The Road Less Travelled Video – With PZ Myers, Chris Stedman, Leslie Cannold And Meredith Doig



The Road Less Travelled with Meredith Doig, PZ Myers, Chris Stedman, Leslie Cannold. “Can Atheists and Believers work together for the common good?”

On Monday 16 April 2012, the day after the fabulous Global Atheist Convention, we brought together three fiercely articulate freethinkers to argue the question “Can Atheists and Believers work together for the common good?” Chris Stedman is the first Interfaith and Community Service Fellow for the Humanist Chapliancy at Harvard University. Chris writes for the Huffingtion Post, and Washington Post and his own blog, NonProphet Status. His book “Faitheist: how an atheist found common ground with the religious” will be published later in 2012. PZ Myers is professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, specialising in evolutionary biology. His blog “Pharyngula” has been listed by the journal Nature as the top-ranked blog written by a scientist. He is often cited as the ‘cranky curmudgeon’ of the freethought community. Leslie Cannold is an award-winning ethicist based at the University of Melbourne and noted as one of Australia’s most influential public intellectuals. A native New Yorker, she has made Australia home for the past 23 years. In addition to her prolific writing on a wide variety of ethical issues, her distinctive voice is heard across public and commercial radio. In 2011 Leslie was named Australian Humanist of the Year.
Moderated by Rationalist Society President Dr Meredith Doig, this spirited discussion will intrigue and entertain.

Token Skeptic Interview – On Faitheism With Chris Stedman

The latest Token Skeptic podcast is now out! Thanks to everyone who has been very patient while I’ve been busy with studies, checking that the podcast is ready to be released – and not keeping a very regular schedule with the show.

There should be two more Token Skeptic episodes at the very least coming out in April, but since there’s also at least three conferences in quick succession over the next two months (including my MC role at the Global Atheist Convention!) – well, I’m not promising a lot of action on the podcast-front until April is well and truly over.

I do have some news though – I’ll be involved with the Media 140 Digital Futures three day event here in Perth, but I’ll hold back on all the details until things have been properly finalised and some meetings and networking have been completed. I’ll certainly be focusing my podcasting efforts on producing more information about the tri-partite conference that’ll be happening from the 26-28th April in central Perth – called Digital Me, Digital Family and Digital Business.

Until then, enjoy the listen and remember to sign up for the Fringe events for the Global Atheist convention, especially the Road Less Traveled fringe event of the Global Atheist Convention, with PZ Myers, Chris Stedman, Leslie Cannold and Meridith Doig.

Chris Stedman is the Interfaith and Community Service Fellow for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University and the Managing Director of State of Formation, a new initiative at the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. Chris received an MA in Religion from Meadville Lombard Theological School at the University of Chicago, for which he was awarded the Billings Prize for Most Outstanding Scholastic Achievement. A graduate of Augsburg College with a summa cum laude B.A. in Religion, Chris is the founder and author of the blog NonProphet Status. His soon-to-be-released book is called Faitheist: How An Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious and he speaks on it regularly both by invitation and as a member of the Secular Student Alliance Speakers Bureau.

Here’s a partial transcript as to how the interview went (mp3 download here):

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The Stedman paradox

Ah, Chris Stedman. He visited Morris today, and gave a presentation at the Federated Church before sending people off to community activities. He was a very nice guy, and he told some very nice stories, and he was just generally nice. Nice. Lots of niceness. A whole afternoon of nice. So I will restrict myself to entirely constructive criticisms.

  • Why in a church? This was an event organized by Morris Freethinkers, representing their interest in promoting positive community interactions. I would have been more impressed if it were held in a secular venue, if it were made clear that these were atheists doing good, and challenging community Christians to join us. Instead, by putting it immediately under the umbrella of religion, the impression was made that we are following, not leading.

  • I’ve been in churches before, and this talk was indistinguishable from anything that might be said in a liberal Christian church anywhere: be kind, charity is rewarding, it’s good to help your fellow human beings. Aside from saying that he was an atheist a few times, there was nothing to make this talk stand out…absolutely nothing to explain why atheists also find virtue in kindness and charity and goodness. It does not make a case for atheism if you blend into the religious woodwork so thoroughly.

