Islamophobia and Skepticism

Chris Stedman had a post published in Religion Dispatches yesterday suggesting that atheists aren’t addressing Islamophobia and that it’s going to come back to bite us on the butt. Stedman seems to suggest that his interfaith work has made him more likely to fight Islamophobia than the rest of us.

RationalWiki, an atheist wiki featuring a newsfeed and articles like “Atheism FAQ for the Newly Deconverted,” contained no mention of the Sikh shooting, but it did list an instance where a Florida door-to-door salesman was shot, and noted the recent mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado. PZ Myers, who is among the most visible atheist bloggers in the world, did write about the shooting twice, though one of his posts simply referenced the shooting as a way to condemn America’s “gun culture,” while the other focused on Pat Robertson’s comments. (Most of the more than 35 other dedicated bloggers on Freethought Blogs—a massive atheist blog network he co-founded—didn’t address it at all.)

But while this silence is deeply troubling, I don’t want to suggest that, like some of those mentioned earlier, the atheist community at large necessarily has an Islamophobia problem—or that legitimate criticisms of Islam (or any other religions) constitutes Islamophobia. The problem, I think, lies in a lack of sensitivity to or awareness of the rampant Islamophobia sweeping our society. A key offender in this respect is bestselling atheist author Sam Harris.

The day after the shooting in Wisconsin, Harris published a lengthy blog post decrying Internet trolls; bizarrely, though, he included yet another defense of his position that Muslims should face extra scrutiny at airports.

There are a couple of points worth addressing here. [Read more...]

Atheists Talk: Teresa MacBain

Former pastor Teresa MacBain doesn’t appear to have ever done anything the easy way. When she felt called to preach, she had to leave her preacher father’s conservative denomination, which would not allow a woman to preach, and publicly profess values he preached. She became a pastor in a denomination that nominally welcomed women in the priesthood but did not actually support them.

Then MacBain began to have doubts. Instead of taking the simpler route of denying them, she attempted to reconcile her faith with the contradictory religion in front of her. When her searching led her to atheism, she didn’t hide this from herself. Eventually, she chose not to hide it from others, even though leaving her church meant leaving behind many of the programs she had set up to pursue her passion for social justice.

Nor did MacBain come out quietly, allowing friends and family to adjust before she had to deal with her whole world knowing she was an atheist. She came out on stage this June at the American Atheists national convention, with substantial press coverage. And finally, after leaving preaching behind, MacBain has taken on the task of public relations for one of the most hated atheist organizations in the U.S.

Join us this Sunday as we talk to Teresa MacBain about her remarkable–but never easy–journey and what lies ahead for her.

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Women in Secularism 2 Registration Now Open

An awful lot of people were sorry to have missed the Women in Secularism conference last year. They couldn’t afford to go after the Reason Rally. They didn’t know the conference was welcoming to men. They didn’t find out in time to make it a priority. Whatever the reason, they didn’t go.

If you were one of those people, you’ve got another chance. Registration for Women in Secularism 2 just opened today. It’s May 17-19, 2013, once again in D.C. And just look at that list of speakers:

Lauren Becker   educator, organizer, vice president & director of CFI Outreach

Ophelia Benson   author, editor, commentator, Butterflies & Wheels

Jamila Bey   author, editor, journalist

Soraya Chemaly   writer, activist

Greta Christina   writer, blogger, Greta Christina’s Blog

R. Elisabeth Cornwell   evolutionary psychologist, executive director of Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science US

Vykie Garrison   creator of No Longer Quivering

Debbie Goddard   activist, organizer, director of CFI On Campus and African Americans for Humanism

Adriana Heguy   biologist

Melody Hensley   executive director of CFI–Washington, DC, organizer, Women in Secularism

Teresa MacBain   public relations director, American Atheists

Amanda Marcotte   author, journalist, executive editor, Pandagon

Katha Pollitt   essayist, critic, poet

Edwina Rogers   executive director of the Secular Coalition for America

Amy Davis Roth   artist, blogger, skepchick.org

Desiree Schell   activist, podcast host, Skeptically Speaking

Shelley Segal   singer, songwriter

Rebecca Watson   cohost of Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, creator of skepchick.org

Stephanie Zvan   blogger, Almost Diamonds, radio host, Atheists Talk

Huh. Lookit that. Yes, I’ll be on one panel and moderating another next year. That means you won’t get the full benefit of my live-tweeting all the sessions, so you’d best see it in person.

Prices are discounted through March 15 of next year, but I wouldn’t wait that long. It won’t surprise me at all if registration is full this year.

Making Atheism+ Accessible

“But what will/does Atheism+ do?”

It’s a fair question. Luckily, it’s starting to have answers. Greta is working on a reading list for people who really do want to know more about social justice issues. The 101-level educational forum is up and running. I’m working on resources for event planners.

The project that excites me right now, though, is A+ Scribe. From its mission statement:

The mission of A+Scribe is to help improve the accessibility of resources in the A+ sphere (and eventually beyond) to Deaf and Hard of Hearing readers. We will strive to honestly, accurately, and completely transcribe as many inaccessible resources as we can.

