The first letter: an atheist complains

I seem to be on this person’s mailing list, and I frequently get sent their diatribes. This one is an open letter sent to American Atheists, and they request input on it. So here, give them input.

I just got another solicitation for money
from American Atheists’ (AA) president Nick Fish
–this time, in a snail mail.
Rather than inspire me to contribute,
Nick’s message left me
more angry and disappointed than ever.

For one thing, Nick lists AA’s “accomplishments” in the
past year in his letter; they are three small-town events
which apparently originated and were worked on by local groups
in the U.S. but not spearheaded or originated by AA.

Nick lists AA’s accomplishments in 2019 as follows:

1) He claims that in Missouri, AA blocked a bill that would have
required public schools to offer “Bible literacy” classes.

This is a good cause, but in none of the 52 news releases that
Nick and others at AA sent out in 2019 (one a week usually)
did he mention that this effort had started,
informed us of its progress
or mentioned what progress was being made.
I suspect this was a mostly totally local effort by
Missouri atheists, which AA headquarters wants to
take credit for, and that’s why we were never
informed that it was happening.

2) Nick claims that in North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee and Utah,
AA “worked to ban” female genital mutilation.

Oy. What does female genital mutilation have to do with
separation of church and state?
There are a lot of things that are more damaging
to people in North Carolina,
Arkansas, Tennessee and Utah than genital mutilation.
The coal industry, for instance, lung cancer, malnutrition,
unemployment, lack of healthcare.

Moreover, shouldn’t AA tackle MALE genital mutilation first?
Circumcision is much more prevalent in the USA than
female mutilation. And it is clearly a religious practice.
Female genital mutilation is considered a cultural practice.

3) In Nebraska and Colorado, Nick says AA helped ban
“conversion therapy.”

I take it that Nick is referring to the issue, prevalent in the LGBTQ
community, that trying to convert a gay person to heterosexuality
is considered a negative thing to do, though he doesn’t define
“conversion therapy.”

I think this is a personal decision for the gay person,
who is certainly free to decline this kind of therapy.
While we can certainly sympathize with
any coercion exerted on the gay person to undergo therapy,
I feel this is an issue better handled by the many LGBTQ
organizations out there that are equipped to deal
with the nuances.

By listing these three AA accomplishments
of 2019, Nick has implied here in this fund-raising letter that
apparently one-third of AA’s resources
this past year have been devoted to this issue.

I am also upset by other things in Nick’s
money-solicitation letter:

He uses lingo that is foreign to Atheism
and evidently stems from other movements,
such as, for example:

(1) “Christian nationalists” – I have been an activist in the Atheist
movement since 2004 but have not
heard this term used to any wide extent.
What exactly does it mean?

(2) “Religious Equality” –

I have told Nick Fish over and over that this term
is not relevant to Atheists.
Why would atheists want
to be “equal” to Religious people?
I don’t know any atheist what wants to be like a religious person.
It would be going backward, in our minds.

This distinction in our interpretation of this term
is a nuance, I know, but I assure
you that the goal of most atheists is NOT to be
the same as, or equal to, a religious person.
I know equality is something the LGBTQ
community strives for, but they mean legal equality.
Atheists mainly have legal equality in our court system
because we do not have to disclose that we are atheists.

I know equality is something the the LGBTQ community
strives for, but they mean legal equality.
Atheists mainly already have legal equality in our courts
because we do not have to disclose that we atheists.

To Nick, then, I would say: If your constituents tell you
that they don’t know what you mean, or that it
does not apply to us, you really ought
to pay attention.

And what are AA’s goals for the coming year?
Nick says they are:

1) Giving a voice to young people who are kicked out of their homes
for leaving their parents religion.

I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t happen very often, Nick.
It takes some maturity for a child to figure out that they
want to leave their parents’ religion, and by that time
maybe they should be out of the house and independent
of their parents anyway.

2) AA’s second goal for next year is “Opposing arranged or forced marriages in various religions.”

