Why Does Religion Always Get a Free Ride?

We try to persuade people out of almost every kind of idea there is. Why should religion be the exception?

Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?

We try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We try to persuade people that their ideas about science, politics, philosophy, art, medicine, and more, are wrong: that they’re harmful, ridiculous, repulsive, or simply mistaken. But when it comes to religion, trying to persuade people out of their ideas is somehow seen as horribly rude at best, invasive and bigoted and intolerant at worst. Why? Why should religion be the exception?

I’ve been writing about atheism for about six years now. In those six years, I’ve asked this question more times and not once have I gotten a satisfying answer. In fact, only once do I recall getting any answer at all. Besides that one exception, what I’ve gotten in response has been crickets chirping and tumbleweeds blowing by. I’ve been ignored, I’ve had the subject changed, I’ve had people get personally nasty, I’ve had people abandon the conversation altogether. But only once have I ever gotten any kind of actual answer. And that answer sucked. (I’ll get to it in a bit.) I’ve heard lots of people tell me, at length and with great passion, that trying to persuade people out of their religion is bad and wrong and mean… but I haven’t seen a single real argument explaining why this is such a terrible thing to do with religion, and yet is somehow perfectly okay to do with all other ideas.

So I want to get to the heart of this matter. Why should religion be treated differently from all other kinds of ideas? Why shouldn’t we criticize it, and make fun of it, and try to persuade people out of it, the way we do with every other kind of idea?

In a free society, in the marketplace of ideas, we try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We criticize ideas we disagree with; we question ideas we find puzzling; we excoriate ideas we find repugnant; we make fun of ideas we think are silly. And we think this is acceptable. In fact, we think it’s positively good. We think this is how good ideas rise to the surface, and bad ideas get filtered out. We might have issues with exactly how this persuasion is carried out: is it done politely or rudely, reasonably or hysterically, did you really have to bring it up at Thanksgiving dinner, etc. But the basic idea of trying to convince other people that your ideas are right and theirs are wrong… this is not controversial.

Except when it comes to religion.

Why?

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Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Why Does Religion Always Get a Free Ride? To read more about this idea that religion deserves to be treated with kid gloves — and why this idea doesn’t hold water, not even a drop of it — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

“Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” Now Available On iBooks, Sony Reader, Kobo, And More!

Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless is now available in a whole passel of ebook formats — including iBooks, Sony Reader, Kobo, and more!

Smashwords has the book available in about eleventy jillion formats. You can get it through Smashwords on iBooks, Sony Reader, Kobo, Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, any other reader that takes the Epub format, Palm Doc (PDB), PDF, RTF, Online Reading via HTML, and Plain Text for either downloading or viewing. Just visit the book on Smashwords, and get it in whatever format you like.

You can also get the book through Kindle at Amazon, and Nook at Barnes & Noble. (Smashwords also has the book available in Kindle and Nook formats, if you have a Kindle or Nook reader but prefer to buy from Smashwords instead of Amazon or Barnes & Noble.) And you can get it in any of these formats for just $7.99!

The print edition of Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless is going to be published by Pitchstone Publishing, and will most likely be available in mid-June. And the audio book will be published by Audible.com in August. As soon as the print and audio editions are available, I’ll announce it here on the blog, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (my Twitter handle is @gretachristina).

And here, once again, for those who have missed previous announcements about the book, is the description, and some wonderfully flattering blurbs. Watch this space for future announcements! [Read more…]

Greta Speaking in North Carolina, May 2 and 3

I’m going to be speaking in North Carolina this week — in Fayetteville on May 2, and in Raleigh on May 3. The Fayetteville event is being sponsored by M*A*S*H: Fort Bragg, Fort Bragg’s group of Military Atheists & Secular Humanists. The Raleigh event is part of the National Day of Reason 2012, being sponsored by the Triangle Freethought Foundation: it’s a full day with lots of different events, and I’m honored to be speaking along with Dan Barker and Amanda Knief.

