Atheism is a social justice issue

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. Read the third post here. Read the fourth post here.

What I hope we have seen from the previous examples is that, in the exact same way that race ‘intersects’ with LGBT issues, or that class ‘intersects’ with gender issues, religion is tied up in other so-called ‘social justice’ topics. Insofar as no social justice issue can truly be well understood without an appreciation for the differential ways they impact other groups, it is impossible to understand and intelligently critique religion without first learning to identify and analyze the other elements that ‘intersect’ it.

I certainly cannot speak on behalf of all atheists – perhaps there are indeed people who enjoy talking about their non-belief with the same rough intent as people who collect stamps or build ships in bottles. They may not care at all about what other people believe, so long as they are allowed to pursue their atheism hobby unmolested. If such people exist, I have not come across them – although I consequently wouldn’t, so maybe that’s a Catch-22. My experience of organized atheism, and of the far-less-organized world of online atheism, is that atheists believe passionately in secular government and that religion deserves public criticism. It is to these atheists that this series is addressed. [Read more...]

Atheism is a social justice issue – colonialism 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. Read the third post here.

One of the social justice issues that I have become increasingly aware of, as a direct consequence of aboriginal activist groups in North America and Africa, is the issue of colonialism. The fact is that, with only a handful of exceptions, our current geopolitical system carries with it a legacy of colonization by various European powers as they attempted to expand their domain and their powers. Indeed, even our very idea of what a nation is has been essentially cribbed wholesale from the colonial powers. Because we exist in a history and an existential philosophy that was created by the colonizers, identifying colonialism is often quite difficult. Its effects, however, are easy to observe (if not to properly attribute).

Even the most cursory examination of the history of colonialism will stand testament to the fact that religion is a major and intrinsic component of colonialism. During the physical colonization of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, religion provided not only a major source of the justification for the domination of the people aboriginal to that region (i.e., the need to ‘Christianize’ and ‘save’ those people), but informed the mechanism of action (e.g., foreign missionaries, residential schools, destruction/adaptation of local religions/customs). It is not possible to understand religion without understanding colonialism, and vice versa.

Which is why this ‘contribution’ from atheist standard-bearer Dr. Richard Dawkins was so ill-conceived: [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...]

Special Feature: Real Men Don’t Talk About Misogyny

This past weekend I convened an all-star panel to discuss a topic whose time has definitely come: masculinity and misogyny. Our discourse within the atheist community has hit a sticking point (for many) in the form of the role that feminism plays in understanding not only our own internal community dynamics, but the world around us in general. This ‘internal’ debate is happening alongside a similar discussion happening in our society at large, where the role that women play in our democracy and our day-to-day lives is under particular scrutiny.

The issue before the panel was the statement “Real men don’t talk about misogyny” – not a direct quotation, but certainly a paraphrase of a general dismissive attitude of feminism as something that only women can and should talk about or participate in. The discussion centred around 5 general questions:

  • What is a “real man”?
  • How can we define “misogyny”? How does misogyny manifest itself in online discussion?
  • What role does religion play in gender roles?
  • Is misogyny similar to or different from other forms of bigotry (racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.)? How?
  • Do parents have a role to play in the discussion?
  • What do/can/should men contribute to discussions of misogyny?

The discussion (which clocks in at just under 90 minutes), a description of the panelists, and some of my own thoughts are after the fold.

[Read more...]

Reflections on the Oakville Klan story

I want to follow up this morning’s post with a couple of things that were sitting in the back of my mind as I was reading.

Canada’s polite racism, and the ‘tone’ crowd

One of the defining features of racism in Canada is that it usually comes disguised in very neutral, inoffensive language. Canada’s myth of its own “non-racist” status owes dearly to the fact that for the most part, outright racial hostility was much less common here than in the United States. This is not in any way to say that racism didn’t exist (as this book more or less conclusively proves), but rather that we found euphemistic ways to express violent thoughts without having to use the appropriately violent words, for fear of shocking our delicate consciousnesses.

While it’s not a perfect analogy, I couldn’t help but think of the endless admonishments that people press into service about the importance of “tone” in social justice movements. While tone has a role to play in persuasiveness, the argument about tone often manifests itself as a proxy for righteousness. In the nagging tones of faux-concern, people often chastise participants in social justice conversations for “demonizing” or otherwise offending members of the majority group. “Tone” is used as a way of dismissing the disempowered as being “too angry” or “divisive”, rather than recognizing that whatever anger there is is entirely justified, and the divisions pre-extant. [Read more...]

Reflecting on the Yee Clun case

There are a couple of things from yesterday morning’s post that I think bear further examination and reflection.

One of the good ones

Yee Clun was lucky, in a sense, that he was able to muster support from well-regarded white Reginans. What Backhouse found extraordinary is that, with only a couple of notable exceptions, the bulk of Yee’s defenders protested that he was clearly not the kind of person who the law was supposed to discriminate against. He was one of the good ‘Chinamen’, who would never drug and subsequently rape a white woman in his employ.

