Atheists and Interfaith Cooperation August 15, 2010

Atheists and Interfaith Cooperation

At the recent Secular Student Alliance conference, I participated in a panel discussion on interfaith cooperation. We talked about how campus atheist groups should interact with religious groups, when it’s appropriate to criticize their beliefs, and a lot more.

The other panelists were (from left to right in the video) Rev. Jonathan Weyer, President of the University Interfaith Alliance at The Ohio State University, me, Chris Stedman, Content Developer for the Interfaith Youth Core, and Lewis Marshall, President of Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics (AHA!) at Stanford.

It’s long, but you can watch Chris and me get into fisticuffs over Draw Muhammad Day at the 47:00 mark:




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  • Steve

    Off topic, but I just saw this:
    http://www.break.com/index/door_to_door_atheists_bother_mormons.html

    Hilarious comedy piece about two guys dressing up as atheist missionaries going around Salt Lake City and converting Mormons.

  • Cindy

    It’s long, but you can watch Chris and I
    Grammar police…Chris and me.
    Pet peeve. Over and out.

  • @Cindy — Fixed! Thanks 🙂

  • Hitch

    First, Jonathan Weyer is really awesome. If all religious people engaged in that manner and on that level, we’d have a lot fewer problems.

    I can handle his attitude much better than Chris’s, but I have to say Chris took the heckling with dignity (well if we forget that later he’d “denounce Greta Christina over 9/11”).

    The difference is simple. Jonathan wants people to not abandon any part of their position coming to the table, and Chris seems to demand that one pretty much gives up anything that conflicts with faith (which ls almost all of an unbelievers core identity).

    Only one of the two is practical and sensible, so it’s really refreshing to see that the panel highlighted that difference, and that the sensible position came from an open believer.

  • Hi Hemant

    I was in attendance, and found this panel infuriating. Particularly Chris’s weasel language and completely credulous, incurious attitude. At 47m he says something like, well I might not understand all the reasons for people to get offended about drawing Muhammad but hey they’re offended and some are my friends so they must have a legit reason.

    No. Even decent people do things for stupid, wrong reasons sometimes. Why are none of you on the panel or in Interfaith taking people to task for their terrible reasons for objecting to DMD? Yes there are some good reasons to object. There is also ample evidence many objectors are not sincere in calling on them. Their actions often show they are not the slightest bit interested in being understood, merely in getting their own way.. in shutting down all criticism.. in getting their one religious view put on a special table no one else’s is. You are all just letting that slide like it isn’t happening. This is a conference of skeptics and critical thinkers? How disappointing.

  • @Ed

    Why are none of you on the panel or in Interfaith taking people to task for their terrible reasons for objecting to DMD?

    I’m curious what you think a good response would have been that you didn’t hear in that panel.

    I think I’ve stood on the side of free speech and against the crazy notion that no one can draw Muhammad in both that panel and on this site.

    You think otherwise?

  • Chris Stedman’s points particularly annoyed me as well when I was there. Made me want to go become even more of a firebrand just to make up for his point of view.

  • sarah

    i don’t really know all the specifics about DMD, but i would really like to see ‘draw a man being tortured with nails and finally being asphyxiated’ day. seriously doubt this would get the same attention.

  • Hemant of course I agree you’ve provided a highly reasonable and apt defense of that issue (eliciting applause from the crowd).

    Questions I have for interfaith that do not get asked: The “create a dialog” and “listen to opposing views” ideals only exist when talking about a faith group. When atheists do something controversial but demanded of their own integrity, the Interfaith response is not dialog. It is not discussion. It is condemnation. No one from any local or national Interfaith made the slightest effort to engage my group before authoring writs of disapproval. And afterword there was no attempt to produce conversation among the factions. Why Is This?

    Secondly, actual efforts to talk to objector Muslims or to compromise (as Chris Calvey attempted to do) have been steadfastly met with refusal, coldness, or reality-defying invective designed to paint us as intolerant. This behavior highlights the frequent insincerity of our opponents (though certainly is not the case with all of them). By diplomatic standards, this is dirty pool but Interfaith agencies have nothing to say about it. It should be their bread and butter. So Why?

    In short, interfaith is politicizing into a Faith-based atheist-excluding morality police. But as long as they keep mouthing the words about inclusiveness and mutual understanding we’ll all just ignore it I guess. Sorry for the rant Hemant. We still love you.

  • Hitch

    Ed, I have lots of sympathy for your frustration, but Hemant did challenge Chris on the point. If you want to challenge the things that Chris says, do as I do, challenge Chris directly. After all he has a public blog. We don’t need proxies to express our views. And Hemant frankly has done his share to point out how Eboo, Greg Epstein and Chris have not been kind (to say the least) to secular students on the chalking initiative.

    If you want to get offended some more just read Chris’s blog, you will find Chris depicting atheists as emotional robots, as white male privileged people, as arrogant. He will host guest bloggers who will call the chalking campaign bigoted and hateful and so forth.

    Look, he has baggage and feeds into the stereotypes we have to fight even without him feeding it. I don’t think Hemant can do much about that in a panel that is not supposed to be about Chris’s attitudes.

    P.S. Edit: I think your observation on how interfaith Chris-style feels are totally on the mark by the way (saw your second post only after I posted this.)

  • @Ed — I think you’re absolutely right and that has been the best argument I’ve seen for NOT working with the interfaith community.

    They want everyone to be accepting of everyone else, and there’s no place at the table for open criticism of very bad ideas that many of the religious believers hold.

    As I said in the video, I’m all for dialogue that allows people to learn where others are coming from. I think we can all work together on certain projects we think are worthwhile, like feeding the poor or doing community service projects.

    But when it comes to debating these beliefs, I don’t think we should be sugarcoating how we feel about the silly-ness of Jesus resurrecting, or the harmful treatment of women in Islam, or the nonsense that Mormons believe.

    The interfaith community, as I’ve known them, doesn’t want me to talk about those things. That’s where my problem with them stems from.