The topics will be “Coming Out: What Can the Godless Learn From the Queers?” and “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” All events are free and open to the public. If you’re in or near North Carolina, I hope to see you there!

DATE: Wednesday, May 2
TIME: 6:30 pm
LOCATION: Cliffdale Regional Library, 6882 Cliffdale Road, Fayetteville, NC
EVENT/HOSTS: M*A*S*H: Fort Bragg
TOPIC: Coming Out: What Can the Godless Learn From the Queers?
SUMMARY: Coming out is the most powerful political act atheists can take. And the LGBT community has decades of experience — in coming out ourselves, and in encouraging each other to come out. What can atheists learn about coming out from the LGBT movement? And what are the differences between coming out atheist and coming out queer — and what can we learn from those differences?
COST: Free, and open to the public

DATE: Thursday, May 3
EVENT/HOSTS: National Day of Reason 2012, Triangle Freethought Foundation
TIME AND LOCATION: This is a full day, with lots of events in different locations. The chief events will be a rally at the Capitol Grounds in Raleigh NC, from 11:45 – 1:00 pm, and a mini-conference with talks and stuff from 3:30 – 5:30pm at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, 3313 Wade Avenue, Raleigh NC, Founder’s Hall. I’m speaking at both the rally and the conference. There will also be a free pancake breakfast, lobby training, participation in a humanist soup kitchen, lunch, and a dinner/ celebration/ fundraiser. Check the schedule for details.
TOPICS: Why Are You Atheists So Angry? (rally); Coming Out: What Can the Godless Learn From the Queers? (mini-conference)
SUMMARY: Why Are You Atheists So Angry? The atheist movement is often accused of being driven by anger. What are so many atheists so angry about? Is this anger legitimate? And can anger be an effective force behind a movement for social change?
Coming Out: What Can the Godless Learn From the Queers? See above
COST: Most events are free, some are not — check the schedule to find out. The rally and mini-conference are both free.

Hope to see you there!

Fashion Friday: Makeup, and Feeling Like Myself

I pretty much never leave the house without makeup.

This is a relatively new development for me. For years, I pretty much only wore makeup for special occasions. I didn’t have anything against it — in fact, I usually thought I looked better with it than without it — but I either didn’t think about it, or I couldn’t be bothered. But in the last couple of years, since fashion and style have become more important to me and since I’ve started being more conscious about using my appearance to express myself, I’ve started wearing makeup every day. I don’t spend huge amounts of time slathering it on or anything: I’ve found my own “five-minute face” routine (a two-minute face, really, consisting entirely of tinted lip balm and eyeliner blended into a bit of shadow). But unless the kitchen is on fire or something, I pretty much never leave the house without makeup.

Again: This is relatively new for me. When I’m doing my two-minute face, I often have little conversations with myself about why this is. And the conclusion I’ve come to is that I just don’t feel like myself without my makeup.

But I realize that this is a little odd. There’s something odd in feeling less like myself when my face has no alterations, and more like myself when I’ve put goo on my eyes and lips. (Especially since, for decades, I felt like myself just fine without the stuff.) So I’ve been thinking about this question: Why do I feel more like myself with makeup?

A lot of it, honestly, is a self-defining circle. Part of who I am these days is someone who cares about fashion and style. Fashion and style are pretty much my main hobbies right now, one of my main forms of art and self-expression. And for women, makeup is a big part of a stylish, put-together look. (The kinds of looks I’m interested in, anyway.) If I have a carefully thought-out look, with clothes and shoes and jewelry, it just doesn’t look finished without makeup. So I feel more like myself with makeup, because I feel more like a person who cares about fashion and style — and caring about fashion and style typically means wearing makeup.

There’s another part to it, though.

