Male Atheists and White Knight Sexism

One strategy frequently used by male atheists attempting to deconvert religious women is to point to the ways religion oppresses women. This is fine, if it is accompanied with an understanding that not all religion oppresses women, an awareness that atheism does not eliminate sexism, and a wider commitment to challenging the oppression of women in every forum where it surfaces. But all too often, it’s not accompanied by these things. In fact, there are all too many times when pointing out the religious oppression of women is more a tactic designed to score points against an enemy than an actual attempt to listen to and improve the well-being of actual women.

One example of this phenomenon is Richard Dawkins himself, who continually and monolithically denounces how Islam positions women while responding with belligerence and obfuscation when his own sexism is pointed out to him (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). But my goal here is not to focus on Dawkins. I mention him only as an illustration of how deep this problem goes. In this post I want to illustrate my concerns by drawing from the words of a recent short-lived commenter. While the solid majority of male atheists will (almost certainly) never come anywhere near being as egregious or obvious as this individual, I want to use this example to illustrate and challenge a pattern that is more widespread than it should be.

The day before yesterday, Jack dove into my comment section and spent several hours interacting with commenters there. The entire episode took place on one of the reviews of Michael Pearl’s book. In that post, guest blogger Aletha, a Mormon deconvert, outlined the problems with Michael Pearl’s prescriptions for marital relationships, prescription he, as a fundamentalist pastor, drew from various biblical passages. It is Jack’s time in the comment section on this post that I want to draw from. Here is Jack’s initial comment:

There are a couple of problems with this comment. First, it assumes that Michael Pearl’s interpretation of the Bible is the correct one and ignores the multiplicity of Biblical interpretations, especially, the interpretations promoted by Christian feminists. Second, it assumes that women are Christians because they have simply never “read & understood” what the Bible says, a manifestly false claim and a claim that is more than a little demeaning. Third, it generalizes to all religion, even though not all religion is sexist or oppressive toward women.

Not surprisingly, Jack immediately got pushback, and then engaged with commenters in back-and-forth discussions. In no specific order, some of my regular commenters brought up each of the points I made above.

Rather than responding to this comment by acknowledging that there are various interpretations of the Bible, Jack responded with this:

Posing as a defender of women and claiming to be appalled by religious sexism . . . and then making quips about estrogen? I’m sorry, but no. That’s both sexist and extremely demeaning—and also way more common than it should be. As the exchange continued, Jack didn’t exactly improve the situation.

Jack’s response to another commenter pointing out that quips about estrogen are sexist—and helpfully detailing why—is to claim that that commenter is being sexist. Seriously, what? Jack helpfully reminds us that atheists, too, can be sexist, including atheists who are trying to deconvert women by explaining to them just how anti-woman religion is. Jack says something sexist, is called out on it, and responds by doubling down. Does Jack think he can’t be sexist because he’s not religious? Does he think railing against sexism in religion somehow gives him a pass? Because it doesn’t. It really, really doesn’t.

Another commenter then responded to Jack’s original comment, using sarcasm to make a point:

This approach is so, so very wrong. If you want to persuade someone of your beliefs, you don’t do it by insulting them, being condescending toward them, and refusing to listen to them. But there’s more here than just that. Equally unhelpful is the idea that religious women are simply mindless dupes waiting around for some man to come “shake them out of their imaginary friend fairyland.” There’s no acknowledgement that women might possibly choose to be religious for some reason other than being mindless dupes.

Granted, the argument could be made that individuals like Jack see everyone who is religious as a conned and in need of liberation from the “prison” of religion. Actually, though, I find that because the most prominent world religions have traditionally oppressed women, women’s continued involvement in these religions can be baffling to individuals like Jack. These individuals often don’t take the time to think about actual reasons why women may continue to be attracted to religion and instead view women as especially confused or duped and therefore embark on an ostensible quest to liberate them. It’s important to remember the backdrop that all of this occurs on—for much of history women have had to fight to be treated as individuals with thoughts and values and views of their own, and this assumption that religious women are brainless dupes once again robs them of agency.

So, let’s see. So far Jack has (a) been blatantly sexist; and (b) argued that religious women can’t be other than mindless dupes. Up next: Jack denies women’s actual experiences.

It’s not Jack’s position to define Rachel’s experience—or any woman’s experience, actually. Rachel pointed out that Jack was telling women how they should feel about and interpret scripture—which is, by the way, exactly what all to many male Christian pastors and priests already do—and he responded by once again telling her how to feel about and interpret scripture. There is nothing okay about that. If Rachel has had no problem reconciling her faith and her feminism, Jack needs to drop his All Religion Is Demeaning To Women line of reasoning, because it’s not going to work and, quite frankly, it’s continuing with this strategy and in the process ignoring and discounting what Rachel has said is itself very demeaning.

Not all religion is oppressive toward women. Some religious traditions have long been egalitarian, and others that were traditionally oppressive toward women have since changed. Further, there are plenty of women like Rachel who are actively working to make religion more egalitarian and more feminist. To deny all of this not only denies reality but also denies women’s own experiences. And it gets worse—promoting the idea that all religion is anti-women plays into conservative hands by erasing the existence of progressive religion. And that’s bad.

Two additional commenters attempted to explain to Jack what was going on—and did a very good job, I think, of calling him out for his behavior and his approach to the issue. They pointed out that in addition to (a) being sexist; (b) arguing that religious women can’t be other than mindless dupes; and (c) denying women’s lived experience with feminist religious traditions, Jack was also (d) ignoring the diversity of religious traditions; and (e) playing the rescuer and defender of women solely in an attempt to score points against religion. Jack’s response was to continue his denigration and condescension toward women.

What was perhaps most bizarre about the entire situation was that Jack appeared to be under the impression that he was promoting female equality and displaying contempt for misogyny without (apparently) realizing that he himself was engaging in exactly what he claimed to be condemning, and blatantly so. Check out the end of each of these comments, for instance:

And there’s more of the same, but I’m tired of making screenshots.

In the end, Lunch Meat hit it on the head—Jack didn’t care about women, he cared about scoring points. If he cared about women, he would have listened to what they had to say. They told him that he was robbing women of agency, denying them their experiences, unfairly generalizing regarding religion and gender, and being condescending and patronizing toward them—all of which he was indeed doing—and he responded with insults. There is nothing feminist or positive toward women’s equality about that.

It’s way more complicated than “religion = bad to women” and “atheism = good to women.” Women like Feminerd and Lunch Meat and Rachel and myself know that—but Jack didn’t care, because he was more interested in having a simple dichotomy that would allow him to score points than he is in what would actually improve women’s situations and well-being. Jack’s talk about the religious oppression of women was first and foremost about growing the atheist ranks, not about actually improving women’s lives or challenging patriarchal oppression.

Far too many atheists appear to think that so long as they’re not religious, they surely can’t be sexist. This is wrong. Very wrong. Sexism does not cease at the church door. If a male atheist wants to attempt to deconvert women by focusing on the sexism imbedded in many religions, he needs to make sure that he’s not engaging in sexism himself, and he darned well better be ready to address his own sexism if it is pointed out to him. Arguing that women shouldn’t be religious because religion is sexist while being belligerent and unwilling to address one’s own sexism is disingenuous to the extreme. And more than this, a male atheist who wants to deconvert a woman by focusing on the way religion has oppressed women needs to realize that the picture is more complicated than this, and that in simplifying it to a simple dichotomy he may come across as caring more about scoring points than about working towards women’s equality.

We are not points for you to score. We are people. We have our own lives, our own values, our own desires, and our own thoughts.

It’s not every day you see a male atheist so blatantly outline his own sexism while ostensibly attempting to rescue religious women from the sexist oppression of Big Bad Religion. But as an atheist blogger who focuses a lot on harm religion does to women, the themes that run through Jack’s comment are not new to me—rather, they are themes I have seen all too often. I cringe when male atheists come to my blog to leave comments that are almost jubilant about how terrible religion is to women and incredulous as to why women haven’t all deconverted by now, more interested in scoring points against religion than in understanding the complexity and nuance of the issue or listening to women and what they actually want and need from allies. And this sort of behavior is not marginal. Indeed, goes all the way to the top, and is engaged in by Richard Dawkins himself.

To be clear, this post is not meant to be any sort of blanket indictment of male atheists, and it should be noted that female atheists can fall into these traps as well (although in my experience this is much rarer). Nevertheless, if you are a male atheist and you are reading this and feeling defensive, please just consider what I’ve written. Please understand that if you are going talk about the sexist oppression of religion, you need to care about the problem of sexism in other arenas and to understand that not all religion is sexist or oppressive. You need to be willing to listen to women, to their experiences and feelings and ideas, rather simply telling them what they do or do not believe and what they should or should not believe. If you can’t do these things, your concern about the sexist oppression of women is shallow at best and dishonest at worst.

I don’t blog about the damage I’ve seen religion do to women so that atheism can win new members. I blog about it because I care about women, and want to make the world a better place for them regardless of what religion or lack thereof they choose to adhere to. I don’t blog on this topic so that atheists can work themselves up about how horrible religion is. I blog because I believe that change is possible in every arena. My enemy is not religion—it is sexism and misogyny. And as Jack has once again reminded me, the two—religion and sexism/misogyny—are absolutely not identical.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Guest

    And THIS is why I read your blog. Many Christians who read the Bible daily ignore the fact that Michael Pearl is making up his own “false gospel”. (I’m sure the phrase is familiar.) But you, the strong atheist, consistently remind your readers that this stuff is not from the Bible but from a deranged man. I’m a Christian and I love your blog. Most of the time you don’t insult my beliefs–you simply challenge the cultish ones that ruin people’s lives. I, in turn, tell people (primarily Christians who read this stuff) the information learned here and helped them see just what is so crazy about the Pearls, Botkins, etc. So thank you.

    • Hat Stealer

      Eh, there is no “real” Christian religion. Christianity only exists in the minds of its adherents, and so they get to decide exactly what is gospel and what isn’t. I think it’s good that there are many Christians whose version of Christianity contains primarily humanistic morals and values, but the fact that people like Michael Pearl are mentally ill and part of a (relatively) cultish fringe group does nothing to make their interpretation of Christianity any less valid than yours.

      • j.lup

        I don’t think it’s precise to say that the Pearls are mentally ill. Sociopathic behaviour and personality disorders and delusional thinking aren’t necessarily pathological (despite the ‘pathic’ in socio-pathic). Some people are just downright evil and abusive, just like some people are downright decent and kind. And some people genuinely believe in stuff that defies all logic and reason, and aren’t necessarily suffering from genuine mental illness.

      • The_L1985

        I always cringe at the phrase “magical thinking,” because it doesn’t fit with my idea of “magic,” but you can’t just tell people, “But magic doesn’t work that way!” without people offering to take you to the nice padded room.

      • sylvia_rachel

        Feel free to tell me to sod off, but have you read Jo Walton’s book Among Others? Your comment about magic reminds me of the narrator in that book — in a good way — and it occurred to me that you might like it. (And I can never resist recommending books. Sorry.)

      • The_L1985

        Thanks for the recommendation! :D

      • Michael W Busch

        Again, if Pearl is mentally ill or not is entirely irrelevant here. He is wrong, cruel, an authoritarian, and I’d personally call him evil. None of that is the same as having a mental illness or mental disorder.

        Wrongly linking the two is ableism and is not a good thing.

      • Hat Stealer

        I agree, being evil is not the same as being mentally ill. That does not change the fact that I think Pearl is mentally ill. He has shown himself to be highly narcissistic, completely lacking in empathy, and he seems to have a compulsive need to be utterly obeyed by those around him.

        The issue that we seem to have is that you think I’m equating being mentally ill with being evil or dangerous or wrong. I’m not. But I do think that in this situation, Michael Pearl is in fact mentally ill.

      • Michael W Busch

        Unless you are both qualified to do psychological / psychiatric evaluations and have the information about Pearl that such evaluations require, you are not in a position to have informed opinions about his having a mental illness or a mental disorder. Attempts at remote diagnosis are not helpful.

        What you can do is to identify Pearl’s harmful behaviors and call him on those. You have done so. Do not go further than that.

        you think I’m equating being mentally ill with being evil or dangerous or wrong. I’m not.

        You are wrong.

        You are making that false linkage whenever you say “There is a person doing [ insert bad thing ]. Xe is mentally ill”. The second sentence, be it false or true, is irrelevant to the first one, and juxtaposing the two does nothing except to propagate false ableist stereotypes.

      • Hat Stealer

        I never said my opinion was informed. I am not suggesting it represents a medical evaluation. It is just my opinion based on what I know of Micheal Pearl. I could be wrong. I accept this as a possibility.

        You are making that false linkage whenever you say “There is a
        person doing [ insert bad thing ]. Xe is mentally ill”. The second
        sentence, be it false or true, is irrelevant to the first one, and juxtaposing the two does nothing except to propagate false ableist stereotypes.

        If my statement that I consider Pearl to be mentally ill was given as the reason as to why I think he’s doing bad stuff, then it’s not exactly irrelevant. There are people who are violent without being mentally ill. There are people who are violent because they are mentally ill. And there are mentally ill people who are not violent. I fully understand this, which is why I don’t make comments like “all mentally ill people are violent.” I do however, state my opinion as to why I think people do things. And that is what I’m doing here.

      • Michael W Busch

        You are wrong. Pearl’s being mentally ill or not is irrelevant here. He may be neurotypical or he may not be, but either way he’s responsible for his actions. And, again, throwing around uninformed claims of diagnosis is not helpful. It’s the psychiatric equivalent of a quack claiming to be able to diagnose a physical illness on sight.

        Also again, your making the wrong linkage contributes to the social stigma against mental illness / mental disorders, regardless of what your intention was. Don’t do that.

        And finally, what you are doing is also a way of dismissing Pearl (i.e. “He’s acting that way because he’s mentally ill”), rather than doing the actually important things: holding Pearl responsible for his actions and the harm that they have caused, and dismantling the social structures that lead to Pearl and other people like him having any influence in the first place.

      • Hat Stealer

        Given that I consider the social structure that Pearl was raised in to be the cause of his possible illness, I don’t consider myself to be dismissing that aspect of the problem at all. And I’m not going to stop voicing my opinion simply because some people don’t understand the difference between the phrase “I think this man is mentally ill, which causes him to be violent and obsessively controlling,” and “I think all mentally ill people are violent and obsessively controlling.”

        I think we’re just going to have to disagree on this one.

      • Michael W Busch

        Given that I consider the social structure that Pearl was raised in to be the cause of his possible illness,

        Being wrong, cruel, evil, or an authoritarian social dominator is not the same as having a mental illness. Stop conflating the two.

        That is the mistake that you continue to make, and it is harmful. Stop making it, and stop it with the ablest speech. And as with sexist speech, your intentions do not erase your error. When it comes to any form of bigotry, there is no agreeing to disagree.

        And I am repeating myself, so I am done.

      • Noelle

        While I appreciate your repeated internet attempts to defend those with mental illness and separate that from bad and evil, “crazy” is not a medical term anymore than is “krazy”. Physicians and psycholgists do not use it. That would be very unprofessional. You will not find it in the ICD-9 (now 10), nor in the DSM-IV (now V). The general population using it as an adjective to mean something other than a medical diagnosis isn’t so much ableism as it is finding and implementing other definitions with the natural evolution of language. Really, one may feel free to use krazy glue or take advantage of the crazy Labor Day deals at the furniture store without worrying about offending those with medical conditions.

      • Michael W Busch

        People still use “crazy” as an insult, and are equating the word with mental illness / mental disorders when they do so. That is the use that is ableist – even if the word itself is not used in psychological and psychiatric contexts.

        And notice that Hat Stealer was specifically and wrongly calling Pearl “mentally ill”, while guest used “deranged” as well as “crazy”. So your comment is rather misplaced.

      • Noelle

        Maybe. It’s a busy thread. Easy enough to misplace something. Sorry for that. I have a little ADHD, can’t stay on topic. Even if Pearl did have a known and published medical disorder, using the old layman’s jargon of crazy wouldn’t fit and still wouldn’t be okay. As an insult, it’s more often used to describe zany or silly or absurd or unbelievable or scary or dangerous or any number of things that have nothing to do with disorders of neurotransmitters and synapses. I agree wholeheartedly with removing the stigma from a society which would consider one medical condition more ripe for misunderstanding and ridicule than another. If removing the word from the lexicon helps, so be it. If giving it an entirely different meaning does the trick, I’ll consider that as well. (You ever consider dropping the “mental” illness part and going with medical? No difference, really.)

      • Michael W Busch

        You ever consider dropping the “mental” illness part and going with medical? No difference, really

        In terms of social stigma, there unfortunately is.

      • Hat Stealer

        I agree- you are repeating yourself. You keep repeating the mantra that ‘being evil is not the same as being mentally ill,’ despite the fact no one has claimed such a thing, or even implied it. The fact that you seem to think it’s impossible for a person to be violent because of a mental illness does nothing to change reality, and I do not appreciate your attempts to equate bigotry with statements that are not generalizations. I think Pearl is mentally ill: you think I’m wrong. That’s fine. What isn’t fine is when you claim that any sort of negative connection to a stigmatized group must be bigotry, which is what you’re doing here when you claim that I’m calling all mentally ill people evil, simply because I believe that the cause of one man’s violence is that he’s mentally ill.

    • TLC

      Thank you, Guest — you have pulled the words right out of my brain!

      The Pearls, Botkins and others love to point out “the Bible says.” But I can’t count how many times I’ve searched for their “says”, and can’t find a Bible verse that backs them up. Oh, it’s coming from another verse, and this is how they’ve interpreted it? Then they need to cite the verse and say, “My interpretation of the Bible says.” But that’s not happening. Even worse, most of the Christians who are reading this crap aren’t taking the time to research, think about and challenge what’s being said.

      What makes it great to read Libby Anne’s blog is that I know she was steeped in this for years, so she has the expertise and experience to write with authority on these issues. I also know that she would understand the struggle I went through to “break free” of this mindset.

      BTW, Libby Anne, this was a great post! You have given a name to a problem that I have seen many times before but didn’t know how to describe it.

    • Michael W Busch

      Pearl is not necessarily “deranged” or “crazy”. What he is is wrong, cruel, and an authoritarian, who uses religion to enable and excuse his behavior.

      Please do not equate “being wrong” or “being cruel” or “being an authoritarian thug” with “having a mental disorder”. They are not the same thing.

  • Colleen Adams

    I stopped reading you when you said “”But in this post, rather than pulling examples of what I’m talking about from Dawkins and other prominent atheists (trust me, there are more than enough examples to choose from””

    I don’t trust you. because you cannot be taken seriously if you make an accusation and then do not back it up with proof.

    • Libby Anne

      This post was not about Richard Dawkins. I only mentioned him in order to point out that this isn’t a fringe thing. I thought it was common knowledge how Dawkins responds to people pointing out his own sexism, how he unfairly monolithizes religion, and how he approaches Islam in an imperialist and tone-deaf manner, but since your comment indicates that it is not, I’ve added a some links into the post.

      If you would read beyond the second paragraph, you would see that what I am describing is a wider theme, and you might find that you yourself have seen it in action. I use as an example the words of a short-lived commenter on my blog, because my goal honestly is not to point fingers at individuals but rather to challenge a general theme.

      I’ve edited the paragraph you point to because referencing prominent atheists rather than simply pointing to Dawkins to make it clear that this is a widespread problem only distracts from what I’m trying to do with this post. Thanks for pointing that out. This post really honestly isn’t meant to be about finger pointing. It’s meant to be a call to be better than this.

    • RowanVT

      You probably assert that you are a human being. I have no proof that you are anything other than a spambot, therefore you will not be taken seriously.

      Equally, I have seen people assert they live in this place called “Canada”. They’ve sent me photos as ‘proof’, but how do I know those were actually taken in that mythical place? They could easily be from Washington instead, or even faked entirely. Therefore, I distrust them thoroughly, because their assertion of living in “Canada” has not been backed up with real proof.

    • Baby_Raptor

      Or, you know…You could spend 30 seconds with Google. But instead you tried to cut her down because you personally happen to not be familiar with a well known fact.

    • Alix

      …That’s a lot of knee-jerk defensiveness, there. This stuff is pretty well-known.

      You could try, y’know, engaging with people here in good faith, instead of instant hostility.

    • Norm Donnan

      Actually she said here,here,here,here,here,here,here,here,here and here which if you click on them produce examples.

      • Katty

        Those links were added later (see Libby Anne’s own response to Colleen). The points Baby_Raptor and Alix made still stand, of course.

    • Richter_DL

      I stopped reading your reply when you started with “I stopped reading your post when …”

      You cannot be trusted to have an informed opinion on something you haven’t read.

    • Michael W Busch

      Way to both ignore the evidence that Libby Anne linked and completely miss her point.

      Edit: Oops. I see now that those links were added after you made your comment, so the first part of what I said was wrong. Sorry about that. But as Libby Anne said, Dawkins’ sexist behavior and those of many other prominent atheists are quite well-known by now.

  • Lana

    This is a great post. Absolutely he was more concerned with building the cause of his anti-religion than with the people in it. Sadly, that’s often how the church treated me – trying to build up it’s cause instead of the relationships right there – and that’s not a tactic that will impress me.

    I would agree that most religions, particularly in the past (even Buddhism) had anti-women elements to it. I might also add that so did the political centers, the work force, etc. One could make an argument that religion created the sexist elements in society (which is probably partially true), or one could say that it was people who built the religious oppression according to their already formed sexist belief. For example, a held Eastern belief is that the male demi-gods in heaven will have 10,000 wives, but the female angels still will only have one male husband. This is all the reward of years of rebirth and finally getting a reward holiday in the heavens. Where did that belief come from? Who made it up? I think in this case the sexist belief that women are property of the men predated the religious belief.

    As always, I acknowledge that these ideas are changing. I would not go as far as saying Buddhism has no sexism in any of it’s circles considering the monks particularly where I used to live pretty much have all the ritual responsibilities while the nuns sit back. (For example, do the ritual blessings of the wedding, the house warming, the funeral, etc.) But by no means does this mean that most Buddhists are sexist, just like all Christians are not sexist.

    • Michael W Busch

      Buddhism is so diverse that it’s hard to make any general statements, but there is a long history of sexism in it – for example, the Pali Canon states that a woman can’t become a Buddha.

      But this gets back to religions being social structures that have formed in sexist societies – where sexism can and does continue even as people leave religion, and religions can and do continue even as sexism is dismantled.

  • guest

    ‘an awareness that atheism does not eliminate sexism’–that’s really the key for me–I’ve been shocked at the behaviour of some people who claim to represent the atheist community.

    I wish we spent more time considering the motives/point of the kind of behaviour you’re describing here. Would someone like this commenter really honestly expect a woman who reads what he writes to think ‘oh, hm, I’d never realised that–I should become an atheist immediately!’ It seems as unlikely as that a woman being asked for sex by some random bystander would immediately comply. So why do they do that? I think we’re making a mistake when we even purport to take these interactions at face value, and assume the man involved is genuinely attempting to elicit the response he’s pretending to want.

    • Alix

      I honestly think it’s the same thing that causes the more zealous religious folk to go out and be as aggressively obnoxious as possible while purportedly trying to “spread the faith.” I’ve known a lot of people like that, of various affiliations, and it’s a way for them to butter themselves up, while giving them at least a vaguely respectable cover story for their group.

      • Alix

        Also, aggressive proselytizing can be a way to score cred with the group. It’s a show designed more to reinforce group identity and to gain status within the group, even if that status is all in the person’s head.

        “Look how aggressively I push our shared ideology! Look how I reject those stubborn outgroupers who refuse to realize the plain truth I speak! I’m so awesome.”

      • guest

        I completely agree with this, in both the cases we’re talking about and in the ‘wanna have sex?’ interaction. These people aren’t saying ‘I’ll explain why you’re wrong to be religious’ or ‘I want you to have sex with me’, they’re saying ‘I’m a ___ and this is how I demonstrate it.’

      • The_L1985

        I’ve never understood the concept of evangelizing in a world where anyone can find out about any religion (or the lack thereof) by just typing keywords into a search engine. Hel, even as a pre-Internet child, I could never get into the idea of “spreading the faith” within the US, because I couldn’t imagine a person who didn’t already know the basics of Christianity–after all, there are church services and Christmas/Easter specials on TV all the time! I felt like the only reason not to be a Christian when you were saturated by all that Jesus-talk was spite.

        (Granted, I’ve also heard of a young fellow from India who was in one of my brother’s history classes at school. A few of the better-known stories from the Bible were discussed, in preparation for the chapters on medieval Europe and how religion impacted European society. This kid was Hindu. He knew that Christians worshiped Jesus, and somehow got the idea that Jesus must therefore be the only important person in any Bible story. “Who gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments?” “Jesus!” “Who was thrown into the lion’s den?” “Jesus!” “Who killed Goliath?” “Jesus!” Etc.)

      • Sally

        I think it’s more common than you might realize for people to think Christianity is about getting to heaven by believing in God and being good. The “Good News” is counterintuitive if that’s what someone already thinks. And in the end, there might be an “Aha” moment when the person is exposed to the Good News, but it’s the person “leading them to Christ” who, imo, is the key. People don’t generally just sign up. They typically join something someone else is inviting them to so they can be a part of it too. That’s my experience, anyway.
        Now why a God would set it up this way, rather than making it something everyone knew about and understood without someone having to individually explain it them, well, that’s a whole ‘nother issue.

      • Alix

        Nothing turns me off faster from any particular group of people* than proselytizing. And you’re right – there’s not exactly a need for it, at least in the internet-having world.

        I tend to think the urge to proselytize stems from the very human urge we have to share good things. That’s why, in my experience, the most zealous proselytizers for any creed are new converts – they feel they’ve found something good, found The Truth, and want to share! And, imo, often end up becoming raging, agency- and boundary-stomping assholes in the process, but the impulse is legit, y’know?

