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Defending Dawkins, or How Many Standards Do We Need?

Sarah Moglia, no longer of the Secular Student Alliance and newly of Skepchick, has written a piece about how starting to work for the secular movement was the start of the end of her trust in that movement. She was hired to accompany Richard Dawkins on tour.

At this time (September of 2011), Dave Silverman was heading up the Reason Rally Committee. There was still quite a bit of planning and promotion that needed to be done, so Dave asked Richard, Elizabeth, and Sean to make videos to promote the Reason Rally. (The video Richard ended up making is still viewable.) Richard was standing behind the podium, and he asked Dave something along the lines of, “What exactly is the Reason Rally?” Dave started explaining it, and as he did, someone who was waiting in the line outside opened the door to peek inside and we could all hear a lot of noise. I rushed up the aisle and made frantic “shut the door” gestures at the people peeking inside, and they did. As I walked the ten feet back, I couldn’t hear everything Dave was saying, but I heard the name “Rebecca Watson.” Richard suddenly had a very angry look on his face and I heard him almost shout, “No, absolutely not! If she’s going to be there, I won’t be there. I don’t want her speaking.” and then Dave immediately replied, “You’re absolutely right, we’ll take her off the roster. It’s done.” Richard huffed for a moment, Dave continued to placate him, and then he made the video.

The question has come up whether Sarah’s story should be trusted. I do trust it, and here’s why.

Sarah has previously given me information about things people have done that has turned out to be accurate, even when I was dubious (for reasons of wanting to hang onto my illusions) that it would. She has previously described other things about the University of Miami event that I was able to verify as accurate. The video of Dawkins’ talk there is no longer available, but you can find a description of it here:

It’s not like Dawkins hasn’t been pressed for more substantive contributions to this debate, or even with questions about his mere awareness of the existence of the torrents of abuse. I’ve sources who’ve done as much, with little success in the way of obtaining answers, and Dawkins has publicly squelched such lines of inquiry, such as during a Q&A session at the University of Miami in September of 2011.

I found out about this from talking to Sarah before Bruce Everett’s post, which is when I watched the video. Sarah characterized the interaction as (I paraphrase):

Student: You had a disagreement with a blogger over the summer, and lots of people immediately jumped to your side because they support you. Do you think it’s important to critically question even our idols?

Dawkins: I’m not talking about that.

Before anyone gets to thinking there’s some significance to the video being down, all the videos on that channel are inaccessible now.

On top of that, I understand at least some of Sarah’s motivations in posting this. She’s worked incredibly hard for the secular movement, and she’s been effective. She’s studied non-profit management. She and I share a strong desire to see this movement stop messing up the things that should be simple, like too much ad hoc organization or being held hostage to “the talent”. (As an aside, I think this is something American Atheists and Dave Silverman have gotten much better about since this point. AA has been good about inviting people who aren’t on the obvious lists for their big conferences. There’s still room for improvement, but improvement has still been made.) Sarah also has a disability that is sensitive to stress. If you don’t think posting something like this publicly–on Skepchick–will be seen as an invitation to harass her into a flare-up, you’re not thinking it through.

On top of all that, I’ve known about this a good deal longer than today. I’ve been a small part of Sarah’s support system for a while. This story? Her watching someone she idolized turn out to be incapable of handling conflict with a woman in a graceful manner? That’s the kind of thing you share with your support system when you can’t talk about it in public. So I heard it much closer to the time that it happened. It hasn’t changed since then, except that I got the short version then.

There is also the fact that this is consistent with Dawkins’ other, publicly visible behavior, as with the Q&A at Miami or his response when Wired asked him about his “Dear Muslima” comments. Or his behavior at an event in Los Angeles. Aside from the occasional passive-aggressive swipe, Dawkins has avoided Rebecca Watson as though sarcasm were the plague. To the best of my knowledge, they haven’t shared a stage since July 2011. There have been rumors floating around about this as far away as the conference scene in Australia, though that isn’t as far away as it used to be.

Of course, as Everett points out, these rumors have also been denied:

I was able to discuss these concerns with Dr. R. Elisabeth Cornwell, Executive Director of the US branch of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. She was aware of the mentioned instances of harassment, expressing displeasure and dismay.

I raised the issue of serious chatter arising out of a polarised climate amongst organisers, that suggested that Dawkins was using his influence to have Rebecca Watson barred from events. Dr. Cornwell assured me this wasn’t the case.

So here we have to weigh Sarah’s word against that of Cornwell, now the former RDFRS executive director. This would be harder for me if Cornwell didn’t have a history of using falsehood to deflect negative attention from Dawkins. She did this in the forum debacle a few years ago. (Yes, that email has been verified with someone who worked for RDFRS at the time. No, the source of the verification is not Timonen.) She did this by privately “clarifying” that Paula Kirby wasn’t part of Dawkins’ foundation when people were baffled that Kirby would write something like “The Sisterhood of the Oppressed”, though Cornwell’s email states that Dawkins insisted that Kirby be included in the foundation. [ETA: Kirby herself has also claimed the association.] Given Cornwell’s history, I don’t see any good reason to think that when someone otherwise trustworthy says something about Dawkins that Cornwell contradicts, I should trust Cornwell.

Incidentally, the email also states that Dawkins’ inability to constructively disagree with strong women is general, not specific to Rebecca:

One of the things I know extremely well about Richard is he is conflict-avoiding and he female-dependent. There is a lot of psychology at work here… but Richard is extremely weak when it comes to demanding females.

After all that, yes, I do trust that Sarah’s statement that Dawkins demanded Rebecca not be invited to the Reason Rally. (And hey, and after all that work to explain my reasoning, American Atheists confirmed that the conversation happened, though they deny that the decision to not invite Rebecca was made at that point. Though their statement doesn’t explain what Sarah heard or when the decision was made. Still, Sarah is right that this is more about forcing the decision than about having to deal with an ugly demand that it appears many people have granted in the last two years.) Given that trust, I want to make a couple of other points.

Screen capture of a tweet. Text provided in the post.

@AngrySkepchick: It offends me that people won’t attend events if I’m there. When –I– refuse to attend events, it’s only because the speakers are rapists.

That tweet comes from a parody account, but elisions aside, I don’t understand why this would be a problem. I signed Scalzi’s pledge. I’m quite proud to say I won’t take part in events that don’t have good anti-harassment policies. I don’t want anyone to come to an event to see me, only to put themselves potentially in harm’s way. How is that supposed to compare badly to Dawkins blacklisting another speaker because Dawkins put his foot in it and lost some respect in the eyes of some people?

Remember the reactions to Rebecca’s personal decision not to buy recommend more of Dawkins’ books?

