7 Things People Who Say They’re ‘Fiscally Conservative But Socially Liberal’ Don’t Understand

money closeup

Social and economic issues are deeply intertwined.

“Well, I’m conservative, but I’m not one of those racist, homophobic, dripping-with-hate Tea Party bigots! I’m pro-choice! I’m pro-same-sex-marriage! I’m not a racist! I just want lower taxes, and smaller government, and less government regulation of business. I’m fiscally conservative, and socially liberal.”

How many liberals and progressives have heard this? It’s ridiculously common. Hell, even David Koch of the Koch brothers has said, “I’m a conservative on economic matters and I’m a social liberal.”

And it’s wrong. W-R-O-N-G Wrong.

You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues. And conservative fiscal policies do enormous social harm. That’s true even for the mildest, most generous version of “fiscal conservatism” — low taxes, small government, reduced regulation, a free market. These policies perpetuate human rights abuses. They make life harder for people who already have hard lives. Even if the people supporting these policies don’t intend this, the policies are racist, sexist, classist (obviously), ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise socially retrograde. In many ways, they do more harm than so-called “social policies” that are supposedly separate from economic ones. Here are seven reasons that “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” is nonsense.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 7 Things People Who Say They’re ‘Fiscally Conservative But Socially Liberal’ Don’t Understand. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

To Block Or Not To Block: A Social Justice Question

Please note: This post has a different comment policy from the usual one. That policy is at the end of the post.

hand on keyboardI have a question for all you other Social Justice Warriors out there. When people say racist, sexist, classist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. crap in our online spaces — should we block them? Or should we engage with them, and try to educate them?

Let me narrow that down somewhat. I’m not talking about when people say crap that’s aimed at us, at a marginalized group we’re part of. I’m talking about when people say crap about another marginalized group. I’m talking about what white people should do when people say racist crap; what men should do when people say sexist crap; what cis people should do when people say transphobic crap; etc. I’m talking about how to ally.

I’ve seen very good cases made on both sides of this question. I’ve read very good pieces by African Americans saying, “Please block the assholes saying racist shit in your Facebook page already, why on Earth are you tolerating that?” (Alas, I can’t find the pieces I read saying this — I really need to learn to bookmark this stuff. Links in comments would be appreciated.) And I’ve read very good pieces by African Americans saying, “Don’t just block these folks. That’s the easy way out. We don’t have access to these people, you do, we can’t educate them — so as painful and difficult as it is, it’s up to you to do that.” (Here’s one example of this, the one that keeps getting cited when this topic comes up.)

It’s one thing when people demand, “Educate me!” — and then ignore, derail, move the goalposts, argue without listening, repeatedly ask questions they could get answered with ten seconds of Googling, and generally show bad faith and a complete lack of interest in being educated. I’m not talking about when willfully ignorant fools demand, “Educate me!” I’m talking about when people I’m working to ally with point to those fools and say, “Educate them!”

Please note: I’m not asking whether I have the right to block people. I know I do. I’m not talking about what I have the right to do. I’m talking about what’s the right thing to do. I’m finding myself somewhat stymied, and I want to hear from people I respect.

Here’s the conundrum I’m experiencing. [Read more…]

The Irresistible Woman

Inspired by this Facebook posting:

“How a Woman Becomes Irresistible To a Man… She chooses to set high standards for herself. She’s clear on what she wants. She knows the value of friendship before sex. She comes from a place of gratitude (not expectations). She is confident and willing to ask a man out on a date because she knows a relationship is a two way street. She demonstrates trust and respect by accepting him for who he is. She’s in no hurry to get to the destination. She can take of herself, she doesn’t need a man. She shows up interesting and interested. She comes from a place of compassion (not entitlement). Lastly, she knows how to inspire a man, because she leads by example. Did I miss anything?”
– Jonathon Aslay, dating coach

And much more importantly: Inspired by the comment thread on this Facebook posting. It’s one of the most genius things I’ve read in a while: it’s a near-perfect blend of wild inventiveness, scathing mockery, and bitter, white-hot rage, mostly written in the horror genre. Scroll down a bit: you’ll know when you’ve gotten to the good parts. Here are my contributions.

