Is Atheist Money Too Controversial for the American Cancer Society?

This piece was originally published on AlterNet. My follow-up to this piece is scheduled to be published early this week.

I’ll say this clearly, right up front: The American Cancer Society did not explicitly reject a massive donation offer from a non-theistic organization on the basis of them being a non-theistic organization.

That was not the stated reason given for rejecting a matching offer of $250,000 from the Foundation Beyond Belief and the Todd Stiefel Foundation to sponsor a national team in the upcoming “Relay for Life.” (An offer that, as a matching offer, was likely to bring in a total of half a million dollars for the American Cancer Society.) Nobody at the ACS has ever said, in words, “We don’t want our organization to be associated with atheists. It’s too controversial. We don’t want atheist money.” And when asked if this was the case, they have denied it.

It’s just difficult to reach any other conclusion.

Because the officially stated reasons for rejecting this offer have ranged from slippery at best to non-existent at worst. In the place of clear explanations, there has been an ongoing series of evasions, imprecisions, conflicting answers, moved goalposts, apathy, and even hostility. [Read more…]

Dream Diary, 10/29/11: The Sociology of Atheist Leadership

I dreamed that a sociologist was analyzing the effectiveness of atheist leaders and writers, and was correlating this effectiveness with two factors: where they lived, and how much they paid in mortgage or rent. I ranked very high on this sociologist’s effectiveness scale, but was nevertheless outraged by this analysis, because (a) the two factors were clearly not independent but were closely linked, and (b) the whole thing seemed patently ridiculous.

American Cancer Society and Foundation Beyond Belief: Documents

I’m currently working on a follow-up to my recent piece on AlterNet about the American Cancer Society turning down the Foundation Beyond Belief’s request to participate with a national team in the ACS’s Relay for Life — and the $250,000 matching offer from the Todd Stiefel Foundation that would have come with it.

I’ve received a number of documents (screenshots, mostly) backing up the story I’m writing — and I’ll need to link to some or all of them. So I’m posting them here. I am also making these documents available to anyone who wants to use them in their own reporting or blogging about this matter. (For some reason, if you want to view the images full size, you have to click on the image and then click on it again. My apologies for the inconvenience.) [Read more…]

Promoting Evolution Considered “Dogmatic” — In University Biology Department

There is so much that’s appallingly wrong in the story Jen McCreight tells here, I can’t even tell you. But here’s what makes me keep screaming and throwing fits.

I’m more or less used to the idea that, in grade schools and high schools in the Midwest and South, teaching evolution is still controversial. I passionately loathe it, but I’m used to it. I shouldn’t be, but I am. It isn’t news.

But the idea that — in a biology department at a highly reputable state university on the West Coast — caring about teaching the theory of evolution should be considered “dogmatic”? The idea that — in a biology department at a highly reputable state university on the West Coast — a biology grad student who cares about evolution education “wanted people to believe in evolution just because that’s what you happen to believe in”? The idea that — in a biology department at a highly reputable state university on the West Coast — rejecting evolution isn’t a “terrible” attitude? The idea that — in a biology department at a highly reputable state university on the West Coast — a biology grad student’s advisors biology professor would counsel her to revise her grant proposal by playing down the whole evolution thing, and not make such a big deal about caring about evolution education?

In a biology department, at a highly reputable state university on the West Coast?

This shocks me to my core. And I thought I was beyond being shocked.

Fashion Friday: The Best Shoe Store Ever

When we were in Boston earlier this year, Ingrid and I saw this plaque on/ near the Freedom Trail… and just about died laughing.

For those who can’t see the picture, here’s what it says:

APRIL 21, 1855

Ingrid and I had almost exactly the same reactions, almost simultaneously:

1: That must have been some shoe store.

2: Religious experience in a shoe store? I know the feeling!

3: Were they Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos?

(And no, this is not my first post to be categorized under both Atheism and Fashion. And I sincerely hope that it won’t be the last.)

From the Archives: “But Everyone Else Does It!” Andrew Brown and the Defense of the Catholic Church Child Rape Scandal

Since I moved to the Freethought Blogs network, I have a bunch of new readers who aren’t familiar with my greatest hits from my old, pre-FTB blog. So I’m linking to some of them, about one a day, to introduce them to the new folks.

Today’s archive treasure: “But Everyone Else Does It!” Andrew Brown and the Defense of the Catholic Church Child Rape Scandal. The tl;dr: Andrew Brown wrote a defense of the Catholic Church’s behavior in the ongoing worldwide child rape scandal, saying that priests aren’t the only authority figures to rape children, and it’s not fair to single the Catholic Church out for criticism. I respond by ripping him a new asshole.

