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Comments

  1. Louis says

    Seconding Billy above.

    This is dangerously like nuance PZ. Next you’ll be saying some of Thunderfoot’s science videos were good and you tried to get him to FtB for genuine and honest reasons, instead of a Global Space Lizard Conspiracy of Feminazis or something.

    WHAT IS WRONG!?! Where is the fulminating, frothing loon with black and white views that never actually existed except in the minds of boogeyman obsessed delusionals?

    I AM DISAPPOINT!

    Louis

    P.S. You’re not wrong, the article wasn’t terrible. Maybe this Stedman isn’t all bad. Invite him to the club for cigars, brandy and casual racism.

  2. says

    …Invite him to the club for cigars, brandy and casual racism.

    I don’t know if we can indulge this whimsy of yours, sport…

    (/Thing is, the help just hates having to label the canapés.)

  3. Sastra says

    I agree with Ophelia, too, and liked Stedman’s article. When I originally read the quote on Rep. Synema’s views I unfortunately glossed over it, somehow mistaking “(Rep. Sinema) believes the terms non-theist, atheist or non-believer are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character” as indicating that her “life’s work” probably involved undergoing past-life regression, promoting reiki, or teaching others about some other “spiritual not religious” nontraditional form of God: the term “atheist” didn’t fit that. Oh, I should have payed more attention, to put it mildly. Stedman’s right.

    Which doesn’t surprise me. I often agree with accomodationist atheists on a lot of things, and an accomodationist isn’t defined as someone who denies they’re atheist, thinks there’s something dirty about atheism, or insists that nonbelief be made invisible. Stedman’s never advocated that. He’s always argued the opposite, from what I can recall.

    I suspect that if his article had gone on to explain why he thinks atheists are so vilified — and what we ought to do about it — I would have found some things to disagree with, but as it is I’m just terribly pleased and proud that ‘one of our own’ has had a chance to express such an important point in such a prominent venue — and done it so well.

  4. Scientismist says

    “(Rep. Sinema) believes the terms non-theist, atheist or non-believer are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”

    As a nontheist, atheist and nonbeliever (take your pick), I find this statement deeply problematic.

    Ok, if both Ophilia and PZ agree with Stedman that this is “deeply problematic,” I’ll have to at least take that under advisement. But, to me, Rep. Sinema’s statement simply means that she lacks the personal character and intellectual integrity to identify as non-theist, atheist or non-believer. I don’t know what her “life’s work” has been, but I would expect that it has little to do with either science or reality-based political leadership.

  5. says

    I suspect that if his article had gone on to explain why he thinks atheists are so vilified — and what we ought to do about it — I would have found some things to disagree with, but as it is I’m just terribly pleased and proud that ‘one of our own’ has had a chance to express such an important point in such a prominent venue — and done it so well.

    I agree. But I’m pleased that he showed such restraint in not doing that first thing. I’d like to see him continue down that path.

    ***

    I don’t know what her “life’s work” has been,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyrsten_Sinema

    Seems consistent with atheism.

  6. azportsider says

    Nope, Stedman’s still an idiot. He’s obviously never in his life been to Arizona, and knows nothing about the political/cultural realities here. ‘Atheism’ is a dirty word in Arizona, and no self-proclaimed atheist has the slightest chance of winning an election here.

    Kyrsten Sinema won a very close election, by about 10000 votes out of about 250000 cast. If she’d followed Stedman’s advice this thread wouldn’t even exist because we’d have Congressman Vernon Parker of the Arizona Teabaggers. Instead, because Ms Sinema employed some discretion, we have a solid and outspoken Progressive in the House for the next two years. I don’t really give a rat’s ass if that disturbs Stedman, or anyone else.

  7. Ogvorbis says

    Some years ago, there was a situation in NJ in which the Boy Scouts fired a scout leader, who held Eagle, because he was gay. When one of the cable news networks interviewed him (not Faux), the interviewer said (paraphrased) “The Boy Scouts will not let gays or atheists serve as scout leaders. How does that make you feel, being lumped in with atheists?” His reply was that neither heterosexuality nor atheism should bar someone from leading scouts, which impressed me. The question, though, floored Wife and I.

