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…]

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?


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.

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


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.


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

The Riots That We Care About

“A riot is the language of the unheard.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., March 14, 1968

It’s been occurring to me that Martin Luther King wasn’t totally right. Riots aren’t always the language of the unheard. When white folks riot over sports events or pumpkin festivals, it’s not the language of the unheard. It’s the language of people who get heard plenty, people with a toxic sense of entitlement about being heard, people who never fucking shut up.

But who does the media and the culture clutch their pearls about? People who riot because they’ve been stretched way past the breaking point, who riot because they’ve been kicked and kicked and kicked and kicked and kicked and are fucking well kicking back? Or people who riot because they like to, because they think it’s fun, because they think the entire world literally belongs to them and is their toy to destroy if they want?

“A riot is the language of the unheard”: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., March 14, 1968

Right now, I don’t have anything else to add to that.

(Oh, except this: My fuse on this one on is extremely short. I will not be tolerating bullshit that shows more concern about tranquility and the status quo than it does about justice and humanity.)

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.

Two Atheist Movements — And the One I Want to Be Part Of

There’s this thing I’ve been noticing.

lane split road sign.svgIt seems that increasingly, we have two atheist movements. I’m seeing national atheist organizations, local atheist communities, individual atheist organizers and activists and voices and participants, increasingly sorting ourselves into two different movements.

There are the ones who care about social justice; the ones who want to make organized atheism more welcoming to a wider variety of people; the ones who want their atheist communities to do a better job replacing the very real services that many marginalized people get from their religions; the ones who want their atheist communities to work in alliance and solidarity with other social change movements. (Or, to be more accurate — the ones who care enough to take real action.)

And there are the ones who don’t care, who aren’t interested in connecting their atheism to social justice — or don’t care enough to take significant action. They’re the ones who would be perfectly happy to have more women or black people or other marginalized folks at their events, but don’t care about it enough to examine why their events aren’t diverse, to listen to criticism about it, to accept some responsibility for it, or to change what they do. In some cases, they’re the ones who don’t want to connect their atheist activism with social justice — and don’t want anyone else to do it, either, to the point where they’re actively working to poison any efforts in that direction.*

Yes, this is an oversimplification, as almost any analysis saying “you can sort all X’s into two categories” will be. There’s non-trivial slippage between the two movements, and there are people and organizations (such as the atheist support organizations) who, for legitimate reasons, are trying to keep a hand in both. It might be more accurate to say that there are at least two atheist movements. But there are definitely these two: the ones who care about social justice, and the ones who don’t, or who don’t care all that much.

And I want to put my time and energy into building the first one. [Read more…]

What’s the Harm in Courting Conservatives? A Letter to American Atheists

American Atheists logoWhat’s the harm in courting conservative atheists? What’s the harm in American Atheists going to CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) to promote their organization and recruit members, or otherwise work to recruit conservatives?

I want to talk about a few incidents that happened earlier this month, at the American Atheists convention in Memphis. I’ll explain why they’re relevant in a moment.

* I was sitting in the hotel bar, talking with a friend and colleague who’s African-American. A man, white, sat down with us, joined the conversation — and in about five minutes, he started telling us, entirely unsolicited and out of the blue, about a time he went to a Halloween party in blackface. He defended this at some length — in the face of my friend clearly being appalled and uncomfortable, in the face of my own obviously appalled expression, and in the face of me explaining that this was seriously not okay and why.* He said that that since black performers wear whiteface, white people should be able to wear blackface, it’s totally the same thing, and besides it’s not like he was dressed as someone from a minstrel show, he was dressed as a specific black person (Michael Vick), so it was okay.

I’ll say that again: Blackface. A white guy sat down with a black colleague and me, and out of nowhere, said that he’s done blackface, and explained why he thinks it was fine and why criticism of it is unfair.

It turned out, by the way, that more than one person had already talked with him about this — including my friend, who had explained to him in the past how and why many African-Americans find blackface dehumanizing and degrading. Despite that, he still thought blackface was okay — and he still thought it was okay to casually mention it at a convention social event, with someone he had never before met, and with an African-American person who had already told him it wasn’t okay. To be fair, he quasi-apologized when he left, saying he was sorry he had upset me, and acknowledging that it was “a touchy subject.” He still, apparently, remained oblivious to the notion that since this is a “touchy” subject, perhaps he ought instead to choose one of the 85,000,000,000 other possible Halloween costumes available to him, and perhaps he ought not to casually mention it at a public social event with one person who’s the subject of this “touchiness” and another person he’s just met. He also apparently remained oblivious to the fact that I wasn’t the one he should apologize to.

(BTW, if you don’t understand why white people wearing blackface is profoundly messed-up, or why black people doing whiteface is not the same as white people doing blackface, read this, and this, and this and
this and this, and this, and this, and this. If you still don’t understand, piss off.)

* Moving on to some other incidents: Heina Dadabhoy — blogger on this network, and writer/ speaker on (among other things) their experiences as a Muslim and an ex-Muslim — had more than one person come up to them at the conference and explain what being a Muslim means and what Islam is. (And yes — these folks did this knowing that Heina’s an ex-Muslim.) This included one man who told Heina that true Islam was all about conquest, and that if Heina had never believed this, they hadn’t been a true Muslim. He did this, ironically, after the workshop Heina co-hosted on intersectionality.

wedding-cake* The keynote speaker at the convention, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, said in her keynote speech that “If you are gay the worst the Christian community can do in America is not serve you cake.” Either she was appallingly ignorant of the reality of many gay Americans’ lives — a reality that includes bullying, violence, losing jobs and homes and children, parents kicking gay teenagers out of their homes, vitriolic hatred, and more — or she knew about it, and was still willing to lie about it to score rhetorical points.

