American Terror: Excerpt From “Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels” by Sikivu Hutchinson

Godless Americana coverThe following is an excerpt from Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels, the new book by Sikivu Hutchinson. Available on Amazon and CreateSpace; coming soon on Kindle.


American Terror

A little white boy, a cherub with an impish grin, earnestly clutches a microphone before a church congregation in a blurry video of the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle in Greensburg, Indiana. He begins to belt out a ditty, “I know the Bible is right, somebody’s wrong…Ain’t no homos going to make it to heaven,” in a playful schoolboy lilt. The crowd erupts, rising to its feet, fists pumping, high fives extended, roof raised. The pastor beams proudly from the pulpit, deliciously pleased by this home team display of American Idol precocity.

The video generated thousands of hits and comments online, some praising, many condemning. Christians were slammed as hypocritical and un-Christian; detractors were piously directed to Bible verses smearing homosexuality. The mantra from tolerant Christians was that God doesn’t endorse hate, especially from the mouths of babes. Biblical condemnation of homosexuality was a remnant of antiquity, inapplicable to the complexities of the modern world, a distortion of God’s unconditional love.

Eavesdropping on the red-blooded zeal of the Tabernacle’s come-to-Jesus audience, it’s clear that the cherub has renewed its wilting faith. The straight backs of dark-suited men frame the furtive glances of silent little girls in frilly dresses peaking around the camera as whistles and applause ripple through the sanctuary. With the womenfolk tucked away, giving praise to Jesus is just another alpha male sporting event. The wisdom of heterosexual solidarity will not be lost on more tolerant corrupted generations. The cherub is no more than five years old. Soon, he will be new to elementary school, new to the savage dance of peer pressure and the playground rituals of gender. He is “innocent,” yet fully initiated into the culture of violence, permissiveness, and patriarchy that says “boys will be boys.” Western civilization revolves around this unbreakable sacrament. From the nameless, faceless American military drone victims of the Middle East to the expendable Jezebels of American inner cities, to be American is to always be innocent against the global backdrop of otherness. It is to accept as gospel that “they” hate us because of our freedoms while “we” are free to pillage the globe with American war machines and pipeline youth of color into prisons. Historically, conquering and “democratizing” savage foreign lands has been part of the U.S.’ foreordained Christian mission as an “exceptional” civilization. American exceptionalism was a key theme for the GOP and Religious Right in the 2012 presidential race. Former Republican congressman and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich amplified this theme in his book A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters:

The ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the unique American identity that rose from an American civilization that honored them form what we call today “American Exceptionalism”…President Obama, for example, simply does not understand this concept. In the past he was outright contemptuous of American Exceptionalism, deriding Americans as “bitter” people who “cling” to guns and religion…If the ideas in the Declaration were not new or particularly radical, then why did this single document fundamentally alter world history? The answer is this: no nation had ever before embraced human equality and God-given individual rights as its fundamental organizing principle.

Caricatured by the right as a socialist revolutionary, Obama sought to burnish his Americana credentials by trotting out the rhetoric of exceptionalism. In 2009 he maintained that it’s a “core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.” Yet, Obama’s identification with exceptionalism was not enough for GOP ideologues like Gingrich, who insist that Judeo-Christian might and right makes the U.S. superior to other nations. Predictably, Gingrich’s summary of the U.S.’ exceptionalist path contains only passing reference to slavery. For Gingrich, slavery was only a minor deviation from this “nation like no other’s” ascent to global leadership. If the Declaration of Independence invokes “unalienable rights” of liberty and equality granted by God, then the U.S.’ unique righteousness lies in this contract. According to this view, American civilization, as the most religious superpower on the planet, means God—white, Christian, straight, and pure. And even though the U.S. is the fount of freedom and individual liberty, God cannot be expected to bend to the whims and cultural relativisms of modernity. To do so would be a betrayal of his will, as manifest in “natural” law.

The little white boy of Apostolic Truth Tabernacle is the unofficial face of Americana, the spiritual inheritor of God, mom, and apple pie. This holy trinity was sorely tested by President Obama’s landslide victory in the 2012 presidential campaign. The GOP’s anti-government message of lower taxes and shiftless welfare queens, coupled with its attacks against birth control, abortion, gay rights and undocumented immigrants, was repugnant to many voters. Yet, although a majority of the electorate rejected the party’s Christian fascist rhetoric, those that would write the political and cultural obituary of fundamentalist Americana are premature. God has always been one of the U.S.’ primary afflictions. The performance of American national identity is steeped in this cancer. The right-wing backlash against democratic citizenship is fueled by it. Unleashed from its YouTube moment, the cherub’s folksy performance deep in the heart of this small Midwestern church reverberates in hundreds of so-called gay conversion therapy sessions throughout the nation. It provides the backdrop for the monster popularity of alpha male toys that give little boys license to prey and pillage. It fuels the suicides that claim the lives of hundreds of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth every year. It drives the she-asked-for-it rape culture that says women’s bodies are dirty, shameful, sinful, and always there for the taking.


Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels is available on Amazon and CreateSpace; coming soon on Kindle.

Welcome Yemisi Ilesanmi to Freethought Blogs!

Yemisi IlesanmiWe have a new blogger in the Freethought Blogs network — Yemisi Ilesanmi, blogging at YEMMYnisting! The tagline of her blog is “Proudly Feminist, Proudly Bisexual and Proudly Atheist.” — you can see why we brought her on, right? Here’s what she says about herself in her bio:

Yemisi Ilesanmi is a Nigerian woman, resident in UK. She holds a Masters of Law (LL.M) degree in Gender, Sexuality and Human Rights. She is a trade unionist, human rights activist, an author, a poet and sometimes moonlights as a plus size model. She is a passionate campaigner for equal rights, social justice and poverty alleviation. Her debut book ‘Freedom To Love For ALL: Homosexuality is Not Un-African’ is available in paperback and kindle editions on Amazon ( In sometimes, what she thinks as a past life, she was- – National Women leader/Assistant National Secretary, Nigeria Labour Party. – Vice President, International Trade Union Congress – Chairperson, ITUC Youth Committee – International Labour Conference (ILC) Committee Member on Applications of Standards – Founder/President, National Association of Nigerian Female Students She is the founder and coordinator of the campaign group Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora Against Anti-Same Sex Laws.

I’m totally thinking about that Tom Lehrer line: “It’s people like that who make you realize how little you’ve accomplished.” Her introductory post makes her awesomeness even more apparent. Please welcome her to the network!

Comedy Does Not Win a Free Pass: Seth MacFarlane at the Oscars

I am sick to death of the idea that “it’s just comedy” somehow gives you a free pass when you’re saying things that are racist and sexist.

And I am sick to death of the idea that any transgression of social norms — no matter what those norms are, or why they exist — automatically transforms you into a comedic genius.

I thought I didn’t have anything to say about Seth MacFarlane’s performance as Oscar host that Spencer Kornhaber at The Atlantic didn’t already say. If you haven’t read his piece, read it now. Money quote:

It shouldn’t be hard to come up with a sensible position on this. Everything, including punchlines about the Jews cutting non-Jews out of Hollywood, snickers about women faking the flu to lose weight, and cracks that there’s no need to try to understand what Salma Hayek’s saying because she’s so hot, is “OK.” It’s a free country, etc. But that doesn’t mean those jokes aren’t hurtful, obvious, or dumb. It doesn’t mean they don’t make the world a worse place. Humor, after all, can be an incredible weapon for social progress, but it can also be regressive: The more we pass off old stereotypes, rooted in hate, as normal—as MacFarlane did again and again last night—the longer those stereotypes, and their ability to harm people, will be in place.

But I’m realizing — after linking to Kornhaber’s piece on Facebook and getting into depressingly predictable debates as a result — that I do have something else to say. It’s this:

I am sick to death of the idea that “it’s just comedy” somehow gives you a free pass when you’re saying things that are racist and sexist. And I am sick to death of the idea that any transgression of social norms automatically transforms you into a comedic genius.

Yes, artistic freedom in comedy depends on the ability to say or do anything, even if it runs counter to social norms. That’s true of any art form. Comedy isn’t special in that regard. And yes, of course, comedians should have the legal right to say whatever they want (within the obvious limits of libel laws and copyright laws and such).

Does this mean that comedians should get a free pass when the things they say and do are screwed-up? Does it mean that comedians — or any artists — should be exempt from criticism when the things they say and do dehumanize, trivialize, shame, reinforce harmful stereotypes, support and rationalize the unequal status quo, and otherwise injure entire groups of people? Especially groups of people who have already been hurt a whole hell of a lot, in this exact same way, for centuries?

Lenny_Bruce_arrestI think there’s a bad logical fallacy that some comedians make. They think that being transgressive and cutting-edge and iconoclastic typically means offending people… and that therefore, if you’re offending people, it somehow automatically makes you transgressive and cutting-edge and iconoclastic. They think that because they’re offending people and making them angry, it means they’re Lenny Bruce.

It doesn’t work that way. To be iconoclastic, you have to destroy icons. To be cutting-edge, you have to push cultural boundaries in a way that moves society forward. To be transgressive — at least, to be transgressive in a meaningful way — you have to cross lines and break rules that deserve to be broken and crossed.

And to be Lenny Bruce, it’s not enough simply to offend people. You also have to be brilliant. To be Lenny Bruce, it’s not enough simply to say things nobody else will say. You have to say things nobody else will say — and which are also the truth.

