Elevatorgate still smolders in the minds of the riff-raff


Oh boy, we get to relive Elevatorgate again. Thanks, Atheists for Liberty, for revisiting it.

You are a proud atheist in the emerging New Atheist movement attending one of the most impactful and energized conferences in your community. In June of 2011, you are in Dublin, Ireland, attending the World Atheist Convention, an event celebrating atheism, science advocacy, and secularism with some of the most famous freethinkers of the time.

Thank you, thank you, thank you very much. I was one of the speakers at that conference.

<Thomas Sheedy whispers, stage left: Not you.>

What?

<I wasn’t talking about you.>

Oh. OK. <sits back down>

Sheedy titled his little essay “Ten years after Elevatorgate | What we should learn from our past mistakes”, but unfortunately demonstrates that he didn’t learn much. He continues with his saga:

You enjoy the attendees and speakers so much that you stay up in conversation at the hotel bar until four in the morning. You see an attractive speaker retiring for the night, and you follow them to an elevator to ask them if they would like to join you for a cup of coffee.

Yes, I was in that hotel bar late at night, but I retired a little earlier, and no one followed me into the elevator.

<Another whisper: Not you.>

What, again? Are you saying I’m not an attractive speaker? It’s no fair. I never get addressed by my handsomeness, it’s always the women who get singled out for their appearance. I wonder if that says something about the culture…

The speaker declines. You then go to your hotel room, alone. Afterwards, the speaker that you were attracted to goes online to decry what you did. The speaker, and other extremists, denounce the New Atheist movement, a healthy and growing movement, as sexist. What you did becomes a catalyst for extremists to infiltrate and destroy the New Atheist movement.

Extremists! Destroyed! New Atheism! That speaker was Rebecca Watson, who shattered the nascent atheist movement with the four little words, “Guys, don’t do that.” So much power. Such extremism. Sheedy even quotes Rebecca’s vicious, hateful commentary, as if he is oblivious to its actual mildness.

Um, just a word to the wise here, guys, don’t do that. I don’t really know how else to explain that this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at four a.m., in a hotel elevator with you, just you. I, don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I’ve finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.

Yes. Like when commentators think it’s perfectly natural for a man to follow an “attractive speaker” into an elevator and ask them to join them in their hotel room. And for half the atheists in the world to erupt in rage at the idea that a woman might question their right to hit on them.

The idea that the New Atheist movement was systemically sexist is a blatant lie.

Sorry. It was and is systemically sexist, but for one brief moment we extremists thought it could get better, that there was hope for some introspection and growth. We were wrong.

Claims like the ones these infiltrators have made over the years only hinder our community, a community that so many of us fought to develop. If anything, these infiltrators downplayed the problems of real systemic sexism that still exists in other parts of the world, as explained by Richard Dawkins in a sarcastic response to Watson, in what became known as the “Dear Muslima letter:’’

Yeah, he then quotes the “Dear Muslima letter” and says that Dawkins was right.

Here’s the deal. Sheedy keeps talking about these “extremist infiltrators”, but they weren’t infiltrators. We were there all along. That “impactful and energized conference” featuring “the most famous freethinkers of the time”? That included people like Rebecca Watson and me. We didn’t sneak in a side door, wearing disguises. We were part of the movement, and we had helped popularize it. We also weren’t particularly extreme — suggesting that women should be just as respected as men is not a particularly radical idea.

But of course saying that there is a real systemic sexism that still exists in other parts of the world implies that there is no sexism in America or Europe. He claims that atheist circles downplayed the injustices of the Islamic world. Many of the extremist infiltrators have silenced or critiqued criticism of Islam by non-woke atheists. This is not true. That there is sexist injustice in the Islamic world does not imply that the non-Islamic world is free of them. I read somewhere, “Why do you focus on the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the beam that is in your own eye? How will you tell your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ when, in fact, you have a beam in your own eye? Hypocrite!” We should be working on both the specks and the beams, you know.

Sheedy goes on, becoming increasingly ridiculous.

After their success in taking over the movement five years later,

Wait, what? Rebecca Watson took over the atheist movement? Or maybe it was me. I don’t know, he keeps snubbing me because I’m not attractive enough, but you never know — maybe I’m secretly in charge now. He keeps talking about these extremist infiltrators who have taken over, but he doesn’t name any. Is it Nick Fish, of American Atheists? Maybe Robin Blumner of CFI, who was put in charge after it merged with the Richard Dawkins foundation? Wait, Dawkins…? Could it be he’s the secret extremist mole? Not very likely.

But then he goes on to name all the types of people who’ve been thrown out of the atheist movement.

several groups of atheists, the majority of the movement’s supporters, men and women alike, were seen as pariahs at atheist conferences.

  • Bill Maher type Liberals
  • Secular Libertarians and Conservatives
  • Ex Muslims
  • Those accused of harassment without evidence
  • Anyone who questioned the Atheism+ narrative (criticism was constantly conflated with harassment and ‘cyberstalking’)
  • Women who disagreed with radical feminists (they were charged with ‘parroting misogynistic thought’ and ‘internalized misogyny’)

You know, all those kinds of people are still prominent in atheism. Rebecca Watson and I and many of the other people who spoke out against the casual (and sometimes not so casual) sexism and racism are out. I don’t know what he’s complaining about, since as far as I’m concerned, the assholes won. Have you looked at YouTube atheists lately? He could have been much more specific about who these pariahs are simply by listing the board of advisors for Atheists for Liberty.

