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.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Why This DMAB Genderqueer Needs Feminism - New Post on Queereka


I wasn’t always a feminist. Sure, I always believed in equal rights for people of all genders, but in my twenties I bought all the stereotypes about feminists: they hated men, they all wore Birkenstocks, they were all lesbians, they didn’t shave their armpits, and they all listened to Lilith Fair folk music. Now at nearly 32 years old, after years of deconstructing gender norms–eventually coming out as genderqueer–I realize that feminism is so much more than the stereotypes. In fact, I need feminism not just for my own liberation as a DMAB genderqueer person, but also to unlearn years of internalized misogyny.

Click here to read the rest.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Become My Patron On Patreon!

With my writing at my podcast, I wish to explore the intersections between social justice and secular humanism. I have a small but growing audience, and I want to attract new readers/listeners.

There's just one problem: podcasting can cost money!

Most of the technology I use is free, but I want to expand my services beyond what I can afford right now. For example, I want to provide transcripts of my podcast to the deaf and hearing impaired, and I did find someone who can transcribe my podcast, but his services aren't free. Plus, I'm thinking about getting a proper camera to make YouTube videos (my current webcam sucks).

I know I have a small audience, so I'm not expected to rank in millions. But if my fans can pitch in at least a buck a month, that would go a long way.

Just click here to be my patron.


Friday, February 20, 2015

I'm Your G-G-G-G-G-G Gender Bomb! - New Post on Queereka


(Apologies to The Runaways for borrowing one of their lyrics)

Once again, Pope Francis proves he’s not the progressive people think he is. According to Gay Star News, the Pope recently compared transgender people to nuclear weapons in a book published in Italy called This Economy Kills. While the title sounds like a great read for socialists like myself, there’s a section where the Pope compares trans people to “Herods” who “disfigure the face of man and woman, destroying creation.”

To read the rest, click here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

What Christian Grey and God Have in Common

(Picture credit: Fanpop)


No, I did not watch the Fifty Shades of Grey movie this weekend. Nor do I plan to ever. The book was horrible, the movie currently has a 4.0 rating on IMDB, and the relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele is just flat out abusive. Why anyone would romanticize Christian and Ana's relationship is beyond me.

Actually, that last part isn't entirely true. I think I know why. In fact, I see a lot of similarities between Christian Grey and the Judeo-Christian God.

Like Ana, I, too, was both charmed and intimidated by God. I was 17, and all I knew about Christianity was Jerry Falwell and the Religious Right. But the God that my then-girlfriend told me about was different. He was the father I never had (literally, since my father bailed out on my mom and me when I was a baby), he was forgiving, and I didn't need to do anything to make God love me. All I had to do was believe. And so at 17, I became a born-again Christian.

I read the Bible as if it was a love letter written from God. I was in such a state of spiritual ecstasy for the first year that I paid no attention to the problematic verses about slavery, genocide, and sexism. "God's ways are not our ways," I had to keep reminding myself. "God always knows best." So I trusted him with every fiber of my being.

Of course the more I trusted him, the more I felt I had to be a certain way in order to please God. I was young and just starting to discover myself sexuality, but I couldn't do anything with it because I wasn't married. So explored with myself, and found out how my body worked on my own. I felt guilty for feeling so good. I also started exploring radical politics like socialism, but felt like I was reading pornography. How can God forbid something that makes so much sense? But, once again, I knew that God knew best, no matter how many of his decisions felt wrong.

Then when I was 23, I met my ex-fiancee. At first I was so happy that God finally found a woman for me so we could get married and have kids. Three years into our relationship, though, things went bad. I didn't know it at the time, but I was experiencing gender dysphoria. I just couldn't be the man my fiancee and God wanted me to be. Her family constantly belittled me about my lack of manliness. Their verbal abuse became God's verbal abuse. It didn't help that I started questioning the validity of the Bible and church doctrine. For my fiancee's family, I was further disobeying God by not being my fiancee's "spiritual head."

