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Sep 15 2011

Even more dialogue with William Hamby

September 15: I somehow overlooked Bill’s last entry so here it is now, six days after it was written.

September 5 or whatever it was: We had an interesting discussion over the past couple of days about atheism and feminism and how to reach the mainstream, so I invited him to do a dialogue here. OB

William Hamby

Ophelia, you’ve brought up something that’s been near and dear to me, but which I’ve kept largely under my hat for a couple of years now. What you called your “branch of the movement” – the nerdy bloggy type – is the branch most directly responsible for the entirety of the movement so far. The iconoclasts, scientists, coffee house philosophy geeks, Aspies (Asperger syndrome, as you know, is linked to atheism,) etc… They were the ones who didn’t give a shit what society thought because they had already shunned many of the “trappings” of culture in the first place. So it wasn’t a big thing for them to flaunt their big brains and tell everybody they were atheists.

Maybe I’m over-simplifying, or stereotyping, or committing some other philosophical sin. But the point remains strong. It was not American Idol fans that started the atheist movement.

I maintain, however, that we need American idol fans to grow the movement. After a while, we simply run out of scientists and blogger nerds. We wouldn’t be outliers if there were millions of us. And at some point, a movement – no matter how compelling – simply reaches a dead end if it doesn’t have mass appeal.

When I wrote recently about my (admittedly quasi-scientific) observation of atheist female friends’ wall posts, what I was really doing was scratching the surface of a bigger issue. Sure, I wanted to get at what the “average atheist woman” was talking about because there’s a lack of women involved in the atheist movement. But I believe what we really want – need – is simply more people. The current discussions about women in the movement are microcosms of what we should be discussing on a large scale.

When Blair Scott did his direct survey of 198 women a while back, his findings were… hmm… how to say this… stereotypical. To quote him:

“I asked, “Do you think the Freethought community is a “men’s club?” Seven
percent answered “yes”. I asked them why they thought it was a “men’s club.”

Here [is a] typical answer.

Allison: “I often try to avoid conversations that demand constant logic proofs and arguments. It’s not that they can’t be entertaining, but for me and most women I know, it’s not a bonding activity or something that most women I know do for fun. Perhaps it is a basic difference between how the sexes operate, but just the style of communication in a heavily male-dominated group can alienate a woman just by style: not content.”

I think there’s a certain social science imperative to examine the atheist movement in painful detail and focus on growth. I’m just a white male atheist, but I’d give up the “male activity” of ever again pointing out an appeal to authority or a tu quoque if it meant we’d get not only more women in the movement, but more people in general whose days are not passed constructing syllogisms. The Republicans have one thing fantastically right – they don’t care a whit what their constituents talk about as long as they vote Republican. I wonder if the atheist movement sometimes focuses too much on rhetorical perfection and misses the proverbial forest for the trees.

My article drew mixed responses – from enthusiastic support to accusations of blatant misogyny and sexism. We men and women are arguing amongst ourselves about who has the high road. Who’s the more oppressed. Who’s being a jerk. There are much better targets of our ire than each other. (Rick Perry?) Yet, we’re penning long diatribes like this one when we feel like we’ve been attacked unjustly for trying to do something to help. And then we get chided for not having thick skin. And then we chide back… ad nauseam…

And at the end of the day, we’re still just a bunch of nerdy bloggers, and by all accounts… most people are just not interested in what we’re arguing about. I think a lot of pain and anguish could be saved if we did empirical research instead of playing hunches off our own pet topics. You know, target the people we want, and market to them the same way that Coke and Major League Baseball and Sex and the City market to their target demographics. And when it comes to attracting anyone to the movement, be it women, or teens, or the local Plumber’s Union, I think in these terrifying political and economic times, the best thing we can do is spend as much time listening – empirically – to everyone who is not yet part of our movement, and figuring out how to draw them in.

Even if we don’t get to talk about syllogisms.

Ophelia Benson

But what do you mean by “grow the movement,” Bill? It seems to me we already have American Idol fans, inevitably, because the movement is growing, in the sense that there are more self-declared atheists and more people who don’t feel they have to hide their atheism. Not all atheists are going to consider themselves part of a movement, to say the least. That’s one of the many good things about making atheism more normal and mainstream: it will become something people just are, without having to make a song and dance about it. That’s already how it is in Europe, Canada, Australia, and other such fortunate places. Movement atheists often seem crazy to people in the UK.

Most atheists are always going to be people who are more interested in other things, so it seems inevitable that the people who run whatever movement there is will be nerdy outliers. The people who are interested enough are the people who are interested enough. Who else would do it?

Maybe you’re saying the nerdy movement types repel the mainstream types…but even if they (or we) do, will that mean fewer people will actually be atheists? Or will it just mean that fewer people will be atheist bloggers or the like. The latter might be true, but does it matter?

Republicans are brilliant at getting people to vote for them, that’s true, but then atheism isn’t a political party, so I’m not sure why that’s relevant. It would seem odd to say the atheist movement doesn’t care a whit what atheists talk about as long as they vote atheist. Atheism isn’t a political party and the atheist movement isn’t a political movement in the electoral sense. The reality is that the atheist movement does care what atheists talk about, because that’s all there is to the movement. It’s fundamentally an epistemological movement, not a political one. It just wouldn’t make sense to decide to stop talking about how we know what we know and whether we do know what we think we know, in order to attract more people who would rather gossip.

So I can’t really agree with you that we should market atheism the way Coke markets Coke, if only because atheism doesn’t taste good or give you a tiny hit of cocaine. But maybe I’m just misunderstanding what you mean by growing the movement.

William Hamby

What do I mean by “grow the movement?”

Ultimately, I think the purpose of any equality movement is to grow to the point of obsolescence.  The “founders” of the atheist movement may or may not have purposefully set out to start an equality movement, but that’s what we have on our hands now.  We want equality under the law, to be sure, but more than that, we want to be accepted and embraced by society at large.  We don’t want to have to hide our Facebook updates from our families and bosses.  We don’t want to have to endure thousands of death threats when we protest being discriminated against.  We want real equality.

Certainly, every individual atheist is not required to participate in the equality movement.  I suppose that’s half the point.  Even so, I do think there’s a “lead, follow, or get out of the way” ethic to the whole thing.  That’s where growth comes into the picture.  Psychology informs us that friendship is one of the most effective cures for bigotry. If we follow this to its logical conclusion, we realize that an effective — maybe the most effective — path to equality is for most Americans to have atheist friends.

Here’s where the whole thing resembles a snake eating its own tail, though.  Philosophically, we affirm that we just want to live and let live.  That attitude extends to our fellow atheists.  If they don’t want to be activists, they don’t have to be activists.  Only… we kind of need them to be activists, because our opponents in the equality fight are extremely well organized and funded, and they own popular media.  It can be argued that those who do not at least publicly identify as non-believers are contributing to the bigotry.

