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Policing Their Own

UPDATE: Here is a link to Jamy Ian Swiss’s talk, the one this piece was catalyzed by/ written partly in response to.

I am stealing this idea wholesale from Keith Lowell Jensen. Content note: harassment, threats of rape and other violence.


We want religious believers to police their own.

We want religious believers to stop being silent about atrocities committed in the name of religion. We want them to stop rationalizing, stop trivializing, stop making excuses: for the families who kick their gay kids out of their homes; for the theocrats who force their religion on others with law or violence or both; for the abusive husbands who justify their abuse with God; for the priests who rape children and the church that covers it up. We want religious believers to stop treating tribal loyalty as the single highest moral value they can imagine. We want them to speak out about these things. We want them to police their own.

And when they don’t, we call them hypocrites.

So why is it that when atheists speak out against screwed-up shit that other atheists are doing, it gets called “divisive”?

I have been hearing a lot of calls for unity in the atheist community. I have been hearing a lot of calls for an end to the debates, an end to the infighting. I have been hearing a lot of calls for atheists to stop focusing on our differences, and look at our common ground. I have been hearing a lot of cries about how the constant fighting among atheists makes us enemies of each other, drains our energy, weakens our movement. And I get it. I’m tired of the arguments, too.

But all too often, calling for unity equals silencing dissent. All too often, calling for unity equals a de facto defense of the status quo. All too often, calling for unity equals telling people who are speaking up for themselves to shut up.

I do not want to be in unity with atheists who tell me to fuck myself with a knife. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who say they hope I get raped, who tell me to choke on a dick and die. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who say that I’m a whore and therefore nobody should take me seriously. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who say that I’m an ugly dyke and therefore nobody should take me seriously. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who post their opponents’ home addresses on the Internet; who hack into their opponents’ private email lists and make content from those emails public. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who alert the Westboro Baptist Church to atheist events, and ask if they plan to attend. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who bombard other people with a constant barrage of hate and threats of rape, violence, and death. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who call me a cunt, who call other women cunts, again and again and again and again and again. And I do not want to be in unity with atheists who consistently rationalize this behavior, who trivialize it, who make excuses for it.

And I don’t think I should be expected to. I don’t think anyone in this movement should be asking that of me. I don’t think anyone in this movement should be asking that of anyone.

I don’t give a shit about the common ground I share with these people. The common ground of “we both don’t believe in God” is a whole lot less important to me than our differences: the difference that they think it’s okay to call women cunts and I do not, the difference that they think I should be ignored because I’m ugly or a whore and I do not; the difference that they think it’s okay to persistently harass and threaten people and I do not; the difference that they think it’s okay to hack into my private email lists and I do not; the difference that they hope I get raped and I do not; the difference that they want me to fuck myself with a knife and I do not. And I have serious problems with the expectation that I should set aside these differences, and focus on our common ground of having concluded that God doesn’t exist… and that I’m not being a good team player if I don’t.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: There is literally no way that the atheist movement can be inclusive of everybody. We can’t be inclusive of atheist women… and also be inclusive of atheists who publicly call women ugly, fat, sluts, whores, cunts, and worse. We can’t be inclusive of atheists of color… and also be inclusive of atheists who think people of color stay in religion because they’re just not good at critical thinking, or who tell people of color, “You’re pretty smart for a…” We can’t be inclusive of trans atheists… and also be inclusive of atheists who think trans people are mentally ill or freaks of nature. We can’t be inclusive of atheists who are mentally ill… and also be inclusive of atheists who think mental illness is just a failure of willpower. Etc.

And when people, however well-meaning, make generic calls for unity — when they tell all of us to stop fighting and just get along — they’re basically telling those of us on the short ends of those sticks to shut up.

The cost of unity is the silence of people who are being screwed over.

We want religious believers to police their own.

So we need to stop trying to shut up atheists who are doing the same thing.


Note: Since I’m starting to have issues with writings about controversies and debates within the movement that don’t say who and what exactly they’re responding to: This piece was written in response to Jamy Ian Swiss’s talk at the Orange County Freethought Alliance conference. However, it’s a idea I’ve been thinking about for some time (specifically since I talked about it with Keith): this talk was simply the catalyst.

Comments

  1. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    The end of the stick they want you to to take isn’t just the short end, it’s the shit end.

    You are right to avoid it.

  2. says

    Fuck yeah! I’m tired of being seen as weak or foolish or sniffing after approval because I am trying to recognize my privilege and correct myself when I’m told that my actions or words are hurting people. I’m tired of being told that it’s futile to try and change “human nature” by people who don’t see others as fully human.

  3. says

    I agree we need to stop with the cyber-stalking, smears, name calling, mass generalizations, and harassment.

    The fighting is due to all of this. We should be able to have rational discussions without these things.

  4. says

    Hear, hear! A similarly-themed post on speaking out about problems versus not speaking out about them that you might like: http://www.theferrett.com/ferrettworks/2013/02/how-to-interpret-all-this-angry-shouting/

    Excerpt:

    “So yes, these noisy discussions about the Church, and harassment at conventions, and violation of safe space at dungeons? They’re all ugly. But that’s because the problems are ugly, and we’re trying to face them head-on. And yes, we could and should do a better job of promoting the good times we have at Church and at con and in the dungeon… but part of the solution has to come from people growing up and understanding that justifiably angry discussion about real problems does not mean that “Wow, what a terrible place this is.” The solution comes from realizing that fixing a house is going to involve some noise as the hammers and saws do their work, and that noise is not an evil but rather the sound of progress taking place.”