  • Peter Boghossian
  • Melissa Chen
  • James Lindsay
  • Yasmine Mohammed
  • Gad Saad
  • Michael Shermer
  • David Silverman
  • Colin Wright

That’s a real rogues gallery of racists, rapists, evolutionary psychologists, and dishonest scum. It’s as if they went looking for people who should be pariahs and tried to elevate them! These are the kinds of people who still get invited to atheist conferences, you know. When was the last time you saw Rebecca Watson or me at a conference? Or on the board of advisors for an atheist group?

Who were the extremist infiltrators who conquered the atheist movement again?

Wait, before I stop, look back at the title of Sheedy’s screed, What we should learn from our past mistakes. What has he learned?

Unlike other organizations who tolerated such infiltration and subversion of the movement, Atheists for Liberty will not make the same mistake. It is because of the weakening of the movement that Atheists for Liberty exists in the first place!

Got it. So he’s going to reject tolerance, and not let feminists and egalitarians into his movement.

That’s nice.

Comments

  1. birgerjohansson says

    I believe Ripley had the proper response to this in a classic line from “Aliens”.

  2. William George says

    We’re just going to have to retire the word “liberty” at this point. Nothing good is ever associated with it anymore.

  3. kome says

    10 years later and these guys are still salty over “this thing makes me uncomfortable and here’s why, so please don’t do that anymore.”

    It must be exhausting to be that angry all the time over something so minor. I’m surprised more of them haven’t had strokes by now.

  4. PaulBC says

    I gave up following the full account, but isn’t this at the very least a violation of elevator etiquette? People accept that they have to share elevators (which are tiny closed spaces) with total strangers, so there are conventions: nobody talks except possibly to ask which floor and offer to push a button. Everyone faces forward and awkward side glances are the norm of communication.

    If this was a case of one person following another into an elevator to ask any question in the absence of witnesses, it’s just creepy from the get-go. How could anyone not know this?

  5. says

    Unlike other organizations who tolerated such infiltration and subversion of the movement, Atheists for Liberty will not make the same mistake. It is because of the weakening of the movement that Atheists for Liberty exists in the first place!

    I picture their events in a tree fort.

  6. Dante Zaupa says

    So, basically they’re like the Atheism-?

    Also, it’s always funny to me to notice how much the people who complain about others being too sensitive being so, SO whiny and “victimized”.

  7. dean56 says

    “Libertarians”

    Well, ideally, libertarians would be purged from everything and left on an island to slowly die out.

    “It is because of the weakening of the movement that Atheists for Liberty exists in the first place!”

    It isn’t the word liberty that is the problem IMO, it’s that clowns like sheedy who use it in their organizations define it and use it as they see fit. I don’t think we can blame the word, which is just a tool, when someone uses it for harm.

  8. Parthasarati Dileepan says

    Excellent rebuttal, just one peeve, please do not use the p-word (p a r i a h), it is a hurtful and offensive word like the n-word that has come into wide spread use in English, so sad.

  9. PaulBC says

    On a side note, I am listening to The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu as an audio book right now and I’m underwhelmed, despite hearing favorable things about it. I don’t know if it’s the result of the translation into English or Luke Daniels’s hammy reading, but it feels cliched to me, with stock characters, wooden dialogue, and a plot that isn’t quite interesting enough to make up for it.

    However,

    Unlike other organizations who tolerated such infiltration and subversion of the movement, Atheists for Liberty will not make the same mistake. It is because of the weakening of the movement that Atheists for Liberty exists in the first place!

    sounds like something that would fit perfectly. Just replace “Atheists for Liberty” with the name of a Red Guard faction or “Earth-Trisolaris Organization”. So maybe I’m wrong and there are people who really talk like this.

    In fairness, it’s great to see new science fiction coming from China and getting global attention (whatever you think of Liu’s politics). As a one-time fan of Arthur C. Clarke myself, I can also appreciate that influence, though I wasn’t sure if connecting nano-filament to a space elevator counts as homage or plain rip-off. The most intriguing part of the novel was inside the 3-body game. I liked the recapitulation of scientific history in an alien scenario. (OK, enough derailing, but that blurb really did give me a flashback.)

  10. loop says

    “Did you know that many women find it unpleasant to be hit on in an elevator late at night?” “No I didn’t. I’d never really thought about it before, but now that you’ve pointed it out it seems obvious. Thanks!”. “You’re welcome!”

  11. specialffrog says

    It is interesting how this type of dismissal always frames it as if the person was asking Watson to go out for coffee as opposed to asking them to come back to their room for coffee.

  12. robro says

    Somewhat off topic, but if “Elevatorgate” was 10 years ago that means I’ve been following Phryngula and Skepchick for a little more than 10 years. Now I’m feeling really old.

    But somewhat more on topic: After 10 years there are people still harping on the subject is one of the more ridiculous things I’ve ever encountered from presumably thoughtful and intelligent people. Even then I couldn’t imagine the chest beating because someone asked “Please don’t do that.” That these people consider a politely put request as some sort of major indictment is disturbing. This is not rocket science…just basic curtesy, but I guess that’s gone completely out the door.

  13. says

    On the subject of “infiltration”, I was looking at old blog posts, and found one titled “How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism“. This is the post where “atheism plus” was originally coined (in the comment section).

    The way McCreight describes it, it’s not that she was a feminist infiltrated the movement. She initially became famous for doing ordinary skeptic stuff–and for organizing a cheeky protest involving dressing immodestly (“Boobquake”). After Boobquake she was harassed by people within the atheist movement, and that’s what radicalized her. It wasn’t infiltration, it was the atheist movement reaping what it had sown.

  14. PaulBC says

    robro@11

    Somewhat off topic, but if “Elevatorgate” was 10 years ago that means I’ve been following Phryngula and Skepchick for a little more than 10 years. Now I’m feeling really old.