This Dawkins boycott seems like the latest in a series of overreactions by everyone involved in this elevator incident.

Someone who reacts to a former ally having the very slightest disagreement with a banishment / call to boycott is the exact opposite of a skeptic. They are deeply dogmatic.

To boycott Dawkins for being insensitive to you or the concerns of female atheists, seems really hypocritical. [Because talking about FGM isn’t talking about male circumcision. No, really.]

I don’t understand why it is necessary for you to break all ties with Dawkins, denounce him publicly, boycott his books and lectures, and encourage others to do the same.

I am a bit disappointed in both Rebecca and Jen’s decision to boycott Richard Dawkins from now on. You don’t have to agree with someone all of the time and on every issue to respect their work and opinions in other areas.

Please don’t boycott it’s the same as letting the bastards win.

You talk about how important it is that people see it from your perspective, but I’d submit that before you go asking for a boycott on Dawkins and labeling him as a patriarchal privileged male, you try to see the other side to this issue yourself.

I appreciate you are passionate about what happened, and the debate about sexism / appropriate societal behaviour is important and a worthy topic to discuss. But boycotts of those who disagree, or who have differing points of view is…

Stupid.

An appropriate response here is to engage in a debate and a discussion, not to sever all ties and turn this into a boycott.

The bottom line here – we aren’t advancing the skeptical (or feminist) ‘movements’ by boycotting, or by being divisive.

Lastly, I hope that Ms. Watson is really not childish enough to boycott his work on evolution because of his views on the incident (I think I read that somewhere-my apologies if it is not true).

What kinds of reactions are we seeing to this, in which Dawkins actively worked to keep others from hearing Rebecca’s voice?

Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be associated with Mrs Watson and don’t blame Dr. Dawkins one bit.

lol I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t want to share the stage with someone who just wants to cause trouble.

The only reason anyone knows who watson is, is because of her trouble making through accusations that could almost be considered slander, so Dawkin is well in his rights.

It’s so bizarre that Dawkins would not want Rebecca Watson to participate, considering how many constructive, positive things she’s contributed to this community; and how respectful and pleasant she has been to all its members.

/snark

.@skepchicks is making me like RD all over again! In battle of con. turf, organizers need to uphold stand. principles [This from the guy, by the way, who thought “…that what happens on the internet is […] important but that it’s not necessarily the deciding factor.”]

@IAmDanMarshall @rebeccawatson @Crommunist seems pretty clear they don’t like or respect each other. Why should he want to be near her?

@rebeccawatson He only said he wouldn’t be speaking if you were there. Guess Dave knew who the bigger draw would be. Bad ego! Norty ego! :-D

I would not attend any event at which Rebecca Watson was a speaker. She doesn’t contribute anything positive, only drama and insults.

@mpigliucci I wouldn’t want to speak alongside Rebecca Watson either and elevatorgate has nothing to do with it.

@rebeccawatson @Crommunist yes because you are THAT important

It’s as though they’re trying to prove Rebecca’s point. For contrast, the people who defended Rebecca’s choice to stop buying or recommending Dawkins’ products pointed out that it was a reasonable personal decision that was unlikely to affect Dawkins personally. That brings me to my second point.

In case you missed it, there was a bit of a to do at DragonCon this last weekend around the Skepchick fan table selling their Skeptical Robot and SurlyRamics to raise money to promote skepticism at an event that doesn’t cover their travel costs. There are as many versions of why the conference abruptly found these sales objectionable after four years of them happening (and were willing to be abusive about it) as there have been con representatives talking about why Skepchick shouldn’t have the table anymore. The rules for fan tables (distinct from vendor tables) are appallingly vague and not consistent with any of the complaints made.

As you can imagine, confusion has reigned, and the usual suspects have been working this for all it’s worth. People have been arguing at length about nitpicky details, like whether it really counts as being kicked out if the group isn’t allowed to have a presence but one of the people stayed to do programming or whether Rebecca was blaming the organizer who brought them to the conference for her not knowing the rules or whether she should have somehow divined the same meaning from the rules that they did. They’ve been saying that this is just what happens when Rebecca speaks at your conference, despite the fact that several years of SkepchickCon at CONvergence have gone swimmingly.

One of the most ridiculous things that they’ve said, however, is that if Rebecca or Amy can’t afford to pay for their own travel to do this outreach, they should get a job. Yes, apparently selling merchandise that people want is somehow wrong now. Ophelia has given that idea even more attention than it deserves, so I won’t repeat any of it. Instead, I’ll contrast that attitude to another one.

Something like a year ago, at the time Cornwell’s email surfaced, there were allegations of financial impropriety aimed at RDFRS. Someone alleged that the foundation was soliciting money for plans it wasn’t going to put into effect. I looked into them. I decided that they were unfounded. Part of the issue was the unforeseeable costs involved with the dispute with Timonen, but the other part was that the person making the allegations didn’t seem to understand what the foundation was set up to do.

Grants to other organizations are a small part of what the foundation does. The website has been central to the foundation, but the costs involved are not huge. The larger part of the foundation appears to be underwriting Dawkins’ notorious willingness to speak to student groups at very little cost. If the groups don’t pay the cost, someone still has to. In the case of the tour Sarah wrote about, the book’s publisher likely covered the cost of Dawkins’ travel, but Sarah had a year’s salary and Faircloth had travel expenses for the whole tour, while Cornwell accompanied them for about half of it. Similarly, the foundation was a sponsor of the Reason Rally. It’s quite likely that it covered the costs for all the foundation employees who spoke, as well as Dawkins.

That’s right. Dawkins’s foundation didn’t pay to have him travel, but they did pay to have his entourage travel with him–partly funded by their merchandise sales–to allow him to speak to audiences he felt needed it. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with this, though a little more transparency about this purpose of the foundation would be nice and would help avoid situations like the unfounded accusation. No one I discussed this with in the course of laying the rumor to rest had a problem with this.

Now, however, when it’s Rebecca, suddenly people have problems with selling merch when someone doesn’t want to put the costs of travel directly on the audience. I wonder why that could be. Hmm.

Isn’t it about time we got a single set of standards for this movement?

Comments

  1. says

    The link to Scalzi’s pledge is b0rked, and a minor edit to change ‘this more’ to ‘this is more’ in the last sentence before the Angry Skepchick tweet.

    People should be wary of the Halo Effect surrounding Dawkins, which certainly affects the ability of his entourage to be entirely truthful about his flaws. The Karen Owens deposition which came out during the RDFRS v. Timonen litigation is enlightening reading, not least for RD having a ‘secret’ e-mail account, under the pseudonym of Roger Derwin, or something similar starting with RD.