        *Small, discrete groups, here. I don’t think a few folks proselytizing discredits whole ideologies.

      • minuteye

        Once in college, a stranger came up to me and asked if I’d “heard about Jesus”. I replied that I’d lived in a majority Christian country for twenty years, so… yeah, he’d come up once or twice. She looked confused and walked away.

      • The_L1985

        I’ll have to use that next time.

        Also, if anyone tells me I need to “find Jesus,” I’ll respond with, “You lost him, and you want me to find him for you? Take better care of your deities next time, and that won’t happen.”

    • Sally

      “…assume the man involved is genuinely attempting to elicit the response he’s pretending to want.”
      I agree. I suspect his “viewpoint” is based not on his own real view (may or may not be), but what will get a reaction.

      • guest

        The thing that annoys me is that some of us think/say ‘hey, this man wants to have sex with that woman, but he’s too stupid to realise that his approach isn’t going to get him what he wants.’ And some of us say that over and over again. Actually I suspect they’re not really that stupid, and they already know that. So they must want something besides to get that woman to have sex with him.

      • minuteye

        It also gives him the right to complain about how “women won’t give him the time of day!!!” without actually putting himself out there in a way that requires any genuineness or emotional vulnerability.

      • guest

        Good point, I hadn’t thought of that. And again it can work with both examples–’I tried my best to show her she was wrong about her religion and she didn’t pay attention–she must be stupid/brainwashed/female/whatever.’

  • persephone

    I ran into one of these jerkwads on Alternet (I post under a different name there, usually)–actually I’ve run into a few–but I decided he didn’t deserve polite or intelligent, as he was neither polite nor intelligent, so I gave him a couple of sentences about the community and support women rely on in religious organizations, especially with the gutting of government programs, and then I dialed it up to 11 and ripped him a new one, in exactly the same way he had commented. He did not respond.

    There’s this wonderful belief that if we engage and discourse honestly and accurately and sincerely and thoughtfully that we will be able to bring others to understanding and we’ll achieve harmony and agreement. This isn’t real. This almost never happens. People have epiphanies of realization. They are forced out of their comfort zones and in adapting they change. But not all do.

    It is the equivalent of banging your head against a brick wall to engage with the latter. I think these asses see themselves as white knights, but they’re just little godling wannabes looking for worshippers.

    • Alix

      I think these asses see themselves as white knights, but they’re just little godling wannabes looking for worshippers.

      I don’t think there’s a functional difference between the two, really. I’ve never met a white knight who wasn’t a wannabe godling.

      Playing the white knight, after all, requires that one “benevolently” dehumanize the folks one is championing. I’ve almost come to consider it an act of oblique aggression, because it denies the folks being championed agency, a voice, personhood. White knights charge in to save the poor, helpless, delicate lesser folk, after all.

      I’m all like, what do you want, a cookie?

      …Wow, I’m cynical tonight. I need to go to bed. >.<

    • lucifermourning

      i don’t think we engage in these discussions for the sake of the people we’re arguing with, at least not always. often the point of discussions is for the audience, not the participants.

      • persephone

        That’s normally how I view it, but some people are jerks. It doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it, they will continue to be jerks.

        On another alternet post there was a male commenter who was victim blaming the female author of a personal story, totally ignoring what she had written. Most other commenters were trying to engage and explain. That fed the troll. So I didn’t. I went personal. And you know what? He never responded to my comments.

        of course, another female commenter gave me the “we’re better than that, we shouldn’t stoop to their level” speech. I told her that I don’t have to be nice to a**holes. If he’s going to be a jerk, he’s going to hear about it.

      • Anat

        Another reason to engage in discussion is to clarify one’s own position to oneself. I have learned a lot about what I am really willing to support by putting my ideas in writing in a public forum and having others demand that I justify myself.

      • lucifermourning

        this so much!

      • The_L1985

        True, but I’m sure you don’t act like a complete jerk when you do. :)

  • Alix

    When I feel like being impolite, I point out to these folks that if I wanted a savior I’d still be a Christian.

    Look, if you’re* going to try and persuade me all religion is wrong and oppressing me, you might want to start by acting like I’m a human being with a functioning brain.

    *General “you.”

    • Basketcase

      Yes, this.
      I can honestly say that Dawkins had an impact on me becoming atheist, but I was already agnostic at the time, and I dont think he would have swayed me nearly so well if I had been Christian still, with his sexist rants in the book I read.

      • Richter_DL

        I always felt clear “atheism” is an oxymoron, since it does require belief in one state (of two possible states) of an unexaminable postulation being true. However, FWIW, my main literary influence in my (non)spiritual development was Douglas Adams, who was a lot less bileous and binary. Damn, he died too early.

      • lucifermourning

        i find that kind of dismissive attitude actually quite frustrating.

        i am an atheist because, having looked at the evidence, i conclude that the evidence for any kind of religion or supernatural is simply not convincing – not even on the balance of probabilities, much less beyond a reasonable doubt.

        most people are atheist about lots of things – faeries, ancient Greek god, whatever. folks rarely feel the need to say we must be agnostic about these things, they’re happy to accept that, the evidence being insufficient, we should believe that don’t exist.

        i believe the evidence for every form of god i’ve heard of is insufficient, therefore i don’t think there is one.

        come to a different conclusion (the evidence is sufficient, or there is some evidence but you’d like more before concluding one way or the other) and i get that. fair enough.

        but don’t tell me it’s an oxymoron to believe we can rationally consider evidence for and against a truth claim and decide what to believe based on that evidence.

      • Richter_DL

        You apparently have no idea what the word “atheist” means. Insufficient evidence does NOT prove something is nonexistent. Atheism requires that proof. Agnosticism requires belief your interpretation of evidence is right. And the binary true/false dychtonomy you propose is above all fundamentalist.

        Calling your belief in your evidence irrefutable proof is arrogant, ignorant, irrational and cultish. It’s dismissing the notion you can actually be wrong. It’s shying away from the idea of making a decision that can, theoretically, be wrong, instead convincing yourself your decision is binary true because you want it to be. It’s faith, in short. It’s what every religion does – calling their belief a fact. And it’s certainly an oxymoron to “believe in atheism”.

      • lucifermourning

        i did not call anything “irrefutable proof”. please do not put words in my mouth.

        there are plenty of things that could cause me to question my atheism (God appearing and talking publicly to lots of people, for example). these things have not happened.

        religion is a hypothesis. it can be tested, because it makes claims about truth in the world. if a given religious hypothesis were true, we could expect to see results in the world.

        are you therefore agnostic about the existence of faeries, dragons, ancient Gods, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

      • Richter_DL

        And I didn’t say you said it, so heed your own advice.

        Your atheism, as you practice it, is a hypothesis, too.

      • digitaldebris

        …and now we dive headfirst into an argument over nothing but semantics. sigh.

      • lucifermourning

        please stop creating a ‘straw man’ form of atheism in which ‘irrefutable proof’ is necessary to arrive at a rational conclusion. that is not atheism as it exists, because atheism is not a belief. it is a lack of belief.

        i give the ‘god hypothesis’ more attention than the ‘faerie hypothesis’ because it’s so widespread. if most people believe it, it certainly deserves looking into. i’ve simply concluded that the evidence for the ‘god hypothesis’ is no more convincing than the faerie one.

      • Alix

        i’ve simply concluded that the evidence for the ‘god hypothesis’ is no more convincing than the faerie one.

        Funny thing is, I agree with that statement entirely, and yet mean the exact opposite by it. ;)

        /sorry attempt at levity.

      • lucifermourning

        which is entirely fair and reasonable. i am happy to debate or agree to disagree. i just get rather annoyed when people tell me i must redefine my self-identification to come in line with their impossible standards of what they think should be meant by a particular term.

        because telling me that no one can really be atheist without being completely unreasonable is, frankly, bullshit.

        (i consider anyone who sees evidence as 100% or irrefutable to be unreasonable, that’s not how science works!)

      • Alix

        i just get rather annoyed when people tell me i must redefine my self-identification to come in line with their impossible standards of what they think should be meant by a particular term.

        Oh, hell, yes. Which is why I’m very staunchly on the side of self-definition.

      • Rango

        That’s incorrect. Atheism posits that no god exists. That requires proof as much as the idea that god exists. Agnosticism is truer in admitting that sufficient proof is impossible to collect in the case of this question.

      • lucifermourning

        no. the burden of proof always lies on the person positing that something is real. to take the classic Betrand Russell example:

        i do not have to prove that there is no magic teapot orbit the sun. the people who believe that there is one have to prove that there is.

      • anne marie hovgaard

        No. Atheism is “not believing that gods exist” – because there is no good reason to believe in them. I’m only agnostic about the existence of gods the way I’m agnostic about the existence of pretty much everything, ever. Including this discussion. I can’t prove (irrefutably!) that you’re not all figments of my imagination.

      • TheDom

        You doubting Thomas, you! (or is that Thomasina?) Don’t you know religion has thought of this already?

      • Jayn

        This is something I frequently find frustrating as a theist. I can understand the position of saying “there is no evidence for the existence of a higher power, and so I don’t believe in any”. But it can’t be truly proven either way, and those of us who do believe have our reasons (possibly selfish and arbitrary ones, but that’s beside the point). And there’s the point someone else made about proselytizing being the most annoying part of some religions–I agree, so I don’t try to convert people because I wouldn’t appreciate them trying to convert me. An atheist saying “You’re wrong about the existence of God” is engaging in something that bugs me about my OWN religious tradition, in a rather insulting way. It’s just as patronising as when a theist tells someone else “You’ll eventually come around to seeing the Truth”. Just…ugh.

      • Feminerd

        Well, you are wrong about the existence of God :-P. And feel free to tell me the same thing; obviously every theist out there thinks I’m wrong.

        What really gets to me is that belief without evidence doesn’t stop at just God for most people. They use that same sort of fuzzy, illogical thinking in other things- political ideologies, “I’m entitled to my opinion”, etc. Many people can compartmentalize their belief structure, but many others can’t, and the sort of thinking that leads to “I want to believe it thus it’s true” is detrimental to both the person and society. That is why I believe religion and belief in the supernatural are inherently bad- not necessarily because of what the beliefs are, but by the type of thinking they must promote in order to be accepted at all.

      • Richter_DL

        Yes. Most of American political discourse essentially comes down to this:

      • Alix

        Though it’s worth pointing out that that kind of fuzzy thinking doesn’t require religious belief as a prerequisite.

      • Feminerd

        This is true. Any sort of ideological extreme can push people into that sort of thought pattern.

        I single out religion more than other things because it has more social acceptance than being, say, a hardcore Objectivist or Marxist. They all ignore reality in favor of wishful thinking, but only (some) religious thought gets a societal pass for doing so. Still, I did fall into the trap of “religion is the source of all that is wrong with the world” and I really should know better. Thanks for pointing that out.

      • TurelieTelcontar

        For me, I differentiate between belief without evidence, and belief despite evidence.
        There’s things that are evidently untrue, and I don’t believe them. And then there’s things that are possible, and I reserve the right to believe in those that I like, and not believe in those that I dislike – all with the caveat that I change my opinions if there’s enough evidence that I’m wrong.
        But like Alix, I had some experiences I haven’t yet found an explanation for, and can’t get someone else to test with me. So, do I think I’m crazy for having experiences I can’t yet explain, but which don’t go against physical laws as I understand them?

      • Feminerd

        Nope! You’ve just had experiences you can’t yet explain, that’s all. Our brains are weird, imperfect information sorting and storage units. A lot of ‘supernatural’ experiences arise from brains trying to interpret sensory data that doesn’t make any sense due to drugs, disorientation, fatigue, illness, or a number of other factors.

      • Alix

        Sure. Or these things we experience could be real in any number of senses. Which is why I give people a great deal of personal latitude in making sense of their own experiences of the world.

        Maybe that’s me being stupid, I don’t know, and I don’t really care. XD

      • Feminerd

        I think I’m less open in that sort of way. I don’t doubt people’s experiences, but I can be very skeptical of their interpretations of those experiences. “I saw something weird that I can’t explain” is fine; “I saw a ghost” is going to get you a funny look and a demand for some evidence.

        I don’t see your way as stupid at all! I just like mine better is all. Yours probably gets you into less arguments/discussions.

      • Alix

        And I think that’s perfectly fine! What works best for you is what ultimately matters.

        For my part, it’s just often easier to interpret things in a way that makes internal sense, even if they’re, externally, weird interpretations. I try my damndest to hold myself and my beliefs to a strong moral-ethical framework, but it’s like there’s too much in how I experience the world that’s just plain weird for me to discount the supernatural.

        I tend to think that what really matters isn’t so much what we think internally but how we treat others, anyway. And fwiw, trolls aside, this is one of the few spaces I actually feel even vaguely able to open up about some of my beliefs, so.

      • Michael W Busch

        Or these things we experience could be real in any number of senses.

        Many things could be real. But what is the most likely explanation of the available evidence, given everything that we know about how human brains are imperfectly reliable and exhibit unusual behavior in different situations?

      • Alix

        Well, sure. And speaking personally, I don’t deny that, but from my perspective, I need to accept the reality I’m handed, if that makes any sense, to get through my day.

        I hope it’s obvious I have no problem with people interpreting their own experiences their own way, or even arguing with me over my interpretations. It’s condescension and hostility I mind, which I’ve never seen from any regulars here.

      • Michael W Busch

        There are religious claims that I am quite hostile to. Those are those religious claims that people use to justify infringing on the welfare of others. Other religious claims I will disagree with, but the intensity of the disagreement will be far less.

      • Alix

        Some things deserve hostility. I’m not exactly uncritical of organized religion, myself.

        Disagreement’s fine, in my book, even strong disagreement. I don’t consider even intense disagreement hostile – hostility’s more in the manner of expressing it, y’know? Like, you could think I’m an utterly irrational lunatic, and as long as you’re not treating me as some lesser life form, in my book we’re cool. XD

      • Nancy Shrew

        Oh, yeah. Take people against vaccines, water fluoridation, and “Big Pharma” for example (I live in Portland).

      • Alix

        Yeah, but what you and Richter_DL are missing is that it’s not your place to define how someone else self-defines. If someone decides that they are atheist but still admits, when pushed to the wall, that of course there’s uncertainty, you don’t get to then crow about how they’re not really atheist – anymore than an atheist can turn around and label a liberal Christian not a real Christian ’cause they’re not fundamentalist.

        This insistence that atheists define their precise degree of uncertainty, which is then used to disqualify their atheism, is at the very least rude and actively hostile.

      • Jayn

        Where did I require atheists define how certain they are about it? I really don’t care that much what they believe, or how strongly they believe it. If someone says they’re an atheist I’ll take them at their word. My only problem is when they start attacking me over my beliefs.

        I agree with you that I don’t get to define how someone else self-defines.

      • Alix

        Fair enough. I misread your comment in light of the rest of the thread.

        When anyone’s being the aggressor, yeah, that kind of response is legit. I’ve just met far too many religious folk who take that “but you’re not really an atheist/atheism is a belief system” stance first.

      • Composer 99

        Insufficient evidence does NOT prove something is nonexistent.

        In my opinion, it does.

        I would not, for example, remain agnostic on the existence of a causal link between getting vaccinated and developing an ASD – the prior probability was simply too low to begin with, and the efforts to demonstrate a link have all failed miserably.

        Strictly speaking even though we might technically have to concede the possibility that, despite the state of the evidence thus far, such a link might indeed exist, the probability of existence is indistinguishable from zero.

        At which point, once we start talking in “layperson English”, we can conclude disproof has occured – insufficient evidence has indeed proven that a thing (vaccines causing autism) does not exist.

        I suggest the same could be said about belief in a supernatural deity.

      • Sally

        I’m an atheist, but I don’t know there is no God. I only know there is insufficient evidence to convince me there is no God. So for me, I experience this as being convinced there is no God, because I made that decision in my mind at some point. But that isn’t the same at all as my having proof there is no God.

      • Sally

        ” I only know there is insufficient evidence to convince me there is no God.”
        Meant to say: I only know there is insufficient evidence to convince me there IS a God.

      • Richter_DL

        And why is your opinion about this worth more than if your opinion were that 1+1=3?

      • Composer 99

        Your response contains a category error.

        “1 + 1 = 3″ is incorrect as a matter of definition. “3″ is used in our number system to represent a specific number of objects (or abstractions thereof). In and of itself it is not an empirical phenomenon, rather it is an axiomatic one.

        If it was universally decided tomorrow that “2″ and “3″ would switch places in cardinality, “1 + 1 = 3″ would become correct.

        By contrast, in principle the existence (or not) of any supernatural being is an empirical phenomenon. That is to say, if supernatural beings exist, and can reliably be shown to exist, we could not all decide one day that they didn’t, and vice-versa.

        Edit: To try to answer your question, I like to think that my opinion on an empirical matter is worth more insofar as it is constructed in conformance with available evidence. That is, my ideal answer is “yes, it is”. (This is why, say, Dr David Gorski’s opinion on the safety & efficacy of vaccines is worth more than Dr Jay Gordon’s.)

        Beyond that, I must concede that my opinion is only worth what people will ascribe to it. My realistic answer is “it depends on the reader”.

      • The_L1985

        Insufficient evidence can lead you to doubt something exists, yes. Insufficient evidence means that it may be better to act on the assumption that something exists, simply because it’s unlikely. I’m more than willing to agree to that.

        But neither of these things are the same as absolute 100% certainty. I’m a mathematician, so we have rather stringent ideas of what “100% certainty” entails; an absence of evidence just means your disbelief is reasonable within an acceptable margin of error. :)

      • Composer 99

        For what it’s worth, I agree.

        Even a very strong claim of “disproof of existence”, such as what I have stated, is (a) provisional according to the current state of the evidence (or lack thereof), and (b) subject to change if/when the (lack of) evidence does.

      • digitaldebris

        Um… what? Theism doesn’t require proof, only “faith” (whatever that actually means, which is quite subjective). Therefore, it logically follows that Atheism does not require proof either. Agnosticism, however, is kind of a wishy-washy term that means very little. But you have a point — I don’t “believe” in atheism either, but rather am atheist in my views.

      • Alix

        Theism/atheism – the debates over proof always strike me as the exact same as any debates over proof for philosophies. It’s not like proof never factors in, but it’s so open to interpretation it can’t be held to anything like scientific standards, y’know?

      • ecolt

        Richter, do you know how sick atheists get of being told what we “obviously” have “belief” or “faith” in? Atheism by definition (that same definition you feel the need to school others on) does not be belief in in something. It means disbelief in god. I have examined the evidence available, looked at the claims, and decided that I do not believe a god exists. The evidence doesn’t support it. This is not the same as blind faith in god’s nonexistence, nor is it a claim of absolutism. It is my statement of what I believe to be true.

        Furthermore, you’re missing a key aspect of debate – the same key that so many theists miss when trying to corner skeptics. The rules of debate, the US legal system and common sense say that you cannot prove a negative, nor is the onus of proof on those making a negative claim. This is why, for example, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution in criminal law. You don’t prove that something didn’t happen or someone didn’t do something, you have to endeavor to prove that they did. This is why scientific experiments must prove the existence of something – you cannot prove nonexistence. However, you can postulate nonexistence if all attempts to prove existence fall flat.

        Do us all a favor and quit using the same sad, stale rhetoric here.

      • digitaldebris

        Yeah, I have this argument all the time. I’m atheist, not agnostic, in a relative way. For instance, I don’t know with 100% certainty that there is not a 5-headed pink dragon eating a popsicle on one of Saturn’s moons… I’m 99.999999999999999… 9999% sure that this is ridiculous, but I can’t prove it. However, it would be ridiculous for me to say, “well, who knows?” And that’s exactly how I feel about any supposed god.

      • Karleanne Matthews

        I found this post to be a really insightful exploration of why “atheist” is a perfectly acceptable term to use even if you’re not 100% certain:

      • Anat

        No. Atheism does not require belief in one state of an unexaminable postulation being true. Atheism is the conclusion one arrives at when the state with the burden of evidence fails to deliver. Atheism should really be the default position.

      • Tomáš Hluska

        so Christianity is double-believe system? Because they believe in God and they believe there is not other God? Or is it many-believe system because they believe there is God and they believe there is not Allah and they believe there is not Zeus…?

    • Richter_DL

      Hahahaha. This, SO THIS.

  • MNb

    “male atheists attempting to deconvert religious women”
    I never try. I only use this argument to point out why I won’t convert myself.

    “not all religion oppresses women”
    Can you give an example?

    “atheism does not eliminate sexism”
    That’s why I don’t use that argument. My female counterpart is a muslima; so are one of my vice-directors and several of my colleagues.

    “an actual attempt to listen to and improve”
    I rather try that in my daily life when interacting with above mentioned people.

    “If you want to persuade someone of your beliefs”
    But does he want that? I’ll tell you honestly that I don’t. I like being sarcastic too much.
    Just my two SRD.

    • Alix

      Many forms of paganism. Many interpretations of other religions, including Christianity and Islam. (Hell, in a very real way, Christianity began as a women’s movement, and the history of how that changed is pretty sad.)

      It’s not hard to find these examples, at all.

      And yet (not aiming this at you) many atheists who do try that “all religion oppresses women/x group” thing keep moving the goalposts. Paganism is too modern, too fake, not real religion, just people making shit up. (Yes, and?) Or they end up buying into the same assumptions as fundamentalists and insisting that any religious person who doesn’t have those same assumptions is a fake, despite fundamentalism not coming close to accounting for all believers. Etc.

      (I’m not referring to anywhere close to all atheists, here. Only the ones who like to pull that argument on me.)

      • JarredH

        Many forms of paganism.

        As a Pagan, thank you for saying “many” rather than universalizing the statement. I don’t like it when some people tend to paint Paganism as perfect when it comes to sexism and/or other prejudices.

      • Alix

        Me neither. Though I have to admit that what I run into in pagan circles is usually less patriarchal hierarchy and more gender-essentialist binary. Generally accompanied with assurances that I’m somehow still represented in the cosmology and am for their purposes “metaphorically” or “spiritually” female/male. :/

        (Hi, fellow pagan! Wow, there are a lot of us roaming the comments here. XD)

      • JarredH

        I also wonder how much objectification of women gets a pass in some Pagan circles because “we’re just being sex-positive and besides, how can we be sexist with High Priestesses?!?!” (Not forgetting that putting women on idealistic pedestals can be dehumanizing in its own right anyway.)

      • persephone

        If you follow The Wild Hunt some of the reported abuse stories are pretty bad.

      • persephone

        A lot of us Pagans survived high demand organizations. When I realized I wasn’t really an atheist, the Paganism that was calling me finally came through. I came across the original No Longer Quivering site shortly after it started, and found it a great way to address and work through the issues still lingering as a result of being shunned by my family over leaving their religion.

        Two years ago my husband was finally arrested for domestic violence, and recognition of the true extent and fallout of this abuse has been helped by reading the postings by the mostly female survivors linked to NLQ.

        These are the reasons I’m a solitary, and also why I have great difficulty dealing with these self-important jerks.

      • The_L1985

        Indeed. That’s why I had to stop myself in my comment and qualify with “mainstream Wicca.” There are misandrist (and probably misogynist) covens out there, but they’re the fringe.

      • Gillianren

        Though I tend to paraphrase and tell people that I belong to no organized religion–I’m a Pagan. (Though not a Wiccan, and that conflation irritates me.)

      • persephone

        Yeah, not Wiccan either, which has made for some interesting(?!) discussions on some boards, especially with the fluffy bunnies.

      • Alix

        It makes for fun times trying to participate in any groups, too, at least ’round my part of the globe. (I’m very much a solitary, but sometimes I still try to seek out open groups for some social connection, y’know?)

        *blink* “But what do you meeeeeean, you’re not a follower of my Wiccan cosmology? What do you meeeeean, you don’t do your rituals like this? I thought you were pagan!!1!”


      • persephone

        I was on a forum discussion where we were discussing the Dominionists’ attempt to organize prayer events to convert the country, state by state. Some of us were discussing the use of magic and timing it with each other to turn the Dominionists prayer workings back on them. Immediately, some other members started calling it black magic, or against the Rede, or it would come back on us under the rule of three, etc. The forum moderator, a Wiccan, had to step in and explain, really, that not everyone who is Pagan is Wiccan, and that maybe they were being a bit extreme even for Wiccans.
        My first searchings into Paganism led me to the Reformed Druids of North America. They are fairly organized, and do have a system of study and promotion, but they’re also a pretty cool, open bunch, and I appreciate their help in finding my own path. I’m on their email list and love the newsletters.

      • Alix

        I’ll have to check them out!

        On the Rede: it’s a decent guideline, but I’m almost at the point of being as tetchy about thoughtless folks pushing that on every pagan as I am about folks pushing the Ten Commandments.

        I mean, obviously, there’s a huge difference in relative sociopolitical power there, which is why the 10C-pushers vex me more, but I encounter the Rede-pushers more often. (And honestly? The literal thoughtlessness of the Rede-pushers gets under my skin a lot more than the overt tribalist posturing of the 10C-pushers. I guess I’d rather be acknowledged as existing in a general, if hostile, manner than my existence not even being noticed.)

      • persephone

        Do you have any preferred Pagan forums? I’m always looking for someplace to learn something new. that reminds me; I haven’t been checking into The Wild Hunt in quite a while.

      • Alix

        I was actually just going to ask you that. I don’t, yet, really, though I’m sort of looking for a sort of “spiritual home,” so to speak. I tend to bounce around a lot and lurk a lot, trying to find places I click with.

        It really doesn’t help that my interests tend to vary wildly from week to week. XD

      • Sally

        “Hell, in a very real way, Christianity began as a women’s movement, and the history of how that changed is pretty sad.”
        OK, I’m intrigued. I’m personally convinced that Christianity began as an apocalyptic movement, but how it could be considered a women’s movement early on would be interesting to me.

