What are we doing?

What are we doing? September 12, 2013

For several months now, I’ve been watching the turmoil within the atheist/skeptic community with concern that’s graduating rapidly into alarm.  I firmly believe that pursing social justice and supporting feminism, within or outside the atheist community, is important, worthy and necessary.  Racists, harassers, sexists, and sexual predators cannot be allowed to dominate and control our message.  However, there seems to be an unfortunate tendency to treat the atheist community as if it’s split in half, with the “good” atheists fully embracing all the claims made by once side while the “bad” atheists chose the other side and whether or not an individual is considered “good” or “bad” seems to depend on what side the evaluator is on.  This perceived dichotomy is a problem because many people hold views that don’t clearly put them in one camp or the other (or they simply don’t want to be involved in the discussion) and it is these people that are choosing to disengage from the church/state separation fight rather than risk criticism or even outright attack or harassment from one side or the other.

Religionists of many different viewpoints are great at working together to steal our rights, despite significant differences in their philosophies.  We, as an atheist/skeptic community, suck at it.  If we continue to suck at it, they will win and we will lose.  This isn’t a statement about whether or not I personally believe atheism/secularism is really a movement or not.  It’s about the fact that whether or not we think we are a movement, the religionists trying to strip us of our civil rights certainly think we are and they are fighting against us as if we are a movement; therefore, it benefits us to act like a unified movement with regards to matters of church/state separation.

Until six months ago, when I created my first Twitter account, I had never heard of the terms #bravehero, slymepit, #FtBullies, chill girl, privilege, mansplaining, MRA, or elevatorgate, which seems unbelievable now, even to me.  I also didn’t realize pre-Twitter that there was anything controversial about our convention policy on harassment prevention until I started seeing critical (and sometimes ridiculously inane) tweets about the policy under our convention hashtag during the last AACON.  Also prior to Twitter, I was only vaguely aware of the A Plus side of the movement and thought it had something to do with atheists/secularists who were choosing to also work for social justice issues, which seemed like a worthy endeavor but not necessarily something I wanted to be directly involved in.  I held back from exploring it further, not because I don’t support social justice causes, but because besides volunteering to work on atheist civil rights causes as VP and board member of American Atheists (for which I draw no salary or financial benefits of any type), I still have a full time job and a family, and there simply wasn’t room for me to expand beyond my strict focus on civil rights.  Therefore, I did not know, until six to eight months ago, that our community was tearing itself apart along social justice and ideological lines.  I apparently was living under a metaphorical rock, and sometimes, when I look around on Twitter, Facebook, the blogs, and even in my own email box, I actually miss my former level of ignorance.  Back then, it was easy to see us as a diverse but reasonably unified community working together for a common goal, and that was a nice place to be, even if it wasn’t real.   Since then I have read hundreds of blog posts, have lurked in the A Plus forum, and have even visited the Slymepit and now, it appears to me that we are on the way towards losing ground to the religionists because we divided so strictly along ideological signs that we can’t work together on the issues we all have in common.

For the record, I want to make something very clear. In my opinion, people who sexually assault, harass, or express racist ideology rightly earn whatever negative consequences come upon them.  There is nothing I believe and nothing I have said here that can remotely justify any accusations that do not consider such people abhorrent.  And while I’m personally not sure yet whether public shaming is an appropriate substitute for the legal system when responding to allegations of criminal sexual misconduct, my 20 years of experience as a criminal investigator for the US Army tells me that false reports are extremely rare and because I know from experience that victims are often treated unfairly by the legal system, I certainly understand why some victims are left with few viable options.

Anyway, my point to all this is that there clearly are no easy solutions to the problems that are dividing us but we must figure out how to at least work together on what we have in common or we will lose everything we have fought for to the religionists.  I’m not suggesting that any individual necessarily needs to be respectful to any other individual who they think believes and/or does despicable things but I am saying that if we don’t somehow manage present a united front on atheist/secular civil rights, the religionists will win.   A men’s rights advocate and a feminist are going to loathe everything the other stands for, but that doesn’t mean they can’t both pick up a sign, drive to the Texas state capitol, and publicly demand that science text books actually include science.   But because we can’t seem to do that, right now, the religionists are winning and we as a community are doing half their work for them.

