Someone’s Been Living in an Alternate Reality Again

Ho, hum, another day, another dumbfuck claiming atheists have no basis for morality. I see Avi’s given them a right proper fisking. Good thing he’s a good writer, because this shallow shite’s points look like they came off an apologetics-for-assclowns site. Oh, my heck, does our Avi have patience. I’d’ve chucked this garbage in the trash after the first paragraph. This is just so century before last – ooo, what’s this?

3. A Moral, Simple and Convincing Justification for moral compasses

But it may surprise the reader to learn that a universal and convincing justification does indeed exist. One that is grounded neither in the coercive power of fear of punishment in the hereafter (as offered by most religions), nor in man’s selfishness (as attempted by some secular ethicists). One that is already available to approximately a third of the world’s population. The secular inability to justify the various secular moral compasses is in stark contrast with this moral, simple and extremely convincing justification.

No hellfire-and-damnation? No eternal reward? But not secular? Omigosh, whatever could this magic justification be?!


Spill it!

What is this justification if not heaven or hell, you may ask?

I just did! What, you want it notarized? It’s already in writing. Sheesh.

What is able to thoroughly justify an unselfish moral message of neighbourly love? One that promises no selfish reward, yet seems capable of propelling many of its followers to selflessly disregard their own well-being in their efforts to improve the lives of the poor, the ill and the downtrodden in the most backward parts of the world?  What if not the fear of hell or the reward of heaven can propel one to act in this way? Why ever disregard your own wellbeing for the benefit of others?

What’s this reminding me of? Oh, right.

Heffer and Filburt encounter difficulties whilst dressing up as Mr. Bighead. Just one of the countless delights that awaits those who watch Nickelodeon's Rocko's Modern Life, now available on Amazon Instant Video! WOOT!

Heffer and Filburt encounter difficulties whilst dressing up as Mr. Bighead. Just one of the countless delights that awaits those who watch Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life, now available on Amazon Instant Video! WOOT! Click the photo for the cartoon with a quote for every situation.

Heffer: This guy’s asking too many questions! What do I do?

Filburt: I don’t know… mmmmmm… Punch him!

Nah. Awesome episode, but one must not take (many) life lessons from cartoon shows, no matter how great. Violence isn’t the proper response to a pompous arsemunch. My moral compass is pointing due-Exit. These flip-flops are made for walkin’, which is what I’ll do if Doofus doesn’t get to the point soon.

This non-coercive, moral, simple and extremely convincing justification seems unique to none other than the Christian message and faith.


The primary justification of the moral compass from the Christian message seems neither to be fear of God nor that of hell.

Stahp! STAHP! Owowow my ribs!

*snifflesnortwheeze* Woah nellie, you sure are a hoot! That’s some premium comedy right there, I mean, wow, I can’t even – what, what, you’re serious?

This makes Christianity quite distinct from other religions that usually hold this coercive type of justification only.


skeptical cat

You know, that’s an interesting interpretation of the subject, but the founders of Christianity would like a word with you.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” - Matthew 3:11-12


“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” - Matthew 7:19


“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” - Matthew 10:28


“Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” - Matthew 13:40-43


“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” - Mark 9:43-48


The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. - Mark 16:16

That Jesus Christ fella was a real shit, always running around and threatening non-believers with eternal torture, and dangling a nice, shiny Heaven in front of the sheeple who’d swallow his shit whole. He’s clearly got nothing to do with Christiani – oh, dear. Apparently he does.

Also, too, and furthermore, it looks like a lotta Bible-believing churches didn’t get the memo about “grounded neither in the coercive power of fear of punishment in the hereafter… nor in man’s selfishness.”

Church sign: Where will you be sitting in eternity? Smoking or non-smoking

Image via Postkiwi.

Billboard: Without Jesus Christ (image of pitchfork) You'll spend eternity with Me! (image of Satan)

Image via Mindspring.

Church sign: I kissed a girl and I liked it. Then I went to Hell.

via Lucien Maverick’s Blog.

Church sign: Son screen prevents sin burn.

via Jonathan Sigmon

Billboard: It's your choice... heaven or Hell. Read John 3:36

via Friendly Atheist

Ah. Right. John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” Yes, very… “grounded neither in the coercive power of fear of punishment in the hereafter… nor in man’s selfishness,” that.

Gee. I wonder what Jesus would say about those signs?

Buddy Christ via eBaum's World.

Buddy Christ via eBaum’s World.

Considering the dude was always on about “fire” this and “wailing and gnashing of teeth” that, I don’t imagine he’d have any concerns.

Look, I could go on for the rest of the year with the awful Bible verses and shit Jesus spewed – believe me, it wouldn’t be difficult to find Christian after Christian who’s firmly convinced that we’ll get rewarded or punished by Big Skydaddy depending on whether we slobber on Junior’s sandals adequately or not. Plenty more who’ll tell you there’s a hell and a heaven, and your good and bad acts determine which you end up in. People have been converted to Christianity, kept trapped in it, by that particular carrot-stick combo. So don’t try to sell me this bullshit about Christianity having some amazing unique non-coercive moral rationale, because it’s coercive as shit. I can’t help it if you happen to be an assnugget with severe reading comprehension problems and a talent for convincing yourself that up is down and strong-arm is gentle persuasion. But don’t come around to atheists and try to sell that rancid pile of rotten fish, unless of course you like having your nose rubbed in it. Capisce?

Here endeth the lesson. Have a nice day.

Discoveries and Delights, Including Kitten

Yes, I’ve been rather scarce over the last several days – a sorry state of affairs that should soon be changing, now that I’ve made a slight adjustment to my meds that allows me to stay awake for more than an hour at a time. Huzzah!