Members of minority communities know this kind of ‘defence’ quite well. Many ostensible allies confide to their friends of colour that they (the friend) is different. Unless the desire for flattery overpowers the frontal lobe of the friend’s brain, this ‘difference’ suggests quite clearly that the so-called ally thinks that the stereotype is true, just not universally so. I am not in a position to judge other people and their reaction to such a statement, but I don’t consider a person who thinks that I am intelligent and worthwhile despite my blackness to be much preferable to someone who hates me because of it.

The other thing worth noting is that such defences do not matter. It doesn’t matter how ‘exceptional’ you are, people who judge people based on their race are going to judge you on the same basis, no matter how exceptional you try to be. They might claim to make exceptions for you, but as soon as you do something that makes you lose their favour (or in Yee’s case, when you’re up against someone whose favour you’ve never had), you will immediately be lumped in with the hated group. “One of the good ones” is code for “you’ll be the last one we come for”. [Read more...]

Wandata’s Trial and today’s Canada

While reading the chapter that informed this morning’s post, I was particularly struck by the number of parallels between Manitoba in 1902 and Canada in 2013. Now, to be sure, this is more than likely to be a big ol’ ball of confirmation bias – I have learned more about Canada’s history with First Nations in the past few months than I have in the preceding 28-odd years, so I’m sure a lot of my facts will seem to resemble each other more than they might actually in ‘real life’. That being said, there were a number of things that stuck out to me that I want to reflect on here.

First, I must once again express my shock at the racist ethnocentricity and quasi-cartoonish evil that is the banning of dancing. I am not sure why, but I honestly believed my country was never so laughably puritanical as to say that dancing threatened the moral fibre of adult human beings. Clearly I am not immune to the kind of self-flattering overestimation of Canada that I criticize in others. This new information does give me serious cause to drastically revise my estimation of Sir John A. Macdonald downward – he was not a man who was laudable or worthy of emulation, and that becomes clearer the more I learn about him. [Read more...]

#FuturamaArcher: Or, ‘Futurama: Noooooooope!’

Robert Reece of Furious and Brave and I have challenged each other to an essay-writing contest. Each of us has 2,000 words to write a persuasive essay defending the honour of the superiority of our favourite animated series. Robert has chosen Futurama, and I have chosen Archer. We have not seen each other’s essays in advance, nor co-ordinated in any way (aside from agreeing on publication date and length). His essay can be found here.

The Archer intro logo

When considering the comparative merits of any work of art, taste being subjective, it is necessary to develop a set of criteria by which the different works can be judged. In the absence of such criteria, any comparison swiftly becomes an exercise in who can express the most fervent support – a contest of fanaticism rather than a proper comparison. I must confess that, were this to be such a challenge, I would surely come up short – Robert is far more practiced at defending positions based on the strength of his emotion and passion alone. I am unfortunately forced to rely solely on facts and logic.

And it is based on fact and logic, limited and uninteresting though they may be, that I enthusiastically state unequivocally that Archer is a superior animated series to Futurama. Now, it behooves me to mention at this point that I have a deep personal affection for Futurama – I would not dream of arguing that it is a bad show. Nor would I argue that it has not made its contribution, such as it is, to our popular culture. Such an argument would not only be easily demonstrated as false, but it would be shockingly disingenuous. I am, in fact, a fan. That being said, I recognize superiority when I see it, and I simply cannot deny that Archer is a better show, for reasons I will detail below.

My first task is to establish a set of criteria by which the relative greatness of a work should be judged. Again, due to the subjective nature of taste, I will eschew things that are so obviously subjective as, for example, ‘which show is funnier’. Such a crude comparison is clearly not worthy of the refined and discerning audience of this piece (and besides, for that specific category, Archer would win in a walk). Instead, I offer these much more concrete categories for evaluation: [Read more...]

“Why isn’t there a white history month?”

One of the staples of black history month is legions of white people generating faux outrage in an ever-expanding variety of media wondering why there isn’t a “white history month”. There’s a black history month, the argument goes. Isn’t the goal for everyone to be equal? Why can’t we celebrate white history? Is it because you’re racist? I think it is!

The rejoinder that I and many others usually give (at this point it’s nearly perfunctory) is that the very existence of black history was denied for generations. Either by omission or by naked assertion, the possibility that blacks had contributed not only to American history but indeed to world history was precluded from contemplation, let alone taken seriously as scholarly pursuits. It is only very recently that this area has been considered worthy of academic exploration. As a result, we have a hole in our cultural understanding, requiring a special effort to acknowledge the role that a previously-excluded group of people played in our heritage.

The same cannot be said for white people, which is why there isn’t a “White History Month”. [Read more...]