  • It didn’t help that, when describing his background, Stedman talked about being a religious studies major, a seminarian, doing interfaith work, hammering on his associations with the faithful. Oh, and by the way, he’s an atheist. Yeah? This is a guy who’s been neck-deep in Christianity his entire life, hasn’t removed himself from it at all but has made a career of immersing himself ever deeper in Jesus’ pisswater, and occasionally waves a tiny little flag that says “atheist” on it. I’d like to see Stedman actually challenge his audiences and make a real case for rejecting faith, while supporting good works, but I don’t think he could do it.

  • I was entirely sympathetic to the planned community activities (assisting in the art gallery in town, visiting the elderly, doing a highway cleanup), but I couldn’t do them as part of a church group, as a matter of principle. Who was going to get credit for this work? The church, of course. I will not and can not do that; it’s providing support for beliefs I consider contemptible. What would have been better is something to inspire freethinkers to do these works without the framework of a church. We are free of that bogus crap, let’s not promote the illusion that charity is part of religion.

  • Please don’t ask me to participate in anything held in a church again. It felt icky. I really don’t like temples to ignorance, even liberal ignorance.

I know the students mean well. I know the students want to do good for entirely secular reasons. What we need, though, are tools and ideas and inspiration to do so that don’t fall back on the trappings of religion, which simply reinforce the entirely false notion that morality is a function of the church. That’s how we got into this cultural trap in the first place, by perpetually promoting the belief that goodness equals godliness, and Stedman’s approach provides no escape hatch.

PZ Myers, Leslie Cannold, Chris Stedman – The Road Less Traveled Fringe Event

I’m going to see if I can get more information about what they’ll be talking about precisely – but here’s the details and tickets are going fast! Do get one if you’re around after the Global Atheist convention!

Can believers and atheists work together for the common good? Join Chris Stedman, PZ Myers & Leslie Cannold in conversation with Meredith Doig. An oficial fringe event of the 2012 Global Atheist Convention.

Monday, April 16, 2012 – 6:00pm until 8:00pm
Elisabeth Murdoch, University of Melbourne
Tickets: Standard $22, Students $12
Order online: http://roadlesstraveled.eventbrite.com/

It’s on the Monday AFTER the Global Atheist Convention, and if you’re unable to afford the event – especially if you are a student – this is a fantastic way of getting to see three presenters (with the MC Meredith Doig, who was at the 2010 GAC) with lots of discussion and interaction. With PZ and Chris and Leslie – for two hours! This is a real bargain, quite frankly!

Me vs. Chris Stedman

How do I get myself talked into these things? I have two events with the slithery Chris Stedman coming up: first, he’s speaking at the Midwest Science of Origins Conference in Morris next week. He’s scheduled for April Fools’ Day, so I’m hoping the student organizers are just going to hand him an exploding cigar and then put out his flaming hair with a swirlie…but I suspect they’re actually going to take him seriously and give him time to annoy me.

Second, the day after the Global Atheist Convention, as part of their fringe events, I’m speaking at this event: PZ Myers, Leslie Cannold, Chris Stedman – The Road Less Traveled, in which I’m supposed to talk about whether believers and atheists can work together for the common good. My answer is simple: sure they can, but faith isn’t in the common good, and we have to work against it.

You know, one of my concluding lines in my Reason Rally talk was that I want to be bad without god. And by bad, I mean defy the bogus religious morality that the majority want to impose on us, and fight against the status quo.

There are some things I won’t compromise on…but Stedman will

Chris Stedman is at it again. Once more, he’s carping at atheists who dare to question the beliefs of the delusional theists he considers his dearest friends, his most important clients, and the people he wants to spend his life working among, the liberal Christians and Muslims. Unfortunately, he chose as his opening salvo a rather innocuous comment, which tells us exactly where the limits of his tolerance lie, and they’re pretty darned low. David Silverman of American Atheists said this:

The WTC cross has become a Christian icon. It has been blessed by so-called holy men and presented as a reminder that their god, who couldn’t be bothered to stop the Muslim terrorists or prevent 3,000 people from being killed in his name, cared only enough to bestow upon us some rubble that resembles a cross.

