Exposing Adam Lee’s lies about Richard Dawkins

While I was gone Daylight Atheism‘s Adam Lee wrote a piece at Comment is free. Originally called ‘Richard Dawkins has officially lost it: he’s now a sexist pig giving atheists a bad name’, the article has since been renamed ‘Richard Dawkins has lost it: ignorant sexism gives atheists a bad name‘. Perhaps someone wanted more brevity; perhaps Lee didn’t like editors’ choice of title; perhaps Dawkins fired off an email rant, as he did last year when a colleague tweeted my criticisms.

Since that Buzzfeed article went up and Sam Harris mouthed off about ladybrains, Dawkins has railed nonstop about bloggers like me and Lee ‘faking outrage‘ for money. (Far be it from the author of The God Delusion, worth $135m according to the Sunday Times, to engineer controversy for profit.) Backstroking through my own pools of cash, I have to tell him £17.50 – from seventeen different posts – is the most I’ve ever made from a month’s ad hits.

If outrage posts do well, it’s only because normally they’re topical. The biggest factor in the traffic something gets is how ‘current’ it is: while I’m sure Lee’s article has done well, I’d put money on Scotland’s referendum being the Guardian‘s biggest pull this week; I imagine a Cif piece defending Dawkins would do similarly well and posts about a five- or -ten-year-old controversy would flop. At least in my case, calling him out doesn’t get half the traffic now it got a year ago because readers are used to it – that Richard Dawkins’ Twitter feed is awful is old news. I’m expecting Adam Lee name’s will do more than his, in fact, to draw attention to this piece.

Most of Dawkins’ critics aren’t even paid bloggers. That he can’t imagine atheists rebuking him without ulterior motives – that he doesn’t think a rational person could sincerely object to him – speaks to his greatest and best-established flaws: the man has an out-of-control ego and no grasp that there’s more than one point of view.

In case you still need more evidence of that, see what he said about Lee’s article:

This seems to be the main objection, but to date no one has said which sentence in particular contains a lie. I’ve decided to look for it myself.

We can rule out first the parts that are unfalsifiable, i.e. that would be called opinion in court or claim entirely personal knowledge. Isolating them looks like this.

I became an atheist on my own, but it was Richard Dawkins who strengthened and confirmed my decision. For a long time, I admired his insightful science writing, his fierce polemics, his uncompromising passion for the truth.

So, I’m not saying this is easy, but I have to say it: Richard Dawkins, I’m just not that into you anymore.

On Twitter these last few days, Dawkins has reverted to his old, sexist ways and then some.

Remarks like these make him a liability at best, a punchline at worst. He may have convinced himself that he’s the Most Rational Man Alive, but if his goal is to persuade everyone else that atheism is a welcoming and attractive option, Richard Dawkins is doing a terrible job.

What’s so frustrating, from the standpoint of the large and growing non-religious demographic, is that Dawkins is failing badly to live up to his own standards. As both an atheist and a scientist, he should be the first to defend the principle that no one is above criticism, and that any idea can be challenged, especially an idea in accord with popular prejudices.

[W]hen it comes to feminism, he’s steadfastly refused to let his own consciousness be raised. Instead, he clings to his insular and privileged viewpoint – and, worse, he’s creating the impression that ‘true’ atheists all share his retrograde attitudes.

Like many scientists who accomplished great things earlier in their careers, Richard Dawkins has succumbed to the delusion that he’s infallible on any topic he chooses to address, and in so doing, has wandered off the edge and plummeted into belligerent crankery

Whatever he may say, it’s up to the wider atheist community to make it clear that this one public intellectual doesn’t speak for all of us. If the atheist movement is going to thrive and make a difference in our society, it needs to grow beyond its largely older, largely male, largely white roots.

Dawkins . . . is harming the cause he himself claims to care about.

In the long run, however, the reputation Dawkins will damage the most is his own.

Nothing there, as far as I can see, could be a lie. Then there are opinions quoted from other people:

‘I’m surprised and, frankly, shocked by Richard’s belligerent remarks about feminist bloggers over the past couple of days,’ [Ophelia Benson] told me. ‘Part of what made The God Delusion so popular was, surely, its indignant bluntness about religion. It was a best-seller; does that mean he ‘faked’ his outrage?’

(It is, of course, a claim of fact that TGD was a bestseller. I assume no one’s challenging that.)

Blogger and author Greta Christina told me, ‘I can’t tell you how many women, people of colour, other marginalised people I’ve talked with who’ve told me, “I’m an atheist, but I don’t want anything to do with organised atheism if these guys are the leaders.”

[A]uthor and blogger PZ Myers told me, ‘At a time when our movement needs to expand its reach, it’s a tragedy that our most eminent spokesman has so enthusiastically expressed such a regressive attitude.’

As [Amy Roth] told me this week: [']The men and women in this community have a right to speak up about it, and if the best argument you have against us is that we are the “thought police” or we are writing for “clickbait” or that the weight of our words is equivalent to an actual “witch hunt”, then perhaps it’s time to retire to your study and calmly reevaluate the actual topics at hand.[']

Nothing falsifiable there either: you might not share any of these opinions, but you’d be hard-pressed to call them lies. That’s half the article out of the way. Now to the bits that do make factual claims.

[When] something I’d written got a (brief) mention in The God Delusion[, it was one of the high points of my life].

It did. This thing, specifically.

The atheist movement – a loosely-knit community of conference-goers, advocacy organizations, writers and activists – has been wracked by infighting the last few years over its persistent gender imbalance and the causes of it.

It has. It really has. No one doubts that.

Many female atheists have explained that they don’t get more involved because of the casual sexism endemic to the movement:

They have – here, here and here, for a start.

parts of it see nothing problematic about hosting conferences with all-male speakers or having all-male leadership[...]

Quite so.

and that’s before you get to the vitriolic and dangerous sexual harassment, online and off, that’s designed to intimidate women into silence.

There’s some room for debate on how sexual harassment is defined, and its purpose is a matter of opinion. To begin with, though.

Richard Dawkins has involved himself in some of these controversies, and rarely for the better – as with his infamous ‘Dear Muslima’ letter in 2011[.]

He has.

But over the last few months, Dawkins showed signs of détente with his feminist critics – even progress. He signed a joint letter with the writer Ophelia Benson, denouncing and rejecting harassment; he even apologized for the ‘Dear Muslima’ letter. On stage at a conference in Oxford in August, Dawkins claimed to be a feminist and said that everyone else should be, too.