*****

The irresistible woman reaches into your muscles, the marrow of your bones, the nuclei of the cells of your neurons. She will force you to desire her. She will rearrange the core of your being, the esse of your non-existent soul, to transform you into a being who desires her, urgently, utterly, desperately. You will desire her, but you will never have her. When she departs, the core of your being will howl for eternity at the loss. You will never feel another love, another desire, that touches you as ferociously or as purely as this loss.

*****

The irresistible woman has transformed her skin into a superconductive ceramic shell. The cold, the cold, you touch her skin and the cold feels like burning, like acid, like inconsolable grief. Her skin burns off your fingerprints. You are no longer yourself, you will never again be yourself. You can recognize the other men who have touched her, by the smooth scarring on their fingers, their faces, their hearts.

You do not leave a mark on her. None of you has ever left a mark on her. None of you ever will.

The irresistible woman has transformed her skin into a superconductive ceramic shell. The transformation on the cellular level was torture; her screams were the cries of the phoenix, the newly-born spider devouring the body of its mother, the Christ hanging himself on the cross and crying out in despair, “Why have I forsaken myself?” When it was over at last, she was left with one small piece of her human skin, her own index fingertip, set in a locket. She is saving it for her daughter.

*****

“The irresistible woman is clear on what she wants, but has no expectations and accepts men as they are. She has high standards, but has no sense of entitlement. She has no need for a man, but cares deeply about being irresistible to them.”

The irresistible woman hears the contradictions, and laughs — a harpy shriek she immediately muffles into her elbow, for fear of giving the ending away. They think the contradictions will baffle her, frighten her, weaken her, send her into despair. They have no idea.

The irresistible woman takes the stage, strips, scratches her face with her perfect nails. She writes the contradictions on parchment in her blood, wraps it around her naked body like a shroud. The parchment twists at her command, and she twists along with it, her body bending, stretching, contorting into a Moebius strip, slicing itself into twisted loops that interlock. Her audience looks on: entertained, then captivated, then gradually paralyzed as the realization sinks in.

The command she spoke to the parchment was spoken at the same time to their brains. Their neurons, axons, dendrites, have twisted inside their skulls. It happened bit by bit, like the heat under a pot of water gradually boiling the live frog. The knots inside their brains are bleeding.

They had no idea.

She unwraps her body with a snap, eases out of the parchment. She knows her way out. She slips into a terrycloth bathrobe stolen from a hotel. She exits through the gift shop.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Some More (Slightly Less Charitable) Thoughts About “Special Interest” Atheist Groups

black nonbelievers logoSo I wrote a piece a few days ago, with a partial answer to the question, “Why do there need to be atheist groups for specific kinds of atheists? Why should there be black atheist groups, Ex-Muslim atheist groups, women’s atheist groups?” It was a fairly calm, civil, patient piece. But some of the commentary on it gave me a much less patient, much less charitable view of this, airquotes, “issue.”

No, the commentary wasn’t hostile. That’s not it. See, a number of people pointed out that there are plenty of “special interest” atheist sub-groups that are entirely uncontroversial. (Within the atheist movement, anyway: I’m sure the Christian Right doesn’t much like them.) There are atheist parenting groups. Atheist book clubs. Atheist hiking clubs. Heck, there’s an entire national organization, the Secular Student Alliance, devoted entirely to meeting the needs of a specific sub-group of atheists — namely, atheist students — and supporting their student-centered groups.

And in the years I’ve been involved in organized atheism, I have never once heard a peep of complaint about any of these.

I have never once heard anyone say, “Why do student atheists need a national organization just for their groups? Why can’t they just go to the regular off-campus atheist group?” “Why do atheist parents need their own group and their own activities?” “Doesn’t the atheist book club splinter and divide our community?” “Isn’t the atheist hiking group segregation — discrimination against people who don’t hike?”

