Chris Stedman exchange

I have been on panels with Chris Stedman.  I have confronted Stedman during Q&As at conferences (to applause from the crowd).  We disagree on pretty much everything, but in my limited personal interactions with the man I have found him to be rather pleasant.  I have always said of Stedman that he was a really nice guy, but that we disagreed on pretty much everything.  I have done this to the consternation of many of my friends.  That is why I was so surprised by an exchange that took place recently.

The other day PZ wrote a pretty solid post about Stedman’s forthcoming book and a friend of mine on facebook, who is a fan of Stedman’s, made a post expressing her support of Stedman.  I left the following comment.

Chris is a nice guy, but I’ve read enough of his work and heard enough of his talks to know that I would sooner eat glass than buy or read his book.

Short, sweet, and to-the-point.  Chris fired back.

JT — This isn’t the first time I’ve heard you use the “Chris is a nice guy, but” caveat to dismiss my work, but I have to ask: how would you even know? Unlike your colleagues at the SSA, you and I have never even had a real face-to-face conversation, and you don’t exactly seem interested in doing so (unless, of course, it’s some big epic public throw-down — or what’d you call it, a blog-a-log? — that would generate blog hits).

Anyway… I think it’s really unfortunate that you seem so quick to dismiss things that you imagine you might not like — I mean, I’ve read enough of your work and heard enough of your talks to *guess* that I might not enjoy a book if you wrote one (and it’s a pretty well-informed guess), but I’d of course read it anyway, and try to do so with an open mind. I’m willing to be wrong about my assumptions, or at least not be *entirely* right. Critical thinking, skepticism, and maintaining an awareness of one’s own reflexivity need to be applied to more than just religion…

Have a great day, and please don’t eat any glass.

Yes, because I’m totally dismissing his conclusions just because I may not like them.  I’m that shallow.  Sheesh.

Anyway, I retorted.

Chris,

This is part of what frustrates me about you. Let me take a series of excerpts from your comment.

“…to dismiss my work…”

“…but I have to ask: how would you even know?”

“…I think it’s really unfortunate that you seem so quick to dismiss things that you imagine you might not like…”

And so on and so forth. Yet, in my comment, I explained why I dismiss your present work – it’s because I’ve *not* dismissed your past work:

“…I’ve read enough of his work and heard enough of his talks…”

I have read your work, and I have listened to you speak. I think you’re wrong and a bad thinker. You try to take the high road here:

“I mean, I’ve read enough of your work and heard enough of your talks to *guess* that I might not enjoy a book if you wrote one (and it’s a pretty well-informed guess), but I’d of course read it anyway, and try to do so with an open mind.”

But I don’t buy it for a moment. It is not open-minded to give somebody infinite chances – it is a waste of time after a certain point. I am open-minded, I am skeptical (despite your insinuations toward the end of your comment that I’m not), but I also don’t have the time to continue reading the work of people I don’t consider to be good thinkers (that’s you, in this case) forever and ever.

Also, derision does not cease to be derision just because it’s couched in nice language. First, you’re wrong for insinuating that I’m using the “nice guy, but” approach as the means to dismiss your present work. I dismiss your present work because your past work has been poorly defended in both print and person – where I have confronted you. Don’t get me wrong, deride me if you see fit – I think derision can be healthy and I’m more than willing to defend myself. But don’t try to preen as though you’re taking the high road and think nobody will notice the hypocrisy.

“you don’t exactly seem interested in doing so”

Say what? I have tried multiple times to get you into a conversation using the exact same standards I use for all other conversations (http://www.atheismresource.com/2010/my-requirements-for-talking-god). It is you who has said you would participate and then fluttered off (and I still have records of Chris Stedman saying this I can screen cap if anybody doubts this ::EDIT:: I looked up our old emails to screen cap and it turns out I do not have them anymore as this was a year ago after the last CFI Leadership and email from that time has since found its way to the graveyard. Stedman agreed to participate, vanished, I reminded him, he agreed again citing he was busy, and promptly evaporated again.).

