Frederick Sparks at Black Skeptics on Be Scofield, Greta Christina, and New Atheist Racism

There have been a lot of discussions about Be Scofield’s piece in Tikkun, chiding the so-called “New Atheists” for being racist and culturally imperialist because we think religion is mistaken and try to persuade people out of it.

I’m more than usually swamped for time right now, and don’t have time to get more deeply into the conversation. But I wanted to point out an excellent piece by Frederick Sparks at the Black Skeptics blog — Be Scofield, Greta Christina, and New Atheist racism — which dismantles Scofield’s piece with surgical precision, and hands it back to Scofield in neat little bloody pieces on a platter.

I especially liked how Sparks eviscerated Scofield’s out-of-context quoting of Sikivu Hutchinson’s Moral Combat, revealing that Scofield either didn’t read the rest of the book or didn’t digest its conclusions — since its conclusions are exactly the opposite of the one Scofield comes to.

If I started quoting the best bits, I’d just quote the whole damn thing. But I do want to mention this:

I don’t see an either or proposition between advocating for rational thought, where beliefs are based on evidence, and confronting issues of social justice. The idea that black people should be left alone in their clinging to Jesus due to their history of oppression smacks of just as much paternalism as what Scofield accuses the white new atheists of here.

Go read the rest of the piece. It rocks.

Atheist Arguments = Racist Cultural Imperialism?

Hey, did you know that when I try to persuade people that religion is probably mistaken and atheism is probably correct, I’m “reproducing cultural imperialism against Native Americans”?

No, really.

I don’t have time today to do a line-by-line fisking of Be Scofield’s latest screed in Tikkun against the so-called “New Atheists.” Which is irritating, since the piece targets me by name and at some length. (Or rather, it tries to target me and misses by a significant margin, since most of what it says about my opinions is wildly off-base.) Ophelia Benson has already ripped it about sixteen different new assholes, especially on the whole “New atheism = racist cultural oppression” front, so I’m mostly going to direct you to her.

But there are a few things here that leaped out of the screen and lodged into my brain like a grain of sand, and I won’t be able to rest until I can coat them with the pearls of my wit and wisdom, and get them the frack out of my system.

Okay. First of all.

When Greta Christina says that religious people should be actively converted to atheism or Dawkins likens religion to a virus that infects the mind they are effectively saying “we know what’s best for you.”

No.

I am not saying that I know what’s best for you.

I am saying that, on this particular question, I think I’m correct, and you’re mistaken. [Read more...]

Why I Do What I Do

I know that the work we do — whether we’re professional activists, or just people trying to make the world better in our everyday lives — can sometimes be frustrating and discouraging, and can feel like we’re beating our heads against a wall. So I thought I’d share this email I just got from someone who responded to my recent pledge drive. It’s making me spring about the apartment going, “I can do this! I’m making a difference! This is totally worth it!” I hope it does the same for some of you.

I had already written this before I made my donation, but I hadn’t gotten around to checking it for the eleventieth time and sending it (perhaps it would have made more sense to do it the other way around, but hey):

After thinking a lot about how I was going to say this (and editing it about a thousand times, because this will probably be written so terribly no matter what I do), I just wanted to say thankyou. My contribution for PZ’s “why I am an atheist”, with my not-so-sneaky thankyou to you, might not get posted for, well, forever. So, I thought the least I can do is bother to email you personally.

Along with Jen, you’ve been a major factor in my coming to feminism, and as a man, coming to see my privilege for what it is (and more importantly, breaking through the denial after that realisation). You’ve also been amazingly insightful and interesting when it comes to sexuality, which as someone who’s straight also brings out another area of privilege for me. That, and making me think about my own sexuality, and being reassured that having different aspects of my sexuality and preferences that differ from the “expected” way (ie. moderate conservative, like society is here in the rural parts of the UK, or expected “normal” male sexuality) is not a bad thing.

