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.

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!

How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism

It’s been five years now since I first became involved with the atheist and skeptic movements. And for most of those five years, I felt like I belonged. When I started the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University, I was relieved to know I wasn’t the only atheist on my campus. So when I realized there was an even greater national movement, I was elated to become a part of it. I had finally found people who shared my passion and values. I was welcomed with open arms.

Until I started talking about feminism.

You see, my previous atheist activism wasn’t sullied by the f-word. People applauded me for starting an atheist group on a conservative college campus. For blogging about our events and getting local media attention. For volunteering as a board member of the Secular Student Alliance. And most of all, for creating Boobquake.

I’ve always considered myself a feminist, but I used to be one of those teenagers who assumed the awesome ladies before me had solved everything. But Boobquake made me wake up. What I originally envisioned as an empowering event about supporting women’s freedoms and calling out dangerous superstitious thinking devolved into “Show us your tits!” I received sexual invitations from strangers around the country. When I appeared or spoke at atheist events, there was always a flood of comments about my chest and appearance. I’ve been repeatedly told I can never speak out against people objectifying or sexually harassing me because a joke about my boobs was eternal “consent.”

So I started speaking up about dirty issues like feminism and diversity and social justice because I thought messages like “please stop sexually harassing me” would be simple for skeptics and rationalists. But I was naive. Like clockwork, every post on feminism devolved into hundreds of comments accusing me being a man-hating, castrating, humorless, ugly, overreacting harpy. Despite the crap I received, I continued to publicly support these movements and stress that the haters were just a tiny minority. I thought this flood of sexism I had never experienced before was just a consequence of me growing up and heading out into the real world, and had nothing to do with these movements in particular. I can’t count how many times I publicly stressed that the atheist/skeptical movement, while not perfect, is still a safer place for women and other minorities.

But now I recognize that I was trying to convince myself that this is true.

I don’t feel safe as a woman in this community – and I feel less safe than I do as a woman in science, or a woman in gaming, or hell, as a woman walking down the fucking sidewalk.  People shat themselves with rage at the suggestion that cons should have anti-sexual harassment policies. DJ Grothe, president of JREF, blamed those evil feminist bloggers for TAM’s female attendance problem instead of trying to fix what’s scaring women away (and then blocked me on Twitter and unfriended me on Facebook for good measure). A 15 year old girl posted a photo of herself holding a Carl Sagan book to r/atheism and got a flood of rape jokes in return. The Amazing Atheist purposefully tried to trigger a rape survivor. Paula Kirby decided we’re all feminazis and femistasis. I’ve become used to being called a cunt or having people threaten to contact my employers because a feminist can’t be a good scientist. Rebecca Watson is still receiving constant rape and death threats a year after she said “Guys, don’t do that.” And mentioning her name is a Beetlejuice-like trigger for a new torrent of hate mail.

Groups of people are obsessively devoted to slandering Freethought Blogs as a whole because many of us have feminist leanings. They photoshop things to try to humiliate us, they gain unauthorized access to our private email listserv. And anyone associated with us feminists are fair game. People have tried to destroy Surly Amy’s business, and Justin Vacula has publicly posted her home address with a photo. One blogger who describes their blog as “rejecting the watson/myers doctrine” ridiculed skeptical teen activist (and feminist ally) Rhys Morgan for flunking his exams because he had severe physical and mental illnesses.

I now realize I was never truly welcome in this movement. I just managed to unwittingly sneak in before I opened my big fat feminist mouth.

I was exactly what a Boy’s Club wanted. I was a young, not-hideous woman who passionately supported their cause. I made them look diverse without them having to address their minority-repelling privilege. They liked that I joked about sex and boobs not because it was empowering for me, but because they saw it as a pass to oggle and objectify. But the Boy’s Club rescinds its invitation once they realize you’re a rabble-rousing feminist. I was welcome at TAM when I was talking about a boob joke, but now I’m persona non grata for caring about sexual harassment. I used to receive numerous comments about how hot and attractive I was, but when I politely asked for people to keep the discussion professional, the comments morphed into how I was an ugly cunt. I was once considered an up-and-coming student leader, but now I’m accused of destroying the movement.