Links are right there. (Tangentially I think Lee gives Dawkins too much credit on the last point: he’s always called himself a feminist, just not the ‘radical‘, ‘conformist‘ or counting-white-sexism-too sort.)

Then another prominent male atheist, Sam Harris, crammed his foot in his mouth and said that atheist activism lacks an ‘estrogen vibe’ and was ‘to some degree intrinsically male‘. And, just like that, the brief Dawkins Spring was over.

Again I assume no one doubts this happened.

There’s no denying that Dawkins played a formative role in the atheist movement, but it’s grown beyond just him.

Or this. (Either half.)

It’s not just women who are outraged by Dawkins these days[.]

Or this. (Hello.)

[Roth] recently debuted an exhibit in which she literally wallpapered a room with the misogynist messages that she and other feminists have received[.]

She did. Three quarters of the article and still no lies. Apart from stray words I’ve cut to preserve grammar, all that remains are summaries and representations of other people’s statements. Lee on ‘Dear Muslima‘:

[H]e essentially argued that, because women in Muslim countries suffer more from sexist mistreatment, women in the west shouldn’t speak up about sexual harassment or physical intimidation.

Here’s what Dawkins said. Here is his own recent summary of what he said:

There should be no rivalry in victimhood, I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison.

Sounds pretty similar to me. Lee on Dawkins’ comments about Skepchick’s ‘Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated’ campaign (the quote links to a full dissection):

There was also his sneer at women who advocate anti-sexual harassment policies.

Here’s some background information. Here are Dawkins’ tweets about it (see also the immediate replies):

Sounds pretty sneery to me.

Lee on Dawkins’ tweets this last week:

He’s been very busy snarling about how feminists are shrill harridans who just want an excuse to take offense, and how Harris’s critics (and his own) are not unlike thought police witch-hunter lynch mobs. Dawkins claimed that his critics are engaged in ‘clickbait for profit’, that they ‘fake outrage’, and that he wished there were some way to penalise them.

Follow the links. Re-read the introduction here.

Lee:

For good measure, Dawkins argued that rape victims shouldn’t be considered trustworthy if they were drinking.

Here’s what Dawkins tweeted:

Sounds pretty similar to me.

Lee:

Benson, with whom Dawkins had signed the anti-harassment letter just weeks earlier, was not impressed.

I assume again that this isn’t in doubt.

[W]ith no discernible sense of irony, Dawkins is publicly recycling the bad arguments so often used against him as an atheist: accusing his critics of being ‘outrage junkies’ who are only picking fights for the sake of notoriety;

roaring about ‘thought police’ as though it were a bad thing to argue that someone is mistaken and attempt to change their mind;

scoffing that they’re ‘looking for excuses to be angry’ as though the tone of the argument, rather than its factual merits, were the most important thing; encouraging those who are targets of criticism to ignore it rather than respond.

000

Lower tweet retweeted by Dawkins.

Lee:

[Roth] finds the systemic sexism incredibly frustrating.

I assume this isn’t in doubt.

On other occasions, Dawkins himself has emphasised the importance of awakening people to injustice and mistreatment they may have overlooked.

Here he is, doing so. Note he immediately models his argument on feminism.

And I assume- no. I conclude this final bit isn’t in doubt:

Dawkins [shows] very public hostility toward the people who emphasize the importance of diversity, who want to make the community broader and more welcoming, and who oppose sexual harassment and sexist language[.]

That’s it. That’s the whole article.

Now all the facts are in front of you: where was the dishonesty here, exactly? Who and what was misrepresented?

It’s time Adam Lee’s lies were exposed – because I sure as fuck can’t find them.

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Recommended reading: Dawkins, Harris, Shermer, homeless queer youth and invisible disabilities

Things happened recently. Other things happen frequently and were recently discussed.

  • ‘The Forsaken: A Rising Number of Homeless Gay Teens Are Being Cast Out By Religious Families’, by Alex Morris (Rolling Stone)
    Since 2002, when President George W. Bush issued an executive order that permitted faith-based organisations to receive federal support for social services, an increased amount of federal funding has gone to churches and religion­affiliated organizations where LGBT youth may not feel welcome.
  • ‘Too many LGBT kids are still homeless. And we still throw money at marriage?’, by Zach Stafford (Comment is free)
    Young LGBT people who experience homelessness commit suicide at a higher rate (62%) than heterosexual homeless youth (29%), and are 7.4 times more likely to experience sexual violence than their heterosexual counterparts. They have higher risk of mental health problems and unsafe sex practices leading to the acquisition of HIV. Young people between 13-24 are the only age group to experience an increase rate of infection from 2007-2010, with much of this incident linked to young gay and bisexual men.
  • ‘4 Ways to Be an Ally to People with Invisible Disabilities’, by Sara Whitestone (Everyday Feminism)
    It’s a constant juggle between wanting to do as much as I can without hurting myself while dealing with the social repercussions of my fluctuating abilities. The most common thing I hear from strangers is, ‘But you don’t look disabled’ or ‘You don’t look sick.’ In my experience, strangers confront me every time I go out in public to validate my disability to them in some way – and this is a common experience.
  • ‘Sam Harris Is Just Factually Wrong – Globally, Atheism Has No Gender Split’ (Greta Christina’s Blog)
    Harris recently gave an interview to the Washington Post. When asked why the vast majority of atheists . . . are male, he said this this: ‘I think it may have to do with my personal slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas . . . There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys’. There are a lot of possible responses to this. The first one that springs to my mind, and to many people’s minds, is, ‘Fuck you, you sexist, patronising asshole.’
  • ‘Will Misogyny Bring Down The Atheist Movement?’, by Mark Oppenheimer (Buzzfeed)
    Movements cannot, if they are to continue growing, be led by men who talk like Penn Jillette or act like Michael Shermer. Their language and behaviour would be a huge problem if they sought a political career, a Supreme Court nomination or a college presidency, yet they are exalted as leaders of an ethical and philosophical movement.
  • ‘Dawkins Tries Again (or, 16 pieces of evidence against Michael Shermer)’, by Stephanie Zvan (Almost Diamonds)
    As I pointed out to Dawkins on Twitter this morning, we have significantly more evidence against Shermer than [he suggests].