This is, alas, just one aspect of how religion oppresses women.
Some AA members feel it is more important to oppose religion
as a whole, as we have been doing in the past, rather than oppose
individual religious customs that are oppressive–
of which there are many, some much more damaging than forced marriage.

3) The third goal is to help would-be parents that are Atheist adopt children.

I was not aware that would-be adoptive parents were being widely turned down
because they are Atheists. I knew, however, that LGBTQ parents suffered
from this this prejudice. This may be a difficult issue to resolve because it
it appears that many religions sponsor their own adoption agencies. It would appear
to me that setting up an Atheist adoption agency would be the best solution here
but that requires much funding and time. I don’t think it can be accomplished in one year, if at all.

But all these are matters for discussion
and matters for the democratic determination
of the priority of particular issues.

There has been very little listening to members’ input
this year in AA. And there has been no democracy whatsoever
in determining what issues should be financed
and worked on.

Yes, American Atheists, that is what I am accusing
you of: A lack of democracy in AA.
And a concomitant lack of transparency.

Since the new regime began at AA, there has been
little or no input taken seriously from members.
You who run AA ask for our money
but then want to be left alone to do whatever you wish.
Yet it is obvious to Atheist veterans that
the current regime has a lot to learn not only
about Atheism but also about
how to represent us as Atheists.

In summary,
The AA accomplishments in 2019 cited by Nick Fish
seem to be astonishingly sparse–he mentions only three.
And those three really do not, in my opinion,
touch the hearts and goals
of most Atheists, with the exception of the first one,
the elimination of the requirement of Bible study
in public schools in Missouri.

Surely you must be aware that most AA members
have a limited interest in female mutilation or conversion therapy.

We need to get back to Madalyn’s goals.
I, for one, am interested in eliminating the tax-free
status of churches.
Ken Bronstein has pointed out that if the U.S. taxed churches,
we would gain enough tax revenue to provide free HEALTHCARE
for every man, woman and child in the U.S.

The LGBTQ community surely needs healthcare,
so it seems possible that by fighting to eliminate
religion’s free ride on taxes, we can benefit everyone.

I remain loyal to the Atheist movement,

Well. I have run across this attitude many times — that there are only certain things that are appropriate to concern themselves with, and that human rights aren’t one of them. This person also couples that narrow attitude to a deep seated antipathy to a disregard for issues relevant to LGBTQ+ individuals. So let’s go through their concerns.

1) This one seems rather petty. You would think that opposing religious indoctrination in the schools would be smack dab in the center of traditional atheist concerns, but no…it was a matter handled in Missouri. Why is American Atheists meddling in Missouri? It’s not as if it’s a part of real America, after all.

2) Similarly, why all the fuss about female genital mutilation? There are only a few cases each year (they have no idea how many), and therefore it can be disregarded. Of course, there are about 200 million women in the world that have had their genitals hacked, but they’re not American, so fuck ’em. It’s a problem here in Minnesota (is that part of America?) with increasing numbers of immigrants from regions in Africa where the practice is common. We’ve had a few cases of 100s of girls being mutilated.

Federal prosecutors unveiled charges Thursday against the mothers of two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota whose genitalia were cut during a religious procedure earlier this year.

Seems like something atheists might have legitimate concerns about. We’ve got Muslim communities opposing legislation to end child abuse, shouldn’t atheists have an opinion about that?

3) They don’t like that AA has opposed conversion therapy. I would say that a) conversion therapy is religion-based pseudoscience, and atheists on principle should oppose bad science, and b) I know a lot of gay atheists who are activists and significant members of atheist organizations. Shall we just disregard the goals of our godless constituents? Why?

Then they say they’ve never heard of “Christian Nationalism” or “religious equality”. I’m surprised. They haven’t noticed the takeover of our government by theocrats? Do some research before declaring that your ignorance should define policy. “Religious equality” is the principle that religion, or the lack thereof, should not give one privileges in the law. It’s in the first amendment to the Constition of the USA.

