The Accommodationism Challenges


Mike McRae, Tribal Scientist, indulged me in a discussion of his goals surrounding his latest salvo in the accommodation debate.

There are frequent olive branches thrown down in request of a ceasefire. Perhaps the most common is the plea for diversity. This call seems democratic, inclusive and reasonable. After all, if there are many different problems and many different audiences, there must be a need for many different methods. Let’s all live and let live, right? If one approach doesn’t work, another will.

The mediators are somewhat like a ring species for Accommodationis warminfuzziness and Newatheist confrontationist.

Yet there is an element of intellectual laziness in this view. Of course, no one approach in communication will reach all demographics, or solve all problems. Diverse approaches are indeed necessary. Yet this is not the same as saying all approaches are necessary. Some will conflict. Some will be resource hungry and have no hope of success for one reason or another. Identifying solutions to the problem of how best to communicate science in the face of religion will take more than guessing, hoping and shouting into echo chambers. Like anything in science, it demands research, critical thinking and evaluation. No act of communication should be above criticism or beyond the need for evidence, clarity and precision.

I wanted to know why he put up a snarky post. I wanted to know why he generalized his criticisms to the group instead of making them specific to particular behaviors and people. Basically, I wanted to know why someone critiquing communication was engaging in such nonconstructive criticism. His response:

You ask what I hope to accomplish? Culture change. Encouraging atheists to see that if they want to defend their choices, those values they appreciate so much in science don’t suddenly disappear and allow them to have robust opinions based on gut feelings and wishful thinking.

Based on the rest of my conversation with Mike, I’d like to offer a set of challenges to those advocating that “New Atheists” be more accommodating of others in their communications.

Challenge 1: Decide whether this is important to you.

Communication

Art by Donna Barnard and Carol Dvorak. Photo by Wesley Fryer. Some rights reserved.

Is confrontation as a tactic among atheists an issue you think needs to be addressed? Will it really change the world if you can get a few people to follow your advice? Or are you annoyed by some people who have stomped on your feelings on the blogosphere?

These aren’t frivolous questions. You’ve got work to do. They’ve got work to do. And change, as you already know, is hard. You should also know that if you do this wrong, you’re going to entrench the bad blood over this issue even further. Every little thing you (and everyone else with any kind of platform) say on the topic goes on record these days. If you don’t care enough to do this right, maybe it’s time to shut up about it, at least in public.

Challenge 2: Know your audience.

Who are you trying to reach? Are you talking to published “New Atheist” authors? Are you talking to atheist groups that sponsor ad campaigns or social meetups? Are you talking to groups that lobby and pursue legal action? Are you talking to blog commenters? Are you talking to forum campers? Are you talking to unaffiliated atheists who just want religion to leave them alone?

These types of groups have very different goals. They have different tactics. They have different degrees of centrality and authority. They have different religious backgrounds and degrees of education. You have to take the time to understand them–ask them real questions and listen to the answers–if you want to know what language to speak and what problems you’re going to offer to help them solve.

You also have to understand that you frequently can’t address multiple groups using the same message. They’re just too different. Being an atheist only gives you so much in common with other atheists. At the same time, however, any individual atheist may belong to many of these groups. You’re never going to have the luxury of addressing just one set of concerns at a time, and you’re going to have to go to extraordinary lengths to keep from generalizing between groups based on the cross-group memberships of certain individuals.

Challenge 3: Learn to see privilege.

Being an atheist won’t get you killed very often. In many environments, being an atheist is entirely invisible. In some, it’s perfectly respectable. That does not put atheists on par with the religious. Unless you understand where the differences are, you will never be able to effectively address the concerns of atheists.

Read a privilege checklist or two. Understand what it means to have an area of your life that you choose to keep hidden because there are consequences of doing otherwise. Understand what it means to be watched for signs that you represent a degenerate type. Understand how much time and energy it takes to answer questions whenever you identify yourself. Understand how much it takes to run constant calculations on whether to go with the flow or upset the social order. Understand what it means to watch people take the time to decide whether they really knew you at all when you come out. Understand what it means to hear political debates on whether you’re ruining modern life.

Only once you get all that can you actually understand what you’re asking otherwise.