The notion, expressed in Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar performance, that all African-Americans look alike? That Hispanics are hard to understand, but that’s okay as long as they’re attractive to look at? That women are unforgiving in relationships, and never let go of anything? That Hollywood is run by a Jewish cabal that only hires other Jews? That the nudity of female actresses exists primarily for the sexual enjoyment of men?

That’s not breaking icons. It’s reinforcing them. That’s not pushing our culture forward. It’s dragging us backward.

It’s not brilliant.

And it’s not true.

Kika posterWhat’s more: I’m sick to death of the notion that, if you critique something a comedian says or does for being hurtful and fucked up, you need to “lighten up,” “stop taking things so seriously,” and “get a sense of humor.” I remember years ago, Pedro Almodovar responded to feminist critiques of one of his movies (the critiques had to do with rape jokes, if I recall correctly) by saying something along the lines of, “Why are feminists like this? Isn’t it possible to be a feminist and still have a sense of humor?” To which I wanted to respond, “Isn’t it possible to have a sense of humor and still not think your jokes are funny?” This idea that having a sense of humor means giving all comedians a free pass on criticism for anything they say, ever… it’s bullshit. It’s a “Shut up, that’s why” argument. It’s a reflexive attempt to shut down any criticism — artistic as well as political or moral — before it ever starts.

Well, you don’t get to have it both ways. You don’t get to say that comedy is an important form of artistic expression, a valuable contribution to our cultural landscape in which artistic freedom is necessary and paramount… and then say that everyone just needs to lighten up, and what comedians say and do isn’t that big a deal, and it’s ridiculous to call them to account for it.

Some social norms are there for a reason. The social pressure to (for instance) not act like a racist asshole — that’s there for a reason. It’s there because racism is bad. It’s there because, as a society, we are in the process of changing our minds about race… and exerting social pressure against racist ideas and behavior is part of how we learn to do that, and teach each other to do it.

And this idea that any violation of social norms automatically makes you courageous and transgressive… it’s childish. It’s adolescent. It’s a cheap, easy way to make yourself feel rebellious and edgy… when you’re actually squarely in the center, reinforcing the very structures you’re pretending to rebel against.

2013 Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers, Feb. 24: “Come Out and Join In”

This is a guest post from the Day of Solidarity National Committee; Kimberly Veal, Chairperson.

Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers logoThe percentage of black non-believers in the U.S. is small but increasing. Most have difficulty meeting other black non-believers or finding many who are involved in secular organizations. The internet has made many connections possible; however, the common feelings expressed by black non-believers are those of isolation, loneliness, and alienation. Often the remedy for these feelings is activism. This activism includes diligently searching for and befriending other non-believers, working with as many other non-believers as possible to address social ills, continuing to be educated about the factual world, providing positive expressions for secular ideas through writing and public speaking, and strengthening the secular community by supporting existing organizations as well as creating dynamic new ones. Unfettered activism is captured in the purpose of the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers.

The Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers (DoS), held annually on the fourth Sunday in February, must be embraced beyond the events that take place in cities across the nation on that day. It must be used to build genuine communal relationships. It must be used to launch a wave of activism among blacks in America and other people of color as we strive to openly embrace our non-theist status in an ethical and dignified manner. Those that accept this call to activism must garner enough interest to create and support opportunities that will motivate those who have so far remained dormant except for an occasional message via email, Twitter, blogging, or postings on Facebook. This Day of Solidarity event is an effort to bring them out from behind those high tech media devices and other locations that keep them inconspicuous.

Anyone who supports this initiative can contact other non-theist individuals, groups, and organizations to plan a gathering, such as brunch, lunch, book or film discussion, museum trip, speaker presentation, etc. Decide on a time and place. Publicize the event as widely as possible. Use Facebook, Twitter,, and other websites. Also consider newspaper and web-based community calendars, issuing local press releases, radio station announcements, and making personal invitations. When your planning is complete, post the details of your event on the DoS Facebook page for the benefit of others that may be looking for an event in your area.

We want to know about every event that takes place on Sunday, February 24, 2013; large or small, private or public! Please be sure to post your videos, pictures, links, podcasts, or comments on the DoS Facebook page. If you have any questions or need further information, be sure to contact us on our Facebook page or e-mail us at Black non-believers you are not alone. “Come Out and Join In.”

