Breaking Love and Reproductive Rights Out of the Christian Frame

I have been pleasantly surprised that the youtube comments on my speech on The Heart of Humanism at The Southern California Secular Humanism Conference are mainly addressing the topic.

We joked that now James Croft could add it to his CV that he spoke at an event with me.

We joked that now James Croft could add it to his CV that he spoke at an event with me.

Especially because I addressed how secularists need to examine where their beliefs about love in particular may be influenced by Christian culture such as ideas about purity. I used a rather pointed example by looking at the Secular Pro-Life Movement. Their stance is not categorically different from Cathy Ruse of The Family Research Council’s advice on making secular anti-choice arguments. Ruse’s Christian influence is clearly seen in her advocacy for state’s rights on marriage equality as discussed in my speech and her advocacy against buying Girl Scout cookies on the basis of their support of Planned Parenthood. Cuz unplanned parenthood is so much better, right?

One commenter though accepted the challenge to produce a secular anti-choice argument.

My concern isn’t from a Christian purity standpoint, it’s an issue of the meaning of human rights. We used to believe that people of different skin colors didn’t deserve legal protection because the ‘rights’ of rich white people were more important. I worry that abortion is not dissimilar.
It is a bit incoherent.  I also asked the humanists there what they thought of the anti-feminist canard
“I am not a feminist; I am a humanist.” We were short on time, but a few people afterwards said that the word feminist is like identifying as an atheist; it has taken on very negative associations over time.  I wish I had thought to record some responses afterwards.
Anyways, I hoped in this speech to help people see that sometimes the culture we are raised in can still affect how we see the world and prevent us from being better humanists. Just like I would like to help re-appropriate the word atheist from atheist bashers; I would like to help re-appropriate the word feminism from feminist bashers.
More important than the words themselves are the ideas that left unquestioned get in the way of progressing to a better society than the overtly Christian one we now live in today.

 

 

 

 

Reaching the choir

Much discussion has focused on bringing women and minority groups into the secular fold.  Considering the gender gap in secular communities (these numbers are from America) this is a laudable goal.  Conversely, in religious communities there is an inverse relationship in the ratios of women and ethnic minorities. From Protestant communities where there are 8 percent more women than men to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Historically Black Churches where there are 20 percent more women than men. There is a real disparity in the secular community between gender and ethnic minorities and white males. In fact atheists equal the Mormon Church, a racially segregated community until the 1970s, in disproportionate ratios of whites to ethnic minorities with 86 percent white adherents to 14 percent ethnic minority adherents.

Why is there a gap between women and ethnic minority participation in the secular community? That’s the million dollar question.

Some charts with data collected by the Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Survey…

table-gender-by-tradition

table-ethnicity-by-tradition

Unfortunately often when these sorts of questions are asked; there are superficial answers that affirm the status quo rather than brainstorm solutions to the problem. To paraphrase some have speculated that women are less likely to be secular because they aren’t “intellectually active” enough. On the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities; I’ve sat in presentations where whites have asked black speakers why blacks are Christian because of slavery in the Bible. There is a bit of lazy thinking that comes with stereotyping and overgeneralizing going on. Especially by secularists who aren’t members of these groups, and lack the personal experiences or they haven’t taken the time and thought required to educate themselves to understand a different point of view.

One often neglected piece of data on the topic of secular diversity is income.

table-income-by-tradition

Christians still hold an eroding majority at 78 percent of the US population. About 30 percent of Protestants and Catholics, the largest sects of Christianity, live under the poverty line. In comparison atheists and agnostics are about 4 percent of the population, and about 20 percent of them live under the poverty line. If you look at the numbers for historically black churches the number jumps to 47 percent. Another church with a high level of minority participation are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Half of the JWs are black and latino and 42 percent of their members live beneath the poverty line.

It’s true that at about 40 percent college graduates atheists and agnostics are better educated than the average Protestant and far exceed churches with majority minority populations. Education is definitely a factor in religiosity. However the list of most educated adherents also reads like which groups have better access to education in this country by culture or income. Not just for women and minorities, but for everyone affected by poverty including whites. So you still can’t tease income out of the equation.