Never. Literally never.

secular student alliance logoQuite the opposite. If these sub-groups and specialty groups can get enough members, and if the groups survive and flourish, it’s seen as a good thing. It’s seen as a way to draw new people into the atheist community: if there are atheists who aren’t that interested in the other group activities, but who like to hike or talk about books, the atheist book club or hiking club might bring them in. And it’s understood that parents and students have particular interests and needs — particular scheduling concerns, and activities they’ll want to do, if nothing else — so again, having groups dedicated to them is actually going to draw more people into organized atheism. And it’s also recognized that if a group is surviving and flourishing, then, self-evidently, there’s a desire for it. There might be a little competitiveness — especially if one of these special-interest groups shoots up as its own thing rather than as a sub-group of an existing group, and especially if it starts drawing members away. But as a general principle, it’s understood that these special interest groups are a Good Thing.

So why is it such a problem to have special groups for black atheists, or women atheists, or atheists from other marginalized demographics?

[crickets]

My not-very-charitable interpretation: A lot of people don’t want to recognize that women, African Americans, other marginalized demographics, even have particular needs and interests and concerns.

After all, if you accept that, then you have to accept that racism exists and is a thing, that sexism exists and is a thing, that other marginalizations exist and are things. To understand why black atheists or women atheists might want their own groups, you have to understand some harsh realities about what it’s like to be a woman or an African American — realities that make the experience of being a woman really different from that of being a man, realities that make the experience of being African American really different from that of being white.

And when you accept that racism, sexism, and other marginalizations really exist and are things, a whole lot of other dominoes start tumbling down. You have to accept just how large and pervasive and terrible some of these marginalizations are. You have to accept the fact that you, yourself, sometimes contribute to these marginalizations, even without meaning to. And if you’re a halfway decent person, you have to start working to make a difference.

It’s much easier to maintain the pleasant fiction that, while readers and hikers and parents and students might have their own needs and interests and experiences, marginalization and oppression can’t possibly shape people’s experiences — certainly not enough that they might occasionally want to spend time with other folks who’ve been through the same crap.

Accepting the reality of marginalization knocks over a whole lot of dominoes.

Starting a book club? That hardly knocks over any.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Why Do There Need to Be “Special Interest” Atheist Groups?

black nonbelievers logo“Why do there need to be atheist groups for specific kinds of atheists? Why should there be black atheist groups, Ex-Muslim atheist groups, women’s atheist groups? Why should there be local groups, national organizations, online forums, dedicated to atheists with these specific identities or experiences? Doesn’t that splinter and divide our community? Isn’t that segregation, discrimination — exactly the things we’re fighting against? Why can’t these folks just join the regular atheist group?”

This question comes up a lot. In almost every discussion of diversity in the atheist community that I’ve seen, it’s come up at least once. A lot of people have written and spoken with good, clear, specific answers to these questions. (Here are just a few links.)

But I had a conversation recently at an atheist event that gave me a new perspective on the answers, one that will hopefully help shed some light for some people who have a hard time with this.

So. If you’re wondering why there need to be special-interest atheist groups, ask yourself this:

Why do you need an atheist group?

Why don’t you just join “regular” groups? Why don’t you just join the Elks Club, the bowling league, the knitting circle, the book club, the Democratic Club, the Socialist Workers’ Union, the PTA?

I know many of the answers. Because in those “regular” groups, you’re likely to encounter anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination.
Because in those “regular” groups, even if people aren’t overtly and consciously anti-atheist, they may unintentionally say or do things that are bigoted against atheists, or ignorant about us — and sometimes that ignorance can be very stubborn, even willful.
Because you don’t want to always have to do Atheism 101.
Because even if nobody ever says or does anything bigoted or ignorant against atheists, you still sometimes want to spend time with people who have similar experiences to yours.
Because atheists’ experiences and perspectives can be really different from those of religious believers — we often handle things like death, suffering, political and social change, sexuality, and other issues in ways that are very different from believers, and it can be helpful to socialize and organize with people who share those experiences.
Because our needs and interests are often different from those of believers — and groups that aren’t atheist-specific can often show a complete lack of concern about those needs and interests.
Because even if nobody ever says or does anything bigoted or ignorant against atheists, intentionally or unintentionally, you can still sometimes feel like the Other, like an outsider, if you’re the only atheist in the group, or one of the few.
Because we sometimes want a place to strategize, or just to vent, about anti-atheist bigotry and ignorance, or even about religion itself — and we often don’t feel comfortable doing that around religious believers.
Because having an atheist group creates atheist visibility: it lets other atheists know they’re not alone, it helps us find each other, it pushes back against anti-atheist stigma, it does all the other good things that increased atheist visibility does.
Because the whole idea that an atheist group somehow isn’t a “regular” group is insulting.