I finally broke up with my fiancee after I told my therapist I was going to kill myself. I was finally free to explore my beliefs and be open with my bisexuality. At first, my new life was a dream come true; I was dating a wonderful man, and was getting more involved with social justice. But even within social justice, I still felt God's hot breath in my ear telling me I wasn't doing it right. I wasn't giving enough money to the poor. I wasn't doing enough for the environment. I was supposed to not just use Jesus as an example of unconditional love, but literally be him. Even though I no longer believed in Hell, I still believed that God was disappointed with me.

And then one day, I left it all behind. I saw behind the stained glass windows to find nothing. It was hard at first, but I don't regret leaving Christianity behind for one second. In fact, looking back on it, I now see how damaging it was to me. Even the "progressive" forms of Christianity I dabbled in were abusive.

I can't speak for anyone else, of course, but I can see why a lot of women find Christian Grey so charming. He sweeps Ana off her feet with his charm, and she completely submits to him out of her desire for him. But as the story progresses, she realizes how abusive Christian really is, and she flees.

Yeah, I can relate.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bi Any Means Podcast #3: Race and Humanism with Jamila Bey

Today's guest is Jamila Bey. She was an editor and producer for NPR, and hosted her own show, the Sex, Politics, and Religion Hour. She was a contributing writer for the Washington Post blog She the People, and now she blogs for Freethought Blogs.

SPAR with Jamila.


