Category Archives: Atheism

Fuck the Pope

In honor of the election of Pope Francis, I actually sat down and listened to the entire Pope Song by Tim Minchin. I agree with it entirely. Fuck the Catholic Church, fuck the Pope, and fuck you if you still call yourself a Catholic after everything–the tens of thousands of children raped and abused, the girls and women enslaved in the Magdalene Laundries, the needless suffering imposed on hundreds if not thousands of sick and dying people by Mother Theresa, the promotion of a profoundly, fundamentally immoral philosophy under the disguise of being God’s infallible moral voice on Earth–all of it. There no fucking excuse. None. The Catholic Church is evil.

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Filed under anti-theism, Atheism

Day of Solidarity with Black Non-Believers

Redlining map of Charlotte, NC: Courtesy of UNC's Digital Innovation LabToday, February 24th, is the fourth Sunday in February, and as such it is the third annual Day of Solidarity with Black Non-Believers.

In 2011, Donald Wright first proposed holding a Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers without asking anyone’s permission; he didn’t wait to see if hundreds of people would line up behind the idea before taking that first step and creating a Day of Solidarity in Houston, Texas. Although there doesn’t seem to be much promotion for the Day of Solidarity this year, no one has to wait for permission to celebrate the Day of Solidarity either. If anyone, anywhere, wants to celebrate the DoS, please, go right ahead and create your own event; contact other nonbelievers in your own community and decide how you’d like to spend that time with each other: share a meal; visit an art gallery or museum; go see a movie or a play; go ice-skating; etc. Make some phone calls, post your event on your own Facebook page as well as on the DoS Facebook page; celebrate, and remain an activist—not just a joiner—for the rest of the year; make a commitment to social change. Right now, what society needs are people who are committed to social change; we have enough talkers, and in order to create meaningful change, we must each assume leadership by doing the right thing—with or without company!

The future as well as the integrity of the secular community depends not on people who do as they are told, but on those of us who are both independent thinkers and activists.

–Naima Washington

So, when I was 12 or 13, I was walking down Main Street, passing the department store, heading for the library, and I saw a group of black boys, high schoolers or college students. I remember noticing how my heart sped up with fear. Somehow I’d absorbed the idea that young black men are extra dangerous – more so than the “average” (read: white) man. This didn’t really jive with my young nerdy embrace of the Vulcan ethos, “IDIC,” Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination. Difference is not to be feared, so I thought, and so I believed consciously, but subconsciously I feared those young men. It’s a vivid memory, perhaps because the cognitive dissonance was so strong.

My parents were proud of being supportive of the civil rights movement, and emphasized ideas about equality. They were not big on enforcing or obeying gender stereotypes. They spoke approvingly about MLK Junior and beamed with pride when I “went steady” in 7th grade with a cute dark-skinned boy in the 8th grade who won the dance contest at the Junior High Dance, and gave me the blue teddy bear he won thereby as a Valentine’s Day present. And yet there I was, acting out the stereotype that young black men and boys are violent thugs.

That experience is one among many that predisposed me to quickly grasp the concept that racism is a system in which we all participate, sometimes without intending to or even knowing that we are. I think that’s something that white can do to help the struggle against racism – have an accurate understanding of racism and how it works. Embrace the Smooth Model of racism – it’s about the effects, not the intent.

Think about your neighborhood for a minute. Then consider that, concurrent to the public apartheid of Jim Crow, there was also a fully legal and government-sanctioned program of segregation by neighborhood and sometimes by town. This practice was called “redlining” and if you’re not familiar with the practice, basically it meant banks and the Federal Housing Authority collaborating to identify and map neighborhoods that were “good investments” and which were “too risky.” The Wiki page has a pretty succinct description, so I’ll just put it here:

Such maps defined many minority neighborhoods in cities as ineligible to receive financing. The maps were based on assumptions about the community, not accurate assessments of an individual’s or household’s ability to satisfy standard lending criteria. Since African-Americans were unwelcome in white neighborhoods, which frequently instituted racial restrictive covenants to keep them out, the policy effectively meant that blacks could not secure mortgage loans at all.