I missed FtB Conscience this year, but should this network pull off that insanity next year, I intend to take the plunge. By then, I should have Flood “geology” to talk about, and hopefully shall split your sides with laughter whilst teaching you how to read rocks in the apoplectic face of a creationist. Hee.

Haven’t lain idle this weekend, my darlings, despite the lack of blogging. I’ve been occasionally applying nose to grindstone, gone out for an adventure, and exercised ye olde upper body by swinging toys for kittehs. Even whilst laying idle, I haven’t been idle! Allow me to report:

1. There are a lot of very interesting books on the fraud that is Mormonism out there. I shall have a full report on two of those soon – finishing the second one now. The first I read was David Fitzgerald’s The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion Book One: The Mormons. Oh, my heck, people – it was hilarious. Frequently infuriating – I mean, these are real people being suckered, and I know from experience many of them are nice folks and excellent neighbors. But still, funny. David’s a wonderful writer and I’m dying for the rest of his guides. You can catch a podcast with him from Sunday’s Atheists Talk. I’ll be tempting you into buying the book later on.

Interlude with Kitten:

Luna with one of her all-time favorite toys.

Luna with one of her all-time favorite toys.

2. I did science! Well, science research. And got stuck on radiocarbon dating – for some reason, my brain couldn’t process the fact that there are two dates: 14C yr BP and Cal yr BP. Brought me to a complete stand-still, that did, because I knew the second one was the adjusted date to match calendar years, but I had no idea why there were two dates to begin with. I mean, why not just put the corrected date in and be done with it? So I scrambled off for a quick lesson on Wikipedia, and discovered it’s a consistency thing. Now it makes sense! And I found a handy little calculator for dealing with uncalibrated 14C yr BP. Simple! This has all made me inordinately excited, but it’s nice to have that stuff click, and get past the block. Even easy-peasy stuff like this is harder to do when you’re teaching yourself, but with the internet, all things are possible, frequently in about ten minutes.

Interlude with kitten.

Luna's next-favorite new past-time is attacking boxes. She really gets in to it.

Luna’s next-favorite new past-time is attacking boxes. She really gets in to it.

3. I found a wealth of sources on the geology of Discovery Park, including (drumroll please) a paper by our own Donal Mullineaux! Yes, that’s right – the man who, with Rocky Crandall, scrambled to keep up with Mount St. Helens’s antics and keep folks safe during a major eruptive phase worked on Discovery Park, too. Woot! Tie-in! Really, this got started simply because I was trying to correct an old post for republication on Rosetta Stones. It was supposed to be quick and easy. But you know me: I start small and it builds. I start rolling a little ball for a diminutive snowperson, and the next thing I know, the ball’s at the bottom of the slope, is about a thousand feet in diameter, and I still have to do the torso and head, not to mention find the largest carrot on earth for the nose. Good thing I know where to find some extra-large coal for the eyes…

Interlude with kitten.



4. I took B out to Richmond Beach, home of some of my favorite boulders in the Seattle area. I have no idea where this red sandstone came from, but it has personality and I love it.

Mudcracks, people! Fossilized mudcracks! WOOT!

Mudcracks, people! Fossilized mudcracks! WOOT!

Puget Sound has apparently been thieving from the rip-rap along the railroad tracks, because this boulder belongs up by the tracks, not down on the beach. Lots of great boulders up there, with mudcracks and ripple marks galore. And there’s a spot where the wave energy is so low because of the boulders that there’s this little lens of very fine sand that was a delight to bare feet. And then the tide came roaring in, and I got to play with liquefaction as I walked through the waves. Poor B didn’t have his flip-flops, so he was stuck navigating driftwood to stay dry. Still. Outstanding outing.

Interlude with kitten.

Luna and Kirby out playing in the yard.

Luna and Kirby out playing in the yard.

5. We spent a lot of our time stuck beyond the kitteh event horizon. I gave one of Misha’s old feathers-onna-string-onna-stick toys to Kirby and Luna, seeing as how Misha hasn’t so much as looked at it in at least two years, and when we waggled it at her to ensure she hadn’t changed her mind, got very angry at it. In the above photo, Luna looks like she’s stalking her brother, but she’s really after the feather toy. They’d chase that, then each other, and leap and run and collide, and it is a gigantic time suck that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

6. Kick Ass. Seriously. ZOMG I bloody love this movie and can’t believe I haven’t seen it before now. After I’ve seen it again, I may put together a missive about girls and superheroes and role-reversals and about how people lose their shit over that sort o’ thing, but for now, I’m just – wow.

Interlude with kitteh.

Got Misha this thing called Pulp Friction. Catnip infused. She seemed briefly high, which is a change from her past.

Got Misha this thing called Pulp Friction. Catnip infused. She seemed briefly high, which is a change from her past.

7. MMA. Silva vs. Weidman. I’d been in Oregon, busily getting chased by yellowjackets and having the time of my young life with Anne, Chris and Lockwood, so I missed it. Luckily, B recorded it. We’ve been working our way through to the main event for the last few weeks, complicated by the fact that the kitten keeps pulling our attention away, and there was a Cards Against Humanity game, and… Let’s just say, though, it was bloody well worth the wait. BAM. Yes, I do love MMA, especially when unexpected things happen.

8. Quality time with kitteh. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Misha these last several days. She’s been very snuggly, wanting to curl up against my arm and occasionally have a tummy-rub, and getting mad if I have to get up. Needless to say, been doing lotsa reading. And dozing off. And dividing time between bed and porch. We had an excellent long lounge in the sunshine and shade today. Then she got offended when I decided I wanted to sketch some stratigraphy rather than snuggle some more. Silly beast.

Another with her fake log. She's actually hunkered down with it at least once a day for several days - a new record for a cat toy.

