To the fan of The Atheist Experience who asked them to ‘take me on': 62 reasons you suck

I published a post yesterday called ‘I’m sorry today’s atheist movement has inspired abuse. Are you sorry your religion has?‘ In it, I accept ideas linked to my worldview have motivated people to act badly and ask believers – instead of being defensive and dismissive when shown harm caused by religion – to do the same.

I’d been wondering where the angry mob were till Russell Glasser of The Atheist Experience forwarded me this email from a fan.

I’d love to see you guys take on this brand of college educated hipster atheist.  His particular bent is becoming quite loud amongst us and is doing the work of the religious while speaking in our voice.  He get’s a lot of things wrong but it seems he just lumps a whole bunch of human failings on to atheism.  He’s part of the “lets hate Dawkins/Harris at all costs” camp and at times I feel like he’s as dishonest as S.E. Cupp.

He starts this thing with 5 bullet points, all of which misrepresent the involvement of Atheism or the the responsibility of atheist ideas for the failings sited.
http://freethoughtblogs.com/godlessness/2014/11/17/im-sorry-todays-atheist-movement-has-inspired-abuse-are-you-sorry-your-religion-has/

Drew

‘Hipster atheist’. Was it the glasses? It was the glasses, wasn’t it?

They’re reading glasses.

What’s the ideal amount of education, one wonders? How much will make someone an atheist but not an atheist like me? How close to this golden mean is Richard Dawkins, who spent far longer at my university than I spent there?

Russell writes back:

Alex Gabriel is a good friend and a fine writer. I think his post makes some important points, and your characterization is not an accurate description of what he said.

Russell Glasser
The Atheist Experience

Drew doesn’t like that at all.

So you think his assertion that “atheists join the anti-immigrant far right because they think Muslims are wicked, animal or ‘barbaric’ by nature.” Is a fair representation of atheism or any ideas atheists embody in any significant numbers?  Do you think it’s responsible?  Quotes like that seem to be the very thing I’ve heard you guys take to task on the show as being fallacious and dishonest.  He generally “straw mans” pretty hard in most of his writings.  Especially in the area of Dawkins and Harris.  He completely misrepresents their views to an audience who quite often is not familiar enough with their work to know better.  He openly calls them racist.  I’m characterizing, you can read his quotes in his writings.

Openly. I openly call people racist. I think things people do are racist and I say soOpenly. I know no shame.

He’s taking things that individual humans struggle with because we’re linguistically and/or logically imperfect and leveling them at atheists as if we exclusively get these traits as a byproduct of our atheism.  He’s committing one of the central fallacies we struggle with all the time.  Unlike religious believers who are often led to beliefs directly related to passages in wholly books, we have no such unity.  Our beliefs on gender equality or race are social and cannot be attributed to atheism, yet he does this repeatedly thus fueling the fire of illogical arguments we’re forced to fend off.

Don’t I just, though? Actually I don’t. I say

Simply being atheists isn’t these people’s motivation – atheism by itself prompts no more action than theism by itself – but the particular atheist school of thought we share . . . Beyond the absence of a god, [.] has plenty of distinctive ideas . . . And the beliefs above that make some atheists abusive – about believers’ mental or moral status, the barbarity of the ‘Islamic world’, the invalidity of all religious claims to victimhood, the all-explaining role of evolution and biology as pure unconstructed truth? These are distinctly New Atheist ideas.

Drew’s undeterred. He isn’t stalled by distractions like reading.

I have a hard time believing he represents any sensibilities I’ve come to expect from watching the show over the last 4 or 5 years.  You may know him as a nice person but have you read much of what he writes?  He seriously doesn’t align with anyone I’ve seen speak on the show.  If anything the overwhelming sentiment of the show seems to be a rejection of his kind of silliness.

Russell Glasser, one of several AXP hosts I’m friends and colleagues with, discussing me as a prospective Freethought Blogs member in August 2013: ‘I’ve already spent some time reading his blog. Enough for me to give an unqualified yes.’ (We know each other a lot better now.)

I actually don’t mean to make the thrust of this as a direct attack on him individually.

Phew.

He simply seems to be an obvious example of this divide I’m noticing and I cited him and the link in order to “figurehead” the general nature of the division that I see growing.  I actually see him as part of a larger social development akin to the so called 3rd wave feminist movement that has people divided as well.  We all know how that seeped into the atheist discussion in recent years.

Ahhhhhhhh.

The inclinations seem to be similar.  Anyway, I point all this out as an interesting subject to discuss and possibly work out on the show as it clearly pertains to atheist identity and perception in the world.

Best regards,
Drew

Russell again:

Drew,

‘So you think his assertion that “atheists join the anti-immigrant far right because they think Muslims are wicked, animal or ‘barbaric’ by nature” Is a fair representation of atheism or any ideas atheists embody in any significant numbers?  Do you think it’s responsible?’

Yeah, as a matter of fact I do. If you’d actually bothered to click on the links,  you’d see that the one for “wicked, animal or barbaric” is a link to an infuriated rant by Pat Condell, a guy I have also frequently criticized for charging right over the line between legitimate criticisms of Islam and blind, borderline racist hatred. I don’t have the stomach to watch the linked video right now, but I would not be at all surprised to hear Condell use those terms. And while I don’t know how significant the numbers are, I note that Pat Condell’s YouTube channel currently sports over 200,000 followers, which represents a non-trivial chunk of the atheist activist community.

Martin and I recently did a show on Islamophobia, so if you had any question about where we stand on this issue, you could have asked. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_pMcYmE5rs

‘He’s taking things that individual humans struggle with because we’re linguistically and/or logically imperfect and leveling them at atheists as if we exclusively get these traits as a byproduct of our atheism.’

No, he’s not doing that. Alex is a proud atheist, and he doesn’t think atheism inevitably results in those things. What he is doing is drawing attention to the fact that neither atheists nor the atheist movement are perfect; that people who are claiming to represent the rest of us sometimes say and do some pretty dumb shit.