Emphasis mine. See how skepticism comes into play here? Racism clouded the ability of the white men making those maps to accurately assess reality. And because of that, they did a lot of damage: they made it nearly impossible for several generations of black families to get mortgages for their houses, loans for their businesses, and even supermarkets in their neighborhoods.

That’s just one area in which the basic material substrate of our lives is so heavily influenced by our history of racialized injustice here in the USA. The house you live in, the neighborhood, how far you have to drive to get groceries (whether you have to drive, too), and of course whether your family has generations of wealth-generating home ownership to draw on. Pick a realm of life–education, medicine, environmental hazards, work, whatever–and there’s a similar story of deliberate exclusion, papered over by the pretense that the Civil Rights movement was, like, a million years ago, and slavery was a million years before that, and everything’s copacetic now. This is an attitude that a.) does not withstand critical inquiry; as I just demonstrated, the footprints of racism are everywhere, if you don’t deliberately blind yourself to them and b.) does active harm to the project of achieving equality. When you have one group of people asking, “How can we solve this problem?” and another group is saying, “There is no problem here,” there can’t be any productive dialogue. The question of whether racism, and other bigotries, are a problem in the atheist/skeptic community (as they are in ALL communities, without exception) is a binary question: either it is a problem, or it is not. The correct answer is that there is a problem. As skeptics, we need to stop being patient with those who insist that there is no problem. They should have no more credibility than creationists or climate change deniers.

Eventually this will happen, but we can help it along by not taking discussions of how you may have come across as racist so personally, and by paying attention, getting accurate information, and applying critical thinking. And of course speaking out against racism as often and as loudly as possible, joining actions, donating to organizations such as Sikivu Hutchinson’s Women’s Leadership Project.

This is my very small contribution to the Day of Solidarity with Black Non-Believers this year. Next year I hope to join in again, with a bit more lead time – I think I heard about it just a couple of weeks ago for the first time – and I hope you’ll join in too.

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Filed under Anti-bigotry, Anti-racism, Atheism, geography

Why I’m anti-theist, not just an atheist

So, the other day I was doing public outreach at a church event. Let’s say I was promoting “Cash for Clunkers.” Remember that? Remember George Bush and his occasional wacky schemes that put a few extra hundred dollars in your pocket every few years? I kinda miss that sometimes.

Anyway, this is an analogy, but it fits pretty closely. So I’m making a speech, asking people if they want to pay less for gas, and get some incentives to ditch their old dirty cars and buy an electric. “How many people here are happy with the amount of money they pay for gas every week?” I ask rhetorically. Surprisingly, one hand goes up.

Later on, as we’re taking questions about the program and passing out flyers, the woman who raised her hand approaches me.

“I wasn’t being sarcastic when I raised my hand,” she says. “We get really good gas mileage.”

“Well, that’s great,” I say. “It’s true, every once in a while I meet someone who owns a car that’s already very efficient, so they don’t really need our program.”

“Oh no, it’s not an efficient model,” she replies. “I’m pretty sure it’s miraculous.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, God just puts a little extra money in our pockets whenever we need it.”

It’s not the time to do a spit-take, so I settle for, “Wow, that must be really handy,” accompanied by a somewhat awkward smile.

Now, the people at this church are really, really nice people. I mean, they are absolutely adorable. It’s probably the most racially diverse crowd I’ve been in since I moved here. And the people are kind and friendly and laughing–the children are rambunctious but not obnoxious. If it came down to it, I’d definitely call the pastor for help turning people out to a rally against racism or against climate change or something along those lines. But the religiously inspired paradigm they use lends itself to inadvertent insults and denigration of human achievement and human effort–which are obstacles to change.

