…is that I get invited to participate in stuff like this:
For those of you who somehow managed to miss it on the other FTBlogs, yesterday a group of us, along with Rebecca Watson of Skepchick, convened online to host the first (and, judging by the response from the other folks, not the last) Google+ hangout forum. We were discussing, among other things, sexual harassment at skepty/athie conferences like The Amazing Meeting, and specifically the piss-poor way in which DJ Grothe of JREF was handling the issue.
It practically goes without saying that I enjoyed the shit out of myself.
I said it jokingly, but I was serious in my self-appraisal as someone who was more or less a dispassionate third-party observer. I don’t really have a dog in this fight – I wasn’t ever planning on going to TAM, and it had nothing to do with any kind of sexual harassment policy. It just doesn’t really interest me a great deal – the stuff that I care about doesn’t really fall under TAM’s umbrella, and unless the JREF decides to suddenly adopt a radically different mission in life, I don’t see that changing. This isn’t a criticism – TAM should keep doing what has apparently been a very successful event – it just means that I don’t really care either way if TAM succeeds. I’ve therefore intentionally stayed out of the discussion, because I don’t really have that much to contribute besides saying “I agree with Stephanie Zvan” until my vocal chords are hoarse.
That being said, I did have two main points that I wished to contribute to the discussion around this issue: … Continue Reading
As you may know (and should certainly know if you followed my Blogathon Songathon yesterday), one of the many hats I wear is that of musician. I am no great talent, to be sure, but I’ve got some moderate game. I’ve been a musician as long as I can remember – somewhere there exists a photo of me as a 3 year-old sitting on the steps, banging out rhythms on my knees. I started guitar lessons at age 6, singing lessons a couple of years after that, picked up the guitar at age 14, started my first string quartet at 15… I’ve been in the game for a minute.
Which is why I was torn this past weekend when James Croft, a person I otherwise respect for his outspoken defense of humanism, came out in favour of using song as part of humanist gatherings. His position (and I am trying my best not to straw man) is that because narrative and song have such a persuasive power, humanists should involve it as part of our regular discourse. Humanist gatherings should involve group participation in song and storytelling (he actually used the word ‘witnessing’ at one point), because they are useful in building consensus and community, and what he calls a more ’emotive’ humanism.
I attempted to point out that, given the number of humanists who have actively fled religion, the adoption of a quasi-liturgical form to humanist gatherings was pretty likely to spook a lot of people. When I attempted to defend James’ idea of a church-like gathering for atheists who were in need of the kind of stable community and group interaction that churches provide to believers, there were a number of people who responded that, even if they thought the idea had some merit there was absolutely no way they would attend. Any attempt to ‘churchify’ humanism is going to alienate a lot of people.
James’ response was basically “Yeah? So?” … Continue Reading
This morning I briefed you on a fight going on in Saskatoon between the city’s mayor and one of its citizens over a led prayer at a volunteer appreciation dinner. Worse, perhaps, than the mayor’s recalcitrance, was the racist and anti-immigrant backlash Mr. Ashu Solo faced as a result of speaking out, despite the fact that he was born in Canada (brown people are easy to demonize). Perhaps even worse than that was the uninformed and lazy reaction from other atheists who decided that, despite not having been there or knowing anything about the situation, they knew the correct way to handle things.
I spoke to Mr. Solo via Facebook and e-mail, and asked him a few questions about the situation. Here is an edited version of his responses*. … Continue Reading
I have, in the past, erroneously made the point that Canada’s Charter does not explicitly separate church and state. I thought it was cute and curious that a country like Canada, with a very secular population (particularly compared to the United States), has no need to enshrine and codify the explicit segregation between religious matters and governmental ones. Of course, as with so many things that I just make up off the top of my head, it turns out that I am wrong. Section twenty-seven of the Charter, guaranteeing a right to multiculturalism, has been interpreted by the courts as expressly forbidding government recognition of one religious tradition over others.
