Talking to John Loftus

Former FtBer John Loftus of Debunking Christianity has a post up today titled Ed Brayton, PZ Myers, and Freethought Bloggers, Listen to Me.

John is absolutely welcome to his opinions, but as some large part of what he said is a whack at FtB, and as I disagree with it, I answered him in the comments, and I echo it here.


Freethought Blogs blogger here, specifically the Blue Collar Atheist.

Quoting you: “I know you have a herd mentality and have a strong tendency not to listen to outsiders …”

John, if you really wanted to catch the attention of someone, starting out with an insult is probably not the best way to go about it.

But as to your accusation, which is basically that nobody there actually THINKS in an independent, rational way, that hasn’t been my experience at Freethought Blogs. I myself am something of an outsider — a non-academic (I’m not the only one, of course) with roots in the Deep South, older than everyone else there, and more prone to write on philosophical points rather than the news of the day. And yet I feel listened to and included when things are discussed or argued. If anything, FtB has a “heard” mentality.

I watched the process of your own departure from FtB, and I’m still sort of baffled by it. If you feel so strongly about the “herd mentality,” and yet think of yourself as an “outsider,” the cure would have been to stay, where you could offer your insights on a daily basis. Yet you left voluntarily, and not over any issue of substance I could detect.

And this bit: “Ed, PZ, if you had just listened to me you would not be in this mess.” That comes across as a bit grandiose, don’t you think?

As to the sexual harassment and equality issue, my own take on it The Funny Thing About Sexual Harassment, and Then the Unfunny Thing came about well after the atheist blogosphere’s general public response to the issue. In the post, I relate my own — male — experiences of sexual harassment at work, and explain how those experiences inform my view of the harassment of women.

My overview impression of all this is that the movement is undergoing inevitable growing pains. Even if it were true (and again, I don’t think it is) that FtB is beset with some sort of herd mentality, the fact is … there’s a whole Internet out here that is not the feisty, energetic, delightful Freethought Blogs. A potentially infinite number of places where all the other voices can be heard.

Like this one, come to think of it.

So even IF there was a “strong tendency not to listen to outsiders,” those outsiders have exactly zero being taken away from them. And the history-making, still-growing movement we’re all a part of, assuming other people express their own unique views of subjects that come up, either in their own blogs or blog comments, benefits just the same from a diversity of viewpoint and voice.

” … I think you’re making atheism look bad for your own profit and influence, for your own privilege and power.”

Heh. To our majority-Christian society, atheism ALREADY looks bad. Might as well try out some passionate grand experiments as to how to be one’s best and most comfortable unbelieving self, right?

And this is where I take greatest exception to your advice here, because what I hear you saying to PZ and Ed and the FtB bloggers can be boiled down to six words: “Be less you. Be more me.”

Nope. Even if that was a good idea, it’s not our style.

Assholes and the Umbrella of Safety
Thoughts on “Privilege”
Zoning Out on Liberal vs. Conservative Issues
Race and Culture Again: Bessie and Lois
  • John W. Loftus

    Hank, pleasure seeing you there. Thanks also for your kind words about this blog. The phrase “herd mentality” is meant to signify protection of the herd, that is, the people at FtB. The tendency is to attack anyone outside the herd, that is me, out of loyalty to the herd. I gave reasons for what I think is reasonable for people to judge for themselves. It’s not being more about me. Hell, I don’t agree with the mission statement I wrote for FtB since I think our focus should be on debunking the basis of religion itself, it’s theology, it’s holy books, and so on. This is the only thing we can all agree on.

    • N. Nescio

      Dude, please get a grip on your massive ego.

    • SocraticGadfly

      PZ is on record on his blog as saying he’d like to have atheist “cadres.” Given normal uses of that word, that implies herd mentality right there.

      At the same time, I’ve had run-ins with John on Amazon book reviews; the Wikipedia anecdote is not surprising.

      The rest of this is funny as hell, given that Greg Laden has in the past been a paragon of opposing free speech himself.

      To riff on Apocalypse Now, I love the sound of petards cranking in the morning.

      • Drolfe

        Petards don’t crank. Couldn’t you at least look up words you don’t know?

  • emburii

    It doesn’t seem like a particularly good idea, either. This is the guy who was complaining that his Wikipedia page got deleted for ‘lack of relevance’. Whatever else people can say about Mr. Myers, for instance, at least they care enough to say a lot.