In this woman’s case, I can’t really be confident that her car gets good gas mileage. We didn’t discuss what constitutes good vs. bad gas mileage, and it sounded like she was saying that the mileage actually varies somewhat, according to whether God feels like they need some extra cash or not. Like, when they’re poor, God magically makes the engine burn more efficiently, and when they’re flush he lets it run normally.

If this is true, that means several things. For one thing, it’s a testable claim which if verified would lend support to the hypothesis that not just god but specifically Yahweh, the god of the Bible exists. But that’s a story for another day. Another thing it means is that there’s barely any point in measuring fuel efficiency. Also, it means that whatever humans put work into designing and building her car to be as fuel efficient as it is–their work is paltry and meaningless compared to the influence of this supernatural being.

I am also forced to wonder if God is artificially depressing her car’s greenhouse gas emissions when He makes it magically more efficient, or if he’s artificially increasing them when he’s letting the mileage go lower. Either way, it would seem to me like global climate change is a much more pressing concern than the concerns of this or that family in upstate New York, no matter how nice they are.

Then my brain starts to boggle at the worldview that sees this omnipotent being as being avidly concerned with one family’s monthly budget but can’t be bothered to avert a major ecological catastrophe, but then I remember that this is the same God that’s supposed to destroy the world, or so some Christians believe, and that’s supposed to be a good thing, which is why they don’t have to worry about climate change, and there’s a burning smell and smoke starts to come out of my ears.

Truly, even in a congregation whose ethics and values are in the right place, religion poisons everything. Not only was this woman blinding herself to the value of human achievement, she’s also using her religious belief to buttress her system justification, meaning that she’s rendering herself less likely to even be able to hear evidence that economic inequality exists in the world and is unjust. If God pads the pockets of the deserving, the obvious implication is that those with less padded pockets haven’t given God what he wants.

I don’t really see how you can maintain a belief in an invisible but powerful being that rewards those who please it but not those who don’t, and not have it feed into system justification at some point.

Theism is a poisonous and destructive belief, even in very small doses. I don’t suppose it’s reasonable to think that religion will end in my lifetime, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give it a shove while I’m passing through.

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Filed under Atheism, Global warming, Religion, Science

Lies Told By Anti-Feminists

If I had known that this particular malicious lie would hang on for well over a year, I would have gotten screen shots.

A bit of background – as a great deal of you already know, I’m a regular commenter at FreeThoughtBlogs (FTB). And FTB has a dedicated website for FTB haters, they call it the Slymepit. I call the people who post there slimers. Most of their hatred of FTB is grounded in their hatred of the concept of having to do something about social justice, rather than mouthing empty platitudes and feeling smug and superior because “we” don’t throw acid in “our” women’s faces, not like those brown barbarians in far-off lands. They’ve constructed a narrative that sexism is basically over in the Western industrialized world; therefore, since they assume that sexism is done, women in the USA or Britain or wherever who complain about sexism are lying hysterical bitches who are trying to smear some innocent man’s good name. Or something. And, since I’m a vocal feminist, and an active commenter at FTB, I sometimes attract the attention of the slimers. Here is the story of my notoriety among the anti-feminists, and why I’m totally capitalizing on the lies they tell about me to persuade you to donate a small amount to my travel fund for the American Atheists’ conference.

Once upon a time, during, or, actually, just after Thunderfoot’s brief misadventures as a blogger at FreeThoughtBlogs.com, I went over to Thunderfoot’s own website to speak my mind. Okay, so far so good. Thing is, while I was there, some anonymous poster threatened to “track you down and rape you.” All right, that sucks. I pointed it out, and emailed Thunderfoot at the email address listed on his site. No response. And pretty much immediately, some of the other commenters there began to claim that it was actually me. Like, I logged out as SallyStrange and then logged in as anonymous to post a rape threat against myself.

