Chris Stedman Interviews Dale McGowan

Chris Stedman has an interview with my friend (and boss) Dale McGowan. Dale participated earlier this week in the kickoff event for the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge at George Washington University, representing the secular and humanist community. In the interview, he makes a powerful argument about why it’s important for humanists to participate in interfaith events:
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Stedman on ‘Atheism Without Works’

Chris Stedman’s latest column expresses a position I have come to hold more and more strongly over the last year or so, which is that atheists and humanists need to build communities and engage in service projects that help better the human condition locally, nationally and globally. He makes the argument that Dale McGowan has been making for years:
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Grrr. Stedman.

Bill O’Reilly, as he always does this time of year, was ramping up this War on Christmas nonsense again. He’s peeved at the new billboard display from American Atheists in Times Square.

American Atheists launched a major billboard display on Tuesday that declares Christmas is better without the Christ. The huge 40′x40′ digital billboard is located in Times Square in Midtown Manhattan. Using motion graphics, the billboard proclaims, “Who needs Christ during Christmas?” A hand crosses out the word “Christ” and the word “NOBODY” appears. The display then says “Celebrate the true meaning of Xmas” and offers a series of cheery words: family, friends, charity, food, snow, and more. The commercial ends with a jovial “Happy Holidays!” from American Atheists and displays the organization’s website,“This season is a great time of year for a hundred reasons—none of them having to do with religion,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “This year, start a new tradition: Don’t go to church. You hate it, it’s boring; you probably only go because you feel guilty or obligated. Instead, spend more time with your family and friends—or volunteer. There are better uses of your time and money.”

Ed Brayton jokes that O’Reilly should have invited him on to talk about it — he would have engaged in some merciless needling that would have annoyed the old windbag. It would have been nice, but no, no way was that going to happen; it would have been even better if David Silverman had been invited on…not only more appropriate, but Silverman is good at standing his ground and punching back. But no. O’Reilly brought on…

Chris Stedman.

He was awful. Well, from my perspective he was awful — O’Reilly seemed to think he was just wonderful, since Stedman was largely agreeing with him. O’Reilly showed part of the billboard, the bit where is it says “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody,” and then cut away to O’Reilly asking Stedman what he thought about it. He replied that they were “not contributing to the destigmatization of atheists,” and later he said that he completely agreed, and he wanted “to see more of yes of atheism than the no of atheism.”

I can guess exactly how Silverman would have responded: by pointing out that the primary message of the billboard was the importance of this season as a family holiday, which certainly is the “yes of atheism”. Stedman either didn’t do his homework or was more interested in ingratiating himself with a far right blustering jerk, and decided instead to see if the snow tires on the bus could bounce over a few atheists.

O’Reilly was pulling his usual schtick, claiming that atheists are bitter, that they sue schools if they have the temerity to let a kid sing a Christmas carol, and whining that Macy’s department store brought in a Santa Claus and didn’t announce that it was Christmas. Why can’t those atheists just leave Christmas alone, he begged.

Most of these claims of atheists hating Christmas are lies, and the criticisms groups like the FFRF levy against schools and other state institutions aren’t that kids shouldn’t be allowed to pray or sing hymns if they want, but that these schools cannot selectively privilege only the Christian religion. Stedman was totally ineffective.

Further, when O’Reilly says “What I’m seeing here is an amazing amount of anger from atheists” and “I don’t really know what they are angry about”, when the angry ranter here is O’Reilly and the atheists aren’t expressing any anger at all, Stedman feebly goes along with it and agrees with the stupid host. I guess he’s hoping for a repeat invitation.

If Stedman and the Harvard Humanists want to put up a friendly, cheerful, unchallenging milquetoast sign, they are welcome to do so, and I won’t have a problem with it. I do have a big problem when a representative of the Harvard Humanists goes on the air to deny the righteous, forthright words of a less weasely organization, and when they are so ineffectual that they can’t even raise a word of rebuttal against the BS Bill O’Reilly lays on so thickly — familiar, tired BS that anyone going on the show ought to be prepared to slap down. It’s not as if he ambushed Stedman with a weird new claim.

Stedman is too feeble, and maybe Ed Brayton would be a touch too acerbic. If they can’t get Silverman to go on, may I recommend Rob Boston, instead? He wouldn’t let the bogosity fly by with a smile and a laugh. Anyone but Stedman.

I think I want these kids to handle O’Reilly.

Chris Stedman on O’Reilly

Chris Stedman was on Bill O’Reilly’s show a couple days ago talking about the entirely fictitious “war on Christmas.” It’s a good thing he’s the one on that show and not me. There’s no way I could be on O’Reilly’s show without provoking him. I’d insert “falafel” and “loofah” into the conversation as many times as I could. And I’d tell him that this segment is so great that I’m sure he’s going to win another Pulitzer prize for it. And you know O’Reilly and his fragile ego and temper. He’d go from 0 to red-faced, spittle-flecked rage in about .8 seconds. And then I’d wish him happy holidays.
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Rick Stedman, meet Barbara Streisand

Remember David Marshall? Christ the Tao? The last thread he commented in was this one, where he was his usual bumbling pretentious self, if you need a prod to the memory. He recently had a debate at Adventure Christian Church with Phil Zuckerman, the sociologist, and was creamed. The church then refused to release the video of the debate…until now.