  2. says

    Oh, but there IS only one standard at work here, Stephanie. That standard is simply this: the atheist and skeptical movements are for white men. Women and minorities are tolerated only if they don’t make the white men uncomfortable, and if they do, anything they do is wrong. The white men, of course, are incapable of wrongdoing.

    It’s the standard of in-group/out-group, not of principle.

  3. says

    Yeah… when I first responded to your comment over on Skepchick relating to the sales, I said I really don’t mind the foundation using merch sales to send Dawkins’s entourage around with him.

    But I was missing the context around DragonCon, so sorry about that, Stephanie.

    More to the point, though… it could be possible that both American Atheists and Sarah are right. Sarah says she missed much of the conversation; so it’s entirely possible that Silverman’s admittedly rather daft wording was misread by Sarah; Silverman was maybe “reassuring” Dawkins that Rebecca would not be speaking but, being put on the spot, worded it rather poorly, and when Sarah heard it, she wasn’t aware that Rebecca had not been invited to speak anyway.

    IMO, it makes Silverman look like your the average flawed human, while making Dawkins look like the giant egotistical, childish douche he’s become.

    I’m pretty much convinced that, if the roles were reversed, Rebecca would just shrug and then just not engage him (shouldn’t be hard… it’s not as if conferences get very few people, and the Reason Rally had quite a showing). But Dawkins holds petty grudges for no reason. That’s why I say he’s childish…

  4. maudell says

    I know this is a detail, but oh so annoying:

    “Richard is extremely weak when it comes to demanding females.”

    Not-demanding human male Richard Dawkins versus demanding female (species unspecified… I’ll picture a tortoise in the meantime).

  5. Silentbob says

    Dawkins has avoided Rebecca Watson as though sarcasm were the plague. To the best of my knowledge, they haven’t shared a stage since July 2011.

    I know this won’t be news to you, Stephanie, but for the benefit of readers that occasion was at the Dublin hotel where the “elevatorgate” incident occurred. Rebecca’s talk was, in fact, a direct rebuttal of an earlier talk by Paula Kirby. Rebecca described Kirby’s talk as an “argument from ignorance” and an “argument from privilege” with Dawkins sitting right next to her at time. If the claim made in the linked Cornwell email is true – that Kirby was Dawkins’ mistress – that sheds some light on why he may have taken such a dislike to Rebecca, and his motivation for later writing his “Dear Muslima” comments on Pharyngula.

  6. Great American Satan says

    Mistress? I didn’t follow every link and didn’t know this hinky business went there.
    Ugh. Hey, what’s the timing of “Sisterhood of the Oppressed” relative to all of this?

  7. says

    Great American Satan, ‘Sisterhood’ was written the middle of last year, i.e. the year after ‘Elevatorgate’, or as I like to call it, the ‘Rebeccapocalypse’. And I concur with Silentbob that knowledge of Kirby’s relationship to Dawkins provides a strong motivating factor behind Dawkins’ otherwise puzzling refusal to back down over ‘Dear Muslima’, and which was not widely known at the time.

  8. says

    Not-demanding human male Richard Dawkins versus demanding female (species unspecified… I’ll picture a tortoise in the meantime).

    Oh yes, this, so much.
    And also the imple assumption that in that case people should make allowances for Dawkins not being able to deal with non-docile women.
    Let’s just imagine for a moment the phrase had been made just like this about any other group of people (unless they’re muslim)…

    But yeah, Rebecca saying that she would personally no longer buy his books, attend his lectures or recommend either was the Worst. Possible. Thing. Ever.
    Dawkins actually demanding that his space remain Rebecca-free: totally reasonable request.
    Looks to me that one one person in this scenario holds the power to negatively affect the other one’s life and that person is absolutely willing to wield it.

  9. Great American Satan says

    It makes me glad that he is rapidly dis-endearing himself from the British public at the moment. Maybe, just maybe, this hole he’s digging will finally obscure him from my sight. Then I will forget him, and not know why it is that I feel my universe has become slightly more pleasant.

  10. says

    Silentbob, I’m going to have to go with “meh” on that one. Dawkins may have been defending someone he was in a close relationship, or he may just have a thing for queen bees because their brand of feminism suits his beliefs. We don’t really have to know why he did what he did to Rebecca to know that it was wrong.

  11. alan says

    I promise I don’t mean this in a “gotcha,” polemical way:

    Christians, for all our imperfections, have categories for forgiveness, reconciliation, and sin. We have theological resources for maintaining peace and goodwill within a very diverse group. It’s tough to keep a group of people from pissing each other off without an ethic of love. There is a tangible lack of such resources within atheist/freethinker groups, ultimately because a morality which is adequate for real life cannot be arrived at through reason alone. The problem with the “golden rule” is that it doesn’t go far enough. Probably from Dawkins’ and Watsons’ perspectives, they are both obeying the golden rule…they just disagree about what is right and wrong…because they don’t have a shared standard. Eesh….I’ve been to a ton of christian conferences and I don’t know that we’ve ever needed “good anti-harassment policies”. Because we have an agreed upon standard, people don’t feel threatened and harassed, but safe.

    Don’t get mad at me for saying that. Don’t point out all the times that Christians have failed to live up to their own standards. Of course they have. The point is that we have those standards in the first place, so it’s obvious when people fail them. I’m not laughing at atheists, I am sad for you, because you will experience pain in your relationships that is directly due to your refusal to acknowledge sin for what it is and deal with it accordingly. When the Bible says “the wages of sin is death,” that’s not just a reference to “ultimate” death, it’s saying that sin needs to be dealt with, or we will reap the negative consequences.

    I’m sure you’ll be able to agree on conference policies, but it’s likely you’ll have “denominational” splits within the freethinker/atheist movement, if you don’t already.

    It turns out it’s easier to destroy than to build.

  12. says

    #17 – alan:

    .I’ve been to a ton of christian conferences and I don’t know that we’ve ever needed “good anti-harassment policies”. Because we have an agreed upon standard, people don’t feel threatened and harassed, but safe.

    Your agreed upon standard being the bible, which is so sexist, racist, hetero-centric and so on? And yet you back up your claim with anecdotal evidence of “I don’t know that we’ve ever needed…”

    I’m sure you’d find at least some policy about harassment, even if it’s a reference to your faith’s rules lifted from the bible.

    I’m sure you’ll be able to agree on conference policies, but it’s likely you’ll have “denominational” splits within the freethinker/atheist movement, if you don’t already.

    It turns out it’s easier to destroy than to build.

    This makes me laugh my ass off simply because the Christian community has so many fucking splinters you could pick your teeth for a lifetime.