Anyway, I can definitely say my life is a measurable amount better thanks to you to the point where a simple “thankyou” doesn’t really cut it. Being a person lacking in social confidence, surrounded by people who almost all have opposite worldviews to your own is difficult at times, but that’s why I love the internet. I hope you keep on blogging (and everything else) for a long, long time, because you’ve made a huge difference so far (especially for me).

- Jim

Jim — thank you so much. This is what I live for. You totally made my day.

It’s especially encouraging — as it so often is — to hear men say they appreciate the writing and the work that I, and so many other people, are doing about feminism. The fights in the atheosphere and skeptosphere about feminism and sexism and misogyny have been painful and ugly, and I know a lot of us get very down about it. It’s really good to be reminded that the work is paying off, and that lots of people are getting their minds and their hearts changed.

We can do this. We’re making a difference. This is totally worth it.

And Now, A Brief Pledge Break

We’ll return to our program, “Why Greta Christina Is Totally Brilliant And Awesome,” in just a moment. But first: Won’t you consider supporting this blog?

I have a quick question for y’all. Do you spend five dollars a month on your favorite sources of entertainment, enlightenment, information, and distraction? Do you spend five dollars a month on, say, books? Magazines? Cable TV? Pay porno sites? Music downloads? Video games? Live wrestling? Movies?

Do you think it’s worth it?

If so, I’d like to ask you to consider subscribing to this blog, for the low low rate of five dollars a month. Or, if that doesn’t work for you, please consider making a one-time donation of any amount.

The publishing world is changing. It’s increasingly becoming an online game instead of a printing- on- paper one… and as of yet, very few publishers have figured out a way to make online publishing pay. (Freethought Blogs is doing pretty well — but it’s not doing well enough yet to earn me a living.) But bloggers, and other creators of online entertainment/ enlightenment/ information/ distraction, work just as hard as people who write books, write magazine articles, make TV shows, make porn videos, create video games, wrestle, or make movies.

So if you think my blog is just as entertaining, enlightening, informative, and/or distracting as the cable TV or movies or magazines or whatnot that you enjoy, I hope you’ll consider supporting it financially, with either a five- dollar- a month subscription for one year, or a one-time donation. I give this blog away for free, and I passionately love doing it… and at the same time, I am trying very, very hard to get to a place where I can make a living as a writer. Subscriptions and donations from my readers are an important part of how I can make that happen.

Think of it as public TV or radio. This blog is brought to you by generous support from readers like you. If you’ve enjoyed recent posts like What Are The Goals of the Atheist Movement?, Why “Yes, But” Is the Wrong Response to Misogyny, or No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus — or classic posts like Atheists and Anger and Atheism and the “Shut Up, That’s Why” Arguments — then won’t you consider supporting this blog with a small contribution?

You can go the subscription route, which spreads your donation out in small increments over a longer period. (A subscription to my blog is $5 a month for 12 months.) Or you can make a one-time donation, and that can be for any amount. Even small donations would be very much appreciated. You can use a credit card if you don’t have a PayPal account, or your PayPal account if you do. And if you don’t want to use the PayPal system at all, you can send a check or money order to:

Greta Christina
PO Box 40844
San Francisco, CA 94140-0844

Please help make this a world where blogging is a viable career option for writers. Thank you so much for your patience. We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

Greta Speaking at Colorado State University, Friday Jan. 27

Hi, all! If you’re in Colorado in or near Colorado State University at Fort Collins, come hear me speak! I’ll be speaking on the topic of “Atheism and Sexuality” this Friday, Jan. 27. The event is free and open to the public. It’s being sponsored by CSU LIFT, Leaders in Free Thought — and the local Planned Parenthood generously provided condoms to help promote the event, so that’s neat. I’ll be speaking and then taking questions — so come prepared to grill me, or just to say howdy!