I like my lips, but their color is fairly neutral, and it’s very close to the color of my skin. I like my eyes, I think they’re beautiful, but they’re a little small, and the lashes are a little thin. Without some color on my lips, my face looks a little colorless. Without a little emphasis from eyeliner and shadow, my eyes tend to disappear into my face.

And I don’t think of myself as a colorless person. I don’t think of myself as someone whose eyes are hard to catch.

So makeup makes me feel more like myself. Makeup makes me feel like someone who’s colorful. Makeup makes me feel like someone who wants to make eye contact. Makeup makes me feel like someone who’s happy to be seen.

For me, makeup isn’t about covering myself up. It’s about bringing myself out.

I think it’s a mistake to think that “unconscious” or “unintentional” necessarily means “authentic.” Human beings are conscious creatures: it’s part of our nature to reflect, to be self-aware, to think about what we do. I choose my words carefully, so I can most authentically say what I mean. I choose my clothing carefully, so my appearance most authentically reflects how I feel about myself and my place in the world. I choose my actions carefully, so I can be my most authentic self.

And for me, makeup is part of that.

“Feminists have made sex workers’ work so much more difficult”: A Guest Post from Sarah van Brussel

“One thing I kept hearing over and over again was how feminists have made sex workers’ work so much more difficult.”

The following is a guest post from Sarah van Brussel.

*

I’m a regular reader of your blog and a big fan of your work. I’m a feminist and an atheist and I really appreciate what you contribute to both movements. I’m not much of a commenter, but after reading your post giving the floor to sex workers, I wanted to say thank you and share the context in which I read your post.

I work at a international women’s fund called Mama Cash, a fund with a long history of funding sex worker led organisations. To say I was horrified by Taslima Nasreen’s post about sex work would be an understatement. Your post came at a particularly poignant time for me. I just attended the AWID (Association for Women’s Rights in Development) Forum in Istanbul, Turkey.

During the conference I had the opportunity to talk to sex worker activists who work on human rights issues from all over the world. One thing I kept hearing over and over again was how feminists have made sex workers’ work so much more difficult. I usually wear my ‘feminist badge’ with pride, but this shocked and shamed me. An activists from the Turkish organisation Kadin Kapisi said that when she became a sex worker activist she expected to be fighting with fundamentalists, traditionalists, bigots and other conservative people, but instead she spends most of her time fighting feminists and socialists. An activist from the English Collective of Prostitutes said it even more succinctly: “we live in fear of raids and ‘rescue'”. The experience of speaking directly with sex workers has made me even more determined to be the best ally I can be.

I know these activists women and men as incredibly passionate, smart and above all brave people, and it fills me with rage when people like Taslima Nasreen dismiss them as victims and deny them their agency.

One of the highlights of the AWID Forum for me was the launch of the first fund led by and for sex workers, the Red Umbrella Fund (Mama Cash is administratively hosting the Fund). The mission of this new fund is to “strengthen and ensure the sustainability of the sex worker rights movement by catalyzing new funding specifically for sex worker-led organisations and national, regional and global networks.”

The Fund was launched in the presence of at least 40 sex worker activists from all over the world, and it was a truly joyous occasion. Many veterans of the sex worker rights movement never expected to see this moment and they are thrilled to finally have a say in the kind funding that is available to them. The Fund embraces a philosophy of “nothing for us without us” and commits itself to putting sex workers at the heart of the Fund’s governance and of programs.

Sex worker rights organisations have a lot of trouble accessing funding, particularly if they don’t focus on rescuing sex workers. And a lot of the money that is available is donor driven, meaning driven by a donor’s agenda that doesn’t necessarily match their own priorities and needs. General support and capacity building grants are even more scarce. I hope the Red Umbrella Fund will make a difference and will help improve the sustainability of the movement.

So, thank you for your posts — all of them really, but especially this one. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me.

PS: If you’re interested you can read more about the Red Umbrella Fund here.

*

And now, Greta again.

I want to pull out this excerpt, and call special attention to it.

