Bi Any Means Podcast #45: Firebrand Atheism with David Silverman


My guest for today is David Silverman. He currently serves as president of American Atheists, and he is the author of the new book Fighting God. Today we’re going to talk about what exactly firebrand atheism is.



Why “I’m Not a Feminist, I’m a Humanist” Doesn’t Make Sense

[Image: a white man with his arms across his chest. Text reads, "Feminism is too divisive. I'm a humanist."]

[Image: a white man with his arms across his chest. Text reads, “Feminism is too divisive. I’m a humanist.”]

Here’s another blog post I originally wrote on my old blog. Enjoy!

I don’t watch a lot of Jaclyn Glenn’s videos, but yesterday I was on her channel to see what’s new with her. It seems she’s doing more comedy skits than rant videos these days, which is great because I don’t want to be preached at all the time. One such skit involved her and a few other vloggers sitting around a kitchen table talking about how closed-minded religious people and anti-vaxxers are, but soon turns into an argument how anyone who doesn’t agree with everything they say is a close-minded fool. Overall, it’s a good video about how anyone call fall into the dogmatic “I’m right, you’re wrong, get used to it” trap.

Half-way through the video, though, Glenn says she doesn’t feel comfortable identifying as a feminist because so many radical feminists have ruined the term. She’s made several other videos about she doesn’t like the term “feminist,” even though she definitely supports gender equality. In one video, for example, she said she uses the word “humanist” as a way of saying she’s supports human rights in general.

Glenn can identify however she wants to, so I’m not going to crucify her for not using the label feminist. Neither am I going to stand on my soapbox and rant and rave about how she’s another fedora-wearing Dawkins-wannabe anti-feminist atheist. I’m done with all that name-calling crap, to be honest. It’s emotionally draining, and it makes me look like an asshole.

I do, however, want to bring up this phenomenon of people saying, “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist,” and why it doesn’t make any sense.

For starters, “humanist” is more than just an all-inclusive way of saying “feminist/racial justice activist/LGBT rights activist/etc.” In his book Creating Change Through Humanism, Roy Speckhardt defines humanism as “the not so radical idea that you can be good without a belief in a god.” It’s a way of life that looks not towards the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost for truth, meaning, and ethics, but on Facts, Reason, and Compassion. Humanism includes human rights activism, but humanism is more of a worldview than a form of activism.

Second, feminism does not mean hating men. Feminists don’t hate men any more than #BlackLivesMatter activists hate white people. Of course, there are a few radical feminists that hate men. For example, there are trans-exclusive radical feminists (TERFs) who believe transgender women are really men trying to invade women’s spaces in order to hurt women. I don’t want to say they’re “not real feminists” because that’s pulling the No True Scotsman card. Rather, these radical feminists are just shitty feminists who are so blinded by their own dogmatism that they become dangerous extremists. Take it from me; stay the fuck away from them!

But for the most part, feminism is about giving women personal autonomy over their bodies, minds, and lives. It’s about seeing women as complex human beings, not two-dimensional objects. It’s about uprooting sexist ideas embedded in our society—and, thus, changing the system—through education and activism. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

That’s why I don’t understand why some atheists say an atheist cannot be a feminist. Saying feminism is incompatible with atheism is like saying racial justice is incompatible with atheism. Unlike religion, feminism isn’t based on a false claim. Sure, we can argue about certain feminist claims like the wage gap (it’s rather complicated, so I suggest watching Peter Thurston’s videos about it), but sexism still exists in society. Whether it’s women being harassed on the street here in America or women being stoned to death in Saudi Arabia, the idea that women are second-class citizens is deeply embedded into our world, and we need to do something about it.

Plus, saying that feminism isn’t inclusive enough because it focuses on women’s rights is like walking into St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and saying, “Why don’t you treat adults with cancer, too?” The reason why we have St. Jude is because there is a need in America for children with cancer to receive all the medical care they need without parents worrying about payment. It doesn’t mean everyone else with cancer doesn’t matter; it only addresses a need that’s not being met anywhere else. The same goes for feminism, #BlackLivesMatter, queer liberation, and disability justice.

While I still believe people have the right to identify however they want, the phrase “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist” doesn’t hold any water. True, there are certain branches of feminism that are not compatible with humanism (see the TERFs I mentioned above). However, fighting sexism and misogyny is not only compatible with humanism, but also essential. As skeptics, we openly criticize bad ideas present in our society—from religious dogma to pseudoscience—so why not openly criticize sexist ideas in our society as well? It only makes sense to me.