  13. says

    alan # 17

    I’ve been to a ton of christian conferences and I don’t know that we’ve ever needed “good anti-harassment policies”. Because we have an agreed upon standard, people don’t feel threatened and harassed, but safe.

    I’ve been to a ton of Christian conferences (as staff, at times). I’ve had to pass on warnings about people in leadership positions.who had been known to be sexual predators. I have talked with quite a few of the victims.

    I just checked on one of the worst; he’s still in the same position he had back then.

    If anything, Christians are less trustworthy, because of the forgiveness issue; predators can be exposed, prayed over, forgiven, moved to a new location or position, and sent merrily on their way to continue their search for victims. And people feel safe because of the naive belief that Christians don’t “do that”. They do.

  14. alan says

    I really was trying to be nice but you responded very viciously, I wish you wouldn’t do that

    sorry, i don’t know how to do that cool-looking quote thing.

    //Your agreed upon standard being the bible, which is so sexist, racist, hetero-centric and so on?//

    red herring. of course I don’t accept that those things are true, but those allegations have nothing to do with the teachings on forgiveness/reconciliation which I was discussing. stay on topic please!

    //And yet you back up your claim with anecdotal evidence of “I don’t know that we’ve ever needed…” I’m sure you’d find at least some policy about harassment, even if it’s a reference to your faith’s rules lifted from the bible.//

    the point is that for us it’s not some huge controversial thing to the point where a blogger needs to take a stance on which conferences are “ok” based on their harassment policies. Go to a christian conference and ask the women there if they feel safe from harassment.

    //This makes me laugh my ass off simply because the Christian community has so many fucking splinters you could pick your teeth for a lifetime.//

    true, but Christianity is also much bigger and WAY more diverse, ethnically, culturally, socioeconomically, etc. than FT/SH/Atheists. (btw is there an umbrella term that is appropriate for secular humanists, freethinkers, agnostics, atheists?)

    but again, I’m not trying to compare for the sake of making you feel bad. My points are twofold:

    1. moral issues that arise within a diverse community cannot be solved by “reason” alone.

    2. many atheists relish tearing holes in christianity…indeed, hatred of religion sometimes appears to be one of the main unifying forces within movements like this. But much of this criticism will always ring hollow to people like me until you demonstrate that you can not only criticize communities, but also create them.

  15. kaboobie says

    With Elizabeth Cornwall and later Paula Kirby being semi-openly referred to as Dawkins’ mistresses, I have to wonder how his wife Lalla Ward feels about all this?

    I was at the Atheist Alliance of America conference over Labor Day weekend, and while the talks were on the whole very good and the selection of speakers diverse, Cornwall’s speech about how awesome Dawkins is was distinctly out of place. She also introduced Dawkins’ video presenting the Richard Dawkins Award to Steven Pinker; she should have left it at that.

  16. alan says

    //I’ve been to a ton of Christian conferences (as staff, at times). I’ve had to pass on warnings about people in leadership positions.who had been known to be sexual predators. I have talked with quite a few of the victims.

    I just checked on one of the worst; he’s still in the same position he had back then.//

    That’s awful. But the point is that there should be no disagreement that it is awful, because it’s clearly a violation of many scriptures. If you’ve been to that many christian conferences then I’m sure I don’t need to quote them to you.

    //If anything, Christians are less trustworthy, because of the forgiveness issue; predators can be exposed, prayed over, forgiven, moved to a new location or position, and sent merrily on their way to continue their search for victims. And people feel safe because of the naive belief that Christians don’t “do that”. They do.//

    again, it seems to me this is clearly against scripture. So your point is not that christians have different standards, it’s that christians fail to live up to their own standards. am i right?

    perhaps it was wrong of me to cite anecdotal experiences. I just see no way that those sorts of activities could be justified biblically if challenged. Such behavior would not be tolerated in the circles I run in.

  17. says

    surround blockquote and /blockquote with greater than and less than signs and put your quoted text in between the two.

    Sorry, but I won’t be suckered in by your demand for polite discourse. Your attitude of “I’m not here to cause trouble or laugh at you” is so threadbare I can see the sun through it.

    Forgiveness and reconciliation don’t do shit if the person you’re forgiving continues to be a fucking harassing piece of shit. But nice try.

    You seem to think that christian women are different from non-christian women, as if they are exempt from the things that happen to women simply because they are christian. Sexism exists in this world, christians perpetrate sexual harassment just like everyone else. I can go to ANY conference, Christian, Gamer, Atheist, so on. Some people will say they feel safe and they are because they have not experienced harassment. Other women will say the opposite, because they aren’t and have experienced or witnessed harassment.

    Are you a woman, alan? If not, you might want to take a step back and actually do some research instead of taking things on faith. Or not. Your call. But your commentary is hardly something new or enlightening.

  18. says

    alan, no one is being remotely vicious to you. They’re disagreeing with you. They’re also pointing out that you’re using special pleading. When Christians do something bad, according to you, it’s a failure to live up to these great rules for behavior. When atheists do something bad, it’s because they can’t come up with rules with logic alone.

    Now, I happen to agree with you that a social code needs some foundation on top of which logic can be applied, but I don’t see any reason to think Christians develop their social code any better.

  19. Ivy says

    “One of the most ridiculous things that they’ve said, however, is that if Rebecca or Amy can’t afford to pay for their own travel to do this outreach, they should get a job. Yes, apparently selling merchandise that people want is somehow wrong now.”

    Very ridiculous. Skepchick is a job. Selling merch to raise funds or cover costs is a part of that job. (Oh, right — “spirit of the rules!” /rolls eyes)

    People seem to think that not for profit/non profit/charity/social justice/special interest/whatever organizations run 100% on volunteers-with-too-much-time-on-their-hands work or something. It’s not like there are entire degrees dedicated to teaching people how to effectively run these organizations as a career or anything. These organizations still require dedicated employees and most of the things other businesses need to work, but hard-working individuals or groups still can make it work, just as small businesses manage to do well.

    Or, these people just don’t agree with what Rebecca Watson or Skepchick has to say, so they’re willing to ignore reality for yet another attempt to try and discredit and silence those they don’t want to hear from.

  20. alan says

    Sorry, but I won’t be suckered in by your demand for polite discourse. Your attitude of “I’m not here to cause trouble or laugh at you” is so threadbare I can see the sun through it.

    well you don’t have to believe me I guess. I don’t know why I’m picking this particular time to respond to something like this…maybe because I’m procrastinating. But I genuinely think that there is way too much “talking past” each other in the theist/atheist conversation and I guess I feel some responsibility to engage instead of continually turning away in disgust. so no, I’m not just trying to fuck your shit up. It would be helpful to polite discourse if you didn’t make assumptions about my true motivations.

