Clenched fist salute for the progressive cause of equality! No compromise!

I’ve long been a fan of Richard Dawkins’ Out Campaign, and think that kind of thing is the single greatest contribution to making public atheism atheism acceptable. It’s not the books, it’s not the leaders, it’s thousands of people standing up boldly and fearlessly asserting that they don’t believe in that nonsense and that we need to keep the magical thinking out of our lives.

The OUT Campaign allows individuals to let others know they are not alone. It can also be a nice way of opening a conversation and help to demolish the negative stereotypes of atheists. Let the world know that we are not about to go away and that we are not going to allow those that would condemn us to push us into the shadows.

It is time to let our voices be heard regarding the intrusion of religion in our schools and politics. Atheists along with millions of others are tired of being bullied by those who would force their own religious agenda down the throats of our children and our respective governments. We need to KEEP OUT the supernatural from our moral principles and public policies.

But what if the campaign changed? What if the RDF decided that we were maybe being a little too aggressive (they aren’t, don’t worry) and suggested an alternative strategy: keep quiet, call up your local priest, and have a private heart-to-heart with him. Tell him first that you’re thinking of coming out about your disbelief with friends and family; give him a chance to address your concerns. Let him keep his privileged authority in matters spiritual.

Not so impressive anymore, is it? In fact, the deference to the very people we oppose sounds downright pathetic and wimpy.

So you can imagine my response to the open letter to the secular community, deploring the aggressive rhetoric on blogs, and basically minimizing the hatred radiating from the anti-feminists to equate it with calling said anti-feminists mean names. It’s signed by many people I like and respect, leaders of various secular organizations, but it’s a gooey marshmallow of spineless diplomacy. Not interested. I know they mean well, and they’re just trying to find a formula to make us all one big happy family together, but I’m not about to throw causes I care about under the bus of a blithe starry-eyed atheism.

I’ll join The American Secular Census, Ophelia, Secular Woman, Dana, and Rebecca in rejecting the overtures of the Neville Chamberlain ‘appeasement’ school of secularists.

I will continue to cheerfully abuse the advocates of silence and sexism. And I won’t even pick up the phone to let them know first!

Comments

  1. ~G~ says

    I guess I’ll keep that quarter in my pocket then, PZ. You are a farty-pants! :)

  2. okstop says

    The inability of some to distinguish between calling out the unacceptable and simply being abusive (e.g.: calling out sexism and, on the other hand, being mean to people who do so) never ceases to amaze me. It’s a refusal to distinguish between form and substance, a seemingly knee-jerk reaction to the tone of a statement rather than its content, and the resultant mindless lumping of all strongly-worded language into a single, undifferentiated pile. I will never understand this reaction.

  3. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Yawn, tone trolls want me to tone it down? Tell them to F*** T*********. And if I deign to be polite, shove your tone trolling attitude where the sun don’t shine.

  4. logicpriest says

    I enjoy [not really] the repetitive conflation of insults, slurs and threats. In my mind saying you are a big poopoo head is quite far off from [insert class based slur here] or [insert threat to avoid triggering anyone]. Every time they bring up rhetoric and insults, they also bring up threats and harassment. In what way is an insult akin to stalking and threats?

    Like many online communities, our comment and forum threads all too often become places for name calling and even threats…

    Insults, slurs, expressions of hatred, and threats undermine our shared values…

    Just to name a few.

  5. glodson says

    Yea, that letter is nice. Maybe it comes from good intentions… but it is fundamentally flawed. One can be crass and crude while saying something of substance, which can have a purpose. On the flip side, one can say horrendous things under the guise of civility, which also has a purpose. The purpose of the former is to shock the audience a bit and communicate outrage, it is a signal. The purpose of the latter is to take a vile position and slide it into a dialogue with the goal of gaining unwarranted respect for the opinion.

  6. John Morales says

    Yet another civility pledge, eh?

    We, the leaders of the undersigned national secular organizations, pledge to make our best efforts toward improving the tone and substance of online discussions.

    Well, I’m all for that. Me too!

    (Of course, I think Pharyngula‘s tone is pretty damn close to perfect :) )

  7. mildlymagnificent says

    Every single time one of these witless statements comes from an organisation or an individual, the simplest test of all shows up all its infantile weaknesses.

    Just edit it by replacing all the references to sexism (or nasty words about women) with references to racism (or nasty words about POC) and see if it makes sense – in any meaning of the word. Once you see that these well-meaning people couldn’t get even that far with their “concept”, you can dismiss the whole thing.

    There’s a reason why “oh, but she means well” is the classic expression of damning with faint praise.

  8. Gregory Greenwood says

    While I think we can all (well, apart from the reactionary misogynmists that sadly infest atheism) get behind the sentiment that;

    The principle that women and men should have equal rights flows from our core values as a movement. Historically, there has been a close connection between traditional religion and suppression of women, with dogma and superstition providing the rationale for depriving women of fundamental rights. In promoting science and secularism, we are at the same time seeking to secure the dignity of all individuals. We seek not only civil equality for everyone, regardless of sex, but an end to discriminatory social structures and conventions – again often the legacy of our religious heritage—that limit opportunities for both women and men.

    But as pointed out in the linked article, beyond making this airy notional committment to the ideal of equality, the writers of the open letter make no clear statements as to what they intend to do to pursue these goals, choosing instead to drift off into a form of tone trolling that seems to treat feminists and those who trade in the hatred and persecution of women within the atheist community as if they are equal.

    This attitude can be seen several times in the highly problematic section entitled ‘Our Approach’. For instance;

    • Go offline before going online: pick up the phone.
    When you hear that an organization or member of our community is doing something that you think is wrong or bad for the community, call and talk with them, find out what they are actually doing and why they are doing it. If you don’t have a phone number, send a private email and arrange a time to talk. So much of the time there’s more to the story, and talking to another person on the other side of the issue can help us more fully understand the situation. Plus, a phone call makes it easier for people who are making mistakes to change course, because they aren’t on the defensive as they would be after being called out publicly.