    That’s not so long ago. Though I haven’t been consistent, I am sure I’ve been reading PZ’s blog in whatever form and Panda’s Thumb since the Kitzmiller trial. I have no recollection at all of how I got here. (I used to read Brad DeLong and Matt Yglesias… somehow I think that’s connected.)

  15. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Didn’t that old, clearly-nothing-better-to-do dipshit Vacula start this group?

  16. mikeschmitz says

    birgerjohansson @1
    Maybe I should watch Aliens again, but I can’t discern which of the many pithy lines spoken by Ripley to which you refer…

  17. PaulBC says

    mikeschmitz@16 Maybe “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

    It’s a tad unspecific, but we wouldn’t be hearing about elevatorgate afterwards.

  18. kome says

    Btw, there’s something wryly amusing about the sentence “That’s a real rogues gallery of racists, rapists, evolutionary psychologists, and dishonest scum.” There’s, to put it delicately, a lot of overlap in that Venn Diagram.

  19. jack lecou says

    @16:
    I don’t know if this is the line #1 had in mind, but it’s what I heard in my head.

    The only problem with the approach that I can see is that most of the manosphere types would probably just skitter back under their rocks and manage to survive.

  20. pacal says

    It is indeed absolutely amazing how triggered, and whiney so many rational, tough-minded Atheist Sceptics were of Ms. Watson’s rather mild rebuke and suggestion for better behavior. What snowflakes so many of these rational, tough-minded Sceptics are. Now it is ten years later and they are still whining about it. Whatever.

    I have read books of etiquette by Miss Manners and frankly Ms. Watson’s suggestion was and is merely like a Miss Manners suggestion for proper etiquette.

  21. dean56 says

    “Did you know that many women find it unpleasant to be hit on in an elevator late at night?”

    From the point of view of this old codger, it isn’t just women.

  22. PaulBC says

    pacal@20 Yeah, it’s kind of strange that this is a controversy and not just one guy’s embarrassment. When you hit on someone, you run the risk of being rebuffed, as well as the risk that it’ll get back to you in a humiliating way. If I’m reading it right, Rebecca Watson wasn’t naming names, which was considerate of her, so it could have been left at that, and maybe the guy could have learned something about women and even about elevators, instead of having someone like me out there spitballing about it 10 years later.

    Despite elevators usually being spaces where you don’t accost strangers, there is the whole idea of the “elevator pitch”–the summary of your idea that’s quick enough to explain on the elevator. Well, why does it have to be that quick? Presumably because the elevator is your only opportunity to pitch. It’s still not something you should ever do, but if you get into the elevator with Elon Musk and leave with $10 million in angel funding 90 seconds later, on the sheer brilliance of your idea and presentation, then you might pat yourself on the back for breaking etiquette. It had better be a damned good pitch though.

    A pitch that goes “Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?” Unstated: “But not sex, honest! … Unless of course you want sex.” Further unstated: “I guess not, but hey, no witnesses, right? So we’ll just say this never happened.” .. which is kind of how I reconstruct this in my head, and which is definitely not contradicted by the phrase “attractive speaker”.

    A much simpler rule than Watson’s is “Don’t follow people into elevators unless you have some other reason to get on the elevator. Share the space unobtrusively and get out on your floor.”

  23. Akira MacKenzie says

    Well, ideally, libertarians would be purged from everything and left on an island to slowly die out.

    While we are marooning political idiots, can we also include the Leftist equivalent of the loonytarians, Anarchists?

    I’m mean, I’m on board with socialism, but Anarcho-whatever-ism operates in the same naive assumption that honest libertarians make: That average human beings can govern themselves and are not at all greedy, superstitious, willfully stupid animals who don’t know how to wipe their asses, much less run a civilization.

    Socialism and the economic and cultural goals it promises, doesn’t work without a state. No amount of Eastern Bloc gibberish (as ContraPoints calls it) will change that.

  24. PaulBC says

    Akira MacKenzie@23 I am not sure. I think anarcho-syndicalists are better human beings than libertarians, and are motivated to improve all human lives instead of just carving out an excuse for their own self interest. I’m not sure their ideas work. I would have to understand them better to evaluate them. I am not even sure I understand the extent to which their ideas are anarchic, because “direct democracy” and “workers self-management” sound like forms of governance to me, just not the ones we have now. For all I know, it could work, though it sounds like a risky experiment.

    As a very boring adult liberal, I now feel I grew up asking the wrong question, namely “How do we come up with a way to live without this so-called ‘government’ imposed on us?” It made sense at the time and thus I can see the appeal of libertarian and anarchist perspectives. But now it seems a lot like asking “How do we come up with a way to live without this so-called ‘plumbing.’?” I mean, OK. I already know: you can haul pails of water, dig latrines, etc. Do I want to do this?

    But all in all I would rather pay the price of plumbing. The price is not just monetary. It affects my “freedom” too. I can’t live deep in the woods, for instance. I won’t have a sewer. Go remote enough and good luck even getting someone to empty a septic tank. I am truly on my own.

    I like plumbing. I like paved roads. I like access to hospitals. I like it when I can trust my food to be safe. All of these elements of living in society, whether handled privately or through government, are impositions on my “freedom.” On the other hand, my time is almost certainly better spent doing things I know how to do and am good at, like writing software, than on digging latrines or planting potatoes. My life is enhanced by the social contract.

    I might be happier with the philosophical closure of a way to opt out of this contract, but in practice, I’m entirely uninterested in doing so. Government is simply one of the utilities I rely on. I expect it to be government by consent of the governed, but I do not have fantasies of living without it while having a fulfilling life.