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Transcribed by Marvin

Trav:                Welcome to the Bi Any Means podcast, the place where social justice and humanism meet. Welcome to another episode of the Bi Any Means podcast, the podcast companion to I’m Trav Mamone and today’s guest is Jamila Bey. She was an editor and producer for NPR, and hosted her own show The Sex, Politics, and Religion Hour. She was a contributing writer for the Washington Post blog, She the People and now she blog for Freethought Blogs.
Jamila, thanks for joining me today. 
Jamila:             It is a pleasure to be with you. Thanks for having me.
Trav:                First I want to ask you about your background, which is something you recently blogged about. You say that your father was a Black Muslim, your mother was a southern Baptist who converted to Catholicism, and you were raised Catholic, right.
Jamila:             That’s it.
Trav:                What eventually led you to atheism?
Jamila:             I’m one of the people who likes that sort of annoying platitude, all babies are born atheist. When I was born I certainly knew nothing of Rome and the Pope, and crusades, and even Mohamed and Allah but I did get baptized. I went to Catholic school all the way through university with the exception of three years of middle school. I was pretty steeped in Catholicism. I don’t think I went a day without passing a chapel of some sort until adulthood.
                        The fact is nothing ever compelled me to see the evidence. I wanted to believe that there was a God. I think life would have been much simpler but I always had nagging doubts, and just … I couldn’t divorce the reality of the world from the fantasy that I was being told that a loving, benevolent, caring imaginary person in the sky put all of this here for me, and it was a wonderful thing, and it was good when he looked at it. Then I would turn on the news and see murder, rape. I’m old enough to remember when acid rain was a thing. You know, acid rain, the oceans are becoming acidic, and the whales are dying. It was just incongruent with what my brain could comprehend, and what my ears were being yelled at.
                        I never really, actually bought it. I wanted to but the honest truth is I never did so. My atheism comes from sheer lack of evidence.
Trav:                Right, always one of those believers who knew it didn’t make sense but sort of like see no evil, hear no, speak no evil monkeys that just see always like take it faith, take it faith, take it faith until I realize … nah, there’s not really much substance to it.
Jamila:             Yeah and the thing was for me taking on faith was always being offered by someone who A, couldn’t answer my question. B, had no idea what they were talking about, and they knew I knew it, or C, these are people who were trying to control me in some way even if it was just, “Well, you must never do this when you become of age.” These were not people who were talking to me in a way that made me think that my interest, and my desires were at heart. These are all people who had some ulterior motive.
                        I couldn’t. I’m a very, very … I’ve got a wonderful memory but like that children’s book the bears where they are playing ball in the house, and break a vase when they try to lie they can’t remember what’s the lie, and what actually happened, and the story gets all confused, and then there’s a parent with black and white spots that looks just like the soccer ball that … that’s the way my brain works. I’m very good at remembering what actually happened. I am really great at remembering on who said what, and in what order the things were said. When I start to make stuff up it all goes out the window.
                        I’m somebody I can’t lie. I can’t because I can’t keep the story straight. I just have to make sure I say what I mean, and mean what I say, and actually say what I believe because there’s just too much contradiction within what religious dogma I was exposed to, and I lived under that I was like, okay, truth is none of this tripe makes sense. I believe none of it. Let’s go from there.
Trav:                Cool. You got involved with radio when you were in college, right. Tell us about that.
Jamila:             I needed a job, and I walked into what I thought was the student radio station, and the most life experienced grad student ever in my mind said, “Yeah, well we are looking for a news assistant.” He sat me down and gave me a list of words to pronounce, and asked me some questions about current elections. It was I believe a Thursday. Actually, I don’t believe it was a Thursday. It was a Thursday, and it was an off season lection but the next Tuesday it was going to be Election Day, and as I was able to pronounce Carnegie Car-NAY-gee, it’s not CAR-ne-gee. The family themselves called them N.A.Y. Carnegie.
                        Being able to ask, “Okay, what are the rivers of the stadium?” I mean anybody worth their salt know Steelers. As a Pittsburgh fan knows Ohio, [inaudible 00:06:59], and Al Guiney. Dah, who doesn’t know that. That’s like asking what’s the name of the football team in the town.
                        I did that. I answered those questions and then at the end, the person asked me, “Well, is there anything else you want to add anything you think we should know?” I said, “Yeah, this congressional race the incumbent is going to lose. He is going to be a one-termer.” The guy looked at me and was like what little girl. I said, “Well, he just gave a speech the other night I happened to go to.” I said he pissed blacks. He pissed off women. He pissed off labor, and it’s going to be really close. It’s going to be within eight points but this guy who just got into Congress he’s getting voted out. Nobody is going to support him after what the he said.