    This is fine in theory perhaps, but when large groups of people who are anonymised or pseudonymised and are using the internet to demonise women for daring to speak to their mind and planning a campaign of harrassment expressly aimed at ruining their lives – as has happened multiple times, most obviously with regard to Rebecca Watson and ‘Elevatorgate’ – this really isn’t a viable option.

    Even where it is a high profile person saying something that is problematic, like Professor Dawkins and his ‘Dear Muslima’ remark, then dealing with a harmful comment that was made in public behind closed doors does not serve to tackle the toxic attitudes within the broader community that informed that attitude in the first place. Even if the critique is not simply ignored, then the fact remains that a private discussion will not by means of word of mouth reach the ears and eyes of all (or most likely even most) of the people who encountered the original remark that did the harm. Calling out this kind of statement publicly is not some kind of mean spirited victimisation for its own sake; it serves the important purpose of highlighting a harmful attitude and addressing why it is problematic.

    Then there is;

    • Listen more.
    We miss the nuances and differences within “the other side” once an issue becomes polarized, while continuing to see our side as filled with nuance and distinctions. There is a tendency to stop listening and treat everyone associated with an opposing position as a monolithic group. People can be painted with views that aren’t their own just because they may disagree with some aspects of your own position. We should listen more so we can see distinctions among those with opposing views and start to move toward a more accurate understanding of the issues rather than being deadlocked into two entrenched camps.

    This implies that the two sides with regard to issues like misogyny within the atheist community are somehow equal when they cleary aren’t. It is entirely unreasonable to demand that feminists should strive to understand the ‘nuances’ of those who express hostility toward feminism, when often the position of the ‘other side’ amount to little more than the regurgitated misogynistic talking points of MRAs paired with statements (often quite literally) to the effect that women are somehow congenitally compelled to lie and are good for nothing more than functioning as living sex toys/ambulatory incubators. There is not a whole lot of ‘nuance’ in the direct denial of the personhood of half the species.

    • Dial down the drama.
    It’s tempting to overuse inflammatory and derogatory rhetoric. It gets attention. We should be cautious about using this tactic within our community because of the long-term damage it does to relationships and morale. When critiquing people within our community, everyone should remember that our goal is to persuade our allies to see our perspective and modify their opinions. Insults don’t change opinions; they harden them.

    The false equivalency here really annoys me – it implies that both the screeching, irrational hatred of misogynists who *trigger warning* are happy to declare that rape victims ‘deserved it’ or should consider themselves ‘fortunate’ that anyone would want to rape them, deliberately trigger rape survivors by blithely tossing out threats of rape and other forms of personal violence, and dismiss anyone who doesn’t worship at the altar of toxic masculinity as a ‘feminazi’ (or, if male identified or assumed to be male by the bigot in question, as a ‘mangina’), and the completely legitimate anger of people who have been through terrible trauma (or simply have a functional sense of social justice and a capacity for empathy) and now have to deal with yet more privileged jokers who think that rubbing salt into the wounds of those who have suffered under the lash of patriarchal rape culture is the height of comedy, are esentially the same thing. The letter forgets that there are instances where anger – and also direct, expressive language that conveys contempt – is justified when confronted with a morally indefensible position. Conversely, bigotry and bile deployed in defence of one’s unearned privilege is never acceptable.

    • Be more charitable.
    We should remember that the purpose of argument within our community is to come to shared and correct conclusions that move us forward, not to score points against the opposing side. To that end, we should apply the principle of charity, which tells us to aim our argument against the best interpretation of the opposing arguments rather than picking off weaker versions. By applying the principle of charity we will elevate the discussion so we’re actually talking about our real differences, not just engaging in a pointless exchange.

    Again, how can one ‘charitably’ interpret open victim blaming and attempts to silence the voices of women altogether? Sometimes ‘common ground’ cannot be found – bigotry canot be accomodated, it must be fought tooth and nail, and those who cannot or will not see reason and accept the humanity and right to equality of groups like women are not the sort of people who we should wish to come to some kind of ‘understanding’ with – they are a poison within atheo-skepticism, and they will assuredly destroy the movement if their prejudice is not challenged. We should not be apologetic about getting rid of illiberal hatemongers.

    • Help others along.
    We should remember that we weren’t born knowing the things we know now. To get to the reasoned conclusions that we’ve reached, we learned by reading, thinking, and talking with others. When we encounter someone espousing a view we think is based on lack of knowledge or experience, we should remember that we have all held ill-informed views. We should cultivate patience and try to educate instead of condemn.

    This is good advice, but only when dealing with people who wish to debate in good faith. When encountering deliberate trolling, ‘JAQing off’, or other forms of wilfull derailing of discussions, it becomes impractical. Most of those who promote sexism within atheism are anything but debating in good faith, and have no interest in evidence or reasoned argument – all they want to do is silence women in atheo-skepticism by any means possible.

    There seems to be a lot of concern about the forms of polite civility in this open letter, and little interest in dealing with the substance of the issues and taking any real action against prejudiced attitudes. It strikes me as an unedifying exercise in attempting to brush the problem under the carpet rather than tackle it head on.

  9. Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff says

    That letter is just another example of maintaining the status quo, kowtowing to established privilege, obsequiously tipping the hat, tugging the forelock, bowing, curtsying, kissing the ring, and/or grovelling the dirt. This type of approach has NEVER worked on an individual or a societal level. Bullies, bigots, misogynists, racists, and other such dysfunctional and poisonous individuals and the institutions they belong to need can only be brought to reality with a brisk verbal smack across the chops.

    And that only gets the conversation started.

  10. says

    I just had an argument on FB with some folks I don’t know about this very thing. Cool!

    I explained that “civility” is often defined to define the parameters of allowed debate. It’s often used by those with greater social power to silence those with less power. Someone responded with:

    So what you’re saying is that it’s okay to be awful to other people if you perceive them to have greater social power than you?

    I said “It’s a pretty crude assessment, but pretty much,” followed up with, “The word ‘awful’ is a sticking point, though.”

    Maybe I should’ve tried explaining the nuances right then, but thought I might shake him up a little.

    He responded with, “That’s stupid.”*

    Right. So, someone defending civility becomes uncivil when confronted with an idea with which they don’t agree — about civility.

    Fuck civility. That’s stupid.

