Why All The Hate For Atheism+?

Posted by Phil Ferguson on September 8th, 2012 – 13 Comments – Posted in Uncategorized

Last month I was at a skepticamp and there was a person that was “skeptical” of global warming.  The same word “skeptic” but used opposite of the way that I use it.  He verbally attacked a presenter during question and answer time and called the whole group into question.  “How can you call yourselves skeptics if you accept global warming? ” or something like that.

There was a talk by a follower of intelligent design.   I was told that all ideas have value so, everyone should be allowed to give a talk.  The idea is noble but I think it is wrong.  Skeptic is a good word but it is not clear to people outside of our little but growing group.  We need something else.

Atheist is not much better, I remember several years ago when I went to my first atheist convention.  I was so happy to be there and to be surrounded by rational people.  Most people were rational, but there were also some very irrational people.  There were atheists that love jesus, atheists that think 9/11 was an inside job and atheists that think closing all of the public schools will make America a better place (just to name a few ideas).  I learned that just because you are not convinced that a god (or gods) exist, does not guarantee that you are a rational person or apply the same level of skepticism to other parts of your life.

Several years ago, I was on the board of AAI (Atheist Alliance International – Disclosure:  I am a life member of this organization.) and I was constantly frustrated that they could not agree to support any position outside of atheism (a non position).  The group as a whole could not agree that simple things like slavery or astrology were wrong.  They were worried that any position taken may offend someone and the group might lose a member or two.  My position….

If you don’t stand for something you stand for nothing!

It is great to have atheist meetings, share drinks with friend and I love going to conventions.  But, it is not enough.  We need to stand for something and we need a new word – a new name.

Two weeks ago my good friend Jen McCreight sparked an idea that has adopted the name Atheism +.  She said what I have been thinking for years.

The “first wave” of atheism were the traditional philosophers, freethinkers, and academics. Then came the second wave of “New Atheists” like Dawkins and Hitchens, whose trademark was their unabashed public criticism of religion.

It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime.

The idea was so big that her first post now has 949 comments.

I have always supported the idea of more groups.  I have even proposed that we start multiple groups on every university campus.  We can still have SSA (disclosure: I am a life member and currently on the board) but we can also have Humanists, Skeptics, Pastafarians and now Atheism+ clubs.  Each group can do its thing and they can join together when they share goals.  More groups mean more options and more members.

Less than 6 months ago I cried as every major non religious / skeptic group came together to support the reason rally.

Now my heart breaks as atheists spend more time attacking each other and less time being productive.  I would like to believe that most atheists are rational and can express their views on Atheism+ in a polite and civil tone.  I hope it is only a few that are stirring the post and grabbing for attention by making extreme statements but there is a cost.

Jen McCreight has stepped away from her blog.

I can no longer write anything without my words getting twisted, misrepresented, and quotemined. I wake up every morning to abusive comments, tweets, and emails about how I’m a slut, prude, ugly, fat, feminazi, retard, bitch, and cunt (just to name a few). If I block people who are twisting my words or sending verbal abuse, I receive an even larger wave of nonsensical hate about how I’m a slut, prude, feminazi, retard, bitch, cunt who hates freedom of speech (because the Constitution forces me to listen to people on Twitter).

This is not acceptable and every one of us needs to stand up and say so. I also refer you to a great post by Phil Plait – The silencing of hate.

A woman gamer wants to make a documentary showing misogyny in video games, and she gets rape and death threats. Rebecca Watson calmly and rationally tells men not to hit on women in enclosed spaces and reaps a supernova of hate and irrational vitriol. And now we’re seeing death threats, rape threats, all kinds of violent threats, against women who are simply trying to improve the way they are treated at meetings as well as online.

This. Must. Stop.

Jen has made a difference in many lives!  Her voice is needed to provide a balance to the male dominated atheist movement.  Let me be blunt….  If you attack Jen for her views you are part of the problem.  You don’t have to agree but you do need to be civil!  If you cannot, I will not consider you a rationalist, a skeptic or a decent person.

We all want to make the world a better place and we need more Jens!

Jen, My perfect wife and I support you and support you taking some time away from the hate.  Take all the time that you need and when you come back know that there are people that support you!

I don’t know where Atheism+ will go but, I support the idea and wish them the best.  If it is not the group for you – cool.  There are many other groups you can join or you can start your own.

The more groups the better!  In four years I expect and hope that we can all come together again and get 1,000,000 people to the next Reason Rally!

  1. Karl Frank says:

    Well said Phil…

    Perhaps Jen would be interested in Nassim Taleb’s book ‘The Black Swan”. Mainly because he touches on two important issues. Science isn’t just about positivism, which is use of the scientific method, but also has the demarcation of falsifiability.

    If it’s not conceivably falsifiable, it’s not science.

    And, of course, the overall philosophy of the book about randomness and uncertainty ties in well. I’m sure she would feel empowered once again by what she comes across in Taleb’s book and will be able to keep it simple without being caught up in the vitriol.

  2. What gets me are the women who also pile on Jen and other A+ supporters. One accused Jen of being narcissistic, and I can tell you she’s far from that. When Amy was complaining about her treatment at TAM, some women made it a point to post that TAM was safe and the people who were complaining weren’t really at TAM. (I guess Amy has the power to be at TAM and not be at TAM at the same time.)