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Help Catholic abuse survivor Sue Cox win an award

I wrote my most-read post ever last month, much of which referred to religious abuse or trauma. At one point I mentioned Sue Cox, who was raped by Catholic clergy as a child – today as a founder of Survivors Voice Europe, she campaigns internationally against the actions of the Vatican and for victim support. In the video below from 2011 (promoting the Secular Europe March) she talks about her activism.

Recently Sue was nominated – then shortlisted – for one of this 2014’s Inspiration Awards, which recognise the contributions of outstanding women. The organisation’s site says this about her:

Sue is a powerful, tireless and inspirational advocate and speaker on the subject of childhood sexual abuse and the ensuing mental health effects of such trauma.

After recovering from clergy abuse which resulted in alcoholism, self-harm and an eating disorder, she is now a counsellor and healthcare tutor who heads up two organisations; SMART UK which teaches healthcare professionals within the NHS, armed forces and criminal justice system to understand about the brain and addiction; and an International Charity, Survivors Voice Europe, who spearheaded the campaign at the UN (CRC) to investigate the Vatican and the sexual abuse of children.

Not afraid to stand up for the rights of survivors and for people to truly understand the effects of abuse,  Sue’s passion and focus is on empowerment, connection and identification of all survivors.

Having known Sue several years and admired her courageous vigour several more, I can testify to all the above. The work of secular campaigners against clerical abuse deserves recognition – so, moreover, does she.

To help secure her the award for which she’s been nominated, go to the organisers’ website and vote. It’s only possible to do this by voting in all seven other categories as well, and all the nominees have stories worth reading: it’s worth noting in particular that three other candidates (for two different awards), Jackie Moon, Bethan Rimmington and Ellie Morrissey, also work in the field of sexual abuse recovery.

All my respect to Sue Cox, and the very best of luck.

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Project Runway’s fäde zu grau makes and wears ‘ATHEIST’ t-shirts

Greta Christina will be mad she didn’t catch this.

Remember that Project Runway contestant fäde zu grau, mit seinem komisch ausgesprochenen Namen? (If you didn’t know, it’s a pun on ‘fade to grey’.) Mid episode, I spotted him wearing this shirt.

fäde1

Being from the DDR, it’s not surprising if he’s an atheist – but he seems to make the shirts himself too.

fäde2Interviewed by Project Runway‘s producers, he says the following:

If you had to name your label, you’d call it…
I do have labels that I work on right now, nothing selling yet, only for myself. One is called ‘messfit’ (a combination of ‘messy’ and ‘misfit’) another ‘happy atheist.’

Perhaps he could collaborate with the Atheist shoe company in Berlin – their shop is only a few streets from my house.

Highlight text for spoilers: Sadly fäde was sent home in the latest episode, but perhaps we’ll see more of him in future.

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About that “green eyed monster” article Dawkins wrote

Every so often I see a 2007 article called ‘Banishing the Green-Eyed Monster‘ reposted from Dawkins.net. (It seems originally to have been a column in the Washington Post‘s ‘on faith’ segment.) Most of the friends who share it say positive things about it, including that challenging compulsory monogamy shows Dawkins still has chops as a social critic.

Certainly there are a couple of good bits.

I want to raise [a] question that interests me. Why are we so obsessed with monogamous fidelity in the first place?

I admit that I have, at times in my life, been jealous, but it is one of the things I now regret. Assuming that such practical matters as sexually transmitted diseases and the paternity of children can be sorted out (and nowadays DNA testing will clinch that for you if you are sufficiently suspicious, which I am not), what, actually, is wrong with loving more than one person? Why should you deny your loved one the pleasure of sexual encounters with others, if he or she is that way inclined?

Even sticking to the higher plane of love, is it so very obvious that you can’t love more than one person? We seem to manage it with parental love (parents are reproached if they don’t at least pretend to love all their children equally), love of books, of food, of wine (love of Chateau Margaux does not preclude love of a fine Hock, and we don’t feel unfaithful to the red when we dally with the white), love of composers, poets, holiday beaches, friends . . . why is erotic love the one exception that everybody instantly acknowledges without even thinking about it? Why can a woman not love two men at the same time, in their different ways? And why should the two — or their wives — begrudge her this?

I’m not denying the power of sexual jealousy. It is ubiquitous if not universal. I’m just wondering aloud why we all accept it so readily, without even thinking about it.

I’m afraid, however, that much of the rest fills me and numerous nonmonogamous skeptics I know with extreme discomfort. While the topic’s on the table, I thought I’d lay the problems with the article out.

Here’s how it starts:

Is sex outside of marriage a sin? Is it a public matter? Is it forgivable?

No, of course sex outside marriage is not a public matter, and yes, of course it is forgivable. Only a person infected by the sort of sanctimonious self-righteousness that religion uniquely inspires would apply the meaningless word ‘sin’ to private sexual behaviour.

It is the mark of the religious mind that it cares more about private than public morality.

I wouldn’t apply the word ‘sin’ to cheating, which appears throughout the piece to be how Dawkins interprets ‘sex outside of marriage’, but I would call a breaking a promise of monogamy unethical where one’s been made; I think most poly people would. That’s what distinguishes polyamory from cheating: there’s no promise of monogamy in the first place. Deceiving your partner into a relationship they haven’t agreed to, often with added risk of venereal infection, humiliation or just unhappiness, is a matter of consequence, harm and consent, not an arbitrary religious taboo.

Continuing the ‘private behaviour’ theme in reference to the Lewinsky scandal:

Lying to Congress by saying, ‘I did not have sex with that woman’ should not be an impeachable offence, because where a man puts his penis is none of Congress’s damn business.

In point of substance, no complaint. But ‘where a man puts his penis’? Really? As if rather than an active partner, Lewinsky were just some high-heeled cock holster.

Generally speaking, references to penis-in-vagina sex as someone sticking it somewhere sound pretty rapey to me. If the sex you have is consensual, both people are doing something.

The revolting hue and cry that our religiously inspired society habitually raises over private sexual ‘morality’ serves as a dangerous distraction away from important matters of public morality such as the Blair/Bush lies about Iraq’s weapons.

