PAX is almost here!

As you probably know, I’m a huge gamer and geek. I also live in Seattle. Which means over the next three days, I will be in absolute glee at the Penny Arcade Expo. I’m going to try my luck in the Mario Kart: Double Dash tournament and have a  blast checking out all the new and indie games. I might pass on the Pokemon League this year, since I’m not sure if I want to get my ass handed to me yet again. A lot of the panels seem interesting too. There are two – two! – panels on transgender gamers and game characters, a sex and gaming panel, a harassment panel, and I’ll be sure to check out “On God and Gaming.” Maybe I should make a protest sign along the lines of “BUT RELIGION BY DEFINITION HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH VIDEO GAMES! SPLITTERS!”

Is anyone else going to PAX? Make sure to say hello if you spot me there!

Is Atheism+ Divisive?

No.

I wanted to give Greta’s piece a standing ovation after reading it, and I wish I could force everyone who’s made the claim of “divisiveness” to read the entire thing. But if you read anything, let it be this:

The people who are hand-wringing about how Atheism Plus is “divisive” are basically saying that they are entitled to me. They may not intend to say that — but that’s the upshot. They are saying that they are entitled to my work, my ideas, my fundraising efforts, my late nights, my grueling travel schedule, my passion, my exhaustion, my efforts to make atheism stronger and more visible. They are saying this about me… and about every other feminist woman in the movement, and every feminist man, and every feminist person who doesn’t identify as either male or female. They are saying, “If you want to be in this movement, it has to be on our terms. And if those terms means putting up with hate, abuse, harassment, violation of privacy, threats and more… well, I guess those are the breaks.” And they are acting as if a group of people in the movement deciding that they get to choose who they work with, and deciding to form a subset of the movement with people who share their core values, is some sort of horrible betrayal.

Fuck that.

I said at the beginning, and I’ll say again: If you’re wary about Atheism Plus and want to see where it’s going before you decide whether to get involved… that’s fine with me. If you understand the motivations behind Atheism Plus, but prefer to align with another segment of the godless community, such as secular humanism… that’s fine with me. If you can see why people would want to form Atheism Plus, but personally prefer to keep your activism focused on more traditional atheist issues… that’s fine with me.

But I am sick to death of people calling me “divisive” for not wanting to work with people who despise me, who abuse me as a matter of routine, and who have been working for a solid year to drive me out of the movement. I am sick to death of people calling Atheism Plus “divisive”… and yet somehow not applying that word to the hate, abuse, harassment, violation of privacy, threats, and more that women in this community are subjected to as a matter of course, or to the stubborn, hyper-skeptical, willfully ignorant defenses of those behaviors. I am sick to death of people calling Atheism Plus “divisive”… and yet somehow not applying that word to the shit that motivated people to form Atheism Plus in the first place.

Unfortunately, I have the feeling the people who keep crowing about divisiveness will conveniently not read her piece. At the very least I want to see them try to justify how an endless stream of abuse is somehow not divisive. That sort of mental gymnastics amuses me.

In lighter news, the AtheismPlus.com forums are going really well. Over 600 people have already registered, and the forums are quickly filling up with a lot of passionate discussion. And so far we’ve managed to keep the hateful crap under control. Maybe this can actually work.

Richard Dawkins disappoints me yet again

From Veronica at Purple NoiZe:

Good for you Lucy. Good for you. There are numerous women who have, but I’m glad you’re not one of them.

The problem, however, with this tweet is of course the second sentence. Lucy seems to be saying that either is the abuse imagined, i.e. that the recipients interpret the abuse as sexist while it is actually just for laughs or something. It is a little tricky to treat death and rape threats as funny jokes, but I suppose if you’re naive enough you could manage it. The other option is that the abuse women receive online is caused by women assuming these people are misogynists, therefore the sexism is really the victim’s fault for being so uppity. The classic victim blaming that we so often see of rape victims.