Here Comes The Sun: Secular Easter Musings

I never understood Easter. Even when I was a Christian, I couldn’t get the hang of the whole “rising from the dead” thing. I could understand Good Friday perfectly; I can understand death, pain, and misery. But rising from the dead? Even as a devout Christian, something just didn’t seem right about that.

So now that I’m an atheist, it’s not a big deal that Easter is just another day for me now. I don’t miss singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” or saying “He is risen” or anything Christians are supposed to do on Easter. None of that really meant anything significant to me. Plus, I still eat chocolate and have a big dinner with my family, and you don’t need supernaturalism to enjoy those.

If I do celebrate Easter in any way, it’s more as a metaphor for the changing seasons in life. If Christmas is just a metaphor for light coming into the darkness, then Easter is just a metaphor for the darkness of winter giving way to the brightness of spring. The trees are blossoming again, and the birds are coming back from the south. It’s a new time for optimism and hope.

In fact, I think George Harrison summed it up best in “Here Comes the Sun:”

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
It’s all right, it’s all right

How ever you see today, hope it’s a good one.

Trav Answers the 10 Questions All Atheists Must Answer (Apparently)

3d human with a red question mark

Photo credit: WingedWolf (Creative Commons)

[CN: Rape and murder]

A while ago Today Christian posted 10 Question For Every Atheist to Answer. The website says these are questions “atheists cannot truly and honestly really answer” (didn’t need all those adjectives), so let me give it a try.

1.       How Did You Become an Atheist?

I was raised a “wedding and funeral Christian,” which means my family and I only went to church when someone was getting either married or buried. But my mom gave me a children’s Bible, so I knew the basic stories. This was before I really dug deep, so at the time I thought God was alright guy. Then I became born-again at age 17 because, at the time, Jesus was the only thing that gave me any comfort. I’ve always struggled with mental illness, but high school only made it worse, so I was looking for some cure for the pain. I thought I found it in religion.

I always knew Christianity didn’t make sense, but instead of exploring the questions for myself, I just accepted whatever C.S. Lewis and other Christian apologists had to say. In 2010, I became involved with liberal Christianity, where I learned that the virgin birth didn’t happen and the Bible is a man-made product. The more I deconstructed my faith, the more God disappeared until one day I had nothing left.

It took me a while to identify as an atheist. At first I was a pantheist because I loved the idea that God was just another word for nature. Then I realized there’s no reason to call nature God when you can just call it nature.

2.       What happens when we die?

I don’t know for sure, but based on the available evidence, we lose consciousness forever. All our memories, thoughts, emotions, opinions, etc. . . . . gone. The only way I will live on is in the memory of my loved ones.

3.       What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

First of all, I find it interesting that heaven gets a question mark and hell gets an exclamation point.

Now there is always a slight possibility that I’m wrong. But the opposite could be true; YOU could be wrong. Maybe Allah is God. Or maybe Vishnu. Or maybe the ancient Greeks were right all along and Zeus is the true god. I’ve got a better question to ask: If God wants everyone to worship him, wouldn’t he give us more proof of his existence?

I’ve heard people say, “We don’t know everything about the universe, so who’s to say there is no god?” To which I respond, “Why would God hide himself in such a way that we need super-complicated technology to find him? And why haven’t we found him already with the technology we have now?”

4.       Without God, where do you get your morality from?

I tend to lean towards consequentialism for ethics. If it harms or dehumanizes others, it’s morally wrong. If is produces the most good to people, as Jeremy Bentham would say, it’s morally right.

5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

To quote Penn Jillette, I actually do rape and murder all the people I want to, and that number is zero. That’s because, as I mentioned above, I consider the consequences. I may not go to hell, but I’m pretty sure rape and murder will land me in prison. As far as good deeds going unrewarded, why need a reward to do good? Why not give food to a hungry simply so they won’t be hungry anymore?

6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

I create my own meaning. The human race has evolved in such a way that we have the ability to create something beautiful. I don’t need a God to give me meaning for my life.

7.       Where did the universe come from?

I’m not a scientist, but right now I’m going with the Big Bang because there’s more evidence for that than divine intervention.

8.       What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

As far as I know (correct me if I’m wrong in the comment section), there’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever for divine intervention. If someone claims to have come back from the dead and has seen Jesus, I want to know how long the person was dead and what their mental state was during that time. I want to make sure it’s not a trick of the mind.