Back to the public/private distinction we had earlier. The suggestion is that since sex isn’t world politics, it isn’t up for ethical debate. It can be: rape is usually, for instance, a private act. The requirement for sex to be ethical (or at least ethically immaterial) isn’t privacy, it’s that everyone involved agrees to what goes on. That’s not the case when one partner cheats on another.

Agony Aunt columns ring with the cries of those who have detected – or fear – that their man/woman (who may or may not be married to them) is ‘cheating on them’. ‘Cheating’ really is the word that occurs most readily to these people.

Indeed – because it means to participate while breaking the rules, and relationships can have rules.

Here’s one key point. Nonmonogamous people also cheat – it’s just that breaking the rules means something other than seeing an extra partner. (It might mean, for example, having a type of sex off-limits outside the primary partnership.)

The underlying presumption — that a human being has some kind of property rights over another human being’s body — is unspoken because it is assumed to be obvious.

That’s not why we shame people who cheat in monogamous relationships. We do it because their partners are entitled to say on what terms they form a relationship with someone else, and to expect that mutually agreed rules be upheld. (Lots of people require monogamy emotionally or aren’t comfortable without it. Asking prospective partners for that – who are free to say no and move on – is their right.)

In one of the most disgusting stories to hit the British newspapers last year, the wife of a well-known television personality, Chris Tarrant, hired a private detective to spy on him. The detective reported evidence of adultery and Tarrant’s wife divorced him, in unusually vicious style.

Here Dawkins’ attitude to women reveals itself again. How dare the former Mrs Tarrant end a relationship she hadn’t agreed to? How dare she divorce a man – angrily, no less! – who deceived her?

What shocked me was the way public opinion sided with Tarrant’s horrible wife. Far from despising, as I do, anybody who would stoop so low as to hire a detective for such a purpose, large numbers of people, including even Mr. Tarrant himself, seemed to think she was fully justified. Far from concluding, as I would, that he was well rid of her, he was covered with contrition[.]

‘Bitch.’

The explanation of all these anomalous behaviour patterns is the ingrained assumption of the deep rightness and appropriateness of sexual jealousy.

Or the fact Tarrant’s wife didn’t want to remain married to a man seeing other woman without seeking her consent. One of the two, I’m sure.

Polyamorous people often still feel jealousy. Partners angry they’ve been cheated on often don’t. The point is the betrayal of trust.

From a Darwinian perspective, sexual jealousy is easily understood. Natural selection of our wild ancestors plausibly favoured males who guarded their mates for fear of squandering economic resources on other men’s children. On the female side, it is harder to make a Darwinian case for the sort of vindictive jealousy displayed by Mrs. Tarrant.

Evo-psych. Manbrains and ladybrains. Need I say more?

The British writer Julie Burchill is not somebody I usually quote (imagine a sort of intelligent Ann Coulter speaking with a British accent in a voice like Minnie Mouse) but I was struck by one of her remarks.

Women. Feminists. Whiny voices. Grr.

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Hurrah for Dominic Grieve. We almost went a month with no word of “aggressive secularists”

Yesterday being a slow news day, the Daily Telegraph wrote to a right wing politician so they’d have something to print.

Britain is at risk of being ‘sanitised’ of faith because an ‘aggressive form of secularism’ in workplaces and public bodies is forcing Christians to hide their beliefs, a former attorney general has warned.

Dominic Grieve said he found it ‘quite extraordinary’ that people were being sacked or disciplined for expressing their beliefs at work.

He described Christianity as a ‘powerful force for good’ in modern Britain and warned that Christians should not be ‘intimidated’ and ‘excluded’ for their beliefs.

He said that politicians and public figures should not be afraid of ‘doing God’ and that they have a duty to explain how their beliefs inform their decisions.

The ‘appalling’ scenes in Iraq, which have seen Islamic extremists behead and crucify religious minorities including Christians, showed that it was ‘more important than ever’ for people to express their religious beliefs, he said.

He told The Telegraph: ‘I worry that there are attempts to push faith out of the public space. Clearly it happens at a level of local power.

‘You can watch institutions or organisations do it or watch it happen at a local government level. In my view it’s very undesirable.

‘Some of the cases which have come to light of employers being disciplined or sacked for simply trying to talk about their faith in the workplace I find quite extraordinary.

‘The sanitisation will lead to people of faith excluding themselves from the public space and being excluded.

‘It is in nobody’s interest that groups should find themselves excluded from society.’ Two years ago the Government changed the law to ensure that councils could not face legal challenges for holding prayers before town hall meetings after the High Court backed a controversial campaign to abolish such acts of worship.

There have also been a series of high-profile cases in which people have been banned from wearing crosses at work or sacked for resisting tasks which went against their religious beliefs.

Mr Grieve, a practising Anglican, said that Britain is ‘underpinned’ by Christian ethics and principles.

He criticised the Tony Blair era when Alastair Campbell, the then communications director in Downing Street, famously said ‘we don’t do God’ amid concerns that religion would put off voters.

David Cameron once described his own faith as being like ‘Magic FM in the Chilterns’, meaning it can come and go.

However, earlier this year the Prime Minister said he has found greater strength in religion and suggested that Britain should be unashamedly ‘evangelical’ about its Christian faith.

Mr Grieve said: ‘I think politicians should express their faith. I have never adhered to the Blair view that we don’t do God, indeed I’m not sure that Blair does. I think that people with faith have an entitlement to explain where that places them in approaching problems.

‘I think that those of us who are politicians and Christians should be in the business of doing it.

‘It doesn’t mean that we have the monopoly of wisdom, but I do think Christianity has played an enormous role in shaping this country.

‘It’s a very powerful force in this country [but] I think it’s underrated, and partly because in the past it has failed to express itself as clearly as it might.

‘Recognising people’s right to manifest their faith and express it is very important.’

(The article, which could be used to explain the Telegraph to aliens, also complains about the EU and laws against fox hunting.)

Thank fuck for another headline about aggressive secularism – we very nearly went a month without one. Ann Widdecombe, Eric Pickles, David Cameron, Sayeeda Warsi; Keith O’Brien, George Careythe Pope. It’s exhausting to rebut the same thing again and again, but clearly we still have to: if it wasn’t an effective line, the Christian right would have stopped using it.

Because I’m fed up with this nonsense, I’m going to give my thoughts in list format.

I.