Frequently Asked Questions:

1) What is the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers (DoS)?
The DoS is a nationwide event during Black History Month to promote community and solidarity among blacks in America who identify as non-believers: atheists, agnostics, skeptics, free-thinkers, etc. DoS has been organized as a way to counter the religious voice that all too often serves as the lone voice of black consciousness and experience. These gatherings will promote fellowship and the pursuit of humanist strategies to solve the problems facing humanity – especially those affecting the black community.
2) Where will the DoS events take place?
Day of Solidarity events will take place in cities and towns across the U.S. We plan to keep an updated list as events are reported. Send us an email,, to request event locations.
3) When will the DoS take place?
The Day of Solidarity will take place on Sunday, February 24th, 2013. Thereafter, the Day of Solidarity will take place annually on the last Sunday in February.
4) What can I anticipate happening at a DoS event?
The events will be unique, customized by each of the organizers and attendees. Most likely DOS meetings will take place in coffeehouses, restaurants or other casual settings. Larger groups may convene in libraries or other public venues. Although there is no formal itinerary for the DOS events, organizers are encouraged to include a segment on historical black non-theists, share life experiences, plan for the next DOS, and there should be ample time to socialize – get acquainted!
5) Is there a cost for attendance?
Ideally, there will not be a cost to participate outside of whatever food items or group merchandise participants choose to purchase. The goal is to gather. DoS organizers are encouraged to keep all costs to a minimum to encourage the most participation. A small admission fee may be requested to defray any rental costs associated with the venue. Local organizers will inform attendees ahead of time if a cost is associated with attendance.
6) Do I have to be Black or African American to attend?
No! The events are open to everyone. We welcome the support and participation of our allies in the Secular Movement, regardless of race. While we do not wish to discourage other individuals from attending, the primary focus will be on answering the religiosity in the black community and providing a forum for black non-theists to share experiences.
7) I don’t see a Day of Solidarity event planned in my area but am interested in participating. How can I learn more about organizing a DoS event?
Please send an email to and we will send you suggested guidelines for organizing an event. Also, review the info section on the Facebook page. We can also assist in identifying local secular groups that may have an event planned or contact information for others interested in participating.
8) I live in a remote area and cannot attend the DoS closest to me. Any hope for me participating in a DOS event?
We will aim to use as many forms of communication as possible if there is interest. Skype and/or conference calls may be options for those of us in rural locations or who have accessibility issues.
9) I’m pretty sure I’m the only black non-theist in my area! I’d still like to participate somehow. Any suggestions?
Well you never know. There are more of us than you think – but whether two, twenty, or two hundred are gathered, solidarity can be achieved. We can help with suggestions for finding other non-theists in your area so just send us an email. The Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers is in the process of building, and our numbers will grow as more people are comfortable with identifying as non-believers. We have to start somewhere. So even if your event only has two people in attendance, that is a positive move in the right direction. We hope to see you or hear about your event on February 24th!

2013 Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers
“Come Out and Join In”
National Co-Sponsors: African Americans for Humanism, Black Atheists of America, Black Non-Believers, Inc., Black FreeThinkers, and Black Skeptics Los Angeles.

Atheists of Color List Updated!

The Atheists of Color list has been updated! Thanks so much to everyone who posted suggestions for new inclusions, and provided updated information on the existing list.

Quick update for those who aren’t familiar: A couple of years ago, I compiled a list of prominent atheists of color, and organizations of atheists of color, here on this blog. I did this for a number of reasons: mostly so that conference organizers, event organizers for local and student groups, anthology editors, bloggers, journalists, and people who are simply participants in the atheist community could easily be made familiar with the work of a wider range of atheists… a range that’s more diverse, and more reflective of the actual makeup of the atheist community. (tl;dr: Conference organizers, you no longer have an excuse. :-) ) And hopefully, atheists of color who see the list will feel less isolated, and will be better able to find resources and community.

The list had gotten somewhat out of date, so I asked readers to comment with suggestions for additions to the list, updated info, etc. Readers came through, and the list is now all shiny and new.

If anyone knows of any other additions or changes, please suggest them at any time. And thanks again to everyone for making this happen!

Atheists of Color: Updating the List

Please note: This post has a different comment policy than my standard one. Please read the entire piece to the end before commenting. It’s not that long.

A couple of years ago, I compiled a list of prominent atheists of color, and organizations of atheists of color, here on this blog. I did this for a number of reasons: mostly so that conference organizers, event organizers for local and student groups, anthology editors, bloggers, journalists, and people who are simply participants in the atheist community could easily be made familiar with the work of a wider range of atheists… a range that’s more diverse, and more reflective of the actual makeup of the atheist community. (tl;dr: Conference organizers, you no longer have an excuse. :-) )

The list is now somewhat out of date, and I’d like to update it. Please let me know in the comments if you know any of the following:

People/ organizations who should be on the list but aren’t. IMPORTANT: Please don’t just list their name! I need their name, the URL for their blog/ website if they have one, and a SHORT list of credentials: books, blogs, publications they write for, achievements, etc. Compiling and updating this list is enough work without having to do a ton of Googling.
Also important: Please DO NOT hesitate to nominate yourself for this list! If you’re an atheist of color and you’re any sort of public figure, either within the atheist community or outside of it — blogger, community organizer, scholar, scientist, author, artist, musician, activist, whatever — please let me know. Again, please provide your name, URL for your blog/ website if you have one, and a SHORT list of your credentials. And if you’re already on the list, but your information is incorrect or incomplete, please let me know.
People/ organizations who are on the list but shouldn’t be. If there’s anyone on this list who isn’t actually an atheist, or has stopped identifying as an atheist since this list was first created, or is no longer a public figure and has dropped off the radar, please let me know. Also, if anyone on this list is now dead, please let me know: this is meant to be a list of atheists of color who are alive and active now. And if any of the organizations on the list have since folded, please let me know.
NOTE ABOUT BLOGGERS: If a blogger hasn’t updated their blog in six months, and hasn’t stated on their blog that they’re taking a hiatus and plan to return, I’m going to drop them from the list, unless someone gives me a strong argument for keeping them on.
Up to date credentials/ biographical info. If the credentials/ biographical info for anyone on this list is out of date — if people have new books, new blogs, new positions at their organizations, if they’re working for different organizations, etc. — please let me know.
Up to date URLs. If you know the URLs for any of the people on this list who don’t have URLs listed? If there are URLs on this list that are out of date, and you know the current URL? Please let me know.

Once again, here’s a link to the original list.

A couple of notes on what I’m looking for here:

First: This is not intended to be a list of famous atheists of color throughout history. That would certainly be an awesomely useful project (and if anyone knows of this project existing, please speak up!) — but it’s not this project. This is meant to be a list af atheists of color who are alive and active now.

Second, and very importantly: I do not want to get into an argument here about why we need this list, or how we should just be color blind and ignore race altogether. In a perfect world, maybe we wouldn’t need it. We don’t live in a perfect world. Among other things, well- meaning people can unconsciously perpetuate racial bias without intending to… and we need to take conscious action to counter this unconscious tendency. If you think the atheist movement doesn’t need to make a conscious effort to be more inclusive, then please read these pieces:

Getting It Right Early: Why Atheists Need to Act Now on Gender and Race
Race, Gender, and Atheism, Part 2: What We Need To Do — And Why

And if, after reading those pieces — not skimming them or reading the titles, but actually reading them — you still think we don’t need to make a conscious effort to be more inclusive of people of color, then please make your arguments ON THOSE POSTS. Not here. Comments here arguing that we don’t need this list will be disemvoweled or deleted. This post is for people who will find this list useful and informative, and/or who want to make suggestions about keeping it accurate and up to date.

I do welcome some degree of debate here about whether a particular person should or should not be included: are they really an atheist, are they prominent enough (although I’ll tend to err on the side of inclusion there), etc. But I do not welcome debate here about whether this list should exist. Thank you.

Third: Please make your suggestions here, in comments on this blog. Please do not email them to me. I do want there to be an opportunity for public discussion about additions, deletions, or other changes. (And I’m somewhat concerned about assholes trying to troll the list: that’ll be less easy to do if there are eyes on the process other than mine.) Also, it’s easier for me to manage this if all the revisions are in one place. Thanks!

Note: I know that there are problems/ issues with the phrase “people of color” (among other things, it lumps together people from widely divergent cultural backgrounds as if not being white was the same experience for everyone). In general, I’m trying to step away from using it. In this case, though, I’m going to stick with the phrase, imperfect though it is: brevity is key here, and anyway this list has a lot of people linking to it and citing it and searching for it, and I don’t want to screw that up.

Oh, and in case you’re not already aware of it: here, in a similar vein, is a large list of awesome female atheists, compiled by Jen McCreight at BlagHag.)

Thanks for your help!

6 Inspiring Atheist Women and Atheists Of Color

A version of this piece was originally published, under a different title, on AlterNet.

Atheism is often seen as a white men’s club. But there have always been atheist women and atheists of color — and they can inspire anyone.

Richard Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens. Sam Harris. Charles Darwin. Mark Twain.

These are the names and faces many people associate with atheism. And apart from their atheism, they all have something in common: They’re all white guys. Atheism is often seen as a white men’s club — by believers, and by all too many atheists as well.

But for as long as there have been atheists, there have been atheist women and atheists of color. Some have been vocal and ardent about their atheism; for some, their atheism has been much more incidental to their life’s work. And some of that life’s work has been incredible. Some of it has changed the world… not just for atheists, but for everybody. When you’re imagining the face of atheism, I hope some of these faces — faces from history, or alive and yelling today — will come to mind.

Frida Kahlo1: Frida Kahlo. One of the most magnificent and beloved painters of the modern era. Of any era. really. Her work is accessible and challenging, iconic and iconoclastic, introspective and expansive, deeply unsettling and richly beautiful. Largely self-taught, indeed largely self-invented, she is an inspiration and a hero to millions.