Challenge 4: Recognize the limits of your own expertise.

There is a fair body of cognitive science having to do with communication. It doesn’t begin to approach the complexity of real-world (meatspace and electronic) communications. There is a lot of information to be had from these studies, but this is a very new science, given the size of the topic. It can only tell us so much.

One of the things it can and has told us is that the power, privilege and out-group status of the speaker have an effect on how the speaker’s message is received. We know that whether we are trusted or even heard as speakers is often largely out of our hands. What we don’t know, what cognitive science, or at least those presenting the cognitive science, has yet to tell us despite our very real need for the information, is how to overcome this problem.

Until that happens, asking people to understand the cognitive science is reasonable. Asking people to replace current behavior is not. Confrontational tactics for minority groups may not be supported in the cognitive science literature, but neither are they shown to be worse than any other tactics for minority groups. In the presence of privilege, we simply don’t expect any communication tactic to have a high rate of success. (Legal tactics, on the other hand….)

Meanwhile, there are other disciplines that do suggest the confrontational approach has merit. The history of social movements is plastered with groups taking approaches that make people feel uncomfortable and threatened. It is also plastered with groups succeeding with approaches that make people feel uncomfortable and threatened. And frankly, familiarity with this sort of social history shows just how mild “confrontational” atheists of the current sort are by comparison.

Even if you aren’t concerned with social change directly, recognize that attacking the privilege problem directly is a communication tactic with the potential to succeed. Privilege gets in the way of effective communication. We can go around this with the appropriate tools when cognitive science gives them to us. Until then, we can do our best to go through.

Challenge 5: Recognize others’ work and expertise.

This is the point where I tell you to drop the word “but” from your vocabulary. Atheists, even highly annoying ones (whichever set that may be for you), have made major accomplishments in the past couple of decades. Best-selling books, wide blog readerships, social mobilization for political action, communities that support out atheists and those who have left religious communities, successful events at the regional to international level, cogent social criticism, historical scholarship, increased visibility of abuses of power despite a hobbled press.

Is there crap being produced as well? Of course. Sturgeon’s Law. That doesn’t make the accomplishments I just mentioned any less real.

It also doesn’t exempt anyone from the requirement to deal with the accomplished as, at the very least, people with as much to teach as you believe they have to learn. The lessons they have to teach may well include the fact that what they do is so more difficult than it appears on the surface–requiring extraordinary timing, wordsmithery, and humor–that most people may as well not try. You’ll never learn it if your approach is to say, “Yeah, they wrote a best-selling book, but it’s only because….”

Challenge 6: Offer something better.

The problem of addressing religious privilege while simultaneously working around the bald fact that the religious hold most of the political power is tough. It’s ugly. Nobody who is trying to do both thinks it’s simple. Your final challenge is to deal with the real difficulty of that problem.

However, the people who are tackling that work aren’t going to be lured by a message that is, in essence, “Ignore the privilege problem in order to solve problems that require political power.” Privilege is power. Your audience knows that solving individual political problems while allowing the privilege to persist is fighting a hydra. Offering a sharper sword only makes the heads multiply faster.

However, offer the equivalent of a torch, and you’ve got something. If you want to shape how atheists communicate, figure out how to offer them something that undermines religious privilege at the same time.

No, I don’t know what that is either. All I know is that if you offer something short of that, you’re offering less than what atheists ultimately want and need, and that won’t work. That’s why you need to decide up front how important this is to you. That’s why it’s a challenge.

Comments

  1. Rieux says

    Well said, especially the latter sections.

    I think atheists of all flavors should (indeed need to) talk about religious privilege much, much more. It seems to me that religious privilege is at the root of nearly every prominent disagreement between atheists and the communities we live in, as well as between gnu atheists and accommodationists. So more like this, please.

  2. Stephanie Zvan says

    Thanks, Rieux. I promise, no matter how many people try to turn it into a dirty word, I have no problem talking about privilege. I also think your analysis is dead on. There will be more.

  3. R says

    One thing that bothers me when accomodationists bring up the evidence on communication to perform their self-appointed duties as the guardians of atheist manners, is that all of the evidence they present (and pretty much all of the evidence formally available at this time) only deals with the short term. Sure, in the short term, being confrontational may lead to a defensive position in the recipient of the message.

