Friday, March 27, 2015

Are Atheists The Most Hated Group In America? Well . . . -- New Post On Queereka

[image: David Silverman, president of American Atheists, with a quote in white saying, "The fact is that we're the most hated group in this country."]


On Tuesday night, CNN did a special on atheism in America. I didn’t watch it because I had a feeling CNN wasn’t going to get it right. Whenever the mainstream media talks about atheism, it usually portrays us as little Richard Dawkins clones running around telling religious people how stupid they are (although most stereotypes contain a hint of truth). Based on what Hemant Mehta and Vlac Chituc wrote, though, it looks like the special had its pros and cons. My biggest pet peeve, however, was when David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, said at one point, “The fact is we’re the most hated group in this country.”

Really? Really?

Read the rest on Queereka.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bi Any Means Podcast #5: Being Godless in the Bible Belt with Neil Carter

On today's episode, I chat with Neil Carter of Godless in Dixie about being an atheist in the Bible Belt.

Transcript provided by Marvin:

Trav:                Hi everyone, this is Trav Mamone, host of the Bi Any Means podcast. With this podcast, I wish to explore the intersection between social justice and secular humanism. I have a small but growing audience, and I want to attract more listeners and also readers to the blog. There’s just one problem, podcasting can cost money. Most of the technology is free but I want to expand my services beyond what I can afford right now. For example, I hired a guy from to do transcripts of my podcast for the deaf and hearing impaired, and I’m also thinking about getting a proper camera to make YouTube videos because right now I’m basically just making videos with iPod Touch. Anyways, I know I have a small audience so I’m not expecting to rank in millions but if you all like what I’m doing, and you want to help out you can pitch in just a buck a month and that will go a long way. Back to the show.

                        Welcome to the Bi Any Means podcast, a place where social justice and humanism meet.

                        Hello and welcome to another episode of the Bi Any Means podcast, the podcast companion to I’m Trav Mamone and today’s guest is Neil Carter who writes the Patheos blog Godless in Dixie. In his bio he describes himself as “a school teacher, a tutor, a personal trainer, a supplement pusher, a driving instructor and a father of five.” He also helps moderate a discussion group in Mississippi for atheist. Neil thanks for joining me today.

Neil:                Thanks, thanks for having me.

Trav:                First I want to ask you about your background, you were raised Baptist, right?

Neil:                That’s right, Southern Baptist.

Trav:                Okay, what was that like growing up?

Neil:                It was a positive experience. When I was young my family was marginally involved, I would say nominally involved. We attended regularly but it wasn’t a consuming occupation for us. Really the first one to get really deeply involved in church activities was me. I had a conversion experience when I was about 15, and I jumped in with both feet started teaching Sunday school, leading Bible studies, doing ministry trips, preaching tours, things like that.

                        I’m the first one that got involved in the church at that level, and ironically I’m now out of the church and my family is now very involved in ministry, and I have several family members who are either on staff or have leadership positions at the church that I grew up in which was megachurch in Jackson, Mississippi.

Trav:                You also say you to seminary, and you were a part of the House Church Movement, right?

Neil:                That’s right and those were two pretty things. My background was Southern Baptist but the seminary that was closed to me was Reformed Theological Seminary, which is more Calvinist and Presbyterian, and I heard they had a good academic reputation, and I had some semi-Calvinistic meanings myself from my own personal Bible study. I attended reform seminary, and got an A in biblical studies from them. I didn’t do the third year of ministry classes because I did not want to be a Presbyterian minister, and really, I was always geared towards a more informal kind of church, even while I was very involved in a Baptist church I always wanted something more spontaneous, more decentralized, more informal, and personal, and small group oriented.

                        Even while I was at seminary I had my eye on the home church kind of model because from my personal Bible study that was what it looked like the New Testament churches were like. They were more informal and more relationally oriented, and based in the home. I wanted to copy that, and I linked up with a House Church Movement that was based basically at the time. I move to Atlanta with my family, and stayed there for about 10 years, individually I took on some leadership roles from them as well and that’s where I was when I finally decided that I just didn’t buy the whole thing anymore.

Trav:                When … did you always have little doubts in the back of mind during all this time?

Neil:                I’ve always had an inner skeptic. When I was little, I was raised to believe in spiritual things, and to believe in God, and to believe in Jesus even though I didn’t really have a personal commitment that was very passionate when I was younger. Prior to my conversion experience as a teenager but even while, I was a believer in spiritual and super natural things I always had this inner nagging thought process that said, but how do you really know that this stuff is real? I mean how do you know it’s not all wrong, and made up?

                        That was always there for me. I just kept putting it down. I learned how to quiet that but sometimes I would entertain the thoughts just enough to come up with good ways to dismiss them, and as long as I was satisfied with my own answers I could keep the inner skeptic quiet. He back out again during my college years because I was studying Bible formally, and when you do that you get engaged in a lot of more in-your-face questions about the reliability of the Bible, about whether or not the stories that are there really happened, and you have to try once again to find good justifications for why you believe these things are reliable.

                        Anyway, so I went through that process in college, and then I quieted the inner skeptic for another, whatever, 10, 15 years but it came back out again after a few years of ministry, and being involved in House Church leadership, and it just came out full force. And eventually I decided instead of squashing it I’m going to go on and just let this guy talk for a little bit, and start listening to the questions, and pursuing them as best as I could and eventually they led me out of the faith all together.

Trav:                That’s similar to my experience. I had … I’ve always had little doubts in the back of my mind but I always found a book, or a progressive Christian speak who would sort of say, yes. You are right about that but Christianity doesn’t have to be about believing in seven-day creationism, thousand year old creationism, or that the virgin birth really happened, or that this really happened or that really happened. Finally, I started deconstructing enough that number one, I started actually reading stuff like Richards Dawkins, or really hearing what the atheists had to day and applying that to my own theology like okay, well, there’s no supernatural forces in the world, so let’s cut that back down until finally I was like I ain’t got nothing left.