  5. Alverant says

    The only bad thing about this post is that it was necessary. I hope that one day it won’t be.

    Thank you.

  6. says

    I agree we

    “We”? What do you mean “we,” white man?*

    need to stop with the cyber-stalking,

    Yup.

    smears,

    Yup.

    name calling,

    Nope. We should stop with the slurs. There’s a difference between insults and slurs. “Cunt”, not okay. “Misogynist” is fine because it’s a fact-based descriptive term, as are many other insults. It’s not a complimentary fact-based description, which is why bigots and their allies would also want to take “name-calling” off the table and which is why I can’t get on board with it unless you get more specific.

    mass generalizations,

    Are there any other kinds of generalizations?

    and harassment.

    Most definitely.

    The fighting is due to all of this. We should be able to have rational discussions without these things.

    I disagree. What rational discussion is there to be had? If someone thinks slurs, harassment, and lies are acceptable tactics to deploy against their putative allies in revenge for people talking about subjects they don’t like in ways they don’t like, then this person is really not worth bringing to any discussion. They need to change their thinking, or leave people alone.

    *For those with pop culture reference deficits or sarcasm impairments, this is a reference to a common joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Not a slur on cadfile’s race or gender.

  7. brianpansky says

    yes, I really like this position being explicitly made. thank you.

    also, thanks SallyStrange, my mind was playing hot potato with cadfile’s post, but I didn’t want to have to put in the effort :P

  8. cjs says

    Thank you again Greta. And since this whole topic has angered me so much that I can’t seem to get back to work (not you, them), I’ll throw in a few cents. If you aren’t willing to inquire into how a legacy of identity based oppression spanning for millennia could still impact us today, then you really can’t claim to be a skeptic. And if your vision of Atheism is basically all of the social and cultural baggage of Christianity minus God, then that vision is a disaster and any movement based upon it deserves to fail. Maybe that’s harsh, but I think that there are some things that just shouldn’t be countenanced. And I find it baffling and disgusting that a set of ideas that I thought were supposed to revolve around open inquiry and opposition to dogmatic thinking could result in so much close minded dogma.

    And thanks for pointing me to A+. It is a great idea that I’m going to try to support. There is hope…

  9. Gordon Willis says

    Thank you. I agree. I shall hold firmly to my being an unherdable cat. Unity of principle, not unity on principle. Meow.

  10. otrame says

    Damn, woman, if I could write so cleanly and clearly….

    Ah, well, my grandpa used to say, “Wish in one hand, spit in the other, and see which one fills up first.”

    And when people, however well-meaning, make generic calls for unity — when they tell all of us to stop fighting and just get along — they’re basically telling those of us on the short ends of those sticks to shut up.

    QFMFT

  11. Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters says

    Yes, this. There are a lot of atheists I don’t want to share a planet with, and a lot of religious people with whom I share a lot of values and goals. It’s almost like people are complicated.

  12. Dhorvath, OM says

    This. Oh this. Some differences are important, glossing over them is not a virtue. Thank you for making it so clear with your post today.

  13. says

    I think the message in this blog post is pretty sound but would like to add that even if it was divisive to decide to exclude people who consistently make intellectually and morally flawed assertions about women and various minorities (or harass them, or threaten them etc.) this would not make it a bad idea. In fact, it would be a good idea to exclude those people. Thus, the entire argument about “you are divisive” might not even be relevant in the first place.

    However, there was one thing I did not quite understand.

    We can’t be inclusive of trans atheists… and also be inclusive of atheists who think trans people are mentally ill or freaks of nature.

    Isn’t this kind of like saying that we cannot be inclusive of atheists with depression and also be inclusive of atheists who think that depression is a mental illness?

    I am by no means an expert on trans issues or psychiatry and can therefore be completely wrong here, but is it not the case that some trans people fall under the psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria? Also, as far as I can tell, treatments like hormone replacement therapy and gender reassignment surgery appear to be very effective at alleviating the psychological suffering of many transgender individuals.

    While there seems to be very legitimate arguments against it being considered a psychiatric diagnosis in the future (e. g. it assumes a binary view of gender which is not really accurate), it does seems a bit weird to exclude atheist simply because they subscribe to positions currently held by mainstream psychiatry?

  14. Randomfactor says

    Very much this. The ironic thing is how much of the bad behavior has been propped up by centuries of religious indoctrination. You’d think that would be a red flag in the “freethought” arena.

  15. says

    You just stated exactly why the modern atheist movement needs to be dismantled….and replaced with something that will promote human dignity instead. If the only thing you are about is disbelieving in God, you literally have nothing. We need positive values. So how about this:

    http://www.uua.org/beliefs/principles/index.shtml

    There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

    The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
    The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
    Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

    These do not depend on either theism or atheism.

    http://www.uua.org/beliefs/welcome/atheism/index.shtml

    Atheists may be called or call themselves “non-believers,” meaning they do not believe in the existence of a supernatural deity or god. Many people who call themselves Agnostic believe they cannot know for sure whether God exists, and some believe that no one can know this for sure. Some are interested in knowing; others, like many Unitarian Universalists, are comfortable without knowing.

    Atheists and Agnostics are welcome in Unitarian Universalism and can find a welcoming, supportive faith community in our congregations. Although both groups are often defined by what they do not believe, the reality is that they do believe in a great many things, including many beliefs affirmed within Unitarian Universalism. They believe, for example, that we as humans are responsible for our own actions, that the here and now is important, and that it is good to try to make this world a better place.