Yes. That sounds accurate to me. Do you have a problem with that, Stedman? It’s a very clear statement about the absurdity of sanctifying some random wreckage because it shares a trivial orthogonality with the simplistic religious symbol of Christians, and it’s good that Silverman was pointing that out — I want atheist leaders to be clear-headed and assertive.

But not Stedman. He seems to think that statement was divisive, and for backup, he cites Jon Stewart, who took offense at a statement of truth.

After sharing that statement, Stewart — speaking as if he were Silverman — added: “As President of the American Atheists organization, I promise to make sure that everyone, even those that are indifferent to our cause, will f-cking hate us.”

What neither Stedman nor Stewart mentioned, of course, was that Stewart is on the 9/11 Memorial and Museum board of directors, has a vested interest in the 9/11 museum, and that his organization was being sued by American Atheists for promoting sectarian religion in the museum.

But even ignoring that, I would ask both Stedman and Stewart this: was Silverman wrong? I don’t think so. What stings about that remark is the truth of it…that the museum and Stedman just want to let some stupid pareidolia have a place in a museum because it’s easier than actually pointing out the folly of it all. They don’t think it’s worth fighting for a reasonable response because it might alienate groups of unreasonable people.

It’s good to know that an atheist community under the thumb of Stedman would be asked to avoid comments as mild as Silverman’s, for fear of antagonizing Stedman’s favored clientele…the believers. It’s becoming obvious that Stedman also has a conflict of interest: he’s not really interested in working for atheism, but is more aligned with that weird pro-faith organization called Interfaith Youth Core. Could he please toddle off, work hard with them, and stop pretending to be one of us, please?

Stedman also does something unconscionable. Most of his post consists of a garbled, desperate twisting of a post by Greta Christina, on the different goals of the atheist movement. Greta is a firebrand, someone who promotes a strong, aggressive atheism, and somehow, Stedman mangles her words to pretend that it all somehow supports his position of passive-aggressive self-adulation. And he doesn’t even understand Greta’s argument, which doesn’t say much for Stedman’s ability to empathize with different positions. He simply doesn’t comprehend the New Atheist position at all.

I’ll help. As Greta says (and I’ve said before, too), there are a lot of different reasons to be an atheist, but the reasons of the New Atheists (and myself, specifically) are quite clear and simple. They’re so simple that stupidity can’t be Stedman’s excuse for not grasping them.

And here it is: our first priority is the truth.

When someone makes a statement about gods — and here’s where Stedman is really incomprehending, because we aren’t focused on just the fundamentalists, but also include the liberal religious persuasions in this criticism — the question right at the top of our heads is, “Is that true?”

Someone says, “God will cast you into eternal hellfire!”, and we wonder, “Really? Is that true? Can you back that up with evidence?”

Someone says, “God is love,” and it’s all the same to us. “Is that true? How do you know? Is there a way to confirm that, or even say it with less mush in your mouth?”

Somebody sees a couple of girders at right angles to one another in the rubble of the WTC towers, and thinks it’s worth putting in a museum. We ask, “Why? Does this make sense, even in the context of your own religion, that this tragedy is marked with a symbol of your faith?” It’s a good question. Jon Stewart didn’t answer it. Stedman sure as hell didn’t.

No, not Stedman. Stedman is one of those guys who’d happily sacrifice reality on the altar of let’s-just-get-along.

That’s not where I stand. If Stedman had actually read Greta’s post with comprehension, he’d know that there are a lot of different atheists out there, and some of us have science and an attitude of unrelenting criticism and doubt seared into us, right down to the bone. We’re not surrendering it to make some hippy-dippy narcissistic appeaser happy, or to reconcile jesus-worshippers to us. That’s a compromise we aren’t going to make. Especially when Stedman’s only alternative is to shut up about the incoherence of faith.

I will not hold my tongue about religion

Sometimes while writing I use Facebook updates to organise my thoughts, and the result is a rough form of what becomes an article. When I did so with the last post on this blog, one commenter asked me to publish the rough version, which is shorter and more shareable. (I’ve edited it lightly for republication here.)

Three years ago Greta Christina wrote a post asking what the goals of the atheist ‘movement’ were. It identifies two competing groups of atheists: one whose goals – combating anti-atheist bigotry, promoting secular governance, helping everyone to ‘get along’ – often entail alliance work with believers, and another who think religion is inherently a flawed, harmful phenomenon… and that we’d be better off without it, and that this is a goal worth pursuing.

