing to Big Name Atheists).

People of Color Beyond Faith will be hosting the Moving Social Justice Conference in October. Sikivu Hutchinson, Donald Wright and others associated with the Black Skeptics and PoCBF take a collaborative approach to tackling social issues wherein they clearly announce their identity as atheists but also work with religious organizations more commonly found in black communities than atheist groups.

There's Chris Stedman and the bloggers at NonProphet Status who emphasize nonconfrontational interaction with religious believers, though even in a nonconfrontational and/or pluralist approach you'll find diversity of views in terms of what counts as pluralism and what is too harsh an expression of atheist identity. Maryam Namazie, for example, harshly condemns Islamism that tries to join religion and government but also opposes those xenophobic against Muslims.

Linda LaScola blogs at Rational Doubt about the Clergy Project and helping clergy who have lost their faith transition out of their traditional jobs. Some, like Jerry DeWitt, have come to lead nonreligious congregations of atheists, and these groups, like many church groups, participate in community service projects.

Such groups are documented on the site of the Foundation Beyond Belief, which collects donations from atheists to give to organizations, religious and not, who work toward secular causes. The Foundation also coordinates the Volunteers Beyond Belief network & the Pathfinders Project Humanist Service Corps.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:13 PM on September 12, 2014 [33 favorites]


I would like to see an atheist organization that embraced religious pluralism,

You could always start one.

I'm not being snarky. A friend of mine started a group for non-believers who are grieving the death of a loved one. She started it after her infant son died and she couldn't take all the well-meaning but unbearable "He's in a better place now" stuff that she was getting. There wasn't an atheist group focused on the things she needed, so she made one.
posted by rtha at 8:29 PM on September 12, 2014 [13 favorites]


Feminists being threatened and women being harassed is terrible, but those things probably don't even remotely represent a threat to the movement. How does this behavior distinguish the group under scrutiny from any other demographic? And once again, the last five years alone have seen enormous progress in the skeptical community.
Well, I am young woman who was initially really interested in getting involved with the local skeptic/freethought/atheist/secular humanist communities, and then Elevatorgate happened. And that, combined with some stuff locally and occasionally reading the comments on blogs of women in the Skeptic movement kept me from devoting any more time, effort, or energy to the causes.

Which sucks for them, because I'd be a great addition. But until I can be sure that a. I will probably not have people sneer at me, make passes at me, or otherwise harass me for being a young woman, and b. if that happens, I can talk about it in public without compounding and exacerbating that harassment ... well, there are other things I can do with my time and knowledge.

It may not be a direct numbers loss, but I'm not the only woman I know who's made that calculation. If the skeptic/atheist community wants an increasingly homogenous group representing them, that's fine. You may not think it's a threat to the movement, but I think it almost certainly is. I don't know how much longer these ideas can coast on white male coattails.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:31 PM on September 12, 2014 [26 favorites]


It makes kind of a priori sense that the skeptic community has a misogyny problem.

Society has a lot of misogynistic norms, and men have historically held power. A frequent reaction to claims of misogyny from women is disbelief and impossible demands of objective, indisputable evidence. Skeptic communities are more likely to prize high evidentiary standards. Since skeptic communities have historically been male dominated, and because any given instance of subjective misogyny is likely disputable, it makes sense that appeals to self-serving logic are prevalent.

(This is actually one of the virtues of post-modernism, something that many of the skeptics I know — likely not least because of the influence of analytic philosophy — reject specifically because of its attacks on social construction of "objective" claims.)
posted by klangklangston at 8:34 PM on September 12, 2014 [11 favorites]


This just happened today: "Sam Harris is Just Factually Wrong — Globally, Atheism Has No Gender Split" - Greta Christina's response:
“I think it may have to do with my person slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people..People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”
There are a lot of possible responses to this. The first one that springs to my mind, and to many people’s minds, is, “Fuck you, you sexist, patronizing asshole. You think women don’t take a critical posture? Come talk to some women in the atheist movement, and we will give you an earful of our critical posture.” The second response that springs to my mind, and to many people’s minds, is, “Do you think that maybe — just maybe — the fact that not that many women read your books might have something to do with the fact that you say horrible sexist bullshit like this, and we’re sick of it, and we don’t want to hear it, or anything else from you, ever again?
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:37 PM on September 12, 2014 [30 favorites]


it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default

Oh, barf. But he's rational and objective! He's just making factual observations! He doesn't see the problem, and therefore it can't possibly exist!
posted by rtha at 8:42 PM on September 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


So would a athe-atheist not believe in atheists like this?

If God had low self-esteem, would he be an atheist because he doesn't believe in himself?

I totally stole this joke from some dude on reddit.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:57 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I spent a few of my college years involved and volunteering in the atheist "movement", and I'd have to agree with belarius. There is no movement, what's there is a series of fledgling social clubs who occasionally talk politics. I wish that the people involved and resources committed were better organized for action, but for every talk I attended or post I read or conversation I had about real issues there'd be twice as many instances of "Confrontation vs New Atheism" rehashes or the fallout from ugly hateful attacks on women who had the bravery to speak about the harassment and abuse they suffered at atheist or skeptic events. How can you make progress on the important stuff when you're fighting every step of the way against aggressive, regressive, misogynists and their fans?

Which is an utter tragedy because there is so much potential and need for a healthy, welcoming, progressive atheist community. I am even now brought almost to tears remembering the wonderful students I met at national leadership conferences who often were not out to their families about their non-belief, who may meet in secret on their campuses, and may also be queer and closeted. Those two or three days of mixing with like-minded peers really meant something to a lot of people in a way that online-only communities and interactions still can't quite and if there's one thing I take from that experience it's that the world had a long way to go before being an atheist or a skeptic or a non-believer is unremarkable and accepted.

My parents referred to the organization I worked for as "The Cult". When there's so much hate directed at us for who we are, how can we not all be appalled at the presence of hate within our community? God damn it, you've got to be kind.
posted by books for weapons at 9:03 PM on September 12, 2014 [11 favorites]


re: what does an atheist movement do, i'm not very sure, aside from a bunch of older white guys being smug about smarter than everyone else.

The skeptical movement which is often mentioned in the same breath, does stuff like try to keep creationism out of schools and speak up against homeopathy/alternative medicine and such. I hope they don't get dragged down by this crap.
posted by Sallysings at 9:17 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I often appreciate D.S. Wilson's takes on New Atheism. He's thoroughly an atheist himself, but he points out that New Atheists (including Dawkins himself) have abandoned careful scientific consideration for simplistic black-and-white thinking:
How about the new atheism of our day? I wish I could report otherwise, but it has all the hallmarks of a stealth religion, including a polarized belief system that represents everything as good, good, good or bad, bad, bad ("how religion poisons everything"), the unquestioned authority of its leaders, and even the portrayal of bad ideas as like demons (parasitic memes) that need to be cast out ("breaking the spell").
Avoiding misogyny in a group dominated by white males requires a lot of listening and empathy on their part. That's what you need to do if you want to treat others well but don't share their experience or knowledge. The tenor of New Atheism, though, is that of a "stylized world without tradeoffs", where listening isn't necessary because adherents have The Truth. Their job is to talk; the job of everyone else is to listen. There's no cure for misogyny with that dynamic.
posted by clawsoon at 9:31 PM on September 12, 2014 [15 favorites]


Shermer is a major creep. We get it. Does it deserve a dozen paragraphs in a piece ostensibly about a movement?

Given that many of those paragraphs were how the movement in question, from the guy at the top to the masses, have denied that Shermer is a creep, defended him in his creepdom, minimized the nature of his creeping, and attacked the people upon whom he has crept? Yeah, I think it does.
posted by KathrynT at 9:39 PM on September 12, 2014 [21 favorites]


How can you make progress on the important stuff when you're fighting every step of the way against aggressive, regressive, misogynists and their fans?


This pretty much describes every social group I've experienced. A group of people come together based on common beliefs until they fraction off into segments because X people are more fighty and Y people think that's a waste of time and Z people think both those groups they identified with before have gone off the deep end so they should disassociate themselves from X and Y and so on. It's why when I was growing up deep in the Bible Belt there were 6 (maybe more?) churches within a two mile radius that all preached differently and all thought the other ones were misguided. Even though they were all conservative evangelical churches that any outsider couldn't tell the difference between.

People, from my experience at least, find reasons to fight amongst each other over stupid petty things even if they agree with over 99% of the rest. We've all seen it both here on Metafilter and in our everyday lives. It's not a "religious people think this way" and "nonreligious people think this way" sort of thing. Neither side is more "progressive" or anything than the other. It's just groups of people that think a certain way who find other people to try and identify with and reject people who don't agree. God doesn't even enter into it. Just don't identify with assholes.
posted by downtohisturtles at 9:44 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


It makes kind of a priori sense that the skeptic community has a misogyny problem.

I agree. To dismantle misogynic cultures, men need to be willing to shift out of logical argument-mode and simply listen to the experiences of women - experiences they do not share and which, at first, do not intuitively feel "true". Recognising ones's own privilege and making space for a diversity of perspectives requires more than just critical thinking - it requires imagination, and the empathy to be able to put yourself in the shoes of someone whose lived experience is very different from your own. And while I would argue that imagination is a critical component of many areas of skeptical thought (science, for example, requires imagination and curiosity as much as it requires objective analysis), many professional skeptics seem to approach the world from an entirely positivist epistemological framework - that is, they believe that whatever can't be measured objectively probably isn't there. If an unbiased observer (oh what a surprise, it's a straight white dude!) can't observe sexism happening around him, then it probably doesn't exist. Those women claiming there's a problem must be biased. Irrational, even. And for a skeptic, that's the worst thing you can be. So, you know, let's not bother booking any women on that conference panel. All this feminism stuff is so vague and subjective, you know?

I also think that one of the benefits associated with any kind of entrenched privilege is the ability to speak unemotionally about what it's like to not have that privilege. For example, as a white person, I have the privilege of being able to speak about race without a deep, personal well of rage boiling up inside me. While I might feel angry on behalf of people I care about or POC in general, I can generally control that emotion and deploy it in a strategic way in order to bolster my argument, rather than weakening it. As a Queer person and as a woman, I utterly lack that privilege. I cannot speak authoritatively about, say, sexual harassment or homophobic bullying without having to devote some portion of my mental energy to controlling the complex mix of humiliation, fear and rage that those lived experiences can instill. And if my composure breaks, even for a moment, to allow some of those raw feelings to reach the surface...suddenly I'm "getting emotional" and can no longer be taken seriously as a thinker. This is a difficult thing to tackle in any context, but I imagine that among skeptics, where rationality and objectivity are prized above everything else, it would a significant factor in silencing many otherwise brilliant female voices. When emotional detachment is a prerequisite for being considered authoritative, the people who have experienced the least struggle are going to end up running the show. Oh hi, straight white dudes, fancy seeing you here!
posted by embrangled at 9:45 PM on September 12, 2014 [62 favorites]


those things probably don't even remotely represent a threat to the movement.

It's definitely made me feel like Organized Atheism as a movement is full of awful whiny children, so it's not exactly casting it in the most appealing light possible.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:47 PM on September 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


I feel like the atheist movement is pretty productive. It has created channels for closet atheists to get safe space and advice, specially those who are escaping fundamentalist families. It has helped me grieve without the idea of god, and it keeps me sane as a resident of Southern Virginia. I listen to cognitive dissonance, the scathing atheist, and other podcasts that truly help me feel less isolated. These podcasts are feminist, too. The scathing atheist even has a segment called "this week in misogyny"

That said, I hate the not all X argument, and I do think the bastards who harassed these women and the people who could not stop for a second to think about the feelings and safety of a minority in a group that is all up in arms due to the fact that they are a minority themselves need to be recognized as the assholes they are.

I understand that whatever your word against hers (although other women accused you of similar behavior and even your boss acknowledged in a disgusting way that you are a sexist bastard), but the moment you found out a bunch of reddit atheist were sending these women pictures of rape victims IN YOUR DEFENSE you should have publicly told them to grow the fuck up.
posted by Tarumba at 10:08 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


yeeeeeah, maybe it's time to start calling myself a secular humanist.
posted by jcreigh at 10:08 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ima let you finish, atheists, but we Christians have had a lot more misogyny than you do.

Seriously, I think atheists are at least as likely, if not more so, to be feminists as religious people. But I think one thing that may be going on is that outspoken atheists have been excluded from a lot of political and cultural leadership (at least in the USA). So misogynist atheist dudes who might have been asshole politicians or some other kind of public nuisance if they were able end up pushing their way into these self-appointed atheist "leadership" positions (although as far as I can tell, most atheists don't particularly need or want these kinds of leaders or spokesmen).

Those guys (and the guys who look up to them) don't represent the majority of atheists that I've met or known.
posted by straight at 10:11 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


“His reply,” Randi continued, “is [Shermer] had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember. I don’t know — I’ve never been drunk in my life. It’s an unfortunate thing … I haven’t seen him doing that. But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control. If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”
Seriously? Men just kind of rape women whenever they get drunk, boys will be boys and all, but it's not like they're being violent or anything. That would require some disciplinary action.
posted by jaguar at 10:35 PM on September 12, 2014 [24 favorites]


It's a fine display of rationality and skepticism right there is what that is. Clearly, it's been thought through and examined for bias or muddled thinking. Whew.
posted by rtha at 10:44 PM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry, but per Watkins' own retelling of the event, where is the murkiness?

1. She was talking with people.
2. She is in an elevator with at least one of them.
3. One of them asks if she would like to come to his room for coffee.
4. It is late.
5. She says no.
6. The combination of late + elevator + invitation freaks her out.

NOTHING HAPPENED.

Let me repeat:

NOTHING HAPPENED.

Watson exercised her agency to decline the invitation. She was not harmed IN ANY WAY.

Jesus. How is this a controversy??
posted by gsh at 10:48 PM on September 12, 2014


The 'murky' incident referred to in the post isn't Elevatorgate. It's a much uglier story involving Michael Shermer.
posted by LindsayIrene at 10:52 PM on September 12, 2014


Watson exercised her agency to decline the invitation. She was not harmed IN ANY WAY.

Jesus. How is this a controversy??


Um...because the consequence of her saying publicly, "You know what, that behaviour was not cool and it made me feel really uncomfortable" was that she was DELUGED with rape and death threats. You want to talk about disproportional response? It's staring you in the face.
posted by embrangled at 10:53 PM on September 12, 2014 [58 favorites]


Yeah, Elevatorgate was not the original incident, where she was followed into an elevator and propositioned, but the massive swarm of misogynist hate that was directed at her for pointing out that it wasn't cool.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:59 PM on September 12, 2014


Why should this group be any different?
posted by dry white toast at 11:05 PM on September 12, 2014


Jesus. How is this a controversy??

A woman used an anecdote to explain a kind of behavior that wasn't cool and then had to spend years dealing with the backlash from misogynists, including Richard Dawkins. That is the controversy: that people literally are still sending her threats and shit over this.
posted by NoraReed at 11:22 PM on September 12, 2014 [26 favorites]


I'm sorry, but per Watkins' own retelling of the event, where is the murkiness?

The murky incident is the one that happened to Alison Smith, not Rebecca Watson, which is described in the first dozen or so paragraphs of the article.
posted by homunculus at 11:37 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


what the hell is the atheist movement?

I'm an atheist and I'm reading this sat on the loo, if that gives you a clue.
posted by biffa at 12:53 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but per Watkins' own retelling of the event, where is the murkiness?
1. She was talking with people.
2. She is in an elevator with at least one of them.
3. One of them asks if she would like to come to his room for coffee.
You missed step 0, where she had just finished giving a talk about misogyny in the freethought movement and how being sexualised by men - i.e. seeing her gender first, ignoring her mind, and just seen as a sex object - creeped her out and made her uncomfortable. So one of the audience to that talk decides that 4am in a foreign country alone in an elevator is a good time to make (what she thought was) a sexual advance? Talk about missing the freaking point of the speech. Watkins was disappointed and creeped out a bit, and subsequently said so.

You're also missing that men regularly ignore a no from a woman. Yes, nothing happened. That time. But in that circumstance, most women would be aware of the possibility that that no might cause the unknown man to turn aggressive and possibly violent. While she's trapped in the elevator with him. Because that shit happens to women ALL THE TIME.

