Polyamory: our partners may be countless, but they still count

Remember Craigslist Mom from earlier this summer, who sought a ‘sugar baby’ for her son through an online ad?

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I wanted at the time to write an open letter to her. So much was wrong with her advert that I ultimately struggled.

We need to lose virginity as a concept - having sex doesn’t involve losing anything, or confer, as Craigslist Mom assumes, some magical new status – and what makes her link it with nerdiness anyway? We know it’s a myth women in scant clothing are at greater risk of rape; I wouldn’t be surprised if, following investigation, there turned out to be zero correlation between frequency of sex in teens and traits deemed un-nerdy (sportiness, confidence or popularity, say). Being a nerd, after all, is in Laurie Penny’s words ‘about making things and fixing things and taking things apart to see how they work’ – sex being a case in point. It’s not by chance that all the sex workers, sex writers and sex educators I know are enormous nerds: nerds read Wikipedia articles on positions and anatomy; they learn words for identities, relationship styles and fetishes non-nerds don’t know; they meet other nerds through iPhone apps and Star Trek fan clubs, then have nerdy sex that’s fulfilling and fun.

We need to lose classism and slut-shaming. (God forbid a Harvard student and a woman paid for sex might form a connection or stay together in the long run.) We need to lose, or at least be very careful with, ‘seduction’ culture. (Plenty of people will want sex with you, whoever you are. When someone doesn’t, respect that and move on. Pestering, pressuring or coercing them till they give in isn’t romantic. It’s harassment.) We need to lose parents’ sense of ownership over their children’s bodies. (Even benevolent forms of this – ‘It’s okay with us if you like boys, son’ – can be annoying. I own my body, and need no one’s permission but my partners’. Of course it’s fucking well okay.)

But when I come back to Craigslist Mom’s advertisement, one thing bothers me above all else: how does she know her son hasn’t had sex?

She says he’s never had a girlfriend; what she means is he’s never done the teenage boyfriend-girlfriend mating dance, with steps like meeting the parentsgoing to prom and – on primetime American teen dramas – popping the question. Sex does not just happen in this context. Perhaps he’s had friends with benefits; perhaps he no-strings-attached encounters with online contacts; perhaps he’s fumbled about with girls in the back row at the cinema. (What constitutes ‘sex’ precisely, anyway?)

Perhaps he doesn’t like girls. Perhaps he likes boys, or people of other genders, or any combination of the above, and they’ve done any of that. (Gay teenage partnerships practically never follow the come-for-dinner, meet-the-parents narrative.) Perhaps he isn’t sexually or romantically interested in anyone, or almost anyone, which is entirely fine and does not need fixing. Perhaps he’s been with people before one way or another, but doesn’t want to be again; perhaps he’d like to be in future, but not right now. Perhaps his main sexual pastime is masturbation, reading erotica, writing it, cybering through Skype or online message. Perhaps he’s seeing, or has seen, a range of people non-exclusively, none of whom meet narrow ‘girlfriend’ criteria.

I know there’s a good chance that Craigslist Mom doesn’t exist – that she was an attention-seeking practical joke, designed to rile the Twitterati or, more worryingly, expose women who responded. The ideas and presumptions she represents, though, are wholly real, and should be taken seriously. I’ve seem some of them from my own (altogether very preferable) relatives.

Last year, I said to one that monogamy didn’t interest me. ‘You’re not in a long-term relationship’, they said as if to explain. The reverse was true: I wasn’t in one exclusive partnership because monogamy doesn’t appeal. When you’re poly, many long-term relationships can happen at once – you don’t stop seeing your dentist when you visit your GP – or, at the very least, a single/taken dichotomy begins to crumble. For most people, the mark of a relationship is exclusivity with one other person: having more than one partner or fewer means you’re not in an LTR, and saying when one starts or ends is very simple. Things get much blurrier, by contrast, when monogamy’s not a prerequisite.

Last week, after saying I don’t want kids or marriage, a different relative asked, ‘You don’t want any kind of relationship, then?’ I ended up telling them I’m happily single (by which I really meant ‘with no primary partner‘); what I should have said was that I’ve been in various relationships, often several at once, which never caught my family’s notice. When you’ve multiple partners none of whom fills the role of girlfriend-coming-to-dinner, as might have been the case for Craigslist Son, your relationships can often go unnoticed – but they are relationships. If you don’t know of one person I’m seeing, it could mean I’m seeing more than one, not fewer.

I’m neither gay nor straight; I don’t identify, in general, as bisexual. I live, in other words, under sexual erasure. When because I’ve no visible girlfriend or boyfriend, it’s assumed I’ve no sexual or romantic links, more gets piled on. Heteromonogamy isn’t singledom’s sole cure – nor is it necessary, as Albert Camus put it, to love rarely in order to love much. Embracing the many, for poly people, counts just as much as finding the one: our partners may be countless, but they still count.

“If you think rape is a problem, talk about it right.”

[Content warning: discussions of harassment, sexual violence, domestic abuse and victim blaming, both here and in the OP.]

Jonathan Lindsell of the Haywire Thought blog has a post about rape, and how we discuss it. If you’ve heard the phrase “rape culture” and been mystified by it, this post is for you.

It says a variety of essential things, like…

We don’t hear about perpetrators. Headlines always read “Woman raped in Hartlepool”. “Government statistics show 24% students victims of abuse”. Unless the perpetrator is famous or politically sensitive then reporting is passive – such and such a molestation was committed. Such and such a sexual assault was reported. Potential victims are at risk of abuse – no men are at risk of raping.

This gives the impression rape is something that ‘just happens’. It comes out of the sky and ruins lives like a fair-weather thunderbolt. It’s a freak event. Abuse occurs in the same random nature as tyre punctures. It sneaks up on you like cancer – the unlucky woman ‘suffers rape’. You look through history – whole races and cities find themselves in this unenviable but actor-absent situation: The Rape of the Sabine Women, The Rape of Nanking. Nobody in day-to-day life ‘does’ rape. Rape just happens.

And…

Most rapes (up to 90%) are committed by people the victim knows – family, neighbours, friends, colleagues.  Reporting doesn’t acknowledge this, let alone address it. We ignore that men and [people of other genders] are sexually assaulted. The media have a narrative, a nice easy story. You, the reader, already know the framework. It’s a fable in a way – a morality tale: Young attractive woman goes partying, drinks too much and walks home alone in the dark and is attacked by a stranger. Or in the club by the man she’d just met, with whom she flirted outrageously. Or in the park where she was out running in her tight sports-shorts and push-up bra.

… We know that’s a myth. A realistic narrative might read: Irritable husband comes back from work and shouts at his children then when they are in bed rapes his wife. Or: At a family celebration the elder cousin touches the younger cousin and forces them not to tell. There is no easy-to-follow fable. In reality, sex crime doesn’t fit neat patterns.

And…

We don’t consider whether or how much we ourselves contribute to a rape-friendly culture. Only a tiny percentage – as low as 6.8% of recorded rapes and 1.1% of the estimated total end in conviction. Whether the way we (and I’m addressing all sexes, genders and persuasions) discuss bodies, actions and preferences contributes.

… The only times we hear a lot about the criminals are when they are in minorities. They are comfortably far away, They are explicitly ‘not us’ when ‘us’ is the white middle class largely male cadre that dominates Fleet Street, Westminster and the law. So it’s fine to talk about celebrities like Jimmy Saville or Garry Glitter – you might have harboured misgivings about them even before Operation Yewtree. They form the opposite case – all we hear from victims are titillating/grizzly details that prove the celebrity’s monstrosity and unique Other-ness. … These vile men lived lives so glitzy and removed from our own that we need not see their actions as a reflection on our own lifestyle. It’s fine to talk about Catholic Priests and public school masters. … Crucially, they are monsters totally unlike me and my friends. … It’s fine to talk about the Rotherham child abuse ring. “They’re immigrants, aren’t they? … It’s equally fine to talk about India then – India is comfortably far away.

We need to understand that rapists are not unspeakable monsters. They are like you and me. If we can only imagine rapists being unhinged psychopaths, then in court all that the defence barrister needs to do is show what a nice, normal human being the accused is, and the jury accepts that the accused cannot be guilty.

And…

When we read a passive verb, we’re linguistically programmed to look for a reason. … We’re desperate for clues: Was she a virgin or a slut? (There’s no middle ground.) Did she kiss him? Has she ever kissed anyone? Is she married? Is she an atheist? Was she sexually active? Was she partying? Had she taken all necessary precautions not to be raped, including but not limited to: telling a friend she was leaving, asking a Man to chaperone her, calling home, calling the police, carrying a whistle, carrying pepper spray, practicing Taekwondo, wearing an electrified girdle, carrying an automatic machine gun?

OR. Was she basically up for it? Was she like the Steubenville girl? Did she have condoms in her purse? The pill? Perfume? Why was she in the club/field/festival in the first place if she didn’t want it?

And…

Statistics exist. You almost certainly know a rapist, unless you are a recluse. Several, actually. That’s a nice thought. Cycle through the mental facebook of your friends, family, colleagues and neighbours, then people you interact with in tiny ways, commuters, supermarket customers – consider how many of them might have sexually assaulted. I hope you don’t know any molesters, but you probably do.

And…

If you think that gender violence is a problem, talk about it right. Demand equal focus on the criminal. I don’t mean we should ignore the victim, but that we need to keep the whole situation in mind. Not just to aid convictions and support victims to understand that their ordeal was not their fault, but so we learn to ignore the enablers of rape culture and construct a society where the current brutality is unacceptable.

Read the whole thing. Trust me, it’s worth it.

You want sex? So stop asking for coffee

If you weren’t aware by now that arguments about harassment are burning through the skeptosphere again, you can’t have been paying much attention. I won’t be entering that fray myself just yet, except to say – in general terms, in principle – that reports of abuse or harassment should always be taken seriously and investigated. For the moment, in fact, I’ll stick to discussing the issue in general terms, in principle, for reasons I hope are obvious.

The one event I will name is the one to which these spats always return.

Reliably, at least one person will say a version of the following whenever ‘Elevatorgate’ comes up:

For goodness‘ sake, he only asked her for a coffee! Why would she think that was a sexual advance?! He even said ‘Don’t take this the wrong way’. What a professional victim – she must just have been desperate to be offended.

There’s a great deal that response ignores: that the proposition was made in the small hours of the night, in an enclosed space; that it followed the part of the average conference schedule most associated with pass-making; that the man in question invited Watson back to his room – that is, his bedroom – rather than somewhere ‘coffee’ could mean nothing else. It’s the kind of conduct most effectively excused, as Stephanie’s pointed out before, by cutting all contextual detail.

This post though isn’t about Elevator Guy or any other individual. Revisiting that incident just crystallised a feeling that’s played on my mind a while. That feeling is this:

We need to stop asking people for coffee.

Not that we should stop asking people for sex, in appropriate contexts, at conferences and elsewhere; not that we should stop asking people on dates. We need, specifically, to stop saying ‘for coffee’. If that sounds prudish or odd, let me explain.

Some months back, a friend got an online message from a stranger who’d found him in an online student group. The sender, having seen his comments, asked if he was ‘up for a coffee’. It took my friend three days, and hours of advisory IM exchanges, to know how to respond.

Exactly what was ‘a coffee’ in this case? What invitation had been made? Was this coffee and socialising, as in German Kaffeeklatsch? Was it a coffee date? Socialising, with the option of dates to follow? With the option of dates and/or sex? Of no strings attached sex, specifically? A date with the option of staying friends?

‘Coffee’ is popular, I think, due to this ambiguity. It works both as euphemism and get-out clause, putting sex or romance on the table with plausible deniability. Ask to hook up, and your neck is on the line; ask them for coffee, and rejection can be parried with face-saving assurances you ‘didn’t mean it like that’. (Ewan McGregor, in the film Brassed Off, walks Tara Fitzgerald home after a night out. ‘D’you want to come up for a coffee?’ she asks. He doesn’t drink coffee, he says. ‘I haven’t got any’, she replies.)

The trouble is, that ambiguity puts the other person’s neck on the line. Inviting someone neither to dating or sex, nor to a meetup, but to something that could plausibly be either puts on them the burden of interpretation – of negotiating properly an advance chosen for its ambiguity. My friend didn’t want to hurt a stranger’s feelings, but returning their message was a minefield. Guess wrong – that a sexual or romantic invitation was a purely social one, or vice versa – and he faced huge chances of creating awkwardness. He’d no doubt have felt bad if that had happened, but the deck was stacked against him. To avoid taking a social risk themselves, the other person put his feelings at risk by making him guess what they meant.

We’re all somewhat culpable for how what we say will likely be construed; part of communicating well is being hard to misinterpret. It doesn’t matter, in the end, what Elevator Guy meant to say; his job, especially where and when he said it, was to think about how it would sound. When you’ve said something used often as an overture to sex, you’ve no right to blame or guilt-trip somebody for taking it that way. Doubly so if you said it because it’s used that way. Triply if you said it hoping to hide behind its vagueness if they turned you down.

It’s not just about coffee. That’s a prime offender, but the attitude behind it – indirectness about what we want, expecting others to divine it magically and blaming them for guessing wrong – has implications for our wider sexual culture. I don’t think it’s by chance behaviour reported as harassment – unwelcome touching, inappropriate comments, furtive photographs – can often be presented as benign. Central to solid sex-positivity is stating clearly what we want or like. Not doing so means if and when we breach someone’s boundaries (as can happen with the best intentions), the message they get is that their feelings don’t count, and they’ve just ‘misunderstood’.