I’m glad they’re in favor of removing the tax-free status of churches. I’m all for that, too. Lots of atheists and atheist organizations want that — but it doesn’t mean we stop caring about all these other issues until we’ve accomplished that.

So this writer wanted honest feedback on their letter. I’ll tell them right now: American Atheists will just dump it in the crank file. They’ll be more polite about it then I am, much more diplomatic, but they’re not going to pay any attention otherwise to their complaints.


  1. tacitus says

    When I was born male circumcision was more cultural than religious. Supposedly health related.

    Yeah, the vast majority of circumcisions in the US are culturally motivated, not religious.

  2. says

    robertbaden @#2

    When I was born male circumcision was more cultural than religious. Supposedly health related.

    Who cares whether non-consenting children are being mutilated mostly for cultural or religious reasons? The fact is that they are being mutilated, and a society should forbid the procedure as soon as possible.

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    Adreas Avester @ 5

    I agree, but try telling that to my people like my younger, RN, sister who cut her teeth working in a nursing home. When the subject of circumcision came up and I opined why it was needless, she jumped down my throat. “YOU JUST WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE TO CLEAN THE SHIT OUT OF AN ALZHEIMERS PATIENT’S FORESKIN!!!”

    I dropped the subject then and there.

  4. consciousness razor says

    This one seems rather petty. You would think that opposing religious indoctrination in the schools would be smack dab in the center of traditional atheist concerns, but no…it was a matter handled in Missouri. Why is American Atheists meddling in Missouri? It’s not as if it’s a part of real America, after all.

    I know you just want to make a snarky point and feel good about that, but you should ask why AA wasn’t meddling in Missouri when it definitely should’ve been. Because what none of you mentioned is much bigger Missouri news this year, concerning its new anti-abortion laws. (Everybody kept talking as if it was just an issue in Alabama, and even that talk was just some whining after the fact, not effective action to prevent it.) From wiki:

    Nationally, 2019 was one of the most active years for state legislatures in terms of trying to pass abortion rights restrictions. These state governments generally saw this as a positive sign that new moves to restrict abortion rights would less likely face resistance by the courts.[18] In mid-2019, the state legislature passed a law that would make abortion illegal in almost {all ~cr} cases after 8 weeks. It was one of several states passing such laws in May 2019 alongside Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama. The law was a “fetal heartbeat” bill.[21][22][18]
    Two fetal heartbeat bills have been filed in Missouri on January 9, 2019.[23] SB 139 was filed in the Missouri Senate by Sen. Andrew Koenig; the bill is pending in the Health and Pensions Committee.[24] HB 126 was filed in the Missouri House of Representatives by Rep. Nick Schroer.[25] On January 30, 2019, HB 126 was referred to the Children and Families Committee, and on February 12, 2019, a public hearing on the bill was completed.[26] On February 21, 2018, HB 126 was voted out of committee to the full House with the recommendation that it “do pass.”[27][28] On February 27, 2019, HB 126 was passed out of the Missouri House and was sent to the state Senate.[29] Missouri’s House Speaker Elijah Haahr has said he supports the “heartbeat bill” calling it a top priority for the 2019 session.[30][31] When asked if he would sign a fetal heartbeat bill, Governor Mike Parson said, “I’ve been pro-life my entire career, and I support that all the time.”[32] At the time the bill passed, only 25% of the state legislators were female.[33]

    They may brag about occasionally accomplishing a few things, but AA and other such organizations were not effective at stopping this shit in Missouri or elsewhere.

  5. says

    I think it’s fine to say that these 3 things don’t sound like a full year’s work. If you expect more from AA, more power to you.

    From AA’s perspective, addressing that concern would mean giving more information about what their budget is and how it is spent. A fundraising letter, for instance, could direct interested party to a portion of the website that provides a simplified budget for popular consumption. (It obviously wouldn’t be a hyperlink in a physical letter, but simple instructions for finding a button on the home page of the group’s site is good enough.)