Neil:                It’s funny. In my case, I really didn’t find anybody to read that was helpful to me, and a friend of mine that I spoke with this weekend had a similar experience, and what she said was that she was of the mind that she was afraid to read anybody who would unduly sway her one way or the other. She never read of the Dawkins Stuff, or Dennett, or Harris or anybody else and I was in the same boat. I tried once or twice to open a couple of books by well-known atheist writers and they weren’t speaking to me where I was because they were answering different questions than what I was asking.
Trav:                Right.
Neil:                They were just so over the top anti-theistic and it’s not where I was at the time. You had a transitional time in there where you found what we call some of the gateway drugs like maybe Ryan Bell [sic, he meant Rob Bell] and Brian McLaren. I don’t know who else maybe Blue Light Jazz, or something. Anyway, I never went one of those phases. I one of those that just jumped from one end to the other. It’s really frustrated a while to people because they are like why didn’t you … it seems like you should have had more steps in between. And I don’t really know how to explain why I didn’t have those in between steps except that I had so much theological education that I feel like I learned how to deconstruct all that in between stuff.

Most of those progressive and more liberal leaning Christianity versions I had already dismissed because I had all my reasons why I didn’t really agree with them. For me it was sort of down to these options either I was going to go full board and accept that there was something magical with this book, and I have to believe what it says even if it appears to be contradictory. Or I need to really open all the questions and say, what if we were wrong about all of it? What is the whole God idea is an incorrect hypothesis? That’s where I ended.

Trav:                Being an atheist in the so-called Bible belt you are right it can be pretty hard. Tell us about that.

Neil:                In your daily life, you typically don’t run into anybody else like you. We have found each other online and that’s helpful but where we live in the heart of Mississippi is a very, very religious place. The people who wear their religious commitments on their sleeves do very well here. You can’t run for public office without very openly waving in your faith like a flag in front of people. Our current governor got elected by coming out on all of the hot button issues that the evangelical churches were pounding at the desk about.

                        There was even a personhood amendment that was being pushed that was to try to declare that from the moment a zygote exists it’s got full personhood rights, and the governor of our state came out, and said anybody who was against this initiative was working for the devil.

Trav:                Oh god.

Neil:                When your governor talks that way, there’s clearly no place for separation for church and state. In Mississippi, people don’t believe in separation of church and state. It’s a part of culture, and people who I’ve worked for, very professional businesses have been very open about their faith, and how much it matters to them as businesses that they demonstrate their faith as Christians and they open staff meetings with prayer, their emails all have Bible verses in their signatures. The school that I’m currently teaching at used to have Bible verses at the bottom of their weekly itineraries, the weekly agenda. Eventually they quit doing that. I’m not sure why.

                        It’s everywhere and it’s not just about little things like that. It’s more important things like not accepting people into your family, not allowing your children to be around friends who don’t openly identify as Christian. It’s just a very central part of our culture. It’s hard to have much of a social network at all here if you aren’t connected to a church or at least you are willing to identify with that brand.

Trav:                Right and I’m pretty sure being in the south when your neighbors talk about you they always start by saying “Bless his heart.”

Neil:                Of course, that’s one of the things we say, and God bless you as a way of saying good bye and there’s an expectation that you say something back, which I usually say same to you or something. It’s not like I’m going to say, there is no God. That’s not really the way I talk in regular conversation but it is the way they talk on the other end so it’s kind of ironic.

Trav:                Right. Now, did your de-conversion lead to any family tension?

Neil:                Yes. My family is very devote. They are … my family of origin is way more devote now than they were when I was younger as best as I can tell, and my marriage and my family were based on a common faith, and when I didn’t share that faith anymore that introduced a lot of tension between the two of us. My wife and I had some issues that we had to deal with, and when it came time to work through those issues the biggest problem was we couldn’t really find common ground for how to work through them. When you encounter problems like most marriages do there has to be some kind of common ground. There has to be some place where you can compromise and we were unable to find that.

I think that’s my biggest regret is that weren’t able to find a place of common ground were we could meet and talk about these things, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that the culture wars that have been going on for the last 20 or 30 years have polarized people and it’s made it hard to find those places of common ground. Yeah, it introduced a lot of tension, and there’s a talk that gets circulated especially in evangelical churches that we are at a war. We are at a spiritual, a struggle for the hearts and mind of America, and for your children. Let’s not forget the children y’all.
Everybody uses children in service of their tribe. I’m very self-conscious about doing that myself because everybody does it but it came time to work through our differences, and really the talk that’s around us has always made it look like people like me are the enemy. It works how making the … we are taking away the foundation of the country which may of them believe has to be a religious foundation. Even growing up in the south, my education taught me that that’s not technically correct. The United States was based on a concept of pluralism where we have to make room for people of different ideologies but a lot of people haven’t gotten that message yet.
It was Christians who taught me that. I know that they should know better but they don’t. There’s been effort to go back in … we tell the story differently, and make it sound like if we are not exclusively Christian with the way we run our government, then God is not going to bless our country. That’s the kind of rhetoric that’s been thrown around and it doesn’t help.

Trav:                On the flip side have you had many readers email you and say thank you?

Neil:                Quite a lot. I spend a lot of time actually answering email and corresponding, which actually is my favorite way to communicate because it gives me time to type on a keyboard, and you would be amazed at how many there are or maybe not, who are all over the place. They are not from the south but they are spread all out all over the country. It’s less common outside of the United States but in the United States even evangelical cultures are just so pervasive that there are pockets f communities where the stuff that I’ve gone through is just like what they are going through.

                        You’ve got families, and social groups that are built around common religion, common faith and when one person finds himself or herself out of that it brings a lot of tension, and people don’t really know how to handle it. It’s so hard to find that common ground. I probably get a dozen emails at least a week from people who say, I’m in a marriage, and my wife and I are in separate places and what do you suggest we do? Or I’m no longer a Christian but our children are Christians, and now they think I’m being used by the devil, or my wife and I de-converted and now my parents don’t want anything to do with us.

