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Earlier in the year Patheos turned 5 years old and they asked us bloggers to reflect on our time here and its highlights. I never got around to finishing the post I started to write at the time. So, I decided to post it today, the 2 year anniversary of my move to Patheos from Freethought Blogs.
I’m going to highlight 10 representative posts (or related sets of posts), in chronological order rather than ranked according to quality, that take me through the last 20+ months in my mind.
1. My series of posts on my deconversion, which I had begun in late October 2011, was filled out significantly at Patheos. In particular, it was while here that I wrote the posts covering the actual point of deconversion. I also interviewed my best friend John, whose suicidal nihilism, religious struggles against his homosexuality, and interest in Nietzsche, all influenced me in a life altering way. My interview with John was crucial to a chain of events that saw him leave the monastery. And it was here that I wrote my defiant “refusal to let Christians judge me” that many apostates report resonates with them particularly strongly.
2. In early 2013, I wrote two posts that I hope will be just the first two in a “How To Live Happily” series. I wanted these posts to be edifying and inspiring. I sought to synthesize and express a lot of wisdom that I had been internalizing myself in a perspective-altering way at that period in my life. The first of those posts, on living with “no expectations”, was a big hit (by my blog’s standards) and still gets read by at least a few people every day.
3. For the first half of 2013, Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism and I ran a series of blog posts called “Forward Thinking”. We put out calls for other bloggers to write on a number of difficult topics for values clarification and consistently got back thoughtful responses from a diverse range of progressive voices, both religious and irreligious.
4. Going back a few years on Camels With Hammers I had been working out how to be a more scrupulous, self-critical, and constructive participant in online debates. The longer I was in the blogosphere, the more I started to realize how toxic so much of it could be. In 2011, very shortly after joining Freethought Blogs I had started writing posts about how atheists needed to be more ethically and intellectually conscientious about how we criticized religious people such that our charges were fairer, truer, and avoided abusiveness.
The following summer, frustrated with abusive commenters in general on my blog, I laid down a moderation policy forbidding the use of insulting epithets and reflexive personalizing of intellectual disputes. Then I was blindsided with a mixture of both constructive and harshly accusatory criticism from social justice focused commenters who falsely interpreted my calls for a civility as an attempt to silence the marginalized.
I spent my last month and a half at Freethought Blogs writing a number of posts that tried to thoroughly work out the ethical case against abusive discourse while also incorporating all that I was learning about why and how we needed to prevent civility from being a tool for the powerful to use to silence the oppressed.
My goal became to thread the needle and develop an interpretation of civility that equally affirmed the value of abstract rational argumentation even about the most painful controversies, the value of compassionate treatment even of the most painfully wrong adversaries, and the leveling the discourse playing field so that it didn’t structurally disadvantage those who suffer from injustices and, therefore, have many good reasons to be less patiently calm and abstract about any number of issues.
The culmination of all of this came in February 2013 when here at Patheos I published my “Civility Pledge”. In the pledge I, with the indispensable help of several advisers, tried to spell out and formally commit myself to a concrete set of practices and principles for engaging more civilly in public forums centered around discussion of controversial topics. I hoped others would sign on but few did. As much as anything the depth of detail and philosophical specificity made it so there was simply too much for most people to endorse. While many were resistant of the whole idea of pledges and even of civility, I received a number of thoughtful, critical replies.
5. In June 2013, I started a new blog column called “Philosophical Advice”, in which I began answering readers’ e-mails seeking practical advice that is philosophically informed. I have loved writing the column and written a number of posts I am proud of, all of which can be read at the regularly updated permanent tab for the column. I still have about 5 e-mails yet unresponded to that I will get to in the coming weeks. This has become one of the most gratifying parts of blogging for me. The most successful post in the series so far, my advice for a procrastinating graduate student not only brought me clients for my philosophical advice service but a couple of online students who discovered me through it.
6. At the end of July 2013, there was a news story about a prominent atheist legal organization (whose work are I am usually a big supporter of) writing a letter threatening a lawsuit over the state of Ohio approving a Holocaust memorial at the statehouse that would be comprised of a very large broken Star of David. The president of another atheist organization (whose work I also am usually a big supporter of) went on FOX News also to attack the monument.
I was very upset by this story. Even though I am in many respects one of the staunchest secularists one could meet, I viscerally disagreed that this was a secularism issue and I thought that accusing a Holocaust memorial of violating the need for separation of church and state simply on the grounds that it prominently used the symbol of the religious group most massacred in the Holocaust was offensively myopic and petty. I argued that such a response to such a monument among atheists played to the worst stereotypes of atheists as having an inability to read symbols or religious history in anything but a simplistic and monolithic way. In a flash of hot fury, I wrote a post called .
But rather than leave the story at my righteous rage, the next week I coordinated a two hour live video conversation with many activists in the atheist movement on both sides of the issue for a mostly balanced back and forth on whether we should oppose or support the monument. That episode of The Camels With Hammers Show was the most successful ever. The transcript and video of the show are here.
7. For many years now, stretching back to the writing of my dissertation, I have been trying to build my own understanding of moral philosophy. I have examined in depth whether morality can have any foundations and whether any particular ethical constructs could be said to be rationally grounded and true in some robust sense that could make ethics a matter of knowledge and intellectual clarity, rather than merely projections of social or personal feelings.