EVENT/HOSTS: Colorado State University Leaders in Free Thought (CSU LIFT)
DATE: Friday, Jan. 27
TIME: 4:00 pm
LOCATION: Lory Student Center, West Ballroom, CSU campus
TOPIC: Atheism and sexuality
SUMMARY: The sexual morality of traditional religion tends to be based, not on solid ethical principles, but on a set of taboos about what kinds of sex God does and doesn’t want people to have. And while the sex-positive community offers a more thoughtful view of sexual morality, it still often frames sexuality as positive by seeing it as a spiritual experience. What are some atheist alternatives to these views? How can atheists view sexual ethics without a belief in God? And how can atheists view sexual transcendence without a belief in the supernatural?
COST: Free, and open to the public

Hope to see you there!

Welcome Natalie Reed and Chris Hallquist to Freethought Blogs!

The Freethought Blogs network has recently assimilated two new members into our Borg-like collective: Natalie Reed at Sincerely, Natalie Reed, and Chris Hallquist at The Uncredible HallQ. Resistance is futile against their awesomeness! Here’s what they have to say for their own bad selves:

Natalie Reed is a magical young woman who lives in the mists and pines of Vancouver, British Columbia, where she fends off the oppressive gloom and darkness basking in the warm glow of her laptop, thinking things about stuff and writing stuff about the things. Before moving to Vancouver she lived lots and lots of places, such as Nova Scotia’s South Shore (where she grew up in a little village called Chester), the English West Midlands, the Sonoran Desert, the Carolina Piedmont, and the riot-grrl homeland of Olympia, Washington, where she earned a BA in something-erather in 2007. She can’t quite remember. Her initial interest in skepticism was motivated by snapping out of a prolonged lapse into conspiracy theory. She got her start blogging at Skepchick, where she also established Queereka, the first ever skepticism blog devoted specifically to LGBTQ issues. Her many ridiculous interests include linguistics, feminism, gender theory, queer theory, human rights issues, poetry, neuroscience, biology, Doctor Who, Dr. Strange and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. You can contact her at sincerelynataliereed (at) gmail (dot) com, and if you find yourself developing a brain-crush on her, she can be followed at twitter, as @nataliereed84. She was born with a Y chromosome but totally kicked its ass. Banner graciously designed by Shanna Cundal (www.shannacundal.com).

and

Chris Hallquist is the author of a book that is now out of print. In 2011, he dropped out of a Ph.D. program in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is currently experiencing extended adolescence.

Why don’t you be all neighborly and shit, and drop by to say howdy!

David Fitzgerald Defends “Nailed”

About a month and a half ago on my blog, a debate sprouted up in the comments here about David Fitzgerald’s Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All. Fitzgerald has recently found the time (how and where, I have no idea, his plate is even more crazy full than most people I know) to reply to his chief critic in that debate, Tim O’Neill.

Since some of you were following that discussion (and other discussions on this topic that O’Neill has been engaging in around the Internet), I thought I should do all y’all the courtesy of pointing you in that direction. It’s a mighty screed, full of Biblical historical scholarship and entertaining invective. Check it out!

Adulthood, and the Liberation of Lowered Expectations

Having recently turned fifty, it seems like a good time to ponder the question of what it means to be an adult.

Ingrid and I were talking the other day about adulthood, and how it isn’t anything like we thought it would be when we were kids, or even when we were in college. When we were young, we assumed that adults had it all figured out: that adulthood meant security, and consistency, and always making the sensible choice, and things running smoothly, and never being blind-sided by life.

I have no idea why I thought this. It’s not like my own parents, or the other adults in my life, were always secure and consistent and sensible with smooth-running lives that never got blind-sided. Far from it. Very, very, very far indeed. So I don’t know where I got this idea: whether it was simplistic and deceptive messages I picked up from pop culture, or if it’s just how a child’s brain is wired, or what.

But I did expect this. And Ingrid and I realized that, to some extent, we’re both still waiting for it: that moment when all the problems are solved, and all the systems are in place, and we can just relax and enjoy. And there’s a part of us that feels like failures because we don’t have this: because we still have worries about money, because we still let things slip through the cracks, because we still get overwhelmed and freaked out by all the stuff we have to take care of, because we still sometimes make dumb frivolous choices that we know are dumb and frivolous even as we’re making them, because our life still isn’t perfectly armored against a monkey wrench sailing in from out of nowhere and grinding the gears to a halt, because we still sometimes blow off our responsibilities and watch “What Not to Wear” instead.