    Forgiveness and reconciliation don’t do shit if the person you’re forgiving continues to be a fucking harassing piece of shit. But nice try.

    right, I was bringing those things up more generally relating to dealing with conflict in community. For cases of ongoing harassment it’s more a matter of just making sure it stops.

    You seem to think that christian women are different from non-christian women, as if they are exempt from the things that happen to women simply because they are christian. Sexism exists in this world, christians perpetrate sexual harassment just like everyone else. I can go to ANY conference, Christian, Gamer, Atheist, so on. Some people will say they feel safe and they are because they have not experienced harassment. Other women will say the opposite, because they aren’t and have experienced or witnessed harassment.

    of course experiences will vary from individual to individual. I’m speaking about accepted communal norms of behavior. I would guess that atheist conferences have more of a “hookup” culture than christian conferences, which likely leads to more blurred lines with regard to harassment, consent, etc. I’m not saying I have evidence of this, but it seems a very reasonable logic outworking of the two philosophies.

    Are you a woman, alan? If not, you might want to take a step back and actually do some research instead of taking things on faith. Or not. Your call. But your commentary is hardly something new or enlightening.

    nope, I’m a man, which is why I encouraged you to go ask women about it. but if it’s evidence you seek, i think the male/female ratios of christian groups vs. freethinker groups is a fairly good indication of where women feel safe.

  21. says

    alan #22

    I just see no way that those sorts of activities could be justified biblically if challenged.

    Of course, they aren’t being justified Biblically, although they could be. The problem is that Christians fail to live up to the standards they give lip service to. And in the Christian community, problems are dealt with by denial that they exist, or when the behaviour is too blatant, by a quick run-through of repentance – forgiveness – forgetting – reinstatement, allowing the problem to continue as before.

    Such behavior would not be tolerated in the circles I run in.

    How would you know?

    In my experience, no Christian denomination is free from sexual predation. And the stricter the church guidelines, the more effort is expended to hide the failures.

  22. says

    but if it’s evidence you seek, i think the male/female ratios of christian groups vs. freethinker groups is a fairly good indication of where women feel safe.

    Not necessarily. As has been pointed out many times in many places, churches also provide services, particularly services focused around families. Since women are still considered to be primarily responsible for families, it’s no surprise to find them disproportionately in places that offer those services.

    I would guess that atheist conferences have more of a “hookup” culture than christian conferences, which likely leads to more blurred lines with regard to harassment, consent, etc. I’m not saying I have evidence of this, but it seems a very reasonable logic outworking of the two philosophies.

    Are you saying that hooking up doesn’t involve consent, or that the mere presence of sexual activity blurs the lines about consent? I’m not following your logic here.

  23. says

    nope, I’m a man, which is why I encouraged you to go ask women about it. but if it’s evidence you seek, i think the male/female ratios of christian groups vs. freethinker groups is a fairly good indication of where women feel safe.

    Women who are raised as christians and who stay christians choose to do so for a variety of reasons. I do not believe that women who are christian feel safe even among christian men. After all, doesn’t christianity tell women that it’s their job to ensure men don’t harass them? Modestly dress, demurely present oneself, let the men lead, etc. And this, of course, is how men often succeed in harassing women, by getting them to follow rules and when they break those rules, the women blamed for the resulting harassment.

    I am a former christian and I can tell you that I see no difference regardless of the religion. Except to say that the non-christian abusers just hide behind non-christian excuses. They’re all the same in the end.

  24. alan says

    When Christians do something bad, according to you, it’s a failure to live up to these great rules for behavior. When atheists do something bad, it’s because they can’t come up with rules with logic alone.

    Now, I happen to agree with you that a social code needs some foundation on top of which logic can be applied, but I don’t see any reason to think Christians develop their social code any better.

    I genuinely believe that the bigger and more diverse your movement gets (and it is growing), the more you will have to deal with issues like this. However imperfectly we have applied biblical principles, I still think we have resources for uniting people that are unavailable to “nones”. I’m saying that you need to recognize this problem and find a way to fix it, if one exists.

    I read the biblical injunctions to love, forgive, hold leaders accountable, reconcile, etc. and they are really intense. And all of us who have been part of churches can attest to the destruction caused when people ignore or abuse them. But I think it would be way worse if they didn’t exist at all. With how much strife there is in the church already, imagine removing the good things we do have going, and then try to create a community around that! that’s what I am saying to you guys. Recognize that you need resources for living in community if you want to create a movement.

  25. says

    What resources are we supposedly missing? What good things do you think you have that aren’t just part of any healthy community, and what do they have to do with religion?

  26. alan says

    Of course, they aren’t being justified Biblically, although they could be. The problem is that Christians fail to live up to the standards they give lip service to.

    my point exactly

    And in the Christian community, problems are dealt with by denial that they exist, or when the behaviour is too blatant, by a quick run-through of repentance – forgiveness – forgetting – reinstatement, allowing the problem to continue as before.

    that’s a big generalization. Most denominations actually would not reinstate you if found guilty of sexual predation/harassment…which is why the catholic scandals are such a big deal.

    “Such behavior would not be tolerated in the circles I run in.”

    How would you know?

    In my experience, no Christian denomination is free from sexual predation. And the stricter the church guidelines, the more effort is expended to hide the failures.

    I wasn’t saying it never happens, I’m saying it’s not tolerated. And I don’t see how you could support the assertion that strict guidelines correspond to hiding of failures.

  27. alan says

    What resources are we supposedly missing? What good things do you think you have that aren’t just part of any healthy community, and what do they have to do with religion?

    great question! The answer is actually too big to write out here with the time I have. but really every community has founding “myths”…not in the sense that they are untrue, but in the sense that they are stories which form the mindset of the community. The church’s narrative “myth” is the gospel…the story of Jesus. There are tons of implications that can be drawn from it for morality, social practices, communal organization, etc. What is a freethinkers’ group’s founding “myth”? I don’t know exactly, it will probably vary from group to group. Perhaps that religion is outdated and that rationality ought to form our understanding of how to be in the world?

    But specifically, some concepts which are necessary for healthy church life are the ideas of
    Image of God (who we are)
    Sin (what the problem is)
    Forgiveness (how to overcome separation)
    and how these all relate to the cross.

    like i said…too much to get into here and now but hopefully you can see the relevance of those theological beliefs to church practice

  28. alan says

    OK, last post for today. gotta be productive.

    Women who are raised as christians and who stay christians choose to do so for a variety of reasons.

    well, you asked for evidence and I gave you one bit that I think is compelling. Of course there may be other reasons for the sex ratio difference alongside feelings of safety.