Right. As if dudes who hate feminists are ever shy about issuing rape threats on the internet. A couple of years ago, I helped organize my local SlutWalk, and accidentally let my real name get publicly associated with the SlutWalk Facebook page. For this, I got about a dozen Facebook messages from complete strangers, mostly degrading and sexualized comments, several of which were explicit rape threats. So getting a rape threat from an anti-feminist on Thunderfoot’s site wasn’t overly shocking. What was shocking was the utter lack of response from Thunderfoot on the subject. It’s ironic, since as I recall, part of his objection to anti-harassment policies at conferences stemmed from his claim that actual harassment (“legitimate” harassment?) is against the law, and thus any instances of harassment could be dealt with by law enforcement–no need for conference organizers to step in. Yet, when a blatantly illegal threat was made on his own site, he took zero action to counteract it. Not only that, but he’s the only one who has the information to determine whether it’s me or the slimers who are lying. As far as I know, he’s offered nothing one way or the other.

All I know is that it wasn’t me who posted that illegal threat on Thunderfoot’s website. But the lie that I had faked a rape threat against myself quickly gained traction among the Slimers. But that was a year ago, or maybe longer, and the rumor won’t die! Just yesterday, on a post by Ben Radford of the Center For Inquiry, a slimer showed up with the following comment:

Comment #17 by the Devil’s TowelBoy (link goes to my discussion about it on Pharyngula):

Same old faces as always. So who’s going to be first to post a threat to themselves and then demonise Ben for encouraging this “rape culture”? Sally, if it’s you, at least use another browser and wait half an hour between the posts.

So, the narrative goes, there is no rape culture, and it’s only lying bitches like me who talk about it, and naturally we have to make things up and lie about being harassed, getting rape threats, etc., because there is no rape culture. It’s only logical!

So now you see the kind of bullshit that women in the atheist/skeptic movement have to put up with.

Ben Radford’s self-centered and incoherent rant about how feminists are using numbers wrong and doing activism wrong is here, if you want to read the whole thing. Too bad he didn’t just stick to criticizing Eve Ensler’s use of statistics, then perhaps he wouldn’t have come off as either an anti-feminist or a person who’s so gullible that he thinks that anti-feminists don’t lie through their teeth whenever it suits them (as opposed to using outdated rape statistics, or lumping “homicide, intimate partner abuse, psychological abuse, dating violence, same-sex violence, elder abuse, sexual assault, date rape, acquaintance rape, marital rape, stranger rape and economic abuse” into “raped and beaten” or “raped, beaten, or otherwise abused,” which is pretty much the only salient criticism he offers). Then there was that old chestnut, “Why are you dancing in the streets when you could be working in a battered women’s shelter?” No matter what form of activism we choose to bring our concerns to a wider audience, it will be criticized. Slutwalk was too confrontational; One Billion Rising is too pandering. SlutWalk alienated men with its in-your-face rejection of victim-blaming; One Billion Rising doesn’t do enough to point the finger at patriarchal values and toxic masculinity and what men can be doing to combat those problems. We can literally never win.

The thing is, from my experience of actually being out on the streets for a protest, a LOT of the people you meet there are already doing all kinds of activism behind the scenes, whether it’s organizing ESL classes or cooking for Occupy or tree-sitting (that should date me, and you too, if you know what the heck I’m talking about) or volunteering for a rape crisis hotline, they are the people on the streets. There’s a large contingent of people who only have time for the occasional protest too, and that’s fine–everybody has different time demands and finite amounts of energy. I listened to the critiques of SlutWalk, and the critiques of One Billion Rising, and some of them were spot on. The thing is, the critiques from people who actually supported women’s equality never framed their criticism as, “Well you ought to be doing this other thing instead of this fake activism.” Or “slacktivism,” as Radford cutely calls it. Getting people to come out into the streets IS activism, and it’s really fucking hard to do–I know because I’ve tried to do it, and failed, and also tried and succeeded. Getting people out into the streets is not slacktivism. “Slacktivism” applies much better to what Ben Radford was doing with that dumbass piece of his. Sitting at home, offering inaccurate critiques of activists and telling them that raising awareness isn’t real activism but activities that don’t involve getting media attention are–that’s slacktivism.