Another with her fake log. She’s actually hunkered down with it at least once a day for several days – a new record for a cat toy.

9. Speaking of stratigraphy… I’ve been staring at the Olympia Interglacial sediments, trying to make some sense of them. A soft-sediment deformation expert I am not. But I did some poking round the intertoobz, looking at various and sundry, studying some photos of similar bluffs which have had their soft sediments explained, and part of the structure clicked. Could they be… ripple marks? Later, when doing my stratigraphy sketch from a diagram in Mullineaux et al, and copying down his observations of the different layers, I came across his interpretation of just that bit of bluff: ripple marks.

People, I hope you’ve all experienced little moments of triumph like that, where you’ve scrambled to pull together enough knowledge to make a somewhat-educated assessment of something, not sure you’re really getting it, and then getting verification from an expert that yes, indeed, you got it right. It’s not a world-changing thing. It’s something that other people can tell at a glance. But getting it for the first time, that’s a huge moment. Knowing that you did this, that you can do this… that, to me, is why learning is its own reward.

So it’s been a weekend full of discoveries, and Discovery, and food and fun and friends and furry critters who make it nearly bloody impossible to get anything done, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Especially since I’ll soon be able to share my discoveries with you, which makes them all the more exciting. Also, there will be videos of kittehs playing. Coming soon!

Gotcher a nice sunset. Took lots of photos of this one. I'm collecting lots of really beautiful pictures from here and there, the kind of things you see on inspirational posters. I'm going to make my own inspirational posters, complete with Bible quotes. You know, quoting the worst, bloodiest, most intolerant or bizarre bits of the Bible. Heh.

Gotcher a nice sunset. Took lots of photos of this one. I’m collecting lots of really beautiful pictures from here and there, the kind of things you see on inspirational posters. I’m going to make my own inspirational posters, complete with Bible quotes. You know, quoting the worst, bloodiest, most intolerant or bizarre bits of the Bible. Heh.

Choosing Rock

Some of you fence-sitters and those who’ve been, I dunno, trapped deep underground with no internet access for two-plus years, may be wondering what the fuss is about. I mean, jeez, Ron Lindsay just made a bone-headed speech and spouted off on the official CFI blog. What’s the harm, amirite? You may think the response is disproportionate to the offense.

But the thing is this: both the content and the context of his little lecture at WiS2 were awful. His actions afterward, when he attacked Rebecca Watson rather than attend a fundraiser for his own organization, displayed a stunning lack of professionalism, and went against the principles he himself had agreed to abide by. He betrayed himself as well as the women he said he stood by. That shows a weakness of moral fiber that concerns me deeply.

And the CFI Board? Given the chance, they couldn’t even muster a miserly “We’re sorry you were offended.” They couldn’t lower themselves to say even “I can see why you’d be upset, but…” They chucked the long, eloquent letters of very hurt people into a deep black hole and chose to blame the hurt folks for hurting. They decided to make the dedicated set of harassers, abusers, and general riff-raff scream for joy.

One act can balance ten thousand kind ones. What Ron did wasn’t evil, per se – there are far worse things that have been done. But his was an act that balanced many kind ones. It was an act that called into question CFI’s ability to lead in the secular movement. One act can fracture trust. A second (such as the Board’s) can shatter it. We no longer trust Ron Lindsay and the CFI Board of Directors to act in our best interests. Nor should we.

There are a great many organizations that do outstanding work within the secular movement. There are organizations that stand by their principles, no matter how it hurts them (hi, Skepticon!). There are organizations whose leaders have stood unflinchingly beside the women of this movement (hi, American Atheists!) Why should we support an organization whose leadership chooses not to support us?

I choose the rock I stand on. I will not stand on rock that threatens to crumble away from beneath me. I choose to stand with those who share my principles. And one of those principles is that you not only pay lip service to women, but support them as they struggle to undo the damage of thousands of years of second-class citizenship, servitude, and slavery. You can tell me that your rock is safe to stand upon, but I will base my decision upon the cracks I see in it, and how well you fix those cracks when they form.

CFI was once a great rock to stand on. The dedicated employees and volunteers did remarkable things for the secular movement, and I will be forever grateful to them for their hard work and dedication. But CFI’s leadership chose to let that rock fall away. I can no longer stand there. Many of us have discovered we can’t. And we are not shy about making our choice public. We hope those dedicated and outstanding people will either be able to repair that shattered rock, or find better places to stand, but we cannot stay there.

You can choose other rock. You have that right. But your choice will determine whether we stand beside you or apart from you. This should not surprise you. We choose, every day, where we will stand, or if we will stand at all, and those choices shape the world around us.

I have made up my mind to stand with the feminists, the social justice advocates, the people who are trying to make this world a better one. I choose to stand with those who are working to empower the powerless, and give voice to the voiceless. I choose to stand with those who will not tolerate harassment. I choose to stand with those who not only fight religion and superstition, but against outdated social constructs that constrict rather than allow people to realize their potential.

Upon this rock I stand.*

Moi standing upon Siletz River Volcanics at Alsea Falls.

Moi standing upon Siletz River Volcanics at Alsea Falls.

With thanks to Robert G. Ingersoll, who chose his rock, and rocked it.


*Being a geologist, I can assure you as to its stability. This is an excellent rock that will be very hard to break.

No Longer Donating to CFI? Skepticon Could Use Your Help!

Thanks to our own John-Henry Beck, I was made aware of this outstanding adherence to principles, irregardless of money:

However, after witnessing the actions of one of our years long sponsors, the Center for Inquiry (CFI), it has come to our attention that, in order to uphold the values that we have come to embody and endorse, we will no longer accept their sponsorship.

