How Atheism and Skepticism Can Take On Social Justice Without Mission Drift — Crowdsourcing!


Please note: This post has a somewhat different comment policy than the usual one here. It’s provided at the end of the piece.

If the atheist and skeptical movements focus on political and social justice issues, will that constitute mission drift?

No.

So how, exactly, do we do this?

I’ve written about this topic before. I’ve pointed out that it’s certainly not mission drift for atheist and skeptical organizations to pay attention to social justice in internal matters — such as hiring, event pricing, event accessibility, etc. And I’ve pointed out that it’s not mission drift for atheist and skeptical organizations to actively work on social justice issues that overlap with their existing missions. I’ve pointed out that our organizations are already doing some of this — skeptics working on global warming denialism, atheists working on religious oppression of LGBT people, both kinds of organizations offering student pricing for conferences — without anyone complaining about mission drift. I’m not going to get into that debate again here. Instead, I want to crowdsource some answers to the question:

How, exactly, could we do this?

What exact social justice issues could atheist and skeptical organizations work on that would be consistent with their existing missions? What exact social justice issues would overlap with the missions of promoting critical thinking and rationality, seeking good evidence for testable claims, advocating church/state separation, opposing harm done by religion, creating communities and support systems for atheists and skeptics, etc.?

And when it comes to social justice issues in internal matters, what could atheist and skeptical organizations do that they aren’t already doing — or what could they be doing better?

I want to compile a list of specific, practical ideas, which interested organizations can consult if they want to expand their efforts in these areas. And frankly, I don’t want any of our organizations, interested or otherwise, to be able to claim, “We can’t do social justice stuff! Mission drift! Nooooooo!” When and if they do, I want us to be able to provide an extensive, detailed list of specific, practical, non-drifty options.

I’ll get the ball rolling with just a few specific examples of the kinds of things I mean.

Skeptical organizations could examine testable claims made by proponents of the drug war.
Skeptical organizations could do education about quackery and pseudoscience in the cosmetics industry.
Atheist organizations could fight abstinence-only sex education in the public schools, which is largely promoted by the Religious Right.
Atheist organizations could publicize and oppose the growing influence of the religious right on reproductive rights.
All our organizations could work towards scheduling meetings and events near public transportation.
All our organizations could work towards having sign language interpreters at events.

What else?

Please make your suggestions specific. “Making meetings more welcoming to women” isn’t hugely helpful. “Providing child care at meetings” is a lot more helpful. And to the extent that you can, please show your work: explain how, precisely, your suggestion overlaps with the existing missions of atheist and/or skeptical organizations.

If possible, please note whether your suggestion applies to skeptical organizations, atheist organizations, or both. And please note whether your suggestion applies to internal matters, the actual mission-specific work of the organizations, or both.

Comment policy for this post: I do not want this comment thread to turn into a debate about whether atheist and skeptic organizations should be focusing on social justice. If you want to get into that debate, please do so in the original post on mission drift. This comment thread is for people who are already on board with this basic idea, and who want to propose and discuss specific ways of carrying it out. Attempts to derail that conversation will be met with disemvoweling, being put into comment moderation, or, in extreme or persistent cases, outright banning. Thanks for understanding.

Your time starts… now!

Comments

  1. katybe says

    NB, this is coming from someone in the UK, who’s never been to any of these events, so I don’t know to what extent they might already be the norm.

    As well as sign language interpreters at meetings and conferences, how about hearing aid loop facilities, and commitments to produce transcripts?

    Also, not just childcare at meetings, but helping employees with childcare details (on site subsidised creche would be ideal, if there’re enough parents on the staff to make it viable).