If it’s sex you want, ask – appropriately, in appropriate contexts – for sex. If it’s a casual date, then ask for that. If it’s fine-ground aromatic Italian espresso, well, all right then – ask for coffee. The rest of the time, steer clear, and say what it is you’re after.

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Secular synthesis and why we need it – or, Hello Freethought Blogs

You already know that I’m a #FTBully. Of all the letters after my name (admittedly, there aren’t very many), those are the ones I’m proudest of. My feeling is, that tells you all you need know about me. Keep reading though.

I’m 22, secular, British, poly, queer, tall, ex-Christian, “left wing and long-winded”, a nerd, a graduate and a keyboard warrior. What that actually means is fallacious discourses piss me off, and so do faulty ideas they transmit. I’m skeptical, you might say, in that sense.

The backdrop to my joining this network is an organised skepticism more divided than ever, teetering toward civil war. I have no problems with that division. If our blogosphere and the community around it become the dogfight expected right now, things will get worse before they get better – but they will, I think, get better. There are problems in our movement – racism, misogyny, transphobia, harassment, wage theft, corruption – that we need to fix, and any chance we take by addressing them is a chance for self-improvement. Should skepticism implode in the coming weeks or months, there’s no point letting it implode again a year or several down the line: the time for staring down internal conflicts, all of them, is now.

Because of that, there won’t just be posts here on UK atheism – that is, on why our image as a godless paradise is unwarranted, our secular community underdeveloped and our strains of fundamentalism growing. There won’t just be posts on leaving extreme religion – how Hallowe’en once terrified me, how my niece was an evangelical at four years old and how I thought aged eight that Satan had possessed me. There won’t just be posts about mainstream and LGBT culture’s myths of sexuality, about sex and relationships, about the nerdsphere or about far-right religion’s fast-forming grip on UK campuses. There will be all of those, sooner or later, but not just those.

I named this blog Godlessness in Theory because I think we need new secular dialectics. I first encountered things like feminism and social justice largely through the atheist scene – I came of age reading Skepchick, Butterflies and Wheels and Greta Christina’s Blog – and I think it’s valuable, vital in fact, to view our movement through those kinds of frameworks. I’m not convinced, though, that it’s enough to switch between discourses as I’ve found myself doing; to blog on atheism some days and queerness others. The most exciting thoughts I’ve had in skepticism have been listening to Pragna Patel, Sikivu Hutchinson or Natalie Reed, in whose work secularity and social justice collide and complete, coherent modes of thinking germinate which speak to both. I love these writers’ work, because this is more than intersectional action; it’s an innovative, synthetic analysis. Pursuing secular synthesis as they have – bringing godlessness into theory, and vice versa – is my long-term stated aim. That’s what I’m here for, and what I think can repair our movement – even, perhaps, make it stronger than ever.

Wish me luck.

For the moment, an overview: if you haven’t read anything by me before, or you’ve read a post or two and you want to read more, the following ten posts are a good place to start.

I’m looking at archiving the rest of my past writing here; to stay updated in the mean time, go and Like this blog on Facebook. If you feel like you still want more, browse through my writing in the areas linked or see my blogroll here for the people I like reading. You can also drop me a line via email or Twitter, and believe me, I’ll be reading the comments.

Hello if we don’t know each other. Hello again if we already do. And hello Freethought Blogs – you’re the greatest network of them all. I’m thrilled to be here.

In defence of Quantum of Solace

[Warning: spoilers!]

Everyone seemed to love Skyfall on its release. Papers listed it among the top few Bond films, reviewers heaped praise on it and Sam Mendes and Adele’s return for Bond 24 met with popular demand. I liked it a lot, myself, though in hindsight slightly prefer 2006’s Casino Royale, in which Daniel Craig debuts and Mads Mikkelsen’s villain (seven years pre-Hannibal) chews the scenery into succulent, meaty chunks. The interceding entry in the series, Quantum of Solace, is the one fans and critics alike seem to have hated – and no, Quantum isn’t brilliant. It’s not on the level of the other two by any means; equally though, it isn’t terrible. Certainly, it isn’t the car crash often recalled.

I recognise the film’s problems. It’s the shortest of all the Bonds, sandwiched between the longest two to date, and also the most violent – an entirely unproductive combination. Royale was gritty in its depiction of a bruised and bleeding hero, but its glamour, humour and storytelling finesse meant it never relied on action; Quantum exhibits not much else. To a large extent, this comes down to the 2007-8 writers’ strike – by the time of filming, the film’s script was only partially completed, leaving the cast and director Marc Forster to devise scenes. It shows: one moment Craig’s Bond is dispatching the icy pith familiar to viewers of the previous film, the next he’s left dependent on pick-up lines like ‘Come up and help me find the stationery.’ (Seriously. Bond says that.) Beyond technical and visual aspects, much of the film just feels underdeveloped, and it suffers greatly as a result. Still though, I don’t think its faults sink it.

Except for single-filmer George Lazenby, each of the past Bonds had a misstep or two: Connery had Thunderball and Diamonds Are Forever, Moore had Moonraker, Brosnan had Die Another Day. (Moore’s Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy, plus Timothy Dalton’s Licence to Kill, are borderline for me.) If Quantum of Solace is remembered as Craig’s weakest note, it still stands tall next to most of these.

In fact, thanks largely to the talents of its cast, Quantum is far, far better than its half-baked screenplay might have meant. Beside Judi Dench’s reliably spiky M, both main villains deserve special credit: with his Jokeresque laughter under interrogation and quipping, ‘Tosca isn’t for everyone’ disdain, Jesper Christensen takes previously nondescript Mr. White straight to magnificent bastard status, and Matthieu Amalric radiates creepiness, predacity and danger as Dominic Greene, particularly when onscreen with Olga Kurylenko’s Camille – the scene where he threatens to throw her from a balcony is a rare moment in which a Bond villain feels genuinely unsettling, someone you wouldn’t ever want to meet.

Camille herself won’t be going in the Bond woman hall of fame any time soon, but feels like the major casualty of the partial script; had she been given more time and development, perhaps she’d have come across in deliberate contrast to predecessor Vesper Lynd, as a grittier, less refined but similarly wounded and courageous character instead of an inadequate stand-in. The climactic moment when Camille hunches panicked amid a fire, Bond trying to get through to her, echoes his and Vesper’s shower scene from Royale, and it seems her story might have been just as compelling if fully developed. Gemma Arterton feels equally neglected as agent Fields, though her scenes with Craig and Giancarlo Giannini’s René Mathis crackle with wit and charm, and her death scene – an oily twist on Shirley Eaton’s in Goldfinger – is legitimately harrowing.

This film, unusually for Bond, devotes earnest attention to violence against women: where elsewhere in the franchise this is fetishised, here it’s a theme. Camille’s mother and sister were raped, as quite possibly Fields is before her death, and Greene’s relationship with her is shown transparently as abusive; that a trail of murdered women follows Bond is even commented on by M. (‘Look how well your charm works, James’, she says, surveying Arterton’s nude corpse. ‘They’ll do anything for you. How many is that now?’) Unlike other ‘kept women’ in prior films, however, Camille is not seduced by 007 – in fact, in Bond’s closest encounter to date with feminism, it is she who ultimately abandons him, acknowledging his damaged emotional state. Seeing Bond’s torment play out through alcoholism and sleeplessness is itself captivating – Craig is at his tense, brooding best in these moments, and it’s a shame, again, that he’s left little else to do by the film’s unfinished script.

My inner jury is still out on Marc Forster’s direction. Certain cosmetic elements visibly jar: the stylised title cards for the story’s locations feel out of place, for instance, and like the dialogue’s subtitles, don’t match their components in Royale. (It may not seem important, but I notice these things – you have no idea how much it bothers me that the colour and size of the onscreen text changes.) I’m still not sure, moreover, why Forster provides subtitles for two Bolivian extras’ in-taxi exchange. Footage of villagers during a drought captures the travelogue flavour of Fleming’s writing perfectly, though, and in a film over-reliant on action, it’s a good job Forster directs it exquisitely – the scaffold sequence in the opening minutes, in particular, is executed perfectly, and if anything feels like a more natural place for the opening titles to have gone; the rooftop chase leading up to it, similarly, is amazing even as a lesser retread of the Parkour chase from the previous film, and the aerial confrontation just before the final act, while at moments difficult to follow, spectacular. Other highlights include Bond’s hand-to-hand battle with Edmund Slate, one of the whole series’ best fight scenes in terms of both choreography and camerawork, and the entire, breathtaking showdown at the Bregenz opera.

There and elsewhere, Dennis Gassner’s set designs channel the sixties cleanliness of the Connery era: while we don’t get the Shanghai skyline’s modern mystique or the natural beauty of Scotland as in Skyfall, the backdrops of MI6’s new headquarters, M’s apartment, Mathis’ villa and Bond and Fields’ hotel are effortlessly cool. In the case of the operahouse, too, Gassner’s forensic aesthetic helps create a real sense of menace, framing the ensuing shoot-out’s violence like meat on glimmering ice in a butcher’s shop. Quantum, the organisation whose meeting Bond disrupts here, is a superb creation – a kind of global capitalist, 21st century SPECTRE, manipulating world politics for the highest bidder. ‘We’ll supply the private security,’ Greene tells Medrano. ‘We’ll pay off the right officials, and we have twenty-six countries ready to recognise your new, official Bolivian government.’ Chilling indeed. With its boat chase, embattled lead woman, political corruption and gangsterism, and with Bond out of place in a deprived area, the film sometimes brings Live and Let Die to mind – it’s pretty good, too, seeing Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter caught up behind the scenes in shady manoeuvring.

Louise Frogley’s costuming often feels uninspired, particularly in the case of Craig, on whom wider ties and conservative-cut suits just don’t sit right (compare them, for example, to his narrow three-pieces in Skyfall). Bond’s clothes, however, are used to good effect – we see him start out in one outfit at Port au Prince, requisitioning a jacket when needed to cover a knife wound, fly to Austria thus dressed, scavenge for a dinner jacket in the opera’s laundry area, then switch back to his previous outfit keeping the dress shirt. These might seem like trivial details, but deployed in the film, they enhance the sense of a spy on the run, improvising with all resources available – somehow I’m more invested than I would be with Bond’s usual Barbarella wardrobe.

More and more, I’m convinced Quantum’s biggest flaws are in its first few minutes. The opening shot, gliding across Lake Garda to David Arnold’s throbbing strings, has a real air of menace, but the car chase it introduces feels perfunctory and empty. (And why, additionally, has Bond paused to remove his waistcoat since the end of Casino Royale, supposedly only minutes earlier?) ‘Another Way To Die’, the much-loathed theme song by Jack White and Alicia Keys, has greatly grown on me since I first heard it – White’s lyrics and the shrieking, orgasmic guitars of the middle eight blend passion and danger as only Bond can, and the composition hangs more elegantly together than I thought – but the recut three-minute version used for the opening titles does the song no justice, and I wish Arnold had been in charge of its brass and horn sections. Again, the titles should have played after a moment more dramatic than a car’s boot being opened, and Forster’s freeze frame feels distinctly wrong, but while on seeing the film I wished Daniel Kleinman’s chunky graphics from Royale had returned, I’ve come to admire the sequence’s motifs – Bond roaming the desert, gun pointed in every direction, shadowy female forms rising from the sand.

Both films’ theme songs, in the end, epitomise them: where Skyfall was stylish and classic but sometimes slipped from homage to pastiche, Quantum initially felt crude and structureless, too seemingly reliant on percussion, but improves on repeated encounter. Maybe it wasn’t a Royale flush, but if you loathed it in the cinema five years back and haven’t seen it again since, give it another chance – you might find it’s better than you remember.

See also: Bonding with history – Skyfall‘s postmodern 007

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On Stephen Fry’s letter and Russia: the oppression Olympics

There’s much to admire and enjoy in Stephen Fry. I respect his public openness about mental illness and HIV-AIDS awareness-raising; his articulate promotion of secular humanist aesthetics; his brightness and wit on QI. I respected, admired and enjoyed less his open letter to David Cameron, calling recently for ‘an absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics’ held next year.

‘Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like’, writes Fry. ‘At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world. He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews.

‘… I especially appeal to you, Prime Minister, a man for whom I have the utmost respect. As the leader of a party I have for almost all of my life opposed and instinctively disliked, you showed a determined, passionate and clearly honest commitment to LGBT rights and helped push gay marriage through both houses of our parliament in the teeth of vehement opposition from so many of your own side. For that I will always admire you, whatever other differences may lie between us. In the end I believe you know when a thing is wrong or right. Please act on that instinct now.’

Utah – yes, that hotbed of queer liberation where a third of LGBT teens are assaulted and two thirds harassed. Fry’s implicit geopolitics boasts a curious landscape: ‘the civilised world’ of Britain and Utah is juxtaposed with the ‘barbaric, fascist’ axis of Hitler’s Germany and Putin’s Russia, a contrast that underpins his argument. That the letter’s whole first paragraph, and the author’s extended treatise, focus solely on Nazi anti-Semitism as cautionary tale at first seemed odd – surely gay people’s own treatment in the Third Reich strikes a better analogue to contemporary Russia? – but by making Putin Hitler, Fry invites Cameron to play Churchill, boycotting Russia’s Olympics as Churchill fought Hitler’s fascism.