Before fifty different people send me the link: Yes, I’ve read “This Is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult” at Hyperbole and a Half. It’s a huge inspiration for why I’m writing this now, in fact, and if you haven’t read it you absolutely have to stop and go read it now (not to worry: it’s short, and it’s very funny). It perfectly captures a big part of what I’m getting at here: the feeling that adulthood is a constantly moving treadmill of more and more responsibilities, and no matter how much stuff you take care of or how well you take care of it, there’s always more, and it’s never going to be good enough. My favorite line: “Wait… what is this? I have to go to the bank? What am I, some sort of wizard?”

Which is ridiculous. It’s not like going to the bank is a huge fucking nightmare. But when you’ve already spent the morning returning emails and booking plane tickets and picking up the dry-cleaning and calling the vet, going to the bank seems like an exhausting, overwhelming, impossibly Herculean task. Hell, doing anything other than flipping on the TV and watching “What Not to Wear” seems like an exhausting, overwhelming, impossibly Herculean task. I’ve read in neuropsychology books that the part of the brain that makes decisions gets tired after it’s made too many, and that once you’ve made a whole bunch of decisions, your brain basically says, “Fuck you,” and emits a soporific cloud of green fog like a supervillain knocking out Batman, trying to get you to cut it out already and give it a break. Well, okay, that’s not exactly how the neuropsychologists put it. But you get the idea.

So yeah. Adulthood. Not what I expected.

But.

The stubborn, obnoxiously relentless optimist in me has to say “But. ”

There’s a positive flip-side to this as well.

Positive Flip-side Number One: I’ve read — I can’t remember where, but it was in multiple places so it must be right — that most people have a very poor understanding of what makes us happy. We think that happiness means letting go of work and responsibility and effort, that it means lying on a beach with a margarita in our hand and nothing to do. Nope. That’s good for a little while… but we soon get bored and restless. What really makes most people happy is working on a task we care about, one that’s challenging but within our capacity to accomplish. So this fantasy of a perfect adulthood where everything is handled and there’s nothing left to do? BOR-ing. We need and want things to do. That’s what keeps us engaged with the world.

So letting go of the expectation of perfect security and having one’s shit together… that’s hard, and frustrating. But it’s also hugely liberating. And it has the capacity to make us genuinely happy.

Positive Flip-side Number Two: A life that can blind-side you is also a life that can surprise you. And I want surprises. I want to pull into a diner in a strange town and have the best bread I’ve ever had in my life. I want to wander into a shoe store on a whim and decide that yes, despite years of actively resisting the very idea, I am falling in love with those four-inch stiletto pumps and absolutely have to try them on. I want to go see a band that my friend’s co-worker is in, and be transfixed and transported, to the point where I continue to follow them for the next twelve years. I want to have the people in my life who I didn’t even know existed two years ago and who are now among my closest friends. I want to go on a date for what’s supposed to be a casual holiday fling, and two weeks later call her to tell her I love her, and five years later ask her to marry me, and fourteen years later still be crazy in love with her. (Well, okay, I don’t want to do that again…)

Sure, there’s a part of me that wants security and safety and for everything to run smoothly with no worries. But when I think carefully about what that would actually look like, it makes me want to run screaming for the exits. It’s like Heaven: I can’t imagine any version of it in which I would (a) still be myself and (b) be anything other than bored to the point of raving dementia. So if I want a life that has the capacity to surprise me, then I have to take the bad surprises along with the good.

So again, letting go of the expectation of perfect security and having one’s shit together… that’s hard, and scary. But it’s also hugely liberating. And it has the capacity to make us genuinely happy.