    And on the subject of pseudoscience, how about educating people about fad diets promoted by the media (I must admit, this one is prompted by getting the latest brochure of public lectures organised by the local university and agreeing to go with my best friend to one entitled “How Science Works”, because it sounded interesting, then finding out that the lecture is being given by someone responsible for popularising the latest fad. My friend is not scientifically literate, although she’s a fantastic academic historian, and I can’t debunk the pseudoscience without help, although I can understand and relay someone else’s debunking. My friend already got convinced a few years back by the concept of blood group diets, and at the time I was fairly certain it was bollocks, but couldn’t explain to her why.

    To add one more, how about a focus on educating people about anti-vaccination movements. TBH, the sceptical movement has already done this in the past, which means they should nod along in support of this one, and then realise that the other educational projects are no more mission drift than this one is!

  2. says

    Many potential answers, but a personal one: more critical and skeptical thinking around sexuality and LGBTQ issues. I think we need to be more scrutinous of things like ‘the gay gene’ and suggested correlations between finger length/birth order and sexuality, etc etc.

  3. says

    I’ll mention two things our student organization has going. One is that we are making an annual tradition of bringing Safe Zone trainers to two of our meetings, so that by the end of the first semester every regular attendee is Safe Zone certified. The SZ program is geared toward faculty and others with offices, but the training sessions are designed to disabuse people of pervasive misconceptions about queer and trans discourse, physiology, culture, and politics, which suits a skeptics group well.

    Another is a sequel we’re planning this semester to last semester’s Science and Religion panel. Now S&R panels are, i imagine, commonplace among atheist groups, and i imagine the topics people address are common, too (evolution, geology, and cosmology versus creationism and ID, NOMA versus intersecting belief systems, falsifiability of religious claims, etc.). The sequel we’re planning is on Social Science and Religion, and among the faculty we might hypothetically bring on are a sociologist who specializes in gender and GLBTQIA studies and a political scientist who has written about various countries’ religious extremists’ attacks on women’s rights and reproductive health care.

  4. Blueaussi says

    With the negative perceptions the public has about atheists, what about encouraging volunteer/outreach programs at the local level. They could be one time, high visibility events like manning the phone banks for a PBS fund drive where everyone wore an atheist t shirt. Or they could be a more low key, longer term commitment to a local animal rescue group (a couple of people walking/socializing dogs once a week) or helping once a month to fed the homeless.

    This wouldn’t necessarily have people working on a specific social justice cause, but it would help established groups achieve their goals while giving atheists positive exposure.

  5. ledasmom says

    Besides having childcare at meetings, how about being sure to schedule meetings on different days/at different times so that people who might, say, regularly work on Saturdays or in the evenings can attend?

  6. says

    Please forgive these only semi-formed thoughts, but the current controversy over Syria presents, I think, an opportunity to make a powerful stand for critical thinking and skepticism on an issue of grave importance. We should be critically analyzing the assumptions that push us toward war. We should be raising questions about what kind of evidence should be required to justify the use of force against the people of another nation, and how solid we should expect that evidence to be. We should talk about what the expected outcomes of various policy options might be, and what evidence we have to ground those expectations.

    I think directing our attention to matters of violent international conflict would clarify some important internal disputes among atheists and skeptics, and would give us a clear opportunity to demonstrate the difference between a war of ideas against Islam and a war of bombs and bullets against Muslims.

  7. flex says

    Create an insurance agency:

    A number of social justice issues can be addressed by reducing poverty and the fear of poverty. An insurance company focused on social justice, organized potentially as a non-profit without shareholders, which would accept donations in order to provide low-cost insurance to people under a certain income level, would help society. Think of it as providing one of the functions of a church (everyone tithes but the poorest may get help from the other church members), without the religion.

    Atheist organizations can run advertisements beyond self-promotion:

    I like some of the atheist billboards, but sometimes the message can be made stronger by including a message relating to a social justice issue, while clearly indicating who the message is from. Something like: Homelessness in New Orleans is 2.5 greater than before Katrina; You can still help. paid for by the (atheist organization). Or a different social justice issue; Marriage Equality is a Civil Rights Issue, not a religious one. (atheist organization). Self promotion is fine, but if there is nothing on the promotional materials indicating what to expect when you join the group, you won’t get many people joining.