    While Unitarian Universalists may share many beliefs in common with many Atheists and Agnostics, we do not have to. As a non-creedal faith, Unitarian Universalism honors the differing spiritual paths we each travel. Our congregations are places where we celebrate, support, and challenge one another as we continue on these journeys. For this reason, many interfaith families—and this increasingly includes those with members who are Atheist or Agnostic—find Unitarian Universalism can uniquely meet their spiritual needs.

    For more details, see:
    http://dalehusband.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/why-more-people-should-join-the-unitarian-universalists/

  16. says

    I don’t have spiritual needs, nor do I travel a spiritual path.

    I like the UUs – I grew up with them – but I need more than that. I need a space where it’s okay to challenge supernatural beliefs. And in my experience, UUs aren’t it.

  17. says

    These do not depend on either theism or atheism.

    “Spiritual growth” does not depend upon a theistic worldview? That’s news to me.

    I’m fully on board with a goal of expanding the ethics of tolerance, acceptance, generosity and compassion considered the default for myself and my communities via a dedication to self-examination and consciousness-raising paired with critical rigor. It’s just that all that happens via the complex emergent properties of the physiological processes of my meat-brain, and I see no need to get all mystical about labelling aspects of our meat-brain as “spirit”.

  18. says

    The calls for “unity” illustrate the problem with academizing these debates, and welcoming diabolic advocacy, and that sort of discourse: it’s not an issue of ‘Niners-or-Raiders here. I have friends who are Yankees fans (Yankees fans aren’t all bad people, but bad people do tend to support the Yankees). Feminism and anti-racism and gender freedom/queer-inclusivity and that sort of thing aren’t like that. It’s not an abstract discussion of whether, hypothetically, a person called, as it might be, “Greta Christina” is entitled not to be harassed; the people on the con side of that debate are actually doing it.

    >Emil Karlson @ 25:

    While there seems to be very legitimate arguments against it being considered a psychiatric diagnosis in the future (e. g. it assumes a binary view of gender which is not really accurate), it does seems a bit weird to exclude atheist simply because they subscribe to positions currently held by mainstream psychiatry?

    I think you’re overlooking the “freaks of nature” part.

    Also, it seems to me the cure for the problem of someone thinking she’s a woman while everyone else thinks she’s a man is to get everyone else on the same page she’s on; that’s not the approach we take with depression, and it’s not the approach transphobes who say “trans people aren’t right in the head” tend to have in mind.

  19. says

    Define “spiritual path”…and once try you’ll find it’s intellectually bankrupt if used in any other sense than ‘be nice to people so they’ll be nice to you’.

    Sorry, I don’t need weekly meetings and pot luck suppers to tell me that.

  20. markhoofnagle says

    Sounds like you want a “no-asshole” rule. Only assholes get angry when you have one.

  21. says

    SallyStrange, tigtog and Kevin, you are entitled to your path, just as others are entitled to different religious paths as long as they are not misogynous @$$holes like the ones referred to above. Thunderfoot, this means YOU!

    Maybe my definition of “spiritual growth” is different from those of some others, since I have no supernatural beliefs myself.

  22. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Fantastic post, Greta!
    ***
    dalehusband,

    …and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

    Atheists and Agnostics are welcome in Unitarian Universalism and can find a welcoming, supportive faith community in our congregations.

    As a non-creedal faith, Unitarian Universalism honors the differing spiritual paths we each travel.

    For this reason, many interfaith families—and this increasingly includes those with members who are Atheist or Agnostic—find Unitarian Universalism can uniquely meet their spiritual needs.

    I have no need for faith or a faith community. I am not traveling a spiritual path. I have no spiritual needs, and am not interested in “spiritual growth”, whatever the hell that is.

    Good on UU churches for preaching decent positive values, but the spiritual crap, and prevalence of religious language, is a big turn off. Plus, I like my Sundays and dislike large groups. I have other ways to partake in community and educate myself on ethical principles.

  23. says

    Quite so, Greta. Quite so.

    One thing:

    …[W]hen people, however well-meaning, make generic calls for unity — when they tell all of us to stop fighting and just get along — they’re basically telling those of us on the short ends of those sticks to shut up.

    The cost of unity is the silence of people who are being screwed over.

    I believe that those who are calling for unity, calling those of us who point out privilege issues in the atheist movement “divisive”, and calling for us to shut up, know this full well. I believe that to them, the above is a feature, not a bug.

    I might have been willing to extend the (very limited) benefit of the doubt that they acted from simple ignorance, several years ago…but at this point, they have had ample time with which to educate themselves. As such, I must conclude that they act, not from ignorance, but malice.

  24. freemage says

    Greta: Magnificent.

    When it comes to the folks you’re identifying, here? The rifts can’t be deep or wide enough for my tastes.

  25. Larry Poppins says

    Thank you Greta! This post is almost exactly what I wish I could put into words.

    Calls for unity piss me off to no end and trying to explain why that is so is much harder to explain than why I am not a Yankees fan. “I went to an Angels gamewith my dad when I was seven therefore I am an Angels fan.” makes more sense than, “I went to hear Jamy Swiss talk and therefore I could give a fig for atheo-skeptical unity.”

  26. Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters says

    The UUs are one place where people can find non-theistic community and decent values, but it’s not the only place. Community comes in many sizes and shapes.