      • KarenJo12

        Read some of the Roman critics of Christianity. Celsus, and I think Marcus Aurelius, wrote that Christianity was drawing Roman matrons away from their duties and the movement gave them rights and prominence far beyond what all reasonable men knew was proper.

      • Alix

        It began as a bundle of things. It sort of depends which aspect you’re talking about – a lot of movements, religious ones in particular, are rarely simple.

        It was an apocalyptic movement. It also was a movement that appealed strongly to the downtrodden – women and slaves, mostly, and the poor, but others as well – because of the philosophy espoused by Jesus in the Gospels. You actually see evidence for both of those strands not only in the writings of the early Church fathers, but in some of the anti-Christian writings from around that time and even in the New Testament itself, in the epistles. Paul/pseudo-Paul and some of the other epistle writers do, admittedly, take a rather negative view of the women and slaves who have embraced a more radical form of Christian equality than they have, but they wouldn’t exactly be arguing against something that didn’t exist, especially since these aren’t general documents, but letters to specific folks addressing specific issues.

        It’s been pointed out that even the cult of saintly virginity got started as a form of progress for women: it doesn’t seem like it from our perspective, but when marriage is something you really don’t have a say in, even simply standing up and refusing to marry is a big step. Or you had other new believers who were already married and after conversion refused sex. A fair number of early church leaders and preachers were women, too – including, apocryphally, one who traveled with Paul, and the names of others are recorded in the NT, early church documents, and even artwork.

        And sure, the movement was never wholly female, and from the beginning involved plenty of free men – Paul himself was a Roman citizen. And when the apocalypticism began to wane because, hello, time was passing, you started getting more of a structure in place, and you had the early church leaders trying (understandably) to get legitimized enough by the Roman government to, well, not get persecuted. But then you get Constantine and later emperors, and the whole movement ends up taking over the old power structure, and well.

      • Sally

        I suppose by the time the NT is put together, whatever aspects of the faith in practice were a women’s movement are already becoming obscured by, as you say, the need to deal with the lack of the apocalypse (and impose a church structure instead). It seems we have to assume the remnants that make it into the NT are indications of possibly more going on. Paul is reacting to something and yes several women in ministry are mentioned. Funny to think of whatever Paul was reacting to as something he worked to suppress that might have made such a difference had it thrived. I tend to think of the early church as the church that existed when the NT was canonized, but really I guess in many ways the earliest church can be said to be obscured by the NT canon (by virtue of what is and is not included). Add doctrine on as another layer, and you’re really far away from the “truth.” Oh, that wouldn’t go over too well in certain circles, would it!?

      • Alix

        True. But also the canon was assembled from many preexisting documents, and things like the letters of Paul are dated to ca. 55 CE, so within twenty years of Jesus’ demise. They do give a pretty good – if obviously biased; come on, they’re letters – glimpse into the really early church.

      • Sally

        Agreed. The “something” Paul was reacting to was contemporary with his writing. Who knows, there could have been a letter that hit the floor when sorting out the keepers from the non-keepers which would clarify that women were asking thoughtful, even leading questions in church (at an appropriate time when discussion was opened up). And by choosing only the letter that made it in, we’re left with the chance to speculate that women were shouting out questions in the middle of worship services like little children and had to be told by Paul to keep quiet and ask their husbands at home. Gee, I think if they were doing that, they wouldn’t have needed a letter from Paul to put a stop to it. I think the other adults (male and female) would have been able to address it as a matter of civility.
        Anyway, point is, yes, if Paul’s letters obscure (and at the same time point to) a woman’s movement, it would have been contemporaneous with his letters.

      • Alix

        And then of course it gets complicated, because Paul seems to have been not too sure how to reconcile early Christianity with the broader culture, and for every “sit down and shut up” there’s a “hey, female church leader!” (Note: I haven’t sat and tallied up the references, so this is a loose idiom. XD)

        And then later translators don’t help. There’s at least one case where people deliberately changed a female name to a (presumed) male one, because surely Paul didn’t mean a woman was a leader! And in other places translators have sometimes deliberately translated “deacon” differently for men and for women, so that they don’t give the impression of female leadership.

        The whole thing is both crazy frustrating and interestingly thorny.

      • Michael W Busch

        The detailed history of early Christianity is both complex and quite obscured, since only so much was written down. But there is at least enough evidence to say that there was a wide range of how sexist/how egalitarian early Christian groups were – and also attempts several centuries in to disguise some of that diverse history (for example, the case of Junia).

      • MNb

        “It’s not hard to find these examples, at all.”
        Sometimes I’m lazy and a bit dumb; I also suffer from prejudices.
        Thanks. I’ll keep the example of paganism in mind.

        “Many interpretations of other religions, including … Islam.”
        I’m afraid I have to contradict you here. My female counterpart and my colleagues are very liberal muslims; often don’t wear headscarves. Still their interpretation does not fully embrace equal rights for women. That includes the part about divorce. I even know a case of child marriage, which is illegal in Suriname, where I live.
        I don’t know much about paganism; I yet have to meet the first interpretations of christendom and islam that fully grants equal rights.

      • Alix

        Oh, sorry, that comment came off way harsher than I intended. >.< I was trying more to point out the prevalence of these other religions, not trying to slam you for not knowing what they were/that they existed.

      • MNb

        No need for sorry; I wasn’t offended at all. I meant what I wrote: paganism is an obvious example and sometimes I’m lazy and a bit dumb indeed, plus prejudiced (in this case against religion in general). It’s just human. If I had done some effort I could have thought of the example of paganism myself.

        “not trying to slam you for not knowing what they were/that they existed.”
        But I already knew paganism existed. Don’t worry, I’m used to much, much ruder language (an advantage of being Dutch).
        My thanks is meant sincerely as well. I will keep paganism in mind, something I hadn’t done before.
        So I didn’t feel slammed for a second. You have done nothing wrong, on the contrary. I have learned something – from you.

    • Katty

      That’s why I don’t use that argument.

      Well then I don’t see why you would need to be so defensive (and if you’re not, fine, but your comments certainly seem so). If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it! No need to sidetrack the conversation in order to demand cookies for being such a good, pro-woman atheist!

    • Michael W Busch

      You seem to have largely missed Libby Anne’s point. Your own personal motivations are not particularly relevant to them.

    • The_L1985

      Wicca. I don’t think it’s possible for a religion to be much more feminist than the mainstream of Wicca today. (There are crazy second-wave misandrists, like Z. Budapest, but they’re the fringe of Wicca.)

  • Katty

    I think it is misleading to argue in terms of religion itself being demeaning to women (or not). Religion is not a sentient being and doesn’t “do” anything on its own. Therefore I would argue that the discussion would benefit from reframing this to say that religion is used to demean women. It’s still people acting – the same people who, without religion, would find another “reason” (like that whole evo psych bs) to demean women and be sexist jerks, as has been amply demonstrated by the comments documented in the OP.

    ETA: Forgot to say – thanks for pulling together the arguments of the wonderful commenters here into a succinct analysis of all that was wrong with this individual’s comments, Libby Anne!

    • Alix

      I know I bring him up a lot, but my dad’s an atheist. In every other respect, though, he fits right in with the wingnut Repub fringe, down to the sexism and the racism.

      I’ve had a surprising number of people earnestly argue to me that religion is what corrupts people and makes folks sexist, racist, whatever, and that if religion were gone, rationality would reign supreme and the nasty bigotries would fade. But I can never take them seriously, because I have a stellar example of how atheism doesn’t instantly equate to rationalism (and I wish to high heaven people’d stop conflating the two) and doesn’t automatically make people better.

      • Alix

        (Arrgh, left off the last bit.)

        It really does end up being, for me, a “why don’t you take the beam out of your own eye before worrying about the speck in mine?” thing. My religion isn’t hurting anybody, and people aren’t perfectly rational anyway. (I have some … issues with the notion of rationality as the highest good anyway, but that’s neither here nor there.) I’m … getting a bit sick of a certain strain of atheist* deciding that the most important problem is my idiosyncratic irrationality, and not, say, their sexism. Or their borderline-authoritarian demands that I change my thoughts to conform to their values.

        *I can’t figure out if it’s my state that attracts very vocal nuts of every stripe, or if I’m just a magnet for really persistently talkative folks.

      • Baby_Raptor

        You’re willing to engage and argue. That makes people either A) think they can convince you or B) just argue for arguing’s sake.

        Not that being willing to talk back means you *deserve* unwanted attention, mind.

      • Alix

        Online, sure. In person I’m usually much more retiring. XD I’m like a black hole of introversion or something.

      • Katty

        I’ve had a surprising number of people earnestly argue to me that
        religion is what corrupts people and makes folks sexist, racist,

        Exactly, and that argument seems completely non-sensical to me. Religion doesn’t exist in a void, it’s part of a wider culture. I believe it’s the other way around – sexist, racist, whatever… people corrupt religion and make it in their image, so to speak.

        Sure, religion is used to perpetuate sexism, racism, homophobia,… but it’s just a tool in the hands of sexist/homophobic/racist people and could well be (and is in many instances!) used differently

      • Alix

        It’s always hard, when talking about any aspect of culture, to dissociate it from all the other aspects of culture. That’s … kind of how culture works: by being a dynamic interaction of all sorts of interlocking aspects.

        You can’t separate out religion and claim it’s the root cause for bigotry anymore than you could do the same for, say, education.

        This isn’t to let the problematic parts of various religions and their adherents off the hook. It’s just to say that no, there isn’t one simple, easy answer here.

      • Alix

        And, of course, you can never divorce culture from the actual people who generate it. Religion exists because people find something useful in it, and even if all religion were corruptive, that corruption arises from a human source.

      • Alix

        Also also, and I really need to finish my thoughts before I hit post, it’s not only the leaders in power who have to find something useful in religion for it to exist. I know a lot of people try to insist that the leaders are conmen and the masses are brainwashed, but with some fringe exceptions (that are actually cult-like) I don’t think that’s anywhere near true. People believe in religion for their own sake, really, and have to be getting something out of it themselves as adherents.

        And of course in my comments I mean “some people, those who have a use for religion,” not all of humanity.

      • Rosa

        that belief that the masses are brainwashed in their basic beliefs is so disrespectful. People can be conned on specifics, but the big stuff like belief in a deity at all, or love for the people around you, or whatever, is pretty intrinsic to identity.

      • Composer 99

        that belief that the masses are brainwashed in their basic beliefs is so disrespectful.

        Quite. It amounts to self-serving elitism. “Look at those brainwashed Bible-thumping proles. Now look at me, the intelligent, freethinking atheist!”

        Arguably it is also infantilizing/dehumanizing in multiple respects: you (*) can’t hold brainwashed people accountable for their own beliefs if they lead to demonstrably harmful actions (e.g. the belief that homosexuality is “an abomination”), but at the same time you arrogate to yourself the privilege of dismissing their lived experiences because, well, they’re brainwashed!

        (*) general use of ‘you’, not you specifically.

      • Alix

        There’s also the added point of brainwashing and cons not being things that work solely on people of low intelligence, which is a very common and imo kind of dangerous belief.

        I sometimes wonder if that kind of knee-jerk “they’re brainwashed, but I’m rational!” stuff is rooted in a sort of subconscious “there but for the grace of God go I” defensiveness (to use a somewhat inappropriate idiom).

      • Composer 99

        Indeed. If memory serves, James Randi would occasionally “prank” physicists into accepting the existence of paranormal phenomena as an object lesson in how levels of education/intelligence/whatever were no defence against someone running a con.

        (Disclaimer: This is stretching back to knowledge extracted from high school plus insufficient motivation to go link hunting, so take that with appropriate grain of salt.)

      • Alix

        I also recall reading an account by a con-man (can’t remember where I found this or I’d link it), where he said that one thing he looked for in his marks was a certainty that they couldn’t be conned. That belief ended up playing right into his cons – if he could hook them, he could string them along for ages, and they wouldn’t listen to any warning signs because they were convinced they couldn’t be taken in the first place.

      • minuteye

        There’s a great article on the Cult Awareness and Information Library site, which details the characteristics that might make a person vulnerable to joining a cult… it basically encapsulates 99% of humanity. But we still “other” cult members, because thinking poorly of them helps us to ignore the fact that it could have happened to us too.

      • Rosa

        I’ve mostly run into it from Marxists (“false consciousness”) and internet atheists, but you see it in some of the patriarchal literature Libby quotes too – “you think you’re happy but you don’t have REAL joy” or whatever. And you’re right, it is a total power play.

        It’s terrible from any angle except the literal use for a person who’s been manipulated and deprived of alternate sources of information. Religious people in general don’t fit that criteria at all.

      • luckyducky

        I’ve always thought there was a gap in reasoning when atheist say religion=oppression. If you genuinely don’t believe in a “higher power” then, by definition, religion is entirely a human construct. That is in contrast to religious people who understand religion as either being a divine construct or built with divine guidance.

        If it is a human construct, it probably serves some human purpose (probably many). If the purpose of religion is to oppress (build/define/maintain social hierarchy of some sort), that drive exists independent of religion. In other words, religion is a tool for structuring human interaction. It may be a very effective tool but it isn’t the only one. A hammer is great for pounding nails but if I can’t find a hammer, I have been known, in a pinch to, to use a wrench… not as efficient but it still gets the job done.

        And, given that most *major* religious traditions have been both instrumental in both reinforcing/justifying oppressive social structures and dismantling them, I find it far more compelling — as a nonbeliever — to understand religion as something people use to do what they already want to do.

        My own religious tradition (RCC), has both maintained a terrifically anti-woman hierarchy and support anti-woman policy. Yet, Catholic schools have long educated* women and the poor long before it was good public policy. And there is a long tradition of women religious who were given an option other than marriage to work in the world, to live in community with other women, and manage their own organization and household when otherwise women went from their father’s house to their husband’s.

        *This is not to ignore how education can still be a tool of oppression. For example, educating aboriginal people has been an tool of imperialism, a means of converting and colonizing — I am affiliated with a Jesuit institution and my child asked “is that a boy or a girl who is going to hit that Indian on the head with a cross” about the statue on campus of one of the 18C Jesuit missionaries converting a Native American… out of the mouths of babes.

      • M.S.

        Very good points… I also was raised Catholic (and am still practicing), and yes – of course the RCC has a long way to go in terms of female equality. But I received an excellent Catholic education, was raised by Catholic parents who never once made me feel I was inferior in any ways to my brothers, and now have a very demanding career in a male-dominated field. Funny I encounter far more sexism on a day-to-day basis in my workplace than I ever did in my Catholic education or church upbringing. So yes sexism, unfortunately, is not confined to religious hauls.

      • David Kopp

        Religion doesn’t corrupt people, or make them sexist, racist, whatever.

        What religion does is it makes them feel righteous in doing those things. THAT is what is dangerous about religion, that it becomes the moral thing to do from outside justification, rather than having to face that it’s you personally justifying that kind of behavior.

      • Anima

        Actually, isn’t that exactly what Jack did? He felt justified by his crusade against religion to make demeaning and misogynist statements. By painting religion as the great evil and cancer in society he can justify doing smaller evils to combat it.

        I really doubt that it’s an exclusive trait of religions, rather a general problem with all ideologies.

      • Alix

        I was just going to say, any sufficiently strong group ideology works.

        Patriotism, nationalism, and imperialism are three secular* ones that immediately spring to mind.

        *Yes, there can be religious components to each of these, but they are not definitionally religions.

      • anne marie hovgaard

        It’s hardly a neutral tool. Sure, it _could_ well be used differently, and some people do, but that’s a bit like using an axe to hammer in nails. It works, sort of, but you have to be reeeeeeally careful how you do it, and there are much better tools out there.

      • Christine

        I remember a discussion on Reddit that spiraled off into a discussion of superstitions, and someone was commenting on superstitions that their grandmother believed, “despite” being an atheist. I figured that pointing out that lack of belief in a god (and, therefore, lack of involvement in a religion that spoke out against the superstitions described) had nothing to do with what else you believed. But it wasn’t the place.

      • sylvia_rachel

        My husband, the atheist (he doesn’t actually go around saying “I’m an atheist”; he just doesn’t believe in G-d), is more superstitious than many religious people I know. As part of our ongoing negotiation of this interesting thing called interfaith marriage and parenting (I’m Jewish; he was raised United-Church-or-something), I’ve stopped bugging him about it.

      • Alix

        I have a friend who’s a very firm atheist and believes quite strongly in the reality of ghosts.

      • David Kopp

        That’s an interesting thought. Someone don’t believe in a supernatural superman (god), but they do believe in supernatural normal men (ghosts).

        I’m wondering what kind of cognitive dissonance exists that allows you to say there’s no major magic, but there is minor magic? Is it like people claiming there’s no macro but there is micro evolution?

      • TurelieTelcontar

        Perhaps they don’t have a problem with the idea of some dimension/supernatural/alternate world.

        My biggest problem with the idea of god isn’t the supernatural claim, I think there might be space for as-yet-unexplained phenomena.
        The problem for me is that any god that actually wants to be worshipped, and punishes people who don’t do that, yet gives so little evidence of his existence, that I would not want to worship him anyway. Either he’s not omnipotent, or he’s a sadist.

      • Anat

        If they believe the supernatural phenomena are actually some yet-to-be-understood natural phenomena that would work. For instance, if people believe in souls as a natural aspect of the mind.

      • David Kopp

        Yes, but that’s kind of anti-skepticism, which is what most atheists I know associate themselves with. But perhaps it’s just the crowd I know. I just don’t differentiate between being skeptical of god and being skeptical of souls/ghosts/fairies. There are so many ways our brains can go wonky, beliefs and feelings alone can’t be trusted to reflect reality.

      • Christine

        I’m not sure how it’s any different than someone believing in a god but not believing in others, or not believing in the healing power of crystals, or any other thing you want to pick.

      • David Kopp

        Exactly. It’s magical thinking vs. not. I just find that if you’re an atheist, it’s typically correlated with skepticism. Healing crystals, chakras, feng shui, homeopathy, ghosts, all those fall under the “There’s no evidence this works, but I really want to believe” umbrella. Perhaps conflating skepticism with atheism is folly, though. That’s just where most of the atheists I know (and most of the exceptionally outspoken ones) came to it from.

      • Christine

        I worry about conflating skepticism with atheism, because it results in a lot of atheists thinking that they’re wiser than they are. It hasn’t been quite said explicitly, but that sort of thing is part of the problem with the commenter this post is about. He is an atheist, so what he believes is obviously correct.

        It also seems to me that this would make it difficult for the atheist movement to address systemic internal problems. There is going to be less incentive to push for change, because “well we might have some issues, but at least we don’t believe in gods, so you’re clearly better off with us.”

      • Alix

        Also, y’know, it’s not like skepticism and rationalism are exclusively the province of atheists. Nor are all atheists automatically skeptical rationalists.

        It’s kind of like assuming that all Christians are, oh, biblical inerrantists. That may be a view espoused by the most vocal, visible members, and it might be a view held by a substantial part of the group as a whole, but it’s hardly the whole group.

        See also: atheism =/= humanism, and vice versa.

        (This verges into pet peeve territory for me: either atheism is only defined by a lack of belief in deities, in which case it’s a very specific philosophical position and not itself a broad philosophy, or it’s a broad philosophy incorporating things like skepticism, rationalism, etc. It cannot simultaneously be both, and yet a fair few atheists insist both that atheism = skepticism = rationality = atheism and that atheism is solely a position on the question of existence of gods. /pet peeve.)

    • Baby_Raptor

      It’s not misleading when the very texts the religion comes from are demeaning to women. (Or anyone else, women aren’t the only people that can be demeaned.)

      Yes, some things from the bible are twisted. Some aren’t. Some are just there, plain in the text and still wrong/belittling.

      • Katty

        Sure, but religious texts have also been written by people and thus reflect the cultural norms of the time they were written in.

        I don’t believe religion comes from the text of whichever scripture, but rather that its holy text is (or at least can be) the focal point of the religion in question. Religious practice interprets religious texts, assigning weight and meaning to certain parts and ignoring others. Which is why it is possible for women like Rachel Heston-Davis (to mention an example from the OP) to ground their feminism in the same religious text that fundamentalist evangelicals use as justification for their bigotry.

        Of course, my point of view is based on a totally non-literal view of the Bible (or any religious text, really). The different books/stories of the bible have to be evaluated in the context of when, why, by whom, and for whom they were written/collected and yes, some of them are obviously not okay by our modern standards. I blame bigoted people for still using those as justification for their bigoted views, not the texts themselves.

      • Alix

        Also, just because something’s in a religious text doesn’t mean everyone who believes in the religion affirms that part of the text, anymore than being an American means I affirm the 3/5 compromise.

        This insistence that all believers must be held to a literalist view of their religious texts is wrong-headed and annoying. Someone’s religion isn’t less valid if they grapple with and reject part of their holy text – it just means they’re approaching it with a different set of principles.

      • Katty

        This insistence that all believers must be held to a literalist view of their religious texts is wrong-headed and annoying.

        This. For me it is actually more puzzling than wrong-headed and annoying (just for me, not saying your view is wrong!). I’m European and where I grew up and still live, a literalist view of the bible* is a totally fringe believe. I think this is why using this view even for counter(!)-arguments still seems so weird to me.

        *I’m referring to the bible because Christianity (Roman Catholic) is the dominant religion here.

    • Richter_DL

      And that, right there, is my main problem with Dawkinsianism: the anthropomorphisation of abstract concepts. It starts with “selfish” genes (which he then uses to justify this or that aspect of contemporary American culture as ‘the natural state’ – doesn’t that sound a tad familiar?), to “nature” “designing” “perfect organisms” and goes on to the idea that ‘religion’ wants to do something to women.

      Why, it’s almost like he’s projecting god into a new word
      and calling this atheism. And that’s what most of his followers – and
      indeed, most American atheists I have so far run into – do. It’s the
      worst possible intellectual falacy as an atheist, actually.

      And then there’s the sermonizing, the idea to (de)convert (non)nonbelievers. Personally, I find the idea of pushing for conversion from whatever faith TO whatever faith most offensive about many religions. Unfortunatly, they’re just as guilty of this as the worst Mormons and Evangelicals are. Just like the Evangelical fuckhead who, upon hearing I am an atheist, was all over me to convert me, they’re all over others trying to aggressively convert them (de-convert, sorry). And they’re openly gleeful and hateful, just like the worst of American Evangelicals are.

      They’re doing atheim a disservice there. A massive one. They’re doing the idea of rationalism and scepticism an equally massive disservice in a society that is already openly hostile to critical thought, free thinking, nonconformity and rationalism. They’re treating atheism like it’s just another cult. There’re even atheist masses so they can non-worship their non-gods like everyone else, sermons and confessions and everything.


      • Anat

        Quoting: which he then uses to justify this or that aspect of contemporary American culture as ‘the natural state’ -

        No he does not. At least neither in ‘The Selfish Gene’ nor in ‘The Extended Phenotype’. He clearly states that while evolution would tend to select for certain sets of behavioral programs, examples of which we see in various species, humans can and should make a moral choice to act otherwise, because evolution isn’t interested in us, but we are. And the bit about ‘perfect organisms’ where do you get that?

      • Sally

        I agree. He goes out of his way to dispute social Darwinism.

      • phantomreader42

        Let me guess. You stopped reading The Selfish Gene before you got past the title.

      • Thalestris

        It starts with “selfish” genes (which he then uses to justify this or that aspect of contemporary American culture as ‘the natural state’ – doesn’t that sound a tad familiar?)

        It’s been awhile since I read The Selfish Gene, but I don’t remember any of that! I don’t remember him saying a single word about how human societies are or should be organized … I only remember him talking about genes, organisms (indeed, the biggest thing I took away from that book is that what’s best for an animal’s genes isn’t always what’s best for that animal. Mind-bending stuff, when I read it at age fourteen!) and species.

        Your point about anthropomorphizing abstract concepts makes sense, though, and I definitely have similar feelings whenever I hear about what Nature or Evolution has “designed”!

    • lucifermourning

      i’m not comfortable with this line of argument.

      it’s the same vein of reasoning that says “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. yes, that’s true. but easy access to guns helps an awful lot.

      “religion” doesn’t oppress women because it’s an abstract concept. but (many) religions help. religion absolutely can encourage an otherwise reasonable person to believe that ze must oppress women in order to help them – i think we’ve seen a lot of evidence for this in Libby Anne’s writings. all the fundamentalist parents who genuinely want to do well by their daughters but have bought into the idea that this means teaching them to be homemakers. all the people – including women – who argue that independent women leads to misery. some may just want to be on power trips, but i think an awful lot of rank-and-file genuinely believe they’re helping.

      • Katty

        I see your point. I’m still mulling this over but I think my tentative answer would be that I was talking about religion per se (as opposed to no religion, i.e. atheism) and making the point that eliminating religion wouldn’t automatically eliminate sexism.

        If I interpret this correctly you are talking about what I would maybe term religious practices/reality and you are definitely right that these aid and abet certain harmful practices/viewpoints.

        So I would say that we’re basically talking about different aspects of the same thing and I agree with you but think our arguments are actually compatible.

        Still trying to parse this in my mind though, so feel free to contradict me. I appreciate the input.

      • lucifermourning

        i think what i’m trying to say is that suggesting “people would do this anyway” implies that specific idea don’t matter, when i think they very much do.

        for example (not about sexism, but bear with me): in a previous blog post Libby Anne talked about a time when her parents denied food to one of her siblings because they believed said child was being defiant by refusing to say ‘please’. they did this because they genuinely believe that to give in and feed their child would cause long-term damage – that denying food was actually the best thing for the child, because children’s wills must be broken.

        yes, they eventually found an excuse to give in (her mother had a dream which she interpreted as a reason to surrender).

        but without that particular belief about what children need/are, they would never have engaged in food denial to start with.

        i believe that religion is often like this. when you tell people “act like this or God will punish you for all eternity” that creates a real and powerful incentive to act against your own instincts, sense of compassion and sense of right and wrong. religion can encourage people to override what they feel by providing an over-arching law-giver to whose judgement they must defer.

        that creates an incentive for people who aren’t otherwise racist/sexist/homophobic to buy into these beliefs and practises.

        basically, a lot of religions insist that morality is god-given and dictated, rather than a creation of human beings. so questions are harder and people can and do do things they would otherwise think were wrong.

        there’s a quote that i think is an overgeneralisation (not all religion is the same!) but rings true in many ways: “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” (Steven Weinberg)

        i think there are other belief systems that can convince good people to do evil – but that what it takes is the conviction that someone else’s morality is unarguable and more important than your own. and that is a very common feature of religion.

