Category Archives: Atheism

Christmas As It Should Be

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December 5, 2012 · 4:15 pm

An Atheist Asks for Advice

For a second job, I am a part-time instructor at a college in my city.  It’s a big school – about 30,000 enrolled, and I have been employed there for 17 years. It is a state college, so it is Federally funded, and is thus subject to separation of church and state.

My department has a shared office that is available for all of the adjuncts, full of desks, chairs, computers, supplies, you name it.  But it’s also a haven for religious propaganda, specifically, that of the Christian persuasion.  I don’t know exactly who puts out the religious materials (although I have my suspicions), but in the past, the materials have ranged from religious-based articles to church fliers and Billy Graham books.  Yesterday, there was a binder titled “The Loss of America Has Been Brought About By the Loss of Her Moral Standards.” When I opened it, I noticed that it was full of Christian propaganda…you know, the kind of garbage we atheists laugh about all the time. There were articles about America being a Christian nation, bible quotes about morality, statistical studies about how crime rates went up when prayers were taken away from schools, and articles about archaeological digs discovering giant human remains, which support Scripture.  Of course, we know this is all false and easily debunked, but I can’t put into words how angry I was reading this garbage, and knowing that this misinformation was being spread in my house, a public college.

My first inclination was to do some research and print out some articles and casually insert them in the booklet, to debunk this Christian misinformation. But I also don’t want to start a holy war. Some of these people I’ve known for almost two decades, and I’m not interested in burning bridges. On the other hand, I can’t let it go. I don’t want to see this garbage ever again.  It has no business being there.

So my question to you is: What do I do?

Here are some things to consider –

  • I am employed at will, and could not have my contract not renewed for any reason, on a semester-by-semester basis.
  • I am not out as an atheist.  Only a handful of people know.
  • I do not want to send an email, as that would not be anonymous.
  • My department chairperson is very religious, and at one time had a sign in our department office that said “God Bless America.” “Someone” tore it down one evening. 🙂
  • The lead professor knows I am an atheist, because we used to date. She is a devout Christian, and ended our year-long relationship due to our religious differences (allegedly), so if a complaint somehow was made anonymously, she might suspect me, and my job could be in jeopardy.

Your thoughts?

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When Trolling is Necessary

According to Wikipedia –

In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory,[3]extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[4] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.[5] The noun troll may refer to the provocative message itself, as in: “That was an excellent troll you posted.”

Trolling is an inevitable consequence of blogging and commenting on blogs, YouTube videos, and so forth, on the internet. Let’s face it, there are morons out there whose sole purpose in life is to piss people off on the internet. It’s pathetic and a waste of everyone’s time. But there are times when trolling, in my opinion, is necessary. I would like to outline a typical blog and series of comments. This is based upon my experiences at Freethoughtblogs, and sites/pages dedicated to Atheism Plus, including those on Reddit. Good examples would be blogs written by the like of PZ Myers, Great Christina, Ophelia Benson, and Zinnia Jones. This also happens most frequently on blogs about Atheism Plus, feminist issues, or blogs detracting those who oppose or question the aforementioned.

Blogger writes blog supporting feminist issue X.

(Comments)

  • Person A: You are awesome. I totally agree. I worship the ground you walk on. (or something similar, likely implied, but not clearly stated)
  • Person B: Me too. Misogyny. Schrodinger’s Rapist. Sexism. MRA. Male privilege. Oppression. Buzzwords…
  • Person C: Me too. All men are worthless shitbags.
  • Person D: I disagree with point X, for the following reasons (provides reasons in a humble, cogent manner).
  • Person A (to person D): Fuck you. You are a worthless piece of shit and a misogynist pig. I bet you’re an MRA.
  • Person D: Why do you treat me like that? I’m simply making a point. You don’t need to attack me.
  • Person A: You’re one of those fucking tone trolls. Are you afraid of my words? You’re a fucking pussy.
  • Person D: Fine, I’m not going to stoop to your level. If you don’t want to have a civil discussion, I’m outta here.
  • Person A: Stick the flounce, mother fucker.
  • Persons B and C: Yeah, that fucker had it coming. Who does he/she think he/she is?