  25. sc_e7cb37166b0ed7e2545034076d87e16c says

    Elevatorgate was Movement Atheism’s version of Gamergate before there was Gamergate…we (Movement Atheism) were for awhile there quite the cultural vanguard…things happened in and around our circles first before hitting mainstream culture. More recently I’ve been yelling into the void that Libertarian and other Right Wing atheists should be booted from / barred from anything having to do with Humanism or Humanist Orgs by simple fact that…they’re NOT Humanists. Theirs are ANTI-humanist values. I sure has hell don’t want them in my local Meetup post-COVID-19.

    Atheists for Liberty is a rogues gallery of people I want NOTHING to do with. And sadly “Liberty” in American Parlance for the past 70+ years has always meant something anti-left, rightwing & shitty.

  26. brucegee1962 says

    One of the most entertaining parts of being born in the 60s was watching the parties switch places on trusting the government. Growing up it was always the libs leading the distrust (mostly because of Vietnam). If covid had happened in the Eisenhower years, or even the Reagan years, the Republicans would have been the first in line to get their shots.
    My parents were always pretty civic minded, which may have had something to do with why they noticed which way the wind was blowing and quit the Republican party back in 1979. I wonder how many of their peers got carried along with the tide and never noticed that their leaders had done an ideological 180?

  27. Bernard Bumner says

    Aged 23 and writing like a grizzled veteran, battered and bloodied. The churned soil of skepticism made red with the shattered flesh of innocent suitors stuck deep under his nails as he pens dispatches from the trenches of the rift wars. Just as he could not save his fellows from the dirt of unwelcome accusations, who now will save the stupid from their gods? Who now, as the bitter sting of tears shed for our fallen comrades blinds us in our quest for truth and casual relationships? And we cannot find comfort while the enemy pursues total victory and the end of pleasure itself.

    I think upon the cost of this civil war, of brother fighting brother over nothing more than wimin and their horny eunuch defenders. I think of it and weep.

    I think of the horrors he has endured. The millions of dollars once belonging to world-renowned atheist organizations lost. Conferences, some once having numbers in the hundreds, if not thousands, dead. Dead conferences, scattered and tumbling like fallen leaves in a storm.

    We shall never know the fortitude it took for a 13 year old to withstand the rage of the goggle-eyed infiltrators. And we should thank Board of Advisors that we won’t need to. Here is the man who will renew our vigor and lead us back to our rightful glory. Behold his fresh, warm movement. Clutch it in your hands and press it to your face. Let his succulent movement linger against your lips and breath deep of its perfumes. Taste his Atheist Liberty.

  28. says

    #12: Yeah, Jey was an excellent blogger, and it’s too bad the repugnant right-wingers drove them completely out of the movement.

  29. says

    @PZ,
    Thanks for hinting to me that Jey continues to be active under a different name. There were a lot of great people in atheism who left, and I love hearing that they continued to be great people, even after I stopped hearing from them.

  30. Akira MacKenzie says

    PaulBC

    Look, whatever their intentions, anarchism isn’t going to working to work. Marx was right about economics, but Calvin was right about human nature: People are shit! Without an authority human beings with naturally lie, cheat, rob, rape, and murder to sate their fickle, petty desires, and you don’t need a god or “original sin” to come to that conclusion. Just crack open a history book.

  31. dean56 says

    “People are shit!”

    I have a shirt that states that more discreetly: it says

    People: not a fan.

  32. says

    If anybody hasn’t heard of it yet, make sure you look up the book A Libertarian Walks Into A Bear, a non-fiction account of how Libertarians attempted to put their theories on how US government should be modified into practice and turned a small town into a dysfunctional disaster area beset by hungry bears. (Seriously!)

    @#23, Akira MacKenzie:

    I’m inclined to agree that anarchy as a political theory is unrealistic, but frankly the theory behind the current system is also unrealistic — society is basically dissolving before our eyes, with apocalyptic environmental chaos as just one unforeseen and consistently denied side effect — and both are more realistic than Libertarians.

  33. says

    People decided to leave atheist groups because of the deplorables but they left the field instead of fighting for their place and driving the deplorables out.

    Then when these people left they rarely formed another group or joined a group that fit their idea of what atheism meant for them.

    I have friends who aren’t active any more because the deep crap drove them out and that is our loss.

    The deplorables didn’t “win”, we all left them kind of like someone who throws CS gas in the middle of a crowd but they have a gas mask.

    The “movement” isn’t dead. We just let the deplorables take over without much of a fight.

  34. Efrem Z says

    It was Dawkins’ beef towards Watson which disgusted me enough to stop following him, myself. But its sad to see how the Skeptic/Atheism movement proudly continued after eagerly shedding its progresive members.

  35. zagnut says

    @ 30 Akira MacKenzie

    “Human nature” isn’t a single thing. People behave the way they do because whatever innate qualities they have (if any) interact with their environments. Your perceptions and attitudes are are a result of your experiences in the world, and based on your behavior here, I’m sorry you have experienced as much suffering as you have had. People as a whole, and even individuals, are capable of sacrifice, cruelty, generosity, selfishness, depravity, foresight, impulsivity, and on and on and on. People aren’t any one thing.

    If you look at what humans are and conclude that we suck, it tells us something about you and very little about humans. When you start to be consumed by your hatred, and I know how easy it is to let that happen, try to remind yourself that you are not judging fairly or accurately.

  36. Ishikiri says

    @Akira MacKenzie:

    Anarchism is all about abolishing unjust hierarchies and not having a small number of people with authority over a very large number of people. And I’m on board with anarchist thinking to a large degree. For example, when you look at the amount of abuse that comes from position of the US President as it’s currently conceived, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that it should not exist. Neither should the Senate or the Supreme Court.