“…unless, of course, it’s some big epic public throw-down — or what’d you call it, a blog-a-log? — that would generate blog hits”

You’re insinuating I was only interested in discoursing with you publicly for attention rather than my stated reason: because in public there is accountability for saying stupid shit and I want that pressure in place? How insulting. Calling me a liar nicely doesn’t make it any less of an affront – in fact, it makes it more of one since now you’re treating me like an idiot on top of calling me liar.

Also, what’s with saying I’ve never tried to talk with you and then throwing out the excerpted line above? You agreed to have a blog-a-log and then disappeared. Your ‘principles’ have only just now become an issue (once more, I can provide screen caps to establish this) and this fact has not eluded me.

And lastly, thank you. Before I thought you were just a nice guy with whom I disagreed. However, in just two short paragraphs you have convinced me, through force of evidence, that you are not the nice guy I thought you were, but that you are instead passive-aggressive, disingenuous, derisive, and condescending. Frankly, it’s the first compelling argument I’ve ever heard you make.

JT

I looked up our old emails to screen cap and it turns out I do not have them anymore as this was a year ago after the last CFI Leadership Conference and email from that time has since found its way to the graveyard.  Short story? Stedman agreed to participate, vanished, I reminded him, he agreed again citing he was busy, and promptly evaporated again.

I went in and added one last line:

Let me also comment on this:

“I think it’s really unfortunate that you seem so quick to dismiss things that you imagine you might not like”

Let me be perfectly clear:

1. Suggesting I disagree because I dislike the conclusion is based on nothing, especially when I’ve argued with you in public (to applause from the crowd, if you’ll recall our last encounter). I disagree because your reasoning is sub par. Period.

2. To say that I disagree because I’m wrapped up in my own conclusions is insulting. You lose all privileges to get mad at me for insulting anybody ever again.

JT

Some of Chris’s defenders came to the rescue.  One displayed her X-men-like ability to read minds.

@JT, tl;dr

Reading between the lines here, I’m curious if the real issue behind all this time spent typing responses picking apart Chris’s tiny comment is that you might be a bit jealous that someone is stealing your internet atheist spotlight? Maybe you should go post about it on your Xanga?

She’s referring to my old blog before I got this one.  Xanga is generally a social blog, not really one for academic or rigorous thinking, which was the whole point of her jab.  I guess it means my content was lacking, so don’t bother reading any of it. If you did, you might see a few posts where I announce that Stedman and I were going to have a blog-a-log…because he had agreed to do it.

Perhaps I should try the appeal to ulterior motives approach more often.

“XXXXX,

Reading between the lines here, I’m curious if the real issue behind your displeasure with me isn’t really the reasons you’ve given (which I won’t be responding to), but that instead you might be jealous/bitter/insecure/any other deriding adjective you can think of? (insert insult for the capper)”

How do you argue with something like that?  It sounds like a terrible argument when I say it…

Anyway, Stedman has said he’ll send me a rebuttal.  Maybe he will, maybe he won’t.  I’ve told him if he does that I am going to repost it publicly and tear into it.

  • Russell P

    One of the most universal misunderstandings about blogs, serious or not, is that they are not verbal conversations where you can get more in-depth information and tone of voice, or inflection and body language. An offhand comment becomes the subject.
    I’ve not read any of Mr. Stedman’s work, so I really can’t empathize with your opinion of him, but I’m glad we might have an opportunity to read more about this.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org Ophelia Benson

    A couple of things (since I’ve had similar go-rounds) -

    Stedman: “I’ve read enough of your work and heard enough of your talks to *guess* that I might not enjoy a book if you wrote one (and it’s a pretty well-informed guess), but I’d of course read it anyway, and try to do so with an open mind.”

    What’s of course about it? It’s not possible to read everything, to put it mildly. We have to select what to read. Why is it of course that he would read a book he had reason to think he might not enjoy (or, presumably, and more to the point, learn something from)?

    It’s not of course, and I think he was, as so often, just giving himself a lightly-veiled pat on the back for being better than everyone else.

    JT: “Also, derision does not cease to be derision just because it’s couched in nice language.”