This is what I meant when I said that we can sometimes get lost in “proper philosophy” to the point of missing the point.  The atheist movement is not just a philosophical movement.  This, I think, is the foundation of my basic disagreement with your response.  Because of the existence of “The Family” and other Christian political groups in power, it’s also a political movement.  Because religion is a force for oppression of women, the atheist movement is a feminist movement.  Because Christianity is almost always contracted during childhood, the atheist movement is a “save the children” movement.  There are real-world consequences to not achieving political and social goals, and whether we like it or not, each of us bears a portion of the moral responsibility for failure.

I find your statement about the absence of an “atheist party” curious.  There is also not a “feminist party,” but was not Obama’s “Birth Control Mandate” a win for feminists?  Like any equality movement, the ultimate goal is not to have an “equality party.”  The goal is not to need one.  However, in the interim, political affiliations are not just advantageous.  They are indispensable.  In America, we only have two choices, and the Democratic Party is the one that is not consciously and blatantly allied with religious extremism.

Mainstream appeal requires mainstream membership.  Mainstream membership is the first sign of impending obsolescence for an equality movement.  And more importantly, mainstream membership is necessary to bring any secular political goals to the Democratic Party Podium.  I recognize that not all atheists agree with me on this.  We have our Libertarians, our Greens, and so forth.  Unfortunately, that just reinforces my point.  The next president is going to come from either the Democratic or Republican party.  That’s just a fact.  And until one party represents the wishes of a secular constituency, we don’t have enough secular constituents.  We won’t have that many secular constituents until we figure out how to sell secularism to the mainstream.

The good news, I think, is that there are plenty of people in America who don’t really give much thought to religion or atheism.  The bad news is they show absolutely no signs of getting together with us on any kind of progressive socio-political reform.  And I would argue that without socio-political reform, the secularization of America is just a pipe dream.  Maybe it can be done with a few dozen bloggers and a couple thousand donors to American Atheists, but I can’t imagine how.

It seems to me that you are advocating a “stay the course” kind of approach.  Am I understanding you correctly?  We’ve got our conventions, and they’re growing.  We have a few bloggers who get ten thousand hits a day.  We get a blurb on FOX News three or four times a year.  Rachel Maddow has a news show.  It is true that we have a lot more today than we did five years ago, and it’s true that we are showing every sign of growing.  I’m just not convinced that we’re doing more than recruiting the remaining iconoclasts.  I don’t think that’s enough to make a wholesale change in American culture.

Ophelia Benson

I agree that the atheist movement wants equality and that that’s part of what makes it a movement (or what puts the “new” in new atheism – the two are much the same), but I don’t agree that that’s all it is or all it wants. You didn’t explicitly say that’s all it wants, but you seem to be claiming that it has morphed into a movement that is primarily about equality. I don’t think that’s true. I know it’s not true of my gnu atheism; I want equality but I want other things too. I want ideas, policy, commitments, public life in general to be based on reasons and a certain amount of thought as opposed to dogma or habit or the string-pulling of emotive advertising. I want supernatural beliefs to be seen as out of place in grown-up public discourse, especially political discourse. I want theism to stop being a ticket to acceptance. I want to argue for all those positions.

In a way I want those more than I want mere “equality.” I want the substance more than I want the form. I want the realization that atheism is the more reasonable view to spread more than I want mere “tolerance” of atheists to spread. That’s a very long-term goal, but then atheists in the US have to expect that.

So yes, as you say, I think our basic disagreement is about the nature of the atheist movement. I agree with you that it’s “not just a philosophical movement” and that it’s also a political one, but I think we differ on where the emphasis lies. I suppose I think that the political aspect of “new” atheism is a faintly absurd accident, while the philosophical aspect is central. Atheism is inherently an ontological claim, not a political one.

Of course you’re right that religion is currently very political, but the political opposition to that is secularism rather than atheism. This is highly useful because it doesn’t require atheism: theists can and do support secularism.

I recognize what you say about the Democratic party, but unfortunately it has no real consequences for values like secularism, because the Democratic party is way too busy trying to woo the right to pay any attention whatsoever to the left.

No I don’t think I’m talking about “stay the course”; I’m talking about not trying to turn atheism into something “mainstream” in the manner of the DLC in hopes of recruiting more people. You apparently see “the remaining iconoclasts” as a somehow stable and finite group, but I don’t. Iconoclasts are made, not born, and most of us alive now are wild iconoclasts on a hundred subjects compared to our grandparents. The idea of racial equality was once marginal and weird; so was feminism; so was gay rights. The margin can spread into the center, so it’s not always necessary to make the margin more like the center.

William Hamby

I mentioned yesterday that there’s a certain “lead, follow, or get out of the way” ethic surrounding an equality movement, and I think that’s the most relevant response to most of what you’re saying. As she often does, Greta Christina recently articulated what I have been feeling but unable to say. She used a show of audience hands to demonstrate pretty conclusively that being a “firebrand” does help to change minds. Confrontation need not be rude, but without confrontation, there is very little positive change. The theme of her presentation was basically a plea to the accommodationists: We understand that you don’t like confrontation. We understand that you like living and letting live. Please extend the same courtesy to the firebrands. Stop criticizing them for doing something that is necessary, and more importantly, something that works, and has worked in every equality movement. Ever.

I think the same plea can be invoked here. Politics, marketing, and… for lack of anything better… playing down to the crowd… are not for everyone. Even in the Republican Party, there are still think tanks concerned with the philosophical questions underpinning conservatism. There is — and I suspect there always will be — plenty of room for big thinking, and encouraging others to do big thinking. Especially in a movement like this one founded on the principle of free thought. And you are certainly correct that it’s secularism that drives political machinery, not atheism. However, secularism not founded on at least the driving principles of atheism is impotent to offer a rational argument for its existence. Secularists need atheists.

What concerns me is the political expediency that seems to be so pressing as to demand more than a gradual acceptance of critical thought. We have to go back to Lyndon Johnson to find the last consecutive Democratic presidents, and that wasn’t because of an election. Before that, it was World War II. This would be a trifling matter of civic interest if we weren’t staring down the reality that even if Obama is re-elected, the Republican Party will continue handing us candidates like Perry and Bachmann, and one of them is very, very likely to win in a mere six years. Recent polls have shown that an appalling number of people still believe in the Garden of Eden as a literal place and not evolution as a scientific fact. And somehow, despite the internet being bombarded day in and day out by verifiable, easily discovered facts that prove Rick Perry a howling liar of the worst kind, he is a realistic threat to Obama in the next election.

There is, and has been for many decades, a Conservative Christian plan to take over the U.S. government. There has been no counter-plan for returning it to a secular foundation. Democratic presidencies can be characterized more as delays than opposition. And as you correctly point out, Obama and the Democrats are no paragons of secular values.