Religious institutions have traditions in place that support the poor. However, the support can often come with ideological beliefs that trap their adherents in the cycle of poverty. The Catholic Church’s stance forbidding birth control is a good example of this.

My experiences growing up in both the Catholic and the Southern Baptist Church doctrines limited my choices as a woman. I was told early and often that my role in life was to be subservient to a man. These doctrines condition women to accept patriarchal authority without question. Looking back on it now deciding who’s in charge of important decisions by genitals rather than critical thinking was not a good idea. Studies have shown that educated, empowered women make better life choices that fight the cycle of poverty.

Some organizations in the secular community are working to close the income gap by offering childcare and low cost and free admissions. Skepticon every year is supported by donations. It is an example of an organization that saw a need and stepped up to fill it. Low cost regional conferences like FreeOK help to alleviate problems caused by the cost of travel. Internet conferences like  FTBCon and internet resources like podcasts, blogs, and youtube help to close the income gap too.

One of the most interesting findings of the Pew Forum’s study is that the “Religiously Unaffiliated” is the fastest growing population of them all. The Catholic Church is losing the most to attrition, but they are staying even by immigration. Although Protestants still have the most adherents in the US especially in the South, it too is in decline. The young are where churches are losing the most adherents to us. If the trend continues most people will be unchurched. Secular organizations will hopefully rise to the occasion and welcome the newcomers.

One group that interests me that could use more focus is evangelicals. They are most often from the South. I live in the South, and was raised in a Southern Baptist Church. So I have had a front row seat to the havoc they wreak on public policy in education, reproductive rights, poverty and so on. Can they be reached? The answer sometimes is surprisingly yes. Matt Dillahunty and Beth Presswood of the Atheist Experience and Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist are examples of evangelicals gone rogue. Their media outreach has helped other evangelicals to see the light of reason.

It is one area where me and Aron Ra are different. He doesn’t understand why believers believe because he never really had strong religious beliefs. There is a disconnect between unchurched and lifelong disbelievers and former believers that gives rise to generalizations just like with any group that is prone to being misunderstood. The secular community can always find new ways to welcome former believers, and that can only be improved with greater understanding.

Towards that goal, I have asked Tasa Proberts, former believer and musician for the GUTS megachurch In Oklahoma to chat with me and Shanon Nebo on The Nones about her deconversion from evangelical Christian to atheist. Part of what helped her deconvert is the outreach of The Atheist Experience. We’ll be joined by the Atheist Experience’s Russell Glasser and Jen Peeples. We will also have Recovering from Religion Tulsa facilitator Rhonda Dorle on. It should be interesting if you want insight into former believers to have a greater understanding of them, or if you are a former believer too and want to help, or if you are an evangelical looking for a way out.

[important]The show will be on Thursday December 19th on our youtube channel. I will also post a link to watch it here on the day of the show. Visit our facebook for updates.  You can also PM us there with story ideas or questions.[/important]

[notice] This is the link to watch the show directly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IExEG9dKzdg[/notice]

The Foundational Oft-Repeated Fallacies of Sexism Deniers

Lilandra is a username from a little known comic book character.  In real life, I named my children after comic book characters, so my geek credentials cannot be questioned.   My husband is a large biker, cyber-viking ape, that opines about religion, and knows his place in a cladogram.

Lilandra is a username from a little known comic book character. In real life, I named my children after comic book characters, so my geek credentials cannot be questioned. My husband is a large biker, cyber-viking ape, that opines about religion, and knows his place in a cladogram.

9/11 Truthers, Moon Landing Deniers,  Holocaust Deniers, Evolution Deniers, Creationism… It seems controversial ideas are polarizing and can generate extreme views.  Some ideas like the fact that the Earth is spheroid can even generate full-blown conspiracy theories. In fact, there once was a history teacher at my high school that was a flat-earther. This happened during the late 1980′s well after the moon landings. Any picture of the Earth in science and history textbooks pictured it as spheroid. In opposition to stubborn facts, this teacher resolutely decided to spout the same canards to every nail in the coffin that the Earth was flat.  For example he would say that maps were flat, and that proved the Earth was flat.  What about globes you ask?  Government conspiracy!

discworld

[important]

There will at any given moment in time be at least one discussion ongoing about some aspect of the Discworld considered as a physical object. What does it look like? Where did it come from? Does it rotate? What do constellations look like for the people living on it? Where are the continents located? Is there a map of Ankh-Morpork [There is now] ? What are the names of the Elephants [Berilia, Tubul, Great T'Phon and Jerakeen, just in case anyone'd forgotten] ? Is Great A’Tuin male or female? That sort of thing.