The idea of noting these competing goals was, I think, to measure the usefulness of diplomatic versus firebrand-like approaches while talking about religion. (If the first group’s goals were her main or only ones, Greta writes, ‘I might well be advocating that we prioritise diplomacy more than we do, and dial back on the confrontationalism a bit.’) Chris Stedman cited her post to this effect at the Huffington Post, in a piece called ‘The Problem with “Atheist Activism”‘ which argued for the merits of the first group’s goals over the second’s.

Broadly speaking I’ve always shared Greta’s take, and have linked to it when frustrated by atheist civility politics, attacks on writers who aren’t ‘nice’ enough or the charge of being inflammatory, counterproductive and unconstructive. But there’s something I’d like to say in addition.

Some people’s main goal is combating bigotry and ‘building bridges’. Some people’s main goal is eroding the very grip religious faith has on the world in the first place. Especially as someone who unlike either Greta or Chris Stedman had a religious upbringing, I have a third aim to submit. As far as I’m concerned, it overrides both the others.

I hate the insistence I should self-censor to make what say about religion ‘constructive’, ‘productive’ or goal-serving – because whenever I’m speaking my mind about it I’m serving my primary goal. Speaking my mind about religion, including but not limited to my own experience – simply being able to speak freely about it without holding my tongue – is a constructive goal for me.

When other atheists tell me to shut up or be more polite because I’m hindering their cause, I want to tell them: saying what I want how I want is my cause. It matters more to me than any other, theirs included. You could convince me the way I write about religion makes more people convert to it. You could convince me that, as I’ve been told, it entrenches negative views of atheists or makes bridge-building impossible. I still wouldn’t stop.

What’s struck me repeatedly about the calm down brigade is that so often, they have no experience of having to hold their tongues – including about horrible things that happened to them – so religious feelings don’t get hurt. Tongue-holding no longer is the most important thing to me; it’s probably a large part of why I write a blog. And the fact is that if other people’s require me to give it up because to them it doesn’t seem constructive, I don’t care.

From my point of view, mouthing off and being an angry atheist stereotype seems hugely constructive.

Read the full version.

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To the atheist tone police: stop telling me how to discuss my abuse

This post is currently getting a lot of traffic. If you like it, here are some of the other things I write.

As an undergraduate I chaired a group for student atheists — at least, that’s what I assumed it was. The finalist who’d stopped being in charge officially a year before I got elected, but who most people still answered to in private, disagreed. When we ran a stall at freshers’ fair together, he insisted I not tell punters Oxford Atheist Society was for people who didn’t believe in God, in case this stopped religious people joining.

It turned out what the ex-president wanted was a humanist discussion group welcoming believers and working with them for church-state separation, so once he’d done a lot of talking, we became the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society. Supposedly this made us all-inclusive, but anything deemed antitheist was discouraged lest it put believers off — things I had to say, for instance, about being taught I was satanically possessed or trying to kill myself because of the things I believed.

* * *

I hear a lot about constructiveness, especially from fellow atheists convinced people like me should pipe down and behave. Calling religion harmful, they’ve told me, is immature and stops us ‘breaking down walls’. What, they’ve asked me, does it achieve?

Since I started talking publicly (mainly in print) about it, I’ve been informed I’m inflammatory; that I need to keep things civil; that I’m hateful, encourage stereotypes and impede mutual understanding; that atheists like me are a liability, holding the movement back; that I need to smile more.

I’ve noticed that often, atheists saying these things have no real religious past.

* * *

‘If you’re arguing that confrontationalism — arguing with believers about religion, or making fun of it, or insulting it — is hurting our cause,’ Greta Christina wrote in 2011, ‘which cause, exactly, are you talking about?’ In the same post she proposes two competing atheist agendas: working against sectarianism and for secularism with believers on the one hand, opposing religion qua religion on the other. How polite or fiery we should be, Greta suggests, depends which of the two our mission is.

