More Drama in the World of Organized Atheism August 18, 2008

More Drama in the World of Organized Atheism

The New York City Atheists invited biologist extraordinaire Massimo Pigliucci to join their board of directors a couple years ago.

So he did.

He saw that the organization was getting ripped apart by those students who attended some of their events.

So he tried to bring the board together to solve some of these problems, including problems about how board members were told to leave their positions for a variety of reasons:

I started asking questions of [President Ken] Bronstein and of the Board of NYCA about all of this, pointing out that even if all of the above was not true, these sorts of rumors would hurt the image of the organization. I thought I was doing exactly what a responsible Board member ought to do, and eventually I asked for a Board meeting to discuss the matter. Bronstein’s reaction (and that of one other Board member) was extremely negative to put it mildly, and in a series of emails and phone calls I was alternately accused of “not getting it” and of being part of a conspiracy to bring down NYCA…

Massimo checked the group’s bylaws and found that things were not exactly kosher regarding how board members were getting sacked and how decisions were made. So he inquired about that, too…

… Bronstein immediately told me that those were the “old” bylaws, and that a new set had been passed, giving him total and complete control of the group, financially, in terms of activities and policies, and, of course, in matters of expelling members and calling for Board meetings.

That seems like an odd set of bylaws to approve…

It turned out the new bylaws weren’t approved in the correct manner, anyway. Massimo wanted nothing to do with an organization that ran itself like this, so he opted to leave:

… It was time to get out of an organization run by an autocrat who responds to challenges with a rude “my way or the highway,” and whose bylaws are probably illegal in the State of New York. So that is when I resigned.

He’s not just ranting, however.

He wants to make two main points:

First of all, it is a shame that a group like NYCA has to get marred by this sort of situation. It is one of the largest, most active and most successful groups in the country (though, being based in New York, they could probably have ten times their current membership if they were a bit more welcoming). They, including Ken Bronstein, have been doing quite a bit of good work for the atheist movement, but they — particularly Bronstein — don’t seem to realize that much damage to the same movement can be caused by precisely the type of intolerant behavior that we all criticize in fundamentalist churches…


… this experience has reinforced in my mind one major difference between atheism and secular humanism. While there certainly are excellent atheist groups, and there are some secular humanist leaders that unfortunately come close to the Bronstein model of doing things, it is hard to avoid the feeling that there is an obvious difference between simply being against something (atheism) and in favor of something (a secular philosophy of life)…


It’s so sad to see a group with that much potential not being welcoming to people who may actually want to join the group and take a leadership role in it.

When you have board members resigning from a non-profit because they don’t want to be part of what may end up as a full-fledged shitstorm, things can’t be going well. You might as well begin a brand new group.

While I have respect for some of the older people who have been running the group and have communicated with them, I’d love to see younger people go to those meetings and take over the whole organization.

In a place like New York City? A well-organized atheist group run by younger people (or anyone more welcoming to the youth) would be incredible.

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  • Pseudonym

    Welcome, Atheists, to the wonderful world of church politics. I hope you learn why organised religion gets its bad reputation.

  • marcus

    Not good!! we have to be more inclusive and welcome the youth. Having displays of “church politics” is damaging to secular, humanist or atheist organisations.

  • No-one who has the naturalistic worldview and who rejects supernaturalism would behave in the way the president of NYCA is alleged to have behaved.

    It seems as if the president is infected with supernaturalism. Aggressive blaming behavior can be traced to a belief in a supernatural freewill endowed by god.

    Free Will: The Last Great Lie

  • If anyone thinks that younger people can’t run a board, take a look at the boards of Camp Quest, and SSA. Not only to atheist organizations need younger people on boards, but younger people to start getting involved. It’s a chicken and egg thing. Programs of interest to a wider audience will be ignored if that wider audience doesn’t participate. If you want an atheist group to do things of interest to you, run for the board, and try your best to add some influence. Don’t get frustrated at an old, stodgy, decade old board, but learn their unique perspective and present your ideas with that in mind.

