[Note from 2015: Tornado survivors should be aware this post may be triggering. I no longer like my trivialization of the tornado disaster in this article. Or my defense of it in comments. All very clueless. I apologize for the insensitivity of it. I have changed the title from “What Do Ron Lindsay and an Oklahoma Tornado Have in Common?” to “The Ron Lindsay Debacle.” I am leaving everything else unaltered for historical purposes. But I would not write this article in such a fashion now.]
Besides raging over the same weekend? Both are ignorantly destructive blowhards, apparently. At least Lindsay didn’t kill anything (except his own common sense, and maybe his career in secular leadership).
Lots happened while I was away at the fantastic Imagine No Religion conference in Kamloops, BC. I recommend it for next year, it has been by all accounts great every year, and this year was no exception. But while I was nestled safely up there enjoying good scotch and martinis, a tornado ripped apart a community in Oklahoma (I guess by Pat Robertson’s logic, it must have been full of feminists), and charity aid is much needed (atheists can help: please donate to Humanist Crisis Response through the Foundation Beyond Belief, an umbrella charity organization specifically geared for nonreligious donors).
And over the same weekend at the Women in Secularism conference in Washington, DC (where a zillion feminists actually were…evidently your god’s aim sucks, Pat), the president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, Ron Lindsay (the sole male speaker), opened the conference by complaining about a campaign to ask men to listen to women before complaining about women, by telling women to stop telling men to listen to women before complaining about women…at a conference for women, funded by hundreds of women (since attendees forked over the registration fees, they actually paid for the conference). And then he acted like a stock sexist man and hysterically defamed the woman who criticized him for this rather than responding to her actual (calmly presented) arguments. Thus becoming the poster boy for a man who doesn’t listen.
I couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s stranger than fiction. Anyway, I needn’t blog about the Lindsay Faceplant because that has already been excellently done. If you want to get caught up on this debacle, I highly recommend, first, Jason Thibault’s brief live description of what Lindsay said at the conference and how obviously wrongheaded it was, and then Amanda Marcotte’s Open Letter to the Center for Inquiry, and then An Alternative Universe by Stephanie Zvan, Taking It Personally: Privilege and Women in Secularism by Ashley Miller, and The Silencing of Men by Rebecca Watson (the tone and quality of which has to be compared to the garbage Lindsay wrote in response: Watson’s World and Two Models of Communication…a title whose irony was completely lost on Lindsay, considering that he decided to respond to a reasonable and ultimately correct argument by hysterically accusing its author of “the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea” and then proceeded to pick at irrelevancies in her case and straw man what she said and ignore her every substantive point…nice).
[Since I first published this article, a really excellent analysis has also come from philosopher Dan Finke: Feminism, Civility, and Ron Lindsay’s Welcome to Women in Secularism, which reinforces many of the points well-made earlier by Adam Lee in Some Sadly Necessary Remarks on the #wiscfi Intro. Subsequently, Lindsay has since issued a lawyerly quasi-apology for comparing Watson to North Korea, yet in the very same remark treats her with veiled contempt by referencing the least relevant remark in her article and still ignoring her every substantive point, and all her evidence, and refusing to retract or apologize for any of his more substantive errors. This appears to be a trend with him. See the bemusing analysis of Nancy McClernan in Ron Lindsay’s Non-Apology Apology over His Non-Welcome Welcome.]
Lindsay on Atheism+
One thing I’d like to add to these critiques is his equally-ignorant treatment of Atheism+… Apparently he has never read (or at least paid much attention to) anything by Atheism+ advocates or listened to any of their podcasts or videos. Just as he evidently doesn’t talk to feminists or bother to learn anything about feminism before lecturing to an audience of feminists about feminism…for example, he doesn’t understand the difference between defining feminism, on which there is no disagreement among feminists, and deciding how to implement the goals of feminism, on which there is abundant disagreement and everyone knows it, whereas conflating the two is common among anti-feminists, a fact Lindsay seems quite unaware of, and thus he remains clueless as to why he’s getting his head bitten off over repeating an anti-feminist trope.
But back to his ignorant snarking over Atheism+…
First, Lindsay describes “the Atheism+ movement” as “atheism plus activism on social justice issues,” which is not quite correct; a better formulation is as I put it in my American Atheists convention speech, Atheism…Plus What?, where I explain to nearly 30,000 viewers so far (none of them Ron Lindsay, apparently) that Atheism+ means Atheism+Humanism+Skepticism (and that wasn’t my idea: it is how Jen McCreight described it almost from the very beginning: see Why Atheism+ and Not Humanism, yet another article Lindsay didn’t read, since he also asks why not humanism, a question we’ve all answered repeatedly, yet evidently he doesn’t know that).