    A skeptical or atheist group can organize tours of museums, nature preserves, art galleries, etc:

    I know that these do happen, but advertising them is often poorly done. The same crowd of people tend to take these trips. The cost of advertising may be an issue here, and social media tends to be confined to a social group as well. But I’m also sure that with proper organization you could have a hundred people, in maybe 5 groups of 20, go to a museum with docents for each group. Charge $20/person ($10 for students/retirees, children under 14 free), and maybe not make money, but expose more people to enlightenment ideas and possibly grow the organization.

    Boy, work is annoying. I’ve just had an hour interruption while writing this. Don’t they know that a blog comment is important? :P I’d better post this now. I know that these ideas would take a hell of a lot of work, and there may be trust issues which may need resolution first, but you asked for it. Cheers!

  8. thinkfree83 says

    I think that the only way to really challenge the role of religion in the black community would be to create secular communities that fulfill the same needs and provide the same services without the superstition and dogma. Because blacks are still marginalized in American society, the church provides an alternate space that validates black concerns and experiences. A humanist/atheist community center that is culturally relavent and provides health/education/job information would be a good idea. If black people saw a caring secular community that addresses their needs, then they wouldn’t feel a need to support religious institutions. The problem is I don’t see where the money or manpower would come from to build such an entity. Most of the atheists here seem to be of the libertarian bent and not into volunteerism.

  9. jonlynnharvey says

    Perhaps a lower priority, but I think investigating alternative medicine such as homeopathy would be good. There are people who have died foregoing regular medicine in favor of this.

  10. says

    I give a thumbs up to covering quackery and pseudoscience regarding cosmetics and diet fads. I’ve seen diets covered on occasion, but can’t recall seeing any skeptical investigations into cosmetics, aside from maybe debunking health scares. I’ve seen plenty of cosmetic commercials over the years that raise skeptical red flags, especially anti-aging claims.

    Naturally, these claims are heavily marketed to women, so discussion can lead into the social issues like the undue emphasis on women’s appearances. Skeptical posts about cosmetics and diets could also be a good introduction to critical thought and research methodology for women who decide to look into the claims. I’m a man who doesn’t wear any sort of makeup, but I might find it interesting to learn about the science behind it. Probably most importantly, having a supply of skeptical posts about cosmetics and diets would show that the community cares about the people who are targeted by quacks, rather than trivialize it because they’re mostly women.

  11. says

    Skeptical groups could examine the claims made about poverty and poor people. This can include causes of poverty, difficulty of moving up in socioeconomic status, etc. This could also intersect with other social justice issues, such as higher rates of poverty among certain groups vs. others and examining claims that are made about the causes of that disparity.

    Skeptical groups could examine the claims made about immigration/immigrants. I really appreciated the panel about ‘Immigrants’ Rights and Social Justice’ at the online FtBCon

    Skeptical groups could examine claims made about healthcare. This is already done quite a bit for vaccinations (and that needs to continue). This could expand to include addressing science denial in other areas as well as addressing claims about access to healthcare.

    Atheist and skeptical groups could examine claims made about education. This could include claims about the effectiveness about different types of schools, etc. as well as content. This is already done for stuff like including evolution and including secular history in schools. This could include drawing attention to parts of history that aren’t often covered or are covered poorly, inclusion of historical figures and writing by minorities, inclusion of more social justice movements. (Just as skeptical and atheist groups point out misinformation about evolution, they could also point out misinformation about a variety of other topics that aren’t covered well in schools.)

    On the religious freedom/anti-religious discrimination front, atheist groups could (in addition to addressing claims by religion) address claims made about religion, whether by members of other religious groups or by atheists (e.g. Avicenna recently mentioned how some atheists say wrong things about Taqiyya in Islam).

  12. ludicrous says

    The most ubiquitous social injustice has always been misogyny.