(OK, the “worship the ground you walk on” was a bit exaggerated.)
Having read a handful of blogs at Freethought, Atheism Plus, and Reddit, this is pretty much how it goes.  I’ve seen it, and I’ve been a direct party to it.
Person D was accused of being a tone troll, which, according to the Pharyngula wiki, is –

A tone troll is a serious-minded person who wants only to raise the level of discussion in the dire cesspits of the New Atheist web. Or, possibly, they’re a pompous blowhard who, lacking such frivolous accoutrements as an actual argument, attempts to distract attention from said deficit by complaining that their opposition uses dirty words and ought, really, to have some strict nanny figure—possibly Mary Poppins—to wash out their mouths with soap.

Of course this definition is, itself, pompous and dismissive of a serious inquiry. But the point is that a tone troll is commenting on the tone of the others, in addition to or rather than addressing the blog or comment he/she is responding to. Tone trolling is rarely done, in my opinion, without additional commentary on the actual post. You could make the argument that the commenter’s sole purpose for commenting is to put others in check for their choice of words or behavior; however, the more likely scenario is that the tone trolling is secondary to an actual argument, which is the case in the example above. Personally, I think trolling of this kind is just fine.

Notice the pattern, which repeats on many blogs. Person D makes a comment in disagreement with the OP. The argument is articulate, and well thought out. Other commenters then personally attack Person D, often without making counter-arguments, and accuse Person D of tone trolling, and likely derailing the comments.

The reality is that the offenders here are the attackers, not the tone troll. Specifically, by personally attacking the Person D (especially without a counter-argument), the attackers have derailed the comments themselves. Person D’s comments were on-topic, but in disagreement. Respectful disagreement is nothing to get pissed off about. There’s a reason that the hashtag #ftbullies is used so often. This epidemic brings a number of questions to my mind –

First, why do people like Person A act like this? I theorize that it may be one or more of the following:

  • General lack of maturity. This one speaks for itself. You act like a child.
  • You feel empowered by the ability to say shit you wouldn’t otherwise say to a real person in the real world. Hiding behind a computer is your alcohol. In reality, it’s weak. Think about this: If you honestly wanted to have a debate with someone over a controversial topic in the real world (i.e., face-to-face, perhaps in front of an audience), would you act like this? The moment your debate opponent disagreed with you, would you just tell them to fuck off, and declare victory? No one would take you or your opinions seriously, and you would be laughed off stage. Think about what you’re doing and saying, and why you are saying it. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a professional speaker or debater speak like you write. There’s a reason for that. Take some notes. I’ve been speaking professionally in various capacities for the past 12 years, and I’m pretty sure I’d be fired if I acted like you.
  • You have an inability to control your emotions.
  • You don’t have a good retort, so you resort to insults to hide your incompetence or ignorance.
  • You’re just a bully. (similar to first bullet)

Second, how do you engage people like this? Do you try to reason with them? Do you ignore them? Do you “stick the flounce?” Sometimes, when I am confronted with this, I am compelled to continue arguing my case, but in a respectful way. Fail. Other times, I just walk away. But isn’t that letting them win? Their boorish behavior is essentially silencing you.  You’ve got an equal right to say what you want to say, and they are taking that away from you. It’s frustrating.

Third, can it be fixed? I’m all for loose moderation, in that I’m not inclined to decline comments unless it’s totally egregious, which I have not encountered yet. The few disagreeing commenters on my page have been respectful in doing so.  On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of swinging the ban hammer. Atheism Plus is legendary for doing this – but it goes beyond trolling or abusive language, but to general disagreement. A lot of people take offense to questions and disagreement too personally, especially when the disagreement is respectful.  Also, is there a way to simply change the culture, so that these kind of attitudes go away. But I know that’s a pipe dream.

So am I crazy or what? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. As I’ve stated, I’m somewhat new to the atheism “community” (I know some of you don’t like that word), but I’m very discouraged by what I’ve seen. In my opinion, there’s no place for these kinds of attitudes. Nothing positive gets accomplished by harassing. And that goes for people who harass women or Atheism Plus supporters, too – everybody. So if you’re sending hate mail, just stop. Don’t be a moron. I’ll never send an email to PZ Myers, no matter how much I disagree with his opinions. It’s a waste of my time and his, too. I have better things to do.