There are many of us who believe that the U.S. is at a crossroads, from which there may not be realistic hope of return in this generation if we pick the wrong course. We believe that the fear-mongering instant slogan age of Republican politics presents too great an emotional obstacle to free thought to expect it to catch on en masse. In short, we believe that it will take sweeping changes to the political environment before any significant changes in cultural values can take hold.

To be sure, this is a question of free will — and ironically, one worthy of discussion in the ivory towers. Many of us “gnu” types think environment shapes minds. Some atheists believe in changing minds, which will then shape the environment in a more rational fashion. Certainly there’s truth to both sides. It’s nature/nurture redux. But again, when we’re faced with the realistic possibility of a Dominionist president whose political agenda is as lunatic as his religious dogmatism, I just don’t know if I trust one side of the coin to do all the work.

You mentioned racial rights, and I think that’s a great example for the principle I’m advocating. Was it a majority of white Americans gradually accepting the rationality of an integrated society that created an integrated society? Well… no. Not really. Certainly there was an underground societal impetus driven by such rational thought. But the actual integration happened legislatively — with much wailing and gnashing of teeth by white Americans. A Democratic President passed the Civil Rights act of 1964. With the help of grass-roots activists like Rosa Parks and political orators like Martin Luther King Jr, legislators were able to erode the social opposition to “separate but equal” policies. By 1970, racial discrimination was illegal practically everywhere. And racism was still a pervasive problem. It was the continued practice of integration that eventually changed the minds of the populace — not a subtle insinuation of progressive ideas.

There had been plenty of intellectualizing and plenty of pleas from progressive think tanks for rational policy. Plenty of it for a hundred years since Reconstruction. It was having an effect, to be sure. The minds of many Americans were softening towards blacks. However, it took actual legislation as a catalyst to create wholesale change. The same was true of the suffrage movement. We are on the verge of legislation ending legal discrimination of gays.

In short, I believe the “change through changed minds” approach has to do one of two things: Either justify itself as a viable macro-solution (which seems… a daunting task in light of the history of equality movements), or recognize its part as a cog in a much bigger wheel. At the very least, I would ask those who like constructing syllogisms to keep a path clear for those of us who believe twenty million voting secularists are better than two thousand atheist bloggers when it comes to creating immediate and long-reaching change. If we figure out how to sell “fast-food” secularism… please don’t yell at us for selling out. We’ve done our deep thinking on this matter, and the evidence suggests that gaining equality first will lead to easier acceptance of our intensely rational ideas. It’ll be our little secret that we’re still as nerdy as we were when this whole thing started, and that we’re counting on the fringe to spread to the center on the nice highway we helped each other to build.

Ophelia Benson

Well, Bill, I agree with you about our political situation in the US (though keep in mind that gnu atheism is not just a US thing, to put it mildly), but I don’t see its relevance to this discussion. What are you claiming? That if gnu atheists stopped talking about feminism there would be a turn to secularism and reason in the US in a few years?

You surely can’t be claiming that, because it’s too absurd; it would be what philosophers call “uncharitable” to read you as saying that. But what are you saying? It seems to be something along those lines, at least – and that just makes no sense to me. What does gnu atheism even have to do with the political situation in the US, more than any other movement or set of ideas? What is the connection between the dire situation in the US and atheists ceasing to talk about what you call “radical” feminism or gender issues? I don’t get it.

It seems to be a kind of war room, political operative, let’s get real, managerial idea…but I for one am not even a little bit interested in that. It makes me tired. It’s always about abandoning just about everything that matters in order to win just this one presidential election; it never works out; and it’s not worth it.

I’m not in charge of Democratic strategizing, thank god, and as far as I know neither are you. I don’t see why either of us has to worry in a nuts and bolts kind of way about how to turn the US political situation around. Of course if you want to do that, knock yourself out, but I don’t think that imposes a duty on you to tell the atheist movement how to do likewise.

William Hamby

Of course it would be “uncharitable” to suggest that’s what I’m saying.  And I suppose in acknowledging this fact, I’m also clarifying my actual position.  As a side note, and in line with said position, of course “gnu” atheism is not exclusively an American phenomenon.  And no, I am not a Democratic strategist.

But someone is.  And that’s the important thing to recognize.  Somewhere there are rooms where career politicians talk about their next four years, or ten years, or even fifty as a political party.  Furthermore, there are a lot of atheists for whom politics is a going concern.  And as I said, if politics is not your thing, then that’s absolutely fine.  If the entirety of the “atheist movement” is a giant wheel, then blogger philosophers are one cog, and feminists are another cog, and political activists are yet another.  For those of us for whom politics is a going concern, whether as writers or activists, or strategists, the next election has to be an issue of immediate concern.  Without winning this election, there’s no talk of winning three in a row, or four.  Without this one, it’s just huddling down in a bunker for another four years to try to survive.  Yeah, that’s a bit of a drastic thing to say, but as a metaphor, it’s not really that far from the truth.

I can only vote once.  In as far as my direct contribution to the American political system, I don’t have much going for me and neither do you.  Political activism is sometimes a lot like tilting windmills.  But as in every equality movement, some people do have more power than others.  Rosa Parks was no strategist, but her actions inspired many legislators.  We atheists can’t cause any giant ripples by sitting in the “wrong seat,” but we can still make lots of political waves, as American Atheists have demonstrated with the WTC suit.  And when the waves are made, some of us atheist bloggers will spend all our time trying to figure out how to get millions of people to agree with our political agenda.  Our choice of topics will reflect that, and if we leave any topic out, or suggest that one topic or another is not appealing or important to us, it doesn’t mean we’re trying to “disrespect” those for whom it is important.  It doesn’t mean that we’re sexist, or racist, or any other -ist.  It means that over here on this side of the giant wheel, it’s not something that we feel is the best thing for *us* to be talking about *right now.*  More importantly, it doesn’t even suggest macro-importance.  That is, maybe political activist atheists are the minority of atheists, and our set of important topics doesn’t represent a majority.

I don’t want to invoke the American Atheists without being a spokesman for them, so I will say this carefully.  American Atheists was the organization that got me thinking about activist growth, and that was in large part due to talks by feminist speakers like Greta Christina.  The question was:  How do we encourage lots of female participants at conventions like these?  (At least, that’s the way I heard it.)  When I wrote my piece on what women were talking about, it was from this perspective.  When I found that female Facebook topics were dominated by “traditional politics,” not “gender politics,” that was an indication to me that many women believe political immediacy and expediency are extremely important topics right now.  My suggestion was not for all atheists to stop talking about feminism.  That is — as you say, absurd to the point of insulting.  Mine was a suggestion of priority for a specific group.  For those whose goal is to grow an activist group with socio-political leanings, my data indicated that a focus on these topics might be the most appealing to the most women when compared to specifically feminist issues.  My data suggested that atheist mothers might be an untapped resource, and that childcare might be one of the simplest and most effective ways to facilitate their involvement.