So what does this mean for Skepticon? Well, losing a large sponsor is going to hurt a little bit (we’re probably going to have to sell some of those awesome hats were were talking about) but it has made even determined than ever to make a conference that we can be proud of.

That right there tells me Skepticon is worth supporting. If you’ve withdrawn your fundage from CFI, Skepticon is a great place to redirect your donations. I’ve thrown some money in their coffers, and will be doing so on a semi-regular basis. Remember, this is student-led and free, and principled. If you can spare the change, show them some love.

And, Skepticon? Thank you for being awesome. Much love!


Nate Adds a Few Cents

Our own NateHevens has a few words to say about Good Christians™ himself.

Look… I get that you’re not like those Christians. I get that you’re a good, loving Christian who’d never send death threats. I get that you’re pro-choice, that you don’t have a problem with non-straight marriage, that you’re open and experimental in life. I’m really glad that you don’t have a problem with atheists. I’m even happier that you think works is at least as important as faith, if not more. I’m especially happy that you don’t believe in hell. (Please note that all of these are “or”, not “and”, so you might believe some and not the others, etc.)

But I also don’t care.


Go on over and see the rest of his several cents’ worth. And remember, Good Christians™ – we do love you, but please, save the Not Real Christianity™ spiels for them as needs ‘em.

Ron Lindsay’s Extraordinary Bullshit II, In Which I Compose a Letter

Here is the missive I have sent to the board of CfI.

Dear CfI Board Members:

You may notice that I haven’t spent this opening paragraph telling you how grateful I am that you have championed excellent causes in our secular community. Of course CfI has done great work in the past. We in the secular community have been very happy to join you in common cause, and are proud of the work you have done, “but this is something you know already, and, although I don’t want to appear ungracious, why take up time to state the obvious, because the reality is we have much work to do, and presumably you’re reading this letter for substance not rhetoric.”*

The president and CEO of CfI should know better than to stand up in front of a conference focusing on women in the secular movement and spend his time telling them how they have disappointed him, what he expects them to do, and how he desires they act. I can think of no other opening to a conference that treated its speakers and attendees with such blatant disrespect. Ron Lindsay has created an enormous problem for CfI. This problem can be resolved by removing him from his position. Failing that, he must apologize, in full and without qualification, and demonstrate by his actions that he understands that what he did was beyond the pale and must never, ever happen again. He will have to show his full and unqualified support for the women in the secular community he has wronged. And he must promise never to speak at a Women in Secularism conference, nor any other conference for women, without ensuring his speech focuses on their accomplishments and initiatives, and supports them fully.

This woman, and many of the women I know, are finished with men who feel they must always make it All About Them. This is precisely what Ron Lindsay did. That would have been quite enough to justify the anger of speakers, attendees, and those of us who were following the conference from a distance. However, his subsequent behavior was frankly appalling, and shamed CfI deeply. An apology for one statement in one blog post does nothing to make amends. And so, members of the board of CfI, I call upon you to shape him up or ship him out.

Does this sound harsh? Take my harshness as a measure of my disappointment. I’m afraid that if CfI cannot discipline or dismiss Ron Lindsay for his outrageous behavior, I will never be able to support your organization financially, nor by recommending it to secular people seeking an organization they can rely on, nor by publicizing your campaigns, fundraisers, or any other actions that may require community support.

I know I am not alone in this. I know I am not the only one who has expressed anger and disappointment. All of us would be delighted to support CfI in the future. Your actions in this matter will determine our course.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.


Dana Hunter

En Tequila Es Verdad and Rosetta Stones

*If this portion was offensive, speak to Ron regarding it: I lifted it nearly verbatim from his statement in his WiS2 speech.



Christian “Love” and Christian Dissociation

(This was written long ago, and I never got round to posting it, but a fresh infusion of Good Christian Love™ has made it quite relevant. So why the hell not?)

I’m so tired of this.

I’m tired of hearing people prattle on about “God is Love” and what loving, moral people religion makes. It isn’t true. It’s manifestly not true. What religion does is takes otherwise decent human beings and turns them into sanctimonious shits, when it’s not busy enabling evil. “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction,” Blaise Pascal said once. This is truth.

Let me just state this now, for the believers: I do not want to hear, “But that’s not True Christianity!” I do not want to hear, “But I’m not that kind of person.” The first is a bloody stupid No True Scotsman fallacy, and you should be better than that. The second is beside the point. And don’t even begin to tell me how the majority of Christians are wonderful people who would never, ever do the things I’m about to show you Christians have done. Stop playing defense for the home team for a moment. Sit down on the sidelines and listen.*

I will tell you what set me off. It was back when I tweeted a link to this post by Chris Rodda. Some wonderful Christian had sent Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an email on his birthday. It was full of ethnic slurs and bile and some choice Christian love:

That’s right Mr. Weinstein. Hell awaits you. As it awaits your wife and children and all who align with the satanic darkness you and your “Freedom Foundation” preach Mr. Weinstein. And we are frankly very glad of it.

And right after I tweeted the link, someone I like and respect** tweeted back, “yikes! I hope I come across as a friendlier Christian.”


Let me unpack the wrong here. She’d apparently read the post, as my tweet didn’t give away much. So she’d just seen that vile bullshit spewed by a man who loves him some Jesus. And all she could think about was appearances, rather than condemn, directly and without hedging, that venomous hate. Perhaps she didn’t mean it to, but those words come across as a Christian caring more for presenting a good Christian facade than sticking up for a fellow human being.