A nifty pull quote:

The Church knew about widespread reports of priests repeatedly molesting children… and instead of acting to protect the children, they acted to protect the priests, and themselves. Thus deliberately and knowingly putting more children in the way of known child rapists, solely for their pure self-interest.

Repeatedly. Time and time again. In every part of the world. As a cold-blooded matter of Church policy.

That is the scandal.

The fact that some adults in positions of trust and authority over children violated that trust by raping them? That is a tragedy. The fact that the Catholic Church knew about it — and instead of reporting the child rapists to the police, they deliberately shielded them from detection and criminal investigation? The fact that the Church moved child rapists from parish to parish, thus exposing even more children to them? The fact that they lied to law enforcement, concealed evidence, even paid off witnesses… purely to protect their organization from looking bad?

That, Mr. Brown, is the scandal.

You fucking moral imbecile.


Why I Do What I Do

In case anyone is wondering why I do the work that I do, I direct you to this comment, posted by Brad in response to my piece How Religion Contorts Morality: Respected Theologian Defends Genocide and Infanticide.

Hmm, I don’t think “Enjoy!” is quite the right tone for your link to the original article ;) Extremely thought-provoking, disturbing even, but hardly “enjoyable”.

I’m a lifelong evangelical in the middle of what might end up being a deconversion, and arguments like you’ve posted here are profoundly persuasive.

When you start with the presumption that the Bible is inspired, infallible, and inerrant, then rationalizations like this are so easy and natural (and necessary when dealing with difficult passages). It’s only when you allow yourself to step outside that presumption for a moment can you see and understand all the problems.

The use of the Israelite soldiers as the “sword” of judgement is somewhat unique to this specific passage, but the overall theme isn’t out of character for the God of the bible:

* Destruction of 99.9999% of humanity through Noah’s flood
* Destruction of entire populations of Sodom and Gomorrah
* Prophecies of widespread death and destruction at the “end times” in the book of Revelation

Not trying to justify, mind you, just showing how someone inside this mindset (from which I am slowly emerging) might find it easy to lump this “judgement” of the Canaanites with other similar passages.

To Brad: Thank you for having the courage to seriously question your ideas and consider whether they’re defensible. I know — from personal experience, and from what I know of others’ experience — that this can be difficult, and I applaud you for doing it. If you have any questions or ideas you want to bounce off of us, I hope you’ll feel free to bring them. And if you need any emotional or practical support in your process, please don’t hesitate to ask.

And to everyone else reading this: Atheist activism works. Making arguments against religion works; coming out as atheist works; creating atheist communities works. If a lifelong evangelical like Brad can question and possibly let go of his religious beliefs, we should never assume that it’s a waste of time.

Greta Speaking in Seattle and D.C., Nov. 3 and Nov. 12

Hi, all! I have some nifty speaking gigs coming up, and I wanted to let you know about them. I’m going to be speaking in Seattle on Thursday Nov. 3 to the Secular Student Union of the U of W, and in Washington D.C. on Saturday Nov. 12 at the Center For Inquiry DC Fifth Anniversary Celebration, on the topic of “What Can The Atheist Movement Learn from the LGBT Movement?” I’ll be doing Q&A and/or schmoozing at both events — so if you’re in the area, come by and say hi! Details are below.

EVENT/ HOSTS: Secular Student Union, University of Washington
DATE: Thursday, November 3rd
TIME: 5:30pm
LOCATION: THO 125, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
TOPIC: What Can The Atheist Movement Learn from the LGBT Movement?
SUMMARY: The atheist movement is already modeling itself on the LGBT movement in many ways — most obviously with its focus on coming out of the closet. What else can the atheist movement learn from the LGBT movement… both from its successes and its failures?
COST: Free

EVENT/ HOSTS: Center For Inquiry DC Fifth Anniversary Celebration
DATE: Saturday, November 12
TIME: 5:00 pm
LOCATION: Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 (14th & V / U Street Cardozo Metro)
TOPIC: What the Secular Movement Can Learn from the LGBT Movement
SUMMARY: See above
OTHER SPEAKERS/ EVENTS: Poetry by Jennifer Michael Hecht; Ronald Lindsay; Melody Hensley; awards; schmoozing; and more!
COST: $45. Premier Seating: $100. Cost includes dinner; premiere seating includes reserved seating plus $55 tax deductible contribution. Registration required.