Well, that last bit is partially true. I want to destroy the part of the movement that has privilege as its foundation, as Natalie Reed perfectly describes:

The creepy thought that the reason a lot of outspoken, committed, passionate atheists are choosing this as their arena is because they’re too selfish, too entitled, or too sheltered, to allow any other issues to really matter to them. That they choose this ONE civil rights issue to dedicate themselves to, because it’s the ONLY legitimate civil rights issue that actually affects them, secure in their absence of ovaries, melanin, exogenous hormones, medical devices/supports, welfare checks, track scars and rainbow flags.

[...]It seems that there’s some kind of weird psychological need that a lot of people, perhaps in response to feelings that their belief of their privileges being earned is under threat, valorize and mythologize themselves as valiant Robin Hoods who dare to speak truth to power and stand up for the little guy against the tyrannical… …. Jews? Blacks? Trans people? Atheists? Women? The theme is always the same, however.

And what I worry is how much Atheism might be offering a similar sort of feeling without requiring the same levels of divorcing oneself from reality and diving into some kind of Bizarro World inversion of actual social dynamics. That what atheism is offering so many middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men is the capacity to see themselves as these savvy, smart, daring, controversial rogues who are standing up against an oppressive dogma in order to liberate the deluded sheeple. They’re, like, totally against swallowing the blue pill, dude. And so they get to be the heroes of their own narratives, instead of a passive passenger adrift on social forces more or less beyond their control… social forces that happened to guide them into a relatively safe and comfy position.

No matter how limited your views, no matter how much privilege you have, when you prop yourself up against Christianity, you get to be clever, and you get to be the rebel.

I don’t want good causes like secularism and skepticism to die because they’re infested with people who see issues of equality as mission drift. I want Deep Rifts. I want to be able to truthfully say that I feel safe in this movement. I want the misogynists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and downright trolls out of the movement for the same reason I wouldn’t invite them over for dinner or to play Mario Kart: because they’re not good people. We throw up billboards claiming we’re Good Without God, but how are we proving that as a movement? Litter clean-ups and blood drives can only say so much when you’re simultaneously threatening your fellow activists with rape and death.*

It’s time for a new wave of atheism, just like there were different waves of feminism. I’d argue that it’s already happened before. The “first wave” of atheism were the traditional philosophers, freethinkers, and academics. Then came the second wave of “New Atheists” like Dawkins and Hitchens, whose trademark was their unabashed public criticism of religion. Now it’s time for a third wave – a wave that isn’t just a bunch of “middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men” patting themselves on the back for debunking homeopathy for the 983258th time or thinking up yet another great zinger to use against Young Earth Creationists. It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime. We can criticize religion and irrational thinking just as unabashedly and just as publicly, but we need to stop exempting ourselves from that criticism.

Changing a movement seems like a mighty task (especially when you lack a witty name – the Newer Atheists doesn’t have a great ring to it). But the reason I’m not throwing my hands up in the air and screaming “I quit” is because we’re already winning. It’s an uphill battle, for sure – in case you’ve forgotten, scroll up and reread this post. But change is coming. Some national organizations accepted anti-harassment policies with no fuss at all. A lot of local or student groups are fabulous when it comes to issues of diversity and social justice. A number of prominent male leaders have begun speaking out against this surge of hate directed at women. I’m working with others to hopefully start an atheist/skeptical organization specifically focused on issues of equality. And although the response from the haters is getting louder and viler, they’re now vastly outnumbered by supportive comments (which wasn’t always true). This surge of hate is nothing more than the last gasp of a faction that has reached its end.