For you, on the other hand, a “nerdy blogger type” who finds politics distasteful, well… there’s no way to say this other than to say it… I wasn’t talking to you.  Your blog is a great place to talk about feminism, and I think it’s extremely important for you to continue doing so.  I hope your audience doubles or triples with the change to Freethought Blogs.  You and I have different immediate goals, and I can’t predict the future enough to say if one of us is doing something ultimately unproductive.  I rather think that both of us are doing great things for a country that needs to have great things happen.  In the end, both of us at least intend to do something good.

On the specific question, I could be wrong.  Maybe my data is shit, and lots of women would be interested in joining activist groups if we focus on feminist issues.  The point of my research and article was to call the question.  Based on the mixed response it appears that I’ve said some things that resonate with at least some women.  Some of the opposing responses have been… a bit over the top, from more people’s perspectives than just mine.  But that’s a great thing!  I’ve got thick enough skin to take being called a sexist a few times if it sparks a genuinely productive conversation.  In the end, what I want is a secular America.  I trust that’s what you want, and what the vast majority of feminist atheist women want.  We’re each pulling on different strands in the web, and seeing if anything shakes out.  It’s a multi-front battle.  I hope that most of us can recognize this diversity as a strength, and try not to alienate each other for having different priorities.

Ophelia, you’ve been more than kind to offer me this space to speak my mind, and I feel like I’ve said everything I know to say as well as I can say it.  I’ll happily waive comment to your final word.  I wish you the best, and look forward to “mixing it up atheist style” in the future, should the opportunity arise.  Thank you again.

Ophelia Benson

Thanks Bill, and sorry for being so late posting your last reply.

I don’t really think it is a particularly important thing to recognize that someone is a Democratic strategist. That may be partly just because I already do recognize it, so I don’t see any urgent need to do what I already do. But it’s also because so what? There are lots of Democratic strategists, and that’s not something I want to do, nor is it something I admire or respect very much. That’s the only sense in which “politics is not my thing.” In the broader sense I’m very political, but I’m not at all interested in politics as a horse race, and I really loathe the way electoral politics in the US has become almost all process. To be perfectly honest your thinking seems to be infected with that way of thinking about politics: we have to spend every minute thinking about “the next election” – despite the fact that it’s more than a year away. I think it’s futile getting that obsessed with a process that is so badly arranged to begin with.

So you seem to me to be fundamentally changing the subject. You’re talking about the next election, but for some reason you’re doing it by writing about atheism. I don’t get it; I don’t see the point.

I don’t think you can do what you’re trying to do here – I don’t think you can both tell atheists in general that a particular topic is “not something that we feel is the best thing for us to be talking about right now” and claim that you don’t really mean anything by it. I don’t think it will work. You may mean it, but I don’t think it will come across. If you say atheists shouldn’t be talking about feminism right now, it’s too much to expect that people won’t see that as anti-feminist. You can’t do both, as the useful saying goes.

That’s especially true if you do it without spelling out that you’re talking specifically about electoral political strategy, and nothing else.

You say you weren’t talking to me, but that too wasn’t clear in your Examiner piece. That kind of thing never is clear, actually, unless it’s said pretty explicitly. I thought you were – I thought you were talking to atheists in general and “movement” atheists in particular, and I take myself to be both. So when you tell me you weren’t talking to me, it looks as if you’re trying to do that annoying centrist-Democrat-thing of trying to marginalize everyone you take to be too non-centrist to be useful. The Democratic Party is all too good at that, and it gets up my nose when amateurs try to join in.

You did use the word “we” a lot in the Examiner article, after all. Who was that “we”? If you weren’t talking to me, who was that “we”?

Since the above was your last reply, that has to be a rhetorical question. Thanks very much for accepting my invitation to do this; I think it’s made a great post.

54 comments

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  1. 1
    julian

    I maintain, however, that we need American idol fans to grow the movement

    Maybe it’s just the sites I lurk at but the ‘skeptical community’ seems pretty diverse already with an incredibly wide range of interests (even American Idol fans). Its members just happen to share a common interest in secularism (for the most part) which helps their otherwise individual spheres overlap.

    Or maybe I’m just reading you wrong.

    they don’t care a whit what their constituents talk about as long as they vote Republican

    This is one of the many ways the Republican party has fucked us these last 30 years. But if it’s numbers you want, go for it.

  2. 2
    julian

    Crap, didn’t see OB’s response.

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    No problem – I think we were writing at the same time.

  4. 4
    NathanDST

    Is there more coming?

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    Yes I think so…Though it’s possible I didn’t make clear to Bill that it would/could go on. I think I did though.

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    But fer sher not today; I’m off.

  7. 7
    Stacy Kennedy

    The reality is that the atheist movement does care what atheists talk about, because that’s all there is to the movement. It’s fundamentally an epistemological movement

    Yes, this.

    The world is already largely run by demographics research and slick ad campaigns. Surely one of our goals is to modify that, to get people thinking a little less heuristically and tribally and a little more critically.

    I often try to avoid conversations that demand constant logic proofs and arguments. It’s not that they can’t be entertaining, but for me and most women I know, it’s not a bonding activity or something that most women I know do for fun

    Well, I’m a woman, and I like it. It’s admittedly not something most people do for fun, but it’s a popular nerdy skeptic/atheist pastime. I realize this is just one woman’s opinion (and mine’s another), but Allison’s “most women” stuff reminds me uncomfortably of Logic as a Male Value.

    Maybe we should be reaching out to women and minority men by promoting the glories of critical thinking (and pointing out how it can help marginalized people who make use of it), not by trying for a warmer and fuzzier brand identity.

  8. 8
    Stacy Kennedy

    testing

  9. 9
    julian

    I realize this is just one woman’s opinion (and mine’s another), but Allison’s “most women” stuff reminds me uncomfortably of Logic as a Male Value.

    Most men I know don’t like it either. They like being thought of as more rational but they sure as hell don’t spend time arguing or debating the merits of this or that philosophy and generally laugh at those that do. In my experiences that contempt hasn’t been restricted in any noticeable way by sex. Most men think it’s a huge waste of time as do most women.

    Probably doesn’t mean much but the person who got me into arguing nonstop was a young girl from Pakistan I knew back in high school. And our teacher (picture Rachel Maddow and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what she was like) loved it.

  10. 10
    julian

    Well I jacked up that blackquote.

    Anyway, I wanted to ask if there were any similar studies done specifically targeting male nonbelievers who didn’t identify or actively participate in the skeptical atheist community.

  11. 11
    Classical Cipher, Murmur Muris, OM

    You know, I really don’t like that his response here neither apologizes for nor defends his stupid, alienating, actively hurtful accusation that the atheist movement is focusing too much on feminism. And I especially don’t like that, in his few oblique references to it, he’s sweeping something as important as women’s rights under the rug as unnecessary infighting among people who fundamentally agree. News: if you don’t care about feminism, you’re not my ally, and I want no part of your movement. If it comes down to feminism vs. atheism, I’m giving my meager resources to feminism every time. This isn’t a matter of whether we talk about syllogisms, it’s a matter of whether women feel empowered to speak up within the atheist movement when we’re being treated in a way that dismisses us and causes harm.