    I do not believe that women who are christian feel safe even among christian men.

    you should be careful how you word things that you don’t make the mistake of speaking for women…do you really mean this?

    you do not believe that christian women feel safe…..

    you may want to qualify that a bit.

    After all, doesn’t christianity tell women that it’s their job to ensure men don’t harass them? Modestly dress, demurely present oneself, let the men lead, etc. And this, of course, is how men often succeed in harassing women, by getting them to follow rules and when they break those rules, the women blamed for the resulting harassment.

    nope. actually if you believe in male headship, it’s the man who is primarily responsible for sin, not the woman. pastors will sometimes point to the fact that when Adam and Eve sin, God does not confront both of them, but Adam only, holding him primarily responsible for what occurred. What you’re describing is the abuse of power and a failure of men to repent and be humble.

    I am a former christian and I can tell you that I see no difference regardless of the religion. Except to say that the non-christian abusers just hide behind non-christian excuses. They’re all the same in the end

    well…if they continue to make excuses and not repent then they are not christians anyway, by definition. just saying.

  29. says

    alan #32

    Most denominations actually would not reinstate you if found guilty of sexual predation/harassment…which is why the catholic scandals are such a big deal.

    The Catholic scandals were such a big deal because it is a large organization, so the number of abusers is relatively large.

    Every study I’ve seen of abuse in Protestant denominations turns up about the same ratios as the Catholic church. And the same ratios of pastors/priests/missionaries etc, being dealt with by moving the abuser to a new location, without a stain on his/her reputation.

    I wasn’t saying it never happens, I’m saying it’s not tolerated. And I don’t see how you could support the assertion that strict guidelines correspond to hiding of failures.

    But it is tolerated. Oh, “sin” is condemned in word, from the pulpit, and by individuals, but shushed up when it happens. As long as not too many people know about it, the church goes on pretending that they’re somehow holier than the rest of humanity.

    And the more stringent the rules, the more need to cover up the “sin”. It’s still there, and the rot reaches to the highest levels in the denominations and para-church organizations.

    And it will continue in that vein until the church starts to acknowledge it and do something about it. (Some denominations are working on it, albeit far too quietly; wouldn’t want to scare off the congregation.)

    At least the secular movements are talking about it; we have a better chance of improving matters.

  30. Jackie Papercuts says

    Alan,
    Are you aware of the Domestic Discipline movement that teaches that beating women is just part of a Biblical marriage?

    Are you aware of the sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church? Do you really believe they are the only denomination that has these same policies of hushing it up, denying it, victim blaming etc.?

    I know of churches that have been supportive of women trying to leave an abusive relationship. I know of others that tell those women to stay and submit. I’ve been a Christian woman. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

    I know women who were molested by their Sunday School teachers. So you take your holier than thou bullshit and go find out what’s really going on in your churches.

  31. ceesays says

    Alan, you have claimed that women are safe at christian conventions.

    You’re incorrect, and you honestly have no business trying to make such claims. you are a man. traditionally men have no idea what’s really going on when it comes to sexual harassment and assault at these kinds of gatherings, because the women don’t tell men about these things. There are way too many negative consequences that come as a result of telling men anything about who’s a handsy creep and who will try to make you talk about sexual things and who will try to get you alone.

    They tell other women. Although I do strongly fear that christian women do not even have that kind of support, what with the christians long and storied history of committing violence against women and then blaming the woman for it. so instead of it getting around to all the women in the network, many women in the network might not have *anyone* to tell, because the women in christianity are able to be deeply misogynist and so telling a christian woman could carry exactly the same risks, consequences, and further damage as telling a man.

    So do yourself a favor. Stop talking. You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about, and the only way to get off Team Dunning-Krueger is to shut up and listen to the people who actually have the experience. And one other thing – for the love of your god DO NOT scamper off and start interrogating christian women about their experiences with sexual assault and harassment. You’ll scare them to *death.* Because to be the victim of a sexual assault is a great shame to a christian woman, and if anyone even so much as overhears you asking a particular woman there’s a chance you’ll ruin her reputation.

    You might try hunting the internet to see if you can find an online support group for christian victims of rape and sexual abuse. I don’t know. But I can direct you to one source – go read what Elizabeth Smart has to say about her experience – both with being abducted and held prisoner for months, and the way she was treated by christians after she had been rescued. and if ti doesn’t break your heart you haven’t got one.

    Now go, and seek knowledge.

  32. Jackie Papercuts says

    Giliel,
    Because he saw an opportunity to peddle nonsense and he took it. We all need to stop doing what we are doing and listen to Alan.

    Alan will tell us silly atheist ladies how much more respect we’d get if we got ourselves churched.

  33. maudell says

    Ah, Alan’s unflappable logic. When people are socially compelled to accept sexual assault in silence or suffer deep consequences, it’s a good sign apparently. But those atheist women who have the courage to protest at the risk of their own reputation, that is evidence of a deep, deep problem! Atheist women should just be assaulted in silence, so that atheist men can feel good like Alan does. Maybe they can force the rapist to marry his victim so they can really live up to biblical standards. It’s wrong to damage a man’s property (his daughter); you have to buy it!

    On the pedophilia scandals, it is still not considered a big deal (how many rapists were convicted?). But for decades before, it was considered even less of a big deal. It’s been public knowledge for a long time, and rapists were protected by the highest members of the church. I’m sure you’ve heard the cardinals explain how the little kids were guilty of seducing the old perverted priests. If you think that’s a sign that your organization does not have a gigantic problem, your head is really deep into the sand. And your just helping perpetuating it.

    A significant portion of atheists have decided to hold themselves to higher standards than religious groups do. That is why we are talking about it.

    And on ‘hookup culture’ (whatever that means)… Have you been to a Christian school recently?

    Sorry, both your holy books are pretty clear that women are property and are inferior. You may want to ditch the Old Testament for its overt misogyny, racism and blood-thirsty god, but the New is still a manual for the subjugation of women. But keep telling yourself it’s ok because there are billions of different Christian interpretations (talk about subjective morality!) I hope Christian women can be treated as full human beings at some point. I’m not sure it can happen from within, given the incredible institutional constraints of Christianity, along with the biblical support of misogyny (even if you think it is a misinterpretation, it is widely used for this purpose. You really need to stretch your brain to think otherwise).

  34. says

    @alan in #33:: actually, what religion has going for them to keep people in line is clearly defined authorities, hierarchy, and threats of hell and excommunication/exclusion. All stuff that might be effective, but not necessarily desirable.