    But what happens if the pressure is kept on? The evidence from sociology (weak, I know) is that using derision and ridicule, and adopting a confrontational attitude, works in due course to break down resistance. Certainly people who have participated in previous social change movements, from the civil rights, feminist and other movements, can attest to this.

    I agree that the approaches taken to communicate with the religious should be subjected to the same criteria of evidence as we require from other pursuits. But right now, there is no solid evidence either way. Maybe accomodationists and confrontationists could come together to study the matter properly…

  4. jflcroft says

    AS so often, I think Rieux hits the nail on the head. A better understanding of religious privilege – what it is, how it functions, and how to combat it – would be of extraordinary value to the nonreligious in this country (and others with similar power dynamics regarding religion). In moving from the UK to the USA it was precisely the palpable existence of religious privilege in the USA which drove me into Humanist activism with greater enthusiasm.

    I think it’s important to note, though, that religious privilege does not work out the same for all religions. The experiences of Muslims or Mormons are different to the experiences of non-denominational evangelicals, and white evangelicals gain different privileges to black evangelicals. So we have to be very nuanced about this.

    R points to some of the difficulties with the evidence regarding communication strategies presented by some of those who wish to be more diplomatic in our communications with the nonreligious (I’m using “diplomatic” on Greta Christina’s recommendation, as she makes a useful distinction over at her blog, as Stephanie notes: http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2011/09/01/diplomacy-and-accomodationism-are-not-the-same-thing/). The challenge here is that very much of the literature regarding persuasion and behavioral change is going to be short term, simply due to the limitations of funding and difficulties with experimental design. But that’s actually not too big a problem, because often in our persuasive pursuits we are seeking to change someone’s mind on a particular issue at a particular moment. I.e. we want our Senator to vote a certain way on a science education bill or something. So evidence of short-term effectiveness vs. short-term counter-productiveness is of extraordinary value.

    Further, contrasting experimental studies with broad sociological trend-drawing is very, very difficult to do. I would not be comfortable, as a sometime student of social change movements, to say that “using derision and ridicule, and adopting a confrontational attitude, works in due course to break down resistance”. How can we, over the course of a long campaign (let’s say, for gay rights), parse out the differing effects of Harvey Milk, the Gay Liberation Front, and the American Humanist Association (which has been pro-gay for decades)? I just don’t know how one might achieve this calculation with any level of confidence.

    Further, we must ask why it might be that tactics which seem to be effective in the short term should suddenly become ineffective in the long term (and vice-versa). We’d want some mechanism to explain that. And THEN we’d want to decide if what we’re really doing is persuading people, or shifting the political center (Overton Window stuff), trying to socially shame people but NOT necessarily persuade them (we might call this behavioral change over cognitive change) or whatever.

    So I suppose I would broadly disagree with the idea that there is “no solid evidence either way”. The evidence I’ve reviewed seems to me to support firm but respectful disagreement, punctuated with well-thought-out challenges to privilege, all bound up in a package of clearly-articulated values, is the best way to make change. But I wouldn’t stake my life on it ;)

  5. Stephanie Zvan says

    Oh, I love nuanced discussion. :)

    Another factor to consider is the role of behavior change, even short-term behavior change. There are at least a couple of points where this is relevant.

    If you look at civil rights movements, you see a lot of loud, angry communications on the parts of minorities. This isn’t aimed at winning hearts and minds; it’s meant to force behavior changes–integrate schools, change corporate HR and political giving strategies, remove preaching from a school, etc. The scientific literature gives us good reason to expect that changing behavior, even when those changing are doing so unwillingly, changes attitudes to make them more consistent with the behavior. There are, after all, many ways in which we resolve cognitive dissonance.

    The other thing that we need to realize (and it’s a factor common to most of the snark-driven deconversion stories presented in this debate) is that there is a value to getting at least some people to engage very seriously with the tenets of their faith. The story of “I doubted; therefore, I submerged myself in study trying to reaffirm my faith. I discovered through study that my religion was not what I had been led to believe it was and lost my faith entirely” is anecdotal, but it’s an oft-repeated anecdote. The person who comes out of seminary an atheist is a stereotype. And rousing anger is one incentive to engage at a deeper level.

