Why, Despite the Incredibly Discouraging Crap That’s Been Going On in Recent Weeks and Months and Years, I Still Have Hope for Organized Atheism

Cologne_Germany_Cologne-Gay-Pride-cheerleadersI know. Here comes Greta, the eternal optimist, the relentless Pollyanna cheerleader, always holding out for hope. Stay with me. I really think I’m right about this.

Yes, the recent weeks in organized atheism have been incredibly discouraging, disheartening, disillusioning, demoralizing, dis- and de- just about every good thing that keeps people engaged in activism. Heck, the recent months and years in organized atheism have often been discouraging. Our most visible representatives are saying and doing horrible things: they’re perpetuating horrible sexist and racist ideas, they’re trivializing rape and making excuses for it and blaming the victims of it, they’re apparently committing sexual assault. The online hatred and harassment squad has been in full force. The defenses, denials, rationalizations, trivializations, and victim-blaming about all of this have been in full force. And in the last few weeks, all of this has been in overdrive. I can totally understand why some people, even people who have been in organized atheism for years — strike that, especially people who have been in organized atheism for years — would be losing hope. I’m feeling it, too.

And I’m not going to say for a second that the awful shit isn’t awful. I’m certainly not going to say that we shouldn’t talk about it just because it’s giving people a sad. I’m not going to tell anyone else that they’re bad or wrong for being disheartened — or even that they have any obligation to stay in organized atheism.

What I’m going to say is that I have hope. And I’m going to explain why. [Read more…]

Columbus Day

Found on Facebook:

Columbus Day ecard

Let’s celebrate Columbus Day by walking into someone’s house and telling them we live there now.

Let’s celebrate Columbus Day by walking into someone’s house and telling them we live there now. And shooting them when they don’t leave. And giving them small-pox infested blankets. And giving them new, crappy houses — which we then move into at gunpoint. And doing that again. And again.

Sigh.

Michael Brown, Entirely Normal Teenager, Is “No Angel”

Are you fucking kidding me, New York Times?

Michael Brown Spent Last Weeks Grappling With Problems and Promise

Michael Brown was “no angel” — because he got frustrated with his family, sometimes used vulgar language, dabbled in drugs and alcohol, got into one scuffle with a neighbor, wasn’t the best student, once took money meant for shoes and bought a PlayStation, and as a child climbed fences and scribbled on the wall.

None of which makes him an ENTIRELY NORMAL TEENAGER.

Also he “had taken to rapping in recent months.” OOOOOOO! No! Not rapping!

Oh, and he was accused of stealing an iPod, but actually didn’t. Which is relevant how?

Seriously? Are you fucking kidding?

Missouri GOP Chief: Registering Voters “Disgusting” and “Inappropriate”

By Eric W. Dolan at The Raw Story:

The head of the Missouri Republican Party said Tuesday that efforts to register voters in Ferguson, Missouri, were “disgusting” and unhelpful.

“If that’s not fanning the political flames, I don’t know what is,” Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills told Breitbart News. “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.”

Wills was responding to reports that Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and other civil rights activists had set up voter registration booths following the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black teenager who was killed by a Ferguson police officer.

Right. Because encouraging people who have been grossly mistreated by their government to take peaceful, legal action to change that government — that’s disgusting and inappropriate. But they’re also not supposed to protest loudly in the streets. So what are people supposed to do when they’ve been grossly mistreated by their government?

Oh, right. Nothing. They are supposed to do nothing. This is not their government, and they are not supposed to push for it to change in any way.

Just in case we needed any more evidence that the Republican Party is the party that is actively opposed to the very idea of democracy

Fuck you, Republican Party.



Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

Michael Brown and Ferguson: My Greatest Fears for My Friends

Please note: This blog post has a different comment policy from my usual one. It appears at the end of the post.

