Jim Helton in Minneapolis


I skipped off to the big city yesterday (allowing a TERF to flood the comments, sorry — he has been dealt with now) to hear Jim G. Helton speak on the new directions American Atheists is going to take. Well, maybe. He’s AA’s Kentucky State Director, so I’m not sure how well his goals are shared with the national leadership, but I like his plan. I left hoping his ideas would be translated into real action, but at the same time, “hope” is an unfamiliar emotion when dealing with organized atheism, and I’ve been disappointed more than a few times.

Here’s the gist of his talk. He put up a slide of “Atheist Issues”, the stuff we’re all familiar with and that has nearly 100% support from atheist organizations.

  • Government Prayer
  • Bibles
  • 10 Commandments
  • Crosses
  • Religious Funding
  • Religious Exemptions
  • Creationism

If you’re like me, you recognize these as standard separation of church and state concerns, and maybe, if you’re like me, you automatically assume that the government should not be promoting sectarian religious views. This is kind of a core set of ideas for atheism in general, but it’s often stuff that has to be handled by lawyers. It’s good to have lawyers on your side, but it’s not really stuff I can get directly involved in, other than donating money to pay lawyers and making pissed-off comments.

And then he asked, “Are these atheist issues?”

  • Dying with Dignity
  • Sex Education
  • LGBT
  • Abortion
  • Women’s Rights
  • Science & History
  • Racial Justice

He asked this of possibly the most sympathetic audience he could find: Minnesota Atheists are so socially justicey at all times for all of history that the entire membership enthusiastically agreed that all of those were important atheist issues. I certainly think they are, and have been saying so for over a decade (not that anyone listens).

Then he gave his rationale for why all these issues ought to be on the agenda of an atheist organization. When you get down to it, most of the opposition to all of them is religiously motivated — if religion vanished tomorrow, so would creationism, and all of those Bible in the schools bills, and the opposition to all those other issues would be greatly attenuated. There’s no doubting that religion is a major contributor to the world of bad ideas plaguing us.

I like the direction he’s going, but I fear he’s too optimistic. I know that if I could snap my fingers in a kind of atheist Thanos-gambit and selectively make every religious person on the planet crumble into dust (it would be far more than half, I’m afraid), I’m confident that all the items on his first list would immediately disappear as well. Poof, easy.

But the items on the second list? Not so fast. A lot of their opponents would vanish, as would much of their financial base, but unfortunately, there are a lot of fanatical atheists who oppose LGBT and women’s rights, for instance. Those TERFs that have been making bad, incoherent arguments against transgender rights here on the blog in the last few weeks…near as I can tell, they’ve all been skeptics and atheists. Go browse the atheist channels on YouTube, and you’ll find a sordid mass of knee-jerk misogynists thriving there. The alt-right is full of people whose racists beliefs rest on a religious conviction that they are objectively, factually, scientifically correct. Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins just declared at CSICON that the people who support those issues are extremists who belong to the regressive left.

The space between the two lists above is precisely where the fault line that has created the Deep Rifts in the atheist movement lies. You can’t just claim that the division is between the religious and the non-religious, because there is no shortage of atheists who will fight tooth and nail against all the issues on the second list. These aren’t purely atheist issues, even if Jim Helton and Minnesota Atheists and PZ Myers are consistently aligned in favor of them. If and when American Atheists adopts that list as an important component of their organization’s activism, there will be howls of protest.

Are they prepared for that? I don’t know. Helton’s personal enthusiasm is great, but I have my cynical, pessimistic doubts.

I asked one question and didn’t get a solid answer. American Atheist’s national convention is in April in Cincinnati, Helton’s own backyard. For years I’ve seen them chase the elusive celebrity atheist to headline their events, often without regard for their other views. I can sympathize with why they do it — a celebrity headliner is great for improving attendance. But are they going to continue to lust after the kind of celebrity atheist who labels people who promote the items in that second list as “extremists” and the “regressive left”? He skirted the question, because speakers for that event haven’t been lined up yet.