Try this thought experiment on for size:

You find yourself alone in an elevator with a grizzly bear at 4AM. He turns to you and does that giant mouth stretch thing. Are you thinking at this point 'No worries, I'm safe as can be, I shall carry on to my room and not be concerned at all at this circumstance I find myself in, that 8 foot tall bear is clearly just yawning.' I'd be guessing not.

You do get off the elevator, and indeed nothing happened, thankfully. You then relay this story later, about your uncomfortable elevator ride with a bear, and thousands of bear lovers call you a raging bear hater, every kind of nasty name you can think of, and then constantly threaten you with things like burning down your house, anally raping you in front of your family, or even feeding you in pieces to a pit of very hungry bears. For YEARS.

Then you get people saying 'wow, you just had a lift ride with a bear. NOTHING HAPPENED. How is this a controversy?'

to quote Babbage, "I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:03 AM on September 13, 2014 [40 favorites]


For what it's worth, there do exist some Atheist groups which aren't as horrendous as some of these sound. It turns out talking about science, politics and philosophy with a group of people who have spent some time thinking about all three is a nice way to spend an evening. (Also turns out it's a great space to challenge people who join up who have come to horrendous conclusions about some subset of those).
posted by ElliotH at 3:29 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


As someone who teaches philosophy of religion, I've always thought Shermer was a fraud intellectually. But I had no idea he was a creep.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:30 AM on September 13, 2014


And btw, to the extent I understand the application of the predicate "skeptical", there are skeptical Christians, too. And Muslims. Etc. In fact, some have argued that skepticism about one's own worldview is the appropriate stance given the sort of pluralism we have today. I concur.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:36 AM on September 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


To dismantle misogynic cultures, men need to be willing to shift out of logical argument-mode and simply listen to the experiences of women - experiences they do not share and which, at first, do not intuitively feel "true".

Scrutinizing the unstated premises of one's beliefs is a matter of being more, not less, logical.
posted by jpe at 4:07 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sunday Assembly is a good example of an atheist group with a reasonable gender balance and a focus on building a positive secular community rather than mocking religion. My local chapter runs gatherings like bushwalks, "crafternoons" and charity drives, as well as a monthly sermon with songs and secular speakers. I presume that Christian congregations don't spend all their time together raging against other religions - why should atheists?
posted by embrangled at 4:11 AM on September 13, 2014 [7 favorites]


many professional skeptics seem to approach the world from an entirely positivist epistemological framework

QFT. An ill-conceived and under-considered epistemology is, I think, a profound problem among a significant number of high-profile sceptics, which is becoming a broader problem in discussions of scepticism, religion and rationalism generally. The misogyny and racism Dawkins is allowed to get away with are sickening in themselves. I also think they are indicative of a general philosophical problem prevalent in these circles.
posted by howfar at 4:20 AM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Won't someone take his twitter account from him. Please.
posted by sukeban at 4:32 AM on September 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


Scrutinizing the unstated premises of one's beliefs is a matter of being more, not less, logical

Not exactly. The position you reach after interrogating your own inherent biases may indeed be more logical, but to actually get to that point requires a brave and possibly irrational leap of faith. It requires you to accept that your experience of the world is not objective, because the very instruments through which you receive information about how fair the world is are flawed. You live with immense privilege, yet you cannot see it. How can that be? Women keep telling you that their experiences of the world are profoundly different; that harassment and objectification of women by men is rife and they would like it to fucking well stop. They claim that there is a pattern to their anecdotes, that they are not just a series of individual misunderstandings, but a systemic problem in which men habitually dehumanise women. None of this makes intuitive sense to you. It simply doesn't accord with the way you experience the world.

So, do you listen? Do you hear and accept the stories that these strange Others are telling you, even though they are subjective and perhaps not every single one of them can be proven beyond reasonable doubt? Do you zip your mouth and allow the many layers of women's subjective experience to expand your understanding of the world? Do you resist the urge to counter their stories with matching anecdotes about how men also experience hardship in the world?

Or do you accept what the "evidence" is telling you - that everything is fine, save a few isolated incidents, and that these uppity women should stop causing distractions when there is Important Skeptical Work to be done? To do the former requires humility and imagination. To do the latter requires mere logic. And I say this as a person who loves formal logic - it is an excellent tool for assessing the plausibility of an argument. But sometimes, when you're interacting with other human beings, logic isn't enough. You need to be kind and curious and imaginative, too.
posted by embrangled at 4:47 AM on September 13, 2014 [21 favorites]


Society has a lot of misogynistic norms, and men have historically held power. A frequent reaction to claims of misogyny from women is disbelief and impossible demands of objective, indisputable evidence. Skeptic communities are more likely to prize high evidentiary standards. Since skeptic communities have historically been male dominated, and because any given instance of subjective misogyny is likely disputable, it makes sense that appeals to self-serving logic are prevalent.

Yes, this. Furthermore, there seem to be aspects of the stereotypical atheist/skeptical mindset that make it uniquely ill-suited to perceiving and addressing problems like those Oppenheimer explores. For one thing, this notion that atheism is just the absence of certain beliefs, so there can't even really be a movement that needs scrutiny or that is as vulnerable as any other to the ways that belief-based movements go wrong. (Yet, of course, "lacking the belief that there is a God" can easily be restated as "holding the belief that there is no God".) For another thing, a resistance to any of the kind of sociological/interpretive thinking that Oppenheimer engages in here – exploring how, say, the allegations against Shermer, Penn Jillette's use of language, and Watson's experiences could all be in some sense connected, or symptomatic of something broader, without all being the same specific kind of thing.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:46 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yet, of course, "lacking the belief that there is a God" can easily be restated as "holding the belief that there is no God".

Actually, no. That's the difference between weak atheism ("there is not enough evidence so far to convince me that the divine exists") and strong atheism ("I am certain that the divine does not exist").
posted by sukeban at 5:50 AM on September 13, 2014 [7 favorites]


there is not enough evidence so far to convince me that the divine exists

But this is, equally, a positive belief possessed by atheists: that there is not enough evidence to conclude that God exists. It's certainly a weaker conclusion, but it is not a mere absence of anything; characterizing it as such seems to be an attempt to imply that weak atheism is somehow the obvious/natural/default position. Which – to stay on topic – sometimes seems to get used, by those holding atheist beliefs, to suggest that they share no positive stances with those accused of misogyny, and thus needn't see themselves as belonging to a community with issues that need confronting.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:57 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”

There went another teenage idol. This isn't hard: Non consensual sex is violence, and if a woman drank so much she can't remember the event, then she can't give consent.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:11 AM on September 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


"... they share no positive stances with those accused of misogyny, and thus needn't see themselves as belonging to a community with issues that need confronting."
Why would I see myself as belonging to a community with these people? I dislike organized religion because of my experiences with it. I read Ingersoll and Russell, and they were the foundation of my atheism along with my own religious "journey." Unlike religion, there is no necessary "community" within the set of people who don't believe in gods. In general, I live my life separately from any discussion of atheism; I don't put bumper stickers on my car or go to conventions. I read Dawkins' book mainly because I wanted to see what the guy was saying that had people so pissed off, well after I was already an atheist.

I mean, It's fully expected that there will be atheist assholes. I'd never make a positive claim otherwise. However, what significance does that have to the broader set of atheists? It's not like the inevitable existence of atheist assholes makes religion true.

"O lawks, the white male power structure of an irrelevant institution is racist, sexist, and hypocritical! I'd best go to Mass this Sunday! Confiteor Deo omnipotenti..."
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:25 AM on September 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Why would I see myself as belonging to a community with these people?

This is a different question I think: how far people do or don't have some responsibility to address certain problems, either because they share beliefs with the people who are the cause of those problems, or maybe just because they're humans or belong to the same society. My point was just that you don't get extra immunity from that responsibility just because atheism is a claim about something not existing. I think this is something that gets in the way of addressing misogyny in skeptical/atheist circles, but I'm not saying it's the major factor.
posted by oliverburkeman at 6:45 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


For a while I followed blogs and Twitter accounts of other skeptic and atheists in the hopes of hearing information that would be of interest to someone with that philosophy and mindset. What I found was that the majority of these communities were about the community, not the top. Endless discussions on why this particular person had done a bad thing or should be rallied around and gossip and namecalling and slapfights. Even when elevatorgate erupted and it was clear that there was a problem in the community, again the discussion was about the individuals in the community and not the problem itself. Atheists and skeptics seemed to enjoy mostly talking about atheists and skeptics, and not atheism and skepticism.

Of course, this is how most communities, and especially ones that coincide with nerds and fandom, operate. Still, it was disappointing, and I ended up unsubscribing and unfollowing. When I peek in these days I see that little has changed. It's still a group of people who are interested in the group of people above all.
posted by Legomancer at 6:58 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Okay, I see; I re-read your previous comment.
...weak atheism is somehow the obvious/natural/default position...
Well, it is, right? You can arrive at atheism via a path from any religion. I've known mostly ex-Christians, but there are ex-Christians from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, and fundamentalist ones; there are ex-Muslim atheists, ex-Buddhist atheists (or materialists, I suppose you could say); and many people who claim to be "socially Jewish."

It's not that I would claim atheists get "extra immunity" from prominent atheists being assholes, but rather that it's just a misunderstanding of atheism to think that they have any real relevance. Atheism is non-belief. Unlike, say, the fact that Catholic priests like to rape little boys, Schermer's raping women has no impact on my worldview because Schermer had fuck-all to do with my being or remaining atheist (whereas priests are a fundamental aspect of the Catholic church). Do I dislike that Schermer does this? Yes, absolutely; but he's part of an opt-in power structure within the set of people who don't believe in gods. I consider attempting to fix things in power structures that aren't opt-in more important (for example, police brutality against black people; or sexual violence in the workplace).
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:01 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


One thing that particularly gets to me, as a British person, is the fact that Dawkins and other British New Atheists are fighting in a culture war that is not their own, and adopting a mantle of oppression they have no claim to. Agnosticism and atheism are, if not the primary default position for British people, at least among the obvious defaults. I can understand bitterness and anger among American atheists, who, in many places, genuinely do experience discrimination, but this simply isn't the case in the UK. Dawkins is not a beleaguered defender of a minority position, just another obnoxious proponent of one set of views among many.
posted by howfar at 7:17 AM on September 13, 2014 [19 favorites]


This is not surprising. An originally 100% nerd movement 100% convinced of its moral superiority with a 100% commitment to impose its ideological and intellectual standards upon the unwilling, is going to struggle to express any social competence, to say the least of the fairly high degree of social competence required for women to be comfortable around a bunch of nerds.

A movement of tabletop gamers who believed that only the stupid and credulous enjoyed sports and wanted to force every football quarterback in the country to do nothing but DM after school would probably be exactly the same.
posted by MattD at 7:52 AM on September 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Show me on the doll where the nerd touched you.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:45 AM on September 13, 2014 [8 favorites]


Loud, angry atheists tend very strongly to be privileged, straight white guys because they're the ones who get angriest. For a lot of them, atheism is the hill they want to die on because it's the only hill they've ever been on. They've never been discriminated against for their gender or their race or their sexuality or anything else, so when they're discriminated against in any way for not being religious, it might be the first time they've ever been treated like The Other. Everyone else is pretty used to going along with stuff that doesn't really directly involve them, of not being treated like the default. They're not.

So when they're asked to stand up and recite the pledge of allegiance or sit through a group prayer, it could be the first time they've ever been asked to go along with anything. If you've been coddled and catered to all your life, this might be the first time you've really like something wasn't For You. So things like that can be a much bigger deal for those guys.

I suspect that's why the public face of the 'atheist movement' tends to be Those Guys.

And in a lot of ways, it is kind of a terrible 'movement' because its public face is a bunch of angry, loud, condescending white guys.

But a lot of other people still need it. It's easy enough to dismiss its importance if your family and your community are 'tolerant' and fairly used to diversity and such, but a lot of people don't live in environments like that. There are still places, especially in the US, where you are actually discriminated against for not being Christian. A lot of gay kids in particular come to atheism after their religious families disown them for being gay, and that can be absolutely world changing and devastating.

Atheists are still one of the least trusted demographics in the US. A lot of people believe that human decency and goodness is rooted in religion, and there was a huge uptick in that sort of rhetoric following 9/11. A lot of people, including me, have lost friends to the sort of jingoist religious patriotism that came in the wake of that; and a lot of those people sought out atheist 'communities' as a result.

Also, it is very very difficult and painful to lose your religion. It's not just a simple shift in thinking or a change to your schedule. People have real, genuine identity crises over things like that, and they need sympathetic people to talk to and to work out their issues with together. And they also need communities to replace the communities they have lost.

And, of course, there are also tons of church-state issues that pop up all the time as well where non-Christians and non religious people actually being actively discriminated against by public institutions and employees.

And any of these things can have a seriously radicalizing effect.

So for a lot of people, including me, not being religious is a minor or even a non-issue, and it's not something we spend a lot of time thinking about, but there are people out there who don't share our privilege. They need a community or a movement or something.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:47 AM on September 13, 2014 [35 favorites]


"If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”

There went another teenage idol. This isn't hard: Non consensual sex is violence, and if a woman drank so much she can't remember the event, then she can't give consent.
"

Well, and from her account, he wasn't drunk. (From his account, neither of them were.) So in either account, it's not something "men do when they are drunk."

This is being treated like an incident where they were both drunk past the point of consent, which is far murkier and difficult to adjudicate, instead of a situation where one party was sober by both accounts and one party has multiple allegations of similar sexual assault and harassment against him. If we're weighing evidence to make the most likely conclusion, it's that he raped her by having sex when she couldn't give meaningful consent. As the one with more power, it's incumbent upon Shermer to avoid situations where he might rape someone, whether that's through his own judgment or enforced by others.
posted by klangklangston at 9:06 AM on September 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


It may not be a direct numbers loss, but I'm not the only woman I know who's made that calculation. If the skeptic/atheist community wants an increasingly homogenous group representing them, that's fine. You may not think it's a threat to the movement, but I think it almost certainly is. I don't know how much longer these ideas can coast on white male coattails.

Sorry that you had such a bad experience. The community does need people like you. If you want to try another run at it in the future, I've found The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe and the surrounding culture and community to be mostly quite positive, at least online. (It probably helps that Rebecca Watson is involved, though I'm not sure if it's more as a filter or a force.)

To be clear, I wouldn't have felt the need to point out that misogyny doesn't represent an existential threat to organized atheism/skepticism if that weren't the headline of the article. I know misogyny is harmful to the group in a lot of ways, but I also know that there are people working hard and making progress. I feel like the author made a point to get past that as quickly as possible to tell more shocking stories about Shermer and try to frame the culture within the group as especially misogynistic without doing the work of proving the claim. On the other hand, the article cut off for me in the middle of the pajama party paragraph, so I never got to read the concusion. If it turns out that it was supposed to concluded that the skeptical community needs to hold Shermer and others to account or risk sacrificing the gains that feminists have made, then I guess it's all well and good. Still needs a different headline.
posted by WCWedin at 9:29 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I consider attempting to fix things in power structures that aren't opt-in more important (for example, police brutality against black people; or sexual violence in the workplace).

Except that relative importance doesn't matter that much; there are enough people in the world that we can work on both at once. You have to personally choose what to focus your energy on, but I think the comments here highlight that there are a lot people for whom fixing the problems in the skeptical community would be a significant gain.
posted by WCWedin at 9:34 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Atheism is non-belief.

This was the original point I disputed. To "be an atheist" is to positively hold a belief about the world like any other (in this case the belief that there is no God, or that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that there is a God). As opposed to, say, people who have zero interest in the question of the existence of God one way or another or who have never given it a moment's thought.

I certainly don't think that means anyone whose beliefs include atheism is automatically responsible for terrible people who are also atheists. I just think that sometimes one of the barriers to confronting those people is this notion that there somehow can't be a community of atheists where certain problematic norms may be prevalent and in need of addressing.
posted by oliverburkeman at 9:42 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thanks to the folks who posted about groups that are out of the mainstream of the atheist & skeptical communities and doing good work. When you look around online, most of what you end up seeing is the inside baseball of who did what to whom, and enough of it is "these men are hostile to feminism and disdainful of women in general", plus the rape culture tolerance, that it makes me not want to be involved with the groups getting all the press.