    No, that won’t reach everyone. However, it does explain a number of observed behaviors in terms of already documented phenomena.

  6. jflcroft says

    I agree Stephanie – this is the best discussion I’ve had on these topics so far! I think you have a strong point regarding behavior change – once you successfully change someone’s behavior, sometimes cognitive change does indeed follow. Likewise quite often cognitive changes do not result in behavioral changes (the idea action gap). So behavioral change is a reasonable goal.

    However, we still need to ensure that the tactics we are using actually do promote the behavioral change we would like to see. My sense is that often unpleasant and demeaning modes of discourse result in neither behavioral or cognitive change.

    Further, I would add that some strategies may well be effective but still undesirable for moral reasons. I hope never to make someone feel afraid, for example, while debating them – even if provoking fear would be an effective way to change their mind. Nor would I want to make anyone feel belittled or dehumanized. That’s why I sometimes balk at some of the rhetoric of some prominent atheists figures: not because I have questions about its effectiveness (although I do) but more because I have questions about its morality.

  7. Stephanie Zvan says

    Luckily, we’re on pretty firm ground on both of your concerns. Short-term behavior change is not that hard to measure, at least if you set your goals properly. Desiree Schell and Maria Walters have been presenting a workshop at a number of skeptical conferences recently on this topic, and I need to blog more about it myself once I figure out where I’m not stepping on their toes.

    You’re also fairly safe with regard to fear, at least if you’re trying to reach fundamentalists. I recommend this three-part series on reaching fundamentalists to understand why easing fear is going to be much more effective:

    http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/cracks-in-wall-part-i-defining.html
    http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/cracks-in-wall-part-ii-listening-to.html
    http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/cracks-in-wall-part-iii-escape-ladders.html

    The ethical situation with any other kind of emotional manipulation is a lot muddier. On the one hand, it is an appeal to non-rationality that taps into processes over which people don’t always have control. On the other hand, this is a critical piece of how people communicate with each other, particularly with regard to things like our values. If we don’t communicate emotionally, even at the risk of being unfairly manipulative, we risk giving the false impression that we are without values.

  8. Rieux says

    AS so often, I think Rieux hits the nail on the head.

    Wow, James—thank you.

    I think it’s important to note, though, that religious privilege does not work out the same for all religions.

    That’s true. I do think there’s a sort of “baseline religious privilege” that believers benefit from in U.S. public discourse, though, nearly regardless of which religion they belong to. For example, the sillier aspects of Mormonism (the planet Kolob, “reformed Egyptian,” etc.) might be acceptable targets for derision in ways that more broadly popular Christian ideas (walking on water, substitutive sacrifice, Heaven and Hell, etc.) aren’t, even though from an impartial perspective it’s hard to see why the former are actually any more absurd than the latter. Such a disparity implies that, as James asserts, there are subtly different levels of privilege afforded to different religions.

    But if a prominent Mormon—Mitt Romney, say—were to respond to mockery of Kolob et al. by protesting that that’s his religion and how dare people attack his religion, I suspect he’d get a fair amount of sympathy (and support against the mocker(s)) on that basis.

    That’s the reason, I think, that Scientology has worked so hard to establish itself in both law and informal discourse as a religion—as the Church of Scientology, it can claim precisely that kind of privileged immunity from critical challenge. And, to some extent, Scientology has succeeded in acquiring that status.

    I would add that some strategies may well be effective but still undesirable for moral reasons. I hope never to make someone feel afraid, for example, while debating them – even if provoking fear would be an effective way to change their mind. Nor would I want to make anyone feel belittled or dehumanized. That’s why I sometimes balk at some of the rhetoric of some prominent atheists figures: not because I have questions about its effectiveness (although I do) but more because I have questions about its morality.

    Okay, but it’s arguments like that one that lead me to advocate more, more, more attention to and analysis of religious privilege. When a believer feels “belittled or dehumanized” by some challenge to religion, it seems to me enormously important to determine why the believer feels that way. All too often, in my experience, such negative reactions stem far more from the privilege the believer enjoys than from actual misconduct on the part of the person launching the attack.

