Atheist tribalism poisons everything

Atheists, we need to talk. We need to talk about our tendency to think we are better than other people and better than religious people in particular. We need to talk about how we think that religion is the reason that bad things happen in the world. We need to talk about our culture of turning a blind eye towards the despicable behavior we see among ourselves. All of those things we do are exactly the problem with the religious institutions we hate: tribalism at the cost of morality.

Reason without decency is useless. If it’s unreasonable for the pope to hide rapists, why do we accept it from our organizations? If it’s unreasonable for the Catholic Church to trivialize child molestation, why do we accept it from our supposed leaders? If we don’t like Christian politicians peddling untrue stereotypes of Muslims, why are we ok with it when it comes from bestselling atheist authors? Atheists heal thyself.

There is anger and fear from atheists today upon the revelation that the most recent of the mass shooters in America was a non-believer who targeted Christians. They will blame us, they will think this is all atheists, they will think we are all the same as him.

Yes. They will. Just like we do to Muslims and Christians. “Oh look,” we smirk, “another religious person killing a dozen people. Just goes to show religion poisons everything.

Hitchens was wrong. Human institutions and tribalism poison everything, regardless of creed, and atheism is no different. Radical atheists who want to kill people are not different from radical Christians and Muslims doing the same thing.

Militant Muslim, Christian, and Atheist

So stop posting this picture

This is not the first atheist shooter, there have been many throughout history. Earlier this year, Craig Hicks took the lives of three brilliant humanitarian Muslims over a parking dispute.  Atheists tried to distance themselves and label him as “anti-theist” and others thought he was secretly really a Christian.  Still others labeled him as a redneck from NRA-land, because hatred of the ignorant South is acceptable among educated atheists. I am sure atheists will be eager to point out that the current shooter was a Republican and No True Atheist.

I don’t know enough about the current shooter to say. But Craig Hicks was a typical atheist until he pulled the trigger.  He was friends with a lot of atheists on Facebook, we had many mutual friends.  If you went through his Facebook feed, he did not come off as an Islamophobe or a racist or someone likely to go on a shooting spree.  The guy acted like literally hundreds of atheists I know on Facebook. The majority of his posts were reposting things from George Takei. He was friends with feminist activists. He hated right-wingers and country music, but loved Obamacare.

He was one of us. So was the shooter yesterday.

I want us not to flinch away from that fact, because it’s not useful to us to ignore it.  Stop with your buts and your wells and whatever you want to add, just sit with it and live with it for a minute. Let it make you uncomfortable.

Atheism can motivate terrible crimes, just like religion can. This is a thing we have to get used to.  Atheists are so used to being exceptional, to being smarter and less criminal than other Americans, that the fact that someone was an atheist and did a bad thing seems to be exceedingly difficult for us to understand.  Atheist exceptionalism cannot survive the exponential growth of atheism — all atheists are not better than all religious people.

Furthermore, the atheist community is culpable of spreading bad ideas. We share memes and the belief that religious people are bad and that all religions and expressions of those religions are bad. That people who are religious aren’t worthwhile and are certainly too stupid to be respected. We dehumanize people who disagree with us instead of arguing about ideas. This is because we are human, but we have to guard against. Atheism itself doesn’t create these ideas, but atheist culture does — just like religions don’t encourage the bombing of abortion clinics, but some religious culture does.

My article, “The Non-Religious Patriarchy,” delved into why removing religion did not remove sexism from the atheist movement, but we have to remember that removing religion is not going to remove any basic human behavior or system of power. Humans are tribal, humans are sometimes sociopaths, humans are power-hungry, humans get angry. The atheist demographic being dominated by young white men means that it’s not surprising that there are mass shooters who are atheists, shooters are predominately young white men (the Oregon shooter was mixed race).

Atheism is a rejection of a belief, but it is not a philosophy or creed. The atheist community online builds up creeds and philosophies in light of that absence. It is reactionary. Many of us have come from environments that were hostile to our non-belief and so we respond with hostility to the kind of beliefs and people who were responsible for our unhappiness. We, like nerds have always done, take refuge in our intellectual superiority to salve wounds of rejection and, in doing so, think other people are less worthy than we are.

We have to let it go. We have to stop thinking we are better than other people just because we know something they don’t — that’s exactly why religious people act the way they do. We aren’t better than anybody and we never were.