      • luckyducky

        Lucifer, I think you are right… in a way. I don’t think religion causes oppression just like I don’t think guns cause people to murder… but religion is a remarkable effective tool for oppressing people just like guns are remarkable effective tools for killing… And, just like guns, religion can be used for “good” purposes as well as nefarious.

        I am pro-gun control, want nothing to do with guns personally, and think most people should likewise have little to do with them. However, I don’t make the argument that guns serve no legitimate purpose (I grew up on a farm, there was always a gun around to deal with predators and many of my neighbors hunted not as a hobby but to supply the family with protein they’d otherwise not get).

        Likewise, I think that there are a lot of versions of religion that do far more harm than good and people would be far better off without them. But I wouldn’t argue that religion/religious organizations don’t also do a great deal of good for communities in general and that people of faith derive some good from their faith — and it is up to them to determine if the good is enough.

        But the gun/religion analogy falls short. Religion is ultimately about relationships. So, it would be more apt to compare it to marriage. Yes, marriage has long been a tool of oppression for women and many, many women have suffered and even died at the hands of their husband, who was empowered to be the oppressor by the institution of marriage.

        However, all but the most hardcore anti-establishmentarians understand that marriage *can* be used as a tool of oppression but feminists can/do/are redefining marriage as an egalitarian, nurturing relationship. As proof of progress (not success), spousal abuse and rape in the abstract is not generally (NOT universally) understood as acceptable.

        In other words, marriage has historical baggage and marriage continues to be used to harm many people… but many of use still find enough value in it to take the good and do our best to leave the bad.

      • lucifermourning

        all metaphors fall short eventually :)

        for example, i would argue that some kind of contract to define someone as a legal family member will always have value over that contract not existing at all.

        while i think religion can do a lot of good, i’m not convinced that “some form of religion” will always be more valuable to society than “no religion”. this is a separate argument, just pointing out the limits of metaphor.

        i used the gun control one because i am definitely in the camp of thinking some guns are fine and useful (hunting is the big one, as you say) but that a world which magically had zero guns would also be pretty okay.

      • Alix

        Sure. And religion is a handy justification for things.

        But our point is that if you eliminate religion, it doesn’t take away the nasty impulses or drive towards justification – people can believe nasty things or justify nasty actions without recourse to specifically religious philosophies. There’s something fundamentally human there underlying the religion, and it does no one any good to pretend there’s not.

        Guns certainly help people kill more efficiently and easily, but it still takes a person to aim and pull the trigger, and they were still developed because of human drives towards violence. If you take away all guns, you’re still left with the violent impulses that led to their creation/use. They might get harder to act upon, but they don’t simply vanish and still require addressing.

      • lucifermourning

        however, i think it is very likely that eliminating many religions would decrease some the problems.

        religions is very, very far from the only cause of violence/sexism/racism/etc.

        but if people stopped believing that God wanted them to be violent/sexist/racist/etc, then those people who were acting against their better instincts would be much less likely to do so. and people who wanted to be that way anyway would

        or, to follow the previous metaphor: take away the guns and
        1) People would be less likely to accidentally kill their family members by playing with guns.
        2) People who actively wanted to hurt others would have less-lethal tools so would kill fewer people

        religion is much more complex and, as i’ve stated repeatedly, not all religion is the same – plenty of religions do far, far more good than harm! but i believe that religion does cause harm that, in its absence, would be greatly reduced.

      • Alix

        Sure, that’s possible. I get hung up on practicalities, though – even if I thought the eradication of religion was a net good, I’m not sure it’d ever actually happen.

        I also think it’s probably better to try and safeguard against authoritarian ideologies across the board, and not divide them into whether they’re religious or secular. That really strikes me as splitting a hair that’s better unsplit – eliminating authoritarianism would not only still tackle those religions that we all find so problematic, it would also tackle the similarly-problematic nonreligious ideologies.

      • lucifermourning

        the reason i differentiate is that i think religion is ‘special’.

        yes, some people will be hard-core, ideologically fascist. but, unless they live in a fascist country, their belief systems don’t get special pleading or respect or shielding from free and open debate. calling fascism evil, wrong, deconstructing all the reasons it’s bad – that’s totally allowed in a free and fair society. doing the same thing with democracy – talking about how it’s flawed and wrong and should be changed or eradicated – is also allowed.

        but religion gets a privileged place. it gets passed from parent to child. and criticising it, suggesting that people should interfere with passing on religious beliefs, is frequently condemned a priori. that is, to talk about what’s wrong with religion is still widely taboo, except for the most fringe of fringe beliefs (it’s okay to criticism small groups that are considered ‘cults’, basically). anything else gets uproar about oppression, regardless of the content of the criticism.

        add to that: too many religions teach that abandoning those beliefs isn’t just a bad idea but will actually make you suffer for all eternity. it’s generally easier to tell your parents you don’t want to buy into their racistm/sexism/etc than it is to tell them you no longer believe in their religion.

        and that makes religion different.

      • Alix

        See, I’m not sure religion is that different, really. Thanks to the stuff I’m working on right now, my current go-to example of a secular ideology that can, like religion, fit that standard to a T is patriotism: it, too, often occupies a special place and is indoctrinated in children. Just look at the prevalence of “my country, right or wrong” and similar sentiments.

        My other view on this is that even if religion is special in how society treats it, how to handle an authoritarian religion and how to handle another authoritarian ideology are largely the same. Reasoning sometimes helps (in the sense of talking people out of an ideology), helping people see past the tribalism (there’s always tribalism) and the Othering helps, prying authoritarians’ sticky fingers out of our power structures and laws helps, expansive education helps, etc. etc. Even granting your premise, it seems to me that the only practical difference for handling the religions is that there’s more prying to do, not that the work is essentially different.

      • lucifermourning

        yeah, i totally have issues with patriotism as well; it is actually one of the few ideas that is close to religion in the undue reverence and protection from criticism that Americans award it (Brits, in my experience, tend to find too much patriotism rather unseemly).

        however, there are an awful lot of Christians trying to claim they’re ‘oppressed’ by the law letting other people do stuff that said Christians think is immoral (because letting gay people marry totally oppresses other people’s religious freedom /sarcasm).

        there are some out there who claim stuff along those lines for flag-burning but, for the most part, people accept that they do have to allow others’ freedom of speech, even when they find those ideas reprehensible.

      • Alix

        there are an awful lot of Christians trying to claim they’re ‘oppressed’ by the law letting other people do stuff that said Christians think is immoral

        No kidding.

        Probably the single creepiest thing to me about fundamentalist Christianity, at least here in the States, is how that persecution complex is pushed so heavily. I distinctly remember going to massive youth rallies where we had workshops and presentations all designed to reinforce how much everyone supposedly hated us, and … yeah, creepy just about covers it.

        It’s why I have a knee-jerk hostility towards anyone showing signs of that kind of persecution complex. (Not talking about justified beliefs in persecution, by the by.)

        for the most part, people accept that they do have to allow others’ freedom of speech, even when they find those ideas reprehensible

        Oh, I wish. >:( I know faaaar too many people who very much would like to criminalize speech, or flag-burning, and so on. I’ve heard a scarily large number of “patriots” insist that criticizing, say, Republicans ought to be considered terrorism or at least aiding the enemy.

      • lucifermourning

        Hence why I acknowledged that patriotism (especially in the US) has actually quite a bit in common with religion on this front.

        It’s more obvious in contrast. I now live in the UK and Brits mostly seem to find too much patriotism a bit unseemly. Which means it’s a lot easier to have critical conversations about the country. Not that Brits aren’t patriotic but the public discourse seems to err a bit more on the side of being proud of things the country has/does (e.g. The NHS, which is a major point of pride) rather than an insistence that criticising the UK is wrong.

      • Alix

        Man, I really wish that attitude’d catch on here. >.>

      • Alix

        Also, on the gun metaphor: it kind of depends on how you look at it. Because, yeah, taking away guns makes it harder to do harm, accidentally or deliberately. (It also potentially takes away legitimate tools, but that’s a bit of a tangent.)

        But from another standpoint, that’s taking away a tool, not the problem. And it’s not like we don’t have a tendency to be nastily inventive, either – if we don’t have the tool we want, we often find a different way.

        Taking away religion takes away an easy propaganda option, an easy justification, a quick route to imposing tribal identities. But it doesn’t do a damn thing to take away the impulses that brought about religion in the first place.

      • Katty

        May I just pop in to say how fascinating I find this discussion I inadvertently started?

        Thank you, lucifermourning, Alix, and luckyducky for engaging in this good faith exchange of ideas. Lots of food for thought here! Carry on… ;-)

      • lucifermourning

        though, again, we run into the limits of metaphor.

        “taking away” religion as such would be useless and counterproductive – banning ideas doesn’t stop them. insofar as religious ideas need combatting (not all of them do), they need to be fought with better ideas. religion can’t be taken away – but it can be replaced.

        basically, i think what i’m saying is that a lot of religion is a bad idea, or a set of bad ideas. to try and claim those bad ideas don’t cause bad things is nonsense. but the way to change them is to point out why they are bad ideas, and what ideas are good.

        bad religious ideas are just a particular pernicious sort of bad ideas, due to the combination of cultural transmission from parent to child and the protection from criticism.

      • Alix

        to try and claim those bad ideas don’t cause bad things is nonsense. but the way to change them is to point out why they are bad ideas, and what ideas are good.

        I fully agree with all of this.

        bad religious ideas are just a particular pernicious sort of bad ideas, due to the combination of cultural transmission from parent to child and the protection from criticism.

        This, too. Though I still tend to think that rooting out authoritarianism across the board ends up netting the problematic religious stuff too.

        I guess my thing is also that not only can you not get rid of all religious belief, targeting religion alone and too broadly (i.e., targeting all religion because it’s religion) is counterproductive. It not only ends up catching a lot of potential allies in the crossfire* and reinforces the us-vs-them mentality of the real problem people, but it can blind people (like the troll that prompted the OP) to the exact same problems outside of religious groups.

        *On a personal note, I’m sick of that shit. (You’re not engaging in this, and I’m enjoying this whole conversation greatly, I’m just ranting.) I have great sympathy for atheism – I’m not one, but I often wish I were. (I just don’t feel like I can just disbelieve in the stuff I’ve experienced, though. That – heh – doesn’t strike me as particularly rational.) I certainly side with atheists on the problems with privileging religion, and I’m very committed to social justice and oppose anyone of any ideology that’s against that.

        But I’m still religious. And there’s only so much friendly fire one can stand, y’know? “All religion is awful, and if you’re religious you’re stupid/mentally ill/a dupe … Hey, why are you walking away? Why aren’t you standing in solidarity with me? Why aren’t you railing against religion yourself, if you’re so committed to social justice? Oh, you say you are? Where? I didn’t see you doing it, so it doesn’t count.”

        It’s wearying.

        It’s also a strange sort of entitlement, this idea that people on either extreme have, that they can hurt me and still expect me to be their perfect minion.

      • lucifermourning

        there’s a mix of things, i think:

        1) It’s only possible to talk about so many things at once, so not every conversation can include all forms of bad ideas. Religion has some unique features, so some conversations should focus on that.

        2) Because religion has unique features, there’s times when conversations about bad ideas need to be about religion – they need to name it. Thoughtfully, pointing out the specific issues and acknowledging that religions vary – but it can also include explaining why religion as such can be problematic. (E.g. – pretty much all religions do ask for some sort of faith and belief in a higher power – that, by its nature, creates an opening for exploitation.)

        3) Because religion is protected from criticism, there’s a lot more work to be done in break down that barrier. Criticising racism is totally okay (though there are specific criticisms that a lot of people don’t want to hear!). Too often, conversations about religion have to start with convincing people we’re even allowed to have them.

        *And yes, I do get this. People should not have to constantly justify their beliefs, or agree on everything, in order to work together and be allies.

        I do understand the impulse – for a lot of atheists (myself included), realising that it was okay to not believe in God was kind of mind-blowing. Having had the message hammered in for years that you must believe, it can be natural to want to push back very hard indeed once you’ve realised you’re allowed to think differently. To basically tell everyone the thing that you’ve finally figured out. It’s not a nice impulse, and it’s very easy to go too far, but I do understand it.

        But then, my sister who’s also one of my best friends (and smart, liberal, bi and basically awesome in many ways) is also very religious. And it’s awfully hard to go around thinking people are idiots for their beliefs when you know intelligent people who disagree with you.

      • Alix

        Oh, I’m not saying every conversation has to focus on everything, or that every conversation about religion needs to be qualified into uselessness. My points were intended a bit more broadly than that; to take a less-charged example, dismantling authoritarian forms of nationalism doesn’t happen without actually having conversations confronting nationalism.

        it can be natural to want to push back very hard indeed once you’ve realised you’re allowed to think differently. To basically tell everyone the thing that you’ve finally figured out.

        Same thing happens with any conversion from one ideology to another. The stereotype of the zealous newbie exists for a reason, and there is some interesting evidence that for some people, that conversion experience is actually addictive.

        I never quite went through that myself – my natural introversion stood in the way – though I definitely remember the weird lightness of my own conversion.

      • Hilary

        “But I’m still religious. And there’s only so much friendly fire one can stand, y’know? “All religion is awful, and if you’re religious you’re stupid/mentally ill/a dupe … Hey, why are you walking away?”

        *keeps hiting up votes in solidarity* That is exactly how I feel sometimes. I fully recognize and take responsibilty that my reilgious rights end at your nose, but until l come close to connecting with your nose, insulting something I find great value in doesn’t help.

      • Rosa

        I don’t think religion in the abstract can do those things – individual organizations & ideas (made of up of and propagated by people) do, but “religion” is not just one thing.

      • KnBa

        I would note that there are destructive commonalities within individual religious philosophies (which usually means substantial subgroups of particular denominations of a religion, as getting much larger than that introduces way too much variability to comment intelligently). These commonalities are by no means unique to religion, and by no means within all religion, but do occur at a heightened rate relative to secular philosophies (which can still have religious proponents). Among these is the persistence of hierarchical systems within Abrahamic religious philosophies, in which those further up the hierarchy are assumed to have more moral worth. The most blatant example of this is the whole concept of papal infallibility – which, while not inherently misogynistic, certainly is being employed that way. This also happens within secular philosophies – Objectivism is downright blatant, and plenty of philosophies around capitalism involve it to some extent, but the incidence rate is somewhat lower.

        Because of this, it’s entirely fair to level this as a criticism against religion, provided that it isn’t distilled down to bumper-sticker level. It’s also merely one example of where criticism can be fairly leveled, and where religious philosophies fail disproportionately often. The whole case of religion being misogynistic and there being the potential to reduce particular misogynistic attitudes and harms from their current level to a lower one through criticism of religion is also fairly reasonable. This puts broad claims of religion having nothing to do with misogyny beyond happening to be one place it shows up into question.

        With that said, how the criticism is made is highly important. The stuff being highlighted here is pretty much “Those stupid irrational women need me to help them out with their stupidity, isn’t it cute. It’s not like us men, who get out of religion with no help at all through the power of our superior manbrains.” That, clearly, is not an example of trying to fight misogyny and targeting religion to do so. It’s a sad joke of an attempt at religion that doubles as a beautiful demonstration of how non-religious philosophies can be ridiculously bigoted.

        *Among others.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Something else that I noticed from this person’s posts: When you are attempting to have a real, possibly change inducing conversation with someone, being insulting isn’t the way to go. Dogging Christianity as “believing in a sky daddy” is not going to endear you to any Christian you’re attempting to communicate with.

    Yes, Atheists see no proof for the existence of god. I know; I *am* an Atheist. But the fact that we don’t see any proof for it does not mean that we need to demean it to people who, for whatever reason, do believe.

    This is something I have issues with myself, still.

    • RowanVT

      I usually trot out the ‘invisible sky fairy’ after such things as religious folk asking me “What keeps you from just going out on a killing spree?” I typically follow this with “You’re telling me that the *only* reason you’re not going on a murderous rampage is because an invisible sky fairy told you not to?”

      • lucifermourning

        which is exactly the point when it is appropriate. meeting hyperbole with sarcasm is quite different to assuming that the person you’re speaking to hasn’t thought these things through.

      • Gillianren

        And, speaking as a theist, that’s the point where I want to phrase it that way, too. I’m not moral because I have someone telling me not to kill all the people who irritate me (that would take too long, for one thing), and if that’s all that makes you moral, I don’t think you actually are. So I’m going to point out that it probably isn’t true for you, either, by mocking you.

    • Hilary

      Thank you.

  • Hierophant2

    I totally agree with Jack, but he should have quit while he was ahead. He tipped the serious commentator-troll line after a few messages, IMO.

    Frankly I don’t see how any woman can read the Bible and come to the conclusion that it’s even remotely compatible with any sort of feminism or egalitarianism, and the “interpretation” line seems rather ad hoc to me. But I don’t think you can argue about it with women who already know the woman-hating verses and still rationalize them. At that point it is an issue of faith.

    Just so I’m not accused of Jack’s ignorance, I am aware of feminist interpretations of the Bible. I’ve read The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, by Gerda Lerner, which goes into this topic in detail within a historical context. It was the only way then available for women to affirm their worth as individuals and, later, as a group. But using Biblical exegesis for feminist purposes in modern times is like using an astrolabe instead of a GPS. Old technology, no longer useful.

    BTW, I don’t know where you get your information, but Buddhism is plenty sexist and homophobic (the details of which, of course, vary between schools, but there is no school of Buddhism that is not sexist, and the Buddha certainly didn’t think women were equal to men or anywhere close). I don’t know enough about Wicca to judge.

    • Niemand

      I don’t see how any woman can read the Bible and come to the conclusion
      that it’s even remotely compatible with any sort of feminism or

      The Bible is not really one book but rather a large number of works put together rather arbitrarily. It contradicts itself numerous times, starting in Genesis where there are two separate creation stories. You can find justification for just about anything in its pages, especially if you start claiming that the related works that didn’t make it in the “standard” Bible are canonical as well. Jump in and pull out a few very select quotes and you’ll swear it was written by a feminist hippie. Pull out other quotes and the Pearls start sounding like they’re right. (And that’s not even counting creative interpretation…for example, consider the knowledge of good and evil story. Was Eve punished by becoming the one to bear children or was she acknowledged as the adult who took responsibility and therefore is the one grown up enough to have children?)

      Equally, atheism can be used to justify sexism and racism. See above. There are no religious beliefs that will protect you against sexism and none that automatically condemn you to sexism. Sorry.

      • Michael W Busch

        Caveat: atheism by itself doesn’t justify sexism or racism. But nor does it by itself do much to discourage people from being sexist or racist.

      • Niemand

        Atheism per se doesn’t, but it leaves the door open for a lot of beliefs that do justify racism or sexism, i.e. social darwinism, libertarianism, etc. It’s not protective in any way. As this thread and the last one show.

      • Michael W Busch

        And nor is religion protective against bigotry.

        A potential edge atheism has is that it removes any supernatural justification for bigoted beliefs remaining unchallenged. But, as we have both said, by itself atheism is nowhere close to enough.

    • Dawn

      He was wrong and never at a point where he was “ahead”.

      There may be a point to be made about some scripture but it can’t be generalized to all of scripture. And despite whether you agree with them or not, there ARE different approaches to interpretation. And scripture is scripture, not religion. Even in the Christian churches that at are sola scriptura there’s more to religious life that informs a woman’s experience then just scripture. And then of course the scripture being referenced is just Christian, not some universal scripture that all religions subscribe to. Yet, in that very first comment there was a completely ridiculous lap from one narrow view of scripture to a conclusion about how all women should leave all religion.

      It was illogical, silly, and lazy thinking and should not get a pass. That he reacted like an adolescent troll when he got called on it was pathetic.

    • Alix

      Frankly I don’t see how any woman can read the Bible and come to the conclusion that it’s even remotely compatible with any sort of feminism or egalitarianism, and the “interpretation” line seems rather ad hoc to me.

      But all religion is interpretation. It’s always deeply personal and individual. The interpretation thing isn’t a dodge – it’s expressing something very true about the relationship between any particular person and their beliefs.

      And sure, some people just accept what they’re told and integrate it into their worldview. That’s a (lazy, but still legit) method of interpretation, too.

    • rmjohnston

      Frankly I don’t see how any person can read the Bible and come to the
      conclusion that it’s even remotely compatible with any sort of truth.

      Willfully believing untrue things is inherently demeaning. But believing that the bible is compatible with feminism is no more ridiculous than believing that there is great moral truth to be found in the abject fiction of the bible in the first place.

      An effort to single out women or gay people as more irrational than their straight male believer brethren for believing in the bible and believing it supports their equality is utterly irrational, and the women and gay people to whom you make that kind of argument can see right through it and dismiss you out of hand for your own blatant irrationality.

      If you want to argue with a believer that the bible is an ahistorical book of fiction offering no useful moral guidance, have at it. You probably won’t convince the believer to change her beliefs, but at least you’ll be coming from a position of honesty that can be rationally argued.

      • Alix

        An effort to single out women or gay people as more irrational than their straight male believer brethren for believing in the bible and believing it supports their equality is utterly irrational

        Worse: it’s demeaning. No one responds well to being treated like they’re lesser.

        the bible is an ahistorical book of fiction

        Myth and fiction aren’t actually the same thing.

      • rmjohnston

        Yeah, I should have added the term “demeaning” or the equivalent there. Thanks for pointing that out.

      • Hierophant2

        “Frankly I don’t see how any person can read the Bible and come to the conclusion that it’s even remotely compatible with any sort of truth.”
        We both agree on that!

        “An effort to single out women or gay people as more irrational than their straight male believer brethren”
        Excuse me? That is entirely your invention. There are plenty of straight males who buy into the “feminist Bible” myth, too.

      • Alix

        That’s not the point. The point is that in many of these conversations, women or gay people are singled out as being more irrational, more brainwashed, more conned, whatever than straight male believers.

        If you believe religion is a con, whatever, then every believer is equally a dupe. Women and gay folk and other minorities aren’t somehow specially duped by religion.

      • Hierophant2

        Again, the belief that I’ve said anything else is entirely your invention.

      • Alix

        Not really, but thanks for playing.

      • Hierophant2

        Okay, so apparently you think that
        “Frankly I don’t see how any woman can read the Bible…”
        “Women and gay people are dumber than everyone else.”
        Your command of English is astounding.

      • Alix

        You’re singling out women, and you’re trying to argue they’re specially harmed by religion.

        If religion is harmful, it’s harmful for everyone. Women don’t really need to be singled out, here. This goes back to the “women don’t need rescuing” thing mentioned elsewhere.

        (Also, protip? Communication’s a two-way street. If folks keep reading you wrong, maybe the problem’s not entirely with them.)

      • Hierophant2

        So far the problem is entirely with you. You keep inventing things I’ve said, and no one has done so as far as I can see. My guess is, you were educated in American public schools.

      • Alix

        My guess is: you’re a condescending asshat.

        Theory: confirmed!

      • Alix

        Also, it’s not like I’m the only person disagreeing with you, here.

      • Hierophant2

        Do you seriously have some kind of problem? In the world of reality, you are the only one “disagreeing” with me on this thread.

      • Alix


  • Trollface McGee

    My friend was freaked out when I told her I was an atheist because she’d encountered too many of these jerkwads who would insult her for being a Christian. To me it’s no different than the defensiveness I had for a long time when someone said they were a Christian (because it usually would be followed up by a heavy dose of misogyny, homophobia and why I’m going to hell).
    If you’re looking to “win converts” then don’t do this. It’s insulting, it doesn’t work. In fact, it’s probably the best way to piss people off and get them to go to the other side.

  • AAAtheist


    Thank you for believing my response to Jack was a useful example of what not to do as an atheist who cares about women, their rights, and their freedom. I thought it was obvious, but clearly Jack wasn’t arguing in good faith.

    I am honestly surprised, deeply humbled, and genuinely grateful. Again, thank you. Keep up the good work.

    • The_L1985

      His last comment to me was just plain weird. After having called me a waste of oxygen (I don’t remember exactly what he called me “a waste of,” and don’t feel like looking it up), he tells me that he was using the insults as a joke, and that he admires my spunk and that my father should be proud of my intelligence and independent-mindedness. Huh?

      • Sally

        My theory is that he had gotten what he wanted from the whole exchange, found you a worthy opponent of words, and was sort of making friends at the end of it all (or smoking a cigarette, as I mention in another comment).

      • Sally

        Oh, in fact here’s another theory. You know the whole “queen bee” phenomenon among teen girls? Well, I don’t think it’s limited to that demographic. He seems like someone who gets everyone’s attention and tears down as many people as he can in the process. Then he picks out one or two people to “build back up” with camaraderie and compliments. Those people become his allies as he goes around ruling others with meanness, now with a little group to support him. Not pretty in high school. Not pretty with a grown man on the internet. But who knows, maybe he’s got little followings on other blogs where he hasn’t been so quickly banned.
        Thankfully you weren’t looking for someone to “build you back up” shall we say.
        Again, just a theory.

      • AAAtheist

        Yeah, clearly Jack was just trolling and looking to get a rise out of the commenters here. After I tried to demonstrate the simple irony of him combating sexism in religion with misogyny, he accused me of ranting, proceeded to rant throughout the rest of the day yesterday, and got himself banned.

        Pathetic, yet all too common.

      • Anat

        Note that it’s your *father*’s opinion that would have mattered.