     

    * My followup comment, “Excellent! Now defend your statement that it’s stupid,” was met with the peaceful sound of crickets.

  11. Ulysses says

    From the Open Letter:

    We seek to promote productive debate and discussion. We firmly believe open and candid discussion is the most reliable means of resolving differences of opinion and bringing about needed change.

    Do they mean candid discussion like rape and death threats in response to “guys, don’t do that”?

  12. PatrickG says

    One comment on the response by the ASC:

    Secular organizations’ silence and inaction on the religious basis of declining abortion rights and access represent an enormous wasted opportunity for movement expansion and, to some women, a betrayal.

    To some men, as well. At least those who care about the rights of the women in their lives (well, heck, women not in their lives, too).

    This man, at least, doesn’t view the more “libertarian” strain of atheists as potential allies, because they don’t do anything more than provide lip service to reproductive rights. That is, when they’re not straight up trying to deny them because of “fathers’ rights”.

    Anyway, just a minor comment. These issues obviously have much more impact on women, but they don’t just affect women. And with that, I’ve used up my WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ quota for today, and I’ll be on my merry way. :)

  13. Denverly says

    Why does the open letter begin with the “be nice to each other” instead of “stop being sexist”?

  14. LeftSidePositive says

    You know, I don’t seem to remember anyone in the atheist community going on at length about how Tim Minchin needs to improve his tone:

  15. LeftSidePositive says

    On a more serious note, this whole handle-it-privately thing has given me more appreciation to the way PZ addressed Melissa McEwan’s call-out. I didn’t read his OP the same way Melissa did, and so I didn’t exactly agree with her call-out, but PZ, I’ve gotta hand it to you for not making a martyr of yourself, or demand that people criticize you privately, or whateverthefuckthisis. You just acknowledged your phrasing left room for a problematic interpretation, clarified, and refocused on the important shared values (even though you were–gasp!–criticized publicly!!!11!1!!eleventy!). That seems to me it’s possible to be constructive and thoughtful when criticized publicly, and maybe we should consider it a character flaw of those who choose to focus on the venue rather than the content of their calling-out.

  16. says

    I’m a vote for “more aggressive rhetoric” please.

    The bright line for me is threats of physical violence (a privilege the church used to enjoy) and outright lies (a privilege that the church is battling hard to keep) The church, in the past, has engaged in plenty of aggressive rhetoric. If it’s FAILing for them, that’s their problem.

  17. says

    This consistent theme of “handle it privately! Don’t let the public know that the community has dirty laundry to deal with” is distasteful in the extreme. If Catholics made the same argument, we’d be jumping all over them for it. It smacks of ethical cowardice.

  18. carlie says

    I’ll repeat what i said at Ophelia’s, because I’m lazy and have to know how kidneys work by tomorrow morning.

    Problem is, particularly when the initial statement is made in public, contacting that person privately does NOT achieve the desired objective. It’s not about trying to deeply understand why that person did something sexist/racist/generally stupid, it’s about trying to make that public space we’re all in less hostile to people not in the dominant group. If someone blurts out sexist stuff in public, and then someone else contacts them in private about it, their statements were left out there in the public eye without any indication that such things are frowned on and not what everyone else there wants the space to be. It’s not just the person who did it who needs to see the message that those things are not tolerated, it’s the entire community who needs to see it. And contacting them privately does none of that.

  19. carlie says

    Why does the open letter begin with the “be nice to each other” instead of “stop being sexist”?

    Ding ding ding ding! We have a winner! Because yeah.

  20. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    This consistent theme of “handle it privately! Don’t let the public know that the community has dirty laundry to deal with” is distasteful in the extreme. If Catholics made the same argument, we’d be jumping all over them for it. It smacks of ethical cowardice.

    This can work when real penalties like having your ass retrained and/or fired is a real possibility. Doesn’t work for conferences and the RCC, since in the latter being fired is almost unheard of.

  21. says

    Go offline before going online: pick up the phone.

    what the fuck is it with the phone obsession?

    (mind you, I have some theories, but they’re biased because I hate phones with a burning passion. So I’m asking for some non-phone-phobic suggestions)

  22. insipidmoniker, 37th Emu of the Mild Dyspepsia says

    Gah, I really, really don’t like the way this is worded. Partly because it seems far too easy for someone to say that the letter agrees with THEM and try to use it as a bludgeon against anyone who disagrees.

  23. zeldamina says

    Hey, so, I’m a lurker and commenting on the Coming Out campaign rather than the tone-policing letter of dumbness, so if this comment is too off-topic just let me know.

    I just wanted to mention that, when atheists use the language of coming out or out-ness, especially without attributing it to the LGBT movement where that language originates, it is really walking a fine line between drawing an analogy and being appropriative. When it gets used in casual speech, that’s one thing, but to have a whole campaign built around that which does not appear to acknowledge the appropriation in any way at all really rankles me. Queer folks have died for coming out. Still sometimes do. In the modern era, while atheists may experience discrimination for coming out, it is not remotely the same thing. And queer folks have been the ones to create the language, political ideology, and strategic rhetoric of outness. Our leaders have articulated this strategy and its purpose and the least atheist leaders could do is give them some damn credit when using their ideas.

    I am saying this based on my experiences as a queer atheist. I’m sure other queer folks might disagree. Anyway, thought I’d throw that out there.

  24. says

    David Silverman, of the infamous slaves billboard, is suddenly against rudeness and bluntness?
    DJ Grothe, of the Rebecca Watson And The Feminists Are Scaring Women Away From TAM screed is for first talking to a person privately before discussing their behavior online?

    *Spock eyebrow* fascinating

  25. John Morales says

    zeldamina:

    When it [coming out or out-ness] gets used in casual speech, that’s one thing, but to have a whole campaign built around that which does not appear to acknowledge the appropriation in any way at all really rankles me.

    It is true queers did first employ that imagery*, and it is true there is no such evident acknowledgement on the site of that campaign; whether there has been appropriation by atheists is a debatable (but plausible) claim.

    But it’s understandable that it rankles you, and you have a point.

    * Quite successfuly, too. Congratulations!