And that’s disgusting. It’s far beneath her, a person I know to be smart and funny and caring. I wonder if she would she say the same if she realized that this man, in defending the Constitution, fighting for the separation of church and state in our military, battling for other Christians, as well as atheists, Jews, Muslims, pagans, and all other religious flavors when they come to him with problems caused by evangelical Christians using our armed forces as a captive audience for conversion, has been targeted by people who would describe themselves as Good Christians. His house has been vandalized, “good” Christians have killed animals and strewn them on his property as a warning; he and his family need bodyguards because some of these warriors for Christ believe God will be quite happy with them if they blow Mikey Weinstein and his family away.

“Yikes! I hope I come across as a friendlier Christian.”

It doesn’t matter how friendly you are. It doesn’t matter how much fluffier your Christianity is compared to their (supposedly fake) Christianity. It. Doesn’t. Matter.

And I’m not speaking just to her. I’m speaking to all of the Christians who have responded to the worst Christianity has to offer with, “That’s not really Christianity.” Or, “Not all of us are like that.” Let me tell you something: distancing yourself from your fellow believers accomplishes so very little other than making you look like a self-absorbed jerk. You sound like you don’t give two shits about the people harmed by the behavior of your fellow believers. Don’t tell me not all Christians believe that way, and not all of them are like that, and you’re not like that. I know this. If you were, we wouldn’t be friends. If you were, you’d be too busy telling me I’m going to burn in hell to tell me how awesome your brand of Christianity is.

Tell them that. Tell the people who threaten harm, and do harm, in the name of God that they’re despicable shits. Read them the riot act over their behavior. Tell them this isn’t what Christian love is all about, if that’s what you believe, but please don’t tell it to me.

Not after I’ve seen what Christian love really looks like. Here’s the response to a brave young girl who asked for a prayer banner in a high school to be taken down: there’s the rape threats, and the death threats, and the threats of violence, and the sincere wishes for her to burn in hell. Ordinary Christians who, up until the time Jessica Ahlquist asked the school to abide by the Constitution and take down an illegal prayer banner, were probably quite decent and possibly kind, suddenly let their inner lunatic go. Over a fucking banner.

I want you to click this link. Right now. Go see only one of the many disgusting letters she got juxtaposed against the holy words on that fucking banner. You might have pointed to that banner as proof that your religion teaches love and compassion and morals. This is how well it worked.

These are good Christians, killing animals to leave on a man’s lawn, threatening to kill him, threatening to beat and rape and murder a teenage girl. If all you have to say to me is, “I hope I come across as a friendlier Christian” or the equivalent, all I have to say to you is, you have some soul-searching to do.

*And don’t you even start the “Atheists can be meanies, too!” spiel. We know that. We’ve screamed at them for it. And we, unlike you, do not have this bloody stupid idea that some ancient book cobbled together from the ravings of goatherders and fanatics, full of horrific violence, somehow has the magic formula for making people wonderful.

**I like and respect her enough not to plaster her identity all over this post. That may not be the right thing to do. But I want to give her enough anonymity to hopefully think rather than get defensive, and it wasn’t meant only for her anyway. She’s not the only believer I’ve encountered who, although a fantastic human being, says some very fucked up things when religion is involved.

How Many Fires Should the Arsonists be Allowed to Set?

So there’s this thing a lot of decent people (and isn’t it remarkable how they’re almost always men?) have been doing. It happens in public with people like Lee Moore and Michael Nugent playing at being peace brokers; it happens in private, with friends and respected colleagues comparing the harassers and the harassees to the USSR and America. Sit down at a table, they say. Air grievances, they say. Come to an agreement, they say. Give and take is what’s needed here, they say.

They never do get that there are some situations that can’t be resolved by dialogue, some people with whom negotiation is impossible. I’m reminded of Methos trying to talk sense into MacLeod, speaking of a person whose only goal was death and destruction: “Kronos didn’t torch those villages for a few coins, he torched them to watch them burn.” What can you offer to someone whose only desire is to cause damage (and be lauded by the upper eschelons while doing it)? Nothing except capitulation. So what, we hand Kronos a torch and say, “Go to it”?

Firing Match by Vomir-en-costard, via Flickr.

Firing Match by Vomir-en-costard, via Flickr.

I’ve been struggling to find the proper analogy to describe how bloody stupid this is, but it clicked in place today, and perhaps it might help a few of the peace brokers understand what their pushing for peace looks like to those of us who have had their houses set on fire:

[Peace Broker]: you’re asking us to negotiate with arsonists. If there are arsonists in your community who won’t stop setting fires, you don’t ask the anti-arson parts of the community to negotiate how many fires the arsonists can set, and how much damage the anti-arsonists are expected to tolerate. You stop the arsonists, period. Please don’t play silly buggers by equating “both sides” to superpowers with equal accountability and concern for survival. That’s an incorrect and harmful analogy. It does nothing to solve the problem.

The Digital Cuttlefish, with whom I shared this analogy (and who understood this long ago), wrote it up in an easy-to-understand poem. Perhaps the peace brokers could sing a few bars if the written words aren’t penetrating. All together, now: “Why Can’t You Just Meet Me Halfway?”

If you wish to ask me that – why can’t I let the harassers meet me halfway, hash out our differences over a beer or in some grand diplomatic scheme, let me just ask you this: why won’t you let arsonists burn down your house? Not the whole thing? Well, why not just part of it? The bedroom? The living room? Kitchen? Well, how about a bathroom? Oh, and don’t forget, there will be other arsonists coming who will want to burn your house down as well, so make sure you have some kindling and other rooms ready to welcome them. And they will never ever stop, not until you’ve moved to a different state to get away from them, and never once show up to hang out with your friends or family in your old neighborhood again. Even then, they might track you down and light a match just for old times’ sake. You know, just to show you how vulnerable to arson you are, and why you might want to rebuild with asbestos. But surely, Mr. Peace Broker, you can accept that. After all, aside from the whole arson disagreement, your interests are perfectly aligned!