    Maybe a little book learning would help. I have in mind a small fund to offer to the mra’s and fellow travelers some reading, say, “A Brief History of Misogyny” by Jack Holland. It’s available used at Amazon for 44 cents plus shipping.

    A friendly response with an offer of a book to some of the fence sitters and critics of Atheist + I would be happy to chip in a few dollars.

  13. says

    If your group promotes secular humanist values, than it’s a no-brainer to take part in civic endeavors to help improve your own communities. There was the humanist group in Raleigh, NC that has been fighting to give out food to the homeless despite a ridiculous, restrictive ordinance. CFI-NYC does volunteer work like helping in cleaning a local park. Local work counts too.

  14. says

    And when it comes to social justice issues in internal matters, what could atheist and skeptical organizations do that they aren’t already doing — or what could they be doing better?

    Skeptics and Atheists could visit other Skeptics and Atheists who are inhabiting traumatic isolation; visit the poor, sick, and disabled amongst Skeptics and Atheists. Rather than taking the view everyone should just goto the Library or something, as if vulnerable, highly disadvantaged minorities or elderly people need to constantly be in public spaces were they can be corralled into use, abuse, and taken advantage of by predators.

    Skeptics and Atheists can practice social justice for other disadvantaged skeptics and atheists who are suffering: they can cook for them, bake bread for them, visit them, hug them, do activities with them, bring groups of people to visit them, engage them socially in multiple formats in offline/meatspace (vs online). Show support to them, tell them they are loved and cared for by being there for the sick and disabled, tending for the sick and disabled in the offline/meatspace and not just well wishing online.

    There’s plenty of social justice activities people can do if they’re willing to see visiting the sick, infirm, disabled, struggling, and those who live in traumatic isolation, falling into several vulnerable minority categories (such as myself), as priorities that need to be addressed in order to call oneself a responsible human being that engages in actual social justice. Social justice needs to start with one’s own constituency first and foremost, otherwise there is no way it will be anything but ineffective and impotent when focusing outside that constituency. As is true in all political movements: if you don’t take care of your own, you’ll quickly find that only the most privileged amongst you have any ability to engage politics with those outside your group, however large it may be. Even then, they will get worn out eventually. No worries though right? They have friends, family, extended family, so they can keep trucking. Eventually such a social movement will merely mirror an aristocracy, were the social needs of the severely disprivileged, the sick, the infirm, will be paid lip service to online, nothing will be done to tend the ‘sick and wounded’ offline (or very very little), and an elite group of highly privileged people will lead a very marginal and constricted effort to engage social justice with people outside of skeptics and atheists, that will have marginal and nominal effect. Egos will be boosted, very little will be accomplished compared to what could have been. Oh wait, that’s freethinker movements over the last ten years, I almost forgot. The same old routine: Pay lip service to social justice regarding other skeptics and atheists, show support offline (almost never online) if you’re the ‘good guys’, if you’re the slymepit (bad guys), attack minorities online viciously and ruthlessly, act sophisticated and principled and claim ‘they deserved it’ when it comes to your harassment and bigotry. All the while, whatever you do, good guys or bad guys, you must absolutely make sure you never help invalid or highly disadvantaged atheists and skeptics amongst you to feel better in their day to day, to inhabit safer housing, to have access to food so they are not hungry, to give old clothes to them so they can have clothing, to visit them and cook with them or do other fun things with them when they are down. Anything that means privileged people will have to interact with ‘icky people’ must not be done under any circumstances.

  15. Darlene Pineda says

    I was in DC for the March on Washington this past Saturday. It was wonderfully inclusive…except where were the humanists and skeptics and atheists? Just about every other group was being represented by various organizations, both on the stage as speakers and in the crowd.

    The simplest thing is to a part of bigger things. I could be marching wearing the T-shirt of a local freethinking group, carrying a sign supporting voting rights or women’s rights or education with the logo of my national skeptic group on it.