I keep not writing about this. I keep saying to myself, “This isn’t a good day — I have a deadline; I’m traveling; I just got home from traveling.” I keep saying to myself, “I don’t know enough about it; I haven’t been following it closely enough; other people are already saying what I want to say about it, more eloquently and with better information.”

And I keep realizing that this is bullshit. I keep not writing about this because it’s painful. And that is a bullshit excuse. Any pain I might have about this is completely trivial. And it doesn’t matter that others have written about it. This is one of those times when it doesn’t matter if my voice is original. This is one of those times when being one more person saying, “This is not acceptable, I do not consent to this” is what matters.

*****

I keep thinking about the children in my life, and the young adults in my life. I keep thinking about what my fears are for most of them: global warming, gross economic disparity hand in hand with political corruption, loss of anything resembling privacy.

And then I think about the black male children in my life, and the young black men in my life. And I realize that my greatest fear for them is that they’ll get shot by a cop.

Howard University Mike Brown protest hands up don't shootMy greatest fear for them is that they will get into a car accident, go to a house for help, and get shot by a cop. My greatest fear is that they will pick up a BB gun in a Wal-Mart, and get shot by cops. My greatest fear is that they walk home from a convenience store with a bag of candy, and get shot by neighborhood watch. My greatest fear is that they will get into a fight on a train platform, get restrained face down on that platform, and get shot in the back by a cop. My greatest fear is that they will be walking in broad daylight, and get shot by a copsix times, when they have their hands in the air, and are pleading, “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!”

Actually — that’s not even it. My greatest fear for the black male children in my life, and the young black men in my life, is that they’ll get shot by a cop — and will get no justice.

My greatest fear is that is that they’ll get shot by a cop, and that their body will be left in the street for hours. My greatest fear is that people protesting their death will be met with militarized police behaving like an occupying army — stalking the streets with drawn weapons, firing rubber bullets and tear gas, and screaming at them, “Bring it, all you fucking animals! Bring it!” My greatest fear is that reporters covering their death, and the protests against their death, will be arrested, and that cops will assault them and threaten them with macing or shooting.

My greatest fear is that they’ll get shot by a cop for the crime of existing while black, while elsewhere in the country, white people openly defy the law, threaten armed revolt against the government, and point guns at law enforcement officials — and the government fires no guns, fires no tear gas, and eventually retreats and concedes the ground.

My greatest fear is that, despite a well-documented pattern of unarmed black men getting shot by cops again and again and again, despite four unarmed black men being killed by cops in the last month alone, millions of people commenting on their death will contort themselves into hyper-skeptical pretzels trying to explain why their shooting had nothing to with race.

And my greatest fear is that nothing they do in their life will protect them from any this. My greatest fear is that they will play by every rule they’re told to play by — play sports, do volunteer work, get married, go to college — and that none of it will protect them.

A few days ago, a friend and colleague of mine — an African American woman with a young black son — was asking on Facebook where she should seek asylum. Canada? New Zealand? Sweden? No part of me even considered saying, “That’s ridiculous, the United States is as safe for you and your son as any place in the world.” I didn’t even ask her what she was talking about. I knew exactly what she was talking about.

Back when I was young and naive, I used to play a pointless game in my head of comparing and contrasting marginalizations. And when I was pondering homophobia, I would say to myself, “Well, there are certainly many ways that other bigotries are worse — but being gay is literally against the law. It’s never been literally against the law to be female, to be poor, to be black.”

I don’t say that anymore.

For all intents and purposes, it is against the law in the United States to be a young black man. To be a young black man in the United States is a crime — punishable by summary execution.


The comment policy on this post is the same as it was on my Trayvon Martin post: I am not willing to host a debate about this on my blog. I am willing to host many debates on my blog, about many issues. I am willing to make my blog into a place for people to express many ideas and opinions with which I passionately disagree. This is not one of those issues, and this is not one of those times. If you have anything at all to say about this that even remotely hints at implying that Michael Brown’s murder was justified or that the police response has been reasonable and proportionate — do not comment in my blog. Now, or ever. Do not read my blog. Do not follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Do not attend my talks. Do not buy my books. Get the fuck out of my life, now. Thank you.



Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

Joint statement by Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins on threats, bullying, bigotry, and harassment

Joint statement by Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins:

It’s not news that allies can’t always agree on everything. People who rely on reason rather than dogma to think about the world are bound to disagree about some things.

Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.

In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.

Richard adds: I’m told that some people think I tacitly endorse such things even if I don’t indulge in them. Needless to say, I’m horrified by that suggestion. Any person who tries to intimidate members of our community with threats or harassment is in no way my ally and is only weakening the atheist movement by silencing its voices and driving away support.

I am pleased, and cautiously optimistic. This doesn’t erase years of sexist and racist behavior from Dawkins, of course. And it makes me sad that “no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets” should be such a controversial issue that a prominent leader has to speak out against it. (Also, I’m not so sure about the “vulgar epithets” part — I reserve the right to call people assholes if I think they’re being assholes.) But I am nevertheless pleased, and cautiously optimistic. I doubt that this will get the worst of the harassers to change their behavior — but I hope that it will get the people saying “There’s wrong on both sides” and “Why do we have to be divisive?” and “I don’t agree with everything they say, but…” to stop and think about what they’re really saying, and to knock it off. And I hope this will get Dawkins himself to speak more carefully about these issues, and to be more careful about whose work he praises and promotes.

People of Color Beyond Faith – Please Support!

Passing this along…

People of Color Beyond Faith are a new coalition of atheist/humanist of color organizations whose primary focus is social justice. They’re planning several national and local projects which focus on humanist issues that deeply impact communities of color. Some of these efforts will include outreach to homeless youth and veterans, domestic violence victim assistance, HIV/AIDS education and prevention and development of prisoner re-entry resources. Their members include the Black Skeptics of Los Angeles and Chicago, Houston Black Non-Believers, Chocolate City Skeptics of Baltimore and Black Skeptics Milwaukee.

This fall they’re planning their first annual conference entitled “Moving Social Justice,” which will highlight themes and communities that are not often addressed in the mainstream atheist movement. The conference will be held during the weekend of October 11th at CFI Los Angeles. It will feature panels, workshops and presentations on topics such as women of color feminism, LGBTQ and queer youth empowerment, educational equity, culturally relevant humanism, anti-racism and confronting transphobia and homophobia in the Black Church. Confirmed speakers include Anthony Pinn of Rice University, Kimberly Veal and Raina Rhoades of Black Freethinkers, Mercedes Diane Griffin of the Mercedes Parra Foundation and Donald Wright of the Houston Black Non-Believers.

If you’re interested in supporting these initiatives please make a tax-deductible donation. You can also contribute directly to their PayPal account: PeopleOfColorBeyondFaith@Gmail.com. Alternatively, if you or your organization would like to lend in-kind support with school supplies, water, canned & dry goods for distribution, clothing, professional services or volunteer hours in one of our member cities, please don’t hesitate to contact them directly via email or phone.

People of Color Beyond Faith

8703 La Tijera Blvd. #2,

Los Angeles, CA 90045

peopleofcolorbeyondfaith@gmail.com

323-751-8869

“It’s Hard”: The Crux (Apparently) of the Atheism, Social Justice, and “Mission Drift” Question

And now — I think — we get to the crux of it.

The goalposts have been moving and moving. But I strongly suspect that this is it, the crux of the objection to organized atheism getting involved in other social change issues:

It’s hard.

atheists-united-highway-cleanupWhen I argued that the “mission drift” objection made no sense — plenty of social justice issues are clearly within the missions of atheist organizations, and many atheist community groups already do projects (like highway cleanups) that have nothing to do with atheism — another objection was presented: It’s too controversial. It might drive people away from atheism or reinforce their negative opinions of us. It might keep some atheists from getting involved, or even drive some atheists who are already involved away.