There will inevitably be people who use this post as evidence of some gynocratic conspiracy and will hunker down even more (for examples, check the comment section in a couple of hours – odds are good you’ll find some). There will be organizations, conferences, communities, and individuals that will never care about diversity or equality or social justice. There will be some that continue to devote their free time to harassing and threatening the rest of us instead of going outside for a walk or reading a book. Though these people claim to love reason, no amount of reason will ever get them to admit that they’re wrong. So to them, all I have to say is have fun as you circle jerk into oblivion. Keep unintentionally or intentionally excluding women, minorities, and progressives while cluelessly wondering why you’re losing members, money, and clout. The rest of us will be moving on.

If you’re ready for this new wave of atheism, now is the time to speak up. Say that you’re ready. Vocally support organizations and individuals that are already doing it right. Vocally criticize the inappropriate and hateful behavior so the victims of such actions know you’re on their side. Demand that your organizations and clubs evolve, or start your own if they refuse.

The Boy’s Club may have historically ruled the movement, but they don’t own it. We can.

*EDIT: I want to clarify that I did not mean the people and organizations involved with the official “Good without God” campaigns are the ones behind the rape and death threats. My intent was to show that if we’re publicly promoting atheists as good people, we need to deal with the not-so-good stuff that’s happening behind the scenes. I chatted with Greg Epstein specifically and he’s super supportive of the mission of A+.

Thunderf00t’s unethical breach of our privacy

If you read any other blog on Freethought Blogs, by now you’ve probably heard of Thunderf00t’s despicable actions. FtB has a private email listserv where we discuss boring technical problems (“My YouTube video isn’t embedding properly!”), ask for feedback or discuss certain topics, promote posts or causes we care about, and talk about cats (or how much they suck, depending on what side you’re on). But we also frequently discuss things that are very private in nature, like what’s going on in our personal life, where we live and work, our medical conditions, gender transitioning, rape, abuse, and (for pseudonymous bloggers) our real identities. We do this in agreement that nothing will leave the list, and there’s a disclaimer at the bottom of every email:

“All emails sent to this list are confidential and private. Revealing information contained in any email sent to the list to anyone not on the list without permission of the author is strictly prohibited.”

Well, Thunderf00t has violated that confidentiality. Now, I was on a different continent with limited internet access when the original Thunderf00t drama went down, so I don’t even want to get into that. But being removed from the network was apparently enough motivation for Thunderf00t to breach our privacy. Ed summarizes what happened:

On August 2, a close friend informed me that a mutual acquaintance of ours had been forwarded messages from that private mailing list by Thunderfoot. A few hours later, I received an email from a longtime commenter on the site telling me that “your email distribution list is not secure. Take the time to verify that only the people who are supposed to be on the list are actually members, as messages have been leaked.” Prompted by those messages, I went into the admin panel of our mailing list software, did some checking and discovered that Thunderfoot had somehow managed to get back on the mailing list after he was removed from it on July 1, when the decision was made to close his blog and remove him from the network. I double checked to make sure that he had been removed from the list at that time and he was (I have email confirmation from the system at the time). I then had our site tech do some digging into the database and he discovered that Thunderfoot had used a security loophole (now fixed) to regain admission to the list only a few minutes after he was removed from it on July 1 and had been receiving all of the email traffic between everyone else from that moment forward, without our knowledge. When that fact was discovered, he was, of course, removed from the list a second time and the settings were changed to close the loophole in our security that allowed him that access; over the next half hour he tried multiple times to get back on the list again but failed.

Jason has the technical details, including logs for evidence, in case you want them. Thunderf00t has confessed to breaching our privacy, but of course he’s trying to spin everything to make himself look like some sort of Wikileaks hero against the Big Bad Evil FtB Bullies. He insists that he doesn’t “doc drop,” even though in that very post he releases private statements from the mailing list. And we already have outside confirmation of people receiving mailing list emails through him. Keep diggin’ that hole!

What’s incredibly ironic is that not even a year ago, Thunderf00t was threatened by Muslims that they would release his private information, including his real name. He blasted them for this violation of privacy and “doc dropping”…which is exactly what he’s doing right now. What a hypocrite.