And she was as atheist. As John Timpane of the Philadelphia Inquirer put it: “She is, however, an uneasy fit for Mexican culture. In this country dominated by tradition and Catholicism, she was an atheist communist (in and out of the party).” And as she herself put it in a poem written to her husband Diego Rivera (from Finding Frida Kahlo by Barbara Levine):

Your absence
kills me, making
a virtue
of your memory.
You are the nonexisting

Elizabeth Cady Stanton2: Elizabeth Cady Stanton. You might have heard of her. Palled around with Susan B. Anthony. Largely responsible for the women’s suffrage and women’s rights movements in the United States. Sometimes credited as the primary instigator of these movements in fact. If you’re a woman in the United States, and you vote, you have this woman to thank.

Big old non-believer. A freethinker, technically (the more common term in her day than “atheist”). And not just a non-theist — an ardent anti-religionist. The co-author of the Women’s Bible, which re-examines the Bible as a literary fiction and critiques its degrading teachings on women, she proposed a resolution at the 1885 National Woman Suffrage Association that would have condemned all religions “teaching that woman was an afterthought in creation, her sex a misfortune, marriage a condition of subordination, and maternity a curse,” and stating this:

“You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded woman. What power is it that makes the Hindoo woman burn herself upon the funeral pyre of her husband? Her religion. What holds the Turkish woman in the harem? Her religion. By what power do the Mormons perpetuate their system of polygamy? By their religion. Man, of himself, could not do this; but when he declares, `Thus saith the Lord,’ of course he can do it. So long as ministers stand up and tell us Christ is the head of the Church, so is man the head of women, how are we to break the chains which have held women down through the ages?

A. Philip Randolph3: A. Philip Randolph. Founder of the March on Washington Movement — you’ve heard of that, right? Founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters — the enormously influential labor and civil rights organization, and the first labor organization led by blacks to receive a charter in the American Federation of Labor. One of the great early leaders of the civil rights movement. Once known as the most dangerous black person in America; later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Lyndon B. Johnson. (I can’t decide which of those is more awesome. Maybe the two put together.)

Atheist. He once wrote, “We consider prayer as nothing more than a fervent wish; consequently the merit and worth of a prayer depend upon what the fervent wish is.” In fact, he was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association in 1970, and was a signatory of the 1973 Humanist Manifesto II.

Zora_Neale_Hurston4: Zora Neale Hurston. Brilliant Harlem Renaissance writer. Anthropologist. Ethnographer. Folklorist. Best known and beloved for her 1937 masterpiece novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Enormously influential in the worlds of literature, anthropology, oral tradition, African American folklore, and just about every other damn thing except maybe particle physics.

Non-believer. Even as a child, she was beginning to question the unquestioning faith and dogma of her congregation. She wrote of those years she could not “understand the passionate declarations of love for a being that nobody could see…. When I was asked if I loved God, I always said yes because I knew that was the thing I was supposed to say. It was a guilty secret with me for a long time.” She eventually concluded, “Why fear? The stuff of my being is matter, ever changing, ever moving, but never lost; so what need of denominations and creeds to deny myself the comfort of all my fellow men? The wide belt of the universe has no need for finger-rings. I am one with the infinite and need no other assurance.”

Salman Rushdie5: Salman Rushdie. I hope I don’t have to tell you who this guy is. Staggeringly brilliant, multiple award-winning author, whose awards include the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction, Author of the Year (British Book Awards), Author of the Year (Germany), Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award, and… oh, just look at the list yourself. Most famous, unfortunately, for writing a book that some fundamentalist Islamist leaders found upsetting… and, as a direct result, getting targeted with hit men.

And in his 1985 essay “In God We Trust,” he wrote, “God, Satan, Paradise, and Hell all vanished one day in my fifteenth year, when I quite abruptly lost my faith… and afterwards, to prove my new-found atheism, I bought myself a rather tasteless ham sandwich, and so partook for the first time of the forbidden flesh of the swine. No thunderbolt arrived to strike me down. […] From that day to this I have thought of myself as a wholly secular person.”

Natalie Angier6: Natalie Angier. If you haven’t read The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, you have thus far missed one of the great joys of life. I encourage you to remedy the matter at once. New York Times science journalist Natalie Angier is one of the most purely joyful ambassadors of science I have ever read, seen, heard, or perceived by any other sensory apparatus. Blending giddy exuberance with thorough, painstaking, no-joke research, she conveys the hard facts about science with excitement, passion, clarity, humor, and… well, joy. Her love for the physical world, in all its complexity and profound weirdness, is infectious, and entirely inspiring.

And she is an outspoken, even ferocious atheist. From her piece in the New York Times magazine, Confessions of a Lonely Atheist:

So, I’ll out myself. I’m an Atheist. I don’t believe in God, Gods, Godlets or any sort of higher power beyond the universe itself, which seems quite high and powerful enough to me. I don’t believe in life after death, channeled chat rooms with the dead, reincarnation, telekinesis or any miracles but the miracle of life and consciousness, which again strike me as miracles in nearly obscene abundance. I believe that the universe abides by the laws of physics, some of which are known, others of which will surely be discovered, but even if they aren’t, that will simply be a result, as my colleague George Johnson put it, of our brains having evolved for life on this one little planet and thus being inevitably limited. I’m convinced that the world as we see it was shaped by the again genuinely miraculous, let’s even say transcendent, hand of evolution through natural selection.