  26. says

    the secular census site, which seems to want me to log in with facebook to comment (Fuck NO!) has some fuckweasel using “secularism” to mean atheism. No wonder the Christianists are confused, given not even the atheists can keep the meaning of the term straight [/pet peeve]

  27. screechymonkey says

    Jadehawk@27:

    what the fuck is it with the phone obsession?

    I guess it’s replaced the old “have a beer together” line that self-appointed peacemakers used to use. I seem to recall quite a few folks urging PZ to just sit down and have a beer with, say, Chris Mooney or Stedman.

    Which is aggravating, because it implies that something is just a silly little personal spat and not a substantive disagreement.

  28. says

    Fighting back against privileged bullies by deploying some of their own rhetorical weapons against them – particularly mockery and ridicule – is not in the same moral category as privileged bullying. It is more akin to self defense. And it’s effective. I’ve yet to see “making nice” have any positive effect on the bullying dynamic.

    @Jadehawk: I fucking hate phones too. Almost never even answer mine.

  29. Koshka says

    Keeping our online spaces free of these elements creates a civil climate that makes it much easier for people to engage issues productively.

    I am unsure what is meant by “our online spaces”. Have atheist websites been nationalised when I wasn’t looking?

  30. says

    @Jadehawk: I fucking hate phones too. Almost never even answer mine.

    I don’t even have one; for absolutely unavoidable calls, ?I’ll use the boyfriend’s cell, but otherwise I try to make people understand that if they want to talk to me, they have to use the internet machine

  31. says

    I fully support the rights of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and those who don’t believe in a god or religion.

    Logic, reason, and critical thinking are important to learn to get rid of bias.

    I have to admit I’ve had a bad past, done things I am not proud of. Even at one time faked my death online via a suicide on various places. But then at Stumbleupon Joe Walp an atheist had a good talk with me. I had admitted to what I had done, and I tried to become a better person for it. He admitted to me that I was honest and asked me questions about small businesses because he saw that I ran one.

    When I was young I was agnostic, I had doubts about god and saw religion was corrupt. When I grew up I saw that it wasn’t god or religion that was corrupt but people and they took things out of context to suit their own needs and wants.

    I suffered, had pain, took that pain and suffering out on anyone who gave me pain and suffering. I think as human beings we tend to do that a lot. Recently I tried to seek forgiveness from someone I felt I had wronged, but he told me I had a bad memory and to not contact him again. How can one seek forgiveness in a secular way? For isn’t that part of any good moral and ethics system to forgive others? If that is not part of any good ethics or morals system and most of the world if religious or secular acts in a way that doesn’t forgive, then what future do human beings have on this planet?

    You can call me a liar, for I have lied, you can call me a deceiver for I have deceived, you can call me fake for I have faked stuff, you can call me all sorts of things and I will admit to them. I want to become a better person, I want to cease any bad behavior and actions and avoid making mistakes and having failures. I am not perfect, and because I am not perfect I am never forgiven. Who about you has never made a mistake or failed? Who has never done a bad thing or had bad behavior or bad actions?

    How does one seek redemption in a world that doesn’t redeem? How does one change and have hope, when such things are impossible? How does one end the cycle of pain and suffering and cease cause pain and suffering to others?

    Science has no clue to this nor does religion or anything else for that matter.

    Any ideas? I’m fresh out of them.

  32. says

    @zeldamina – seconding John Morales. You have a good point, and I will try to be mindful of acknowledging it. You’re right that it’s a fine line, but it’s good to be aware of it. Thanks for pointing it out.

  33. Koshka says

    Orion Blaster #38

    Recently I tried to seek forgiveness from someone I felt I had wronged, but he told me I had a bad memory and to not contact him again. How can one seek forgiveness in a secular way? For isn’t that part of any good moral and ethics system to forgive others?

    How horrible! You wronged somebody and they refused to forgive you. What a selfish person.

    Any ideas? I’m fresh out of them.

    Try reading what the post is about and commenting on it. There are open threads to waffle on.

  34. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Orion Blastar:

    How does one seek redemption in a world that doesn’t redeem? How does one change and have hope, when such things are impossible? How does one end the cycle of pain and suffering and cease cause pain and suffering to others?

    Science has no clue to this nor does religion or anything else for that matter.

    Any ideas? I’m fresh out of them.

    Philosophy can be your friend; I recommend acquainting yourself with the Stoics and the Epicureans.

    I can be literal, too:

    [1] How does one seek redemption in a world that doesn’t redeem? [2] How does one change and have hope, when such things are impossible? [3] How does one end the cycle of pain and suffering and cease cause pain and suffering to others?

    1. Obviously, if the world can’t redeem, seeking redemption is futile.

    2. Seek what is possible, not what is impossible.

    3. If you can’t avoid the cycle but deplore it, then your obvious strategy should be to avoid contributing to it as much as you can.

  35. kevinkirkpatrick says

    Will this shit ever end? When we first married, I can remember thinking how much better life would be for my wife would be if she’d follow a path of deconversion similar to mine. This sentiment has changed, and it started changing two years ago. I quoted Richard Dawkin’s “Dear Muslima” article to her, and her response was “Wow, so that’s what atheist leaders think of women?”, to which I said, “Apparently, yes.”

    I do not say this hyperbolically: I cannot fathom my wife being able to feel more comfortable, accepted, or respected within the atheist community than she currently does within the community of her Lutheran church. I see both sides, and I am being 100% sincere: I cannot bring myself to encourage her to “break free of the shackles of the innate patricarchy of her religious institution” because, near as I can tell, on a day-in-day-out basis, women over here get it worse than women within liberal religious communities. [Yay! we treat women better than those quiverful fucks! What an accomplishment!]

    I’m looking at you Silverman – you signed this shit? Really?

    My daughter is now 4. Can anyone give me even a ray of hope that we can get this shit straightened out in the next 10 years or so?

  36. says

    How can one seek forgiveness in a secular way?

    You don’t.

    You make amends. You perform acts of atonement. You change your behavior to prevent future offenses. You can even use the insights you’ve gained to offer aid to people who’ve been similarly wronged, depending on the nature of the offense.