It is because atheists don’t require heroes, idols, or infallible representatives that we should feel free to criticize that dumb shit when we hear it. Just because Dawkins or Harris says a thing doesn’t mean we’re required to follow along as if it were atheist gospel. It also doesn’t mean that when we criticize those guys — as we have, out loud, on the show — that we are saying they are evil people who must be shunned and denounced for every single thing they do from now on. It just means they said some dumb shit, and we acknowledged it. That’s it.

And Alex is pointing out that atheists are capable of doing that, by way of contrasting Christians do the opposite. When a Christian is caught saying dumb shit, what we’d prefer is that they identify the wrong statement or action and state that they do not stand with that thing. Instead, we get wagon circling and coverups. We don’t want to follow that example.

Russell Glasser
The Atheist Experience

I decided I’d get in touch at this point.

Dear Drew,

I was interested to read your email asking my friend Russell to ‘take me on’.

If you’d like to talk to me directly instead, I’d be happy to hear how I’m doing religion’s work and why you feel I’m dishonest (in particular, why you compare me to Ms Cupp).

What do you think my agenda is, exactly?

Alex Gabriel

Wall of text number one:

Well first of all, as I plainly stated.  I’m not specifically calling for an attack on you personally.  More that you are a clear depiction of a certain set of ideas that can be fairly well compartmentalized.  People usually ask for examples or figureheads when framing an argument and you seem to fit the bill in this regard having written enough on these subjects to reference.  There is obviously a fracture occurring in the community of aware atheists and I feel you are representative of one of those sides.

In regard to the dishonesty I can start with one big obvious issue.  Islamophobia.  I’ve read a lot of what you think in this area and I just can’t get on board with the logic.  What you’ve written is ignorant to the facts and just purely dishonest.   At no point do you actually make any damning observations about Dawkins or Harris but yet you condemn them as islamophobic.  You seem to just keep re asserting the cry of racism but yet it isn’t there.  You go on a tirade of fallacious claims and emotional straw man arguments, all of which fall far short of any evidence of racism.  You seem to operate in a vacuum where you have never read or heard ether man speak directly to the claims you make and dismantle all concerns.

There is surely some irrational fear and racism that may warrant the term “islamophobia” certainly when it comes to protest over the Ground Zero Mosque or Qur’an burnings by religious leaders or fear mongering by conservative talk show hosts who are by the way, religious.  Maybe even people who’s sociopolitical leanings (libertarianism) take the lead in front of their atheism.  But you’re linking all that stuff to a rational run of the mill atheist critique of religion.  That is a blatantly dishonest argumentative technique. Sure Pat Condell can say some cooky things but he’s very clearly wearing his Libertarian hat when he says that stuff.  Particularly when it addresses government.

When you claim that Atheism inspires the abuses outlined in the piece I linked to Russel you do a great disservice to identifying the real causes.  When it comes to the gender issues you raise I get extremely angry.  As someone who has fought and advocated, even bled for gay rights and gender equality both in small communities at a personal level and through large national organizations, I take incredible offense to not just an insinuation that atheism fuels these conflicts but that it “inspires abuse.” Again you take amazing liberties with how you support these claims all of which continue to fall short.  Who are these national atheist leaders who condemn gays citing atheism as an underpinning?  Where are these highly visible atheists in media calling for the abuse of individuals with non traditional gender identities?  That’s something like what you would need to make your case and that is exactly what you have on the side of religion.  From where I sit all I can find are examples of prominent atheists calling for the highest form of gender identity equality and respect.  They’re all very clear about this.  In fact, far more clear than any other organized body of thought other than maybe Humanists which most prominent atheists in the media advocate for as well.  In the 20+ years I’ve spent living in the trenches with this issue, guess what I’ve seen as the major contributing factors.  All of which are supported by actual data.  Religion, lack of education, and poverty.  Not atheism.

Of your 5 bullet points in the article the first two boil down to – Stop reading the comments on Youtube, people are idiots over there.  You won’t find intellectual discussion on any topic.

The other 3 you give no supporting evidence.

You also perpetuate dumb religiously based tropes like “science-worshipping” as if that whole idea hasn’t been thoroughly debunked many times over. This one is even to the point where audiences groan when a debater launches into the assertion before they can finish their sentence.

All of this is very S.E.Cupp faux atheist,  Hey look at me, I’m an atheist who only talks about how shitty atheists are!

Drew

I bit.

‘I just can’t get on board with the logic’ – okay, but that’s not evidence of dishonesty, is it? I’d be interested to know what you think evidence of racism looks like, if not racialising language and double standards. Do you think the only form of racism is saying ‘Black people are inferior – quote me on that’?

‘You’re linking all that stuff to a rational run of the mill atheist critique of religion’ – I’m not. I criticise religion frequently and enthusiastically. I argue consistently for others to. I don’t think doing that has to entail punching down.

‘You claim that Atheism inspires the abuses outlined in the piece’ – I don’t. I claim today’s atheist movement (and ideas distinctive to its rhetoric and values) inspire them. I explicitly say atheism itself doesn’t. Today’s atheist movement (I say this too) has plenty of ideas other than ‘There’s no god’.

‘Who are these national atheist leaders who condemn gays citing atheism as an underpinning?’ – I don’t claim national atheist leaders ‘condemn gays’. I don’t [claim] any atheists do in that post.

‘Where are these highly visible atheists in media calling for the abuse of individuals with non traditional gender identities?’ – I didn’t say ‘highly visible atheists in [the] media’. I didn’t even say ‘most atheists’. I said ‘atheists’, linking to examples.

‘Stop reading the comments on Youtube, people are idiots over there’ – are you suggesting harassment and abuse don’t count when atheists carry them out on YouTube?

‘The other 3 [points] you give no supporting evidence’ – I gave plenty. Follow the links.

