Another Burnt Out Atheist

A few weeks ago, I talked about burnout over at Teen Skepchick, where I also contribute. It got reposted a few times, I saw some discussion on Facebook and Twitter about the toll activism can take on people.

But, you know? I don’t think I’ve been having it so hard. Natalie Reed, a contributor to Freethought Blogs, uses a pseudonym but is in danger of losing her anonymity, with potentially life-and-livelihood-threatening consequences.

Around midnight last night, she published this (and elaborated on it):

This is the last post I will ever write about conflicts internal to the Atheist Movement.

I quit. Consider this my act of serving the movement my divorce papers.

There is a lot I’ve been thinking about lately, and I’ve been doing a great deal of reappraisal of how I relate to Atheism, to Skepticism, how I see myself fitting into it. The truth is that I’ve sort of found myself having lost faith in the faithless, as silly as that sounds, and no longer believing whether this is what I want my fight to be and the people with whom I wish to fight.

One of the first things that ever drew me into the secular movement as a group for social change was Being an Atheist in the Queer Community by Greta Christina. She talked about the home she found in the secular movement, a place where equality and social justice mattered just as much as, and sometimes more than, apologetics.

 I’m finding that I feel more at home — more welcomed, more valued, more truly understood — as a queer in the atheist community than I do as an atheist in the queer community.

Like, a lot more.

A year later — one Elevatorgate, and approximately four hundred and thirty six arguments about sexual harassment policies later — the discussion has changed. Atheists who also identify as social justice activists, as feminists, are burnt out, worn down, and separating themselves. They’re still atheists, but they’re increasingly wondering about what it offers them in return.

A former president and founder of Northwestern’s Secular Student Alliance told me:

Lately, I’ve felt so much more comfortable in the feminist movement than in the atheist movement. I’ve been not so much distancing myself from it, but giving it a lot less of my attention. I won’t give up on it, though, because I know personally so many atheists who embody everything that Natalie wishes the atheist movement was, and I do believe in the potential that it has, and I think reform is possible and could be just on the horizon.

And finally, once more from Natalie,

If you believe in this movement, if you believe it’s worth fighting for, if you believe it can be fixed, if you believe I’m wrong… good. You really do have all my support. If this is what you care about and you think it can be done and is worth the fight, by all means, don’t let a single thing I’ve said get in the way of that. I hope you win. And I hope you make things better for people along the way.

Is there a way we can fix this problem before we lose some strong activists from our fold?

About Kate Donovan

Kate is a junior studying psychology and human development at Northwestern University. She is the president of Northwestern's Secular Student Alliance and a writer at Teen Skepchick, Heresy Club, and various other places around the internet. Sometimes she sleeps.

  • ragarth

    I, for one, am formally shunning ThunderFoot for this breech of ethic. What just came to light about his actions is beyond the pale.

  • Randomfactor

    While I know what you mean, we haven’t “lost” Natalie, so far as I see.  She just has more important things to talk about–always has–than how badly atheists often treat one another.

    • MichaelD

      We have and we havn’t. She’s still identifies as an atheist and values critical thinking but has given up on dealing with the larger communities. So it depends on what you call losing her.

  • http://twitter.com/GRIMACHU James Desborough

    Expecting a movement based upon scepticism to NOT examine claims from Feminism etc, much of which is an insular and self-reflective group, is foolish. It’s also foolish to expect ‘I don’t believe in god’ to mean you’re going to agree on everything else. There’s room for debate and argument if you can get over the shock of another logical person not agreeing with you on gender politics.

    • 3lemenope

      I agree with you in the general case, but in my experience the skepticism of Feminism that you’re talking about is so very rarely actually followed by sincere analysis that it strikes me as something of a fig leaf, a fulfilled desire to reject uncomfortable claims without actually thinking about what they’re saying.

      It’s definitely OK to be skeptical of the claims that feminists make about gender, it’s not OK to use that skepticism to bludgeon them out of the conversation. It is akin to another trope common in atheist communities that I’ve observed, that just because (obviously) atheists reject the metaphysical claims of Christianity,  it becomes a license to assume that nothing a Christian could ever say in a given conversation could possibly be insightful or valuable.

      • The Other Weirdo

        The problem with this is that, invariably, when one questions “the claims that feminists make about themselves”, one gets immediately labeled as a misogynist, a woman-hater, chauvinist, whatnot.  Even when one merely questions the validity of linking atheism to feminism(or vice versa), one gets called a not-good-enough atheist.

        Also, I have never heard atheists shout down Christians merely for being Christian.

        • 3lemenope

          I’m sorry, but being called names for disagreeing with someone is not sufficient excuse to engage with their arguments generally. And beyond that, I think the claim is unbelievably overblown; I personally have engaged with–and disagreed, sometimes quite sharply–with feminists both IRL and on teh Internetz, and I have not once been called a misogynist (or any related term) for my trouble.  I certainly have run into feminists who oversell their claims when making points, going too broadly or too quickly perceiving a slight, but that is a learned response from too often having their claims dismissed out of hand or interacting with people who are so inured to their own privilege they wouldn’t know they were being misogynist if their own mom called them on it.

          Also, I have never heard atheists shout down Christians merely for being Christian.

          Then you haven’t been paying attention. The “Christ-tard” jabs come out sometimes instantly, and often completely unjustifiably. To a certain extent, even that is OK on some level; an online atheist community is often intended not just as a discussion space but also as a safe haven for atheists (who are often isolated IRL from people who would sympathize with their points of view). But it bears recognizing that when the five-minute hate of the passing-through Christian is invoked, it is to sacrifice one role (being a discussion space) explicitly for the other (being a safe haven). At that point, it is disingenuous to claim to still function just fine as both.

          • The Other Weirdo

             Then you’ve engaged with a better class of feminists than I ever have. Congrats. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Though, admittedly, I usually tune out conversations once people start throwing around the “you’re a man so you can’t and won’t recognize your own privilege” argument. It’s akin to calling someone a racist at the earliest opportunity; it shuts down discussion since it’s an unfalsifiable claim, like all religious claims.

            If I had a cent for every time a feminist told I can have no opinion on any abortion until I can get pregnant, or any feminist issue because I’m a man, I’d be multi-billionaire. It’s like saying “If you’re not Jewish you can have nothing to say on the Holocaust, and in fact, just shut the fuck up already” and I don’t buy into that either.

            As for the “Christ-tard” jab, you didn’t pay attention to what I said. I never said nobody was ever rude to Christians, I said I never heard them  being rude to Christians merely for being Christians, rather than the substance of what they actually said in the discussion. But maybe I just don’t hang out where rudeness is automatic and instant.

            • 3lemenope

              I don’t have the super secret map to where all the cool non-judgmental inoffensive feminists hang out. I’m interacting with the very same feminists everyone else is. Why does my experience diverge from yours? There are several possible explanations, but the notion that somehow I’ve just found ‘the better class’ of feminists is a very, very unlikely one.

              Though, admittedly, I usually tune out conversations once people start throwing around the “you’re a man so you can’t and won’t recognize your own privilege” argument.

              Not for nothing, but many of the times I’ve seen this, it was said because (at least in my bystander opinion) it was accurate and true. Privilege is a very, very tricky thing, and crops up in unusual contexts, and it being pointed out (even very gently) usually provokes a volcanic reaction of denial. Does it happen unjustifiably sometimes? You bet. Does that justify writing off the argument? Not at all.

              As for the “Christ-tard” jab, you didn’t pay attention to what I said. I never said nobody was ever rude to Christians, I said I never heard them  being rude to Christians merely for being Christians, rather than the substance of what they actually said in the discussion.

              I paid attention to it. I just don’t accept the foundation of the argument, because it doesn’t mesh with the weight of my experiences (which were not in particularly rude places).

              My first experience posting on Friendly Atheist, for example, was met with people, instead of engaging with my arguments, simply calling me a “fake atheist”. Merely because I disagreed with the thrust of an argument. Oddly enough, that perfectly mirrors my first experience over at the atheist website that I now co-moderate; there too, I disagreed with an argument and was greeted with “not a real atheist” for a decent while. Really the only thing those two sites have in common is they are both atheist-oriented communities (back then the other wasn’t a part of the Patheos blogsphere). Not even much overlap between readership. In both cases, the first reaction to me was to deprive me of legitimacy explicitly by publicly assuming I was a (secret) Christian.

              The default assumption is very clearly if you disagree on certain things you don’t belong. If you make the mistake of explicitly labeling yourself differently (which is a step beyond simply disagreeing), that’s a signpost that might as well amount to a “kick me” sign. 

          • http://twitter.com/GRIMACHU James Desborough

            Then you’re very, very lucky in that you haven’t run into this. This whole situation and many other conflagrations seem to track back to the unreasonable side of feminism. Elevatorgate, unnecessary harassment ‘policies’, presumption. There doesn’t seem to be much internal examination of the claims so when they run up against external scepticism AND analysis, there seems to be some sort of shock reaction.

            Frankly, to me, if I hear ‘patriarchy’ my eyes start to glaze over and the person saying it starts to look and sound like David Icke going on about invisible space lizards.

            • Origami_Isopod

               Yeah, I can’t imagine why people who aren’t straight cis white d00dz feel uncomfortable in the atheist movement, when you think sexual harassment policies are “unreasonable.”

              • http://twitter.com/GRIMACHU James Desborough

                ‘Unnecessary’. 

                There are laws for that sort of thing.
                Harassment policies? Wheels on a tomato.

                • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

                  Maybe I’m missing your point here, but there’s a damned good reason for harassment policies in the workplace, whether there are laws “for that sort of thing” or not. I don’t understand why they’d be unnecessary at a conference.

                • 3lemenope

                  I live in an at-will employment state. At the place where I work, there is no sexual harassment policy. My boss is a disgusting pig. For example, he requested that one of my female co-workers look up info on sex toys online because he “was curious” about them.  He told one of them his theory of how overweight women could be forced to stay home (so he didn’t have to look at them) was if clothing manufacturers simply stopped making clothes in their size. He is overly physically familiar with his female employees, giving them unsolicited shoulder rubs and invading their personal space. He comments that relationship problems are invariably “the female’s fault”.

                  Now, if he (and the company) got sued for sexual harassment/hostile work environment, they would most likely lose. But suits take a very long time, are expensive, and are very intrusive into the lives of people involved. Meanwhile the people who are victims of this behavior have to weigh that against extremely likely immediate retaliation in the form of getting fired (and they have bills to pay), not to mention the nightmare scenario of possibly at the end of it losing anyway because he could afford better lawyers then they could. Because there is no sexual harassment policy, there is no safe way (never mind established procedure) for an employee to complain to upper management, who in any case have in the past demonstrated themselves to be unresponsive to similar problems. The lack of a policy also doesn’t clearly signal to the guy that his behavior is unacceptable, so there is nothing for the employee to appeal to to say “look, this is unacceptable for this workplace”, except for the law, which most offenders don’t believe their behavior, no matter how crude, deserves legal censure.

                  Nobody should be in the position of having to decide whether to put up with this sort of crap and be employed, or speak up and get fired and *maybe* a year and a half down the road be made whole by the judicial system. That’s why sexual harassment policies are important.

                • Wintermute472002

                   What exactly is the objection to having harassment policies in place, so that everyone knows what’s expected and there’s clear recourse for situations where someone crosses a line?  I really fail to see why a reasonable person would object to that. Sure, there are laws that put a stop to many kinds of harassment, but many business still have policies and codes of conduct which step in before the police have to be called. What about that is objectionable?

                • http://twitter.com/GRIMACHU James Desborough

                  Because they’re unnecessary and create the impression/atmosphere that its a serious problem – which it ain’t.

                • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

                   Except for the fact that, you know, WOMEN ARE SAYING IT IS A PROBLEM.

                • Morningstar9

                  It’s not a serious problem because YOU don’t experience it, right? Why, what’s wrong with being able to slap your secretary’s ass when you feel like it?

                  Git.

                • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

                  Right, because you’ve never been at the receiving end of it, so therefore Not Serious or Important.

                  Fuck you, you privilege-blinded donkeyfucking douchecake.

                • amycas

                  When I look at jobs, schools and conferences, and they have harassment polices, it’s actually a sign that harassment isn’t a serious problem. When they don’t have policies is when i start to wonder. Places like school and jobs that have harassment policies and communicate those policies to those attending actually have fewer incidences or sexual harassment and deal with what does happen faster than places that don’t have those policies. Even if you don’t think harassment happens at conventions, it still couldn’t hurt to have a policy in place just in case it did happen.

            • 3lemenope


              Frankly, to me, if I hear ‘patriarchy’ my eyes start to glaze over and the person saying it starts to look and sound like David Icke going on about invisible space lizards.

              Should atheists change what they call their arguments because theist critics’ eyes “glaze over” every time an atheist starts going on about the importance of evidence and how arguments should be backed up by it?

              Honestly, and I don’t know you besides your comments here on this thread, so this may well be unfair, but from what you’ve said in the quoted portion above, my original assessment was painfully accurate. Feminists shouldn’t have to change how they describe their fundamental arguments, such as about the existence and prevalence of patriarchy, simply because their critics are too lazy or dismissive to engage with them. The concept they are talking about is called “patriarchy”. If that makes your eyes glaze over, that’s a problem for you, not for them.

  • AlabamaAtheist


    This is the last post I will ever write about conflicts internal to the Atheist Movement.”

    I don’t engage is this pedantry and nonsense, so I’m not worried about burning out. We have a common enemy out there and it seems like the blogs do nothing but attack other atheists most of the time. It’s kind of silly and creates massive fights as people feel the need to defend themselves once they’re pot committed.