  • Aj

    Chris Stedman is an insufferable moron. He’s an obscurantist, so he’ll say something that is obviously idiotic and false, an affront to logic, meaning something else, addressing an argument no one made, a non sequitur and a straw man. You have to first parse what he says from doublespeak to English, to understand he has no point.

    The last question (I think, about whether atheists should be involved in interfaith) really showed what it’s about. Chris Stedman recited the irrational nonsense you have to concede: religious beliefs are worthy of respect, religious people use reason and evidence to form beliefs, and when something bad happens due to religion it’s not actually religion but a misuse or distortion of religion. Basically, you have to leave your brain behind. That’s not secular humanism.

  • JulietEcho

    I just watched the DMD back-and-forth between Hemant and Chris, but what struck me (perhaps because we had some long, heated debates in the forums that touched on this) was when he kept saying that atheists should be “careful” that they knew their reasons for drawing Muhammad, and he seemed to imply that atheists should be unified on that – find a reason and stick to it.

    Different campus groups are going to do it for different reasons, different members within those groups are going to do it for different reasons, and different individuals not involved in any groups are going to do it for their own reasons. There were plenty of people on facebook, for instance, who seemingly found out about the day and used it as an excuse to be complete assholes. There were other people who wanted to support Matt & Trey, others who wanted to support the various cartoonists, others who wanted to make a point about how it’s unreasonable to punish/outlaw “blasphemy” from non-believers, others who were supporting free speech, and a WHOLE LOT of people who probably had more than one reason.

    Expecting atheists to be in solidarity or have a unified “message” of sorts is a sign that you don’t understand that atheists only have one thing in common.

  • Jeff B.

    Juliet said it…this guy has no fucking clue. I’m so tired of the “interfaith” fallacy

    We are an organization only in the sense that we rebel against the “mainstream” bullshit that surrounds us

  • Pseudonym

    JE:

    Expecting atheists to be in solidarity or have a unified “message” of sorts is a sign that you don’t understand that atheists only have one thing in common.

    I agree, but I think this argument would be easier to comprehend if theists were given the same courtesy more often. For some reason, many people seem to consider diversity of opinion a virtue amongst atheists but a vice amongst theists.

  • @Juliet “…he kept saying that atheists should be “careful” that they knew their reasons for drawing Muhammad…”

    Agreed and I would add to that how absurd this is on the face of it. Those of us who did draw Muhammad also wrote lengthy blog posts. We wrote letters detailing our motives. We issued press releases and spoke to the media. I created an entire website just to educate on the issue (see http://www.chalkfire.com) complete with FAQs and such.

    Just what the fuck else can I possibly, humanly do to clarify our position? Congressional deposition? 17-hour video documentary? Perhaps write a few books on my decision first? The fact that we did all that and it still wasn’t enough proves my point: they don’t care how clear we try to be. Nothing will ever be enough, because they are not being honest.

    And what if we never did all that? Is it really such a hard thing to grasp? Some guys said Mat and Trey will deservedly get killed for depicting the prophet. Days later we draw Muhammad and specifically reference Mat & Trey. Just how thick are you to not connect the dots here? Whatever happened to the legal concept of what a “reasonable” observer would assume?

  • Hitch

    It’s about a chosen position, not reason. They know what the student groups did. They just choose to give it no platform at all.

    Eboo for example knew full well that the student groups engaged with the MSA, yet he writes newspaper articles making it into sketchy shadow-of-the-night affairs and pulls swastika comparisons.

    And yes, there is a kind of dishonesty to it.

    Chris knows that the student groups went out of their way to reach out. He simply refuses to concede that one can do anything but what the MSA demands. But that’s not compromise or dialogue, it’s self-abandon.

    Many movements had this: Just don’t be so flamboyantly gay, just don’t be such a loud feminist. The holding down of visibility with the excuse that it hurts is not new at all. And for me that’s really close to what Chris is doing to atheists. In fact it’s worse. Chris doesn’t seem to want to protect the secular side at all. He wants to protect the faith side. This isn’t even the “diplomat”, it is a weird kind of reverse diplomacy. It’s like a diplomat of the other side constantly lecturing you how to be a good diplomat, and it comes down to accepting his position. That’s not diplomacy of course.

    Simply you cannot draw the prophet period, it might offend people. So you have to follow the prescriptions of a religion you didn’t choose. No matter how harmless your depictions are. And no matter how non-nonsensical the prescription is. That is what Chris wants.

    No wonder that rather than discuss Greta’s talk on neutral terms he had to find some way to find a negative and he did. He does not want people to be open advocates. The good atheists are only those who are not only diplomatic but completely deferential.

    And it works, he gets religious people and friends from the interfaith core to applaud him for “denouncing those nasty atheists”. He will even pull out some bigoted right-winger as example how great he is at communicating, just to make the case how awful atheists are at it, when the reverse is true. It’s really all about shaming atheists.

    Basically self-censorship is what we are called to do. When what the point was to protest a culture of fear and self-censorship.

    You will not get him to move to your position. He knows all the justification.

    Sad thing about the story is that in terms of doing real interfaith the chalking groups by and large have shown how to do it right. Reach out, encourage dialogue, concede if others have a good idea (like the boxing gloves) and so forth, but don’t give up yourself and the greater point to be made.

    But that message cannot be heard. And I don’t think any amount of kicking and screaming will make Chris say what really happened.

    After all he is the gate-keeper for what “bridge-building” supposedly is and should look like. In reality he is promoting a kind of faith rejoinder and a branding and alienation of visible atheism.

    We are the proverbial “other” and yes it is particularly infuriating to come from someone who claims to be from the in-group.

    (sorry for the spout :P)

  • Gratis Thinker

    Quoteth the SSA mission statement: We’re interested in making sure there is no stigma attached to positive, humanistic, secular worldviews & we want mutually respectful relationships between theists and nontheists.