So. Keep all that in mind. Remember the reasons you want and need an atheist group. And now ask yourself again: Why do there need to be atheist groups for specific kinds of atheists?

I hope I don’t have to spell this out. But I’m going to anyway:

Every single one of these answers also applies to “special-interest” atheist groups.

exmna-logoBlack atheists, women atheists, ex-Muslim atheists, other specific sub-groups of atheists, want and need their own groups because they/we often encounter bigotry and ignorance in the “regular” atheist groups — usually unintentional, sometimes intentional, often stubborn and even willful in its ignorance. (And don’t tell me that this never happens just because you’ve never seen it. You don’t always know what to look for. In fact, you’re almost certainly doing some of this yourself, without knowing it: unconscious racism, sexism, etc. is pretty damn near universal. This is thoroughly documented: if you’re an evidence-loving skeptic, you shouldn’t be denying it.) Because they/we don’t always want to do Race 101, Feminism 101, Islam 101. Because even if, by some miracle, there were absolutely zero prejudice and ignorance in your atheist group, they/we still sometimes want to spend time with people with similar experiences. Because even if there were no prejudice or ignorance in your atheist group, being the only black person, the only woman, the only ex-Muslim, can still make them/us feel like the Other. Because…

…You get the idea. I don’t need to fill in every search-and-replace. Or at least, I hope I don’t have to.

The parallels aren’t exact, of course. This kind of “search and replace” that substitutes one kind of marginalization for another can be tricky: not all marginalizations are the same, and while these parallels and analogies can help create understanding, sometimes they do the opposite. Saying things like “I understand what it’s like to be black in the United States, since I’m an atheist and we’re oppressed too” can be seriously off-putting, to say the least. (Yes, atheists in the U.S. are at the bottom of the list of who people would vote for. We aren’t getting killed by cops every four days.) So I’ll spell this out: There are reasons atheists form groups that don’t apply to “special-interest” atheist groups, and vice versa.

secular woman logoBut a lot of the reasons are the same. If you understand why atheists want and need an atheist group, you should understand why black atheists, women atheists, ex-Muslim atheists, other specific kinds of atheists, want and need their groups. So if you want them to feel welcome in your atheist group as well — support them in that.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Godless Perverts Social Club Tuesday May 5: Religion and Gender Roles

godless-perverts-social-club-gender-and-religion-blog-banner

The next Godless Perverts Social Club is Tuesday, May 5! We’re picking a discussion topic ahead of time — and this week, the Godless Perverts enter the world of chaste maidens and chivalrous knights. No, we’re not playing Dungeons and Dragons, we’re talking about the various religious dogma governing gender roles.

Were you taught that men shouldn’t express emotion?
Were you taught that women were to submit to male authority?
Did you attend a purity ball (and have a class in high school that taught you how to curtsey with a stack of books balanced on your head?)
Do you identify as someone who completely wrecks the notion of a gender binary?

We want your stories!

Our co-moderator for the evening, Ember Atwell, is in the odd position of being an atheist attending divinity school, and she’s extremely knowledgeable about many of the odder aspects of religion and sex, such as purity balls and Christian Domestic Discipline.

The Godless Perverts Social Club meets on the first Tuesday and the third Thursday of every month, 7-9 pm, at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th Street at Folsom in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART). Admission is free, but we ask that you buy food and/or drink at the cafe if you can: they have beverages, light snacks, full meals, and milkshakes made of literal awesome sauce.