During the conference I had the opportunity to talk to sex worker activists who work on human rights issues from all over the world. One thing I kept hearing over and over again was how feminists have made sex workers’ work so much more difficult. I usually wear my ‘feminist badge’ with pride, but this shocked and shamed me. An activists from the Turkish organisation Kadin Kapisi said that when she became a sex worker activist she expected to be fighting with fundamentalists, traditionalists, bigots and other conservative people, but instead she spends most of her time fighting feminists and socialists. An activist from the English Collective of Prostitutes said it even more succinctly: “we live in fear of raids and ‘rescue'”.

I want every anti- sex- work feminist to read this.

I want every anti- sex- work feminist who thinks they’re “helping” sex workers to read this.

And I then want them to ask themselves: What kind of feminist “helps” other women without listening to what kind of help they actually want? What kind of feminist “helps” other women by treating them as if they aren’t capable of deciding for themselves what’s best for them? What kind of feminist “helps” other women in ways that those women actually find harmful?

Greta on Godless Perverts Panel, Thursday 4/26

Just a quick reminder: I’m going to be participating in what promises to be a super-awesome panel discussion tonight (Thursday, April 26): “Godless Perverts: Atheism and Alternative Sexualities.” Maggie Mayhem, Charlie Glickman, Chris Hall and I will be tearing it up at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco, talking/ ranting about being atheists in the queer, kinky, and alt-sex communities. We’ll be taking questions from the audience, so if you have any, bring ‘em on! Details are below. Hope to see you there!

EVENT: Godless Perverts: Atheism and Alternative Sexualities (panel discussion with Q&A)
PANELISTS: Me, Maggie Mayhem, Charlie Glickman, and Chris Hall
DATE: Thursday, April 26
TIME: 7:00 pm
COST: Sliding scale, $10-20 requested.
LOCATION: Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission Street, San Francisco (near Civic Center BART)
SUMMARY: What’s it like to be a queer or kinky atheist? Alt-sex communities might favor calling the goddess or tantric rituals instead of a church revival, but the belief that a spiritual life makes you a better person is as common as in Middle America. The reality is that for nonbelievers, dungeons and Pride Parades can be as unwelcoming as the neighborhoods they grew up in.

Whether you’re a believer or a skeptic, come join us at the Center for Sex and Culture on Thursday, April 26 for a dynamic conversation exploring the role of atheists, agnostics, and skeptics in alternative sexuality. The panel features Greta Christina, Charlie Glickman, Chris Hall, and Maggie Mayhem speaking about how to be a good perv without God(dess), community attitudes that privilege religious and spiritual beliefs, how science can be ecstatic, what atheists call out when they come, and much more.

Atheism and a Catch-22

I was doing a little writing — working on the introduction to my next book, if you want to know — and I thought of a whole new Catch-22 about atheism and atheist activism that hadn’t occurred to me when I’ve written about this before.

It’s this.

When atheists criticize religion, or argue that it isn’t true, we get accused of being negative. We’re told about all the wonderful things religious communities provide for people — ritual, social support, continuity, etc. — and we’re told that atheism isn’t going to get very far without providing these.

But when atheists talk about the positive aspects of atheism and secular humanism, we’re told that we’re turning atheism into just another belief system. And when we do work to create atheist communities, we’re told that it’s ridiculous to organize a community around the things we don’t believe in.

I’m just sayin’, is all.

Discount Student Rates for “Women in Secularism” Conference Still Available!


Discount student rates for the “Women in Secularism” conference, happening in Washington D.C. May 18-20, are still available — at the low low price of $25! There’s a limited number of student tickets, though, so if you’re a student and you want to get in on this deal, I encourage you to act fast.