    I concentrate on what actually matters: separation of church and state, civil rights for non-theists, and true freedom of religion, which means freedom from religion as well. There is enough stupidity out there in theocracy land to fuel my activism for eons.

    But I also know that my fellow atheists do and say things that irritate me, but I ignore it, because it’s just pedantry, tone debate, Internet trolling, keyboard commandoing, etc. All that is a distraction from what we should be really doing.

    If all this blogger did was fight fellow atheists, no wonder she’s lost her affinity with atheists.

    Here’s an idea: quit picking fights with fellow atheists because you don’t agree with their tactics, methodologies, ideas, etc. Actually attack the people who are fucking up your lives: religious theocrats.

    • MichaelD


      If all this blogger did was fight fellow atheists, no wonder she’s lost her affinity with atheists.”

      Which she didn’t she mostly watched from the sidelines. Go read her blog sometime.

      • AlabamaAtheist

        Odd, since that what she is basing her “retirement” on.

        • MichaelD

          Well if you go read her blog post which is actually very long as is her style you’d get a more nuanced view.

          • AlabamaAtheist

            The nuance is basically that the community didn’t actually share all her ideas and ideals.

            Pedantry. Gotta love it.

            • MichaelD

              If it comes down to issues like trans people are worthy of respect I have a hard time seeing why you’d want to be associated with such people.

              • AlabamaAtheist

                I don’t let Internet trolls get my goat. I laugh at their stupidity and move on. I never take their asinine comments personally because they’re just keyboard commandos. At the conventions, where it matters, we have civil and respectful conversations about the issues. We actually talk face-to-face and accomplish things.

                Even on my FB page the pedantry and in-fighting just wants to bust in: even by people who I know in person would never say something like that because I’ve met them in person and had these types of conversations. The psychological effect of Internet anonymity brings out the worst in people. I try my best not to react to it and take it personally because I am very aware of that effect. I also try to be conscious about not falling myself for that same effect and making sure that what I say is what I would say if I were sitting face-to-face with someone.

                As a father of a lesbian daughter and a bi-sexual daughter whose ex-wife is a lesbian, I am 100% behind the LGBT community. So when I see stupid comments on blogs, I can either react viscerally and take it personally or I can realize that obvious troll is obvious and laugh at how stupid they are and move on to the important issues.

                It’s sad to me to see all this infighting going on that has entrenched so many. Because I know that if we got a few people face-to-face that the conversation would go differently.

                I saw an amazing example of that in Las Vegas at TAM when several people from opposing sides of this issue on the blogs (who had been engaged in a flame war) got together in my hotel room and talked about in person and actually came to an agreement and minds were changed! That’s what we need more of: not more flame wars and not more feeding of the trolls.

                • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

                   I think what bothers me about this comment is that you act like it’s a moral failing if someone else lets it get their goat.  Victim-blaming.

                • http://profile.yahoo.com/KIDZFDXNIVYSUSZBZDUJIQD3II Exploerer

                   Not all victim blaming is the same.

                • amycas

                   yeah, actually it is.

                • Paul_Robertson

                  Don’t be so precious. Advising someone not to respond to obvious trolls is completely different from blaming them for the actions of the trolls. In your world, no one could ever offer a victim advice on how to respond to a bully.

                • JRB

                  Dude, that’s great that you don’t let internet trolls “get your goat”, and I get that you have some understanding of LGBT issues because of personal connections.  But (judging by your picture and previous posts) you will never have to move towns because the wrong people found out you were born a different sex then you now present, you will never be told that you can’t see your dying spouse in hospital because same sex couples can’t really get married, no one will ever assume you were only promoted so management would look more diverse, and you will never be told that it was your fault you were raped because your skirt was too short.

                  If prejudice and bigoted behavior were restricted to forum trolls and hit and run blog comments, you might have a point.  But reality is that  women, the LGBQ and trans communities, and visible minorities do deal with prejudice and bigoted behavior in “meat space”, too.

                  You can pretend all you want that you can safely ignore someone making a sexiest/racist/transphobic/homophobic comment on a blog because they are just using their anonymity to be a jerk and would never say that/act on those prejudices in the real world.

                  The people who do regularly have to put up with that real world prejudice and bigotry don’t have that luxury.

                • amycas

                  Natalie Reid is specifically vulnerable online because she has to hide her identity. She’s a transexual woman, and if her identity got out it could put her at serious physical risk. Not to mention the fact that women (even cis women) still regularly receive death and rape threats when they speak up online at a fargreater rate than men do. The fact that you don’t worry about internet trolls is because you are not as vulnerable as somebody like Natalie (or any woman) is. You probably wouldn’t be targeted for physical violence. 

              • http://www.facebook.com/d3st88 Morva Ádám

                Do you seriously think that’s an issue in the atheist community?

                • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot
                • MichaelD

                  Not most atheists and not with the people at the top but for some atheists lower down yes.

                • AlabamaAtheist

                  Without a doubt! The comments and emails I get and the organization I represent gets are astoundingly silly and oozing in pedantry over the smallest of details. And getting so angry and miffed and troll worthy because we dared use a color they didn’t like or a font they didn’t like or used a word they wouldn’t have used.

                  I’ve given hour-long speeches in which 99% was agreed with, but because I said one sentence that someone didn’t agree with… the Internet wars begin!

                  It would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.

                • Onamission5

                  I trust that it is an issue, because trans people themselves have stated that it is an issue.

                  Being cisgendered myself, I have no lens of personal experience through which I feel I have the right to judge a trans person’s account of their own experiences. What I can do, though, is hear them and take their perspective seriously.

                • The Other Weirdo

                   Hear them and take their perspective seriously, absolutely. That’s what listening is all about. The trouble starts when we’re expected to do more than that, to actually internalize these perspectives, fully accepting them. When we don’t, we get called racists and misogynists and all the other bad words, too.

                • Onamission5

                  What is the alternative which would make a trans person feel welcome, other than internalizing their perspective and taking necessary action? Arguing that their problems aren’t valid because it doesn’t happen to you? Demanding intemized lists of negative experiences?  I fail to understand what the atheist movement loses by being more inclusive to people who tell us they are excluded. Seems to me that we’d actually gain some worthwhile education, not lose.

                • The Other Weirdo

                   This subthread is getting to narrow in my browser, so I will just keep answer at the same level.

                  Once you start internalizing everyone’s opinion(and please note that not all opinions have a basis in reality) where does it end? It ends when people start burning themselves out trying to deal with all the conflicting agendas inherent in a movement that internalizes everything.

                • Onamission5

                  Yes, it is hard to carry more than one umbrella. It does help when you know you’re not the only one carrying them! Not everyone is cut out to do multiple things at once and I fault them not in the least for doing what they’re good at. I would only ask that one not get in the way of those who can multitask. It is not that hard to (for example) not tell racist or sexist jokes because you know it hurts other atheists you care about. Fighting for the “right” to do so is in fact carrying more than one umbrella. It is also swinging that umbrella so that it hits other people in the face, which takes way more energy than just putting the umbrella down. (to run to the point of ridiculousness with your analogy, lol) 

                • http://www.facebook.com/Volizden Stephen Fullerton

                   yes

            • Beech Phone

              Wrong.   Tfoot hacked into a private list serve and have threatened to release personal information that puts her in danger.    Many people in the community are supporting him on this. 

              Her “ideas and ideals” include being safe within the community.  Obviously Tfoot doesn’t share that.  So she’s out.

              • http://www.facebook.com/Volizden Stephen Fullerton

                ” Many people in the community are supporting him on this. ”

                Should rephrase that to many of HIS community are supporting him on this. From what I can tell those followers are eating everything he is saying and not getting the whole story either.

            • amycas

              I’m starting to think that you have never read any of Natalie Reid’s articles from the way you dismiss her here.

        • Daniel Rudolph

          She got burned out on the behavior of some of her fellow movement types, not on blogging about them.

      • Agnostic

        Perhaps she has not been fully brainwashed yet?

        • MichaelD

          Brainwashed by who? for what? Are atheists bringing out the hypnorays and pendulums?

          • AlabamaAtheist

            Nah, it’s a brainwashing homeopathic solution! ;)

    • Gus Snarp

      If all this blogger did was fight fellow atheists, no wonder she’s lost her affinity with atheists.

      Best I can tell, she did nothing of the kind. If you actually want to know why she’s lost her affinity with atheists, maybe you should read her entire blog post. It’s a bit long, but very well written, and I think we can all learn something from it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

      I wholeheartedly agree Blair.

      • http://www.themerelyreal.wordpress.com/ Chana Messinger

        Hey Bridget,

        I’m a little confused. How are misogyny, homophobia, racism not the real enemies? I think what Natalie was saying was that atheism alone is not an answer; just as reasonable people should not believe in god and also not believe in Bigfoot, there are multiple issues that people are mistaken about because they are not thinking skeptically enough. If social issues are some of those, how are they not in the purview of the atheist movement?

    • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

      You might have failed to appreciate that you have a relative degree of privilege compared to Natalie.  These internal conflicts personally impacted her even when she stayed on the sidelines most of the time.  I don’t recall her talking about thunderf00t at any point, and yet he still presents a very real danger to her.

      She’s in a double bind.  Stay out of drama, and she gets affected by the sexism and transmisogyny in the community.  Jump into the drama, and she gets bogged down in drama.  She can’t win, so she wants out of the game.

    • Onamission5

      There is a problem with your assumptions that the only “real” issues worth addressing stem from religion. It may be true that the only major issues which affect your life stem from religious influence, but that is not true for a rather significant number of atheists– atheists of color, LGBTQI atheists, female atheists, young atheists, atheist parents, poor atheists, immigrant atheists, and so forth. We all live in a shared society, that society has more problems than just religion and woo, thus the atheist movement has more problems we need to address than just religion and woo.  If you want disenfranchised people in the movement, the issues keeping them from being welcome need to be addressed, not as a secondary issue, but as a primary one.

      • AlabamaAtheist

        My comments are directed toward atheism activism. Nowhere did I say that other activism was not needed, etc.  I’m a huge LBGT supporter because one of my daughters is a lesbian and the other bi-sexual. The activism I do for LGBT is separate, but the same rules apply for me there: stay out of the pedantic mud and stupid in-fighting over details that don’t matter and focus on the main goals.

        • Onamission5

          I think it all depends upon what you consider pedantic and stupid. Arguing at length over font? Certainly. A person of color detailing their experiences with hostility from your group, or from other groups, and telling you what would make them feel included? Not stupid or pedantic, even within the shared common goal of atheist activism.

        • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

          If you see something wrong within the Atheist community, then why not try to fix it?    Is it not our civic duty?   If the LBGT community was prejudice against atheist, then I assume that atheist members of LBGT community would try to change that.

          P.S. Addressing membership concerns in a movement is a primary issue.   You want to get people on your side, and therefor issues like sexism and homophobia, which keep people away are critically important.  

          • DR

             You can point out issues in the community, but you should refrain from calling everyone who disagrees with you either a misogynist MRA on one side, or a feminazi on the other. There are some MRAs in the movement, and there are some people who view everything through the lens of feminism as well. Both are problematic (not to the same extent, though; I do think that MRAs are far more annoying than feminists).

            A recent case involved PZ tarring the whole of CFI Canada as MRA, because of the activism of its *former* director, who was actually pushed aside for that very reason. PZ has yet to apologize for this, or even admit his mistake.

            On the other hand, you have tf00t making the claim that there is simply no harassment and sexual discrimination problem at all in the atheist community. That’s where he loses me. To ignore the problem is as bad as it is to make it the be all and end all of all existence, as some have done (like the Skepchick who felt personally insulted that another woman refused to associated herself with the Skepchicks; OMG what affront!).

            Problems can only be solved when people accept that they exist, and put them in their proper perspective. I feel that the entire atheist community has missed the boat on both of these in the last few months.

            • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

              It begs the question who decides what the proper perspective is.   For instance, you claim that both feminist and MRA are annoying.
               
              To put in to ‘proper’ perspective, feminists advocate that females have the same rights as male and they call into question the male privilage.  MRAs advocate rape.   They want to deny women basic rights.  You are comparing apples to hand grenade. 

              Take your example.  PZ might have painted CFI Canada with too broad of a brush stroke, which he actually didn’t But Thunderf00t broke the law, and released information that might economically and physical harm a third party.  Again, apples to hand grenades.   

              Again, your example of the skepchicks.  They brought up the issue of safety and harassment at this meetings.  They took a lot of shit for that.   Then this woman, not only did not associate herself with the skepchicks, but basically off-handily dismissed their whole concern in a way that was meant to alienate and belittle them.   The t-shirt was a dick move on her part.   I could see how this woman’s action brought on an emotional response, after all the other shit that the bloggers at skepchick took. 

              • http://mrda.wordpress.com MRDA

                “MRAs advocate rape.   They want to deny women basic rights. ”

                Source? I suspect you pulled this out of your arse.

                • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

                  Just go to an MRA website. 

                  How about Rooshv website.  Where he claims that rape is just one of the many games that you can play to get to sleep with women. 
                   
                  http://www.rooshv.com/16-different-types-of-game 

                  Or how about this post at the-spearhead (http://www.the-spearhead.com/2010/09/15/how-female-suffrage-destroyed-western-civilization/)  

                  Or how about http://fullofgraceseasonedwithsalt.blogspot.com/search/label/Anti-Suffrage

                  So if by my ass, you mean reality.  Then, yes. 

                • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

                  Granted not all MRA’ers promote or even endorse this thinking, just as not all zebras are born with stripes. 

                • http://mrda.wordpress.com MRDA

                  From my observations the MRAs you describe are the stripeless zebras.

                • http://mrda.wordpress.com MRDA

                  Also, Roosh hates MRAs as much a feminists do (albeit for different reasons).