  12. 12
    Roger

    “I asked, “Do you think the Freethought community is a “men’s club?” Seven percent answered “yes”.”

    Is this a mistake? Should “seven” be “seventy”? If only seven per cent of womem involved think the Freethought community is a “men’s club”, the alleged sexism within it is much less serious or much less noticed than we thought.

  13. 13
    Classical Cipher, Murmur Muris, OM

    If only seven per cent of womem involved think the Freethought community is a “men’s club”, the alleged sexism within it is much less serious or much less noticed than we thought.

    I’m not sure the answer to one question is sufficient to refute the persistence and importance of sexism in the atheist community. Even I wouldn’t call the atheist community a “men’s club,” (there are women in it!) despite the fact that I (as mentioned elsewhere) feel unwelcome and unsafe in the atheist community due to its pervasive sexism. Look at the number of women in positions of leadership; look at the way women who are active parts of the community are treated. Look at the little things that add up.

  14. 14
    - Blamer ..

    Atheism is only a movement in part. Just the part focused on social/political change
    .
    Social issues that matter most to atheists are often far beyond discussions about gods. Usually they’re issues with local laws or governments seen to be favouring the dominant religion at the expense of others
    .
    So there’s every reason to think that diversity is needed for lifting the profile of those atheist issues (so called), for stimulating public debate, for lobbying to change laws, etc
    .
    Any individuals and organisations lobbying for such changes therefore certainly must appeal to women. Even if they’re apatheist or any other *eist that only other nerds can name.

  15. 15
    - Blamer ..

    Atheism is only a movement in part. Just the part focused on social/political change
    .
    Social issues that matter most to atheists are often far beyond discussions about gods. Usually they’re issues with local laws or governments seen to be favouring the dominant religion at the expense of others
    .
    So there’s every reason to think that diversity is needed for lifting the profile of those atheist issues (so called), for stimulating public debate, for lobbying to change laws, etc
    .
    Any individuals and organisations lobbying for such changes therefore certainly must appeal to women. Even if they’re apatheist or any other *eist that only nerds can name.

  16. 16
    Egbert

    I like the communication thing, the dialogue. I think dialogue is an excellent political tool.

    Hamby seems to be repeating much of what I said in my comment in the “How to Patronize Wimminz” article. That it’s the radical liberals that are leading the movement, not the mainstream. Lead-follow-lead-follow. It’s not rocket science, hence ‘movement’.

    I actually do think we’re a political movement, but that we haven’t realized it yet. People like Ophelia really are leading the movement into a direction as her way of thinking and her observations filter across and get absorbed. That gives her power and responsibility that she may not realize.

    There is an essay written by Lenin, called Better Fewer But Better where he realized that the socialist movement he belonged to was regressing fast into old ways of thinking. His solution was better quality not quantity.

    This is invariably what will happen when mainstream atheists join the movement, especially the politically savvy and the charismatic psychos. There is a disconnect between political thinkers and moderate political activists, especially when leadership is weak. Movements can become something else, even the opposite of their intentions.

    My fear is that as the movement grows, it becomes dominated by the voice of moderates and the leading radical voices become drowned out. Fascist and paternal traits begin to manifest and splits and fractures occur.

    Hamby needs to do the learning and listening, and focus less on quantity and learn and listen from quality (like Ophelia). Quantity is about power, and we all want the power to change things for the better, but not in the old ways of thinking, that’s more of the same.

  17. 17
    Eamon Knight

    Meh, I’m not crazy about the implied deprecation of rationality (“syllogisms”) in favour of glitz and emotion (? — whatever it is the American Idol reference is supposed to stand for). I’m a skeptic first, atheist second and consequentially. I’d rather hang with a moderate Christian (of which I used to be one) who knew that creationism was bullshit, ditto homeopathy, etc, than with someone who was into Ayn Rand and/or every alt-med fad that came along, but happened not to believe in gods because they were raised outside of religion, or had a bad experience with the church. Without the “syllogisms” you’ve got no way of separating truth from bullshit.

  18. 18
    Flora Poste

    Are women who publicly identify as atheists perceived more negatively by the general public? I think yes. The professional and social risks to women are just higher.

    Why not focus on fixing that instead of trying to figure out what is wrong with women (not logical, too emotional, don’t like debate) that prevents them from identifying as atheists. This alienates women who are prepared to take the risks. Now she has to defend herself as an atheist to the rest of the world, and defend herself as a woman in the atheist world. So a vicious cycle starts, as fewer women atheists make it riskier to be a woman atheist.

  19. 19
    William Hamby

    Julian, I intend to do a male-only comparison. For consistency, I’ll use the same time period. I’m also paying attention to the *constructive* criticism of my methodology, so I might re-do the female study if time permits.

  20. 20
    Alison

    I agree and support many of the goals of the atheist movement, it’s their methods I disaprove of.

    In order for a movement of equality to thrive, it needs to have diversity. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in god, nothing else, so being so political can isolate people that would otherwise want to support atheism, but do not agree with some of their political stances. Another thing they seem to do is basically say in order to be a “good atheist:, you have to be x,y,z [such as pro-choice, anti-religious etc..] which can isolate atheists who are not those things, but otherwise support secularism, atheism etc…. Most of the time, they just throw out Chris Hitchens quotes and just try to disagree.

    The other things they do is kinda overstep their empirical boundries. I have no issue with calling out creationism or intelligent design out on scienctific method and their disregard thereof, but if the atheist movement disregards the scientific method in their claims, there’s a problem.

    As Ophelia pointed out, theists can promote secularism too. When I was Christian and I tried to promote secularism, the atheist movement didn’t treat me too well and thought I really wanted a Taliban like religious state.

    tl;dr version is the atheist movement needs to stop isolating potential allies and decide if it’s a movement for atheism or secularism.

  21. 21
    Alison

    Did I mess up my comment?

  22. 22
    Ophelia Benson

    Alison – no, you didn’t mess anything up – maybe it just hung for a minute? I gather they do sometimes; teething pains.