    This budget can break out things necessary for the group to function as a coherent group into an “infrastructure and overhead” category, and then break out project/activist related spending. It’s fair to then articulate certain benefits of the infrastructure, like the number of e-mails or phone calls received from members and non-members that were addressed in some way by AA. Just the fact that people have a place to reach out so they don’t feel that they are alone is a benefit. General web traffic stats are also applicable and useful here.

    I think this is actually quite useful for internal organizational planning and would have been happy to recommend it to any non-profit whether or not they received a letter like this. For people that are concerned that the group isn’t accomplishing enough, such breakdowns can help them recognize the work that the organization is doing every day.


    I’m in agreement that the priorities of the letter writer seem to embed weird assumptions and a significant ignorance. The adoption issue, for instance, isn’t about whether or not Christians should be allowed to start “adoption clubs” where the service provided connects Christians looking to give up a child to Christians looking to adopt. Rather, the issue is that state governments spend money funding adoption agencies who then use that money to discriminate based upon religion (in various ways – the discrimination against QT couples is, they admit, fundamentally motivated by religion). Can taxpayer money be spent in religiously discriminatory ways? This is the question.

    And it’s also what is meant by “religious equality”. The law isn’t only about what happens in a courtroom (and what happens in courtrooms is also not religiously neutral, btw).

    Anyway, I think that there are actual lessons that can be learned from the letter. I’ve been on boards of directors of orgs where we received feedback something like this. Even if there are aspects of the letter that it’s appropriate to ignore, there’s some stuff in there that can prompt better practices on the part of AA, not least better member-education efforts about budgets or about how state actions are taken or supported by a national organization like AA.

    PS. I’m not saying that AA doesn’t already do that education work on budgets and the state/national connection. I don’t know. I’m just using it as an example of how a group could get better using a letter from someone who is wrong about a lot of things and ignorant of too many others.

  6. vucodlak says

    @ Andreas Avester, #5

    Who cares whether non-consenting children are being mutilated mostly for cultural or religious reasons?

    Presumably the writer of the letter? I take robertbaden’s comment to be pointing out the ignorance and hypocrisy of said writer.

  7. Anton Mates says

    Akira MacKenzie @6

    Gotta say, my best friend worked in a nursing home too, but she didn’t think the clients should be surgically modified to make her job easier.

  8. KG says

    Andreas Avester@5,

    Unfortunately, any ban on male circumcision would inevitably be seen as (and in fact, would inevitably be) an attack on Jews and Muslims. Is the harm it causes (orders of magnitude less than that caused by FGM) serious enough to justify that? I’d say not. I note also that “What about male circumcision?” is a standard MRA trope whenever FGM is discussed.

  9. vucodlak says

    @ KG, #11

    Unfortunately, any ban on male circumcision would inevitably be seen as (and in fact, would inevitably be) an attack on Jews and Muslims.

    It wouldn’t be an attack on Jews and Muslims, though I’m sure conservative groups would spin it that way. Especially Christian nationalist groups, for whom the right to torture children is sacrosanct.

    First, most of the circumcised children in the US are not the children of Jews or Muslims. As robertbaden pointed out in #2, it’s a cultural phenomenon, not religious. If you want to be really specific as to its origins here, it’s a conservative Christian thing.

    Second, I’ve never seen anyone seriously suggest banning the practice completely. Consenting adults will still be allowed to get circumcised, if they so choose.


    Is the harm it causes (orders of magnitude less than that caused by FGM) serious enough to justify that? I’d say not.

    On what do you base this? Circumcision causes irreparable harm. That was the entire point of spreading the practice in the United States, in fact. It was intended to traumatize children with penises into forever associating their penises with pain, as well as to decrease the physical pleasure of sexual acts involving the penis. The latter, at least, it accomplishes handily.