So yeah, Lucy. You’re full of shit.

… and Richard Dawkins retweeted it.

Looks like Dawkins hasn’t learned anything in the last year. And this is why you shouldn’t have idols, folks.

Go check out the Atheism+ website & forum!

AtheismPlus.com is now (sort of) ready for your viewing pleasure. As you can see, it’s still pretty empty – expect more meat on the bones in the coming weeks. But what is ready is the Atheism+ Forum, which will be a safe, highly moderated space for discussion. You can read our proposed forum rules here and offer feedback on how to make them better – they’re only a first draft. There’s an Educational subforum with the following rules and purpose:

The Educational Forum is a place where people can ask basic/introductory/”101″ questions and have them answered in a civil way. Basic questions posted in other forums will be moved or redirected to here.

This is to avoid the problem of what’s known as “JAQing off” – or “Just Asking Questions.” Often trolls will try to derail conversations by repeating basic questions that have been addressed numerous times previously. This results in many veterans losing patience and attacking the person. However, this sometimes results in attacks on people who are sincerely asking questions and may become potential allies. The Educational Forum attempts to solve this problem by giving a safe space for people to ask questions and receive civil responses, while those who are not interested in responding to basic questions can continue advanced discussion in the Main Forum.

This is the only subforum where general tone will be moderated. Please assume good intentions, be nice, and minimize snark.

Check out the Main subforum if you want advanced discussion, or the General Discussion subforum if you want to talk about your cat.

As always, constructive criticism and suggestions are welcome (to clarify, insulting or mocking me isn’t exactly constructive criticism). I’m also looking for people who would be willing to be moderators. If you’re interested, email me (blaghagblog at gmail dot com) with 1. The forum(s) you’d be interested in moderating 2. Some sort of proof that you’re on board with A+ and not trying to “infiltrate” our site. If you’re a regular commenter here or elsewhere, your screen name will work. Otherwise, whatever you think will convince me.

Responding to common misconceptions about Atheism+

This will be briefer than I like since I’m swamped between my real job and trying to move Atheism+ forward, but I want to address some of the common misconceptions about Atheism+ that have been thrown at me.

1. Atheism+ is just secular humanism! Just call it what it is!

I think there are some nuanced differences. Greta Christina gives a detailed explanation.

But really, I don’t give a diddly what label you want. Atheist, atheist+, humanist, pastafarian, Supreme Crusher of God-Belief. Whatever. I care more about getting stuff done, and I see the humanists as our natural allies. I just don’t understand why some of them are so cranky that we…what, are saying we agree with their ideals and values? Let’s not let progress get derailed by discussions about labels. Greg Epstein, head of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, called me to give me his support for Atheism+ and to agree that the debate about labels is silly.

2. Why does everyone have to agree with your particular dogma?

No one has to agree with me, and I don’t want dogma. I want to be able to discuss social justice issues from the context of atheism and skepticism. Discuss, not dictate. Right now we can’t even do that without being threatened, trolled, and derailed. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the views of people who support A+. Speaking of which:

3. Person X supports A+ and said this really shitty thing, therefore A+ is evil!

I can’t control what everyone writes about A+, nor can I read it all. That’s why I’m trying to focus my time toward moving forward with a website that will provide educational resources and a community. There I can establish a mission for what A+ is truly about. If people warp that mission in blog posts or tweets or what have you, all I can do is keep promoting what A+ is truly about.

4. You specifically want to exclude people, so you’re a hatemonger!

You can’t be inclusive to everyone. If you include misogynists, you exclude women – etc, etc. I choose to exclude the assholes. Read Greta’s post on the subject.

5. But you want to exclude old, white, men! That’s ageist, racist, and sexist!

I have never said I want to exclude old, white, men because I don’t. I have pointed out that some groups have a diversity problem and only consist of old, white, men. I don’t want to get rid of them – I just want other people to also be included. Diversity is important. If you want to keep spinning that as me hating old, white, men, I don’t know what else I can say to you.