    A group boycott of fast food to show solidarity. Volunteering as clinic escorts. Helping people register to vote. Providing buses to register voters. Co-sponsoring demonstrations, protests, marches, talks. Fighting injustice in the criminal system, speaking out against racial profiling. Taking a stand on environmental issues, medical issues.

    Civil rights are human rights. This is the work I am doing. When the NAACP and Planned Parenthood stand on a stage together to fight for rights for everyone, something is happening. Something big. Groups can be a part of that or not. But walking arm and arm with people agitating for freedom is usually not a bad thing at all.

    We can stand on a stage and talk about scientific literacy within education, and why it’s important. We can talk about myths surrounding poverty. We can talk about the data of climate change and why we need to do something. We can talk about expanding medical care and vaccines and preventing disease. We can talk about myths regarding race or sexuality or sex education. We can talk about censorship. We can talk about equality. About freedom of and from religion. About morality.

    We can talk about statistics, and how they are wrongly used in the media. We can actively do something, right now.

  16. freemage says

    thinkfree83 @8 beat me to the punch, so I’m just going to echo those sentiments. I ride the train through some of the most racially and economically segregated neighborhoods in Chicago, and frankly, there’s property available for this sort of outreach. And the churches are VERY active in these neighborhoods, because they offer hope, and that’s frequently all the residents can get.

    Some thoughts on the funding issue: It would need to be a national organization that deliberately targeted urban centers, probably on a regional basis at first (that is, they should pick one city in each region of the country, and then try to establish a foothold in a hard-hit neighborhood in that city). I’d say the centers should try for a four-fold mission:

    1: Immediate assistance. Food pantries and ‘bottomless closets’ are probably the easiest of this sort of thing to organize and operate, and the cities usually have a central location that you can use for low-cost acquisitions (such as the Chicago Food Depository, here, which was where my old church used to buy THEIR bulk-food for the pantry). More ambitious is operating an emergency shelter; this would be a long-term possibility, but probably not a great one out of the gate (though it’s sorely needed–especially in cities where ‘faith-based’ charities often skirt, or outright flout, the rules on non-discrimination against clients–LGBT youth on the streets are in serious need of non-judgemental shelters).

    2: Resource networking. This is also a common approach used by churches–get someone in there who knows the local resources available for the poor, such as governmental agencies and private charities (hell, go ahead and check out local religious-affiliate charities and if they aren’t of the ‘you must pray to eat’ variety, include them in the network. The idea is to have someone there who can steer people in need to the best places to get help.

    3: Education campaigns. Here’s where it locks more directly into the mission–offer education on issues of health and personal finance from a skeptical point of view. A lot of investment scammers and toxic health rumors work through the church networks–not necessarily because the pastors are evil, but because they get conned, too, and then they spread the misinformation, lending it their credibility in the community. Teach residents how to recognize Ponzi schemes, for instance, or the real risk-factors for AIDS transmission.

    4: Hosting panels and such. Just normal small-scale atheist/skeptical events, but held in a neighborhood that’s away from the usual convention centers. Prices could be kept lower (maybe even “low price” for travelers, and free for local residents), and locals could be hired for event staffing.

    Any local fundraising done should be for cost of the center itself, or for community outreach/support efforts–they should explicitly NOT be about fund-raising for the national organization, at least not until the presence is established and they’re generally self-sufficient. National churches often leech money away from these communities; we don’t want to do the same.

  17. tiberiusbeauregard says

    -> Skeptical organisations -> should examine testable claims made by proponents of social or economical constructs (e.g. capitalism, feminism etc.).

    -> Atheist organisations -> should fight against public, legal or financial favoritism towards religions or religious institutions and media promotion thereof (e.g. tax exemptions, faith schools, circumcision etc.).

  18. says

    Pay lip service to social justice regarding other skeptics and atheists, show support offline (almost never online) if you’re the ‘good guys’, if you’re the slymepit (bad guys), attack minorities online viciously and ruthlessly, act sophisticated and principled and claim ‘they deserved it’ when it comes to your harassment and bigotry.

