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…]

Radical

(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…]

Support the Foundation Beyond Belief! Last Chance for 2014!

So you know how a lot of us keep talking about how organized atheism needs to spend less time and resources talking about 17 more reasons God doesn’t exist, and more time and resources making these finite lives of ours better for everyone? In particular, you know how a lot of us keep talking about how organized atheism needs to get more involved in social justice issues and intersectional issues that disproportionately affect marginalized people?

foundation beyond belief logo

Here are a few of the projects the Foundation Beyond Belief has supported.

Reproductive rights and family planning. Rape prevention aimed at men. Housing and support for homeless LGBT youth in New York City. Legal support for refugee children from Central America attempting to enter the United States. Legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. Support and advocacy for political asylees. Support for LGBT students in religious schools. International women’s human rights. Poverty in Haiti, Honduras, the United States. The Black Skeptics of Los Angeles First in the Family Humanist Scholarship Fund, awarding scholarships to South Los Angeles LAUSD students who are going to be the first in their immediate families to go to college. The Innocence Project.

The Foundation Beyond Belief is walking the walk.

If you’re not familiar with them: The Foundation Beyond Belief is a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation created to focus, encourage and demonstrate humanist generosity and compassion. They make contributions to charitable organizations that support their humanist goals; they sponsor humanist volunteer teams; they’re developing a humanist disaster response program; and they’re launching a Humanist Service Corps, which will open in July 2015 as six humanist volunteers begin a year of service in and around the witch camps of northern Ghana.

They rock.

If you’re looking for a tax-deductible non-profit organization to donate money to before 2014 ends, the Foundation Beyond Belief would be an awesome choice. They currently have a fundraising goal of $75,000 before the end of the year, to ensure that their programming will continue and thrive in 2015. As of this writing, they’re within $3,500 of that goal. It would be mega-awesome if they could start 2015 with that fundraising goal taken care of.

Quick note, for the purposes of full disclosure: I’m now on the Foundation Beyond Belief’s Board of Directors. I just got elected. So I’m not exactly unbiased here. But there’s a reason I decided to run for the Foundation Beyond Belief’s Board of Directors. This organization walks the walk. Again: If you’re looking for a place to donate money to before 2014 ends, the Foundation Beyond Belief would be an excellent choice.

Should Atheists Celebrate Christmas? The Social Justice Angle

why-believe-in-a-god-santa-bus-adSo I’ve been thinking about the question of atheists and Christmas, or other religious holidays that get folded into cultures and subcultures. And I’ve been realizing that there’s a social justice angle.

Context: Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of its flagship magazine Free Inquiry, wrote an essay and a book a few years back, arguing that no atheist should celebrate Christmas ever ever ever — yes, he uses the words “should” and “shouldn’t,” repeatedly. He’s opined about this topic many times, including comments (on Facebook and elsewhere) that atheists who do celebrate Christmas aren’t “real atheists,” are “hypocrites,” and are giving “aid and comfort to the enemy.” He doesn’t even approve of secular Solstice celebrations. In the last couple of weeks, Beth Presswood, of the Godless Bitches podcast and the Atheist Community of Austin, has been ripping him a new one about it on Facebook.

My overall angle on this is that every atheist has to find their own ways of coping with religion’s intrusion into everyday life. Some of us push back on it with everything we’ve got. Some of us are fine with secularized versions of religious traditions — sincere or mocking or both. Some of us are fine going along with religious traditions. And many of us mix and match: pushing back against some religious incursions, accepting or creating secularized versions of others, going along with still others. I have zero problem with this. I’m finding my own way of handling Christmas, a balance of festivity, mockery, tradition, and resistance that works for me, and it does not trouble me in the slightest that other people are more traditional about it, while others are more oppositional, or are simply not interested.

I was thinking about this, and it occurred to me:

Oh. There’s a social justice angle to this.

Yes, different atheists have different ways of handling religion and its intrusions into everyday life. There are lots of reasons for that. But one of the big ones is: How much do they rely on a social support system that’s structured around religion? Are they in a culture or subculture or family that’s very religious? Would refusing to participate in traditions like Christmas — traditions that are religious, or semi-religious, or quasi-religious, or secularized religious — mean alienating people they can’t afford to alienate, for practical reasons or emotional ones? Would refusing to participate mean isolating themselves from the continuity that people get from traditions, the sense of connection to something larger?

And certain forms of marginalization can play into this.

African-Americans are more likely to have deeply religious families and communities, who they can’t afford to alienate or simply don’t want to. Poor people are more likely to have deeply religious families and communities, who they can’t afford to alienate or simply don’t want to. For women, the social costs of disconnecting from family traditions are often greater than they are for men, since the job of perpetuating these traditions is commonly seen as women’s work. Many LGBT people, who have been cut off from their families, find much-needed practical and emotional support in LGBT-friendly churches or other religions, and a much-needed sense of continuity and connection.