Greta emphasizes why this violation of privacy is so serious:

There’s a reason these conversations are private. Among other things:

People — especially anonymous and pseudonymous bloggers — reveal private information that could jeopardize their jobs if it were made public.
People — especially anonymous and pseudonymous bloggers — reveal private information that could jeopardize their physical safety if it were made public.
People brainstorm ideas that they later decide are bad ideas, and don’t want to be held to.
People discuss private medical matters and personal family issues, which could hurt both themselves and others if they became public.
People hash out differences of opinion that they don’t want to turn into a giant public debate.
People talk about personal, emotional stuff that they don’t want to share with the entire Internet.

If you have ever said anything privately that you wouldn’t want made public — because you were thinking out loud, because you knew the people you were talking with would understand the context but the general public wouldn’t, because you were mad and said things you didn’t really mean, because you don’t want everyone on the Internet to have your home address and phone number, because some things are just private and you bloody well have the right to decide who to tell them to — then you almost certainly understand exactly how important this is, and what a terrible violation it is, and why. People need to be able to talk freely among their friends and colleagues, without parsing every word for public consumption. People need this — and they have a right to have it. That’s a no-brainer.

But if you want to hear from someone who’s privacy is probably on the line the most, read this post by Natalie Reed. Thunderf00t had previously threatened her with releasing private backchannel information before he… actually started doing it:

Natalie Reed is not my “real name”. I use a different name for “real life”… for employment, for housing, for everything I don’t necessarily want connected to my being out as a transsexual, atheist blogger. There is a huge amount of highly personal, highly stigmatized issues I discuss on this blog, or in other venues under the name Natalie Reed. Transsexuality and transgenderism, my heroin addiction, stories from my life and past, my being a survivor of multiple rapes…I’ve even mentioned my being an incest survivor, an issue that’s incredibly, deeply painful for me. Most of these things I never, ever would have felt able to write about without feeling protected by this name.

It also protects my ability to pursue housing and employment without the threat of being outed as trans, a recovering addict, an atheist and so on by a simple five minute google search. It protects the possibility of my someday choosing to go “stealth” if I ever feel the desire or need, in which I could finally live as just a woman instead of always as a trans woman. It keeps me further removed from my birth name and images of my former self, and the life I led before transition. It protects my physical safetyfrom those who feel the need to enforce their beliefs and feelings about gender through violence. It protects me from the countless rad-fems and HBSers who consistently out or dox trans women, often with the deliberate, explicit intent of exposing them to harassment, discrimination and violence.

Natalie Reed is my safety net.

The e-mail address I had been using on the FTB list was not under this name. It was under my real one.

So, yeah. Thunderf00t scared me. A lot.

Thankfully I’m not in the same situation as Natalie – I don’t believe I have any personal information I shared on the backchannel that could really damage me. But I care about my fellow bloggers, and I care about Thunderf00t’s severe ethical violations and potentially illegal actions. He is a vile hypocrite who has lost whatever shred of credibility he may have had left. And honestly, it’s just fucking sad. How are you that obsessed with taking down a freaking blog network because you disagree with the fucking no-brainer of having sexual harassment policies that you’re willing to cost innocent people their jobs and safety? How is destroying lives of your atheist allies your priority over combating creationism in the classroom, faith healing, the Religious Right, and homophobia?

Just fucking sad.

Purdue welcomes new students with a dose of religious privilege

Going off to college is an exciting time. For many students, it’s the first time in their life that they’ll be far away from friends and family. That independence is awesome, but it also means you’re trying to awkwardly adapt to your new home, make new friends, and fit in. Universities often try to make this process as painless as possible, but my alma mater Purdue University missed the ball when they sent this email to incoming students (emphasis mine):

Welcome from Religious Student Organizations

You are about to become a Boilermaker – Congratulations!  This is an incredible place, not only to continue your education, but to experience all that the university has to offer through the plethora of student organizations.  We want to encourage you to think about growing in your spiritual life as well.  There are around 40 different religious student groups that offer places for worship, prayer, study, conversation, and fellowship, as well as opportunities to put faith into action through service opportunities, mission trips, and faith-based initiatives.