                        There’s just a whole gambit of things. I have a couple of ladies who are living together and one of them doesn’t want her father to find out that they are together. They think they are just friends but they are not just friends. She says, should I let my father know I’m in a lesbian relationship and ask me my advice. My advice for her was your father is 80, let’s just let not find out about this. I mean there gets to be a point at which some people much as I want openness and honesty in relationships some people pass a point where they can handle a certain amount of change, and I would prefer people maintain good relationships with each other.

                        If they know that coming out about certain things is going to ruin the relationship, and their parents are really not going to be around much longer, I would hate to lose the few years to a lot of tension. Everybody’s situation is different and my advice is not always the same for everybody.

Trav:                Right, right. Now since Bi Any Means focuses on the intersection of social justice and secular humanism. I want to comment on something you wrote in December, which might have been the first blog post I read of yours. It’s the one called Evangelicals have a hard time seeing racism. You talk about how a lot of evangelical pastors think the deaths of Michael Brown an Eric Garner have less to do with systematic racism and more with sin. That’s something I’ve noticed a lot when I was evangelical. Issues like racism, and poverty were never discussed as like systems of oppression but more symptoms of original.   

                        If everyone got right with God we’d all live in Utopia. Jesus is the answer for everything. The funny part is as you mentioned most white, southern evangelicals were against Civil Rights in the sixties.

Neil:                Yes and many of them still are honestly. If they’ve grown up in a world where the law has made over discrimination illegal then they accept that the government can tell you whether or not you can discriminate against people of a different race. They are basically accepting that. They are not happy, and there are men in government right now that are still trying to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because they felt it was not the government’s business to tell people what they could, and how they can and can’t reject but ironically the exact same conversations have come up around marriage equality.

                        The exact same rhetoric is being used, and just like before the identity of the church, and the integrity of the gospel is being invoked, and it’s being cast as if this is a battle of good versus evil, and the Christian identity is on the line. They talked exactly the same way in the sixties, and it’s exactly the same parallel problems. You’ve got the government stepping in and saying, no you don’t have the right to discriminate based on this category, or this class of person.

                        Yes, as the government we do have the right to step in and tell you can’t do that even though you think this is a matter of your person rights you are choosing to do something that is against the way the constitution has set up our government. Even though it’s a private business you are still not allowed to discriminate. It’s a matter of basic human rights not a matter of you being free to hurt your neighbor and treat them unfairly but what happens is I’ve said before religion has a culture freezing quality to it where every tribe has problems changing.

                        Every tribe has problems accepting new ideas but religion has a way of making it go even slower so that a religious group is slower to adopt a new way of thinking. Like maybe 50 to 100 years behind the rest of the world, and change will eventually happen. It’s a retardant. It slows it down significantly. They are just now finally starting to talk about letting priests marry in the Catholic Church. That’s an issue that got dealt with hundreds of years ago but in the Catholic Church they are just cryogenically frozen in the five hundreds and so they are still working through these questions that the rest of went past a long time ago.

                        What’s happening in white evangelical churches is that they are so slow to accept people who are very different from them. In theory, they can say they believe that the gospel is open to all people, and people of all races are welcome in our church but in reality there’s a culture that’s not going to feel familiar to people who are very diverse. So what Dr. King said years ago is still true that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week and it’s still true like now and because white people me have been in a position of privilege for so many years, any change in that privilege looks like oppression to us.

                        It’s very difficult to get them to see that, and so because that’s the way they’ve talked in those churches even the black evangelicals who like to … who defer a lot to the high profile white evangelicals they are coming out and they are defending the same perspectives. Voddie Baucham for example, came out, and I think I may have mentioned him in that article. Voddie Baucham is a black pastor who says that those guys who got in trouble in the law if you’ll just act, and just do right then you’ll never get in trouble. That’s overly simplistic. That’s not the way it works.

                        That lives in utter denial of the way there are inequities in our society and to vindicate my position and so many others over the last weeks these reports have been coming from … was it the FBI? That said they looked into the practices of the Ferguson Police Department and they are undeniably racially bigoted in their department, and they have been for decades and the evidence is all over the place but people can’t see that. They look at that and say, no, it’s really just a matter if you follow the law you’ll be fine. No, it’s not that simple.   

Trav:                Right. You had a series on your blog called Letters to my daughters, and one letter you say that we all need to spend more time promoting social causes, and fair treatment. How do you see social justice and secular humanism intersect?

Neil:                That’s a really big topic but it matters a great deal to me. I think that humanism is about applying rationality to our relationships and our social structures. It’s a matter of working our rationalism in every area of life including the way we govern ourselves, and the way that we structure the world, and it seems to me that it’s rationally consistent to seek for equal opportunity for diverse groups of people. Unless you actively take part in making those pathways straight, unless you actively work on trying to make the playing field level then you are going to be missing out on the contributions of whole classes of people and these are contributions that could be helping advance the human race.  
                        How many things have we learned from people of diverse gender and race that we wouldn’t have learned if they never were given the resources to learn all the same things that the privileged folks have. Just from a pragmatic standpoint, one of the things that I’ve been trying to argue but probably need to argue more explicitly is if you are one of those who wants to pare down secular humanism to only a very small, narrow cluster of topics related to maybe separation of church and state, or something. You are dooming your movement to failure because rather than increasing the numbers of supporters you are limiting how many people are going to care.
                        Because while many secularists like myself want to see the separation of church and state and honored the way it’s supposed to be … there’s a lot of folks that that’s not just the number one thing on their priority list. If you are worried while walking through your neighborhood you are going to get shot at because you are wearing a hoody, the separation of church and state is not the highest thing on priority list. Until secular humanists movement adopts those concerns as well getting nativities off of government lawns then it’s going to remain a very narrow group of people. I think that’s actually hurting us even from the cold, pragmatic way of analyzing what secular humanism is about.

Trav:                Definitely, yes. By the way, I should apologize to my listeners if you hear my dog in the background, so sorry about that folks. Okay, back to the interview. You recently wrote a post Criticizing religion without being a jerk. I shared it on Reedit atheism form, and well needless to say it didn’t go over so well.

