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…]

Scientific Studies of Racism?

I’m fairly swamped today, so I want to crowd-source this: Can we get some links to scientific studies of racism?

In my recent post, “Playing the Victim”: Oppression and a Catch-22, I pointed out a conundrum. I said that if people speak out about oppression and marginalization and bigotry, they get accused of “playing the victim card,” and the marginalization becomes invisible. But if people don’t speak out about it… then, obviously, it stays invisible. And I posed this question to people making this “victimhood” accusation: How, exactly, would you like marginalized people to proceed? Is there any possible way we can make oppression and marginalization and bigotry visible, which will meet with your approval?

I thought it was pretty obvious that this was a rhetorical question. Especially given the follow-up: “And why, precisely, do you think your approval matters? Why do you get to be the ones who decide which forms of oppression and marginalization and bigotry are important… and which ones are not? Why do you think that decision should be up to you?”

But I got this reply, from Emil Karlsson, who apparently took the question non-rhetorically:

I wrote about the general problem with the approach Greta Christina and others make in my post The Plural of Anecdote is not Scientific Evidence, although it is much more general.

The simple answer to the question is “more scientific evidence, less anecdotes”. The problem with anecdotes is that (1) there is no independent corroboration and (2) it is not possible to know how representative they are (i.e. the extent and scope of the problem).

Someone who does this incredibly, spectacularly and fantastically well is e. g. zoebrain (comment 14). Zoebrain provides us with a scientific report on the extent of the discrimination of trans people. This is how things are suppose to be done, not providing a few testimonials.

Why can’t Greta Christina and others do this more often? Why can’t you discuss scientific studies looking at racism and transphobia more? Or better yet, contribute to carry them out in e. g. the skeptical or atheist community?

The gold standard for claims is scientific evidence and just as we can reasonably ask for it in cases involving medical treatment and claims about the world at large, so too should be be able to ask for it when it comes to the extent of discrimination without having to get claims like “you are dismissing the experience of group X” or anecdotal testimonials thrown in our face.

In my opinion, this is a ridiculous distinction. We need anecdotes and scientific evidence on racism. We need scientific evidence to demonstrate the hard reality of racism; we need anecdotes to humanize the issue, to make the terrible reality of it clear, and to get people to freaking well care about it.

What’s more, if the question on the table is, “Does racism happen in the atheist community?” — then anecdotes of blatant unquestionable racism are, in fact, a pertinent response to the question. They still leave open questions such as “how often does this happen”… but if the question on the table is, “Does this happen?”, and a whole lot of people say, “Yes, here are examples of it,” then unless you think those people are lying, that settles the question. The existence of one black swan disproves the hypothesis that all swans are white… and the existence of loads of examples of racism in the atheist community definitely disproves the hypothesis that racism never happens in the atheist community.

But it’s also a ridiculous question because the reality of racism is extremely well-established, with study after study after study. Charging into a conversation about racism and saying, “Give me scientific evidence that it exists!” is about as absurd as charging into a conversation about vaccinations and saying, “Give me scientific evidence that vaccinations even work!” It’s one of the reasons that, in the Race and Inclusivity — A To-Do List post I put on my blog, “Get your “Race and Racism 101″ on Google or at the library. Don’t expect people of color who come to your group or event to bring you up to speed” was on the list. It’s incredibly frustrating to have to re-introduce ground-level concepts to people who are jumping into the conversation but haven’t bothered to do their homework. (And since atheists are a subset of our society at large, it would be an extraordinary claim indeed to assume that atheists are somehow miraculously free of this racism.)

However, I’m swamped today, and I really don’t have time to do Google-Fu, and email all my friends and colleagues who have sociology and psychology studies at their fingertips, and otherwise spend the entire day lining up links to the countless studies demonstrating the reality of racism. So I’m going to crowd-source it. People here who do have sociology and psychology studies at your fingertips… can you please provide links to scientific studies on racism? Thank you.

“Playing the Victim”: Oppression and a Catch-22

“Seems you’re making a catch-22: if people talk about it, they’re trying to be victims, but if people don’t talk about it, it doesn’t happen.”

In the recent comment thread here on Examples of Racism in Atheist/ Skeptical Communities?, ischemgeek made this comment. It was so perfect, and so succinct, that naturally I have to muck it up by expanding on it and gassing on about it.