            • http://profiles.google.com/smuckitelli Michael Neville

              “A recent case involved PZ tarring the whole of CFI Canada as MRA, because of the activism of its *former* director, who was actually pushed aside for that very reason. PZ has yet to apologize for this, or even admit his mistake. ”

              Since that’s not what happened, there’s no reason for PZ to apologize or admit a mistake that he didn’t make.

              One person, Michael Payton, who was still director of CFI Canada as of this afternoon, was shown to be an MRA.  PZ commented on this.  He didn’t say anything except that Payton had made some misogynist comments and gave a link to those comments.

              Some of the Pharyngula Horde have been loud and shrill about their feminism.  Sorry if standing up for equality is upsetting to you, it isn’t for me.

              • Morningstar9

                “Shrill.” There’s a nice dogwhistle. I guess we should all be ~polite~ and ~ladylike~ so as not to hurt teh menzes’ fee-fees.

      • The Other Weirdo

         Which is perfectly understandable. The problem lies in the fact that too many people want to link inseparably atheism with X, whatever X happens to be. Then you end up in situations where it is claimed that unless one believes in all these other causes, they are not a good enough atheist, if they are an atheist at all. That disenfranchises people as well.

        So you run into the exact problem described in the OP: burn-out. Too many causes, too many conflicting theories and ideals that have nothing to do with the major topic under discussion: atheism.

        If people want to form support groups for all those types of atheists you mentioned, I have absolutely no problem with that. It’s when we try to do it all from under umbrella that we get into trouble.

        • Onamission5

          Secular support groups for disenfranchised people, we have that, at least on line. It may not be as much as is needed (and I would argue that it’s not), but they exist.

          Here is the problem I see. By setting up “other” groups for “other” people, we’re essentially telling those “other” people that the broader movement is cis, white, male, middle class, older, and everyone not in that group is “other.” That they can deal with their issues over there, but please don’t mess up the Really Important Stuff by dragging “your” issues into “our” issues. That chaps me in the same way it chaps me when people complain about Hemant posting LGBT issues on his blog. Intersectionality, it’s the way we *all* live our daily lives, and it’s counter productive to the movement as a whole to try and tell non-white, non-cis, non-male, non-middle class, et al atheists to compartmentalize their lives that way– not to call out unfair practices and privlege within the movement as a whole– just because the issues which affect them don’t affect “us.”  

          • The Other Weirdo

             But are the LGBT and feminist issues really atheist issues? I know we want to be all-inclusive and all, but is dividing our attention really a good way to go about combating religious privilege in society? Which, really, is what atheism is about.

            • MichaelD

              If we want them to join us in greater numbers we’re going to have to touch on them to some extent.

            • Onamission5

              They may not be to some non-LGBT people, they may not be to non-feminist people, but for atheists who do fit into one of those categories and/or are supportive of people who fit into one of those categories, yes.

              A personal example, which I hope does not come back to bite me–
               Feminism is inextricably linked to my atheism, and they are both linked to my sexuality.  It’s because the thought process and experiences by which I became an atheist are the same thought process and exeriences by which I became a feminist and are the same by which I came to accept my orientation. All of the above also influences greatly my parenting, my values. My desire to make a more fair and secular world in whatever way I am able is fueled by every part of my identity, not just one aspect in particular. When I am asked (or, often, told) to separate my female identity and experiences, to ignore my sexuality, to not take into account that I’m a parent, or that I am low income– all of which affect my daily life in a similar fashion as my atheism, as they are deeply personal parts of my identity–  I do not feel welcome. I feel othered. Once I can handle, twice I can handle, but as part of a continuing pattern, that sends a message that only some of me is important, not all of me. I bring a lot to the table. It isn’t possible for me to bring everything I have when I have to leave some of myself behind or deal with hosility on issues which affect me and my life. 

            • http://www.facebook.com/Volizden Stephen Fullerton

               hell yeah they are. I say this because as an atheist you SHOULD be a Humanist, and these are ALL Humanist issues…

              If an atheist is NOT a humanist then they are self centered or selfish and someone who is not fully grasped the concepts of what it means to be an atheist.

              • Paul_Robertson

                Not sure if this is Poe, but in case you’re serious: WTF? Codified ethics are nice, but humanism represents one approach to this. Humanists who try to claim all atheists as adherents are just as arrogant and just as wrong as evangelicals who claim that every cultural Christian supports their particular brand of nutbaggery.

              • http://mrda.wordpress.com MRDA

                 So, in other words, you agree with the idiots who say: “Atheism is a religion, toooooooooooo!”

            • http://profile.yahoo.com/YMB6Y3K5A2NHBCTSJYM4QNKT2U MikeW

               Assuming atheism is about questioning the accepted dogmatism and turning a critical eye to all assumptions how could feminism, LGBT issues, race and the like not be ‘atheist issues’?

            • walkamungus

              Considering that religion fuels much of the anti-LGBT and anti-woman rhetoric and behavior in the world, damn right that atheism should be concerned about those things. Atheists should point out religion’s role in trying to keep over half the U.S. population from being equal before the law, because (for example) even many well-meaning Christians will not approach these issues from that perspective.

              We’re not just against religion, we’re against religion because IT HURTS PEOPLE.

            • Houndentenor

               Yes.  The argument against gay rights is a religious one.  If they win that fight, they will move on to imposing their religious beliefs further in our society.  Gay marriage is the current religious/cultural issue.  Don’t worry there will be another one after that.  Hopefully one that doesn’t involve gay rights.  At least I hope so.  I’m exhausted!

            • http://mrda.wordpress.com MRDA

               All atheism is about is rejecting the validity of positive assertions re:the existence of god(s). Anything else is just wishful thinking and/or special pleading.

            • Onamission5

              Okay, I have been thinking and thinking about this some more, and it occurs to me, re: combating religious privilege–

              I think about what that means, religious privilege. I think about the ways that manifests itself in society, the very things we lampoon and rail against in this here blog, and elsewhere. Religious based sexism (in the unrealistic burdens placed upon all genders), religious based racism, religious based child abuse and het-ism and anti-educationalism, and all of the other examples we, as a community, use to highlight the fact that religious people and religions themselves do not have a monopoly on morality no matter how loudly they proclaim to.  Then, I think about examples of that very behavior *within our own community* and I cringe. How can we honestly call out the religious for their sexism, when we shelter sexists? How can we lampoon the religious for their gross rape apologetics when we leap to defend rape jokes made within our own ranks? How can we take them to task for their homophobia if we harbor homophobes?

              Good without gods. That is what I want to be. I think that if atheists as a whole are going to be worthy of that claim, we have to earn it. We don’t tolerate intolerance from the religious, and we don’t entertain their intolerance apologetics, but we all too often do put up with it from each other. Good without gods. Are we? Really?

              • amycas

                 I find it odd that so many atheists understand the concept of religious privilege, yet they fail to understand that it works the sameway with race, gender and sexuality. I have talked to white, cis, male atheists who can understand and point out Christian privilege, but yet they act like they have no cultural privilege. I recently had a white, cis, male atheist friend (who understands privilege) explain to me that he has no privilege, because being an atheist has completely negated all the cultural privilege he gets from being a while cis male. If they understand Christian privlege, then they should understand male privilege, and cis privilege, andwhite privilege. It’s the same concept.

              • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

                THIS. We can’t claim to be the bigger person (people) if we’re sinking to their level.

          • Onamission5

            I should clarfiy– the existence of the groups themselves isn’t the problem. Support groups for social justice are a necessary, positive thing.  The problem comes when a member of a group for a set of disenfranchised people is told by those not a member of their group that they need to take “their” issues back to “their” group. That continues and enables the pattern of social disenfranchisement which is a problem in larger society. Is that what we, as a community of atheist activists, want? To send the message that only cis gendered, white, male problems are the most important, and if you want to work on secular justice you have to pretend that “your” problems don’t contribute? I, personally, don’t want secular justice to been seen as a cis-male-white-etc only issue. It’s not, so why do so many people insist upon treating it as though it is?

            • Wintermute472002

               I hope you don’t mind a brief derail, but all your comments in this thread are top notch, in my opinion. Well-reasoned and clearly presented.

              • Onamission5

                Thank you! I was not expecting any compliments, to to get one is very nice indeed.
                 

                • kaydenpat

                  Onamissio5 should have his/her own blog.  Great writing.

    • Michael Dorian

      Yes to Alabama Atheist!  The infighting among atheists is often petty at best and divisive and detrimental to the cause at worst.  With all the dangerous thinking to combat out there, why waste our energy bickering with people who are not “the enemy”?

      • Wintermute472002

         I dunno, when you have people in our movement telling other people in our movement that their experiences don’t matter, or making people feel unwelcome on the basis of their gender, race, or orientation, then I see that as a pretty big problem. And while it’s not always an either/or thing, it’s hard to say to the women in this movement “we value you as allies in the pursuit of secular aims” while also making common cause with misogynists. If I have to make a choice between which group to align with, I’m going to choose the one that cares about social justice in addition to atheism.

    • kagekiri

      She mostly writes about LGBT, and specifically trans, issues. 

      SO here’s an idea; don’t criticize something you’re not bothering to actually research and expect any respect for it. Her identity is being threatened to be exposed by OTHER ATHEISTS, who don’t mind massively fucking with her life just to get back at the blog network she’s on, and who she hardly even interacted with or mentioned. You seem to have tons of time to write out hypothetical accusations: why not try reading the damn post first? You’re doing the tone-trolling here.

    • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

      You assume that only religious theocrats are capable of screwing up lives.  Homophobia and misogyny are not exclusive of religion.   

      • AndyTK

        True, but we should be better given that we are not tied to
        the morals of bronze aged goat herders.

        • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

           We should be better.  We need to be better.  But it takes work.  Most of us grew up in households or in communities that were tied to the morals of bronze age goat herders (myself included).  It is important that if we see crappy behavior that we point it out, and we try to fix it.  A lot of times, people behaving this way don’t realize the consequences of their actions.

    • Patterrssonn

      “I don’t engage in this pedantry and none sense.” nice ntro to a bunch of pedantry and nonsense.

    • Daniel Rudolph

      Can you name even one incident where Natalie picked a fight with a fellow atheist? The only high-profile instance I can think of is John Loftus and he picked a fight with her. Her disputes have almost entirely been with non-atheists, notably Be Scofield.

  • Shredder

    I’LL NEVER BETRAY DAWKINS. NEVER.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

    We agree on like 98% of the SAME stuff. Why do we focus on the 2% we DON’T agree on? I’ve been in the movement a very short time and I get the burnout effect. I have to start every day reaffirming my commitment because it’s a struggle.

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      “Why do we focus on the 2% we DON’T agree on?”

      Because it’s hard to have a discussion when everyone agrees. When you see a blog post saying something that you think is totally true, obvious and uncontroversial, do you weigh into the comment section to say so?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639378446 Bridget Gaudette

        I sure do and I retweet it and FB post it. I almost never repost blogs complaining about other atheists or drama. I don’t even follow many bloggers, just Kate and a couple others.

  • Octoberfurst

     As a relatively new atheist I am excited by all the forums and blogs where atheists come together and discuss topics. However what I don’t understand–and what I find disheartening– is how many times atheists will snipe at other atheists.  They call each other names, are rude, ect. 
      I happen to like both PZ Myers and Sam Harris. Most of the time I agree with them and other times I think they are wrong on certain issues. But I don’t hate them because they don’t agree with me 100% of the time.  And I don’t really understand the feud between them.  (As I said I came late into the game.)  I really would just like to use the Rodney King quote: “Can’t we just all get along?”  After all we are supposed to be dedicated to logic and reason. Why can’t we have civil discourses?  Do we have to act like 12 yr old?
      I admit that most of the discussions in said forums are good ones but there are a number of angry people out there who think they are always right and are snide to those who disagree with them. It should not be this way.   Atheists don’t need to walk in lockstep with each other. You CAN have different opinions on matters that concern you. But you also be willing to agree to disagree without being nasty. That is just my 2 cents worth.

  • http://twitter.com/senectus senectus

    The problem isn’t “Militant atheists” or “Dick Atheists” or even “r/Atheism”
    Its that all humans have the capacity to be real ass-holes. Some like being ass-holes and some it just never occurs to them that there is another way.

    While I don’t want to attack the victim, I want to say don’t attack the movement as a whole because your patiences and ability to deal with ass-holes has worn down to a nub.

    Either work at fixing it or take the non ass-holes and start a new movement.
    or go be quiet and get on with life. 

  • DividedUnderGod.com

    I agree 100% with AlabamaAtheist. I’m a blogger too but my focus is separation of church and state. I don’t concern myself with picking fights with other atheists. If the movement is going to be strong, then we need to quit he infighting and focus on the end goal, a truly secular community.

    • Onamission5

      I would be interested in your suggestions for how to do that when large portions of the movement actively disenfranchises other large portions of its membership. If your solution is for those excluded and/or marginalized members to just shaddup and go along to get along, to accept being mistreated, ignored, or sidelined, then that’s not going to help much.

      It is great that your focus is separation of church and state. It’s great that you come from a place where that can be the only major issue which affects your life. Please do try and understand though that there are broader social issues which affect the lives of other atheists daily, and until those issues are addressed and remedied within the atheist movement, a large portion of us are not going to feel welcome to work on separation of church and state with you.

  • Embiearts

    I was just really getting into the movement (I’ve been lurking for a while now, gradually working towards being more active, trying to figure a way that wouldn’t hurt my business or relationships while at the same time finding my own voice)… frankly there are times I don’t want to have anything to do with it any more. After seeing all the shit that women who hold similar opinions have to deal with (and with my own story of abuse and dealing with MRAs in the family etc, there’s been more than a few emotional triggers), I find I feel burned out before I even start. 