Fire in West Campus by That Other Paper, via Flickr.

Fire in West Campus by That Other Paper, via Flickr.

Also, after you’ve negotiated your “peace” with the arsonists, the murderers would like a few words. Well, a few limbs, but it’s all the same when it’s all in good fun, right? How can there be peace among us if you aren’t willing to part with at least a foot or two?

Those with a fetish for dialogue need to consider what dialogue actually does, and consider the fact that dialogue in this case was tried and failed. You can’t negotiate with arsonists. Nor should you have to.

So, future peace broker, consider the analogy above. Ponder the fact that not all disagreements are like tensions between countries. Realize that not everything can be resolved by just talking it over. And take the following to heart:

[Peace Broker] can’t compel us to “come to the table” with bullies. He can’t, without their help, tell us there is anything to be gained by talking to people whose idea of disagreement is to:

There is nothing he can do to convince us that this time, as opposed to the other times these folks didn’t want to hear what we had to say on our own blogs, things will be better because it happens in his space.

Instead of handing the arsonists more matches, could you perhaps consider stopping them from setting fires instead? Just a thought.

Pearl River Fire by Loco Steve, via Flickr

Pearl River Fire by Loco Steve, via Flickr

Ron Lindsay’s Extraordinary Bullshit Part I: Wherein We Have a Discussion About Open Letters

I’ve been meaning to parse and publish this for some time. Remember all the way back when Ron Lindsay published and signed that open letter that wasn’t so much a call for civility as a call to STFU? Remember when people got upset? Yeah. Well. According to the letter, we were supposed to call folks before reaming them, so I asked for his phone number on Twitter. I was pretty shocked when he actually gave it to me, but then, he’d just signed the letter saying people should phone each other, so that bit was fresh in everyone’s mind. We couldn’t come up with a good time to talk on the phone, our schedules being what they are, so we eventually conversed via email. By the time all that was done, the furor over the open letter had subsided, and there was always something more pressing to publish, and most days I forgot Ron Lindsay existed.

Obviously, after his extraordinary fuck-ups at WiS2, my memory’s been jogged.

I’ll have Words to Say about the “welcome” speech debacle. And no, I won’t be calling (or emailing) Ron after he failed to live up to his own fucking pledge. But before I get to those Words, here is the conversation surrounding that ridiculous open letter asking us why we can’t just all play nice with each other (which is a question Ron Lindsay should be answering right about now).

Dissapointed cat

Onward, then:

Dear Dana,

This is in response to your April 10 email. I will try to answer your questions as best as I can given my time constraints and also my unwillingness to divulge the contents of private or confidential communications.

Because I am taking the time to answer your questions as best as I can, if you do refer to or reproduce my answers in a blog post, I ask that you reproduce them in full.

Please note that I am speaking only for myself. I do not have the authority to speak for, nor am I speaking for, the leaders of any other organizations.

In response to your questions: First, you need to be aware of the process, at least in broad terms, by which the Open Letter was produced because the wording of your email suggests a misconception of the process.

The Heads group had a meeting in Atlanta on January 26. Heads is a very informal group consisting of the leaders of major secular organizations. It has no constitution, bylaws, written rules of procedure, governing body, etc. It was started several years ago as a way for leaders of these groups to talk about issues of common concern in confidence, in part to foster an atmosphere of cooperation and trust and to help bring about coordinated action where possible.

Prior to this year’s meeting, there was significant discussion on the Heads listserve about diversity issues within the movement and problems relating to online communication. There was also discussion concerning sexism and feminism. I submitted for consideration a proposed statement that leaders of the organizations could sign on to if they wanted. Two other individuals submitted statements for consideration. There was much discussion, including discussion at the actual meeting in January. Secular Woman, through its representatives, was one of the organizations that participated in the discussion.

At the meeting, there was a consensus that the three persons who had submitted proposed statements should confer and draft a statement for consideration. There was also a consensus that the statement should focus on problems with online conduct, with specific mention being made of the despicable comments being directed against some women. The statement would take the form of a pledge by the signatories to do their best to improve the content and tone of online communication, along with some suggestions for everyone, that is, for leaders of organizations as well as everyone else.

There was no consensus at this time to support a statement that was more focused on sexism or feminism, although there was unanimous support for inclusion within the statement of a section that would unambiguously indicate that advocacy of women’s rights was an integral part of the mission of secular organizations.

With this background, let me answer your questions.

Section I, Questions 1-6:

[He didn't include the questions, so I shall do so here:

I. When drafting this open letter, which of the following women/organizations did you reach out to?
1. Secular Woman
2. Ophelia Benson
3. Stephanie Zvan
4. Greta Christina
5. Rebecca Watson
6. Mary Ellen Sikes/American Secular Census]

Prior to the Heads meeting, I publicly solicited input from anyone interested in issues of diversity within the movement and/or the controversy over sexism and feminism. Thus, to the extent that they were interested, all the individuals and organizations you mention had the opportunity to contribute. (As I recall, Stephanie Zvan, Ophelia Benson, Kim Rippere, and Mary Ellen Sikes did submit comments.)

With respect to the Heads discussion, both Mary Ellen Sikes (American Secular Census) and Kim Rippere (Secular Woman) participated. The Heads discussion was limited to members of the Heads group. That’s simply how the group operates.

[Okies. Next section:

II. Have you read any of the following posts:

With respect to Section II, Questions 1-6, I read all the posts you have cited.

[I guess I should have added a short reading comprehension quiz for each.]

