Listen while you still can

The last episode of the Just Us Women podcast is up, for now, and it’s heartbreaking. She’s leaving the atheist movement for reasons that are all too common.

I will no longer be interviewing women who have left religion, since I cannot in good conscience refer them to the atheist community, where they could find support. … All the resources are tainted with connections to the top tier of misogynist, sexist men.

This is where we are now. I don’t see how atheism, as any kind of movement, will recover.


  1. says

    Well, that is extremely heartbreaking.

    I haven’t listened or read anything by the “big men of Atheism” for years, and after this it stays that way.

    Seth Andrews gaslighting a woman who points out sexism to him was a new low.

  2. VolcanoMan says

    I agree that we have problems in our community and that there is a powerful movement that seeks to block progress, block all attempts to give women equal power and an equal voice. Whenever you have people congregating around ideas that do not historically include an explicit commitment to equality, fairness, diversity and human rights, whenever a community is set up by a privileged class, there is frequently ingrained prejudice and all of the inequity it fosters. Additionally, the related problem of tribalism can manifest in any sort of group and can do untold harm. I am actually surprised that the Krauss thing has gone down the way it has, simply because my expectations are so low – people are actually taking some action now. Compare that to how little Shermer suffered for his actions a few years ago – he is still paying no penalty for his crimes.

    I would also agree with those who say that as skeptics, we need to be BETTER, not just as good or bad as any other group; our claim is that rational thinking can help us avoid making the same mistakes other people in other groups make, and so far I see no evidence that this is the case. I would even go so far as to say that if I was a woman, facing all of the bullshit women face in the world already, I would carefully curate my interactions with the atheist community at large, and find the sub-groups that did the best job of leaving the toxic masculine outside. I don’t think I’d be willing or able though to stay away from all atheist groups within movement atheism – being an atheist and anti-theist is part of who I am, and humans are social animals. And correct me if I’m wrong (as a privileged man, I am always open to that possibility), but there seem to be segments of our community (online and in person) that are doing a pretty good job of keeping assholes out. These are the kinds of places I would direct new women deconverts. Better that than have them wander in totally naively and end up in groups that do a terrible job of dealing with creeps and douches.

    So the concerns of the podcaster are full of merit. But you don’t tell smart, scientifically-inclined women to stay away from academia because they might have a sexist advisor or committee member. You don’t tell women computer geeks to stay away from the tech industry because of people like James Damore. And you don’t tell bad-ass women to stay away from the military (or law enforcement) because there is sexism and harassment there. As a member of these groups you work to change them, convincing as many women (and minorities) as possible to join, elevating as many women as you can to power inside these groups, and removing leaders with degenerate behavior and/or attitudes from the groups. That’s the only way you build communities that DO reflect values of equality, fairness, diversity and human rights.

  3. weylguy says

    I believe the primary problem is the damned male ego. Too many men who have achieved great fame and/or wealth become sexual predators of the kind we’re only now acknowledging, and a fair share of them will be atheists.

    The atheist movement may well indeed be dead. This is a dirty rotten shame, because there are an exponentially greater number of rich, powerful Christian men in this country who are worse misogynists. Even those who are caught outright — the Bakkers, the Haggards, the Swaggarts, the Vitters, the Craigs, the Ensigns, the Sherwoods, the Clintons, the Kennedys and the Thurmonds to name the few who come to mind — usually end up getting off (so to speak) pretty much scot-free. Conversely, I cannot see the careers of people like Lawrence Krauss (an otherwise brilliant astrophysicist) ever being restored. But this is just the believer/non-believer double standard at work — Christian predators are invariably “saved” and forgiven by the fawning sheep they control, while non-believers are damned to hell.

  4. says

    That’s funny, I thought this was about respecting and understanding why someone was leaving. Why the fuck should I care about why you want to pressure them back in? The current social institutions associated with atheists are quite dispensable.

    Your feelings don’t seem connected to anything useful when it comes to solving the problem.

  5. VolcanoMan says

    Did I not say I understand why people are leaving? Because I’m pretty sure I did. I get it. People don’t feel safe in the community. And I wasn’t saying they were wrong to not feel safe, nor did I say that people in our community didn’t have a responsibility to change things so that ALL people would feel safe. Actually…that’s exactly what I WAS saying. And I never once said we ought to pressure people to stay, or to re-join. Yeesh….touchy. This is why people avoid coming here and posting comments. You say something that clearly agrees with the problems and sympathizes with the actions women are taking, and offer a call to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT to those who have that power, and someone says that your feelings on these issues are useless. I thought that’s what being an ally was: listening to why people are both scared and angry, and offering concrete ways to improve things (elevating women to equal power within atheist groups).