    As you’re no doubt aware, privilege leads those (of us) who benefit from it to perceive personal attack and injury where none are in fact present. Straight white males (such as me!),* as a not-at-all-incidental example, routinely perceive attempts to identify or redress privilege—or even simple assertions of identity on the part of members of out-groups we don’t belong to—as offensive attacks on us. And thus two adult men strolling down the sidewalk innocently holding hands become horrible wretches “shoving their gay lifestyle down my throat” or whatever. That’s privilege in action.

    So if (1) a believer feels “belittled or dehumanized” by The God Delusion or Crackergate or whatever, but (2) the only source of that feeling is religious privilege, then I don’t think Dawkins, Myers, or whatever other nonbelievers are involved have a moral transgression to apologize for. It seems to me that the proper solution to such a problem is the discrediting, if not destruction, of the privilege that led the believer to feel “belittled or dehumanized” in the first place. The only alternative is muzzling legitimate participation in the free marketplace of ideas, if not indeed the very assertion of who atheists are and what we believe.

    To my mind, the signal flaw in accommodationism is that it entirely ratifies believers’ right to pathologize, if not silence, any advocacy that bruises their unjust privilege. Various particular notions of propriety in public discourse are based on nothing but religious privilege; the basic accommodationist move is to pretend that those notions are indisputably legitimate, and that atheists ought to obey them without question. Thus my initial comment here, and my appreciation for Stephanie’s post (among other similar work by her and others) for bringing such issues of religious privilege to the fore.

    * It occurs to me that I can play the “more privileged than thou” card on this thread. Awesome!

  9. jflcroft says

    Stephanie: I was using the example of fear as a way to illustrate the point I was making re: the moral unacceptability of certain tactics even WERE THEY effective. I wasn’t intending to convey the idea that using fear might ACTUALLY be effective (which I find unlikely).

    I read the articles you linked, which I liked (despite some concern regarding the she of quite a lot of the research mentioned, and the lack of clear citations). I did note something interesting to me. You seem from your post here and your comments on Mike McRae’s blog to identify more with the “New Atheist” end of the spectrum (is this right? Apologies if not). However the articles you linked describe a series of tactics for engaging a subsection of the devoutly religious which sound to me very like “accommodationist” tactics. The person who spends most of his time and energy actually practicing the tactics described there is Chris Stedman, who is seen by many as an arch-accommodationist.

    What is not recommended there (and this jives with my own experience and the research on persuasion and social change I have studied as an activist and student/teaching assistant at the Kennedy School of Government) is ridicule, confrontational challenge, demeaning others etc, all tactics I have seen deployed and explicitly championed by self-identified “New Atheists”.

    Clearly, convincing fundamentalists to embrace more complexity in their lives isn’t the only challenge we face: there are issues of confronting privilege, promoting Humanist visibility etc. So perhaps the issue here is about different tactics for different goals. But I rather think the strategies described in the posts you linked would work rather well across the board.

    Rieux: I agree about the baseline religious privilege, and the example of Scientology strikes me as very apt. I think your analysis is absolutely right, except in the case of Islam, perhaps. In some parts of the country Muslims are subjected to specific discrimination due to their religion, including job discrimination, hate crimes etc. The rhetoric around Islam in the current Republican presidential debates has confirmed that, at least for some, it is perfectly acceptable to articulate bare-faced bigotry against Muslims in the very highest areas of public discourse. I’m not sure that Muslims feel much religious privilege, then (as I’m pretty sure Catholics wouldn’t have decades ago). So I think we still need to be on the lookout for that sort of discrimination and ensure we take into accoutrements systems of oppression which affect religious people when we choose how we act (such considerations are a big part of my objections to EDMD, for example).

    You say:

    “When a believer feels “belittled or dehumanized” by some challenge to religion, it seems to me enormously important to determine why the believer feels that way. All too often, in my experience, such negative reactions stem far more from the privilege the believer enjoys than from actual misconduct on the part of the person launching the attack.”