    I want to get more involved, there’s so much I’d like to do and so much I know I could, but despite the fact that there are so many supportive voices out there when I see the tide of abuse that women/feminists face… it doesn’t seem worth it. I’m already fighting clinical depression while running my own business and dealing with standard day-to-day drama, I don’t need threats of rape and violence for having the audacity to voice an opinion while having a vagina. 

    I’m stubborn, though, so I’m sticking in there… I do still want to find a way to make things better for everyone in the community. And I’m taking baby steps, slowly but surely. It would be nice, though, to not have to overcome this kind of block just to feel a part of a community. 

    • Gardiner

      Yeah, no.  Let’s not get all martyrish before anything has happened.  One has to decide if it’s their fight to “change the movement” or go out into the greater world and live their life as an atheist.  When we are so focused on the politics of the movement (and I get nauseated every time I use that word), we may miss out on an opportunity for service in some other meaningful way.

      • Embiearts

        How can I put this… there’s a lot of social change issues (GLBT, vaccination, education, feminism etc) that I’m interested in from a secular perspective. I’ve already taken what little action I can by myself so far. 

        I also want to be a part of the online community, to join in the discussion, connect with people around the world. Which I’m doing, slowly but surely. 

        But at the same time, every time I make a comment online, in the back of my mind is the fact that I’m a woman and women are routinely targeted for abuse for daring to voice feminist opinions by the very people who at one time I thought were allies – who are happy to fight for womens rights in heavily religious communities but explode with rage if you dare to suggest that there isn’t equality in their own community. And yes, I have been threatened with rape and physical violence online. 

        I have no local community of rationalists that I can talk to (location and money are an issue), no people I can hang out with in real life and discuss issues that I feel are relevant… so I’m isolated. And when I look to the online community, I see women who do stand up and join in threatened, shouted down, or told that they’re not worth listening to because they’re not pretty enough to screw. 

        It’s isolating. It’s frustrating. It’s disheartening. And it makes me less motivated to join in. I’m still trying, but it’s not easy and sometimes I want to just pack it in and walk away.

        But hey, I must just like feeling like a victim, right?

  • Melody

    It’s certainly taken it’s toll. Women have dropped out of the movement completely or are taking a break. I have had women tell me that this situation has caused them depression, anxiety, and insomnia… some of which I have experienced. Not too long ago, a woman wrote to Skepchick and said that she was feeling suicidal. We still have people telling us that we are overreacting, hysterical, or playing victim. Where is the empathy? Where is the rational, enlightened movement I thought I once belonged? 

    • Melody

      its*

    • http://www.facebook.com/d3st88 Morva Ádám

      You do realize that people who associate themselves with Skepchick are not perfectly healthy in the head to begin with?

      Stop trying to see the evil hand of the omnipresent patriarchy everywhere, especially in the secular / skeptic movement.
      Why the hell do you want to differentiate between women?

      Google up Morgan Freeman and black history month.
      It’s about time we stop seeing men and women, and start to think about each other as human beings, and the greatest dividers in the secular community were actually Watson and her Skepchick crew.

      And you talk about empathy and rationality? Please.

      • Melody

        Again, this is a great way to dismiss women who speak out against sexism – call them hysterical, unbalanced, radical. Did you read Natalie’s blog? This is precisely what she’s talking about. 

      • schmavery

        Wait, so your solution for dismantling racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia is to…ignore it?

        o k a y.

      • Onamission5

        I associate myself with Skepchick. Thank you for sharing your perspective on my mental health, and your total dismissal of my perspectives, opinions, and experiences based upon what blog I read.

      • vexorian

        ” You do realize that people who associate themselves with Skepchick are not perfectly healthy in the head to begin with?”

        Are you really calling the contributors of a  whole network to have mental issues?

        What the hell is your problem?

        • Gus Snarp

          Not just the contributors, the readers, commenters, anyone who at all associates with them….

      • http://twitter.com/SallyStrange Sally Strange

        You’re part of the problem. There is a deep rift between me and you. I like it that way. If this is your movement then it’s not mine, and I’m cool with that. There are plenty of economic justice activists, anti-racists, criminal justice system reformers, and others, who can make use of my talents and love of science and rationality. Have fun in your tiny little boys’ club. 

      • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

        “start to think about each other as human beings,” so you’re a feminist.  You want to address the issues about male privilege.  And how some members of our community don’t feel welcome or even safe.  Or did you actually mean “it’s time to stop thinking about all the ways our society treats men and women, cis and tran, and gay and straight, white and non-white differently, and as long as those that are on the short end of the stick keep their mouths shut, everything will be hunky-dory.” 

        • Onamission5

          So much this.

          Talking about problems isn’t the problem. The problems are the problem, and ignoring them does not make them go away.

          • 3lemenope

            Since Disqus has apparently decided I’m not allowed to “like” any more comments today, I just want to say that this was superb.

      • Gus Snarp

        I am proud to have you call me “not perfectly healthy in the head”.

      • AxeGrrl

        You do realize that people who associate themselves with Skepchick are not perfectly healthy in the head to begin with?

        Yeah, blanket ad homs ‘contribute’ sooooo much to the discussion.

        Please tell me you’re like 12yrs old.

    • AxeGrrl

      Where is the empathy?

      Your post really struck a chord with me, but this question, more than anything else, is it, imo.

      What has shocked/disillusioned/disheartened me most about all of the dramas/infighting of the last year or so is the (apparent) complete lack of empathy and/or generosity of spirit displayed by some people.

      The attempts to utterly dismiss peoples’ experiences, by slapping words like ‘paranoid’ or ‘irrational’ on them…….luckily, there are enough very intelligent, generous, compassionate and fair people in the places I frequent (like here:) to offset this for me, but yeah, it starts to wear on your after awhile.

  • Kahomono

    This is (almost) the only atheist blog I read any more.  I dropped the vast majority of what was in my feed because it had become nothing more than the same backroom infighting about which Natalie rightly complains.

    I (think I) know that Hemant tries where he can to steer this mess back onto the rails, but I think “where he can” is the critical qualifier there.

  • Joe Zamecki

    I’d like to offer a few suggestions for bloggers, group leaders and individual activists.

    1 Don’t be so quick to harshly criticize our own people. If they’ve screwed up, they’ll hear about it eventually anyway. Every time we crack down on our own people, the media can use that against us, and sometimes they do.  Yes we should police our own, but gently and carefully, not like a wild parade for all to enjoy. 

    2 Stick to the primary issues: Atheist civil rights, state/church separation, the growth of our movement, things like that. Whenever we go off into side-issues, we inevitably find plenty of disagreement among ourselves. We need to remember that there are only a couple of things that we all agree on, if even that. More bickering over less than important issues, we don’t need.

    3 If you’ve been offended or harmed in some way by one of our people, please remember that you’re not the first, and that it could probably be much worse. A lot of incidents of late have been inflated out of proportion, in my humble opinion. Not all, but enough to say that we often slow ourselves down for no good reasons with this bickering. This also tends to speed up burn out.

    4 Get a second opinion! I’ve learned a lot in our movement since getting involved in 1996, and one big lesson I had to learn was that very few successful endeavors in our movement were accomplished by just one person, acting alone, without seeking advice from others. But a LOT of big mistakes have been made by individuals and bloggers who just couldn’t wait, who weren’t tasked with getting lots of permission and advice and guidance beforehand, like most groups do. It’s so easy too. Just ask someone else with experience about your plans, and you’ll be surprised at the giant blunders you can avoid making.

    5 Don’t give up just yet. Trust me, if you give up too soon, you’ll kick yourself later on. It’s better to be angry on the field, than bored in the parking lot.  Stay strong! 

    • John Small Berries

       Perhaps I’m not reading you correctly, but it seems like your first three items boil down to “Don’t hold others publicly accountable if they screw up”, “Don’t express opinions on anything outside a very small area”, and “If anyone has it worse than you, then don’t open your mouth about it”.

      If that’s not what you meant, could you elucidate a bit?

      • The Captain

        I think his post really boils don to ‘don’t be a loud mouthed attentions grabbing drama queen about everything that happens to you”…. Good advice for anyone.

      • Joe Zamecki

        The Captain got it. I did say we should police our own. I think that covers a lot. I didn’t say don’t open your mouth, did I? Because I meant to say remember that you’re not the first, and that it could be worse.  

        I certainly won’t say keep your mouth shut. A bigmouth like me? Just be careful, is all.

    • MichaelD

      The problem is what if we have to go off topic to meet our goals? Particularly when trying to grow the movement. If there is a small but vocal contingent who carry a number of say anti trans assumptions how do we grow the movement and attract Trans atheists to participate if we don’t address the topic in our community?

      • Joe Zamecki

        We’ve got to be careful in going off topic to meet our goals. I know what you’re saying, but again and again, I’ve seen popular activists bring in their own issues, and shock the room. They suddenly had half as much support as they did a few seconds previous to that.

        I think a lot of our people would chime in on these side-issues, but don’t because their opinion isn’t popular in the movement. Well if we talked more about what we agree on and kept our focus on the opposition, more of our otherwise silent people would help out by getting more involved. 

  • Steven

    This is what bothers me most about your post:  “They’re still atheists, but they’re increasingly wondering about what it offers them in return.”

    It *doesn’t* offer you anything in return.  That should be ONE thing we’re all happy about.  You live this way, and you have that absence of faith in god, and you know there’s nothing in it for you other than the truth of that.  

    If someone is “burning out” on their Atheism, then they have failed themselves and nobody else.  It’s not a job.  I hate people even calling it a “movement”.  Why must it be?  

    Yeah, religion sucks.  It does all kinds of evil in the world, and it’s an entirely overblown belief in Santa Claus to the nth degree.  But seriously, people, step back and get some perspective.  

    Burning out.  Jesus.  What are you going to do, claim you aren’t atheist anymore?  Join a religious cult?  I love this blog, but I find this entire line of reasoning pathetic, at best.

    • The Other Weirdo

       It’s a movement for no other reason than to collectively fight religion in all its harmful forms. Religion is organized, that’s one of its definitions, and it accomplish a great many things because of that organization. Most of those things aren’t good, and that’s atheism also has to be a movement, for the organization. Or else we’d be back in howling barbarism again, given the way things look in some heretofore civilized parts of the world.

      • Onamission5

        I agree with you that the end goal of the movement is to collectively fight harm from religion. I am right with you there. I ask you to imagine a scenario, though, that might help you understand where some of us are coming from. A group of people have assembled to discuss tactics for getting a religious banner removed from a government building. In the process of discussion, several members of the group use the term “faggot” to denigrate a particular (let’s say) board member who is trying to obstruct their actions. One person from the group speaks up and says hey, I’m gay, and that makes me feel unwelcome. He is told by a couple others that he is trying to hijack the discussion for his own politically correct agenda and should focus on what’s really important.

        Does he feel like his contribution is welcome? Will he come back? Will he be missed? Should he be?
        If we change the target individual to a woman, and the derogatory word to “pussy,” does that change anything?
        What about if we change that person’s gender identity, or ethnicity, or culture, or social class? Is it still relevant whether or not they have to put up with such exclusionary behavior and language in order to participate in our common goals?

        To me, it’s relevant, the language we use, the actions we take, if those actions and that language work to actively exclude members of our community in participating.

        (and I swear, I am not deliberately or maliciously harping on you, I just know you’re a person and not a troll so responding to your comments feels more safe for me than responding to others)

  • http://www.atheistrev.com/ vjack

    I’m not sure how to fix it until the people involved actually want to do so. In the meantime, I think we just have to continue to do the best we can to be civil in our interactions. While I see where AlabamaAtheist is coming from, it seems a bit hypocritical to give someone a pass for irrationality simply because they are an atheist. I prioritize separation of church and state too, and I certainly focus on Christian extremism. But I also strive to promote reason more broadly, and this does at times lead me to criticize myself and others in our community.

  • schmavery

    Good for Natalie; I’m with her 100%. Though I initially found refuge in the atheist communities when I was younger and first getting my skeptical feet wet, within the past few years feminist/queer/anti-racist movements have proven to be a great deal more welcoming and capable of self-critique.

    • Snowfy

      This :)

  • Tim

    Isn’t the problem that atheism isn’t a natural movement.  It might have to be temporalily, but once we are all treating each other fairly (or even all treating each other equally unfairly) then atheism (or indeed gay rights or feminism) ceased to be a movement.  

    That is where we should all be aiming for eventually.  And if that means that we can all go off and do something more useful for ourselves and others then that is good.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I’d like to see the idea that atheism needs activists go away. I’d like to see atheist-centered conventions go away. I’d like to see atheist clubs and organizations go away. Why? Because they encourage the viewpoint that atheism is some sort of belief, some sort of body of ideas that needs organizations and meetings to present itself. People should congregate around common interests, and atheism shouldn’t fall into that category. There are atheists I like and atheists I don’t like. The ones I like, I like because we have common interests- astronomy or politics. The ones I don’t like (I don’t mean actively dislike), I don’t like because we don’t share much in common. To me, a group of atheists getting together makes as much sense as a group of blondes getting together.

    Lets separate atheism from actual areas of philosophy, and actual areas of action. In philosophy: logic, rationality, freethought, and humanism are all ideas that people can organize around- shared interests that are often associated with atheism, but are different. None of these areas is inherently exclusionary to theists (weak ones, at least).

    In action, we have anti-theism, anti-religion, and assorted political efforts to maintain a secular state (or encourage secular states where they don’t exist). These all present rich opportunities for those with an activist inclination, and again, don’t actively involve the non-belief of atheism at all.