‘You also perpetuate dumb religiously based tropes like “science-worshipping”‘ – there’s nothing exclusively religious about opposing scientism and an uncritical ‘Because science said so’ mentality. I can think of plenty of (movement) atheists who’ve argued against that – Steven Law, Zinnia Jones, Sikivu Hutchinson, Ophelia Benson, Dan Fincke.

‘Look at me, I’m an atheist who only talks about how shitty atheists are!’ – I don’t. I talk at length about how bad religion is, and about lots of other things.

AG

Wall of text number two:

The things you claim are racism are actually highly debatable and you sum them up as racist with little explanation as to why.  I would contend that you are just plain wrong and could easily back that up if we were to spend a few thousand words going deep in specific areas.  You repeatedly abuse meaning and stretch interpretation when attacking Dawkins for instance.

When you connect bad behavior from one guilty party to another innocent one, you’re entering a fallacious argument. It’s dishonest

Much of what you talk about inspires a “what the fuck is he talking about” responce from those of us who would like you to just say what you’ve got to say.  The entire above sentence is gobledygook.  I know it looks like a well reasoned thoughtful statement but it ends up making no point.   “ideas distinctive to its rhetoric and values” Yeah I get what you’re asserting but maybe I’m just to smart to fall for it.

Maybe. Maybe.

You’re smuggling in a lot of stuff in there and expecting it all to just pass.  All of it needs unpacking and I’m sure there’s points to disagree on but you present it as if it’s been decided.

“I don’t claim national atheist leaders ‘condemn gays’. I don’t any atheists do in that post.” I stated that you’d need to cite some in order for your claims to hold weight.   We’d need such people to form or reflect the “values” and “rhetoric” of our “movement”  If we’re as ugly and organized as you claim we’d have some obvious names to name.  We don’t.

“Are you suggesting harassment and abuse don’t count when atheists carry them out on YouTube?”  No I’m acknowledging that Youtube is a cesspool of lowest common denominator thinking and just poorly framed to abusive discourse.   This also goes back to my original outreach to Russel observing that people like you exploit generally bad human behavior or inability to speak clearly or frame an argument properly.  Some people just don’t express complex thought well on the internet and others aren’t savy enough to spot linguistic shortcomings and traps.

Your conclusions are the troubling part.  Again smuggling in summations where a lot of discussion is needed.  “Pat Condell is a racist” doesn’t cut it

“There’s nothing exclusively religious about opposing scientism and an uncritical ‘Because science said so’ mentality. I can think of plenty of (movement) atheists who’ve argued against that – Steven Law, Zinnia Jones, Sikivu Hutchinson, Ophelia Benson, Dan Fincke.” Well there you said it “scientism” like it’s a real thing, you are a bit of a nutter now.   There is hardly a rational or kind way of refuting such an irrational claim so I’ll stop here.

In general your reactions to my statements are telling.  From beginning to end you’re falling into the trap of “if you’re against me on this idea you must conform with the opposing argument I know about” Like when Republicans attack critique as if it would only come from a liberal Democrat not realizing that many other views live on the political spectrum.

Drew

Drew. Drew? You’re reading, right? You are? Okay.

Listen – I have this embarrassing problem you need to know about. (Relax, this won’t end like that phone call from your ex.)

I’m an atheist… sort of professionally. I’m the kind of pro atheist, specifically, who talks a lot about religion being bad. Annoyingly, no matter how much I do that, I’m thrown in all the time with acceptability atheists like Andrew Brown, Chris Stedman and SE Cupp, who are paid to badmouth the rest of us and stick up for religion. When you recognise the atheist movement has faults or say stuff people find too progressive, they assume this is you.

I can’t stand acceptability atheists. Their cuddly, nonthreatening blandness feels like being waterboarded with mild yoghurt. In particular, I hate when people think I’m one. I want to bash religion: I want an atheist movement up to the task. When people think I’m too nice for that, it grates, so every now and then I have to demonstrate I’m not.

Here’s what we’re going to do.

Random.org is a website that generates a random number, by default between 1 and 100. I’m going to visit that site; I’m going to generate a number; and I’m going to tell you that many reasons you suck.

000

Let’s go.