Then when I argued that the “too controversial” objection made no sense — the status quo is not neutral, not doing social justice work is already controversial among marginalized people and is already keeping many away from organized atheism — the goalposts moved again. We had a brief detour into a sincere point of confusion and clarification, sorting out what kinds of social justice projects would be appropriate for community-building groups versus issues-based organizations. But we also had this:

I’ve long been involved in atheist university student groups, and they’ve always been horribly disorganized. The leaders can barely put together a talk or social event, much less something like a highway cleanup, much much less something like fighting racist drug policies. Now, obviously this is a problem of extremely limited resources, but note that controversy itself costs additional resources. There would be arguments, leaders would burnout, some regulars would be alienated, most members lack experience fighting racism and would do it improperly despite positive intent, and the project wouldn’t happen in any case.

And this:

Picking up trash along an adopted road (something I do ~quarterly with the local Humanist Society) is also fairly pleasant – maybe a bit chilly or sweaty at some times of year, but basically a casual walk with intelligent conversation.

Clinic defense (something I have 16 years of experience doing) is often quite stressful – often confrontational, both depressing and angering, requiring discipline, thick skin, courage, communications skills, dealing with cops, all sorts of challenges.

Of the mostly gray-haired few dozen attendees at our usual HS meetings, about one dozen turn out for road clean-up – but I can think only a small few who might handle escort duty for very long, and none who would enjoy it.

And this:

I agree with your premise, Greta, but I know that I have a hard enough time getting my atheist group to participate in something as simple as a roadside cleanup that I have been hesitant to expand the types of activities my group does. I think it is important for atheists to get involved in many social issues, but as it is so difficult to organize atheists I sometimes wonder if we can really be a cohesive force for positive change.

And this:

In some contexts, trying to expand the scope of a group will kill the group rather than help social justice. Or they could screw it up, because they don’t have the social justice experience.

And this, which pretty much sums it all up:

As an observer, I think they need to take baby steps first, and that doing service projects for social justice activism is not the most accessible step.

(To be fair and clear, at least some of the people saying these things are on board with the basic idea, and are just frustrated and stymied on how to do it.)

I have a few specific responses to the more specific of these objections. Not all groups have these organizing problems. Clinic defense isn’t the only form of social justice activism — and in any case, maybe your group would be more active generally, or wouldn’t just be made up of a few dozen gray-haired attendees, if it got more involved in social justice issues. Even a wobbly group should be able to take on one or two little social justice projects without killing the group — and not doing so already constitutes screwing things up. And, of course: Accessible to whom? Isn’t that exactly the point here — that we can’t keep making organized atheism accessible to privileged people at the expense of making it accessible to marginalized people?

But none of that gets to the crux of these objections, and the theme they have in common: Working on social justice is hard.

To which I reply:

Yes. It is hard.

And I want to take a look, for a moment, at why it’s hard. [Read more…]

Issue Organizations Versus Community Groups — At Last, A Legitimate Question About Atheism, Social Justice, and “Mission Drift”

So in these conversations about organized atheism getting more involved in other social justice issues — and whether this (a) constitutes mission drift and/or (b) would be too controversial — there’s a point that some people seem to be legitimately confused about, and I think it’s worth clearing up. This comment from John Horstman expresses it, as does the Twitter conversation I had recently with @SecularOutpost. (There’s also been a lot of dodging, goalpost-moving, ignoring of points that have already been made repeatedly, and other less than stellar behavior — but we’ll get into that another time, if I have the energy.)

The point of clarification: It’s important to make a distinction between what community-based groups are doing, and what issues-based organizations are doing.