                        They are like okay, see yeah. Thanks for coming. Well, lo and behold Wednesday morning I get this … we had these things called answering machines back in those days that people would call, and if you didn’t answer they would talk to a tape recorder and leave the message. You’d play the tape when you got back to your dorm room and …
Trav:                *in an old man’s voice* In my day . . .
Jamila:             You know, yeah. Greg Fight actually did lose that race. It was nine points. You’ll be in the newsroom. I was yeah, I’m rich. I’m going to be making $3.35 an hour doing the things all the other people are putting their family through college doing but whatever. I was new. I’d never taken a journalism course but I was a political science major. I was a rhetorical studies in communications double major. I’d been learning politics. I’d been learn history, and above all I’d been learning to write. I’d been learning to speak.
                        I went into the newsroom, and had no idea what AP star was. I knew AMP, you know, the convenient store and I was like Associated Press. I’ve learned something, and for six weeks I couldn’t do anything right. It was just hellish. It was stupid but I just loved being around microphones. I really liked being around microphones. It was the weird thing, and I had some really great mentors who were able say, “Okay, don’t ever write this again. Okay, read that out loud. Listen to how it sound. It sounds really stupid, doesn’t it? Don’t do that again.”
                        Yes, it bruised the ego but it also instilled in me this utter desire to I’ll show you this I’m not stupid. I can do this, and I learned on the job. I learned by doing. I learned by going to city council meetings, and asking an aide after the fact I don’t understand why he said that this thing, this bill is actually up for a vote. How is it up for a vote? He just introduced it today. What do you mean the committee signed off? What does that mean?
                        I had to go, and learn, and learn enough that I could report, and I could write, and it was really hard. It was really fulfilling, and it was really something that I knew I just had to learn and get good at. I knew if I stuck with it I could figure it out, and I did. I stood four years with at that station. It’s no more WBUQ FM. WBUQ FM 90.5 hot news, [inaudible 00:11:01] up next fresh air with Terry Gross, and then Tony Moonward with hot jazz. Anyhow, yeah, still got it but it was a lot of fun, and I loved radio. It’s what I’ve always done.
Trav:                Great, great. How did the Sex, Politics, and Religion Hour come about?
Jamila:             I had left NPR. I’d done my sentence 10 years hard labor, and I just wasn’t ever going to get to do the work that I wanted to do at that particular company. It’s just the way it is, and I saw that. I realized that. I left. It wasn’t … I still really love a lot of the people who are at NPR. I think there are a lot of people who are just amazing individuals. Career-wise it just wasn’t going to do for me what I felt I wanted to do. I left.
                        I was looking and a recruiter called me and said, “Hey, there’s this new network that’s getting started. They are called the Voice of Russia Radio,” and it actually it was misrepresented to me as being RT but radio. I watched hours and hours of RT Russia today, and went in there, and the most stereotypically Russian people I’d ever met in my life. I mean I kind of thought it was Candid Camera, you know, [in Russian accent] "Hello. I’m Dimitri. Have seat now but to hear you, you have work for NPR, yes. Do that here," and I’m like, okay, I can do that. "What would you put on radio to make good American listeners listen more to us?"
                        I’m like okay, do you really talk like that but he really talked like that and I waxed on and on and on and on, and at the end, as I mentioned it I thought I was interviewing for RT but the radio part of RT which was getting started. At the end he stood up, and I stood, and he said, "They are not us. Thank you for coming. Good bye." And he pointed to the door, didn’t even walk me to it. Just pointed to the door, and 30seconds later I’m in the elevator. I’m on my phone. I’m calling my husband, going, well I didn’t get that job.
                        Then four day later I get a call from somebody who goes, “Well?” I do, “Hello, this is Jamila.” “It’s Dimitri. We expected you here today. Well?” I said, “Nobody called me,” and he said, “Have sent email. I said go Dimitri, you will start on Wednesday.” It’s Wednesday now, and I’m like, “Oh, how about I come in on Monday. I didn’t check my email. I’m traveling.”
                        I started and I was a producer for a while, and then I told them, “You know what? I’m being misused here. I’ve recorded a bunch of shows, and I’m calling it the Sex, Politics and Religion Hour. He’s an hour programming you don’t have to fill. Play it.
                        They did. People started listening and people liked it, and it got on, and I was out of New York, Chicago, Miami, and of course, DC where I’m based out of. I was in LA for a few weeks, and then they fired me because I think I kept putting gay people on my show, and they didn’t like that. I promised. I said, “Fine, no more gay people. I understand Kremlin says no gay people.” Then I started putting trans people on my show [at this point Trav is laughing their ass off], and then I got fired a few weeks later. I would not be able to testify in court that that is the actual, legitimate, complete reason but I also wasn’t born yesterday. It’s my conjecture but I‘ve got the show and the tapes to prove it.