  • Wow, this is really blowing up. I know most of the folks involved and this has been simmering for a few months. It’s interesting that Massimo’s blog post coincides with other drama in the fora like this stuff:

    There’s an NYCA meetup tonight. I might go to scope things out. I’m not sure I want to continue my contributions, although relatively minor, to the NYCA.

  • I’m sorry this happened. It’s tragic. NYCA has developed a pretty bad reputation. If I am ever in NY, I will not being going to their meetups. IMO, Jane Everhart is a racist, paranoid nutcase. She frequently accuses other Atheists of being Theist spies when they disagree with her behavior. She removes members and deletes post on their boards and then she has the gall to spout rhetoric about being “all for free speech”. Yuck. She’s bat-shit crazy and needs to get some serious help. If the other leading members you mentioned are anything like her, there needs to be a split. Someone needs to form a new group and let the crazies have their little cult all to themselves.

  • I was one of the people who contacted Jane Everhart in the week prior to the Rook Hawkins speech on 8 Aug. My concern was in the blatant misrepresentation of his accomplishments since my academic field is history. I used my legal name in the initial contact and my business email. To their credit they did remove the term “public historian” which is a specific professional title.

    But then things began to get really weird. “Expert” is not a title to be taken lightly in any academic field. I know few 25 year old “experts” in history or ancient language, but the one claim NYCA/Jane refused to address was that Rook Hawkins “translated the Bible from Greek”. This is an extraordinary claim and is simply false on it’s face.

    From this point, I was called a “rabid religionist” and the censorship began.

    Fundamentalist evangelical atheism is a weird religion.

  • Very interesting, that parallels exactly whats happening in the Philippines’ atheist group.

    Fortunately, things appear to be clearing up for us.

  • Siamang

    I think the older generations of atheists are filled with iconoclasts and nutballs.

    Now that it’s not as socially taboo to be atheist, we may see better representatives running atheist organizations.

    Not to say that all older atheists are nutballs, but rather that some of the more public established atheists from previous generations tend to be somewhat eccentric.

  • “I think the older generations of atheists are filled with iconoclasts and nutballs.”

    That’s a tad harsh, and perhaps a bit inaccurate. The problem, as I see it, is presenting atheism as a religion, and religion attracting a personality type. I know this leads to the usual argument that atheism isn’t a religion, which in a vacuum neither is theism. We could call it dogmatic atheism for a lack of a better term.

    Let’s say for example you have someone who was once a feverish believer who becomes a feverish non-believer. The names have changed, but you still have leaders and an ultimate purpose. The only thing missing are the gods, which never has a substantial influence in the first place as they don’t exist. The person hasn’t changed, the deep seeded need to believe hasn’t changed. In short, there is little difference between a nutter for god and a nutter for no-god. In fact, it seems to be easier to get validated in the no-god camp.

    Like with me and NYC Atheists. I got accused of being employed by the Vatican and molesting alter boys. I objected, I was a Catholic or Christian I wouldn’t approve. Ah, but why would I object if I wasn’t employed by the Vatican?

    I’m critical of organized religion. There is a tendency to daemonize outsiders. For heavily censored post with 1300+ views and only 8 posts, why is it the feverish bigotry is considered to be acceptable? I like secularization but Jane Everhart and Bill C are bigots, they consider “Christians” to be less than human, and that makes them as bad as the worst of their lot.

    I will continue to be critical of organized religion as well as secular or atheist churches. I’m going to call it as I see it. Someone proposed oversight, I propose card holding members having to right to vote out their leadership.

  • Siamang, it has nothing to do with age. I know young Atheists who are as prejudiced and unhinged as Jane is. Is has to do with personality type. I know plenty of older Atheist who respect other people’s points of view and in fact, enjoy discussing issues and getting feedback from many perspectives. It comes down to whether a person respects personal boundaries. We don’t all have to agree but we should try to respect each other’s rights to feel whatever way we choose to feel about any given issue.