  23. 23
    Stewart

    There are equality movements that only want equality with the groups that have more dominance/power/acceptance in a society (e.g. women with men, darker-skinned people with lighter-skinned people, homosexuals with heterosexuals) without thinking that the existence of the majority is in itself a problem. Many atheists, if they are honest with themselves, will see religion itself as a problem without which society would be healthier. Equality is what we insist upon and we would probably become milder if we genuinely had it, but attaining real equality (meaning , for example, that no one bats an eyelid if an uncloseted atheist becomes US president), would not mean that we’d suddenly think religion is a force for good that ought not to vanish. In all three parenthetical examples I gave above, religion has been used as a force for evil: to make women subservient, darker-skinned people slaves and homosexuals marked for death. We don’t merely see religion as a problem that is solved if we ever achieve equality with it; we also see it as a root cause of other problems. It’s not that none of those problems wouldn’t have existed or manifested themselves without religion, but religion has been a fig leaf under cover of which they have sometimes thrived. It sounds bad and misleading to say that we want more than equality, because we don’t really, but our getting real equality would upset the apple-cart for religion. Religion has only been as strong as it has been by ensuring that the playing field is not level and if we succeed in really levelling it, it will be a sign that religion is on the ropes.

  24. 24
    Stewart

    BTW, re: comments – the few I’ve made so far under the new system have always taken a few minutes to show up, so I’ve stopped worrying about it.

  25. 25
    theobromine

    @Allison: …the atheist movement needs to stop isolating potential allies and decide if it’s a movement for atheism or secularism.

    This is not an either/or decision. Atheism is a personal relationship with reality. Secularism is a matter of public policy. When I was a Christian secularist, the atheists were, for the most part, friendly. But they were understandably wary, since lots of liberal religious people who claim to be secularists still make a sharp distinction between people “of faith” (which faith doesn’t really matter) vs atheists.

  26. 26
    Noah the epistemic pinata

    William Hamby says:

    The atheist movement is not just a philosophical movement.

    Perhaps. On the other hand, it is primarily and historically an epistemological movement. There’s a clear trail from the “New Atheists” going backwards. The only substantive difference in the modern approach is that the literature and organizations have been more accessible to nonphilosophers and nonatheists.

    Maybe you are thinking of the secularist movement and organizations like the FFRF? In case that’s what you are looking for, the secularist movement addresses equality a little better. I understand that there is significant overlap between atheism, secularism, humanism, and skepticism— great enough that it is hard to avoid discussing one without mentioning the other.

    If you are looking to forge new allies in the crusade for equal rights, secularism may be the way to go. That way, you can also get the support of many religious. Certainly, this is also relevant within atheism, but it is not the primary focus.

    My article drew mixed responses – from enthusiastic support to accusations of blatant misogyny and sexism.

    As far as I can tell, the enthusiastic support was for the idea of child care, which is an issue that CFI has tackled in the past, the RDF has already agreed to sponsor, and most people already agree with. Of course, it’s only relevant to conferences and conferences are a small part of organized atheism. That, and child-care doesn’t necessarily improve attendance.

    Also, I’m not sure what qualifies as “accusations of blatant misogyny and sexism” but I think you deserve to be called out on your biases. You misrepresented a number of facts regarding “elevatorgate,” downplayed Dawkins’ comments on Pharyngula, and referred to feminists as “radicals” compared to “mainstream atheist women.”

    The body of your post describes a pseudo-scientific study, without controlling for sampling error, statistical representation, or bias. Honestly, it is less useful than a collection of anecdotes; the data doesn’t even really address your questions. It certainly doesn’t justify either of your main ideas at the end: child-care, or that feminism might be in the way of progress.

    As I mentioned in a comment under your post, more serious studies generally come to the opposite conclusion: more feminism is beneficial to improving gender ratios in male-dominated areas. The preferred method of improvement is usually consciousness-raising, organizational support, and a drive for equality.

    You seem to be promoting the opposite. Instead of consciousness-raising and pushing for equality/empowerment, you recommend not talking about gender issues at conferences. Why not? Well… because your friends don’t post very much about feminism on Facebook.

    Do you see how using a junk-study to suggest we stop discussing gender issues might be considered anti-woman, if not sexist?

  27. 27
    Noah the epistemic pinata

    I just refreshed and noticed that Ophelia already addressed the relevance of secularism. As always, I’m late to the party.

    Ophelia says:

    I want ideas, policy, commitments, public life in general to be based on reasons and a certain amount of thought

    Once our society decides that realities that are not testable are also not relevant (or even particularly interesting), we can emphasize empirical testing and rational discourse as the primary methods for building a better world. Can you imagine how much more efficient the world would be if we stopped wasting time and money on projects that are actually counterproductive to the stated goals?

    Of course, this may not be the primary goal of organized atheism, but it certainly would be nice!

  28. 28
    SallyStrange

    That was a poor showing, Mr. Hamby. I’m still waiting for more concrete justification for your thesis that talking about feminism is alienating to “average” women. Or whatever the hell it is you were trying to say.

  29. 29
    Stacy Kennedy

    I want ideas, policy, commitments, public life in general to be based on reasons and a certain amount of thought as opposed to dogma or habit or the string-pulling of emotive advertising. I want supernatural beliefs to be seen as out of place in grown-up public discourse, especially political discourse. I want theism to stop being a ticket to acceptance. I want to argue for all those positions.

    In a way I want those more than I want mere “equality.” I want the substance more than I want the form.

    I agree, Ophelia. My only quibble: I want those way more than I want mere “equality.”

  30. 30
    SallyStrange

    And with regards to your current comments, Mr. Hamby, I think you are making a big mistake by assigning gender roles to things like nerdiness, logic, glitziness, emotion, etc.

    If you want atheism to have better marketing and more mainstream appeal, then fine.

    But what the everloving fuck does that have to do with avoiding mentioning feminism too often? Indeed, what does it have to do with the presence/absence of women in general? Unless you are proposing some insulting theory that holds that women are more attracted by slick marketing than men are, or that men are more likely to be iconoclastic outsiders in love with their logic and gadgets, it makes no sense whatsoever.

    Please, try to make some sense. This is so very annoying.

  31. 31
    SallyStrange

    I’m not sure what qualifies as “accusations of blatant misogyny and sexism”

    Perhaps when I stated that his self-impressed sense of revelation about the fact that women like to talk about sex, politics, and family meant that he had a hard time actually regarding women as people. Why would anybody have any doubts in the first place that women talk about those subjects? EVERYBODY talks about them. And why would he regard this as indicative of a dislike for “radical” feminism? And how on earth does he define “radical” feminism, if being a radical feminist entails nothing more than pointing to an instance of unwanted sexual attention and politely saying, “Guys, don’t do this”?

    Still waiting for coherent answers on all these fronts. Not very impressed so far.

  32. 32
    Stacy Kennedy

    I want ideas, policy, commitments, public life in general to be based on reasons and a certain amount of thought as opposed to dogma or habit or the string-pulling of emotive advertising. I want supernatural beliefs to be seen as out of place in grown-up public discourse

    You know what we should be doing? Not forming focus groups.

    We need to push for Critical Thinking to be taught in the public schools. Starting in grade school. And not just a class here and there. Make it a Subject.

    I think it should be a priority. (And if this goal ever gets real momentum going there will be significant pushback. Think of the interests–religious, political, economic–that will be threatened.)