    Also, why was it OK for CSICOP to break off from the American Humanist Association, then for James Randi to leave CSICOP, and then for Paul Kurtz to leave CSI? When did we switch to “don’t you dare form another group if you disagree with us!”?

  3. I think A+ is a grand idea. Almost as grand as humanism. I also agree that there is no need for death or rape threats. Misogyny is reprehensible. Period. It sickens me.

    On the other hand, I find it very interesting that much of the debate and online conversation has occurred, not about A+ itself but about the way in which Jenn (and Rebecca) have been treated. That alone has made the conversation “tilted”. A+ isn’t about (or rather shouldn’t be about) how Jenn and Rebecca were treated. Instead it should be about what a great idea A+ is and why, on it’s own merits, we should support the concept of A+. It really is too bad that a new movement has to start that way, because it is a good idea. A+ gives people who are not already leaders in the classical Philosophical and Humanist groups a chance to lead.

    Jenn, please continue to lead, we are happy to follow!

    I recently brought a new anti harassment policy to the table at out Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba and it was accepted by our executive very quickly. In this policy we do not focus on the gender of the group or the individual. Instead we focus on the behaviour of the individual. If it is bad behaviour, we address it respectfully.

    I find the American rhetoric where “Old white men” is a term used to express a misogyny problem to be sexist in and of itself. Just because any group has a large portion of male membership does not mean that it is necessarily misogynistic in any way. To say Old white men are the problem is “lazy rhetoric” that, instead of defining the problem, defines the demographic. I should add that if the a demographic is (in spite of it’s overwhelmingly good behaviour) the only problem you see, you are a sexist, or a racist, or an ageist. Again, if there is a problem with a group, tell us what it is and we’ll address it. If your only issue with any group is that there are too many old white men you need to rethink what you are saying.

    • Phil says:

      Jeffrey, a lot of good stuff there. I have not thought of old white men that way…you are right. The behavior is the problem not a group of people. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    • Emily says:

      This, too. In the past few weeks, I’ve watched women renounce the term “feminist” over the sexist/ageist attitudes towards “old white men”. When feminism is defined so narrowly and “old white men/male privilege deniers” is a net cast broadly, heated arguments are gonna happen.

  4. Ms. Crazy Pants says:

    I can’t get to conventions and such, but I like the idea of Atheist+.

    On a different note, a natural next step in Skepticism should research and study, not just announcing “I’m skeptical of climate change.” Did that person read the studies on it and the evidence or do they just keep repeating their mantra? It’s okay to be skeptical, but not okay to be lazy.

  5. george.w says:

    The complaint I have seen most is that A+ is trying to redefine atheism in feminist terms. This, I cannot understand; if you were trying to redefine atheism you wouldn’t put a + on it. The + signifies that it is the same thing as it has always been, but with something added. The haters are acting like you can’t put two things together. I almost think they are like the Old Testament priests who said you can’t mix fabrics.

    But even with that complaint aside, what is with all the awful hate in her inbox? People who do this should not take the advice; “be yourself” because they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

    Jen has said something that I and a lot of other people have been thinking for a long time.

  6. Emily says:

    What disturbs me the most about all of this is that Jen has been hurt. I’ve never met her. I’ve read her blog regularly ever since Boobquake. I’ve shared it with my mom, who openly shed her “pagan/buddhist/agnostic” self-identification in favor of atheist after reading Jen’s post on infiltrating the boy’s club. I’ve shared it with my friends. I love her quirky insights into life, the universe, and everything. I wish her all of the best. She’s made a difference in my life, and I know I am just one of thousands who will miss her voice.

    Right behind that, though, is my concern about the almost gleeful tendency I’ve seen to minimize and criticize anyone who thinks that the problems she highlights are “legitimate”. There’s a real fear that people will quit being involved in the atheist community if they feel like they need to hold a specific view on EG (and I’ll admit this is in some way validated by how quickly terms like “gender traitor” and “misogynist” get thrown around). I’ve actually seen women say, in no uncertain terms, that they don’t want men to feel afraid to hit on them, in an elevator or elsewhere– and they resent other women for telling men otherwise. And it’s their right to think that way, of course.

    It’s still depressing, though. People who prize rational thought should be able to understand things like group dynamics, including and especially the fact that everyone is entitled to their own opinion about what constitutes socially acceptable behavior.

    In the end, I look at A+ as a step forward to look hard at the old saw about sticks and stones, and to remember that there are large numbers of anonymous people on the internet who are just hateful individuals. Feeding the trolls is a past-time for many, but maybe there needs to be an understanding that the attention is like oxygen to them. Ignore them, and they find someone else to bother. “O hai troll.” Then move on.

    For the rest of us, who aren’t trolls, and who are just tossing ideas around? I think the biggest thing that A+ highlights is the need to choose our words and actions carefully and considerately, particularly when we disagree and probably won’t be able to meet in the middle. That’s a good thing. The world needs more of it.

    • Phil says:

      Emily,
      So glad you like Jen’s blog and I am happy to hear the joyous news about your mom!

      The internet can be a tough place and confusion often results from poor writing. We all need to take a little more time to read what we type.

      We must also remember to value people’s thinking and recognize everyone has the right to disagree.

  1. There are no trackbacks for this post yet.