9.       What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

Meh, they’re alright, but I’m not a big fan. I give them credit for starting conversations about atheism, but I don’t think of them as some holy trinity of atheism. Plus, Dawkins and Harris tend to stick their feet in their mouths.

10.   If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

To paraphrase Douglas Adams, our early ancestors at some one point and said, “I have the ability to make tools, so therefore there must be a higher toolmaker who made me!” All religions are human attempts to describe the indescribable. The difference between religion and science is science keeps testing theories to make sure they hold water instead of just saying, “I can’t explain it, therefore God.”

Well, there you have it, folks! I answered the questions has truthfully and honestly as I could. Feel free to give your answers in the comments below.

Bi Any Means Podcast #44: No Religion Required with Bobby C and Ms. Ashley


My guests for today are Bobby C and Ms. Ashley of the No Religion Required podcast. We’re gonna talk about their backgrounds, the show, and why the atheist podcast community is like a family. It’s an honor having these two on my show, and I hope you enjoy our conversation.



Dogmatism is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things


In light of the recent terrorist attack in Brussels, I’m sharing a blog post I wrote a few months ago shortly after the Paris attack.

Remember that thing I wrote the other day, about how everyone thinks their interpretation of reality is the right one? At best, this mentality leads to petty arguments on the Internet, but at its worse it leads to yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris.

I really don’t want to debate whether Islam is “a religion of peace” or “a religion of dashing your enemies to pieces” because a) I’d rather have ex-Muslims like Heina Dadabhoy and Sadaf Ali tell their stories instead of talking over them, and b) neither statement tells the full story. Like the Christian Bible, there are several ways to interpret the Quran, ranging from liberal Islam to Islamism. However, just like with fundamentalist Christianity, fundamentalist Islam has its roots in scripture. So I don’t agree with Reza Aslan; religion did play a part in yesterday’s attacks, along with other factors.

Instead I want to talk about the one thing that ties Christian fundamentalism, Islamism, and other dangerous ideologies together: dogmatism.

Google defines dogmatism as “the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.” Most people use the word fundamentalism as a synonym for dogmatism, but there’s a slight difference. Fundamentalism, as Google defines it, “upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.” This is why, as James Croft explains, there’s no such thing as a “fundamentalist atheist” because atheism has no Bible.

Dogmatism, on the other hand, can happen with any ideology, whether it’s religious or secular. It’s what happens when one is so sure that one’s own interpretation of reality is the right one, and everybody else is wrong. Of course not all beliefs are automatically dogmatic. After all, as the diagram below illustrates, when use beliefs and truths to gain knowledge:


However, sometimes our beliefs do not align with the facts. I can believe all I want that I’m a millionaire, but one look at my bank account will show that’s not true. But what if I refuse to acknowledge the facts? What if I still believe that I am a millionaire, and I keep spending money like one? Eventually I won’t have any money left, and I’ll be shit out of luck. That, my friends, is how dogmatism works.

This is why epistemology and skepticism are so important: they remind us that we could be wrong. It’s scary to think we could be wrong because we wrap our entire identities around our beliefs. But as Ricky Gervais famously said, “Beliefs don’t change facts. Facts, if you’re rational should change your beliefs.” Plus, with the events of Paris and Beirut, the only alternative, dogmatism, is literally killing us. As Sam Harris wrote in The End of Faith, “If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith”

How This Free Speech Thing Actually Works


A few months ago, Godless Mom posted a video explaining what free speech actually means. In summary, she explains that free speech means the government can’t prosecute you for things that you say. It does not mean people can’t be pissed off about something you say, or that a corporation can’t refuse to do business with you because you’re prone to saying bigoted shit. It just means the government can’t censor you or punish you.

Which is why I’m really disappointed that she recently wrote a blog post blaming the “playdate generation” for the outrage over #TheTriggering. She puts herself on a pedestal as having a “free range upbringing” which gave her a thick skin, while everyone nowadays is just offended by everything, including calling FtB’s very own PZ Myers “mommy’s special little man” with “Buzz Lightyear Band-aids.” She writes:

Well, I was raised in the sticks and stones generation, and from my vantage point, these people are nothing short of absurd. #TheTiggering was not aimed at offending people. The ultimate aim of anything defending free speech, is to protect our valued right to say what we want, even if it does suck. It’s about facing the fact that assholes exist and shit is not always going to go your way and the best fucking way to deal with it, is to “point and laugh at an idea” as Aaminah Khan so eloquently put it.