    Finally- and this may be controversial- I have little sympathy for “activists” who choose to remain anonymous. If you can’t be public about who you are without messing up your life more than you’re willing to endure, then you shouldn’t be an activist. Maybe in a country where they’ll kill you for your beliefs, but not in the U.S. Hiding behind an anonymous Internet identity is simply not an acceptable form of activism in this country. There’s a better role for such people: simply existing in their lives as atheists, telling who they choose, being good, being wise, and guiding by example. That’s what the vast majority of atheists do, after all.

    • Cheron22

      “Maybe in a country where they’ll kill you for your beliefs, but not in the U.S.”
       

      Where is this mystical, magical U.S you speak of… because the United States of America is rife with stories and statistics of people getting killed because they are LGBT, the wrong religion, the wrong color, etc.

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        Get real. A tiny number of people in the U.S. have been killed for having the “wrong” beliefs. Your risk in this country of actual physical harm coming your way because of your beliefs alone is incredibly small.

        I understand completely that many people with views at odds with their family, friends, or community choose to stay silent. But that isn’t the role of an activist.

        • vexorian

           A tiny number is enough to be a counter-example.

          I am a privileged straight male, I am not white, but I live in a country in which being mixed is enough privilege. I think that for those of us, 3 or 4 deaths for being trans or gay sound like a tiny number. But I think that from the perspective of the people being killed, I would not be safe just because the statistic is smaller in your country than others.

          • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

            Please understand we aren’t really talking about being gay here, but about being atheist. I simply don’t buy the suggestion that being publicly atheist puts a person an any significant risk of harm, and certainly they are at no risk from the government itself, which is what my earlier comment was about.

            • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

              It’s entirely possible to be oppressed and put-upon and ostracized, even without government anti-atheist death squads.

              • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                It is. But as I said, an activist should accept this. If a person isn’t comfortable with being who they are- publicly- activism is probably a poor choice for them.

                • vexorian

                  So, she left atheism activism. Happy?

                • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                  I’m neither happy nor unhappy about it. It sounds like she made a wise choice.

                • B-Lar

                  Actually, its really sad. She has an eloquent writing style that will no longer be used in the fight against the poisonous effects of religion. It sounds like you are pretty dismissive of things you don’t understand but at least you get to be aloof about it eh?

                • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                  How am I aloof or dismissive? I simply stated my view- as my view- and didn’t criticize anybody else for their differing opinions.

                  The suggestion that because I’m a white male I can’t understand the world that others live in is what is dismissive and aloof, IMO.

                • RebeccaSparks

                  I donno, C Peterson.  It seems to me that you are dismissing both the threat of violence and the potential to be an advocate while writing under a pseudonym.   I think that’s more reiterating your position than calling names.

                • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

                  Even if I accepted your premise that activists should expect mistreatment (I don’t – activism is about correcting these kinds of wrongs), what about nonactivists who are victimized?

                • http://profiles.google.com/smuckitelli Michael Neville

                   I had a good job offer withdrawn when my prospective employer discovered I was an atheist.  I’ve become estranged from my brother because of my atheism.  There are real world problems with being an atheist in the US.

                • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                  I didn’t suggest otherwise. I was talking about the threat of physical harm- which is very small.

                  Social problems are another matter. But an atheist who is open about his beliefs chooses to accept that.

                  My only point here is that I think an activist who can’t reveal their identity isn’t much of an activist, and isn’t much of a loss to the community if they move on.

                • http://www.facebook.com/c.dee.neely Dee Neely

                  I always find people who insist that the only harm you have to worry about is physical harm. There are plenty of other harms which aren’t physically damaging, but damaging nonetheless.
                  And yes, I run the risk of physical attack everytime I go outside because there are plenty of people in the area ready and willing to physically assault me for being trans. In fact, a state representative recently openly claimed he would “stomp into the ground” any trans person who tried to get near his children. Most people in the area didn’t even challenge it.

            • Kers

               Natalie Reed blogs pseudonymously because she is a trans woman, not because she is an atheist.  And in much of the US, being transgendered is still a perfectly legal reason to fire someone and/or deny them housing, leaving aside the obvious threat of being openly trans* in many (if not most) US communities. Just because *you’re* not talking about being LGBT doesn’t mean it is not relevant to the discussion. In this case, it is the heart of the issue.

              • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

                Small correction: She’s in Canada, not the US.

            • http://www.facebook.com/ellenbeth EllenBeth Wachs

              “and certainly they are at no risk from the government itself”

              Oh, really now??  After going after my sheriff for violating church/state issues I just coincidentally got ARRESTED 3 times and held in solitary confinement for a week .  I am still at risk from my government. Don’t make such broad generalizations.

              • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                The risk of such things in the U.S. is exceedingly small, and should not be a serious concern. If this happened to you for the reason you believe, you have superb grounds for a lawsuit, and there are a number of organizations that would be likely to help you with that.

          • http://www.facebook.com/d3st88 Morva Ádám

            I’m sorry, but Peterson is right.
            Start smoking and you have taken up a habit many thousand times more dangerous than openly being an atheist.

            Also, coming out comes with important benefits for society.

            • vexorian

               Cutting your wrists is also more dangerous than starting smoking.

            • http://www.groverbeachbum.blogspot.com/ NeilTerry

              From a pure risk analysis, it MAY be true, but hardly to the point.  Nobody beats me up or cuts my throat for smoking (not yet, anyway!) 

              And really, a chance of cancer 40 years down the road is hardly the same as living in fear of violence on a daily basis. 

              Complete comparison fail.

              To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of many of the Freethought Blogs’ social activism, but to say there isn’t a problem is just stupid. 

              I do however, have to agree with your last point…coming out does definitely benefit society, but I don’t think we can lay any blame on those who don’t feel they can take the risk.  They are not the problem.  I can’t think of a more personal decision for a politically inclined minority, or even a very privileged person who just can’t deal with the fallout.  That doesn’t mean that they can’t, or never did contribute anything. 

    • Karen L

       If you feel it is silly for atheist to come together for social support, activism and discussion, why do you spend time reading and commenting on an atheist blog?

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        I’m interested in the effects of religion on social policy, and the effects of theism on the critical thinking skills of people. Those are the discussions I tend to get involved in. I get involved with those kinds of discussions on other forums, as well. In short, I don’t see this purely as an atheist blog, just a window into some areas of interest.

        I don’t think it’s silly for atheists to get together for the reasons you list, just for them to do it purely because they’re atheists, and not for their common interests (which may be related to their atheism, of course).

        • HA2

           People get together because they’re people and are social and enjoy getting together with other people.

          I’ve lived in some more religious areas of the country. A gathering of atheists was about the only place where I could expect to get away from the all-pervasive assumption that everyone was religious. Any other gathering often turned out to be a gathering around a common interest – religion, even if it wasn’t stated as such.

    • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

      You may not like it, but I like congregating around atheism.  It’s almost like we have different personal tastes and experiences or something.

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        Really? Is that possible… two atheists having different personal tastes?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I blog under a pseudonym because I was raised in a family involved in the Christian Patriarchy movement, and if my family knew I blogged about it I might not be allowed to see my siblings again (and I have loads of them, including a number still in grade school – look up “quiverfull” if you’re curious). And I kind of, you know, like seeing my siblings. But I also feel passionate about opposing the ideas and viewpoints that caused me such harm, especially as a woman (again, look up “Christian patriarchy” sometime, it’s an actual movement and it teaches that women are always – ALWAYS – to be under and obedient to a male authority). So what I think I’m saying is, there are understandable reasons to blog under a pseudonym. I have one, and Natalie Reed has one too. 

      Also, look up the sort of harassment trans women face, they DO face the threat of death, and that, NOT her atheism, is why Natalie Reed blogs under a pseudonym. 

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        I understand why you do what you do. But I don’t really respect it. You’re trying to live in two worlds… and in the long run, I don’t see how that can work. As a blogger, you’ll either be relatively ineffectual, or you’ll have enough impact to be a threat to some crazy theist somewhere, with the result that you’ll be outed. Nothing on the Internet is very secure, and I have little doubt that a determined person couldn’t figure out your actual identity in fairly short order.

        I understand about the issues of harassment, but I think bringing them up too often overblows the situation. Real harassment, leading to real physical harm, remains pretty rare. I’m completely sympathetic with those who prefer to keep sensitive matters private. But when they blog anonymously on the Internet, I don’t think they are doing anybody any favors. I don’t completely trust anybody who won’t reveal who they are… why should I? Any story may be true, or just made up. I expect a degree of verifiability.

        • HA2

           Serious question: have you ever been in a position where you had to choose between seeing your family ever again and some value that you thought was important?

          • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

            Not really, although some more remote cousins deliberately stopped communicating when they learned of my views. Not really what I’d call a hardship.

            But I can say with absolute honesty that I’d give seeing any of my close family members over changing my values or hiding my beliefs.

            Again, I’m not arguing for people to reveal all their secrets. I’m arguing against anonymity for most online activists.

        • http://miriammogilevsky.wordpress.com Miriam Mogilevsky

           Hello C Peterson. I just visited your blog and see that you’re a middle-aged, married white guy. It doesn’t look like there’s much of a reason for you to be anonymous on the internet. Would anybody fire you from your job or cut off familial ties with you if they found out that you’re a man? I’m guessing not, but that’s exactly what could happen to Natalie if the people in her offline life found out that she is trans. Do straight white men ever get randomly beaten–and possibly murdered–because they’re straight white men? No, but that happens to trans* people and other folks under the LGBTQ spectrum FAR too often, and that’s the risk that Natalie would be facing if TF revealed her real name.

          So if blogging anonymously is really so terrible, then what you’re saying is that people like Natalie–who can’t blog under their real names because of risks like these–shouldn’t blog at all. Or, at least, they shouldn’t speak about experiences like these. You’re saying that trans* issues aren’t something people should discuss unless they’re willing to risk losing their jobs, apartments, and loved ones. You get to talk about YOUR life, but they don’t get to talk about theirs.

          One more point: “I don’t completely trust anybody who won’t reveal who they are… why
          should I? Any story may be true, or just made up. I expect a degree of
          verifiability.” Even if someone uses their full name, how are you supposed to verify their stories? My full name is Miriam Mogilevsky. A guy sexually assaulted me once. Go verify that. It’s true!

          • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

            Sorry, I just don’t buy turning various minorities in the U.S. into victim groups. Everyone has their problems, some more than others, certainly. I just don’t accept activists for most of these causes hiding behind walls of anonymity. And I don’t accept that most adult LGBT folks are at serious risk for physical harm in revealing themselves… the statistics don’t support that. A higher risk, certainly. A high risk, I think not. And I’m not telling anybody to out themselves, just arguing for the activists to do so.

            I don’t know exactly what I’ve lost or gained because of my views. I hold an elected office, and mentor science at a school, both in a community with a fair number of religious people. So far, no real problem (a couple of kids who were pulled from the school in part because of teaching evolution, though). A few friends lost, a few gained. Maybe some consulting jobs affected. A couple of directly emailed death threats because of my very public comments about Focus on the Family.

            Sure, it would be hard to test the veracity of your story (although far easier knowing your name). The point was that the situation would be very different for an influential blogger- the sort of person under discussion here. A person whose identity was known could not easily get away with making up stories like that an passing them off as true… a reality that a few bloggers have recently learned the hard way.

            • Andrew Tripp

              Yo, Peterson, your privilege is showing.

              And, in fact, the statistics DO support the fact that women, LGBT, and particularly gender non-conforming people are at a much higher risk of violence than others. The numbers aren’t as high because there are nowhere near as many queer people as there are cis and straight people. But proportionally, it is off the scale. One in four women report being sexually assaulted.* In incidents of biased violence against LGBT people showed that transgender people were the subject of 20% of all violence and 40% of police-initiated violence.** According to the same source, in 2010 44% of all LGBTQH (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and HIV-affected) murder victims were trans women, and in 2009 it was 50%, despite that trans people make up only about 1% of the LGBT population.***

              I can spit these sources all day. Please, like any good rationalist, please do your fucking research before you open your mouth.

              *http://www.oneinfourusa.org/statistics.php
              **http://ncavp.org/publications/NationalPubs.aspx
              ***http://transfeminism.tumblr.com/on_violence_against_trans_women

              • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                Yo, Tripp, your innumeracy is showing.

                I know what the statistics show (although some I don’t believe entirely). I know that LGBT people are subject to a much higher rate of violence. But the reality is, the actual risk of violence is still low- even lower when people choose to take themselves out of dangerous situations.

                My original point was that an atheist can come out if they choose and have very little worry about physical violence. The risk is higher for an LGBT person in some settings, but still low overall. And I’m not saying people should do this, just that an anonymous activist isn’t very effective, so those who choose to be activists will do their cause a favor by stepping out of anonymity.

                • Andrew Tripp

                  I would like you to tell that “reality” bit to the people I know who suffer harassment and violence, from both general population and the police, on a daily basis. 

                  Also, “choose to take themselves out of dangerous situations?” You really have no idea how privilege, particularly race and class based privilege, works, do you? When you are viewed as an alien, as inhuman, by the wider populace, you can’t just remove yourself from situations of violence. Our society, despite whatever capitalist neoliberal rhetoric you’ve been indoctrinated in, does not allow for easy movement between strata. If you had even a semblance of a clue, you would understand this. 

                • Pseudonym

                  Anonymity, it seems to me, might be one way of taking yourself out of dangerous situations.

        • Rosa

           this is why so many New Left women activists left for women’s rights work, back in the day.
           
          We’ll be happy to have all the atheist women, too.