Neil:                You are kidding.

Trav:                I know, shock, right.

Neil:                Totally.

Trav:                Now, some people did point out that merely saying you don’t believe in God makes some religious people automatically assume you are a jerk. What are some ways atheists can end this stigma besides not being a jerk?

Neil:                Well, I don’t know what would motivate the ones that are a jerk because honestly, I’ve tried, and part of being a jerk is you don’t care that other people think you are a jerk. It usually involves a certain blindness to everyone else. You can’t tell someone that they are not sensitive to other people’s feelings because they don’t care, and it doesn’t really make any difference for them.      
                        I do think that as much as possible we should emulate, and highlight, and boost the signal of the those people that we think do a good job of raising the level of discourse, of moving the discussion forward in a constructive discussion and I know a lot of people that do that. When they see someone that’s hitting the important notes, and they are doing it in a respectful way they intentionally help share those things, and they don’t share the others. I think there’s more and more people who are doing that because they tired of the constant bickering back and forth of the least mature atheist arguing with the least mature Christians.

                        Nobody benefits from that. It might be cathodic for the people that do it and I’ve interacted a lot with the Reedit atheist community, and I know what their shortcoming are but I think that it’s true that I will be perceived as a jerk for saying anything negative about religion at all, I realize that. When I talk about people being a jerk I’m not talking about that because I think a lot of Christians can recognize the difference between respectful versus disrespectful dialogue.

                        A good example who be Rachel Held Evans just retweeted one of my posts yesterday and the reason she does that is because I’m not disrespectful when I talk about things, when I analyze religious hang ups I do it in a way that it’s obvious that I used to be one of those. And that’s the thing is there’s enough of us now that have been formally [inaudible 00:28:39] ourselves and we talk about those religious beliefs we are not going to stereotype them because we were that ourselves. We are going to be speaking from experience and as a result we are probably going to be a lot more respectful with the way we talk about it.

                        I think the more people like that come out and share, and like, and talk about their experience the more people are going to see this is a little bit more constructive way to do this so that it engenders real discussion instead of just a lot of nye, nye, nye back and forth which like I said just gets really old really fast.

Trav:                Right, I definitely know what you mean. Talking about these things I’m in the same position where like when you mentioned earlier when you were talking about social justice there are definitely times to point out, go through he atheism 101 thing but a lot of us have graduated from that kind of like, what now? That’s why a lot of my blogging and also with this podcast I try to move the conversation forward. It’s like okay, we’ve read the God Delusion. We’ve read Origin of Species. We know all the arguments against God now what do we do? Well how about this?

                        And also when you said that a lot of us used to be Christians, we know where the other people come from that’s basically been my position as well because not only have I gone through evangelical Christianity but I went through the whole progressive Christian scene as well. I know that not all Christians are against marriage equality. Not all Christians believe in young earth creationism. To me I think if you hear with the other side are saying then you can kind of better respond to it instead of ad hominem attacks and straw man arguments.

Neil:                Yeah, you are lot less likely to do that because you can only look down so much on people who believe the same things that you passionately believed yourself just a few short years ago. I think the ability to empathize is the main thing that’s missing from the ones who are acting like a jerk. The reason why they are acting that way is because they really honestly can’t imagine thinking the way these other people are thinking. It comes easy to depersonalize them, and dehumanize them and talk about them like they are not working out of full deck.

                        The fact of the matter is I know a lot of very intelligent people who believe some of the things they believe. The problem is intelligence is compartmental. You can be brilliant about a handful of things and be almost infantile about others and actually just a normal human condition. I hate it. It doesn’t seem like it should be that way but that’s the way it is. The best illustration I know about that is that the last Sunday school that I attended was led by a world-class oncologist. He’s like a leading researcher … he’s the chairman of the research protocols committee for Oncology Research worldwide, very intelligent man, and as a hobby he believes in and studies creation science.

                        This is a world-class oncologist, and he’s a really bright guy, and he believes in creation science, and most Christians would even say that’s kind of shady stuff, you know. I mean even the ones who think that they are not sure how to reconcile Genesis, creations science itself really gets into some weird stuff and that’s just a great example of how somebody that is really, really bright in a lot of ways is stuck on something that isn’t very logical.

                        When you are entertaining an entire discipline that is rejected by the scientific community entirely and you are a world-class oncologist, those two things don’t seem like they should be reconcilable but they are because it’s the way the human mind works. We can sometimes be incredibly self-contradictory and it doesn’t mean we are not smart. It just means it’s a quark about the way the human mind works.

Trav:                Right. That’s about it for me today. Anything else you’d like to add like any upcoming projects?

Neil:                Sure, there’s a lot going on. I’m starting to work more and more with recovering from religion, which is a group of people that were very good to reach out to me early on when I came out as an atheist, and they have begun a hotline project. I don’t know if you’ve heard about.

Trav:                Yes.

Neil:                It’s been circulated a while and they found this cute number. It’s 184-I-doubt it and they are training dozens and dozens of listeners to answer phone calls, and to just have people call in, and talk about what their questions are. They are being very good about not making this about proselytizing or trying to convince people one-way or the other. It’s just that these people who are calling in don’t have anybody else to talk to. They can listen in a none judgmental way, and so every night of every week, and then all weekend long there are people who are answering calls, and some of this stuff is heartbreaking.

                        It’s a lot of high school students who don’t have anybody else to talk to. A lot of grownups as well and some of them will wait two or three weeks before they get up the nerve to call and then when they do they just pour their heart out, and people just listen, and cry with them, and then it’s very emotional. They just have to have somebody to talk to and then if possible they might point them in the direction of resources that might help them but I’m crazy about that project.

                        I think it’s a great idea and I wish that people like me had something like that when we were going through our questioning times.

Trav:                All right. Thanks again for joining me today Neil.

Neil:                Sure, glad to be on.