  27. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    It takes a particularly unattractive mindset to assume that it’s okay for atheists to criticise the religious – and, as you’ve pointed out, to expect the religious call out those in their community who exhibit harmful behaviour – while at the same time raging against the very notion that we could even contemplate expecting the same of our community.

    Sadly, it appears there’s a segment of the atheist community who want atheist writers/speakers to focus exclusively on pointing how evil/stupid the religious are so they can feel better about themselves.

  28. huntstoddard says

    I don’t see how this post and what Swiss talked about in his talk correspond. Swiss talked about division of labor and respecting those divisions, that skepticism doesn’t include in its purview addressing non-scientific claims, etc. This is what prompted PZ to label him a “tent Nazi.” How does this correspond to litmus tests within atheism?

    dalehusband sez:

    You just stated exactly why the modern atheist movement needs to be dismantled….and replaced with something that will promote human dignity instead. If the only thing you are about is disbelieving in God, you literally have nothing. We need positive values.

    That’s true, and probably why atheism has discovered that its tent is filled with hell of a lot of people who want to strangle each other; however it’s not true of skepticism, which has a venerable tradition and mission that is decades old. Allegiance to it automatically conveys a certain purpose and motivation which atheism alone lacks. I think this is one of the prime reason that atheism desperately wants to invade the skeptic tent and possess the inherent impetus that it has. That is Swiss’s point, atheist invasion of skepticism adulterates skepticism. A direct counterargument to this would be one that argues NOT JUST the compatibility of atheism and skepticism (because Swiss agrees with that) but the identity of the two.

  29. Anthony K says

    That’s true, and probably why atheism has discovered that its tent is filled with hell of a lot of people who want to strangle each other; however it’s not true of skepticism, which has a venerable tradition and mission that is decades old. Allegiance to it automatically conveys a certain purpose and motivation which atheism alone lacks. I think this is one of the prime reason that atheism desperately wants to invade the skeptic tent and possess the inherent impetus that it has. That is Swiss’s point, atheist invasion of skepticism adulterates skepticism. A direct counterargument to this would be one that argues NOT JUST the compatibility of atheism and skepticism (because Swiss agrees with that) but the identity of the two.

    Maybe. I’m still not sure what skepticism does, or what it would look like pure. Is it science? ‘Cause scientists do that. If it’s just magicians outing those who use magician tricks to fleece the unsuspecting, then that’s a pretty tiny tent. What is this venerable tradition?

  30. says

    This is expressed very well. Thank you. One of the problems I have had with people who have not been following closely see this as a disagreement with name calling, so they distance themselves to avoid taking sides. What they don’t realize is that by doing so, they are taking a side.

    Perhaps this post will clarify the issue.

  31. notsont says

    however it’s not true of skepticism.

    Bullshit. The “skeptic tent” is full of people who all have their own sacred cows. The only reason its a bigger deal now is that its the biggest sacred cow of them all being called out.

  32. says

    An insult against a woman on the FTB network is not an insult against all women, however, all insults should be discouraged due to the fact they are logical fallacies.

  33. Sassafras says

    Emil Karlsson @25 –

    While there seems to be very legitimate arguments against it being considered a psychiatric diagnosis in the future (e. g. it assumes a binary view of gender which is not really accurate), it does seems a bit weird to exclude atheist simply because they subscribe to positions currently held by mainstream psychiatry?

    I think Greta is probably not referring to the mainstream psychiatric view of gender dysphoria, I suspect she probably referring to the distressingly-common idea that gender dysphoria itself is a delusion, and that trans people should not be allowed to transition or have surgical intervention and that psychiatrists should be trying to “cure” trans people by convincing them to accept their assigned sex. This usually gets phrased in cutesy ideas such as “we don’t let anorexics get liposuction so we shouldn’t indulge trans people’s delusions with surgery!” As you say, it’s not a view endorsed by most psychiatric professionals and organizations, but it’s what a lot of douchbros and armchair psychologists have decided is the red pill truth.

  34. Vene says

    @Emil Karlsson

    First, the newest DSM will use gender dysphoria, which is NOT the same same as transsexuaity. It is instead the incongruence one feels from having the wrong sexual characteristics and is cured, not treated, cured with therapies like HRT and SRS. Second, you are ignoring the history of gate-keeping in the medical community which has traditionally placed barriers in the way of transsexuals needing to transition. There were psychologists who refused to give transwomen needed letters for surgery because she showed up in pants instead of a dress or a skirt (I wouldn’t be surprised if some will still do this).

    I’m sorry, I realized I made a mistake, gate-keeping is still institutionalized. A personal example, my girlfriend is transsexual and she is also a disabled veteran entitled to care from the VA. The VA is also required by law to provide HRT, and she is getting it through them. But, the VA also believed one must wait at least one year after diagnosis in order to start treatment. The Standards of Care also have formalized the need for ‘real life experience’ where a transsexual is forced to present as their target sex without any aid. I should not have to explain why this is cruel.

    Finally, there is absolutely nothing mentally disfunctional about transsexuals and that is what is Greta is disputing. It is a physiological disfunction, as evidenced by the fact that the only treatments that work treat the body and not the mind.

  35. Greta Christina says

    I don’t see how this post and what Swiss talked about in his talk correspond. Swiss talked about division of labor and respecting those divisions, that skepticism doesn’t include in its purview addressing non-scientific claims, etc.

    huntstoddard @ #45: That wasn’t the only thing Swiss talked about. It was one of the things, but not the only one. He also issued a call for everyone in these related movements — atheism, skepticism, humanism — to stop focusing so much on our differences and focus more on our common ground. (Ironically, in a talk with a persistently hostile tone, and the same talk where he issued a snide, backhanded jab at Atheism+.)