In terms of the skeptical movement, a lot of the sort of disdain for feminism and women was a factor in my disinterest in the movement in the early 90s when I was first exposed to it. (My ex was a subscriber to Skeptical Inquirer and I read it faithfully for several years.) To find out that men like Shermer who were involved in that movement don't respect women's consent, again, is not a huge surprise to me. But my point now is that these guys have been making a space where women and feminists feel unwelcome for a long time.

Agnosticism and atheism are, if not the primary default position for British people, at least among the obvious defaults.

Serious question: what is the legal status of atheism in the UK, given the state religion? Specifically in terms of the sorts of religious freedoms nominally protected by the First Amendment in the US? I ask because one of the first open atheists I knew as a teen was a British woman who talked about job discrimination she suffered because it was legal to require people to disclose their religion on applications. (This was in the 1980s and she was looking at teaching jobs, so I'm aware it might be different in the broader market and/or over time.)
posted by immlass at 9:44 AM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


I ask because one of the first open atheists I knew as a teen was a British woman who talked about job discrimination she suffered because it was legal to require people to disclose their religion on applications. (This was in the 1980s and she was looking at teaching jobs, so I'm aware it might be different in the broader market and/or over time.)

¿Atheists? Think about Northern Ireland and try to imagine how fun would be that policy.
posted by sukeban at 9:50 AM on September 13, 2014


This was the original point I disputed. To "be an atheist" is to positively hold a belief about the world like any other (in this case the belief that there is no God, or that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that there is a God). As opposed to, say, people who have zero interest in the question of the existence of God one way or another or who have never given it a moment's thought.
Well, yes, that's right, but it's a problem of language. People who have no interest in or who have never given other things any thought are considered ignorant of that thing; they are their own category. "Belief" in the sense of religion has a special meaning: taking a positive assertion (or rather, very many positive assertions) on faith with no proof. Taking the general religious meaning of "belief," atheists don't "believe" anything. Nothing is "on faith." Faith requires a positive assertion.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:00 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just wanted to thank embrangled for her many lovely and thoughtful comments in this thread.

Also, Pope Guilty intrigued me with: As an agnostic atheist, I think you don't know what you're on about.

I've seen a lot of atheist comments that agnostics are really just cowardly atheists (though religious people will also say we're secretly religious), but I've never run across that term, so now I'm down the Wikipedia rabbit hole with it, thanks PG.
posted by emjaybee at 10:40 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Did the first several commenters plan that together? That was hilarious.
posted by lastobelus at 10:46 AM on September 13, 2014


Some people parse 'atheist' not as "I believe there are no gods," but as "I don't believe in any gods."

So a lot of people you might consider agnostic actually identify as atheists, in part because many evangelical types interpret agnosticism as "Convince me."
posted by ernielundquist at 10:47 AM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Serious question: what is the legal status of atheism in the UK, given the state religion?

Mostly people don't give a shit. Honestly it's kind of weird that Dawkins has become such a lynchpin of the Atheist Movement, given how Brits mostly just quietly get on with not really believing in god.

I suspect there's a bit of a as feedback loop from having so many Americans who might have a bit more to complain about sucking up to him.
posted by Artw at 10:53 AM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Serious question: what is the legal status of atheism in the UK, given the state religion?

One of the striking facts I learned in studying the economics of religion a few years ago: state religion does more than anything else to depress religiosity. It's no coincidence that the secular countries of Europe are mostly countries with established churches.

The US Constitution's Establishment Clause, and the history of religious freedom here, is actually one of the main drivers of our high religiosity.

Major religious awakenings in the United States are traceable to shifts in the legal regime towards religious deregulation. For example, in the early republic, the Establishment Clause was not held to apply against the states, and many states had established religions. (Here in New England, the Congregationalists tended to be the established church IIRC.) When the Establishment Clause was incorporated against the states, early-mid 19th C., this led to a wave of religious fervor -- the Second Great Awakening.

Until the mid-twentieth century, religious programming on radio was heavily regulated by collusion between station owners and big national religious orgs. In 1960, the FCC changed the rules that encouraged this collusion. This deregulation led to an explosion of evangelical radio programming, whose consequences we are still coping with.

Overall, religiosity and religious conservatism flourish in an environment of high religious competition, while they are weaker in the anti-competitive environment of state-established religion. The difference in regulatory environment probably explains most of the difference in religiosity between the US and Western Europe.

Larry Iannaccone and Kelly Olds have both written a bunch of interesting stuff about this. I think the empirical case is very strong.
posted by grobstein at 11:40 AM on September 13, 2014 [23 favorites]


"Belief" in the sense of religion has a special meaning: taking a positive assertion (or rather, very many positive assertions) on faith with no proof. Taking the general religious meaning of "belief," atheists don't "believe" anything.

Can you prove the above assertions?

I don't think these claims could survive a semester of philosophy. You can't prove that the outside world exists. You can't prove that you exist. And you can't prove any ethical proposition— no pile of is's can ever give you an ought.
posted by zompist at 12:38 PM on September 13, 2014


I assure you, I've taken (far) more than a semester of philosophy. Unfortunately.

Given that the existence of our selves and the outside world is necessary for any of our thought to make sense, that is the baseline of the discussion. Descartes and his flaws are not relevant to the discussion.

In light of that, consider religion. Religion makes claims above this baseline without any evidence derived from the world. "There is a God who cares about how I act" is the most obvious. In addition there are tens of thousands of other claims, varying based on religion. ("The bread which I eat in honor of the man who was created by God but who was also God himself and who had existed since the beginning of time literally turns into the flesh of his body, and the wine turns into his blood.") These are all positive claims about the world without evidence or proof. Atheism makes none of them.

So, yes, in navel-gazing philosophy you do have to doubt the very reality in which we exist, but within that reality, and pursuant to our understanding of it, religious people make claims above the baseline, while atheists do not.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:31 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can you prove the above assertions?

Yeah, no. You don't get to do that here. Online discussions are not courtrooms. You don't get to hold opinions you disagree with to an impossibly high evidentiary standard as a substitute for actually engaging with those opinions and and preparing a considered response.

Most people in any discussion are going to struggle to prove their points beyond reasonable doubt. That doesn't mean that what they have to say is unworthy of your attention. Philosophy class (and yes, I've taken a few) does not give you the right to dismiss ideas you don't like out of hand Because Logic.

Good philosophical thinking requires that you make an effort to understand the other person's argument in the best possible light, then introduce ideas to challenge one or more of its premises - or the relationship between those premises and the conclusion. I don't see you doing any of that.

"Prove it" is just one tool in a philosophical toolkit that ought to include many others. (For example, "It's so interesting that you see it that way, could you explain your reasoning?", and, "Huh, I guess maybe my life experience is different from yours. Thanks for sharing!"). That you are waving "Prove it" around like a cudgel while others are deploying such things as curiosity and empathy suggests that perhaps your philosophical toolkit is a little bare. Good thinkers don't try to silence new ideas before they've made a good faith effort to fully understand them. "I'm smart, you're wrong" is not, by itself, a valid argument.

(For what it's worth, this is exactly the kind of behaviour that certain members of the Skeptic community use to silence minority voices within their ranks. Thank you for doing such an excellent job of demonstrating it in-thread).
posted by embrangled at 1:39 PM on September 13, 2014 [14 favorites]


"Belief" in the sense of religion has a special meaning: taking a positive assertion (or rather, very many positive assertions) on faith with no proof. Taking the general religious meaning of "belief," atheists don't "believe" anything.

Oh nonsense. There's no such thing as proof. There's only more or less evidence for a particular belief.
posted by straight at 1:52 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


As an agnostic atheist

What exactly is an agnostic atheist?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:07 PM on September 13, 2014


I think one issue is that atheists (by virtue of not being a unified group with unified reasons for being that way, beliefs qua their atheism, etc) often present arguments that are not aligned with other arguments presented by other atheists.

For example, in my circles, a big criticism of religion is its poor track record with women, and a big criticism of religious morality is that it often seems to celestialize inequity. This is supposed to be a big argument against religion, but more often also against theism and theistic views on morality.

So, from this point, the fact that atheists don't have much of a better track record on women seems like it should be really bad, yet I know many atheists who say, "Well, my atheism does not inform my social or moral views" and ultimately, if atheism is so minimally defined, I can't ever expect for people to be on board with feminism, etc. People can think theistic frameworks offer bad moralities while not thinking the subjugation of women is part of what's bad (or thinking that the popular conception of Islam's treatment is bad, but that our western society has gotten it Figured Out.)

That being said, I think that when we talk about major atheist movements, we aren't referring to non sequiturs. I think the groups that form and have conventions and whatnot definitely have shared beliefs that inform their atheism, and that become the basis of their narratives about atheism, religion, etc. So, skepticism and rationality and logic and things like that. Like, even in the negative atheist claim 'I don't see sufficient evidence to believe God exists', there is an implicit framework of what counts as evidence. (that framework doesn't have to be the same for everyone, but such a framework would be a positive belief... For me, I consider myself a weak/negative atheist in this sense, but my framework is more phenomenological and subjective. I would like to think that my not perceiving evidence of God is rooted in something objective, but I realize that ultimately, my not being persuaded says more about my mental state than it does about the outside world.)

So here, I would readdress the criticism. It seems like some folks want to assert that you can have morality as an atheist with just reason, logic, etc. But some of these same folks espousing for the primacy of those tools happen to have the worst track record on progressive issues, and I do think that is a big problem. (obviously, religious folks aren't calling them out on this because they often have the same failings, but I as a secular, progressive atheist will. Consequently, I don't buy that reason, logic, etc as commonly advocated are the end all be all, that greater atheism would itself improve our moral condition, etc. Whether we as human beings believe in gods of don't, we seem to be pretty horrible to each other either way. )

So I think that these sorts of events are bad to the extent that they weaken some sorts of critiques that atheists could make about theism or various religions. Like, it hurts one's ability to criticize religious misogyny if atheism doesn't really offer any solutions to this (and instead suggests that this isn't even a uniquely religious problem.)
posted by subversiveasset at 2:12 PM on September 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


Oh nonsense. There's no such thing as proof. There's only more or less evidence for a particular belief.

Fine. Zero evidence. Belief with zero evidence.
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:18 PM on September 13, 2014


> On the other hand, the article cut off for me in the middle of the pajama party paragraph, so I never got to read the concusion.

Try ctrl-R maybe. That's a little less than half way through, I think. The article ends with a quote from P.Z. Myers:
For Myers, then, the first step is to take on sexism and abuse, to call it out, to name it (and to name names). But for the movement to grow, the overarching need is for freethought to choose humanist values, including peace, women’s rights, and regard for the environment, even if that means marginalizing libertarians and conservatives. Atheism is the beginning, not the end.

“We can’t say there’s one way to be an atheist,” Myers said. “But the atheist movement needs to have greater goals than just eradicating religion.”
posted by nangar at 2:22 PM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


What exactly is an agnostic atheist?

An agnostic atheist has two qualities: they don't happen to believe in any gods and they don't claim to know or [be] sure that no gods can or do exist.


Not everybody makes the distinction, but basically atheists don't believe god(s) exist(s) and agnostics don't believe it's possible to know if god(s) exist(s) or not. One can be one without being the other, or one can be both.
posted by jaguar at 2:26 PM on September 13, 2014


Could those of you using this thread to rehash old arguments about whether atheism is a belief or a lack thereof maybe consider how your comments relate back to the original topic - that is, atheist communities and their apparent misogyny problem?
posted by embrangled at 2:28 PM on September 13, 2014 [10 favorites]


BOLTZMAN BRAINS ALL THE WAY DOWN!
posted by Artw at 2:32 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


sonic, if you have any idea of ethics at all, you believe in things without proof. Believing things without proof is something that everybody does. We have to, in order to function at all. I think you want to say that you don't make any extraordinary claims about the world, but, well, neither does Buddhism.

embrangled, it isn't as impressive as you think it is to congratulate yourself for your empathy when you're spinning straw men in order to silence someone.

Though all this is a bit of a derail, on another level it's not: the whole issue of the OP is ethical. I think it's a great thing that there are atheists like Myers who explicitly want to add feminist and progressive values to the movement.
posted by zompist at 2:34 PM on September 13, 2014


sonic, if you have any idea of ethics at all, you believe in things without proof.

It's like nothing from Immanuel f*cking Kant to game theory to kin selection existed at all! \(º3º)/
posted by sukeban at 2:36 PM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


And in a less flippant way: it isn't particularly difficult to collect material evidence that societies which balance social cohesion with individual happiness to maximize both are nicer to live in. Evidence. Not proof. Proof is for mathematics.
posted by sukeban at 2:39 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Could those of you using this thread to rehash old arguments about whether atheism is a belief or a lack thereof maybe consider how your comments relate back to the original topic - that is, atheist communities and their apparent misogyny problem?

That's the thing. There is no "atheist community." There are communities whose members are atheists, but they are organized voluntarily, do not speak for all atheists, and sympathizing with them is not required in order to be atheist. My original post in this thread was in reaction to someone saying: "[The concept that atheism is not a belief] sometimes seems to get used, by those holding atheist beliefs, to suggest that they share no positive stances with those accused of misogyny, and thus needn't see themselves as belonging to a community with issues that need confronting."

I do in fact think this is mistaken. Even though I despise the misogyny inherent in the OP and the situation, I am not part of the community because they are not relevant to my atheism.

sonic, if you have any idea of ethics at all, you believe in things without proof. Believing things without proof is something that everybody does. We have to, in order to function at all.

Yes, I am aware. "Evidence" is a better term.

I think you want to say that you don't make any extraordinary claims about the world, but, well, neither does Buddhism.

Please read about devas, reincarnation, and karma. Buddhism-as-practiced is also very syncretic in areas where it is indigenous.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:09 PM on September 13, 2014




It's like nothing from Immanuel f*cking Kant to game theory to kin selection existed at all! \(º3º)/

Kin selection and game theory are not "ethical" in any philosophically meaningful sense of the word. They make and support no normative claims.

Kant's ethics are founded on a normative claim about the intrinsic virtue of good will. This is an unproven metaphysical claim.

And in a less flippant way: it isn't particularly difficult to collect material evidence that societies which balance social cohesion with individual happiness to maximize both are nicer to live in. Evidence. Not proof. Proof is for mathematics.

But that positive claim does not imply the normative claim that we ought to try and make societies nicer to live in. It's not an ethical statement at all. The fact that it's not nice to create fractured and miserable societies does not mean that it is wrong to do so, not without the addition an unproven and unprovable normative claim.

You can, clearly, express a preference for such societies without making claims of the same type as religious claims, but that preference does not entitle you to make claims about how others should act, or whether the societies you happen to like are better than the ones you dislike.

tl;dr - if you believe that right and wrong exist, you are making an unsupported and unprovable claim about the nature of the Universe. You are involved in the same type of activity as religious people are. Get over it.
posted by howfar at 6:01 PM on September 13, 2014


There are communities whose members are atheists, but they are organized voluntarily, do not speak for all atheists, and sympathizing with them is not required in order to be atheist.

Then I guess there are no glbt community(ies), no Jewish community(ies)or etc. It seems like weird hairsplitting to say "it's not a [blank] communit" if you're going to define community as something other than people getting together voluntarily because they have something in common.
posted by rtha at 6:12 PM on September 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Where some of the resistance to this comes from is that it's reasonably common to talk about glbt communitIES and you can't have any conversation about a mainstream religion without someone pointing out the existence of radically divergent communitIES of faith within a single tradition, but in talking about atheismS the default seems to be mash it all together into a singular consensus hive mind, in spite of the fact that explicit anti-theists poll as a minority. It's taken for granted that "The Atheist Movement" (caps might go beyond headline style) is connected to New Atheism ignoring multiple parallel communities that might also be called "movements."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:36 PM on September 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Judaism can literally only be practiced in a community, so it seems pretty different from atheism. There have to be Jewish communities, because many important Jewish rituals require ten Jews to be present. You can't practice Judaism alone. Jews have also always considered ourselves in some sense a community (or a people or a tribe or something like that, but definitely not just a random bunch of people who happen to believe the same thing, which is why I'm still Jewish regardless of whether I believe in God.) So yeah: I think it is very different to talk about Jewish communities than to talk about atheist communities.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:20 PM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


I know plenty of non-religious Jews who still feel part of the Jewish community.