Please go to our website: www.campusfaith.info where you will find links to student ministries and organizations that are non-denominational, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, ecumenical, etc.  You’ll also have opportunities to meet several faith groups during Boiler Gold Rush.  Groups will be at:

–Activities Fair: Tuesday, August 14, 11:00 am-1:00 pm, in the Armory
–Faith Fest: Saturday, August 18, 4:00-5:00 pm, on the Memorial Mall

Welcome to Purdue.
University Religious Leaders and Religious Student Organizations

========================================
Sent from the Office of the Dean of Students on behalf of the University Religious Leaders and Religious Student Organizations

Anna Biela, current President of the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue (the group I founded!) perfectly sums up why this email is inappropriate:

The Society of Non-Theists finds it highly inappropriate for a public university to endorse religion in such a way. We feel that incoming freshmen should not be pressured into joining a religious institution, especially not by the university itself. Rhetoric of this variety is alienating to non-religious students and can make them feel like outsiders before they even set foot on this campus.

And this has made at least one non-religious student feel like an outsider. The student who brought this email to my attention wishes to remain anonymous (I can’t imagine why in Indiana), but had this to say about how the email made them feel:

I was taken aback that this was one of the few emails chosen to be sent to all incoming students. Why not “Welcome from *all* student organizations”? The choice to send this email presumes that all incoming students are interested in spiritual growth; worse still, it tacitly implies that spiritual growth corresponds solely to organized religion. Overall, the email gave me the distinct impression that Purdue will not be a welcoming community for a student more likely to worship Carl Sagan than any deity.

That’s why this email is such a perfect example of religious privilege. It automatically assumed that spirituality is 1. Something everyone is interested in 2. Important and good 3. Worth promoting over other things. You don’t see the Dean of Students sending out emails to incoming freshmen on behalf of the Purdue Progressive Coalition. At the very least they could have been more inclusive by including an option for the non-religious students, or sending out an email for clubs in general and listing major themes (Academics, Activism, Religion, etc). But positively promoting religious groups alone is a type of endorsement that is inappropriate for a public university like Purdue.

I know some of you are probably thinking “Who cares? Who is this really hurting? Suck it up!” But I can tell you first hand how awful it feel to be a religious outsider, especially at Purdue.

Annual pro-life demonstration at Purdue, because all aborted fetsuses are Christian

When I came there, I felt like the only non-Christian on campus. I was constantly getting religious advertisements from groups in my mailbox. People were always asking me where I went to church, and some literally would stop talking to me and briskly walk away when they found out I was an atheist. Campus preachers were common. Students from Christian groups spot lonely freshmen in the dorm common rooms and offer up friendship if you’d just come to their Bible study. They prey on the desperation of lonely homesick students to convert them (which unfortunately happened to a good friend of mine).

The hand of God creating life…a piece of art in our Biology building

I co-founded the Society of Non-Theists to combat this notion that everyone on campus was religious, and to provide a safe place for students who were not. We’d get people screaming at our tables saying we’re going to hell. As President, I received hate mail. At graduation, I was treated to a choir repeatedly singing “Amen.” The one time we tried to use a public display case, it was vandalized.

By sending that email, Purdue has effectively labeled non-theistic students as “others” in an environment where they would already be ostracized.

Anna tells me the Society of Non-Theists will be meeting with the Dean of Students on Monday to address these issues and discuss making campus more inclusive in the future. I’m optimistic since the Purdue administration has always been fair to our group in the past, and I don’t think this email was sent out of malice toward non-religious students. But I do think they were unaware of the religious privilege they were promoting, so it’s good someone is pointing it out.