    Exactly, and Stedman really would do well to get that. Shielding hostility behind cuddly language is passive-aggressive, and it’s not a good tactic.

  • Kal

    JT continues to be the weakest link at SSA

  • Courtney Caldwell

    I’m sure Kal is just an ignorant troll, but JT is a good friend of mine, and baseless douchebaggery such as this pisses me off. Since taking the helm of the high school program at SSA, they have gotten coverage in USA Today and the New York fucking Times. The number of high school groups has more than DOUBLED since he took the helm. In the four years before JT got there SSA had 12 HS groups, but JT added THIRTEEN in four months.

    You’re welcome to your opinion but don’t just come on here and be an asshole. Back your statements up with reason. You come on here and make a baseless statement under the cloak of anonymity. Pure cowardice.

  • JT Eberhard

    Kal,

    Man, some people go right for the heart, bypassing even any pretense at argument. I should thank you. When someone comments to hurt alone, not to defend a position or change anything for the better, but just to try and sting someone they disagree with, that’s the type of person whose opinions I could really give a shit less about. Informal social controls have a place, but only when accompanied with an explanation for why they’re being applied. You have just used them for the express purpose of trying to sting, and I suspect you’re proud of it.

    I would worry if my contributions to the SSA in the five months I’ve been there weren’t already documented in the national news or being trotted out by the organization as a point of pride.

    And actually, I’ll agree with you: I am the weakest link at the SSA. I am proud to be the weakest link at the SSA. It’s like someone saying I’m the slowest sprinter at the Olympics, my only response can be “…ok”. Lyz, Aug, Jesse, Nick, Amanda, Andy…every single one of them is insanely talented. I don’t mind trying to play catch up to them.

    JT

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    JT continues to be the weakest link at SSA

    I don’t usually get into these more personal public bouts between atheists. And Courtney pretty much said everything I was going to say. But I feel like I need to not let this one pass.

    Are you fucking kidding me?

    And here’s where I say again, “What Courtney said.” Since she did already say everything I was going to say, and more succinctly than I would have said it. But it deserves repeating: In terms of numbers of affiliates, media exposure, generating excitement at conferences, JT has clearly been a tremendous asset to the SSA. i can’t think of any weak links at the SSA — but he is clearly one of the many strong ones.

    This is pretty much the equivalent of responding to a serious argument by saying, “Janie is a doo-doo head.” It’s entirely meant to hurt personally, rather than shed any actual light or insight onto the actual topic at hand.

    Oh, and re the actual topic at hand: Again, I don’t usually get into these more personal public bouts between atheists. But I have to say that Chris Steadman has not, of late, been covering himself with glory. I have no problem with diplomatic atheists — in fact, I frequently make a point of saying that the movement needs both diplomats and firebrands. But I do have a problem with diplomatic who spend a significant amount of their time and energy battling other atheists and trying to get them to shut up, rather than actually building the bridges with believers that they keep talking about. And I have a serious problem when, as Ophelia so eloquently put it above, they battle other atheists in such a hostile, passive-aggressive way. For someone who’s apparently trying to position himself as the “nice guy” atheist, he’s not doing a very good job.

  • http://www.improbablejoe.blogspot.com Improbable Joe

    … and I’m adding this site to my RSS reader.

  • http://n/a D. Finney

    “JT continues to be the weakest link at SSA.”

    It’s funny you should say that, because my biggest reasons for not affiliating my campus group with the SSA – as I very nearly did – were finding them promoting the White House Office of Faith-based Initiatives and its, “Interfaith Challenge,” then in short order discovering Chris Stedman on SSA’s Speakers’ Bureau. This made me question the fit.

    Ironically, in response to an email of mine criticizing SSA’s involvement in the government’s faith sector, Lyz Liddell actually retorted by sending me an email citing a blog post by . . . wait for it . . . Chris Stedman!