See this from Libby Anne for more on Atheist Tribalism.

Adventures in Narcolepsy, Part 6: The Sleep Doctor

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After months of doctors and no answers, the appointment in which I got diagnosed with Narcolepsy was a bit of a non-event. All the build-up, but the payoff was a foregone conclusion. I had so much time to read about it that I wasn’t surprised by the diagnosis.

I was surprised by my sleep test results. As you may recall, the test involves sleeping 8 hours overnight and then being left in a dark room every 2 hours to see if you nap and how long it takes to fall asleep. A normal person might not fall asleep at all if they got enough sleep the night before. I fell asleep in every nap – it took me an average of 4.5 minutes to fall asleep in each – 8 minutes or less is the general consensus on what is pathological sleepiness and I was half that. [Read more…]

Adventures in Narcolepsy: Part 5, The Dark Place

A letter from the night before diagnosis. I didn’t originally write this for publication, but just to work through my feelings. After re-reading it with a little distance, I decided it offered some insight into what it is like to have chronic conditions and what it is like to be facing a diagnosis of something incurable. It’s important to note that this was simply me at my nadir, I have, for the most part, been a lot more positive both before and since, and being diagnosed came primarily as a relief.  Content note: It’s a real downer.

Sadness from Pixar's Inside OutIt’s difficult to explain how profoundly tired I am and how much this is hurting my life. Sleep deprivation affects everything: my ability to pay attention, my ability to control my emotions, and my ability to mentally perform are all suffering. Between my anxiety about what is, at this point, almost certainly narcolepsy and the actual effects of that narcolepsy, I am really struggling. [Read more…]

Gay Marriage Nationwide: The Joy and the Sadness

gaymericaIt’s hard to believe it was nearly 7 years ago that Prop 8 passed in California.  I remember staring at the television, immobilized with disbelief and horror, my happiness at Obama’s election completely erased by my anger at the California voters for messing this up so badly.

What followed for me was an obsession.  An obsession with law, an obsession with the Prop 8 case, and an obsession with the intricacies of the Supreme Court.  That obsession led to my writing being published somewhere outside my blog for the first time, it led to me spending the night outside the Supreme Court to hear the Prop 8 arguments, and it led me to today — sitting home alone, watching SCOTUSblog live-blogging the legalization of marriage nationwide and sobbing so hard my Fitbit thinks I’m jogging.

I knew gay marriage across the US was coming, but I am still an emotional wreck, experiencing a full rainbow flag of conflicting emotions.

I am, of course, ecstatic and relieved.  It’s as though a huge weight has been lifted, but it’s also like that weight was holding the blood in from a lot of old wounds.  That night in 2008, that day almost exactly 2 years ago when California got marriage but the justices would not deliver it to the rest of the country, the passing of dozens of state constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and women, my mother’s best friend who died of AIDS twenty years ago, the struggle of so many of my friends in coming out or being dragged out in a hostile culture, and on, and on.

And I am exhausted because this was a drop in the bucket of injustices in the world and it took so much energy from so many people to manage this change.

There are other battles, other fronts, other wars waging. Marriage was a fight for inclusion in a conservative institution — for LGBT (although, let’s be real, it’s mostly G here) people to become more accepted by mainstream society and have access to institutions of that society.  Radicals are right to worry that we are buying into broken institutions with deep flaws, not just marriage, but the entire idea of a mainstream, conservative respectability.  I disagree with radicals that the way to do this is entirely from outside, we need outsiders AND insiders, but the worry is that if queers get acceptance they will no longer be interested in changing the problematic social institutions in the world — prison, gun violence, homelessness, climate change, the war on drugs, the war on terror, racism, sexism, and a host of other problems that exist in the world.  The worry is that the fight for marriage will have fully drained them of resources, and we’ve seen organizations lose funding while the focus was on marriage.

It’s like the flag at the SC State House, flying today during the funeral of Senator Reverend Clementa Pinckney.  Yes, it must come down. Yes, it’s horrifying that that is even under discussion.  Yes, it is a symbol of racism and hatred.  But removing the flag won’t fix the problem, it’s not enough.  That flag didn’t go to Dylann Roof’s house and point him the way to the Conservative Council of Citizens or Stormfront.  Taking down the flag is necessary but it is also a band-aid over a gaping wound we can’t heal with hiding flags, and we’re focusing on it because it’s the only thing politicians can get done to address the social issues brought up by this act of racial terrorism.