        • anon

          Anonymity shouldn’t matter in blogging if the intended audience does not need to know the specific identity of who is speaking in order to meaningfully engage with the blog’s content or other commenters. The impact of a blog is not so dichotomously determined by whether or not the author is anonymous: there is a large array of reasons people are attracted to blogs, and the author’s name is small among these. The success of those popular blogs by pseudonymous persons and the subsequent thanks they get from commenters is good proof.

          Particular persons are much more likely aware of their personal situation than random people on the internet. The statistics of harassment for groups of people are rather irrelevant when we’re talking about decisions individuals make in awareness of their personal situation. The person you are responding to for example, Libby Anne, just cited her own family as a reason for pseudonymity. I don’t think there are statistics on how Libby Annes’s families respond to Libby Annes when they go public with their feminist and atheist opinions. And indeed the very act of blogging and being widely-read amplifies the likelihood of harassment and bullying beyond anything the usual controlled studies could represent. I also take issue with the implication that physical harm is the only “real” thing to worry about when it comes to negative consequences.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bruce-Long/1793578486 Bruce Long

      I agree to the extent that temples to atheism and other apparent mimicries of religious organisations are to be largely avoided. However, I think  clubs and conventions and similar conventions for humanist and scientific interests that are largely atheistic are not only healthy for atheists, but for society as a whole. It’s a short and not disingenuous step to atheist clubs and conventions, and these are also needed to counter the effect of large scale faithism in society. I would be an atheist even if no one else was, and I have never been to a large atheist gathering or movement. However:

       1. Community and social affirmation are natural human needs.
      2. Religionists and theists (faithers in general) are going to call atheists a religious group no matter what we do or do not do because they think it undermines our standpoint somehow and are of course happy to equivocate on their kind of faithist and religious community and a secular community that rejects all faith systems.3. Atheists absolutely are singled out for abuse and discrimination by religionists and faithers in general – especially in ever growing bible belts. This discrimination can be quite overt, or quite sophisticated. In the US it is at the level of congress and goes all the way down. The Senate in Australia is also full of faithism.
      4. It is also a natural and psychological fact that it is easier to affect the thinking of most humans if they have a reference example of more than a few individuals scattered about. It is a sad but unavoidable fact that true freethinking is opposed by natural human propensities to seek social affirmation and safety in numbers. Many people need a group to teach them not to be led by any group think. 

      I was a faither for many years myself, and the most interesting persons to me are atheists that have managed to continue to reject all faiths from 
      young (I was an atheist until about 15 years of age.) I find that such persons are very robust as individuals. Unfortunately, they often do not recognise the benefits of community and social bonding.I have been vocal on the Web as an atheist for over ten years, but otherwise I tend to be quite isolated due to a lack of resources and time (I am a mature age student with three children fighting a custody dispute and working casually). However, I recently found myself utterly situationally stymied and reached out through an atheist forum asking for help from other like minded people. I am very glad I did and an excellent atheist barrister gave me his time and assistance pro-bono. Without this help and due to my lack of expertise and understanding I would have made some serious mistakes.There is a cost and a downside to group dynamics, however this cost is mitigated by other factors for atheists, a-faithers, and anti-religionists. One runs the risk of being associated with individuals and ideas that one does not endorse, and one’s individual identity can be somewhat diluted. However, the atheist community stands apart from all religious and faith communities in the  following centrally important respects that all embody a rejection of faith thinking and faith dynamics: 

      - We embrace defeasible and revisable thinking and embrace and validate disagreement, dissent and the questioning of established thinking. No dogma allowed – not really.
      - We reject arguments from authority, and regard arguments from scientific authority as defeasible and subject to question, debate, and rejection. If we discovered that evolution as it stands is wrong according to evidence – say that aliens tweaked the adaptive process or we are really evolved from molecules in the poop of  some ancient astronaut – we would embrace the more correct theory (intelligent design theorists actually cannot do this with respect to their central theses because that central thesis is ultimately a supernatural god as dictated by their religious texts – thus ID really does back up to religion and not science).
      - We reject an epistemology based upon faith in favour of one based upon the above and upon what can be reasonably known from the pubically demonstrable and materially provable information of evidence.
      - We don’t have to agree with each other on anything else at all, including moral realism and ethics.Randian atheists and socialist atheists don’t generally get along politically and politically and morally conservative atheists don’t go too well with liberals on moral issues. Then there are atheists that look more like agnostics, whom ‘strong’ atheists like myself think have largely missed the point and are vulnerable to Pascal’s  Wager (they would disagree). The central theme is that reason based upon scientific understanding with the defeasibility and revisability that goes along with it is our common epistemic pole star, and along with it the complementary rejection of faith based epistemologies (accepted ways of knowing facts, and what constitute facts). The human intellect directed at nature through science and the curiosity that goes with it is what solves our problems, not believing in spaghetti monsters.
      Activism can be perceived as both evangelical and as embodying fanaticism, but this doesn’t change the fact that there are many things that activists do and say that protect atheists. People like Alexander Ann – and especially their speech and ability to criticise religious doctrines and beliefs – have to be protected. We will be identified as a group no matter what we do, and religionists and syncretists will ascribe religiosity to us anyway, even though it is completely nonsensical to do so. At best they will have to reduce their of faiths to ideologies pursuant to this, and they don’t want to do that.I am a PhD candidate in philosophy and many philosophers are atheists (the opposition between religionists and philosophers goes back at least as far as Socrates) – but there is also a concerted effort by theists to discredit philosophical thought  which is exemplified in the New Testament admonition to reject human philosophy as ‘empty’ at best.It would be good just to be able to fade into the background, and I think that is a valid strategy open to atheists at any time in any place. I doubt that wil ever be a live option while faithism is so powerful and widespread. We are not called to witness or to live or die for any faith, and if we were, we should probably reject the idea (although I understand political and other associated activisms).  I like all kinds of friendly decent human being, and am happy to associate with religious individuals who are friendly and decent (although I find it best to avoid them in large groups where their group think usually takes hold), but I find it helpful and healthy to be around persons of my own intellectual and ideological disposition. The thing is, since atheism is the rejection of all faiths and of faith ‘thinking’ in general – the epistemology embraced by an atheist is going to be different from that used by faithers (I use ‘faithers’ as the short form of faith-adherents and yes, it is supposed to be somewhat disrespectful of faith-adherence). The scientific approach to epistemology is under attack from faithism continually at all levels of human society and endeavour. Athiest clubs and conventions are part of what is required to oppose it.Syncretic humanists and secularists may stand with you if someone tries to subject your children to Sharia law, but you will need atheists to stand with you to oppose the programming of your children’s minds with faithism.

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        I agree completely about the value of social networks (virtual or physical) for things like humanism, science, secularization, etc. And I agree that some of the religious will try to brand atheism a religion itself. We don’t have to play into that by creating atheist societies or networks. As I said, I don’t think they make much sense, and they are exclusive. How many theists will join an atheist group? But if the group actually has a purpose that is more inclusive, like keeping religion out of government, or exploring humanism, you will see a wider range of involvement (not every member of the FFRF is an atheist, for instance… at least, not when they sign up).

        Atheism isn’t a belief, and it isn’t a philosophy. It’s a weak concept to base any sort of social network on. But the sort of beliefs that are shared by many atheists are not, and because some of the most important of those are also shared by at least some theists, framing our societies that way is valuable, and enables the active spread of atheism in a way that no atheist-branded organization can really do.

        • http://www.groverbeachbum.blogspot.com/ NeilTerry

          I can’t see anywhere where your reasoning is “wrong”.  But I do think it’s such a murky and personal area in our society, that being right or wrong about this issue is more a matter of personal perspective than anything else.  So many people, in our society at least, come to reason, humanism, even philosophy as a basic concept, by way of issues of religion and therefore, also atheism.  Atheism, while not a full-fledged philosophy, is a position on an important philosophical issue that can and often does contain many different and potentially powerful implications for people.  You might not like the messy reality, but there are many cultural threads that connect to atheism, even if you think the connections tenuous or false.   

          Maybe in a few decades, when and if this trend changes and religion is not the huge driving force it is today, you will have a more important and workable point.  As I see it right now, the differences in these issues are much smaller to most people than to you.  Whether or not you think it is the correct appraoch, I don’t really see it changing soon.      

          • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

            I’m sure you’re right, both about how most people see this, and with your timelines. I was only talking about what I’d like to see, not what I actually expect to see anytime soon.

    • HA2

      People should congregate around common interests. However, many times, it is ASSUMED and not spoken that “religion” is a common interest.

      Thus, there is a need for someplace for people to go who do not share this common interest, especially since in many places in this country they would be excluded and ostracized for not sharing it.

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        And I’m not suggesting otherwise. I just don’t think that common interest should be atheism, but rather, something that really is an interest, and isn’t automatically exclusionary of theists… things I’ve already mentioned like rationalism, secularism, humanism. These things provide an actual focus for discussion and common interest, and by their nature will bring together groups consisting mostly of atheists, while at the same time being less alienating to theists, and less able to drive the perception that atheism is “just another religion”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000916522108 Kt Ward

    It’s been my experience, over the last handful of years+, that there is a disturbing level of intolerance and hostility (and no small amount of plain ol’ hate)  spewing from the atheist movement. If I’m forced to point a finger toward the cause, I’ll point it toward the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens. On their own, I admire the heck out of these folks for all kinds of reasons. But they’ve done zero to further outreach.

    Frankly, I simply have no use for the unproductive drama that seems to dominate atheist movement these days. Whether it comes from the Religious Right or the “New Atheists” matters not a whit to me.

    • The Other Weirdo

       Outreach to whom?

    • 3lemenope

      Uh, lots of people, especially former theists, say that their encounter with texts like “The God Delusion” pushed them out of their prior beliefs into considering and then adopting an atheist stance. As strident as they sometimes seem, I don’t see much evidence that they are merely preaching to the choir. 

      Sometimes calm, evenhanded, patient logic is most persuasive, but sometimes people react more effectively to just the opposite. And just because something is blunt, or impassioned, or even confrontational, that doesn’t mean it is hateful. It takes all sorts doing all different sorts of persuading to reach the full diversity of personalities out there.

  • Edward Clint

    We should consider the possibility that secular activism is not for everyone. This is not to excuse anything that has occurred, but an observation that this is a time of upheaval and tumult for a young movement trying to define and (ultimately) stabilize. Thus, it is sometimes a tough & ugly business. 

  • Ryan Bauer

    This is where I think the secular humanist movement can help provide something energizing. Rather than arguing over unreasonable beliefs with both believers and non-believers, this forward-looking movement is about how to replace religiosity with reason and humanistic morality in an effort to move humanity out of the depths of superstition. Rather than trying to convince people that there is no god, humanists follow their world view courageously and hopefully set a high standard for how to live a good life grounded in the here and now.

  • Ryan Bauer

    That’s not to say that it isn’t important to have activists promoting sep of church/state and other worthy causes. What I’m saying is that humanism might be a re-energizing pursuit for those suffering “burn out.”

  • Michael Dorian

    In a sense, I think all this comes down to personal preference–the amount of time and energy you want to put in is the amount of time and energy you will spend regarding atheist activism. It’s pretty clear that there are factions within the atheist movement that all deserve a voice.  But pointing fingers at who’s more justified and/or trying to claim which particular aspect of the atheist cause is more worthy does little more than bog us down in debates that most likely prevent us from really fighting the good fight.  I’d bet we can all agree that sexism is wrong, and racism is wrong… and pretty much every atheist I’ve ever met realizes this, despite how ardently he/she opposes those things in the public sphere.  The most important thing, as far as I can tell, is combating irrational thought and the dangerous public policy that embracing the supernatural can lead to. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/burt.narvey Burt Narvey

    The primary failure of Atheism as primary identifier is that it distracts from undesirable religious behavior and focuses attention on the largely irrelevant God Hypothesis… or as it seems, toward all sorts of irrelevant topics. The secular movement should be about secular values.

  • Origami_Isopod
  • Cormacolinde

    I don’t think there is a problem with misogyny in the atheist movement – there is a problem with misogyny in society, period. And well, the atheist movement is part of society. Joining a movement based on rejection of religion will not automagically remove all other issues that afflict society at large. It will certainly remove some that are intimately linked to religion, but there are many issues that, although often linked to religion, still exist outside of it. Sexism, racism, homophobia arent’t problems exclusive to religious people, it’s only exacerbated by it, or often used as an excuse to justify this kind of behavior.

    Also, finally, i think people need to understand the internet fuckwad theory: many people use the anonymity of the internet medium as an excuse to let their basest instincts take over.

  • Rebecca Hensler

    The catch 22: Engaging in debate regarding the treatment of women within the atheist community is frustrating, exhausting and sometimes even painful.  Not engaging at all in the debate is de facto support of the status quo, which was untenable.  I am looking forward to the changes that the struggle has brought about and more progress in the future.

    I haven’t engaged…much.  Maybe a few comments on threads.  I let other women — Greta Christina, Rebecca Watson, a few others — speak for me, for which I am grateful to them.  And the debate has stayed away from my site of entry into the movement, Grief Beyond Belief, for which I am also grateful; the grieving — including grieving atheists — need space that is safe and comfortable.

    But I do think that it is possible to engage in a debate about a specific topic without getting involved in back and forth drama.  What it takes is the ability to let someone say something negative about you, maybe even something untrue about you, without saying something back.  Or only restating your true position or describing your actual actions — setting the record straight — and leaving it at that.  Return to your original topic and keep your focus there, not on the conflict but on the issue.  The only way not to engage in drama is to let the other person get the last word.  It’s not easy, but it is possible.  And, if you are in the right, the last word they get usually does their argument far more damage than you could.