Section III [III. Questions arising from various comments and posts]

Question 1: [How are we to "pick up the phone" or "send a private email" to those who either won't provide them or won't answer our calls/emails? Are we supposed to follow this procedure with our harassers?] Your question relates to one paragraph of the Open Letter. This paragraph, as is true with the rest of the Open Letter, presumes people will interpret it using common sense. If talking or writing to someone is pointless, because they have already made their hostility abundantly clear, there is no need to engage in a futile act. I don’t think this needed to be spelled out. (If we had spelled it out, we may have been accused of infantilizing our audience.) The advice to communicate privately at first applies to situations where it’s possible to avoid a needless public battle.

Question 2: [Do you understand why not addressing problematic behavior in public is a problem in and of itself?] I’m not an absolutist in many things, and I’m not an absolutist on this issue either, nor do I suggest that you or anyone else should be. Sometimes private communication is better; sometimes a public statement is better. It depends on the situation and also what you mean by “problematic.” See my answer to Watson #5 below.

Question 3: [Many women, this woman included, feel that the Open Letter give shelter to our abusers, a bludgeon to silence us with, and treats insults and rhetoric as equal in badness to "slurs, expressions of hatred, and threats." Can you see why this is a major issue for women and PoCs, and will prevent many of us from endorsing it?] I do not interpret the Open Letter as you do. The Open Letter explicitly condemns blogs and comments that exhibit hatred, including rape threats and insults denigrating women. The Open Letter nowhere equates a rape threat with mere rhetoric, however tendentious.

Question 4: [Holding private conversations about equal rights and problematic behavior such as racism, sexism, or ignoring minority voices has historically done little to solve these issues, while taking the conversations public has proven to be very effective. How do you respond to the concern that privacy will allow problems to fester, fail to be effective, and ends up silencing minority voices?] Again, I think you’re misreading the Open Letter. It is not recommending privacy for all communications, all the time. Sometimes public condemnation is appropriate. Judgment is required.

Question 5: [The focus on internet behavior ignores the fact that many of these problems begin and continue offline. It also focuses on tone and gives the appearance of ignoring substance. What is your response to these concerns? Were you aware of them while drafting this letter? If so, why were they not addressed?] As indicated, the Open Letter was a product of discussion among some twenty (or more) people. It was a compromise among people with different perspectives. The consensus was that we should strive for unity, and the Open Letter was a statement almost all groups could endorse. Another statement would not have achieved the same level of unity. Nothing in the Open letter precludes individual organizations from implementing policies or taking action on issues not addressed in the Open Letter. I am aware that harassment, sexist behavior, and other forms of unacceptable conduct occur offline.

Question 6: [Will there be a follow-up open letter explaining what concrete steps your organizations will be taking to end harassment in the secular community? Do you see why merely expressing support for the idea of equality, rather than committing to concrete actions, fails to impress people who have suffered abuse from or been ignored by those proclaiming their belief in equality? Do you see why the letter's emphasis on civility rather than addressing specific concerns alienates the people whose equality you claim to care about?] I cannot predict what other organizations might do. I doubt if Heads as a group will do much more in the near future simply because there is a significant problem with coordinating action between annual meetings. CFI addresses the problem of harassment in our current policies. We may adopt further relevant policies. Our policies are continually being reviewed to ensure they address issues of concern to members of our community. Regarding the Open Letter’s emphasis on civility, it should not alienate people if they understand the limits and focus of the Open Letter.

Question 7: [How do you respond to those of us who sincerely regard this letter as an attempt to maintain the status quo and ignore the serious issues of sexism in the secular community? Do you think that asking the abused to speak nicely to their abusers is actually helpful?] Regarding the first part of this question, please refer to my prior responses on the specific focus of the Open Letter. Regarding the second part, the Open Letter does not ask “the abused to speak nicely to their abusers.” There is no sentence resembling this statement anywhere in the Open Letter. This is your characterization, and, respectfully, this is a mischaracterization.

Question 8: [If the letter was advising how secular organizations should respond to harmful religious practices/beliefs/actions, or how to respond to racism in the secular community, would you still support it without reservation?] To repeat myself, the Open Letter’s focus was on online conduct, not the broader issue of sexism, so your examples are not analogous. That said, I favor civility where possible. Civility does not imply inaction in the face of objectionable conduct. It never has. Gandhi and King were civil, but they were far from passive. Similarly, with respect to religion, Harris, Hitchens, Jacoby, Dawkins, and Dennett, as well as many others, have been civil, but they have also been vigorous opponents of the harm caused by religion.

RW Section [The following questions arise from the comment you left on Rebecca Watson's post. These are questions that subsequent commenters wish see you answer.]:

Question 1: [Instead of addressing specific criticisms of the open letter made by Rebecca Watson, American Secular Census, and Secular Woman, you asked for a "fair reading" of the letter. What, in your view, constitutes a "fair reading"? How have these women been "unfair" in their reading so far?] A fair reading of the Open Letter would examine its contents in the context of the problems it specifically set out to address. Such a fair reading would proceed paragraph by paragraph and state whether the points contained therein are wrong or provide advice that should be rejected. I do not think this type of analysis was done by all critics.

My comment was not specifically directed at any one individual, although obviously I did have Rebecca’s post in mind when I made my comment. One statement by Rebecca I thought was particularly unfair. She suggested that the leaders who endorsed the Open Letter “stop etching tablets” and instead “start actively participating in the massive feminist fight against the Religious Right.” CFI has been advocating on behalf of women’s rights for years. It is an integral part of our mission. We’d love to do more. Give us more funds and we’ll do more. I’d be thrilled to have another staffer who could focus exclusively on advocacy for women’s rights, especially in the area of reproductive rights, which are currently under a coordinated assault.

