Atheism is a social justice issue – race edition

This is part of a series of articles intended to illustrate the usefulness of treating atheism as a social justice issue, rather than trying to wall atheist discourse off from social justice discussions. Read the introductory post here. Read the second post here.

One of the most common critiques of discussing issues of race in atheist communities is that it is ‘divisive’. For a moment, I will hold my bile and grant the most generous interpretation of this kind of statement – since race is not a valid reason to divide groups of people, we should not treat people from different racial groups differently; discussing race divides the population into arbitrary groups, and that’s not fair. The reason that it is almost exclusively white people who make this statement is perfectly illustrative of the problem with it: race may not be a morally valid way of dividing the population, but racialized people are acutely aware of the fact that it does divide the population. Pretending that isn’t so does not somehow make the effect disappear.

At her new blog Freethoughtify, Bridget Gaudette tries to tackle this meme head-on: [Read more...]

Atheism is a social justice issue – contraception edition

This is part of a series of articles intended to illustrate the usefulness of treating atheism as a social justice issue, rather than trying to wall atheist discourse off from social justice discussions. Read the introductory post here.

As I intimated in the panel discussion of masculinity we had last weekend, the fight over women’s access to contraception was a particularly illustrative example of the existence of gender oppression at the expense of women. No moment was more visually perfect than what occurred in a panel about the right of religious organizations to deny insurance coverage of contraception to their employees. This image is forever burned into the feminist discourse:

Five men sit on a Congressional panel about contraception

“The uter-what? That’s where the irrational emotions and original sin come from, right?”

But that image, hilarious though it may be, typifies a reality for women in America that is anything but funny: [Read more...]

Atheism is a social justice issue – a primer on intersection

One of the current fights happening within the atheism movement is a dispute (often heated, usually stupid) over whether or not the atheist community should concern itself with so-called “social justice” issues. I say this fight is “stupid” because the idea of someone insisting that people not talk about some topic in order to live up to some ridiculous and fictitious ‘purity’ standard is a level of dog-in-the-manger hubris that defies rational explanation. Atheist bloggers, like all bloggers, are going to discuss whatever they think is interesting; atheist communities, like all communities, are going to discuss those issues that are relevant to their needs and interests. Suggesting that because you are not interested in something necessarily means that nobody may be interested in it is both howlingly silly and self-unaware.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve become progressively more aware of another, more central flaw in the contention that discussions of atheism must be walled off from social justice issues. Previously, I was content to take the “let people discuss what they want to discuss” position – if you’re only interested in talking about religion, then go nuts. Nothing wrong with that, right? Religion is an interesting topic, but there’s nothing inherent to religion that requires you to care about LGBT issues, or race issues, or gender issues – you’re talking about belief in a supernatural being.

(Some of you are already screaming into your monitors about why this position is wrong, but let me walk all the way through this) [Read more...]

New required reading: What a Victim-Blaming World Looks Like to a Victim

There is a spirited conversation going on in the comment threads of a recent post, wherein someone has decided to contribute the oh-so-underrepresented point that victims of assault should have taken better care to avoid the assault. It’s far from a novel point, it’s far from an accurate point, it’s far from a useful point; sadly, it’s not a far from popular point. It is therefore quite serendipitous that my lunch-time reading (which should have been lunchtime blogging) included this excellent piece by Erika Nicole Kendall (Trigger warning for descriptions of abuse and sexual assault):

People far more eloquent than myself have commented on the foolishness of telling victims (and potential victims) that they have some culpability in their ability to be victimized. I’d be a fool to re-mow that neatly manicured lawn.

However, I think we need to fully understand what the world looks like in a space where it is acceptable to tell people that they can protect themselves from being raped. It’s easy to talk about the immediate consequences of a society that thinks that women invite attack by “dressing like sluts” or by “drinking too much” (and yes, I am saying “women” on purpose, despite the story above) and how wrong-headed that thinking is, but what does the world look like when you are told to live in constant fear of being victimized?

You know what it looks like? It looks like young girls, suffering from the advances of grown men who should know and be encouraged to do better, who carry their books across their chest because their breasts attract too much attention. It looks like Mothers of young girls, buying their pre-teen and teenaged daughters giant sweaters to wear to try to hide their breasts, because they “know the boys will stare.” And, right now, as someone says, “Of course they will stare!” I have to wonder – do we even bother to tell our boys (and, hell, grown men, too) how wrong that is? That no, it is not simply “hormones” and “natural urges” to gawk at and objectify a young girl because she’s got a large rack?

[Read more...]

On the wrong side of justice

This post is going to be a bit of a pedantic rant about a figure of speech, but I hope you’ll bear with me because I don’t think it’s a trivial issue. Progressive liberals often describe conservatives as being “on the wrong side of history” when it comes to things like gay rights, gender or race equality, and generally most progressive causes. History indeed shows us that the people who make arguments standing in opposition to social changes often find themselves left in the dust – defenders of Jim Crow segregations laws lost, as did those who opposed women getting the vote, as did those who said that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to serve in the military.

There is something missing from that “left in the dust” statement though, and that’s the word “eventually”. The people who opposed Jim Crow were highly relevant right up until Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act. People who opposed gay equality in Canada (at least insofar as marriage was concerned) were highly relevant up until 2004, when the Supreme Court ruled that marriage discrimination violated the Charter rights of gay Canadians – people who oppose gay people serving openly in the U.S. armed forces only became ‘the wrong side of history’ last year.

Indeed, we can also see this starry-eyed phrase crop up in our ongoing social justice struggles: [Read more...]



