One of the traditions of my old site was, at the end of each year, to choose a selection of my favorite posts from throughout the year and highlight them as the classics that give the best sense of what Daylight Atheism is all about. On the new site, I’m going to do something a little different: I’m going to pick posts which address themes that kept recurring throughout the year. In my mind, these were the most significant threads of 2011:
The Arab Spring
The biggest worldwide story of the year was the unprecedented revolutions in the Arab world, as people in one country after another rose up against dictatorship. In January, I wrote despairingly of darkness gathering over Pakistan with the assassination of Salman Taseer, one of that benighted country’s few brave defenders of secularism, and wondered what could possibly turn the tide in the Islamic world. Almost as if in answer, just a few days later, I found myself writing about democratic protests erupting in Tunisia and Egypt, in both of which I noticed that women were playing a prominent role.
As dictators toppled in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and new democracies slowly took shape, one of the most pressing questions was what rights women would have. I pondered whether the Arab Spring was hurting Arab women and addressed the depth of support for Islamic law on the Arab street. In 2012, I expect to continue observing and writing about this still-unfolding turn in history.
Sexism in the Atheist Community
Among atheists, one of the most contentious topics of 2011 is what we can do to create a secular community that welcomes all kinds of people and broaden our appeal beyond the white men who have traditionally been the most prominent representatives of atheism. In January, I wrote about encouraging diversity in atheism, drawing parallels among the guardians of tone who react angrily to any historically oppressed group staking a claim to equal rights, whether it’s atheists, women, or non-white people. I discussed the phenomenon of female atheists lamenting how their appearance and sexuality, not their thoughts, always become the topic of discussion. And I polled my own readership to gather statistics on age and gender, sparking a discussion on the large gender disparity seen in the responses.
In the second half of the year, the atheist blogosphere exploded over a now-infamous incident referred to as “Elevatorgate”, where a well-known female atheist was insensitively propositioned at a conference and drew an absurdly vicious backlash for speaking up about it. I wrote about the importance of not being “that guy”, illustrating it with a story from my own experience as well as another similar account from a male celebrity, and discussed the sense of entitlement that motivates sexism across cultures.
The Religious Right Hates Women
Of course, to put our struggles with gender equity in perspective, it’s worth noticing how many among the religious right openly wish death and suffering on women. Early in the year, I reported on Catholic hospitals denying women abortions, even in life-and-death emergencies, and Republican congressmen who want to make it legal for any hospital to do the same, even as they push to exclude abortion care from health insurance. Later on in the year, I wrote about the misogyny common to all major religions, with special reference to fundamentalist Islam and ultra-Orthodox Judaism (a topic I expect to revisit often in 2012).
Another common thread through the year was the disturbing phenomenon of Christian believers who stand up for genocide, on the grounds that the Bible says God has commanded it in the past. In April, I wrote “Another World Creeps In“, and followed up by pointing out this monstrous doctrine in the words of ordinary believers, as well as in the writings of professional Christian apologists. I wrote about how al-Qaeda uses the same reasoning to justify killing the innocent.
Marriage Equality Advances
In June, the historic passage of a marriage-equality bill in New York State was the occasion for much celebration. I pointed out how proselytizing bigots like Albert Mohler complain that it makes their job harder when minorities aren’t oppressed, and mentioned the welcome news of homophobes resigning from state government rather than having to treat all comers equally.
Unitarian Universalism and Atheism
In November, I wrote about anti-atheist bigotry in A Chosen Faith, one of the classic texts of Unitarian Universalism, a nontheistic religion which theoretically welcomes everyone, even atheists. I exchanged words with John Buehrens, one of the book’s authors, but got no satisfaction. Like some of the others, this is a story that isn’t over yet.
Over the summer, I joined a fund-raising contest pitting a team of atheist bloggers against the Dark Overlord – a contest which we won, resulting in my proving my manliness by growing facial hair. I also attended Skepticon IV in Springfield, Missouri, where I had an absolute blast rubbing elbows with some awesome people whom I’d formerly only known as pixels on a screen.
On the professional front, I began writing columns for AlterNet, as well as launching my SSA speaking career with engagements at Columbia and Syracuse. (I’ve already got more gigs than that lined up for next year. More on that soon.)
But of course, the single biggest change this year was Daylight Atheism officially joining Big Think. I won’t deny that there have been a lot of bumps along the way, nor that the change has demanded a lot of adjustment both from me and from my readers. But I feel as if I’m getting settled now, and the initially fractious commenting community is finding a new balance.
And the move has brought benefits of its own, mostly in the form of bringing wider notice and exposure to this blog. I’ve challenged Penn Jillette on the conflict between atheism and libertarianism, responded to Peter Lawler on the godlessness of the Constitution, and most recently, tangled with Peter Hitchens, Christian brother of the departed New Atheist firebrand, on whether there’s such a thing as non-human moral authority.
There was a lot more that happened this year, but in the name of brevity, I’m bringing this post to a close. So, what were the most memorable parts of your 2011? And what are you looking forward to in the coming year?