To be very clear: Both of these kinds of groups can, and should, focus more on social justice, intersectionality, issues that are of greater concern to marginalized people. But I think they should do it in different ways.

ffrf logoIn organized atheism, there are issues-based organizations, and there are community-based groups. There are organizations that exist to work on specific issues — church/state separation, unfair religious privilege, religious intrusion into people’s private lives, ways that religion harms people, changing people’s opinions of atheists, etc. (Example: The Freedom From Religion Foundation filing lawsuits keeping religion out of, among other things, public schools.)

And there are groups and organizations (usually local) that exist to build atheist communities: to provide the social support, practical support, companionship, sense of meaning and purpose, etc. that many people get from religion.

So when we talk about getting organized atheism more involved in other social justice issues, we’re kind of talking about two different things here.

When it comes to issues-based organizations, I agree that they should stay on mission. But they sure as heck can focus more energy on issues already within that mission, and that disproportionately affect marginalized people. Reproductive rights, voucher funding of religious schools that sucks money from public schools, abstinence-only sex education, same-sex marriage, unregulated religious-based day care centers — these are already in the wheelhouse of church/state separation, unfair religious privilege, religious intrusion into people’s private lives, etc. There’s no reason issues-based atheist organizations shouldn’t be working on them.

Example: Should the FFRF file lawsuits about sexist discrimination in the workplace? Probably not. That’s not in their mission. But should they file lawsuits about abstinence-only sex education in public schools? Why the hell not? It’s an issue of church/state separation: abstinence-only sex education is entirely religion-based, in direct violation of the best evidence-based practices, with at best a thin veneer of pretense that it’s not (much like intelligent design being taught in the public schools). And it’s an issue that particularly concerns women, and that particularly concerns poor people (disproportionately people of color) who rely on public schools.

What’s more, issues-based atheist organizations can also work harder on social justice in internal matters: hiring and promotion, treatment of staff and volunteers, policies at conferences, hiring of speakers, how people showing up at meetings get treated, etc. And if they’re doing billboards or other campaigns to put a positive face on atheism, they sure as heck can make sure that a good number of those faces are women and people of color.

atheists-united-highway-cleanupNow, when we’re talking about community-based groups? That’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Local community groups are already, very often, engaged in projects that don’t have anything specifically to do with atheism. They’re already engaged in off-topic projects like highway cleanups, blood drives, picnics, pub nights, and so on. Some of this work is done to create a positive public face of atheism, and to counter the myths and bigotry against us. And some of it is done to build community: to strengthen social bonds, to create a sense of common meaning and purpose, etc.

If they can do highway cleanups and blood drives and other community-and-PR-building events that are off-topic, they bloody well can do social justice work that’s off-topic.

If community-based groups want to create a positive public face of atheism? They can do projects that present a positive face to marginalized people: working on reproductive rights, racist police and drug policies, bullying of LGBTQ kids and teenagers, underfunded public schools, domestic violence, systematic disenfranchisement of black voters, etc.

And if community-based groups want to build community, strengthen social bonds, create a sense of common meaning and purpose, etc.? They can do projects that are of particular meaning to marginalized people, and that make it clear that they matter in our communities, and that make our communities matter more to them. See above.

It makes no sense to argue that this is mission drift. And if you think it’s too controversial, remember — not doing this is also controversial, among marginalized people. Marginalized people are already staying away from organized atheism — because they think, with justification, that we don’t give a shit about their issues. The status quo is not neutral.

As I said yesterday, and the day before: I’m not dissing atheist highway cleanups and blood drives and battles against Ten Commandments monuments. Not for a second. I think these are wonderful things for atheist groups to be doing. But when we’re looking at opportunities to do volunteer work and service projects, let’s start expanding our ideas of what kinds of projects we might get involved in — and start working on projects that marginalized people care more about.

Other posts on this topic:
Does Social Justice Activism Mean Mission Drift for Atheism and Skepticism?
Atheist Highway Cleanups, and Some Further Thoughts On “Mission Drift”
No, It’s Not Mission Drift — But It’s Too Controversial! More on Atheism and Social Justice