    I’m sorry that there are people leaving the movement over this.  I would like to encourage them instead to find a new way to engage.  Ask JT what you can do to help the youth at Secular Student Alliance.  Volunteer at a Camp Quest.  Read the posts of grieving atheists at Grief Beyond Belief and post a thoughtful and compassionate comment to each one.  Pick a battle in the war with the religious right (there are plenty to choose from) and fight it with everything you’ve got.  Read fewer blogs and go to more local events if you can.

    This is a big movement and a big community now.  We are big enough that we engage in internal as well as external struggles.  (Which occurs, by the way, in every successful movement.)  But we are also big enough now that when we burn out in one area of struggle, there is always another.

  • vexorian

    My opinion about this is:

    Fuck.

    This is not right.

  • The Captain

    I’ve seen plenty of people either leave the movement, or drop out after being interested in joining and looking around a bit. The problem I have is that most of the people crying about Natalie leaving (and don’t take that as meaning I want to see her go, I certainly do not) probably don’t give two shits if those others leave since they are probably or the “wrong” side of these cultural issues they are arguing about. 

    But AlabamaAtheist is right, we spend way to much time fighting over this petty subjective crap. And yes, your huge issue you think you have is petty crap! Just as mine are, that guys’ is, and that girls’ over there. Most of the infighting over the last few years has been over which subculture of greeter western culture should be the only one followed by everyone in the movement.  Petty crap. We mostly all agree on the big stuff. It’s these little subculture garbage that has been getting the interwebs in a frenzy and it’s frankly tiering. I kinda agree with Natalie and don’t blame her for leaving at all. 

  • StarStuff

    I prefer the word “community” to “movement”.  I’ve been watching the infighting too and have actually stopped following a couple of famous, vocal people. People I used to enjoy listening to until they got uppity & snotty. People who seem to act superior to everyone, including atheists. People who shouldn’t be (IMHO) acting like 12 y/os.  I’m not interested in isolating myself from others who share my beliefs so I just cut out the drama.  There are so many other people worth listening to.

  • http://twitter.com/SallyStrange Sally Strange

    The only way to fix it is to unhesitatingly alienate sexists and bigots of all stripes. 

    I’m sorry. 

    There’s really no other way. 

    • The Captain

      Even though bigot has a more widely accepted definition, “bigot” and Sexist” are inherently subjective terms taking on different meanings for each person, culture, and subclture. Since you feel that these internalized subjective definitions are what should determine who should or should not be involved in the movement, your statement boils down to “anyone I don’t like or approve of should be unhesitatingly alienated”. And I bet you have the nerve to think it’s only other people who are part of this problem.

      Your problem isn’t with the atheist movement, you problem is that there are people other than you in society.

      • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

         The real intolerant people are the tolerant!

      • http://twitter.com/SallyStrange Sally Strange

        “bigot” and Sexist” are inherently subjective terms taking on different meanings for each person, culture, and subclture. 

        BZZZZT!
        Wrong. 

        • The Captain

          Please show me then how “sexism” is measured if it’s not subjective.

          • http://twitter.com/SallyStrange Sally Strange

            How to identify sexism:

            1. Identify cultural attitudes that are based on the idea of male superiority and female inferiority. Male strength/rationality/honesty being contrasted with female weakness/emotionality/unreliability. 

            2. Identify tropes, narratives, stories, jokes, etc., which rely on and/or propagate this dichotomous narrative

            It’s actually not that difficult, but you have to pay at least a tiny modicum of attention first. I recommend checking out Finally Feminism 101 to get tools for identifying sexism: http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/

            And Manboobz http://manboobz.com/ for a quick go-to example of what sexism looks like. 

            Often, anti-feminists will claim that speaking out about injustice is the true victimization, and if women would just stop talking about sexism, the problem would disappear. Don’t fall into this trap: speaking out against injustice is the opposite of being victimized. 

            Any more questions, Mr. Disingenuous? 

            • YourLittleBrother

              It’s pretty clear that Manboobz is a sexist jackass. Excellent example.

    • Shane Guilkey

      This….. This is what we are doing to each other when we don’t agree with a perspective, outlook or belief.

      I feel that I’ve personally come a long way in the last few years of reading the various atheist and humanist blogs. Had the community unhesitatingly alienated me in the beginning for some of the stupid shit I said and believed, I wouldn’t have had the chance to learn all that I have and gained in the empathy that I have for the feminist and LBGT communities.

      The point is; we’re all human and we say stupid and irrational things sometimes.
      Maybe we should engage in the forgiveness that we accuse the religious groups
      of hypocriticly lacking. None of us will ever be perfect.

    • Parse

      Exactly.  I’d rather have ‘deep rifts’ in the community than be told I need to unconditionally support and forgive the misogynistic assholes on ‘my’ side because they also self-identify as skeptics.  

  • Dglas26

    Remarkable. The rhetorical methods just get more and more irrelevant to the subject matter. Appeal to pity is a logical fallacy – bad argumentation. To call appeals to pity “appeals to pity” is not being “mean.” It is being precise and rigorous. 

    If one seeks to impose their ideology on skepticism or atheism, then one has lost sight of the subject matter and it is only proper that that be pointed out. One does not, in the lab, call someone else a “meanie” because they point out a flaw in your experimental design, display your biases in its construction, and expect the whole process to revise itself to accommodate your desired result. Same applies to me.

    The arguments made in this piece are the same ones used by accommodationists within the skeptical movement to cause atheists to be shunned. “I’m not comfortable,” squeal the apologists, and the accommodationists seek to decimate the voice of vocal atheists in order to make the apologists more “comfortable.” The result is that skepticism now holds the biggest woo of them all, God, as outside the scope of skeptical inquiry. Imagine that.Theists often claim that atheism is just another faith, just another ideology. It seems some are determined to make that so, and will use *any* rhetorical ploy to turn atheism into a platform and market niche for their private ideology – right down to being “offended.”

    • Onamission5

      I am glad the movement is comfortable for you. Can you explain why that is more important than the comfort of others, especially people who also experience discrimination from society at large? 

      • Dglas26

        Did I say the movement was comfortable for me? Where did you infer that?

        The point was that my comfort, or lack thereof, is not relevant to the subject matter.

        I notice that completely missed that (I thought I was clear) and tried to make the conversation about my comfort level. Seriously. Do you even see the errors happening, or will you just clutch at whatever irrelevant rhetorical ploys seem to be in reach?

        • Onamission5

          I apparently misunderstood. Let me rephrase– why shouldn’t members of a movement feel comfortable within that movement? Surely a constant feeling of being uncomfortable and unwelcome contributes less to our success as a whole than a sense of personal comfort and inclusiveness, yes?

          • Dglas26

            Still talking about comfort, I see.

            Staying on-topic serves the subject matter better.

            Bush tried to introduce faith-based evidence into scientific discourse. I’m sure that would have made many people more comfortable with science, but it would have decimated science’s error-correction methodology and rendered it useless for its task. Limiting the scope of skeptical inquiry does the same with respect to skepticism, as we are learning.

            Reality is not concerned with my comfort. If we are engaged in discussions about reality, then comfort is irrelevant. Introducing comfort as a prime factor in such inquiries is a source of error.

            Indeed, it’s an appeal to pity, which is an error.

            • Onamission5

              You’re the one who called out people on their comfort level. I am trying to address a point you made, the point being

              ” “I’m not comfortable,” squeal the apologists, and the accommodationists seek to decimate the voice of vocal atheists in order to make the apologists more “comfortable.” ”

              I am asking, based upon your statement above, why isn’t comfort of disenfranchised people important, if we are to actually accomplish anything?

              • Dglas26

                When you decide to get on-topic, let me know. :)

                • Onamission5

                  So what you said isn’t the topic, and you’re not going to answer me. Good to know.

                • Dglas26

                  You are deliberately trying to ignore the point and steer the conversation in the misguided direction you want. My point was precisely about the lack of legitimacy in doing just that. I have made my point, clearly and unequivocally. You are just being disingenuous.

                  If a subject matter strives or claims to be objective then personal feelings and desires become a source of error. It’s called “confirmation bias.” 

                  Look it up.

                  Mitigating confirmation bias and other error is a necessary prerequisite for “accomplishing anything.” Your view of accomplishing anything seems to lie in imposing something outside of the subject matter on the subject matter.

                  Science doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear, Are you telling us we must change it to make the experimental results more “comfortable?” Yours are the noises of an ideologue, a dogmatist. 

  • AndyTK

    As an old white straight guy I will probably never understand issues such as the one that weighed so heavily on this woman.  My guess is that we all want the groups that we associate with to have the same beliefs that we do and that is probably asking for too much, especially in a group centered on a negative.  Atheist groups should be supportive of feminism and LGBT, we after all don’t have the baggage of religion to carry around with regards to these issues.  However feminism and LGBT isn’t the focus of many people in the Atheist community, nor should it be.  The same can be said for animal rights, the environment, Citizens United or any other cause.  If somebody pounds their off message cause too much within any organization I suspect they will get some blow back.  The reverse would also apply to turning the LGBT or feminist communities into hard core Atheist supporting communities, including the stripping of the mention of god or the supernatural from every aspect of their organization and events.  Once again I want to stress that this doesn’t mean that we as a community should not try to make everybody welcome that holds our core belief of no supernatural beings or events.  This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to prevent sexual harassment within our organizations and events.  It does however mean that people that think that the Atheist community should reach a level of purity on those issues well above the national average are probably going to be disappointed.

  • AxeGrrl

    (what’s with the messed up formatting when italics are used lately?)

    • Stev84

       Use “em” instead of “i”

      • AxeGrrl

        Hmm let’s try this out…..

        Yay! thanks Steve :) *wondering what happened to mess up using ‘i’ as usual*

        • Paul_Robertson

           An “enhancement” I suspect. Many people use italics for quotes and this does make that usage easier. That said, it’s not the standard. It would be nice if they didn’t try to reinvent HTML.

  • Randy Riggs

    *Grabbing my popcorn here*

    It’s become high fun of late to watch the atheist community online self-destruct…

    PZ and FtB vs Thunderf00t
    Pretty much everyone vs r/atheism
    Pretty much everyone vs Sam Harris

    Even watching the comments here, it reminds me of the old days in the early-80′s when I spent a couple of years in the fundie movement, all the bickering, in-fighting, backstabbing and gossip.

    I was upset when I watched all of this developing in recent weeks, now I could give two shits.  When everyone can grow up and stop this high school bullshit, we’ll all be better off.  Until then I’ll just amuse myself watching all of the stupid play out.

  • Ohnhai

    How to fix it? Simple. Stop believing our atheism unites us in anything other than a dis- belief in deities. The mistake is assuming the fellow atheist you are chatting to is going to share your ideals or moral stance or even taste in music.

  • Glasofruix

    Um, am i the only one to dislike the whole atheism is a movement thingy? I mean, my reasons or the whole concept of atheism might be radically different from the guy standing next to me, we only share the non-believing part of it. Are people who prefer blue color part of a movement? Or maybe people who prefer their eggs scrambled are part of something?

  • TheAmazingAgnostic

    I believe that some in our movement have a bellicose mindset that really causes problems.

    The Elevatorgate incident was completely overhyped; it started off as a simple misunderstanding and then snowballed into a massive controversy in which people were encouraged to take sides and fight fellow skeptics.

    Now, I cannot even bring up “Richard Dawkins” or “Rebecca Watson” on atheist websites for fear of starting angry arguments.

    Here is the main problem: on one side, you have atheists who identify as staunch liberals and feminists. They are often some of our community’s strongest yet least public advocates.

    On the other side, you have atheists who are sympathetic towards conservative and libertarian ideologies and dislike what they perceive to be “political correctness.” They at odds with feminism and the agenda of the aforementioned group; in some cases, they may be Republicans and men’s rights advocates.

    These two camps don’t like each other at all, and they are constantly trying to score points against each other. It’s very annoying and prevents anything useful from being discussed. 

    Some members of the first camp can be a bit too pushy and forceful in their activism. I have often found that they unfairly accuse  *all* conservative skeptics of supporting homophobia, sexism, and racism, even if they haven’t shown an inclination to any of those prejudices. I will never forget seeing an individual come to this very site and have people accuse her of being self-loathing or having deficit morals simply because she announced that she was a black, female Republican. 

    Some members of the second camp are very immature and whiny. They complain endlessly about those horrible “feminazis” and are not even willing to listen when advocates bring up issues of class or race. They have no interest in being tactful or respectful, and they do not want to make nice with their opponents.

    Frankly, I think that both camps are wrong and that they should reconcile so we can all move on. It’s the only way.

    • TheAmazingAgnostic

      Apologies about the typos, everyone. I was in a bit of a rush…..

    • Dglas26

      I would say there is a third camp, the camp that actually advocates for skepticism and/or atheism themselves, rather than as mere niche markets for this or that ideology or opportunities for personal influence. This camp is interested in honest and open inquiry.

      Sadly, the two camps you refer to assume this third camp has sided with the other. That’s the joys of dichotomous polarizing ideologies. With us or against us, to hell with any other perspective. In the sound and fury (the noise with no signal), the original subject matter is lost, drowned out in the fanaticism.

      Skepticism is neither left nor right, neither Republican nor Democrat. And atheism has no other content than lacking a belief in god(s). Ideologues are trying to annex skepticism and atheism into their dogmas. 

      The situation is now so bad that the so-called FreeThoughtBlogs are excommunicating people on ideological grounds and orthodoxy requirements. The JREF, of course, has been banning people so vigorously, that a whole other online forum (The Skeptical Community) consisting of JREF excommunicates. Secular shunning, it seems, is now the policy of the day. Did you know that banning from the JREF is permanent? For life. Seriously. Now, that’s inclusive.