All the speakers at the event will be women — but the conference is open to anybody, of any gender. The speaker list is pretty freaking incredible. In addition to the obvious awesomeness of MEEEE, there’s going to be Susan Jacoby, Wafa Sultan, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Rebecca Watson, Jennifer McCreight, Ophelia Benson, Sikivu Hutchinson, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Debbie Goddard, Lauren Becker, Jamila Bey, Elisabeth Cornwell, Margaret Downey, Bernice Sandler, and Melody Hensley.

Given the role religion has played in the repression of women, they would seem to be natural allies, and, indeed, many feminists have been outspoken and influential secularists. However, the relationship between secularism and women’s issues remains largely unexamined. Sponsored by the Center for Inquiry, this historic conference will discuss and celebrate the many contributions women have made to the secular movement, while critically examining both the successes and failures of secularism in addressing women’s concerns.

Daycare services will be provided for any registered conference participants who needs them. (You do have to register and tell them you want daycare, no later than May 1.) There’ll be smart, thought-provoking talks and panels — plus plenty of time for fun hanging-out. The conference is Crystal City Marriott at Reagan National Airport, which is on the Metro line, and hotel discounts are available. Hope to see you there!

Sex Work and a Catch-22

When I was writing yesterday’s post, asking current and former sex workers to talk about their experiences in the industry and describing my own, I stumbled across an interesting Catch-22… one that I realized makes it harder to talk about my experiences in the industry. This particular Catch-22 has to do with my motivations for getting into sex work: did I do it out of economic necessity, or for personal and sexual pleasure, or for some combination of the two?

The Catch-22 is this: If I say that I became a nude dancer primarily for the money, then I feed into the stereotype of sex workers as victims. I feed into the stereotype that nobody really wants to do sex work, that sex work is always horribly unpleasant at best and abusive or exploitative at worst, and that there is no reason anyone would ever do it other than coercion or desperation.

But if I say that I became a nude dancer primarily for reasons other than money, I get targeted as a dilettante. My experiences in the business gets dismissed as trivial or fake, not the “real” experience of “real,” in-the-trenches sex workers. It’s basically a No True Scotsman fallacy. If you got into the business for any reason other than economic pressure, and/or if you enjoy working as a sex worker, then you’re not a “real” sex worker — since nobody could possibly enjoy anything about working as a sex worker. And if I didn’t feel great economic pressure to get into the business, and felt like I had other choices, then speaking about my own experiences is somehow seen as diminishing the experiences of people who did get into the business out of necessity.

Plus, of course, if I say that sexual pleasure was my primary motivation for getting into the industry, or even a significant part of it, I get dismissed as a slut.

The reality, for me, is that economic pressure and sexual pleasure were both motivating factors. Like I wrote yesterday: For reasons of sexual curiosity and pleasure, I was already interested in working as a nude dancer, and was already seriously considering trying it out. But I didn’t actually do it until I was hit with a biggish debt that I had to pay off. I don’t know if I would have gone through with it if it hadn’t been for that debt. And I don’t know if I would have stuck with it for more than a few weeks. And I know this is true for at least some other sex workers as well. Economic pressure was a factor — just like it is for most jobs, that’s what makes them jobs and not hobbies — but the sex itself was also a factor. If they/we hadn’t had a certain openness and adventuress-ness about sex, many of us wouldn’t have even considered sex work as a solution to our financial problems. As Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden said in her comment on yesterday’s post, “Although I made my choice within constraints, I definitely made a choice.”

But there’s no way to talk about either of these motivations without coming across as either a desperate victim or a selfish, trifling slut.

Realizing this immediately made me think of Natalie Reed’s excellent post on Catches-22, and how every marginalized group has one or more Catches-22 working against them, one or more ways in which nothing they can possibly do will be right. Women are either sluts or prudes; bimbos or ball-busters. Black people are either lazy criminals or “trying to act white.” Trans people are either caricatures of gender stereotypes, or aren’t feminine/ masculine enough and aren’t “really” trans. Atheists are either a hive mind/ echo chamber or are succumbing to divisive rifts and schisms. Poor people are either leeching off the system or “taking our jobs.” Etc. Reed argues — correctly, I think — that these sorts of no-win situations are a hallmark of discrimination, “the most direct and immediately recognizable way of knowing that a given group has been predetermined to be in the wrong regardless of what they do.”