      • Monika Jankun-Kelly

        A common defense of bullies and assholes is “I was just joking, why you so mad?” They pretend their disrespect and demeaning behavior is harmless. Maybe they even believe their own bullshit, so they can feel good about themselves and see those they attack as the mean ones.

      • Alix

        My usual response is, but humor is where our true selves come out to play. If you were just joking, you’ve just told me everything I need to know about you.

      • David Kopp

        I find humor and alcohol do the same kind of thing. If you’re a jerk when you’re joking or drinking, then you’re a jerk that just hides it in polite company.

      • Alix

        In vino, veritas.

      • CarysBirch

        Yeah, or “I was testing you, to see how you’d respond.”

        To which my answer is usually something like: “was calling you an asshole in the multiple choice section?”

      • AAAtheist

        Just FYI: If you’ve got the stomach for it (and I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t), just check out an excerpt from Jack Kolinski’s “funny” Bible. He’s like Michael Pearl, only less self-aware of how he comes off to others (if that’s possible). Truly sophomoric, woman-hating garbage. Just note how many times he uses the word “funny” to describe this bullshit (red flag).

        It looks like we’ve all been jerked around by a retiree with way too much time on his hands.

      • Lunch Meat

        Oh, you’re just a humorless feminist who lives with 20 cats and never does anything fun. You probably want to change the word “manager” to “personager” because it’s sexist and ban every movie where people get married because women don’t need men. I can tell all that just from the fact that you don’t like one person’s “jokes.”

      • AAAtheist

        My twenty cats prefer the term “Feline Americans.” ; – )

  • Mel

    I don’t know that Jack Kolinsky is actually looking to deconvert women. I think he enjoys the ego rush that he gets from insulting people and reinforcing his own sense of superiority. Being a misogynist gets him the attention he wants.

    I’m Catholic and you see men and women like this within religion as well. Within religion, they hold themselves up as an example of pious beliefs and actions, regale people with their epic humility, then precede to denigrate anyone who live up to the standards they have set.

    I have no patience for people who are so totally narcissistic. I have some pity since they usually have mental health problems. I won’t argue with them, though. Since they thrive on attention, I just say “I don’t agree with you” broken record style. The method reduces the ‘amount of points’ they can score since about all they can do is try and insult your refusal to argue with them. Eventually, they get bored and move off.

    • Sally

      Mel said, “I don’t know that Jack Kolinsky is actually looking to deconvert women. I think he enjoys the ego rush that he gets from insulting people and reinforcing his own sense of superiority. Being a misogynist gets him the attention he wants.”
      This is how I too took what was going on yesterday and the day before. He seemed like someone who bops around the internet looking for people’s buttons to push. He’s probably on a food blog today looking for ways to say clever, sarcastic things about the provenance of meat (being for or against grass fed beef, whichever view seems to touch off a reaction). It seemed to me like he was scoring points, but not for any particular cause- just for Jack-the-smartass. I think he’s very intelligent and very bored. Sadly he’s learned to get juice from word-battles rather than actual discussion of ideas. That’s how he came off to me, anyway. In fact, it seemed that once he’d gotten what he was looking for (a worthy opponent at some point in his mind?) he apologized to her. It was like he was shaking hands … or smoking a cigarette.
      My interpretation, anyway.

      • The_L1985

        I Googled him, out of curiosity. Apparently he’s a retired lawyer. I can see a bored ex-lawyer wanting to play an irritating game of “devil’s advocate” on the Internet to kill time between hobbies. Doesn’t excuse the assholishness, but still.

      • Lunch Meat

        Smoking a cigarette…that actually makes me feel kind of icky. I need a shower.

      • Sally

        Well, exactly. The *whole thing* was icky, imo, including the “making nice” he did at the end.
        Trolling is what I saw.

      • Kristen Brennan

        I’m pretty sure he was trolling (probably because the blog has “feminism” in the title and he figured he could get a rise out of people here). He admitted it with the “I’m just having fun” comment. I agree that he’s bored and looking for fulfillment here. Don’t know about “intelligent”; all his jabs seemed like pretty tired misogynist clichés.

      • Mel

        “Tired cliches” is the best description of his comments that I’ve heard yet.

      • Gillianren

        I rapidly came to the conclusion that he wasn’t worth the time to argue with. I don’t have a strict “don’t feed the trolls” policy, in no small part because large amounts of my time online is spent in educational venues, and you have to assume that more people are reading than commenting. You can’t let the statements stand in certain places, because some idiot will believe that ignoring them proves that those statements were right. (I have stories.) But this guy? Yeah, no one was believing him who didn’t already want to.

      • Alix

        I fully cop to engaging with trolls just ’cause I don’t like letting their points stand unchallenged. Maybe not the best response, but on a public blog it’s not like the only people who see a conversation are the participants.

        /my pathetic justification

      • Feminerd

        Heh, I do the same. Sometimes, I just want to poke a hornet’s nest though. Trolling trolls by pretending to take them seriously can be quite fun! And it leaves counter-arguments and links for lurkers to find later, which is an added bonus.

  • John Kruger

    It has always been confusing to me how religious people can consider fundamentalism a vice and not a virtue. If you really do think a holy book is divinely inspired, why is closer more complete adherence worse than the looser metaphorical picking and choosing? The literal interpretations do matter, and there is a fairly common trend of groups tending to double down on the more literal meanings rather than discard them when things are not going as expected. “Why aren’t the prayers being answered? It must be that we are not following the rules well enough . . .” So the particularly egregious verses, such as Paul in the Christian bible not suffering a woman to have authority over a man, are going to keep bubbling up as long as the text is thought to have any divine authority at all, even when more liberal sects move away from those verses. I am quite glad there are so many religious people who can move beyond the sexist, violent, or racist sentiments in their scripture, but the process by which they manage this is very mysterious to me.

    But egad! I hope I would never be so full of myself as to try and answer my confusion with the belief that I am just that much smarter than those who disagree with me. I find religion to be mostly about consolidating authority by stifling challenges to its doctrine, so which direction it takes is as varied as opinions that people are capable of thinking of. I think Jack Kolinski has been a good example of how being too egocentric about your own faculties can end up affirming whatever you want as well, rampant sexism included.

    • Dawn

      It doesn’t have to be a mystery. Some reading into biblical interpretation before modern fundamentalism and literalism as well as some good sources on textual criticism (Bart Ehrman is a popular writer on the subject) should give you a clearer idea.

      I find too many folks assume a literalist paradigm considering the bible. In that frame someone who doesn’t take it literally looks like an arbitrary cherry picker. You have to challenge that view before you can start to understand other perspectives.

      • John Kruger

        I’ll have to give him a look. Literalism is a pretty easy straw man for atheists to fall into. Still, it is tricky so figure out when people decide which parts are metaphor and which are literal. It seems like anything goes at that point, and then whatever you want to be true seems like it really is, and the nice Quakers are about as justified as the vile Westboro Baptist Church (biblically speaking).

      • Bobo

        The thing is, everyone picks and chooses, including the supposed literalists. The difference, in my view at least, is that people who acknowledge nuance and cultural change and be possibility of human error tend to be to be more intellectually honest about the picking and choosing and ready to hear differing perspectives.

      • Gillianren

        A. J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically, has some interesting things to say on the “cafeteria” approach to the Bible and how everyone who accepts the Bible as scripture has it. Everyone. Because you have to, in order to get through your day.

      • swbarnes2

        Denouncing literalism doesn’t really help.

        The author of Job writes a story where God allows women and children to die to settle a bet, and then, Job gets a whole new set of women and children and even more money, and everything is okay.

        Even if you think that literally didn’t happen, you are still stuck with a story that thinks that women and children are replaceable.

        There was an old story on another Patheos link about a kid who was awestruck that God forgave David for cheating. But does the text say that his wife and children forgave him? No. The attitude of the text (with only a few exceptions, like the story of Tamar) is that the feelings of women don’t matter.

        The attitudes and the accuracy of the text are completely orthogonal. Even if you don’t think the Passover really happened as described, the attitude that the son of the slave girl and the son of the prisoner deserved to die is still there in the text.

      • Alix

        But you can argue with the story. Remember, this is a compilation that also includes stories about people arguing successfully with God.

      • Anat

        Oh, this comment is timely for me. I’m reading Samuel with my daughter for an Honors English summer assignment.

        For all kinds of reasons my daughter has had only minimal exposure to what the Bible actually contains until recently (she read some biblical-themed children’s books way back then, together with other mythological stories and folk-tales). Of course at her age, and without being propagandized by the contents since early childhood the way I was she immediately notices the cruelty and the messed up morality right and left. And she notices how the women are marginalized and dehumanized all the time. Michal despised David? Well, she had good reasons, my daughter says.

    • BringTheNoise

      A big part of it is that many religious people so not believe that “divinely inspired” means “dictated by God”.

      • Sally

        What do they mean by “divinely inspired” then? Something more like “got an idea from God indirectly but made up my own stuff”? (I’m asking sincerely. Although my example sounds sarcastic, I actually mean it.)

      • Alix

        Yes. Inspiration in the same way as being inspired to, say, paint a picture, but with the belief that the inspiration ultimately emanated from a divine source.

        God’s ideas through an imperfect human medium, is how people usually frame it.

      • BringTheNoise

        They mean “inspired”, in the same way that a musician may be inspired by birdsong but still produce music that does not sound exactly like a thrush seeking out a mate. Take the example of Libby Anne’s mother’s dream, mentioned earlier. She took it as a message from God, but she didn’t dream of a direct conversation with Him.

        Not to mention the issues thrown up by the books of the Bibłe being passed on via the oral tradition for many years before being written down in many cases, which brings in its own set of problems.

      • Alix

        And the problems of translation on top of all that.

    • Alix

      Yeah, but this gets into the whole mess of how one defines “holy,” “divine authority,” etc. Not everybody thinks that something being holy means that it’s something that just needs to be uncritically swallowed – hell, sometimes the Bible itself argues against that idea. (Like someone else noted, you can use the Bible to argue anything.)

  • Ahab

    “Jack didn’t care about women, he cared about scoring points.”

    Bingo. People like him will take religion to task for its misogyny until they’re blue in the face, then turn around and act sexist themselves. It’s never about women, it’s about having an excuse to thrash religion. I’ve seen it many times before with some (but by no means all) atheist men.

  • Kellen Connor

    As a lady de-facto atheist, I often find myself in the mental trap of wondering how any woman could still believe christianity was a good thing. But that’s something that comes from my own experiences being harmed by it, and the education I acquired when trying to heal. (Or, perhaps, my interpretation of that education? I don’t mean to suggest religious women must be ignorant by default.) I have a point of view that was molded and colored by very painful and powerful experiences, and I sometimes forget that contradictory points of view are formed the same way. I hope I will never be so unmindful that I let that mindset taint my interactions with a religious woman, feminist or otherwise, and I’m truly sorry if I ever have. Libby Anne is absolutely right: misogyny is the enemy here. This has been a real eye-opener, Libby. Thank you.

    • Lunch Meat

      For my part, I try never to argue with another woman who thinks religion is demeaning because she’s been hurt by it. That can much too easily fall into “my experience is more true/valid/normative than yours” and has too much potential to hurt people who’ve already been hurt. I’d rather just leave it alone.

      • Kellen Connor

        Exactly! That’s the crux of the whole trap. It’s so easy to conflate “My experience is visceral and emotional and yours is abstract (to me)” with “My experience is more real and therefore more valid.” That can be so hard to fight sometimes. I like to think I know enough not to argue outright with someone who disagrees with me on religion, but I still sometimes struggle with that reaction in my head. Thanks for your understanding. ^_^

    • persephone

      Misogyny is the common thread of our patriarchal cultures. It infects everything.

      I understand your feelings about Christianity as I have them too. I’ve been disfellowshipped by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and therefore shunned by most of my family.

      But I’ve gotten some pretty nasty responses from male atheists when I’ve mentioned some paranormal experiences I’ve had. I identified as atheist for years, but I now identify as a solitary Pagan. I’m not Wiccan. I don’t believe in gods in the traditional sense. But I know there’s more than what we see.

      I’ve come to a point where any organized belief system, including atheism, causes me to turn and run away, very, very fast, because anytime someone else sets themselves up, either openly or de facto, as the arbiter and decider of what is acceptable in your beliefs, you have a religion that is patriarchal.

      I’m seeing a related issue right now in a huge controversy that’s going on in gaming culture, with male players who make gender based threats to female players, and the female players who are codependent enablers who support these jerks. It’s presented by these losers as gaming culture, and that’s just the way it is, and if you want to play you should shut up and take the abuse or get the hell put, or just get the hell out as gaming is for the mens.

      • The_L1985

        I am so glad that the gamers (video games and tabletop RPGs) that I’ve met have all been pretty cool about me being female.

        I’m not “one of the guys;” I’m not a “fake nerd;” I’m just a woman who likes to do something that they also enjoy, so let’s all just play a game. :)

      • Alix

        Minor, minor quibble: I’m not sure atheism counts as organized, exactly.

        Other than that, points well taken.

      • Michael W Busch

        Atheism by itself is not organized, or even technically a belief system (except as much as lack of a belief is a belief…) .

        But there are certainly organizations of atheists – which far too often propagate sexism, racism, ableism, and other forms of bigotry.

      • Alix

        By that argument, paganism’s organized too. XD Like I said, it was a minor quibble.

      • Michael W Busch

        I’ve come to a point where any organized belief system, including atheism, causes me to turn and run away, very, very fast, because anytime someone else sets themselves up, either openly or de facto, as the arbiter and decider of what is acceptable in your beliefs, you have a religion that is patriarchal.

        Is the problem authoritarian social structures in general, rather than the specific beliefs any one such group advocates?

        Re. gaming:

        There is certainly way too much sexism there. I thank Anita Sarkeesian for making me realize the full extent of the problem, and how much gamer culture needs to change.

      • Alix

        For me, I’d say definitely, it’s the authoritarianism. I can’t speak for persephone, obviously, but in my case the idea that anyone thinks they get to dictate something as personal as my beliefs makes me run for the hills.

      • persephone

        Mostly authoritarian systems, but pretty much anytime one person or a cabal sets themselves as the only correct authorities, or that anyone who doesn’t follow their guidelines is wrong, wrong, wrong.
        re: gaming check out

      • Alix

        pretty much anytime one person or a cabal sets themselves as the only correct authorities, or that anyone who doesn’t follow their guidelines is wrong, wrong, wrong.

        That’s pretty much the definition of “authoritarian,” no?

      • persephone

        It’s late and my brain is fogging. I think I was trying to explain the different approaches. You have the authoritarian types who play the belonging card; you buy into it and everything is rainbow-farting unicorns. Then you have the enforcers; do it this way or you will be punished. The ones that are the best at it are the ones who employ the carrot and the stick.
        The first type can fail because members will often realize that unicorns, especially ones that fart rainbows, don’t and won’t exist, no matter what you do.
        The second type can fail because members will begin to chafe under the continuous abuse.
        The third can last generations (look at the Catholic church) because they give just enough and threaten just enough to keep people walking the tightrope.

      • Alix

        Ah, I’m following now. XD Sorry, I’m not always good at parsing nuances.

      • persephone

        It’s late. I’m a creature of the night. Seriously, my nickname at one job included vampire, but I work a day job, and I’m tired.

      • Alix

        Gah, I so get that. Left to my own devices, I’m strictly nocturnal. Too bad most of the rest of the world wants me to be up during the day!

      • David Kopp

        Not trying to diminish your experiences, because it’s entirely possible (and even likely) that the male atheists you mention were being misogynist.

        But their responses to your “paranormal” experiences is likely the same as their responses to “christian” experiences. Atheism is generally connected with the disbelief in the supernatural. Paranormal experiences fall into the supernatural realm, just like gods, unicorns and fairies.

        ALL beliefs are up to questioning, IMO. Most atheists I’ve interacted with believe the same way, and it’s more likely in my experience that they were acting on that rather than you being female. There aren’t any sacred cows, and all “paranormal” activity is much more likely explained by scientific phenomena than by anything supernatural. If they did treat you differently than they did a man who said the same things, I’m sincerely sorry and that was wrong of them. But just because you had your beliefs ridiculed doesn’t mean it’s misogyny. I realize that men are in the seat of power in culture, but that doesn’t mean every interaction is colored by that. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

      • minuteye

        Even if all beliefs are up to questioning, sometimes how those beliefs are questioned can be very revealing. For example: Jack Kolinski’s statement about “a hornet’s nest of ‘spiritual’ women” and sarcastic “May the earth goddess have mercy on me” (above) clearly had a misogynistic element to it (mocking female-identified pagans/wiccans in particular). So while you’re right that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, I feel comfortable trusting persephone’s interpretation of the cigar in question.

      • Alix

        I think there’s also the point that, while all beliefs are certainly up for questioning (something I strongly agree with), people matter. Coming out swinging against someone just ’cause they’re religious (or vice versa – a religious person doing this to an atheist is no better) is, at the least, far from kind. Ridicule is a form of hostility.

        And it’s not like hostility and ridicule are always illegitimate responses – I strongly believe they are important tools. Someone mentioned elsewhere whipping out the old “sky daddy” mockery whenever people were hostile to er – that’s a good example of appropriate ridicule.

        But going into a conversation determined to be hostile and mocking is, imo, entering that conversation in bad faith. It’s a failure of empathy, in a way: a failure to recognize that the person you’re talking to is still a person. This goes doubly if you’re the one to initiate the conversation, or if you insert yourself into a conversation on your own initiative.

      • persephone

        The misogyny was not directly related to the paranormal posts; they were separate topics.
        However, there was definitely gender related differences in the way they responded to my comments as opposed to apparently male commenters.

      • Alix

        I tend to find the biggest difference is that folks tend to act like men can be reasoned out of theism, while women need to be rescued from it.

      • Libby Anne

        Ack! This! You put it so beautifully and succinctly!

      • Alix

        Sometimes, I am actually capable of being concise! XD

      • persephone

        ^Perfect. I’m stealing that.
        Yep, all women are really just damsels in distress in need of rescuing; you can’t really reason logically with them, as their poor brains just don’t work that way.
        Which goes right back to the gaming culture issues I mentioned. Anita Sarkeesian at Feminist Frequency does wonderful videos on this.

      • Hilary

        Bingo! Hey guys, we found our bumper sticker!! BTW, what do you mean when you post XD? I see you do it a lot, but I can’t figure out what you are tyring to comunicate with it.

      • Alix

        Ah, sorry! It’s a kind of squinchy grinning face. I tend to use it a lot, yeah – it’s probably my single biggest online quirk.

      • Hilary

        Gotcha – squinchy grin right back. I’d love to go out for coffee with you sometime.

      • Alix

        Well, if you’re ever in the DC area… XD

      • Hilary

        Let me know if you are ever in Minnesota, I’ll take you to all the cool local lakes for swimming or ice skating.

      • David Kopp

        My apologies, then

      • Kellen Connor

        Yeah, I identify as “de-facto atheist” because I don’t reject the possibility of supernatural and paranormal outright. I’ve had no such experiences, so how could I use science to explain them? I would feel like a blind person arguing that there’s so such thing as “red” just because I’d never seen it. Nonetheless, the existence or non-existence of gods and the supernatural doesn’t have any bearing on my ethics or choices. So while “atheist” isn’t sufficient to describe my philosophy, it essentially describes my lifestyle.

        I turned away from organized religion when I realized I couldn’t trust any religious authority to tell me the truth. I was listening to a local priest deliver a homily and I thought “If Jesus himself appeared before you and told you to tell this congregation that gays should have the right to marry, would you do it?” And the only answer I could honestly come to was “Of course not.” Because that would drive away 9/10ths of the parish, and their tithes would go with them. I don’t know why it took me so long to see it.

        I’ve never gamed, but I’ve heard some nasty things about misogynist geek culture as a comic book fan. If getting it to your face is as bad as I think it is, I may avoid gaming altogether. Or at least only do it with other women.

    • The_L1985

      My personal experiences with Christianity have led me to the conclusion that I don’t mind other people being Christian, but for me to be a Christian is very bad for my mental health.

      • Alix

        Same. And like persephone above, I’ve had too many supernatural/divine experiences to be an atheist in (heh) good faith. For me, it really is a choice between hammering out a religion that works for me, or deciding I’m crazy. Given that this stuff has otherwise not actually affected my life negatively, I’m not willing to go the “crazy” route. (I’ve got other craziness to deal with, thanks.)

        I am extremely convinced no one will ever eliminate all religion, because some of us are just wired that way. (Or, in my view, really interacting with … something. The universe in a weird way, maybe.)

      • Composer 99

        I’m (very slowly) reading a book titled The Science of Superstition by Bruce Hood. Hood argues in the book that humans are predisposed to accept the existence of supernatural phenomena, partly as a result of the way we tend to reason about or make inferences from what we observe as children.

      • Alix

        Ooh, I think I shall have to read that book.

      • Hilary

        I’ve also had experiences that will never line up with a reductionist “It only exists if I can measure it” scientific understanding of existence. Some were pretty damn weird. I have a ton of respect for science – I earn my living in a white lab coat with a biology degree. But not everything in our experiences with the world line up under it.

      • Michael W Busch

        But not everything in our experiences with the world line up under it.

        Do not artificially limit what science can investigate.

        Everything that exists is subject to scientific investigation. Adjusting one of your phrases: “If it exists, it can be measured”.

      • Alix

        Yeah. My position at this point basically boils down to: rationality is nice, but it’s not everything, and I personally need to make space for the irrational or it intrudes whether I like it or not.

      • Kellen Connor

        As it is for mine. I just have this instinctive reaction to want to steer other women (and men) away from it, because experience has taught me that it’ll bite you. I have to consciously remind myself that my p.o.v. isn’t the only one that counts, and not everyone else gets bitten or even has the same response to being bitten.

    • TLC

      Kellen, thanks for sharing this. I, too had some very painful and powerful experiences in Christianity. To save my faith, I took something very much to heart that I’d heard over and over: God and the Church/religion are NOT the same thing. The Church is full of imperfect humans who can do hurtful things. So I separated the two, and keep my relationship with God without bringing along all the other baggage.

      To save my sanity, when I left the church, I went to counseling for six months. I looked for a counselor who was a Christian, so they would understand where I was coming from. But I didn’t want a “Christian counselor” because I thought if one more person threw a Bible verse at me, I would SCREAM. I found a wonderful woman (a Methodist) who handed me a list of the signs of spiritual abuse. I hit every one of them except one, and that’s because I didn’t have a husband who was doing this to me.

      These reasons are why, to this day, I try very hard to be respectful of people’s decisions to stay or leave, keep their faith or not. I was one very tiny baby step away from turning my back on God, and I know I could be back there again. It was a real revelation to me to start surfing about these issues when I left the church, and find the thousands of websites and blogs that are set up to help people who’ve been hurt by the church.

      I’m sorry you and so many others have been hurt. I’m glad you, Libby Anne and others have found the strength to heal, find a new path, and share your experiences with us. It really helps the rest of us to continue healing and grow stronger.

      • Kellen Connor

        Thank you for your kind words; I can totally relate to your struggle to find an understanding councilor. I may have just found on myself (still on the road to healing from years of emotional abuse and mental neglect, not all of which was church-related); despite being of the same religion as my parents, she is extremely tolerant and kind, and I think she may help. And it’s an impressive feat to be able to respect someone’s decision to leave their faith while you still depend on your own. It’s not something I’ve seen often, and I admire and appreciate it. For myself, I concluded that the notion of a personal God made too little sense for me to embrace it, but I’m beginning to understand the good that other people reap from it. There need to be more theists like you.

      • TLC

        You are more than welcome. I’m relieved to know you’ve found some help.

        FYI, one of the first things I rejected in the evangelical churches is this notion that you’re always supposed to be out evangelizing and “winning people over to the kingdom.” I’ve never, ever felt moved to do this.

        When my sister-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, she and my brother were terrified that I would try to convert them and preach to them. I almost didn’t get to see her before she died because of this. And the pressure on me to make sure she was saved before she died (both are atheists) was incredible! So was the criticism afterward when people found out that I didn’t even attempt it.

  • skyblue

    While I’m sure Michael Pearl thinks his type has the one correct interpretation of Christianity, it is disheartening to hear people outside his group agree with him on that.

    This is a little different, but I’m reminded of a time a few years ago, some right-wing US politicians were in the news referring to themselves and their supporters as “real Americans”, and other comments along those lines. Some European relatives came to the US to stay with us. During the visit they met, talked to, and ate with several of our friends and neighbors. When they went home, they lamented that they hadn’t met any real Americans. Oh, dear.

    No little sub-group can speak for a group of millions, and I don’t think they should be taken seriously by anyone if they try.

  • onamission5

    There’s a word for what commenter Jack and other guys like him do, and that word is appropriation. Honestly I am sick to death of it. It’s not good enough to take up the feminist cause as a means to a personal end, it’s not good enough to be willing to allow women into atheist spaces so long as they only support your pet cause, it’s not good enough to be willing to use the resources of women to promote your pet issues only so long as those women toe the line and not drag *gasp* feminism into it. Jack is more than willing to use women’s issues when it suits him and fits his personal narrative, but he’s unwilling to examine his biases, to listen to women or support women or give women equal footing? No. You’re not allowed to use my cause as a weapon when it suits you then turn around and use your anti-feminist bigotry against me when it doesn’t. Feminism yer doin it rong.

    The above also applies to all other axes of intersectionality. White feminists don’t get to lecture PoC on how they respond to racism, abled people don’t get to have a few token disabled folks around to make them look good and then whine about accessibility accommodations, it’s not good enough to support equal marriage rights but throw trans* folk under the bus, et al.

  • Composer 99

    We are not points for you to score. We are people. We have our own lives, our own values, our own desires, and our own thoughts.

    This sentence, for me, captures the essence of feminism, and summarizes perfectly the moral failures of misogyny.