    That should have read thusly:

    Pay lip service to social justice regarding other skeptics and atheists, show support ONLINE (almost never OFFLINE) if you’re the ‘good guys’, if you’re the slymepit (bad guys), attack minorities online viciously and ruthlessly, act sophisticated and principled and claim ‘they deserved it’ when it comes to your harassment and bigotry.

    You can’t wage war effectively, politically, in any format, if you don’t tend to the ‘sick and wounded’, not to mention it’s negligently abusive, criminally negligent even, a real asshole thing to do, but I think such should be obvious to many… The reason liberal church organizations and conservative church organizations are ‘out there’ protesting and supporting their causes, in large numbers, effectively, is because they have social means to ‘tend the sick and wounded’ and social dogmas that morally and dogmatically force them to engage ‘icky people’ amongst them that they need to interact with in order to have better cohesion as political units and be effective in the wider struggle outside of their group.

  19. Pen says

    Also coming from the UK, I would say more of being a think tank (is that the word I want?) for social justice issues from an atheist perspective. I want to do more to develop our ideas in an evidence-based way. Specifically:

    1) More formalised discussion procedures for chosen subjects, for example, by having more directed commenting rules like the ones on this post (I don’t mean always, obviously), the creation of an ethos of formal debate in specific spaces, I.e. if you’re there it’s to talk about the subject in a pre-specified way, not let off steam because your anger is justified, wander off onto other topics, spend 20 posts saying why the way someone expressed their opinion upset you and other stuff like that. I wouldn’t mind occasionally seeing a ban on replies to other commenters, all comments to be directed at the OP, everyone gets to speak once, that sort of thing.

    2) a formal procedure for ordinary members (the commentariat on FtB as far as this network is concerned) to propose topics for discussion and/or write one off posts about the topics that concern them (not rants about what their neighbourhood creationist said, or miscellaneous humour, ideally). I don’t know how this could be done. Perhaps we could have a commentariat’s blog but I realise there would be work involved for someone, political difficulties with selection and stuff like that.

    3) Accessible collections of evidence on social justice topics, preferably original papers and academic quality literature, and as part of that, updates and continuation of that campaign we had way back on ScienceBlogs to make academic literature more accessible outside of academia.

    4) Discussion and development of proposals for evidence-based action people can take either as part of atheist groups or as individuals or part of other groups. I mention that last part because, probably for reasons related to being European, or not American, I wouldn’t choose to take action under an atheist group banner (reasons on some other thread, some other time) but I still act as an atheist, (obviously).

    Er, that’s it for now.

  20. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    It seems like, insofar as poverty has been exacerbated for centuries by the idea that “God will provide” and “the best thing you can do is pray for them” and so on, that atheist organizations would be quite on target addressing it, or at least these and other victim-blaming and neglect-excusing tropes.

  21. Walton says

    Atheist social justice organizations can and should fight for the human rights of asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants. This is a racial justice issue, a feminist issue and an LGBT rights issue.

    Here in the UK, the death of Jackie Nanyonjo, a lesbian woman from Uganda, as a result of injuries inflicted on her by her guards while being deported is absolutely something we should be talking about. And many more asylum-seekers are detained in hellholes like Yarl’s Wood, and facing the threat of deportation to countries where their lives are at risk. The system is particularly harsh on women and on LGBT people.

    Likewise, studies from the US have revealed that undocumented people are at particularly high risk of sexual harassment and assault, exploitation in the workplace, and domestic violence – which they are often unable to report because of their undocumented status and the threat of deportation. Those detained by ICE sometimes face abuse and humiliation by racist federal agents, and prolonged periods of detention in inhuman conditions.

    Immigration laws create a class of people who are deprived of the most basic civil rights, and live with the daily threat of violence from the state. They disproportionately victimize people of colour from the developing world. One of the social justice fights we should be involved in is fighting for immigration justice.