    @alan in #34:

    pastors will sometimes point to the fact that when Adam and Eve sin, God does not confront both of them, but Adam only, holding him primarily responsible for what occurred.

    And yet it was Eve (and all women after her) who got the biggest punishment. Bet they don’t point to that bit of the story when they’re trying to show how loving to women Christianity is. Sounds to me yet another case of priests twisting the Bible to fit their own purpose. Which is why we have such a hard time accepting your claim that Christianity offers a clear set of rules to work from. We’ve just seen too many different interpretations, of its teachings, and too many Christians effortlessly shifting between them whenever it suits them.

  35. alan says

    I think Stephanie Zvan is the only one who responded to the core of what I was saying, which by the way is the topic of this article (the issue of standards in the secular/freethinker community). Most of you are just expressing righteous indignation on hot button issues, which is not the way to have a good conversation.

    This is probably the best thing I’ve said so far, so I’ll end by repeating it:

    [Atheist] criticism will always ring hollow to people like me until you demonstrate that you can not only criticize communities, but also create them.

    I genuinely hope you guys find ways to get these issues sorted. i admit I am frustrated with you guys but I’m sorry, and I am going to work on not looking down on you in my heart. peace to you.

  36. A Hermit says

    Wait…Paula Kirby was Dawkins “mistress?”

    That sheds a whole new light on certain events, doesn;t it?

    Oh, and alan, there was plenty of “hooking up” going on in the Christian communities Iwas a part of; it’s just that it was accompanied by a lot of secrecy, denial and guilt.

    If what you’re trying to suggest is that Christians have a better set of standards I can only point to the dishonesty of that denial and the corrosive, destructive nature of the unwarranted guilt as being evidence against that suggestion.

  37. Al Dente says

    [Atheist] criticism will always ring hollow to people like me until you demonstrate that you can not only criticize communities, but also create them.

    You need to talk to the Harvard Humanists. They’re not only trying to create atheist communities, they’re working on godless churches, complete with services, hymns, sermons, clergy and all the other trappings of churches. Greg Epstein, with the official title of Humanist Chaplain, and his acolyte James Croft run a website called (and I am not making this up) Temple of the Future.

  38. maudell says

    “I am going to work on not looking down on you with my heart.”

    Nice to know your condescension is so heartfelt. Is that a plank in your eye? I fail to see why it is so difficult not to look down on people you consider outgroups.

    I guess it does come down to different foundations of right and wrong. If one thinks that a community is better off tolerating sexual, physical and psychological abuse of children and adults in silence to protect hierarchical order, then we’re doing it wrong. If one thinks that such abuse should not be tolerated within a movement and that victims should have a support network, we’re doing it right. I’m sorry it hurts the virgin ears of those who don’t want to know rape exists. And if you think there is a blurred line between rape and consensual sex, I’m not sure you are well placed to make a judgement for others. But here, we prefer to have appropriate networks for these problems, prevalent in all spheres of society. If you think that’s terrible, tough luck.

    But I’m sure the very diverse set of Popes and Cardinals of history would be deeply sympathetic to rape victims. It’s just that they never had the chance to show their support, right? Because Catholic hierarchy is so rich and diverse. Pope Francis is a white guy from Argentina! That was such a bold move against racism. Popes, metropolitans and patriarchs are just a wonderful array of diverse people, different genders and ethnic backgrounds. Not to mention our dear Martin Luther, and his wonderfully anti-racist tract “On the Jews and Their Lies.” (I won’t go through the thousands of denominations. No True Christian territory).

    Anyway. End of feeding the derailing on my part. I’m just always amazed by good old Dunning-Kruger.

  39. iknklast says

    Alan – the problem with your argument is that you are saying the Bible gives you standards of behavior. The Bible, if you read it carefully, contradicts itself frequently, and many of those standards are horrifying and immoral. So you read the ones that are nice, loving, compassionate, and forgiving, and assume those are the commands that you are to follow. But how do you know? What standard do you use to accept the standard that says to love your neighbor, and reject any standard that says to kill your neighbor, enslave your neighbor, or sell your daughter into slavery? How do you decide?

    You use the exact same methods we do – secular ones. You determine what is right based on your understanding of the common humanity of people, recognizing that they have similar hopes and dreams and feelings that you do, and attempt to minimize harm. That tells you which standards to follow. Then you retrofit those into the scriptures that support them, conveniently ignoring the rest of the not so nice stuff (and yes, the New Testament carries some disgusting and perverted commands, as well, so simply saying Jesus got rid of all those doesn’t get you off the hook. You still have to deal with the negative advice given by Jesus).

    In short, we all establish our rules and standards by a process most of us almost certainly don’t understand (I suspect none of us understand it, but there are some philosophers I’ve met who claim to). It has a lot to do with being social creatures who value cooperation at least as highly as competition and who feel love for other people. You don’t recognize the process you went through, because most of it was retrofitted to the Bible for you before you were even born, if you’re like most of us.

    And by the way, when I was a Christian, I did not feel safe around Christian men. They leered at me. They tried to touch me. One of them sexually molested me and my sisters. They condescended to me, patted me on the head, told me to get them coffee. They violated my space, assumed I had no right to autonomy, and created a miserable life for me. The sad part for me is seeing the atheist men acting like the Christian men I know, not looking at them and wondering why they can’t be nice compassionate people like the Christian men. I have known many very decent men in both groups; I think the ratio of nice to nasty is approximately the same. So don’t condescendingly feel sorry for us.

  40. says

    the point is that for us it’s not some huge controversial thing to the point where a blogger needs to take a stance on which conferences are “ok” based on their harassment policies.

    Right, Alan. Note: That blogger IS a Christian. I suppose you’ll go over there next and mansplain things to her.

    and I am going to work on not looking down on you in my heart. peace to you.

    What a passive-aggressive, sanctimonious turd you are. You should have told us you’d pray for us, just to put the cherry on the sundae.

    Fucking xtians.

  41. Anthony K says

    [Atheist] criticism will always ring hollow to people like me until you demonstrate that you can not only criticize communities, but also create them.

    Atheist communities? You mean like this one?

    You’re soaking in it.

  42. says

    Alan: for all I know your motivation to come here was honest & good. Your intent may have been pure, but as we say around here: intent is not magic.

    Please do try and proofread before posting – not for spelling or grammar, but for condescension and a wholly patronising attitude. Those two things ring very loudly in all your posts; even though you mightn’t have intended to look straight down your nose at us, that is precisely how it come across – not once or twice, but as a running theme through all you posted. Also ringing loudly was ignorance of atheism and the communities that, at this very moment, are forming and growing – not just around atheism itself but related issues like secular government, social justice, science education to name a handful. No, it’s probably not viable to form a group based on “not believing in gods” – given that, it’s a good thing that atheist groups almost never form in that manner.