When people talk about oppression and marginalization and bigotry — racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, etc. — we often get caught in a particularly nasty Catch-22, beautifully summarized above. If we don’t talk about oppression and marginalization and bigotry… nobody will know about it, and it can and will be ignored. In fact, many people will assume that this particular form of oppression and marginalization and bigotry is now a thing of the past, and doesn’t even exist. If a certain amount of progress has been made in a certain area — sexism, for instance — many people will act as if the problem is entirely behind us, and we don’t have to worry about it, or think about it or, Loki forbid, change our behavior.

But if we do talk about this oppression and marginalization and bigotry? We get accused of “playing the victim card.” We get accused of making up the marginalization, or exaggerating it, or going out of our way to look for it, or twisting innocent events to frame them in this narrative of victimhood, or trying to manipulate people into giving us our way by scoring sympathy points we haven’t earned. And not at all coincidentally, this once again results in the marginalization being made invisible: ignored, treated as if it either flat-out doesn’t exist or is too trivial to worry about. [Read more…]

Examples of Racism in Atheist/ Skeptical Communities?

The conversation here in my blog about racism in the atheist community has been largely civil and productive.

The conversation on Twitter… not so much.

One theme in particular keeps cropping up — the theme that this isn’t really a problem, coupled with a hyper-skeptical demand for evidence and examples of this racism. (As if we needed more freaking evidence that racism is a real thing.)

So I want to collect examples. If you have seen or experienced examples of racism in the atheist and/ or skeptical communities — can you please comment here? Thanks.

BTW: My Twitter handle is @GretaChristina .

Race and Inclusivity — A To-Do List

Atheist A scarlet letter black backgroundIf we want the atheist/ skeptical communities to be more inclusive and more welcoming to people of color — what, specifically, can we do about it?

IMPORTANT NOTE: This post has a different comment policy than my standard one. It’s at the end of the post. Please read it and respect it. Thanks.

At the Secular Student Alliance conference earlier this month, the organizers did something really smart, something I’ve never seen before. At the lunch on Saturday, they had cards on the tables with discussion topics, topics that had been announced ahead of time in the conference packet — so you could pick which table to sit on, based on what you wanted to talk about. Not all the tables stuck to their topic… but ours did, and I’m really glad we did, and I want to report on the conversation.

I sat at the “Diversity — Minorities” table. And we had an excellent conversation. We talked about how, as difficult and painful as our community’s conversations about gender and sexism have been, at least we’ve been having them — in a way that we haven’t been, nearly as much, about race. The community has done a lot more work on gender diversity than we have on racial diversity, and we’re a lot further along in making practical progress. We talked at this lunch about some of the reasons this might be. (Some ideas floated: Our society is often racially segregated, and white people can ignore race in a way that men can’t ignore gender. Also, liberals and progressives often see race as a minefield, and are often scared to even talk about it for fear of starting a fight, opening old wounds, or saying something stupid.)

We talked about some of the obstacles to increasing racial diversity and making people of color feel more welcomed in the atheist movement. And we talked about what specific, practical action items people could take — individuals, local groups, national organizations, thought leaders, etc. — to improve this situation. I wanted to share that list, and talk about it, and solicit other ideas.

Here’s the list of action items we came up with:

* Speakers — invite more people of color as speakers, at conferences and for individual speaking events. (Here’s a list of prominent atheists of color, many of whom do public speaking. The list also includes organizations of atheists of color, some of whom have speaker’s bureaus or can put you in touch with speakers.)
* Don’t be afraid to talk about race. (This one is HUGE.)
* Do joint events with groups/ organizations of people of color. (Examples: speakers or discussions groups on the history of freethought among African-Americans, or the golden age of science in the Arab world.)
* Support appropriate events hosted by groups of people of color, such as service projects. Don’t just ask them to co-sponsor your events — ask them what events of theirs they’d like your support for.
* Don’t glom onto people of color when they show up at your group or event. (People of color sometimes say that, when they show up at all- or mostly-white atheist groups or events, they’re swarmed by overly friendly people who are SO DELIGHTED that a non-white person has shown up, in a way that’s overwhelming, and that’s clearly directed at their race. Don’t do this.)
* Don’t expect individual people of color to speak for their entire race.
* Listen to people of color — actively.
* Get your “Race and Racism 101″ on Google or at the library. Don’t expect people of color who come to your group or event to bring you up to speed.
* If someone calls you on your stuff — apologize.
* If someone calls you on your stuff, and you don’t agree — don’t immediately get defensive. Think about it, ask questions, take some time before you respond. “I’m not sure I agree, but I thank you for bringing it up, I need to think about this” can be your best friend.
* Don’t assume people of color are religious.
* Co-protesting – show up at protests about racism, and about issues that are strongly affected by race, such as economic justice or the drug war.