Trav:                Thanks for listening to the Bi Any Means podcast. The theme music is “Endurance” by Dream Youth. You can find more of their music at The Bi Any Means logo was design by Asher Silberman. If you like what you have heard please subscribe via iTunes and go to for more musings of a queer humanist.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Is It My Job To Educate Cis Straight People? - New Post On Queereka

(The following post is an updated version of one of my old blog posts.)

A few months ago, Miri Mogilevsky wrote a common occurrence that happens in the Social Justice Blogsophere:

  • Person A is writing about or discussing Social Justice Things online.
  • Person B comes across Person A’s writing or discussions, perhaps on Twitter or Tumblr, and has a basic-level question about Social Justice Things–sometimes the particular ones under discussion here, or maybe just something else that Person A might know about.
  • Person B asks Person A a basic-level question, hoping to learn more about the topic.
  • Person A is annoyed at the request and responds angrily: “I’m not here to educate you!” “Go Google it!” “[link to Let Me Google That For You results]”
  • Person B feels embarrassed and hurt, and concludes that Person A doesn’t really care whether Person B understands Social Justice Things or not. Person B may develop a very negative opinion about Social Justice People and Social Justice Things, because that’s how cognitive bias works.

Indeed, “Google is your friend” is a common mantra among my social justice blogger friends. On one hand, I can definitely understand where my friends are coming from. After all, as Audre Lorde once said:

"When people of colour are expected to educate white people as to their humanity, when women are expected to educate men, lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world, the oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions."

However, as Mogilevsky points out, sometimes–just sometimes–“Google it” might not be the best answer.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why Do Atheists Hate Feminism? A Video Post

[CN: Rape threats, misogyny, sexism]


Hello, everyone, this is Trav.
When discussing social justice issues with other atheists online, I keep hearing the same response over and over again: “Atheism just means you don’t believe in God, and nothing else.” While it’s true that atheism is not a belief system like Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, and therefore, does not require any dogma, most atheists do share common ideals and beliefs. For example, most atheists would agree that science and reason are the best methods of determining what is true, and rightly so. However, based on my encounters, there’s another common idea shared by many atheists.
Feminism is evil!!!!!
Now at first this may seem hard to understand. After all, there are plenty of verses in the Torah, the Christian Bible, and the Koran that are extremely misogynistic, so it makes sense to be both an atheist and a feminist. Also, don’t fundamentalist Christian preachers warn their followers that secular humanism will lead to baby-killing feminists?
Unfortunately, atheism and feminism do not always go hand in hand. In fact, whenever someone mentions feminism online, chances are you’ll see several atheists start foaming in the mouth.
For example, Jaclyn Glenn, who considers herself to be a feminist in the sense that she believes in equality for all genders, which is basically what feminism is. However, her beef, so she says, is with what she calls “feminist extremists.” She thinks that the whole idea that we live in a patriarchal society is bullshit, and most of her arguments against “extreme feminism” focus on microaggressions which she considers to be petty complaints about minor things. What Glenn fails to recognize, however, is that calling out microagressions is part of deconstructing systematic sexism that paints women as either sex objects and/or weak. The worst part is that Glenn does not do any research to back up her anti-feminist rants. Instead, she says, “That’s stupid,” and then proceeds to belittle others with straw man arguments. For someone who sells Logic t-shirts, she doesn’t seem to use a lot of logic.
Glenn also frequently makes fun of Rebecca Watson and Elevatorgate, although there’s one little fact that Glenn keeps forgetting. The guy invited Watson to have coffee with him IN HIS HOTEL ROOM! I don’t know about you, but when a guy invites a girl to his room, he’s not thinking about coffee.
Then there’s TJ Kincaid, a.k.a The Amazing Atheist, who is a whole other can of worms! Kincaid has made several videos mischaracterizing feminism, saying, for example, feminists are all up in arms about female genital mutilation, but they don’t give a damn about male circumcision. (Obviously he missed Laci Green’s anti-circumcision video.) But the cherry on the top of the shit sundae was in 2012 when he threatened to rape someone on Reddit. Kincaid has since apologized, but he continues to make anti-feminist videos, especially in the wake of GamerGate.
Now if Glenn, Kincaid, and other anti-feminist atheist presented facts and data that contradict claims made by feminists, then there wouldn’t be a problem. In fact, as skeptics, aren’t we supposed to be open to facts that prove us wrong? But no. The anti-feminist atheists have already made up their minds that feminists are evil, and only the good rational atheist folks on Reddit know everything. Because science . . . and stuff.
Here’s a little suggestion: why not do some research? Why not ask why feminists are getting riled up by a shirt some dude wore rather than making crappy straw man arguments? Why not listen to the arguments, then test to see if they hold any water before acting like you know everything? I ask for so little; just some rational thinking, folks.
And for fuck’s sake, don’t threaten to rape anyone! Deal?
Take care, guys. Bye.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Female Vs. Woman: A Response to Jaclyn Glenn

Once again, everyone's favorite anti-feminist Jaclyn Glenn makes a mountain out of an anthill. Or, better yet, a strawman out of one single article.

In her latest video, Glenn throws a hissy fit over a recent Jezebel article describing how problematic it is to refer to women as "females" rather than "women." Rather than articulately explaining why she disagrees with the article (which is perfectly fine), she uses sarcasm, exagerated facial expressions, and funny cartoon voices to make her argument (which doesn't help her case). She even uses the hillbilly accent she usually reserves for Bible-thumpers to paint article writer Kara Brown as a dumb hick. Yeah, real good argument, Jaclyn!

Besides using sarcasm and funny cartoon voices, Glenn's argument fails on several other levels. First, Jezebel has a history of being problematic, so Jezebel probably isn't the best source for all things feminist. Second, Brown says it's perfectly fine if women personally chooses to use "female" as a noun rather than an adjective. Third, there are actually several reasons why it's better to use "female" as an adjective rather than a noun.

In a 2010 blog post on Writer's Relief, the author explains why using female as a noun can be problematic:

George and Scott met some good-looking females at the nightclub on Saturday.