6. Why do you get to decide who gets to be a part of the atheist movement?

I’m not kicking anyone out of the atheist movement. I’m not going to revoke your American Atheist membership or come in the middle of the night to steal your scarlet A lapel pin. I’m not going to petition the government to take away your freedom of speech. Yes, I think it’s time for a new wave, but that doesn’t make the previous wave disappear. There are still second wave feminists (and I know this will shock some of you, but no, I’m not one of them).

I just want a space where atheists with a shared interest in social justice can actually discuss it and get stuff done. You are free to form your own groups or continue taking part in whatever atheist community will have you. You can even come and civilly take part in our discussions! But we don’t need to tolerate the intolerant within our own space.

7. But you’re hurting the atheist movement by causing a schism!

Is the Secular Student Alliance causing a schism because it focuses on students? Are any of the many atheist organizations causing schisms because they all have slightly different missions? Why can’t we have our own group too? Would there be such vitriol in response to someone starting an Atheist Knitting Club? “BUT ATHEISM DOES NOT DE FACTO LEAD TO KNITTING!” So what? Let us have our space to talk about issues that interest us. You don’t have to participate.

8. Why do you hate atheists who just want to talk about atheism?

I don’t. I think discussing reasons why God doesn’t exist, flaws in theological arguments, stigma against atheists, religious privilege, violations of the separation of church and state, and all those related things matter. A lot. They were incredibly important for me when I was just starting to call myself an atheist, especially in a conservative, religious state like Indiana. I think groups should keep on doing that! I am just personally ready to expand my list of topics.

9. You’ve started a cult!

If I start wearing a silly hat, distributing pink jackboots for uniforms, and getting Kool-Aid to provide refreshments at all events, then you can start worrying.

If there are any common misconceptions I’ve missed, I’ll add them here.

EDIT: 10. Isn’t Atheism+ going to alienate atheists who are in the process of becoming allies/feminists/etc but aren’t quite there yet?

Hopefully not, since our intent is the opposite. Atheism+ is going to provide a lot of educational material about “101” and introductory topics relating to diversity and social justice. I also want to have part of the forum be devoted to “101” discussion, where people can legitimately ask questions without an angry horde that assumes ill intentions descending on them. But another part will be for “advanced” discussion, so those of us who want to have in depth discussion aren’t constantly dealing with people who don’t know the basics or are purposefully thread-derailing with the same old questions.

Buddhism has extremists too

One of my pet peeves is the particular view that Buddhism is some perfect, peaceful, problem-free religion. If only everyone was Buddhist, the world would be such a better place! Unfortunately, when Buddhism has the majority position of power, it has the same problems as other religions:

A Sri Lankan court has given suspended jail terms to three French tourists for wounding the religious feelings of Buddhists by taking pictures deemed insulting.

Two women and one man were detained in the southern town of Galle after a photographic laboratory alerted police.

The pictures show the travellers posing with Buddha statues and pretending to kiss one of them.

[...]They were convicted under a section of the Penal Code which outlaws deeds intended to wound or insult “the religious feelings of any class of persons” through acts committed in, upon or near sacred objects or places of worship.

I don’t personally understand how someone posing to kiss a statue of a figure you revere is “insulting” or “intending to wound.” Maybe if it was…oh, I don’t know, a statue of Hitler, and you were kissing him because you thought he was awesome. …Not that we have many statues of Hitler laying around. But I have no right to tell someone what they should or shouldn’t be offended by.

However, religious people have no right to inflict their religious belief on those who don’t follow it. If you want to set rules for your followers, have a blast. But you don’t get to dictate how everyone else lives their lives.

