Exposing Adam Lee’s lies about Richard Dawkins

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

Since that Buzzfeed article went up and Sam Harris mouthed off about ladybrains, Dawkins has railed nonstop about bloggers like me and Lee ‘faking outrage‘ for money. (Far be it from the author of The God Delusion, worth $135m according to the Sunday Times, to engineer controversy for profit.) Backstroking through my own pools of cash, I have to tell him £17.50 – from seventeen different posts – is the most I’ve ever made from a month’s ad hits. If outrage posts do well, it’s only because normally they’re topical. The biggest factor in the traffic something gets is how ‘current’ it is: while I’m sure Lee’s article has done well, I’d put money on Scotland’s referendum being the Guardian‘s biggest pull this week; I imagine a Cif piece defending Dawkins would do similarly well and posts about a five- or -ten-year-old controversy would flop. At least in my case, calling him out doesn’t get half the traffic now it got a year ago because readers are used to it – that Richard Dawkins’ Twitter feed is awful is old news. I’m expecting Adam Lee name’s will do more than his, in fact, to draw attention to this piece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It did. This thing, specifically.

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

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

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

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

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

Quite so.

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

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

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

He has.

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

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

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

Again I assume no one doubts this happened.

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

Or this. (Either half.)

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

Or this. (Hello.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds pretty sneery to me.

Lee on Dawkins’ tweets this last week:

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

Follow the links. Re-read the introduction here.

Lee:

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

Here’s what Dawkins tweeted:

Sounds pretty similar to me.

Lee:

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

I assume again that this isn’t in doubt.

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

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

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

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Lower tweet retweeted by Dawkins.

Lee:

[Roth] finds the systemic sexism incredibly frustrating.

I assume this isn’t in doubt.

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

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

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

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

That’s it. That’s the whole article.

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

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

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Thank you so, so much

Five days ago I posted I was in a crisis, asking readers of this blog to support it and to hire my skills. I meant to post an update on Thursday but came down with a cold, and am just regaining blogging faculties. (One thing about being a writer: a broken leg would be no problem whatsoever, but a common cold makes work impossible.)

Long story short, I’m now fine. Actually, I’m better than fine.

Since my post asking for help, over a dozen people have made contact looking to hire me and over five dozen have helped fund this blog. Since I don’t have their permission I won’t thank them by name, and nor will I name the amount I’ve received – but it’s enough that my circumstances have radically changed.

Just over a week ago, I was in a professional dry spell of the sort freelancers have from time to time. Now I have a work schedule that lasts till mid October.

Just over a week ago, I was over £100 past my overdraft limit. Now I’m not just within it: for the first time since early this year, I’m in credit.

If I had no living costs other than rent, I’d be covered for a long, long time. Even with expenses, barring catastrophe, I’ll be in no imminent danger till 2015. My kitchen shelves are stocked, I can afford shoes that don’t let water in and generally, I’m no longer in a crisis.

I have a number of thank yous to say, and I mean it more than you can know.

First: thank you to the rest of Freethought Blogs for being the best network on the internet. I can’t think of anywhere else colleagues would have supported me the way they have.

Second: thank you to everyone who passed on my post. It was shared dozens of times on social media, and I have no doubt this helped tremendously: the vast majority of help I received came from perfect strangers.

Third: thank you to everyone who donated to fund this blog. I’m now convinced it’s my most important work, and the support you gave to it was staggering. Nothing tells me people value my work like having them pay to support it, and I currently feel exceptionally valued.

Fourth, in particular: thank you to everyone who made extremely large donations. Some of the sums I was sent were mind-boggling – I’m still struggling to process the notifications.

Fifth, in particular: thank you to everyone who made extremely small donations. I know what it’s like being so broke you can’t eat, and in their own way the smallest amounts mean more than the largest ones – they came from the readers who had least to give.

Sixth: thank you to everyone who subscribed or set up regular donations. I now receive enough in once-a-month payments, most of them small, to cover a month’s food shopping.