  1. You watched The Atheist Experience four or five years and missed that the hosts are my colleagues on this site.
  2. You watched it four or five years and missed everyone on it being a feminist.
  3. You watched it four or five years and missed all the ‘Islamophobia’ moments.
  4. You wanted the hosts to discuss why I suck. More people will read this post about why you suck than would have tuned in.
  5. Based on the ways people share things online… most of them are going to agree you suck.
  6. My guess is, hosts of The Atheist Experience will read this and agree you suck.
  7. Some of them, who knows, may even share how much you suck with folk who follow them.
  8. Craving their respect’s so precious. I did too once. I got it.
  9. ‘My original outreach to Russel’ – YOU CAN’T EVEN SPELL HIS NAME.
  10. You’ve ostensibly read ‘much of [my writing]’… but not the parts that bash religion.
  11. Or those about atheists needing to bash religion.
  12. Or about atheists like Cupp being awful.
  13. Or everything other than ‘how shitty atheists are’.
  14. Hundreds of thousands of people have read me bashing religion. I make a living from it. I’m better at it than you.
  15. My current most-viewed post, whose hits are in five-figure territory, talks about atheists like Cupp being awful. I’m better at it than you.
  16. Hundreds of people are reading this and thinking how completely, absurdly wrong you are to think I’m one of them.
  17. Thanks for providing that opportunity.
  18. At the same time: people are going to share your messages to illustrate how shitty atheists can be.
  19. Slymepitters are going to talk about this post and illustrate how shitty atheists can be,
  20. but even lots of them will think you’re a shit atheist.
  21. (You haven’t heard of Slymepitters, have you?)
  22. And whenever anyone now looks for a post of mine about shit atheists, they’re going to find you.
  23. Your surname’s not Peacock.
  24. Everyone reading just imagined your surname being Peacock.
  25. Everyone who remembers reading this will now remember you as Drew Peacock.
  26. You only just got it, didn’t you?
  27. I sent you a three-sentence email. You replied with a wall of text.
  28. At no point did it answer my question(s).
  29. It was a badly written wall of text.
  30. ‘Maybe I’m just to smart’.
  31. ‘Who’s’.
  32. ‘Responce’.
  33. You DOUBLE SPACE AFTER FULL STOPS. This isn’t the eighties. STEVE JOBS DIED.
  34. You put random ‘words’ in scare quotes thinking it’s ‘clever’. It’s like you just ‘discovered’ punctuation.
  35. You haven’t discovered the bits you need.
  36. You’ve consistently put words in my mouth and argued against them, not my actual ones.
  37. You’re doing exactly what you say I do.
  38. You think having gone to university makes me overeducated and devoid of common sense.
  39. You think having gone to university makes Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris wise and learned.
  40. You likely think having gone to university makes me spoilt and overprivileged. That’s cute.
  41. While I was at university I worked with the atheists you idolise, including Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. I can tell you they’re overrated IRL.
  42. You think my ideas have ‘been thoroughly debunked many times over’, then show how little secular thought you’ve really read…
  43. …and that you haven’t read (perhaps even heard of) the atheists who’ve debunked your ideas.
  44. I promise you they groaned at you as well.
  45. You’re so unread you’ve no clue how unread you are,
  46. but don’t worry, you’re rapidly getting read.
  47. WE’RE ALREADY AT FORTY-SEVEN.
  48. You think you can’t follow my logic because I’m dishonest.
  49. It’s actually because YOU’RE BASIC.
  50. You think racism’s awful… but not as bad as calling things racist openly.
  51. You’ve fought for gender equality. Not feminism, though. You know what women need.
  52. You’ve ‘even bled’ for gay rights. Not other queer folk’s, mind you. You don’t know about us.
  53. Definitely not folk ‘with nontraditional gender identities’. You’re not even sure how to refer to them.
  54. You’ve bled for us… so you think you can tell us to shut up when atheists are awful about us.
  55. You’ve bled for us… and lots of us really, really wish you hadn’t.
  56. At the same time, not all of us would have been too upset if you’d bled a bit more.
  57. You thought it wasn’t personal. It felt personal.
  58. Though probably not as personal as this.
  59. You’re probably going to write another angry wall of text when you’ve read this.
  60. It’s going to suck just as much as the others,
  61. but no one’s going to care.
  62. Any one of these sentences is a better ‘reason you suck’ than all your commentary on me.

Turn off your computer, Drew. Get into bed. Curl into a ball, pull the bedcovers up over your head and go to sleep. And if you wake up still thinking you won here, drift off again.

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I’m sorry today’s atheist movement has inspired abuse. Are you sorry your religion has?

I’m sorry today’s atheist movement has inspired abuse.

Specifically, I’m sorry some of its ideas inspire abuse. To name a few things:

I don’t feel personally responsible for these things – I’m not sorry in the same way as when I step on someone’s foot or guess a Canadian’s from the US – but I’m sorry it’s the case today’s atheist movement has inspired them. Simply being atheists isn’t these people’s motivation – atheism by itself prompts no more action than theism by itself – but the particular atheist school of thought we share, which came to prominence roughly in the last ten years, produced the ideas that inspire this abuse just as particular religions produce their own.

Beyond the absence of a god, it has plenty of distinctive ideas – ideas about the education, childrearing, the workings of a nation state, science’s primacy, faith’s undesirability, matter’s relationship with consciousness, the absence of an afterlife, the world’s explicability in naturalistic terms, the injustice of religious practises, the treatment of women and LGBT people – the list goes on. And the beliefs above that make some atheists abusive – about believers’ mental or moral status, the barbarity of the ‘Islamic world’, the invalidity of all religious claims to victimhood, the all-explaining role of evolution and biology as pure unconstructed truth? These are distinctly New Atheist ideas, identifiable in that movement’s rhetoric from the late 2000s to now.

Not all New Atheists accept these particular ideas – not even most. I don’t. I’d argue they’re not just nonessential to New Atheism but complete misapplications of its main values – complete failures at reason, inquiry, vigour, skepticism, scrutiny and fairness. But my view of how New Atheism’s philosophy is best applied holds no more authority than anyone else’s, and in any case: even if nonessential, even if the ideas of a minority, the thoughts that inspire the actions above emerge from the perpetrators’ engagement with ‘movement atheism’ in its current form. Quite often they say so themselves, and without it we’ve no reason to think they’d act as they do, whatever other factors are in play.

Again then: I’m sorry this is the case. Beside a multitude of things I celebrate, today’s atheist movement has inspired abuse – and while I hope those parts of it come to be marginal, they remain black marks on its record.

Having acknowledged this, then.

Next time religious aggression or abuse comes up – like oh say, I don’t know, religiously motivated Christian harassment of queer people to give a completely random example – there are a few things I don’t want to hear.

I don’t want to hear not all Christians are queerphobic. That changes nothing: those who are still cite identifiably Christian beliefs as motivation, just as New Atheism’s abusive minority cite recognisably New Atheist ideas.

I don’t want to hear queerphobic Christians have strayed from ‘true’ Christianity, which loves and defends queer people. Unless you’re the Pope – actually, even if you’re the Pope – you’re no more an authority on what ‘true’ Christianity entails than I am on the ‘true’ way to practise skepticism. Queerphobia may, in your view, be un-Christian in a theological sense (just as anti-Muslim racism is unskeptical in mine), but forms of it are recognisably Christian in anthropological terms (just as a clash-of-civilisations narrative is recognisably New Atheist).