And I would argue that the particulars of any given Catch-22 can reveal a lot about the nature of the marginalization. The “lazy criminal/acting white” Catch-22, for instance, shows that “lazy criminal” is considered the default for black people. The “slut/prude” Catch-22 for women marginalizes any sort of female sexual agency: we get slammed for saying “Yes” to sex to often, and for saying “No” to sex too often, and basically for taking our sexuality into our own hands. Etc.

So back to the topic at hand; This particular Catch-22, I think, serves largely to make sex workers invisible, to make it easy to ignore sex workers and dismiss what we say about our own experience. The myth that nobody would ever do sex work unless they had to is a neat little self-fulfilling circle. “All sex workers are forced into it, either literally or out of economic necessity… and if you didn’t get into it out of economic necessity, you don’t count as a real sex worker, and we can ignore and dismiss your experience… because all sex workers are forced into it, either literally or out of economic necessity.” And, of course, if economic pressure is a factor in getting into the work, then you either don’t have the intelligence or discipline to find another line of work, or you’re a poor helpless victim who needs to be rescued. And again, your experiences can therefore be ignored or dismissed.

Sigh.

Sex Workers – An Invitation to Tell Your Stories

If you work, or have ever worked, in the sex industry — as a prostitute, a stripper, a pro dominant, a pro submissive, a phone sex worker, a porn actor or model, or any other area of the industry — what was your experience?

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT COMMENTS: The comment policy for this post is different from my usual one. It’s at the end of the post. Pay careful attention to it. Violators will have their comment disemvoweled, and may even be banned.

As regular readers of this blog know, my fellow blogger in the Freethought Blogs, Taslima Nasreen, wrote a post a few weeks ago positing that all prostitution is always patriarchal oppression, always sexual exploitation, always sexual violence, that women are always forced into it, that it is never a vocation choice, that it is always human rights abuse, that all of it harms women.. I wrote a post in response, saying that I understood that there were often terrible abuses in the sex industry and that many prostitutes are forced into the work, and that of course I fervently opposed this — but also saying that there are many sex workers who freely choose the work, and like it, and do not find it abusive or exploitative.

Nasreen and I had a private email conversation about this. I’m not at liberty to disclose her side of that conversation. But I will tell you that I asked her, repeatedly, to put up a post on her blog asking sex workers what their actual experience was working in the sex industry — so she could hear for herself the tremendous variety of experiences that prostitutes and other sex workers have, and so she could take those experiences into account when she considers the questions of how abuses in the industry should be handled.

As of this writing, she has yet to do this.

So I’m going to do it myself.

If you work, or have worked, in the sex industry — as a prostitute, a stripper, a pro dominant, a pro submissive, a phone sex worker, a porn actor or model, or any other area of the industry… what was your experience?

This query is for women, men, and trans people who don’t identify as one gender or the other. Please feel free to answer any or all of the following questions, as well as any others:

Why did you get into the sex industry?

Did you freely choose this work? Were you in any way forced or coerced into it? Were you pressured into it by economic or other pressure?

Why did you go into the particular line(s) of sex work that you did?

What, if anything, did/do you like about the work?

What, if anything, did/do you not like about the work?

On the whole, did/do you like the work, dislike it, or feel neutral about it?

What are your feelings about your customers?

Have your feelings about the work changed with time? If you no longer work in the sex industry, did your feelings about the work change after you left it?

If you still work in the sex industry, do you feel free to leave it? If you no longer work in the sex industry, did you feel free to leave it? If not, what restraints did/do you have?

Is there anything else you want people to know about your experience of sex work?

I’ll start things off, with my own answers.

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