Seventh: thank you to everyone who hired me or is thinking of it. You didn’t just help me escape a tight spot – you’re helping me build a client network that will make all my work to come sustainable.

Eighth: thank you if you did none of the above, but are reading this… especially if you read me regularly. You’re why I got this far. Many of you, I know, are lurkers – I’d love to meet you. Say hi in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter or via email.

I repeat: I’m no longer in a crisis – on the contrary, I’m in a better position than I was for months. I’m not going to stop accepting anything, but if you want to help someone in an emergency right now, help someone else. If, in particular, you have a limited amount to give, there are people who now need it more pressingly than me.

This being said: since what I received was more than I ever foresaw, some of my goalposts are moving.

Rather than just surviving, I’m considering some long-term investments in my own job, principally a desk (so I have somewhere comfortable to work) and sofa-bed (so I’m no longer just sleeping on a mattress). In the process, on top of paying the rent, I’ll probably dip back into my overdraft. I’m not panicked about that, but now that I’m the black I want to stay there as much as I can, so as well as working on the many jobs I’m now being paid to do, I’m going to start throwing a post up roughly once a month to advertise what I do for money and ask fans of this blog to help make it pay – not to rescue me from a crisis, but to shore things up and help prevent them down the line.

To address the inevitable Slymepit rage:

I don’t think a desk and sofa-bed are unreasonable expenses for someone who works from home, and like most business expenses they’ll help me get more work done. When, several months of paid work after fundraising for cancer-related costs, Greta Christina bought a pair of business shoes and was covered in odium, she offered (despite feeling no obligation) to refund anyone’s donation who minded – as it turned out, no one did. I’ve thought about making the same offer, but I’m not going to. I don’t believe poor people should be held to higher standards of frugality than rich people, I’ve said why this spending makes sense, and my blog is a business people donated to: if you fund one on KickStarter or IndieGogo, you don’t get to tell the owners what specific goods or services to buy. (As it happens, I am always trying to think of ‘perks’ I could offer donors. What would people like?) If my buying basic furniture bothers you, you’re free not to donate to me again – but actually, I doubt that if you did so out of a desire to help, it will.

So that’s where I’m at – all the thank yous above again, a million times over. I’m now going to resume business as usual and be a blogger again. As it happens, I’m expecting people I know to need financial help themselves in the near future, so will keep you updated.

You’re all phenomenal and I’ll speak to you soon.

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I’m in a serious financial crisis. Here’s what you can do to help

Something I’ve come to love about this network is how it rallies round. Every so often when a FTBlogger has a personal crisis, they ask for colleagues and site readers’ help and get it in spades. I’m hoping the rule holds, because it’s my turn.

I’m in a serious financial crisis. Twice before, I’ve asked for assistance when things were dicey; at present, things are worse than dicey.

As someone working solely as a freelancer I have zero job security: my income depends on a steady flow of work which doesn’t always materialise. Business comes and goes, and due to a cocktail of a long-term brokeness, late payments and a light-on-the-ground period, I recently slipped past my overdraft limit. Although I was only slightly over it, my bank charged me over a hundred pounds ($162) straight away.

Those fines stack up over time. In the couple of days since I notified the rest of the network privately and asked for help, I’ve managed to get back under the limit – but only just. If I slip back past it, I’ll be punished financially again; the first time around it left me unable to buy food for two days, and as it is, I only have enough to live on for a short period more.

The fridge is empty; my shoes have holes in them; I can’t afford public transport across town. While I expect business as usual to resume in a few weeks’ time, once cheques have cleared, work is coming in again and editors return my calls, I’m currently at rock bottom in a financial emergency.

There are three ways you can help.

1) DONATE TO THIS BLOG

Last month I got more traffic than I’ve ever had before. Before that hits had peaked in September 2013 and gradually slumped – the point they started to pick up dramatically was this April when I first asked readers to support me. Since then the trend has reversed, showing steady growth.

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Note, this September’s figures represent only the first half of the month.