I fear, though, that the planners for that conference would be eager to sign up one of the usual Big Name Atheists — a Dawkins or a Harris, for instance, or a Stephen Fry — and would commit to them in a flash, no matter that their views often contradict the values in that hopeful list. The problem is that the celebrity atheists all turn out to be such assholes.

One glimmer of hope: part of his proposed strategy is to make deeper alliances with organization like Planned Parenthood or the LGBTQ community, in part because they’re a new member pool, but also because there are smart, talented people among them who could be great speakers at atheist events. I think that’s an important idea, not the least because a lot of those people would be alienated by the kinds of racist, misogynistic ideas that way too many atheist big shots like to endorse, and maybe atheist organizations would stop drooling at the idea of bringing in yet another popular cis-het white man who wants to pander to nothing but their fellow cis-het white men.

My tentative take-away from the talk: I like the direction he’s going, hope he succeeds, but am afraid he’s a little naive about the forces within atheism that are going to make life difficult for him. I can already predict all the complaints he’s going to get, because I’ve been getting them for years.

Comments

  1. says

    Jim Helton is the National Field Organizer for AA so he probably has a little more input in the national office than say as only a state director. His daughter Kelly is also big into the SJ topics

    CSICon has always come across as a Fraternity convention even when it was known as TAM.

  2. JScarry says

    PZ, I read the first line and stopped. Enough with the vile ad hominems. WTF is wrong with you?

  3. says

    JScarry, do not use technical terms you do not understand. There is no “ad hominem” in that first sentence, vile or otherwise.

  4. says

    JScarry, what the fuckity-fuck is wrong with you? You’ve only ever made a few comments here, and half of them are whining about recognizing that TERFs are trans-exclusionary. If that’s all you have to say, we’ve heard your protests, are unconvinced by your non-existent arguments, and you can go away now.

  5. mathymathymathy says

    PZ has dealt with one TERF flooding the comments in that thread. I predict he will have to deal with a second one here.

    Anyway, as for the Thanos gambit thought experiment, suppose (for instance) a feminist were to snap their fingers and make every sexist crumble to dust. How much would that do for the issue of creationism in schools, for instance? It would certainly help a lot, given that religious fundamentalists are also very likely to be misogynist (and also homophobic, transphobic etc.) but it wouldn’t erase the problem.

    While the problems on the second list aren’t specifically atheist problems (like the problems on the first aren’t specifically feminist problems or racial justice problems) there can and should be a very large overlap between them, as these movements can contribute a lot to each other. That is what happens with, for instance, PZ, Jim Helton, and Minnesota Atheists, although unfortunately organised atheism has not had a good track record on these problems elsewhere.

  6. kome says

    Most of the non-religious opposition to the second list is predicated on pseudoscientific views and conspiracy theories that appeal to naive intuitions about how the physical, biological, and psychological universes operates in manners very similar to how religious dogma appeals to naive intuitions about how the physical, biological, and psychological universes operate. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if most of the skeptics and atheists who stand in opposition to the second list would rank high on measures of the Dunning-Krueger effect, and ultimately aren’t “skeptics” or “atheists” as much as they are a bunch of insecure bungholes with a desperate need to have their intelligence validated without doing any work to become intelligent who just happen to be on the secular side of things rather than the religious side of things.

  7. John Small Berries says

    Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins just declared at CSICON that the people who support those issues are extremists who belong to the regressive left.

    Stephen Fry? Well, that’s disappointing.

  8. says

    #9:

    It’s not that surprising, after all, Fry was happy to sit alongside Jordan Peterson in solidarity with his “Political Correctness has run amok” bullshit. Whatever Fry’s views are on other subjects, I don’t think he realizes or cares that his allying with the far right damages his reputation while improving theirs, and serves to negate any of the good he’s done in the past. I think for some people, appearing contrary or having an overwhelming desire to not appear sycophantic trumps their reasoning and any innate goodness they might have.

  9. Akira MacKenzie says

    JScarry @ 2:

    OK, if you don’t like “TERF,” I suggest we all just call you “Shit-For-Brains.” How’s that?