Being an atheist, a humanist, and a skeptic entails not necessarily activism on social justice issues (only as much as you feel motivated to), but at minimum talking about the intersection of atheism and skepticism and social justice issues (as was perfectly clear in my first posts on the subject: The New Atheism+ and Being with or against Atheism+ and then updated to cover recent events in Atheism+: The Name for What’s Happening). Note the crucial distinctions here, and how clueless Lindsay is in his speech about this. He isn’t listening.
Then he says “because CFI was already involved in social justice issues, including women’s rights issues, I was frankly lukewarm toward the Atheism+ proposal,” which is a bizarre non sequitur (“I believe in doing x and do it avidly, so I’m lukewarm toward efforts to ask others to do x, too”…huh?).
Then he says “based on the rhetoric of some of its proponents, and I underscore some not all, it seemed to me to have the potential to be divisive,” yet he gives no examples. If he had, he would know that the only rhetoric he has objected to was directed at vile sexists and misogynists joking publicly about anally raping a teenager, sending rape threats to prominent feminist bloggers, and engaging in campaigns of disgusting and relentless harassment (and occasionally at trolls and people openly attacking humanist values). He then confuses those quite legitimate voices of outrage with all defenses of Atheism+ whatever (“I’m not sure about this Atheism+ movement, you’re being too mean to rape apologists and sexual harassers for my taste”…huh?), which is a mistake (or lie) that many haters of Atheism+ make.
So it seems he listens to them, but doesn’t actually listen to actual advocates of Atheism+. For a corrective, read Greta Christina’s Atheism Plus and Some Thoughts on Divisiveness, which I’m sure Lindsay has also not read–even though he seems to be aware of it when he backhandedly says “according to at least one proponent it was intended to be divisive,” a remark that suggests he wants to be inclusive of men who issue rape threats to women in secularism (among much else in the vile column), which is so appalling a conclusion I can only assume he doesn’t know what that “one proponent” actually said, because he didn’t actually read it.
Then he argues that “nomenclature is…not supremely important,” for example, “at the end of the day, you cannot force someone to call themselves a humanist, so if people prefer to call themselves an Atheist-plusser, or whatever the term is, that’s fine,” evidently unaware of the fact that this is what advocates of Atheism+ have been saying since day one (see, again, my painstaking explanation of this fact in Being with or against Atheism+ as well as my summary again in Atheism…Plus What?). So Lindsay again doesn’t listen.
Then he says “some questions remain, for example, how should secular organizations, including any organization that styles itself as an Atheist+ group, set their priorities? You can’t do everything at once,” as if he has not read or heard a single word we’ve said on this subject. We’ve been very clear about this as well, from the very beginning (see all my links above), making all the same points he does, yet he seems to think he is introducing them anew, as if he’s being clever. So yet again, Lindsay doesn’t listen.
Then he backhandedly suggests Atheism+ might be a secret commie plot. No, really. That’s kind of the evident subtext when he asks, “Is the destruction of capitalism considered part of a social justice program? If so, that position certainly has very significant implications.” Really, Ron? Try actually listening to proponents of Atheism+ before purporting to know enough about it to lecture people on it. Act like a proper skeptic and actually learn something about what you are responding to before reaching conclusions about it and asking ignorant questions of faux concern (especially if you’re going to try the Red Scare tactic).
I happen to know that another major organizational leader in the secularist movement, Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, has his staff keep up on the exchanges online over feminism and Atheism+, reading what is written and giving him reports on it (staff that includes women). It seems Lindsay is too clueless to have anyone do that for him. And he must not be doing it himself. Silverman clearly understands how to do his job. Lindsay apparently doesn’t. Someone so stubbornly out of touch with atheism in the 21st century probably shouldn’t be leading an organization that serves that community.
Lindsay could fix this. He could start listening instead of ignorantly preaching about what he knows little about and offending and outraging half his constituency. He could also take criticism seriously, as an opportunity to improve his organizational message, instead of dismissing that criticism as North Korean propaganda. He could do all that. But he does not appear to be trending that way. And I cannot see that as a sustainable behavior if he hopes to keep his job.