    The *only* reason I choose not to associate with religion-hurt-me atheist groups is just that – it’s a negative, oppositional group identity, a house of cards built on sand. I wish atheists would get over religion as much as they have gotten over Gaia. If atheists spent as much time asserting their positive views as their negative ones, we might actually get the respect we so desire from other, er, belief-y groups.

    As a queer atheist who does queervangelism with fundamentalist/evangelical christians, I can tell you it takes YEARS to get people to change their minds about their most deeply held beliefs…but it can be done. One must lead by with a humble example; our greatest revolutionaries affected change with non-violent action. Let’s remember that language is a tool and “every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.” (Thanks Ani for such wisdom). Let’s be non-violent and peaceful with our actions and our words; let us be the noble ones. We aren’t going to win an unholy war against any religion with cartoons and self-pitying blog posts. Let’s lead by example and show the believing world that our way is better and we’re better for it.

  • pnasies4me

    “At 47m he says something like, well I might not understand all the reasons for people to get offended about drawing Muhammad but hey they’re offended and some are my friends so they must have a legit reason.”

    At the risk of getting flamed to oblivion, my parents offended me over my atheism to the point I didn’t speak to either one until they apologized to me. They kept claiming that they didn’t understand what they did wrong (even after I explained it to them) and put the blame on me for being offended. I maintain that as silly as we think their reasons are for being offended, it isn’t up to us to decide whether someone else should be offended.

    I don’t know anything about Chris or what he does on his blog or whatever, (the consensus seems to be that he’s a tool) but I think him personally not wanting to offend his friends is fine. Shame on him if he is trying to stifle others from exercising their free speech or demonizing atheists who criticize religion, I’m just saying personal relationships count. I seriously doubt readers of this blog go out of their way to antagonize religious friends and family, but many have no problem ridiculing the faceless “monolith” on the other side.

    So that you don’t think I’m a wuss, I can tell you that I admitted to one of my sisters – in – law that I’m an atheist this morning, and when she said that family members would only try to talk to me about changing my mind because they feel sorry for me not having the comfort that faith brings, I said that I sometimes feel sorry for people who do believe. We exchanged ” I love yous” when we hung up because we respected each other as individuals, you know?

    I’ll go get the fire extinguisher now.

  • Hitch

    Gratis Thinker, there is nothing violent about smiling stick figures.

    And I’m all for stopping to oppose religion, but as long as zealots staff school boards, press SCOTUS cases that try to establish religious privilege, or treat atheists as second class citizen, I cannot agree with you. We have to stand up and do things.

    The only way to not offend is to say nothing. Ani diFranco is likely the first to understand that.

    “when I was four years old
    they tried to test my I.Q.
    they showed me a picture
    of 3 oranges and a pear
    they said,
    which one is different?
    it does not belong
    they taught me different is wrong”

    “‘Cause you’re only as loud
    As the noises you make
    I’m learning to laugh as hard
    As I can listen
    ‘Cause silence
    Is violence”

    My IQ – Ani diFranco

  • Unfortunately I don’t have time to respond to all of this, but I wanted to address one of Hitch’s comments in particular:

    “Chris knows that the student groups went out of their way to reach out. He simply refuses to concede that one can do anything but what the MSA demands. But that’s not compromise or dialogue, it’s self-abandon.”

    Here is what I said, verbatim (I don’t have time to sift through the whole talk but I found these parts):

    “I know that there were instances of Secular Student groups reaching out to MSAs in advance, letting them know that they were going to be doing this, and then getting pushback from the MSAs. And so while I understand and respect the Secular Student groups’ decisions to move forward with the project anyway after hearing that feedback, I still think that’s an important moment for us to take the time to consider how we are responding to the pushback we are getting from other groups.”

    And then again, later:

    “The people that I talked to who were offended by EDMD were people that I had a relationship with and were people that, through our relationship, I already had a respect for them and a respect for what they believed, even if I disagreed with what they believed. And so, because of our relationship, when they voiced their concern, it made me stop and think, ‘Oh, okay, I think there is some legitimacy to what they’re saying.’ Ultimately though, my biggest takeaway from EDMD is that sometimes we don’t have to understand why somebody is offended to respect the mere fact that they’re offended, and to say, ‘just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we have to do it.’ And so I don’t have to totally get why somebody is offended by the depiction of Muhammad in order to say ‘you know what, I don’t need to go there.'”

    And:

    “I think that there are ways that we can do that that don’t offend people. I think we can try to pick and choose the approaches we take and if we’re starting to get that kind of pushback, I think we should pay attention to that and consider that maybe… it’s a missed opportunity for us to open [dialogue], because some people are just going to shut down right away.”

    What you said I said and what I actually said are two totally different things. You’ve mischaracterized my comments and that is unfair. I never said that one must do “what the MSA demands.” I just suggested that feedback from the MSA is a good moment to reflect on the ramifications of our actions, and that we need to recognize the reality that our actions don’t occur in a vacuum but, rather, in a culture that already marginalizes and discriminates against Muslims, and that EDMD could be construed as contributing to that.

    Additionally, I’ve never said one’s Atheism should be checked at the door in interfaith — or, as you say, “Chris seems to demand that one pretty much gives up anything that conflicts with faith.” Check out my response to Greta Christina’s question about this in the video. I said the opposite of what you’re suggesting here.

    To everyone else: I invite you to check out my blog and welcome your feedback. Thanks for taking the time to watch the video, and sorry I can’t respond to each of you individually.

  • Hitch

    Chris, “I would suggest that the pushback from secular students against your position is a good moment to reflect on the ramifications of our actions, and that we need to recognize the reality that our actions don’t occur in a vacuum but, rather, in a culture that already marginalizes and discriminates against atheists.”

    So why again was it OK for Eboo to call smiling stick figures swastikas and present SSA actions like night-and-shadow campaigns KNOWING FULL WELL that it wasn’t so?

    Why do you now give pretense as to you having had a balance position on this when in reality you host posts that call chalking students bigots and haters?