So insisting that no true atheist would celebrate Christmas is pretty damn insensitive to the different realities of different atheists — black atheists, poor atheists, women atheists, LGBT atheists, any atheists in other marginalized groups — who are more dependent on religious structures, or whose lives are just more intertwined with religious people.

Atheists with other forms of marginalization are often treated as traitors to their race, their gender, their culture. Why on earth would we want to pile onto that from the other side? Many black atheists already get a bellyful of, “You’re not really black.” It’s messed-up to pile onto that with, “You’re not really an atheist.”


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 is Not for Everyone: What Inclusivity Means to Us, and What It Doesn’t Mean

I Love Feminism, by Jay Morrison

This is a joint statement by Greta Christina and Chris Hall, originally posted on the Godless Perverts site.

Godless Perverts is not for everyone.

We mean that in the gentler, more informal sense of the term: Not everyone is going to like it. Not everyone is going to enjoy discussion groups, entertainments, or parties centered on godless views of sexuality. They may not enjoy our frank, explicit explorations of sex, including a wide variety of unconventional sexualities; they may not enjoy the views of religion that come up in our meetups and entertainments — some of which are harshly critical and mocking, others of which are sympathetic. That’s okay. We can’t be all things to all people, and we’re fine with that.

But we’re also not for everyone in the somewhat harsher sense of the term: We are not open to everybody. There are going to be times when we have to tell people they’re not welcome.

This is hard. Almost everyone has had painful experiences with being told, openly or otherwise, that they’re not welcome in a group. Almost all of us have had painful experiences being picked last for a team at school, or being treated like an outcast at a social event. The two of us certainly have. It’s a difficult thing to experience, and it’s not an experience we dole out lightly. (The Geek Social Fallacies can be very seductive, including Geek Social Fallacy #1: Ostracizers Are Evil.) But the unfortunate reality is that if we want to create a welcoming space for people who support and value our mission, we will sometimes have to ask people to leave. [Read more…]

Death and Injustice: How Can Humanists Respond?

Protests

(Note: the following contains references to racist, transphobic, and misogynistic violence.)

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

I have a new book out called 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 deaths of those you love. [It comes out December 11 in ebook and audiobook; print edition will come later.] In it, I talk about some humanist ways of coping with death and highlight 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 by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014, 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 warrant a jury trial and declined to indict his killer on even the most minor charges—I found myself with very little to say. And when, a week after that grand jury announcement, another grand jury in New York City declined to indict another police officer (Daniel Pantaleo) in the death of another unarmed black man (Eric Garner)—I was almost speechless.

Of course I’ve 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 comes to any consolations humanism might have for people grieving for Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the injustice surrounding their deaths, I’ve been coming up largely empty.

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

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for The Humanist magazine, Death and Injustice: How Can Humanists Respond? To read more, read the rest of the piece.

(Note: Some of the comments at the link are okay, but some are appalling. The next time someone says, “You shouldn’t call yourself an atheist, if you care about atheism plus social justice you should call yourself a humanist” — or the next time someone says, “Humanism already means caring about racism and sexism and all that, so why should I call myself a feminist or anti-racist, I just call myself a humanist and that covers it” — I’m pointing them to these comments. Self-identified humanists can be total fucking assholes.)

Ferguson Links

Here are some posts about Ferguson, Michael Brown, Darren Wilson, and related stuff, which I think are worth reading.

It’s Incredibly Rare For A Grand Jury To Do What Ferguson’s Just Did

Fake Michael Brown case pathologist: ‘If they want to think I’m a doctor, that’s their issue’

Structural and Institutional Racism Exists Within Police Forces

When Force is Hardest to Justify, Victims of Police Violence are More Likely to be Black

Ferguson: 5 Points We Need to Understand

St. Louis police officers’ group demands Rams players be disciplined for ‘hands up, don’t shoot’

Charges Dropped For Cop Who Fatally Shot Sleeping 7-Year-Old Girl

The Talk (cartoon by Steve Sack)

the talk cartoon

‘Racism without racists’: White supremacy so deeply American that we don’t even see it

Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson

12 things white people can do now because Ferguson

6 Things White Parents Can Do to Raise Racially Conscious Children

Ferguson Public Library (you can make donations)

Ferguson Defense Fund

BlackLivesMatter Bay Area Legal Fund

No, No, No, No, No: Ferguson, Michael Brown, and the Failure to Indict Darren Wilson

No.

No, no, no, no, no.

When major world events happen, I don’t always comment. I have a tendency to not say anything unless I have something unique to say, something I haven’t seen anyone else say yet.

But sometimes, that doesn’t matter. Sometimes, I just have be one more voice. Even though other people will no doubt have things to say that are more perceptive, more informed, more eloquent, sometimes I have to add my voice to the chorus. This is one of those times.

No. This is not acceptable. It is not acceptable that millions of Americans live in a police state because their skin is black or brown. It is not acceptable that police can shoot unarmed black men who have their hands in the air, and not even fucking get indicted. Forget about getting convicted — Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, and did not even get fucking indicted.

I do not consent to this decision.

I may say more later. Right now, I need to say this:

No. No, no, no, no, no.

NO.

no

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.