The comparison demands criteria by which fascist Germany in 1939 was categorically worse than England: while anti-Semitism ran rife in thirties and forties Britain, it never became explicit state practice, as was the police violence, imprisonment and forced labour which persisted under Churchill’s premiership. (Under his post-war government, convictions for homosexuality – in actual terms, levels of police harassment and violence toward queer men – rose four and a half times.) Fry’s recourse to anti-Nazism enlists Cameron in helping ‘save’ sexual minorities in Russia, as Britain loves to remember it saved European Jews, replaying on memorial loop its empire’s one moment of apparent heroism; an appeal to that moment requires a parallel of queer Russians today with a group the British state, and not Hitler’s Reich, accommodated at the time – true of Jews, at least on paper, but not LGBTs.

No wonder the letter’s language, ‘civilised’ rather than ‘barbaric’, evokes our colonial past’s kindlier and more benign pretensions, so wholly embodied by Fry’s tweedy, avuncular and hugely loveable persona. All reference to homophobia as uncivilised feels contextless: has anything, except perhaps religion, transmitted it more ably than the cause of ‘civilising’ dark-skinned nations? Our Prime Minister’s much-praised attack on multiculturalism two years ago advanced, as do the arguments of neocons like Douglas Murray, the notion migrants’ violence or queerphobia stems from a lack of Britishness; that they contradict nebulous ideas of our national identity, despite Britain’s exporting both worldwide for centuries. The binary division of the world simplistically into enlightened and fascistic regimes as deployed by Fry, then, doesn’t quite work – and it’s hard to avoid the thought much of the push for a 2014 Olympic boycott, as with the public outrage which followed Pussy Riot’s conviction, has more to do with posturing national one-upmanship than actual solidarity.

When three of the troupe’s members received two-year prison sentences last summer, condemnation swept Britain’s media – despite the fact British protester Charlie Gilmour had received an equally outrageous 16 month sentence in 2010 for swinging from the Whitehall Cenotaph, and anti-cuts activist Omar Ibrahim, charged with violent disorder in March 2011 after lobbing a joke-shop smoke bomb in Topshop’s direction, 18 months. (In the aftermath of the ‘England riots’ months later, Nicolas Robinson received six months for ‘looting’ a £3.50 pack of bottled water from a branch of Lidl.) Our right-wing commentariat blanched at Pussy Riot’s treatment, filled with that-sort-of-thing-wouldn’t-happen-here bravado – overlooking, conveniently, that it had happened and does.

Fry and the boycott lobby, similarly, have drawn much-paraded feelings of superiority from the UK’s establishment of same-sex marriage, claiming moral high ground over Putin’s Russia; they ignore that the same Act criminalises transitioning without your spouse’s say-so, that transgender and HIV-positive Britons are criminalised for having sex, that sex workers are harassed by police; that ‘cruising grounds’, the only space many people have for sexual activity, are continually surveilled and shut down and internet pornography, the only sexual resource or outlet for most queer youth, is soon to be blanket-blocked from British homes; that that it was only a decade back that Section 28, forbidding discussion of queer topics in schools just as Putin forbids it with young people, was on the books. That some gay couples can now marry here is no basis for sanctimony toward Russia, especially on the Cameron camp’s part.

Perhaps most interesting about the boycott demands is their overlooking Russian LGBT wishes. Two weeks ago, the Russian LGBT Network stated ‘the Olympic Games are a unique and powerful occasion for individuals, organizations, diplomatic missions, and governments to come together and voice, in tune with the Olympic ideals, the ideas of human rights, freedoms, equality and justice – regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. … The Olympics in Sochi should … demonstrate to everyone who is watching that the greatest athletes stand strong with their LGBT competitors and partners, out or closeted, and that together they stand strong with LGBT people and allies everywhere.’ Fry states that because he once visited St. Petersburg he knows whereof he speaks; why then does he ignore the statements of activists like Nikolay Alexeyev (a lawyer and journalist, by no means a fringe insurrectionary), who’ve called publicly for marches during the Games ‘to attract the maximum attention to the rights violations’?

Their argument makes sense. If Sochi hosts the games, it will find itself – as will the Russian government – scrutinised around the globe. Attempt to halt marches with police lines or arrests, and they’ll be condemned; allow them, and they’ll be pushed toward consistency in future. On the other hand, what will happen if the Olympics pass over Russia, as every Olympiad has since 1980 – and what will queer and trans* Russians have gained? Along with their victimisation, they’ll be erased from multinational attention just as Putin’s regime seeks to erase them from public space, and pro-boycott arguments including Fry’s exclude them from the conversation.

In 2007, African LGBTI leaders issued Peter Tatchell, much-loved celebrity activist, with an open letter. ‘Stay out of African LGBTI issues,’ it read, accusing him of distorting facts there to pose as the continent’s white saviour. ‘You have betrayed our trust over and over again. This is neo-colonialism and it has no place in our struggle or in Africa.’ Two years down the line, a book entitled Out of Place: Interrogating Silences in Queerness/Raciality (at the time, a highly innovative text in British theory) went out of print on its publisher’s unreserved apology to Tatchell for a chapter titled ‘Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the “War on Terror”’; the chapter’s authors, Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem, had criticised Tatchell’s record, apparently with consequences. It’s hard not to see similar self-heroising manoeuvres in Fry’s open letter and the gay press’s praise for it, their language equally colonial, their apparent motives, once again, more rooted in showboating than solidarity. If we’re really on the side of queer and trans* Russians, we should listen to them, not presume to speak vaingloriously on their behalf.

(Of course, I still love Stephen Fry.)

Yes, Richard Dawkins, your statements on Islam are racist

[Disclaimer 1: this post isn’t intended as a character assassination – I’m not sure it’s helpful to talk about people (as opposed to actions or statements) as being innately racist, and what I say here refers to the latter.]

[Disclaimer 2: I’m writing from the point of view of a white atheist who isn’t and never was a Muslim; I accept I could be missing something important, and I’m open to being told so.]

Pat Condell is not a pleasant man. If you haven’t seen his YouTube channel, don’t bother looking it up – suffice to say that if someone’s Twitter page claims they ‘make videos criticising religion and political correctness’ (as if the one necessitates the other), I’m not likely to admire them.

In particular, Condell thought the building of Park51, the so-called Ground Zero mosque, should have been prevented in 2010 – because Muslims as a whole held collective responsibility for 9/11, and simply being a Muslim, to him, means endorsing Al Qaeda. He supports the United Kingdom Independence Party, who feel the need to describe themselves officially as a ‘libertarian, non-racist party’ and who wish to scrap the Human Rights Act, one major piece of legislation secularists have on their side, alongside Ofsted, the body responsible for standards in science and sex education at British schools. (They also promote home schooling, ever the fundamentalist parenting choice, deny the realities of climate change and describe gay marriage as ‘an aggressive attack on people of faith, and an act of intolerance’.)

Condell says this of the nationalist, Christian theocratic, anti-immigrant English Defence League: ‘I went to their website and read it quite carefully, looking for racism and fascism of course, because the media keep telling me that they are far right, but, well, I’m a little puzzled because I can find is a healthy regard for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Not a whiff of racism or fascism and not a whiff of far right politics of any kind.’ He describes Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who supports the government banning of the Qur’an, the deportation of Muslims and the taxing of women who wear hijabs without a €1000 licence, as a hero. (Wilders is fine, of course, with identical headscarves worn by Christian women.)

These strike me all in all as the statements of a thoroughly despicable man, unpleasant and unadmirable not least from the secularist point of view. Richard Dawkins does admire him, however.

When YouTube pulled a video named ‘Welcome to Saudi Britain’, in which Condell refers to Muslims as corner-shop owners and to Saudi Arabia’s whole population as ‘mentally ill’ and ‘barking mad’, then subsequently republished it, here’s what he said:

‘I congratulate YouTube on an excellent decision. Pat Condell is hard-hitting, but always quietly reasonable in tone. That some people say they are “offended” by something is never a good reason for censoring it. Incitement to violence is. Pat Condell never incites violence against anybody. He always signs off with “Peace” and he means it.’

Previously, his foundation’s website compiled and sold a collection of Condell’s videos on DVD, announced with the following comments.

‘RichardDawkins.net has now compiled the first 35 of Pat Condell’s videos onto this DVD collection, with an exclusive introduction by Pat. Enjoy this newly remastered collection, totalling 3 hours of video.
“Pat Condell is unique. Nobody can match his extraordinary blend of suavity and savagery. With his articulate intelligence he runs rings around the religious wingnuts that are the targets of his merciless humour. Thank goodness he is on our side.” ~ Richard Dawkins’

Mehdi Hasan tweeted this morning that Condell’s what he claims is an EDL supporter’s ‘hatchet job’ on him was retweeted both by Dawkins and Steven Yaxley Lennon (alias Tommy Robinson), the EDL’s leader. Dawkins himself had previously written,

Geert Wilders, if it should turn out that you are a racist or a gratuitous stirrer and provocateur I withdraw my respect, but on the strength of Fitna alone I salute you as a man of courage, who has the balls to stand up to a monstrous enemy.

(Fitna, if you’re unaware of it, was a film in which Wilders asserted that since parts of the Qur’an – like just about any ancient religious text – say violent things, all Muslims are by definition supporters of religious violence and deserve the pariah status prescribed by Wilders’ policies.)

A state which halts immigration from so-called Muslim countries, which deports and criminalises citizens specifically for being Muslims, which imposes exceptional limitations on the exercise of Islam, alone among other religions, and assigns all Muslims collective guilt for Islamists’ religious atrocities is not one any secularist should wish to establish. (We want neutrality, not persecution rivaling that of Europe’s anti-Semitic, theocratic past.) And yes, Richard, it’s racist.

Asserting that because Islam is a religion and not a race, one can never discuss it (or treat its followers) in racist ways makes about as much sense as saying that because ballet is an art form not a sexual identity, it’s impossible to say anything homophobic about male ballet dancers. Hip-hop musicians and immigrants aren’t races either, but commentary on both is very often racist – or at least, informed and inflected to a serious degree by racial biases.

KebabI’m an atheist and a secularist. Within the context of a broader critique of religion, I have no problem saying the architecture of public space, as a prerequisite for democracy and human rights, must be secular; that it’s absurd to think violent, inhumane ancient texts provide superior moral guidance to everyone else’s; that if you claim religious morality based on those texts should be enforced in the public sphere, you deserve to have their contents thrown at you; that the God idea is a bad idea; that Islamism is a regressive, oppressive political movement; that non-Islamist, non-fundamentalist, mainstream Islamic beliefs deserve as much scrutiny and criticism as any others; that they can and should be indicted for promoting sexual ethics based on the whims of an imagined being; that Mehdi Hasan deserved evisceration, not praise, for his article on homosexuality; that cutting apart infants’ genitals is violence and abuse; that subjecting animals to drawn-out, agonising slaughter is unspeakably cruel and religion no excuse; that going eighteen hours in July without eating or drinking is more likely to endanger your health than bring spiritual enrichment; that blasphemy is a victimless crime, and public prohibitions of it antediluvian. I am not ‘soft on religion’; I am not softer on Islam than any other.

But there are still ways to say these things that have racist subtexts and ways that don’t. There is nothing inevitable in facing a barrage of indignation from sensible people when you talk about Islam-related things.

There’s nothing racist about critiquing misogyny in popular music, including in hip-hop, a prominent genre. But if you’re singling hip-hop out as the sexist genre, or talking disproportionately about rap lyrics rather than songs outside traditionally black genres by the Beatles, Lady Gaga, the Rolling Stones, Taylor Swift or One Direction – particularly if you’re also essentialising hip-hop as misogynous by definition, ignoring all female and feminist hip-hop – you need to examine your motivations and consider where that bias is coming from.

If you’re singling out Islamic theocracies as countries with repressive laws about sex, you likewise need to think about why. In the civically secular, socially Christian U.S., it was only ten years ago that sodomy laws (used against unmarried heterosexual couples as well as gay sex) were struck down in Texas, and it was only in 2005 that the state of Virginia legalised premarital sex. In civically Christian, socially secular Britain, HIV-positive and transgender people are criminalised for having sex; in mainly Christian Uganda, gay sex is illegal. All over the Western world and the planet generally, sex workers face state violence, harassment and imprisonment. What sorts of countries have terrible, oppressive, violent laws about sex? All sorts. Of course we can attack Islamic theocracies, but if you’re not attacking them within a broader context – if you’re not discussing other nations with oppressive laws, and not talking about non-Islamic religious law’s use in policing consensual sexuality – you need to ask yourself why you’re driven to attack the religion especially and disproportionately whose image is most strongly racialised.

‘Richard Dawkins attacks Muslim schools for stuffing children’s minds with “alien rubbish”‘

Likewise, why concentrate specifically on Muslim schools when discussing creationism in the classroom, to the exclusion of other religions? Which choose Islam in particular as the exemplum of a very much broader problem? The British Humanist Association and other groups campaigned successfully against all (and not religiously specific) creationist teaching last year, such is the level of generalised malpractice in science education at British schools; a physics teacher at my wholly typical, religiously softcore and atheist-dominated comprehensive told my Year 10 class after explaining the formation of the Earth that if anyone had ‘any deeply held religious beliefs, this is just a theory’. In particular, a solitary network of 40 Christian fundamentalist schools (compared with 126 Islamic schools in total) exists in Britain where only a tenth of pupils deem Darwinism true – Jonny Scaramanga, who writes here, attended one and will tell you all you need to know – and according to a 2006 Ipsos MORI poll only 48 percent of Britain believes in evolution at all. Targeting Muslims seems curiously selective.