    That some people live with it without it having a huge impact on their lives doesn’t change the fact that a part of their body has been removed without their consent or anesthetic. It’s a sick, evil practice and just because some cultures have a long history of doing it doesn’t make it any less so. After all, some cultures have a long history of stoning criminals to death, and we’ve rightly done away with that.

  10. Alt-X says

    Ah the, “I act super smart but actually super ignorant and too stupid to realise” Atheist. Blah blah gay people, blah blah black people blah blah male circumcision… Yep, nothing of value to add, just noise.

  11. Marissa van Eck says

    I am beginning to understand your disdain for “dictionary atheists.” Yeeee gods…

  12. says

    “On what do you base this? Circumcision causes irreparable harm. That was the entire point of spreading the practice in the United States, in fact. It was intended to traumatize children with penises into forever associating their penises with pain, as well as to decrease the physical pleasure of sexual acts involving the penis. The latter, at least, it accomplishes handily.”

    Really? As a “Round Head” as opposed to ‘Cavalier”, I never knew I was missing anything until my parents gave me some books from behind the counter at the local library. Nor did I notice a decrease of physical pleasure from sex. YMMV

  13. unclefrogy says

    I am probably is wrong here but just speculating
    if circumcision decreases pleasure (which would be pretty hard to measure since it is completely subjective) it would do that by de-sensitizing the penis some what. yes? there for yielding less pleasure for the male would be the reasoning yes?
    if by de-sensitizing the penis ejaculation and climax were delayed would that not be helpful to the female giving here more time to reach here climax?
    that would be a beneficial result for male female relationships wouldn’t it?
    as a side note it does not seem to reduced birthrate or fertility much.
    uncle frogy

  14. vucodlak says

    @ kentreniche, #15

    The foreskin isn’t just a dead flap of skin- it’s densely packed with nerve endings. Cut it off, and those nerve endings are gone. If I’m reading your comment correctly, you were circumcised as an infant? You can’t exactly compare and contrast if that was the case.

    I didn’t know I was missing anything until I acquired a book on sex, either. Seeing as I have no base for comparison, I’m not super concerned about the loss of sensation. I am, however, bothered by problems I probably wouldn’t have had, had I not been circumcised.

    Major TMI follows:
    One of the functions of the foreskin is to keep the glans moist. I have very dry skin- combine that with a missing foreskin, and my glans has a tendency to dry out and crack. Ever have a crack in a fingertip? It’s ten times worse when it’s your dick. Every time you move, your clothes rub against it. When you wash and the soap hits it, it feels like a red hot poker.

    Lotion helps, but I still have microcracks. They aren’t nearly as bad, but they still burn, especially when certain bodily fluids hit them. Semen, for example.

    I don’t know for certain that not being circumcised would have prevented that problem, but I suspect it would. So, while I can’t say for sure that losing the nerve endings that went with my foreskin decreased my enjoyment of sex, I think it’s safe to say that I enjoy sexual activity less than I might otherwise have.

  15. says

    vucodlak (#17) –

    There’s also women’s comfort during PIV sex. Does the lack of male sensitivity, lack of natural lubrication, and requiring more stimulation make sex more painful and potentially injurious for women?

  16. vucodlak says

    @ Intransitive, #19

    I’m not super comfortable with the idea of looking at how People Who Have Penises (PWHP from here) are treated in the context of how people other than the owner of the penises in question might feel about those penises. For instance, I see the “aesthetic” argument a lot- that because this or that group ostensibly prefers the appearance of circumcised penises, we should therefore circumcise infants- and that’s pretty twisted. I don’t think there’s much difference between that and arguing for or against circumcision based on how their theoretical future partners might feel.

    Not all PWHP will have sex. Not all PWHP who have sex will have PIV sex. Even if they did, those penises still belong to the person they’re attached to- it shouldn’t be up to someone else to decide whether to cut off part of it or not. I realize you’re arguing against circumcision for PWHP, but I don’t think centering the experiences of someone other than PWHP is a good way to do it.