Dear Friends,

Earlier this month our church hosted a debate featuring Dr. David Marshall speaking on Christianity and Dr. Phil Zuckerman, sharing his views on secular humanism.

The night was designed to provide a platform for each to debate their views on civil society. We hoped to encourage a sharing of thoughts and ideas between Christians, atheists and the surrounding community.

After the debate, I honestly thought the video posting was my choice to make, and I was floored to learn that our decision not to post it was considered by some as evidence of close-mindedness. I apologize for not posting this debate earlier, and now that we have clearly heard from both presenters, we are posting the debate.

I hope that the conversation about civility can continue and might return to the civil tone in which it began.


Pastor Rick Stedman

So he was surprised that people pressured him to release the video. How disingenuous, especially given that before he revealed it, he had posted several one-sided rebuttals. And now he has the gall to whine about ‘civility’! You gotta give it to get it, guy.

So here it is, the video Adventure Christian Church was embarrassed to show.

If he’d just quietly released it from the very beginning, probably no one would have noticed. I suppose we should thank Stedman for doing such a fabulous job advertising it.

Transcript Of Token Skeptic Interview With Chris Stedman – Faitheist: On How an Atheist Found Common Ground With the Religious

A new interview with Chris Stedman is now out on the Token Skeptic podcast – this one is Episode #143 – On How an Atheist Found Common Ground With the Religious. It follows on from an earlier interview I did, conducted before I read his new book Faitheist, Episode One Hundred And Fourteen – On Faitheism – Interview With Chris Stedman

For those of you who aren’t aware – I have a book of transcripts from the podcast interviews I’ve conducted (several years of work now, since starting on the Tank vodcast in 2007 –  I really should do something to celebrate the five-year anniversary!), and a column on the CSI website called “Curiouser and Curiouser, where I submit the interviews that I think are of use to skepticism.

EDIT – new column out on Curiouser and Curiouser today! Waldorf Steiner and Education – Weird and (Not So) Wonderful Schools – An Interview with Quackometer’s Andy Lewis.

Since this is an interview primarily about atheism, rather than skepticism, I thought I would type the transcript here instead. I hope you find it interesting.


Kylie:  “…there’s nothing worse than a Faitheist”.

Apparently, that statement must be fictional. And no atheist would ever treat any other atheist like this, and then proceed to outline how, apparently, there are worse things than being a Faitheist and that includes writing about being a Faitheist.

So my question to you is – what makes you not step away from interfaith work all together? And say, “OK. Fine, atheists, so‑called rationalist community, do what you like, I want nothing to do with you. I’m going to go off on my own thing?” Instead, what made you tell your story in the book, Faitheist?

Chris:  I think that the situation you’ve just outlined is really interesting. First of all, this book is a memoir, it’s not a historical record. So I don’t quite understand the idea that I should be able to necessarily provide a record of that event, to show exactly where that quote came from. In the first chapter of Faitheist, I come right out and admit that my memory isn’t perfect.

I think skeptics know just how unreliable memory is. But that being said, this book is my best attempt to tell the story of how my thinking evolved over the years. And some of the experiences I’ve had that have informed that. It’s not an exact account. Because I didn’t live my life taking detailed notes with the idea that, someday, I’d write a memoir.

But at the same time, if you honestly think that such statements are implausible and could never been said, I just don’t understand that. I heard them at that event. I hear statements like them frequently, and so do many others I know. The only other thing I can say, specifically, about that matter, is that my boyfriend at the time went to that event with me.

The things that people said there put such a bad taste in his mouth that he didn’t join me at the reception afterwards. Even though he is non‑religious, he’s never been to an atheist meeting since that one. So I guess that leads into your bigger question about why I continue in this work.

And even though maybe I feel tempted, at times, to walk away, I don’t. I guess the reason I’ve kept at it these years, despite attempts to discredit my character or people making up lies about me, or whatever, is because I do think that it’s important. That’s why I got started doing it in the first place and I keep at it. Because I see the dividends of the work, over and over again.

And because there are many people out there, who I’ve spoken with at different times, who feel similarly, but feel that they don’t have a voice in the conversation. I guess that’s why I started speaking out in the first place. I just didn’t feel like the perspective that I and others share was necessarily represented in the discourse. But I’ll be blunt.

I’ve never experienced the kinds of dehumanizing personal attacks that I get from people that I think are a part of my same community, just because I disagree with them. I’ve never heard those kinds of words directed at me before. Even growing up gay in a conservative environment and having very negative experiences with bullying, for being gay, when I was younger…

I’ve been very surprised. I’m sometimes afraid to say much about the level of vitriol that I and others have received. Because I really don’t want to reinforce the worst stereotypes that exist out there about the non‑religious. Because, again, I don’t think that people who are saying those kinds of things do represent atheism in the broader perspective, or atheists in the broader perspective. I tried to walk that line in my book by saying, “Here’s an issue I see.