  22. ckeenan says

    Run for local office. Start small, school board is a good start. I did it and won. MOST important, if you know an atheist is running and you are philosphically in agreement SUPPORT them. My local atheist group did nothing for me, they are thrilled I am there, but they did nothing to help get me there.

  23. johnthedrunkard says

    More active criticism of pseudo-scientific claims outside of religion.

    In connection with the whole misogyny issue, this leads naturally to countering Libertarian/Randroid lunacy, AND the endless generation of evo-psych ‘just so stories’ to rationalize evil social practices.

    And some serious consideration of the effect of alcohol consumption at events. Intelligent and rational people DO seem to get more entertainment value out of recreational stupidity, but the effect doesn’t stop there.

  24. 3kramer says

    I have learned a lot on FTB because I kept reading, even when it was very uncomfortable to do so. However, many people including myself would benefit from “101” versions of atheism and social justice articals. Many of these articals are already written as posts on FTB or other similar blogs. They just need collecting and organising into a wiki, a place for people who want to learn, not fight. Maybe call it Social Justice University (SJU has a ring to it). It could be set out with “courses” starting for people who are ignorant of a subject (as I was with transsexual issues) up to advanced “how to be a local leader”. You could even eventually have badges, for example only people who have got to “racism awareness level 3″ can comment on certain articals in the wiki. OK, maybe that last one is asking too much too soon but I think the rest is doable and would be an excellent resource.

  25. says

    The Issue: There are so-called evangelical Purity Balls in the USA, a recent development (2008) of evangelical Christians. It’s in the bulls-eye of Atheism and Feminism. Here is an article in the NYT from 2012, and here is a full documentary. The ideas behind Purity Balls are misogynistic and creepy, but also create real problems for those affected by it. It is also a potential LGTBQ issue, if you read the Wikipedia article (see the criticism section). In contrast, we are life-affirming and “sex positive” and think there is just one life to live. In short, it’s a great topic that can be used as a springboard for all kinds of messages. What to do about it:

    (1) What: Raise awareness not just that this thing exists, but that it’s apparently spreading. Raise awareness why it is a problem and use it to illustrate feminist (or atheist) topics in the same manner as the community used to pick out creationism to illustrate evolution.

    (2) Who: Instead of the regular feud (aka “rift”) try to get everyone on board. I’m sure your Commentariat/Horde/Atheism+ critics find Purity Balls as appalling as you do. Well, I know that already, since I’m one of them (Slymepit here). How you do that? By setting a week and encouraging everyone to make something with it. Use your network and ask all other bloggers to join in, and ask them to ask their connections to do the same.

    (3) Strategy: Make a Purity Ball Week, similar to Shark Week. You can blog about all kinds of things by putting it into context with it. From atheist and sex positive “YOLO” to various feminist topics (e.g. the inherent sexism in the whole thing, etc). As written above, some might use it as a contrast (like Creationism to Evolution), others might pick out social, feminist, atheist aspects.

    (4) How: Obviously not all blog articles of one blog would be about the same issue (since e.g. PZ Myers writes several a day), but if each blog provides at least one “major” blog post, and with some timing, it should be possible to create the effect that it “feels like” the week’s topic. The effect is enhanced when the different blogs refer to other blog post, and if all posts actually make clear that the article is part of the (Anti) “Purity Ball Week”.

    (5) Benefit: Even if nobody goes onto the streets, writing can provide clear and accessible material that explains to everyone where the issues are, perhaps parts are already written with Christian (women) as a target audience in mind, or written in such a way that organizations can take it and print it. Besides, the whole sexism issues in it may also educate some atheists. Encourage people to make memes and images (images with some short text work, too) that can be shared on social media.