      We need new blood and new leadership in both movements. The old guard have become pure garbage. Randi and Shermer have popularized dysfunctional definitions of skepticism with limited scopes of inquiry – what protects skepticism from ideological annexation. Harris is incoherent, philosophically and scientifically, and Myers/Brayton are anti-free and open inquiry. We have lost our way.

      It turns out skepticism needs its philosophical skeptics after all. It may have been expeditious to side with the apologists and accommodationists, but in the long run, the hobbled visions of skepticism have decimated the primary function of skepticism. 

    • Paul_Robertson

       Well said, although I suspect that reconcilliation is perhaps too much to hope for. Perhaps asking them to take it outside is a reasonable compromise though? Feminism and MRA both share a common feature – they have nothing to do with atheism. Taking their ideology elsewhere doesn’t seem too much to ask.

    • RebeccaSparks

      Are both camps wrong, or has there been wrong behavior from people from both camps?  If both camps are wrong, what is right?

      • YourLittleBrother

        It’s mainly the feminists that have been wrong, time and time again.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    I’m not really concerned about atheist burnout. All sorts of people get burned out when they throw their body and soul into some cause. Religious people get burned out volunteering at church all the time. It is a common occurrence. Of course atheists can also get burned out if they spend lots and lots of time on the atheism cause. Being burned out is a way the body or mind tells you to slow things down. Achieve a better balance of things in your life. There will be others to pick up the baton. Don’t sweat it.

  • Jessica

    Can the problem be fixed? and then a comment war ensues Awesome guys!

    • YourLittleBrother

      Sure, blame the men.

  • http://mrda.wordpress.com MRDA

    Movement atheism: that’s the problem, right there!

  • Godlessliving

    I think there is way to much arguing about stupid things in the atheist movement. There is so little unity. I too get tired often.

  • DrewHardies

    Is there a way we can fix this problem before we lose some strong activists from our fold?

    I’m not convinced that the activists were ‘ours’ to begin with.

    Advocates of progressive social policy do quite a bit of good.  I’m happy they’re doing their thing.  But, their thing is working to realize some political goal.  It’s not promoting skepticism.

    One movement is saying, “Question everything, especially the sacred cows.”  The other is saying, “Now’s the time for action to fix a real harm.  If you want to debate the existence of the harm, so it somewhere else.”

    Both movements have merit.  But they’d benefit from separation.  Activists aren’t helped by commentors questioning their cause.  Promoters of skepticism aren’t helped by people who insist that their issue be above debate.

  • Paul_Robertson

    TL;DR version of Natalie’s post:

    “I’m leaving because I got caught in the crossfire of someone’s personal war. Since I’m off anyway, lemme tell you something: I never liked you anyway. See, I’ve never really been particularly interested in atheism. I was always more interested in LGBT and feminist issues. I kept waiting for you to get bored of secularism and to start focussing on my areas of interest, but you never did. I mean, really, who is interested in secularism anyway? Old, white men, that’s who! So I’m cutting you atheists loose and I’m off to hang out with my gay friends – they’re interested in LGBT issues.”

    • http://twitter.com/SallyStrange Sally Strange

      Wow. Way to condescend and misrepresent. 

      “I’m leaving because I got caught in the crossfire of someone’s personal war.
      She’s not actually going anywhere. She didn’t say she’s going to stop writing for FTB. 

      Since I’m off anyway, lemme tell you something: I never liked you anyway. See, I’ve never really been particularly interested in atheism;

      This is a lie; Natalie’s interest in skepticism and atheism is passionate and sincere. 

      I was always more interested in LGBT and feminist issues.

      More like, LGBT and feminist issues are closest to the problems that most directly affect her life as a trans woman. Prejudice against atheists exists and affects her, but not nearly as much as transphobia and misogyny. 

      I kept waiting for you to get bored of secularism and to start focussing on my areas of interest, but you never did.

      More like, she’s waiting for secularists to realize that there’s a gigantic overlap between LGBT/feminism and secularist issues, and take advantage of that fact to grow their areas of influence. 

      I mean, really, who is interested in secularism anyway? Old, white men, that’s who!

      Are you suggesting that she’s incorrect about this? I mean, anyone who’s not a straight white guy is most likely experience prejudice with a much more tangible and immediate effect on their ability to live their lives freely and happily than anti-atheist prejudice. Straight white guys are the only ones who ONLY have to worry about that sort of prejudice; black atheists have to worry about that plus racism; women have to worry about that plus sexism, LGBT folks have to worry about that plus homo- and transphobia, and so on. It’s not surprising, then, that the organized movement is dominated by those who have the relative luxury to make fighting for secularism their first priority, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to change that. 

      So I’m cutting you atheists loose and I’m off to hang out with my gay friends - they’re interested in LGBT issues.” 

      I feel her on that one, I really do. I recently went to a progressive political conference that was dominated by religious folks, but, since they were all anti-racists, feminists, and pro-LGBT people, I never felt like I had to hide my atheism, nor would I ever doubt that they would fail to have my back if I were to experience discrimination for being an atheist. Unlike you, who clearly would tell me to fuck off if I asked you to have my back while dealing with misogyny. 

      • Paul_Robertson

        I maintain that my summary was accurate as could be expected given the disparity in length between the two pieces.

        She’s not actually going anywhere. She didn’t say she’s going to stop writing for FTB.
        True, but the post read as a resignation letter to the atheist movement, including the words, “I quit. Consider this my act of serving the movement my divorce papers.”

        This is a lie; Natalie’s interest in skepticism and atheism is passionate and sincere.
        I can only go by what she said. She starts off by saying how atheism was never really her thing to begin with, talks about how she was passionate about her idea of skepticism, but how that never really aligned with her idea of what it should be, because it didn’t realise the potential of taking on “[m]isogyny, sexism, cissexism, gender binarism, racism, able-ism…” Then she goes on to talk about how she resents the way that atheism dominates skepticism, how she doesn’t see why atheism should be such a big deal and calling the atheist movement a religion. She grudgingly admits the value of secularism, but seemingly only as a way of addressing her preferred issues when it comes to religiously motivated discrimination.

        It seems to me that Natalie came to atheism/skepticism seeking a vehicle for her pet issues. She didn’t find the traction that she wanted and now she’s leaving to seek elsewhere. Hardly the actions of someone with a sincere passion for skepticism and atheism.

        More like, she’s waiting for secularists to realize that there’s a gigantic overlap between LGBT/feminism and secularist issues, and take advantage of that fact to grow their areas of influence.
        Perhaps there is. And Natalie has made her case to that end, failed to succeed to her satisfaction and is now leaving. It’s not whether or not she’s right that’s relevant, but how she responded to that “rejection”. And she responded not as “another burnt out atheist”, but rather as a frustrated LGBT/feminist activist.

        It’s not surprising, then, that the organized movement is dominated by those who have the relative luxury to make fighting for secularism their first priority, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to change that.
        But change it how? By changing the secular movement into a broad church social justice movement? I beg to differ. More pertinently, those who decide how the movement’s limited resources can best be allocated beg to differ. One thing is for certain, however, and that it is that this demographic is not going to change if people keep leaving the secular movement because it is not a LGBT/feminist movement.

        Unlike you, who clearly would tell me to fuck off if I asked you to have my back while dealing with misogyny.
        That’s uncalled for. And just as damaging to the movement as the behaviours that you condemn. Wanting to maintain a tight organisational agenda and turning away someone in distress are two very different things. Making personal attacks based on a difference of opinion does not help your case, nor does it create the sort of community that you claim to want.

        • http://twitter.com/SallyStrange Sally Strange

          Like you said about Natalie, all I have to go by is the words you write. Apparently a “tight organizational agenda” outweighs my basic human rights in your world. It’s not a personal attack to observe that you obviously don’t have my back in my fight against misogyny, it’s just an observation. 

          • Paul_Robertson

            Exactly what “basic human rights” are you being denied and what is my role in this oppression? You seem to feel that if you walk into a room and people aren’t talking about feminism then they’re actively oppressing you. News flash: there are lots of worthy issues in this world. Someone choosing to focus on an issue other than your pet issue is not an attack on you or your issue.

          • Paul_Robertson

            P.S. In light of your total lack of response on your other points, may I have an, “I’m sorry I called you a liar, Paul.”?

            • Origami_Isopod

               She doesn’t owe you anything, you condescending twit. “You’re damaging your own movement…” Thanks for your concern.

              • Paul_Robertson

                Sally’s argument, and yours even more so, was heavy on vitriol and light on content. If you want people to relate to you like an adult then I suggest that you act like one. In the meantime, I made you and Sally a video.

  • Kurt Helf

    I don’t know how strong an activist NR is b/c I’d never heard of her before she joined FTB; I think I read her blog one time. I’m sure they asked her to join FTB for a very good reason but it seems to me the movement will be okay w/o her.

  • http://mrda.wordpress.com MRDA

    The trouble with atheist movements is that people bring a whole slew of normative assumptions that are not in the least implied in the concept of atheism; as well as lending credence to religionists who wail “atheism is a religion too”, they sow the seeds for their own eventual disappointment.

    Unwitting arrogance and wishful thinking, not unlike that of the woman who tries to change the “bad boy” and gets scorched in the attempt.

  • http://twitter.com/SallyStrange Sally Strange

    Here’s the thing, guys:

    Atheism is the product of skepticism applied to religious claims. 

    Skepticism is a useful tool that everyone should know about and use in their daily lives. 

    If–IF!–you truly believe that EVERYONE should be able to learn about and use skepticism, then you will be doing everything you can to ensure that the organized structures that exist to promote skepticism and critical think are welcoming to literally everyone. 

    That’s the genesis of the intersection of skepticism/atheism and social justice.

    On the other hand, if skepticism is just a fun toy for you, or a way to feel superior to the rest of the world because you know you’re right about God and the Bermuda triangle, while those deluded fools are just wrong, well then of course you don’t see the point of incorporating social justice concerns into skepticism’s big tent. 

    I would submit that treating skepticism that way is selfish and immoral and makes you kind of a jackass. But that’s just my opinion, based on my non-empirically verifiable belief that it would be a good thing to reduce suffering and increase the opportunities for all human beings to flourish and live happily and healthily on this planet for the short time we are here. I recognize that not everyone shares my humanist values, and I suspect that those are the people who don’t see the point of having an organized atheist/skeptical movement. Heads up: nobody is forcing you to be a part of this movement. You’re perfectly welcome to sit at home and play parcheesi while continuing to not believe in God or chupacabras. But I don’t understand what compels you to seek out these outlets where the movement is organizing and re-organizing itself and complain that there are people trying to get organized and get out there and effect social change.

    Unless you’re opposed to that social change. 

    Are you?

    • Onamission5

      Thank you for this.

    • AxeGrrl

      Really wonderful post, Sally.

      It’s a shame that most people won’t see it unless they choose the ‘sort by newest first’ option.

  • Aubrey A

    I’d like to give my thoughts on losing activists.  I have found a lot of similarities between Atheist groups and liberal, third party, political groups.  It’s often extremely difficult for Atheists to agree on what needs to be acted upon and how.  There is so much dissension and dissatisfaction among liberal religious groups and political groups simply because people cannot agree and/or are unwilling to compromise.  I think we find it hard to compromise because we often feel like we’re giving up a part of ourselves when we do.  But this is not a problem for conservative groups.  This is one reason why we often appear and sometimes even feel scattered and disorganized. 

    So burnout happens quite quickly because half of your time (or more) organizing an activity is spent  arguing with those who should support you.  I’ve seen a lot of people leave excellent religious and political movements for this reason, and this reason alone.  It will continue to be a problem until we start teaching each other the value of compromise and that compromise can indeed move us forward. 

    I suggest that each organization begin my listing, explicitly, their goals and values and work towards only those things.  If you do that, you will have greater luck at attracting like-minded activists and hopefully spend less time convincing each other of your individual goals and idea.

  • Drew M.

    This is why I have never and will never have *any* desire to attend an atheist conference.

  • NJ R

    We’re at a turning point. Any social movement large enough to become relevant has a choice to make: Are we relevant to our society, or to ourselves alone? Are we seeking inclusion in our culture, or merely protection from it?

    Let’s be honest, we don’t have to go very far to find racist, sexist, homo/transphobic rhetoric in the atheist/skeptic movements. In fact, we’re clogged with it. The real question, then, is whether we’ll do anything about it. Do we say, “Any skeptic is a good skeptic”, let the bigots rule the roost and allow the chips to fall where they may? Or do we set an outer limit and administer, as John Scalzi calls it, The Mallet of Loving Correction?

    The choice is critical to the fate of any movement. Recall the history of the labor movement as it chose to desegregate. Contrast the history of the Republican Party as it chose to embrace and defend segregationists, homophobes, and fringe fundementalists of all stripes. That’s the choice: mainstream or fringe, inclusion or isolation, relevance or zeal. Either way, people will walk; the question is who. 

    I’ve never regretted dumping the entitled, be they racists, misogynists, or homophobes. I won’t share a movement with them, period, and I’m not the only one. So, let’s decide: who stays, who goes.

  • Daniel Morgan

    I founded and presided over Gator Freethought at the University of Florida in January 2006. At that time the “movement” as you see it referred to was really gaining steam. People felt good about the concept of making atheism more tolerated and using organization to improve our political clout as a demographic. I’m not sure how those goals have fared in the seven years since. But I am sure that for all of the good things that have come of this movement, especially all of the student clubs and organizations, I agree with C. Peterson’s comment. Atheism simply cannot be a central organizing force. It is worse than herding cats, because at least all cats are cats, who all like food and toys. Organizing atheists is like organizing Noah’s Ark: it takes a miracle and the purpose of it still doesn’t make sense.


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