While at Patheos I have resumed that project at various points. The three posts that have been most definitive expressions of my current positions are Paths to Moral Objectivity: Pragmatics, A Map With A Few of My Paths To Moral Objectivity, and My Systematic, Naturalistic Empowerment Ethics, With Applications to Tyrants, the Differently Abled, and LGBT People. The latter post systematically overviewed my ethical system, practically applied it to the issues that people most regularly worry about when they hear my views, and both crystalized and named the exhortative, practical, “what principle should guide us?” feature of my ethical thinking. My answer to the most crucial question, “How then shall we live?” is simple: We must live in the way that most empowers ourselves through most empowering others. This is, in its central priorities, an empowerment ethics and I realized that and articulated that first in that post a year ago.
I started a blog on the short lived Secularite website in January 2014. I called the blog Empowerment Ethics and resolved to reboot the presentation and development of my ethical system in a systematic, definitive, thorough, and accessible form. I’m fourteen posts in now and already I’m extremely delighted with what a great resource it is. When Secularite closed the series moved here. I’m especially happy that each post so far is written as an answer to a common challenge I get. Just this month, I’ve written one of the key posts in the series, “Can There Be Objective Morality When So Many People Disagree About Morality?”
8. As the calendar flipped over and 2013 gave way to 2014, so I closed a major chapter of my life. After teaching 2,500 university students in 93.5 classes, spread across 7 universities over the course of 11 straight years as an adjunct university professor, I left academia to focus on my own full time independent philosophy practice (both teaching my own online philosophy classes and giving people philosophical advice) instead. On January 1, 2014, I wrote a post, On the End of My Adjunct Teaching Career, that reflected on the nature and meaning of my adjunct teaching career and discussed the exploitative conditions that I (and so many other) academics have been laboring under. That post was relatively well read in academic circles (particularly in philosophy circles) and led to a profile of me in Inside Higher Education.
9. In March of this year, the evangelical Christian proselytization film God’s Not Dead hit theaters nationwide. The film makes a demonizing caricature not only of atheists in general but of atheist philosophy professors in particular. So many people in the atheist movement were coming to me when the trailer for the film came out in November asking for my response since I was one of the philosophy professors they were most familiar with. So, I wrote a very popular post called The Atheist Philosophy Professor Strikes Back! Then when the film came out, I went to see it, taking copious notes the whole time and wrote a series of posts criticizing the film in meticulous detail.
When I wrote my third overall response to the film, I thought it would be the least read one and that I might be squandering the inherent interest people seemed to have in reading my opinion on the movie. That was because I chose not to write the post with the average short attention span reader in mind but instead to a put together a semi-comprehensive explanation of how philosophy works and what sorts of philosophical arguments against God are out there that the movie barely even countenances. I wrote the post this way because I wanted to reach out to a very specific kind of reader–earnest, devout, apologetics-oriented young evangelical Christians like both the film’s protagonist Josh Whedon and me when I was his age. I wanted to give conscientious would-be philosophical dragon slayers like the younger me the thorough presentation of the other side the movie doesn’t give them but which they deserve to have access to.
To my gratified amazement, this 13,000+ word post, replete with a 22 entry table of contents discussing numerous philosophical concepts and getting into detail about philosophical pedagogy, has exploded all the records for my original writing’s readership. The post has been clicked on 82,883 times already, setting a record for a post of my original writing.
The other posts on the film are also very, very popular. All three of the most popular articles I have ever written (barring posts where I just was aggregating others’ content or reporting on a news story whose appeal had nothing to do with my commentary) are posts about God’s Not Dead. Not only that, but with the unusual influx of evangelical Christians finding my blog through the success of the film, I got a request from an evangelical Christian for advice about how to educate young people so that they don’t become the awful sort of proselytizers that God’s Not Dead‘s filmmakers are. As a result, I wrote another extremely popular post, Top Ten Tips for Christian Evangelizing–From an Atheist. I have been very gratified by the positive response from Christians to that post.
10. During my time at Patheos I’ve written many social justice pieces that I am very happy with. My post on why we need labels like Gay, Bi, Cis, and Trans spelled out and systematized a number of my key philosophical stances on social justice and was my second most read post of the summer despite being relatively long. My semi-comprehensive take on numerous hot-button controversies related to feminism is in my defense of feminism as a moral cause. My post on how my own personal sexual evolution makes me loathe slut shaming and victim blaming discussed some of my key points of empathy with women and LGBT people unjustly alienated from their sexuality in our culture. My posts on how atheists can condemn rape without moral absolutism laid out my argument against theistic morality in a social justice context. My post How I Wish The Homosexuality Debate Would Go is my retort to contemporary conservative Christian apologetics for homophobia. And The Gay Enemy Threat in the Christian Home is my appeal to Christians everywhere to take responsibility for the damage churches are doing to gay people. And just last week I made the case for why sexual liberation cannot really happen without the creation of a scrupulous culture of consent in my post on How To Create the Sexual Utopia.
So, these are the highlights I think of when I reflect back on my first two years at Patheos. Do you have any favorite posts I didn’t have room to include here?
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