Question 2: [Not one person criticizing the letter has demanded that it "solve all the world's problems." They have pointed out how its call for online civility fails to address the serious problem of sexism in the secular movement, which is the source of much of the incivility. How do you address those specific criticisms?] I think everyone who belongs to Heads recognizes that sexism isn’t confined to the Internet. There were differences of opinion on how best to address sexism. Consequently, at this time there was no consensus on the wording of a statement that would address sexism apart from this one paragraph:

The principle that women and men should have equal rights flows from our core values as a movement. Historically, there has been a close connection between traditional religion and suppression of women, with dogma and superstition providing the rationale for depriving women of fundamental rights. In promoting science and secularism, we are at the same time seeking to secure the dignity of all individuals. We seek not only civil equality for everyone, regardless of sex, but an end to discriminatory social structures and conventions – again often the legacy of our religious heritage—that limit opportunities for both women and men.

Question 3: [You take issue with Rebecca's characterization of the letter as delivered from "on a mountaintop," but several people offering criticism have explained why the letter gives the impression of a top-down approach. They note that it contains "you statements" – prescribing the conduct you expect from others – and does not contain concrete actions you will take to address these issues, other than a problematic boilerplate pronouncement against insults etc. and moderating comments. How do you respond to these specific criticisms? Do these criticisms help you understand why the letter presented itself as a series of "thou shalts" rather than "we wills"?] I still take issue with the characterization of the Open Letter as being issued from a “mountaintop.” I admire the craft that went into this rhetorical flourish, but am disheartened by its unwarranted suggestion that those who put the letter together view themselves as religious leaders issuing dogmatic pronouncements. There is no justification for this. I presume the members of the secular movement want their leaders to talk about issues and where possible commit to taking unified action. If one is disappointed that they did not address all the issues that one thinks should have been addressed, then, fine, state that. But there is no basis for attributing to them a Moses-like mindset.

You are mistaken, as are others, in implying that the Open Letter has lots of “you” statements. The “you” statements are confined principally to the one paragraph that has drawn so much attention (that is, the paragraph suggesting private communications as a possible alternative to public communications.) The “we” statements in the Open Letter far outnumber the “you” statements. Perhaps the signatories can be accused of inconsistency in pronoun use, but bad grammar does not equate to a top-down approach.

Question 4: [Many of us have no desire to "heal the rifts" between us and our abusers. Would you insist that battered women "heal the rifts" with their batterers? Should we reach out to appease those who write for hate groups like A Voice for Men?] Please reference prior answers. This set of questions, as with others, attributes to the Open Letter advice that is not contained therein.

Question 5: [Did you pick up the phone and speak to Rebecca before writing your comment? If not, why did you neglect to follow the procedure laid out in the open letter that you signed?] No I did not speak to Rebecca before writing my comment and I do not accept your suggestion that my failure to speak to her somehow indicates I was neglecting advice set forth in the Open Letter.

These questions seem inspired, again, by that one paragraph in the Open Letter which recommends that private communications be considered as an alternative to a public communication. However, to infer that one must always talk or write to someone before posting a comment on a blog is to misinterpret the intent of the Open Letter. The intent of that one paragraph of the Open Letter was to suggest private communications as an alternative — where feasible — to starting a public battle. Sometimes this may not be feasible, in part because battle lines are already drawn. Other times, private communication may not be necessary because one’s comment is of the type not likely to be considered incendiary. I think my comment was reasonable, not inflammatory.

But the fact of the matter is I did write privately to Rebecca, Stephanie Zvan and Kim Rippere after my comment. I had some concerns which I did not raise in my public comment. These were discussed. There was still disagreement at the end, but I made a deliberate decision not to go public with my remaining concerns because I thought it might create an unnecessary battle, yielding divisiveness instead of respectful disagreement. Private communications are not always better, but they are sometimes better.

I hope this answers your questions.

So I got this email, and read it a few times, and while I was grateful he’d taken the time to answer lil ol me, I was still left with a few odd flavors on my tongue:

1. It might have just been me, but I felt like I’d just been lectured to by a condescending jackass.

2. He never did understand that the questions I was asking were synthesized from the questions and concerns of dozens of people in the comment sections of several posts, regardless of the fact I reminded him of that several times. This did not boost my faith in his reading comprehension skillz.

3. He’s relying on “fair reading” and “misconception” to protect his ass. It sure as shit didn’t work for me.

But, y’know, whatevs. I was willing to give him the bennies of the doubts, and chalk it up to him being in a rush and all that, and figured that he probably wasn’t such a bad sort at heart. But then came WiS2, and there are no more bennies of the doubts. Not when the man’s so busy with a backhoe digging his way to the opposite side of the Earth that he can’t hear the united chorus of people who are extremely put out by his extraordinary bullshit. You are all welcome to read the above exchange in light of subsequent events and form your own conclusions. And should you wish to see the entire email chain, I will publish it.

And Ron? If you’re reading this and bristling at my tone, I invite you to pause and consider how your own tone might be improved, and how in the future you might manage to avoid pissing off nearly every woman (and a good chunk of the decent men) in our movement. I wish you every success with your contemplative endeavors.

Help Folks Forcibly Evicted by a Tornado

Y’all have heard about what happened to Moore, Oklahoma, right? You already know an atheist gave Wolf Blitzer the what-for? And there was the good news about the lady and her dog? Coolio. So I don’t have to pitch why you might want to throw some spare change their way.

Lots of atheist orgs are helping out:

Atheists Giving Aid

Foundation Beyond Belief

Humanists of Florida

Oklahoma Atheists (note “Rebecca Vitsum”)

I’m sure I’ve missed some – let me know your favorites if I have.

Also, Donors Choose is starting a fund for the teachers who will have to put their classrooms back together from scratch – you can donate to that fund here.

Thanks for lending a hand, my darlings!