Now I’ve been corresponding with Godless Mom trying to explain all the complexities of the social justice vs. free speech debate (which shouldn’t be an either/or debate at all), including sending her a link to an article I wrote for about trigger warnings (which she enjoyed) and the latest episode of The Gaytheist Manifesto (which she hasn’t responded to yet). Forgive me if I’m misreading Godless Mom, but it seems as though she is jumping on the “SJWs are trying to take away our free speech” bandwagon.

It seems as though ever since Peter Boghossian went on The Humanist Hour to declare that many universities are now “held hostage by the Regressive Left” and that the current discourse over trigger warnings and microaggressions is the “PC Police’s” latest ploy to to suppress free speech, atheists online are split into two categories: those who think the hooplah over safe spaces is overblown, and those who think Big Brother is watching us. And as someone in the former camp, it’s really exhausting trying to explain all the subtle nuances of the debate to the latter camp.

For example, when the whole Richard Dawkins/NECSS thing happened, I got into an argument with someone on Twitter who not only thought that it was wrong for NECSS to un-invite Dawkins after he posted that crappy video, but that anyone who didn’t like the video was a crybaby. Now I can understand why some people think NECSS shouldn’t have uninvited him (this was before they re-invited Dawkins), but I find it odd that so many atheists are offended by the fact that I was offended by the video. I didn’t try to shut Dawkins’ Twitter page down, neither did I petition NECSS to ban Dawkins from all future conferences. All I said was it was a shitty video. Shocking, right?

Despite all the frustrations, let’s try to set the record straight about free speech, shall we? First, here’s what the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution actually says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

It doesn’t say privately operated conferences can’t un-invite speakers they find controversial, or that I can’t criticize something problematic, or that I can’t block anyone from commenting on my blog. It just means the government can’t limit what you say. That’s it! And yet, whenever I get into these debates, I have to whip out my pocket edition of the Constitution constantly.

I think the reason why all my friends are fighting each other about the free speech vs. social justice debate is that some people confuse having a legal right to say something with making a bigoted statement morally right. The two are not mutually inclusive. I may have a legal right to make prejudiced generalizations and stereotypes about groups of people, but having that legal right does not make my bigotry morally right. In other words, if I blog something racist, and PZ Myers decides to drop me from FtB, he’s not violating my First Amendment rights.

The same goes for blocking people from commenting on my blog. I welcome different opinions in the comment section because 1). there’s always a chance I could be wrong about something, and 2). I figure my readers are smart enough to defend their positions on their own. However, if you start dropping racist slurs, calling me names, or threatening to harm someone on my blog, I will block the fuck out of you. I’m not preventing you from commenting on other people’s blogs; I’m just throwing you out the same way a bartender would throw out a violent drunk.

Now of course the whole safe space thing can go too far. For example, the incident with Maryam Namazie and Goldsmiths University. Given her outspoken criticisms of both Islamism and the far-right anti-immigration group Pegida, Namazie was not “creating a climate of hatred,” as Goldsmiths Feminist Society claimed she was. Also, to be fair, the Pew Research Center claims 40% of Millennials support censoring offensive speech. which led Matthew Facciani to write, “Suggesting that the government should intervene when something is offensive is a clear violation of free speech.” But once again, Facciani is talking about the government intervening, not privately operated organizations or individuals.

So for all of you who think I’m coming to take away your First Amendment rights, don’t worry. It’s not as bad as you think. I might call you the fuck out on it and tell you why that thing you just said dehumanizes an entire group of people, and I might block you from spewing your bigotry on my blog, but I’m not going to prevent you from speaking elsewhere. Got that?

Bi Any Means Podcast #43: An Atheist Goes to CPAC with Justin Scott


For my new readers, not only do I blog, but I also host a podcast. Joining me again today is Justin Scott. For those who have been following me for a while, you may remember him from a few weeks ago when he came on my show to talk about asking the current presidential candidates about religious freedom. Well, he’s back to talk about his experience volunteering with American Atheists at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (or CPAC for short). This is a conversation you don’t want to miss!



Notes Towards an Intersectional Humanism


While I try to figure out how to import all my stuff from my old blog to my new one, here’s something I originally wrote a few months ago. The opening is slightly outdated because Reason Rally has since added more speakers, including more people of color. The rest is still relevant though. Enjoy!