If the word ‘alien’ is one you’d use for creationism in Muslim schools, would you use it when discussing schools like Jonny’s – creationist, white-dominated and Christian? Would you, do you think, use a word meaning ‘foreign’, ‘unfamiliar’, ‘not from round here’ to describe white-British creationists outside a recent of context of immigration? Likewise, whether or not you consider all Muslims ‘Islamic barbarians’, is a historically imperialist term for foreign people to be ‘civilised’ through conquest one you’d have been as likely to apply if white Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. torched the Library of Congress? As much as describing Nigeria’s Christian fundamentalists as savages or calling opposition to Islamism a crusade, using such a racially inflected word in reference to Islam – whose members in Europe face racism from the assembled far-right forces of figures like Wilders, Condell, Lennon’s EDL, Anders Behring Breivik and Stop Islamisation of Europe – is spectacularly tone-deaf, regardless of intent.

It should be no surprise these people now claim the Dawkins name-brand in their support: a rhetoric which objects to Islam and Islamism as foreign, alien, un-British, at odds with Western values, barbarian and so on plays straight into their hands – and indeed into Islamists’, who trade on the idea democracy, freedom, human rights and secularity are Western notions, and that adopting them constitutes cultural betrayal. Hamza Tzortzis, theocrat, Islamic fundamentalist and the organiser of UCL’s notorious gender-segregated debate earlier this year, is on record claiming ‘We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even of freedom’; it seems conceivable he doesn’t speak for all of Earth’s 1.8 billion Muslims, nor all those who’ve existed throughout history, but reactions to the debacle from camp Dawkins suggested the same.

Tzortzis is an individual. He runs one particular organization, and espouses one particular politicised form of Islam. He has a name. Referring to him in lieu of it as just ‘a Muslim’ or ‘some Muslim or other’ suggests he’s as generic a representative of those 1.8 billion people as he claims he is – and referring, moreover, to ‘these Muslims’ (not ‘these Muslim fundamentalists’, ‘these Islamists’ or ‘this organisation’) as juxtaposed with UCL suggests not only that Tzortzis’ group, the IERA, are ambassadors for Muslims everywhere but that Muslims as a homogenous, theocratic and foreign mass are being capitulated to; that ‘they’ are an external threat to ‘us’, and that no one could be both part of UCL’s establishment and a Muslim. We’ve seen this homogenisation again since then, in the statement that no happily Muslim women could possibly exist – that every Muslim woman everywhere is beaten by her husband and whipped for being raped, and by implication that the experiences of Muslim women in Sharia theocracies are representative of others’ elsewhere who practice non-violent, non-fundamentalist Islam. Again, I’m certainly not of the view that just because someone’s religious views aren’t murderous, violent or theocratic, there can be nothing wrong with them – but to erase all Muslims except merciless Salafists hands not only them, but racists, fascists and far-right imperialists the validation they crave.

My argument isn’t necessarily that you have to mean this consciously as and when you make the statements above, but these are your rhetoric’s implications and connotations. Rhetoric matters, and when your job as a writer – especially a globally recognised, influential writer – is saying things clearly, it’s one of your responsibilities to take into account how what you say could reasonably be (mis)interpreted. An analogy might in theory be possible which compares the Qur’an to Mein Kampf without implying Muslims are Nazi-like by definition, but when far-right figures like Condell and the EDL insist with characteristic lack of irony that Muslims have no place next to ‘human rights, democracy and the rule of law’, it’s absurd not to anticipate that reading; it might in theory be reasonable to say someone with a journalist’s critical nous is inconsistent if they believe in literal winged horses, but when Muslims are at heightened risk of falling victim to unemployment, a tweet which could be construed as endorsing discriminatory practice – with Muslims turned away from jobs just the way the EDL’s members would like – almost certainly will be so construed.

Two paragraphs back I mentioned merciless Salafists. Originally, the adjective would have been ‘savage’ or ‘bloodthirsty’, but it struck me that a comparison of Muslims with aggressive, predatory wild animals or reference to them with words traditionally justifying conquests of dark-skinned nations had unhelpful connotations – and connotations matter. If what you’re about to say has the potential to uphold racist or imperialist impulses – if it’s something fascists might end up quoting in their support – say something else or find a better way of saying it. When the leader of the EDL’s retweeting you, it’s time to rethink your rhetoric.

The last thing secularism needs is a clash-of-civilisations narrative. The problem with Islam, as with any religion, is that it makes unknowable claims; the problem with Islamism, as well as relying on those unknowable claims, is that it’s theocratic, violent, oppressive and inhumane. To object instead to either, even by implication, on grounds of being culturally alien, foreign, un-British, un-Western or ‘barbarian’ is to racialise the terms of discussion, accepting ahistorically that the so-called ‘Muslim world’ is theocratic by definitive nature, legitimising the U.S.-led militarism which fuels Islamism’s anti-Western appeal, and enforcing the idea those who leave Islam or refuse to practice it hyper-devoutly are cultural and racial traitors – that to be an atheist ex-Muslim or religious moderate is to be a ‘coconut’, brown on the outside but white within.

There are better ways we can discuss Islam.

There are better ways we can critique Islam.

Please, Richard Dawkins.

Stop.

Why atheists need diversity lists: an FAQ

The other day’s post has done as well as I hoped it would – my thanks go to everyone who’s shared it. If you liked it and you haven’t shared it, consider doing so; not so much just to swell my hit count as to help promote the people on the list and spread the message. (Well, all right: partly for my hit count. I’m only human.)

Alongside being welcomed seemingly by many, it’s provoked a degree of pushback. To an extent, I’m glad of that, since if you’re pissing no one off you’re doing no good. There have been several recurring objections, as well as misconceptions or questions, so rather than address them individually on separate comment threads, I’m collating my responses to the commonest reactions so far.

I introduced the 2013 post by saying why we need diversity. This is about why we need diversity lists.

FAQ

Why isn’t person X mentioned here?

There’s no particular logic to who did or didn’t make the 2013 list, beyond that I’ve tried to hew more closely to people actively involved in skeptical, secular, atheist, rationalist or humanist discussions – ideally, where possible, more than one of the above – rather than figures who just happen to be atheists. If someone was on last year’s list but isn’t on this year’s, don’t conclude I no longer want to promote them: there’s not necessarily any reason one person reappears and another doesn’t, except who came to mind first while I was writing the new version.

Remember that we have a comments section! 100 is an arbitrary figure, and I could have gone on listing people for a while – plenty of people deserve attention who didn’t get a name check here, including no doubt plenty I haven’t heard of, so if there’s something you think has been overlooked, mention them in the comments beneath the list. Self-promotion is permitted and encouraged!

Why isn’t person X higher up the list?

Numbers on this list are for ease of reference only – it’s alphabetical! (You might think this would be obvious. I did when I wrote it, assuming people would notice surnames ran from Ahadi to Zepf. Apparently not.) There’s no single criterion by which I’d want to rank such a wide range of people, and I don’t want the list to be hierarchical anyway, because some aren’t more important than others. They all matter.

Why isn’t group X better represented?

Good question. The original list in 2012 made efforts to accommodate neglected demographics, in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality and age as well as people whose professions or vocations weren’t (stereo)typical of our community – artists, musicians, comedians. In the end, I think the end product suffered – by trying to include all possible subgroups, I feel like I ended up not giving any of them enough space, so this year concentrated on gender and race.

I realise this approach isn’t problem-free. In particular, I’d like there to have been better representation of queer and trans* people and those with disabilities, and I recognise the absence of those subgroups is a serious issue. If you know of existing lists that highlight secular thinkers with those backgrounds, let me know; or, if there aren’t any, let me know whom you’d mention on one, and perhaps we can create a dedicated, supplementary resource to this one.

Why not make an inclusive list, with all the white men we already know about? Why exclude people for being white men?

I’m not excluding white men. White men, in case you hadn’t noticed, are not broadly absent from the secular community; the groups on this list are. If we want to take steps to include them, we need dedicated lists of relevant people. Why, anyway, would we need a list of names everyone knows?

The people on the list are suggested as additions to the speaking/writing/campaigning circuits, not replacements for the people currently on them. This isn’t a zero sum game where every time we discover or promote a woman of colour, a white man gets excommunicated. This being said, I’d absolutely support all-woman or all-minority-ethic speaker lists at dedicated conferences for those subgroups – and I think that at regular conferences, when there’s only one seat left on a panel to fill, James Randi and PZ Myers can probably cope if organisers want to include someone new or up-and-coming. Stagnation, after all, is not a good thing; if your conferences’ speaker lineups in 2016 are the same as the ones from 2006, with no new blood being injected in between, you have serious cause to worry for your movement.

But this is positive discrimination! Imagine if things were the other way around! Would a list of 100 people who weren’t members of minorities or women be okay?

Things aren’t the other way round. If they were, in a parallel universe where women and people of colour dominated our community and white men were a marginal underrepresented group at conferences, in our media and at our organisations, making a list of ones who merited attention would make sense.

In this universe, that is not the case. Addressing the absence from speaker line-ups and websites of groups that comprise more than half our species is not equivalent to policing that absence. If you want to imagine the list the other way round, imagine its context the other way round.

You’re lowering the bar. Promote people on their merits, not their gender or race!

Why do you think biographies are attached to these names? I am including people on their merits – I detail, in each case, why the person in question deserves attention, what their fields of expertise or interest are and what their contributions might be. If I wanted to list 100 female or minority-ethnic people regardless of merit, I’d have found Facebook groups for atheist women and people of colour and typed up the first 50 members’ names from each. If you think choosing people on merit means only choosing white men, you have some terrible presumptions.

The fact these figures are brown, black or female isn’t why you should know about them – you should know about them because they’re talented, interesting, articulate and relevant – but it’s probably at least part of why you didn’t.

The cream rises to the top! If they’re talented, they’ll make a name for themselves.

Do you honestly think personal quality and talent are all it takes for someone to ‘rise to the top’? (And by implication, that today’s white men possess them to a vastly inordinate degree?)

You almost certainly knew before reading the list of the campaign against Mother Teresa Christopher Hitchens carried out in the mid-nineties; of the book and documentary film through which he advanced it. Did you know that the film was co-written by Tariq Ali, and the book inspired by Aroup Chatterjee’s writing? We remember Hitchens effectively as Mother Teresa’s sole prosecutor, but aren’t they just as worthy of credit for tarring and feathering her as he was? And is it a coincidence, or purely down to his (admittedly far from minor) individual talents, that only the work of Hitchens – white, English, public school and Oxford-educated, perfectly placed as a media-friendly pundit in a still male-dominated press – is widely celebrated, and not Indian Chatterjee’s or Pakistani Ali’s?

We likewise have it on record from Richard Dawkins that U.S. publishers prior to 2006 felt nervous about picking up The God Delusion. Some felt America wasn’t ready for it, or that controversy would ensue, as to some extent it did. Was Dawkins’ manuscript accepted, over all the similar ones no doubt pitched to publishers in prior years, purely on his merits as a writer and thinker? Or were publishers also encouraged by his status as a prominent world academic with a record of successful popular writing, whose book was guaranteed to sell (profitably, if not in the huge numbers it ultimately did)? And did Dawkins’ status as an already widely read academic have nothing to do with his status as a white man from a wealthy family? One record, once again, he’s credited his studying at Oxford with moulding his life’s successes – Oxford, which only a year before his admission had banned women from compromising more than a fifth of the student body, and which he reached largely through attending an all boys’ school that remained so till 1990 and currently charges £163,155 for seven years of day attendance and £204,240 for boarders. (For those unaware, only seven percent of British children – but consistently around half of students at Oxford and Cambridge – attend private schools.)

Hitchens’ background was eminently similar, and in fact they even attended the same Oxford college. Whatever the scope of their talent or efforts, to claim there were no other factors in their success is ridiculous; do you imagine there were no equally hardworking or gifted people who might have become secular leaders, had their gender, race and class not denied them Dawkins’ and Hitchens’ advantages? There certainly were – some of them are on this list. To accuse me of giving them a special ‘leg-up’ on account of their genders and races ignores all the legs-up our white male leaders have often had on account of theirs, for which lists like this only compensate.

But I haven’t heard of these people!

Is that a bad thing? To let you in on a secret, I hadn’t heard of most of them till I did research, and – guess what? – I’m glad I do now. I feel enriched for having discovered Myra Zepf’s columns, Victoria Gugenheim’s body art, Azita Chellappoo’s blog, Michael Brooks’ thoughts about science as a brand (to pick four examples from the crop). As Hemant Mehta said at Friendly Atheist on sharing the list, it’s like finding hidden treasure.

Fame to date, again, isn’t the only measure of merit or skill – and be aware that you’re in danger of furthering a vicious cycle: the reason you haven’t heard of someone may in large part be that others weren’t willing to book or promote an unknown. Everyone, even the superstars we’ve all heard speak a hundred times, was unknown at some point; I know I’m not alone in saying that on leaving a conference, the highlight which sticks in my mind is often someone I didn’t previously know, and the break you give somebody might turn out to be their big break.

It’s true that big names fill seats, but so do catchy titles, interesting topics and fresh perspectives. Moreover, as someone who’s organised these kind of events, the number of seats filled isn’t always most important: would you rather pack a lecture theatre out and have your audience hear a well-known speaker say what they always say, before trundling to the programme’s next event, or fill only half the seats for an event which goes viral on YouTube, raises the profile of your conference through word of mouth or thoroughly informs your community’s future discussions? Only approaching the biggest names can actually hinder you – offered the choice between a conference where the 100 people on the list were speaking, or one where I’d seen all the speakers before plenty of times, I know which I’d rather attend.