Someone should probably tell the mayor of Saskatoon that: … Continue Reading
I hope nobody mistakes my approach to racism and cultural tolerance as ‘the right way’. People a lot more well-versed than I am in the vagaries of anthropology, history, sociology, and psychology (just to name a few relevant fields that I am utterly clueless in) have time and again failed to find the surefire path forward to diplomacy and harmony. I can barely sweet-talk women at the bar. If there is a ‘right way’, and I don’t believe that there is one, I’m an unlikely candidate to be the one who comes across it.
That being said, I know that some methods are better than others. There may be few things that we know to be surefire correct, but there are a hell of a lot that we know to be just plain wrong. There are, like logical fallacies or lousy apologetics arguments or privileged whines, arguments that are uttered pre-refuted. We know colour blindness doesn’t work, we know that ‘reverse discrimination’ isn’t what people say it is, we know that dividing the world into ‘racists’ and ‘non-racists’ is a house built on the sand of bad psychology. We can dispose of these arguments just like we can the “well then why are there still monkeys” ‘proof’ that evolution is a liberal conspiracy from the Muslim atheist devil.
Some situations, however, are quite a bit more tricky: … Continue Reading
One of the valuable lessons that the atheist community has learned in the last little while is that it is possible to provoke a controversy where one didn’t exist before. The formula is pretty simple – make some largely innocuous public statement about atheism, wait for the predictable overreaction from a group of religious folks who just can’t seem to help themselves, and then enjoy as people fall all over themselves to try to shut the atheists up without violating the law. Every time an atheist bus campaign or billboard goes up, we see the same cycle of provocation, backlash, and blowup. It is an extremely useful method of sparking conversation in circles that weren’t talking before.
Now, to be sure, there are often completely non-exploitative motives behind these campaigns as well. Considering the number of atheists out there in the wold who feel completely alone – as though they are a solitary island of sanity in a sea of faith. Letting them know that they more closely resemble an archipelago with other atheists is both comforting and liberating. There is value in bucking the status quo and forcing the majority to contend with the fact that not everyone shares their myths, and that not everyone thinks of their delusion as worthy of praise and deep, abiding respect. That being said, nobody is so strategy-blind as to think that there is no ulterior motive behind the pronouncement that belief is silly (despite occasional protestations to the contrary).
Well it turns out that we are not the only people capable of exploiting such human frailty: … Continue Reading
Like many of you, I was a bit stunned to learn that the Secular Coalition for America had hired a former Republican operative as their new executive director. Considering the extent to which the Republican party is and has been decidedly anti-secular, the appointment of a party insider to this position struck me as strange. However, I decided to keep an open mind and extend the benefit of the doubt. After all, her political savvy and connections could be useful, and an unorthodox choice like Ms. Rogers would certainly shake things up. So she used to work for the wrong people, so what? People change, right?
Yeah… then I read this:
People are going to do a double-take when they hear a Republican strategist is now the leader of an organization working on behalf of atheists… what do you hope the public reaction will be?
I hope it will be a positive reaction and one that gets everyone thinking about the right direction for the secular movement. Often times, problems are arising from the conservative side and that’s one reason why it’s important to include both sides. The majority of the gubernatorial positions and state legislatures are controlled by Republicans. The Religious Right is a segment of the Republican Party — but it’s not a majority within the party and it certainly does not represent a majority of Americans. It’s a very active, vocal part of the Republican base, but it’s a minority.
I do think that for the vast majority of conservatives and Republicans, they are true believers of secularism — the majority of Republicans believe in the separation of church and state. Many of them are simply laissez faire about the issues, which gives us an opening to recruit them to the movement. Just within the last few months, talking to all my Republican conservative friends, the majority of them are in line with our thinking. They can be recruited, they just haven’t been active.
Hoooo boy. … Continue Reading
I got hit by a ‘double whammy’ this weekend. First, I watched The Trotsky on the plane to Kelowna (well, part of it – it’s a 30-minute flight). The premise of the movie seems a bit silly – a teenager who believes that he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky stages a coup in his high school in an attempt to organize the students into a union. It’s ostensibly a comedy, and is definitely a really funny film – the scenes where he woos a lawyer 10 years older than he are absolutely priceless. At the same time, the climactic scene (where the students charge up to the school with protest signs and righteous fury) fucks me every time I watch it, and my eyes start welling up like I’m a 6 year-old with a skinned knee.