    My only problem with anarcho-syndicalists is that I wonder how many of them have actually been union members who have fallen into leadership positions that no one else wanted and have had to sit through excruciatingly boring committee meetings. I’m quixotic enough to recognize those things as important, but I’d wager that most people aren’t. This Oscar Wilde quote seems apropos: “The trouble with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings.”

  37. Doc Bill says

    William @2

    No kidding! I get a kick out of these GOPQ scam outfits with names like “Liberty Eagle Freedom Patriot Boys.” They are undoubtedly none of those things!

    Personally, I never understood the “new atheists” thing or why it mattered, but I’ve been a curmudgeon since I was in the Third Grade. As Groucho Marx said, “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.”

  38. PaulBC says

    Ishikiri@39

    My only problem with anarcho-syndicalists is that I wonder how many of them have actually been union members who have fallen into leadership positions that no one else wanted and have had to sit through excruciatingly boring committee meetings

    People willing to do this should be respected and well-compensated for their time. What I like about government in the abstract is that it takes care of a lot of organizing and planning that I have no interest in doing myself, but which it would be disastrous to ignore.

    Working in government is a job that is useful and that some people get good at. The problem is when they view it as power over others, or something that makes them more important than others. You’re up against human nature here, so this problem is going to crop up again and again.

    I think local governments in places with high community involvement can achieve something close to this ideal. Often, though, the jobs don’t pay well enough for anyone to do them full time, and that’s also a problem.

    Anarcho-syndicalism smacks too much to me of “Let’s have everything done by volunteers who are highly engaged in their mission.” I mean, it doesn’t work for plumbing. It doesn’t work for bicycle repair. And I’d personally rather do either of those than work in government. It doesn’t even work for software development, though I will do that for fun, just not what you need me to do. (Libertarianism is very different and worse, I think, because it proposes a minimal public sector and encourages citizens to be disengaged from larger society.)

    I agree that government as currently practiced is too hierarchical (of course corporate power is a lot more so). The problem seems to me to be less the system of government than the implementation. If people grasped the basic concept that government derives power from the consent of the governed, and were motivated to get involved, and if those in power encouraged this rather than doing their best to undermine it, we could improve things a great deal in the current system. Simply switching systems is unlikely to provide the same benefit in practice.

  39. PaulBC says

    I just happened to notice Salon has an article out about New Atheism. I thought this comment was especially telling

    The “New Atheist” movement, which emerged from the bestselling books of the aforementioned authors, was the intellectual community that many of us 15 or so years ago were desperately looking for — especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which seemed to confirm Samuel P. Huntington’s infamous “clash of civilizations” thesis. As Harris once put it, with many of us naively agreeing, “We are at war with Islam.” (Note: This was a dangerous and xenophobic lie that helped get Donald Trump elected. As Harris said in 2006, anticipating how his brand of Islamophobia would enable Trump’s rise, “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.”)

    How much of New Atheism’s peak popularity was driven by nothing more than hysteria over the 9/11 attacks? As the same article points out, there is nothing new at all about their critique of religion. Any child can come up with the same objections to religion if given a voice.

    So while the movement predated 9/11, maybe it took that event to bring it to public attention, and it has shrunk back to its core as that event has faded from view.

    This is why New Atheism never appealed to me. I’m a lapsed Catholic non-believer, but I’m a religious pluralist and count it as a privilege to know so many people of different cultural and religious backgrounds, including Muslims. By definition, the beliefs can’t all be right, and the most likely conclusion is that they’re all very wrong, particularly the bits that just don’t make any sense. It still fascinates me that people attach importance to them.

    Maybe too optimistically, my view of most religious practitioners is that they can’t possibly believe what they say they do. I don’t mean to pick on Mormons, for instance, but I know a few very successful, accomplished Mormons and how the heck could they miss the obvious conclusion that Joseph Smith forged a lot of things. In fact, religions that are shrouded in antiquity are no better off, so I have kind of respect for Mormons in carrying on without this crutch.

    Usually what I think of my respected colleagues of many faiths is that they are getting something else out of than a truthful explanation of things, and that’s none of my business as long as they are good citizens. There are people who take these things a lot more seriously, but I suspect it’s a pretty small minority and this tendency might show up in other ways without organized religion.

    About the easiest thing in the world is to attack people by pointing out the absurdity in their faith. I just don’t get why this is supposed to be a great intellectual accomplishment.

  40. rorschach says

    Arguing that the atheism movement didn’t have a sexism problem is an intriguing approach, given half of these so called leaders have hence lost their positions due to being found out to be sex pests, or having connections to sex pests.

  41. John Morales says

    PaulBC:

    This is why New Atheism never appealed to me. I’m a lapsed Catholic non-believer, but I’m a religious pluralist and count it as a privilege to know so many people of different cultural and religious backgrounds, including Muslims.

    Ah yes, the privilege of knowing so many people with varied delusions. Right.

    (Anti-vaxers, flat earthers, newagers, horoscopists, and so forth not included, presumably)

    About the easiest thing in the world is to attack people by pointing out the absurdity in their faith. I just don’t get why this is supposed to be a great intellectual accomplishment.

    It’s not that easy if one lives in a religious milieu — there are severe consequences and stigma for so doing. That was the core: to be unapologetic about atheism. That let people like you to come out of the religious closet.

  42. PaulBC says

    JM@46

    It’s not that easy if one lives in a religious milieu

    That doesn’t make it an intellectual accomplishment. And it was easy enough, if handled diplomatically, to bring up absurdities in Catholic doctrine at Catholic grade school in the 70s in the Philadelphia area (possibly more difficult some other time and other place, but I don’t have Richard Dawkins to thank for my religious liberty).