    Seeking forgiveness is putting additional burden on the one you’ve wronged. It doesn’t address the offense: it compounds it.

  37. zhuge, le homme blanc qui ne sait rien mais voudrait says

    Jadehawk at 30:

    I know! Since when do most of the organizations signing on keep quiet? Did Silverman ever once approve a billboard that wasn’t blunt and rude? Did Todd Stiefel give NOM a call before funding the anti prop 8 movement. Did Edwina Rogers- wait she’s a republican where the Fuck does she get off telling people to be civil? She is a member of what ought to be regarded as a hate group!

    But when it’s feminism everyone needs to remember we’re on the same side.

    Fuck that. I am on the side of not being a bigot and I’d rather work with a progressive Quaker than a reactionary bigoted atheist.

  38. The Mellow Monkey says

    Chris Clarke

    You don’t.

    You make amends. You perform acts of atonement. You change your behavior to prevent future offenses. You can even use the insights you’ve gained to offer aid to people who’ve been similarly wronged, depending on the nature of the offense.

    Seeking forgiveness is putting additional burden on the one you’ve wronged. It doesn’t address the offense: it compounds it.

    I wanted you to know that you are one of my favorite writers. This comment is going to stick with me. That last sentence perfectly encapsulates everything that is wrong with seeking forgiveness like that.

  39. says

    Orion Blastar,

    Recently I tried to seek forgiveness from someone I felt I had wronged, but he told me I had a bad memory and to not contact him again. How can one seek forgiveness in a secular way? For isn’t that part of any good moral and ethics system to forgive others?

    Here’s the thing. It’s not that person’s obligation to forgive you. Why in the world would you think that it is? You wronged them, now you want something out of them to make you feel better about yourself. That’s not ethical, it’s selfish and predatory. Best thing you can do is as the person asked you to do and leave them alone. It’s not incumbent on them to soothe your wounded heart.

    Second best thing you can do, take it to the Lounge.

  40. DLC says

    I don’t like most of the suggestions the “open letter” makes, but I do think they are trying. They’re just failing miserably.

  41. chigau (not my real name) says

    Seeking forgiveness is putting additional burden on the one you’ve wronged. It doesn’t address the offense: it compounds it.

    Thank you, Chris.
    This is precisely what is wrong with the concept of forgiveness.
    Thank you.

  42. bastionofsass says

    When I first read the Open Letter to the Secular Community, I literally felt sick to my stomach. (And yes, I do really mean “literally” and not “figuratively).

    The Open Letter made me queasy the same way that reading those insipid “How to Save Your Marriage” articles I come across from time to time do.

    The writers of those articles are ready to dispense their awesome wisdom about how to make your marriage work without accepting that you already know how to maintain a caring relationship, that you’ve heard the same advice repeatedly before (including from your spouse), and without taking into consideration that your spouse has been abusive for years.

    A typical piece of advice in those “save your marriage” articles is: “You’re obviously not communicating well, so misunderstandings naturally will develop. You must learn to communicate better.” I think those who have been abusing secular/atheist women online are communicating very well. How does anyone misinterpret rape and murder threats? If you’re a woman being stalked and harassed for years because you believe women have the right to be free from harassment and being sexualized, there’s no “misunderstanding” that needs to be cleared up.

    Another common bit of wisdom: “Try to understand your partner’s point-of-view.” Never mind that your spouse has made their point-of-view pretty damn clear: you’re a unworthy partner; your concerns are silly, inappropriate, and unproductive; and “you deserve every bit of abuse you get–and more.”

    And, by golly, “Make sure the neighbors don’t know you’re having problems. That will only make reconciliation harder.”

    And, by the way, when I see an abusive slur tweeted to a secular/atheist woman, I’m supposed to call who, exactly? To discuss what, exactly?

    Frankly, I could give a damn if the entire world knows that some atheists/secularists abuse women and think of women as fit to serve their sexual needs, make them sandwiches, support them, and make them look good. I could give a damn if everyone knows there’s a “rift” between those atheists and secularists who are bigots and sexists and those who aren’t. If anything, I’d like the rift to grow wider and deeper.

    At this point in time, I would have liked to see the signers of the Open Letter express nothing but utter disgust and outrage at the abusive conduct that women, some prominent, some not-so-much, have experienced for years now, both on-line and at conferences and other events. Instead, the Open Letter wants to improve “the tone and substance” of online discussions?!

    I’m disgusted and outraged at the tone and substance of the letter.

    The Open Letter is too trite, too tepid, and too late. The writers and signers should be ashamed.

  43. says

    How can one seek forgiveness in a secular way? For isn’t that part of any good moral and ethics system to forgive others?

    The point of the ethics of forgiveness is that it can/might be of emotional benefit to the person who has been offended against to choose forgiveness in preference to bearing a (totally understandable/justified) grudge/vengefulness which might unbalance their lives, but I’ve not read any reputable religious philosopher who argues that forgiveness is an ethical *obligation* that any victim owes to their victimiser.

    You really do appear to have this arse-about.

    As Chris said, what you can do for your own emotional health is attempt to atone as best you can. It is a good act to offer an apology for your past bad behaviours, but that is something you do for yourself to grow and change and move on. An apology is gracious, hoping for forgiveness is understandable, but expecting forgiveness is an imposition.

  44. says

    LeftSidePositive @21

    That seems to me it’s possible to be constructive and thoughtful when criticized publicly

    This brings up a thought that’s been itching a lot on me since the whole Adria Richards thing and that’s this sudden and unprecedented freakout about “handling things publicly” that specifically starts around the notion of women discussing issues that affect them publicly.

    It’s that particular combination that’s suddenly got all these men running to defend the all-sainted notion of the closed door policy. It was somehow okay to have these giant rifts and fevered discussions when we were calling out skeptics for not looking at religion enough or the various political disagreements. But now that it’s women talking about things they specifically experience, suddenly it’s the worst thing ever to talk about it outdoors where “ANYONE COULD HEAR US, EEEEEEEEKKK!”

    And I can’t help but feel that this is because we as a general culture are absolutely terrified of what would happen if women were given an uninterrupted platform to discuss their life experiences with each other and every one of them could see the universality of things they assumed were only happening to them.