  10. says

    I’ve been intentionally not paying attention to Fry’s political views since seeing him pop up in a gnu atheist video several years ago, but lo, he did the rightward slide with the rest of them. We like to like our entertainers, it’s sadder to lose affection for them than for pundits thinky leaderers. Le sigh.

  11. Kevin Dugan says

    Just for some background: I’ve known Jim Helton for years now and I know his interest in the second list is genuine. I was at the first Tri State Freethinkers organization meeting here in Cincinnati/Northern KY in 2012 which he led with his wife. He’s opened his home to meetings and social gatherings, including Friday Night Game sessions. He’s always had a open management style, seeking to get others involved in leadership and volunteer roles. He’s also worked to build bridges with the local Humanist and Skeptics groups. He’s worked to give a platform to a wide variety of voices for social justice in the monthly meetings.
     
    The Tri-State Freethinkers group has been very involved in social issues including Pride and March for Science, phone banking for Planned Parenthood, Freestore Foodbank volunteering, supporting getting information about the Affordable Care Act into the hands of people, the clergy project, prison amnesty, political action including monitoring school boards, as well as protesting the Ark Park and Creation Museum which are in our back yard.
     
    Not saying the guy is perfect. But if there’s a dark side, I’ve not seen it yet.

  12. imback says

    I saw no evidence that majorpriapus was any kind of feminist, so maybe not a TERF, unless “TERF” has outgrown its expansion.

  13. consciousness razor says

    I like the direction he’s going, but I fear he’s too optimistic. I know that if I could snap my fingers in a kind of atheist Thanos-gambit and selectively make every religious person on the planet crumble into dust (it would be far more than half, I’m afraid), I’m confident that all the items on his first list would immediately disappear as well. Poof, easy.

    Perhaps you should slow down here. (Whenever you think anything about human behavior or society is easy, that’s almost always wrong. The world-building aspects of the Avengers movies leave something to be desired, to say the least…. Maybe it’s not such a terrible loss for a piece of shit movie, but it’s more of a problem when trying to reach reasonable conclusions about the real world.)

    If there weren’t religious people, there would not be much of a point to endorsing a specific principle which is formulated in terms of a separation of church and state. If there weren’t a church, it would not be a thing that could (or should) be separated from anything else. Whatever your reasons for thinking that there ought to be such a separation if the thing did exist (reasons which you could still try to articulate) would pertain to a counterfactual scenario and not the real one you find yourself in.

    However, it would still be true that our government should support a significant amount of individual rights and freedoms. We should still have freedom of expression, freedom to associate, freedom to form our own beliefs (not be coerced into them by police forces, armies, bureaucracies, etc.), a right to privacy, and so forth. Having our government impose this kind of stuff on us would still be a terrible idea in general, even if some very specific ways that this kind of tyranny could come about simply aren’t on the menu (or are extremely unlikely).

    It’s not as if we, as atheists or as human beings or as whatever the fuck we may be, should have views about only the one specific type of political oppression which fall under the banner of “separation of church and state.” And the reasons why we should be concerned about a church having such a status in our society are the same ones we should have about the more general set of problems I mentioned above. I don’t think I’m supposed to imagine that, when you snap your fingers, somehow all of those other aspects of human society undergo radical changes as well. So it’s really not clear what this thought experiment is supposed to demonstrate or how it’s supposed to be relevant.

    (Not a gambit, by the way. Thanos didn’t lose or risk anything of his own with his magic finger snapping. It wasn’t like sacrificing one of his pawns for another kind of advantage … more like throwing a fit and tossing the board on the ground, which in chess would count as a forfeit and not a victory.)

    But the items on the second list? Not so fast. A lot of their opponents would vanish, as would much of their financial base, but unfortunately, there are a lot of fanatical atheists who oppose LGBT and women’s rights, for instance.

    They’ve conducted numerous polls over the years, as I’m sure you know. I thought we had a lot of evidence that atheists/agnostics are consistently among the most progressive people out there. Am I mistaken about that? Was it not on your mind while writing? Or what exactly do you mean to suggest when you make these claims about what is supposedly “a lot” of atheists?