I think it's worth considering with whom you're identifying, if you're an atheist who thinks these assaults and this harassment doesn't involve them. I am not in college, have not been in college for many many years, and yet I still identify with the victims of college sexual assault and am advocating for reform there, because I think it is the right thing to do. Ditto anti-racism work. Ditto anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia work. Not because I have a card in my wallet saying I have administrative ties to those groups, but because where I see suffering, I see my own responsibility to help and where I see that people who look like me or talk like me are abusing others who do not, I see so much more responsibility to step in on behalf of the abused. Shame on anyone who says, "Not my problem."
posted by jaguar at 7:29 PM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


You can't practice Judaism alone.

But I know lots of Jews who don't practice but who still consider themselves Jewish, regardless of belief or ritual, and who still count themselves as part of the larger set of community(ies) of Jews. I guess my issue with the definition I'm taking issue with is that it's so narrow that it unmakes a lot of communities of people who consider themselves to be part of a community. I don't know (for example) of any lesbian group that speaks for all lesbians, or is required membership for any lesbian. Does that mean there is no kind of lesbian community? A community is people who consider themselves affiliated in some way. If some atheists consider themselves to be affiliated by their atheism and other common concerns, and that that makes them a community, then I don't see the point in saying "No, that's not a community."
posted by rtha at 7:49 PM on September 13, 2014


Another glimpse into the history of feminist, pluralist atheism: Voltairine De Cleyre "The Past and Future of the Ladies' Liberal League." The Rebel. Oct, Nov 1895 & Jan 1896. PDF files 01-02, 01-03 & 01-04 available at this website.
We have again not been unmindful of the fact that there are ethical and moral and educational questions pressing for consideration. We were determined to run into no rut, to become no petty propagandist “group” with but one idea to hawk, in and out of season, to confine ourselves to no particular class of subjects; we said: “Some people haven't settled their account with God yet—let us let them tell us why; some people feel the need of a reconstruction of the principles of religion into an ethical system, and believe that the proper understanding of these principles will give a better nucleus for the concentration of the efforts of life, than he who is cast adrift without such can command. In some this reconstruction has taken the form of theosophy, in others unitarianism, in others spiritualism, in others Whitmanism.
De Cleyre goes on to describe some of their guest speakers. Her history is quite conversational and shows interesting parallels to the variety of speakers invited to atheist groups today. At one point she recounts inviting a sexist to lecture on why women are inferior to men, saying "This, I say, is painful. But we have borne with this sort of person too. Are we not liberal?"

Also, tonight's the opening for A Woman's Room Online. The website includes a live feed of guests looking at the installation.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:59 PM on September 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


If some atheists consider themselves to be affiliated by their atheism and other common concerns, and that that makes them a community, then I don't see the point in saying "No, that's not a community."

They are a community, rtha, but they're not the community. It bothers me that people seem to have the idea that atheists as a whole bear more responsibility for the idiots among atheists than, you know, your average guy on the street does. Why? I have no membership in or leverage over this group, no more than I do over the idiots who run Penny Arcade and PAX. All I can do is refrain from giving them money and going to their conventions.

Which I already do, because they have nothing of interest for me.

The issue is similar to negative stereotyping of other minority groups, with obviously less severity because I can hide my atheism; but if you read upthread you'll see people refusing to identify as "atheist" (which is really as plain a descriptive term as you can find) because of the baggage it has attracted. It's really shitty to think that I spend a noticeable amount of time in the physical world "mming" along to people telling me how blessed I am, saying "you too" when people say "Now you have a blessed day," listening to neighbors or relatives ranting about how everything went to shit when "they took God out of schools," or lying when they ask which church I go to. It adds another layer to it when people who generally consider themselves tolerant and progressive start acting like the accident of a shared theological worldview (with, as discussed above, no doctrine or shared texts or authority figures) makes me somehow more complicit in a bunch of dicks being dicks.

I mean, come on. You guys complain about people holding all Muslims corporately responsible for terrorist attacks, and rightly so; but, in fact, your average Muslim living in America actually has more connections to the violent, fundamentalist sects of their religion than non-"Movement" atheists have to Dawkins, purely because the normal, non-insane Muslim does in fact accept a large subset of the claims made in the Qur'an.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:17 PM on September 13, 2014


Show me on the doll where the nerd touched you.

It's not a doll, it's an action figure, you insensitive clod.
posted by Sparx at 8:18 PM on September 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think it's worth considering with whom you're identifying, if you're an atheist who thinks these assaults and this harassment doesn't involve them.

I'm not certain that's been said. But ignoring the fact that there are multiple flavors of atheism out there and not all of them get along on any level other than agreement on doubt in the existence in deities doesn't help much.

It concerns me because I'm a supporter of feminism and opposed to rape and sexual harassment in any community. But I have about as much in common to the JREF as I do to the United Methodist Church at this point.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:24 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think my issue is not so much that I don't see it as my problem because I'm not a member of their group as that I perceive their group to be hostile to me for any number of reasons, only one of which is my gender, and I think they'd still be hateful jerks if they weren't misogynists. The people who, according to the article, call Rebecca Watson a "Jew whore" would still be anti-Semites if they stopped referring to women as whores and started calling their perceived enemies "Jew assholes" instead. If Dawkins stopped saying hateful things about women, he would still spend most of his time saying hateful things about Muslims. I think it's terrible that women are being mistreated, but I can't really get on board for trying to clean up these terrible groups so that they're only bigots in the approved, appropriate ways. The awfulness is a feature, not a bug, and it can't be fixed by addressing one facet of it. The thing to do is denounce these folks as the assholes that they are and then try to work with atheist groups and activists who aren't fundamentally assholes.

In the meantime, if anyone has ideas about how to support the women discussed in the article, I would love to hear them.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:48 PM on September 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Fine. Zero evidence. Belief with zero evidence.

Pft. If only one single person in all of human history ever claimed to have some personal experience of a god, that claim would be evidence. Maybe not good, strong, or convincing evidence, but not zero evidence.
posted by straight at 9:51 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, no. You don't get to do that here. [...] That you are waving "Prove it" around like a cudgel while others are deploying such things as curiosity and empathy suggests that perhaps your philosophical toolkit is a little bare. Good thinkers don't try to silence new ideas before they've made a good faith effort to fully understand them, etc.

I don't agree with zompist on this either, but his comment was fairly innocuous. Why are you talking to him like he's the nine-year-old cousin and you're the eleven-year-old cousin?
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:14 AM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


So, yes, in navel-gazing philosophy you do have to doubt the very reality in which we exist, but within that reality, and pursuant to our understanding of it, religious people make claims above the baseline, while atheists do not.

Liberal atheists (in fact all atheists who aren't moral nihilists) do. Treating human rights as if they have some kind of absolute and universal existence regardless of what society says is one example.

Accepting the idea that moral questions have actual answers that aren't just someone's opinion is as big an assumption as the idea of a creator, in the sense that both involve admitting a whole new category of things into existence.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 2:53 AM on September 14, 2014


FWIW, I am basically a "weak atheist." I'm almost agnostic, but the word implies an uncertainty that I don't really feel, depending on how specifically the proposed deity is defined. On the other hand, if there is some eternal entity or organization that exists outside the Cosmos & is responsible for it, I am not sure this entity & ourselves would be intelligable to each other, on principle. This to me is almost the definition of agnosticism. Unless the claim is that the deity is omnipotent & omniscient; with respect to such claims I am more of the atheist. So, as I like to say, it depends on my mood & your definitions.

However, while I find the "Atheist Movement" interesting and, for many, important, for my part, I don't really identitfy myself that way. I'm a social person, and therefore like to belong, so I identify myself as a Secular Humanist, and go to a Unitarian Universalist church. At first I went for my daughter, to innoculate her against the religions here in Georgia, U.S., but I've found a cummunity of kind, liberal people. God never really comes up, unless you seek the discussion out. It's just people loving and supporting each other. Dogma is not needed, one way or another.

As a Unitarian Universalist and a Secular Humanist, I find the behavior of those who mistreat women, or anyone, repulsive; I don't want to be associated with them. But the community of people and organizations that hold themselves out as "Movement Atheism" are diverse and not formally organized under some heirarchy. I will reserve condemnation to those who behave indecently or tolerate such. And there is no doubt in my mind that the behavior under discussion deserves to be condemned.

But in general, having lurked around the atheist activists, I think they serve a useful purpose. It can be very difficult to leave a religion. Many find solace in a ready community and source of mental and emotional support. I would not like to throw the baby out with thr bathwater.
posted by JKevinKing at 6:02 AM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Liberal atheists (in fact all atheists who aren't moral nihilists) do. Treating human rights as if they have some kind of absolute and universal existence regardless of what society says is one example.

"Accepting the idea that moral questions have actual answers that aren't just someone's opinion is as big an assumption as the idea of a creator, in the sense that both involve admitting a whole new category of things into existence."

I don't accept the premise that a lack of belief in an objective moral standard is tantamount to nihilism. Why do morals have to be all or nothing? For instance, morals exist outside the mere opinion of an individual person when humans, who exist in communities, negotiate (used in a very loose way) the social contract. That's all that's necessary; I don't think it's necessary to refer to some sort of Platonic-like objective moral standard. This is not nihilism.
posted by JKevinKing at 6:21 AM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this is a weird strain of absolutism -- as if we can never use language that appears to refer to entities ("human rights," "answers" to "moral questions") without thinking that such entities exist, out there somewhere. Just as the radio telescopes haven't detected God yet, they also haven't detected "right" and "wrong" -- so your belief that some actions are better than others is exactly like religious faith.

I think this is a linguistic confusion. Talk of "right" and "wrong" doesn't actually presuppose that right and wrong are objects, even though it sometimes sounds like that. Similarly, I don't think a mathematician is behaving as a theist when making a statement like, "There exists x in R such that etc. etc."
posted by grobstein at 7:36 AM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


. . . I think the obvious way to distinguish religious beliefs from these other kinds of "metaphysical" beliefs is that religious beliefs ordinarily make claims about the physical world -- that God acts on it or causes it in some way. This makes them much stronger (harder to justify) than the "metaphysical" beliefs that some are claiming are equivalent.

Occasionally someone comes along to say that religion makes no claims about the physical world, so that science and religion can achieve a state of mutual non-aggression. From a political standpoint, this may be a fine accommodation to reach for. But as a description of the beliefs of most actually-existing religions, it is dead wrong.

I wrote about this idea some time ago.
posted by grobstein at 7:55 AM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Another key facet of elevatorgate:

It was 4am when Watkins told the group in the hotel bar that she was tired and going up to sleep. The proper response should have been something to the effect of " Great talking with you, sleep well, see you in a few hours". Elevator guy ignores her clear statement of her needs and proceeds to follow her.
posted by brujita at 7:56 AM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


The problem with the atheist conventioneers is equivalent to the problem in the word "atheism" itself: It's a word defined by its opposite. Atheism, a-theism, can't exist separately from the philosophy of god which it negates; it's a word (and movement) that lacks positive, independent content.

Secular humanism used to offer a more positive alternative philosophy to theism, but the conservative movement made mincemeat out of it, unfortunately. I miss the near ubiquitous secular humanism I remember from the late 70s through the mid 80s or so. Secular humanism was top-dog in US culture for a little while there, and it was nice. I kind of grew to resent it as a teen/young adult just because human nature hates anything that dominates, but now I miss it...
posted by saulgoodman at 10:31 AM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Stephanie Zvan recaps the reports about Shermer in light of more tweets from Dawkins minimizing and wildly misunderstanding reports of assault & harassment.

Zvan is a member of the Minnesota Atheists and is one co-host on the group's Atheists Talk TV show & podcast. The show covers a wide range of topics demonstrating the breadth and depth of atheism beyond Dawkins, Harris, Shermer or Silverman.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:57 PM on September 14, 2014 [7 favorites]


I have no problem calling myself an atheist but it does nothing to describe my life or experience.

The irony is there is a much more complex and revolutionary movement that describes experiences and injustices left unexamined by both religion and secular humanism. It's called feminism.
posted by Summer at 1:15 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


injustices left unexamined by both religion and secular humanism

Feminism has been an integral component of both progressive religion and atheist Humanism. I don't know religious feminist thought well enough to speak about it, but within atheist movements and among public atheists, feminist arguments have been heard since before the term feminism came into use. Annie Laurie Gaylor's anthology Women Without Superstition includes excerpts from many of these advocates. The American Humanist Association has a Feminist Caucus, inviting Humanist Heroine award winners to speak at their national meeting since 1982. The International Humanist and Ethical Union has member organizations worldwide engaged in local feminist work. The Center for Inquiry has put on the Women in Secularism conference for three years, headed by Melody Hensley.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:33 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


"tl;dr - if you believe that right and wrong exist, you are making an unsupported and unprovable claim about the nature of the Universe. You are involved in the same type of activity as religious people are. Get over it."

Oh, bullshit. If you adopt the Humean radical skepticism (re: "is-ought"), then inferring that this is the same kind of argument religious people make is also an empty statement of belief (problem of induction). Acting like metaethics and moral skepticism are solved problems is inane and gives the lie to presumptions of philosophical sophistication and superiority. This is especially true as you move from Pyrrhonian negative claims to saying things like the quote above, which are clearly dogmatic moral skepticism.

Tl; dr: If you make a positive claim that a belief in right and wrong is religious because it is unprovable and unsupportable, you yourself are making an unprovable and unsupportable positive claim, the same as religion*. Your position is incoherent. Deal with it.

* This is a distinct claim from the argument that atheism is a religious claim, as atheism isn't inherently making a positive statement of belief, and even dogmatic atheists can retreat to the more articulate phrasing that their positive belief in the lack of gods is a belief based on being more likely than not.
posted by klangklangston at 2:12 PM on September 14, 2014


Feminism has been an integral component of both progressive religion and atheist Humanism.

On the religious side, Amy-Jill Levine is doing some very exciting work. See, for example, her Feminist Companion to the New Testament and Early Christian Writings. There is ground here for unity among atheists and the religious.
posted by No Robots at 2:20 PM on September 14, 2014


I'm sorry, but per Watkins' own retelling of the event, where is the murkiness?
1. She was talking with people.
2. She is in an elevator with at least one of them.
3. One of them asks if she would like to come to his room for coffee.

You missed step 0, where she had just finished giving a talk about misogyny in the freethought movement and how being sexualised by men - i.e. seeing her gender first, ignoring her mind, and just seen as a sex object - creeped her out and made her uncomfortable. So one of the audience to that talk decides that 4am in a foreign country alone in an elevator is a good time to make (what she thought was) a sexual advance? Talk about missing the freaking point of the speech. Watkins was disappointed and creeped out a bit, and subsequently said so.


i'm missing the step where asking a woman to one's hotel room for coffee and conversation is, by her description, 'sexualizing' her. unless she's leaving out some important detail, that's a really big (and, not least, self-serving) assumption. it sounds like something i might do, if i were intellectually engaged and interested in talking to someone, and if i were not viewing her at all in terms of gender (and i pretty much wouldn't, considering i'm a dude who likes big hairy dudes). yeah, to some degree not viewing it from her perspective in terms of safety or whatever is a blind spot, but you can't have it both ways, wanting men not to see your 'gender first' and yet berating them if they forget to make the distinction.

not that the response to the story was justified, but i think in an important sense she's disrespecting and labeling him in a way that she assumes he is doing to her; but, speaking as someone who is not particularly queer-obvious and is thus sometimes the target of those assumptions by women, he very well might not have been doing that at all.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 9:39 PM on September 14, 2014


I really got the impression that this piece was just referencing the elevator thing to give a bit of context for people who weren't familiar with the way that the atheist community backlashes against a woman who dares suggest that there might be sexism in the movement, not so that we could hear the same arguments that were tired the first time they were going around, in 2011. I know, I know, a woman complained about sexism and feeling threatened and asked men to actually consider their behavior. But we've tread this ground before, and since the general gamut of complaints runs from "well maybe he didn't MEAN to come off as threatening or objectifying or sexualizing" to senseless rage and death threats, which is basically the same set of complaints that happens any time a woman complains about pretty much anything, I can basically guarantee you that there is nothing about this that has not only not been said before, but has not been said already dozens of times.
posted by NoraReed at 9:52 PM on September 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


it was a point of discussion in the thread, and not being aware of your personal statute of limitations on what can be discussed, i gave a view on it. as a gay man, like many gay men, i encounter women who are quick to assume i view them in any way sexually--whether it's a woman who thinks she can rub her breasts on my arm to get a better place in line or a hit off my joint, or a woman who thinks i want to sleep with her because i ask if she would like a drink or a hit off my joint. so i don't think it's a stretch to say that there are likely a lot of decent men who encounter that as well. it's not to target 'anything' a woman complains about, but a reminder that sometimes women think it's all about them, but it really isn't.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 10:34 PM on September 14, 2014


what the hell do any of those generalizations have to do with the misogyny of the atheist movement? because they just sound like a lot of tired retreads of sexist trash to me
posted by NoraReed at 10:53 PM on September 14, 2014


i'm missing the step where asking a woman to one's hotel room for coffee and conversation is, by her description, 'sexualizing' her.