Trav:                I love that! It’s like …
Jamila:             You aren’t going to come here, and tell me … I’m sorry. I’m a journalist on American soil. I’m protected on First Amendment even though those protections are being rolled back and ignored in some places I’m going to fight to the death for it, and the minute you tell me I can’t say something, or I can’t interview some kinds of people, I’m like yeah, okay, well watch this.
Trav:                I love it. That is awesome. All right, now I want to talk a little bit about the intersection of race and atheism. A while ago I saw a guy on TV. I forgot his name. I think he was come comedian. He said that atheism is a white privilege. Is there any truth to that?
Jamila:             In a world where white people tend to have more resources, more influence, perceived as having more worth, yeah, that’s true. When you look at the statement, and you consider more things than just the statement as it’s laid out there, you start to see that there are glaring holes there.
                        Let’s be real. Unless you are one of these no-vaxxing, young creationists, you understand that this species stood up right, and walked in what we today know as Africa. The first people to look up at the sky and say, “Who I’m I and why I’m I here?” where people who looked not to dissimilar from the way I look now. The first people to try and make sense of why the rains came, or why the rains didn’t come, why the sky looked different at different times of the year those were people who also said it is the god who was doing this, and it was the goddess that was doing that. The first people to say, “BS, prove it.”
You know these are the ancestors of who we have now, and every given point in every given society there were people who said, “I don’t believe it, show me. I don’t believe it, prove it to me,” and in this modern era we still have folks who say that and we always are going to. The Harlem renaissance was full of amazingly, brilliant, creative, innovative black American people who most of them were atheist. Most of them were communists, and most of them got the hell out of this country, and running to Europe where they could be more free than they could be here.
To say that atheism is a white person’s privilege okay fine, however that’s not all that it is and that’s a short hand way of saying there are issues of class. We Americans are horrible of talking of class. There are issues of class. There are issues of economic empowerment, and resources. There are issues of just culture that make it easier for a white skinned, straight haired person in America to say, “I’m without belief in any super natural figures.” It is and I’ve written extensively about this. I’ve [inaudible 00:19:36] about it.
It’s social suicide to look as I do and say I am atheist. It divorces you quickly, and profoundly from a lot of aspects of your culture. For example, you show up at any event during February you are going to be asked to sing James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Every Voice and Sing, also known as the Negro national anthem. The lyrics Lift Every Voice and Sing tell her earth and heaven rang rank with the harmony of liberty. I can get on board with that okay with the heavens up in the sky but then the third verse that did a lot of [inaudible 00:20:22] really send a lot of time put their best singer on.
That’s also a really hard song to sing. I’m like at least give us a minor, forgive me. Give us a major key that doesn’t have these diminished cords, and it … but anyhow, I digress. The third verse is, “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far on the path,” and it’s like okay, actually it wasn’t God that did that. I’m not a fan of that verse. I don’t particularly agree with assessment that progress has been made because of divine intervention. However, the overall song is it’s a song saying unity, and optimism for future, and forbearance will permit people who look as I do to continue, and to attain, and to refuse to be subjugated as a permanent condition.
That’s an idea actually I agree with but that also requires that you do more than just hum along, that you look at the singer, you look at the song, you understand the historical context in which it was written. I guess you’ve got to think a lot or at least I choose to think a lot. It can be tiring though.
Trav:                Right. Now, are there or have there ever been times when you felt difficult as an atheist, black woman to have your voice heard?
Jamila:             Every day, absolutely but it is the world I live in. there are people who don’t want to hear a woman speak. As a younger person there were people who just refused to listen to what a girl would say. There were people who don’t want to hear anything a black person has to say. As we speak this very day I’m tired of blocking people on Twitter. I was on an NBC the other night, and I admitted that half of my family is Muslim, and the Christian love which has been hanging people from trees since this country was founded, they are out in force.
                        It’s just how dare I admit to half of my heritage. How dare I when challenged the fact that white Christian patriarchy is the only way of existing in this culture. Yeah, people are always going to look for a reason to not hear you, or to diminish you, or to say that your voice doesn’t matter but I am a loud mouth who does media very well. I speak fluent producer. I know how to get a story out. I know how to get an editorial placed if I want one and you are not going to shut me up. It’s just not going to happen.