    To the misogynist, women are points to “score”: socio-politically, sexually, whatever. Women’s value as people is not an inherent property; rather it is contingent upon their usefulness to fulfill the particular role required by the would-be “scorer”.

    To be sure, there are gradations of misogyny, and misogynists will not necessarily consider all women universally in this manner – but IMO the pattern holds up well enough. To a lesser or greater extent, a misogynist treats the lives, values, desires, and thoughts of women as secondary on account of them being women.

  • Lunch Meat

    Thanks, Libby Anne. I really admire you and I’m honestly touched that you thought I said something worth sharing. Thanks for your commitment to caring about women and to making the world better.

  • I’d rather not, thanks though

    The funny thing is that people – women in particular – are religious *for reasons.* People aren’t stupid. They’re not dumb. They have reasons to be religious. Yes, even the Pearl-followers have reasons they consume what the Pearls produce.

    Setting aside the arrogance of assuming that all religions interpret texts like the Bible, treating a woman as though she’s trapped in misogynistic religion and needs a white knight effectively erases her agency. A woman who’s in religion wants to be there, and until you speak to the reasons she has for being there, you’re not treating her like a person, you’re treating her like a commodity.

  • NeaDods

    By the time I found this and read it there are 165 comments, so what I’m about to say may have been said. But the atheist community right now is being shredded from within *over sexism.* The same dismissiveness, trolling, insults – the tone is exactly the same, and the reason is the same; some people just don’t think women are real human beings – and more than that, they don’t belong online voicing their opinions.

    Atheist vs. believer isn’t really the point; Huge Dick vs. women is. (For certain microscopic values of huge.)

    • David Kopp

      The nice thing about the atheism community is that we have this internal strife. You rarely see that in religious communities, in my experience. So yes, I think atheists have a major point in that regard. We’re still human, still prone to -ism, but I think the fact we talk about it is a HUGE leap over the authoritarian mentality of most western religions.

      • Alix

        You rarely see that in religious communities, in my experience.

        I dunno, I think there’s an awful lot of that same strife in religious communities. It’s a large part of the friction between liberal/progressive/social-justice-oriented Christians and fundies, for example, and that’s not a small conflict.

      • Michael W Busch

        The nice thing about the atheism community is that we have this internal strife.

        That is indeed a good thing. But it would be far better if there was no bigotry in the first place.

        You rarely see that in religious communities, in my experience

        Your experience does not appear to have been a representative sample. You can see that reflected in the various religious channels here on Patheos – the writers there may all be wrong about the existence of whichever gods they advocate, but they are very far from monolithic when it comes to all of the different forms of bigotry.

      • David Kopp

        Yes, no bigotry in the first place is of course idea. But the only way to achieve that is if we’re willing to admit that we’re wrong, and to quote the religious, remove the beam from our own eyes before talking about the mote in someone else’s. That’s a strength in the atheist community that I don’t see as strongly in religious communities.

        In sects that are historically separated there are disagreements. That’s why there is no singular “christianity” religion, it’s more of an umbrella term for similar religions. Schisms are a constant in the history of religion, because different kinds of bigotry fall in and out of favor with different groups. However, you don’t see a lot of internal strife in Catholics, or Baptists, Evangelicals, etc. Western religious institutions are almost universally authoritarian nature, and exclude those that don’t toe the party line. They just institutionalize varying types of unquestioned bigotry, and that unquestioned nature of it is the danger.

      • Michael W Busch

        @First: That is necessary for everyone, and many atheist communities are sadly lacking in it. Aspire to a higher standard than “being better than the other people”.


        you don’t see a lot of internal strife in Catholics, or Baptists, Evangelicals, etc.

        Speaking as someone who was raised Catholic and later became an atheist: There is a lot of internal strife among Catholics. Don’t confuse the official sales pitch for what individual Catholics believe (that raises the question of why many Catholics still support a hierarchy they disagree with, but that’s a different topic entirely). And, again, look at the diversity of opinions among Patheos’ Christian writers.

        Western religious institutions are almost universally authoritarian in nature,

        And so are many Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Jain, Sikh, and Taoist groups (and with that list, I’m assuming you are including Islam in “Western religious institutions”).

        And also a number of major atheist groups – you may consider Marxist-Leninist atheism as an example, although it is fortunately no longer popular.

        They just institutionalize varying types of unquestioned bigotry, and that unquestioned nature of it is the danger.

        That is true. But, again, religious groups are far from having a monopoly on unquestioned bigotry and atheist groups far too often have an abundant supply of it.

      • JoannaDW

        In response to your question of why so many Catholics support an hierarchy they don’t agree with, I like to compare the Church to a dysfunctional family, an organization, a government, etc. I don’t like paying taxes to the federal government to fund endless invasions of sovereign nations. I can’t stand some of my dysfunctional family members. The examples go on, but the point is that we can’t simply take our ball and go home every time we don’t agree 100% on something, and many see enough value in something that they’re willing to compromise in some areas. I love my family and my neighborhood and want to support them in the tough times. I appreciate that we have a government and that valuable public services like roads and such require taxes. So I pay them. Of course, what you’re willing to compromise on is a personal decision, and obviously, many people decide that enough is enough and leave the church, disconnect from a family member, or terminate whatever in their lives they just can’t abide by. But others say, “This is my home, my family, I still see good in it and I’m still willing to lend my support.” It’s up to you and there’s not an easy right or wrong answer.

        And don’t get me started on people (mostly Westerners who have little personal experience with Eastern religions in their native countries) making unfavorable comparisons between Western and Eastern religions. I can’t tell you how many newly Buddhist, former Catholic Western young people honestly think that Buddhism has never been involved with wars, religious fundamentalism, or prejudice. I know someone whose family is from Thailand, where Buddhism and indigenous mysticism is commonplace. She converted to evangelical Christianity and told me stories about how Buddhist monks would beat their young boy apprentices until they were bloody. Granted, this is not to bash Buddhism at all, but to point out that human evils are, indeed, human and can be found everywhere that humans are found.

        Lastly, if anyone wants to see some spectacular, sexist, religiously bigoted, ableist, privileged, ignorant and trollish douchebaggery, read some of the commentary on Spiked! Online. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some good material on there, but you have to shovel through sh*t to find anything worth getting out of bed for.

      • Michael W Busch

        Re. people staying in the Roman Catholic Church despite rejecting many of the hierarchy’s positions on many topics: I have heard the argument you present before. I consider it inadequate, for various reasons. But this thread is not the place to have that discussion.

        I can’t tell you how many newly Buddhist, former Catholic Western young people honestly think that Buddhism has never been involved with wars, religious fundamentalism, or prejudice

        I noticed that when I sat in on some of the meetings of the UCLA Buddhist Association. I personally had heard of several patriarchal/authoritarian/militant Buddhist groups and their actions by that point (variously in Myanmar, Sri Lanka,Thailand, Japan, eastern China and Tibet). But many of the US-born Buddhist students (some but not all of whom had been raised Catholic) were unaware of those parts of history and had only experienced minimally-patriarchal and minimally-authoritarian Buddhist groups that advocated strict non-violence. Buddhism is a very diverse thing. Hence my earlier comment about it being hard to make general statements about it.

      • Alix

        edit – deleted double post.

      • Alix

        There isn’t a lot of apparent strife from the outside, especially if you aren’t looking for it.

        I can’t think of a single one of those groups that doesn’t have significant internal strife, often over the very bigotries we’re talking about.

        Re: Christianity not being a single religion – that’s a huge and thorny debate. I’m actually somewhere in the middle on this, personally: I think that all the mainstream sects share so many of the fundamentals of their dogma that they do count as just different branches of the same religion (like dialects of the same language), but that some of the more fringe groups (my mind always goes to the various Gnostic groups, but there are others) have drifted so far from that main stem they’re effectively separate religions.

        Religions evolve very much like languages do, and so the dialect/different language comparison is illustrative; it’s also not like whether something’s a dialect or its own language is always an easy call, either.

      • Hilary

        Ah, not quite. There is a lot of internal conflict in Judaism. The split between Reform and Orthodox is no joke, and the role of women and feminism is a huge part of that.

    • Msironen

      1) Ascribe cartoon villain beliefs to your opponents and 2) demand they be silenced. You’re only missing step 3: derisively refer to “freeze peach” when your opponents predictably object to 1) and 2).

      I give you 7/10 for good effort but no FTB Gold Star due to the omission mentioned above.

  • Marta L.

    Very well put throughout, Libby Anne. I’d only point out that when it comes to religions being feminist or patriarchal, it’s very rarely a simple yes-or-no question for whole religions. For instance, my own church (the UMC) as a denomination is fairly feminist in some regards but not nearly enough in others. My individual church gently mocks those positions and we have several people working to change them. Myself included. I have been a part of other Methodist churches that were much more patriarchal, to the point of creating real problems when they were assigned a female pastor. On the flipside, the Southern Baptists are infamous for their sexism and patriarchy-rich views, but I have known some pastors and churches within that tradition that worked hard to change that perception and challenge sexist assumptions in their members. They may not look like perfect paragons of feminism, but they are doing important work correcting attitudes where they have influence.

    As with most things in life, “it’s complicated.”

    Btw, you have inspired me to work on a blog post of how I, as a Christian feminist, understand the story of Eve in a way that encourages feminism rather than denigrates women. Thanks for that!

  • LizBert

    I think I have always been a feminist. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t think that women deserved equal rights, even when I was evangelical I struggled to reconcile what I was taught with what I knew in my gut to be true about gender. It is a huge part of my identity and life, especially as an undergraduate.

    Being an atheist is also something that I feel strongly about, although I have not always been one. When I first realized that I didn’t believe in god, it was scary and I sought resources and community on the internet. For a while I was really excited by what I found but it didn’t take long for me to see that there was a dark side. Atheist communities are riddled with misogyny. To the point that I occasionally find them frightening spaces.

    While both feminism and atheism are components of who I am, I chose for the most part to stay out of atheist spaces because they are so hateful; especially towards women. I would rather work on meaningful social change with religious women than be called a whore, a slut, and a frigid bitch by the leader of my campus Secular Student Alliance for questioning his sexist behavior.

    • Anat

      There are plenty atheist bloggers who are feminists and allies. Regretfully their blogs often get trolled by the misogynists.

      Very sorry about your experience with the SSA person. That was really counter-productive of him, on top of being totally nasty to you.

      • LizBert

        I know they are out there and even wrote for one briefly but I just can’t deal with the almost constant trolling that exists in those spaces. Explaining basic concepts over and over again gets tiring, especially when you know that the person you are talking to doesn’t really get it. And the frequent threats of violence are too much to handle, even for some very strong women.

        The SSA experience was pretty upsetting on a personal level but I don’t think it was unusual. The reality is that when I spoke with other women in the community, they agreed that the SSA is not welcoming to them. I hate to reinforce negative stereotypes about anyone, but at the end of the day some groups of atheists can be assholes.

      • Hilary

        At the end of the day, any group of humans can have a few extra assholes, and atheists are humans.

  • smrnda

    I’d agree that any religious text is going to be somewhat ambiguous, will definitely contradict itself, and that about everybody is doing some kind of interpretation. However, one of the reasons that I’ve personally rejected most religions is that I’m a woman and most of their texts tend to have some pretty misogynistic stuff in them.

    Obviously I’ve met women who are totally aware of the same things and who can find some kind of redemptive interpretation of the text that enables them to feel that you can be an authentic believer but not have to accept whatever misogynistic portion is in there. I look at the misogynistic stuff and feel like it went too far for me to give anything associated with that text a chance. To me, that’s kind of a personal call that we make about people all the time – it’s like saying “comedian X is a misogynistic jerk” or “guy who hangs around cafe trying to talk to women is a creep” – things that are probably open to debate in some cases. I’ve often seen or read something and thought ‘is this sexist (racist, homophobic, etc.)?’

    But there’s also the difference between what a religion teaches and what it actually offers, and in a lot of cases it offers women quite a bit in terms of social support, acceptance, leadership opportunities.

    And then there’s the problem with different atheist spheres not being all that welcoming to women. I know lots of women who are atheists/skeptics, but then tend to be more interested in issues that seem more relevant.

    Here’s a question though – if I point out something sexist and say “this is why I am not a member of your religion” and the other person has an interpretation which satisfies them, am I wrong just to say that their interpretation doesn’t satisfy me?

    • Tiriel

      I don’t think you are. However, I would say that if you tell them that they don’t know what they’re talking about while saying that, I’d have a problem with it.

      You’re allowed to believe or disbelieve – it is, after all, about personal choice and free will. What speaks to one person may not speak to you, but that doesn’t mean that the other person’s interpretation is just “foolishness” or “stupidity” (both of which, for instance, have been hurled at me, as a woman, because of my personal interpretation from the scriptures that God loves people equally regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation). I think the issue is the tone that is often used in conversations like this.

    • AlisonCummins

      When someone says, “I am a Mormon, therefore I believe that undergarments are sacred,” that’s a little complicated for me to parse.
      If they mean it literally, it’s analagous to someone else saying, “I am a mathematician, therefore I believe that 1 + 1 = 2.” Or, “I am a climate scientist, therefore I believe that the surface temperature of the oceans has risen in the past decade.” Or, “I am a parent, therefore I believe that my child’s name is Horace.” If you actually believe it, why not just assert it? “1 + 1 = 2,” “I’d like you to meet my daughter Horace” and so on.
      In fact, news is often reported this way. “Ecological activists claim that the temperature of the oceans is rising. Industrialists claim that it’s not true, but that even if it is it’s not a problem, but even if it’s a problem then technology will fix it. Adherents to apocalyptic religions claim that we’re all gonna die.” What should be an empirical statement ends up being tied to the identity of the person making it. If you are an ecological activist you believe the things that members of your religion believe. People who don’t belong to any of these religions (activist, industrial, apocalyptic) don’t need an opinion.
      This is not a good approach to empirical statements but the fact that we accept it when people make religious statements can get us into the habit of accepting it in other contexts.
      The other way of taking a statement like “I am a Catholic, therefore I believe that the eucharist is transubstantiated body of Christ” is to substitute “part of my the spiritual practice I use to navigate life includes the idea” for “believe.”
      To address your question, it doesn’t make sense to say, “I don’t believe that beef contains easily available iron because I am a vegetarian.” If you are talking to someone who believes that beef is a good source of iron because of empirical science that won’t make sense. In the same way, “I don’t believe that Jesus died and rose again because Paul was sexist” makes no sense to someone who “believes” in a religious text the same way they believe that their car tires need to be inflated.
      However, if you say, “I don’t choose to use Christian/ Buddhist/ Confucian spiritual practice because I find the texts and community that support it to be personally problematic,” you aren’t saying anything about belief and it’s logically coherent. The problem is that you then lay yourself open to logical argument. “But you can interpret the texts in a non-problematic way, here, I’ll show you!” or “You must have met some bad ones. We aren’t all like that. Let me introduce you to my friends!”
      Are you really not a member of their religion because the sexism is an insurmountable barrier to entry for you? Or are you just not that motivated to belong to any religion, so overcoming the barrier to entry to any particular one is not worth it to you? Perhaps you aren’t a member because you were born into a different one, the same way your friend was born into theirs?

      • smrnda

        I come from a secular Jewish family whose members were mostly unbelievers in any sort of god, so it was never a big deal. My own disbelief is that I don’t see much evidence for gods, and the sexism I find in some religions seem best explained that religions are human constructs that people often used to obtain and keep social power and regulate human behavior.

        There are ways to interpret texts that can sort of get around the sexism, but (for lack of a better way to phrase it) it just doesn’t seem like my scene. Since I don’t believe in gods, religious texts are just cultural documents, and so are lots of other things that I think are better sources of wisdom. Studying them might have some educational value, but I wouldn’t think of making them central to my life.

    • Alix

      if I point out something sexist and say “this is why I am not a member of your religion” and the other person has an interpretation which satisfies them, am I wrong just to say that their interpretation doesn’t satisfy me?

      Of course not. That’s part of a fruitful dialogue.

      It’s also not a personal jab aimed at them. You’re saying you don’t find their interpretation satisfying, not taking potshots at their intelligence. Sure, some people get tetchy anyway, but that’s their problem.

    • Hilary

      I don’t think you’re wrong to say their interpretation doesn’t work for you. I don’t think you’d be wrong in pointing out that just because their interpretation works for them, that doesn’t give them liscense to insist it should work for everybody. I do think you would be wrong to tell that person that because their interpretation doesn’t work for you they have to abandon their beliefs, unless you can imperically prove the harm their beliefs inflict on other people.
      Does that make sense?

  • lollardheretic

    Libby–what a great post! I’ve seen a lot of that “if you still believe you’re a moron” attitude across a lot of atheist posts (and, to be honest, I’ve seen it in toned down versions from several posters here), and you’re right. This guy was a really extreme and sexist version of it, and you’re reading of him seems totally right on. Honestly, people like that kind of bore me, and I don’t really bother anymore. I’m not stupid (and I’ve got a list of letters after my name to prove it in at least one sense), so that argument always irritates me. “You’re just dumb!” Um, no, I’m not. We can disagree, and hey, I’m cool with atheists. I get it, and I get why folks are, and I flirted with it for a while myself (kind of like I flirted with Catholicism, too).

    Anyway, great post. Thanks for your support for women!

    • minuteye

      Love your username, by the way. Although I’m more of a Cathar person myself.

  • Ace_of_Sevens

    I think this is the same impulse behind many atheists trying to blame religion for racism, where the evidence is far dodgier than sexism: It makes it someone else’s problem and helps them score points. You can see evidence of this in all of other atheist side issues, too (religious freedom, scientific literacy,etc). A lot of people act like they care about these issues, but when you press, only care about them because they think the issue supports their team and they are otherwise indifferent.

    • AlisonCummins

      Makes it someone else’s problem. Love it.

  • stacey

    Their is rampant sexism and misogyny in the skeptic/ atheist community, which has nothing to do with religion. From harassment at cons, to online stalking and nastiness, the men of atheism are no better, but they just think they are…..

    Just look at the hatred towards Rebecca Watson, who is an awesome skeptic and merely said “Guys don’t so that”. The vitrol for her, and other atheist women, is horrible, and it is NOT all from MRAs.

    We in atheists and skeptics need to fix our own issues right now.

  • Slatewoman

    internet lesson #1: don’t feed the trolls. brodude ought to have been banned or ignored after the first snotty reply.

    • Alix

      Yeah, well, it’s not like the only people who see the trolls’ statements are thoughtful folk who won’t believe him.

      I prefer giving him enough rope to hang himself by.

      • Slatewoman

        i guess i can’t deny it’s fun to take ‘em down a few notches, but generally i can’t be bothered to fuel them anymore.

      • Alix

        Which is, of course, perfectly legitimate. I only engage when I have the time and energy, myself. (Or when I’m really bored and/or procrastinating on my work. XD)

  • Barbara

    I’m really glad that you made this post, for a couple of reasons.

    Firstly, I was generally in a state of jaw-on-floor while reading this individual’s comments. The only reason I did not reply to him is because I popped in after you had already banned him, so it would not have made an ounce of difference. The problematic attitudes that he displayed are well worth addressing.

    Secondly, I’ve been reading through P.Z. Myers’ blog, and he’s recently made quite a few posts on sexism in the atheist community, so I’ve been ruminating on the issue for a few days. I’m angry that it’s an issue at all among people for whom rationality is supposed to prevail.

    Here’s what has always gotten me: religion is said to be invented, and yet its properties are treated almost as if they are supernatural. Religion causes sexism! Religion causes racism! Religion causes conflict! Well, who came up with religion? People. People are sexist. People are racist. People seek conflict. Religion makes it easier for the powerful to persuade others to adopt distasteful views, but it absolutely isn’t and has never been the genesis of them. The proof of concept is the prevalence of atheists with such views. You can’t make all of these bad things go away by getting rid of religion (although it’s nice to think so, because it’s so wonderfully simple); you have to change individual people, little by little, bit by bit, and you have to change the surrounding/supporting culture.

    Another thought: Jack’s approach isn’t totally removed from what I would call “militant atheism.” His attitude and his insults are rooted in misogyny. but I think his condescension is rooted in a contempt for religion that goes beyond reason. I’ve seen militant atheists behave the same way toward religious men, and I’ve wondered why they think it will actually get them anywhere. To me, they seem to be driven more by emotion (and by that whole “scoring points” thing you’ve mentioned) than by true reason, and they don’t seem to understand that you can’t win people to your side by disrespecting them. They also seem to neglect the fact that skepticism requires you to question your own beliefs and assumptions as well as those of others.

    • Tiriel

      It isn’t about getting anywhere with the people they’re verbally attacking. And I guess ultimately it isn’t even about religion vs. non-religion. It comes down to wanting to “win” and “dominate” the other party. They aren’t looking for a dialogue, they’re looking for an emotional fulfillment from somehow “triumphing” against the terrible person on the other side of the table.

      You see this a lot on both sides of the religion debate, and to a lesser extent in politics.

      • Barbara

        That’s a good point, and I think it can be extended to more than just religion and politics. There’s a certain feeling attached to winning and to even just thinking that we’ve won, and unfortunately, we seem to be prone to seeking it at the expense of others. Now that I think about it, that may in fact underlie all bigotry.

        It’s frustrating when encountered in any group, but it’s most frustrating of all when encountered among people who claim that they know better.

    • arneg

      Hi Barbara,

      I was reading the PZ stuff that I think you were referencing as well as others and others and felt the same way. I am a recent full convert to non-belief (what I like to call the null hypothesis) and have been eating up as much atheistic blogging as I can these days – although I think I’ve got my fill now.

      Where you note “I’m angry that it’s an issue at all among people for whom rationality is supposed to prevail” – I’m thinking the same exact thoughts

      Others comments noting that being an atheist doesn’t cleanse you of being anything else other than religion is a great observation.

      It reminds me of the phrase “There are no hopeless situations – just hopeless people in situations” now I just need to figure out how to apply that to a witty phrase about atheists and being a human or something like that.

      Why can’t people just be atheists because they are … I don’t need an externality to prompt my non-belief – my non-belief is quite sufficient.

      Tiriels comments about winning – yeah I thought everyone was a winner once they became a non-believer – oops – wrong.


      • arneg

        Okay – figured out witty way.

        There are no horrible situations – just horrible people in situations

      • arneg

        Ok you can tell I’m new at this. That example would be for the horrible folks – who also claim to be atheist.

  • Norm Donnan

    I remember on Friendly Atheist Blog last year when the Reason Rally was being promoted Hemunt reminding people how to behave by saying there has been a lot of problems with men,including the speakers at events being obnoxious towards the ladies by treating them like they should be up for a good time,being atheists and all and having no god to be accountable too.

    • Libby Anne

      Oh, no no no no you don’t. Would you believe that rapists and sex offenders are actually more likely to hold to traditional sexual mores and be religious? Oh yes.

      Also, if the only reason you’re not out raping women is that you believe there is a god out there who will punish you if you don’t refrain from doing so, you’re really, really, really not a moral person. Not at all.

    • Libby Anne

      Also, Norm? You missed the entire point of this post. I was calling out atheists who to condemn sexism in religion while being sexist themselves—and by the same token, it is completely disingenuous for you to condemn sexism in atheism while yourself adhering to sexist religious beliefs. Seriously, can you not see how hypocritical that is?

      • Norm Donnan

        What the hell are you going on about? Do I make you feel so insecure and threatened that you come up with a tirade of these proportions.I wasnt accusing anyone of anything and what would you know about my views on women at all ?

      • Libby Anne

        Woah, tone trolling! There was nothing “tirade” about what I said. I’m also seriously confused as to where you could have gotten the idea that I felt “insecure” or “threatened.” I didn’t. I saw you make a bullshit point and responded. You, in contrast, haven’t actually responded to anything I said in my comments. Instead you’ve tone trolled. Nice. Keep it up and I will ban you, because yes, you’re violating my comment policy, which explicitly says to address arguments rather than people.

        As for not accusing anyone of anything . . . right. In your post you suggested that atheist men are more likely to be sexist because they don’t have a god to be accountable to, which plays directly into the tired old trope that atheists don’t have morality because we don’t have the fear of god in our hearts. So nice pretending you didn’t accuse anyone of anything. Not buying it.

        As for your views on women, you’ve been commenting fairly regularly on this blog for quite some time, and expressing traditional patriarchal ideas and religious sexism. Yes, I read your comments. Your views on abortion are a case in point.

      • Norm Donnan

        Fine,if it empowers you ban me.If you really need that much control over my “patriachal sexism” I feel sorry for you.And what the hell is “tone trolling”anyway.I dont come here to be a dick and stir you up,other people have a different point of view you know,deal with it ,its called life.I like different people,I like to hear their views.If you just want “yes” men in your life then ban me because if I think your wrong or talking crap I will tell you,and feel free to do the same.I think having someone like me on your blog adds interest otherwise your just going to have a victim mentality all agreeing with you,maybe thats what you want ,you choose.

      • Things1to3

        Um, that’s exactly what he just said.

        “reminding people how to behave by saying there has been a lot of problems with men, including the speakers at events being obnoxious towards the ladies by treating them like they should be up for a good time,being atheists and all and having no god to be accountable too.”

        Having to put out a warning to participants that they shouldn’t expect free sexual favours because a lack of religion should automatically make it ok is exactly what you were calling hypocritical wasn’t it?

        You’re saying the same thing so why the kerfluffle?

      • Libby Anne

        Because Norm is wrong that sexism among atheists stems from not being accountable to a god, and he himself has exhibited his fair share of sexism in my comment section over the past few months. He is a conservative Christian and is doing just what I’ve been saying atheist men shouldn’t do — he’s pointing to sexism within atheism without being willing to admit or question his own religious sexism.

      • Guest

        Huh. Ok. I took his comment to mean that it was interesting that a lack of religion didn’t automatically equal a lack of sexism, and in this case seemed to be a convenient excuse for sexist behaviour. Just as you pointed out that a presence of religion doesn’t mean that you’re automatically a moral person.