It’s funny how so many atheists are quick to point out the logical fallacies of their theist opponents, but fail to identify their own.

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Open Mic Night 2: The Future of Atheism Plus

This is my second installment of Open Mic Night.  Today’s discussion is about the future of atheism plus.  What are your thoughts about its future?

I don’t have much of a feel for the overall popularity in the atheist community, although my suspicion is that most do not support it, but maybe I am reading the wrong blogs.  I have seen very little in support outside FtB.

So where is it headed?  Will it be a fly-by-night idea?  Will it become the “third wave” of atheism, as Jen McCreight put it?  Will it be a self-sustaining subgroup within atheism?

Also, if you think it will last, what will be necessary to achieve long-term success?  If you think it will fail, what will be its downfall?

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Open Mic Night: A Godless Future

I don’t know if I actually have enough people reading my blog to warrant a good dialogue in the comment section, but here goes –

What would life be like if there were no gods?  I don’t necessarily mean ever, just in the future.  So let’s say, hypothetically, that in 50 years, all the people on Earth stopped believing in their gods.  All of the religious texts were debunked (again) to the point where everyone gave up on religious fantasy, and all humans were sufficiently skeptical and evidence-based that everyone gave up on religious nonsense.  What would the world be like?  Would homophobia be gone?  Would the world economy drastically change?  How about unemployment?  Education?  Human rights?  Media?  Technology?  Would other supernatural or fringe concepts replace religion?  For example, would more people start believing in ghosts or the zodiac?  Would people adhere more to other social groups, to replace church?  Would the world become more humanistic?

Lend me your thoughts in the comment section, and let’s go from there!

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I’m Ashamed to be an Atheist

I was planning to write a response tonight to a Conservapedia article proclaiming that Pat Tillman was not an atheist.  It’s about as judgmental and closed-minded as you would expect the article to be.  Unfortunately, I’ve gotten myself caught in all the Atheism+ (A+) drama over the past few weeks.  I’ve spent countless hours (far more than I should) reading blogs from both sides, visiting the A+ website, and watching a few YouTube videos, not to mention some Twitter comments.

I expressed come concerns over the future of the atheist movement in my last blog, but now, I am at my wit’s end.  For a bunch of people who generally pride themselves on logic, skepticism, and evidence, I find very little of any of it in what I’ve read.

I pride myself on trying to give people a fair shake, I try to be open-minded about ideas, and treat people with civility and respect.  I’m far from perfect at it, but I think I give people the respect they’ve earned, and I try to disagree in a respectful manner.  Apparently, this is not shared by many.

I have, in recent blog posts, been an outspoken opponent of A+, not so much for its core values, rather for (1) the attitudes pouring out from it, (2) its implementation – possibly the worst roll-out of a new idea in history, and (3) the use of the word atheism, which has very little, if anything, to do with it.

Nonetheless, I have been soaking in as much as I can, and I’ve seen some disturbing things from both sides, albeit mostly from the A+ side.  First, there is an incredible lack of civility, maturity, and respect.  A+ers have been using (and often misusing) buzzwords and phrases like “misogyny,” “privilege,” and “MRA.”  Frankly, until recently, I didn’t even know what MRA was, let alone that it existed.  A+ers have also been quick to call opponents of A+ assholes, dicks, scumbags, and other unwarranted terms.  I was commenting on a blog, in which I partially agreed with the blogger, and in part, I disagreed.  Another commenter called me a “clueless asshole,” and left it at that.  No reason was given.  (If you are just going to insult someone without adding any value to the discussion, why bother?)  I was unable to defend myself, as I was blocked.  I made no derogatory comments, no name calling, nothing.

(NOTE: This was not a response to my tweet – just an example of childish behavior and name calling on Twitter.)