The Center For Inquiry need to get their house in order. First, they need to figure out if feminism and women’s equality are issues worth getting right–in which case they need to stop Ben Radford from writing on the subject any further. As I have said elsewhere, when it comes to scientific topics, there’s a healthy respect for expertise and the time it takes to become knowledgeable about a complex subject in the atheist/skeptic movement. But when it comes to topics having to do with sociology and the scientific study of human behavior and biases, suddenly the field is wide open and any schmuck with an opinion can spout off and expect to have his opinion treated seriously. Radford’s most telling moment was when he inveighed against feminists who think that all men are rapists. The genesis of this quote is in a 1977 novel by Marilyn French. The line is voiced by a fictional character. The fact that Radford repeats this false trope uncritically shows that he’s not bothering to do his due diligence as a public communicator and a representative of an organization that is supposed to promote critical thinking.

The only way this is going to change is if more women get involved in the movement. And for whatever fucked-up reason, I’m willing to do that. Despite the fuckheads and misogynists in the community, I’m still passionate about the benefits that skepticism, empiricism, and secular ethics can bring to the world. I’ve been developing my skills as a public communicator and community organizer and I think I have a lot to offer. Misogynists like the Devil’s Towel Boy act like they want to exclude me and people like me entirely from the movement. For a while I gave into the sense of intimidation and fatalism this inspired in me, but not anymore. And this is why you should donate a few bucks to the travel fund to get me to the American Atheist Convention in Austin, TX! Plus, it will really piss off the haters. If I raise more than necessary, I’ll donate the excess to more travel grants for people going to Women in Secularism–or maybe I’ll buy myself a new pair of shoes. 😉

Thanks for all the support I’ve already gotten. This community has some seriously awesome people in it. Which is why I’m still here.

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Filed under Anti-bigotry, Atheism, blogging, commenting, Feminism, internet culture, Personal, rants

I’m going to the American Atheists Convention!

So, yeah, I applied for a Surly Amy scholarship to go to the 50th Anniversary Convention for the American Atheists, and I GOT IT!

Woohoo!

Okay. So. Next problem: travel and accommodations. I told Surly Amy that although I am super poor right now, actually working full time but earning less than the federal minimum wage (it’s totally legal because it’s SERVICE!), I would still be able to rustle up travel and lodging somehow. And that “somehow” is you! Looks like airfare from upstate NY to Austin will run me about $600. I’m also interested in securing lodging. Now, I know some folks in the Austin area, with whom I may be able to stay, but I’m also interested in getting a hotel room, if not on-site, then at least close by. Especially since I won’t have a car while I’m there. Hey, does anybody in Austin have a bicycle I can borrow? Anyway, I’m just putting this up here to start getting the word out. I’ll update with details about how to donate as soon as I make arrangements.

UPDATE: Stephanie Zvan has agreed to be the go-between for fund collection for my travel and lodging. Thanks, Stephanie!

UPDATE 2: Because I’m a n00b, I’m having trouble embedding the paypal html here. Stay tuned! Or go to Almost Diamonds and click her Paypal link. Just be sure to drop her a note telling her that it’s for Sending Sally to Austin.

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Filed under Atheism, travel

What’s your name, little girl? (I wouldn’t tell anyone who called me “little girl.”)

There’s power in names. There’s power in labels, in groupings, in language.

That’s why we fight so fiercely about the terms we use to refer to ourselves and each other.