‘We don’t do God’ must be the most misrepresented line in journalistic memory. Campbell said it to stop Blair waxing religious in an interview because Blair did do God: he built record numbers of state-run religious schools, cosied up to the Vatican, passed censorious ‘religious hatred’ laws, justified invading Iraq using religious language and started a global ‘faith foundation’ after he left Downing Street.

II.

How many more times can right wing Christians running the country say Britain must be ‘more evangelical’ (Prime Minister David Cameron), promise religion a greater role in public life (Cameron) and gush about Christianity’s excellence (Cameron et al)… while simultaneously claiming to be marginalised?

III.

More specifically, Dominic Grieve: how excluded from public life are you – how mercilessly have you been forced to hide your beliefs – when a soundbite from you about them is what the Telegraph uses to sell newspapers on quiet days?

IV.

Someone on social media told me last month that ‘Christians are persecuted in this country’. When I asked how, this is what they said:

I do not wish to go into detail. I have knowledge that gives me every right to use the word

It’s argumentum ad Laganja: ‘You’re picking on me, but I’m not going to tell you when, where or how.’

A new rule, I think: if you’re going to say Christians are a marginalised group in modern Britain, I want specific examples – not bald assertions or, as in Grieve’s case, vague innuendo about workplaces and councils.

V.

Grieve doesn’t specify because he can’t: the moment it’s confronted with factual detail, the Christian persecution case evaporates.

While it’s true that in 2012 the National Secular Society won a court case against prayers being said at Bideford town council’s meetings (the government swiftly overturned this), the ruling prohibited them only as an agenda item. There was nothing to prevent Christian councillors praying together informally prior to meetings: it was simply deemed exclusionary for Christian rituals to be an official part of council business.

Shirley Chaplin, a hospital nurse, was asked in accordance with the NHS dress code to wear an ostentatious cross pinned inside her uniform instead of dangling hazardously on a chain. She refused to compromise, insisting it be visible to everyone, and was disciplined, losing a string of tribunals and court cases when she complained.

Nadia Eweida, a British Airways worker who continually harassed non-Christian colleagues with evangelistic tracts and homophobic comments, claimed BA was persecuting her when asked to wear her cross beneath instead of on top of her uniform. (After numerous court losses, the EHCR eventually found for her last January, but only because BA’s dress code was judged too restrictive.)

Lesley Pilkington, a registered psychotherapist operating highly unethical ‘gay cure’ treatment programmes was struck off the membership roll of Britain’s governing body for counsellors after journalist Patrick Strudwick wrote an exposé on her and others.

Lilian Ladele, the civil registrar who refused to perform civil partnership ceremonies, was disciplined because her job required she do this.

VI.

I’m a secularist because I want a mature democracy, not one based on a lie. Whoever pretends Britain is still a Christian nation knows deep down they’re being silly, and that doesn’t just demean non-Christians: it demeans our democracy by telling us to lie to one another.

I’m a secularist because I believe in sectarian disarmament. I think carving up public life into religious territories, each with its own schools, courts, bank holidays and seats in parliament, creates an arms race of religiosity and social tension, and sharing a secular country is a kind of truce.

I’m a secularist because I believe social support – welfare, education, housing, care – should be unconditional, tax-funded and available to all, not handed to religious groups where not everyone can access them.

Secularism is kind. Secularism is responsible. If you think it’s aggressive, you should hear my other opinions.

VII.

The Islamic State is driving Christian populations from their homes in Iraq; some are being forcibly converted, others killed. Dominic Grieve and the Daily Telegraph see this as a handy rhetorical jab against secular council meetings in north Devon.

VIII.

But really: who looks at the middle east today and thinks bloody hell, that’s what too much secularism does?

Sunnis and Shias are killing each other in Iraq; Muslims are killing Christians in Iraq, atheists in Iran, Jews in Israel. Jews are killing Muslims in Palestine. Religious nationalism is at the core of all these atrocities. Secularism is the opposite: it is nonaggression as a political and national identity.

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Richard Dawkins: abort Down’s Syndrome foetuses because “it would be immoral to bring it into the world”

In the recent past while he was telling people who were raped how they should think about their rape, I tweeted a guide to Richard Dawkins’ PR habits.

It was retweeted quite a lot at the time, and in the last few hours it’s started getting shared again. Seemingly, I have invented for myself a Richard-Dawkins-saying-something-awful detector. He’s at it again:

Where abortion is judged the moral option for the would-be child, a kind of euthanasia in advance, it’s because birth will result in something worse: incurable, unbearable pain, say. That’s the easiest example ethically, and we can argue about what else might qualify, but the point is that whatever life the child stands to have must be worse than not being born.

Is Down’s Syndrome worse than not being born? Most people with it don’t appear to think so. At least, they don’t appear as a rule to wish they’d never been born. My guess is that Dawkins, who never seems to grasp the idea of subjectivity, is presuming again to speak for other people – in this case those with DS. Perhaps he sees it as a ‘birth defect’, as many of his generation seem to see a wide variety of conditions – but most of the time, as a friend pointed out, people with disabilities tend to think their lives are worth living. You run into eugenics pretty quickly when you decide who’s ‘defective’ and who isn’t without consulting them.

To the original context of his tweet, I do think termination due to foetal disability should be legally available – partly since there are prospective parents without the proper means to raise a disabled child, but mostly since I think abortion should always be available. I support the legality of sex-selective abortion, even as I think it’s horrifying; I support the legality of Down’s Syndrome abortions even as I think they’re often horrible, and certainly if framed as morally obligatory. I support the right of anyone to end their pregnancy who doesn’t want to give birth, even if the rationale is horrific, because I don’t believe in forcing people to against their will. (Urging women or anyone with a uterus to abort because of a Down’s diagnosis is itself, in any case, using disability to tell them what to do with their own bodies. It’s what Dawkins is doing and what doctors did to my mother, who at 42 was urged throughout her pregnancy to abort in case I had DS.)

All this is quite different from saying the existence of people with Down’s Syndrome – for which they are presumably quite grateful – is a terrible moral crime, or that living with it is worse than never being born.

I have, for the record, neither a disability nor a uterus, so am happier than usual to be contradicted anywhere by people who know things I don’t.

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Recommended reading: Captain America, autistic adults, white privilege in Islam, good cops, bad cops and the prisons system

Shut up, sometimes a normal-length title won’t do.