On the non-plus side, I have seen people calling some women cunts and other derogatory terms. (FYI – I HATE the word cunt.  There are two words I will never speak – that and the “n” word.  I find them both abhorrent.)  I consider these types of name calling incredibly immature and uncalled for.  What’s most appalling is that some of these people, so called “leaders” of atheism, are degreed professionals, as am I (I have a master’s degree from a top-tier grad school), and yet they stoop to name calling and vulgarities.

Another problem I have with all of this lunacy is the sweeping generalizations made by both sides.  For example, A+ers seem to think that those who disagree are misogynist assholes.  Of course this is not true of all, but I’ve seen the phrase used over and over by A+ supporters, dozens of times.  I’ve been called one (twice), based on fairly innocuous comments.  Considering that the word misogyny means “hatred of women,” there’s going to be a pretty steep burden to prove that.  Simply disagreeing with a woman, or even making a rude comment, does not make someone a misogynist.  Hatred of women is a general state of mind, and a single statement to a single person is highly unlikely to establish a person’s misogyny.  I can’t tell you how sick of that word I am.

On the other side, I’ve seen the term “feminazi” used a lot.  I think I can go without that phrasing as well.  It’s just childish.  And don’t harass people either.  I’ve seen at least one non-plusser on Twitter who is seemingly obsessed with harassing Rebecca Watson.  Hey, I don’t necessarily agree with everything Rebecca has to say, but seriously, let it go.  Don’t waste your life trying to destroy someone else’s.  Take a computer break, go outside, get some sunlight, talk to some actual human beings, and get some exercise.  Obsession is not healthy.

Lastly, I’m sick of the threats and the games.  I haven’t seen too many threats, but I don’t doubt there are more than what I’ve seen.  I’ve been banned (once) simply by disagreeing.  For people who advocate free thought, there sure is a lot of censorship going on.  Granted, freedom of speech is not granted by individuals (or blogs), but by the government, so private censorship is legal; however, it is clear that certain blogs and twitter feeds are only willing to preach to the choir – aka, groupthink.  There’s no free thought or open discussion there.  On my blog, I welcome dissenting opinions, but I think I’m in the minority.  So many bloggers simply want confirmation of their own ideas, without question, and will attack (or block) any dissenting opinion.  That’s ridiculous.  Where’s the open discussion of ideas?

So to those of you out there on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, A+, wherever – just grow up.  For a group of people who sees themselves as intellectuals, for many of you, it’s closer to pseudo-intellectual.  The insults, obsessions, name-calling, generalizations, overuse of buzzwords, f-bombs, etc., has got to stop.  For someone who is relatively new to the atheist “community,” I am supremely unimpressed.  If this “schism” is indicative of how the atheist community really works, why be a part of it?  I see very little coming out of this.  So you know what?  If you’re one of these people I’ve described, I’m ashamed to share the word atheism with you.

BTW – Twice, I called people out on Twitter for name-calling and childish behavior (including PZ Myers).  No responses…

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Atheism Plus, Jen McCreight, and the Future of the Atheism “Movement”

Disclaimer:  This blog may be a little disorganized.  I’ve been brainstorming about this blog for days, and have a lot to say, so this may come off a little all-over-the-place.  Also, it’s approaching midnight and I have to work in the morning.  I hope this isn’t riddled with errors.
Now that I’ve had more of an opportunity to learn about Atheism Plus (A+), I think I can speak more about it, although my conclusions remain generally the same.  I’ve read countless blogs and tweets (including some by FTBers), and have seen a few videos addressing A+.  Most of what I’ve seen is against A+, and primarily for the same reasons.  Generally, I’d say the concept is average at best, and the rollout has been the worst rollout of a “new” idea (I used that term very loosely) EVER.  Here’s why:

  • It’s divisive.  This has probably been the most common  argument by non-plussers. We are talking about a community (yes, we are a community) that is already rather fragmented.  Running away with your friends to start a new clique does not help.  Greta Christina has argued that A+ is a reaction to an already divisive community, which I partially agree with.  The division had already taken place.  Starting with Elevatorgate, and moving forward into allegations of harassment, threats, etc., the divide has already taken place.  Sides were taken.  Twitter wars ensued.  Thunderf00t was booted out of FTB.  Matt Dillahunty baited his followers on Facebook into disagreeing with his opinion about Elevatorgate, with the stated intent of blocking them from his Facebook if they do.  Richard Dawkins even opined.  So yes, in those respects, the schism was already underway.  However, when a group of well-known atheists pickup their laptops and run away to their own little world, essentially say “to hell with you,” they open the divide tenfold.  What I don’t understand is this: If the atheist community is full of harassment, sexism, and so forth, why not work to fix it, instead of starting your own group?  Also, if there were legitimate threats of violence, rape, etc. (aside from basic trolling) why not call the police?  If people really are doing those things, they deserve to go to jail.
  • It’s full of vitriol.  This was probably the biggest snafu in the rollout of A+.  Having read blogs from PZ Myers, Richard Carrier, and others regarding A+, so much foul language was exuded, the “with us or against us” attitude, and other sweeping and unfounded generalizations, it’s hard to support it.  I got nothing but anger out of these people.  Who would want to be a part of that?  Some cooler heads have prevailed (from some people) since then.  Matt Dillahunty made a nice video about it, which is available on YouTube.  Had this been their initial rollout, instead of the poor attitudes of those who came out, guns blazing, it might be a different story.  I still wouldn’t support A+ for other reasons, but I’m sure more atheists would have considered it, had it not been for all the negativity.  I do find it interesting that PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson have somewhat distanced themselves from the melee.
  • There is no inherent link between atheism and the “plusses.”  Certain A+ers claim that atheism “logically” leads to other beliefs, such as social justice (whatever that means – justice is subjective), gay rights, feminism, and other concepts.  This is patently false.  Atheism does not logically lend itself to anything but a lack of belief in an gods.  That’s it. Granted, many atheists are liberal and share similar values, but it’s not an obvious or natural connection.  I read one A+er state that it is impossible to be an atheist and be pro-life.  Some have even suggested that atheists must share these other beliefs.  How ridiculous.
  • It’s not atheism.  This is likely my biggest pet peeve out of this debacle, and I already mentioned this in my initial blog post.  When you start adding new issues to the mix, you will gradually alienate others.  Atheists are what, 1% of Americans?  Now, add feminism to that, and the percentage drops even further.  Now add gay rights and other issues.  Watch the numbers dwindle.  And when you have the “we’re better than you because we care about social issues” mantra…well, it’s just a bad idea.  It’s the same reason I don’t like labels like conservative, liberal, democrat, and republican.  I have a plethora of opinions on a plethora of issues.  I do not fall into a single category, nor do I care to.  Labels are meaningless, as they lead to (often inaccurate) stereotypes.  I think this year’s election coverage makes that more than clear.  The democrats claim that all republicans are woman-hating, god-fearing, homophobes, which is completely false.  Republicans claim that democrats are all godless, socialist, homosexuals.  Also completely false.  I hate labels, and stereotypes even more so.  Lastly, atheism seems to be the last issue on their list.  Don’t use the term if it doesn’t apply.  Feminism first, then social justice, and atheism at the tail end.
  • It’s full of misused, and likely inappropriate, buzzwords.  Aside from all of the negative language used by Carrier, Myers, and other A+ supporters (calling people boobs, assholes, dicks, scumbags, etc.), the words ” privilege” and “misogyny” has been used over and over, misused and abused.  Misogyny means “hatred of women.”  Misogyny does not mean trolling, insulting woman, or questioning women’s opinions.  How one can derive hatred of an entire gender based on a few words, generally directed at a single woman.  Where’s the link.  Don’t use words, unless you know what they mean.  The word “misogyny” has a LOT of meaning and weight behind it.  Use wisely and judiciously, if at all.  What these people are describing is, at worst, crude behavior.
  • Stolen logo.  This isn’t as big of a deal to me, but the A+ logo perfectly matched the logo used on t-shirts sold on the Richard Dawkins website.  I don’t know if this was intentional, but I’ve read that certain A+ers guest write for the Dawkins site, so they very well could have seen it. But any conclusion I draw would be purely speculation.
  • It’s a business?  I’ve also read that Surly Amy, and A+er known to make jewelry, is now making A+ jewelry (although she is allegedly donating some proceeds to charity).  Just think about the impression she may give some as an opportunistic businessperson, working to create a new group, then using that group to sell merchandise.  As we all know, perception is reality to many.
  • It likely feeds the trolls.  One of the stated purposes of A+ is to create a safe haven for women afraid of misogyny (buzzword!).  Let’s just assume for a minute that the atheist blogs are choc full of misogynistic assholes (buzzwords!).  Now, you’ve created a new group known to all, including the misogynists (buzzword!).  Those misogynists (buzzword!) can now get on your new website, and harass these “safe” atheists.  What have you accomplished?  You just opened the flood gates.
  • The name.  It just sounds arrogant, regardless of your intended purpose.