  8. says

    Nope, Stedman’s still an idiot. He’s obviously never in his life been to Arizona, and knows nothing about the political/cultural realities here. ‘Atheism’ is a dirty word in Arizona, and no self-proclaimed atheist has the slightest chance of winning an election here.

    Kyrsten Sinema won a very close election, by about 10000 votes out of about 250000 cast. If she’d followed Stedman’s advice this thread wouldn’t even exist because we’d have Congressman Vernon Parker of the Arizona Teabaggers. Instead, because Ms Sinema employed some discretion, we have a solid and outspoken Progressive in the House for the next two years. I don’t really give a rat’s ass if that disturbs Stedman, or anyone else.

    I’m not sure if you read the linked article. First, the statement to which he’s responding was released after her election. Second, I don’t think you have a handle on his “advice.” He was not asking her to campaign as an atheist (I don’t think he thinks she is an atheist – just that it doesn’t matter); he’s saying should can present herself however she wants as long as she doesn’t imply in her statements that atheism is ethically lesser or incompatible with positive values. That’s gratuitous and wrong.

  9. says

    Sastra – you’re right that Stedman has always argued the opposite, or firmly said that that’s what he argues. I’ve never been able to believe him, because just about everything I’ve seen of his cuts the other way. I believe him now, and er I kind of owe him an apology. I mean, I keep thinking – “I know, you always said…but I thought…”

  10. Scientismist says

    Thanks, SC.

    Kyrsten Sinema has been a supporter of gay equality, claims to support a secular approach to government, and was recipient of the CfI 2011 Award for the Advancement of Science and Reason in Public Policy for, among other things, her support of “science-based sex education, and sound environmental policies.” I stand corrected, in that it seems she may indeed have overcome the influence of her early Mormon education, and learned to appreciate real-world solutions. It would be interesting to know how she came to these positions, perhaps in her later education or her experience in social work and law.

    But that does perhaps clarify her statement that a label of “atheist” is “not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.” If she is in truth some form of non-believer, and sees her “life’s work” as promoting a secular approach to government, it would befit her potential life’s work that she obscure her non-belief, if that is necessary to being elected to office. The personal character of a politician may require some compromises to be made with respect to intellectual integrity. I would not call her statement “deeply problematic” (for a politician; if she were a scientist, philosopher, or educator, that might be different). I would probably vote for her.

  11. says

    But that does perhaps clarify her statement that a label of “atheist” is “not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.” If she is in truth some form of non-believer, and sees her “life’s work” as promoting a secular approach to government, it would befit her potential life’s work that she obscure her non-belief, if that is necessary to being elected to office. The personal character of a politician may require some compromises to be made with respect to intellectual integrity.

    That’s twisting the words of the public statement. It would be strange to release a statement basically saying “My political work requires moral cowardice,” and I don’t think she was (especially given the reference to her “personal character”). I think she’s still stuck in the religious mindset that sees atheism as incompatible with positive values and social action. (Stedman probably recognizes this because he’s often guilty of it himself.)

    He doesn’t express any dissatisfaction with her alleged obscuring of her alleged nonbelief. In fact, he seems to think she’s a believer of some sort. As I said in my later comment, he isn’t asking her to “come out” as an atheist or caring how she characterizes herself. The problem is with what certainly looks like a prejudiced dig at atheists, or is easily read as such. Substitute “gay” for those other terms, and see how it works.

    I would not call her statement “deeply problematic” (for a politician; if she were a scientist, philosopher, or educator, that might be different).

    It was.

  12. screechymonkey says

    Ophelia, I hardly think you owe the guy an apology. Ok, so we finally have been presented with an example of Stedman defending atheism on grounds other than “well, we’re not all like those bad atheists over there.” Great. We should praise him for doing it, as you and PZ have done, and encourage him to do it more. But the fact that there’s now one example of this to weigh against the 999 examples of selling us out, is hardly evidence that you or we we wrong about the guy.

    Personally, I don’t give a damn what Stedman believes in his heart of hearts, what he says when chatting over a beer, or even what he writes, if it’s in a relatively obscure venue like a blog comments thread. I care what he’s using his public platform to advocate. I was happy to see him use a big forum like CNN to deliver a good message. If we see more of this, then we should continue to compliment him. If he reverts back to form, then we should be holding his feet to the fire.