Chris Stedman, constable of the atheist tone police, responded at the Huffington Post: ‘If your “top priority” is working to eliminate religion, you are not simply an atheist activist — you are an anti-religious activist. . . . I do not wish to be associated with narrow-minded, dehumanising generalisations about religious people’. Several combative bloggers, he pointed out, had said blinkered things about Muslims and Islam, therefore all attacks on religion were dehumanising.

* * *

American Atheists has launched a television channel. At Salon, Daniel D’addario calls the four hours he spent watching it horrific.

‘Despite my own lack of religious belief’, he writes, ‘I find it hard to imagine that even a casual nonbeliever would tune in . . . AtheistTV adheres to nasty stereotypes about atheism — smugness, gleeful disregard for others’ beliefs — to a degree that’s close to unwatchable.’

Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience is skewered in particular for ‘feed[ing] viewers a diet of scorn’. This translates to wearing a flame-patterned shirt, calling a Bible story ‘absolutely horrible’ and using the word ‘stupid’ about God. (No context is given.)

Fair enough if D’addario dislikes the channel, but by suggesting its tone does nonbelievers actual harm — that is, none will tune in because it hurts their movement’s image — he goes beyond writing a bad review.

AA has thousands of fee-paying members. The Atheist Experience has over twenty thousand fans and Dillahunty over thirty thousand Twitter followers. Whatever stereotypes their tone fits weren’t concocted by conservatives: obviously, it speaks for many real atheists. Smug or not, aren’t they allowed a voice?

* * *

Last month a column of mine went up at the new site of the Freethinker. I talk there about how as a queer teenager I tried to kill myself, and how I hold responsible the mainstream, nonfundamentalist Christianity I practised at the time: about letting go and letting God, convinced he never gave me more than I could handle while I was assaulted and harassed into self-harm; about declining to defend myself because the turning the other cheek was Christlike.

There’s a lot I don’t talk about there.

I don’t talk about how when I overdosed, I lost consciousness afraid suicide would land me in Hell, where aged six I’d been told relatives burned and where aged nine I’d been told I would go for lying.

I don’t talk about wondering what I’d done wrong to make that cycle of harassment and self-harm God’s plan for me and what I should learn from it.

I don’t talk about being pressured to pray in tongues once I was convinced aged eight the devil had possessed me, nor being aged seven to perform ‘faith healing’.

I don’t talk about the demons I believed entered our home, the one I believed was my father or the Hallowe’ens when year on year I hid from trick-or-treaters chanting prayers in abject terror.

I don’t talk about fasting till it hurt.

I don’t talk about the children who couldn’t visit on my birthday since they went to different churches, my childhood belief Hinduism was Satan’s work or result fear of anything Asian — yoga, Indian art, a woman in a sari.

I don’t talk about being told all Muslims practised FGM and ‘want[ed] to die for Allah’, or that Muslim men were instructed to rape Christian women.

I don’t talk about the schoolteachers I had who, sermonising, told me God ‘deplore[d] homosexuality’.

I don’t talk about the preacher in the streets of my hometown who called me an abomination, or how when I mentioned it online I was accused of ‘having a go at Christians’.

I don’t talk about my brother calling me an offence against nature and God.

I don’t talk about the magazine cutting my mother kept that said I was an atheist because I had a stubborn heart.

I don’t talk about being preached at by guests at my friends’ church wedding or glared at by the vicar when my friend’s body was buried because I hadn’t joined in with the hymns.

I don’t talk about being threatened with hell for being an atheist.

I don’t talk about being told I’d have my head cut off.

When I do talk about these things, people don’t usually suggest I smile more.

It’s other times I talk about religion I’m called bitter, hateful, counterproductive, told I need to quieten down. But when I talk about religion, I always have the above in mind.

When you tell me to speak more respectfully, this is what you’re telling me how to discuss.

Remembering it I return to Greta Christina and Chris Stedman, and want to say that after what it did to me, talking as rudely as I like about religion is my goal, not just a means to it. I return to every time I’ve heard atheists like me aren’t constructive, and want to say that after years holding my tongue, speaking freely is a huge achievement. If it hampers outreach by faitheists with no inkling of my experience*, I don’t give a fuck.

* * *

*A clarification: it’s in no way my intention to suggest no ‘faitheist’ has a history of this sort. Especially in Britain, where secular upbringings are much more common, I maintain they often accompany the silencing of confrontationalists – but I don’t mean to erase the trauma of people who challenge me. 