Godless Perverts presents and promotes a positive view of sexuality without religion, by and for sex-positive atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-believers, through performance events, panel discussions, social gatherings, media productions, and other appropriate outlets. Our events and media productions present depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities — including positive, traumatic, and complex experiences — focusing on the intersections of sexuality with atheism, materialism, skepticism, and science, as well as critical, questioning, mocking, or blasphemous views of sex and religion.

Godless Perverts is committed to feminism, diversity, inclusivity, and social justice. We seek to create safe and welcoming environments for all non-believers and believing allies who are respectful of the mission, and are committed to taking positive action to achieve this. Please let the moderators or other people in charge of any event know if you encounter harassment, racism, misogyny, transphobia, or other problems at our events.

If you want to be notified about all our Godless Perverts events, sign up for our email mailing list, or follow us on Twitter at @GodlessPerverts. You can also sign up for the Bay Area Atheists/ Agnostics/ Humanists/ Freethinkers/ Skeptics Meetup page, and be notified of all sorts of godless Bay Area events — including the Godless Perverts. And of course, you can always visit our Website to find out what we’re up to, godlessperverts.com. Hope to see you soon!

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

The Pros and Cons of Caring Deeply About Other People’s Suffering

This piece was originally published in The Humanist.

The Pros and Cons of Caring Deeply About Other People’s Suffering

Minuses:

Symbol_thumbs_down.svgYou get to suffer. When you care deeply about other people’s suffering, you suffer too. Not as much as they do, generally, but you still suffer. You feel a small piece of what it feels like to be homeless, to be a suicidal gay teenager, to be sexually assaulted, to be beaten for being transgender, to have your teenage son shot for the crime of existing while black.

You don’t get to go for the big bucks. Unsurprisingly, there’s not a lot of money in caring about other people’s suffering. Unless you’re very, very lucky (like if you write a song about other people’s suffering that goes to Number One), the best you’ll probably do financially is to be reasonably comfortable. And even if you do get lucky, you’ll probably turn around and plow a good chunk of your good fortune into alleviating the suffering you care about.

You get to waste a lot of time. You get to spend a lot of time trying to persuade other people that the suffering right in front of their faces is real; that the people who are suffering shouldn’t be blamed for it; that working to alleviate suffering isn’t futile. (When I was writing about misogyny recently, and was asking people to say something about it, I saw people seriously argue that speaking out against misogyny was a waste of time, and that nobody’s mind would ever be changed by it.) This isn’t a waste of time, in the sense that it often is effective, and it does amplify the work you’re doing and get other hands on deck. But it’s a waste of time in the sense that it’s valuable time spent arguing for what should be obvious. It’s valuable time that all of you could have spent just doing the damn work.

And when you’re persuading people that suffering is real and that they should give a damn, you get to feel just a little bit guilty about it. As you’re desperately trying to pry open other people’s eyes, you get to feel just a little bit bad about the life of suffering you’re exposing them to.

You get to feel guilty. You get to worry about whether you’re doing it right, whether you should be working on something different, whether you could do better. You get to feel vividly conscious of the ways that you, yourself, contribute to other people’s suffering: buying products made by exploited labor, banking with banks that exploit the poor, driving cars that spew greenhouse gas. Every time you don’t take action, every time you don’t help, every time you don’t donate money or don’t volunteer time or don’t hit “Share” or “Retweet” on the fundraising letter, you get to feel bad about it. And every time you do donate or volunteer or spread the word, you get to worry about whether you could have done it better, or whether you could have done more.

You get to feel helpless. A lot. Once you open yourself up to other people’s suffering, you quickly become aware of just how much of it there is, and how little you personally can do about it. You get to feel overwhelmed. You get to be vividly aware of the fact that no matter what you do, no matter how much you work and sacrifice, at the end of your life there will still be a massive amount of suffering in the world. I sometimes think the helplessness is worse than the guilt, that the guilt is a defense mechanism against the helplessness. Feeling like you could have prevented suffering gives you a sense of control, makes you feel like you can prevent it in the future. As crappy as it is to feel like you could have done something and didn’t, I think it’s sometimes harder to feel like there’s nothing you could have done.