    I’m just one person. I don’t go to cons, I don’t meet the people I know from message boards in real life, and I am not a member of any formal atheist group (with respect to that last one, one of the reasons I never joined any formal group was that I didn’t want to reward these organizations for their discrimination and indifference to the issues of women and minorities). But I see the problems in the atheist environments in which I do participate, and I think that the very last thing those environments need is LESS women. That’s not to say I don’t understand why women might not want to participate (and if I wasn’t clear before, I don’t want to pressure women to stay). If the message is that there’s no hope and we’re fucked, I won’t agree, and I won’t give up trying to change things. I can agree with the problems without being pessimistic about them, can’t I? Or is that just my privilege getting in the way, seeing as how sexism and harassment don’t directly affect me? I honestly don’t know. Are we fucked?

  6. John Morales says

    Does anyone care explain to me how “I will no longer be interviewing women who have left religion, since I cannot in good conscience refer them to the atheist community, where they could find support.” makes sense?

    Seems to me one could interview without a concomitant referral.

  7. John Morales says


    Or is that just my privilege getting in the way, seeing as how sexism and harassment don’t directly affect me?

    Perhaps, but I too think it smacks of despair.

    FWIW, I’m sanguine — the social perspective has changed markedly and atheism is no longer seen as outre. And there are more than enough resources online that any curious enough person can make their own determination. The explosion of atheism in the early days of the internet did its job.

    End of the day, people can just not believe in the silliness that is theism for themselves, even if they (say) have to go to church to get on in real life.

    ( )

  8. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Hey let’s revive atheism+ so we can be sure all other atheists are ideological pure before having anything to do with them.

    Why not? Get rid of the assholes, and become respectable.
    Evidently you belong in the corner with the other assholes and their defenders.

  9. says

    Rat master: I spent over a decade trying to promote atheism. I have a reason to be dismayed and disappointed at the outcome.

    You, on the other hand, seem to be an asshole who is even angrier about it than I am.


  10. hemidactylus says

    We may get into disputes over fallacies of division and composition but the freethought and atheist groups locally may differ from from the bigly thinkers at the top tier. But it’s arguable that dictionary atheism differs very negatively from positive forms of ethically concerned humanism and folks even more concerned actively (versus abstractly) with social justice. Atheism *per se* doesn’t imply much more than lacking a theistic belief. Morality doesn’t follow as a brief acquaintance with the droppings of the Amazing Atheist and that Sargon twit show.

  11. jack16 says

    I appreciate P. Z. Myers blog and his management. I think he shows respect for all minorities.


  12. tacitus says

    To be honest, I don’t know why American atheists would not have seen this coming. Perhaps it’s because American atheists have languished in the minority for so long, while the misogynists, racists, and other prominent assholes continued to find religion useful for channeling their hatred, but in other countries, like the UK, from whence I come, religion has long since ceased to be the dividing line between sanity and insanity. In post Christian societies, the bigots will always find other reasons to peddle their bile, including the misappropriation of science and rationalism.

    Perhaps the difference is that in the UK, the trajectory from religion to post-religion was (for the most part) a gentle, almost unnoticed slide while in the US, it’s been much more like a fight to the death on the edge of a cliff, resulting in a much more prominent community of atheists led mostly by progressives, at first anyway. But now the tent is growing rapidly as the US is falling down that cliff to post-religion, it’s not only liberals and progressives who are happy to call themselves atheists, but people across the political spectrum, including the far-right and other reactionary forces.

    Of course, there can be no unified atheist community in the long run. Politics has long been a more potent tribal imperative than religion (progressive Christians have far more in common with progressive atheists than conservative Christians), and I certainly know that British conservatives are more than happy to find secular reasons for why they believe equal rights for women are not that important (it’s just not in their nature, don’t you know?), or even why abortion is an abomination, etc. The same thing is happening here in America.

  13. brett says

    That was devastating, especially the last two minutes.

    This is where we are now. I don’t see how atheism, as any kind of movement, will recover.

    I just don’t know. All I can think of is that we need to keep making new groups, and do better. We have to do better.

  14. Crudely Wrott says

    I’ll admit that I only scanned the above comments. I think I got the gist. It was mostly nasty and reactionary. I had expected more from this cohort.

    OK, kids. Here’s the deal.
    It’s one thing to declare yourself. That’s easy. It takes little effort and, as befits a small investment, is worth near nothing.