Five things to read if you missed them the first time round:

  • ‘Captain Dark Thirty?’, by Jonathan Lindsell (Haywire Thought)
    Steve Rogers is never asked to get his hands or morals dirty. He can just swan around judging Fury and Widow while he remains an emblem for an ideal of American moral integrity that, if it ever existed, is now very much mythological.
  • ‘Fourteen Things Not to Say to an Autistic Adult’, by the Purple Aspie
    Last night somebody shared an article on Facebook. The article was called ‘Things never to say to parents of a child with autism.’ A comment on the article asked why there wasn’t one about things not to say to an autistic adult. I decided to write that article.
  • ‘Anger, Tone Policing, and Some Thoughts on Good Cop, Bad Cop’, by Greta Christina (Greta Christina’s Blog)
    In that hot, flushed moment when we’re doing the Cognitive Dissonance Tango, we respond more positively to the good cop. But that doesn’t mean the bad cop isn’t having an effect.
  • ‘I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail’, by Charlie Gilmour (The Independent)
    A man had been screaming for help all night, pushing the alarm bell and, when that elicited no response, banging a chair against the door. When, after a significant period of time, the officer on duty came to see what the problem was, the inmate told him he was suffering from severe chest pains and thought he might have had a heart attack. He needed a doctor. The officer’s response was to slide a couple of painkillers under the door and ignore his pleas for the rest of his shift. ‘The most terrifying thing,’ said a friend in the cell opposite his, ‘was when his cries finally stopped. We knew he wasn’t sleeping.’ In the morning, he was dead.
  • ‘Muslim Converts, Atheist Accommodationism, & White Privilege’, by Heina Dadabhoy (Heinous Dealings)
    White privilege is being able to visit Muslim communities as an openly gay person with a same-sex partner and being welcomed into them while queer Muslims and ex-Muslims continue to deal with fear, rejection, and marginalization.

Guten Appetit.

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I will not hold my tongue about religion

Sometimes while writing I use Facebook updates to organise my thoughts, and the result is a rough form of what becomes an article. When I did so with the last post on this blog, one commenter asked me to publish the rough version, which is shorter and more shareable. (I’ve edited it lightly for republication here.)

Three years ago Greta Christina wrote a post asking what the goals of the atheist ‘movement’ were. It identifies two competing groups of atheists: one whose goals – combating anti-atheist bigotry, promoting secular governance, helping everyone to ‘get along’ – often entail alliance work with believers, and another who think religion is inherently a flawed, harmful phenomenon… and that we’d be better off without it, and that this is a goal worth pursuing.

The idea of noting these competing goals was, I think, to measure the usefulness of diplomatic versus firebrand-like approaches while talking about religion. (If the first group’s goals were her main or only ones, Greta writes, ‘I might well be advocating that we prioritise diplomacy more than we do, and dial back on the confrontationalism a bit.’) Chris Stedman cited her post to this effect at the Huffington Post, in a piece called ‘The Problem with “Atheist Activism”‘ which argued for the merits of the first group’s goals over the second’s.

Broadly speaking I’ve always shared Greta’s take, and have linked to it when frustrated by atheist civility politics, attacks on writers who aren’t ‘nice’ enough or the charge of being inflammatory, counterproductive and unconstructive. But there’s something I’d like to say in addition.

Some people’s main goal is combating bigotry and ‘building bridges’. Some people’s main goal is eroding the very grip religious faith has on the world in the first place. Especially as someone who unlike either Greta or Chris Stedman had a religious upbringing, I have a third aim to submit. As far as I’m concerned, it overrides both the others.

I hate the insistence I should self-censor to make what say about religion ‘constructive’, ‘productive’ or goal-serving – because whenever I’m speaking my mind about it I’m serving my primary goal. Speaking my mind about religion, including but not limited to my own experience – simply being able to speak freely about it without holding my tongue – is a constructive goal for me.

When other atheists tell me to shut up or be more polite because I’m hindering their cause, I want to tell them: saying what I want how I want is my cause. It matters more to me than any other, theirs included. You could convince me the way I write about religion makes more people convert to it. You could convince me that, as I’ve been told, it entrenches negative views of atheists or makes bridge-building impossible. I still wouldn’t stop.

What’s struck me repeatedly about the calm down brigade is that so often, they have no experience of having to hold their tongues – including about horrible things that happened to them – so religious feelings don’t get hurt. Tongue-holding no longer is the most important thing to me; it’s probably a large part of why I write a blog. And the fact is that if other people’s require me to give it up because to them it doesn’t seem constructive, I don’t care.

From my point of view, mouthing off and being an angry atheist stereotype seems hugely constructive.

Read the full version.

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To the atheist tone police: stop telling me how to discuss my abuse

This post is currently getting a lot of traffic. If you like it, here are some of the other things I write.

As an undergraduate I chaired a group for student atheists — at least, that’s what I assumed it was. The finalist who’d stopped being in charge officially a year before I got elected, but who most people still answered to in private, disagreed. When we ran a stall at freshers’ fair together, he insisted I not tell punters Oxford Atheist Society was for people who didn’t believe in God, in case this stopped religious people joining.

It turned out what the ex-president wanted was a humanist discussion group welcoming believers and working with them for church-state separation, so once he’d done a lot of talking, we became the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society. Supposedly this made us all-inclusive, but anything deemed antitheist was discouraged lest it put believers off — things I had to say, for instance, about being taught I was satanically possessed or trying to kill myself because of the things I believed.

* * *

I hear a lot about constructiveness, especially from fellow atheists convinced people like me should pipe down and behave. Calling religion harmful, they’ve told me, is immature and stops us ‘breaking down walls’. What, they’ve asked me, does it achieve?

Since I started talking publicly (mainly in print) about it, I’ve been informed I’m inflammatory; that I need to keep things civil; that I’m hateful, encourage stereotypes and impede mutual understanding; that atheists like me are a liability, holding the movement back; that I need to smile more.

I’ve noticed that often, atheists saying these things have no real religious past.

* * *

‘If you’re arguing that confrontationalism — arguing with believers about religion, or making fun of it, or insulting it — is hurting our cause,’ Greta Christina wrote in 2011, ‘which cause, exactly, are you talking about?’ In the same post she proposes two competing atheist agendas: working against sectarianism and for secularism with believers on the one hand, opposing religion qua religion on the other. How polite or fiery we should be, Greta suggests, depends which of the two our mission is.