And I don’t want to hear alternative, counterfactual explanations for Christian queerphobia that ignore the perpetrators’ self-ascribed motives and their distinctive Christian provenance – any more than I’d tell you abusive New Atheists aren’t really motivated by the ideas about science, religion and secularism they say they are. We can speculate all day about how people might behave if worldviews didn’t exist and what else in life may have influenced them, but there’s no reason to assume they’d do the same without the religion or atheist school of thought in whose name they act. As a given motive, either is usually sufficiently explanatory.

When Christian queerphobia comes up, I don’t want to hear you defend Christianity – I want to hear you defend me, just as when New Atheist abuse comes up, I’ll tell you I’m sorry it goes on instead of rush to clear my movement’s name. (Rinse and repeat for other transgressions.)

‘I’m sorry it’s the case my religion/atheist school of thought inspires this behaviour. It’s wholly counter to my interpretation, but that changes nothing in the real world, and I hope it can be combatted.’

Notice this acknowledgement doesn’t imply your worldview is a) false or b) a net ill. It’s possible to think Christianity (or any religion) is true while also acknowledging it inspires bad things – and also to think it inspires enough good ones to outweigh them. (This is, quite possibly, where we part ways.) It’s possible to think New Atheism’s core ideas are right, acknowledging nonetheless that it inspires abuse – and also think it inspires more good than harm. (Hmm hmm.) With history, we do this as it is: we acknowledge the Enlightenment produced a freer, more secular public sphere while also legitimising racism – or that churches broadened access to education while also entrenching regressive sexual morals.

Time now to do so with our own worldviews. The fruits of religions and atheist schools of thought in the real world include aggression and abuse as much as whatever happy achievements they claim – if we want to get on or improve how our teams play, we have to own up to this instead of sidestepping it.

I’m sorry today’s atheist movement has inspired abuse. Are you sorry your religion has?

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‘Grow up and stop spouting such utter crap': when I told my ‘supportive’ mum she wasn’t a queer ally

Someone I know via social media posted the following update three days ago.

A friend and I went to the gym tonight. After our workout we tried to relax in the hot tub, when a random lady in an American flag bikini approached me.

The lady: ‘What does your tattoo mean?’

Me: ‘Oh, that’s my angry-feminist-bi-pride tattoo.’

‘What?’

‘Angry, feminist, bisexual pride. This is a feminist symbol, and it’s on top of the bisexual pride flag.’

The lady compliments my friend’s nails. An awkward silence.

‘Why are you bisexual?’

‘I don’t know how to answer that. I just am.’

‘But why?’

‘Because I’m attracted to more than one gender.’

‘She’s attracted to all the genders’, my friend adds. We high five.

‘When I was little I was molested. Then I was told I was a lesbian.’

‘Well, that has nothing to do with me. I’m just bisexual.’

Banter ensues between me and my friend about how shitty men are and how glad I am that I never have to date one. The lady says something about how I should learn to tolerate men’s crap, then: ‘Have you heard about your personal lord and saviour, Jesus Christ?’

‘I don’t want to talk about Jesus at the gym.’

The lady continues talking about Jesus.

‘This makes me really uncomfortable. Please stop.’

The lady continues talking about Jesus, mentioning something about hellfire.

‘I don’t appreciate being told I’m going to hell for who I love.’

‘I didn’t say that. I didn’t say you’re going to hell. You’re the one who said that.’ (She tells me this in a ‘Gotcha now, queer! You know you’re gross’ tone.)

‘Don’t lie. You literally just quoted scripture to me about hellfire. Go away now.’

‘I didn’t say that. I’m not your judge. I don’t judge.’

‘Well, I judge – and you’re gross. Go away.’

‘Have you heard’, my friend asks me loudly, ‘about your lord and personal saviour, Satan?!’ We proceed to discuss the the black altar and orgasms. The lady walks away.

We reported her to the front desk for harassing us. They seemed to take the matter very seriously.

When I shared it with my followers, the exchange below happened between me and my Christian mum. (Her comments are in regular text, mine in bold.) It makes me want to write about a multitude of things – ally culture, the realities of queerness and Christianity, the fact I’ve lost offline relationships as a result – but for now I haven’t much left in me to say.

* * *

People who are abused as children are easy prey for the kind of hellfire-and-damnation preachers who misuse scripture and totally misrepresent Jesus for their own power trip. This woman has probably believed herself to be gross all her life.

‘Preachers who misuse scripture and totally misrepresent Jesus’ – that would be most Christians for most of Christianity’s history, then, on this issue? If your personal form of Christianity’s nicer than theirs, that’s fine, but you’re not more an authority than they are on what the ‘true’ version is.

Also: what makes you bring child abuse up? Why is it so hard to accept that ordinary, noncoercive, nonabusive Christian beliefs could inspire the behaviour my friend describes? That’s a perfectly sufficient (and uncontroversial) explanation – we don’t need to invent a different one to get religion off the hook.

I hope that your friend and this woman meet again. She was clearly drawn to the tattoo and I wonder if she is denying her own sexuality. There are many homosexual Christians, but those are often the ones who are most aggressively phobic before they accept who they are. But you’re right… I’m only guessing.

‘She was clearly drawn to the tattoo and I wonder if she is denying her own sexuality’ – stop it. Stop finding ulterior explanations. Bigotry exists and sometimes religious beliefs are the cause. Stop denying that: we don’t need a buried psychological explanation for why straight people (Christians included) attack queer people any more than we need one for why men attack women. (For your information, ‘homosexual’ is a slur and being queer is not ‘who I am’.)

If you’re a Christian and you want to be an ally, here is what you can say:

‘I’m sorry my religion inspires behaviour like this so often. Victimising LGBT people is totally contrary to my own interpretation, which I hope becomes more influential.’

At the moment, what I’m hearing is this:

‘Because I can’t stand acknowledging that in the real world, rightly or not, my religion often inspires queerphobia, I feel I’m the victim here. I’m inventing alternative motives for homophobes out of thin air so I don’t have to face up to my religion’s role in their behaviour, because I actually care more about defending Christianity’s image than defending queer people.’