Summarising these discussions is useless: nobody ever agrees on anything, anyway, and besides: half the fun is in the discussion itself — who cares if these issues ever get properly ‘resolved’. From The Annotated Pratchett

If only we could discuss our differences with that little animosity. Granted this is a more important difference of opinion, but still. [/important]

Freethinkers are more often than not skeptical thinkers.  Skepticism is a point of pride to the point that we have robust skeptical organizations like the James Randi Educational Foundation.  Who can ever forget when James Randi owned faith healer, televangelist Peter Popoff on national TV?  It was one of the most awesome pieces of pwnage of religious charlatanism most skeptics have ever seen.  Randi managed to record Popoff receiving personal information in an earpiece about the poor ,sick people who were his marks.  He used that info to defraud them that god had revealed to him things he couldn’t possibly know.

[notice]Peter Popoff debunked by James Randi Video[/notice]

 Despite a very public unmasking of this charlatan, who preyed on sick people for money; he still broadcasts to millions of people today. That fact sickens skeptics…

about the villainy of Peter Popoff

But we know from debating creationists and their ilk just how strong cognitive bias is.

Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism

A decent skeptic will take no personal pride that he/she knows better than credulous people in the grip of cognitive bias.  The very best skeptics frequently examine their own thinking for cognitive biases and attempt to disabuse others of harmful biases.

None of this is news to skeptics.  Which is why the quality of the discussion of harassment within the skeptical community is all the more disheartening.  Before Rebecca Watson ever stepped into that fateful elevator, harassment of women at conferences was already a topic of concern.  Yet any discussion of harassment policies to address these concerns gets bogged down in “Elevatorgate” even though Watson herself never characterized what happened as harassment, which is the First Oft-repeated Fallacy of Sexism Deniers

I have collected a number of comments from Thunderf00t’s recent YouTube video “Why “Feminism”(sic) is poisoning atheism”.  The discussion has some pretty good,freshly minted examples of the canards that most people familiar with this discussion have already heard many times. But this first comment is in response to a Slate article Rebecca Watson wrote…

FOFSD #1 -Feminists -especially Rebecca Watson need to get over Elevatorgate

ou812

How does a polite invitation to coffee equate to the “objectification of women as sex objects”? Even assuming he was interested in sex, Elevator Guy did exactly what feminists have been asking for: he took no for an answer. Get over it, Rebecca.

and…

yutt

It is amazing that no matter how many times she tells the elevator story, she never comes across as the victim she thinks she is. A male was interested in her and wanted to have sex. How horrible!

I guess some people can’t emotionally escape Puritanism no matter how far they think they’ve run intellectually.

From Slate “It Stands to Reason, Skeptics Can Be Sexist Too” by Rebecca Watson.

But again, I don’t need to. There’s enough evidence floating around the internet. For instance, “Some guy HIT ON ME! He asked me to come back to his room. WHAT A SEXIST!!” <–That’s not total bullshit? I don’t even need to bring up half of it. The vid does a good job of it and I’m shocked that you, who’s “sooo intelligent” didn’t catch what I was implying. Also, I didn’t expect special treatment. You’re an idiot. I love how your description of it is senseless.

And lol, you’re pretty angry. “XD”

Above comment from YouTube “Why “Feminism” is poisoning the skeptical community”. Part 1 by Thunderf00t

Ironically the widespread fallacy that Watson misunderstood this incident as harassment is a misunderstanding. She simply felt uncomfortable about being asked to someone’s hotel room for coffee by a stranger in an elevator.  To make matters worse this one incident is used as an example to make the spectrum of harassment at conferences look inconsequential. Discussion of harassment in the skeptical community is often derailed to recount this incident in laborious detail.