And finally, Positive Flip-side Number Three:

I once read somewhere — again, I wish I could remember where, if I were more professional I’d spend 45 minutes trying to dig it up, but fuck that noise — that my generation, and the generations after it, have been re-defining adulthood as playtime. We see adulthood, not as the time when we automatically get slotted into marriage/ parenthood/ a stable career that we stick with until we retire, but as the time when we can choose for ourselves what’s important to us and what we most want to do. Not our parents, not our teachers — us. And if some of what we want to do is go rock-climbing, or drink ridiculous cocktails, or sing karaoke, or play Grand Theft Auto, or dress up in corsets and stockings and go to the Edward Gorey ball… then we get to do that.

Of course we have to make the choices that allow us to do these things — hold down a job, pay our bills, etc. But adulthood means the freedom to make these decisions for ourselves. We get to decide whether we’d rather have clean laundry or watch “America’s Best Dance Crew”; whether we’d rather eat chocolate cake for dinner every night or lose twenty pounds; whether we care more about traveling across the country or saving money to buy a house; whether we want to keep that comfortable well-paying job or live on beans and rice for a few years while we try to make it as an artist/ writer/ musician/ circus performer.

And that is awesome.

Again, I don’t remember where I first heard this… but I’ve seen responsibility defined as seeing and accepting the degree to which you are the cause of what happens in your life, and acting accordingly. That can be hard: it means that when things go south, we have to accept, at least sometimes, that our behavior is what made the southness happen. And there is that whole thing of getting overwhelmed, when there’s too much to deal with and too many decisions to make and our brains are emitting the soporific supervillain “stop thinking” fog. But it’s also freaking awesome. It means our lives are our own. It means we get to decide what matters to us, and we get to try to make those things happen.

We tend to hear the word “responsibility,” and think it means “burden,” or “blame,” or “being boring and always making the safe choice.” But it doesn’t have to mean that. It can also mean freedom: the freedom to make our own choices in the world, and to use those choices to shape our lives to at least some degree.

Adulthood doesn’t mean freedom from responsibility. It means the freedom of responsibility.

And responsibility doesn’t mean perfect security and having one’s shit together. That’s not an option, and we wouldn’t want it even if it was. Letting go of that expectation… that’s hard, and unsettling. But it’s also hugely liberating. And it has the capacity to make us genuinely happy.

Yes, when I was growing up, I saw adulthood as secure and sensible and having everything figured out. But I also saw it as boring, and joyless, and dour, and predictable, and trapped. And I am so glad to be wrong about that, I can’t even tell you.

Fashion Friday: Being Your Best Real Self

In fashion and style, is there a difference between trying to “hide your flaws,” and trying to make your good features stand out?

I’ve been paying very conscious attention to fashion and style for about a year now. I’ve always cared about it to some extent — I rarely just threw on any old thing — but for the last year or so, it’s become much more of a serious hobby, into which I put a lot more thought. I subscribe to fashion magazines, read books about fashion, watch TV shows about fashion, etc.

And there’s a pattern I see a lot of in these books/ magazines/ TV shows… a pattern that drives me nuts. Way too much fashion advice is about hating your body and trying to make it look different. If you’re tall, there’s advice on how to make yourself look shorter; if you’re short, there’s advice on how to make yourself look taller. If you’re busty, there’s advice on how to minimize your bustline; if you’re flat-chested, there’s advice on how to make your boobs look bigger. If you’re fat, you can bloody well bet that there’s advice on how to make yourself look thinner — it’s probably the single dominant theme of fashion writing (with making yourself look younger coming in a close second) — but if you’re skinny, there’s also advice on how to make yourself look more voluptuous.

Basically, if you’re anything other than a slender, hourglass-shaped, slightly taller than medium height woman in her early twenties, you’re supposed to look different from what you are. (Assuming you’re a woman, that is.) You’re supposed to look like… well, like a slender, hourglass-shaped, slightly taller than medium height woman in her early twenties.

All of this comes with some very mixed messages. The fashion industry has been getting an earful about promoting body hatred, and many folks in the industry are taking this earful to heart. But at the same time… well, among other things, promoting body hatred, and the products that promise to fix it, is where their advertising income lies. So you’ll often get good and apparently sincere articles on how to love yourself the way you are… and then, right on the next page, you’ll get an article on why your skin/ hair/ belly/ wrinkles are horrible, and what you can do to conceal their horrors.