Right now I’m struggling with my own name. I dig the Sally Strange moniker. Its scansion is the same as my real name, which is pretty unusual. I used to go by Valkyrie607. Put those two facts together, do a google search on both my online handles, and you could figure out who I am fairly easily, I reckon. And I don’t particularly mind people knowing, but I prefer to keep a digital divide, mostly for purposes of googling. My work involves outreach and communication. Political and religious opinions–upstate New York is plenty religious. Home of Mormonism’s most impossible happenings, and we got our own Catholic saint last year, a Native woman named Kateri Tekakwitha. Religion is an important thing here, like many places–more so than it was in Vermont. Vermont is very atheist-friendly–Vermont is actually the least religious state in the union. More than a third of Vermonters have no faith. It’s nice.

Anyway, I’m rambling. I was talking about my name. Like I said, I prefer to have that separation between my real name and my online persona of Sally Strange. I hear people talking about how it’s anonymity that’s ruining the caliber of discourse on the internet, but I don’t think that’s it. It is really names that make the difference? Part of the reason I’m not using my real name right now is that I wish to avoid harassment, of myself, and of my friends and family. This is such a common occurrence, and it’s obvious that writing about feminist stuff, as I am wont to do, triggers a larger risk of harassment materializing than writing about less controversial subject. Then also, there’s the fact that my current work contract is temporary, and in 11 months’ time I’ll be looking for work again. Coming off like a political agitator/opinionated blogger with a (however tiny) media platform–ehh, maybe not such a great idea when applying for professional office type jobs.

I’d like to use my real name someday. I can envision a life path in which I could do that without risk to potential employment in five years or so. If that’s something that’s sewn up, then I feel like I can handle the rest of it. I can deal with comments and spam email and whatnot. I know when to invoke law enforcement and when not to.

All of this, because I’m starting up my blog again and contemplating going to a convention. Amazing.

This is why Jerry Coyne is wrong: whether it’s cowardice or not, taking negative social repercussions of holding an unpopular view into account is rational. Pseudonymity allows us to hear voices that would get shut out of the conversation by a “real name rule.” Mine, for example, for a few years anyway. You would only get to hear from older Sally, not present day Sally. And you wouldn’t get to hear from Natalie Reed. And there are thousands more like us out there, disproportionately black and brown, and disproportionately female, disproportionately genderqueer and mentally ill and disabled. Because those are all the same factors that confound our ability to access education, to get good jobs, and so on.

And then there’s the fact that it’s just not accurate to say that using real names increases civility. Think about a bar or a club. You own the facility. People come there to drink and party and get frisky with each other. You don’t want fights and you don’t want harassment. What do you do?

a.) Make everybody get a name tag when they pay the cover charge and show their ID. Use the ID to verify their real name. Better yet, make them write their phone number on the name tags too. This will ensure that everyone is accountable and so nobody will be rude or start a fight.

b.) Employ bouncers to keep an eye on the crowd and occasionally eject those who can’t or won’t follow the rules of civility.

I don’t think that real names would be any more effective in a club than it is online. Certainly being on Facebook or Twitter under their real names has not deterred thousands of people from tweeting blatantly offensive bigoted nonsense of all stripes. The “Not Racist But” blog documents this phenomenon with regards to race.

I hope that pseudonymity continues as long as there is a need for it. Right now I need it, more’s the pity. Building a more economically secure, environmentally just world will increase the number of people able to take the risks and responsibility of revealing their real names online. Oops! Hey, wait a minute–it’s almost like everything we do has political influences and consequences. Everyone’s a partisan somehow. Claiming the alleged (not documented) benefit of increased civility is a worthwhile trade-off for decreased participation by people who are likely to already be marginalized in some way is a political statement, and it’s one that seems at odds with the rest of Jerry Coyne’s beliefs to me. I hope he and those who agree with him have really given serious thoughts to what perspectives they might be missing out on. Son of Baldwin, for example. And countless others. Rather than requiring everyone to use real names, and accusing those who don’t of cowardice, let’s work together to create a world where sharing one’s real name online inspires less fear.

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Filed under Anti-bigotry, Anti-racism, Atheism, Feminism, Personal, Religion