Thoughts?

COMMENT POLICY FOR THIS THREAD: This conversation is for people who already agree that increasing racial diversity is important to the atheist community and the atheist movement, and who think positive action should be taken to improve the situation, and who want to discuss how to go about that. If you want to debate this core proposition — if, for instance, you think the atheist movement should be entirely race-blind, and that paying any attention at all to race and racism is itself racist — this comment thread is not the place. Read these two pieces first: Getting It Right Early: Why Atheists Need to Act Now on Gender and Race, and Race, Gender, and Atheism, Part 2: What We Need To Do — And Why. Actually read them. If, after reading them, you still think we can and should ignore race and racial diversity, please feel free to debate that question on those posts. This is not the place for that debate. Attempts to derail this conversation, away from what the problems are and we can do about them and into whether this is even a problem and whether we should be doing anything, will be met with warnings, disemvoweling, banning, or any/all of the above. Thank you.

The Reason Rally, and Why It’s Good to Keep Hammering On About Diversity

There’s no way I can do just one Reason Rally report. It was something of a life-changing event, it was almost certainly a history-changing event, and I’m probably going to keep bringing ideas I got from it into my writing for some time.

So here’s the Reason Rally Idea For Today.

Those of us who keep hammering on about diversity in the atheist movement?

We need to keep doing it.

Why?

IT’S WORKING.

There was wonderful diversity at the Reason Rally. It wasn’t ideal; it wasn’t a perfect or even close reflection of the demographics of America or the world. (I don’t think it was, anyway: I was kind of in a distracted, blissed-out haze all day, and I wasn’t out there with a clipboard ticking off demographic boxes.) But I saw lots of women there, and lots of people of color, and lots and lots and lots of young people. As if it were the most natural thing in the world. As if it were obvious that this would be the face of atheism.

This is significantly different from the demographics we were seeing at big atheist events, even a few years ago. It’s so different, I have to assume that our conscious efforts to make ourselves more diverse have been paying off. [Read more…]

Diversity and the Best Atheist Blogger Award – Please Don’t Vote for Me

So I noticed the other day that my blog was one of the nominees for the About.com Readers’s Choice Award for Best Atheist/Agnostic Blogger. “Neat!” I thought. I voted for myself. I started getting ready to post a little post announcing the thing. I noticed that Pharyngula was one of the other nominees, and gave up any hope of winning the damn thing.

Then I noticed something else: All the other nominees were white.

Hm, I thought.

Then I checked out the other Readers’s Choice Awards in the Atheist/ Agnostic categories. And as far as I can tell, all of the nominees in all the categories are white. All the books in the Favorite Atheist/ Agnostic Book category are by white people (white men, actually). None of the ads in the Favorite Atheist/ Agnostic Ad category feature people of color. I can’t tell for sure about Favorite Atheist/ Agnostic Podcast, or Favorite Atheist/ Agnostic to Follow on Twitter — but as far as I can tell, they’re all white people. (If I’m mistaken about that, please correct me.) And none of the groups nominated — Website, Facebook Page, Community — are people-of-color focused.

This is a problem.

We’ve been talking about this a lot lately, but we need to keep talking about it, so I’m going to say it again: We need to stop making the public face of atheism primarily white, and primarily male. If we don’t, we’re going to have a self-perpetuating cycle: people of color and women won’t see themselves represented in the atheist community, and won’t feel as welcomed in the community, and won’t participate in the community, and there won’t be as many strong women and people of color to become visible faces in the community… and around the circle we go. Consciously intervening in this cycle is the only way to stop it. And doing that now, relatively early in the development of our movement, is hugely important: before the self-perpetuating cycle gets set into a deep groove of habits and patterns that are hard to break out of, and before a history of resentment and rancor has time to really set in. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Other social change movements have been bitten on the ass by this issue, again and again, and if they had a time machine and could go back and deal with it in the earlier days of their movements, every one of them that I know of would. We have a unique chance to learn from their mistakes, and to get this right early. (Not early in the movement, period — atheism and atheist activism have been around for a while — but early in the seriously visible, vocal, powerful stage of the movement.) If we deal with it now, we won’t be spending nearly as much energy dealing with it in ten or twenty or fifty years.