Add to that a long conversation I had with Edwin Hodge about the heights of ridiculousness of post-modern thought (I more or less took Natalie Reed’s position – that post-modern thought can function alongside skepticism to help us critique the ways in which our own experiences and perspective affect truth claims), and whether or not political movements were undermined by the way in which postmodern perspectives can splinter populations that, from the outside, should share a single goal. The point I made to Edwin was that one doesn’t blame a CT scan for discovering problems we weren’t looking for. Postmodern ‘splintering’ is oftentimes simply the exposition of real divisions that exist, and provides a method by which groups who are not commonly represented in the majority group’s interests can keep their needs from being overlooked.
The problem of course is that the infighting that seems to happen – feminist atheists against anti-feminist; anti-racists against those who wish to ignore racism; trans skeptics against gender essentialists – all stem from a common route: the idea that the issues of the minority are not the real problem. Again, this is certainly an idea with easy appeal. After all, if we are a movement of atheists (for example), then our fight is with religion, not an esoteric crusade against systemic misogyny. The problem of course is that one cannot examine problems in isolation, and some issues cannot be extricated from larger, more diffuse problems. What ends up happening is that once the movement solves the “real” problem, the minority goes back to being ignored, having lost those who were allies of convenience. … Continue Reading
The extent to which I object to any religious belief is more or less commensurate with the level to which it informs one’s daily life. If you privately believe that the universe is 20 minutes away from being devoured in a ball of flame, but you still do a good job filing my tax returns, it’s really not my place to get all hot and bothered by your delusion. This isn’t to say that, if given the opportunity, I won’t say something about how ridiculous your beliefs are. After all, the truth is important. However, it simply doesn’t interest me to put my shoulders into exposing the irrationality of your particular faith. After all, provided you make no (or comparatively few) life decisions based on it, it’s a bit arch of me to go after it.
Islam, at least insofar as I understand it (and have seen it practiced) is one of those faiths wherein daily observance and connection to day-to-day life is much more persistent. Christianity, by comparison, has fewer daily rituals and practices that mark someone as “a Christian”. There is no dress code, there are no dietary restrictions, few necessary public observances. It is far easier to be a “stealth Christian” than it is to be a “stealth Muslim”. Couple that with daily prayers and the phrase “inshallah” (which one of the guys I work with uses – to be sure, one branch of my family doesn’t talk about the future without saying “God willing”, so that kind of obeisance is not exclusively Muslim), and you get a religion that is very much a ‘live in’ one.
Perhaps the most visible signifier of Muslim belief is the head covering that many Muslim women wear (either by choice or by coercion). I’ve known sisters, both who would describe themselves as ‘observant’ – one wore the head scarf, the other did not. It was very much a choice for them, and I have no quarrel with that. The only thing that weirds me out about the whole practice is the fact that it is an open, visible sign to everyone around you that you subscribe to the belief that women ought to cover their hair for ‘modesty’ purposes. I would be, I imagine, similarly put off by a Catholic woman who wore a wimple or a Hindu woman displaying a bindi (although the bindi is often cosmetic rather than religious).
But one cannot escape the fact that, at least here in North America, there is a lot of danger associated with women who wear hijabs. Danger to the women themselves, at least: … Continue Reading
The great religious traditions of the world do not agree on much. They certainly don’t agree on the name, number, type, or behaviour of their various gods. They don’t agree on what happens after you die, what you’re supposed to do while you’re alive, and when life even starts. They disagree about how, what, and when you should eat, pray, and fuck. Even groups that are titularly similar – i.e., different sects of the same religion – have disagreements over how to properly interpret the same passages in their holy books. Basically, there’s a notable absence of convergence when it comes to religion as a method of learning about the supernatural.
One thing they can agree on, however, is the fact that the rising tide of secularism is the greatest threat to mankind. We are repeatedly exhorted to stand up for religious traditions in the face of the threat of atheist extremists pushing religious life to the margins of society. Of course it’s a secret agenda – they wouldn’t dare come for our bibles with guns drawn – the backlash would be unbelievable. No instead they do it by the trickiest mechanism possible – forcing everyone to play by the same rules: … Continue Reading