I think it’s honestly a minority perspective, like most vocal, divisive perspectives. Because they’re vocal and divisive, they are loud and they get the most play. But I don’t think they’re representative. I guess I just hope that people will… If they disagree with the ideas I put forth in the book, that’s great. I’m glad for the discussion. I seek opportunities to think critically about my ideas.

But it is discouraging to have your experiences invalidated or discounted, just because they don’t resonate with someone else. Just because someone else hasn’t experienced that doesn’t mean that I or others haven’t.

Kylie:  …Gone through them, I guess.

Chris:  Yeah. It’s definitely challenging and I won’t sugar coat that. But at the same time, because I do think that the work is so valuable. And because I’ve seen interfaith discussions that bring in atheists and the non‑religious be so productive and so valuable that I don’t want to let something like that prevent me from continuing to push those ideas out into the public discussion about these issues.

Kylie:  Speaking of things that resonate with people, one thing that might put people on the back foot is something that, when I conducted an interview with you, back in Token Skeptic Episode 114, before the book was published… Where I raised the issue of ivory towers. I joked about working at Harvard being a classic example of such a thing. Now I’ve read the whole book (which I think people should do, they should read the whole book). And seeing the range of experiences that you’ve had, I can see it’s an unfair summation to make about your career, that it’s just “ivory tower thinking” to believe that people of different faiths and no faiths could work together.

But I did have a comment from a fellow Facebook friend, who is in a different country. She has had a different upbringing, different circumstances to both of us. She sees religious people manipulating charity law, to allow them to attack every group or person unlike themselves. She has seen women being denied reproductive freedom, due to religious beliefs. She says religious groups are undermining of freedom of speech; she cited Rowan Atkinson’s reform section five at the commons, in the UK. She even says that religions enable people to invade any country that’s different from their own.

So, to me that sounds like legitimate criticism…

Chris Stedman:  Sure.

Kylie:  …How do you respond to that – people saying, “OK – that’s your experience, Chris, but I’m facing this. I’m facing massive, massive opposition from religion and I can’t see a way to talk to them?”

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Stedman being Stedman

Oh, christ, Chris Stedman has an excerpt from his book Faitheist on Salon. It’s classic Stedman, and classic accommodationism: it’s all about Stedman and how awful atheists are. He does a lot of humble bragging — he goes to a party with a bunch of cold, dead-eyed atheists who treat him dismissively, but hey, his socks have holes in them and he’s sad about how rude atheists are! — and he “quotes” a lot of nameless atheists who say unkind things about religion. His message is that atheism is toxic, and you can’t help but feel that it’s all about how they don’t love Chris Stedman and his wise appreciation of the deepitiness of faith enough.

But don’t you worry about Stedman! After his brutal manhandling by the godless zombies of atheism, he just scurries off to his “weekly religion class at Loyola University’s Institute of Pastoral Studies, a Jesuit Catholic-run program for priests, nuns, and lay leaders”, where everyone is loving and tolerant and most importantly, appreciative of Stedman.

It’s something I’ve noticed before in the conflicts between New Atheists and these accommodationists. We’re willing to say that their softer approach is part of the spectrum of tools we need to use to overcome the folly of religion (heck, the UMM Freethinker’s group invited Stedman to speak here last year), and we don’t mind someone with different views working with us towards that, but the accommodationists have a completely different enemy. They consider religion their good buddy and pal, while the real target is…atheism. That shines through in Stedman’s excerpt — everywhere, he makes excuses for religion, while treating atheism as inexcusable.

There’s a reason Stedman gets no respect at atheist parties, and it isn’t his socks.

Larry Moran has got his number, though, and rips into him. Just go read that.

I’m not a believer any longer, but I do believe in respect. The “New Atheism” of Dawkins and Harris is simply toxic.

I’m getting awfully sick of this nonsense. What he really means is that it’s okay to passionately disagree about all kinds of social and political issues (gun control, socialism, capital punishment, quackery, political parties, abortion) but if atheists challenge the existence of god(s) that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Somehow, it’s “disrepectful” to declare that belief in supernatural beings is wrong and it means that intolerant atheists can’t, and won’t, work with anyone who disagrees with them because their position is “toxic.”

As a bonus, read the comments. Lately, I’ve been getting asked a lot of questions about why atheists who care about social justice and ethics (like Larry) don’t just become humanists. Larry explains why: he doesn’t find the specific goals of most formulations of humanism to be in alignment with his principles, so he doesn’t identify with them (he sees too much of a libertarian taint to most humanist definitions). In the future, when people pester me with those questions in which they are unable to see any difference between atheists and humanists, I’ll just send them to Sandwalk.

Ian Cromwell has about the same level of respect for Stedman as Moran. Must be the Canadianity.

Ophelia joins in the pigpile! And she’s not even Canadian!

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.