It drives me nuts. And I’ve been looking at a way to re-frame it. I do, of course, want to look my best when I get dressed. But I’m trying to think of this, not as trying to look different from who I am, but as trying to look like my best real self.

Here’s an example. I’m short. 5’3″. And I’m happy being short. I love my shortness. I don’t want clothes that make me look taller. What I want is clothes that make the height that I am look good.

There are outfits that make my shortness just look weird and awkward; outfits that make me look like a fire hydrant or a Hobbit. Capri pants, overly long shirts, too many layers with too many horizontal lines of demarcation… none of that looks right on me. It’s not that it makes me look short. I’m fine with looking short. It’s that it makes my shortness look lousy.

So when I’m shopping or getting dressed, I don’t like clothes that make me look stumpy, or squat. What I like is clothes that make me look petite, or compact. I like clothes that make me look like a bundle of energy neatly packed into a small frame, thoughtfully put together but itching to burst out and blow the world away.

Dressing with an awareness of my height isn’t about trying to look taller. It’s about making my shortness look awesome.

Ditto with my age. I am not interested in looking younger than my age. I’m interested in making the age that I am (fifty as of this last December) look awesome. (A topic I’ve written about before, and am planning to write more about soon.) So when I dress with an awareness of my age, I’m not trying to find outfits that look young. I’m trying to stay away from outfits that look prudish, frumpy, out-of-touch… and am looking instead for outfits that make me look elegant, classy, sophisticated.

And the same was true when I was fat. I hated, hated, HATED the overwhelmingly ubiquitous heaps of fashion advice on how to make yourself look thinner. I didn’t want to look thinner. I wanted the size I was to look good.

But not all clothes look good on a fat woman. Just like not all clothes look good on a thin woman, or a medium-sized woman. (There are definitely styles that I wore the hell out of when I was fat, and which simply don’t look right on me any more.) When I was fat, I didn’t like clothes that made me look chunky or stocky or boxy. I liked clothes that made me look voluptuous and curvaceous.

And think this can apply to lots of different body types. If you’re tall, for instance, dressing with an awareness of your height doesn’t have to mean trying to look shorter. It can mean avoiding making your height look gawky or awkward, and instead work on making it look willowy, commanding, statuesque. If you’re flat-chested, you probably don’t want to look bony or scrawny — but you can go for lean and athletic.

It doesn’t have to be about hating your body. It doesn’t have to be about trying to make your body look like a slender, hourglass-shaped, slightly taller than medium height woman in her early twenties. (Unless, of course, that’s what you are.) It doesn’t have to be about hiding the features that make you unique. It can be about emphasizing those features in a way that shows them to their best advantage.

It doesn’t have to be about looking like someone else. It can be about looking like your best real self.

Are You an Evil Little Thing? Get the T-Shirt and Represent!

UPDATE: The domain that the Evil Little Shirts were being sold through seems to have lapsed. If someone knows where Evil Little Thing T-shirts are being sold, let me know. In the meantime, I’ve removed the links from this post, as they’re linking to a spammy site that has nothing to do with Jessica Ahlquist or with Evil Little Thing T-shirts.

You know about Jessica Ahlquist, right? High school student in Rhode Island, fought for the Constitution and sued her public high school to take a prayer banner out of the school auditorium?

You heard the story about how Rhode Island State Representative Peter G. Palumbo went on the radio and called Ahlquist an “evil little thing”?

Now you can get a nifty “Evil Little Thing” T-shirt — and support the Jessica Ahlquist scholarship fund!



Two type faces, multiple shirt colors, multiple print colors, lots of sizes and styles. You can even get additional customizations if you ask real nice. Many thanks to Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist for establishing the scholarship fund (which is still accepting donations, btw). Let’s show those Rhode Island bullies what us evil little things are capable of! Get your evil little shirt today!