In this context, female smacks of depersonalization and disrespect. Most women will agree that being referred to as a female is somehow offensive, even if they’re not exactly sure why. More and more we find that female and male are used to imply inferiority, whether in noun or adjective form, as in That’s just the female side talking, or Typical of a female. Note that the same objections can be raised when referring to men, as in If it weren’t for the male mentality, we wouldn’t have any wars, or I am determined to get to know that male.

When used in this context, male seems more mammal than human, and the man in question has been effectively depersonalized. But as an adjective, male is appropriate:

The choir is composed of young male voices.

Plus, the words "man" and "woman" strictly refer to the human gender binary, while "male" and "female" can be used to describe any species with either a penis or a vagina. [Note: I know that intersex people and animals exist, and I do not wish to erase them.For this particular blog post only, though, I will focus on male and female.] If I say "a female," that could be anything. A female what? Dog? Cat? Person? However if I say "a woman," one automatically thinks of a human. So in that sense, yes, it is better to say "woman" than "female."

Also, by saying "female" automatically equals "woman," that equates being a woman with having a vagina, therefore erasing transgender women and people who identify outside the gender binary. As I've mentioned several times before, gender is a social construct. Yes, biology plays a part, but most of our ideas about what it means to be either a man or a woman come from our culture's gender norms. For example, according to Boundless, in some cultures men wear make-up.

Now Glenn can call herself whatever she wants. I have no problem with her saying, "I'm a female." What pisses me off, however, is how she automatically dismissed the Jezebel article as "feminist extremism" without actually doing any research. When someone says something far-out, I at least think about it and do some research to see if it holds any water. Glenn, on the other hand, seems like she has already made up her mind, and she looks for anything that confirms her bias. Doesn't sound very skeptical, does it?

Of course, if you're BFFs with The Amazing Atheist, I can't expect much.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bi Any Means Podcast #4: Islam, Racism, Feminism, and Kink with Heina Dadabhoy


On today's episode, I talk to Heina Dadabhoy about growing up Muslim, the misconceptions of Islam, and when criticizing Islam becomes racism.