    I think this is a good question. But for me, the moment someone feels dehumanized (as opposed to simply offended), I have to stop what I’m doing and try to find another way to achieve my goals. I might put it like this: for me, dehumanizing others is ALWAYS misconduct, unless it is truly unavoidable (and established as such). So I’d modify your (rather excellent) formulation as follows:

    If (1) a believer feels “belittled or dehumanized” by The God Delusion or Crackergate or whatever, but (2) the only source of that feeling is religious privilege, AND (3) it has been established that there is no other way to achieve the desired goal (and that goal is itself defensible), then I don’t think Dawkins, Myers, or whatever other nonbelievers are involved have a moral transgression to apologize for.

    On your objections to accommodationism, I fear I don’t really agree, because I feel you are using an unfair definition if the term. I don’t see what Stedman is doing (I use him as an example as I’m most familiar with his work) would agree with your description of the “basic accommodationist move”. I would rather see the basic move as something akin to what I’ve tried to articulate here: prioritizing legitimate human hurt and discomfort, EVEN FOR ILLEGITIMATE REASONS, over the achievement of our personal and collective goals, in such cases where those goals can be achieved otherwise.

    This stance reflects my personal commitment to Humanism (over and above atheism), which drives me to attempt to avoid causing human suffering if at all possible.

  10. says

    I know this is a relatively old article, Stef, but it was still one I appreciated.

    I thought Greta’s article was thought provoking, but couldn’t help wonder where this multitude of accommodationists she referred to were. I’m sure there are individuals who fit that bill, but most of those who are labeled as such seem to mostly fit her diplomatic descriptors. It seems as if there is a desire to constantly try to create a strawman category and shove dissenting voices into it.

    In any case, I agree with jflcroft when he says this thread is one of the more productive. Having read through PZ’s response (I even wonder if he’s read Greta’s article – her version of diplomacy hardly gels with his modus operandi), I can safely say if I’m to progress anywhere and change any position I hold, it will be through well thought out, respectful discussion.

    R: I don’t agree that much of the evidence is only short term. There is a mix – but really, it all depends on the precise intention. Challenging privilege can indeed work through aggressive tactics.

    However, the question on whether it has provided people with better thinking tools, reduced religious extremism, or even created a more diplomatic society (or just exchanged one privileged community value for another) is still left open. Furthermore, given such aggressive tactics do seem to lead to polarisation, a sense of exclusion and in many instances encouraging social thinking over critical thinking, there’s reason to believe that perhaps such efforts might be mutually exclusive.

  11. Rieux says

    Mike:

    I thought Greta’s article was thought provoking, but couldn’t help wonder where this multitude of accommodationists she referred to were.

    Fabulous: you got out fourteen words before your first brutal strawman.

    Show me where Greta’s article says (or even gives the slightest hint of an implication of) anything about “multitudes.”

    She is distinguishing diplomacy from, and more-or-less-implicitly criticizing, accommodationism. That requires no “multitudes,” notwithstanding your silly distortion.

    I’m sure there are individuals who fit that bill, but most of those who are labeled as such seem to mostly fit her diplomatic descriptors.

    Only if you simply refuse to contemplate possibly disagreeing with them. Greta writes things like this as examples of accommodationism:

    Declining to chalk stick figures of Muhammad on your campus in response to threats of violence against cartoonists… because the Muslim faith forbids it, and you want to accommodate the Muslim faith and show it respect. And trying to convince other atheists that they shouldn’t do it, either.

    Real people did precisely that. Real people with real names. Their names are well known in the atheist blogosphere. Possibly you’re unaware of that fact or those names, but that’s neither Greta’s problem nor any other gnu’s—and your ignorance does not demonstrate that she’s created a “strawman category” to “shove dissenting voices into.”

    The same goes for every description of accommodationism in Greta’s post. Every single one of those is either an overwhelmingly common phenomenon in public arguments about religion (e.g., “Refusing to make arguments against religion … because you think it’s inherently disrespectful to criticize people’s religious beliefs, and/or because you think religion is in a special category of ideas that ought not to be criticized”) or a blatant reference to one or more very real examples of accommodationism that happened in a very public, consequential, and memorable forum (e.g., “Taking a position as a science advocacy organization that science and religion are entirely compatible, and do not conflict in any way”). Your pretense that her examples amount to an attempt “to create a strawman category and shove dissenting voices into it” is ridiculous and offensive nonsense.