  13. BubbaRich says

    I’ve been reading your slime pit discussions about Stedman for a couple of years (including PZ’s comments in Australia), but every time I’ve read, you just take it for granted what Stedman’s sins are. Or, even worse, as PZ did you accuse him falsely of something that wasn’t even wrong to begin with (the whole “made me go into a church” episode).

    I’d like to see a nice clear set of accusations with evidence, about what you think Stedman’s crimes are, and how you are all justified for saying even the relatively mild things that screechymonkey says here.

    I’d say that I think Stedman was being foolishly antagonistic in this piece, but this sort of antagonism will help her get more votes next time.

  14. says

    I’ve been reading your slime pit discussions about Stedman for a couple of years (including PZ’s comments in Australia), but every time I’ve read, you just take it for granted what Stedman’s sins are.

    His public statements and actions have been discussed at length.

    I’d like to see a nice clear set of accusations with evidence, about what you think Stedman’s crimes are, and how you are all justified for saying even the relatively mild things that screechymonkey says here.

    OK – read the posts and threads about him here and at the old Pharyngula and at B&W and the old B&W. Do your own work.

    I’d say that I think Stedman was being foolishly antagonistic in this piece, but this sort of antagonism will help her get more votes next time.

    Substitute “gay” or synonyms for the terms used in her statement.

  15. consciousness razor says

    Kyrsten Sinema won a very close election, by about 10000 votes out of about 250000 cast. If she’d followed Stedman’s advice this thread wouldn’t even exist because we’d have Congressman Vernon Parker of the Arizona Teabaggers. Instead, because Ms Sinema employed some discretion, we have a solid and outspoken Progressive in the House for the next two years. I don’t really give a rat’s ass if that disturbs Stedman, or anyone else.

    That doesn’t sound like something an outspoken progressive would say. Of course, we are talking about Arizona — and you know, Grand Canyons and such can have some weird side-effects…

    The personal character of a politician may require some compromises to be made with respect to intellectual integrity.

    Well, we are talking about Arizona….

  16. says

    Bubbarich: You’re trolling. You only seem to show up when I cuss out Stedman, and here I am saying something nice about him, and you’re demanding that I say something mean about him. Fuck off.

  17. Scientismist says

    SC — I tried substituting “gay” for those other terms. As an atheistic gay scientist and Terry Pratchett fan, I don’t care if she considers none of these to be befitting of her life’s work or personal character, as long as she continues to support secular government, gay rights, science, and the privacy of my bookshelves. I think interpreting her campaign spokesperson’s statement as a slam against atheists is borrowing trouble where there is none.

  18. says

    SC — I tried substituting “gay” for those other terms. As an atheistic gay scientist…, I don’t care if she considers none of these to be befitting of her life’s work or personal character,

    Seriously? You don’t care if she releases a public statement saying they don’t befit her life’s work or personal character? Good luck with that.

    as long as she continues to support secular government, gay rights,

    How would saying that you don’t believe the term “gay” befits your character and life’s work be supportive of gay rights?

    I think interpreting her campaign spokesperson’s statement

    Unless she disowns it, it’s her statement.

    as a slam against atheists is borrowing trouble where there is none.

    And I think that’s silly. You haven’t addressed the points people have made.

  19. Scientismist says

    How would saying that you don’t believe the term “gay” befits your character and life’s work be supportive of gay rights?

    Well, she actually doesn’t identify with the term “gay” — she prefers the term “bisexual.” And she supports gay rights. She also doesn’t identify with the term “atheist” — she prefers the terms “none” and “secular”. And (according to CfI) supports science-based sex education and sound environmental policies.

    The controversy about the statement appears to hinge on the word “befitting,” so I suggest another substitution experiment. Webster gives the following meanings for “befitting”: 1: suitable, appropriate; 2: proper, decent. Try substituting any of those four words in the statement. Given that she identifies religiously as a “none” and politically as a supporter of secular government, would it be deeply problematic for her to say that “atheist” was not a “suitable”, “appropriate,” or “proper” term with which to describe herself? Would that be acceptable to PZ and company?

    Stedman: “..it implies there is something unbefitting about the lives and characters of atheists or nonbelievers.” [No, the claim is that the term is “not suitable” to her life’s work.]
    Ophilia: “..shouldn’t treat the word “atheist” as a contaminant.” [No, the claim is that the term is “not appropriate” to her work and character.]
    PZ: “..the casual assertion that “atheist” is a dirty word.” [No, the claim is that the term is “not proper” to describe her personal character.]