I say let’s not let them.

– Kathy




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  • Msironen

    Apparently, Richard Dawkins is a much bigger menace to atheism and society in general than religion. Maybe defaming him at every opportunity is something we can all agree on; a banner that could unite us all over ideological lines? We might even get theist luminaries such as Ray Comfort and William Lane Craig to provide some intellectual artillery!

    • Paul Loebe


  • B-Lar

    The chaff must be removed in order to make bread that is worth eating.
    The question that we should ask ourselves is, would we like lots of unpleasant (possibly inedible) bread or significantly less delicious bread?

    • Msironen

      You could also start by questioning whether your preferences concerning bread are, in fact, universally shared.

      • B-Lar

        Quite so. Everybody should be entitled to move towards their preferred type of bread.

    • Edward Gemmer

      Pumpernickel for everyone

  • Edward Gemmer

    It’s easier to understand these things if you forget all the words and language and instead focus on a psychological phenomenon called The Drama Triangle.


    Essentially, it is something repeatedly observed where one person plays the role of a victim, another plays the role of persecutor of the victim, and one person plays the role of rescuing the victim. However, none of them are actually interested in resolving the conflict and all act selfishly in an effort to keep up the drama. It is usually focused on dysfunctional and abusive relationships, and the atheist community has become an incredibly dysfunctional and abusive community, and it is easy to see people playing the roles of victim, persecutor, and rescuer in ways that perpetuate the drama.
    ElevatorGate and the atheist community almost perfectly illustrates this phenomenon. Rebecca Watson can play the victim (despite nothing actually happening), she has rescuers that come to her aid and persecutors who abuse her or just don’t think what happened is important. The actual actions of the rescuers and persecutors are nearly irrelevant – what’s more important is that all act in a way to perpetuate drama instead of resolving conflict. Richard Dawkins words that what happened wasn’t much compared to abuse was cast as persecution of Rebecca Watson. People jumped on Richard Dawkins and called him names in their effort to “rescue” Watson, despite this obviously being a silly way to resolve a conflict.
    Interestingly enough, the only way to get out of the drama triangle is to disengage from the drama (which is what Dawkins did).

    • Kathleen Duncan Johnson

      In my month-long quest to get up to date, I went back and looked at the video that sparked elevatorgate and you know what? All she said was it was creepy to ask someone out in an elevator, which was an absolutely harmless (and true) statement to make. There’s been so much bad behavior on multiple sides since that it’s easy to forget that the original statement was about as harmless and mild as a statement can get and shouldn’t have gotten any reaction at all.

      • Edward Gemmer

        I had to do the same thing because none of it makes any sense, but it seems ElevatorGate was really not about that statement, but more about what people said about each other afterwards. Some other woman made a video saying she disagreed with Watson, and then Watson said that woman was against feminism or something, and then it was on. Like I said, it is less about actual facts and conflict and more about drama.

  • Priscilla Parker

    No offense Ms. Johnson, but if you grasped the irony of what you just said on Rock Beyond Beliefs blog, you might not be so quick to speak. I’m personally glad to see you are a blogger here because you’ve done quite a bit for the foxhole atheist community and I have a lot of respect for you but do you have any idea what Justin Griffith and by extension you and others aligned with RBB currently, did to the atheist community at Fort Bragg and how this blog has for the past 2 years tarnished the atheist communities reputation in the military because of the lies that have consistently been told time and again? How when Justin was confronted with that, he used his position both on this blog and at AA to throw people under the bus? Do you even know why Justin Griffith had to stop blogging and resign as MD of AA all of a sudden last January? If you did, it would be hard for me to believe that you would be willing to knowingly back him or this blog.

    Again, I admire you and what you accomplished with MAAF and AA but the reason there is a divide in the community is because of the behavior of people, like Justin and Paul, who when they start getting a little bit of attention or a position at a national organization, see themselves as more then they are and when questioned or confronted about what they are doing, get cocky and accuse people off stalking them or threaten to troll them or to call other people’s bosses. WTF? If the atheist community and organizations truly want to progress and are concerned with social justice, they need to start internally by removing those that bully, threaten and harass others and use their positions to do so. It’s unprofessional and immature and AA can start with their current MD. He doesn’t do anything to support the foxhole atheist community and has used his new found position at AA to declare him-self a public figure. He had nothing to do with RBB originally yet takes credit for it. That’s why people get mad and say something but when we do people don’t want to get involved, as you suggested. AA got involved when they made Justin and then Paul their MD’s and ostracized the Fort Bragg atheist community that was actually responsible for organizing and pulling off RBB and returning the installation back to a no public forum.