    So how do you suggest we articulate violence against people who exercise freedom of expression, specifically violence that comes from or is informed by religious belief structures? You solution to date is to give to the demands of the bullies, because free expression is insensitive. Hmm. Theo van Gogh surely will love that explanation, or the translators of Rushdie.

    And what about denouncing Greta Christina over 9/11?

    I stand by what I said, people can read your blog and form their own opinion. Frankly I think Eboo has some apologizing to do, and so do you. The white male, emotional robot, atheists are arrogant stereotypes, the KKK comparisons. If you are serious about not wanting to offend people how about you stop being offensive yourself?

    I know people personally who are offended that atheists exist and tell me to my face that I should die in flames right now. What does that leave us by your logic?
    Well they are offended and I should stop, whatever that is that I do that offends them.

    You obviously don’t even know how heartless your positions and blog posts are.

  • I stand by my mention of the “white male” issue in organized Atheism, and I’m not alone in observing this: http://friendlyatheist.com/2010/08/13/diversity-in-the-freethought-community/ When I mentioned it in a post, I cited Debbie Goddard and Greta Christina’s talks. It wasn’t about stereotyping, but about noting observable trends that others have recognized as well.

    Per the “bigots and haters” bit, I hosted a post in which one individual (an agnostic, no less) called EDMD bigotry. That was his opinion, and I think it is fair for him to have a platform just as those in favor of EDMD have had platforms. As for my opinion on EDMD, well, I’ve stated it many times, both in the video above and on my blog.

    Per the pushback I get from Atheists, I have taken that into consideration and continue to. I’ve said this on my blog several times over, including in my most recent post and also in this post: http://nonprophetstatus.com/2010/07/20/dont-pass-god-giving-religion-a-get-out-of-jail-free-card/

    And regarding your comment on people who are offended by the mere existence of Atheists, I addressed this in the panel. Did you watch the video in full?

  • Hitch

    On yes you were stereotyping with the while male thing because you were by implying that poor people cannot afford to be atheists. I would suggest that you read up on the demographics on atheism as I have already suggested in the comment section of your blog.

    What you say is NOT the same as what Greta says. Don’t pretend that it is.

    Yes I watched the full video, I don’t appreciate your condescension.

    I have also read your blog, eboo’s newpaper articules, Greg Epstein’s writings on the matter and the miscaracterization of the affair by other journalists. You have never actually corrected any of the misgivings when challenged. Never distanced yourself from the bigotry statement or the swastika statement. And now you do the dance that you just give a platform. Sorry, that’s just disingenuous and you know it!

    I encourage people to read your blog and all comments. It’s rather well documented how you are really trying very hard to find fault with outspoken atheism, and hardly ever highlight positives. You not only once gave voice to negative stereotyping but multiple times and in fact yourself expressed it.

    So talking down to atheists and promoting the stereotype they struggle with already is OK. But a smiling stick figure is a sign of people not having considered the other.

    All I am asking you Chris, is that you apply your own claims to all groups. If you give deference to believers, you ought to give the same deference to non-believers. You are not doing it, as anybody who actually follows what you say can read.

    That post you link that supposedly takes atheist’s position into consideration. Well check this. Your figure shows a “Religion is the root of all evil” T-Shirt, and the caption reads: “If I wear this to the next Atheist conference, maybe then I’ll fit in!”

    You think people do not understand what you just did there? First you stereotype atheists as all liking that t-shirt, and then you add a snide remark putting them down and making you better.

    You are not giving atheists consideration as is evident from people’s reactions. Open your ears, man.

  • Aj

    I find it amazing that these types of people whine about not offending people but have a hate blog that repeatedly uses the “fundamentalist atheist” term. Seriously? Are you fucking kidding me? Have bigots guest blog like Eboo Patel, and quote bigots like Melanie Phillips. The ignorance, bullshit, irrational nonsense, and lies directed at atheists is horrendous on that piece of shit blog. That’s fine, no one has the right not to be offended, there’s plenty of retards on the internet. What monumental hypocrisy to turn around and ask that others not offend? WTF is this shit.

  • It was an interesting talk and I think you were very articulate in expressing your views. I definitely think that service projects and charity work are things we should all work together on.

    For me personally, I was convinced to leave by a combination of things, so I think a combination of approaches can work, depending on who is listening or reading.

    On the whole Everybody Draw Mohammad Day controversy, I think it’s important to point out that whatever offense is felt by Muslims who don’t want people to draw Mohammad pales in comparison to the actual discrimination and violence faced by people (including some Muslims) who have criticized Islam. Respecting religious people doesn’t mean not pointing out when their beliefs are wrong and/or when the actions of some are actually hurting people.

    (By the way, I read your post on the Washington Post On Faith site, and I think you some good points. It’s important to be critical of religion, but we should not discriminate. We should not violate the First Amendment. I tried to comment there, but I think registration is required.)

  • anon

    I wonder how many friends and how much love you all have in your lives, being so willing to sever or prevent relationships with people based on differences in worldview. Really, what is the problem with coexistence. You can still be an atheist in the presence of theists. Just like how some of you will tell homophobes that they can still be straight in the presence of married gay people. So many of you unjustifiably feel threatened and sick by the thought of allowing religious people to be religious.

  • Hitch

    I have no problem letting religious people be religious. I have all the problem in the world not being allowed to be openly non-religious.

    How about a two-way-street? Is that really too much to ask? But no, we only ever get told that atheists don’t let religious people be, when the reality is the other way around.

  • Gratisthinker

    America is thankfully a place where we can all enjoy the universal and inalienable freedoms and protections recognized by the Bill of Rights. We all have freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Throw in freedom of speech and the press and we have a constitutionally protected right to criticize, well, basically anything under the sun, including religious belief and practices. As we only have one life to live on this beautiful Earth, I elect to spend my time directly acting against the religious practices that inhibit my own freedom of self-determination. If I really wanted to draw Muhammad, I know that I would be protected by the Federal government to do so. I also know that to change the minds of those who would be enraged by drawing Muhammad requires a lot of work, more than just chalking a stick figure and writing PBUH under it. Why use the stick when you can use the carrot?