  33. 33
    Alison

    This is not an either/or decision. Atheism is a personal relationship with reality. Secularism is a matter of public policy. When I was a Christian secularist, the atheists were, for the most part, friendly. But they were understandably wary, since lots of liberal religious people who claim to be secularists still make a sharp distinction between people “of faith” (which faith doesn’t really matter) vs atheists.

    What kind of distinction?

    Even so so what? Atheists do this too. I’m a secularist in a way, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want everybody to be an atheist.

    The reason why I said that they are two seperate things is because they are. Not that they can’t be intertwined, so it’s not an either/or decision and I didn’t want it to come off that way.

    What I meant is they have to decide if they’re an atheist secular movement, i.e won’t let in Theists, or if they’re just a secular movement. They can most certianly promote both atheism and secularism, but what they decide can affect who wants to ally with them.

    The best part about the former, is that any atheist could theoretically join for the cause, but the current atheist movement attaches too much crap to it and drives them off. All that should be required is a lack of belief in god, and the desire to get religion out of government, no extra fat, no frills.

    That would garner more support than the atheist movement also deciding that they’re pro-choice, or X political stance that has nothing to do with atheism what so ever.

    I think that’s all the atheist movement should be. A movement promoting atheist issues, like lack of a belief in god. Nothing else.

    Despite what Will says, it’s not a feminest movement, because an atheist can oppress a woman as much as their christian counterpart. It’s not a child movement, because an atheist can abuse a child as much as a christian. It’s not a human rights movement, because an atheist can abuse their fellow human as much as a christian can. Besides, we already have femenists, child care, human rights groups. An atheist can join one of those groups along with the atheist movement, but simply being part of the atheist movement doesn’t mean they support those.

    What the atheist movement should do is reach out and provide support and showing that atheists are not alone, and not on the condition they also support XYZ political cause that has nothing to do with atheism.

    Will is right, we need marketing, but atheist marketing, not political support unrelated XYZ marketing.

  34. 34
    @blamer

    This movement cannot become mainstream unless the general public comes to understand:
    • a healthy level of skepticism
    • what’s so special about the scientific method
    • why become secular
    • explaining atheism
    • how to to be a humanist

    Pick your starting point and push, dissonanceminimalist.tiddlyspot.com

  35. 35
    Roger

    Even I … feel unwelcome and unsafe in the atheist community due to its pervasive sexism.If that is true for many women, Classical Cipher, OM, then the atheist community is something worse than a mere men’s club. I’m not in a position to know if it’s true, but if it is, we need a new atheist community.

  36. 36
    theobromine

    @Allison What I meant is they have to decide if they’re an atheist secular movement, i.e won’t let in Theists, or if they’re just a secular movement. They can most certianly promote both atheism and secularism, but what they decide can affect who wants to ally with them.

    I understood that is what you meant previously, and I continue to disagree that “the movement” as a whole needs to decide between secularism and atheism. There are many situations in which atheists and rational secularist theists can find common cause – science education, scientific skepticism, encouraging teaching of critical thinking, etc. These things are important to society, and atheists should work together with theists in these areas where possible.

    However, there are some important issues in which it makes a critical difference whether or not there is a personal god, and whether or not humans have immortal souls. (Even many otherwise liberal Christians are often more attached to dualism than to theism.) One example is the question of personal end-of-life choices. From the perspective of many theists, a person’s life is a gift from God, so an individual should not be making their own choices about when and how to end it.

    So I agree that we do need to champion the cause of secularism, and atheists should work with others who are committed to common goals in this area. But, for those who think that, on balance, the evils of theism outweigh the benefits, we also want to work to spread atheism. One approach I am championing (which is admittedly controversial in some circles) is the idea that religion is meeting some critical human social needs. A Christian down on their luck can usually pop into a church and get help. When a church member has a death or serious illness in the family, someone is arranging to have casseroles brought to the house, and someone else is offering to help drive the kids to their activities and to take the ill person to their medical appointments. I want to see this kind of community in place for atheists.

  37. 37
    William Hamby

    I should clarify something I wrote: Yes, LBJ was elected in his own right after completing JFK’s term. However, I think it’s a fair argument to say that we can’t really separate the subsequent election from the enormity of the assassination. If that’s a point of contention, I’ll concede that LBJ’s election counts as two presidents in a row, and I think my argument will be as weighty regardless.

  38. 38
    Neil Rickert

    They were the ones who didn’t give a shit what society thought because they had already shunned many of the “trappings” of culture in the first place.

    On the Internet, most people already don’t give a shit what other Internet readers think of them. There’s an illusion of anonymity on the Internet. While it might only be an illusion, it does affect how people act.

    It seems to me that the Internet is already doing a lot of what William Hamby thinks is needed.

  39. 39
    SallyStrange

    What are you claiming? That if gnu atheists stopped talking about feminism there would be a turn to secularism and reason in the US in a few years?

    You surely can’t be claiming that, because it’s too absurd; it would be what philosophers call “uncharitable” to read you as saying that. But what are you saying? It seems to be something along those lines, at least – and that just makes no sense to me.

    If you were going to clarify anything, it should have been your views with respect to these important questions.

    You suck at communicating, Mr. Hamby, and nobody should take advice about how to better market or communicate atheism from you.

  40. 40
    Egbert

    Hamby can serve a purpose if he wants to grow the movement, then he can do just that. But I think he is ‘reaching out’ in the wrong direction, like most moderates or accommodationists, who think that making the atheist movement more attractive is to make the radical voices shut up.

    Rather, he needs to ‘reach out’ in the opposite direction–by representing himself as the voice of the mainstream. That’s where his bridge-building needs to go.

    New atheist bloggers aren’t doing the bridge building, they’re changing minds, and in doing so, they need to be heard and listened to. Hamby needs to listen to the radicals, not ask them to shut up. He can then use his marketing, communication skills and other moderate techniques to pass on new thinking in a more popular way, that’s his role. No one is stopping him.

  41. 41
    Carlie

    I should clarify something I wrote: Yes, LBJ was elected in his own right after completing JFK’s term. However, I think it’s a fair argument to say that we can’t really separate the subsequent election from the enormity of the assassination. If that’s a point of contention, I’ll concede that LBJ’s election counts as two presidents in a row, and I think my argument will be as weighty regardless.

    All of those comments on your position and how you’ve articulated it and what people feel are flaws in your reasoning and conclusions, and that’s what you decided to focus on?

  42. 42
    screechy monkey

    I guess I just feel that Ophelia’s question “But what do you mean by “grow the movement,” Bill?” was never answered.

    I’ve read the entire exchange, and I’m still confused by exactly what Hamby’s point is. That we should be spending our time and money on electoral politics? That Ophelia should blog about that topic more instead of her current subjects? That he’s chosen to take actions X, Y, and Z and this is his explanation as to why?