Chris Stedman, constable of the atheist tone police, responded at the Huffington Post: ‘If your “top priority” is working to eliminate religion, you are not simply an atheist activist — you are an anti-religious activist. . . . I do not wish to be associated with narrow-minded, dehumanising generalisations about religious people’. Several combative bloggers, he pointed out, had said blinkered things about Muslims and Islam, therefore all attacks on religion were dehumanising.

* * *

American Atheists has launched a television channel. At Salon, Daniel D’addario calls the four hours he spent watching it horrific.

‘Despite my own lack of religious belief’, he writes, ‘I find it hard to imagine that even a casual nonbeliever would tune in . . . AtheistTV adheres to nasty stereotypes about atheism — smugness, gleeful disregard for others’ beliefs — to a degree that’s close to unwatchable.’

Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience is skewered in particular for ‘feed[ing] viewers a diet of scorn’. This translates to wearing a flame-patterned shirt, calling a Bible story ‘absolutely horrible’ and using the word ‘stupid’ about God. (No context is given.)

Fair enough if D’addario dislikes the channel, but by suggesting its tone does nonbelievers actual harm — that is, none will tune in because it hurts their movement’s image — he goes beyond writing a bad review.

AA has thousands of fee-paying members. The Atheist Experience has over twenty thousand fans and Dillahunty over thirty thousand Twitter followers. Whatever stereotypes their tone fits weren’t concocted by conservatives: obviously, it speaks for many real atheists. Smug or not, aren’t they allowed a voice?

* * *

Last month a column of mine went up at the new site of the Freethinker. I talk there about how as a queer teenager I tried to kill myself, and how I hold responsible the mainstream, nonfundamentalist Christianity I practised at the time: about letting go and letting God, convinced he never gave me more than I could handle while I was assaulted and harassed into self-harm; about declining to defend myself because the turning the other cheek was Christlike.

There’s a lot I don’t talk about there.

I don’t talk about how when I overdosed, I lost consciousness afraid suicide would land me in Hell, where aged six I’d been told relatives burned and where aged nine I’d been told I would go for lying.

I don’t talk about wondering what I’d done wrong to make that cycle of harassment and self-harm God’s plan for me and what I should learn from it.

I don’t talk about being pressured to pray in tongues once I was convinced aged eight the devil had possessed me, nor being aged seven to perform ‘faith healing’.

I don’t talk about the demons I believed entered our home, the one I believed was my father or the Hallowe’ens when year on year I hid from trick-or-treaters chanting prayers in abject terror.

I don’t talk about fasting till it hurt.

I don’t talk about the children who couldn’t visit on my birthday since they went to different churches, my childhood belief Hinduism was Satan’s work or result fear of anything Asian — yoga, Indian art, a woman in a sari.

I don’t talk about being told all Muslims practised FGM and ‘want[ed] to die for Allah’, or that Muslim men were instructed to rape Christian women.

I don’t talk about the schoolteachers I had who, sermonising, told me God ‘deplore[d] homosexuality’.

I don’t talk about the preacher in the streets of my hometown who called me an abomination, or how when I mentioned it online I was accused of ‘having a go at Christians’.

I don’t talk about my brother calling me an offence against nature and God.

I don’t talk about the magazine cutting my mother kept that said I was an atheist because I had a stubborn heart.

I don’t talk about being preached at by guests at my friends’ church wedding or glared at by the vicar when my friend’s body was buried because I hadn’t joined in with the hymns.

I don’t talk about being threatened with hell for being an atheist.

I don’t talk about being told I’d have my head cut off.

When I do talk about these things, people don’t usually suggest I smile more.

It’s other times I talk about religion I’m called bitter, hateful, counterproductive, told I need to quieten down. But when I talk about religion, I always have the above in mind.

When you tell me to speak more respectfully, this is what you’re telling me how to discuss.

Remembering it I return to Greta Christina and Chris Stedman, and want to say that after what it did to me, talking as rudely as I like about religion is my goal, not just a means to it. I return to every time I’ve heard atheists like me aren’t constructive, and want to say that after years holding my tongue, speaking freely is a huge achievement. If it hampers outreach by faitheists with no inkling of my experience*, I don’t give a fuck.

* * *

*A clarification: it’s in no way my intention to suggest no ‘faitheist’ has a history of this sort. Especially in Britain, where secular upbringings are much more common, I maintain they often accompany the silencing of confrontationalists – but I don’t mean to erase the trauma of people who challenge me. 

I will say this: if you’re telling me to shut up for no reason except finding my tone unpalatable – if it’s not (see below) about consequences or factual errors – it’s a charitable assumption that you’re doing it because you don’t know better. If you survived what I survived or worse, you have no more right than anyone to shush me, and (I’d have thought) more reason not to.

* * *

I return to Daniel D’addario at Salon. I want to ask: what’s it to him if other atheists are more barbed than he is? Isn’t switching off his TV enough?

I return to my atheist group’s ex-president. I wnt to ask: if a secularist mission means atheists can’t speak freely about religion, what is the point of it?

Others I know are called hateful.

Beth Presswood has family who refuse to acknowledge her long-term partner — Matt Dillahunty. Some have declared him, if memory serves, to be the devil. Except because ‘he thinks it’s nuts to rely on a book for wisdom and guidance’, D’addario can’t see why he’s ‘bothered’ by US Christianity. Could this not be at least a factor?

Jonny Scaramanga writes, occasionally snarkily, of the ultra-extreme Christian upbringing that left him alone, depressed, uneducated, socially unequipped and with wildly skewed attitudes to gender, race, sexuality and politics. Those he criticises label him bitter and his work a hate campaign.

Sue Cox has spoken publicly about the Catholic priest who raped her when she was a minor and her family’s decision to tell her this was part of God’s plan for her. When a television clip was posted on the Internet, some commenters called her an anti-Catholic bigot preaching hate.

Shaheen Hashmat lives with mental illness resulting from ‘honour’ abuse in her Scottish-Pakistani Muslim family. Because she sees Islam as central to her family’s actions, she is accused of ‘fuelling Islamophobia’ (demonisation of Muslims) and being a puppet of white racism.

These are extreme cases, but extreme manifestations of religion aren’t the only abusive ones. Many in religious communities…

…fall victim to genital mutilation. (About one human in seven or eight, specifically.)