    Thank you for providing your distinctly Southern and non-academic voice, btw. Of all the bloggers here you’re most like my husband’s viewpoint, and it means a lot to him to know there’s someone out there thinking the same atheistic perspective without multiple degrees or years in high double digits of schooling.

  • emburii

    Of course, Mr, Loftus. You didn’t get the adulation you think you deserve because people were reacting out of some herd response, rather than to any attribution or unpleasant quality of yours.
    Considering your comment implied that people who don’t agree with you or your way of doing things are just irrational sheep, maybe you should read Mr. Fox’s first few paragraphs again and reflect on why he’s gotten different results.

  • embertine

    John, it clearly is about being more like you, as your opening paragraph states that if only the FtB overlords had listened to you in the first place, then the Deep Rifts™ would not have happened.

    I’m not sure from your post what you personally would have done to eliminate the current discussion and division. You seem to be saying that the atheist movement should stick to debating theology, to which I must reply, codswallop. If that is your personal area of interest, then I wish you well and I think you do valuable work, but you don’t get to tell others that they are only allowed to discuss things that freak your personal peaches.

    I am particularly skeptical when white middle-aged men tell us how irrelevant it is to fight sexism, racism, etc and how we should all shut up about it.

  • Improbable Joe

    I have to pity Loftus. Anyone who can’t recognize the inherent contradiction in demanding that other people listen to you and do what you say in order to be better at “free thinking” and if they don’t do “freethinking” the way you like then they are suffering from herd mentality, has a gigantic ego that is only dwarfed by their blind spot. Maybe it is because Loftus is increasingly irrelevant, other than providing a rallying spot for trolls, and it irks him that he doesn’t matter that much.

  • A Hermit

    Another great post Hank; as a non-academic prairie boy I appreciate seeing your plain-spoken point of view here on these sometimes high-falutin’ blogs…

    I rarely comment, but I lurk and read and it seems to me that Loftus is badly missing the mark with his criticism of this blog community. one of the reasons I like to come here is the diversity of opinions and viewpoints and backgrounds I find. I can hear a range of voices from an exiled Iranian women to a Phd philosopher to a Texas redneck; and while I’m reading sometimes I nod my head and agree, sometimes I jump up and cheer, occasionally I get annoyed and even angry and sometimes brush away a tear.

    You’re all overdue for a big thank you…

  • Raging Bee

    Ed Brayton, PZ Myers, and Freethought Bloggers, Listen to Me.

    This is the second time my response to Loftus has been “Wow, he actually said that?”

    And no, John, your definition of the phrase “herd mentality” doesn’t really change anything. We knew what the words meant when you first used them, and we knew you were using them wrong back then, just as we know you’re using them wrong now.

    John, if your only response here is to pretend we don’t know what your words mean, then you might as well just admit you’ve lost the argument and shut up.

  • Raging Bee

    You seem to be saying that the atheist movement should stick to debating theology, to which I must reply, codswallop.

    +1 to that. The reason so many of us question — and abandon — religious belief in the first place is because the theology doesn’t square with the real world. So debating theology, without reference to other real-world issues, is kinda pointless, unless we want to go back to ignoring reality and arguing about irrelevant word-games and imagined supernatural beings. And if we wanted to do that, why would we have become atheists in the first place?

  • embertine

    Absolutely, Raging Bee. I will admit to not being a sophisticated theologian, but that’s because all of the arguments for religion seem to boil down to, “Is it actually real? No? Let’s get on with our lives then.”

    Does that make us post-atheism atheists, or what?!

  • Ace of Sevens

    Wait, FTB can’t handle dissent? Didn’t John quit because he couldn’t tolerate being on a network where people were disagreeing with him?

  • Chris Clarke

    Good post, Hank.

    Mentioned this over at Ed’s joint last night, but I’m glad you touch on it here as well: the more Free Thought becomes just about debunking religion, the more it becomes useless. The practice does as much good in examining your relationship to credit card companies as it does in examining your relationship to Gawd, and I tend to wonder whether people that don’t see that have Thought sufficiently Freely.

    I’ve spent the bulk of my career being a freethinker within the environmental movement, or at least trying to be, and it hasn’t always been comfortable. I spend precisely none of my energy trying to extract myself from the confines of religion, having been lucky enough to have won that battle in my teens. I could have breathed a sigh of relief at age 16, declared my need to freethink over, and gone on with my life as a follower of Ayn Rand — at which point I’d have been really comfortable in the Penn Jillette wing of the movement — or continued to use the tools I’d honed on the other falsehoods that surrounded me. I’ve tried to do that second one, though not always as successfully as I might have.