And you never, ever, ever get a break. You never really get a vacation; you never get to retire. When you do go on vacation, you think about the lives of the people who clean your hotel rooms and wait on your tables. You leave generous tips, and feel how inadequate that is. It’s like the red pill in The Matrix: once you’ve swallowed it, you can’t un-swallow it. Once you know, really know, about other people’s suffering, you can’t un-know it. You have to care about it, and feel it, and feel guilty about not doing enough about it, and feel helpless over how little you can do about it — for the rest of your life.


Symbol_thumbs_up.svgPlusses:

You get to have a life that matters. [Read more…]

The Slymepit, Documented – UPDATED

Content note: Pretty much everything. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, rape jokes, rape denial, threats of violence, and more, too much to thoroughly trigger-warn.

UPDATE NOTE: This post has been updated to document several responses from Slymepit regulars, to document and confirm that the examples of behavior linked to here are, in fact, entirely representative of the Slymepit culture. Updates at end of post.

There’s this problem. A couple of problems, actually.

Problem 1: There’s this online forum, the Slymepit. (No, I’m not linking to them — you can find them yourselves if you like.) They have routinely, persistently, doggedly, for years, engaged in a campaign of hateful online harassment against feminists and social justice activists in the atheist and skeptic communities.

This campaign includes, but is not limited to: racist slurs and imagery, misogynist slurs and imagery, homophobic slurs and imagery, transphobic slurs and imagery, the deliberate misgendering of trans people, anti-Semitism, polyamory-shaming, fat-shaming, mental-illness-shaming, sexually-transmitted-disease shaming, baseless accusations of their targets as having sexually transmitted diseases, other baseless accusations verging on libel (if not actually veering into it), the creation of degrading Photoshopped images of their targets, jokes about their targets being raped, cheerful speculation about their targets’ ugly and painful deaths, the mocking of PTSD, the deliberate triggering of PTSD, even threats of physical violence.

Problem 2: A lot of people don’t believe this.

Part of me understands this. When you describe the Slymepit to people, it sounds like something you’d make up. And it’s a hard thing to accept. Atheists and skeptics get enough harassment and abuse from religious believers: it’s hard to accept that this is happening within our own communities. And very few people want to wade into the Slymepit to find this for themselves.

This is why I am enormously grateful to Jadehawk. Jadehawk has created a Storify page, documenting examples of what the Slymepit does on a regular basis. (The page sets the context first, briefly explaining the background for why this Storify was created, before getting into the documentation.)

The page is by no means a thorough documentation of every example of this behavior. It includes just a very tiny sample it. And this behavior is not just a small bad-apple minority of the Slymepit: it is very much the forum’s standard.

So. The next time someone asks “What is the Slymepit?” or “Is what they do really so bad?” or “Isn’t that just a few bad apples?” — you can point them to this page. And the next time you ask a blogger or a forum moderator why they permit Slymepit regulars to spread their slime in their online spaces — you can point them to this page.

Thanks, Jadehawk. Having this documentation is really helpful, and creating it must have been intensely unpleasant.

UPDATE: In case anyone is thinking that these examples were cherry-picked, that they’re just a few bad apples, that they don’t represent the general Slymepit culture, or that the Slymepit in general condemns this behavior: Here are screenshots of several responses by Slymepit regulars to Jadehawk’s Storify. They make it clear that this behavior is the Slymepit standard, that the forum’s participants are proud of it, and that it is welcomed and encouraged by the forum.

Below the jump. I’ve transcribed the screenshots, but I’m not quoting the speakers by name. You can click the images to enlarge. [Read more…]

Dealing with Death in an Unjust World

This piece was originally published in The Humanist.

(Content note: racist, transphobic, and misogynist violence.)

In the face of unjust death — what can humanists say and do?