Trav:                Welcome to the Bi Any means podcast, the place where social justice and humanism meet. Hello and welcome to another episode of the Bi Any Means podcast, the podcast companion to I am Trav Mamone and my guest today is Heina Dadabhoy. They are a former contributor to Skepchick, and they are currently blogging at Heinous Dealings at Free Thought Blogs. Heina, thanks for joining me today.
Heina:              My pleasure.
Trav:                Now for those who don’t know I previously did an email interview with Heina a few months ago on Bi Any Means but with the podcast my audience is starting to grow. For those who missed our previous conversation, can you tell us about growing up Muslim and what eventually led you to atheism?
Heina:              Well, I grew up as a Muslim in sunny southern California. I was very religious. In fact, more religious than my family at points, and that also meant I read a lot of religious texts. I knew a lot of things about the religion that everyone around me claimed to believe in and follow but that they didn’t know, things that led me to doubts but never too strong. When 9/11 happened I was actually in high school. It was my second day of high school but while it didn’t make me immediately di-convert it did make me further examine my beliefs especially since so many people around me were asking me questions, and asking me to justify my beliefs and my religion.
                        Then that led to several years of doubt in high school. I started reading things outside of religious texts, picked up a few autobiographies of people who were free thinkers, people who were queer, things like that. Eventually I got to college when I was 17 and I started taking different classes, and I took a philosophy class that was on the philosophy behind what’s the theology of the Catholic Church. Essentially the writings of Augustine, and I realized that a lot of what Augustine was saying was the exact same thing my family had been saying to me for years and years, and what my religious teachers had been saying to me for years and years to justify Islam.
                        Yet Augustine ended up founding the Catholic Church in its modern form in a lot of ways. I realized that it was in congress that you could start with the same premises, and end up with a different conclusion. I scaled back from very religious Muslim to sort of secular deist, Muslim flavored but eventually realized through various readings of biology, and more philosophy that I didn’t really believe in a creator deity either, and I joke that I fell into a black hole for six months because I’ve always been an avid writer.
                        I always kept personal journals of my thoughts that I was so afraid of my thoughts I’d stopped journaling for six months, and at the end of that I came out an atheist.
Trav:                Okay. What inspired you to start blogging about Islam atheism and feminism?
Heina:              I actually started blogging about being an ex-Muslim when I first came out as an ex-Muslim about nine years ago. It was an anonymous blog but I guess my style, and my voice, and my experiences are so distinct that people figured out who I was, and I shut down my blog out of fear for my own safety, and the safety of my family because allegedly there were threats going around in the local community. I stopped. I kept relatively quiet for a while but I started getting more involved with the atheist spear as it were.
                        They were volunteering at local conferences, and events and I actually became aware of the atheist blogosphere more and more through essentially what we call Elevatorgate Dear Muslima, and I started tweeting about it because I remember … I didn’t know much about Rebeca Watson oddly enough. I knew about that incident, and thought wow, if she had gone up into somebody’s hotel room, and she had been sexually assaulted they would have blamed her and said, “Don’t you know better. Why would you go to some guy’s room?” and yet because she said that she didn’t go they were somehow having a hissy fit too. I saw the fact that you know, a lot of the times as women, women can’t win in these situations.
                        I started talking about it, and I became more and more aware of the atheist blogosphere, and through that Skepchick was looking for contributors in a very active way with more diverse backgrounds. Since I do have that I applied. I didn’t expect to get in because I thought you had to have some sort of magical qualifications but apparently my writings samples were good, and so I joined Skepchick. At first I mostly talked about sexism because obviously it was the hot button issue, and I also had a lot to get off my chest.
                        Since even though I wasn’t active on the national scene, or as a blogger I was active locally, and I was really sick of the attitudes I deal with in the local community from men. I did end up writing about Islam also based on frustration because the first thing I wrote on Skepchick about Islam was demystification of the 72 virgins thing, and that ended up being incredibly popular. It got passed around a lot. My then hero now current hero and friend Greta Christina tweeted it, and I remember squealing very loudly, and flailing, and jumping around the room when I saw that.
                        I realized that there was a market out there for writers who would write about Islam, but also feminism, and just have … I guess my perspective helped with that. That’s how I got started there.
Trav:                Great. Now, with the Charlie Hebdo attack this past January seems like everyone has an opinion about Islam, and you’ve talked about all he varying arguments. People talking from Reza Aslan to Bill Maher. First of all, I guess the best thing to ask you first is, what’s the biggest misconception people have about Islam?
Heina:              It’s a misconception that’s based on I think what happens to a lot of minority groups, and there’s this idea that we don’t have to say not all Christians bomb abortion clinics because we know that because living in the west and living in the US there’s a lot representation for different kinds of people and different kinds of Christians. In fact, if you are white and appear to be quote “normal people” will assume that you are a Christian.
We don’t have to do that but with Muslims like with any minority group whether it’s religious or whether it’s religious, or ethnic, or both in the case of Muslims based on stereotypes, you have this thing where if you know about one Muslim, or hear about one Muslim, or learn one thing about Islam you assume it’s true for all of them. That goes for positive and negative things. A lot of the times that the issue if someone hears one thing, or sees something about one incident, or gets to know one Muslim, and they think that person or that incident, or that perception applies to every Muslim in all iterations of Islam.
It’s hard to humanize and diversify one’s views of a minority group but it’s obviously incredibly worthwhile because it leads to a much more realistic understanding of reality.
Trav:                Right. I forgot my place … okay, here we go. When it comes to ISIS, and Islamic terrorism the debate always comes back to the question of how much of it is true Islam or how much of it is just fundamentalism. From your perspective how much of it is “true Islam”?
Heina:              It’s a tough question because as a Muslim I was very resentful of Muslims who claimed the title but didn’t really seem to care to follow the religion, and so I still have a streak of that in me somewhere especially since a lot of these progressive and liberal Muslim … I wouldn’t say progressively, liberal Muslims. I should say non-practicing Muslims. I am related to a lot of non-practicing Muslims and they laud over me because I’m the atheist. They say, “Well, at least we are believers. You are not a believer,” and I’m looking at them, “You are not practicing your religion. Why does your belief make you a superior person to me?”
I have a bit of resentment there but I try to look at it from a sort of anthropological or sociological perspective where there is no way to really say what the true Islam is. You ask Muslim you get one thing. You another Muslim you get the other thing. I don’t necessarily think that the debate about what is true Islam and what is not is even that meaningful. What it comes down is I think with these fundamentalists, and terrorists or what do they think is motivating them? How can we stop them from causing harm because I don’t know if it is especially not up to outsiders in the religion, which in some ways I am now since I don’t follow it to really determine what’s true Islam and what’s not.
Trav:                Right. Coming back to what you were saying earlier about someone knows about one incident, or one Muslim and base their entire view of Islam around that it seems to me like most of the atheists that I’ve heard who talk about Islam are all white people who have never been Muslims. Jaclyn Glenn, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Bill Maher, etc. and whenever I mention this people yell back, “So what?” or, “What about Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Salman Rushdie?” Those two are like the two primary sources people seem to have when it comes to talking about Islam.
                        Their stories matter, absolutely but everyone has their own story. I was wondering, how hard has it been for you to have your story heard?
Heina:              It’s I guess it’s … I’ve only been on the scene for a couple of years. I always try to take that into account. Thankfully things are getting a little bit better in the sense that people are starting to care more about hearing for more ex-Muslims but yeah, it is true that the more atheists who talk about Islam tend to be white or Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I wouldn’t even say Salman Rushdie. He doesn’t really talk about Islam very much. He lives his life. He‘s a white male novelist except he’s brown in a lot of ways. He sleeps with models, and he goes to the parties, and everybody thinks he’s cool because he had a fatwa. I don’t even know if he’s really much of a voice on Islam necessarily this days.