    I think if you asked anyone in America if they suffered from religious discrimination at some point in their life, they would say yes, not just us non-religious people. Again, we have the protections of the Constitution and redress through the Judicial system. Although I am loathe to cede territory, if you live in a place where you can’t be openly non-religious, move somewhere else! Find your people! We’re out here! We’re waiting for you! Then we can form a voting block.

    Shall we pick a state to resettle in like the libertarians did with New Hampshire and elect the first openly non-religious senator? May I suggest Alaska? It’s relatively unpopulated…

  • So Hitch. You don’t think white male privilege is a problem today? Or you just don’t think it’s a problem for atheists?

  • Hitch

    I would suggest that you read the bill of rights and point out which passage Molly Norris can draw from to help her deal with death threats. And Theo van Gogh isn’t helped by what you claim either, nor are the translators of Rushdie.

    How is a voting block in New Hampshire going to educate other parts of the country about becoming more familiar with plurality in their community and developing some tolerance through difference? How are they going to learn that there are people who actually may fundamentally disagree?

    It’s doing nothing. Billboard compaigns, however do exactly that. But you are not going to put up those boards from NH.

    How’s a voting block in New Hampshire going to do anything about religious zealots staffing the Texas school board of education?

    Strengthening the community in Texas who are for secular principles in education (separation of religion and school teaching), is the right thing to do.

    So when the Metropolitan Museum of Art pulled historic depictions of the prophet, what is your reaction? Offer a carrot to those who create that culture of intimidation? Or a carrot to those who actually agree with it but don’t themselves intimidate? You think rewarding bad behavior is OK?

    Unfortunately we do not really have much of a chance. Either we stand by silently to a culture of fear, or we speak.

    And if we are realistic, the Bill of Rights does not protect us from violent retribution. The law may jail people who are violent, but that is no consolation if enough people are willing to be violent regardless.

    No we have to speak, and be able to speak.

    And I reject what Chris is doing, which is basically selectively pick the worst possible angle and use it to (a) try to shame atheists and (b) induce cheers by believers. That is not only not providing a carrot it is actively contributing to harming the very community that needs a leg up.

    I don’t need people who supposedly promote dialogue to reinforce the worst stereotypes that are already propagated about atheists anyway.

    Again, read the Minnesota study. We are at over 40% distrust in the US. And that after some 30 years of carrots through the secular humanist movement.

    We lag behind all other stigmatized groups who all have decided to have vocal advocacy. None of these other groups actually managed to gain significant ground before they became clear and vocal. I do not know one case were just a carrot worked. (Check Greta’s great talk!) Clear, principled and issue-based advocacy is necessary, as much as some people may dislike it. There was a clear and important principle behind DMD, and even people who claim there is a better way have actually proposed nothing better. Nothing that articulates the intolerance towards unbelievers freedoms. In fact the “better” way seems to be: Just accept the intolerance (and move to New Hampshire!).

    I’m sorry but not with me. What is worse, smearing people who show that principle is contemptible. The swastika was beyond not OK. Chris still hasn’t distanced himself from that, and Eboo hasn’t apologized for it either.

    Compare this:
    *) People carefully articulating a compaign for free expression and against intolerant bullying.
    *) People calling others quasi-Nazis for doing so.

    Which side do you give your carrot? To me it is trivial. The carrot goes to those who help improve on issues, especially when it’s hard and contentious. And not to those who resort to labeling people negatively.

    Well if the goal is to give religious people yet another cheer line how awful atheists are, well it’s working just brilliantly! But don’t expect me to just stand by and allow that to be called interfaith dialogue and bridge-building, because it is not. It’s intentional branding and alientation.

    Check Chris’ blog. He frames himself as the defender of Interfaith Cooperation on that panel, when actually everybody on the panel is for it and gave specific ways to do it, recounts its benefits and so forth. That is the spin that is going on. And you are welcome to advocate that people move to NH while the rest of us actually try to keep some sort of sensible perspective.

    And work on issues as they appear, even if, perhaps especially when it’s hard.

  • Gratisthinker

    I guess I’m just trying to move the conversation forward rather than nitpick one person’s opinions. I do indeed believe that ghettoizing is a good thing for despised, mistrusted minorities. I don’t think the gay rights movement would have, er, moved if everyone stayed in their closets instead of concentrating in the Castro and Greenwich Village. Every successful movement began with a period of massing the troops; you can’t be a one woman army every time! Regarding the rule of law, what else is there, blogging? Unfortunately every movement has its martyrs. That sounds fatalistic, but in our violent world, it is true. Not to sound terribly cliche, but freedom isn’t free. If you aren’t willing to fight (literally) to defend our freedoms and the freedoms of others, you don’t deserve them.

    I would disagree that billboard campaigns are an effective communication tool. Having driven across the midwest several times this summer, I can testify that seeing “REPENT NOW” billboard didn’t do much to turn me to Jesus (PBUH).

    Hitch, when all is said and done, I agree with you that no one should be subject to the religious morals of others. Museums should be free to exhibit anything within our laws (like no kiddie porn – I think that’s a moral I won’t let slide down the slippery slope of relativism). And no, people should not be murdered because they offended someone’s religious identity. However, as you are rightly concerned about people being murdered, there are far more pressing issues to attend (like domestic violence).

    The First Amendment gave us our freedoms. The Second Amendment gave us freedom to defend the First. Go buy a gun!

  • Chris Stedman is a secular humanist BALLER. I wish I had the ‘nads he did.
    Rarely–if ever–in the secular community do you find people willing to “stick out:” have an open heart, respect religious people, and engage in dialogue. It’s disheartening (though not the slightest little bit surprising) that he and other so-called “accommodationists” are treated with such disgust and disrespect.
    Way to promote diversity of opinion, you radical, inquiring freethinkers, you!