A short headsup: it’s been brought to my attention that a person out there is pretending to be me. They’re pointing at this site and claiming that they are Brian Lynchehaun, and including the above photo in their email correspondence.

Putting aside the (clearly insane) notion that being this particular Brian Lynchehaun improves your odds with the women (I have not yet been informed that they are hitting on men), should you receive an email from someone purporting to be me, I’d encourage you to click on the twitter link that follows all of my posts in order to verify that The Real Brian Lynchehauntm.

Alternatively, I can easily be found on Facebook and G+.

And now back to your regularly scheduled posts…

A link to Brian on Twitter!

A response to Dan/Libby Anne – Civic Responsibility

Patheos bloggers Dan Fincke from Camels with Hammers and Libby Anne from Love, Joy, Feminism have launched a new and ambitious project to discuss and begin to codify values that are present in the online secular community:

Like many other bloggers, I spend most of my time criticizing the ideas of others – toxic religious beliefs, patriarchal gender roles, the elevation of virginity, and the agenda of the religious right – and comparatively less time building positive alternatives. While it’s critical to contest values and ideas we find harmful, it’s also important to build up positive alternatives, and it’s that understanding that birthed Forward Thinking.

The first issue has been posted:

Our first prompt involves an issue that is, I think, too often left undiscussed. It is my suspicion that differing ideas about the nature of civic responsibility and what all it includes often underlie political differences in ways we do not always recognize. I believe that we as forward thinkers would benefit from bringing this issue out of the shadows and discussing it directly and enthusiastically. And so, without further ado, I give you this month’s Forward Thinking discussion question:

What does civic responsibility mean to you?

I think this is a great idea, and will be responding whenever I can. My response to this prompt lies below the fold:

[Read more...]

Taxes ARE Theft (but so what?)


One of the oft-made claims by self-styled Libertarians is that ‘taxes are theft’ (and are therefore ‘bad’). This kind of assertion underpins most of the Libertarian position, and also the bulk of any anti-tax/pro-small-government arguments by folks of any political stripe. Unfortunately, it’s rare to hear this position defended as the self-styled Libertarians don’t seem all that well-read with regards to their own literature.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Ayn Rand was gaining prominence, but there were no Philosophers backing her corner, partially because she spouted utter drivel and partially because to side with Rand was engage in self-loathing (Rand was notoriously anti-Philosophy/ers).

Enter Robert Nozick, with his tome “Anarchy, State and Utopia”. Nozick is well-regarded in Philosophy for articulating what was inarticulate, and defending the generally indefensible. Nozick sketched out the Libertarian claims, largely as a response to John Rawls’s defense of Social Justice, and, well… His arguments are not obviously terrible (as much as we may disagree with them). His arguments are certainly compelling, if you have a tendency to ignore all counter-arguments to your position. But hey, that’s the human condition, right?

So let’s dive in. And hold your nose (and your breath), because Nozick doesn’t make the argument that ‘taxes are theft’. Nope: “Taxation of earnings from labor is on par with forced labor.” Yeah, he went there.

[Read more...]

A petition in support of a more diverse freethinking community

Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism has created a petition on

We support making the atheist movement more diverse and inclusive. It’s long been clear that the skeptical movement has a preponderance of white men. While we don’t disdain their participation, we believe skepticism is valuable and important to people in all walks of life, and in accordance with that principle, we consider it vital to have a movement that reflects the demographics of the society we live in. If our community continues to be dominated by white men, it will become increasingly out-of-touch and irrelevant as Western society becomes increasingly multiracial and multicultural and as non-Western countries gain economic and cultural power.

To that end, we urge the atheist and skeptical organizations to make a conscious commitment to diversity: to intentionally reach out to people of all ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds to speak at our conventions, to serve on our boards of directors, and to be the public faces and representatives of skepticism. We believe that there are talented, dedicated and eminently qualified people of every gender and every race, and that seeking them out will strengthen our movement and broaden its appeal.

I’ve talked about the value of diversity a number of time on this blog: [Read more...]

Shame is not a lever lightly pulled



Occasionally, I see people invoking ‘shame’* as a strategy to some end. That people ‘should be ashamed for doing shameful things’ and that ‘shaming people for doing shameful things is good’. I have to admit that I find this mindset somewhat baffling, for a number of reasons.

Without getting into the ins and outs of what shame ‘is’, exactly, I think we can agree that shame is a negative feeling we have in certain situations, related to/overlapping with guilt, or to just generally ‘feeling bad’*. I think that ‘feeling bad’ captures a wide range of situations, but the word ‘shame’ applies when the ‘feeling bad’ is in response to a social response (or a projected potential social response) to an action we just did. An illustration: a child breaks a window and feels shame, even though no-one is around, because that child projects how people will react to her breaking that window. (This article is an extremely simplified overview. For a far more in-depth and technical article, see end note. For those of you with a background in Psychology: I am intentionally conflating guilt/shame/embarrassment as these terms are often conflated in the vernacular. This article is not intended to be an explanation of the difference between those things, but an argument against trying to evoke that group of emotional responses)

There are two important criteria to be evaluated when trying to determine whether or not a particular tactic is ‘good’.

  1. Is it effective? Given the goal that I want to achieve, does using this tactic actually move me towards that goal? Is effective in the long-term, or only in the short-term?
  2. Is it ethical? If the tactic is, itself, harmful, and there is no other less-harmful effective option, then yes this tactic may well be the least unethical choice. Conversely, if there are other less-harmful effective options, then the use of this tactic is unethical.

[Read more...]