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 200 JPGI have a new book out: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, a short collection of essays offering secular ways to handle your own mortality and the death of those you love. (It’s out in ebook and audiobook: a print edition is coming later.) In it, I talk about some humanist ways of coping with death, philosophies that might provide some consolation and meaning — including the idea that death is a natural part of the physical universe, that mortality makes us treasure our lives, that we were all astronomically lucky to have been born at all, that religious views of death are only comforting if you don’t think about them carefully, and more.

But when Michael Brown was killed, and when his body was left in the street for over four hours, and when a grand jury decided that the questions about his death didn’t even warrant a jury trial and declined to indict his killer on even the most minor charges — I found myself with very little to say.

Of course I had plenty to say about racist policing, about prosecutors deliberately tanking cases, about how over 99 percent of grand juries indict but less than five percent will do it to a cop. (Although mostly what I’ve had to say about that has been, “Go read these pieces by black writers, they know a lot more about this than I do.”) But when it came to any consolations humanism might have for people grieving this death and the injustice surrounding it, I’ve been coming up largely empty.

So in the face of unjust death — what can humanists say and do?

If the person you’re grieving was one of the black people killed by police in the United States — one every four days? If they were one of the transgender people murdered around the world — one every two days? If they were one of the women killed by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States — more than four every day? I’m not going to respond with, “Well, death is a natural part of cause and effect in the physical universe, and mortality makes our lives more precious, and religious views of death aren’t all that comforting anyway.” I can’t imagine being that callous. Yes, death is a natural and necessary part of life — but being murdered sure as hell isn’t.

So in the face of death caused by human brutality, callousness, and injustice — what can humanists say?

I don’t think there’s any one answer. But in the face of unjust death, one of the few useful things anyone can say is, “What can I do to help?”

That’s true even in the face of natural death, death that isn’t caused by people revealing the ugliest faces of humanity. People who are grieving — humanists and others — often say that the last thing they want is unsolicited philosophizing apparently aimed at making their grief instantly disappear. If grieving people ask us for philosophies and perspectives and insights, by all means we should share them. If they don’t, what they most often want to hear is some version of “I’m so sorry,” “This sucks,” and, “How can I help?”

black lives matterBut in the face of unjust death, those phrases have very different meanings. “Cancer sucks” means something very different than “Police brutality sucks.” (If you don’t believe me, try making both statements on Facebook.) “I’m sorry your friend was killed in a car accident” means something very different than “I’m sorry your friend was beaten to death for being transgender.” As for offering help: When your friend’s father has died of a stroke, you might help by bringing food, cleaning the house, listening to them talk for as long as they need to. When someone’s child has been murdered, and their murder was aided and abetted by a grossly unjust social and political system that’s now ignoring the murder at best and blaming the victim at worst — you might help by speaking out against the racism, or misogyny, or transphobia, or whatever form of hatred it was that contributed to the death, and by working to combat it.

In the face of unjust death, the personal becomes political. And that includes the very personal statements we make in the face of grief, the statements of “I’m so sorry,” “This sucks,” and, “How can I help?” Expressing compassion for an unjust death, speaking out against it, and working to stop the injustice — these shouldn’t be acts of social defiance, but all too often they are.

I do think there are a handful of humanist philosophies that might speak, at least a little bit, to unjust death. The idea that being dead is no different than not having been born yet, so being dead doesn’t involve any pain or suffering — this is an idea that many grieving non-believers find comforting, regardless of how their loved ones died. What’s more, many former believers found their beliefs deeply upsetting when they were coping with ugly or unjust deaths: they contorted themselves into angry, guilty knots trying to figure out why God let this death happen or made it happen, and they were profoundly relieved to let go of the notion that “everything happens for a reason.’ And I think almost anyone, humanist or otherwise, might be consoled by the thought that people who have died are still alive in our memories, and in the ways they changed us and the world.

But in the face of unjust death, sometimes the most comforting thing we can do is to not try to give comfort. Sometimes, the most comforting thing we can say is, “This absolutely should not have happened. There is nothing anybody can say or do that will make it okay. It is not okay, and it should not be okay. What can I do to help keep it from ever happening again?”


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.