    But that fear shouldn’t trump that conversation anymore than fears of slaves comparing their experiences justified the silencing and threats that were made against them.

  45. says

    Overall, I’m afraid to say to all the atheists just wanting to hold it all together, but this movement will splinter. It will fragment and break apart. People who were once part of us will run away, never to return. Some of the parts that are broken can never be put together.

    Because this was something good. Something necessary. Something all movements go through when they grow up. When feminism was young or abolition was young or anti-racism was young or gay rights was young, there was a lot of tolerance there too of bigotry and douchiness against intersecting minorities. And those movements went through a splintering process, losing some of those people who couldn’t handle black feminists in their club or lesbian queer activists or female abolitionists or queer anti-racists. And many of those people, by virtue of their siding more with bigotry than civil rights eventually proved to turn on the movement in general. Others just sat on their splinters while the general consensus of intersection-based civil rights movements grew more and more. The same will be true with atheism.

    When we were young, we tolerated a lot of things that couldn’t hold, anti-science conspiracy-believing libertarians, people who were only anti-religion because they thought that made them smarter and thus less feminine in their eyes, racists who wanted to make their opposition to foreign religions look principled.

    Turns out they couldn’t hold. Those groups will spin out and disappear. Trying to hold onto them will only move the movement away from its purpose and abandon those who need a socially-conscious form of atheism in their lives.

    It’s time the groups trying to hold onto the abusers and the harassers realized that and just let them continue their journey back to being religious minded douchebags.

  46. says

    Some observations. First, perspective. A quote from the letter:

    “Some blogs and comments actually exhibit hatred, including rape threats and insults denigrating women. Hatred has no place in our movement. We unequivocally and unreservedly condemn those who resort to communicating in such a vile and despicable manner.”

    Let’s keep in mind this statement is aimed at people who are aggressively promoting sexism. It’s straightforward condemnation.

    The rest of the letter is a plea for civility *within* the movement, among those of us who oppose sexism. It’s not about being wishy-washy in opposition of sexism. It’s about having a civil discussion regarding the movement’s tactics in opposing sexism. Basically, let’s avoid creating more friendly fire incidents and focus on condemning sexism.

    Second, tactics.

    Let’s isolate the people who advocate sexism by assaulting their *ideas*. Attacking them personally just creates martyrs and generates an unproductive cycle of provocation and defense. Set them apart instead. Don’t be taken in by attention whores. Don’t allow them to distract and dilute our efforts to insist on human rights for all. I want PZ and other prominent people in the community attacking sexist thinking with all the ferocity they can muster. We can be most effective at changing minds by attacking the thoughts, not the thinker.

  47. John Morales says

    kevinmcleod:

    Some observations.

    Observations of your mindset, not of reality.

    First, perspective. A quote from the letter:

    “Some blogs and comments actually exhibit hatred, including rape threats and insults denigrating women. Hatred has no place in our movement. We unequivocally and unreservedly condemn those who resort to communicating in such a vile and despicable manner.”

    Let’s keep in mind this statement is aimed at people who are aggressively promoting sexism. It’s straightforward condemnation.
    The rest of the letter is a plea for civility *within* the movement, among those of us who oppose sexism. It’s not about being wishy-washy in opposition of sexism. It’s about having a civil discussion regarding the movement’s tactics in opposing sexism. Basically, let’s avoid creating more friendly fire incidents and focus on condemning sexism.

    Why are you spin-doctoring?

    The entirety of the letter refers to “our movement”, including the part you pretend doesn’t.

    Second, tactics.

    Let’s isolate the people who advocate sexism by assaulting their *ideas*. Attacking them personally just creates martyrs and generates an unproductive cycle of provocation and defense. Set them apart instead. Don’t be taken in by attention whores. Don’t allow them to distract and dilute our efforts to insist on human rights for all.

    There is no dichotomy here (one can do both), and your conceit that making personal charges always leads to an unproductive cycle is absurd.

    I want PZ and other prominent people in the community attacking sexist thinking with all the ferocity they can muster.

    You think PZ doesn’t?

    We can be most effective at changing minds by attacking the thoughts, not the thinker.

    Well, the “we” that includes you might so be, but the “we” that includes me is not so limited.

    Look: you do your thing and let others do theirs.

    You don’t like what they do, don’t associate with them.

    (It’s not that complicated)

  48. Maureen Brian says

    When the self-appointed leaders of the secular community start to address us in content free management speak then we know that we are dooooooomed!

    Or, rather, they are doomed. They propose a settlement which fails to address what the problem was in the first place or how long* we had been wrestling with it. They demand significantly more in the way of “better behaviour” from one party than the other and strangely that is the party whom they have consulted ineffectually, if at all. They have now established beyond doubt that collectively they have lost the plot.

    We press on, as we must, and may perhaps out of this civility thing wave them a cheery goodbye as we leave them far behind.

    Thank you, bastionofsass and Cerberus in particular but others, too.

    ———

    * Pedant time: the first recorded political campaign for social and political equality for women happened during the British civil wars of the mid-seventeenth century. That’s when I date my efforts from though I do note that the same questions were asked of the Thomases Jefferson and Paine.

    When it comes to civil rights for women, why do these guys think they’re dealing with a bunch of amateurs?

  49. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Let’s isolate the people who advocate sexism by assaulting their *ideas*. Attacking them personally just creates martyrs and generates an unproductive cycle of provocation and defense. Set them apart instead.

    That’s what attacking their ideas, and them personally for voicing those opinions, really does. They need to go and stay away. Tone trolling is for people who are the quiet middle who were lambasted in MLK’s letter from a Birmingham jail. We don’t need quiet, calm discussion. It needs to be loud and emotional. Which is why the letter is bullshit. Tone trolls hide, but never solve, the problems.

  50. kevinkirkpatrick says

    I cannot encourage my loved ones to join a community where sexism (regardless of how calmly, politely, and civily it is presented) is not openly, LOUDLY, immediately, and consistently called out.

    bastionofsass@50 nails it. Fuck the counseling and fuck the bridging of deep rifts. With regards to those who want an atmosphere where they’re free to express sexist sentiments without criticism, shame, moderation, or ostracization; I don’t want healing – I want a fucking divorce.