You don't see how inviting a person to your hotel room -- a private place dominated by a bed -- can't easily be seen as sexualizing? Especially a person who has just spent some amount of time and effort talking about sexualization?
posted by Etrigan at 10:53 PM on September 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


having had conversations with many women in hotel rooms--many of whom i barely knew (gasp!)--and having sex with exactly zero of them, i don't have a hard time thinking that someone who is not looking to have sex with a woman would suggest it and be oblivious to the connotation--particularly, in this case, if it is someone who is genuinely interested and agreeable to what she has to say. the only thing that makes it sexualizing is the woman's assumption that every man is trying to trick her into bed, which is itself sexist.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 11:11 PM on September 14, 2014


Yeah, this is becoming a pretty big derail going over very old, very well trod and thoroughly argued ground on the Rebecca Watson incident, which is brought up in reference to the main, much broader topic here, and is not about whether elevator guy had X intentions, but about over the top "die die die" backlash for Watson saying "hey, just as a tip, doing what anonymous elevator guy did is not cool for these reasons..."
posted by taz at 11:26 PM on September 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


i'm missing the step where asking a woman to one's hotel room for coffee and conversation is, by her description, 'sexualizing' her.

And then if he had sexually assaulted her instead of that elusive "coffee" that couldn't have been had at the hotel bar they had been in for the previous many hours, everyone would be "what did you expect, going to a man's hotel room, you idiot".

having had conversations with many women in hotel rooms--many of whom i barely knew (gasp!)--and having sex with exactly zero of them

You're gay. Elevator Guy was (supposedly) not.
posted by sukeban at 1:32 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


My Christ, what a dumb return re: elevator.

It's worth talking about because it's the kind of shit that makes people say there's a misogyny problem with the atheist community.

Quick breakdown:

1) The idea that it's possible to invite someone to your room in a non-sexual way is an exception to the general idiom of going back to one's room. It is not the default assumption in either straight or gay culture, come the fuck on.

2) Watson was there and thus is a better judge of whether this felt like a come-on to her than you were. Going through elaborate jiggery-pokery to prove that it's possible the guy just wanted her advice on a particularly abstruse Diplomacy rule question or whatever the fuck is ignoring the plain answer in order to, in essence, posit the magical explanation where this turns out to have really been her misunderstanding.

3) You know whose responsibility it is for people who don't want to come across like they're hitting on women in elevators? People who want to talk to women in elevators.

4) Watson related this as something that wasn't a huge deal but was still sexist and creepy and violated the boundaries she had previously given to an audience including the boundary violator.

5) People arguing against the common sense explanation that the woman experienced what she said she experienced are expending a lot of time doing third-party weaseling for some other dude to no obvious benefit aside from, yes, it could have been the Angel Gabriel giving Rebecca Watson the annunciation, but chances are it happened pretty much like she said it did. Why get so invested in retconning just because you've had an experience that was similar but differed so much as to be useless in evaluating this situation?
posted by klangklangston at 1:41 AM on September 15, 2014 [17 favorites]


Missing the step of "I'm tired and going to sleep". Even if elevator guy is on the spectrum and incapable of reading body language, he should have understood these words and respected her boundaries.
posted by brujita at 2:12 AM on September 15, 2014


To be blunt:

"Hey this guy, at 4am, while we were in an elevator in a hotel, asked me to his room for coffee. It was creepy and annoying especially after I just finished a talk about sexism and boundries."


"Omg bitch. WTF is wrong with you whore. The guy was prolly innocent. Feminist sluts like you should die. Watch out. I'm going to kill you. Next event you go to. Next panel you're on. You deserve to be raped for saying this sorta of shit. I'm sick of %^(( women like telling us what to do. Oh a here is a photoshopped picture of you (dying, being raped, your friends being raped. Oh a here is a picture of you naked. Hardy har har. I'm surprised anyone would want to fuck you anyways your (body part) is (x) but hey your other (body part) is fap worthy "


@fallacy of the beard The point is not a discussion of dialogue number one. Doesn't even matter if she is correct in her reading of the situation. The point is represented by dialogue number 2. The reaction to 1. A reaction which is still going on today, two years later.

I'm going to assume that your not someone who thinks number 2 is a reasonable type of reaction to 1.
posted by Jalliah at 4:09 AM on September 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Pft. If only one single person in all of human history ever claimed to have some personal experience of a god, that claim would be evidence. Maybe not good, strong, or convincing evidence, but not zero evidence.

No. No, it wouldn't. Otherwise everything a lunatic has ever babbled has evidence for it. "I AM JOHN CLEESE REINCARNATED! The man who pretends to be John Cleese is an alien who was replaced in 1969!" Consider this: if everyone who believes they have religious experience constitutes "evidence," the largest group of believers is probably true, because it has more evidence in its favor; so Christianity would be the true religion. However, most Christians are Catholic, so Protestantism is wrong. Of course, then we get to an issue because Sunni islam is probably the same size or a little larger than Catholicism, so it is probably true. Hmm. Should we count the rest of Christianity together? But many Catholics claim to have religious visions of saints and Mary, which most fundies would call Satanic! oh no

It's also bizarre that you guys think religion is "just like" moral thinking. Thinking "I should minimize the harm that I do to others" is fundamentally different from believing:
  1. There is a god.
  2. The god that I believe in is the correct one, not the others that people believe in with equal "evidence."
  3. God provided sacred texts to humans, who wrote them down.
  4. The translations of their original languages to my vernacular are trustworthy.
  5. The rules inside the sacred texts are necessary for moral existence, even where they contradict.
In essence, it's a slippery slope. There may be no logical way (other than evolutionary psychology) to prove that the "golden rule" is correct, but given that every major religion espouses it, there's likely something underpinning it in our psyche.

Anyway, this is a massive derail.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:45 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


There may be no logical way (other than evolutionary psychology) to prove that the "golden rule" is correct, but given that every major religion espouses it, there's likely something underpinning it in our psyche.

Actually, this might be a bad example because The Golden Rule is unique to the New Testament and has long been considered one of the earliest examples of moral relativism among scholars of ethics. The older pre-Christian Abrahamic systems were rote rule-based ethical systems. In the past, it's been argued that Jesus' moral relativism as embodied in the Golden Rule is among Christianity's most important contributions to the field of ethics, opening up more flexible, principles-based approaches to ethical reasoning, as opposed to rote, rules-based systems. So this might not be the best example for your point, though I agree with it more generally.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:13 AM on September 15, 2014


Saul, that is just flat wrong -- the golden rule in at least it's negative form (Don't do to others what you wouldn't want them to do to you) exists all over the ancient world.
posted by empath at 6:34 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Golden Rule is unique to the New Testament

Not even wrong.

When Jesus says, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," he is quoting a line from Leviticus.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:42 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


More directly, he was quoting Hillel the Elder, someone who was born about 30 or 40 years before him.

Hillel the Elder, an elder contemporary of Jesus, formulated a negative form of the Golden Rule and when asked to sum up the entire Torah concisely to a gentile who wished to become a Jew, he answered, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Law; the rest is the explanation."[10]

Or perhaps the gospel writer was quoting Hillel. Either way.
posted by empath at 7:07 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


People of Color Beyond Faith's Moving Social Justice conference schedule has been published. Panels include:
2. Beyond #solidarityisforwhitewomen: Feminist of Color Organizing

Yolanda Alaniz, Radical Women
Nourbese Flint, Black Women for Wellness
Heina Dadabhoy, Freethought Blogs
Marlene Montanez, Undocumented youth activism
Moderator: Andrea Plaid, The Feminist Wire

3. Humanist Youth Leadership & Busting the School-to-Prison Pipeline:

Ashley Franklin, Labor Community Strategy Center
Briana Gerard, Youth Justice Coalition
Mark Anthony, Coalition to End Sheriff Violence
Josh Parr & Jimmanie Youngblood, The Beat Within
Moderator: Thandi Chimurenga, Ida B. Wells Institute

4. What's Race Got to Do With It? Racism and Intersectionality in the Atheist Movement

Tony Pinn, Rice University
Donald Wright, Houston Black Non-Believers
Raina Rhoades, Chocolate City Skeptics
Sergio Ortega, Hispanic Atheists
And Dana Hunter discusses "So Much Wrong: James Randi’s Rape Culture Remarks"
James Randi knew Shermer was, in his words, being “a bad boy on occasion.” Generally, when men talk about other men being “bad boys” in the context of a discussion on sexual harassment and assault, they mean that those “bad boys” were harassing women.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:20 AM on September 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


"Consider this: if everyone who believes they have religious experience constitutes "evidence," the largest group of believers is probably true, because it has more evidence in its favor; so Christianity would be the true religion."

Psst… you know that you can evaluate evidence based on quality too, not just quantity?
posted by klangklangston at 8:43 AM on September 15, 2014


Psst… you know that you can evaluate evidence based on quality too, not just quantity?

Did you read the sequence of comments to which I was replying? That was exactly my point. Congratulations on responding in a snarky and insulting way.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:10 AM on September 15, 2014


Saul, that is just flat wrong -- the golden rule in at least it's negative form (Don't do to others what you wouldn't want them to do to you) exists all over the ancient world.

Maybe outside of theological circles, but it's taught as an important distinction between Old Testament and New Testament ethics. I've had it taught to me that way--though I'll concede, I can't remember anymore if that was in University or one of the many different denominations of Sunday school I attended as a kid.

The history is probably a lot more muddled than was taught to me at the time, but the more important point is still true. The Golden Rule absolutely is a relativistic moral principle--it's not an absolute rule, but one that requires consideration of individuals and their circumstances to reach a conclusion, so at least the claim that it's an example of moral relativism (the more important claim to my mind) is not wrong.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:31 AM on September 15, 2014


It exists in Buddhism and other religions as well, saulgoodman.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:33 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Actually, now that I'm thinking back on it, at least some of what I'm vaguely remembering here may have dated back to the one year of middle school I went to a crazy Christian school. It wouldn't be the first time I got burned on recollecting some "fact" about Christianity they taught me that didn't hold up. And as the years grind on, it gets harder to remember how reliable the sources for some vaguely half-remembered information floating around in my head are... But I remember the thrust of the lecture that gave me the mistaken impression well, and there's no doubt someone was claiming The Golden Rule invented moral relativism (I know that's a bullshit claim, but that's how the idea was presented). There was a whole thing in the lesson about how the Hammurabi Code led to the Decalog, etc., all paving the way for Christianity's introduction of a radical new way to do ethical reasoning ("The Golden Rule") taking a more relativistic view of ethical morality. I fully cop to this probably being bad history, but I promise I didn't make it up myself. Somebody in an official capacity taught it to me at some point in my formal education...
posted by saulgoodman at 9:39 AM on September 15, 2014


It exists in Buddhism and other religions as well, saulgoodman.

I know. I'm a Buddhist. I think the idea was that it represented a major break within the Abrahamic traditions, specifically, in a way roughly analogous to Gotama's famous declaration of "an-atman."
posted by saulgoodman at 9:41 AM on September 15, 2014


Argh. The Rebecca Watson "case" is a pretty perfect illustration of one particular flavor of misogyny.

It's weird that it's even an incident at all. It consisted of a short, off the cuff aside that Watson made at the end of one of her videos recounting an experience she had at a convention, and providing her own perspective on what happened. It wasn't an accusation. It wasn't an indictment. It was a short insight into how a seemingly innocent interaction can feel menacing from a woman's perspective.

An appropriate response might have been, "Oh, thanks! I'd never really thought about it that way."

And that's cool. We know men aren't used to thinking about some of the ways women perceive things differently from them. It's pretty easy to go through life without really ever experiencing things from a female perspective. Men are the default narrators, the default protagonists for pretty much all mainstream media. Hell, women aren't even always that great at it either. I know I have to work on not assuming maleness sometimes, and I'm not even a man. There is no need for every man on the internet to reiterate a man's perspective on the incident. We already know that. Everyone knows what the generic male perspective is in this case.

We don't often see things clearly from a female perspective, though. That's interesting. That's new information for a lot of people, and she did everyone a favor by providing that insight. If you knew that already, go ahead and ignore it. If you didn't though, you should have said "Thanks!"

But rather than thanking her, a lot of men got very very defensive. They attacked her and tried to drown her out. The Time a Lady Gave Men Advice was christened "Elevatorgate"! Her public identify is now inextricably tied to this incident, as though it's some sort of big sex scandal or something. Just the fact that a woman spoke up and gently suggested (and her admonition was gentle as fuck) that men modify their behaviors a little bit out of respect for women became a Major Internet Flashpoint.

What the fuck, angry internet dudes? Just what in the fucking fuck?

Did your feelings get that hurt, really, just because a woman dared criticize some man's behaviors? Can you even imagine if women reacted like that every time some man told them what to do? Because stand back: We have some stories.

Can you ever just sit back and listen without trying to formulate a rebuttal to something you know nothing at all about?

The fact is that women know a lot of things you don't. We're privy to behaviors you might never have witnessed yourself. Our perspectives and experiences in some ways are very, very different from yours; and if you could shut up and listen a little, you could learn a whole lot about the world around you.

The fact that so many men react with such hostility to even hearing a woman's perspective, and defend their ignorance with such overwhelming hostility is absolutely horrifying.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:42 AM on September 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


There was a whole thing in the lesson about how the Hammurabi Code led to the Decalog, etc., all paving the way for Christianity's introduction of a radical new way to do ethical reasoning ("The Golden Rule") taking a more relativistic view of ethical morality.

The actual history is closer to: Alexander spread Hellenic philosophy all over the near east, jewish philosophers spent a few hundred years trying to integrate it with Judaism, Christianity is one of the results. Several greek philosophers came up with the golden rule, and it was a well-established tenet of greek ethical thought, and Judea was thoroughly hellenized by the time of Christ (the gospels were written in Greek, after all).
posted by empath at 9:46 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm honestly not too surprised the claims were bullshit. And thinking about it more, I suppose I don't really think the important distinction (if there's any) has to do with relativism versus universalism so much as rules-based versus principles based ethical/legal systems. I think I may have just been muddling up the rule-based/principles based divide with the relativistic/universalist one. Sorry for drooling confusion all over the thread.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:58 AM on September 15, 2014


For a full discussion of the Golden Rule, see Amy-Jill Levine's The Jewish Annotated New Testament.
posted by No Robots at 10:12 AM on September 15, 2014


I can't stand capital-A Atheism. I've been turned off by so-called "freethinkers" who seem mostly to be oppositional-defiant manchildren thowing tantrums at the idea of any kind of rule, guideline or other overarching regulation that might apply to them. I have met and spoke with dozens (if not more) men like this, who flail and thrash about tossing out any casual racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia around they can because "NO ONE CAN MAKE ME STOP!" Ugh. Take your Mommy/Daddy issues and buy yourself a fully-deregulated hermitage in Montana.

Dawkins: Asshole. Penn Jillette: Asshole. Bill Hicks: a sweet chain-smoking angel misappropriated by a bunch of fucking assholes. I consider the following dog-whistle terms / red flags to stay the fuck away: hardline atheist; freethinker; libertarian; gun rights advocate; men's rights advocate; free speech militant; etc. These are the same type of guys who irrationally hate feminism, yet automatically call women "irrational" in any argument and insist that they own the deed to "logic". They believe all forms of gender-bias and institutional sexism can be drilled down to telling women/trans folk/gays "Don't be a victim!" and "stop your whining!". Any appeal to or acknowledgement of emotion is considered "illogical", "weak" and making oneself a "victim". As though the ideal world were just a bunch of completely equal, Spock-like white dudes appealing to one another's logic and agreeing easily to everyone else's science-driven ideas.