In their defense, I can say that I understand why they started A+.  If their allegations of harassment and threats are true (I don’t know if they are), I can understand wanting to do your best to avoid those issues.  However, throwing up a big middle finger (Richard Carrier) while walking away isn’t the best idea.  I think there were much better ways to address your problems, and your implementation was just as awful as I’ve ever seen.

Also, in their defense, if these allegations are true, the people doing these things are garbage, utter garbage.  They deserve a good ass-kicking and permanent excommunication from anything resembling positive atheism.  For those perpetrating these crimes (yes, crimes), you are worthless pieces of feces, and are pathetic peons hiding behind words on a computer.  pathetic.

I recently read Jen McCreight’s blog, in which she stated that she is taking a break from blogging, due to alleged harassment.  Let me clarify again that I do not know if these allegations are true.  Perhaps she is the queen of victimhood.  Maybe it’s all a ruse to promote a feminist agenda under the guise of false misogyny (buzzword!).  But maybe it’s all true.  And even though I do not agree with Jen on many of her opinions (or at least her methods), I do not believe anyone should be silenced (aside from the trolls an criminals who don’t deserve to be heard), especially due to crap like what she has alleged.  Jen deserves her right to say what she has to say.  However, she should not expect to go unquestioned.  No one deserves that privilege, including me.

The last thing I’d like to address is my impressions of the “movement.”  To give you some background, I’m a “new” atheist – not in the sense that I’m a recent deconvert – I’m not.  I’ve been an atheist for over 20 years.  What I mean is that I am new to the activist side…or something like that.  I don’t know that this constitutes activism, but I’m definitely reading, learning, and so forth.  This has been going on for about six months or so.  Atheism is now at my forefront; it was not for a very long time.  Six months ago I knew nothing of FTB, Elevatorgate, Matt Dillahunty, PZ Myers, Greta Christina, Thunderf00t, Hitchens, Harris, Silverman – none of these people.  I’d also never heard of Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, Ray Comfort, or William Lane Craig.  Now I know a lot.  And for a while, I was really excited about learning more about the science, the counter-apologetics, the logical fallacies, and YouTube debates.  It was exciting and new.  I read The God Delusion, and have a short reading list, including Hitchens and Jerry Coyne.  I even attended my first conference.  I’ve blogged about the issues, “debated” in YouTube comments and news story comment boards.

But once I started reading FTB and other blogs, and seeing all the petty bickering on Twitter and Facebook, I have a very different opinion.  I am very unimpressed with the general demeanor of the so-called atheist “leaders.”  I use that term loosely because we are such a loosely knit group.  It is at times, incredibly childish, and I find many of these leaders just as pathetic as the apologists and creatards.  I won’t name names, but there are some terrible atheists out there putting their stamp on my beliefs.  I’m a “fair play” kinda guy, and many don’t play fair.

With that said, there are some atheists that really impress me.  I’m a big fan of Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist), Hemant Mehta, Jerry Coyne, Ask An Atheist, Teresa MacBain and Daniel Dennett.  I’m still on the fence about Matt Dillahunty.  He’s very intelligent, but his short fuse and demeanor don’t always do it for me.

My biggest concern is who is going to lead atheism into the future.  From what I’ve seen, the choices are few and far between.  With all the boorish behavior, there are a lot of respected atheists unworthy of respect.  I hope that changes, for the sake of the “movement.”

Now…can we just let Atheism + go and just worry about atheism again?  I’m ready to.

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