  • As NYCA’s blogging “voice,” I am trying to discuss these aforementioned matters with NYCA’s president, Ken Bronstein, and will report back here if and when I have some news to tell.

    In the meantime, it is my wish that people not brand all of NYCA’s members as reactionary “cultists,” or with some of the other pejorative attacks being made.

    I agree wholeheartedly that in a city like New York we ought to have the most thriving atheist group on the planet, and I am doing everything within my power to attract more youth and make the group more appealing overall. Trust that this much is true: the vast majority of NYCA members are smart, affable, open-minded, engaging, reasonable, and friendly folks.

    I only ask that this be kept in mind: painting all of us (NYCA members) with one broad brush is akin to non-Americans thinking that all Americans are morons because we have a president who is one. (Not that Ken Bronstein is a moron–he’s not. I’m just trying to point out the fallacies and injustices of this type of “guilt-by-association” thinking.)

  • “In the meantime, it is my wish that people not brand all of NYCA’s members as reactionary “cultists,” or with some of the other pejorative attacks being made.”

    Respectfully, it’s rather hard when I’m being accused by your member of repeatably phoning Jane when I NEVER phoned Jane. I don’t appreciate you perpetrating false information that Jane got late night phone calls then snapped with child molester accusations when the child molester accusations took place at 10:54pm 9 Aug 2008, long before the so called 3:30am harassing phone calls.

    Do us a favor, perform some fact checking before you assert things that are in conflict with something that is a matter of public record.

    I have provided every e-mail, every fax for public review, yet you sir, you are accepting information that respectfully NOT backed up by anything.

    Jane is the communications director for your organization, is it approperate for her to threaten to spam someone over legit concerns over how she presented a speaker, concerns you concede are valid?

    From: Jane Everhart NYC Athists
    Sent: Thu 8/07/08 4:57 PM

    “The kid is not a bible specialist. I’m not a Christian but “Bible Specialist” suggests”

    Bible specialist suggests doodly squat. In the Army they have a Specialist First Class whose “specialty” is peeling potatoes. What would you suggest I call Rook? Bible aficionado? Bible Champ? Bible hound? Bible drone? Bible lover? Bible critic is my favorite. But why would you care? We don’t. If you don’t stop pestering me, I’m going to spam you.

    The truth is, two people (that I know of) e-mailed Jane regarding how she was presenting Rook.

    1) Public historian, bible specialist, expert
    2) Translated the Bible from GREEK
    3) Was invited to write for an academic series.

    She addressed #1 somewhat kicking and screaming. #3 was never addressed and after I got spammed with her 96 line press release, I asked Rook to address #2, to which Jane accused me of working for the Vatican and suggested I was a child molester at 10:54pm 9 Aug 2008.

    If Jane wants to blog on her own time and accuse people of being child molesting Vatican commandos, that’s up to her. But she was representing your organization as communications director, and it seems LIED about making these comments until after she got late night phone calls when they clearly clearly happened LONG before 3:30 AM 10 Aug 2008 when she claims she disconnected her phone.

    1) It’s not OK to accuse someone of being a child molester if they phone you at 3:30am.
    2) It’s not OK to accuse someone of being a child molester if they harass you first.
    3) It’s not ok to accuse someone of being a child molester if they e-mail and hit your PUBLIC FORUM with legit criticism regarding claims that don’t pass the sniff test.

    I didn’t phone Jane period. I used e-mail and the public meetup forum as I wanted a public record of everything that transpired in the unlikely event that someone was in to revisionist history. Thankfully I did. But even if I am a Christian, or hell even if I’m a Vatican Commando it’s NEVER ok to accuse anyone of molesting children without some DAMN GOOD evidence to do so. It’s not OK for you to explain away this as someone who was just upset, or got late night phone calls.

    PIX or it didn’t happen. At this point Jane lacks any credibility, and as such will not accept she even got a late night phone call without evidence.

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