For anyone who’s thinking, “Hey, this is just democracy in action, the top vote-getters got the top five nominations, there’s nothing racist about it,” I passionately urge you to read Greg Laden’s excellent piece, How To Make Diversity Happen, on how a selection process with no conscious attempt to be inclusive is almost always going to wind up perpetuating privilege. If you’re thinking that deliberately seeking diversity in a selection process will lower the quality of the candidates, I urge you to read Natalie Reed’s excellent piece, Thoughts from a Diversity Hire, on why diversity itself “is a qualification, a merit and a value.” (As well as on many of the other reasons why this accusation is baloney.) And for anyone who’s thinking that making a conscious effort to seek diversity is the same as advocating “tokenism,’ I urge you to read my own piece on that topics, Tokenism Is Not Inclusivity.

For the record: I’m not mad at Austin Cline, who runs the Agnosticism/ Atheism page at About.com. He’s handling this very well. He’s aware that this is a problem; he’s accepting the criticism about it with good grace and a sincere desire to fix it; he’s soliciting suggestions for how it can be fixed. That’s exactly what good people are supposed to do when something like this happens. (And on a purely practical, Macchiavellian level: That’s how you make something like this go away relatively quickly, instead of having it turn into a firestorm that eats the Internet for a week.)

But I’m just not comfortable being part of this. So please don’t vote for me. If I’m nominated again next year, and if the nominating process gets repaired in a way that makes it more inclusive, then knock yourself out. I will be happily trounced by Pharyngula at that time. But not this year. I’m pulling a Dillahunty. I’ve been nominated, but I will not run: if elected, I will not serve.

Frederick Sparks at Black Skeptics on Be Scofield, Greta Christina, and New Atheist Racism

There have been a lot of discussions about Be Scofield’s piece in Tikkun, chiding the so-called “New Atheists” for being racist and culturally imperialist because we think religion is mistaken and try to persuade people out of it.

I’m more than usually swamped for time right now, and don’t have time to get more deeply into the conversation. But I wanted to point out an excellent piece by Frederick Sparks at the Black Skeptics blog — Be Scofield, Greta Christina, and New Atheist racism — which dismantles Scofield’s piece with surgical precision, and hands it back to Scofield in neat little bloody pieces on a platter.

I especially liked how Sparks eviscerated Scofield’s out-of-context quoting of Sikivu Hutchinson’s Moral Combat, revealing that Scofield either didn’t read the rest of the book or didn’t digest its conclusions — since its conclusions are exactly the opposite of the one Scofield comes to.

If I started quoting the best bits, I’d just quote the whole damn thing. But I do want to mention this:

I don’t see an either or proposition between advocating for rational thought, where beliefs are based on evidence, and confronting issues of social justice. The idea that black people should be left alone in their clinging to Jesus due to their history of oppression smacks of just as much paternalism as what Scofield accuses the white new atheists of here.

Go read the rest of the piece. It rocks.

Atheist Arguments = Racist Cultural Imperialism?

Hey, did you know that when I try to persuade people that religion is probably mistaken and atheism is probably correct, I’m “reproducing cultural imperialism against Native Americans”?

No, really.

I don’t have time today to do a line-by-line fisking of Be Scofield’s latest screed in Tikkun against the so-called “New Atheists.” Which is irritating, since the piece targets me by name and at some length. (Or rather, it tries to target me and misses by a significant margin, since most of what it says about my opinions is wildly off-base.) Ophelia Benson has already ripped it about sixteen different new assholes, especially on the whole “New atheism = racist cultural oppression” front, so I’m mostly going to direct you to her.

But there are a few things here that leaped out of the screen and lodged into my brain like a grain of sand, and I won’t be able to rest until I can coat them with the pearls of my wit and wisdom, and get them the frack out of my system.

Okay. First of all.

When Greta Christina says that religious people should be actively converted to atheism or Dawkins likens religion to a virus that infects the mind they are effectively saying “we know what’s best for you.”

No.

I am not saying that I know what’s best for you.

I am saying that, on this particular question, I think I’m correct, and you’re mistaken. [Read more…]