Okay. I will, if I may, reply to this in full.

I first stood up in church and argued the case for homosexuals when I was 16 years old. I was swiftly silenced and pointed to scripture. That was half a century ago, and I have had ample time to look at this in depth. It was important to me as I had, through my work in the theatre, a great many gay friends before that term had been coined and at a time when things were very different.

What I see is that there are two groups of Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin: those are stridently homophobic for their own gain and those who are sincerely confused. I have spoken to a great many groups of the latter and have told them that scripture must be seen in context.

Old Testament law was for an ancient, nomadic, desert-dwelling people who had very little access to water. It was probably based on hygiene and was shown by Jesus himself to be questionable. Saint Paul, in the New Testament, would almost certainly have been referring to practices in the Roman/Greek world that were in effect paedophilia. Jesus certainly did not say that homosexuality was a sin. He didn’t even mention it!

What he did say was that his followers were to love one another, especially the ‘Samaritans’ (outcasts) and that we should spread the good news that God loves us all. Those ‘Christians’ who declare war on the gay community are going directly against his teaching. They are the sinners!

This is what I have shared with many individuals and groups over a lot of years. It may not mean anything to folk reading this, but I believe with all my heart that it is important and next year I intend to take it further. I have the loving support of many gay/lesbian Christian people and I would hope that I would be supported by those who don’t necessarily share my faith.

That’s not a response to anything I’ve said. You are still responding to a report of religiously motivated homophobia with ‘Yes, but’. You are still making this about you – you’re defending your own religious identity instead of defending us, which would involve acknowledging Christian beliefs often cause us harm. Why is ‘I’m sorry my religion inspires behaviour like this’ so difficult to say?

I repeat: when you describe homophobes as ‘Christians’ in speech marks only, you are saying most Christians for most of Christianity’s history – including, for example, every Pope for the last two thousand years – weren’t really Christians, and that most Christians around the world today still aren’t. Aside from this not being a very useful definition (and being, in my opinion, extraordinarily arrogant), you are still refusing to acknowledge that in the real world, rightly or wrongly, regardless of theological soundness, Christian beliefs commonly inspire homophobia.

When you read a queer person’s description of religiously motivated harassment, your first response was to say the aggressor’s Christian beliefs weren’t to blame because they were molested as a child. Your second response was to say the aggressor’s Christian beliefs weren’t to blame because they were repressing their own queerness. Your third response, just now, has been to say the aggressor’s Christian beliefs weren’t to blame because they can’t have been a real Christian. (According to your personal, entirely subjective, non-authoritative definition.)

Your behaviour suggests you’re actually far less concerned about Christians attacking queer people than you are about Christianity – in the real world, in one of the multitude of ways it plays out there – being blamed for something. You’re defending your own religious identity: you’re not defending us.

Christian organisations around the world overwhelmingly lobby against the rights of queer people. Hundreds of thousands of queer people are physically assaulted or harassed (as above) because of their assailants’ Christian beliefs. Thousands of queer children and young people are made homeless because of their parents’ Christian beliefs or self-harm because of their own. Personally, I had Christian teachers – some of whom you knew – who felt it was part of their job to declare in my lessons that God hated my sin. Your other son said when I was sixteen, in front of you, that I was ‘an offence against nature and God.’ Street preachers in towns where I’ve lived have publicly shouted as I walked past that I was an abomination. I get semiregular emails from believers to that effect. When I find out someone’s a Christian – especially one of your generation and especially, to be frank, one of your friends – I have to do a risk assessment in my head.

What do you do in response? You don’t say ‘I’m sorry my religion inspires behaviour like this.’ You politely tell us, as we suffocate under a mountain of Christian shit, that your religion didn’t really inspire it, so we should all stop being so mean as to blame Christianity for what its followers do explicitly in its name.

‘I’m sorry my religion inspires behaviour like this.’ That’s all you need to say. Why can’t you? You are defending your own religious identity. You are not defending us.

‘I believe with all my heart that it is important and next year I intend to take it further’ – seriously, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart: please don’tThe last thing queer people need is allies like you, who tell us how we should and shouldn’t understand violence against us. As long as I can remember, every conversation you and I have had about queer issues has consisted of you doing most of the talking to make yourself feel good and ally-like instead of listening to me.

You’re doing it now. I told you above that ‘homosexual’ was a slur – like I have, again and again, for the last two years or more – and now you’ve used the word again, repeatedly. I’m telling you now, because it’s all I have left: If you ever call me a homosexual again, or allow other people to call me that, we are done talking, online or offline, indefinitely.

You refer to ‘gay friends’, ‘the gay community’ and ‘gay/lesbian Christian people’. You’re erasing me, as well as my friend whose update this was and most if not all the other queer people in this thread.

I’m not gay. I’m bisexual. I’ve told you this over and over for the last five years, and I don’t you the first time riding in your car when I was fourteen. The reason you likely don’t recall any of this – the reason I don’t think you’ve ever perceived me as anything but gay – is  that you don’t listen. The reason I’m writing you such an angry note is that it is the only way I have left of making you listen. If you want to be my ally, that’s what you have to do.