  • Hitch

    Lucy, you obviously miss how he treats atheists. If bridge-building means comparing people to white supremacists and hosting blogs comparing their carefully made choices bigotry and hatred, well yes, then Chris is the angel you make him out to be and the rest is disgusting.

    Truth is that Chris was disrespectful and hurtful and that bridge-building is not the same as branding an out-group (atheists) to get cheers from an in-group (yourself).

    Think about it. I’m for inclusiveness and that is exactly why I have issues with Chris’ approach. Diversity is not to exclude outspoken atheism as Jonathan Weyer on the panel understood perfectly and I’m very glad to hear his perspective. Notice how noone “disrespected” him at all. I’d say rather the very opposite. Consider that.

    Also having balls and fighting atheists is not diplomacy, it’s inverse-firebranding.

    Atheists have an open heart, stick up for others and engage in dialogue and all that. In fact the student groups went out of their way to reach out to MSA and encouraged cooperating and mutual understanding. You think they got any credit at all for that? But yes, reading Chris’ blog you’d never know. But Chris gets credit for branding atheists without even giving them a fair shake for their actual efforts.

    If that’s what you want to defend and respect, go ahead. But at least you should be honest about what is going on. And if you think that flaming freethinkers is encouraging diversity, you basically follow the exact troubled path that Chris goes down. Supposed bridge-building by real bridge-burning. All I can say to that: It’s not a working strategy. We need more Weyers and less of what you do.

    And if you continue to brand an out-group, I think it is fair to assume that people will continue to resent it, especially when their honest efforts at cooperation get mischaracterized to continue that narrative.

    P.S. Lovely web link Lucy… not.

  • anon

    Hitch, outspoken atheism is not the same as insensitive & rude atheism. Chris is an outspoken atheist. Those who blaspheme just for the sake of it and go out of their way to debunk the benign worldview of others are insensitive and rude atheists. Outspoken atheism is encouraged, and necessary. Rude and insensitive atheism is just spiteful and counter-productive.

  • anon

    p.s. We cannot assume that all atheists and freethinkers are alike, and that by criticizing the ethics/attitudes of some one is also criticizing them all. It seems that your perspective is so ‘teams-based’ that any critique levied against some atheists suddenly offends all atheists including yourself. However that is not the case, because not all atheists see the world in such an us-vs-them way.

  • Hitch, I had a comment to you which lingered in moderation or the spamtrap for a while. Pointing it out because it’s now several comments back and easy to overlook.

  • Hitch

    bloggingshard: White male privilege is real and a problem. But this is not what I’m saying anyway. Read chris’ argument to understand what I am objecting to.

    For convenience let me post it here:

    “As Debbie Goddard of the Center for Inquiry, keynote speaker Greta Christina, and others rightly noted, our movement is dominated by upper-class, educated, heterosexual white men. Why is this? Most people do not have the luxury of sitting around debating the existence of God, let alone taking an entire weekend to attend a conference on secularism, because they are preoccupied by just trying to live, to eat, to survive. Some reconcile the struggles and challenges of their existence with a belief in God.”

    I am in full agreement with Greta Christina here. But I completely reject Chris’ supposed explanation why. That’s why he has turned a valid concern into a stereotype.

    I highly encourage people read up on the history of atheists and their struggles. If after having done that you come away with a way to defend what Chris said, I’ll be happy to engage with that.

    For example consider Michael Lackey’s book “African American Atheists and Political Liberation”.

    anon: Is comparing people to white supremacists rude or outspoken? Is comparing smiling stick figures to swastikas rude or outspoken? Or in other words, who really is rude here?

    I don’t see the world as us-vs-them at all, but Chris creates this us-vs-them internally within atheists. It’s “us” the supposedly inclusive atheists vs “them” the supposedly rude atheists. Now one, and perhaps the main problem with this is that many people who are branded as rude are not at all anti-inclusive. Again listen to the panel discussion. Anyone there against being inclusive? Not one! Yet we still get this divisive mentality from Chris.

  • Hitch, that sounds like an intriguing book and it’s going on my reading list. In the meantime, let me ask you, is this essay by Shawn Brown touching on some of its topics? Part of Shawn’s point is that there are social barriers within African American communities, which encourage people to conflate or even define blackness in terms of religiosity. Is that what you see as a more compelling explanation?

  • Hitch

    First off, thanks for the pointer. It’s a very nice read and I think you will find it relating well to the book.

    There are many explanations. Atheism has many forms, occurs in many demographics and have many different specific influences how it plays out socially.

    That’s why I object to Chris’ extremely simplistic and universalizing story.

    There are plenty of African American atheists, but they are invisible, also within our community. There are plenty of women, but they don’t make the news as much as Dawkins. There are plenty of poor atheists, but they don’t have the same visibility as kids who can afford to go to college and so forth.

    The right answer, the skeptical answer, is not to second guess reasons, but to study them, to ask people who are affected and try to solve the specific problems.

    Projecting too simple a story is bound to be wrong. And if the simple story boils down to “oh you are just privileged spoiled brats” then perhaps we should be not only skeptical but also resistant and expect a better explanation than I say so.

    See if we believe that atheists are privileged white males and we should judge atheism by people’s privilege to be in a position to not needing the consolation of religion, we actually do disservice to those cases for whom that is not true.

    And people for whom it is not true, are those who are actually more vulnerable and need more of our consideration.

    In fact in many parts of the world being an atheist is culturally immediately a down-tick in privilege. We cannot discuss Atheism in the Maldives the same way we discuss atheism by a college student group in Berkeley.

  • Projecting too simple a story is bound to be wrong. And if the simple story boils down to “oh you are just privileged spoiled brats”

    I’m going to have to stop you right there. This is what I suspected the problem was: you are arguing with a strawman because you don’t understand what people are talking about when they say “white privilege” or “male privilege”.