    I don’t think Hamby’s just being a garden-variety accomodationist telling other people to shut up about certain topics, but I’m struggling to see what he is telling us.

  43. 43
    Ophelia Benson

    Yes, I still don’t know exactly what his point is. It’s partly that the next election is important (as is said of all elections, with considerable truth), but I still don’t see what that has to do with atheism or atheism with it.

    Bill said he could always comment here despite finishing with the dialogue itself, so maybe he’ll clarify.

  44. 44
    Flora Poste

    Is William Hamby on the other side of the looking glass or what? Feminism is an esoteric subject of interest to nerdy bloggers? Oh, I thought it was a political movement that attracts millions of dollars and volunteer hours (to groups like NOW, NARAL and EMILY’s List). In Hamby’s looking glass world, he is the spokesperson for realpolitik, when actually Ophelia made the most politically astute observation in the whole conversation:

    Of course you’re right that religion is currently very political, but the political opposition to that is secularism rather than atheism.

    The religious right knows exactly how rolling back secularism rolls back feminism. Can anyone doubt that control of the hearts, minds, and bodies of women is really one of the main objectives of the Christian right? Feminists are going to push back as hard as they can, yet Hamby can’t think of a way to leverage this to get more momentum for atheism. Instead, he wants to piss off a natural constituency and go for the “American Idol” viewer*, Not all that politically savvy, is he?

    *who, I must point out, voted for the talentless Howdy Doody puppet who sang and blathered about Jebus, over the incredibly talented James Durbin. Has Hamby ever even watched the show?

  45. 45
    SallyStrange

    The main thing I learned from all of this is that William Hamby is an incoherent, cowardly idiot. Where’d Ophelia even find this guy? Is he a widely read atheist blogger? A prominent voice in “the movement,” whatever that may be?

    If so, then true equality will be achieved when a woman whose writing is as confused and whose ideas are as stale and predictable as Hamby’s reaches a similar level of public recognition.

  46. 46
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    The main thing I learned from all of this is that William Hamby is an incoherent, cowardly idiot. Where’d Ophelia even find this guy? Is he a widely read atheist blogger? A prominent voice in “the movement,” whatever that may be?

    If so, then true equality will be achieved when a woman whose writing is as confused and whose ideas are as stale and predictable as Hamby’s reaches a similar level of public recognition.

    THIS. This, this, this.

    This.

  47. 47
    Egbert

    I really think the dialogues work as ideas and agendas are clarified, and greater understanding is reached. People don’t have to agree with each other, only be civil.

    I don’t agree with Hamby, but I understand what he’s trying to do. Atheists can unite and become an interest group, they can hold power together that they would not otherwise as individuals. That was his underlying agenda, and he only had to say that in the first place.

    I really hope these dialogues continue with others. It’s not moderation, but it’s doing something much better.

  48. 48
    clarysage

    Hamby’s opening comments here are so belittling to women that I am wondering how he can’t see that he is doing to women what Christians do to atheists. Here, let me tell you what you people really think/feel. Pigeon-holing women as not enjoying logic (too much for our widdle heads!) is NOT a way to attract more women to the atheist movement. And slick marketing moves WILL attract women… because we won’t see the marketing for the cheap ploy that it really is? If men like Hamby are in the majority at the atheist/skeptic conferences, I will never attend. By the way, Bill, I am neither nerdy nor do I have a blog.

  49. 49
    Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy

    The problem with becoming an interest group is, whose interests? It’s not enough to have a president who talks about including unbelievers if he then goes on to increase funding for faith-based whatever. My goal isn’t to make sure that millionaire cisgendered white male atheists have the same access to government subsidies for their businesses as millionaire cisgendered white male believers.

  50. 50
    Ophelia Benson

    Egbert how do you know that was Hamby’s underlying agenda? Where do you get that?

    For my part, I don’t think it was, if only because we already know that, and he must know we already know that. That’s part of what gnu atheism is: increasing the clout of atheism by being more outspoken and thus inevitably more of a perceived group or “community.” And that has nothing whatever to do with “the next election,” but Hamby said the next election is key – so surely his agenda has something to do with the next election (but I still don’t know exactly what).

  51. 51
    Ophelia Benson

    I agree with clarysage about belittling women (sorry Bill). I said that in my comments on the Examiner article itself, before we did the dialogue. I think one of his chief mistakes is consistently talking as if he is the “we” of atheism and most other atheists are not – talking as if he and people like him somehow own atheism while the rest of us are outsiders. That’s something else I said in my early comments (so I’m not springing a trap by saying it again now): I really don’t consider myself an outsider to atheism while Hamby is an insider. I don’t see myself as a they to Hamby’s we.

  52. 52
    Egbert

    Ophelia,

    I think most people are driven by agendas rather than ideas or reason, and especially in the case of moderates. Moderates seem to be obsessed by numbers, by popularity. Popularity is authority in their minds. If Hamby thinks he’s a mainstream democrat, then his agenda is to get that large atheist block on his side, to get more power and make it more popular.

    I think that might help explain the thinking of accommodationists and all moderates, who are only interested in consensus and the majority as authority.

    While I think such people serve a function, they are ultimately at conflict with liberal values–because they are still authoritarian.

  53. 53
    Aquaria

    The question was: How do we encourage lots of female participants at conventions like these? (At least, that’s the way I heard it.) When I wrote my piece on what women were talking about, it was from this perspective. When I found that female Facebook topics were dominated by “traditional politics,” not “gender politics,” that was an indication to me that many women believe political immediacy and expediency are extremely important topics right now.

    This is just incredibly sexist.

    What the average woman, your “American Idol” viewer is talking about is primarily what the patriarchy talks about, dufus!

    For crying out loud, where do the majority of women get most of their news? From the mainstream media. And who owns and does most of the deciding about what news and political issues get covered in the mainstream media, Hamby? Who are the majority of media owners, editors, and writers?

    NOT WOMEN!

    Name the top 5 feminist magazines, Hamby. By circulation.

    Go ahead. I dare you.

    Our issues do not get a great deal of coverage. When they do, it’s always scare-tactics time: Your medicine cabinet might have poison! Your day care operator might be a pedophile! Your kid’s school might have a contagious disease! You don’t see news stories telling us that women make X% compared to men on the evening news. You don’t see that affirmative action cases involving sexual harassment are going up. You don’t see that women are suffering more from unemployment than men are right now.

    But you can bet that the many women who are dealing with all that care about it, and more of them would care about it if someone in the mainstream media would talk about it. But they don’t, thus most women don’t know about it and can’t care about it.

    So it’s extremely disingenuous to come up with some hare-brained hypothesis about what politics women are talking about as it pertains to what women care about, while utterly failing to take into account the sources of the political issues they’re discussing.

  54. 54
    Lino Kallaher

    I’m still learning from you, while I’m making my way to the top as well. I absolutely enjoy reading everything that is posted on your site.Keep the tips coming. I liked it!

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