100 of Britain and Ireland’s secular thinkers you should know about, who aren’t white men

Preface

One of my most prominent blogs in the early part of my writing history was a list of 100 atheists in Britain who weren’t old, white, privileged straight men – atheists, that is to say, who didn’t fit the stereotyped image of atheism. Some months back, I was asked on Twitter to produce an updated version.

The 2013 list has a few key differences. First of all, over two thirds of people on it are new entries, who didn’t appear in last year’s edition, and the list is significantly female-dominated; where last year’s referred just to atheists, this year’s names are ‘secular thinkers’ more widely – atheists, secularists, skeptics, science communicators, humanists, rationalists etc. All of them have something to say, I think, on the kinds of themes we tend to discuss. ‘Britain’ in this context means the British Isles, i.e. the UK and Ireland: My original reason for writing an all-British list was that the names which often appear on lists like these are U.S.-based, and out of travelling range for UK meeting groups, conference organisers and so on – but clearly, this doesn’t apply to Ireland. (My previous reference to Ireland as part of the British Isles ignored that the term is contentious – I wasn’t aware of the objections to it at the time, but have since been informed.) Similarly, one or two people mentioned either reside abroad but within easy travelling distance of Britain or live further afield but are here often enough to be caught during visits. Contact details – Twitter handles, message forms on websites and email addresses – appear by most entries; the latter were all publicly viewable by Google search, and several people’s addresses aren’t listen here but are known to me privately. A few individuals have no contact listings at all, but I’ve a good idea of how to get in touch with them.

Why do we need a list like this? For lots of reasons, but two in particular.

The first is that if the status quo is allowed to persist, we’ll remain as incomplete a movement as I believe we already are. This is true in representational terms as much as anything: if secular discourse (in practical terms, the makeup of speakers at our conferences, writers for our media, figureheads from our organisations) continues to be dominated by figures like AC Grayling, Peter Atkins, Richard Dawkins – people with very similar backgrounds and very similar lives – the stereotypes will not go away: our public image will remain a grey-haired, wealthy, white, straight and cismale one. This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with being white or male (I should know), but if white men are the representatives of the secular community, it means staying an isolated, largely male, largely monoethnic community where most of humanity is un- or underrepresented. That has serious consequences for our outreach and effectiveness.

It has implications, too, for the theoretical completeness of our discussions. If we want to charge religion with maltreatment of women, we need women to be part of the conversation; if we want to discuss how easy or hard being a UK atheist is, we need not just to consider the lives of middle class, white atheists; if we want to build a politics of church and state that’s thorough and well-conceived, we need to pay attention to secularist issues in Iran, Israel, Pakistan, India, Nigeria. Face it: grasping the topics at hand and building a stronger community which understands them properly requires listening and paying attention to a wider range of people, and that requires not letting our conferences, our magazines, our organisations or our campaigns remain largely the preserve of the same white men. I’ve said this before to friends and colleagues, and seen them shrug off the absence of women or anyone non-white from their proceedings – saying they tried, or that they didn’t know who to consult or invite. That is a single-use excuse. If you’re looking at this page, you’re looking at a list of 100 people who aren’t white men and whom you should read, quote, discuss, consult, recommend or invite to speak to your group. You no longer get to say you couldn’t find any.

The second reason is the more emotional one: individually, everybody on this list deserves your attention. It’s a typical reactionary response to posts like this that making efforts to widen participation means ‘lowering the bar’, letting standards slip to include less qualified individuals for tokenising reasons (because, of course, only white men are ever sufficiently qualified or possessed of real skill). I refuse to accept I’m lowering any standards, because the people listed below all easily meet them: I’m not saying to take notice of them despite them being less interesting or engaging than Grayling or Dawkins – God knows, I think we’ve heard what both of them have to say several dozen times – I’m saying if you haven’t taken notice of them, it’s despite the fact they’re at least as interesting and engaging. This isn’t about ‘special treatment’; it’s about undoing the tunnel vision a movement dominated by the same few recurring pale males creates.

THE LIST (Read the FAQs here.)

1. Mina Ahadi set up the German Council of Ex-Muslims, and now lives under police protection. She’s a campaigner against stoning (with the International Committee Against Executions) and for separation of church and state, given an award by the National Secular Society six years ago. Since then she’s appeared at numerous events and conferences in Britain, especially those organised by One Law For All. [Email her]

2. Tariq Ali is a historian, and writes for the Guardian. He was brought up as an atheist in Pakistan, and his writing should be mandatory for anyone who wants to discuss Islam – either historically or post-9/11, from Obama’s foreign policy to Innocence of Muslims last year. Remember Hell’s Angel too, the Christopher Hitchens documentary on Mother Teresa? Tariq Ali co-wrote it with him, and he put the knife into Benedict XVI for good measure some years later. [Email him]

3. Bisi Alimi was the first person ever to come out on Nigerian television – prompting him to be beaten by police, abandoned by family and made redundant. He now lives in London, where he often speaks publicly (including last autumn at LSE) and writes in various places; last year, he made the Independent’s ‘Pink List’ of influential LGBT figures. While he doesn’t go with the label ‘atheist’, he does support secularism and recorded a non-religious segment for 4thought.tv last month, discussing whether we still need Pride. [Email him] [Tweet him]

4. Jim Al-Khalili, now President of the British Humanist Association, is a physicist and self-proclaimed ‘cuddly atheist’. (I’m perhaps not one myself, but I do appreciate why those people are needed.) See his appearances on The Pod Delusion since being appointed, as well as his interview with Rowan Williams and his Radio Four programme The Life Scientific – or, alternatively, look up his record of anti-creationist campaigning. [Email him] [Message him] [Tweet him]

5. Helen Arney describes herself as a comedian, presenter, songwriter and geek. She’s been on 4thought.tv discussingChristmas, having also performed an ‘animal habits’ love song at the Rationalist Association’s Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People a year or two back. She’s sold out in the West End and at the Edinburgh Fringe with the science-based comdey show Festival of the Spoken Nerd, and she co-presents the Discovery Channel’s pop science show You Have Been Warned. [Email her] [Tweet her]

6. Gemma Arrowsmith ’tweets about science and science fiction’, and pokes comic fun at woo on YouTube. Along with Arney and several others on this list, she performed at the Central London Humanist Group’s Stand Up For Darwin event. For those interested, she was also in BBC One’s Merlin. (Not a great skeptical or secular achievement, I know – but it’s Merlin, and we’re a geek community, right?)  [Email her] [Tweet her]

7. Clive Aruede is the organiser of London Black Atheists, part of the Central London Humanist Group and a contributing member of the Apostasy Project. He’s written on the Rationalist Association site about his deconversion experience – he trained and served as a Eucharistic minister in the Catholic Church and, challenged by his children, told his entire mailing list about his loss of faith when he stopped believing. [Email London Black Atheists] [Tweet London Black Atheists]

8. Ivana Bacik, Irish Labour Party Senator for Dublin University, prominent abortion rights advocate and feminist – once dubbed ‘Labour’s queen of political correctness’ in her native press – spoke this year at Atheist Ireland’s Empowering Women Through Secularism conference, after laying very publicly into Catholic bishops. As one of their members (the only Irish parliamentarian who is) she was a keynote speaker at the 2011 World Atheist Convention as well as their inaugural meeting, working in her spare time as a barrister and professor of criminal law who teaches feminist theory. Do not mess with this woman. [Email her] [Tweet her]

9. Marianne Baker has a PhD in cancer research; she’s a feminist, and atheist, an intactivist and, according to her Twitter page, other -ists. She’s guest-posted on Martin Robbins’ Lay Scientist blog at the Guardiancontributed to The Pod Delusion and blogs on various skeptical and atheist topics. You’ve heard of Elevatorgate, but have you heard of Liftgate 2013? Her post about it made me think about where boundaries should be set. [Tweet her]

10. Siana Bangura spent time living with the Amish for a Channel 4 series of that name, in which she ended up, in her own words, getting burned and encountering racism from children; she’s written about black atheism, and spoken about leaving religion on 4thought.tv too. On top of that, she’s a hell of a journalist – see her recent interview with Terence Stamp. Beyond secularity, she’s also coordinating No Fly on the Wall, a site for new feminist perspectives – you can find it in my blogroll.  [Tweet her]

11. Adam Barnett is a journalism student, part of the British Council of Ex-Muslims and One Law For All’s Research Coordinator. Earlier this year, he was one of the two men who caused trouble at Hamza Tzortzis’ segregated UCL debate by sitting in the women’s section (Tzortzis’ organisation, the IERA, used private security to enforce the rules). He also routinely battles racists and fascists, having co-authored OLFA’s report Enemies Not Allies: the Far-Right, and blasted Robert Spencer afterward for his response. [Email him] [Tweet him]

12. Alice Bell is a Guardian science blogger. She writes on sciencepolitics and public policy, both there and at the New Left Project, where she’s an Editor. She tweets on atheism and is a research fellow at the University of Sussex; other interests include science online, young people’s relationship with it and children’s literature. (That last theme appears several times on this list – could it, perhaps, make for an interesting secular parents’ panel discussion?) [Email her] [Tweet her]

13. Sian Berry is a Green Party politician, their candidate for the London mayoralty in 2008, a campaigner for environmentally friendly transport in British cities and an atheist Distinguished Supporter of the BHA. She supported the Atheist Bus Campaign and contributed to The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas the following year, and signed the letter opposing the Pope’s 2010 state visit the UK after that. [Email her] [Tweet her]

14. Susan Blackmore’s name should be familiar. In the UK she’s another of the BHA’s supporters; stateside, a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Consulting Editor at Skeptical Inquirer. See her incredible talks on YouTube about neurologypsychology and memetics, or read her Guardian columns on science and religion. Intriguingly, she also received plastic surgery on her right from Archibald McIndoe as a child, pioneer of facial reconstruction in the Second World War. [Message her]

15. Michael Brooks, a quantum physicist, has a column there too and published a book last year entitled Free Radicals: the Secret Anarchy of Science; some of its ideas on science communication are laid out in his talk at last year’s Learning Without Frontiers conference. He writes regularly for New Statesman and has badgered Britain’s most woo-loving MP, David Tredinnick, really quite admirably. [Message him] [Tweet him]

16. Joanna Bryson works on computer science at the University of Bath. She’s presented talks on ‘The Ethics of Conscious Robots’, both to Bath’s and Cardiff’s branches of Skeptics in the Pub, and similarly asked ‘Can Robots Be Conscious?’ at last year’s Skeptics on the Fringe in Edinburgh. I was busy, at the time, live-blogging from Christian camp; I don’t regret it, but I wish I could have been two places at once. [Email her] [Tweet her]

17. Aroup Chatterjee inspired the Ali-Hitchens Mother Teresa film with his book The Final Verdict: hailing from Kolkata, he and Hitchens were the only hostile witnesses at her beatification. He’s a GP, only too happy to detail the medical and humanitarian shortcomings of the Missionaries of Charity – indeed, he did so on the BBC’s The Big Questions tow years ago. He’s also appeared on 4thought.tv, discussing claims ’faith healing’ can cure cancer. [Email him] [Tweet him]

18. Azita Chellappoo is an Oxford graduate, feminist and atheist, now a Master’s student in biology at UCL. She’s written about the aforementioned segregation fiasco on her blog, which also covers science educationnatural history and animal ethics. (See also her one-shot Guardian piece on race-based access issues at Oxford and Cambridge.) I want to read more from Azita – and apparently we will, once her thesis is done. [Tweet her]

19. Zafar Choudhary, like Clive Aruede, is part of the Apostasy Project – you can read the story of his deconversion from Islam, together with his awe at watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon, at the Rationalist Association site. Originally from Pakistan, he has a chemistry degree, is a qualified accountant and appears to divide his time between lahore and London, where he belongs to the Central London Humanist Group. [Tweet him]

20. Clara Connolly of Women Against Fundamentalism is an immigration solicitor, campaigning against human trafficking, labour exploitation and domestic violence and for migrants’ rights generally; she spoke at the 2010 Protest the Pope rally and has organised both against UK Sharia courts with One Law For All and against Christian fundamentalism in Ireland, due to its effects on abortion availability. [Email her]

21. Moheb Costandi’s Neurophilosophy blog is hosted at the Guardian science network. When he isn’t writing it or authoring books like 50 Human Brain Ideas You Really Need to Knowhe’s talking science communication for organisations like the Wellcome Trust – and specifically, how ‘brand science’ is killing public engagement with the subject. If ever you’re kicked off your PhD programme, as he once was, this is what to do. [Email him] [Tweet him]

22. Sue Cox runs Survivors’ Voice Europe, an organisation for recovering Catholics and victims of clerical abuse. She’s spoken about her experiences in the Church for 4thought.tv and at the 2012 Rally for Free Expression; in addition, she’s the founder (in 1995) and director of the organisation SMART UK, which works to treat substance misuse and addiction. In 2010, she received an award for this work. [Message Survivors’ Voice Europe] [Tweet her]

23. Helen Dale’s a lawyer, qualified both in England and Australia, who lives in Scotland. Her paper ‘A Plea in Law for Equal Marriage’ – yes, I know – won the Law Society of Scotland’s annual essay prize last year, and in 2013 she spoke on a panel at QEDcon entitled ‘Social Media and the Law’; I didn’t manage to get into it, but I now wish I had. You can find her other writing on the SkepticLawyer blog. [Message her (SkepticLawyer Facebook page)]