    No one was born knowing, and it is jargon. But you know how to use the google. All men in this society have male privilege, and we cannot simply choose that society will stop conferring it upon us. All white people in this society have white privilege, and again we cannot choose otherwise.

    Even in the case of class privilege, it doesn’t follow that the person is a spoiled brat. Mere recognition of class privilege doesn’t say whether the beneficiary is a jerk about it.

    The interesting thing is that you appear to understand some of the basics already, and you’re just objecting that the P word leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

    There are plenty of African American atheists, but they are invisible, also within our community.

    Hello white privilege. African American people are relegated to invisibility all throughout society. It’s not just a problem within the atheist community, although we can make a concentrated effort to work against it.

    There are plenty of women, but they don’t make the news as much as Dawkins.

    Hello male privilege. The dominance of men as voices of authority in general, and in the public face of science in particular, is indeed part of the problem.

    There are plenty of poor atheists, but they don’t have the same visibility as kids who can afford to go to college and so forth.

    Hello class privilege. And the ones who can afford to go to college are also more likely to be able to afford taking time off for a weekend conference.

    See if we believe that atheists are privileged white males

    But no, see, now you are trying to claim that Chris said something he did not say. The quote you chose was clear. He didn’t say there are no or few atheist women, or atheist people of color. He said the movement was dominated by white men. And there are a variety of reasons for this, but it is true that white men are most visible as the public face of atheism, and the reasons may boil down to the same reasons that white men have an easier time being the public face of any movement.

    That’s also not to say these are the only factors at play. Shawn Brown highlights other factors. But there is no reason to think it has to be just one or the other. The situation is complicated and can’t be fully explained as an either/or dichotomy.

    In fact in many parts of the world being an atheist is culturally immediately a down-tick in privilege. We cannot discuss Atheism in the Maldives the same way we discuss atheism by a college student group in Berkeley.

    True fact. But the statement was about a group meeting at a college in Columbus, and the particular Western movement that tends to meet at such places. You’re the one who’s universalizing Chris’s statement to imply things he did not mean.

    Please study up on privilege. We can’t have a productive discussion if you insist that someone’s calling you a spoiled brat when no one is.

  • Hitch

    Thanks for stopping me right there. I just wonder why you are not stopping Chris on that very point. Look, I did not construct the story that atheism is a privilege, I critique the notion.

    I have no disagreement with you in the definition but it just make no sense for me to try to defend myself against simplifications others have committed and I point out.

    Let me repeat: “White male privilege is real and a problem.” was the very first thing I said in response to your inquiry.

    My critique was that Chris claimed that doubting the existence of God is a white male privilege thing. I say that this isn’t as simple and in fact reinforces the very lack of privilege other atheists have to deal with.

    So I am not objecting to the privilege word at all. In fact I completely agree to the notion. I agree with you on class privilege. Why you think otherwise is not clear to me, because I certainly never have said otherwise.

    I challenge the implied invisibility that creates Chris’s statement. It’s not true that poor people cannot afford to be atheists. To claim that comes indeed from a white privileged perspective to claim that.

    As you say: “Hello class privilege. And the ones who can afford to go to college are also more likely to be able to afford taking time off for a weekend conference.”

    Exactly. That is my point. But to suggest that people who cannot afford to go to conventions are not atheists, is false and unjust to those who are in that position.

    After all, all that Chris sees (apparently) are college level meetings of atheists, and yes there are predominantly white male.

    That is “real” in the sense that that is what he sees. But it is not the full picture.

    I find it strange how you seem to critique me when I agree with you. Yes I say that Dawkins being in the news more is a sign of male privilege. So why do you have to “stop me” on that point? But it’s false to say there are no female atheists, that is exactly the reinforcement of the male privileged position to say. Lifting the underprivileged out of omission from discourse is after all a key part to overcome it.

    I’m sorry Chris was saying this:

    “Most people do not have the luxury of sitting around debating the existence of God, let alone taking an entire weekend to attend a conference on secularism, because they are preoccupied by just trying to live, to eat, to survive.”

    You say that is a valid explanation? If yes, I will disagree with you, and again I hope you read up more on the history and demographics of atheism.

    So if you think it’s OK to perpetrate the simple picture “the poor cannot afford atheism, mostly white male privilieged” can, we are in actual disagreement. But I actually have read extensively. If you can give me authoritative sources on the sociology, and cultural anthropology of atheism that counters what I say, I am all ears. But you chide me for doing the right thing here, and frankly I’m at best bewildered why you do this.

    And just for semantics I nowhere said that someone called me specifically a spoiled brat.

    Chris gives us a reason why the less privileged are supposedly also less likely atheist. If you are atheist but belong to the underprivileged group, you now have exactly been omitted from the narrative and people have assumed (rather condescendingly) what motivations and reasonings we are to believe to describe your situation (and yes done so from a position of white male privilege). And that is exactly what I reject. And yes that is exactly what my first response to when he said it on his blog was to call it white chauvinism. That is what it is. Privilege with a capital P.

    P.S. I wanted to elaborate why I repeatedly say that Greta Christina’s talk is not the same as what Chris claims. Greta nowhere says that women, African American or poor cannot afford to be atheists, hence she makes no statement as to the causation or sociology of atheism. She just challenges the invisibility and difficulties in different groups. I am in full agreement with her on that. I am in disagreement with Chris. I hope that is as explicit as I can make it.

  • I have no disagreement with you in the definition but it just make no sense for me to try to defend myself against simplifications others have committed and I point out.

    Then let me point out the simplification that you have committed.

    So I am not objecting to the privilege word at all. In fact I completely agree to the notion. I agree with you on class privilege. Why you think otherwise is not clear to me, because I certainly never have said otherwise.

    I was trying to be generous by assuming that you were not familiar with the terms here. If you are then there is simply no excuse for you to take the notion that class privilege may enable atheism — even if you disagree with that analysis — and twist it into a claim that

    the simple story boils down to “oh you are just privileged spoiled brats”

    because a claim about class privilege as partially (or even wholly, though Chris said no such thing) causative simply does not mean that those with class privilege are spoiled brats.