        Just for my clarification (and I’m being as honestly curious as I can be, no stark, just to clarify):

        Criticizing athiests for sexism when you’re a christian is hypocritical unless you also address your own religions sexism. Criticizing the sexism inherant in religions when you’re an athiest is ok so long as you also point out that sexism in endemic in out culture and not solely a religious phenomenon? Equal opportunity being the important bit?

        (I apologise in advance if I’m being obtuse. I can be a bit dense sometimes. I’m honestly not trying to be antagonistic.)

      • Alix

        …I actually don’t think it’s true that you have to constantly play the equal-opportunity critic. From my pov, the problem isn’t choosing to focus on, say, sexism in religion, it’s being absolutist about it. (Also, while I wouldn’t say you’d* have to bring up your own side’s issues, when in a conversation someone else points it out, don’t minimize the problem.) And not insulting one’s purported audience also helps.

        There’s a difference between, say, “most religion is sexist, here’s why” and “why are you women religious? all religion is sexist, so if you don’t want any sexism you need to be an atheist.”

        *General “you.”

      • Libby Anne

        No, you’re being fine. Basically, it’s the whole don’t go on and on about the dust in someone else’s eye when you have a beam in your own thing. If you’re not willing to address the sexism within your religious tradition (or lack thereof) and within yourself (if applicable), you shouldn’t be criticizing the sexism practiced by your enemy. It would be sort of like two countries being at war, and each torturing prisoners from the other side while simultaneously complaining about how terrible it was that the other side was torturing your guys. Complaining about the other side committing torture if you’re doing everything you can to ensure that your side isn’t doing the same is fine, but complaining about the other side committing torture while you’re committing torture makes it clear that you don’t actually care about the injustice of torture but rather about scoring rhetorical points for your side. Does that make sense?

      • Norm Donnan

        Except I didnt criticize anyone.Even when FA posted the issue I chose not to comment because I thought it was good that they were dealing with it.

      • Feminerd

        It’s not hypocritical coming from a non-sexist theist. Norm, on the other hand, is not a non-sexist theist. He’s trying to use this to claim that atheism is bad, while ignoring his own, uh, issues.

        You could not know this unless you were a regular commenter, though. Norm’s been here awhile and said enough things for us to get a read on him, as it were, but as a guest you simply could not know that easily.

      • Alix

        Also, y’know, hypocrisy itself isn’t automatically a deal-breaker, especially if one owns up to it. A sexist theist pointing out sexism in atheists (or vice versa) isn’t necessarily wrong – it comes down to, in many ways, the reason the person has for pointing it out.

      • Feminerd

        True. Norm isn’t arguing in good faith, though. Any argument that claims that “atheists do bad things sometimes, therefore we need god” is not in good faith, especially coming from a theist who does those same bad things.

      • Alix

        Yeah, I wasn’t referring to Norm, specifically, more the broader conversation. XD I should’ve made that clearer, sorry.

        And yes, that argument is rather odious. It’s the exact same thing, really, as the troll on the previous post that prompted this one.

      • Norm Donnan

        I wasnt arguing one way or the other,only saying friendly atheist brought up the same issue.

      • Feminerd

        … including the speakers at events being obnoxious towards the ladies by treating them like they should be up for a good time,being atheists and all and having no god to be accountable too.

        That’s making an argument. It’s an offensive, illogical, and piss-poor one, but it’s an argument. Hemant brought up the argument to show that sexism isn’t just a religious problem, not to argue that we need god to fix sexism. That is a fundamentally absurd argument, given that religious fundamentalists of pretty much all stripes are among the most patriarchal and misogynist of people. Or did you think your “subtle” dig would go unnoticed?

      • Norm Donnan

        Sexism is bad weather your an atheist or not.If by issues you mean disagreeing with you on abortion then Iam happy to have issues.Im sure if we met in person you would find your “read” is misconstrued.

      • Feminerd

        It’s not that you are pro-life, it’s what you’ve said while arguing that position. Although I find the pro-life position to be inherently misogynist, many of the people who hold it are not because they haven’t thought through all the implications of their position. You, on the other hand, have explicitly said some pretty awful things in trying to defend your position.

      • Anat

        And in addition to what Feminerd said, you also posted misandrist positions (about all men being predators).

      • Things1to3

        Sorry, that post was me. I panicked and deleted it. No idea why it posted anyway as guest. Sorry.

      • Alix

        That’s how Disqus treats deletions – though I’m not actually sure if it does it for all deletions, or just ones that have received responses.

      • Alix

        Also, I wanted to say that I don’t think you’ve written anything that you should’ve worried over (though I understand that panic; I’ve got some social anxiety issues that crop up like that), and I don’t think you’ve done anything needing apologies, either. XD Disagreeing or asking questions is hardly bad behavior, y’know?

      • Things1to3

        Well I haven’t been here long and the entire discussion I’m asking questions of came off very much as:
        Poster A – interesting tidbit seconding the blog post
        Mod- responds by accusing poster A of justifying rape
        Poster A – gets pissed
        Mod – threatens to ban poster A.

        Since the whole thing seemed like a rather extreme for what I’ve observed thus far, I figured it was either something that went down before I started reading, or this was a really touchy subject, so I was trying to tiptoe.

        “Disagreeing or asking questions is hardly bad behavior, y’know?”
        One of the reasons I dearly love this blog. I’ve spent most of my life getting trouble for one or both of those things. It’s nice to find a group where that’s encouraged. :-)

      • Alix

        I mean, heck, I’m a very committed pagan, and one of the only places I feel safe enough to talk about that – disagreements and all – is, well, this site. XD And more seriously, it’s also one of the few places where I feel safe talking about things like my gender and asexuality, and my problems with some feminists/feminist rhetoric over those issues.

        That says a lot about Libby Anne and the usual crowd here, that someone who on paper is nowhere near the target audience feels safe and welcome.

      • Michael W Busch

        Echoing others, the prior actions of Poster A change the assessment of and response to their current actions. There is documentation of many prior actions of everyone here – you can click on people’s nyms to get all of their prior comments on Disqus.

      • Libby Anne

        No need to panic. I and the regular commenters here are generally happy to answer honest questions. It’s only when someone is being disingenuous or is uninterested in listening to what others have to say that there’s a problem. :)

      • Norm Donnan

        Your not dense at all,in fact your 100% correct.Sexism I believe stems from self centredness at the expense of another.

      • Norm Donnan

        Im not saying that at all,sexism among anyone (male or female)stems from selfishness,and in any group of people that involves men and women there is sexism,Christianity included.

      • Libby Anne

        I’m not sure the word I would use is “selfishness,” and I actually completely disagree that as long as there are men and women in a group there will be sexism (because I do believe in the existence of men who are not sexist). However, I appreciate your statement about the universality of sexism, whether inside or outside of religion. The hangup here is your suggestion that male atheists are sexist because they have no god they are accountable to. Taken in a straightforward manner, what you said implies that (a) atheist sexism stems from the lack of belief in a god; and (b) there is less sexism in religion, where men are accountable to a god. I don’t believe that either of those things are true, and they both seem to contradict your suggestion that all sexism stems universally from selfishness.

      • Norm Donnan

        First thing,believe it or not women are just as sexist as men. They may do it or show it in different ways but the reason and result remain the same,its all about me.Second point is,you know what, a lot of what I do and the stuff I work through is because I love God and I want to please Him.Not because I am trying to gain approval but because I believe there is more to this world than we see.What Iam saying is if I believed this life is it,our one time on this earth,I dont think I would bother putting myself out half as much as I do.Morality is only relative,survival of the fittest,do what makes me happy,ect ,this is what atheism truly offers and thats why I think it is attractive to todays youth.Religion on the other hand is all about denying what you naturally want to do in so many ways and calls you to do what you would have others do for you if you were in their position.This goes against the natural man,so even in religion there is rampant sexism,but its often played out in different ways.But selfishness is behind it all.

  • JoannaDW

    This is perhaps one of my greatest pet peeves as a practicing Roman Catholic. I used to know someone that literally would grill me on my religious beliefs every time I talked to her, even if the topic was totally unrelated. If the topic was abortion, she would ask me if I felt abortion should be illegal under all circumstances and if I said no, she turned it into a rant against the Catholic Church and told me I was not a real Catholic. (I wasn’t aware that sacraments or their certificates had expiration dates? Oh, well. At least I can get a new photo, right?) If she was talking about a New Age retreat that she went on, she started comparing it to Catholicism. When I talked about possibly being a Catholic theologian, I was told that women couldn’t be priests. (Um, I wasn’t asking to be a priest, I was asking to be a theologian, and um, everyone with a kindergarten Catholic education knows that Catholic priests are men. But thanks for the condescension, jackass.) Needless to say, I let that person go. I so wanted to point out examples of atheist and skeptical sexism, Buddhist violence, etc. but I knew it would not penetrate. Yes, I’m familiar with the Bible, the catechism, the anti-feminism of many members of the Catholic hierarchy, the Inquisition, etc. None of this is new. Even if I was totally naive and knew nothing at the time I became Catholic, I certainly know now that I’ve been beat over the head with it and it has not changed my opinion at all.

    If I was going around telling lies and distortions about other faiths or people without faith, if I was overstepping my boundaries in sharing my beliefs or otherwise treating people disrespectfully, I can fully expect to get it back in the form of “sky daddy” type comments, remarks about witch trials, and such. But since I don’t do those things and have repeatedly called other Catholics out for doing those things, I don’t feel I deserve those comments. I expect to be treated fairly. I don’t ask people to justify to me why they left Catholicism, why they chose Wicca, or why they still believe in Islam. I assume they did it because the cost-benefit ratio involved in that decision was in their favor. It might not have been the choice I made, but it’s also not my spiritual life in question and I don’t have to live with the consequences. We all have to make concessions in our lives, we can’t get what we want 100% of the time, so we decide what is most important to us. If asked in good faith (as in NOT in an attempt to mine information that can be used against me in a debate), I could give lots of reasons why I put up with Catholicism’s faults. But ultimately, I don’t have to. I honestly just…like it and I like it enough to put up with the rest.

  • JoannaDW

    This is perhaps one of my greatest pet peeves as a practicing Roman Catholic. I used to know someone that literally would grill me on my religious beliefs every time I talked to her, even if the topic was totally unrelated. If the topic was abortion, she would ask me if I felt abortion should be illegal under all circumstances and if I said no, she turned it into a rant against the Catholic Church and told me I was not a real Catholic. (I wasn’t aware that sacraments or their certificates had expiration dates? Oh, well. At least I can get a new photo, right?) If she was talking about a New Age retreat that she went on, she started comparing it to Catholicism. When I talked about possibly being a Catholic theologian, I was told that women couldn’t be priests. (Um, I wasn’t asking to be a priest, I was asking to be a theologian, and um, everyone with a kindergarten Catholic education knows that Catholic priests are men. But thanks for the condescension, jackass.) Needless to say, I let that person go. I so wanted to point out examples of atheist and skeptical sexism, Buddhist violence, etc. but I knew it would not penetrate. Yes, I’m familiar with the Bible, the catechism, the anti-feminism of many members of the Catholic hierarchy, the Inquisition, etc. None of this is new. Even if I was totally naive and knew nothing at the time I became Catholic, I certainly know now that I’ve been beat over the head with it and it has not changed my opinion at all.

    If I was going around telling lies and distortions about other faiths or people without faith, if I was overstepping my boundaries in sharing my beliefs or otherwise treating people disrespectfully, I can fully expect to get it back in the form of “sky daddy” type comments, remarks about witch trials, and such. But since I don’t do those things and have repeatedly called other Catholics out for doing those things, I don’t feel I deserve those comments. I expect to be treated fairly. I don’t ask people to justify to me why they left Catholicism, why they chose Wicca, or why they still believe in Islam. I assume they did it because the cost-benefit ratio involved in that decision was in their favor. It might not have been the choice I made, but it’s also not my spiritual life in question and I don’t have to live with the consequences. We all have to make concessions in our lives, we can’t get what we want 100% of the time, so we decide what is most important to us. If asked in good faith (as in NOT in an attempt to mine information that can be used against me in a debate), I could give lots of reasons why I put up with Catholicism’s faults. But ultimately, I don’t have to. I honestly just…like it and I like it enough to put up with the rest.

    As far as sexism aimed at religious women, I have seen some doozies, one of which is that Catholic women are aroused by being controlled by domineering men. Then there are homophobic and transphobic comments about bishops dressing in drag, looking like their mothers, not being “real” men, being soft, etc. mostly coming from so-called progressives who allegedly support feminism and gay rights. The deeper irony is that they make these comments while simultaneously criticizing bishops for their sexism and homophobia. “OMG check out the old fart in his jewels and his disco stick talking about gays. He’s OBVIOUSLY a closet homo hurr hurr!” I tried calling them out on it, and nine times out of ten, I’m totally unsuccessful. I get responses like the one above, calling me some really misogynistic names, telling me I support pedophilia, and so on. Okay, rant over.

    • Anat

      Hmm. While you definitely don’t owe anyone an explanation of your beliefs, it is not unreasonable of people to assume that your identification with a religion with a well-known establishment and well-known positions on certain matters means something. Either that you agree with those positions, or that you are willing to lend them silent support by being numbered among the membership.

      • Alix

        The “silent support” thing bothers me, a bit. It kind of amazes me how many dissenting voices I hear, opposing things like sexism or homophobia in religion, and yet somehow all these people are still “silent support” for bigots.

        It’s somewhat akin, for me, to people assuming that if I’m American, that means I’m 100% on board with every single thing the government says. I mean, I could leave, right? If I didn’t like things, I should be agitating for change and making sure I’m visible enough that everyone else can see, right?

        You (general you) have no idea what arguments are going on from the outside, not entirely. And I think it’s far more important for folks to be actually concerned with change/social justice/etc. than with how outsiders perceive them.

      • Anat

        I see a difference between being the citizen of a country and belonging to other groups. The way laws are, being stateless is a very vulnerable position. Not the same as being unaffiliated with a religion, or most other categories. Perhaps membership in a professional society where non-membership would make working in one’s profession impossible ranks close to citizenship.

        Also, organizations such as the Catholic Church use the numbers of their members as an argument why they should be taken seriously. So in that sense and in those cases the affiliated objectors are indeed lending silent support to the organization merely by adding to the numbers, whether they like it or not.

      • Alix

        Those are fair points.

        So in that sense and in those cases the affiliated objectors are indeed lending silent support to the organization merely by adding to the numbers, whether they like it or not.

        This is true, but given how hard it can be to get one’s name stricken from the rolls (especially in the Catholic Church, but not just there), that seems like you’re placing the burden on the people leaving for the rather mercenary/predatory roll-keeping activities of their churches.

        I know I’m still on the rolls for at least one Baptist church, and probably the Catholic church too, and I can’t get them to take my name off despite being rather solidly pagan. They’re claiming me as a member against my explicitly-stated wishes, and there’s not really anything I can do about it. I count as “silent support” only in the sense that they won’t give me a way not to be, y’know? I don’t know that it’s fair, then, to say that people are supporting these organizations when they can’t opt out of the lists used to judge that supposed support.

      • Feminerd

        JoannaDW may or may not give money to the RCC, but if she does, I think she can be counted as “silent support”. I do agree that her mere presence on the rolls doesn’t really count, given how hard it is to get off the rolls.

      • Alix

        I agree that giving money counts as support. Even if you try to earmark it for particular things – say, running a food closet – a lot of churches aren’t exactly transparent in their finances (so you can’t be sure that’s where it’s going), and it’s still something that can be construed as support of the church.

        There’s a somewhat legitimate argument that earmarking donations for good church charity work helps change the direction of the church from the inside, but I’m not so sure it works out that way in practice.

  • Grotoff

    The only reason to be religious, whether you are male or female, is because you have been duped. That makes you a dope, no matter how intelligent you are.

    • Alix

      Not really. In my case, the metaphors/myths and rituals speak to me.

      In a very real way, the question of the objective existence of deities doesn’t even matter to me, and yet I’m still quite religious.

      There are other things people get out of religion, too. It’s not a simple thing, but a complex sociocultural phenomenon. You can’t reduce it to anything nearly so simple as “being duped.”

      • Grotoff

        Religion =/= Ritual. Plenty of fraternities/sororities have rituals. Militaries, sports teams, scouting organizations, even the freaking Oscars have rituals. Religions have beliefs about the supernatural and the obligations/advantages that the supernatural brings to adherents. That’s the real anthropological definition.

        Maybe you like to hang out with religious people and participate in their rituals. But that doesn’t make you religious. That takes a belief in the supernatural.

      • Alix

        Which I have. (And, thank you, I know the definition of religion. There is really no reason to be condescending.) I believe in the supernatural because of many personal, but unverifiable, experiences. I am also fully aware that to outsiders I often seem irrational, and I’m fine with that.

        That’s what I mean by the objective existence of deities really not mattering to me.

        And none of this touches on the point that there are plenty of other things people get out of religion.

      • Grotoff

        You are the one acting as if “ritual” defined religion.

        It really doesn’t matter even one iota what people “get out of religion”. It matters whether or not the supernatural claims of said religion are true. Believing that they are makes you a dope, having been duped by those making the claim or by your own internal subjective irrationality. Don’t feel bad, I was the same way.

        That’s the key point. Accepting religion, that is the veracity of supernatural claims, is based on accepting a lie. Aka, being duped and being a dope. It doesn’t matter even slightly what else people might get out of a particular religious philosophy or organization. If anyone wants to continue to participate in rituals or whatever then who cares? That’s the not the fundamental issue.

      • Alix

        It matters whether or not the supernatural claims of said religion are true.

        To you. You don’t speak for everybody.

        Accepting religion . . . is based on accepting a lie.

        Or accepting a metaphor. Not all non-factual things are false.

      • Grotoff

        Um, yes. Yes, I kind of do. You don’t get to reinterpret what a religion means because that makes you feel better.

        This is what I can’t stand about liberal “religious” people. “Not all non-factual things are false” sure, but things that claim to be factual, but aren’t, are false. The Iliad is not a true story. It may contain themes that touch on true emotions and it may feature real locations or even real people. But the story is not true. The Bible does not claim to be a metaphor, and neither does the Bhagavad Gita. You can interpret it that way all you want. But that take you outside the realm of religion.

      • Alix

        …but you’re falling into the trap of assuming all people must be scriptural literalists. (Also, the Iliad’s not anywhere near holy writ and never was. Not all religions have holy texts as we’d think of them – perhaps not even most.)

        You can interpret it that way all you want. But that take you outside the realm of religion.

        Not really. If religion = belief in deities, you don’t need scripture for that, and you don’t need to be a literalist of any particular holy text for that. Thinking that myths are myths – stories that are true, but whose truth is outside the factual truth-falsehood binary – is a perfectly legitimate religious position to take.

      • Alix

        Aargh, that first sentence should read “all religious people.” I need to effing learn to proofread before posting.

        Also, fwiw, if the factual truth of religion is what matters most to you, that’s fine. It’s just not what matters to many religious people – folks don’t all have the same priorities, y’know?

      • Grotoff

        The Iliad is a fictional story that contains elements that are factual. Who cares if anyone accepts it as “scripture”? That’s not the issue. The issue is that myths are false, on the fundamental level, though they can communicate ideas that may be true. Harry Potter is not a true story, but it contains ideas that are true. That does not justify the claim that Harry Potter style magic is real or that Harry himself is.

        Believing in deities without a text also constitutes a religion, of course. But it does not constitute the same religion as those who do hold to a text. It is a separate religion, and just as ridiculous for its supernatural claims.

        And seriously, “whose truth is outside the factual truth-falsehood binary”? This is the kind of woo-woo religious talk that annoys me. Say what you mean. Myths contain true ideas but are factually false.

      • Alix

        Well, you were the one who brought up the Iliad as an example of scripture. Aside from that, I actually agree with everything you say here.

        Myths contain true ideas but are factually false.

        Er, that is what I mean, and I’ve been pretty clear about that the whole time. But the factual veracity of a myth is actually beside the point – that’s not what makes a myth a myth, and you can actually have myths that are historically-true stories (or incorporate them) while also being myths. That’s what I mean: what makes these myths mythic, the point of them, is not really their literal, objective truth or falsehood, though that obviously matters to some people.

      • Feminerd

        Myths and legends are important for their lessons and their stories, how they use not-technically-true stories to get at deeper truths about humanity and the world around us. They aren’t important for their historical truth or falsehood. I think that’s what you’re getting at? If it is, I 100% agree with you.

      • Alix

        That’s it. They’re more like philosophical or spiritual anecdotes, really, though that doesn’t quite encompass all the purposes to which myths can be put.

        A major fascination of mine, for example, are culture myths/epics, things like the Iliad or, say, the myths about the Founding Fathers, that help delineate what it means and doesn’t mean to be part of that culture. Another category of myths I find really fascinating are the ones that illustrate what behaviors are and aren’t appropriate, often by constructing weirdly absurd or humorous stories about when things go wrong. (A lot of trickster tales fall in that category.)

        Whether or not George Washington ever chopped down a cherry tree or even existed doesn’t really matter. It’s not the point of the myth.

      • Grotoff

        I brought up the Iliad because it has the same fundamental characteristics as the Bible. It is a factually false story including supernatural elements that takes place in factually real places with potentially real people. Like all lasting stories, it contains ideas that speak to human experience.

        I’m trying to figure out if you are saying that you treat the Bible or whatever religious scripture like you would the Iliad. That is NOT how actual religious practitioners treat their texts or beliefs. Do you accept the reality of the supernatural claims of a religion? That is what makes you either religious or not.

      • Alix

        it has the same fundamental characteristics as the Bible

        In some respects, yes. In terms of how it was viewed and used by the people whose text it was, no.

        you treat the Bible or whatever religious scripture like you would the Iliad

        Me personally? Yes.

        That is NOT how actual religious practitioners treat their texts or beliefs.

        People – not just me – have repeatedly told you that this is false on its face. Some religious people are literalists when it comes to their scriptures, but not all of them. Quite possibly, not even most; the vast majority of religious faiths that have existed do/did not have holy scriptures, and many that did/do treat them in an entirely different manner than you are suggesting.

        Do you accept the reality of the supernatural claims of a religion? That is what makes you either religious or not.

        We agree! And I do, though my religion is pretty damn idiosyncratic.

        But again, this has nothing to do with scriptures. One can be religious and not have holy texts. One can have holy texts and not treat them as literal, and still be extremely religious.

        How do I know this? Because I’m one of them. And I am by no means the only one.

        You keep insisting that literal belief in some kind of scripture is required for religious faith, at least if the religion has anything approaching scripture in the first place. That’s a misapplication of an idea found in some religions – many of the outspoken fundamentalists of major modern faiths like Christianity and Islam are literalists.

        But it’s a logical error to then generalize from two specific examples to the whole concept of religion. It is especially illogical to keep insisting on this wrong generalization when people who actually are religious or have a solid understanding of non-literalist religious views are telling you otherwise.

        I’m sorry, but you are just flat wrong on the literalist idea. That applies in specific cases, not across the board, no matter how many times you assert otherwise.

      • Grotoff

        So you were in Ancient Greece and can confirm that no one took the Iliad to be factual stories about a real war? About real gods? They killed Socrates for blasphemy. They took that stuff seriously.

        I’m really not interested in whether you or anyone takes any scriptures as literally true. If you accept the supernatural claims of religion then you are an idiot. Full stop. It makes no difference whether you base your acceptance of those claims on a reading of a text or on your own feelings. You’ve been duped.

        This is like claiming that you don’t really believe that the Iliad is literally true, but worshiping Zeus anyway. It’s just sad.

      • Alix

        And I suppose you were there and know for an absolute fact they were scriptural literalists?

        They took the gods seriously. We have a great deal of evidence – some discussions of literature, entire genres of sacred writing that didn’t bother checking for literalist accuracy – that very much indicate that strict literalism was not actually a big concern.

        This is like claiming that you don’t really believe that the Iliad is literally true, but worshiping Zeus anyway.

        People worshipped him long before the Iliad, he plays a very minor role in the Iliad, people worshipped him after the Iliad in ways that don’t sit squarely with his portrayal in that text. Which is my point about the irrelevance of that text in a nutshell.

        If you accept the supernatural claims of religion then you are an idiot. . . . You’ve been duped.

        Again, duping requires someone to dupe me. Who’s doing that?

        You are, of course, entitled to your own opinion. As I am entitled to mine: that you are a condescending jackass who is ill-informed about religion.

        Thanks for popping by to ‘splain religion to us!

      • Grotoff

        The true ideas that you take from myths are things like “hubris leads to destruction”. Not “there is a supernatural deity that will intercede on my behalf”. That’s just straight bullshit. Whether you take the myth literally or not, it’s still bullshit. The question isn’t one of literalism.

        I’ve studied religions my entire life, particularly Christianity given that my family were missionaries in South East Asia.

        It’s simple enough to deceive yourself. I did. Ever heard of the McGurk Effect? You can’t trust your own feelings and interpretations without comparing them to everyone else’s.

      • Alix

        1. I didn’t say I got my belief in the supernatural from myths. But this is not something I am comfortable discussing further, so we will have to leave it at that.

        2. Not all religions are like mainstream Christianity. They don’t all follow the same patterns or have the same sort of structures, and religion is a surprisingly complicated cultural phenomenon.

        I study ancient history and religion. My specialty is the ancient Mediterranean and Near East (pre-Iron Age, mostly, but not exclusively). An awful lot of popular conceptions of ancient paganism are rooted in Victorian-era attempts at getting at the “true,” “universal” mythologies, and it’s left a lot of people with the mistaken impression that, say, Greek paganism was a single unified religion with hardline doctrines like modern Christianity. (A fun thing to do: pick two ancient cities that existed at the same time and in the same area. They will have different mythologies, and many ancient mythographers recorded those local differences.)