At least these tourists got off easy. Alexander Aan was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for daring to say he’s an atheist in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

My president has to remind us that “rape is rape”

It’s kind of sad that American politics has come to the point where Obama needs to state the obvious about rape:

President Obama has weighed in on Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) comments that women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape” because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” During an impromptue press conference on Monday, Obama said, “The views expressed were offensive. Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people.” “So what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians — a majority whom are men — making health care decisions on behalf of women,” he added.

Exactly. Though I wish Obama took one more sentence to point out that what Akin claimed has no scientific merit. Especially since Akin is on House Science Committee. A terrifying idea, indeed.

If you want to know the science behind rape, stress, and pregnancy, Kate Clancy has written a great post for Scientific American following this political kerfuffle. The short answer:

Yes, psychosocial stress is associated with fetal loss in some samples. That is not the same thing as saying that stress causes fetal loss. Some women are more reactive to stress than others, and this seems to be based on genes and early childhood experiences. As I pointed out in my post, it certainly isn’t something women have conscious control over. And so it is irrational to link the stress of rape, while awful and severe, to fetal loss, when we understand the mechanism of the stress response and its relationship to pregnancy so poorly, and when we know next to nothing regarding how variation in stress reactivity is produced.

Or instead of understanding the science, you can be like Rep. Steve King (R) and remark how you never heard of someone getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest. Because if you’ve never personally heard of something happening, that means it must be true. It only took a minute of Googling for me to find a scientific paper showing 0.5% of women getting abortions had their pregnancy result from incest, and that obviously doesn’t address the women who didn’t get abortions. But it’s still greater than King’s claim of zero.

Atheism+: It’s time to walk the walk

Hundreds of you are excited about Atheism+. I’m excited about A+. This is our chance for a new wave of atheism – a wave that’s more than a dictionary definition about not believing in gods. This is our chance for progressive atheists to come together and deal with issues that we see as a natural part of our godlessness.

But we need more than just a catchy name and a logo. We need to get shit done.

This new wave of atheism isn’t about declaring “We’ve already achieved something better” or “We’re not like those assholes.” You don’t just get your shiny membership pin and get to say you’re done. This is about saying “We want to work TOWARDS something better.” We need to recognize that there’s still room for self-improvement and to address the root of why we’ve been having these problems in atheism and skepticism. We need to focus on actual change instead of prematurely crowning ourselves victorious.

We need a plan.

So consider this an open thread on what you would like to see come out of a new wave of atheism. What issues should we be addressing and how? What actions should we be taking? How can we prevent this from having the same exact flaws that worried us enough to call for a new wave?

To start us off, here are some issues I envision A+ addressing from a secular, skeptical perspective:

  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Homophobia
  • Transphobia
  • Ableism
  • Classism
  • Ageism
  • Neurotypicalism
  • Animal welfare
  • Environmental issues
  • Political issues (Health care, crime, drug laws)

And as I said in my original post, I had been brainstorming with people to start a secular social justice organization. Our original tentative name was the Secular Alliance for Equality (SAFE) but we could always go with Atheism+ since that seemed to organically resonate with people. We envisioned ourselves as an umbrella group like the Secular Student Alliance that could provide services that help other groups become more welcoming and progressive. Here are some practical actions we came up with:

  • Providing basic anti-harassment policies that can be adopted and adapted by secular groups
  • Providing “101” educational primers on privilege, intersectionality, proper language, etc
  • Providing guides for making your groups and events more welcoming, diverse, and accessible
  • Providing event planning resources and ideas
  • Providing a diverse speakers bureau
  • Encouraging conferences and groups to increase speaker and topic diversity
  • Holding workshops about social justice and diversity at conferences
  • Organizing national events around progressive issues (for example, getting as many groups as possible to participate in gay pride parades)
  • Working alongside other existing organizations that share our values (like humanists!)
  • Writing blog posts/press releases about relevant issues
  • Providing a safe, moderated community for discussion – Facebook, forum, blog comments, r/atheismplus (which already exists! check it out!)