I will say this: if you’re telling me to shut up for no reason except finding my tone unpalatable – if it’s not (see below) about consequences or factual errors – it’s a charitable assumption that you’re doing it because you don’t know better. If you survived what I survived or worse, you have no more right than anyone to shush me, and (I’d have thought) more reason not to.

* * *

I return to Daniel D’addario at Salon. I want to ask: what’s it to him if other atheists are more barbed than he is? Isn’t switching off his TV enough?

I return to my atheist group’s ex-president. I wnt to ask: if a secularist mission means atheists can’t speak freely about religion, what is the point of it?

Others I know are called hateful.

Beth Presswood has family who refuse to acknowledge her long-term partner — Matt Dillahunty. Some have declared him, if memory serves, to be the devil. Except because ‘he thinks it’s nuts to rely on a book for wisdom and guidance’, D’addario can’t see why he’s ‘bothered’ by US Christianity. Could this not be at least a factor?

Jonny Scaramanga writes, occasionally snarkily, of the ultra-extreme Christian upbringing that left him alone, depressed, uneducated, socially unequipped and with wildly skewed attitudes to gender, race, sexuality and politics. Those he criticises label him bitter and his work a hate campaign.

Sue Cox has spoken publicly about the Catholic priest who raped her when she was a minor and her family’s decision to tell her this was part of God’s plan for her. When a television clip was posted on the Internet, some commenters called her an anti-Catholic bigot preaching hate.

Shaheen Hashmat lives with mental illness resulting from ‘honour’ abuse in her Scottish-Pakistani Muslim family. Because she sees Islam as central to her family’s actions, she is accused of ‘fuelling Islamophobia’ (demonisation of Muslims) and being a puppet of white racism.

These are extreme cases, but extreme manifestations of religion aren’t the only abusive ones. Many in religious communities…

…fall victim to genital mutilation. (About one human in seven or eight, specifically.)

…suffer violence, physical or sexual, in other contexts — by parents, clergy, organisations or states.

…are taught not to defend themselves from violence, as I was.

…are told traumatic experiences are punishments from a higher power.

…are terrorised with lurid images of damnation and hell.

…suffering ‘knowing’ those they care about are damned.

…have no chance to mourn loved ones properly due to religious differences.

…are seriously maleducated, including facing abusive learning environments, being fed fundamental scientific mistruths or being denied facts about sex and their bodies.

…are shunned or isolated for leaving religion or not following it as expected.

…are harassed in the workplace or at school for being skeptical.

…are denied child custody explicitly for being atheists.

…are rejected by family members or have to endure painful relationships with them.

…are forced into unwanted relationships or to end desired ones.

…are taught to submit to their male partners.

…are taught sex and sexuality are sinful and a source of shame.

…are taught their bodies, when menstruating for example, are sinful and a source of shame.

…are taught their bodies are a cause of sexual violence — including violence toward them — and must be concealed to prevent it.

…are taught their minds, because they live with mental illness, are gripped by cosmic evil.

…are medically or socially mistreated in hands-on ways while mentally ill.

…are told they’re sinful, disordered or an abomination because they’re queer.

…are told skepticism makes them a traitor to their race or culture.

…are denied medical care they need urgently — birth control, condoms, HIV medication, hormone therapy, transitional surgery, abortion, blood transfusions.

…give up much-needed medicine voluntarily due to religious teachings and suffer severe ill health.

…perform rituals voluntarily — fasting for instance — that seriously endanger their health.

…are manipulated for financial gain by clergy, sometimes coerced out of what little they have.

…are manipulated for social gain, often too reliant on their congregation to leave when they have doubts.

If this is true in religious communities, it’s also a reality for those who’ve fled them. Atheists who were believers have frequently been profoundly harmed; I suspect movement atheists are especially likely to have been; confrontational atheists, even likelier.

When you tell us how to talk about religion, you are telling us how to discuss our abuse.

* * *

There are times when rhetoric should be policed or at least regulated through criticism. It’s true many attacks made on religion, especially by those still forming atheist identities, are ill-informed, sectarian or oversimplistic — and that such attacks often punch down, reaching for racism, classism or mental health stigma as antitheist ammunition. (There are many other examples.)