I intentionally identify as agnostic in part because I have no desire to be lumped into the "atheist" category. I have been treated with more respect and kindness by nearly every Christian I've know than "movement atheists" - that includes hardcore Southern Republican fucking Baptists! I have received more sound guidance, support and compassion from highly spiritual social-justice activists than from movement atheists. I agree with and get along better with feminist Mormons or Muslims or fucking Scientologists than movement atheists.
posted by SassHat at 10:21 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Consider this: if everyone who believes they have religious experience constitutes "evidence,"

Obviously one has to evaluate evidence. But that is different from claiming there isn't any evidence to evaluate. Your statement that religious belief is based on "zero evidence" is just plain wrong. It's based on evidence that you don't find convincing.
posted by straight at 10:27 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Heina Dadabhoy discusses some people who have harassed women atheists attending the opening of A Woman's Room Online and considers whether people who act like jerks online are nicer in real life.

One outcome I'd like to see from Oppenheimer's article is that the wider public starts to appreciate the diversity of public atheisms and to support feminist atheists who identify unabashedly as atheists. The organizations, women and men I've mentioned in this thread do incredibly important work that deserves to be considered on its own merits.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:33 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


The article makes a passing mention of new "rules" for the "gender dynamic" and I think there's actually something to that, as far as the reason why at least a subset of men get extravagantly, sometimes violently, upset and retaliatory when they run up against, or see someone run up against, those "rules". Because yes. Absolutely, the rules are changing about what you "can" and "can't" do with/to women (at cons, in public, online, in general). But the people getting upset about this tend to misunderstand what the idea of "the rules are changing" means.

The "rules" - that set of norms that determined where you could and couldn't acceptably transgress with someone - used to be much more liberal from the male perspective. You could grope your secretary. You could get a woman drunk to increase your chances of getting laid. You could converse with a woman with your hand massaging your crotch. All these things were ok, though maybe not things you'd want your wife to see you doing. If you told your friends about them, they'd snicker and offer to buy you a drink. No, not all men. I am aware of this. Remember, we are talking about the subset of people to whom the change in "rules" has come as an earthshaking, offensive sea change.

But the point is that the rules governed how you could transgress. At no point in history that I can think of did the secretaries enjoy having their asses grabbed, or the women want to wake up hungover and naked in the bed of someone they don't know, or the young women hope that when they chatted at long last with their hero he'd make his dick stand at attention for them. These things have always been transgressions against women - but they were transgressions that you could get away with, that you didn't even have to worry about performing, because no one who mattered was going to be inclined to hold it against you. There were so few consequences that it seemed like something with so few consequences couldn't possibly actually be a transgression, right? It wasn't your concern whether the women liked it or not; you just knew your boss wouldn't fire you for it, the con wouldn't kick you out for it, and the police wouldn't come knocking on your door about it.

That sense of assurance, of insulation from consequences, is what's been increasingly yoinked away from men as it becomes less and less acceptable to do these things. And that sense of "but I've always done X, and no one cared! Why does everyone suddenly care, when X is the exact same thing we've been doing for years and no one cared about?" can feel horribly unfair, like someone purposely didn't give you the memo...unless you realize that, again, you were always transgressing to begin with. You were groping on borrowed time, so to speak. People - women, and some men - did care; they just weren't the ones with power to stop you until recently (if we can even be said to have that power reliably now). The women never wanted what you were doing, but you had no reason to listen, because it couldn't hurt you. It's understandable, the momentary impulse to be like "but wait, how dare women/society twist things around so that things we've been taking for years are suddenmagically not ok to take?", but that doesn't make it any more right that these things were ever taken. And if you don't realize or care about those things never having been yours to take, I guess it sounds like a fine idea to react by violently, in word or deed, "taking back" the "rights" that have been stolen from you. Protip: it's not. Don't do that.
posted by Hold your seahorses at 11:41 AM on September 15, 2014 [106 favorites]


As if this wasn't enough apparently there was another shitstorm along the same lines last year.
posted by bq at 12:34 PM on September 15, 2014


Heina Dadabhoy discusses some people who have harassed women atheists attending the opening of A Woman's Room Online and considers whether people who act like jerks online are nicer in real life.

Here's an article Oppenheimer wrote about Dadabhoy and others becoming athiests after growing up muslim: Leaving Islam for Atheism, and Finding a Much-Needed Place Among Peers
posted by homunculus at 12:44 PM on September 15, 2014


"Did you read the sequence of comments to which I was replying? That was exactly my point. Congratulations on responding in a snarky and insulting way."

Yeah, I did. Here's the last comment you replied to, along with the beginning of your comment:
Pft. If only one single person in all of human history ever claimed to have some personal experience of a god, that claim would be evidence. Maybe not good, strong, or convincing evidence, but not zero evidence.

No. No, it wouldn't. Otherwise everything a lunatic has ever babbled has evidence for it.
It's not zero evidence, it's some evidence that when evaluated qualitatively turns out to not be worth very much. Your rebuttal doesn't make any sense unless you thought that the only way to evaluate evidence is quantitative (e.g. where you argued that Christianity would therefore be right because it has the most adherents).

Your position only makes sense if you're adopting the Kierkegaard position that faith definitionally precludes proof or evidence, and even then we don't have an effective way of discerning the internal, subjective state of people who profess evidence for their faith and whether they are also using "faith" in that way.

Apologies on being snarky, but you were reacting against other bad arguments by overstating your position in a way that isn't supportable.
posted by klangklangston at 1:36 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


On one hand i'm really happy that the "atheist movement" wasn't able to sweep the elevator thing quickly under the rug, and that it's been following them around like an eager lost puppy since then... why the hell are we still debating the specifics of what happened and the validity of various actions of it in late 2014? I feel like we, as a collective, have farted out several thousand comments about this and some pretty solid blows were landed and a general decent consensus established... and holy shit, every time it can even be tertiarily brought up again the same dumb points and tired fight gets restarted.

I mean i'm happy it's inextricably associated with their brand like BP and oil spills or something, but what is there even really left to say? A lot of the comments here just feel like watching reruns of the same three first episodes of a show every time a new friend of mine hasn't seen it. I'm excited for them to discover it the first couple times, and after that it's like "why don't you go watch/read what's happened on your own and let me know when you're caught up?"... Except this show has already finished it's two seasons, and is off the air. And i've watched the whole thing 8 times.

It's like we need a separate fanfare "cold rewatch" thread every time there's an atheism thread or something. Because a lot of us have seen this show and want to move on from discussing the first two episodes without spoilers.
posted by emptythought at 4:12 PM on September 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


Adam Lee, Daylight Atheism, "The Shermer Affair Erupts"
What I’m most incredulous about is how many prominent atheist figures are still clueless and oblivious when it comes to feminism, and who can’t open their mouths to talk about women and women’s issues without saying something painfully, embarrassingly ignorant..... Guys, the answer you’re looking for is right in front of your faces. If atheism has a gender imbalance, it’s not for mysterious reasons involving the effects of testosterone on the neocortex. It’s because the atheist community is treating women badly – because you are treating them badly – and they’re making the rational and understandable decision to walk away in response.
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:35 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Apologies in advance to anyone who thinks this post is continuing a derail/is mental masturbation etc etc
I don't accept the premise that a lack of belief in an objective moral standard is tantamount to nihilism. Why do morals have to be all or nothing? For instance, morals exist outside the mere opinion of an individual person when humans, who exist in communities, negotiate (used in a very loose way) the social contract. That's all that's necessary
It has to be all or nothing because it's not possible for a statement to be a little bit objective. Either it is or it isn't. If a moral statement doesn't have any claim to objectivity then it isn't morality at all, it's just a preference, a social custom or an affectation. Grounding morality in the social contract isn't an adequate explanation, because then how is it that people throughout history have recognized the social status quo as immoral and worked to improve society? That implies some kind of standard that transcends society, either a platonic morality or the idea that rights are somehow inherent in our nature. How do you shoehorn either of those ideas into a materialist worldview?

Liberalism holds that rights are not granted by society or government, but inhere in the individual either as part of their nature or "endowed by their creator" and are recognized by society. That implies that rights have an objective existence, whether society acknowledges them or not. To think otherwise is not really compatible with liberalism, because then "human rights" become something that are granted to oppressed people as an act of charity, rather than an essential part of their humanity that demands recognition.
Yeah, this is a weird strain of absolutism -- as if we can never use language that appears to refer to entities ("human rights," "answers" to "moral questions") without thinking that such entities exist, out there somewhere. Just as the radio telescopes haven't detected God yet, they also haven't detected "right" and "wrong" -- so your belief that some actions are better than others is exactly like religious faith.

I think this is a linguistic confusion. Talk of "right" and "wrong" doesn't actually presuppose that right and wrong are objects, even though it sometimes sounds like that. Similarly, I don't think a mathematician is behaving as a theist when making a statement like, "There exists x in R such that etc. etc."
You can't look through a telescope and see a Theory of Relativity floating out in space either. Instead, you can make observations that confirm or falsify the theory - i.e. it's grounded in objective empirical observations. I don't think many people are expecting proof of the existence of "right" and "wrong" as objects - the question is what are moral statements grounded in? What's the objective criteria for saying they are true or false? Atheist progressives like the Atheism+ group mentioned in the OP claim that their social progressivism is grounded in their scientific, rationalist, atheist worldview. Can they please show their working?
. . . I think the obvious way to distinguish religious beliefs from these other kinds of "metaphysical" beliefs is that religious beliefs ordinarily make claims about the physical world -- that God acts on it or causes it in some way. This makes them much stronger (harder to justify) than the "metaphysical" beliefs that some are claiming are equivalent.
This is true about revealed theology in particular the fundamentalist kind. But IMO the way that the secular ethics sausage gets made is similar to natural theology: it starts from a base of shared intuitions, works through their implications and then tries to systematize them into a coherent set of beliefs.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:12 PM on September 15, 2014


It's not zero evidence, it's some evidence that when evaluated qualitatively turns out to not be worth very much. Your rebuttal doesn't make any sense unless you thought that the only way to evaluate evidence is quantitative (e.g. where you argued that Christianity would therefore be right because it has the most adherents).

I would argue that "evidence" that cannot be externally verified, experienced, and reproduced by another is zero-value. In essence, it is not "evidence." Consider:

If only one single person in all of human history ever claimed to have some personal experience of a god, that claim would be evidence.

Well, no. Not really. I mean, think about Joseph Smith. Outside of Mormons, he's pretty much accepted to have been (at best) deluded. His testimony (with the magic hat, etc.) is not evidence. If you believe his claims, you are believing based on fallacious testimony and argument from authority—The Book of Mormon says it, so it is true.

The "morality is just like religion" thread is a little bit of a red herring. I don't think it's necessary to have an absolute basis for morality; consensus works relatively well. It's worth noting that religious morality is actually consensus, anyway; that's why sometimes bizarre rules like "don't wear two types of cloth" or "don't drink caffeine" sneak in, and why religious morality can evolve (divorce, contraception, not stoning people to death for adultery).

This is true about revealed theology in particular the fundamentalist kind. But IMO the way that the secular ethics sausage gets made is similar to natural theology: it starts from a base of shared intuitions, works through their implications and then tries to systematize them into a coherent set of beliefs.

Most of the time, when we say "religion," we mean revealed theology (or the supernatural philosophies like Buddhism). I will grant you that natural theology is different, but my response to it is the same as my response to deism: "So what?" I am an agnostic atheist, because it's possible that there's a creator of some sort; but that admission doesn't get you anywhere close to any of the other claims made by any religion.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:15 PM on September 15, 2014


"I would argue that "evidence" that cannot be externally verified, experienced, and reproduced by another is zero-value. In essence, it is not "evidence.""

You're wrong, and you're wrong in a way that should be pretty apparent if you get outside of the theology box.

If I say that I ate breakfast today, you have no ability to independently verify, experience or reproduce that. There are theoretical ways — you could weigh me or the cereal box — but you don't actually have access to the tests necessary to confirm or deny my statement as a truth statement.

But for the question of whether I ate breakfast today, that I say I did is evidence. It's not dispositive — I could be lying. But unless there's a reason to be suspect, we generally allow that statements of personal experience are evidence of those experiences.

"Well, no. Not really. I mean, think about Joseph Smith. Outside of Mormons, he's pretty much accepted to have been (at best) deluded. His testimony (with the magic hat, etc.) is not evidence. If you believe his claims, you are believing based on fallacious testimony and argument from authority—The Book of Mormon says it, so it is true."

You're confused and skipping a step. I accept Joseph Smith's testimony as evidence but it's not the only evidence. And there's a ton of other evidence which contradicts his claim, so we can evaluate the evidence in total and reject his claim — you're conflating evidence with proof.
posted by klangklangston at 10:39 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


"It has to be all or nothing because it's not possible for a statement to be a little bit objective. Either it is or it isn't."

That's not true at all, and that sentence shows it.

" If a moral statement doesn't have any claim to objectivity then it isn't morality at all, it's just a preference, a social custom or an affectation."

First, you're devaluing the power of custom without realizing it — for a negative example, racism is a social custom that is incredibly powerful and hard to change.

Second, this is one of those areas where trying to shoehorn ethics into other philosophical disciplines really shows the seams. It's a Humean radical skepticism argument at its core, similar to the problem of induction. Inductive reasoning may be weaker formally than deductive reasoning, but no human lives without inductive reasoning and that's not just a preference, social custom or affectation. It's a real part of human life.

"Grounding morality in the social contract isn't an adequate explanation, because then how is it that people throughout history have recognized the social status quo as immoral and worked to improve society? That implies some kind of standard that transcends society, either a platonic morality or the idea that rights are somehow inherent in our nature. How do you shoehorn either of those ideas into a materialist worldview?"

Yeah, this is a real problem with pretty much every political system ever. You can ground it in materialism through things like evo-psych utility arguments, or systems theory about how groups self organize, or as the result of economic truths, etc.

Or you can admit the radical subjective under the idea of, "Would I want this to happen to me?" While the principle is universal, the actual answer can't be.

"Liberalism holds that rights are not granted by society or government, but inhere in the individual either as part of their nature or "endowed by their creator" and are recognized by society. That implies that rights have an objective existence, whether society acknowledges them or not. To think otherwise is not really compatible with liberalism, because then "human rights" become something that are granted to oppressed people as an act of charity, rather than an essential part of their humanity that demands recognition."

I'm totally with you about traditional liberal rights theory being ungrounded and unsatisfying. But "charity" isn't the only reason to acknowledge or recognize rights any more than it's charity to treat others as if they have free will.

"Can they please show their working?"

First off, I'm sure that if you searched around, you could find arguments for atheist progressive morality — to deny they're showing their work because you haven't looked for it says nothing about the quality of their arguments.

Second off, a scientific, rationalist, atheist worldview doesn't preclude making some basic assumptions. Your question itself is incoherent in a strong determinist, materialist frame — whether or not they are able to is synonymous with whether or not they do.

"This is true about revealed theology in particular the fundamentalist kind. But IMO the way that the secular ethics sausage gets made is similar to natural theology: it starts from a base of shared intuitions, works through their implications and then tries to systematize them into a coherent set of beliefs."

But in that broad framing, you've also described most of philosophy in general.
posted by klangklangston at 11:49 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


If I say that I ate breakfast today, you have no ability to independently verify, experience or reproduce that. There are theoretical ways — you could weigh me or the cereal box — but you don't actually have access to the tests necessary to confirm or deny my statement as a truth statement.

But for the question of whether I ate breakfast today, that I say I did is evidence. It's not dispositive — I could be lying. But unless there's a reason to be suspect, we generally allow that statements of personal experience are evidence of those experiences.


The key is in your phrase "unless there's a reason to be suspect." Your claim to have eaten breakfast this morning is not extraordinary. We have no need to prove it and in a normal social situation I would accept that as an odd statement out of the blue or a normal statement in the flow of conversation.

However, if you were the prime suspect in a murder trial, and your defense is that "I couldn't have done it, I was eating breakfast," it's going to be a little different.

If I say I traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, you would normally believe me; but if I said that I was in HCMC during a massive jewelry heist (btw I am a well-known, suave, and very handsome burglar), my entry and exit at LAX would need to be checked. (Which is why bribing someone to fake those might be worth a diamond or two.)

You're confused and skipping a step. I accept Joseph Smith's testimony as evidence but it's not the only evidence. And there's a ton of other evidence which contradicts his claim, so we can evaluate the evidence in total and reject his claim — you're conflating evidence with proof.