FOFSD #2 -Rebecca Watson/Skepchick is a silly, misandric(sic), “feminist” who owes allegiance to a Hitler-like Supremacist!

Too bad. The Skepchick lady isn’t a feminist, she’s a misandric professional victim. Feminism was about equality, never about “women’s supremacy”.

and this one got 29 thumbs up votes…

Just want to put it out there…

Before all this nonsense? I was a feminist. I really was – I was a 110% feminist and all for women’s rights.

Thanks to Skepchick and her drama, I am no longer feminist, and I’m actually a little embarrassed that I ever was.

Above comments from YouTube “Why “Feminism” is poisoning the skeptical community”. Part 1 by Thunderf00t

These are spot light fallacies.  Even if Watson’s personal ideology was to put men in concentration camps, (which it isn’t) she isn’t an archetypal feminist.  You’d be hard pressed to pick one person that embodied everything that feminism is in the flesh.  Ideas like feminism should be judged on merit not on whether you dislike the person espousing them.

FOFSD #3(managed to combine more than one FOFSD in one comment) this has nothing to do with atheism. Everyone needs to grow up, and the semi-related and equally dismissive accusations that the discussion is attention-whoring and DRAMA!

What has ANY of this got to do with Atheism? Just because people of the opposite sex come into contact with each other, one or two might have sexist tendencies (regardless of your genitalia) and that automatically means it’s their common interests fault?

Fuck me I hate people… Grow the FUCK up people, build a bridge, get the fuck over it and stop generalising, stop making massive leaps to make your own ridiculous conclusions to push some stupid PC agenda! You are wasting AIR….

EonRifft                21 hours ago             

Oh, wait, they think the internet is unimportant and youtube comments have no worth but they censor them and even refuse to let things be rated? Now I am no vulcan grandmaster, but this does not sound especially logical to me.

Conferences need to dump these placating standards they call anti-harassment rules as it just damages the atheist community in order to protect people from non-existent things.

These people need to be ignored as they are just attention whores bent on hijacking atheism.

Above comments from YouTube “Why “Feminism” is poisoning the skeptical community”. Part 1 by Thunderf00t

These are a combination of fallacies that dismiss the discussion of harassment policies at the outset as being unworthy, and unrelated to the atheist community. As if there is a true atheist, that only discusses dictionary atheism.  The irony is missed here by the commenters because they are in effect restricting what is discussed by the atheist community. There is also the implication that people that discuss harassment are immature, and merely looking for attention and don’t have a substantive case.

FOFSD #4 -There is no Patriarchy.

No, Patriarchy theory says that society is built and run by men expressly FOR the needs, wants and desires of men, expressly at the COST of the needs, wants and desires of women. Even though evidence that contradicts that is very often censored, and it flies in the face of male and female psychology. Patriarchy theory most definitely suggests a deep misogyny permeating society at it’s core, and that is just complete bollocks.

in response to this comment that was actually down voted…

You’re thinking of misogyny, not patriarchy. Perhaps if you bothered to learn what these terms actually mean, you wouldn’t be making confused arguments.

Above comments from YouTube “Why “Feminism” is poisoning the skeptical community”. Part 1 by Thunderf00t

It is the ubiquitous Straw Man fallacy. The commenter ignores the actual argument and substitutes with a position that is distorted, misrepresented caricature that is easier to defeat. Yes the “Patriarchy theory” that this commenter describes doesn’t exist to the extent the person describes it to.  Patriarchy is an idea that is hotly contested by sexism deniers.  It really isn’t that controversial.  We live in a male dominated society led by males for the most part. Men and women are commonly socialized differently according to traditional and often religious beliefs.

FOFSD #5 -”Feminazis” are angry, crazy “cunts”,who can’t get “fucked” and need to GTFO because FREE SPEECH!

symnzXx                1 day ago             

HOLD THE FUCK ON.. 7:33 your freedom of speech “ends the second that someone who hears that speech is affected”?? what the fuck are you talking about you crazy cunt? the reason we even have something in writing saying essentially “NOBODY SHOULD BE ABLE TO STOP YOU FROM SAYING THINGS” is almost specifically to protect things that are unpopular or may offend people. these bitches are out of line in the worst fucking way.. shit has to stop  (21 Thumbs ups!)