A juggernaut of secular awesome

You want to know how quickly the Secular Student Alliance is growing? Here’s the group photo from the first annual conference I attended back in 2009:

That was the year PZ and 300 atheists (including myself) zerg rushed the Creation Museum. We’re all making Cthulu faces.

Here’s the group photo from the 2012 Secular Student Alliance conference that I attended this weekend:

That’s 300+ secular student leaders of today and tomorrow. And the number is just going to keep going up. Wooo!

Open thread!

I’m sitting in the Columbus, OH airport, still recovering from yet another awesome Secular Student Alliance conference. A quote from Jesse Galef best summarized how I feel about the annual con: “This feels more like a family reunion than my family reunions do.” And it’s so true. I love being able to see all of my friends that live all over the country – it’s the one of the few times we all get to come together.

When I first saw JT at the conference…aka #FTBullies

Anyway, I’ll be traveling all day and there’s no wifi on my flights (damn you, US Airways). And when I get home, I’m going to collapse in a pile of mexican food and cuddles. So consider this an open thread to talk about whatever your heart desires.

Sources claim Purdue’s next President is Mitch Daniels

As a liberal Purdue alumna, this is terrible news:

Purdue University officials plan to vote on a candidate for the school’s next president this week – and WISH-TV has learned Gov. Mitch Daniels is the candidate in question.

The Purdue Board of Trustees will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday in Steward Center’s Loeb Playhouse to vote on a nominee to be the school’s 12th president. Several sources close to the proceedings tells WISH-TV that the nominee is Daniels. After the vote, the president-elect will be introduced, the school said in a news release.

Daniels’ office had no comment Tuesday afternoon. However, sources with connections to both Purdue and the governor said it’s a done deal.

There’s a lot of reasons to be freaking out that this Republican Governor is about to become President of my alma mater. He defunded Planned Parenthood, hurt public education with conservative voucher programs, supported anti-union legislation, opposed same-sex marriage and civil unions, and enacted voter ID laws that primarily negatively affected young, elderly, and minority voters…just to name a few things. But the thing that will enrage most of my blog readers is what he had to say about atheists in 2009:

People who reject the idea of a God -who think that we’re just accidental protoplasm- have always been with us. What bothers me is the implications -which not all such folks have thought through- because really, if we are just accidental, if this life is all there is, if there is no eternal standard of right and wrong, then all that matters is power.

And atheism leads to brutality. All the horrific crimes of the last century were committed by atheists -Stalin and Hitler and Mao and so forth- because it flows very naturally from an idea that there is no judgment and there is nothing other than the brief time we spend on this Earth.

Everyone’s certainly entitled in our country to equal treatment regardless of their opinion. But yes, I think that folks who believe they’ve come to that opinion ought to think very carefully, first of all, about how different it is from the American tradition; how it leads to a very different set of outcomes in the real world.

When I was at Purdue, I founded the Society of Non-Theists, a student organization for atheists, agnostics, and irreligious students on campus. I founded it because I felt like the only atheist on campus, and Purdue was not a welcoming place to me. Over the years as my old club has grown and grown, so many people have thanked me for providing a place where they can openly discuss their non-theism without fear or stigma. And now Mitch Daniels is slated to be President.

Let’s be honest. Purdue is one of the most socially backwards universities in the Big 10, if not the most socially backwards. We’re always dead last when is comes to having GLBT resources on campus, and the community is hostile to anyone who isn’t a white, conservative Christian. My only hope before was that the administration was very supportive, even if the students and greater community wasn’t. Now I’m not so sure.

During my time at Purdue, I was also a member of the President’s Leadership Class. 30 of the ~7,000 incoming freshmen were selected for PLC based on their academics and exemplary leadership abilities. We met in the living room of President Jischke’s house every Monday to discuss leadership, receive training, and make connections. They were fostering us to be the leaders of tomorrow.

The leaders of tomorrow don’t discriminate against atheists, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals.

If you’re a Purdue student or alumni, please email the Presidential Search Committee and [email protected] and let them know why you don’t support Mitch Daniels as President of Purdue.