    Granted, you’d get canned replies but no stigma or severe consequences. It showed you were inquisitive. Actually, I was a little stunned once at a high school retreat to find that a priest was actually offended by my agnosticism, but there were still no consequences.

    That let people like you to come out of the religious closet.

    You don’t know me well enough to say this, so please fuck off.

  43. Rob Grigjanis says

    PaulBC @47: Haven’t you caught on yet that John believes he is free of delusion? It’s a matter of faith.

  44. PaulBC says

    John Morales@46

    Ah yes, the privilege of knowing so many people with varied delusions. Right.

    Yes, the privilege of knowing people. Full stop. People who are amiable and smile when we meet. Who engage me with their interests. Who teach or coach my kids. Who provide medical care or restaurant meals. Who are dead on right about anything that matters on the job, no matter what they do in their place of worship. Yeah, how is that not a privilege?

    Also, living in the multicultural Bay Area is way more interesting than where I grew up (though it’s a lot less homogeneous than it used to be). So it’s not just a privilege but enjoyable as well.

  45. John Morales says

    <snicker>

    Well, Rob, it follows that either you yourself don’t believe you’re free of delusion, which means you believe you are deluded, or you hold others to a different standard.

    It’s a matter of faith.

    Your faith is noted.

  46. John Morales says

    PaulBC:

    Yes, the privilege of knowing people. Full stop. People who are amiable and smile when we meet. Who engage me with their interests. Who teach or coach my kids. Who provide medical care or restaurant meals. Who are dead on right about anything that matters on the job, no matter what they do in their place of worship. Yeah, how is that not a privilege?

    But that’s not what you initially wrote; what you wrote was you were privileged because they had “different cultural and religious backgrounds”.
    Nothing about amiability, or vocation, or job expertise.

    And, hey, guess what? Even gnus have that “privilege”.

  47. mythago says

    kome @3: but to them, this isn’t “minor”. They believe they are innately Good Guys, and they don’t like the idea that there are any limitations on when they get to try and solicit women for sex – especially if that means their past behavior is such that perhaps they might not have been Good Guys. Their fragile egos can’t handle the idea that maybe they were creeps to women in the past, or that they will be creeps in the future if they refrain from making a pass at a woman. So they lash out.

  48. PaulBC says

    JM@50 I think Rob’s assumption was that no one is free of delusion. I can state with confidence that I’m deluded about some things, though it would be contradictory for me to attempt to list them. I also have many accurate beliefs that serve me well, some of which I can even defend rigorously, but this is a small subset of beliefs that requires effort to maintain.

    When I attempt the smallest task of plumbing (which came up a lot this pandemic year) there’s no question that there are many things I don’t know about the flow of water in pipes, let alone standard plumbing practice, as well as things I think I know but I’m wrong about. If when I’m done, my faucet works again and the leak is gone or tolerable, I move onto the next task without any serious concern over epistemology. In more narrow areas, I might care a lot more and put the effort into eliminating delusion.

  49. PaulBC says

    John Morales@51 Well, to be clear, I also consider the exposure to different cultures to be a privilege: i.e. a special advantage conferred by my circumstances. I enjoy it not only because of the novelty, which is part of it, but also the sense that people very different from me can still extend their trust. This is not the same as being trusted in a tight in-group.

  50. John Morales says

    Anti-vaxxers, MAGAs, white supremacists, quiverfulls: all a privilege to know!

    (Very value-neutral of you)

  51. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @50: I live in hope (certainly not faith) that you will one day outgrow your reliance on high school lunch room ‘logic’. You’re about 40 years overdue.

  52. PaulBC says

    JM@55

    Anti-vaxxers, MAGAs, white supremacists, quiverfulls: all a privilege to know!

    In theory, yes, with some caveats. I admit I’m only human and I’m going to react differently.

    I judge anti-vaxxers and white supremacists not by their belief but by the harm they do to others. In the case of a white supremacist, it would not be a “privilege” to know them, at least not by virtue of their racism. They’re bad people. I want to see the full extent of the law used against them and I don’t want any of them as my friends. (Indeed as anti-pluralists, they have no place in a pluralistic world.) Anti-vaxxers also cause harm, but more out of ignorance than malice. They can be my friends if they let me tell them they’re totally wrong and ought to get vaccinated, and not just for COVID. (Not to ignore quiverfulls, but I don’t feel like going down that rabbit hole right now.)

    One thing about all the groups you’ve listed is that I have some context because they are part of white American culture, and even if it’s not my subculture, I feel more qualified to make a judgment and less inclined to believe I will learn a new perspective from them. As I said, I’m only human. Often the worst fighting occurs between the closest groups.

    Listing “MAGA” is interesting because it should just be a political slogan, right? I had friends in the 80s who voted for Ronald Reagan. I’d listen to their debating points. Sometimes I’d even concede a point. I never thought they wanted to kill me, at least not over politics. MAGAs I steer clear of. Glad I don’t have to go through the ritual of inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner. Accepting that some people vote for Democrats and some vote for Republicans never used to be “pluralism”.

    In fact, you don’t see MAGA hats in the SF Bay Area. You can see hijab and dastars on any trip to a big box store. You may even see a discrete cross necklace here and there. But a MAGA hat runs the risk of causing a public disturbance. I am not kidding.

    I used to “engage” Trump supporters on Quora. I probably even know a few in real life who just keep quiet about it. He did get some votes around here. I’m happy to be able to tolerate them. In theory, I would still say it’s a privilege to be trusted by someone outside my group in there case, though I admit it gives me no joy. Mutual avoidance seems like a better solution.

  53. John Morales says

    Paul:

    One thing about all the groups you’ve listed is that I have some context because they are part of white American culture …

    Huh. What a coincidence.