    What carries weight and what will follow you and shape not only your own future but the futures of those who listen to you is made up of something much more important:
    Do you actually know how to include all others in your world view or do you intend it to only apply to those who agree with you?
    In other words, do you actually know how to be a functional human being without doing harm to others?
    If you don’t, sit down and shut the fuck up.

  15. says

    @Crudely Wrott
    Do you also tell this to those who actively harass women who say something they do not agree with?

  16. Crudely Wrott says

    In my haste I neglected the final sentence:
    “You might accidentally learn something”.

    Addendum: I’ve been an atheist since my earliest recall. That adds up to well over sixty years. Within those years have been many trials and missteps. I am in no way perfect nor have I ever made any claim to be so.
    To see people who claim no belief in a supernatural being that worries us to death claim that they know something that will mark them as special is as tedious as those who do claim faith.
    Atheism is only the lack of assumption and acceptable guilt, unearned and foolish. It has no, repeat, no claim on any special knowledge or insight. To preach (yes, preach) that it does so is to miss altogether the notion that we are here on our own and that we will live or die by our own cliches.
    I choose but few truisms, noting that they are all approximations and useful only for rough guidance. I would rather that I didn’t have to choose among the many that are thrown willy-nilly at me by those who think they know something that is key, that transcends what I already know.
    Thanks, but no thanks. I have cliches enough to last me.
    I thank PZ and many of the commentariat here for understanding.
    That’s all, folks!

  17. Crudely Wrott says

    Charly, I have to go bed now. I’m having my grandson over later today and we’re going to watch some old movies together. Marks Brothers and Cosby and Hope (Road to Morocco). We are going to laugh and reinforce our bonds. I can hardly wait.
    I’ll return to this forum later for your reply.

  18. paxoll says

    We need a new world atheism movement. Those old world countries are full of bad atheists. They are uneducated in all the reasons that not believing in a god is the most rational position. They are atheists only in laziness and personal incredulity. They are only one persuasive huckster away from becoming a christian. We need to purge our organizations of these bad atheists because every time one of them converts it destroys our reputation.

    Seems like the same argument to me.

  19. Porivil Sorrens says

    I’ve been saying for a while, but it’s gotten even worse as time went on. My Alma Mater’s atheist club went from “a handful of nerds verbally jacking off Dawkins and Hitchens in a coffee shop” to being a nexus of conservatism and bigotry vervalky jacking off Trump and Milo in just over four years.

  20. Porivil Sorrens says

    I have no idea what you’re asking.

    I’m referring to personal experiences with the atheist community at my alma mater. If you’d like me to demonstrate that, I’m not interested in doxing myself and didn’t have the presence of mind to record my local atheist group waxing poetic on how great Trump was.

    Did you think I was somehow agreeing with paxoll?

  21. flange says

    I’m an atheist because I hate bullshit, like religion. I don’t need to go to church, go to meetings where bullshit is discussed, or join or be active in any group (I’m also an introvert) I don’t want to.
    Part of the problem with Organized Religion is the “organized” part. In society, people with an agenda need to organize to get things done. But any organization is going to have, schisms, outliers, and its share of assholes. Organized atheism is no exception.
    I’m glad and lucky there are articulate and passionate people like PZ Myers to speak for me, and our way of thinking.

  22. Mark Plus says

    Atheists have rediscovered the tragedy of the human condition, in other words. Gods don’t exist, but neither does “social justice,” because man’s nature is obdurate; you can’t reshape it like clay into the arbitrary configurations demanded by the political correctness of The Current Year.

    We’re also in the process of discovering that our religious traditions have transmitted valid empiricism about the nature of men and women. Women exist, and men can observe them, just like PZ can observe cephalopods in his lab – whereas we can’t observe our traditional “supernaturals,” as anthropologists call them, despite what the people on those foolish “ghost hunting” shows on cable TV claim.

    If this body of experience accumulated and condensed over countless generations tends to put women in a bad light – well, you can’t blame that outcome on a god now, can you?

  23. lindsay says

    Men exist, and women can observe them… If this body of experience accumulated and condensed over countless generations and put into books by feminists tends to put men in a bad light – well, you can’t blame that outcome on a god now, can you?

  24. says

    Find people you want to associate with and start a new group. That is how the Secular Student Alliance got started when some members of CFI thought they could do a better job helping secular students.

    I personally avoid the bad people I know about and I don’t donate time or money to those groups with the bad men in them. I would like to see names named in a higher profile online source like a database or a registry so I don’t need to decode vague Facebook posts or keep hearing “kiss off” stories from the good people.