    Having read through PZ’s response (I even wonder if he’s read Greta’s article – her version of diplomacy hardly gels with his modus operandi)….

    Oh, spare us. Where the hell did Greta communicate that PZ or any particular gnu atheist does or should adopt “her version of diplomacy” as his approach toward religious people? Where did PZ claim that “her version of diplomacy” is or should be “his modus operandi”?

    How in the world did you come up with such a bizarre garbling of both articles? Neither Greta nor PZ contended that PZ’s style amounts to “diplomacy.” Neither one of them gave the slightest hint that any atheist should be expected to engage in “diplomacy.” Greta merely pointed out that there are vast differences between actual diplomacy (which many but not all gnu atheists do engage in) and the garbage that accommodationists like yourself dish out. She recognized that some (“firebrand”) atheists are not terribly diplomatic, and she stated no criticism of that fact whatsoever:

    Most firebrands I know — and I know a lot of firebrands, being one of them myself — have no problem whatsoever with atheists being nice and friendly with religious believers. In fact, many of us often are nice and friendly with religious believers at many times in our lives, and we take a more confrontational or more diplomatic tone depending on context, and the specific subject matter, and what mood we’re in that day. As Ed Clint pointed out in his excellent talk at the SSA conference, the whole “firebrand versus diplomat” thing is something of a false dichotomy. Many atheist activists don’t see ourselves as exclusively one or the other. Or even primarily one or the other. It’s a spectrum. And we don’t all live on just one end of that spectrum.

    And even those atheists who do tend to live on the fiery end of that spectrum, and who tend to take a firebrand-y position most of the time, have no real problem with diplomatic atheists. Every firebrand atheist I know has said — very clearly, many times — that we are fine with diplomatic atheists. More than fine. We support them. We encourage them. We understand that our movement is stronger with them than without them. We get that they’re doing something hugely important, something that’s not so much in our nature to do, and we’re really glad that they’re out there doing it. We’re actively happy that they’re here.

    That you could read both articles and come back with the line “I even wonder if [PZ]’s read Greta’s article – her version of diplomacy hardly gels with his modus operandi” signals simply overwhelming levels of disingenuousness. You are pretending that one or both of them said things that they very obviously did not. WTF?

    I can safely say if I’m to progress anywhere and change any position I hold, it will be through well thought out, respectful discussion.

    You have a notably difficult time generating anything resembling that on your own end. And, of course, getting you personally to “progress anywhere and change any position [you] hold” is not, I think, terribly near the top of most gnu atheists’ To Do list. If you’re going to continue baiting gnus and mendaciously misrepresenting us, I’m not sure we care terribly about your “progress” and “positions.”

    Furthermore, given such aggressive tactics do seem to lead to polarisation….

    Sure. Successful social movements tend to do that. Polarizing the relevant population into (1) people who are interested in social justice and (2) people who are more invested in the rules the privileged majority has written to protect itself from any challenge… has been consistently successful in the past. As a famous example, MLK’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” was extremely “polarizing,” too—but giving the utter lack of good that King’s interlocutors had done for the Civil Rights movement, polarization was a minor cost indeed.

    there’s reason to believe that perhaps such efforts might be mutually exclusive.

    So your contention is that Myers-style firebrand advocacy somehow inhibits the wonderful “efforts” you’d like to make? Would you mind explaining how exactly that works? And why gnus should have any sympathy for any “efforts” that fundamentally require us to STFU?

  12. Stephanie Zvan says

    jflcroft, I’m not interested in deconverting anyone, even someone stuck in fundamentalism. If a fundamentalist came to me with doubts, I would more or less simply given them the permission to question that those posts talk about.

    What I am interested in doing is undermining the unearned authority of religion. It has incredibly ugly consequences that I can’t and won’t politely ignore. That requires very different tactics, ranging from childish to analytical.

    Then there are my policy goals, which require another different set of tactics, which largely involve being diplomatic in very much the sense that Greta Christina describes.

    So where I stand on any given tactic depends on what I’m trying to accomplish at any one time.

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