    The fact is that atheists can, do and are forming communities that are strong, supportive, instructive, fun, creative, passionate, caring, charitable, musical – as well as all the other positive things invariably claimed as uniquely religious attributes. You might however notice, however, that atheist communities can and do disagree on things they deem important and might face such things as a parting of the ways*. This is not because we can’t “form communities”; it’s because we form communities based on shared values and some of us hold those values in higher regard than we do the importance of anyone who displays a history of willingly breaching them, whether a “leader” or otherwise. We have no sacred cows and no popes and that includes people like R. Dawkins. We (around here anyway) like to hold people accountable, even – especially – if they’re well-known, highly visible or influential.

    Atheists also know how to arrive at moral decisions, thank you very much, without guidance from scriptures of any religion – not just yours – by using the natural human (and non-human, for that matter) quality of empathy as a starting point. We are far from the only species on the planet to be able to comprehend another creature’s suffering; what makes us unique is our ability to contemplate internally and communicate with each other about how best to respond to suffering. I won’t go any further on that topic (as better minds than mine have been doing so for millennia) but I think that’ll do for a start.

    ________________________________________________
    *(Christians should be no stranger to schisms – some people point to the existence of ~20,000 Christian sects as a good indicator that none of them are reliable indicators of the truth; I however take the position that the existence of more than one Christian sect is sufficient to demonstrate Christianity’s vagueness and ambiguity with regard to what people “should” do. Bottom line: the supreme text written by the creator of the universe should not need “interpretation”; it should be unequivocal in every way).

  43. says

    Yeah, that’s real nice. “I’d respect you if you had communities” – stated a few decades after the social stigma of being atheist has finally eased enough that people can be out about in most communities, but not so much that atheists can run for office and expect to win in most places.

    I’d respect you if a lot of things.

  44. Steve Caldwell says

    alan wrote:

    I promise I don’t mean this in a “gotcha,” polemical way:

    Christians, for all our imperfections, have categories for forgiveness, reconciliation, and sin. We have theological resources for maintaining peace and goodwill within a very diverse group. It’s tough to keep a group of people from pissing each other off without an ethic of love. There is a tangible lack of such resources within atheist/freethinker groups, ultimately because a morality which is adequate for real life cannot be arrived at through reason alone.

    alan — if I were a hypothetical atheist/freethinker who was looking for ways to make safe and effective conference settings, I don’t think I would look at Christian conference organizing for examples.

    The religious group that is closest to atheism/freethought is Unitarian Universalism — while the Unitarian Universalists have their share of woo-woo stuff and follow an unwritten rule that prohibits criticism of said woo-woo, they are a non-creedal religious community that uses a shared covenant to unite them. And many Unitarian Universalists are atheist, agnostic, or freethinkers.

    Here’s an example of the covenantal language they use for their annual convention (“General Assembly”):

    Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression, Multiculturalism
    In 1994 and 1997 the General Assembly (GA) passed resolutions calling on the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to become an anti-racist, multicultural faith community, calling us on a Journey Toward Wholeness. Guided by our principles and in the spirit of these resolutions, all attendees are asked to be mindful of the ways racism and oppression impact our community and the larger community that is hosting our gathering. There are numerous opportunities through workshops and other programs to expand your awareness and deepen your understanding as together we strive to be a welcoming and inclusive community for all.

    Expectations of All General Assembly Attendees
    Let us remember our Unitarian Universalist commitment to the worth and dignity of all people. The UUA affirms its commitment to maintain an environment free of discrimination and harassment based on race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, or disability. The Association expects all attendees to conduct themselves in a professional manner with concern and respect for all. As a courtesy, please allow persons using wheelchairs and scooters to exit meeting rooms first. Also, please leave elevators free for the use of persons using wheelchairs and scooters.

    Source — http://www.uua.org/ga/justice/13298.shtml

    Heck … something like this could be used as a starting point for creating a conference code of behavior for atheist/freethinker conferences.

    Some UU folks are Christian and Biblical … but many others are not. And they are able to create a community without having a shared Christian theology

  45. Sili says

    I genuinely hope you guys find ways to get these issues sorted. i admit I am frustrated with you guys but I’m sorry, and I am going to work on not looking down on you in my heart. peace to you.

    I’ll pray for you.

  46. davehooke says

    @Alan #42,

    If that is the best thing you have to say, kindly stop there. Come back when you have overcome your superiority issues.

  47. says

    On reflection, I probably should have re-worded ” Dr. Cornwell assured me this wasn’t the case”, to state that she “gave me her assurances”. I wasn’t assured. It was *something*, but the issue was hardly put to rest.

    As for my sources on the issue of Dawkins squelching discussion of his “Dear Muslima”, my sources aren’t the same people as your sources, and they aren’t Australian. (I’ve got Australian atheist sources for other complaints about Dawkins – but I can’t corroborate the details, so I won’t publish them, and I don’t claim to know that these claims are actually true).

    What people have told me, or written to me about their Dawkins and “Dear Muslima” in-person experiences or observations, have a huge amount of parity. The essential details are never absent from an account, yet there’s no indication that you are being told the same account, just by different people. Different dates, different events, different people (with the exception of Dawkins), same points. Those points being…

    “Dear Prof. Dawkins, please sir, do you know X about [Rebecca Watson / ElevatorGate / Harassment / …]?”

    Dawkins gets tetchy and is quick to cut his potential interlocutor off before anything critical can be asked…

    “I’m not talking about that. [It was a publicity stunt / I was personally slighted / other irrational dismissal…]”

    Maybe he doesn’t want to discuss it. But if these kinds of issues are just for hits/drama/etc, why does he make forays into the area himself?

    I’m interested to know what Dave Silverman has to say about the black-listing claim. Not that a denial could fully counter what Sarah has published (any more than Cornwell’s denial could counter what I was being told), but it would be interesting (to me at least) to see if Silverman and Cornwell were on the same page about this.

    Aside from the issues of squelching discussion and blacklisting people from events they’d already been ear-marked for, with such contrary claims, someone’s at least got to be getting something wrong (and at worst, some people are being flatly mendacious). I find some people’s lack of curiosity, and willingness to write off these concerns as “just drama”, or “just for page hits”, just a little too blinkered.

  48. says

    alan, I never did respond to your last comment, did I? Atheists have built communities in lots of places. I’m the associate president of Minnesota Atheists, which has one of the largest and most active communities in the country. The online communities I’m part of are full of amazing people doing amazing things. If you’re not finding solid atheist communities, you’re not looking for them very well.

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