  36. Pierce R. Butler says

    SallyStrange @ # 10: For those with pop culture reference deficits or sarcasm impairments…

    Alas, these conditions have become epidemic, or no one would need such footnotes.

    We should organize charities and hold telethons:
    “Help stamp out PCR Deficit!”
    “Only you can prevent SI!”
    “The MRA Syndrome Foundation is looking for a cure!”

  37. Ulysses says

    There’s nothing wrong with deep rifts if I’m on one side and Justin Vacula, Franc Hoggle and the rest of the slymepit is on the other. The deeper the better.

    Dale Husband,

    The UUs are as woo-soaked as High Church Anglicans or the Quakers. I quit making a “spiritual journey” many years ago when I realized that spiritualism and other forms of godless-religion are as silly as theism.

  38. notsont says

    An insult against a woman on the FTB network is not an insult against all women, however, all insults should be discouraged due to the fact they are logical fallacies.

    No. try again.

  39. Greta Christina says

    You just stated exactly why the modern atheist movement needs to be dismantled….and replaced with something that will promote human dignity instead.

    dalehusband @ #28: So you’re calling to “dismantle” a community and movement that has great meaning to many people, that for many people is their primary source of community and social support in the face of being shunned by their families and friends, that has been growing by leaps and bounds in numbers and visibility, that is energizing and motivating a new generation of activists, Because there are internal divides and controversies within atheism, you think it should be “dismantled.” And you think we should all go join your thing instead — despite the fact that there are lots of reasons why your thing doesn’t appeal to many, many atheists, and despite the history of your thing not, in fact, being consistently pro-atheism or welcoming to atheists.

    Do you see why this might be met with a fair degree of hostility?

    The reality is that the atheist community and movement are about more than disbelieving in God. Among other things, we are advocating for the acceptance and civil rights of atheists, advocating for church/state separation, creating communities and support systems for atheists, and opposing the harm done by religion. Please don’t come into our space and tell us to dismantle all of that. Thank you.

  40. says

    Oh Wow! That was AWESOME, Greta!!!!

    —————————————————

    Maybe my definition of “spiritual growth” is different from those of some others, since I have no supernatural beliefs myself.

    Le wut? How is that even possible? I mean, it is fundamental to the very word itself. spiritual…

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with the UUs. Sally summed it up nicely for me @29.

  41. evilDoug says

    There’s nothing wrong with deep rifts if I’m on one side and Justin Vacula, Franc Hoggle and the rest of the slymepit is on the other. The deeper the better.

    That’s what was going trough my mind when I read the up-thread comment about how swell the Skeptic tent is. Mayhew, Vacula, Porter, et al seem to be very big on proudly wearing their little tin Skeptic badges while proudly being despicable assholes. They can have the Skeptic (the k is silent) tent to themselves. I would equate walking into that tent to walking into a BSL4 lab stark naked after having been lightly sandblasted.

    Greta again shows why she has earned so much respect (and the occasional pair of shoes).

  42. says

    I’ve taken recently to criticizing those who insult women by reference to their genitalia, whether I disagree with the target (e.g. Ann Coulter), or agree (e.g. Rebecca Watson, Greta Christina). I feel encourage by this article to continue that policy.

  43. ombak says

    Wow. I had to go find the speech after reading this and some comments (Jamy Ian Swiss’ speech). It’s so deceptive… lots of stuff that sounds great and that you can nod to in a vacuum if you don’t think too hard about what it means, but the slap at atheism plus or at the TAM issue fortunately are there to wake you up.

  44. says

    Greta, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you have an almost magical, if not divine, way with words. This is yet another piece of brilliance from you.

    As to the whole “dismantling the movement” thing…

    I get where that’s coming from. Honestly, I’d rather build a brand new movement than share one with the likes of Justin Vacula or Frank Hoggle or Raging Bee or any of those people (I’d also prefer not to share it with S.E. Cupp and Alain de Botton, but I’m not sure if such Faitheists are relevant to this particular discussion).

    I mean, yeah… the hopeful optimist in me would like to believe that, eventually, all sides of this thing can agree to some basic principles, like harassment is always bad, women are human beings, activism is not just a “guy thing”, kyriarchy is an actual thing, etc, but the realist in me knows that this will never happen.

    But, as you point out, Greta, I’d also rather not lose all that the movement has built. I personally want to try and find a happy medium between keeping all the good we’ve gotten with the current movement and having one that does not have the “Old Boy’s Club” stigma attached to it…

  45. Mark Milano says

    Amen.

    I understand a certain amount of resource and leverage pooling when it comes to defending our basic rights in a system that had some messed up built in biases before we got here.

    Beyond that, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to define ourselves according to some particular variety of nonsense that we don’t subscribe to. If we were joiners, we probably wouldn’t be atheists.

  46. Silentbob says

    @ 64 NateHevens

    … Justin Vacula or Frank Hoggle or Raging Bee or any of those people…

    Are you sure you’ve got the right Bee? I was under the impression Raging Bee was a commenter in good standing at FTB. Maybe you meant Wooly Bumblebee?

  47. says

    Are you sure you’ve got the right Bee? I was under the impression Raging Bee was a commenter in good standing at FTB. Maybe you meant Wooly Bumblebee?

    Yes, probably.