    Point being, you may respect the person, but you don’t respect their beliefs, rather you would dispute them, and you tolerate them inasmuch as they are otherwise harmless.

    (Basically, the New Atheist position on goddism)

    Rob @56, your superior maturity and righteousness is duly noted.

    As well as your avoidance of the issue at hand, the which is not my purported jejune puerility, but the proposition that unless one includes everything in some plurality, one excludes at least one category, and you yourself think that’s meet and proper, as long as it’s not the category the New Atheists exclude.

  54. PaulBC says

    JM@58

    Point being, you may respect the person, but you don’t respect their beliefs, rather you would dispute them, and you tolerate them inasmuch as they are otherwise harmless.

    This sounds similar to my view at first blush. I’m going to assume it’s not, because real live New Atheists tend to rub me the wrong way. So what is the difference?

    Mainly, I respect a person’s commitment to their beliefs even if the belief strikes me as nonsensical, provided it’s not harmful. So if I “don’t respect their beliefs” it is only when I am opposed to those beliefs (usually because they violate rights*), not merely because I think they’re unfounded. I respect the discipline of my Muslim friends who fast for Ramadan (including some actual friends), though I don’t even observe Lent these days. I would never scoff at something important to another person and that binds them to their community.

    Forget about religion for a second. Why do people care if “their” sports team wins? It really doesn’t matter to me (it did a little when it was my daughter’s softball team or my son’s water polo team, but even then it’s just a game). Yet obviously, people really do care. It’s fine for them to care. I respect that they care. They should accept that I don’t care. This is not far at all from the way I think about religion. Or if someone tells me their $30,000 wedding was beautiful and they’ll cherish it forever, I won’t say “What a colossal waste of money. You could have gone to the courthouse for much less.” I might actually think that, but it’s none of my business. They found something important in the ceremony. I respect that they found something important (though I admit that extravagant expenses raise my hackles).

    As I said, I think Mormons are an especially interesting case because they have to defend a sacred text that nearly any non-Mormon would agree is a 19th century forgery, probably written by Joseph Smith. And yet they’re a big religion with many educated, wealthy, and influential members. It puts the lie to the notion that religions need to be cloaked in antiquity, leaving some room for a less mundane origin.

    I’m not sure what people really believe and what they pretend to believe. I suspect we’ve always had de facto atheists, though maybe religion could kick in for things defied obvious explanation (wonders of nature). In any case, we’ve always had people who didn’t really believe everything they declared in some profession of faith. The freedom not to have to pay lip service to a dominant religion is one I value, but I don’t see what it has to do with people who wish to follow one. It’s their business, not mine.

    *It is not too great a stretch to say that creationists violate the right to gain a sound understanding of biology, but even without that stretch, it’s a good example of a harmful belief. Belief in isolated miracles is less harmful to scientific understanding if you compartmentalize effectively. I do not believe in theistic evolution, but I accept that you could and could still produce valid scientific research and even teach an introductory course if you kept those beliefs to yourself.

  55. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @31: What about people being flawed means we should do as capitalism and statism do and incentivize them to be even worse? You’re wrong about human nature (you’re ignoring a lot of good), but it doesn’t matter.

    Anarchist thinkers like Michael Albert actually point out that anarchist institutions include incentives for prosocial behavior, so even assholes are best off being nice. That’s pareto optimality. So you’re just not responding to how actual anarchists think, and then using misanthropy as an excuse to stunt our horizons.

  56. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @58:

    Rob @56, your superior maturity and righteousness is duly noted.

    There’s nothing to celebrate. You set a low bar for the maturity, but I’ve met few people with as well-developed a sense of their own righteousness as you.

    As well as your avoidance of the issue at hand

    It’s not avoidance of the issue as much as avoidance of the silly way you and others talk about it; smug pronouncements on a blog, and nothing more. Bloviating about your ‘non-accommodationism’ is just wankery. Wank away, but my engagement with it will be minimal. At least some folk talk about concrete proposals. Akira MacKenzie suggested reeducation camps for the religious. What about you, John? Any real ideas?

    P.S. When you have your friendly chats with JWs, do you tell them they’re harming their children?

  57. says

    Re: Anarchism: Baby leftist who’s been flirting with anarcho-ideas here: The ones I hang out with recognize that if we got what we wanted overnight, it’d be a disaster because we’re dealing with a lot of cultural conditioning to be bad people. I’m still struggling with talk of alternatives because my perspective has been limited by states and capitalism my whole life. So, yeah, early drafts are going to have problems, along with all the difficulties of actually getting there.

    It’s hard enough without people playing the human nature card as if it weren’t distorted by layers of cultural conditioning to accept and perpetuate tribalism, statism, and capitalism.

  58. John Morales says

    It’s not avoidance of the issue as much as avoidance of the silly way you and others talk about it; smug pronouncements on a blog, and nothing more.

    Very silly, my response to Paul’s perception of the alleged anti-pluralism entailed by the New Atheist stance regarding the perniciousness of religious thinking.

    Thank goodness you’ve come along to deal with it in a mature manner!

    Akira MacKenzie suggested reeducation camps for the religious. What about you, John? Any real ideas?

    I’m not an activist. But since you ask, perhaps stop granting special exemptions for religious entities, and treat them the same as any other club or business.
    Stop giving the religious special deference purely because they ostensibly believe their guff.
    Simple stuff, should go a long way.

    Rob @62,

    P.S. When you have your friendly chats with JWs, do you tell them they’re harming their children?

    Nope. They are the ones who set the agenda, and I respond to what they say to me directly. Contend on their own theological grounds. Trade Bible quotations, that sort of thing.