    Besides, what relevance is it supposed to have that there exist atheists who haven’t formed the right conclusions about this or that or the other thing? Did anybody need to claim that all atheists are right about any particular set of issues? If not, then why would it matter?

    I think that when I say something is true, it’s important that I am right about that, that I can support it in a satisfactory way, that I’m communicating it clearly, and so forth. If other people are doing something else, it may be some kind of a problem but it isn’t one that’s under my control.

    The space between the two lists above is precisely where the fault line that has created the Deep Rifts in the atheist movement lies.

    I remember a time when “deep rifts” was used ironically, to discuss superficial or insignificant things that had been deemed by some to be Big Problems™.

    … Or are you still using it that way here? If you were trying to acknowledge that the points you’re raising aren’t so solid after all, then it’s an awfully subtle way to do it.

    You can’t just claim that the division is between the religious and the non-religious, because there is no shortage of atheists who will fight tooth and nail against all the issues on the second list. These aren’t purely atheist issues, even if Jim Helton and Minnesota Atheists and PZ Myers are consistently aligned in favor of them. If and when American Atheists adopts that list as an important component of their organization’s activism, there will be howls of protest.

    Several points:
    1. Nobody needs to claim “the division is between the religious and the non-religious.” We just ought to do the right thing, whatever that happens to be.
    2. We don’t need for there to be a shortage of atheists who will oppose us. It would be a nice thing if everybody were on board, but let’s not pretend this constitutes some kind of logical or conceptual problem that arises atheists making certain specific moral/political claims. It’s just that human beings of all shapes and sizes are capable of being shitheads, and we knew (or should’ve known) that all along.
    3. I don’t know what a “purely atheist issue” would be, nor do I think the purity of such a thing matters in any way. Again, we can ask about what the right thing to do is and how we should make it happen, and it’s not written in stone anywhere that anything needs to be purely anything else. All of this either/or, black/white, draw a sharp line in the sand crap is just fucking pointless, because that’s not what the world is like and presumably Jim Helton (or you or me or anyone else) has no need to argue otherwise.
    4. I don’t care about howls of protest. I’m definitely fucking used to it by now, and so are you. If it’s not you and it’s not me, then which person is supposed to be concerned about the fact that some people out there will express their opposition (which they should be able to do freely, because we stand for precisely that sort of thing)? Why even bother mentioning an obvious thing like this, when it seems to have nothing to do with whether or not we should support items in the second list?

  14. nomdeplume says

    I had assumed early on that if you had enough rational thinking to reject religion then you would apply that pattern of thought more widely and come down on the correct side of all kinds of progressive issues, as the two lists above suggest. I hadn’t imagined, in short, that there could be “right wing atheists”. Clearly I was wrong. The fault line between right and left wing political beliefs and attitudes cuts across atheism just as it does across many other human groupings.

  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins just declared at CSICON that the people who support those issues are extremists who belong to the regressive left.

    Is there a link for this?

  16. Cosimo says

    Anybody who’s been around this “forum” for a while probably knows that the main purpose of this blog is to provide PZ with a vehicle from which to verbally abuse people. Particularly, other atheists. As far as I can tell the only well known atheist that has not been insulted by PZ is Daniel Dennett. I guess it’s just a matter of time.

  17. DanDare says

    My local area atheist community, which we started about five years ago, has been host to some terrible allies.
    We had a full on racist for a while. Brown people are their own worst enemies because of their inferior intellects and us whites just want to help but the bleeding hearts make it so hard etc.
    Nobody confronted him for about four meetings till I pulled him up on one of his rants. He turned nasty. Everyone formed ranks, very politely, in front of his tirade and he never came back.
    Had a similar incident with a Jordan Peterson fan recently.
    The thing is such people seem rare in the atheist population but they also seem to carry a lot of weight somehow.