  48. says

    I think it ought to be pointed out repeatedly that simply lacking belief in gods is not necessarily a great unifying force. It does not imply that any two atheists necessarily have anything in common more than that.

  49. Greta Christina says

    I think it ought to be pointed out repeatedly that simply lacking belief in gods is not necessarily a great unifying force. It does not imply that any two atheists necessarily have anything in common more than that.

    bradreddekopp @ #72 (and others who have said similar things): But the reality is that a tremendous amount of organizing and community building is happening around atheism. Even with all these disputes, atheism is taking off like a rocket. (Actually, the disputes are probably because atheism is taking off like a rocket, since there’s this huge, diverse influx of new people who want a voice and don’t just want to do things the way the old guard has always done them.) Atheism does, in fact, seem to be an idea around which people can organize, and organize effectively.

    And in fact, these debates and divisions about feminism and sexism and other social justice issues are not unique to atheism. The fights about sexism, for instance, are raging in the tech world, the gaming world, the science fiction fandom world, the comics fandom world — any community that’s traditionally been male-dominated and has recently had an influx of women. If the presence of division and discord were an indication that a community or a movement didn’t have a great unifying force, then most large communities and movements organized around a clear unifying force would be relatively peaceful and conflict-free. Anyone who’s done any community organizing or political activism will hear that assertion, and collapse on the floor choking with hysterical laughter until the paramedics have to be called in.

    What’s more, the reality is that atheist communities aren’t just taking off like a rocket: they’re very important for a lot of atheists, especially the ones who lose their friends and family when they leave religion. To just shrug and say, “Yeah, this organizing business is being hard and we’re having a lot of divisive debates, therefore it’s a waste of time and we’re never going to be able to do this” is not an acceptable answer.

  50. Greta Christina says

    I’ve taken recently to criticizing those who insult women by reference to their genitalia, whether I disagree with the target (e.g. Ann Coulter), or agree (e.g. Rebecca Watson, Greta Christina). I feel encourage by this article to continue that policy.

    Bolan Meek @ #62: I really appreciate that. It troubles me greatly when leftists go after Ann Coulter by calling her ugly, or a cunt, or using other sexist/ gendered insults. (Or by saying she looks transgendered — which is totally transphobic.) There is plenty of horribleness to go after Ann Coulter for, without insulting all women while you’re at it. Thanks for speaking out against that. Please keep it up.

  51. mazarin says

    I don’t really see the problem with referencing genitalia. It seems to be perfectly acceptable for people to be called dicks, why not cunts?

    Sure, it doesn’t really make sense if you think about it, but most swears and slurs don’t.

  52. Ulysses says

    mazarin @75

    It seems to be perfectly acceptable for people to be called dicks, why not cunts?

    Two points about this:

    Point the First – Many people do not consider calling someone a “dick” is acceptable, perfectly or otherwise. It’s denigrating someone for one physical aspect of their body. Calling someone who wears glasses “four-eyes” or calling an amputee “crip” isn’t acceptable so why should insulting a man for having a penis be acceptable?

    Point the Second – Women are in a subordinate, discriminated against segment of society. Calling a man a “dick” is much less insulting than calling a woman (or a man) a “cunt.” Louis CK once compared a white calling a black a nigger to a black calling a white a honky. “Wow, he called me a honky. Ruined my entire day!” The same argument can be given for cunt versus dick.

  53. huntstoddard says

    This is veering off topic, but:

    Point the First – Many people do not consider calling someone a “dick” is acceptable, perfectly or otherwise. It’s denigrating someone for one physical aspect of their body. Calling someone who wears glasses “four-eyes” or calling an amputee “crip” isn’t acceptable so why should insulting a man for having a penis be acceptable?

    I have a different take on this than most people here, probably. The “gendered insults” have very little reference outside simple etymology to actual physical features of human beings.* For instance, when man is called a “dick” does anyone actually picture or compare him to a penis? Of course not. No more than does the insult “ass” have any real connection to physical buttocks. The impact of both “dick” and “cunt” depend on their evocation of contempt, and the second is far more potent than the first, at least in America.

    *Granted it’s a bit telling that we fashion our insults from the reproductive and excretory organs of our bodies, but that’s another story.

  54. mazarin says

    ” Calling someone who wears glasses “four-eyes” or calling an amputee “crip” isn’t acceptable so why should insulting a man for having a penis be acceptable?”

    It shouldn’t be, but I would consider four-eyes more of a targeted insult than a genitalia reference, as pretty much everyone has genitalia. The genitalia references becomes much more generic. Like fuck, which doesn’t mean what it otherwise means when used in that manner. It’s just expressing a certain mood and attitude, dependent on the context.

    “The impact of both “dick” and “cunt” depend on their evocation of contempt, and the second is far more potent than the first, at least in America.”

    I agree that it is, but I don’t see why it should be. I think we give power to it by treating it as if it is supposed to have more impact.

  55. huntstoddard says

    I agree that it is, but I don’t see why it should be. I think we give power to it by treating it as if it is supposed to have more impact.

    Yes, that is the way with all insult. Insults have exactly the power we invest them with. An insult is really an insult because of the mental state of the insulter at the time of the insult. It seems tautological, but it’s not really. However, to correctly interpret just what an insult means, you really have to ask yourself those questions. What does this mean? What is the mental state of the person using it?

  56. says

    @ Vene, 52

    First, the newest DSM will use gender dysphoria, which is NOT the same same as transsexuaity.