This? This is practical service that will make organized atheism more accessible to more people. Contribute if you can.

This is what Atheism+ is supposed to do. Now it does.

“Legitimate Differences of Opinion”

One of the comments I’ve seen repeatedly in the discussions about Atheism+ goes something like this: “Well, everybody is for social justice. That doesn’t mean we’re all going to agree on how to achieve it, though. What happens when we don’t?” Debbie Goddard hit us with a version of the question during the Hangout we did last weekend (transcript now available).

I answered Debbie then, but honestly, Jen covered this right up front:

We are…
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

Emphasis added.

We have an excellent way to address our differences. It’s the same way we settle our other differences–with science and reason. We look at the claims made by both sides. We determine whether each is internally consistent. If they are, we look at the evidence available to us, interrogate the methods used to collect it, and weigh it to determine which claims are true. Sometimes one side wins. Sometimes there is compromise because both have basic flaws. Sometimes everyone goes their own way because the evidence doesn’t exist yet.

It isn’t a simple thing to do, but it is what best gets us at the truth. [Read more...]

Mock the Movie: Who Doesn’t Love Telepathic Canibals?

It’s time for another truly terrible movie. Tomorrow, August 30, we’ll be mocking In the Year 2889. This charming little post-nuclear-apocalyptic tale involves telepathic cannibals. Better yet, the principal characters spend most of the movie fighting amongst themselves, so you may end up rooting for the cannibals–even more than usual. I didn’t find a trailer, but this short clip will at least introduce you to our cannibal friends.

This movie is also available for free on YouTube or on archive.org.

[Read more...]

Disassembling the Magic Button

This weekend, The New York Times once again demonstrated that one can say basically anything in print as long as it’s confined to the opinion pages. In this case, it was yet another theory of autism.

In autistic individuals, the immune system fails at this balancing act. Inflammatory signals dominate. Anti-inflammatory ones are inadequate. A state of chronic activation prevails. And the more skewed toward inflammation, the more acute the autistic symptoms.

Nowhere are the consequences of this dysregulation more evident than in the autistic brain. Spidery cells that help maintain neurons — called astroglia and microglia — are enlarged from chronic activation. Pro-inflammatory signaling molecules abound. Genes involved in inflammation are switched on.

These findings are important for many reasons, but perhaps the most noteworthy is that they provide evidence of an abnormal, continuing biological process. That means that there is finally a therapeutic target for a disorder defined by behavioral criteria like social impairments, difficulty communicating and repetitive behaviors.

It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? A cause that points us toward treatment! It’s all in the immune system, and it can be cured by dirt. Well, parasitic worms in the dirt, which is kind of gross, but hey, hope! We can lick this autism stuff!

Of course, we’ve been promised that before. [Read more...]

We’ll Say That It Is Good

Bug Girl pointed me to a lovely little video originally made just before the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Stoplight is a Focus on the Patriarchy affiliate.

The money quote:

But if God decides–and it’s always up to God to decide–if God decides that rain of biblical proportions would be a good and proper meteorological condition for that evening, we’ll see it, and we’ll say that it is gooood.

Think that’s what they’re saying about Hurricane Isaac?

The Poison of Positive Thinking

I wrote this morning about a number of friends dealing with major depression recently. One of them (I’ll call her Jane, and you can assume that some of the nonessential details are not as accurate as they could be) has been suicidal multiple times in the years that I’ve known her.

Not too many years after we met, I found out from mutual friends that they’d just bundled Jane up into their car and taken her to the nearest hospital with in-patient mental treatment. She had been talking about being better off dead, and they weren’t taking any chances.

This was the first time Jane was diagnosed with depression. Luckily, she responded to the care and to the medication she was given. Sadly, because our health system treats people like disposable ATMs, she couldn’t always afford her treatment.

That last part changed when Jane was diagnosed with cancer. [Read more...]

For Juniper

I’ve talked to three friends with major depression in the last couple of weeks. One is working to keep from reaching the bottom. One is coming up out of a bad spot brought on by health problems. One, the one I got an email from this morning, is very close to the edge but throwing out a hand for help. I’m flattered and terrified that it was thrown my way. 

They’re all incredibly talented people. They all have an amazing amount to offer the world, and they’re hardly alone in that among people with depression. For them, I repost this.

Depression is much like that abusive significant other. It’s always there, even after all your friends have gone home. It’s waiting for you after a day out or even the rare short vacation. And it never, ever stops lying to you*.

The lies are the worst part, the little whispers in your ear that tell you you’re nothing–not good enough, not loveable enough, not smart enough, not strong enough–not whatever it is you would need to be to get away. Because it doesn’t want you to get away. It doesn’t like it when you turn your back for even a second, when you’re happy for just a moment without it. It doesn’t like it when you realize that someone else wants you.

Depression is a jealous mate. It wants to possess every tiny bit of you, even if it has to kill you to be sure of you. It goes hardest after the people who love you and want to help you get away to someplace healthier. Sometimes it does it directly and sometimes by whispering more loudly. Sometimes both, because that weakens you more. [Read more...]