24. Sarah Ditum (rhymes with ‘item’) will be known both to readers of New Statesman and New Humanist as a feminist, a lefty and a science nerd. She’s written in the latter on forced marriage, 21st century British witch-hunts and the myths of diets and detoxes, as well as in the Guardian on measles and MMR myths, religious bodies in David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ and, er, Strictly Come Dancing. Honestly, why would any self-respecting, talented writer lower themselves to writing about that? [Message her] [Tweet her]

25. Jane Donnelly is Atheist Ireland’s Education Policy Officer, and has spoken widely on the need for secular education. Recently, at Empowering Women Through Secularism, she also gave a presentation on secularism and human rights. You can find her writing and updates on AI’s dedicated Teach Don’t Preach site, which houses their campaign for fairer and non-segregatory teaching. [Email her] [Tweet her]

26. Pippa Evans, described on her website as a comedian, writer and improviser, set up London’s Sunday Assembly (widely dubbed an ‘atheist church’ in the press – she feels, and has written at the Rationalist Association, that this label acts as a double-edged sword) this year with fellow comic Sanderson Jones. See this piece at the Huffington Post for an outline of one of their not-at-all-religious ‘services’. [Tweet her]

27. Kash Farooq contributes regularly to The Pod Delusion - in fact, he was prompted to make new recordings when this list first went out. He co-runs Nottingham Skeptics in the Pub (he’s also, rumour has it, given talks of his own from time to occasional time) and studies astrophysics with the Open University; his shared blog, The Thought Stash, documents ‘science, skepticism, astronomy and whatever else’. [Tweet him]

28. Sally Feldman serves on New Humanist’s editorial board, and she’s a trustee of the Rationalist Association. (She also writes for the Times Higher Education supplement, teaches at the University of Westminster and used to edit Woman’s Hour on Radio Four.) She’s written prolifically for NH for over a decade – try looking up her posts on the enduring popularity of angels, why New College of the Humanities (AC Grayling’s private university) was a misguided, antihumanist idea and what the story of Snow White says about each generation of women – and on top of all that, she’s a certified humanist celebrant. [Email her] [Tweet her]

29. Jane Goldman wrote the screenplay for The Woman in Black. She co-wrote Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class and she’s co-writing X-Men: Days of Future Past. (Surely that’s enough?) Having fronted Jane Goldman Investigates for LivingTV ten years ago, examining a range of paranormal beliefs and practices, she was interviewed in a recent edition of The Skeptic, and hangs out at various haunts (ahem) in the UK skeptical community. [Tweet her]

30. Eliza Goroya is an atheist writer, videographer and photographer; her YouTube ‘self-portrait’, detailing the end of her relationship with God, caught people’s attention last year. She’s also an antifascist campaigner, who’s spoken and written widely on the far right, and as a graduate student in film and  theatre at UCL, belongs to the Central London Humanists. Our community needs more artists; we’re lucky to have her. [Message her] [Tweet her]

31. Wendy M. Grossman started The Skeptic in 1987, and remains on its editorial advisory board, as well as that of the Open Rights Group. She’s written in a hundred publications, often on internet culture and online privacy, including Wired, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. The courageously retro aesthetic of her personal site, while I wouldn’t dare use it myself, is also to be admired. [Email her] [Tweet her]

32. Victoria Gugenheim dubs herself an anti-theist, atheist superhero and public speaker on art and science: her science-inspired body art is internationally recognised – note for example her transformation of a live human hand into the head of a Caribbean Flamingo, of Lawrence Krauss into a Borg drone or of model Jessica Brown into a tribute to breast health, along with the YouTube videos which showcase the rest of her work. Her professional clients have included London Fashion Week, Nokia and the Black Eyed Peas. [Message her] [Tweet her]

33. Stuart Hall, responsible for shaping current thinking in politics, sociology and cultural theory around race and gender, calls himself a child of the Enlightenment in a 2006 New Humanist interview with Laurie Taylor, crediting it with freeing us ‘from superstition, from religion’ while indicting it for historical racism and bemoaning the lack of an Islamic equivalent. Speaking to Taylor again five years later, he dissects David Cameron’s much-debated multiculturalism speech, and interviewed last year by New Statesman, he takes to task ‘Englishness’ in political rhetoric.

34. Rumy Hasan is a lecturer at the University of Sussex and an author on secularism and Muslim identity around the world, including of the book Multiculturalism: Some Inconvenient Truths. At openDemocracy he’s written on the conflict of Islamism and Zionism along with Western consciousness and Islam, and he’s worked with both London Black Atheists and the Council of Ex-Muslims in the UK. [Email him]

35. Shaheen Hashmat writes a blog on surviving ‘honour’ abuse, post-9/11 Islamophobia and mental health issues – doing so with style and pathos. She’s also written on sex at Alternet (or rather, why she’s gone without it for two and a half years and what she learned from that), and is working on a novel based on her Scottish-Pakistani Muslim upbringing. Look out for it. I know I will. [Email her] [Tweet her]

36. Ruth Haydock is the secretary of the AHS, and the founder of Recovering From Religion’s St. Andrew’s chapter – the second in the UK, as far as I’m aware, and the only one in Scotland. A student there, she’s written on atheism and secularism for university publications, and as displayed on her Twitter page, she does a formidable line in knitted Flying Spaghetti Monsters. No, really. I want one. Now. [Email her] [Tweet her]

Haynes37. Natalie Haynes, comedian and writer, has performed in the past at the Rationalist Association’s Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, along with the 2011 BHA conference, the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies’ (‘AHS’ – again, I know) 2013 convention and this year’s QEDcon. She moonlights as a Guardian guest writer on television and popular culture, as well as posting elsewhere. [Email her]

38. Vanessa Heggie is a historian of science and medicine at the University of Birmingham. Topics she’s covered at the Guardian include fad diets, the history behind Todd Akin’s concept of ‘legitimate rape’, ‘Cambridge University’s Victorian prison for prostitutes’ and arguing with science deniers. Conveniently, and perhaps not by coincidence, her writing partner at the Guardian is the next entrant on this list… [Email her] [Tweet her]

Higgitt39. Rebekah Higgitt, also a science historian (in her case at the Royal Observatory Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum), discusses things like Jonathan Swift’s satirising of Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson’s love of science, the definition of skepticism and how to debunk astrologers. We sometimes neglect the humanities in skeptical discourse, but both she and Heggie would make fascinating speakers. [Email her] [Tweet her]

Hogge40. Becky Hogge was the Open Rights Group’s first full-time Executive Director, and used to be openDemocracy’s Technology Director. She’s a self-proclaimed ‘freelance optimist’ and keeps a site called The Barefoot Technologist, as well as having written on cyberculture at New Statesman, the Guardian and elsewhere. Nowadays she co-hosts the celebrated Little Atoms podcast on skepticism, atheism, science and other things. [Email her] [Tweet her]

Hoorain41. Sundas Hoorain, another occasional writer here, belongs to the secular student group at LSE which faced student union action for sharing cartoons from Jesus and Mo, and which said union also refused the right – for entirely nonsensical official reasons – to include ‘Ex-Muslim’ in their name. Her segment for 4thought.tv addressed some of this; a human rights lawyer, she’s also campaigned against blasphemy laws in her native Pakistan, and stood in occasionally for Maryam Namazie at speaking engagements. [Tweet her]

Hyde42. Deborah Hyde edits The Skeptic, and has done since Chris French’s tenure ended in 2011. As a lover of both mystical beasts and supernatural horror, she’s aptly named; her personal blog, Jourdemayne, details the mythology of werewolves, vampires and other such things, and her talk on ‘The natural history of the European werewolf’ was well received last year both at QED and Skepticon. Her day job, as a makeup coordinator in the film industry, is equally horrific. [Email her] [Tweet her]

Igwe43. Leo Igwe doesn’t live in the UK, but seems to travel widely and often enough that I include him here. He’s a human rights advocate in Nigeria working with James Randi’s Educational Foundation, with a focus on ending pseudoscience and child abuse based on ‘witchcraft’ allegations, and visited London Black Atheists’ first meeting this March to give a talk entitled ‘Breaking the taboo of atheism in black communities’ (the NSS also invited him to their Secularist of the Year event as a special guest). He was a speaker at TAM 2012 too, and has faced violence and arrest for his past work.

Ilesanmi44. Yemisi Ilesnami – proudly feminist, proudly bisexual, proudly atheist – can be found at FreethoughtBlogs since joining them this May. She’s also Nigerian, now resident in the UK. Beyond her blog Yemmynisting and her book Freedom to Love for All: Homosexuality is Not Un-African, she has a law degree, works occasionally as a plus-size model and has worked in the past for the Nigerian Labour Party and the International Trade Union Congress. Recently she spoke on the ‘Atheism is not enough’ panel at FTBcon, and her YouTube vlog focuses on atheist identity and LGB issues. [Message her] [Tweet her]

Jha45. Alok Jha is a Guardian science correspondent, writing both as a reporter and a commentator on science communication. He presents the Science Weekly podcast there, on which no end of familiar voices – many of them on this list – have been featured, and has authored The Doomsday Handbook: 50 Ways to the End of the World and How to Live Forever: and 34 Other Really Interesting Uses of Science. (He’s now working on a book about water.) [Email him] [Tweet him]

KamaliDehghan46. Saeed Kamali Dehghan is a correspondent for the Guardian on Iranian affairs and political developments. He’s reported on issues like Iranian LGBT activismcharges of sorcery levelled at Ahmadinejad’s allies, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s trial, theocratic law reformed targeting women and the silencing of musician and political dissident Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, to name a few. [Email him] [Tweet him]

Keane47. Jen Keane works as a scientist and web developer. Her blog deals with Ireland’s abortion record and status as a Catholic nation, science communication and the myths surrounding MMR vaccinationpseudo-science and alternative medicine. Earlier this year she discussed religious education on Irish radio alongside Michael Nugent and others; her open letter to the Always company, rejecting any duty to smell of lemon, verbena, roses or aloe-vera all month long, is another gem. [Email her] [Tweet her]

Kendall48. Tessa Kendall used to be a full-time campaigner with the NSS; now she co-hosts London Skeptics in the Pub, and blogs on science, skepticism and atheist strategy. She’s contributed on many occasions to The Pod Delusion, and she’s guest-posted at The Lay Scientist on Frans de Waal’s book The Bonobo and the Atheist. Moreover, she does quite a commendable line in secular snark. [Tweet her]

Kennedy49. Sinéad Kennedy spoke at Empowering Women Through Secularism on politics and acampaigner; she teaches English and Media Studies at NUI Maynooth, and campaigns for access to abortion with Action on X and Ireland’s Abortion Rights Campaign. She drew some people’s ire bycrediting her secularism and feminism to her Marxism (Justin Vacula, predictably, drew great pleasure from this), but personally I’m glad she did. [Email her] [Tweet her]

Khorsandi50. Peyvand Khorsandi’s written for the Evening Standard on Iranian fundamentalism and political Islam, and for openDemocracy on the Islamism of George Galloway and Lauren Booth, as well as multiculturalism and racism in online dating. In the past he’s also written for the Rationalist Association. He and sister Shappi, who made last year’s list, are children of Iranian satirist Hadi Khorsandi, exiled after the Islamic Revolution. [Tweet him]

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51. Tracy King thinks of herself as a ‘rationalist with an imagination’. She’s clearly right to as well, having organised TAM London in 2009 and 2010, and produced the much-admired film version of Tim Minchin’s ‘Storm’ in 2011. She works in gaming and animation, consults in PR and writes for Skepchick (apparently as one of their resident Brits – each network has some) and her own blog on topics like Jewishness and gendered engagement traditions. [Tweet her]

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52. Manjit Kumar once worked for Wired, and his popular science book Quantum won popular approval in 2009. He’s penned reviews of other pop science books all over the place – if there’s such a thing as a specifically science-communication-based literary critic, he seems like a contender for the title – and appeared several times on the Little Atoms podcast in addition. [Email him] [Tweet him]

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53. Iszi Lawrence has skeptical inclinations, a talent for professional comedy and a YouTube channel which never fails to reduce me to a giggling wreck. She’s talked snappily about her non-belief in angels on 4thought.tv, been on The Pod Delusion here and there and also used to host Oxford Skeptics in the Pub, which is where I first met her. Sartorial. Self-declared sartorial influences include 1920s lesbians and Thundercats – as well as, apparently, manga comics. [Email her] [Tweet her]

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54. Valerie Levey is a former Christian fundamentalist, who now co-organises Recovering form Religion’s South East London chapter and acts as RFR’s Group Development Coordinator in the UK. (Since we need more of those groups this side of the Atlantic – the London one was our first ever – I’m hoping she has all possible success in the role.) She speaks about her past in an edition of 4thought.tv from this April. [Email her]

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55. Liz Lutgendorff is one half of the editorial team at The Pod Delusion, much-mentioned here and probably the UK’s biggest secular podcast. (Beyond her behind-the-scenes role, you can find her personal contributions here.) She’s an experienced Skeptics in the Pub speaker too, an enthusiast for the history of 19th century secularism and one of Chris Johnson’s interviewees for his project A Better Life. [Tweet her]