    Where did I claim that transgender was the same as gender dysphoria? If we go back to my original comment (25), I wrote:

    I am by no means an expert on trans issues or psychiatry and can therefore be completely wrong here, but is it not the case that some trans people fall under the psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria

    Note that I wrote that _some_ trans people have gender dysphoria. Nowhere did I make the claim that gender dysphoria was the same as transsexuality. It would thus appear that your assertion is a straw man.

    Finally, there is absolutely nothing mentally disfunctional about transsexuals and that is what is Greta is disputing. It is a physiological disfunction, as evidenced by the fact that the only treatments that work treat the body and not the mind.

    Both hormone replacement therapy and gender reassignment surgery come with profound beneficial psychological changes for most individuals that undergo it, so it is not really accurate to say that it is a treatment that focus on the body and not the mind. The very reason it is used is because it alleviates a lot of psychological suffering.

    From reading the other responses to my comment, it seems that we are not really being clear what we mean by “mental illness” here. It is being used in two different ways: (1) mental illness as a medical condition and (2) mental illness as a synonym for “freak of nature”.

    I find it enormously harmful to use (2) and mental illness ought not be associated with any more stigma than any other medical condition, say, high blood pressure.

  57. says

    @50.

    An insult against a woman on the FTB network is not an insult against all women

    True, however sexist insults against a woman do insult all women.

    however, all insults should be discouraged due to the fact they are logical fallacies.

    Uh, no. An insult is simply a disparaging characterization of a person. Perhaps you’re thinking of ad hominem, which is an attempt to discredit a person’s argument by disparaging the person him/herself. Not the same thing.

    Insults should be discouraged because they’re a barrier to productive conversation. There are times, though, when useful conversation is not desired or not possible, or both. On such occasions an insult can be entirely appropriate.

  58. deltmachinery says

    This comment has been deleted, as the commenter had been banned multiple times, and in fact has been arrested for persistent harassment and threats against atheist bloggers. I’m leaving this placeholder in place so the numbering of the comments doesn’t get screwed up. Thanks for understanding.

  59. says

    dalehusband @84:
    No, I don’t think you do get the point. If you did, you’d see the problem with this statement:

    So how about this as an alternative instead:

    I’m a Humanist, too. I’m also A+ and a whole bunch of other things.

    I go back to this bit, because I think it is important:

    You just stated exactly why the modern atheist movement needs to be dismantled….and replaced with something that will promote human dignity instead.

    So, in effect, your saying ” you’re doing it wrong and should just give up and join my approved organization”

    Greta said it so much better @58, but I am compelled to add my paltry bit because it bugs me so much when, inevitably, someone like dalehusband shows up.

    /thread derail

  60. opposablethumbs says

    Thank you, Greta. Every time I think I have some idea how good you are, you just write something even better. This cannot be said enough, so thank you for saying what you have and saying it so well.

  61. freemage says

    Dalehusband: The problem you seem to be failing to grasp is that we are looking to forge a group that has atheism as an explicit component. Humanism is lovely, and would also be a component, but your alternative groups all seem to share in the “Thou shalt not critique religion itself” as a core precept–and that’s just not what we’re seeking. We’re asking for a slab of ribs, and you’re offering us a perfectly lovely salad. It’s very nice, might work well as a side-dish, but we’re no closer to having our BBQ ribs.

  62. says

    Emil @81:

    Nowhere did I make the claim that gender dysphoria was the same as transsexuality

    Then you don’t get to say “it’s ok to call trans* people mentally ill freaks of nature because dysphoria.”

    From reading the other responses to my comment, it seems that we are not really being clear what we mean by “mental illness” here. It is being used in two different ways: (1) mental illness as a medical condition and (2) mental illness as a synonym for “freak of nature”.

    I find it enormously harmful to use (2)

    And do you for even a moment believe pitters are using (1)?

  63. says

    it does seems a bit weird to exclude atheist simply because they subscribe to positions currently held by mainstream psychiatry

    why?
    homosexuality was once considered a disorder, too. people who subscribed to this postition held by “mainstream psychiatry” were people who could not be considered included in spaces that were pro-gay.
    just because a bigoted position is mainstream, or even institutionalized, doesn’t make it not bigoted; so, including individuals who subscribe to it mean excluding those affected by the bigotry, and vice versa.

  64. says

    The impact of both “dick” and “cunt” depend on their evocation of contempt

    and what exactly is contemptible about vaginas?

    the power of insult with synecdoches for “woman” lies with the idea that being a woman is bad; you can’t insult someone by calling them something good; that would simply not work.

  65. Greta Christina says

    I don’t really see the problem with referencing genitalia. It seems to be perfectly acceptable for people to be called dicks, why not cunts?

    mazarin @ #75: There are many differences between the insult “dick” and the insult “cunt,” including the fact (as explained by others here) that being female is much more widely considered disgusting and contemptible in our society than being male, and female sexuality is much more widely seen as shameful than male sexuality. And including the fact that men are the ones with more power in society, and both the the purpose and the result of slurring women by slurring our femaleness is to reinforce that power imbalance.

    But I would argue that the main reason “cunt” is such a deeply offensive and demeaning slur is that it’s meant to be a deeply offensive and demeaning slur. In much the same way that epithets against African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, Italians, etc. are meant to be deeply insulting. When you use a word to insult people, and the targets of that insult overwhelming say, “Hey, that’s actually a deeply offensive and demeaning word, please don’t use it” — and you continue to use it, and in fact use it more, and continue to use it with sadistic glee at how much it’s hurting and upsetting people — I think that answers the question of why it’s a problematic word. The origins of particular slurs in some cases may be as random as the origins of any word — but the intent behind them is clearly an intent to injure.