Your donations aren’t just helping this blog survive – they’re helping it to thrive. Having supporters who invest in me has provided a loyal readership I didn’t have a year or even six months ago. My living depends on how much I get noticed, and the more this blog grows, the more sustainable my work is. (Repeat the cliché about writing being work: we’re still working on ways to make the blogosphere pay the way print media once did, and for now reader support is what writers like me partially rely on.)

The link to my donation page is in the subtitle above, the ‘Support this blog’ button below and here. I’m not going to name an amount I need or suggest how much to give, should you choose to: the stark reality at present is that I can’t turn anything away, and the more help I get now the less I’m likely to need in future. I’ve accepted sums in the past ranging from single digits to the low hundreds, and I’ll continue to.

In the long term, especially in terms of helping the blog prosper, small monthly donations can make more difference than larger one-offs: most of my groceries are paid for readers who ‘subscribe’, contributing a once-a-month amount of their choice to help fund my work. Using the ‘Subscribe’ button in the pane on the left (scroll down), you can give €5, €10 or €15 a month; failing that, use these links to give €5, €10 or €20 regularly or make a regular donation of your chosen amount, checking PayPal’s ‘Make this recurring’ box.

(By the way: if this is your first time reading me, you can see some of the greatest hits here. If you can’t help me out right now but feel like you might in future, keep up with my work here.)

2) HIRE ME

I don’t accept that asking readers to make my work pay is ‘begging. (Classism among atheists, in fact, is something I’ve written about.) If you value my writing enough to fund its continuation, clearly you’re getting something back. It’s true, though, that – unless you’re a commissioning editor at a publication seeking writers (in which case, email me) – it’s not a service or product particular to you. Thankfully, I have other talents.

If you want to help me out while getting something in return – hire me.

Design

I’ve recently been taking on graphic design work for other secularists and bloggers. Below are a few of the things I’ve made: logos for Hiba Krisht’s blog A Veil and a Dark Place and Wesley Fenza’s, Living Within Reason, as well as a banner for Heina Dadabhoy’s blog Heinous Dealings.

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HeinousDealingsBanner

Currently, I’m working on numerous exciting projects with other FtB folk – you’ll find out all that in due course.

Here’s what the clients above said about me:

Alex was in regular communication throughout the process. He would routinely check in to discuss ideas and design concepts. He made sure that the concept, colors, and overall feel were to my satisfaction before engaging in too much design work. I was incredibly pleased with his design, and am proud to display it on my website and elsewhere. (Wesley Fenza)

Alex’s banner design for my blog is tailored to reflect the ethos and aesthetic of my writing. Throughout the design process, he was attentive to feedback and conscientious about creating a design that would complement my tastes and take my public image concerns into consideration, producing a logo that fit into the linguistic and cultural aesthetic I was looking for while subverting stereotypes and reductive racial tropes. (Hiba Krisht)

Alex was both willing to listen and active in providing ideas from his expertise. I couldn’t be happier about my banner, which not only represents me well, but also shows how thoughtful, skilled, and insightful he is. (Heina Dadabhoy)

If you’re looking for graphics work – especially (though not only) if you’re part of the skeptical or secular scene – get in touch here, via email or on Twitter.

Editing

When I’m not writing or designing, I’m a copy editor working with clients on every kind of text from online journalism to print publishing, short stories to self-help and advice. By all accounts I’m very, very good.

While I work regularly with authors who’ve spent years in publishing, I specialise in editing for new writers, whether still starting out or writing for the first time. Here’s what three such clients said about me:

Alex’s friendly hand and precise comments helped me transform my writing into something unique. Tailored guidance and rapid feedback – a truly outstanding service.

His style is very good, helpful and non-patronising – with a jokey edge, but the message gets across.

Alex was both insightful and professional, helping me do my best creative writing – with his effortless guidance, I was able to pin down exactly what it was I wanted to express. The key, though, is that he is accessible and easy to work with: a real gem.