P.S. It would also be great if before congratulating yourself on being a wonderful ally and telling me you ‘support’ me, you could apologise for:

  • assuming I was straight for the entirety of my childhood, labelling me that way and telling me I’d grow up to marry a woman and have children. (When we talk about the closet, that’s what it is.)
  • introducing the concept of sex as something a man and woman did to reproduce.
  • using the word ‘homosexual’ to refer to queer people.
  • using it to refer to all queer people, including bisexuals (like me).
  • pronouncing it as disgustedly as possible, so the first half rhymes with ‘promo’. (You might not think you sound disgusted. You do to me.)
  • making me explain to you at the age of 21 that bisexuality existed.
  • telling me when I was 7 that it worried you ‘when [I started] fancying men’.
  • telling me ‘the easiest way to get AIDS’ (for a woman) was ‘sex with a bisexual man’.
  • telling me AIDS ‘came from the gay community’.
  • telling me how not to walk when I was 9, because it was ‘how some men who are homosexual walk’ and they might molest me.
  • telling me to stay away from the cashier at a local shop because he was gay and had consequently molested children.
  • describing the character in the blurb for the novel you wrote as ‘a sadistic homosexual’ who molested young boys.
  • using words like ‘bent’, ‘poof’, ‘queer’ (in an unreclaimed sense) and ‘pervert’ throughout my childhood.
  • consistently misgendering trans people and using transphobic slurs like ‘shemale’ (or allowing others to use them).
  • responding ‘I’m glad!’ when I was 17 and said I didn’t understand the appeal of beards.
  • telling me when I was 14, ‘It’s pretty disgusting when guys fancy each other’.
  • telling me you ‘didn’t know [you were] homophobic until [you] discovered Graham Norton’ –  telling me simply, ‘I don’t like gays’ – when I was in my early teens.

I could go on a long, long time.

‘Sorry’ is all you have to say. Don’t bother responding (or talking to me again) till you can, and don’t even think of calling yourself an ally. Your behaviour frankly disgusts me.

Alex… for God’s sake grow up and stop spouting such utter crap.

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What NBC’s Constantine got wrong on Romanies and religion

Legend has it that before Christ was crucified, his executioners found a blacksmith to forge the nails. There are two accounts of what happened next, the first telling how God cursed the blacksmith and his kin the Romanies to wander the earth, forever denied shelter. The second – the one I was told as a child – says that the blacksmith forged four nails but only gave the Romans three, absconding with the one meant for the heart. For sparing his son that pain, the story goes, God blessed the Romanies, permitting them to steal from those who persecuted them trying to reclaim the lost nail.

Which version you tell reveals your views about people known to their enemies as gypsies. Which one is a revision of the other I don’t know, but the two competing myths offer a clue about my ancestors’ relationship with Christianity – in some ways a historical yardstick of their status in Europe.

A couple of weeks ago – on Hallowe’en, no less – Constantine‘s second episode aired. The series, despite its comic book source, feels like a far less inspired crossbreed of Doctor Who and Apparitions (Google it), and its race issues are doing it no favours: this episode in particular featured (spoilers ahead) a greedy, dishonest, sexually aggressive Romany woman as its villain, whose husband’s violence toward her seemed not to make her killing him by supernatural means any more morally complex. At one point the series lead, a white exorcist fighting demons through Catholic prayer, even remarked disgustedly: ‘There’s nothing blacker than gypsy magic.’

Pale skinned Christianity, virtuous and pure, versus Romany witchcraft’s exotic evil – this is an opposition I know well. [Read more…]

Designing Greta Christina’s new book cover

Greta Christina has a new book. (Doesn’t she always?) Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God is a guide for atheists, agnostics and believers whose faith isn’t helping them deal with mortality. In place of wishful thinking it offers… well, the clue is in the name.

Since her regular collaborator Casimir Fornalski was unavailable, Greta asked me to design the cover art. I bit her hand off said I’d be delighted.

ComfortingThoughtsAboutDeathThatHaveNothingToDoWithGod

Certainly I had reservations. Fornalski and I have never interacted, but I’ve admired his work with her for two and a half years: the angry woman who looks suspiciously like Greta on the covers of her prior atheist books has become an unmistakeable part of her brand. Ending such an effective partnership is risky even when you have no choice, and I worried I’d be unable to create something as memorable or iconic.

The project became about creating something unlike Fornalski’s covers – in particular, I decided it should look illustrated more than designed, have a coloured background instead of a white one and be uncartoonish. (A further design constraint when Audible required square covers for audiobooks. So the image could be broadened just by adding a strip each side, the background had to be one flat, replicable colour.)

Greta and I discussed ideas. ‘A stylised tree with roots as well as branches, but with the roots being made of DNA double helix coils’ got vetoed: ‘As a many-times-over designer for atheists,’ I told her, ‘no more effing double helixes. They’ve been done so many times the concept’s over.’ (Movement: take note.) The tree motif I did like, so the next suggestion – ‘a person sitting or standing at a gravestone’ – became someone under its boughs.

I started doodling.

000Negative space designs are my weakness, and initially the figure beneath the tree was to be the same colour as the background, appearing as a ‘gap’ in the tree’s trunk. (I wanted a cypress tree – symbol of mourning in the classical era – but gave up on it when the shape was wrong.) Given the book’s sombre theme to differentiate it further from Greta’s other covers, pastel tones drew my eye and the soft grey-green I chose – softer than the final one – survived till late in the design process.

I won’t lie – this design intimidated me. The moment I knew how the tree should look, I knew I had to ‘paint’ it with digital sponges, creating foliage and paint blots from shapes in two different colours, green defining white – over eighty layers and over four hundred individual ‘spongeprints’ went into the end product above. For a while I was unsure I should attempt something so different from my previous work and toyed with the idea of a cover consisting solely of the title in narrowly-spaced Georgia, perhaps referencing Faber’s minimalist poetry collections.

It didn’t take – I suspect because I knew my first thought was my best and that I ought to persevere. When I did, I ended up with the following halfway house.

000Since I’m terrible at drawing representational forms – I studied graphic art, alright? – creating the sitting figure was tough. I tried suggesting someone crosslegged with the abstract shaped I’d used in that first doodle, which turned out to be easier to draw by hand than with a mouse – then at the other extreme, with jagged polygons whose proportions were tricky to get right. Neither worked harmoniously with the tree, and in the end it occurred to me the only way to make the sitting person work would be to use an actual human outline.

This terrified me. I’ve always hidden behind symbols and logo-ish abstractions, and human bodies are some of the hardest things to draw convincingly. (Nonetheless, easier than horses. Try it if you doubt me.) In the end I based the figure on a man’s outline in a stock photo, adjusting the shoulders, midsection and hair to make them appear gender-nonspecific.