I can’t stress how important it is that we actively work toward true improvement instead of patting ourselves on the back and declaring ourselves enlightened. I also desperately want to hear from people with as many different backgrounds as possible. As a cis, middle class, white person, I have my own privileges. I can’t unilaterally declare what would be best for a progressive atheist movement. So please – brainstorm in the comments so we can truly start to make change happen.

Why Atheism+ and not Humanism?

People keep asking me “Why Atheism+ and not just Humanism?” So I want to give a quick response:

Honestly, I see A+ as Atheism + Humanism + Skepticism. Not all humanists are atheists or skeptical, not all skeptics are atheists or humanists, not all atheists are humanists or skeptics…but I want to bring it all together. And hell, not all humanists are progressive – you don’t know how many times I’ve had humanists yell at me for calling myself a “feminist” instead of a “humanist” because what feminism really means is hating men.

Why keep atheism as the label, then? Well, for one, the atheist movement is the one I most associate with, and progressive atheists interested in social justice are already a growing group within the atheist movement. It seemed natural to focus my efforts there. But also, “atheist” is still seen as a dirty, confrontational word, while “humanism” is often a softer way to dodge the drama…since most people don’t really know what humanism means. Trust me, I used to use the label “secular humanist” a lot when I lived in Indiana and was too scared to out myself. No one had a clue what it meant and never wanted to appear stupid by asking me to explain. But now I want to keep using the word atheist until it becomes destigmatized.

EDIT: I also want to add that one of the reasons I don’t personally use the label “humanist” is because the humanist community puts a lot of focus on replicating church-like communities and having chaplaincies. That’s totally cool if that’s what you want, but I personally don’t feel like it applies to me.

But really, people can use whatever label they want. Humanist, atheist, atheist+, whatever. I just want change.

Atheism+

Yesterday I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I finally hit publish on “How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism.” The cynical part of me wondered why I had wasted five hours of my Saturday for the same torrent of hateful comments. How masochistic was I becoming? But the optimist in me hoped that just enough people would want to change this movement with me.

I can honestly say this is the first time that waking up to over 500 comments on a post that mentions feminism has filled me with absolute joy.

95% of the comments I’ve received have been overwhelmingly positive. That…that has never happened before. Usually if I can hit 50% supportive comments I feel like I’ve done well. But not only were you guys supportive, you were excited. I didn’t expect you to have come up with names and logos for the third wave…and I really didn’t expect you all to basically agree. We tend to be like herding cats, but not this time.

You called for Atheism+.

Logo suggestion by One Thousand Needles

Logo suggestions by Jadehawk

It’s perfect. It illustrates that we’re more than just “dictionary” atheists who happen to not believe in gods and that we want to be a positive force in the world.  Commenter dcortesi suggested how this gets atheists out of the “negativity trap” that we so often find ourselves in, when people ask stuff like “What do you atheists do, besides sitting around not-praying, eh?”

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

It speaks to those of us who see atheism as more than just a lack of belief in god. danielmchugh summarized how I feel perfectly:

Religion is responsible for generating and sustaining most of the racism, sexism, anti-(insert minority human subgroup here)-isms… it gave a voice to the bigotry, established the privilege, and fed these things from the pulpit for thousands upon thousands of years. What sense does it make to throw out the garbage bag of religion yet keep all the garbage that it contained?

I can’t help but see social justice as a logical consequence of atheism. I’m for getting rid of all the garbage.

As for the next steps on how to get rid of that garbage, I’ll make another post with my ideas soon. Feel free to use this post to discuss how you feel about A+. I don’t think it needs to be an official name – I want to improve the atheist movement, not create a splinter faction or something. But it’s fabulous marketing-wise and as a way to identify yourself as a progressive atheist, or whatever term you want to use. I know I’d love for people to start wearing A+ pins and Surlyramics so I know who I want to chat with.

EDIT: How could I forget to mention that commenter Pteryxx deserves the credit for the A+ idea? A bajillion internet points to you!