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56. Brooke Magnanti, the artist formerly known as Belle de Jour, has a PhD in forensic science. Oddly enough, she say, people often forgot this when she was a sex worker. Now Magnanti is a Skeptics in the Pub fixture – her talk ‘The Sex Myth’, based on the book of the same name (her first non-pseudonymous title), was a highlight of this year’s QEDcon. She also writes regularly in the Daily Telegraph and sporadically in the Guardian. [Tweet her]

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57. Nahla Mahmoud leads the Sudanese Humanists Group; she’s a human rights activist, a conservationist and an atheist spokesperson for the British Council of Ex-Muslims, who’s written for the Economist on apostasy under Sharia and on Sudanese politics for New Internationalist. She’s been interviewed on 4thought.tv and for A Better Life, and she blogs at the NSS website; recently, she’s faced harassment and threats both in Britain and Sudan – follow this link to find more and show your support. [Tweet her]

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58. Kenan Malik writes a blog called Pandaemonium, often addressing race, religion and politics – if you’re looking for someone who knows how these things interact, keep looking at him. His books include From Fatwa to Jihad: the Rushdie Affair and its Legacy, and he’s appeared on The Big Questionsworked with the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and serves as a BHA Distinguished Supporter. [Email him] [Tweet him]

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59. Zoe Margolis is a girl with a one track mind, or so she named her much-noticed sex blog. (The phrase was a pseudonym before her eventual outing.) She’s also a BHA Distinguished Supporter, having spoken at their conference this year, and she’s written on sex education in ‘faith’ schools and sex-negativity in politics as well as contributing to The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. Not wholly one-track, then. [Message her] [Tweet her]

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60. Christina Martin is a former stand-up comedian, writer for New Humanist and the Guardian. She’s an expert in religion-based parlour entertainment, including most famously God TrumpsTop Six Jesus Sightings and the Which Pope am I? personality test. See also, appropriately, her discussion on 4thought.tv of whether anything is sacred in comedy – no prizes for guessing what her answer is. [Tweet her]

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61. Aoife McLysaght is a geneticist at Dublin University. She’s appeared twice on The Infinite Monkey Cage, and given a talk at Tedx Dublin on ideas and where they come from. A friend of Alom Shaha, she’s also spoken at Dublin Atheists in the Pub about his book, creationism at the Giant’s Causeway, how and why we leave religious belief and its relationship with science. [Email her] [Tweet her]

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62. Anthea McTeirnan is a feminist and advocate of reproductive rights in Ireland, who spoke at Empowering Women Through Secularism about Irish abortion rights. She’s written on the same subject at the National Women’s Council of Ireland, and possesses a noted dislike of religious fundamentalism – as, you would think, might any major supporter of abortion in the Irish political and social context currently. [Tweet her]

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63. Terri Murray teaches A-level philosophy at Hampstead College of Fine Arts and Humanities. An ex-Catholic, she won CFI’s international essay contest on free expression three years ago, had had work appear in Philosophy Now and writes for the Rationalist Association site on veiling in Islam and Ann Widdecombe’s Christian persecution complex – the latter post, with over thirty thousand hits at present, is the RA’s most popular column of the year so far.

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64. Maryam Namazie heads the One Law For All campaign, is a spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims, writes at FreethoughtBlogs and campaigns internationally against Islamism and religious law. Look up her contributions from QEDcon 2012, the 2011 World Atheist Convention or Protest the Pope in 2010 – in fact, just keep an eye out for her. She’s everywhere (including on this site) and she deserves to be. [Email her] [Tweet her]

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65. Elizabeth O’Casey is an NSS vice-president (she blogs on their website) and human rights lawyer who’s also worked with the Center for Inquiry. She’s discussed child marriage and slavery at the United Nations, and chaired One Law For All’s conference on religion and the law in 2011. Back in 2012, we were also on a panel together on the aims of secular activism – for her, it’s strictly about church-and-state separation.

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66. Musa Okwonga is a poet, musician and commentator for the Independent, the Guardian and the Huffington Post. When not writing about female genital mutilation or religious communities’ role during the 2011 riots, his passion is sport – read his interview for New Humanist last year with John Amaechi, first NBA basketball player to come out publicly, and, as it turns out, also an outspoken atheist. [Message him] [Tweet him]

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67. Alice Onwordi has written shockingly and extensively on female genital mutilation practices, including their increasing frequency in the UK, at the Rationalist Association; over on the pages of the New Statesman site, she’s also blogged on body culture and British (anti)secularism. Beyond that, she’s worked behind the scenes in television as an assistant producer and in theatre as a playwright.

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68. Pragna Patel co-founded Women Against Fundamentalism, on top of being Director of Southall Black Sisters (campaigners for secularism and against forced marriage and domestic violence) and a supporter of the NSS. She spoke at their Secularism2012 conference and that year’s Rally for Free Expression, has written at openDemocracy on ‘honour’ violence and gender equality and worked with One Law For All. [Message Southall Black Sisters]

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69. Tannice Pendegrass runs Guildford Skeptics in the Pub and is The Skeptic‘s assistant editor. She spoke on the SitP panel at this year’s QEDcon, giving practical tips for setting up, running and maintaining a local forum, and has given talks at a range of groups on good, bad and ugly treatments currently on offer for autism. Additionally, she’s part of the South East Skeptics umbrella group. [Email her] [Message her] [Tweet her]

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70. Fariborz Pooya, head of the Iranian Secular Society, campaigns in exile against blasphemy laws around the world and for the safety of atheist bloggers faced with threats or violence in theocratic states. He’s part of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, has spoken previously on religion and radical Islamism and presided at the 2012 Rally for Free Expression, managing a really quite expansive range of speakers.

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71. Aarathi Prasad has a molecular genetics PhD, and writes on the science of sex: beside her book Like a Virgin: How Science is Redesigning Sex, her Guardian columns have explored what might cause a virgin birth; on Radio Four she presented The Quest for Virgin Birth, and on Channel 4 she fronted the documentary Is It Better to Be Mixed Race?, also appearing in the science series Brave New World and discussing mixed race marriages on 4thought.tv. In Prospect magazine, she’s also written on the history of slavery. [Email her] [Message her]

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72. Hassan Radwan was once a teacher at Islamia Primary School in North West London, founded and run by Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens). While there he witnessed Salafist members of staff dominating the school, banning music and various books and letting out school premises to Mujahideen supporters. Now he’s a member of the Council of Ex-Muslims, who speaks and writes about his deconversion. [Email the Council of Ex-Muslims]

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73. Farah Rahman is a socialist, a feminist, and a blogger on secularity and religion at Farahtasia. Her post about the death of her nephew and the media storm which followed the Woolwich attacks is worth looking up, as is her discussion of Amina Tyler and FEMEN‘s nude protest earlier this year. She’s yet to write much more, it’s true – but when she does (and it seems like after being on this list, she will), I want to read it. [Tweet her]

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74. Saif Rahman, author of The Islamist Delusion: from Islamist to Cultural Muslim Humanist, identifies as a secular and cultural Muslim. He’s written for the Rationalist Association, and as part of the Apostasy Project, on the issues this raises and why he finds it preferable to ‘ex-Muslim’. He nonetheless belongs to the Council of Ex-Muslims and has founded the Humanist and Cultural Muslim Association. [Email him] [Tweet him]

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75. Alice Roberts is Birmingham University’s Professor of Public Engagement in Science, raised Anglican but now an atheist – she’s not dismissive of the possibility of God, but sees no evidence that any exists. Her Guardian columns have involved scientific approaches to childbirth – she and Aarathi Prasad might have an interesting conversation – and she’s a BHA distinguished supporter. [Message her] [Tweet her]

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76. Sid Rodrigues was the founder of London Skeptics in the Pub – which is to say, the original SitP group – and continues to run it. Way back in September 2005, he appeared as a panellist on the first ever edition of Little Atoms and has worked on its production team, organises the parodic Ig Nobel awards in London and contributed to The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. Bets are being taken currently on what he’ll found next. [Tweet him]

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77. Gita Sahgal left Amnesty International acrimoniously in 2010 over its relationship with Moazzam Begg and his Cageprisoners organisation; she’s written about it since for openDemocracy, and about religious demonisation of Bangladeshi bloggers. She’s an atheist and the founding director of the Centre for Secular Space, and has worked previously with the Council of Ex-Muslims. [Email the Centre for Secular Space] [Tweet her]

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78. Angela Saini is a science journalist. She’s written for the Rationalist Association about Indian religious consciousness and other topics, and is the author of Geek Nation: How Indian Science is Taking Over the World, which subsequently she turned into a Skeptics in the Pub talk. Nerd culture, it turns out, has gone global at this point – now, wouldn’t that make an interesting discussion? [Email her] [Tweet her]

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79. Sarahlicity, considered ‘someone reasonable’ by P.Z. Myers (high praise indeed) is a student at Leeds University and vice-president of their atheist society. She keeps a blog on godlessness, feminism, trans* and other LGBT issues and politics. If you’re not aware of it, see her post on the UK Same-Sex Marriage Act’s treatment of trans* people, as well as her commentaries on cartoon censorshipatheist infighting and the Suzanne Moore/Julie Burchill transphobia debacle earlier this year. [Tweet her]

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80. Alom Shaha, when he appeared on last year’s list, was quite a new name to me and probably a fair few others. Since then, helped largely by a whistle-stop tour of just about every Skeptics in the Pub forum in the country, he’s developed a much larger profile after his memoir The Young Atheist’s Handbook caught popular attention. Now he runs the Apostasy Project, is a trustee of the BHA and has appeared all over the media. [Email him] [Tweet him]

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81. Rose Shapiro used to be a health writer for women’s magazines – that’s when she got interested in alternative medicine, later writing Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All. This year, she spoke at more than one event during QEDcon, and got a pretty warm reception judging from the tweets I saw. Listen to her on a recent edition of The Skeptic Zone podcast, or read her guide to quack-spotting from a few years back.

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82. Labi Siffre is known for being a musician. You know ‘It Must Be Love’, that hit Madness had, or ‘Something Inside (So Strong)? Labi Siffre wrote those. It turns out he’s also an atheist – a movement atheist, at that. ‘Theism IS extremism: There is no evidence of God’, he writes on his website; ‘With neither my permission nor my understanding’, he told New Humanist in an interview last year, ’I was baptised and confirmed a Catholic.’ But guess which bus campaign he gave £1000? [Tweet him]

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83. Vicky Simister is a feminist campaigner, founder of the London Anti-Street Harassment (LASH) campaign (she’s spoken on 4thought.tv about what prompted that) and was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. At the Rationalist Association, she’s written about being kicked out and made homeless, aged 17, for smoking, having premarital sex and ‘rejecting the Lord’, and laid out the emotional background and consequences as part of the Apostasy Project. [Tweet her]

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84. Simon Singh fought to reform British libel law after the British Chiropractic Association sued him for writing that they promoted ‘bogus treatments’. They later dropped the case, only for him to be threatened again with legal action on criticising What Doctors Don’t Tell You magazine. He’s the author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial, and has given no end of public talks. [Email him] [Message him] [Tweet him]

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85. Joan Smith was thrown out of the Brownies aged for being an atheist and a republican. (She refused, when expected to, to swear loyalty to God and the Queen.) Now she’s a columnist at the Independent, an honorary associate of the NSS and a supporter of Republic, the campaign to disestablish the British monarchy; look up her thoughts on genital-cuttingfree expression and shoes, among other things. [Email her] [Tweet her]

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86. Kate Smurthwaite packs one hell of an atheist bitchslap – so says the internet, anyway. When not bashing God on The Big Questions (she’s subsequently reappeared there numerous times), she’s a comedian, and political activist; she’s a member of the NSS and the London Feminist Network, and a representative of Abortion Rights UK. See her moving and incisive comments from the Rally for Free Expression last year. [Email her] [Tweet her]

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87. Bahram Soroush was a founding member of the UK Council of Ex-Muslims, and is an Iranian-born human rights campaigner. He has directed attention to opposing the existence of the Sharia courts system in Britain, speaking at One Law For All’s 2009 march against Sharia for International Women’s Day in 2009 and its 2010 conference on apostasy, Sharia law and human rights. If you’re looking for ‘grassroots’, he’s a good place to look. [Tweet him]

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88. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, as described in outraged tones by the Daily Mail, ‘is a self-proclaimed atheist who claims God had a wife and Eve suffered from sexism’ – and also the BBC’s ‘face of religion’ since 2011, when she fronted the series The Bible’s Buried Secrets. She teaches ancient religion and the Hebrew Bible at Exeter University, and has appeared numerous times on The Big Questions. [Email her] [Tweet her]

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89. Samantha Stein directs Camp Quest UK, the freethinking summer camp focusing on critical thinking, philosophy and the scientific method – having set it up in 2009, she’s spoken widely about her experience in skeptical education, including last year at the World Skeptics’ Congress in Berlin, and she also has a master’s in ‘religion and contemporary society’. Beyond that, she writes a food blog in her spare time for fellow coeliacs. [Email her] [Tweet her]

image90. Hayley Stevens is a ghost, apparently – or rather, a skeptical ghosthunter. If you haven’t seen her posts here, listen to the Be Reasonable podcast she co-hosts for the Merseyside Skeptics Society with Michael Marshall, interviewing people with far-out beliefs, or remember the fallout in 2012 when she reported faith healers to the Advertising Standards Authority. She’ll be speaking at this year’s European Skeptics Congress, and she’s appeared before at Denkfest and Centre for Inquiry UK. [Message her] [Tweet her]