    You are the one who chose that phrase. That may be understandable from someone ignorant about privilege. If you are not ignorant, then you are poisoning the well.

    And while you may otherwise have useful criticism to contribute, I will not engage, and Chris cannot fairly be asked to engage, with such distortion.

  • Hitch

    I see, this isn’t about privilege at all.

    And while you may otherwise have useful criticism to contribute, I will not engage, and Chris cannot fairly be asked to engage, with such distortion.

    It’s about an excuse to not engage with criticism because you disagree with my wording in the paraphrase of one sentence.

    Look. If you dislike a wording (e.g. “spoiled brat”), say it. I’m happy to clarify, in fact I have in detailed clarified already. But if you just want to find a way to wholesale dismiss discussion, well that’s it then I guess.

    I think critiquing the nuance of my wording is valid. I just wonder why you do not demand the same nuance from Chris and his co-bloggers. I guess white suppremacist comparisons, swastika comparisons, depicting atheists as emotionally deprived, and as intellectual snobs is A-OK? Even though it reinforces negative stereotypes that are routinely perpetrated against the group? That doesn’t deserves your chiding?

    Especially if that group has a distrust level of over 40% in the US already and hence is among the most stigmatized groups and has some of the hardest work to do to overcome that stigma?

    I’m very sorry but privilege and stigma are more important than silly quibbles over whether I can be dismissed over one paraphrasing sentence. Go ahead and dismiss me if you must.

  • Look. If you dislike a wording (e.g. “spoiled brat”), say it.

    I just did say it. And the problem with it is that you’re being deliberately dishonest. You are deliberately poisoning the well.

    The reason I asked about privilege in the first place was because it appeared you did not understand it. If you didn’t, I was going to try explaining how the issues of white male class privilege Chris is bringing up don’t mean that the recipients of that privilege are “spoiled brats.” Some people get that impression, and it’s common enough that I’ve become accustomed to explaining what’s actually meant. That’s it. That’s the only reason I asked you about privilege, because your choice of words were so twisted and wrong that I wanted to check whether you were just having an honest misunderstanding. I don’t need to explain it if you understand it. But if you understand it, then there’s no excuse for your distortion of it.

    Hitch, what I’m looking for is a serious discussion of the issues here. You’re not stupid, you might have something worth hearing, and that something would be tremendously easier to grasp if you would stick to fair criticisms.

    I think there are fair criticisms to be made of much current interfaith dialogue. It’s my impression that atheists are not being heard on our own terms. I read essays about how we really do have “faith” in something and how that makes us all so similar, and I have to sigh. It feels condescending to me, though I realize it’s not intended as such.

    I’d like to be able to parse your criticisms without wasting my time sorting the wheat from the personal grudges.

    And don’t give me a tu quoque. Even if Chris or Eboo are doing what you claim they’re doing, it doesn’t excuse your distortion. It’s not my job to hunt down everyone who ever said something you didn’t like.

    I’m talking to you because when I got in contact with Chris, I noticed your comments everywhere and I hoped I could find some useful criticisms among the personal animosity. I’ve managed to find a couple anyway, though you’re making it really, really difficult.

    Don’t write off your “spoiled brats” line as harmless “wording in the paraphrase of one sentence.” And don’t act like because you’ve clarified, that it makes the distortion OK. You’re poisoning the well, and you ought to acknowledge that that’s wrong.

  • My bad. That “spoiled brats” nonsense has stuck in my craw so much that I forgot you didn’t even start off with those words; that was just where you doubled down.

    You originally just brought up the white male privilege thing without unfairly distorting what it meant.

  • Aj

    bloggingishard,

    Hello white privilege. African American people are relegated to invisibility all throughout society. It’s not just a problem within the atheist community, although we can make a concentrated effort to work against it.

    Is it a problem within the atheist community? How would you make a concentrated effort to work against it? Do you feel the same way about male privilege?

  • Hitch

    bloggingishard, I appreciate your comments.

    The situation as I see it is very difficult. Atheists have an atrocious stigma and on top of it there is a rather active backlash going on right now.

    When then Chris comes out and feed that very trend, it is a problem and someone has to say something. More often than not that someone has been me.

    This is even more important because Chris and Eboo try to own the notion that they are bridge-builder and seeking to foster communication.

    Yet at the same time they very often treat Atheists as the out-group. As a group about one can leverage harsh and unfair criticism without worry or concern.

    This is the long-standing context. I do not want to be unfair to Chris or Eboo or anybody, but I also do not want to let unfair characterizations stand without them being challenged.

    On the “spoiled brat” thing, I have tried extensively to explain my grievance and frankly it is very exasperating to do so. That phrase was an exaggeration and your rebuke has some merit. But I’m sure you understand that I have serious problems if that means my whole criticism which I still think is valid is thrown out.

    Chris did try to insinuate that being an atheist is a kind of privilege. And that just happens to be a stereotype that people try to feed, namely that the poor simply cannot be afford to be without faith. It’s similar to the “no atheists in foxholes” stereotype. Of course in reality this is both demeaning to believers and to atheists alike. Believers because they are branded as intellectually and emotionally weak, and atheists because if they are poor or in a foxhole, their existence is explained away for them.

    But back to the actual topic. Yes indeed I am culpable for my distortions. Call me out on them and I correct. If what I just wrote above is insufficient I am happy to elaborate. I am happy to introduce the nuance the argument deserves.

    As for the rest, I can provide quotes for all the things I have mentioned. You can in fact find discussion of all of them in my comments to Chris’s blog. If you think anything I say is unfair, I am happy to explain.

    But my charge, that white supremacist, swastika, shady-night, emotional robots etc comparison are the actual thing that poisons the well stands. I would not be spending my time if that would not happen.

    I hope you understand.