    Out of curiosity, has anyone put together a counter (or edited version) to this open letter; something which takes the existing letter and fixes it to speak to issues of social injustice in the community clearly and unambiguously? I strongly suspect that such a letter could be written which both satisfies Secular Women and other dissenters of the current “Open Letter”; and cleanly divides those who signed prior version into those who want change vs those who really want status quo.

  51. thumper1990 says

    @Zeldamina

    In the modern era, in this country, while atheists may experience discrimination for coming out, it is not remotely the same thing.

    FTFY. While in Europe, Australia and the US Atheists will generally experience no physical harm for “coming out”, there are many more places out there where “coming out” as an Atheist will get you killed or imprisoned. I’ve no wish to denigrate the atrocities some LGBT folks have been subjected to, but let’s not let our first-world privilege blind us to the fact that in some places, being Atheist is just as dangerous as being LGBT.

    However, you’re right about giving credit where credit’s due.

  52. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    I’m going to put a Thriller album on my head and try to raise George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Madeline Murray O’Hare from the grave to see what they’d say about this call for civility.

    Ramses! Trojan! Sheeeeeeeeeeeik!

  53. David Marjanović says

    • Go offline before going online: pick up the phone.
    When you hear that an organization or member of our community is doing something that you think is wrong or bad for the community, call and talk with them, find out what they are actually doing and why they are doing it.

    No. Have that discussion in public.

    Sure, start with a question, ask if you’ve understood them correctly; but hiding behind the scenes so everybody can <font face=”Comic Sans MS”>save face</font> is like… corruption. It’s revulsive. When I publish a mistake, I expect my colleagues to say so in their next paper, so the information gets out as quickly as possible and people stop believing my mistake as soon as possible; what’s more, in my next paper I can then simply cite theirs instead of explaining the whole thing again.

    This is fine in theory perhaps, but when large groups of people who are anonymised or pseudonymised and are using the internet to demonise women for daring to speak to their mind and planning a campaign of harrassment expressly aimed at ruining their lives – as has happened multiple times, most obviously with regard to Rebecca Watson and ‘Elevatorgate’ – this really isn’t a viable option.

    That, too.

    Problem is, particularly when the initial statement is made in public, contacting that person privately does NOT achieve the desired objective. It’s not about trying to deeply understand why that person did something sexist/racist/generally stupid, it’s about trying to make that public space we’re all in less hostile to people not in the dominant group. If someone blurts out sexist stuff in public, and then someone else contacts them in private about it, their statements were left out there in the public eye without any indication that such things are frowned on and not what everyone else there wants the space to be. It’s not just the person who did it who needs to see the message that those things are not tolerated, it’s the entire community who needs to see it. And contacting them privately does none of that.

    Bingo.

    what the fuck is it with the phone obsession?

    (mind you, I have some theories, but they’re biased because I hate phones with a burning passion. So I’m asking for some non-phone-phobic suggestions)

    1) This is the pre-Internet generation we’re talking about. They grew up with the phone as the only means of rapid communication. They’re not used to anonymity/pseudonymty either.

    2) In the pre-Internet generation, not all that many people can touch-type.* Therefore, they find talking much easier than writing.

    3) From watching at least one telephonophile**… because it’s so easy: you simply stretch out your hands, take the receiver, dial the number, and comfortably & smugly sit back in the safe knowledge that the other person will drop whatever they’re doing and reply right now.

    What were you thinking of? :-)

    * My mom can, because she was taught it in school in a time when it was expected that lots of young women would become secretaries. However, she has had astounding amounts of trouble in transferring that skill from the typewriter to the computer. ~:-| I learned it on a typewriter myself! – My dad can’t, even though he’s typed a lot in his life.
    ** The kind of person who happily talks to an answering machine for a minute without stuttering once, and without any visible preparation. It’s scary to watch.

    Queer folks have died for coming out. Still sometimes do. In the modern era, while atheists may experience discrimination for coming out, it is not remotely the same thing.

    Not the whole world has arrived in the modern era. In fundamentalist places, like… much of the rural US, young atheists have been disinherited and kicked out of the house by their parents for coming out.

    (Never mind officially Islamic places where apostasy is punished with death.)

    David Silverman, of the infamous slaves billboard, is suddenly against rudeness and bluntness?
    DJ Grothe, of the Rebecca Watson And The Feminists Are Scaring Women Away From TAM screed is for first talking to a person privately before discussing their behavior online?

    …Oh. I guess I should really learn to track people.

    I guess it’s replaced the old “have a beer together” line that self-appointed peacemakers used to use. I seem to recall quite a few folks urging PZ to just sit down and have a beer with, say, Chris Mooney or Stedman.

    Which is aggravating, because it implies that something is just a silly little personal spat and not a substantive disagreement.

    I wonder if the set of these people overlaps with those who are triggered by quarrels between people they like. There are scarily many of those.

    And, by golly, “Make sure the neighbors don’t know you’re having problems. That will only make reconciliation harder.”

    I can see how that could be true; but if a neighbor 1) wants to mediate and 2) actually manages to do so instead of making everything worse, fighting loudly enough to wake them up could actually help.

    The rest of the letter is a plea for civility *within* the movement, among those of us who oppose sexism. It’s not about being wishy-washy in opposition of sexism. It’s about having a civil discussion regarding the movement’s tactics in opposing sexism. Basically, let’s avoid creating more friendly fire incidents and focus on condemning sexism.

    So… when something is wrong, it should be responded to differently depending on who said it?

    Is that what you mean?

    attention whores

    BZZZT!

  54. klatu says

    “Be more charitable.”

    (This should be on a bingo card of sexist accomodationism.)

    (Maybe it’s just me, but the word “uncharitable” and “bitch/y” have started to sound almost indistinguishable recently. “No need to be so uncharitable about it, geez!”)

    Anyway…

    “Be more charitable.”

    Seriously, why? When something can be interpreted as e.g. misogynistic when it’s not meant to be, it should be re-phrased or it deserves criticism.