  18. Rob Grigjanis says

    Cosimo @18: Verbal abuse? Oh, the humanity. Having been around the “forum” for a while, I’d say (a) most of it has been deserved, and (b) it’s been accompanied by clear reasons for said “abuse”. Want to be more specific?

  19. Ichthyic says

    “Anybody who’s been around this “forum” for a while probably knows that the main purpose of this blog is to provide PZ with a vehicle from which to verbally abuse people.”

    ah yes, another snowflake claiming victimhood for being criticized.

    I swear, the alt-right is literally filled with people who are the most precious of precious snowflakes, running projections like mad motherfuckers.

  20. ginckgo says

    Rob Grigjanis @ 17

    I found this (go to the 57 minute mark): https://www.facebook.com/angie.f.mattke/videos/vb.648104503/10156400936944504/?hc_location=ufi

    Someone made a transcript:
    DAWKINS: You said, Stephen, that the catastrophe of Trump and Brexit is less a triumph of the Right that a failure of the Left.

    FRY: Yes

    DAWKINS: Do you recognize the phrase “Regressive Left”, which I think was coined by Maajid Nawaz?

    FRY: Yes, I’ve come across it. Yeah.

    DAWKINS: Do you have a view on that?

    FRY: There’s a part of my that just wants to be mischievous and say look, this Grand Canyon (close to where we are now [Las Vegas]), this Grand Canyon has opened up in America, and really across the world, certainly the developed world, the chattering world if you like, and it’s getting wider every day. Therefore people on each side of the divide, they have to shout louder, and gesticulate, more horribly to be heard by the other side. And they are not being heard by the other side and they are just making noises and screaming, and hating each other deeply and thinking the other vile and destructive and inhuman.
    And, I like to think of myself and right thinking people as cowering in the ravine at the bottom unsure what to do. Because on the one hand you have a nativist alt-Right bringing up all kinds of nasty unacceptable and horrifying racist thoughts and divisions, but also you have a preposterous illiberal liberal Left shouting out these jargonistic nonsense from the universities. If I have to hear about the patriarchy and cisgendered white privilege bleh bleh bleh [waves hands].
    You know, my heart has always been with the left and that makes it all the more difficult for me to think that I just cannot, and I … this is at the heart of, I think all that, … you talk about being English, you talk about Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling, and Isaac Newton and everything, the one thing they all have in common in empiricism. It’s not about knowing anything, it’s not about having a point of view which is your strict view of things, it’s about finding out, experimenting, trying thing out and seeing what works. And I think the Left has a terrible problem in rhetoric and expresses itself in a way that is precisely, it seems, designed to alienate even the soft-right people, even ordinary Republicans who are maddened by what they see as the nonsense of political correctness.
    Most Left people are not prey to it, but unfortunately the mouthpieces on either side are so loud, and you’re supposed to take a stand. I’m supposed to be on one side or the other. While I just repudiate that. I won’t be on either side. Neither means anything to me [Audience and Dawkins applaud]
    … [various literary quotes leading up to “the center will not hold”]
    And that’s the problem, being in “the center, which will not hold”, the best, which you hope you are part of the best, lack all conviction. We’re not certain. We’re not convinced, we’re not sure how the world should go forward. We recognize ugliness when we see it, and gracelessness, and unkindness, and brute force, and clamoring, kind of binary tearing away of everything. This constant “you are either with us or against us” attitude. And stuck in the middle, people say “well, that’s all very well but that’s you just being a liberal squashy soft, you know there are people dying out there!”, they will say.
    And yes, there are, look at the Rohingyas being massacred and disrupted and destroyed in Burma, and look at what is going on in all over Yemen and Syria and place like that. There’s all kinds of terrible things happening. But I don’t hear the regressive Left, or the illiberal liberals as I call them, or the Right, making any fuss about that.
    And I’m desperate to know what to think. I really am, I’m sure, because part of me says: yes of course all my life I’ve fought for gay rights, I’ve fought for, well I’ve not “fought”, don’t romanticize yourself Stephen, I haven’t “fought” at all, I’ve sat at a desk and tapped at a keyboard [audience laughter] occasionally done the odd interview on the subject of gay rights, so I haven’t “fought” at all. But I have at least expressed an opinion. And my heart is with people being given a fair shake of the sauce bottle, as Australians put it, and a fair shake seems to be good. But we now are not allowed really much room for conversations of any nuance or any doubt, you have to be on one side or the other. And the world, certainly America and UK are crying out for something in between

  21. says

    @23 ginckgo:

    Good grief, it’s even worse than I imagined. What a vile vomiting of both-sides-ism and false equivalence from Fry.