Perhaps. Please note that I used the term "proof" in this thread until people bleated that I could not use the term proof because the fact of my existence is just as "unproven" as the extraordinary claim that a magical sky man cares whether I masturbate.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:32 AM on September 16, 2014


But unless there's a reason to be suspect, we generally allow that statements of personal experience are evidence of those experiences.

Statements of personal experience are at best evidence that you believe that you experienced them. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable and memories are very fluid.
posted by empath at 5:03 AM on September 16, 2014


Guys? Anytime you're in a discussion about sexual harassment and assault and you find yourself saying things like "statements of personal experience are at best evidence that you believed that you experienced them," it's time to take a step back. I get that it's fun to debate the existence of God and whatnot, but maybe this isn't the right place to have this discussion? Or at least maybe explain what it has to do with the topic at hand?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:03 AM on September 16, 2014 [15 favorites]


Amen, ArbitraryAndCapricious. Dudes, your blow by blow rehash of epistemology 101 is fascinating and all, but do you really have to do it here? I mean, seriously - this was an unusually nuanced conversation about misogyny within the atheist movement and you decided to be all, "Oh, rape and harassment is terrible, and ladies, I'mma let you finish, but HEY GUYS LET'S ARGUE ABOUT WHETHER WE CAN PROVE THE EXISTENCE OF GOD!" That sound you can hear? Is the women in this thread rolling their eyes, saying "Oh, for fucks sake, this again? " and quietly slipping out the the side door.

It has always intrigued me how, whenever a serious, interesting discussion about misogyny starts to emerge, there are always a few men who suddenly need to discuss something else RIGHT NOW! It's curious. Very curious indeed. Almost as if some men would prefer that misogyny not be discussed at all. (And before you complain that you're being "silenced"...think about the stories and analysis that you are displacing by choosing to have your weird side argument here in this thread. Think about how often women everywhere are silenced by default when men decide that making their point is more important than hearing what the women around them have to say).

That said, perhaps we should be grateful for the perfect demonstration of the absurd burden of proof expected of women who raise allegations of sexual harassment/assault/general creepy behaviour within Atheist circles - and the ways in which these women are retraumatised by having their stories torn apart and checked for the most implausible of holes. (Frankly, I would like to see Shermer's story held to the same impossible epistemological standards, because I think he'd come off quite a bit worse). Pure logic is great, but it has its limits. Sometimes you need to engage other human faculties too.

But yeah, the nitpicking and point-scoring and space-taking you guys are engaging in in this thread is exactly the kind of behaviour that makes most facets of the Atheist "movement" entirely unappealing to me as a woman. If you're wondering where all the women are? They leave when you do that.
posted by embrangled at 7:07 AM on September 16, 2014 [15 favorites]


Hold your seahorses: I wish I could favorite your comment a million times. Guess I'll just have to flag it for FANTASTIC instead.
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:45 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sorry, guys. Please resume rehashing a two year old incident and lumping all atheism into the same bucket. Sorry we wasted your bits.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:38 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ophelia Benson's been trying to engage Dawkins and Harris on Twitter, and has been collecting some poor arguments in posts on her blog: "Shoulder to shoulder the Thought Leaders stand, resisting the barbarian hordes of witch-hunting thought-police feministas."

The phrase "Thought Leaders" refers to an interesting bit of context that hasn't been mentioned yet and wasn't covered in Oppenheimer's piece. In May, the Secular Coalition for America, an umbrella group* of atheist, skeptical & Humanist organizations in the US announced a new "Global Secular Council." The "thought leaders" first announced were mostly white US and European men. When Benson and others criticized their lack of diversity, the GSC's twitter account called her names & started promoting the twitter accounts and arguments of anti-feminist atheists, skeptics etc. The behavior was atrocious, particularly from a professional organization public relations perspective let alone that of basic human decency.

I wrote the SCA a physical letter, copying it to the two SCA member organizations I belong to condemning their behavior. Apparently I wasn't alone in my criticism, because the twitter feed went dark for a few months and they recently relaunched under a new name, the "Global Secular Institute" (apparently their loose canon twitter person sufficiently poisoned the original name). They added more women and people from around the globe, but the front page still features their original PR photo with Shermer, Dawkins and Harris.

*Here again we see the complexity that attends attempts to define "(the) atheist movement(s)."
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:05 AM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Sorry, guys. Please resume rehashing a two year old incident and lumping all atheism into the same bucket.

1. I see no one in the thread lumping all atheism into the same bucket. If anything, I've seen a lot of people doing all sorts of conversational gymnastics to assure each other they don't mean to do that.

2. Maybe people keep "rehashing a two year old incident" because there are people who still don't fucking get why it was a big deal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:59 AM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Speaking of which, Rebecca Watson uses Dawkins' own words to point out his shrill use of the term "which hunt". (It's his "Dear Muslima" letter in response to discussions of said 2 year old incident, edited to apply to his term of "witch hunt" to recent events.)
posted by rmd1023 at 10:25 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


2. Maybe people keep "rehashing a two year old incident" because there are people who still don't fucking get why it was a big deal.

I thought pretty much everyone here agreed that the skeptics/atheist 'movement' is full of a bunch of pompous, bigoted assholes.
posted by empath at 10:34 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I thought pretty much everyone here agreed that the skeptics/atheist 'movement' is full of a bunch of pompous, bigoted assholes.

Not so sure about that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2014


Not so sure about that.

I think there's a difference between defending atheists as a class of people and defending the people that are basically professional 'skeptics'. I don't think atheists in general are bad people (obviously, since I am one), but the people that self identify as being part of the skeptic movement tend to be kind of jerky know-it-alls.
posted by empath at 10:46 AM on September 16, 2014


I think there's a difference between defending atheists as a class of people and defending the people that are basically professional 'skeptics'.

I'm getting the sense that there are those in the thread that don't perceive a difference between the two - in terms of who they see being attacked. What I mean is, most people in here are attacking the skeptics, but that's prompted people to defend against "attacks against atheists" and to write off the discussions about misogyny.

I know atheism as a whole wasn't being attacked, you know atheism as a whole wasn't being attacked. I'm not sure everyone in the thread knows atheism as a whole wasn't being attacked.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:52 AM on September 16, 2014


@fallacy of the beard The point is not a discussion of dialogue number one. Doesn't even matter if she is correct in her reading of the situation. The point is represented by dialogue number 2. The reaction to 1. A reaction which is still going on today, two years later.

I'm going to assume that your not someone who thinks number 2 is a reasonable type of reaction to 1.


and i said as much. i just thought her anecdote was a bit conveniently self-serving, and i'm guessing most of responses she got were not in the form of threats but rather reflected frustration that some people insist on attributing every little thing to gender when, by her own account, that interpretation might very well have been entirely in her head; but then every non-threatening effort to point that out gets lumped in with the same brand of misogyny as people who seem to clearly hate women.

yes, a lot of men are assholes to women. but that doesn't negate that women who think every interaction with a man is an attempted prelude to sex can be assholes, too. and the contradictory ideas that we should not see a woman as her gender first, yet we should be chided when we fail to do so, don't really help the situation.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 10:52 AM on September 16, 2014


I thought pretty much everyone here agreed that the skeptics/atheist 'movement' is full of a bunch of pompous, bigoted assholes.

Just a couple people, not remotely "pretty much everyone".
posted by nangar at 10:55 AM on September 16, 2014


Actually I misread your statement, empath. Yeah, there are a lot of pompous, bigoted assholes in the atheist/skeptic 'movement' (meaning people who go to conventions organized by various atheist and skeptic's organizations) – "full of" and "a lot" both being very vague quantifiers.
posted by nangar at 11:03 AM on September 16, 2014


i just thought her anecdote was a bit conveniently self-serving, and i'm guessing most of responses she got were not in the form of threats but rather reflected frustration

So nothing really happened, it was all her fault anyway.
posted by Etrigan at 11:04 AM on September 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think there are some people here, although not very many, who think that Dawkins et. al. and their defenders are basically on the side of the angels (sorry!) and have got a bad rap. There are some others who aren't sympathetic with the people who are harassing women atheists but feel like folks here are talking about organized atheism as if it's all Dawkins et. al., when it's actually a more-diverse movement. And I think that gets complicated, because as the Secular Coalition for America example shows, there are people who are claiming the mantle of organized atheism in the US, and they are people who are cozy with the most problematic anti-feminist leaders and organizations.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:05 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm getting the sense that there are those in the thread that don't perceive a difference between the two - in terms of who they see being attacked. What I mean is, most people in here are attacking the skeptics, but that's prompted people to defend against "attacks against atheists" and to write off the discussions about misogyny.

The fact that are dozens of references to "atheist community" and "atheist movement" compared to very few references (actually none by my search) to TAM and JREF where the harassment occurred does give the impression that those lines are being blurred with broad generalizations.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:19 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


"and i said as much. i just thought her anecdote was a bit conveniently self-serving, and i'm guessing most of responses she got were not in the form of threats but rather reflected frustration that some people insist on attributing every little thing to gender when, by her own account, that interpretation might very well have been entirely in her head; but then every non-threatening effort to point that out gets lumped in with the same brand of misogyny as people who seem to clearly hate women."

This is her anecdote:
So, thank you to everyone who was at that conference who, uh, engaged in those discussions outside of that panel, um, you were all fantastic; I loved talking to you guys—um, all of you except for the one man who, um, didn't really grasp, I think, what I was saying on the panel…? Because, um, at the bar later that night—actually, at four in the morning—um, we were at the hotel bar, 4am, I said, you know, "I've had enough, guys, I'm exhausted, going to bed," uh, so I walked to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me, and said, "Don't take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more; would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?"

Um. Just a word to the wise here, guys: Uhhhh, don't do that. Um, you know. [laughs] Uh, I don't really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I'll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4am, in a hotel elevator with you, just you, and—don't invite me back to your hotel room, right after I've finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.
Come on, man.

yes, a lot of men are assholes to women. but that doesn't negate that women who think every interaction with a man is an attempted prelude to sex can be assholes, too. and the contradictory ideas that we should not see a woman as her gender first, yet we should be chided when we fail to do so, don't really help the situation."

The preponderance of evidence that the guy should have known this was inappropriate is on her side. I laid that out earlier. This isn't seeing her as her gender first, and that's not why you're being "chided." Your comments are being criticized because they're a lot of effort to undermine the most plausible reading in order to remove any responsibility from the man and to impugn Watson's character ("self-serving"). That your comments are also part of a much larger pattern of similar comments that do explicitly take a misogynistic frame is a burden you bear in that if you don't want to be treated as part of that pattern, you need to distinguish yourself from it. As it stands, it just looks like a weaselly exercise in equivocation and low-utility radical skepticism.

I disagree with the aspersion cast upthread that talking about epistemological burdens is a way to avoid talking about uncomfortable misogyny. But that doesn't mean that the way we approach these issues doesn't contribute to some really sexist social patterns, and it really seems like you're not getting that.
posted by klangklangston at 12:18 PM on September 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


The fact that are dozens of references to "atheist community" and "atheist movement"

From my reading, a ton of those seem to be from people disclaiming any interesting in belonging to such, or questioning why anyone would want to have such a thing, or if those things even exist.
posted by rtha at 12:54 PM on September 16, 2014


Which followed in the wake of a badly framed article.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:18 PM on September 16, 2014


references to "atheist community" and "atheist movement"

As someone who used those terms, I was specifically including folks in the big circle of the current and previous rounds of argument (e.g., TAM, JREF--which is technically skeptical rather than atheist but the movements are conflated in the article, Dawkins and his supporters, et al.) as opposed to, say some of the smaller, less mediagenic groups mentioned in the other parts of the thread. Call it a #notallatheists specification.
posted by immlass at 5:09 PM on September 16, 2014


Daniel Fincke has a couple posts up, the first responding specifically to Harris and the second a meta-commentary on the state of debate over atheism and feminism. I like a lot of what Fincke says, but I also disagree with a lot. For instance, I think the second piece shows some wrong assumptions about civility in line with tone arguments, but he also raises some good points:
And, in my experience, feminists, by paying so much attention to what they’re not supposed to, yield a staggering number of insights into morality that, no, are not just common sense. And people who wave them all away by saying “But that person didn’t mean to be sexist so you’re a horrible reputation ruiner for even implying such a thing!” are counterproductive to us having vital moral conversations. Yes, just saying something sexist doesn’t make you a monstrous ogre of the species Sexist. You are not identical with your every mistaken thought or deed. But you and I both do and say some sexist things. If you never see that in yourself because you’re so inordinately focused on how The Deep Truth of Your Character Is Not Sexism, then you’re not being personally scrupulous enough. I’m not calling for “political correctness” here if by that you mean “being insincere”. I am talking about conscientiousness. That means accepting the unpleasant truth that as onerous as it feels to really be moral and have to rein yourself in regularly, that’s actually a good thing with good effects for yourself in the world if you habituate to it.
To go back to the topic of civility, back in August Benson and Dawkins reached something of an accord on how to disagree without being disagreeable where Dawkins said: “Any person who tries to intimidate members of our community with threats or harassment is in no way my ally and is only weakening the atheist movement by silencing its voices and driving away support.”

Zvan tells Dawkins how feminist atheists will emerge from the attacks of sexists:
Most importantly, you can’t convince our audience we’re insincere. That’s one of the rare advantages of standing pat in the face of harassment. It does tend to convince all but the most motivated thinkers that you believe what you say. And that group of bloggers you’re trying to condemn do. We believe that people looking to join atheist or skeptic spaces shouldn’t face ignorant, sexist nonsense–even when it comes from your friend. We believe people looking to join atheist and skeptic spaces shouldn’t face harassment and rape–even when it comes from your friend. All you can do by attacking our sincerity is draw more attention to the fact that you either don’t agree with these principles or you don’t think they should apply to you and yours.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:10 PM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


i just thought her anecdote was a bit conveniently self-serving

Let me suggest a few guidelines.

1. When a woman stands up in public and says something made her uncomfortable, she's obviously trying to start a discussion about that thing, so go ahead and discuss it.

2. But when an insane, angry mob starts sending her death and rape threats for daring to raise the subject, it's no longer okay to just keep talking about the subject as if that abuse weren't going on. It's particularly not okay to say of someone who is getting abuse, "Well, you know, she was actually wrong," because it sounds like you're saying she deserves the abuse.
posted by straight at 5:12 PM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Are you suggesting cessation of all discussion of whether someone's position is incorrect if they have received threats, etc., or is there some distinction between "well, you know, she was actually wrong" on the one hand and some acceptable continued discourse, on the other?
posted by The World Famous at 5:25 PM on September 16, 2014


What would she have been wrong about that other people can argue about? That she didn't like being approached like that and felt unsafe/uncomfortable and it creeped her out?

I mean, obviously, even two years later, people think that is something the can say she was wrong about: she was wrong to feel that way, she was wrong to say it, she was wrong to interpret an experience she had in a way that made sense to her.

She didn't take a position. She said how she felt when this thing happened. She said she didn't like it. And people lost. their. shit.
posted by rtha at 5:43 PM on September 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


What would she have been wrong about that other people can argue about? That she didn't like being approached like that and felt unsafe/uncomfortable and it creeped her out?

I was asking in the abstract, since straight was proposing guidelines for future discussion (I thought). In the specific example at issue, I don't see that there's room for reasonable disagreement about whether she was wrong to feel uncomfortable, etc. either before or after people started threatening her. As you point out, and I agree, she didn't take a position, and there's nothing for her to have been wrong about.

There are, however, conceivable situations where discussion could reasonably include consideration of whether the assertions drawing inappropriate fire (e.g. threats) are, nevertheless, incorrect. I interpreted straight's suggested guidelines as applying to those situations, as they come up.
posted by The World Famous at 5:51 PM on September 16, 2014


I didn't see straight's comment as suggesting a guideline for anything broader than the specific incident that was referenced, so...Yeah.
posted by rtha at 6:05 PM on September 16, 2014


My mistake, if that wasn't straight's intention. I must have been thrown off by the "when a woman stands up in public . . ." language used instead of "in this specific case" or something like that.
posted by The World Famous at 6:08 PM on September 16, 2014


straight didn't say that once someone's getting threats, no further discussion is allowed. This is what straight wrote, with emphasis added:
But when an insane, angry mob starts sending her death and rape threats for daring to raise the subject, it's no longer okay to just keep talking about the subject as if that abuse weren't going on.
Feel free to continue the discussion, if you can do so in a way that acknowledges the abuse and doesn't try to downplay it or make it seem like it's just the price of participating in discussion (and bear in mind that for many women dealing with this kind of shit is the price of being female in public).
posted by Lexica at 6:11 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The following sentence was: "It's particularly not okay to say of someone who is getting abuse, 'Well, you know, she was actually wrong,' because it sounds like you're saying she deserves the abuse."