  66. says

    I love the fact that you, Greta, are there, are smart, and can write so well! I’ll let you speak for me anytime, anywhere! :)

  67. Ulysses says

    Dale Husband,

    For some reason you feel that atheism needs to be dismantled and replaced by something more esthetically pleasing to you. Granted there are problems with atheism as a movement right now but replacing it with something else is not something many of us are interested in. If we wanted to be UUs or humanists we would have joined those organizations already. As already shown, the Universal Unitarians are universal in their acceptance of atheists and organized humanitarianism considers atheism a minor part, almost an afterthought, of their movement.

    If you want to be a UU and/or an American Humanist then none of us will argue against your decision. However these organizations have little to offer for most of the rest of us.

  68. guitaro says

    Thank you, Greta, for the beautifully composed words in response to such ugliness. You are one of the most beautiful people I know or know of.

  69. huntstoddard says

    and what exactly is contemptible about vaginas?

    Nothing, that’s the point. Word choice failure: I probably should have used “invoke” not “evoke.” And the reason these words invoke contempt is perhaps nothing more than convention that gradually becomes defined and then fixed in culture.

    To me the interesting question is why these words are so often drawn from: sexual organs, sex acts, excretory organs or acts of excretion, and why the first ones are included with the latter (it’s not so hard to understand the latter). My guess is probably this is due to a holdover, and still prevalent, squeamish prudery, that sexual acts are gross and therefore contemptible.

  70. Greta Christina says

    To me the interesting question is why these words are so often drawn from: sexual organs, sex acts, excretory organs or acts of excretion, and why the first ones are included with the latter (it’s not so hard to understand the latter).

    huntstoddard @ #98: Really. We’re having a conversation about vile, misogynistic hatred and harassment in the atheist movement, and the idea that we need to promote “unity” by shutting up about it. And to you, the “interesting” question is one about the etymology of curse words.

  71. huntstoddard says

    Well, it’s one interesting question, among others. I mean, it IS an interesting question.

  72. says

    NateHavens @71: no problem, and thanks for the quick correction.

    On the subject of “spiritual paths,” I do believe that SPIRITUALITY is real, and SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES are real, even if that which we call “spirit” is not. I’ve had what many of us would call “spiritual experiences,” and so have lots of people of all faiths; and I feel I have to respect the importance of such experiences (unless I have evidence that they’re just making it all up), independent of whether or not I believe in this or that god.

    We can explain our “spiritual experiences” in a lot of ways (touched by God, neurochemical action, emotional overload, whatever — mine were directly related to LSD and certain mushrooms); but such explanations don’t necessarily diminish the importance of such experiences in our lives. Speaking VERY generally and vaguely, “spirituality” kinda relates to emotions, and emotional growth is as necessary to us as education and rational inquiry.

    As for the UU Church, they’re generally good for providing a safe space to come out and meet others; but they’re only a first step. Sooner or later, you have to move past their bunnies-and-light vanilla welcoming atmosphere and get on an actual path of some sort.

    And on the OP, I second everything Greta said. Rumors of this “common ground” between us and the Slymepitters are grossly exaggerated. Sort of like that “common ground” between Unitarians and Dominionists.

  73. says

    Raging Bee @ #102. You’re one of my favorite commenters here. How I made that mistake I still can’t figure out and I really want to delete that whole comment because of it…

    As to “spiritual experiences” and such… are you talking about in a metaphorical sense?

    I guess one could classify the wonder I feel at thinking about how we’re all made out of stardust as “spiritual”, but I’m leery of the word simply because of the cultural baggage it comes with…

  74. says

    The word does come with a shitload of baggage. That may make it harder to understand what it means to certain other people (and sometimes it makes it hard to understand our own experiences), but it’s still something that has to be understood as best we can.

  75. Greta Christina says

    Well, it’s one interesting question, among others. I mean, it IS an interesting question.

    huntstoddard @ #100: Why “Yes, But” Is the Wrong Response to Misogyny

    Add to that list: “Yes, but… there’s this whole other topic that I want to discuss, and that I think is an interesting question, even though it’s only tangentially related to the misogyny currently being discussed. Why don’t we talk about that now?”

    And from that piece:

    “When the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject, it trivializes misogyny.

    “When the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject, it conveys the message that whatever men want to talk about is more important than misogyny.

    “When the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject to something that’s about them, it conveys the message that men are the ones who really matter, and that any harm done to men is always more important than misogyny.

    “And when the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject, it comes across as excusing misogyny. It doesn’t matter how many times you say, “Yes, of course, misogyny is terrible.” When you follow that with a “Yes, but…”, it comes across as an excuse. In many cases, it is an excuse. And it contributes to a culture that makes excuses for misogyny.”

  76. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Well said indeed Greta.

    I registered (and paid) for Empowering Women Through Secularism in Dublin at the end of June, and still intend to go, to hear some excellent speakers, but I do regret that Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland has shown himself such an obliviously privileged numpty in his efforts to bridge the much-needed deep rift.

Trackbacks

  1. […] This isn’t just a question that gets douchily asked of atheists by religious believers. It’s an idea that gets floated by some atheists. In the conversation here on this very blog just yesterday, the conversation about policing our own and speaking out when atheists do screwed-up shit and why this sort of “divisiveness” is more important than unity that comes at the cost of silencing dissent, there were the following comments: […]

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