    On the one hand, we have “alt-right” folk (actual Nazis) murdering people with cars and semiautomatic weapons. Delivering beatings in the street like Hitler’s Brownshirts.

    On the left, we have people who protest that their claims of humanity and identity, their very right to live peacefully, ought to be taken seriously.

    Fuck you, Fry. Just… fuck you.

  22. Sunday Afternoon says

    @Robert Westbrook, #24: a slight word in Fry’s defense and that could be one of context.

    It looks like you’re in Canada. I don’t know how things are politically in Canada, but coming to the US from the UK I found that there is a significant part of the political landscape that is simply missing here in the US. There really isn’t the equivalent of a far left-wing movement despite the right’s attempt to portray the democrats as such. The far-left was alive and well in the UK when I left (hating on, with good reason, Tony Blair), and I have no reason to think that it has gone away. There definitely are “regressive” tendencies to some of that part of the political landscape.

  23. ginckgo says

    It boggles my mind that Fry is so wilfully and blithely out of touch with what is really happening. I know he always made self-deprecating jokes about his toff upper class British background, but he seems to becoming the un-ironic caricature embodiment of the status quo.
    The sound bites he uses as ‘evidence’ for his view of the left are straight out of the alt-right propaganda handbook – he has uncritically internalised them all.
    Is there anybody who I used to look to for constructive social critique that has survived an apparent barrier at age 55 (PZ don’t you dare disappoint) where they turn into the enemy of humanism?

  24. nomdeplume says

    @23 Oh, having read that I can’t unread it. I am now a former Fry fan. FFS I suppose Fry, in the 1930s would have been saying, well, deary me, there are some nasty people in the National Front, and some nasty communists fighting them, and some good people on both sides, why can’t we all just get along?” In fact he, like almost all the upper classes, would have been a Hitler sympathiser on the evidence of that interview.

  25. ginckgo says

    Sunday Afternoon @26
    Can you give an example of what you class as ‘far left wing’ in the UK?
    And what the ‘regressive’ tendencies are that they consistently promote?

    I’m in Australia, I used to live in Germany, I spend a very happy 3 years of my childhood living in Connecticut, I know friends in the UK. Basically I am interested in, and follow politics in all those countries. But I’ll be damned if I can think of any ‘far left’ groups in any of those countries, that have anywhere near the influence nor success as the far right does.

  26. methuseus says

    I’m sort of disappointed in Fry. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat to be expected, as ginckgo said @27. I can no longer recommend anything by him blithely, though I still think much of his body of work has merit (Last Chance to See, Stephen Fry in America, many episodes of QI, and some others) I have to be careful. He’s right about the mouthpieces sometimes just shouting and actually being wrong (more common on the right than left, of course), but to completely dismiss a good portion of society like that in saying “if I have to hear about the patriarchy and cisgendered white privilege bleh bleh bleh [waves hands]” he is just not a good person. Maybe he’ll come around at some point, but I’m not going to hold my breath. No heroes. Not even PZ (though I hope he will never go that route).

    As for the premise of the OP, by getting rid of all the religious people, what exactly do you mean? All the people that profess they are Christian even though they haven’t set foot in a church in decades and don’t really believe in Jesus? Profit-church pastors who only profess the beliefs they know will get their believers to tithe them into a private jet, but don’t actually believe any of it? Atheists who hold TERF type ideas in almost (or actual) religious fervor? If you get rid of those who hold religious style beliefs (meaning facts don’t matter, etc.) then a lot of the second list will go away as well. The problem is making “the religious” disappear can mean so many different things.