I tend to agree with both straight's suggestion generally and with your point, Lexica. I also think, however, that straight brings up an important and difficult aspect of such discussion in that last sentence, which is that acknowledging the abuse as a predicate to continued disagreement runs a high risk of at least sounding like saying the abuse is deserved.
posted by The World Famous at 6:22 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


also by the time an event has been blown up so big that the abusive criticism for the person involved in the event has eclipsed it many, many times over and become The Real Issue, any legitimate criticism has already been made a thousand times over, as well as pretty much everything that exists to be said, non-abusively, about how she was wrong, unless you're drawing REALLY crazy-ass conclusions (like that she was demonstrating the effects of elevators as agents of illuminati mind control, as opposed to the standard dozen criticisms lobbed against a woman every time she brings up a personal experience in a feminist context)
posted by NoraReed at 6:30 PM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Are you suggesting cessation of all discussion of whether someone's position is incorrect if they have received threats, etc., or is there some distinction between "well, you know, she was actually wrong" on the one hand and some acceptable continued discourse, on the other?

I guess I'm saying it's really, really hard to do without sounding like you're ignoring, belittling, or approving of the abuse and that I'd err on the side of just adding my voice to the people condemning the abuse and letting the rest of it go.
posted by straight at 9:19 PM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Totally agree, straight. Thanks.
posted by The World Famous at 9:22 PM on September 16, 2014


As an atheist for over fourth years I can say the only movements I'm involved with take place in the bathroom and involve lots of paperwork.
Sheesh, atheist movement. What a crock.
posted by Gadgetenvy at 9:48 PM on September 16, 2014


you have to do paperwork about your poops? this is not an atheist cultural tradition I am familiar with, but whatever makes you feel closer to the lack of god
posted by NoraReed at 9:52 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Dana Hunter: "Done with Dawkins"
That attitude is beyond reprehensible. But it is Dawkins’s attitude. Rape survivors such as myself can expect nothing but patronizing contempt from him, and a dismissal of our experiences. The people who supported me and helped me survive the aftermath, who got me back up and out in the world, who taught me that violence against women is the fault of the rapist only and that our culture can be changed to give people like my rapist condemnation rather than support, the folks who turned me into a feminist and gave me back my voice, all those people aren’t real feminists to Dawkins.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:59 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Adam Lee has a piece in the Guardian about Dawkins.
There’s no denying that Dawkins played a formative role in the atheist movement, but it’s grown beyond just him. Remarks like these make him a liability at best, a punchline at worst. He may have convinced himself that he’s the Most Rational Man Alive, but if his goal is to persuade everyone else that atheism is a welcoming and attractive option, Richard Dawkins is doing a terrible job. Blogger and author Greta Christina told me, “I can’t tell you how many women, people of color, other marginalized people I’ve talked with who’ve told me, ‘I’m an atheist, but I don’t want anything to do with organized atheism if these guys are the leaders.’”
Zvan has a brief post touching on this issue of atheism communities.
Is it #NotAllAtheists to ask that people talking about the Shermer allegations and Dawkins’ recent tweets urging rape victims to shut up and accept responsibility for being raped if they were drunk–to ask that these people also talk about the fact that the people who have busted their asses and taken abuse for years to keep this problem from being swept under the rug are also thoroughly tied in to movement atheism and skepticism?
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:28 AM on September 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


I am kind of surprised by the reaction that atheists have no reason to associate with each other. There are plenty of functions fulfilled by religious organizations that I would love to see fulfilled by atheist organizations. For example, there could be atheist organizations involved in:
  • Providing an RL community not based around consumerism or sex
  • Supporting people in the community who are struggling (food insecurity, domestic violence, parental neglect, etc.); coordinating with others to volunteer and perform outreach
  • Encouraging people to contemplate ethics, values, and moral philosophy (what it means to be moral or ethical as an atheist, whether we are living in accord with the values we hold, what ethical statements even mean, etc.)
  • Experiencing the emotions of awe and wonder together with others
  • Bringing people together across existing social stratifications
  • Creating public spaces that are also beautiful, tranquil, safe, and full of art and music
etc., etc. There are plenty of functions an "atheist movement" could coherently fulfill (beyond 1. fulminating and 2. being shitty to women) and plenty of reasons you might want to belong to one.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:00 PM on September 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


There are organizations that do many of those things, but few people consider UUH, Ethical Culture, Secular Buddhists, Humanist Chaplaincies, and Sunday Assembly are "the atheist movement."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:40 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


For sure, but I think it's worth thinking about why more people don't, and whether that's a good thing for people who identify as atheists.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:48 PM on September 19, 2014


Christina and Harris are having an (unsurprisingly) unproductive exchange on Twitter (documented on her blog). Christina keeps raising the point about the need to set community standards and speak against sexism. Harris keeps circling back to how badly this reflects on him as a person and seems genuinely surprised that anyone would need to say out loud that misogyny is wrong.

Christina & Davis Roth had this exchange on Twitter:
Greta Christina ‏@GretaChristina
. @Zetherin @SamHarrisOrg Srsly? Lots of people deny that sexism is a problem.

Amy Davis Roth ‏@SurlyAmy
@GretaChristina True. A lot of people have been surprised by my art installation, said "No idea it was happening." @Zetherin @SamHarrisOrg
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:20 PM on September 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


The Explaining Room. A short comic by Matt Lubchansky.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:47 AM on September 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


The Atheist Disillusionment, PZ Myers
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:27 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I like that PZ Myers piece a lot, and this ties in something I've been working to articulate:
I used to have this illusion that an atheist society would be more tolerant, that under it government and education would be secular, but the churches would still exist, if people wanted to attend them — a sort of Scandinavian ideal. But no, what I’m fast learning is that tolerance isn’t automatically a property of abandoning the false tribe of religion, but is more a reflection of the greater culture it is embedded in. Atheists can still hold a “kill the wogs” mentality while babbling about the wonders of science; people who regard women as servile appliances for their gratification don’t seem to become suddenly enlightened once the scales of faith fall from their eyes.
So many atheists I've interacted with seem to believe that religion in and of itself is the major cause of human suffering, rather than recognizing that manipulative, power-hungry, greedy, and/or abusive people often use the cloak of a belief system to further their own goals -- and so there's a way in which they seem to think atheism cannot be manipulative, power-hungry, greedy, or abusive, because -- to them -- those are attributes of religious belief. And so there's an unwillingness to look at believers as individuals who might be "evil and religious" rather than "evil because religious," and, subsequently, a disinclination to hold any individual atheists accountable for their actions or beliefs because of the simplistic view that religion itself is the problem.
posted by jaguar at 9:41 AM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


Glad I checked back into this thread for the PZ Meyers post. The closing line is great: "The name of atheism has been burdened with unfair and inaccurate stigma for a great many years, and we’re now drifting into an era in which atheism will be burdened with a totally fair and accurate stigma."
posted by benito.strauss at 10:44 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


an atheist society would be more tolerant

That reminds of one of my favorite lines from Corliss Lamont writes in The Philosophy of Humanism [pdf]:
A Humanist civilization will contain many different and contradictory currents of thought, including non-Humanist and anti-Humanist tendencies. (300)
This is, of course, an aspiration and not a statement of fact, as any and all lifestances will struggle, more or less, with prejudice and discrimination.

What I really like about Lamont in light of this thread is the contrast he offers to Dawkins in the use of gendered pronouns in Philosophy of Humanism. As his wife Beth describes in the introduction to the 8th edition, in working on the new revision when he was about 90, Lamont's colleagues urged him to remove gendered pronouns.
Knowing Corliss Lamont to be a strong champion of equality of the sexes, we appealed to him for his approval of a gender-free version of The Philosophy of Humanism. He resisted, saying, “Everyone knows that man includes woman.” We read to him almost a whole chapter replacing all masculine references with woman, she, womankind, and so on. He listened intently with furrowed brow, looking more grim than usual, but his laughing eyes gave him away. With his customary throat-clearing “hrumph,” which always preceded an important statement, he gave us his gracious approval, thus:

“Well, it’s not written in stone, you know. The Philosophy of Humanismis intended to be a living document.” Yes, thank you, dear Corliss; it will live forever!
Contrast this with Dawkins' stubborn defense of using male pronouns as the "neutral" pronoun because to do otherwise is "distracting."
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:20 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


So many atheists I've interacted with seem to believe that religion in and of itself is the major cause of human suffering, rather than recognizing that manipulative, power-hungry, greedy, and/or abusive people often use the cloak of a belief system to further their own goals -- and so there's a way in which they seem to think atheism cannot be manipulative, power-hungry, greedy, or abusive, because -- to them -- those are attributes of religious belief. And so there's an unwillingness to look at believers as individuals who might be "evil and religious" rather than "evil because religious," and, subsequently, a disinclination to hold any individual atheists accountable for their actions or beliefs because of the simplistic view that religion itself is the problem.

Is it appropriate to say "amen" to a statement someone says about a subset of atheists?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:57 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


etc., etc. There are plenty of functions an "atheist movement" could coherently fulfill (beyond 1. fulminating and 2. being shitty to women) and plenty of reasons you might want to belong to one.

Except what does it have to do with atheism? A lot of 'christian' organizations do things in the name of Christ, or as a means of promoting Christianity. Anything good I do, I do because it's the right thing to do, not because I want to promote atheism or do things in the name of 'not believing in god', whatever the hell that would even mean. It's really hard to build a community around a negative belief. Find something you do believe in (civil rights, labor reform, yadda, yadda) and build a community around that.
posted by empath at 9:09 AM on September 29, 2014


You might experience your religious & philosophical beliefs on a purely intellectual level, but in the US religious group often have a big social component, both as places to socialize with like-minded people, and bases for doing social good. Atheist groups can provide these for people don't feel drawn to any god.

Additionally, there is an icky idea out there that atheists are good members of society, held mostly, I believe, by people who haven't met an atheist. Seeing their friends and neighbors active in an atheist group could help them get over it Yes, some will double down on their prejudice, but it doesn't mean it's not worth trying.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:49 AM on September 29, 2014


Additionally, there is an icky idea out there that atheists are good members of society

Assuming you meant that to read "aren't"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:53 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


You might experience your religious & philosophical beliefs on a purely intellectual level, but in the US religious group often have a big social component, both as places to socialize with like-minded people, and bases for doing social good. Atheist groups can provide these for people don't feel drawn to any god.

But there's no reason to join an 'atheist' group. Just join a group that doesn't have anything to do with god. That's your atheist group. You don't have to organize a group that does something good and also tacks on a rather pointless statement of non-faith.

People add on 'because God' to their organizations as a means of essentially compelling participation by believers. "Because not-god" doesn't have the same effect on people.
posted by empath at 10:20 AM on September 29, 2014


But there's no reason to join an 'atheist' group.

There's no reason for YOU to join an 'atheist' group. Other people have reasons, you just don't like them.
posted by Gygesringtone at 10:29 AM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


But there's no reason to join an 'atheist' group. Just join a group that doesn't have anything to do with god. That's your atheist group. You don't have to organize a group that does something good and also tacks on a rather pointless statement of non-faith.

And what do you do when someone says, "Before we get started on our good works, let's all join hands for a non-denominational prayer"?
posted by Etrigan at 10:33 AM on September 29, 2014


you politely decline to participate in their pointless ritual?

Look, there is a reason that 'atheist churches' don't exist and a big part of it is that a major appeal of atheism is not having to go to church.
posted by empath at 10:38 AM on September 29, 2014


Look, there is a reason that 'atheist churches' don't exist and a big part of it is that a major appeal of atheism is not having to go to church.

The Society for Humanistic Judaism would disagree. As would Sunday Assembly.

I would say that a much bigger reason that the "atheist church" movement is so small is that atheism -- active, vocal "I believe that there is no supreme being" atheism, not the soft "I'm not going to join a church" atheism -- is looked down on by a lot of people in the U.S., and a lot of atheists just don't feel like becoming their local Atheist Poster Child.
posted by Etrigan at 11:11 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


> ... Assuming you meant that to read "aren't"?

Oops. I usually drop 2-3 characters on every comment I make. Those were three very bad characters to drop.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:15 AM on September 29, 2014


Do we really need to rehash the existence of non-theistic fellowships and religious congregations again as if we don't remember the last dozen times that reality has been discussed on a monthly basis for the last several years here?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:38 AM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Uhhh, don't you know atheists aren't allowed to wonder whether they're living their life in accordance with their values and if they do they are DEFINITELY not allowed to talk to other atheists about it? That's like #6 on the Atheist Commandments. If you break it you have to do like 50 Hail Sciences and genuflect before a statue of nothing.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:45 PM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


You're allowed to do whatever you want, but it's not a coincidence that there are a lot more non-believers than there are people who participate in explicitly atheist organizations.
posted by empath at 6:27 PM on September 29, 2014


But there's no reason to join an 'atheist' group. Just join a group that doesn't have anything to do with god.

Yeah, that worked not at all great for my friend whose baby son died, and when she went various places for support (online, in person, etc.) kept encountering lots of well-meaning people who wanted to comfort her by reminding her her son was in Heaven/with Jesus etc. and these were not explicitly religious groups.

She's ended up founding her own group, and non-believers who are grieving are coming out of the woodwork to join. *You* think there can't possibly be a need, but sometimes people think they don't need a thing until the opportunity presents itself. I'm glad you don't have any trouble just brushing off or ignoring pro forma religious stuff in otherwise non-religious groups. Not everyone does, and not everyone should have to be able to do that.
posted by rtha at 6:47 PM on September 29, 2014 [15 favorites]


Except what does it have to do with atheism? A lot of 'christian' organizations do things in the name of Christ, or as a means of promoting Christianity. Anything good I do, I do because it's the right thing to do

This is just not accurate. A lot of Christians participate in church activities because it is a way of expressing and living up to moral and ethical beliefs that they hold (and also a way to meet and interact with people with similar values, of course). So they are also doing things because they are "the right thing to do." However, their system of values is underpinned by the Christian religion. Obviously, an atheist ethical system has to start from different axioms. These are not irrelevant, arbitrary distinctions: if I don't believe in an afterlife, I may come to different conclusions about what actions are the most valuable and moral compared with someone who does believe in life after death. rtha provided a poignant example of how this type of conflict can manifest in a concrete way that ends up hurting atheists who don't have access to a type of "church community."

And that phrase "the right thing to do" is doing a lot of work behind the scenes of your comment. Understanding what constitutes the "right" approach to life is actually a pretty tough and intractable problem with a lot of possible answers, and the answers you get are going to be different depending on whether you proceed from, say, an Abrahamic foundation vs. an atheist one. The choices you make about what to value and what to act on are informed and constrained by whether or not you believe in a god, in reincarnation, in an afterlife, in dualism, in original sin, etc., etc. And this is one reason why if you are an atheist struggling with a moral dilemma or trying to find their place in the world, advice and philosophy that is explicitly atheist may be of particular and significant value to you.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:19 PM on September 29, 2014


First of all, my apologies for my part of the derail on the opbjective moral thing. That's a hobby-horse of mine, and I should have realized that wasn't the topic of conversation. Mea culpa.

Secondly, I'm also really glad I cam back for the PZ Myers article. I consider myself a feminist, and this conversation needs to be had: I don't think most men can really quite undestand what it's like to be a woman who feels threatened by a man, even if the man thinks he's harmless. We men need to listen, really listen, and empathize with our sisters. If a woman says she's uncomfortable, we need to take her seriously. Period. And then instead of mansplaining or dismissing, we need to reassess our conduct and correct accordingly.

That Dawkins and Harris are reacting so defensively is very human, but disappointing and hypocritical. This is especially so to me since I've heard each say how important woman's rights are. It is quite right to call them out on their words and behavior, imortantly, however with a view towards their improvement rather than mere condemnation. If they are true to their principles, they will amend their ways. (Not sure how sanguine I am about that.)
posted by JKevinKing at 3:39 PM on October 3, 2014


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