…suffer violence, physical or sexual, in other contexts — by parents, clergy, organisations or states.

…are taught not to defend themselves from violence, as I was.

…are told traumatic experiences are punishments from a higher power.

…are terrorised with lurid images of damnation and hell.

…suffering ‘knowing’ those they care about are damned.

…have no chance to mourn loved ones properly due to religious differences.

…are seriously maleducated, including facing abusive learning environments, being fed fundamental scientific mistruths or being denied facts about sex and their bodies.

…are shunned or isolated for leaving religion or not following it as expected.

…are harassed in the workplace or at school for being skeptical.

…are denied child custody explicitly for being atheists.

…are rejected by family members or have to endure painful relationships with them.

…are forced into unwanted relationships or to end desired ones.

…are taught to submit to their male partners.

…are taught sex and sexuality are sinful and a source of shame.

…are taught their bodies, when menstruating for example, are sinful and a source of shame.

…are taught their bodies are a cause of sexual violence — including violence toward them — and must be concealed to prevent it.

…are taught their minds, because they live with mental illness, are gripped by cosmic evil.

…are medically or socially mistreated in hands-on ways while mentally ill.

…are told they’re sinful, disordered or an abomination because they’re queer.

…are told skepticism makes them a traitor to their race or culture.

…are denied medical care they need urgently — birth control, condoms, HIV medication, hormone therapy, transitional surgery, abortion, blood transfusions.

…give up much-needed medicine voluntarily due to religious teachings and suffer severe ill health.

…perform rituals voluntarily — fasting for instance — that seriously endanger their health.

…are manipulated for financial gain by clergy, sometimes coerced out of what little they have.

…are manipulated for social gain, often too reliant on their congregation to leave when they have doubts.

If this is true in religious communities, it’s also a reality for those who’ve fled them. Atheists who were believers have frequently been profoundly harmed; I suspect movement atheists are especially likely to have been; confrontational atheists, even likelier.

When you tell us how to talk about religion, you are telling us how to discuss our abuse.

* * *

There are times when rhetoric should be policed or at least regulated through criticism. It’s true many attacks made on religion, especially by those still forming atheist identities, are ill-informed, sectarian or oversimplistic — and that such attacks often punch down, reaching for racism, classism or mental health stigma as antitheist ammunition. (There are many other examples.)

It needn’t be so. I’ve challenged this because I think we can and should go after God without harming the downtrodden through splash damage. Doing so on everyone’s behalf who’s been downtrodden by religion is itself, I adamantly believe, a mission of social justice. Failing at it by making substantive errors or throwing the marginalised under the bus invites and deserves criticism; a rhetoric powered by justified anger needs to be carefully controlled.

But that is not a question of tone.

And it does not discredit the mission.

Bigotry and imprecision in antitheism have often been treated as intrinsic to it, conflated with the very notion of (counter)attacks on faith. Stedman, who states in his book Faitheist that he once ‘actually cried — hot, angry tears’ because of atheist vitriol, is especially guilty of this, treating racist comments on Islam like they invalidate all opposition to religion. D’addario’s attack on AtheistTV as smug and scornful has, similarly, covered my feed where secular ‘social justice warriors’ congregate.

If this is you — if you’re an atheist progressive who wants barbed, confrontational atheists to shut up — we’re likely on the same side most of the time… but there’s something I need to say.

People like us are infamous for words like ‘privilege’, ‘splaining’, ‘problematic’; part of the power of concepts like these is that when transferred between activist contexts they expose parallels. I’m deeply aware there can be only limited analogy between atheism and the concerns of more marginalised groups, and would hate to devalue their language. But I’m convinced of the following:

It is a form of privilege to be an atheist who’s never experienced religious abuse, as many of us have who are antagonistic.

It is privilege blindness to expect — without a clue what we’ve experienced or what it means to us — that we give up our self-expression so that you can form alliances with faith communities that deeply injured us.

It is tone-policing if when you’re not telling us to shut up about it, you’re telling us how to talk about it. How dare you tell us to be more respectful.

It is splaining if your answer when we detail histories of religious abuse is ‘Yes, but’ — or if you tell us we can’t blame religion for it since not all believers do the same. We know the details. You don’t.

It is gaslighting dismissing justified anger about widespread, structural religious abuse by telling us we’re bitter or hateful.

It’s civility politics implying our anger, bitterness or hatred is just as unacceptable, siding with the aggressor by prioritising believers’ feelings over ours on the false pretence of neutrality.

It’s respectability politics implying we need to earn an end to bigotry we face by getting on politely with believers, throwing those of us under the bus who can’t or won’t sing kumbaya.

It’s internalised bigotry shaming atheists for being stereotypical — smug, scornful and the rest — for letting the side down, instead of asserting our collective rights however we express ourselves.

It is victim-blaming to treat atheists who are stereotypical as a legitimate cause of anti-atheist bigotry or hatred.

It is tokenisation to impose on any individual the burden of representing atheists so our collective status can be judged by how they act.

And it is deeply, deeply problematic to cheer for snarky, confrontational firebrands of social justice who take on mass structures or beliefs that ruined their lives… then boo snarky, confrontational atheist firebrands off the stage who’ve survived religious abuse.

* * *

I must talk about religion and the things it did to me, and must do so however I like. This is my goal, not just a means to it — it’s my hill to die on and matters enough that nothing can compete. I don’t care if it sets back my career, hampers others’ work or hurts religious feelings.

Actually, hang on — yes I do.

If you feel your texts, traditions, doctrines, revelations, fantasies, imaginary friends or inaudible voices are licence to ride roughshod over other people’s lives, I want to hurt your feelings.

If your god, in whom billions believe, tells you to terrorise or mutilate children, deny them basic knowledge of their bodies or their world, jeopardise their health, inflict physical violence on them or assault them sexually;

If he tells you to inform them their trauma is deserved, that their own bodies were to blame or that their flesh and broken minds are sinful; if he tells you to instruct them against defending themselves or if their thoughts of him drive them to suicide;

If he tells you to preach racism, queerphobia or misogny; if he tells you what consensual sex you can and can’t have and with whom, or to destroy loving relationships and force nonconsensual ones on others;

If he tells you to threaten and harass others, subject them to violence or deny them medical aid;

If your god, in whom billions believe, inspires the fear, abuse and cruelty I and countless others lived through:

Fuck your god.

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