    What if she said that “atheist” was not a “decent” term with which to identify: that the term is “not decent” to describe her personal character (or perhaps anyone’s). Here, I agree, we would have a problem. Indeed, the umbrage seems to grow from the belief that “not befitting” can only mean “indecent,” when there are at least three other meanings that precede it in Merriam-Webster’s list. Yes, she and her people could have said it better. But I still think that interpreting it as a put down against atheists is borrowing trouble (at least to a 75% probability). At least no one has yet called for torches and pitchforks. I hope we can all agree they are not befitting to the offense.

  20. screechymonkey says

    Scientismist, using the “suitable or appropriate” definitions may render the statement less offensive than that “indecent” one, but it’s still problematic. (I also think you’re playing a bit of a dictionary game here: “befitting” carries a strong connotation of value, and it’s naive to think that a politician and her staff aren’t aware of that.) But even accepting that it’s a value-neutral way of saying “appropriate”:

    1. As to the “life’s work” portion, what does this mean? The term “atheist” is being suggested as a way to describe her, not her work. So in what way is that inappropriate? Does the Congresswoman object to other accurate factual statements about her on the grounds that they aren’t “appropriate” to her “life’s work?” Does she object to being described as “a woman,” as “__ years old,” as “a graduate of [name of university” on the grounds that they aren’t “appropriate” to her life’s work? The unstated assumption is that “atheist” tells you something about a person’s “life’s work,” and that there’s some inconsistency between whatever her “life’s work” has been and being an atheist.

    2. It’s even worse as to “character.” Again, the unstated assumption is that a person’s status as an atheist tells you something about their character. (Well, maybe it does if you define “character” broadly enough to include “willingness to believe things without evidence,” but that’s hardly what she’s saying, is it?) I hardly think it’s being oversensitive to detect a reference to the pervasive stereotype that atheists are people who are untrustworthy, lacking in moral values, etc.

    Remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry and George had to keep denying the rumor that they were gay, and every time they did, they immediately tacked on “… not that there’s anything WRONG with that!”? The reason they felt obligated to do so was because when you’re so defensive and insistent about denying that you are a member of a particular group, as opposed to merely correcting a factual misstatement, the implication is that you think that there IS something wrong with being a member of that group.

    Or — since I’m sure that will draw some objection to using a sitcom as a reference — as Stedman alludes to, look at how President Obama and his supporters handle the “Obama’s a Muslim” issue. They don’t get huffy and indignant or say that “Muslim” isn’t “befitting” of the President’s life’s work or character, because it’s pretty clear what message that would send to Muslims.

  21. Rieux says

    I posted on Stedman’s own blog and made somewhat the same points as SC@17, with marginally less justification.

    The CNN article is good, but it doesn’t erase years’ worth of Stedman’s atheist bashing (and wrt the sidelong focus on gay issues in this thread, don’t forget the back-stab Stedman delivered to GLBTs in his infamous Leave Jim Wallis Aloooone! Huffpo piece in May 2011).

  22. BubbaRich says

    SC: I’ve read hundreds of comments on several posts about Stedman here, and I haven’t seen evidence or citations of this “atheist bashing.” Is this something worse than Genie Scott? Don’t you even have any links? I’ve spent hours researching, and haven’t seen it.

    PZ: No, I’m not asking you to say something true about Stedman, I’ve seen video evidence that you can’t. I was asking your pharynguloids here, who seem plenty willing to bash Stedman.

    screechymonkey: “atheist” is loaded with negative connotations, and it seems to be the goal here to give it even more. Many people will accept or use a label for themselves in a specific context, and find it less appropriate in other contexts. Her career depends entirely on broad public perception, and sometimes the public refuses to use your understanding of the world.

    Public “outing” has always been ugly, whether true or false. You have decided she doesn’t and can’t represent you. I suspect she would be fine with that. But, again, I think Stedman’s mild attack on her is good for her re-election chances.

  23. says

    I’ve spent hours researching, and haven’t seen it.

    Then you haven’t been “researching” very hard. Also, you seem to be confused as to where you are – this isn’t the slymepit.