  • Jonathan Figdor

    JT Eberhard is a great SSA employee who continues to do an incredible job as the High School coordinator for the SSA. Consider making a donation to the SSA to cheer him up a bit: https://www.secularstudents.org/node/8

  • http://sprengdentag.wordpress.com/ lost control

    D. Finney, out of curiosity, which of Stedman’s blog posts was that? Could you link to it, if you’ve got a link handy?

  • http://n/a D. Finney

    http://thenewhumanism.org/authors/christopher-stedman/articles/should-the-nonreligious-join-in-interfaith-work

    To be fair, she linked to a couple other articles as well, but they only echoed Stedman in as many words. I just think when addressing critics of SSA’s participation in the illegal federal faith program, it may be wise to avoid mention of Chris Stedman, of all people.

  • http://sprengdentag.wordpress.com/ lost control

    Thanks, D. I didn’t know that one.

    Not too different from his recent article about his interfaith experiences, methinks.

    Lot’s of talk about narratives and then [meta?]narrative of pluralism. Dare I say this reminds me of a recent discussion I followed about Postmodernism? Yikes.

    “Religious” Humanism: that’s something that just puts me off; I have no interest in playing dress up religion. Invocations? I rather go to a concert.
    If I want a diverse community I can join any club that actually does something I’m interested in; I don’t need interfaith anything to engage people with different worldviews / religions. I fail to see what’s so valuable about interfaith.

    But then again, I’m from the EU.

  • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    “But then again, I’m from the EU.”

    I think this makes a very significant difference actually. When I was living in the UK I didn’t see any need for stuff like this – the religious environment is just so different in many places of the EU. Moving to the USA and seeing first-hand the enormous influence of religious on public and private life was what got me so fired up about Humanist activism. There are needs here which are not present elsewhere.

    Having said that, given the increasing incidences of both prejudice toward Muslims and prejudice from Islamic communities (I’m thinking here of the “No Gay Zone” in London, for example) there seems to me to be a clear need for interfaith work there too.

    Further, here’s an interesting example of a position which is not “you do your diplomatic stuff and I’ll do my firebrand stuff”. D Finney says:

    “my biggest reasons for not affiliating my campus group with the SSA – as I very nearly did – were finding them promoting the White House Office of Faith-based Initiatives and its, “Interfaith Challenge,” then in short order discovering Chris Stedman on SSA’s Speakers’ Bureau. This made me question the fit.”

    The association with Chris and the interfaith work he is engaged in is sufficient reason not to affiliate with the SSA – hardly “plural approaches are valued”. In a less strong way, lost control says “I fail to see what’s so valuable about interfaith.” Again, this is quite different from saying “This work is valuable, but not the work I want to engage myself with.”

    I think we need to be honest about this disagreement: it seems clear to me that there are people who do not see the value in a more diplomatic approach and, likewise, people who do not see the value in a more confrontational approach. It might be worth putting the arguments out there in an extended dialogue with multiple voices to really hash this out, not as a confrontation between to individuals but as a genuine intra-movement discussion. Perhaps we should do it in a podcast or something?

  • http://n/a D. Finney

    Quite an argument, James: “If you don’t support interfaith, you don’t support varied approaches.” That’s bullshit and I’m sick of hearing it, as are evidently many others. It’s the same non sequitur trotted out time and again by apologists for, “interfaith.” You Ivy League Humanists should get over yourselves. For as often as you wrangle with other atheists about how they, “must,” get involved in, “interfaith,” for the sake of peace and humanity, it’s a wonder you have any time left over to snuggle with your religious friends.

    I can support plural approaches without supporting all approaches, particularly those that lead the SSA to run ads for the faith office on their website. I don’t thinks it’s unreasonable to expect that serious advocates of church/state separation not support faith-based initiatives that dole out pork to sectarian interests at public expense.

  • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    With respect, your response is an overreaction. I was posting in the context of this particular thread, in which it was suggested by Greta Christina and others that it is the more firebrand types who are open to multiple approaches and see the value in doing things different ways. I used your post, in a very respectful way, to highlight the point that there are some people who legitimately do not value some approaches, perhaps for very good reasons. I did not seek to criticize you on this point, but merely demonstrate that this is in fact the case.