    That letter reveals a startling unfamiliarity with, or perhaps even an unwillingness to even acknowledge, the conflict at hand. Insisting that the victims of harassment confront their harassers and the harassers’ allies in “civil” discourse is an escalation in and of itself!

    I find it difficult to comprehend how pandering to the assholes it supposed to bring about a social movement* worth having. Yet some organizations do exactly that over and over again, while remaining stubbornly unprepared to accept that any common ground will be trivial at best.

    * where “movement” requires “motion”. Simply adopting the same old patriarchal BS minus the religion is not goot enough, neither from a social-justice nor a skeptical perspective.

  55. says

    David:

    1) This is the pre-Internet generation we’re talking about. They grew up with the phone as the only means of rapid communication. They’re not used to anonymity/pseudonymty either.

    As an old, pre-internet generation person, wrong. You might be speaking about specific people, but that brush you’re using is a very broad one. I *loathe* phones and I have all my life. The only reason I own a cell now is for emergencies, being alone much of the time. Exactly one person has the number, and even he won’t use it (unless absolutely necessary), which is a good thing.

    2) In the pre-Internet generation, not all that many people can touch-type.* Therefore, they find talking much easier than writing.

    As an old, pre-internet generation person, seriously fucking wrong. FFS, not even wrong. At least in the U.S., learning to touch type was taught in school and the class was often a requirement, not an option. It’s people now who can’t type for shit.

  56. says

    At least in the U.S., learning to touch type was taught in school and the class was often a requirement, not an option.

    huh, I didn’t know that.
    In Europe, it’s largely true that people over 40 can’t type for shit unless they’re in IT. My dad’s a journalist who’ written for papers half his career, and he still pecks away at the keyboard with two fingers

  57. says

    @ Jadehawk:

    “In Europe, it’s largely true that people over 40 can’t type for shit unless they’re in IT.”

    That’s my observation too, especially for men and middle-class women, i.e. the segments of the population who could expect to find other kinds of white-collar jobs than secretary/dactylographer. (I’m 44, and I only learned touch typing as a kid because I wanted to be a writer. My mother, even though she won a scholarship to go to university, was told by her parents to learn typing because it was a “useful skill for a girl to have”. They never really expected her to succeed in becoming a teacher.)

    /End derail.

    “what the fuck is it with the phone obsession?”

    Methinks Ophelia Benson nailed it here:
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2013/04/pick-up-what-phone/

    “Second thing – if it is in writing, why should we “pick up the phone”? Not to mention the fact that we don’t all know each other personally. If we see a banker or a CEO “doing something that you think is wrong or bad” we don’t “pick up the phone”; we blog or tweet or set up a petition.

    This is insider talk, boss talk, top down talk – “heads” talk. “We always have our reasons, little people, so if we do something you don’t like, be sure it’s for a reason, and call us or email us to arrange a chat but don’t ever go public with it, because We know what we’re doing and you are nobody in particular.””

  58. says

    Jadehawk:

    huh, I didn’t know that.

    Back when the dinosaurs roamed, it was considered to be an important and necessary skill to have, for college at least, if not career wise. I still remember my HS typing class – it was stuffed full, with an almost even mix of male and female. Slightly more males. Not that learning helped everyone. Mister knows how to touch type, but lord, it feels like you could take a trip around the world in the time it takes him to type two sentences.

  59. chigau (not my real name) says

    In my highschool (Canada, 1970s) almost everyone took a typing course.
    Everyone who was planning on going to University learned to touch-type.

  60. says

    “what the fuck is it with the phone obsession?”

    I think (cynically perhaps?) that it may be because conversation by phone leaves no record.* It’s so easy to dismiss someone’s complaint if it’s not in public and not memorialised. Who can say what was actually said? Even when there *is* a record, lies abound (Rebecca claimed that ElevatorGuy tried to rape her, e.g.), so how much more can things be more easily shoved under the carpet or deliberately misconstrued when you’re dealing one on one, with no witnesses? It works in favour of the status quo and so the reps of the orgs/conference organisers prefer it (cf. EBW).

    *most people don’t record phone conversations, and in some places it’s illegal unless both parties consent

    I can’t even bring myself to read the Open Letter. Any word on a counter statement?

  61. CaitieCat says

    Same here, 46 and educated mostly in Canada, learned to touch-type in my mandatory Typing I class in Grade 9, in one of four rooms on that hallway which were filled with typewriters for all the mandatory typing classes.

    Basically, if you wanted a job as a woman before computers, you’d to know how to eithertouch-type or make really good coffee and sweep well. Not sure it’s changed all that much, either.

  62. Krasnaya Koshka says

    Touch-typing was also mandatory at my high school in Arizona and I’m 48. My students are usually amazed that I can talk and type at the same time.

    I also hate phones and when I’m put in a position where I *should* use one, I get flustered and panicky. Not conducive to coherent conversations. That’s an awful suggestion.

  63. says

    Krasnaya Koshka:

    My students are usually amazed that I can talk and type at the same time.

    :laughs: Mister just shakes his head at me when I do that, “I don’t know how you do that!”

  64. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    It worked!
    They told me to fuck off.
    Thus ends my career as a necromancer.

  65. Dana Hunter says

    Sooo I’m trying to call Ron Lindsay about his dumbfuck comment at Skepchick, y’know, like the letter says to do. Only I haven’t got his number. So I asked him for it on Twitter. I tell you all this now so you can start placing bets as to whether I’m roundly ignored. Betcha a dollar tomorrow’s post sez that don’t work too good.

  66. Dana Hunter says

    Nate, I think you’ll get ‘em when I do: i.e., never. You used a naughty word. They’re totes not cool with that.

    Those of you declining mah bet and not holding breaths: I salute your wisdom!

    In other news, I have a post written that only awaits Mr. Lindsay’s response to see which way it goes. I had to teach Dragon naughty words. That was fun :-)

  67. Dana Hunter says

    I’m afraid we’ve lost our bets. Ron gave me his phone number. Now I’m formulating a list of things to cover regarding problems with the letter and his comment at Skepchick. Since I’m working the next two days, the earliest we can talk by telephone is Saturday. We’ll see what comes of that. What would you all like me to bring up?