It takes obvious, in-your-face, undeniable injustice to get action, and too often the action is the easy action.  We aren’t dealing with racial inequality or access to guns or the reality that white men are our homegrown terrorists, we’re taking flags down. Gay marriage was the easy thing to fix, which is hard to believe considering how much time and money and energy and heartbreak went into the thing, but that’s true of that flag too.  And gay marriage matters, it matters so much, if for no other reason than it offers same-sex couples a place from which to fight for other issues, but Loving v Virginia didn’t end racism or even create full mainstream acceptance of interracial marriage.

And so today I cry.  I weep with joy and relief for a victory that was hard-fought and well-deserved.  I weep for the people who didn’t make it to today, for the millions who died in the AIDS crisis, and for those who simply were born too soon to see this justice. And I weep because there’s still so much to do, more than can ever be done in my lifetime, more than can ever be done by my exhausted hands. I weep for the future person who will be crying like I am because you and I didn’t make it to see justice done.

But I also celebrate because today is a good day, a day in which massive good was done in this world, and that’s not nothing.


ETA: For similar commentary with a little bit of a different perspective and details, see Greta Christina’s post.

If you like what I’m doing, please consider supporting me at Patreon so that I can keep doing it.

Dylann Roof’s Manifesto

A picture from Dylann Roof's Manifesto; 1488 means "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children, Heil Hitler"

A picture from Roof’s website; 1488 means “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children, Heil Hitler”

If you’re at all interested in how Dylann Roof decided to murder 9 black churchgoers, the internet has discovered his manifesto.

One of the most interesting things about it, though not at all surprising, is that internet hate sites were key to Roof’s development of racial animosity.  He claims he was raised in a non-racist household and in a mostly non-racist environment.

The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up. I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens. There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders. I was in disbelief. At this moment I realized that something was very wrong. How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?

The Council of Conservative Citizens was formerly the White Citizens Council.  They are dedicated to the separation and segregation of the races.  The first post on their website today is them mourning the loss of the 9 lives in Charleston.  An early post says this (they obviously haven’t seen the manifesto yet):

[Read more…]

Politicians trying to make Charleston shooting about anything but race

I’m just trying to collect all these quotes in one place — please comment if you know of any I’ve missed.

Dr. Alveda King: The motivation, it’s insanity, it’s rage.  Race can be behind it, I’m not going to deny that, but the man who shot my grandmother… in Ebenezer Baptist Church the mother of Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down by a black man… he was outraged, he was making his statement about the times… So now this disturbed young man, I understand he’s caucasian and he shot black people and that’s not good, but evil is not just limited to color.”  “It’s a lack of value for HUMAN life, you know I’m going to say that as director for African American Outreach for Priests for Life.  You kill babies in the womb, kill people in their beds, shoot people on the streets, so now you go into this church where people are praying…”

Nikki Haley: “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”  “Parents are having to explain to their kids how they can go to church and feel safe, and that’s not something we ever thought we’d have to deal with.”

Rudy Giuliani: “We have no idea what’s in his mind. Maybe he hates Christian churches.”

Rick Santorum:  This is one of those situations where you just have to take a step back and say we — you know, you talk about the importance of prayer in this time and we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before. It’s a time for deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation.”

Tim Scott: “…this senseless tragedy at a place of worship – where we come together to laugh, love and rejoice in God’s name – is absolutely despicable and can never be understood.”

Lindsey Graham: “Every decent person has been victimized by the hateful, callous disregard for human life shown by this individual. Our sense of security and well-being has been robbed and shaken.”  (Because Graham is likely to be targeted for execution by racists?)

Dr. Ben Carson: “In my lifetime I have seen such great progress. Though racial based hate is still very much alive as last night so violently reminded us. But I worry about a new hate that is growing in our great nation. I fear our intolerance of one another is the new battle ground of evil. Today many feel it is ok to hate someone who thinks differently than you do. The left hates the right. The right hates the left. This attitude is poison. Poison that will sicken all of us.”

And for a bit of a palate cleanser:

Bernie Sanders: The Charleston church killings are a tragic reminder of the ugly stain of racism that still taints our nation.