    That you talk dismissively of “Ivy League Humanists” and the “bullshit” they spout, and their “religious friends” (is it a bad thing to have friends who are religious?) seem to confirm my analysis – you have a real disagreement over elements of strategy that goes deeper than “you do your stuff and I’ll do mine”. You do indeed want people NOT to do interfaith work under a Humanist umbrella.

    You say “I can support plural approaches without supporting all approaches, particularly those that lead the SSA to run ads for the faith office on their website. ” I agree. I didn’t seek to dispute this. Rather, I sought to show that IN THIS INSTANCE that was not your response, that there are real disagreements over some strategies, and that we should discuss them.

    Finally, you say “I don’t thinks it’s unreasonable to expect that serious advocates of church/state separation not support faith-based initiatives that dole out pork to sectarian interests at public expense.” I have a lot of sympathy with your view on this point. I was not questioning whether your view is correct or not. Again, I was simply pointing out that sometimes there are indeed strong differences of opinion regarding strategy and that we should discuss it. If you’d like to discuss your criticism of interfaith work more at length I’m sure we could organize a discussion of it.

  • http://sprengdentag.wordpress.com/ lost control

    James, I grant you that maybe I should’ve been more verbose, but you shouldn’t have taken just that last sentence out of the paragraph.

    Maybe it would’ve been better phrased as (and I extend it a bit):

    “Religious” Humanism: that’s something that just puts me off; I have no interest in playing dress up religion. Invocations? I rather go to a regular concert.
    If I want a diverse community I can join any club that actually does something I’m interested in; I don’t need an interfaith organization to engage and interact with people from different worldviews / religions. I fail to see what’s so valuable or special about interfaith efforts.

    My “I fail to see” neither indicates that interfaith cannot have value, nor indicates that it shouldn’t be done, i.e. I’m using the phrase in the “I don’t understand” way.
    Could you tell me why you thought I meant it in a different way?

    I understand D. Finney’s frustration and don’t see it as overreaction.
    The “if you don’t do x, you’re not for multiple approaches” seems to pop up quite frequently. And it’s plain wrong.

    I consider myself a gnu. I will not hold back if triggered. I’ll use the language I feel best suited to convey what I mean within my limits as a non-native speaker.
    I’m never going to baldly assert “Interfaith is wrong, they should do it the gnu way.” but we quite often hear “the gnus must stop being shrill/strident/dicks/mean/… and come on board to interfaith” or similar.
    The thing is, if I’m presented with compelling evidence that strong language including expletives hurts the cause of Secularism etc. I’ll change. So far I’ve seen no such evidence, I’m staying a Gnu.

    Based on this thread, am I shrill / dickish / ?
    I hope you find me pleasant enough. ;-)

    See, I use language as I see fitting, I don’t great people by shouting “hey, asshole”. If someone asks me honest questions, I’ll pass on what little knowledge I’ve got. The social setting plays a role, too.

    OT: I do look forward to Stedman’s response, I’d like to be surprised by his writing.

  • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    “I understand D. Finney’s frustration and don’t see it as overreaction. The “if you don’t do x, you’re not for multiple approaches” seems to pop up quite frequently. And it’s plain wrong.”

    I would understand his frustration if that was what I had said. It wasn’t.

    As for “I fail to see the value”, perhaps this is a difference of idiom between British and American English, but where I’m from what that means is not literally “I do not see the value in X, but there could be value in X”, but rather “I do not consider there to be value in X”. I accept if what you meant was the former then my point does not apply.

    But to stress again, I am not criticizing – just seeking to point out some differences of opinion in these matters that are worth discussing.

  • http://sprengdentag.wordpress.com/ lost control

    The association with Chris and the interfaith work he is engaged in is sufficient reason not to affiliate with the SSA – hardly “plural approaches are valued”.

    You implied he wouldn’t really value multiple approaches, because he chose not to affiliate with a specific organisation.
    So, would you say I don’t value multiple approaches (to promote animal welfare), because I don’t affiliate with PETA?

    Thanks for acknowledging that you misunderstood me. AE/BE differences can be funny at times. Some expressions I use led to running gags (about me) with US co-workers.


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