Important note: This isn’t meant to be the six best women and atheists of color, or the six most famous, or the six most important. Just six who happened to catch my attention and capture my imagination. Just an almost-random six… out of the countless others who equally deserve to be recognized and celebrated.

And there are countless others. If I had space here, I could have told you about W. E. B. Du Bois. Wafa Sultan. Kenan Malik. Hubert Henry Harrison. Susan Jacoby. Simon Singh. S.T. Joshi. Hector Avalos. Rebecca Goldstein. Sikivu Hutchinson. Maryam Namazie. Aliaa Magda Elmahdy. Diego Rivera (“I am an atheist and I consider religions to be a form of collective neurosis.”). Julia Sweeney (“After I stopped believing in God, I realized it was completely up to me to create my own meaning and my purpose was my own.”). Arundhati Roy (“[Do you] think that there’s a god overseeing [your] life?” ” No, I am just like an animal. I have no religion.”) .

So when someone tells you that atheists have no morality, no joy, no purpose to their lives, no reason to care about others, no reason to work for the greater good… remember these people. And the next time someone tells you that atheism is a white men’s club… remember them. These are the faces of atheism, too. And they are some of the most remarkable faces in our history.

NOTE: When this piece was originally published, it was a list of seven, not six: the seventh was Ayaan Hirsi Ali. In reprinting the list here, I’ve edited it down to six. I’ve done this partly because I’ve been persuaded, by the original discussion of this piece when it was first printed as well as by other sources, that as inspiring as Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s personal story may be, her political views are sufficiently troubling for her not to be included here. And I’ve done it partly because, frankly, I was distressed at the degree to which the original discussion of “awesome atheist women and atheist of color” was focused on the one person on the list that some people didn’t like, and I wasn’t up for having that happen again. Just in case anyone was wondering.

7 Amazing Atheists Who Aren’t Old White Guys

You’ve heard of Richard Dawkins. Charles Darwin. Mark Twain. … There are some amazing atheists who just don’t get the same credit.

Richard Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens. Sam Harris. Charles Darwin. Mark Twain. These are the names and faces many people associate with atheism. And apart from their atheism, they all have something in common: They’re all white guys.

Atheism is often seen as a white men’s club — by believers, and by all too many atheists as well. But for as long as there have been atheists, there have been atheist women and atheists of color. Some have been vocal and ardent about their atheism; for some, their atheism has been much more incidental to their life’s work. And some of that life’s work has been incredible. Some of it has changed the world… not just for atheists, but for everybody. When you’re imagining the face of atheism, I hope some of these faces — faces from history, or alive and yelling today — will come to mind.


Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 7 Amazing Atheists Who Aren’t Old White Guys. (UPDATE: FYI, AlterNet changed the title of this piece from my original one, 7 Inspiring Atheist Women and Atheists Of Color. This is pretty standard in the publishing world: in magazines and newspaper, writers commonly don’t write their own headlines, or get the ones they do write changed.) To read about some awesome atheist women and atheists of color — and to talk about who else might have made it onto the list — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Atheism Plus – The Site Is Here! Plus Some Updates

Some important updates on Atheism Plus!

First of all, and very importantly: Atheism Plus is here! Which is to say: Atheism Plus is now more than just an idea. Atheism Plus is now a thing. Right now, that thing is a website: still under construction, but active — and with a forum happening right now!

What is Atheism+?
Atheism+ is safe space for people to discuss how religion affects everyone and to apply skepticism and critical thinking to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, GLBT issues, politics, poverty, and crime.

Right now, the forum is happening. There’s a Main Forum — “the place for on-topic discussion about atheism, humanism, skepticism, and social justice.” There’s an Educational Forum — “where introductory questions will receive civil responses.”

In discussions about Atheism Plus, a need for both these things has been widely expressed: a place where people who want to discuss social justice can do so without constantly being derailed into explanations of 101-level concepts, and a place where people who want and need to discuss 101-level concepts — which at some point is going to be all of us, probably — can do so without being flamed. As Jen says in her introduction to the site:

This is to avoid the problem of what’s known as “JAQing off” – or “Just Asking Questions.” Often trolls will try to derail conversations by repeating basic questions that have been addressed numerous times previously. This results in many veterans losing patience and attacking the person. However, this sometimes results in attacks on people who are sincerely asking questions and may become potential allies. The Educational Forum attempts to solve this problem by giving a safe space for people to ask questions and receive civil responses, while those who are not interested in responding to basic questions can continue advanced discussion in the Main Forum.