    And after close to four decades of that second path, I look and see a “skeptics” movement with a lot of people who unquestioningly accept the tenets of pop evolutionary psychology because it makes them feel better about their own romantic failings, or who think that letting everyone be as greedy as they can be will produce the most egalitarian possible society because Freedom, who deny plain evidence if it contradicts their unexamined prejudices. And I see those people fighting to limit the skeptics movement’s mission to reinforcing their own sense of themselves as skeptics.

    If it wasn’t for the fact that they constitute a minority of freethinkers, it’d be kind of funny.

    Sorry for going on at length. I should get my own damn blog.

  • Smhlle

    I’m gonna write some sentences that include the words “both sides”, even though I very much disagree with the notion that both sides are equally outrageous or have equal reasons for outrage.

    There are folks who are human beings writing on both sides of the staunch feminists versus other people debates. People on both sides are opinionated. People on both sides feel righteous. [1] People on both sides holler. People on both sides paraphrase. Some people on each side miss some of the shades of gray because it’s easier to detect patterns that are black and white. Both sides rush to defend their friends. Some on both sides are less critical of their friends arguments than their opponents arguments. People of both persuasions jump in with reducto ad absurdem fairly often. And, I think, there is some uncharitable interpretation of argument on both sides.

    Both sides think there is more “uncalled for” nastiness on the other side. I have a side, and I think this, too. It just sometimes stuns me that the other side doesn’t notice or try to police the nastiness on their side. WTF?

    [1] It took me a long time to accept this point as, initially, I mostly noticed trolls who were playing devil’s advocate for the fun of kicking the ant’s nest.

  • Ace of Sevens

    It just sometimes stuns me that the other side doesn’t notice or try to police the nastiness on their side. WTF?

    That’s ebcause tellign someoen they are being more hostile than is called for is tone-trolling and telling someone they are essentially correct, but making a bad argument, is derailing.

  • Makoto

    One thing I rather like about FtB is how often the authors (and commenters) disagree with each other. It’s obviously not an echo chamber, though in many cases, the authors agree with each other – which isn’t a bad thing! It just means they all reached the same conclusion.

    Does that make it wrong? No. Does it make it wrong when they disagree? Again, no – it just means they disagree, because they’re coming at the issue with different backgrounds, different information, and different conclusions.

    Sometimes people can be persuaded, sometimes not. That still doesn’t mean either side, no matter how many support it, is wrong (or right).

    One thing I don’t feel very often here is agreement simply to protect the herd. People agree with an author in one post, then vehemently disagree with another, same within the comments section. That’s the nature of people with different opinions that happen to often align, not the nature of a herd following leaders.

  • dogeared, spotted and foxed

    Heh. To our majority-Christian society, atheism ALREADY looks bad. Might as well try out some passionate grand experiments as to how to be one’s best and most comfortable unbelieving self, right?

    I love this so much. My Pollyanna streak wishes it could be established as a baseline.

  • cassmorrison

    To be fair, I thought John Loftus was talking about how he identified a need for a policy statement before this round of “terminations”. It seems he was correct because the unspoken FtB theme seems to be atheism and social justice – which is way more than punching at the wet paper bag of theism and a lot more accessible to most of us; whether we agree with the direction or not.

    I like the way things are, lots of voices prompting me to think critically about different things I just accepted.

  • ‘Tis Himself

    I think our focus should be on debunking the basis of religion itself, it’s theology, it’s holy books, and so on.

    A good number of years ago I was a Navy nuclear mechanic in a submarine. During my training I received what was later translated into nine semester credits in physics. Only once in all that edjumacation were neutrinos mentioned.

    I once asked a Navy Nuclear Power School instructor why there wasn’t more emphasis given to neutrinos. His answer was that while neutrinos were of interest to physicists and astronomers, nuclear engineers didn’t concern themselves with neutrinos. To give some idea of how weakly neutrinos interact with matter, it’s been estimated that half of the Sun’s radiated neutrinos would pass unimpeded through a one light year* block of lead.

    For most atheists, theology has the same relevance as neutrinos have.

    *A light year is a unit of length, the distance that light travels in a vacuum in one year. It’s about 10 trillion kilometers or 6 trillion miles.

  • arbor

    Loftus seems to care about getting attention for himself.

    That is it.

    I can’t think of a reason for wasting a moment more on him.

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