Some people are really unhappy that some of us disagree strongly with David Silverman’s CPAC strategy. JT Eberhard has invented a series of rationales for why people had the temerity to question the president of American Atheists (and he didn’t call me up to ask if any of them were valid!).
1. People took this to mean that David Silverman was anti-choice.
Interesting. Could you name some? I didn’t see anyone accuse Silverman of being personally anti-choice, although admittedly I could well have missed some. For myself, I simply took it for granted that Silverman himself was pro-choice, and that he was simply trying to acknowledge some arguments that are floating around out there…bad arguments. It would have mitigated a lot of the criticisms if he’d come right out and said that, but he didn’t.
2. People were upset that he was trying to make inroads with conservatives.
Take that sentence apart, JT. “Make inroads”…how? When I heard that American Atheists was going to be represented at CPAC, I was baffled — I didn’t understand the purpose. I assumed that he was going to be a bit confrontational, as he’s so good at doing — that it would be analogous to his appearances on Bill O’Reilly’s show, where he’d be forthright in presenting the atheist position. I’m all for that kind of honest confrontation.
I was even more confused by the statements he made to the press, though. Instead of confrontation, I saw an attempt to empathize with far right radicals. That was troubling. Silverman’s specialty is not subtlety, and there he was trying to balance between provocation and conciliation. He failed.
3. While not saying or believing that anti-choice arguments are sound, what he still did was a “tip of the hat” to the anti-choice crowd.
That’s more like it, and I think that’s a more accurate representation of what Silverman’s critics are thinking. As I already pointed out, a fairly solid majority of the atheist membership have a strong opinion on abortion, and actually, those “secular arguments against abortion” are abysmally bad.
It is simply not enough for an argument to be atheist or secular — it also has to be sound. We don’t simply accept bad arguments if they have the consequence of reinforcing atheist perceptions, we’re supposed to be better than that.
4. People think making the statement in the context of CPAC made it easy to misinterpret.
That’s a good point. When you’re representing a politically liberal organization (you may think the charter has no political leaning, but the membership most definitely does), you had better be acutely conscious of perils of attempting to recruit within the ranks of one of the more rabidly conservative conferences out there. Why is anyone surprised that many of us fail to see the point of this exercise, when Silverman failed to make the case to us?
He still hasn’t made the case, either. I still don’t understand what he hoped to accomplish at this meeting.
JT then makes a set of accusations that I’ve typically heard from the misogynist side of the atheist community, including, on twitter, a claim that David Silverman was a victim of a “witch hunt”. Good god. I like David Silverman personally, I support American Atheists, but that doesn’t mean I can’t disagree with tactics, and openly say so. This is simply ridiculous:
Holy crap, can we stop trying to make it out like people who have fought for causes we love for years are suddenly betraying them? Can we stop shoving words into allies’ mouths they never said to support that narrative? We’re the atheist movement, we should at least be able to deal with what each other actually say. That is the minimum standard to which we should live up.
As was done. No one shoved words into his mouth; we quoted literally what he was reported to have said, and took issue with that. Apparently, we’re supposed to have an imaginary David Silverman in our head who only says things we agree with, and interpret those words in that light.
So many atheists are sick and fucking tired of the in-fighting and the inability to resolve things without just talking to one another (and questioning their loyalty).
You know what I’m sick and fucking tired of? Atheists who value unity so much that they won’t tolerate dissent from the leadership. Our strength is our willingness to object and argue, that we don’t bow down before dogma, that no one is above criticism. People are disagreeing with Silverman; I haven’t heard a one question his “loyalty” (which is a really weird statement in the first place — when did loyalty to the movement become a criterion for membership?).
If this is the way atheism is supposed to be, how about if we get a list of all the people we are not allowed to question? That would be helpful, since there is some ambiguity in who the infallible ones are. I know I’m not one of them, since other atheists are quite comfortable with savaging me in terms that make David Silverman’s treatment look quite cuddly. Are we really going to go down the road of setting up authority figures and condemning dissent as disloyalty now?
How many people do you think actually said to themselves “Dave Silverman is anti-abortion? That doesn’t sound right given everything I know about him. Maybe I’ll ask him before making a big deal out of this.” The answer: not many, and that’s a damn shame. There are plenty of real enemies to atheism out there, we really don’t need to fabricate more out of the people who are on our side.
This is stupid.
Again, where are these people who said Silverman was anti-abortion? I know I wasn’t one of them. Ophelia Benson wasn’t, either. Neither was Jason Thibeault. Who called David Silverman an enemy to atheism? I think he’s usually a good advocate; I also think this case was a misstep. That doesn’t in any way imply that I suddenly have changed my tune and think he’s an enemy who must be deposed.
And here’s another thing I find naive and annoying: did I call up Dave and ask him if he was anti-abortion? No, because for one thing, I assumed that he was pro-choice, like almost all atheists, and for a second, who the hell does that? I notice that no one called me and asked whether I thought Silverman was anti-choice. Never in my entire blogging career has anyone called me or written to me and asked me to expand on something I said before they started publicly criticizing me for it, whatever it was.
What was criticized was a set of published statements that we disagreed with. It was that set of comments that we thought important enough to address; a personal communication that said he didn’t really mean it doesn’t make the public record disappear.
I want people leaving religion to see an atheist movement that is patient and eager to understand, not a group of people chomping at the bit to question the motives/character of people who have been doing the legwork in our interest for years.
There you go again, JT. You’re taking vocal disagreement with policy and tactics as character assassination. It wasn’t. I think the CPAC mess was a mistake, and poorly handled. That doesn’t mean I’ve been calling for anyone to be burnt at the stake. And I’m not going to abstain from saying so out loud out of deference to some abstract notion of “loyalty” to a movement, an attitude that I find detrimental to freethought.
I want people leaving religion to see an atheist movement with the integrity and honesty to question its own. Not another dogmatic institution with authority figures that will accuse you of disloyalty if you disagree with them.