  27. Sunday Afternoon says

    @ginckgo, #29:

    The most well-know one is probably the Militant Tendency that launched an insurgency into the Labour Party – the wiki article gives a good jumping off point for this and related far left-wing groups: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militant_(Trotskyist_group)

    Another one I came into contact with at university was the Socialist Workers Party: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Workers_Party_(UK)

    It was through interactions with SWP supporters at university that I first encountered supposedly intelligent people committing to dogmatic positions, and that was growing up in the family of a Church of Scotland minister. The most obvious dogmatic position to me is them being against market-based economics, but because the USSR was the Cold War enemy, they had to be against that too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Workers_Party_(UK)#State_capitalism

    An influential left-winger is the former Mayor of London, MP and leader of the Greater London Council, Ken Livingston: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Livingstone

    Another prominent left-winger is Dennis Skinner: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Skinner

    It could be argued that Jeremy Corbyn being the Labour leader is a resurgence of radical left-wing politics in the UK – note for example the timing of his meeting with members of the IRA & Sinn Féin in 1984: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Corbyn#Irish_politics

    I’ll agree that the far-right in the UK were successful with the Brexit vote, but the far left have been far from impotent in UK politics.

  28. lucifersbike says

    Well, Mr Fry has been up himself for years, and people who are up themselves have a regrettable tendency to bleat when reality intrudes on their comfortable lives. I am sorry, but he really isn’t half as clever as he thinks he is.
    As for the far left in the UK – the SWP discredited themselves years ago when they tried to suppress reports and discussion of a rape case; Ken Livingstone has made some remarks which could be interpreted as anti-Semitic or as merely bloody stupid, and Dennis Skinner (who is in his eighties) has been a backbench MP for many decades longer than he was ever a miner or a trade unionist – I am sure he sincerely believes he is radical and progressive but the constituency he would like to represent (mass union-organised labour) no longer exists. Likewise Corbyn, who is the chocolate teapot of the British left.
    The most striking feature of the current political scene in the UK (as in the USA and Australia), especially on the right, is the Tinkerbelle factor: believe in something as hard as you can, say it loudly, say it often, and it will be true because it must be true.

  29. KG says

    The far-left was alive and well in the UK when I left (hating on, with good reason, Tony Blair), and I have no reason to think that it has gone away. – Sunday Afternoon@26

    And clearly, as your #31 demonstrates, very little knowledge of what’s been going on in the UK at least for the past decade. “Regressive left” is a term coined and repeated ad nauseam by faux-liberal defenders of privilege, and in particular the right to spout bigotry (notably misogyny, Islamophobia and transphobia) without being criticised.

  30. KG says

    Corbyn, who is the chocolate teapot of the British left. – lucifersbike@32

    I’m a member of a rival (and much smaller) party, and far from an unmitigated admirer of Corbyn, particularly over Brexit, but he does now lead the largest political party in western Europe and did far better in the 2017 general election than almost everyone (including me) expected, depriving the Tories of their overall majority. He has made somethnig approximating to a real left a significant factor in UK politics for the first time in decades.

  31. =8)-DX says

    But the items on the second list? Not so fast. A lot of their opponents would vanish…

    The experiment has been done by the way. In the Czech Republic we have a largely nontheistic population and religous fundamentalists are considered fringe crazies and not taken seriously in public life. Even the career Catholics who get into power wont touch abortion with a ten-foot pole (apart from perhaps saying they don’t personally agree with it, but are quick to reassure anyone listening that they believe women should have the right to choose).

    So I can say that second list doesn’t immediately get fixed by removing religious dogma from the equasion, far from it. My previous example of abortion is one of the only things universally accepted, simiarly birth control, although there is still some social stigma. Sex education is also pretty well supported, but misogyny and patriarchy significantly muddy the waters there. LGBTQ rights are generally accepted, especially among young people, but discrimination is still very common (perhaps not employment discrimination as much as in the US, nor queer homelessness, but general homophobia and transphobia are prevalent).