It needn’t be so. I’ve challenged this because I think we can and should go after God without harming the downtrodden through splash damage. Doing so on everyone’s behalf who’s been downtrodden by religion is itself, I adamantly believe, a mission of social justice. Failing at it by making substantive errors or throwing the marginalised under the bus invites and deserves criticism; a rhetoric powered by justified anger needs to be carefully controlled.

But that is not a question of tone.

And it does not discredit the mission.

Bigotry and imprecision in antitheism have often been treated as intrinsic to it, conflated with the very notion of (counter)attacks on faith. Stedman, who states in his book Faitheist that he once ‘actually cried — hot, angry tears’ because of atheist vitriol, is especially guilty of this, treating racist comments on Islam like they invalidate all opposition to religion. D’addario’s attack on AtheistTV as smug and scornful has, similarly, covered my feed where secular ‘social justice warriors’ congregate.

If this is you — if you’re an atheist progressive who wants barbed, confrontational atheists to shut up — we’re likely on the same side most of the time… but there’s something I need to say.

People like us are infamous for words like ‘privilege’, ‘splaining’, ‘problematic’; part of the power of concepts like these is that when transferred between activist contexts they expose parallels. I’m deeply aware there can be only limited analogy between atheism and the concerns of more marginalised groups, and would hate to devalue their language. But I’m convinced of the following:

It is a form of privilege to be an atheist who’s never experienced religious abuse, as many of us have who are antagonistic.

It is privilege blindness to expect — without a clue what we’ve experienced or what it means to us — that we give up our self-expression so that you can form alliances with faith communities that deeply injured us.

It is tone-policing if when you’re not telling us to shut up about it, you’re telling us how to talk about it. How dare you tell us to be more respectful.

It is splaining if your answer when we detail histories of religious abuse is ‘Yes, but’ — or if you tell us we can’t blame religion for it since not all believers do the same. We know the details. You don’t.

It is gaslighting dismissing justified anger about widespread, structural religious abuse by telling us we’re bitter or hateful.

It’s civility politics implying our anger, bitterness or hatred is just as unacceptable, siding with the aggressor by prioritising believers’ feelings over ours on the false pretence of neutrality.

It’s respectability politics implying we need to earn an end to bigotry we face by getting on politely with believers, throwing those of us under the bus who can’t or won’t sing kumbaya.

It’s internalised bigotry shaming atheists for being stereotypical — smug, scornful and the rest — for letting the side down, instead of asserting our collective rights however we express ourselves.

It is victim-blaming to treat atheists who are stereotypical as a legitimate cause of anti-atheist bigotry or hatred.

It is tokenisation to impose on any individual the burden of representing atheists so our collective status can be judged by how they act.

And it is deeply, deeply problematic to cheer for snarky, confrontational firebrands of social justice who take on mass structures or beliefs that ruined their lives… then boo snarky, confrontational atheist firebrands off the stage who’ve survived religious abuse.

* * *

I must talk about religion and the things it did to me, and must do so however I like. This is my goal, not just a means to it — it’s my hill to die on and matters enough that nothing can compete. I don’t care if it sets back my career, hampers others’ work or hurts religious feelings.

Actually, hang on — yes I do.

If you feel your texts, traditions, doctrines, revelations, fantasies, imaginary friends or inaudible voices are licence to ride roughshod over other people’s lives, I want to hurt your feelings.

If your god, in whom billions believe, tells you to terrorise or mutilate children, deny them basic knowledge of their bodies or their world, jeopardise their health, inflict physical violence on them or assault them sexually;

If he tells you to inform them their trauma is deserved, that their own bodies were to blame or that their flesh and broken minds are sinful; if he tells you to instruct them against defending themselves or if their thoughts of him drive them to suicide;

If he tells you to preach racism, queerphobia or misogny; if he tells you what consensual sex you can and can’t have and with whom, or to destroy loving relationships and force nonconsensual ones on others;

If he tells you to threaten and harass others, subject them to violence or deny them medical aid;

If your god, in whom billions believe, inspires the fear, abuse and cruelty I and countless others lived through:

Fuck your god.

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