        Also, I just wanted to say, I know we’ve disagreed pretty vehemently throughout this conversation, and we’re never going to convince each other of anything, but I’d like to thank you for a good discussion nevertheless.

        You can’t trust your own feelings and interpretations without comparing them to everyone else’s.

        Not entirely clear what the McGurk Effect has to do with religion, but other than that I agree with this sentiment. With a caveat: you can’t just roll over and let everyone else dictate your feelings and interpretations either. Ever heard of, say, gaslighting?

      • Grotoff

        Yes, I’ve been to Ephesus. I’ve seen that, whatever Artemis of the Ephesians was, she was certainly not girl with a bow and chariot pulled by deer. But so what? Why does their lack of doctrinal text make their supernatural claims any more impressive or convincing?

        The McGurk effect should make you seriously question everything that you think you can prove by claiming that you “felt” or “saw” or “heard” it, and force everyone to reconsider “eye-witness” testimony. Our consciousness spends a great deal of time making up stories to justify its decisions.

        Gaslighting to the purview of cults and fiction. Checking what you perceive to be true against the perceptions of other people and of machines is just the rational thing to do. Conjuring up a story where everyone is trying to make you go crazy is paranoid. It’s an unfalsifiable conjecture, tantamount to claiming that the Galactic Turtle created the universe exactly as it is 5 minutes ago with all our memories intact.

        I hope that you give woo-woo topics a much more skeptical eye in the future.

      • Feminerd

        Not that this hasn’t been fascinating (it has), but why do you care?

        Alix’s beliefs don’t seem to be harming hir nor leading hir to advocate for policies that will harm others. Beliefs that are wrong but harmless, while still wrong, don’t seem to merit this much effort.

      • Alix

        Also, it’s not like I’ve not admitted repeatedly that I know my beliefs fly in the face of not only atheism (obviously), but also most mainstream belief systems. I fully cop to having an irrational side. XD

        I’m more annoyed at the misrepresentation of facts, logical fallacies, and moving goalposts than how stupid Grotoff thinks I am. It’s a classic case of Someone Is Wrong On The Internet, except in my case it’s more like Someone Is Constructing Poor Arguments On The Internet. (Although I do fully cop to being annoyed at the “you’re stupid if you don’t have my exact opinions” thing cropping up yet again… *sigh*)

        …It is entirely possible that I maybe ought to go to bed and let this thing just die. Sorry if I’ve been bothering any of y’all.

      • Feminerd

        I know! That’s really all I’ve ever wanted, either. You can believe whatever you want and I won’t care so long as you cop to knowing it’s not rational. You do that! You’re like my most ideal religious friend/ally ever!

      • Alix


        And I can’t say it’s completely an a-rational decision for me, since as I’ve mentioned elsewhere it was a choice between finding a belief that fit or deeply distrusting everything about my own mind, and I felt it was more rational to give myself a working framework that let me still get on with my life, y’know?

        But I fully understand that even if my beliefs and rituals seem perfectly rational to me, they come nowhere near other people’s standards. It’s that whole “can’t prove a personal experience” problem.

        It’s why I have no problems with how people frame things for themselves, but get damn tetchy when people try to push those frames out on others. And I’m not talking rationalism so much as people universalizing their own personal tastes/experiences/unprovable beliefs – for a less-charged example, I don’t care a whit if you believe in ghosts, or that you’ve seen one, but I care if you then insist everyone must believe or use that belief to legislate, say, burial practices.

      • Alix

        My point isn’t that it makes supernatural claims more convincing, but that it is strong evidence against the textual literalism you were insisting the ancient Greeks had. That’s all.

        Also, I am jealous of your visit to Ephesus. :)

        The McGurk effect as I understand it is about how our brain processes language. It’s about how our brains, unless taught otherwise, merge heard and “seen” speech to produce a blended perception. That’s an interesting perceptual effect, but it’s hardly an indication that we should deeply mistrust everything our brains throw at us.

        Gaslighting to the purview of cults and fiction.

        …This is your first time on this blog, isn’t it. I suggest you read up on abuse, and common tactics abusers use.

        Conjuring up a story where everyone is trying to make you go crazy is paranoid.

        Sadly, for many people stuck in abusive situations, it’s the truth.

        I hope that you give woo-woo topics a much more skeptical eye in the future.

        I give woo-woo topics a plenty skeptical eye now.

        As for you, I hope in the future you demonstrate a bit less condescension and a bit more intellectual rigor.

      • lrfcowper

        The idea that the Bible is literally true is actually a relatively recent development in Christianity. The majority of Christians for the majority of Christian history have not believed this. The majority of Christians today do not believe it, either. There’s simply a very loud segment in the US that does and claims to speak for all Christians.

      • Alix

        Yes. Which is why generalizing the extreme beliefs of a small segment of religious believers to all religion is so problematic.

        If people believe religion is stupid or wrong, fine. But if one wants to argue that, one needs to make sure e’s actually got the facts right.

      • Alix

        Also, wait, what? You do speak for everybody?

        Wow. Who died and made you world monarch?

      • Anat

        And you don’t get to reinterpret what religions mean to the religious communities that hold them. If a religious community defines itself by its rituals how can you say it isn’t so?

      • Alix

        Also, I’m not entirely sure you can call people who hold a particular belief duped if they’re actively choosing to do so, whatever your thoughts on the veracity of said belief.

        Being duped requires someone to do the duping.

      • Anat

        No. That depends on the religion. For instance in Judaism being religious is defined by one’s lifestyle rather than one’s beliefs. If a Jew follows the rituals, customs and interpretations of religious law according to a specific stream of Judaism one is considered religious, whether one believes in a god that created the world, delivered the Jews from Egypt, gave the Torah to the Jews and will bring the messiah at some unknown future time or not. And a Jew who holds those beliefs but doesn’t follow the rituals, customs and laws will be considered a secular Jew.

      • Alix

        A lot of religions are more ritual-oriented or lifestyle/community-oriented than belief-oriented, actually. Many forms of paganism, both ancient and modern, fall into that camp, too.

      • Alix

        I’ve actually seen scholars seriously argue that the ritual/lifestyle-oriented religions are the default, and that the belief-oriented ones are out of the norm. And even some that seem belief-oriented may not be so to the individuals practicing it.

    • Michael W Busch

      No. It is not necessary for someone to have been duped in order for them to believe something that is wrong.

      There are many reasons people are religious. Being raised in a religious culture is one of the main ones.

  • Soporificat

    Hmm, I’m an atheist woman with no interest in being a part of the atheist “community,” mostly because of men like Kolinski. The sexism is rampant and noxious, and I personally don’t have time for their irrational beliefs about women, and their determination to deny the existence of patriarchal beliefs and structural systems in western (read: “white”) societies. It is pitiful to see these “rational” and “superior” men be so foolish and self deluded.

  • Mark Koop

    “If you want to persuade someone of your beliefs, you don’t do it by insulting them, being condescending toward them, and refusing to listen to them.”
    Guilty as charged… I’ve apologized for this many times. It’s easier for me to recognize it in hindsight than it is to stop it midstream, though! Work in progress.

    • Alix

      I think that’s something most all of us fall into at times, whichever things we’re arguing for/against. XD It’s a pretty human impulse, after all, and you’re right – once you get rolling, it’s hard to stop!

      At least you recognize it in hindsight, though. Too many people never do.

      • Olive Markus

        Part of that is that the topics on this blog cover very real issues that many have fought to get through. They bring up real emotions from actual people who’ve lived these experiences.

        I consider myself somebody who tends to fly off the handle at comments I consider offensive. I take things personally, because people express beliefs that have negatively affected me in a concrete way.

        I’m trying to learn… but I don’t know if I’ll get there :D.

      • Alix

        I try my damndest not to fly off the handle – it’s not a trait I’m fond of, y’know? But it’s hard, especially when something hits you in the gut. (In my case, what’s likely to do it is when people argue in bad faith.)

        That’s one thing I like about the community, here – we’re as prone to misreadings and miscommunications and snark and anger as anyone, but we’re also usually trying to communicate and willing to take that step back and reevaluate and listen and willing to apologize if we screwed up, or ask for clarification, or so on.

        To go back to the commenter that inspired the OP – it’s not that he said something sexist and rude that mattered so much as that he unapologetically stuck to it when called on it.

      • Olive Markus

        I agree about the original commenter. If he’d simply stepped back and reflected, even if he hadn’t changed his mind about what he was saying, perhaps he could have toned it down for the sake of having a discussion. Instead, he ramped it up, so it’s clear he wasn’t trying to clear up anything, simply verbally assault other commenters.

        Oddly enough, in real life I don’t fly off the handle at all. As much as getting easily hurt or offended online is one of my worst traits, not standing up for myself in life is probably my worst trait. Actually, not even realizing I’m being treated badly until it’s too late is my worst trait, though that’s slightly changing as I transition out of my youthful, good-girl naivete into cynical old-woman bitterness ;). I’m sure it’s not a coincidence, as one is compensating for the other :).

        Of course, I’m usually inclined to respond to the things that stand out to me the most in the first place – which happens to usually be the things that make me want to scream and tear my hair out :D. So I’m already entering the conversation in a vulnerable state!

      • Alix

        I’m the exact opposite – I’m usually much less likely to fly off the handle online, mostly ’cause I can step back more easily, and because it’s easier to sound a lot more composed in writing. XD In real life, I don’t go off on people often, but when I do, I tend to go from fine to freakout with no warning, unloading on whatever poor soul is handy.

        Not exactly the best personality trait to have, that. But I’m working on it. Slooooooowly.

      • Olive Markus

        That’s very interesting! If only we could split the difference just a bit :). My evolution has been painfully slow, too.

        So I read your … tagline? what are those descriptions called? … about you being a painter when I was trying to get your reply. I am, too! Well, I try to be. It’s harder these days since I got sick and it sapped pretty much every ounce of energy from my existence. I’m not great, but once upon a time it was my greatest passion :D. Right now I’m experimenting with coffee and liquid pencil with very boring subjects.

        Sorry about the tangent. Totally unrelated.

      • Alix

        Hey, I go off on tangents all the time. XD

        Painting’s so much fun, no? My grandma painted as a hobby, and that’s how we bonded – she taught me what she knew. I’m decent enough at landscapes, but I’m trying to expand my skills – I’m really rusty at anything else, and anytime I paint a building it looks either like it ought to be condemned or like Cthulhu built it. XD

        You’re painting with coffee? That’s pretty cool. I am being boring and sticking to oil paints.

        I tend to go a bit stir crazy when I don’t paint, so.

      • Olive Markus

        I used to go crazy when not drawing or painting. I remember my high school Spanish teacher giving me an award for that class, and he made sure to mention he didn’t understand how I learned more than everybody else, since all I did in his class was draw :). It was truly my passion. Oh, and I used to learn things, too :.

        Illness and some PTSD did a number on my ability to feel passion… or satisfaction from things. Even when I’m not feeling depressed, there is no drive or reward for doing things. I intellectually know that I should be loving it, but the reality is I don’t. It is a strange existence. I push myself anyway and simply hope my biology will give me a break one of these days :D. Probably TMI. Sorry about that.

        I appreciate oil, acrylic and watercolor equally. Can’t choose a favorite, usually. I hear you on the buildings! Wow. I don’t think I could paint a vehicle to save my life, either….

      • Alix

        Even when I’m not feeling depressed, there is no drive or reward for doing things. I intellectually know that I should be loving it, but the reality is I don’t.

        I’m sorry. :(

        It can be a catch-22 for me: I go through periods where I’m borderline depressed*, and experience exactly the same thing you describe here, and yet I can trigger those periods or make them worse by not engaging in creative activity anyway. It’s a stupid vicious cycle, and I actually spent a period of nearly five years doing almost nothing creative because of it.

        Then I was pressed for Christmas presents and figured hell, I can make them all something nice, and it was like I’d been holding my breath all the time and just started breathing again. Now I’m at the point where even if I’m not quite feeling the art, I can at least usually appreciate it as a developing of skill.

        Grandma’s favorite medium was acrylics, so that’s what she taught me; my love affair with oil paints is really recent. I use watercolors sometimes, but I don’t really like normal ones except for some watercolor-and-ink stuff, but my best friend just gave me some gouache which I am excited about trying. (After my damn move. Dammit, I hate moving.)

        *I had my shrink tell me once that if my cycles were deeper/more severe he’d have diagnosed me as bipolar.

  • M.S.

    Excellent article, excellent points. I especially liked “I cringe when male atheists come to my blog to leave comments that are almost jubilant about how terrible religion is to women”.
    As a Catholic who frequents all faith channels in patheos to further open my mind and increase my knowledge, I too cringe when I see “jubilant” atheists about situations where religion is harmful to women.
    It doesn’t do anything to make me want to deconvert either, if that is the goal….

  • Noelle

    Once again, it is good for a man to be a feminist. And if a man who claims such femism is met with a bunch of woman telling him something he said was sexist, the correct response is not to call them a bunch of ignorant witches. The correct response is to ask the question and be preared to learn something new. How difficult would it be to reframe the statement as a question and invite discussion.
    How can a woman be religious when so many religions support oppressing women?
    Now that question is interesting. Might learn ya something.
    If one’s goal is rather to troll, then he did exactly as he should.

  • StandupPhilosopher

    No matter his content, his intentions, or his ideology, it’s bad form for a blog to single out its readers in the manner that this one did, even if it was to make a point. At the very least, the author could have anonymized Jack’s name and avatar. It comes off as a bit predatory and opportunistic, and I fear that such negative attention will have the unintended consequence of silencing those who might disagree with a future posting. People who bother to engage with the blog should not have to fear becoming the subject of its next entry.

    • Alix

      Given that this isn’t about simple disagreement, and people have and continue to disagree vehemently with no repercussions other than vigorous argument, I think you’re a bit off base here.

      Why shouldn’t we call out sexism when we see it? Why should we help sexist assholes hide their assholishness? He’s the one who posted under his own name, and even if Libby Anne did anonymize it all it would take anyone curious would be to look back at the previous post.

      If he’s not standing behind his words, he shouldn’t have said them in the first place.

    • Kat

      “People who bother to engage with the blog should not have to fear becoming the subject of its next entry.”

      Funny, that fear never occurred to me. I still don’t think it’s anything to worry about. Then again, I didn’t come here to troll and insult people, so that might be a factor. Also, what Alix said.

    • Anat

      If a person engages with a blog in good faith and receives a warning that their actions re against the comment policy of said blog they probably try to remedy the situation rather than double down. A poster whose actions indicate they are acting in bad faith, ie trolling, does not deserve the kind of consideration you advocate. There is a difference between disagreeing and trolling.

  • L

    -Yeah, the part that makes this actually sensible, unlike what this Jack fellow was saying is the lack of absolutes (i.e. EVERYTHING is this and EVERYTHING is that) Not all Male atheists fall into this trap and some female atheists sort of do.

    -Yes, religion does horrible things to EVERYONE quite a bit, but not ALL religions do it. Budhism, Hinuism and NOT WICCA (which is in fact Christianized gobelty gook ripping off paganism, of which I consider myself a part of). Women are common targets, especially now in islam.

    -You can try to defend women whether or not you are one, but you also have to keep in mind that everyone has their own little spin on everything, gender is irrelevant. I have seen christian and islamic women actually make some pretty damn good arguments (ive had to fight to make my religion more progressive, and by extension, less abusive and discriminatory to this group or that, ect. ect.)
    -but please…i respect that the subject is a problem, but could you find a less assholish person to represent male atheists. damn.

    • Alix

      It was about that specific person, though, not all male atheists everywhere.

  • Ezme Green

    This is tragic.I dont blame Jack for being offended. This is not what female empowerment is about. I am a 42 year old woman and a british one. I didnt find the estrogen comment offensive. He was taking the piss, and rightly so in my opinion. Your arent untouchable as women and if you dont take a little ribbing sometimes you will never get equality. I dont find Dawkins offensive either. I do find the fact that some guy got up the courage to ask someone out and then was DESTROYED for it TOTALLY OUT OF ORDER. Why is America so behind?? Are you american feminists like the egotistical alpha-males of your country, and think that you are yourselves godlike and above anyone who disagrees with you? It seems so. Either that or you are stuck in a victim mindset. I do not consider a neo-religion like wiccan(modern and developed partly by women) to be at all like the world religions that Jack was so obviously referring to. Men cant win with feminism in america it seems.

    • Alix

      …You … didn’t really read either this post or the comments in the last post this was referring to, did you.

      • Feminerd

        No, no ze didn’t.

  • bonch

    The Richard Dawkins links are unconvincing that he is sexist. Most of them have to do with “Elevatorgate”, where a woman was asked out in an elevator, which was supposed to be an example of misogynism. It’s not.

    • Alix

      It damn well is when said woman had just got finished saying she didn’t like it when people did that to her, and a man chooses to ignore her wishes anyway.

      Try actually reading up on facts before you come out swinging.

      • bonch

        She was asked out for coffee. That’s not misogynism. Along with Dawkins, men and women alike were right to mock phony outrage over a first world problem like getting asked out for coffee. Her subsequent self-proclaimed boycott was a typical 21st century westerner’s response to feeling slighted.

      • Alix

        I tell a crowd I don’t like it when people do [x].
        Someone deliberately ignores that and does [x].
        Someone has, therefore, just violated my clear and expressed wishes.

        Sometimes, asking someone out is in fact a hostile act. It is hostile when it tramples all over someone’s previously expressed wishes and boundaries, it is hostile when it makes the person asked uncomfortable, and you, my dear, are way oversimplifying the actual scenario so that you can hold to your pretension that Dawkins has never said anything misogynist.

        Try rereading the links Libby Anne provided with your brain turned on. And, y’know, maybe this little thing called “empathy”.

      • bonch

        I didn’t assert that Dawkins has never said anything misogynistic. I said that his response was a justified injection of perspective into an overblown first world controversy.

        If we assume the man had been in the crowd and intentionally disregarded her wishes, the fact he asked her out merely makes him a mildly annoying jerk, barely worth a thought after parting ways. The incident was so far removed from anything that matters that your description of it as a hostile rights violation elevates it to a degree of absurdity that insults actual victims.

      • Alix

        …dude, he cornered her in an elevator.

        Can I ask you a stupid question? Are you male?

      • bonch

        This is how she describes it:

        “As I got to the elevator, a man who I had not yet spoken with directly broke away from the group and joined me. As the doors closed, he said to me, ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting. Would you like to come back to my hotel room for coffee?’ I politely declined and got off the elevator when it hit my floor.”

        You’re right, asking me my gender is a stupid question. Chances are you’ve guessed incorrectly. I completely accept that a man can make a logical determination about this situation, and I wouldn’t dismiss their view simply because they’re a man.

        Like I said, treating this is as a sexist incident is an insult to real victims of sexism.

      • Alix

        …as I said, he cornered her in an elevator in a way that made her feel uncomfortable, and when she said later, online, it made her uncomfortable, people took exactly your tack and berated her for daring to be uncomfortable.

        Generally speaking, female-bodied and QUILTBAG understand this fear of being cornered by strange men better than straight men, so no, my question wasn’t stupid or irrelevant. Straight men often assume that because they don’t fear something, no one should, and that thus no one has the right to make their own determinations about what counts as boundary violation.

        Real victims of sexism.

        Ah, so you’re only a victim of sexism if you’re actually getting your genitals cut off, not if Dawkins is appropriating your pain as a way to slam another woman asking that her boundaries be respected.

        A man feeling entitled to corner a tired woman on the elevator is being sexist, because he feels entitled to corner her. It’s mild sexism, sure, but still sexism, and Watson was right to call him on it.

        The way people viciously turned on her afterwards for daring to assert her own boundaries – that’s the real cesspool of sexism here, and I’ve yet to see you address that.

      • bonch

        Yes, real victims of sexism. As in, getting asked out for coffee in an elevator–even if you’re tired!–isn’t anywhere near the realm of things that matter, and to use such a non-moment as a core example of institutional sexism among skeptics was absurd and insulting to actual victims.

        You’re inserting the “cornered her” bit to inject physical menace, and the language you use to describe the incident–that the man was “feeling entitled” by asking her out–is loaded with presuppositional bias. I always tell men to go up and ask out women that they’re interested in because that’s, well, socially normal. I definitely disagree with the corner of feminism that believes such a thing is an entitled, aggressive stomping of boundaries. Some feminists are abandoning the label of “feminist” to distance themselves from extremist views.

        The response Rebecca got afterward wasn’t what we were discussing, so that’s why I didn’t talk about it. Obviously, the trolling and threats from the likes of Reddit, 4chan, and YouTube was wrong, but to attribute it to the skeptic community as she did was also wrong.

      • Alix

        I always tell men to go up and ask out women that they’re interested in

        How about ascertaining if she’s interested first? That’s the disconnect here – while it’s fine, especially in certain social settings, to approach a woman, too often men do it in ways that can very much appear threatening – such as following a tired woman into an otherwise-empty elevator.

        She’s a trapped audience at that point, and so she’s cornered.

        Context matters. If I were sitting on a bus reading, ignoring everyone around me, it is a clear signal I don’t want to be bothered. Most people get this. If a man approached me and started chatting me up anyway, ignoring my clear social cues to the contrary, yes, he is violating my boundaries, and yes, that’s a problem, and yes, he needs to fucking stop. If he is chatting me up in such a way that he physically blocks access to the aisle or doors, he is absolutely cornering me, whether or not that is his intent.

        At some point, his intent stops mattering in light of her boundaries.

        to attribute it to the skeptic community as she did was also wrong

        FWIW, I took her meaning as “this is a problem within the skeptic community” not “all skeptics everywhere are sexist and bashing me.” Do you deny skeptics can be sexist?

        Clearly, we are operating on entirely different fundamental principles here, and so I will bow out of this conversation.

      • bonch

        I was going to say the same thing, that we are obviously not going to sway each other here and are probably spending more time on this than we should.

        Just to respond to the points you raised. Ascertaining if she’s interested is what he’s doing by asking her out. In my opinion, there is a point where one has to be understanding–it’s not the guy’s fault she’s tired or in a bad mood or feels physically threatened in small places. So much work is been done to have these kinds of accusations be taken seriously, so I didn’t like the idea of reducing them to what I saw as an inconvenient triviality.

        I mean, if a guy bothers you while you’re reading, he’s being a jerk. If it’s on an elevator so you’re forced to make small talk (and I hate small talk of all kinds), that’s an annoying social situation. But to use it to accuse a community of misogyny? I just didn’t agree with the jump from mildly annoying jerk to representative sexist that Rebecca made because I thought it trivialized the issue.

        I don’t deny that skeptics can be sexist. If the incident had been used as a jumping off point to talk about the feelings of women as a minority in communities, that would have been one thing, but she used it as her central example of misogyny. Regardless of her personal feelings about getting asked out, I just disagree that he crossed a major boundary or was at fault for her reaction.

        I’m sure you don’t agree with me, and I doubt we’re going to change minds either way. Though it might have looked a little heated, it was a fun discussion regardless. Take care.

      • Alix

        Take care.

        Same to you!

        I enjoy a good discussion, and you’ve certainly provided that.

      • Alix

        Also? Who the hell are you to determine whether someone’s anger is phony?

        And while we’re at it, while some things deserve mockery, misogynistic mockery is still not acceptable. Nor do you get to sit there and appropriate someone else’s struggles so you can mock your target.

        And nowhere near all those links were about Elevatorgate. Stop with the pathetic knee-jerk defensiveness already and grow the hell up.

      • bonch

        Dawkins wasn’t being misogynistic with his mockery; misogynism means hatred of women. Dawkins was adding perspective by citing actual misogyny in the world to illustrate that being upset that someone asked you out for coffee and using it as a wedge to make accusations of institutional sexism comes off like a privileged 21st century American whining about what amounted to nothing more than a temporary social inconvenience. It’s insulting to real victims.

  • Melody

    Great article. This type of thing is not so rare on the internet though.

  • PNW

    I think what’s important to remember is that people are christian for one reason, they believe in god. It doesn’t matter how bad they think some parts are, if they believe in god then they won’t become atheists. As much as I can’t fathom people, specifically women, belonging to religions as messed up as the big 3, we have to recognize that and become helpful allies rather than condescending a”holes

  • ecolt

    As a female atheist, I have to say that I can see where Jack was coming from. Yeah, the language he used was incredibly misguided and the whole conversation seems to have quickly devolved into something rather trollish, but I can agree with the sentiment that religions are generally pretty misogynistic. Whether it’s because they come from the traditions of a thousand years ago or have been traditionally male-led and focused is a conversation for another time, but I personally have had that feeling of, “don’t these women understand what they’re buying into?” People can argue “interpretation” but in many cases the text is pretty clear. I totally agree that some men take that “white knight” stance, but overall I think it’s pretty accurate to say that the status of women around the world would be much different if the traditions and rules of religions were taken out of the equation. People phrase things badly sometimes and some men (and women) can have outdated ideas even if they’re comparatively progressive, but I think overall the harm done by misogynistic atheists pales in comparison to the millenia of oppression, violence, sexual slavery, legal inequality and psychological harm caused by the majority of the world’s major religions.

    • Alix

      …I don’t know that I’d call outright misogyny on Jack’s part simply “misguided.” No one is arguing he was wrong to hold the opinions he does on religion – but the whole point of this post is that even if he’s right, his attitude is very, very wrong.

      I really don’t get the knee-jerk defensiveness here. :/

  • Captain Cassidy

    Thank you for writing this. I’m suddenly remembering when I was deconverting. I knew a lot of atheists–mostly men, but one very strident feminist woman. I never told any of them about my struggles because I was afraid they’d use me to score points against religion. I’m not a notch in a Hitchens book. I ended up figuring it out for myself, because while I knew I wasn’t bias-free, at least I knew I’d be working to my own best interest as best I could.

    Also, it’s funny to me that since leaving, some of the most shockingly sexist attitudes and comments I’ve ever seen or heard have come out of supposedly “enlightened” atheist men.

  • Paul Chaplin

    what a great article thanks!

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