                        Yeah, there’s Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and she does have this very incredibly horrific back story. I try not to talk too much crap but I definitely feel like there’s more room for more voices, and more nuance. It has been difficult because I don’t have this compelling tragic story, and sometimes people get angry at me for not having more of a tragic story.
                        They are like well, shouldn’t you … shouldn’t have this happened to you, or shouldn’t have that happened to you, or maybe your family wasn’t even that religious because yes, my family is … was and still is very religious. Thankfully like I said though people are starting to listen, and we actually have an organization now, Ex-Muslims of North America. That is helping to get the word out, and get more attention towards a more nuanced and diverse voice for ex-Muslims.
Trav:                That’s good. Some people like Sam Harris say there’s no such thing as islamophobia. Do you agree or disagree?
Heina:              That word islamophobia people get fixated on the word. They’ll say there’s no such thing as being discriminatory towards a religion because a religion is a choice. It’s a philosophy, and it’s a theology, and we should be able to criticize ideas. I don’t use the bword because again that touches off that whole debate can you be phobic of an idea and things like that. I use the term anti-Muslim bigotry, which is essentially what islamophobia means but people don’t understand it. I feel like anti-Muslim bigotry is a much clearer term, and people understand what that means.
                        I think that is a very real thing. People have this stereotype in their heads of what Muslims look like, and so even on-Muslims, or never-Muslims, or ex-Muslims get subjected to anti-Muslim bigotry even though we are not Muslim. That is a very real thing, and that is something that I still deal with today. Taking off my headscarf didn’t make any less brown, didn’t make me any less “Middle-Eastern looking” and people still assume I’m Arab or assume that I have some sort of loyalty towards Islam or affiliation with it. Yeah, that’s a very thing and that’s something that needs to be combated actively.
Trav:                Right, you are actually running a book about Islam, A Skeptics Guide to Islam. Tell us a little about that.
Heina:              Yes, well for anyone who backed me I continue to be sorry for the delays but as far as the book itself it’s really me. It’s an FAQ in a lot ways. It’s based on my experiences within the atheist, and skeptic, and secular communities, and what people tend to ask me, or what comes first to mind for them when they find out that I’m a former Muslim. Some of it is based on frustration where I just wanted to be able to throw a book at someone and say, “Here, just read this. I don’t want to explain it again,” and some of it is also just based on what I think … would be for people to know about Islam because if you are going to criticize a religion at the very least your terms right.
                        People can’t even say the word Muslim correctly. Where do they come off even trying to discuss the nuances of Ismail theology? If they really want to I feel like it would be hoven to learn a little bit, and there are anti- Muslim sources you can get about Islam, and they are very pro- Muslim forces you can get but I feel I’m uniquely positioned in that I left Islam, and I have no deep and abiding love for Islam but I don’t dehumanize Muslims, and I feel like there’s room for more nuanced approach. That’s what I hope to bring with it.
Trav:                Right, right. I think you definitely hit the nail on the head when you talk about how people tend to … to me I know I sound like a parrot saying this because I’ve said it so many times. If an idea doesn’t hold any water it should be openly criticized but I think a lot of times in the atheist community a lot of atheists tend to confuse criticizing an idea with like throwing an entire group of people under the bus. Especially towards Muslims, and Islam where it’s not just simply … the whole idea of Mohamed flying to heaven on a horse is ridiculous, or the whole idea of honor killing, that’s bad. That needs to stop.
                        I don’t know. It seems to me like a lot of atheists think that the Koran is Mein Kampf part 2.
Heina:              Well, part one because it was written before Mein Kampf. Right but yeah. It’s true. People make fun of the ridiculous parts of Christianity but they make fun of Muslims in a way that is very racist but they claim its criticism of Islam. I posted this as an example in one of my posts about anti-Muslim bigotry it was essentially Amin that was making fun of Muslims as using bestiality. Basically saying Muslims fuck goats. That was the big criticism. How is that criticizing Islam?
                        Or that name that was going around for a while that on the left there were some ring wraith from Lord of the Rings, and on the right were some women in full burqas so black the black entire body covering garments. The caption was one of these things is an emblem of hate, and one of these things is a character from Lord of the Rings. That I thought, okay, that’s not really criticism the theology behind it. That is criticizing people. These are pictures of people, and you don’t know the background stories of those women. What makes them hateful for wearing a garment, and it actually really upset me, and I ended up getting into a knock down, smack down argument, and I almost lost a friend over it, which tends to happen.
                        To me that’s not helping, and it’s not criticizing, and it’s not doing good in the world. People are just getting their jollies from it, and that to me it’s not good criticism of a religion. That’s just disguising your bigotry with “I’m criticizing religion.”
Trav:                Right, definitely. One final question about Islam. This is something that I’ve asked a lot of people and I’ve gotten different answer, is it possible to criticize problematic verses in the Koran, and Islamic religious dogma, and certain Islamic practices, and still be an ally to Muslims who face persecution?
Heina:              I think so. Not to put myself on some kind of pedestal because I’m still learning, and I screw up all the time, and I’m grateful when that’s pointed out but I try. I do both. There are parts in the Koran and the Hadith that yes, I find disgusting, and abhorrent, and that vilify, and demonize, and sentence me to death for who I am, and what I am. But at the same time Muslims often suffer the most under such verses, and I like to be an ally to those Muslims who are working towards an Islam that is less fixated on those particular verses, and is more concerned with other things.
                        In fact at creating change this year in Denver, the National LGBT task force conference I met up with a Muslim queer group called MASGD, Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity. Pretty great initials there but they were great, and we got along really well, and I’m thinking of reaching out to them to work with them on things. As queer Muslims, as gender non-confirming Muslims they had a lot in common with me. They had very similar family struggle to me. They simply choose to self-identify as Muslims, and focus on other parts of Islam besides the homophobic parts whereas I’m just out of Islam.
                        We have a lot of the same goals, and a lot of the same priorities. I definitely would consider myself an ally to them.
Trav:                Good, good, switching gears for a little bit. You’ve written about being in the Kink community. I have to ask, have you seen a lot of newcomers to the Kink community who only know what they’ve read about in 50 Shades of Grey, and if so how fucking annoying is it?
Heina:              Well, I can’t say I’m super current or with it with the Kink scene lately for reasons that I’ve enumerated in posts about the racism in the community. I haven’t even started touching on the sexism there yet but I backed way from the Kink community but I do have a lot of friends who are active participants, and I do occasionally get to events where that involve kinky people where there’s a play party or just a social mixer, and I don’t think it’s as much of a problem as people think it is.
                        There have always been people who read something, or saw something, or had some idea in their head, and they show up at a Kink gathering. They pretty quickly weed themselves out if they are not really interested in learning more. I think the biggest problem with 50 Shades is not the people who go to the Kink community because of 50 Shades. It’s the people who don’t go, and try to replicate what they see or what they read without any understanding of what they are doing.
Trav:                Right.
Heina:              That’s the part that scares me because of the tying methods I saw in the trailer to 50 Shades didn’t look right.
Trav:                Right. Well, that’s about it for me. Anything else you’d like to add like any upcoming projects?
Heina:              Well, not really any projects yet but I’m giving a couple of talks coming up, and I have to look at my calendar but I guess I should always plug my blog. It’s Heinous Dealings on the Freethoughts Blogs network. There you can find everything from my blog post which I update four to five times a week. On the left I also have lots of resources for other people to read if you are interested in learning more about Islam.
                        I have a pretty big listing of progressive and [inaudible 00:22:07] sources to look at, and I also have a list of my upcoming appearances. That’s another good place to look.
Trav:                All right. Thanks again for joining me today Heina.
Heina:              You’re welcome.

Trav:                Thanks to listening to the Bi Any Means podcast. The theme music is Endurance by Dream Youth. You can find more of their music at The Bi Any Means logo was design by Asher Silberman. If you like what you have heard please subscribe via iTunes and go to for more musings of a queer humanist.