    ADDENDUM: some blog post ideas for Purity Ball Week: What’s holy about virginity? · Why are women/girls treated differently than men/boys? · The issue with being stuck with a partner you don’t really know very well (sexuality) · Missing out all the fun · LGTBQ getting trapped in the wrong tradition · Purity? Sex is a dirty thing? · Forcing children into (sexist) belief systems · They say they like it. How voluntary is the participation in religious traditions really · Virginity in religion and Christianity …

  26. vaiyt says

    If the atheist and skeptical movements focus on political and social justice issues, will that constitute mission drift?

    The question I’m asking is: if it does, do I have any use for the skeptic movement? After all, the big reason why I left organized religion was all the sexist/racist/classist/homophobic/transphobic bullshit attached to them. If the so-called “skeptic” movement can’t direct their critical thinking in that direction, then IMO it’s functionally as worthless to society’s progress as religion is.

  27. says

    Prison reform and working with prisoners provides a nexus of issues that all touch on skeptical/atheist issues.

    –skeptical debunking of the idea that punishment is a useful tool for rehabilitation, accompanied by atheist critique of how this idea is thoroughly rooted in the idea of a punitive father-god

    –skeptical analysis of how criminal justice systems are biased against people of color, accompanied aid and assistance to people with family members in prison; this could be part and parcel of any humanist community center’s activities

    –opportunity to spread education and books – distributing Jack Holland’s book in prisons, and other useful books, rather than Bibles or Korans. Change the religious narrative of jailhouse education/conversion

  28. says

    The question I’m asking is: if it does, do I have any use for the skeptic movement? After all, the big reason why I left organized religion was all the sexist/racist/classist/homophobic/transphobic bullshit attached to them.

    The answer for me is clearly NO. If social justice is “mission drift” for atheist and skeptical organizations, then they don’t deserve the label “movement.” The difference between a “movement” and a bunch of social clubs is that movements have the explicit aim of making the world a better place.

  29. says

    The above ideas are great. if a group wanted to take a small step towards social justice work, I’d suggest talking about how alt-med targets minorities and women. It can lead into a discussion about what the medical establishment can do to improve outreach and service.

    Sure there will be libertarians, but such a discussion might also encourage some skeptics to be more active in social justice.

  30. says

    @Second Sally Strange above. Also, going after court procedure when it fails skepticism. Ed did a good piece today on the conflicts of interest that crime labs have, for instance.

  31. nautilus says

    Please let the Mission Drift… so often I want to wear an “I’m an Atheist ” tee shirt, but realize that is only saying what I don’t believe, not what I do, which leaves a vacuum (for others to fill in ) . I want new roads maps for human values. How can we pick up where Mr. Harris’s Moral Landscape left off ? Can we collect what science / moral reasoning has to say on the subject, and put it down for all to see /use ? I want a ‘behavioral” Wikipedia type site, where all the newest best- researched ideas about how we can “ all get along” is recorded, cross referenced and routinely challenged. If we are going to promote social justice causes, do we need to define what we mean by that ? A person’s core concept’s about how the world works, shapes their behavior, and determines whether they might pull over on the road and help someone in need , or just keep driving. Do we need to define core concepts first ? Are there core moral codes that, like vitamins, might be something we all could use ?
    Humanist philosophy offers some of the concepts I seek, but not a mechanism for getting to specific moral codes; plus factions such as the Universal Unitarians, go off the rail towards indiscriminate pluralism and become theistic again.
    Getting atheists to agree on a plan of social justice actions will be like, well, herding cats. We tend to value our freedom more than our safety. But … put the right food out…and they’ll come.

  32. Robert B. says

    Literacy!

    Skeptics are about truth and knowledge and reason, right? So work with libraries and schools in poor areas (both urban and rural) to get kids and adults able to read and to put books in their hands so they can get at all that truthy goodness. There are literacy nonprofits out there we can ally with who would have more experience on good specific methods, but what comes to my mind is volunteering (through libraries etc.) to read to kids, or to teach reading and writing, or the ever-popular giving money. Literacy is a great way to empower people, and it intersects with race, class, immigrant, and regional issues.

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