A recent client, student Maria Marcello, hired me waning to write under a pseudonym about sexual assault; previously, she had no writing experience. After I’d worked on it with her, her first piece went viral online, was republished at the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Mail, the Huffington Post and openDemocracy and has had over 65,000 hits on her own blog (her whole blog’s views from the last two weeks are approaching 100,000).

Maria has this to say about working with me:

Since I’d never written anything before, Alex’s editing has been invaluable to me. Not only is he an absolutely amazing editor, but he’s publicised my work and encouraged me to write more. If you’re looking for a copy editor, I couldn’t recommend Alex more highly.

Kaveh Mousavi, a current client and author of the blog On the Margin of Error, adds:

I have come into contact with hundreds of editors in my life, so when I say Alex is a fantastic editor I do not speak with a lack of experience. He is fast and he is thorough, he thinks about every word and its implication, he understands and respects your world and your voice, and his insight is frank.

Finally, Greta Christina (of Greta Christina’s Blog) has this advice to offer after working with me a year ago:

If Alex is offering you his services, TAKE HIM UP ON IT. Alex did two extensive rounds of copy editing on Coming Out Atheist, and he is one of the best copy editors I’ve ever worked with. I can’t recommend him highly enough. Seriously. Hire him.

Rates are usually hourly, but – as with everything else I do – are reasonable and extremely flexible. Again: email me or say hello on Twitter.

3) GET PEOPLE YOU KNOW TO DO (1) AND (2)

If you’re not going to hire me or donate to this blog, chances are you know someone who will. If you want to help me out, please spread the word: share this post with friends, contacts or people you know are looking for writers/editors/graphic designers. Retweet it if you use Twitter; post it to Facebook, if you use Facebook.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide – this is an hour of need for me, and I appreciate it hugely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guten Appetit.

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I will not hold my tongue about religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full version.

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t talk about fasting till it hurt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

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

Others I know are called hateful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…are terrorised with lurid images of damnation and hell.

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

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

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

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

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

…are denied child custody explicitly for being atheists.

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

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

…are taught to submit to their male partners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

But that is not a question of tone.

And it does not discredit the mission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Actually, hang on — yes I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck your god.

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Gay mainstreaming and the Oxford comma: Greta Christina and Alex Gabriel in conversation

A week ago Greta and I held a Google+ hangout to yak about things we like – BuffyProject Runway, queer politics. Technology, which we’re still trying to believe is our friend, let us down and she ended up being cut off mid rant.

Last night we got back on track and talked gay marriage, atheist tone wars, Oxford commas and So You Think You Can Dance.

We’ll be doing more of these in the near future.

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Supporting Black Skeptics LA’s “First in the Family” scholarship fund

A couple of days ago I asked for your advice about which U.S. nonprofit I should give Greta Christina’s money. I promised at the time to let you know which one I picked, and although she’s let the cat out of the bag, this is that post.

Plenty of excellent organisations were suggested, and I encourage all of you to read the thread – but the one that stuck out above all others was Black Skeptics Los Angeles. (They have a blog, if you weren’t aware, on this network.)

In my post requesting recommendations, I said I was particularly keen to hear about secular groups focused among other things on aiding lower-class communities, women, queer people and youth. BSLA works on all these issues: founder Sikivu Hutchinson has, in the last few years, been one of the most important voices calling for secular social engagement, writing in June about white atheism’s race and class problems, and via the Women’s Leadership Project has spearheaded ‘the only program for girls of colour in the Los Angeles Unified school district that explicitly addresses the relationship between organised religion, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and heterosexism’.

Donations to BSLA at the moment go toward its ‘First in the Family’ humanist scholarship fund, which in Greta’s words makes higher education possible for ‘South Los Angeles LAUSD students who are going to be the first in their immediate families to go to college, giving preference to students who are (or have been) in foster care, homeless, undocumented and/or LGBTQ’.

Remind me again how social justice warriors make atheists look bad?

Being able to support this work is a huge honour, and I’m proud to be doing so. May BSLA get all the recognition they deserve.

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