Hope to see you there!

From the Archives: How Religion Contorts Morality: Respected Theologian Defends Genocide and Infanticide

Since I moved to the Freethought Blogs network, I have a bunch of new readers who aren’t familiar with my greatest hits from my old, pre-FTB blog. So I’m linking to some of them, about one a day, to introduce them to the new folks.

Today’s archive treasure: How Religion Contorts Morality: Respected Theologian Defends Genocide and Infanticide. The tl;dr: William Lane Craig, noted theologian and debater, wrote a piece defending the morality of infanticide and genocide… as long as God orders it. I express my horror — and point out that religion forces people to either cherry-pick the texts of their faith, or defend that which is indefensible.

A nifty pull quote:

It’s funny. One of the most common pieces of bigotry aimed at atheism is that it doesn’t provide any basis for morality. It’s widely assumed that without religion — without moral teachings from religious traditions, and without fear of eternal punishment and desire for eternal reward — people would behave entirely selfishly, with no concern for others. And atheists are commonly accused of moral relativism: of thinking that there are no fundamental moral principles, and that all morality can be adapted to suit the needs of the moment.

But it isn’t atheists who are saying, “Well, sure, genocide seems wrong… but under some circumstances, it actually makes a certain amount of sense.” It isn’t atheists who are saying, “Well, sure, infanticide seems wrong… but looked at in a certain light, it really isn’t all that bad.” It isn’t atheists who are prioritizing an attachment to an ancient ideology over the clearest moral principles one can imagine: the principle that entire races ought not to be systematically exterminated, and the principle that children ought not to be slaughtered.


Echo Chamber or Picking Fights: Atheists Just Can’t Win

If atheists spend time in religious public forums, and engage with religious believers… we’re picking fights.

And if atheists don’t engage with religious believers, and spend most or all of our time with other atheists — we’re living in an echo chamber.

Is there any way we can win?

There was a recent piece in the Religion section of the Huffington Post by pastor/ chaplain Eliot Daley: Welcome, Atheists. But, Really, Why Are You Here? Daley seemed puzzled by the phenomenon of atheists who read his columns and comment critically on them. So in this piece, he asked atheists, “I mean, really, what are you doing cruising the Religion department?”

I’m going to leave it to someone else to do the line-by-line fisking of this piece. I’d love to do it myself, but my time is even more crunched than usual this week, and I just can’t manage it. (Oh, okay. When you bat your eyes at me that way, I can’t resist. The very quick- and- dirty version: 1: Our disagreement is with the harm done by religion as it often plays out — and with the truth claim that God exists. 2: An interventionist God is not a straw man — it’s believed in by billions of believers. 3: Yes, we’re familiar with the notion, most famously stated by Arthur C. Clarke, that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic — but that doesn’t mean it’s actually magic. 4: Yes, reason and emotion/ intuition are connected in many ways — but that doesn’t make the distinction between them “obsolete.” If you think it’s obsolete, then the next time you’re seriously ill, go to a faith healer instead of a medical doctor trained in rational methods of determining what your illness is and how it can best be treated. 5: If God is really real and atheists are simply tone-deaf to his existence… then show us some good evidence that he does exist. You can show deaf people evidence that sound exists — but believers have yet to offer any good evidence that God exists, either to atheists or to other believers with radically contradictory notions of what God is. And finally, 6: Atheists engage with religious believers for lots of different reasons. See below.)

But I really can’t do a thorough, line-by-line critique of everything this piece gets wrong about atheists and atheism. I just don’t have time today. And the main point I want to make is this:

When it comes to this question of engagement with believers, there is absolutely no way atheists can win.

If atheists don’t engage with religious believers — if we spend all or most of our time hanging around with other atheists — we routinely get accused of being an echo chamber. We get accused of living in a bubble, cutting ourselves off from anyone who disagrees with us. The mere fact that we even have atheist communities, both in the flesh and online, gets us accused of this.

And if atheists do engage with religious believers — if we spend some of our time hanging around with religious believers in public forums, making a case for why the god hypothesis is probably mistaken — we get accused of picking a fight. Of raining on the parade. Of, in Daley’s words, playing “the proverbial skunk at the garden party.” Of enjoying the spectacle of a bloodbath: in Daley’s words, “perhaps they are like the small percentage of NASCAR fans who freely admit that they go the races primarily in hopes of seeing a really hairy wreck.”

We can’t win. [Read more…]