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91. Lola Tinubu belongs to London Black Atheists and Central London Humanists, and she’s part of the Apostasy Project: read about her leavetaking of Nigerian Christianity and new love of natural science (‘Landscapes, earthquakes, continental drift, all of that – I’m like a little girl in a candy shop’), or listen to her [4]thoughts on the pastoral benefits of ‘atheist churches’ and the Sunday Assembly. [Tweet London Black Atheists]

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92. Polly Toynbee’s nothing if not a marmite atheist, with a Guardian column that polarises readers, in particular her claim that atheists are better at politics. She served as the BHA’s president from 2007 through to 2013, spoke at the AHS’s convention this year, helped launch the Atheist Bus Campaign in 2009 and has written previously in objection to ‘faith’ schools and religious belief itself. [Email her] [Tweet her]

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93. Salil Tripathi has over two decades of journalism behind him. He’s the author of Offence: the Hindu Case, an exploration of Hindu nationalism’s influence on Indian public life, and a visiting fellow at Harvard. In his columns at Index on Censorship, he’s covered the prosecution of Salman Rushdie’s readers, the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, pressure on the press from Indian religious groups and American shock culture around gay art; elsewhere he’s taken British libel law to task. [Email him][Tweet him]

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94. Miss Twist is the cross-dressing ‘poster girl’ of Edinburgh Skeptics, who’s spoken at Skeptics on the Fringe about the purported workings of astrology as well as other matters, and whose blog details religious (and other) attitudes to gendered clothing. Her first name, if by any chance you’d wondered what it was, turns out to be Nanobeans. And there you were guessing at ‘Surprise’ or ‘Olivia’. [Message Edinburgh Skeptics]

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95. Anna Vesterinen thinks internationally. She just finished a master’s degree at SOAS in international studies and diplomacy, and it shows in her columns. On the Rationalist Association site, she writes about competing atheist identities, religious censorship and free expression, as well the status of blasphemy around the globe – in countries Greece, Indonesia and Poland, for example. [Email her]

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96. Judith Walker is the Rationalist Association’s secretary, but moreover, a cartoonist – both when satirising religion for New Humanist (in addition to her RA post, she’s their magazine’s Business Director) and previously at the magazine Duck Soup (she founded it) as well as the women’s section of The Sun. Her ‘atheist censorship‘ illustration, in particular, is one personal favourite of mine. [Messsage her] [Tweet her]

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97. Anne Marie Waters, colleague of Maryam Namazie at the One Law For All campaign, is a human rights lawyer and council member at the NSS, where she blogs regularly. She’s spoken widely (including at Empowering Women Through Secularism and the 2011 World Atheist Convention) on religious practices and human rights, in particular the UK’s Sharia courts, and was physically threatened in 2012 while attempting to do so. [Email her] [Message her] [Tweet her]

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98. Elizabeth Wilson teaches cultural studies at the London College of Fashion, and writes for the Rationalist Association; in the 70s, her first published article was for the Gay Liberation Front, and she’s written on feminism and secularity since. Her column on why atheists can embrace the power of Tarot made me think, as did her defence a few years ago of atheist ‘militancy’ and anger. I wonder, on reflection, what she and Greta Christina might say to each other. [Email her]

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99. Nira Yuval-Davis is part of Women Against Fundamentalism’s organising group, the director of the Research Centre on Migration, Refugees and Belonging and a professor at the University of East London. She’s joined with a variety of secular figures (including several others on this list) to oppose the use of stoning in Iran, and written for OpenDemocracy, including on religion and women’s rights in Israel and the public rhetoric of the ‘war on terror’. [Email her]

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100. Myra Zepf of Northern Ireland is a children’s author, contributor to the Gaelic language magazine An tUltach and writes on secular parenting for the Rationalist Association with talent and style. (Have a look at her atheist survival guides for Christmas and Easter, or find out why she hates the Little Red Hen.) On top of this, her quirky Pinterest page is a delight. [Tweet her]

More creationism at the Keswick Convention

Remember the ‘Scale model of Noah’s ark‘ creationist exhibit, from this time last year in my hometown?

The Keswick Convention is in full swing again, and a friend just linked me to this footage from the local marketplace.

Watch out for more young earth creationism, threats of Hell, the blood of Jesus and salvos against gay sex, unmarried sex and internet porn. (None of these, of course, are any different from lying or stealing.) Richard Dawkins gets a mention, as he always does, and there’s a happier ending than you might expect, even if I’m not entirely comfortable with it.

[Edit: it turns out the preacher here is Dale Mcalpine, who ended up in hot water three years ago over similar events.]

A transcript follows. I’ve done my best to get everything, but there are words I can’t make out; if you catch them, or you spot an error, let me know in the comments.

P.S. I should mention I don’t know if this was official Keswick Convention preaching, or whether (like last year’s exhibit) it was independent evangelism, capitalising on the religious hunting season.

* * *

Audience member #1: How do you manage to live your day to day life without sinning?

Preacher: Sorry?

AM #1: How do you manage to live your day to day life without sinning? I seem to survive.

P: See, this is what happens. When someone is born again, what that means is that someone is changed from someone who loves their sin, their sinful nature, and follows a lifestyle of sin – sin that offends God – to someone who loves God. [Inaudible] …how do I survive?

AM #1: How does the person in sin survive?

P: Well, sinning isn’t a requirement of breathing. [Inaudible] You’ve had your turn.

AM #1: I believe in God!

P: The Devil believes in God, so believing in God is not going to help you on the Day of Judgement. You need your sins forgiven-

AM #1: I know but I’ve got to get by before that…

AM #2: The guy’s right. [Pointing to AM #1.) Why would you have to repent if you didn’t sin in the first place?

P: -and the only way that your sins can be forgiven is if you’re soaked in the blood of Jesus Christ because the Bible says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.

AM #1: …how do I survive until then?

P: What d’you mean ‘survive’? I don’t understand your question.

AM #1: Well how do I live without sinning?

P: You can’t: you can’t do anything but live a sinful life, unless God supernaturally transforms you and makes your spirit that loves to sin – your nature that loves to sin – makes it alive and gives you a new nature. That’s why the Bible says if any man is in Christ, he’s a new creature. So if you’re still… if you’re professing to be a Christian today, and you’re still the same person that you’ve always been, [if] you haven’t been set free from the power and consequence of sin, then you’re not a Christian. You’re not born again, because the Bible says that you should be changed.

AM #1: Nobody [inaudible]

AM #3: You’re really spoiling a lovely day, mate.

P: God saved me-

AM #3: You’re really spoiling a lovely day.

P: God saved me five nine year ago, and he can save anyone out here today. If you’ll humble yourself, and call upon his name.

AM #4: …still say that slavery is okay.

P: …call upon the name of the Lord-

[Inaudible]

AM #5: Surely there’s a better way of going about it than standing on there and embarrassing Christians? I’m a Christian and I’m slightly embarrassed by the way you are doing this!

P: Okay.

AM #5: I’m a Christian, okay? I’m a Christian… she is my friend… I’m a Christian, okay. There’s a way of going about it-

P: Sure. And the way to go about it is God’s way. If the Bible-

AM #5: I’m not ash-

P: And the Bible says… the Bible says-

AM #5: I’m not ashamed… I’m not ashamed of what I believe in!

P: Well what do you tell people?

AM #5: I do!

P: Do you preach the Gospel-

[Inaudible]

AM #5: I don’t… [inaudible] God gave us a choice.

P: No, of course not, because you don’t know it. You see you can’t live what you don’t know, and the Bible says there are-

[inaudible]

AM #5: So you’re saying I’m not a Christian because I don’t talk… you’re saying I don’t believe that God came down, sent his son down, and he died for my sins? You’re saying that I don’t believe that because I don’t sit there, stand on there, and go ‘Hey everybody! Everybody listen to God’? You’re saying that I’m not a Christian?

P: The Devil believes that God came down and died for people’s sins. The Devil believes that. So you’re still going to Hell on the Day of Judgement. Unless you’re born again you’re not a Christian.

AM #5: So are you…

P: Unless you’re born again you’re not a Christian. Unless you’re changed and set free from the power of your sin, whatever sin that might be, unless you’re changed anew, you live a holy life-

AM #5: Yeah, I do… [inaudible] I live a holy life, and my non-Christian friends around me see me and listen to me, rather than standing on there and being like ‘All Christians are like this!’ Not all of them.

P: But is your nice personality enough to save people from the wrath of God?

AM #6: Is yours… what you’re doing now, are you going to save people by standing up talking?

P: Is your nice personality, the way you live your life, what God says that you must do in order for men and women to be saved? [Continues]

AM #3: …you enjoying it, pal? [Aside]

AM #7: Yeah.

AM #3: I’ve been watching it from the beginning. Here come the police to look after him.

P: -preaching of the Gospel, the preaching of this message, is the power of God.

AM #2: You know you’re not preaching… you’re not opening the Bible once.

P: Well… [Continues]

AM #3: Can you not arrest him for heresy?

AM #7: Yeah.

AM #8: [Inaudible] Do you believe that science and Christianity can coexist?

P: We believe in good science, it’s that evolution and the Big Bang is bad science. Did evolution make a monkey out of you?

AM #8: So the two can’t coexist then? You don’t think that they can just [inaudible] each other and [inaudible] Christian?

P: See, science can’t exist without God. God gave us laws of logic, laws of astronomy, laws of thermodynamics – God set off these laws of science in motion. And when you reject God [inaudible] knowledge. See, because the Bible says the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. See? So without God you can’t know anything!

AM #8: Do you believe that Christians… there are Christians who can believe in evolution and believe the Bible?

[inaudible]

P: …God, and they need to read the Bible, because the Bible says… the Bible says that God created the world in six literal days and he created a man and a woman from dust. He didn’t create a man and a woman from a pond life [sic] that evolved over millions of years. That’s not what the Bible says. So these people there, the theistic evolutionists, are wrong, and they need to read the Bible.

AM #5: But how do you not know… how can you not know… you know the Bible, in Genesis it says it as a poem – if you read it in Hebrew, the creation of the world is a poem – that is not then actually seven whole days. That could be millions of years, so God could… the evolution process that we know of could actually be God’s way of actually making animals? We don’t know that. We won’t know if he existed… so if God could actually have planned evolution, and you know, planned that… [inaudible] …like this, like that, and therefore things evolved…

P: Let me stop you there, that’s a fair question: could God have used evolution to create mankind? Well here’s what the Bible says: the Bible says that death came into the world through one man’s sin. Adam’s. Before Adam sinned, there was no death. So things couldn’t have died out to progress. So there’s a contradiction. Either you believe God’s word, that God created us in six literal days, or you can believe [inaudible] who the Bible says the wisdom of this world is foolishness. See Richard Dawkins and Charles Darwin, according to God’s word, are fools. And the wisdom of this world is foolish.

AM #8: God has never mentioned Charles Darwin! God never mentioned it. He never mentioned him. What are you talking about? Is Charles Darwin in the Bible? [inaudible] That’s not true…

P: Well, I mean we know it’s true because that’s what the Bible says. And the Bible says that death came into the world through one man’s sin. The wages of sin is death. Sin is…

AM #9: Charles Darwin…

P: …before sin came into the world there wasn’t any death. So there couldn’t have been a process of evolution where things die out and progress. And people who teach that are in error, even if they’re you’re favourite preacher and if they’re nice people they’re in error. The Bible says that you can know the truth, and these things are written so that you may know them and have eternal life. How do you have eternal life? Through the blood of Jesus Christ. There’s no other way to peace with God. There’s no other way that your sins can be forgiven other than by the blood of Jesus Christ. Because the Bible says that without the shedding of blood there’s no forgiveness of sin. Your good personality, your good deeds can’t help you on the Day of Judgement.

AM #10: As a Christian…

P: Being baptised and going to church won’t help you on the Day of Judgement, because your good works [inaudible] If you have any problems with that, any questions about the Gospel message being preached today, I’d be very happy to answer all your questions.

AM #10: D’you not think that Christianity or any other religion is just a way of being, basically, scared of dying? D’you not think death is just a black, [inaudible] nothing? And that this has just been put on us, just ‘cause you’re scared?

P: No, I think that atheists are scared…

AM #10: No no no no no, I’m asking, d’you not think you are scared – you are scared?

P: I’m telling you what I think. I think that atheism is a crutch for people who are scared of Judgement Day, and they… they cling to the… the… the ridiculous lie of evolution in order to silence their conscience that tells them they are guilty before God, and that they know that they’re accountable because they’ve lied, stolen, looked at porn on the internet, when they’ve slept around, sinned outside of marriage. All sex outside of marriage of one man, one woman, is a sin against God. That’s what God says. Now that’s unpopular today. People in churches believe and tell us that homosexuality’s okay, they were just born that way – that’s a lie from the pit of Hell.

AM #10: Oh, really?

P: Yes.

AM #10: Really?

AM #5: Oh don’t even start…

P: [Inaudible] They feel in their heart, they’re not born that way. They’re not helpless. Homosexuality is an abomination-

[Booing]

Unknown sources: Shut up! Disgusting!

P: -sin against God! And Jesus Christ said unless you repent, you will perish, so… [Continues]

AM #11: You don’t have a busker’s licence – I am on the town council, listen to me. I am on the town council, listen to me sir. Please… please sir listen to me, please sir… you do not have a busker’s licence. SIR! You are now [inaudible], you don’t have a busker’s licence, you are not welcome in this town, you are a bigot sir. I am on the town council and I think I’m very right in saying that we do not want bigotry in this town.

AM #3: Hurray to the town council! Hurrah!

[Cheering]