    But, to actually answer your question, I think that that’s more an issue with how we teach PWHP, particularly straight cis-men, to view sex, relationships, and women. No amount of physical sensitivity or natural lubrication can make up for someone who doesn’t view their partner as an equal.

    One partner being less physically sensitive shouldn’t make PIV intercourse any more dangerous or painful for the other person. Sex may require a bit more patience, and being circumcised would likely change the preferences regarding positions, but I don’t think really encourages roughness. In most cases, the glans remains very sensitive, and what remains of the frenulum even more so, so one doesn’t have to be rougher to achieve stimulation.

  17. Kagehi says


    Nor did I notice a decrease of physical pleasure from sex.

    Just as relevant a statement as saying that a deaf person never misses not being able to hear (or trying to excuse some lunatic religion, if it got into its head that birds where demonic and intentionally “weakened”, or destroyed a child’s hearing in that range, so they wouldn’t “hear their voices”, which is about the level of paranoia and hate you are getting at when thinking you need to prevent kids from angering god by masturbating – the core of the circumcision idea.)

    Ok, so, that it a bit over the top as a comparison, maybe, sort of, but I also have this side thought – “If someone figured out a way to actually cause regrowth of the tissue, would we get apposed groups, like we had with genetic testing for some diseases, or the invention of fixes for hearing, ranting about, ‘Now you are going to force everyone to regrow their foreskins! How dare you invent this process!’.” Because, of course, offering the option to someone that, “Never knew what they where missing.”, would, for some people be as much as an attack of their identity as suggesting that it should have never happened to them in the first place, and its always a conspiracy to forcibly destroy their culture (even when its not at all).

    @20 Well.. As to the “rougher”. This is likely a “sensitivity” issue. Ask any sex expert about it and they will point out that the “type” of masturbation someone does, when not having sex with a partner, can potentially cause reduced sensitivity, which in turn may make it harder to get pleasure from regular sex. Basically, if you are doing something rough, your body reacts by reducing sensitivity, which then drops you below the threshold for non-rough. This is “fixable”, but requires someone to change how they do things and.. well, from my own experience with this, would you want to trade actually getting off for the frustration of weeks of trying to avoid what caused the desensitization?

    I would also make the argument, based on “descriptions of”, since I am hardly in a position to actually know, that having the foreskin would “decrease” this issue, because I wouldn’t have ever had to resort to such rougher options in the first place, the foreskin being enough to provide a “normal” surface to slide past/in-and-out of.

    So, yeah, your complaint that it doesn’t encourage roughness is.. possibly wrong, since, kind of by definition, having it removed “promotes” methods of self pleasure that will cause insensitive nerve endings, and requires rougher stimulation to have get the same pleasure. So.. I would call the need to be more rough a direct “symptom” of the condition. Not an absolutely necessary, or non-correctable one, but.. again, everything I have read, heard, seen, or personally experienced, says that its not a simple, quick, or non-frustration thing to have to bloody work at correcting, once the condition exists.

  18. KG says


    It wouldn’t be an attack on Jews and Muslims, though I’m sure conservative groups would spin it that way.

    Did you give a moment’s thought to how it would be perceived by Jews and Muslims? It would of course be perceived by them as an attack, and since everyone who gives it a moment’s thought knows that, it would in fact be such an attack.

    On what do you base this [that male circumcision causes much less harm than FGM]? Circumcision causes irreparable harm.

    Well, how about pretty much universal conviction among relevant experts? The only people I’ve come across denying it, before now, have been MRAs. I did not deny that it causes “irreperable harm”, but asserted that it causes far less than FGM. That, in my view, is simple fact.

    In the US, the mutilation of infant penises is not a religious issue. – Intransitive@18

    Gosh, you mean there are no jews or Muslims in the USA? Well, well, you learn somethnig new every day!

  19. KG says

    jews -> Jews@22. (I wouldn’t bother correcting this typo of mine, except that the use of “jews” is a staple of antisemitic discourse.)