    As for racism? Yeah no, if 90% of the population are nonbelievers a non-overlapping 75% of the population are explicitly racist (but don’t consider themselves so), most markedly against our most significant local racial minority, the Roma, who are routinely denigrated, not offered jobs, unofficially ousted from certain establishments. I mean the general populace has a slightly greater hatred for our local Nazis, who are also often told to fuck off and socially ostracised, but many people share what are explicitly racist beliefs when you push them to it (IQ myths, lazy minorities on welfare, all g***** are crooks except the good ones, immigrants from muslim countries should be shot, etc. etc.)

    I’ve been saying this for years, people in the US only need to look around the world to realise that eliminating religion from public life is only a part of the solution and by no means eradicates those problems.

    =8)-DX

  32. alixmo says

    Atheism needs more active, outspoken women.
    The “gender issue”, which is the favourite pseudo-problem of right-wing atheist, is deeply rooted in a cult of masculinity. This cult is not exclusive to right-wing atheism, though. We should not delude ourselves. Misogynistic atheists are the tip of the iceberg. The vast majority of people who are against women`s rights AND also LGBTQ-rights are firmly rooted in religion. Let us not make the mistake of bashing atheism here.

    PZ Myers should be more active again in vocal atheism. World-wide, we are getting into a political crisis, and our navel-gazing is not helping.

    The crisis is the rise of fascism (or authoritarianism). It is not only Trump, it is also going on in Europe, Turkey, the Philippines, India, Brazil… Those “leaders” are all firmly against “feminism” and LGBTQ-people. Silly to think that those guys or their huge following are atheists. They are not. And they are outspoken about it (in Europe, far-right groups are calling themselves “Christian”, there is Hindu nationalism etc.) Religion is the breeding ground for misogyny, gender apartheid and animus against everyone who does not fit into a “clean”, “natural”, “traditional”, “God-given” gender binary.

    I do not excuse right-wing atheists who adhere to the cult of male superiority. (Young guys often liked atheism especially because so few women were involved; it “proved” their mental and intellectual superiority over women.) But some of those “atheists” already switched their allegiance to Jordan Peterson, who is NOT an atheist or skeptic. And why? Because misogyny is NOT written into atheism per se. It IS part and parcel of religion, though. Peterson managed to sell his reactionary, traditionalist ideas to those young men because atheism just did not satisfy their need for more and more male superiority.

    Unfortunately, there is a kernel of truth to the idea that the left is not open to certain discussions. No, gender is not the problem – I am taking about religion. The left (I proudly consider myself part of it) is increasingly treating religion as sacrosanct, as a taboo topic, beyond criticism. I strongly object to that. The right was never interested in exposing the problems religion creates. Quite the opposite, the right is an ally to religion, even to fundamentalist groups. I do not expect them to lay bare the negative sides of religiosity. Yes, I do think we need more and harsher criticism of religions and deeper insight e.g. into the machinations of Evangelical fundamentalists.

    Their work is mostly hidden from us. Be it in Africa or South America, they grow in strength. This is bad news for everybody who cares for women`s rights (including “reproductive” rights like access to contraceptives and legal abortion, sex education) and LGBTQ-people.

    Brazilian presidential candidate, the fascist Jair Bolsonaro, is backed by powerful Evangelical groups and other fundamentalist believers. His appeal is owed to big extend to his anti-“feminist”, anti-gay (and other LGBTQ) animus. His campaign slogan: “Brazil above everything; God above everybody”.

    This hardly gets reported. There is a tacit agreement, especially from the left, not to talk negatively about religion. So the media (even “independent” youtube channels) ignore the connection between fascism and “traditional” religiosity. Surely, we will all pay for that neglect in time.

    Women`s rights and LGBTQ people are in danger around the globe. Therefore, we need “good” atheists like PZ Myers to go back out there. But careful, do not waste energy in in-fights. Pick your battle. Ignore the “male cultists” in atheism. They are but a smudge compared to their religious counterparts. The goal is to win the war, not (necessarily) every battle.

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