Last week, Ashley F. Miller wrote about the lack of racial diversity among the seven scheduled keynote speakers at this year’s Reason Rally. Out of the seven, only one, Cara Santa Maria—who is part Puerto Rican—is of color, which is strange because the 2012 rally included Hemant Mehta and Jamila Bey. I don’t have a full list of events for this year’s rally, so perhaps there will be other speakers, and hopefully they will be of color. However, this brings up something that I hear a lot of critics say about the atheist movement, and that it’s mostly a white, straight, cisgender, male thing.

Last year my friend Sincere Kirabo interviewed Sikivu Hutchinson for his blog about the lack of black representation in the atheist community. According to Hutchinson:

Simply put, secular white folk have the luxury and the privilege to focus exclusively on [creationism and prayer in public school] because they do not have to worry about being criminalized, policed and dehumanized by a regime of mass incarceration which begins in elementary school for African American children. Black children are the most suspended, expelled and incarcerated youth population in the U.S. and this fact shapes their limited access to and long term prospects for a college education, professional jobs and housing . . .The only way I could see an atheist of African descent becoming a mainstream commodity like Dawkins or Harris is if they espoused similar views, i.e., views which are not threatening to the existing patriarchal capitalist white power structure. Truly critical black intellectuals are reviled by the dominant culture and politically radical or progressive atheist black thinkers would be perceived as doubly traitorous/dangerous.

The solution to this lack of representation, according to Hutchinson, is intersectionality, which she defines as “respecting and validating the full nexus of difference that makes up our identities, experiences and world views.” Some skeptics, like Peter Boghossian, dismiss the term “intersectional,” saying that it’s just something a “morally motivated ideologue” would say “to sound intelligent.” However, intersectionality can help us see systems of injustice that extend beyond our limited peripheral visions.

In Adrienne Rich’s essay “Notes toward a Politics of Location”, she talks about how her limited peripheral vision had been shaped by her identities:

I was born in the white section of a hospital which separated black and white women in labor and black and white babies in the nursery, just as it separated black and white bodies in its morgue. I was defined as white before I was defined as female. The politics of location. Even to being with my body I have to say that from the outset that body had more than one identity. When I was carried out of the hospital into the world, I was viewed and treated as female, but also viewed and treated as white—by both black and white people. I was located by color and sex as surely as a Black child was located by color and sex-though the implications of white identity were mystified by the presumption that white people are the center of the universe. To locate myself in my body means more than understanding what it has meant to me to have a vulva and clitoris and uterus and breasts. It means recognizing this white skin, the places it has taken me, the places it has not let me go.

She goes on to explain how she has faced oppression as a woman, but has also inadvertently participated in the oppression of women of color. She concludes her essay by challenging white feminists to look beyond their peripheral visions to explore black feminist and social theorists. “To shrink from or dismiss that challenge,” she writes, “can only isolate white feminism from the other great movements for self-determination and justice within and against which women define ourselves.”

As atheists, we all face similar discrimination. We’re less likely to be hired for child care services, less likely to be elected president, and least desired to be potential sons- or daughters-in law. We face discrimination in child custody hearings, the Boy Scouts, and volunteer organizations. I even know a few public school teachers who are afraid to be openly secular because they live in the heart of the Bible Belt and might lose their jobs. However, those of us who belong to other marginalized groups—women, people of color, LGBT people, disabled people, etc.—face even more discrimination than those who are white, cisgender, straight, able-bodied, and male.

Let’s use an example, shall we? Kirabo and I share similar experiences being marginalized as atheists, but in terms of race, gender, and sexuality, we couldn’t be any more different. He is a black, straight, cisgender man. I’m a white, bisexual, genderqueer person. Kirabo will never know what it’s like to be afraid to hold his lover’s hand in public without being harassed. I will never know what it’s like to be followed around in a store. He will never have that moment of panic trying to decide which public bathroom to use. I will never have that moment of panic about possibly becoming another statistic when a cop pulls me over for speeding. We both know this, and we work together for each other’s liberation.

As the third Humanist Manifesto states, we humanists “are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views.” This, I believe, includes a more intersectional approach to humanism where we, as Audre Lorde famously said, “recognize, accept, and celebrate” our differences, and work together for each other’s liberation.

So Who’s Trav? Listen to my Interview on The Secular Barbershop and Find Out!

So is this Trav person? What’s their backstory? Just take a listen to Uber4ortyse7ven’s interview with me on his podcast The (Secular) Barbershop!

A few things about the interview, first. I talk about suicide, depression, and gender dysphoria, so there’s your CN. Also, I was drinking an IPA during the interview, so hopefully I don’t sound too drunk.