    One has to be understanding and have some pity; after all, they’re akin to scam callers — it’s not like they have much choice about it. Main difference is that scammers do it to earn a crust, the JWs do it to maintain standing within their community.

  59. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @64:

    perhaps stop granting special exemptions for religious entities, and treat them the same as any other club or business.

    I didn’t know I had the power to grant exemptions. Do you mean I should make sniffy, smug comments about believers in blog comments? Nah, there are plenty of people already filling that doubtless highly useful role.

  60. PaulBC says

    JM@64

    I’m not an activist. But since you ask, perhaps stop granting special exemptions for religious entities, and treat them the same as any other club or business.

    Right. Well, I agree with that completely. It might even help JW kids get needed medical care, but it’s unlikely to get them a birthday party.

  61. PaulBC says

    RobG@65

    I didn’t know I had the power to grant exemptions.

    “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

  62. PaulBC says

    JM@64

    Nope. They are the ones who set the agenda, and I respond to what they say to me directly. Contend on their own theological grounds. Trade Bible quotations, that sort of thing.

    Sorry about the split reply, but to state a point for at least the third time, what good does this do? My approach to JWs is to keep the conversation to a minimum, asserting my unbelief politely, accepting their pamphlet, and sending them on their way. I may also appreciate at some level that I belong to a community where those of wildly different religious views (or lack thereof) live together in peace. You object when I call that a “privilege” but there are far worse ways of living.

    Neither of us do a damn thing for the children of JW parents. It’s unclear what we could do, but your approach seems more driven by personal amusement than concern for the children, so why do you bring them up to me? Mine is driven entirely by a desire to be as non-confrontational as possible without being dishonest. I reserve confrontation for times when it can potentially have a positive effect.

    You have convinced me, by the way, that I should learn more about Jehovah’s Witnesses and explain to them that I do not agree with their stance on blood products. In fact, I could even point out to them that my daughter would not be alive today if I followed JW strictures on medical care, though I’m not that interested in personalizing it. I share your pity for those forced to undertake such a thankless task and don’t really want to shock them.

    I probably won’t take them to task on birthday parties, but I’ll read up on that as well.

    JWs show up less than once a year, so I will have adequate time to prepare. Maybe they’ll never even show up again. Who knows?

  63. John Morales says

    Rob, heh. You did ask.

    I didn’t know I had the power to grant exemptions.

    You have every bit as much as new atheists have to impose compliance.

    More to the point, Government does have that power. And applies it.

    And don’t forget the deference.

    For example, from my link earlier:
    “In June 1987, the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the Witnesses’ right to shun those who fail to live by the group’s standards and doctrines, upholding the ruling of a lower court. The court concluded that, “Shunning is a practice engaged in by Jehovah’s Witnesses pursuant to their interpretation of canonical text, and we are not free to reinterpret that text. … We find the practice of shunning not to constitute a sufficient threat to the peace, safety, or morality of the community as to warrant state intervention. … the defendants are entitled to the free exercise of their religious beliefs. … Courts generally do not scrutinize closely the relationship among members (or former members) of a church. Churches are afforded great latitude when they impose discipline on members or former members. … The members of the Church Paul decided to abandon have concluded that they no longer want to associate with her. We hold that they are free to make that choice. … Although we recognize that the harms suffered by Janice Paul are real and not insubstantial, permitting her to recover for intangible or emotional injuries would unconstitutionally restrict the Jehovah’s Witnesses free exercise of religion. … The constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion requires that society tolerate the type of harms suffered by Paul as a price well worth paying to safeguard the right of religious difference that all citizens enjoy.””

    Paul:

    It might even help JW kids get needed medical care, but it’s unlikely to get them a birthday party.

    Indeed. After all, not something on which merits intervention by child protection services, so no biggie for you.

  64. John Morales says

    Paul:

    Sorry about the split reply, but to state a point for at least the third time, what good does this do? My approach to JWs is to keep the conversation to a minimum, asserting my unbelief politely, accepting their pamphlet, and sending them on their way.

    And my approach is to chat until they decide they’ve had enough.
    Outside the front door.
    (I once gave them nice big glasses of cold water on a particularly hot day — 42C or thereabouts. Gotta respect that effort!)

    What good does it do?
    Well… <squints mentally> ah, got it. It’s an opportunity cost; the longer they chat with me, the less they’ll be proselytising to a potentially amenable sap.

    (Hey thanks, now I can feel virtuous about my inadvertent activism!)

    Neither of us do a damn thing for the children of JW parents.

    Now you’ve got me into the groove; sure I do: I raise awareness of it, when prompted.

    (I raised yours, didn’t I?)

    JWs show up less than once a year, so I will have adequate time to prepare. Maybe they’ll never even show up again. Who knows?

    Huh, so you not only plan to be confrontational, you are preparing beforehand.

    Not something I would recommend; you’ll feel bad about it, they will get pissed-off (though they’ll be polite). I suspect that will be counter-productive, if anything.

    But each to their own. Just remember, you do appreciate their presence in society, because to not do so would be anti-pluralistic. So don’t be too hard on them.

  65. Matt Cramp says

    “The idea that the New Atheist movement was systemically sexist is a blatant lie.”

    If this were true, there’d be an over-representation of women in the movement. Enough for equality, and a heaping extra that would have gotten other hobbies if they had been more welcomed. For a movement that champions skepticism you’d think there’d be more of an attempt at working out if a statement like that is justifiable.

  66. says

    The best way to deal with a certain commenter is just to ignore him.

    Anyway, it’s not sexism if you’re not forcing women into burqas just like it’s not racism if you’re not burning crosses in Black people’s yards.

Leave a Reply