Fox News on Charleston: Not about race or politics, about hating Christians

Dylann Roof of Columbia, SC, wearing a jacket with apartheid era flags from South Africa and Rhodesia

Dylann Roof of Columbia, SC, wearing a jacket with apartheid era flags from South Africa and Rhodesia

I shouldn’t be surprised by what Fox News does ever, but I have to tell you, their response to the shooting in my home state has me furious.  In a segment on Fox and Friends, they discuss the shooting as an Attack on Faith, fail to mention Reverend Clementa Pinckney’s role as a State Senator, and don’t even mention the race of the shooter and victims until the very end of the segment, when they do so only to s0w doubt — instead they choose to speculate on the anti-Christian motivations of the shooter and suggest that pastors need to start arming themselves to kill intruders.  Turn the other cheek while you reload.

“If we aren’t safe in our churches then where are we safe?” asks Elisabeth Hasselbeck

[Read more…]

Secular Students Week: Interview with Scholarship Winner Kendall Lovely

Kendall Lovely

Kendall Lovely

It is Secular Students Week this week — which means I get to share an interview with one of the students and I share with you that they’re fundraising! The SSA is trying to get 500 donations by the end of June 17 to unlock a $20,000 challenge grant — the great thing about this goal is that it’s about how many people give, not about how much they give, meaning that everyone can have a big impact regardless of how much they can give.

I was a member of the SSA as a PhD student, it’s responsible for my meeting many amazing activists, including my fiancé, and I am now on the board of the organization to help it meet its goal of being more social justice oriented.

If you’re looking to understand the work that SSA is doing on the ground and how it’s helping students, one of the Secular Student Alliance’s scholarship winners from last year, Kendall Lovely, took some time to talk about the scholarship, her activism, and the SSA.  It’s an interesting read whether you’re interested in donating or not, and I’m particularly excited about the way Kendall is dedicated to both secularism and feminism in her activism.  Close to my heart!

Why did you apply for a scholarship from the Secular Student Alliance?

I was looking for outside sources of funding, just enough to get through graduate school applications, and I thought that I could make a case for my activism through the SSA scholarship. I don’t often come across scholarships out there specific to the sort of organizations that I’m involved with as a secular person and a feminist, so I decided to give this one a try.

How has getting an SSA Scholarship helped you with your activism?

[Read more…]

My Top 5 on Patreon: Atheism, Art, and Education

There are a lot of great creative projects on Patreon worth supporting, but since I’ve just joined (support me here), I thought I’d highlight the ones that I’ve supported because of their awesomeness.

1. Crash Course — Education

841c3008787cb51670f5daa13546caeeCrash Course is one of my favorite things in the universe. Before they were on Patreon, I supported them on Subbable, and before they were on Subbable I supported them by watching everything they produced on YouTube and evangelizing to my friends.  It is run by John and Hank Green, the Vlogbrothers, and my personal heroes.  I highly, highly recommend their history courses.

We create free, high-quality educational videos used by teachers and learners of all kinds. That’s all we want to do. After 200,000,000 views, it turns out people like this. And our videos aren’t just for schools; the majority of our viewers, around 60% – 70%, watch Crash Course without being currently enrolled in an associated class.

So far, we’ve taught Chemistry, World History, Biology, Ecology, US History, Psychology, Big History, Literature, and we’re in the middle of Anatomy and Physiology, Astronomy, US Government, and World History (again.)

[Read more…]

Expecto Patreon-um & 1 Million hits today, my 3rd Anniversary at FtB

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Today I am launching a Patreon — if you get nothing else out of this post, GO SUPPORT MY PATREON.  If you can’t afford to give, even just raising awareness about it for me would be awesome.  I lost my job last week right before I found out I have narcolepsy, so really, any help supporting myself through writing is appreciated, even just shares or a dollar a month.

If you’re not familiar, Patreon is a way of becoming a patron of the work that I do – I produce cool and interesting things, and you pay me a little bit for each of them; you can even put a monthly cap on how much you’ll pay. Aside from rewards for your contributions, everything I write will remain available on my website and YouTube, donating here is just a way of making sure I have the ability to keep doing what I’m doing, but more and better.

Here are some of the rewards:

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Today is also the third anniversary of my blog’s existence at Freethought Blogs and I’m on track to break 1 Million hits today.  It’s pretty cool that these things are all happening simultaneously!  And tonight is the first game of the USWNT at the World Cup!  Wooooooo!!!