It’s obvious to me the background colour to the left was wrong, but making it an apple green was Greta’s suggestion. She also mentioned the typeface – Bebas Neue, also present in my blog banner – may be too stark, asking whether a handwriting-style font could be used instead. It couldn’t, I said, because only chunky all-caps sans serif had the impact not to get lost. (Chinese Rocks was briefly a contender, but Hemant Mehta had shotgunned it with his own book.)

The actual problem, I realised, was the black. Changing the background and making it a soft grey fixed that problem, though it created more. The final alterations were the addition of Greta’s name, deciding whether or not to centre it and experimenting with text in different colour schemes.

000

Since we both liked the second image from the right best, that one became the cover.

Want to buy Greta’s book? Head over to her blog for details.

Want to hire me? That also works.

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Narnia’s Aslan isn’t good. He’s a pious, tyrannical bully

Based on a Facebook status.

There’s a scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where Jadis (the Witch) explains to Aslan and three of the Pevensies why, according to ancient, mysterious laws laid down by Aslan’s father, she’s entitled to murder their ten-year-old brother Edmund, as well as anyone in Narnia who commits an act of betrayal. ‘Tell us of this Deep Magic’, Aslan says.

‘Tell you?’ Jadis replies. ‘Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us? Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the firestones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the sceptre of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill.’

‘You were the Emperor’s hangman’ responds Mr Beaver, one of the talking animals, which goes entirely uncontradicted.

Twelve-year-old Susan, the older Pevensie girl who by later books is ‘no longer a friend of Narnia’ because she’s ‘interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations’, asks Aslan, quite reasonably and especially so under the circumstances, ‘Can’t we do something about the Deep Magic? Isn’t there something you can work against it?’ Here, from the book, is what happens next.

‘Work against the Emperor’s Magic?’ said Aslan, turning to her with something like a frown on his face. And nobody ever made that suggestion to him again.

I haven’t seen much discussion of this scene in criticism of the Narnia books, but allegory aside, several things it shows about Aslan strike me as disturbing.

[Read more…]

Some updates (and thank you for funding the new Token Skeptic book!)

What do you mean I didn’t post in October? I’ve been busy. I had a book to edit. I had hair to dry.

Actually I have been busy – among other things, on Kylie Sturgess’ forthcoming book. Her Indiegogo page, which I shared with you a month back, crept sluggishly towards its target till a week ago, when a sudden spike raised half my whole editor’s fee during the last few days. Thanks to all 39 of the book’s funders, a couple of whom – Karen Stollznow and Daniel Loxton – Kylie interviews in it.

I can’t tell you much yet about the book, whose first draft I finished work on today. It lacks a title and – early days – is a while from being done, so the contents may morph in weeks to come, but here’s what I will say: this is a book of skeptical voices, some well known, and if you liked Kylie’s first release, The Scope of Skepticism, its sequel won’t suck. (Terminator 2, not Highlander II. Promise.)

There’s another book project I’m working on – no, not my own – about which there’s even less I can say. It’s a translation, however, and an exciting one. I’ll let you know more the moment I’m able. Between these two bits of work I’ve been able to paint and furnish the room I’ve lived in since summer, meaning I finally have somewhere comfortable to sit and work. I’m typing this at a desk – my desk – after four months working on a mattress, and expect to type many more posts where I now sit. Things are looking up.

As a side effect of being suddenly in demand – advertising, it turns out, works – I’ve been letting projects from September slip. Half a dozen of you have scheduled projects of different sorts with me, so if you’re wondering where I am and what Peter Boghossian is for, I can answer half your questions here and now. Hang in there while I get on top of things – I haven’t forgotten you, honest.

How and what I’ll post this month while the diary’s still full, I’m not certain, but certainly I’ll post.

Back soon. Ta-ta, A.

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I’m working with Kylie Sturgess on her forthcoming book. Help support it!

000If you’ve followed Freethought Blogs for long enough – since a couple of months before I joined, specifically – you’ll know who Kylie Sturgess is. She’s been hosting the Token Skeptic podcast since 2009 and writes the accompanying blog, now at Patheos; in 2012 she released The Scope of Skepticism, a book of interviews and essays based on podcasting exchanges, and now she’s working on a sequel. Two days ago, to my delight, she asked me if I’d be her editor.

The new book doesn’t have a title yet, but most of it’s already written: it contains previously unpublished essays, unseen interviews with folk in skepticism and extended versions of earlier ones. The manuscript is set to be done this time next week, at which point I come in. Needless to say, I’m thrilled to be working on this and can’t wait to get started – it’s one of several great projects that have come my way since I asked readers of this blog to hire me. [Read more…]

Vyckie Garrison needs our help

If you’ve never read No Longer Quivering it’s time you did. Vyckie Garrison – an escapee of the Quiverfull religious movement whose former beliefs saddled her with an abusive husband, more pregnancies than she could handle and serious health problems inherited by some of her seven children – founded the blog in 2009, and it’s since become a meeting point for women fleeing and recovering from religious abuse.

Ill health exacerbated by her experiences has led Garrison to step back from the blog, which is now administered mainly by other writers, but her work has made a monumental difference to hundreds of people. If you’re a fan of Libby Anne’s blog Love, Joy, Feminism, briefly hosted on this network, the NLQ forums were where she started out, encouraged to write by Garrison. Nor is it just women she’s helped – another member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network is Jonny Scaramanga, whose powerful blog Leaving Fundamentalism I’ve often cited here.

Possibly more than any writer, and while our stories are remarkably different, Garrison has helped me recognise some of the things in my religious past were abusive. The blogosphere would be a bleak place without her efforts; unfortunately, as so often when bigotry and zealotry take over someone’s life, there have been financial knock-on effects, and for reasons related to her divorce from said husband, she’s at risk of losing her house. [Read more…]

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. [Read more…]