Note to bloggers (including the very important Note To Self) and to blog commenters: This introductory forum will be an excellent place to point people in a discussion thread who seem to be JAQing off… as well as people who seem well-meaning but who are nevertheless derailing comment threads by asking 101-level questions that you’re sick of answering. Speaking only for myself: My preference would be that you point people there, instead of being snide to them in my blog.

And there’s a General Chat section on the Forum, to talk about whatever you wan with others who share the values of Atheism Plus. Cats, skeet shooting, Project Runway… whatever.

The Atheism Plus website will eventually contain resources and information on social justice issues. Right now, the forum is happening. If you’ve been excited about Atheism Plus, come check it out!

In other Atheism Plus news:

Jen McCreight, the instigator of Atheism Plus, has a very good FAQ about Atheism Plus, Responding to common misconceptions about Atheism+. If you have questions or concerns about it, go there first — she may well have answered them.

There’s also a very good discussion thread on Jen’s blog, crowd-sourcing ideas for what exactly people involved with Atheism Plus could do and how. Atheism+: It’s time to walk the walk. Check it out.

Dana Hunter at En Tequila Es Verdad has a linkfest of FTB blog posts about Atheism Plus. Not completist, but useful nonetheless.

Much of the commentary and controversy about Atheism Plus has focused on Richard Carrier’s original post about it, and the “not one of us” sentiment in it. He has since clarified this point, both in an update in the final paragraph of that original post, and in a new, separate post dedicated to this clarification. He has also written a lengthy post apologizing for and re-thinking some insulting language he had originally used in comments on that post. If your concerns about Atheism Plus were focused on Carrier’s vision and perception of it, please read these updates. If you have been publicizing those concerns (via Facebook or Twitter), it would be nice if you would spread these clarifications/ corrections/ retractions/ apologies with equal fervor.

If you’re wondering whether an Atheist Plus community is viable, or whether it will eventually disintegrate into factionalism while driving off the old-timers… Kazim has an excellent post at The Atheist Experience, about how the Atheist Community of Austin has essentially been an A+ community for years… and has been flourishing.

And finally: Did I mention that Atheism Plus is a thing now? It is! If this “atheism plus social justice” thing interests you, go check it out! I’m going to be hanging out there regularly. If you’re interested, come hang out there with me!

Why Atheism Plus Is Good for Atheism

Atheism Plus logoI’m going to lay this out there: I think Atheism Plus is good. And I don’t just mean “good” in the sense of “morally right.” I mean “good” as in “good for the health and future of atheism.”

As most readers here know, Jen McCreight recently proposed a new wave of atheism — an “atheist plus” wave that explicitly focuses, not just on atheism, but on the intersections between atheism and racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other social justice issues — externally in what issues we take on, and internally in how we deal with our own stuff. I’ve already chimed in briefly with a “Hell, yes, I’m on board.” I now want to start talking about why.

I don’t just think the principles of Atheism Plus are morally right. I do think that, and I think that’s the most important thing about it. But I also think it’s good for the future of atheism. And I think atheism will be stronger if more atheists support it.

Much of the pushback on the Atheism Plus idea has come from people saying that it’s divisive: that the atheist movement has to include everyone who calls themselves an atheist, and we can’t expect every atheist to line up around the same social justice issues.

There is no nice way to say this, so I’m just going to come out and say it:

There is no way for an atheist movement to be inclusive of everyone.

An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of atheist women… and also be inclusive of people who publicly call women ugly, fat, sluts, whores, cunts, and worse; who persistently harass them; who deliberately invade their privacy and make their personal information public; and/or who routinely threaten them with grisly violence, rape, and death.

An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of atheists of color… and also be inclusive of people who think people of color stay in religion because they’re just not good at critical thinking, who blame crime on dark-skinned immigrants, who think victims of racial profiling deserved it because they looked like thugs, and/or who tell people of color, “You’re pretty smart for a…”.

An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of trans atheists… and also be inclusive of people who think trans people are mentally ill or freaks of nature.

An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of atheists who are mentally ill… and also be inclusive of people who think mental illness is just a failure of willpower.

An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of poor atheists… and also be inclusive of people whose basic attitude to systematic poverty and economic injustice is, “Screw you, Jack, I’ve got mine.”

Repeat, for many more marginalized groups that I don’t have time to list here.

And an atheist movement cannot be inclusive of atheists and potential atheists who are women, people of color, trans people, poor people, mentally ill… and also be inclusive of people who think that welcoming these people into the movement just isn’t a very high priority. The movement cannot be inclusive of atheists and potential atheists who are women, people of color, trans people, poor people, mentally ill… and also be inclusive of people who think sexism, racism, misogyny, transphobia, poverty, mental illness, and other forms of marginalization are trivial or non-existent problems that we can’t be bothered with.

There is literally no way to make the atheist movement inclusive of all these people. So we have to ask: What are our priorities? [Read more…]