    Or perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps RBB was just held to make Justin and Paul celebrities in the atheist community and had nothing to do with foxhole atheists.

    • Msironen

      “who when they start getting a little bit of attention or a position at a national organization, see themselves as more then they are and when questioned or confronted about what they are doing, get cocky and accuse people off stalking them or threaten to troll them or to call other people’s bosses.”

      I agree with this 100%. I also think you have the perpetrators 100% wrong.

      • Priscilla Parker

        ‘I also think you have the perpetrators 100% wrong.’

        How do you mean? (Genuinely asking, not being sarcastic?)

    • Kathleen Duncan Johnson

      My post was about the future, not the past, and since my focus is what’s in front of us, not behind, I’m not going down the road of trying to sort out who-did-what-to-whom more than a year ago . Further, I know for a fact that both Paul and Justin have done a ton of exemplary activist work on behalf of the military while serving as unpaid, volunteer military directors for American Atheists.

  • Paul Loebe

    Priscilla, I have banned you from this blog once. Do not post here again. Stop emailing me, stop contacting me in any fashion. I have never met you. I want nothing to do with you.

    If you post here again I will post your IP address along with all the email addresses you post from. You have been fairly warned.

    • Rock beyond belief

      Aww, you mad, bro?!

      First off, thanks for proving my point and showing your ass. If it’s not apparent to you by now, I don’t give a fuck if you want me posting here or not. You’re just mad I’m exposing your sorry ass and, understandably, don’t appreciate it.

      Go ahead, post whatever IP address you want, good luck finding mine; ) Post the emails I use here. Was that suppose to be a threat, as if something would come of it? Come on Loebe, you can do better than that, or can’t you?

      Fair warning for you; we can play that game if you like but you better know who it is you’re playing with before you jump in the game!

      • Paul Loebe

        Priscilla, no one cares about you….but you. Notice how no one blogs about you. Talks about you. Speaks publicly in your defense. Ever comes to your side?

        Except maybe the Christian Fighter Pilot? You’re a joke. A delusional nitwit. Thanks for playing. You’re last year’s almost news.

  • Dave Littler

    I realize this post is days-old, and nothing I’m going to say is going to get a lot of traction, but I figure I might as well put it out there.

    I used to visit FtB multiple times daily, before this whole Atheism+ fiasco. As that movement emerged, though, I came to realize something was happening in that crowd that I found incredibly repugnant. It wasn’t the causes they were championing; indeed, I find myself in agreement with them in broad terms with respect to almost every cause they support. It was their approach. Their constant, hysterical and vicious antagonism towards anyone who disagreed with them on any point. Their demonization of ANYONE who disagreed with them on any issue as a “rape supporter”, “misogynist”, etc. The sheer glee they seem to experience in making friends and allies into enemies over the most trivial of things.

    It began to feel like they had a rigidly-defined dogma, and anyone who didn’t subscribe to it automatically became not someone to discuss these points with but a hated enemy to be destroyed.

    That’s when I stopped visiting FtB.

    In the year or two since then, I’ve heard this story echoed a thousand times. Look at Ellenbeth Wachs. She was one of them, and indeed joined in on this behaviour until she found herself in disagreement with them on some point or another and suddenly found herself no longer a member of the in-group, and treated with all the venom and hatred and strawmanning that she had been joining in on just a day before.

    It’s not that we’re rape supporters. It’s not that we’re misogynists. It’s not that we’re patriarchs. It’s that we find the constant spurious dismissal of anyone who disagrees with the Atheism+ people on any trivial issue as such to be alienating, obnoxious and irrational.

    For those of us opposing the Atheism+ crowd – most of us, anyway, given the discussions I’ve seen and taken part in – that’s the whole issue.