Pluto Nash                1 day ago             

The only reason feminists are so angry is because they are all hideous and no one wants to fuck them.

Jshect                1 day ago             

Oh my gosh, pause the video at 4:27 and read the whole harrassment policy. If you showed that to someone and didn’t tell them what event it was for they would think it was a meeting of sex crazed, delinquint, ex-convicts not a free thought rally. I don’t think the words free thought conference and sexualized environmnet quite belong in the same paragraph. This isn’t a XXX porn convention. This is a meeting of mostly highly educated civilized people. Femanazi go away!!

Above comments from YouTube “Why “Feminism” is poisoning the skeptical community”. Part 1 by Thunderf00t

These comments address the people who bring up harassment policies or feminism with ridicule rather than a counter argument. The commenters haven’t done their homework on harassment issues, and dismiss the person making the argument instead.

The fallacies I have listed are in no way a complete list of all of the fallacious reasoning that is used to deny that sexism or harassment occurs in the skeptical community or the discussion of harassment policies.  I am sure other veterans of this argument can come up with other easily identifiable fallacies that prevent the actual topic from being discussed meaningfully in a lot of our community’s forums. To the credit of most of our community’s organizers, they have adopted reasonable harassment policies and codes of conduct.  A few of the points in these have sparked disagreement, because most skeptics thrive on questioning things.  Disagreement is not the problem in and of itself except if there is fallacious reasoning or tactics at the heart of it.

The same fallacies have been parroted in this argument so many times that parodies or Poes are starting to enter the discussions. Trigger warnings for offensive language apply…

Bardlettt                5 hours ago             

LOL whatever, mangina. You’re just trying to limit my free speech against these whores like Rebecca Watson because you’re pussy whipped! Get out of our atheism, bitch!

and…

Bardlettt                6 hours ago             

Yeah, I agree TF! All these nigger and kike whores trying to turn our conferences into their liberal bullshit orgies. WE NEED TO SPEAK OUT AND STOP THEM! Fake jewelry? Is that really in an official conference harassment policy? We must demonstrate before these fucking stupid, non secular sluts take over our atheism! GO TF!

Above comments from YouTube “Why “Feminism” is poisoning the skeptical community”. Part 2 by Thunderf00t

Even though these comments are anonymous YouTube users for the most part, these sentiments have been echoed by others in other forums.  I have left out fallacious comments from known skeptics and atheists on purpose, so as to not get bogged down in personal bickering.  So that no one assumes that these are not representative of the discussion of Thunderf00t’s video, many of the comments chosen have been thumbed up at least 20 times.  Also, this is the top comment the very hour that I am posting this…

John E 5 hours ago

The only females (or males) who can’t cope with the grab-ass and flirty games that go on amongst men and women, and deal with it in a sensible proportionate manner, are children. Seriously, why is this shit a massive issue in America? In my home country, and my current country of residence, nobody gives a fuck, because there’s nothing to give a fuck about. From an outside view it just looks pathetic, and I understand TF’s frustration.

Can you spot several easily identifiable logical fallacies?
For anyone reading this, who disagrees that sexism is still an issue for some in our communities or even that simply harassment policies are wrong, I want to leave you with a challenge.  I recently challenged a friend who is a prominent atheist in the discussion with this as well.  Do you really want to be arguing for the status quo of boys will be boys or people should be thicker skinned to sexist comments, or any other of the dodges we have been taught to ignore sexism? As atheism grows we are becoming more diverse, and these conflicts will arise where traditionally held ideas come in to contact with progressive ideas.My position on harassment policies has evolved over time through discussion. Even though I have personally never been harassed at a conference, why should I be laissez faire or dismiss other people’s genuine feeling of discomfort or genuine abuse? Why should you? And one final thought just like progress in science is most often not achieved by defending the status quo, why be a roadblock to progress?