Stedman: Right and Wrong on Islamophobia

Chris Stedman of the Harvard Humanists has a column at Religion Dispatches about atheism and Islamophobia that, in my view, gets some things right and some things wrong on the subject. The main problem, I think, is that he doesn’t make a distinction between criticism, even if it might be inaccurate, and hatred or bigotry. For instance, he quotes Dave Silverman and JT Eberhard:
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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.

Openly Secular

Kimberly Winston reports on the Openly Secular campaign.

A new coalition of atheists, humanists and other nonreligious groups is taking a page from the gay rights movement and encouraging people to admit they are “openly secular.”

The coalition — unprecedented in its scope — is broadening a trend of reaching out to religious people and religious groups by making the secular label a catchall for people who are not religious.

I’m not sure how making the secular label a catchall for people who are not religious is reaching out to religious people, but maybe the idea is that “secular” comes across as less antagonistic than “atheist.” People can of course be both secular and religious under one meaning of the word – but that one meaning isn’t the only one, so we get clashes and arguments. [Read more...]