* Rebecca Hensler, founder and co-moderator of Grief Beyond Belief, got into a Twitter argument with Pro-Life Humanists representative Kristine Kruszelnicki, who was tableing at the convention. (Yes, the Pro-Life Humanists had a table at the convention. It’s hard to imagine that American Atheists would give space in their exhibit hall to an organization called Humanists for Jim Crow, or Humanists Against Gay Rights. But an organization dedicated to the eradication of the bodily autonomy of anyone with a working uterus — they were given a table.) When Hensler questioned how Kruszelnicki could claim “common ground” with Vyckie Garrison — a mother of seven, formerly in the Quiverfull movement, now an atheist activist and winner of American Atheists’ 2014 Atheist of the Year award — and at the same time collaborate with the movement backing crisis pregnancy centers, Kruszelnicki replied that the crisis pregnancy centers are, quote, “far from perfect,” but that they “work w them to help improve them.”

crisis pregancy center callout via exposingfakeclinics tumblr(Crisis pregnancy centers, for those who don’t know, are fake clinics run by anti-choice organizations, supposedly offering free pregnancy tests but really targeting pregnant women with grotesque misinformation and abusively traumatic propaganda, not only about abortion but about birth control, safer sex, rape, and sex generally. Calling them “far from perfect” is like calling Pat Robertson “not entirely rational.”)

* Heina Dadabhoy told someone at the convention that the more credible threats to their personal safety come from within their own community — feminist-hating atheists in the US — rather than from random Muslims overseas. He then said that he, himself, was an anti-feminist — but it was okay, he would personally protect Heina from other anti-feminists who wanted to physically harm them.

How is all this relevant to American Atheists, and the issue of courting conservative atheists?

Here’s why it’s relevant:

Courting conservative atheists is saying, “Incidents like this are fine with us.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. Courting conservative atheists is saying, “Incidents like this are fine with us — and it’s fine with us if they happen more often, in ways that are even uglier.” [Read more…]


(Content note: mentions of racism, rape denialism, domestic violence, homophobia. Also some use of mental illness language used as insult in quoted passage.)

I’ve been thinking about the word “radical.”

Lore Sjöberg recently posted this on Facebook (reprinted here with permission, not linked to by his request):

Here’s a thought experiment I’ve been mulling over. Say I was transported back in time to the 1950s. I’m surrounded by a culture that contains all the sexism and racism on display in Mad Men, and more on top of that.

I would be surrounded by repulsive things, ranging from cartoons about buck-toothed “Chinamen,” ads making jokes about smacking the little lady if she gets out of hand, rolled eyes at any implication that a woman could be raped by her husband, and the cultural certainty that gay people are, at best, just plain crazy.

How could I live with this? If I speak up about a tenth of the terrible things I saw, I’ll be seen as a bizarre radical if not an outright loon. Even if I become an activist, I’ll probably be the activist that everyone points at to say “Well, at least I’m not as extreme as HE is!”

(And all of this is not even addressing the question of what it would be like to actually BE a woman, or a person of color, or a gay man in that era.)

All of this is to say that sometimes I feel like I’m already in the Fifties. One of the complaints leveled against feminists, and feminist women in particular, is that they see sexism everywhere and they make a big deal out of things that everyone, even most women, think is just fine.

Well, yeah! There IS sexism everywhere, and a lot of the things that aren’t a big deal today are nonetheless sexist, just like naming a sports team “The Redskins” in 1932 was racist even if it seemed like good fun at the time. I certainly don’t agree with every statement by every progressive activist — that would be impossible anyway, progressives don’t agree on everything — but a lot of times I find myself reading about controversies and thinking “Yep, that’s radical, and it’s extremist, and it’s unreasonable. But it’s also absolutely correct and in another few decades it will be considered common sense.”

I’ve been thinking about this. And I’ve been realizing what an empty, lazy insult it is to call someone, or someone’s ideas, radical.

Rules_for_Radicals coverLore is absolutely right. Many ideas that were once seen as radical, and not that long ago either, have survived vigorous criticism and the test of time, and are now entirely mainstream. It was once considered radical to see black people as fully human, deserving of all the dignity and liberty and rights as any human. It was once considered radical to think that gay people weren’t morally corrupt or mentally ill, and to see same-sex love and sex and relationships as even remotely acceptable. (In fact, I remember seeing an archival TV interview with a gay activist in the late ’60s or early ’70s, who said that of course gay people weren’t advocating for marriage or adoption rights — that was ridiculous.) Until the 1970s, it was legal in the United States for husbands to rape their wives, and it took until 1993 for marital rape to be a crime in all 50 states. I could come up with a long list of many more examples, right off the top of my head. (Suggestions for others are invited in the comments.)

All these ideas were considered radical — until they weren’t.

In other words: An idea can be radical, and still be right.

In other other words: Insulting an idea (or a person) simply because they’re radical is an empty insult, devoid of any actual critical content. [Read more…]