Trav:                Good for you. All right, now this might be a very vague and sort of open ended question. Forgive me if it is but I was wondering if you could perhaps explain a little bit about how you see racial justice and secular humanism how they intersect?
Jamila:             Racial justice and secular humanism have always been linked because a secular humanist who wants the best for humanity cannot look at a racist power structure, and not feel a deep, and discordant pang of anguish. How do you look at incarceration rates in this country as secular [inaudible 00:25:04] and not say, “You know, okay, we know for a fact that there are actually more young white male people who at any given moment are going to have drugs on them than there are young black male, or young Hispanic male people who are going to have drugs at then at any one point.”
It’s a function of the numbers. It is a simple mathematical equation more people doing something at identical percentages the greater number of the more people group are going to have drugs on them or whatever. When you look at the stop and frisk regime that had been the rule in New York City, and you realize more Black and Latino men and boys had been stopped and frisked in the five boroughs than there are Black and Latino boys and men in the five boroughs you go, “Hmm.”
That doesn’t seem to be possible as ascribed to mere chance. Are there policies that could be enforcing this? A secular humanist who is concerned with the wellbeing of human beings has to at least ask the question, we live in a system that is not color blind, that is not equal for all and when you look to history and see that a lot of the members, and I do say a lot because that’s exactly what I mean. A lot of this leadership and membership in the American Civil Rights Movement, I call it the so called Civil Rights Movement. It was so much more than just civil rights. It human rights. It was equals rights. It was women’s rights. It was workers’ rights.
The shorthanded civil rights but that really in my understanding, and my study of the time, and frankly the fact that I’m related to a whole lot of lived through it, and worked through it it’s such a small part of what was actually happening. These are people who didn’t need a religious dogma to tell them that the terrorism of the Christian south was wrong, needed to be fixed, needed to be changed and the same thing in a lot of ways today. Issues of self-determination. Issues of police brutality. Issues of economic justice. Issues of fundamental human decency, housing, health care, education, access to safe work.
These are things that secular humanists really, and can’t ignore. The social justice aspect is one that goes along quite easily with those considerations, and I think there are a lot of people who are starting to make that argument. There a lot of people who’ve been making that argument, and it’s what I’ve agreed with. Secular humanism, social justice are … they are not even opposite side of the same coin. They are parts of the same side of the same coin.
Trav:                Right, definitely. I remember when you mentioned about the present industrial complex, I remember when I first, like before I started really looking into it my attitude was well you do the crime you do the time. Sorry about your luck, and then I was like, wait a minute plenty of white people do the crime and they don’t do the time. What’s up with that?
Jamila:             Yeah, it’s the justice you can afford. Affluenza is real, and then you look at even suspension rates. The kids who suspended is likelier to be picked up by a truant officer, or a likelier to be something stupid outside of school because he’s not in school. Look at who’s getting suspended more, and it’s tied in together.
The fact that the head of the FBI recently said there’s no such thing as some color blind really, really does strike to the heart of the matter in a lot of ways.
Trav:                That’s about it for me. Anything you’d like to add like any upcoming projects?
Jamila:             I am blogging at Free Thought blogs. You can find me there. My website is SPAR for sex, politics and religion is up and under way. It’s got a bunch of archives, past stuff on it. My show is going to be airing very shortly. I am putting all of that together, and yeah.
                        I sit on the board of The American Atheist, and that conference is going to happen over Easter weekend in Memphis, Tennessee. I’m looking very much forward to that and I also I’m on the board for the Reason Rally. So 2016, spring time Washington DC National Mall, we without religion are going to stand at the foot of Capitol Hill, and say, “We are here. We are voters. You need to pay attention to us.”
                        I pretty much don’t sleep right now. I’m just kind of pretty busy.
Trav:                All right, great and yeah, I’ll add links to the blog post to so I can show everyone where to find you at, and thanks again for joining me today Jamila.
Jamila:             It has been my pleasure. Thank you.

Trav:                Thanks for listening to 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.

Friday, February 13, 2015

When "Nice" Christians Become the Abusive Ones

(Picture credit: David Hayward)


When it comes to abusive religious environments, people assume that it only happens in conservative churches. Nobody thinks that the "nice" progressive Christians can be abusive. After all, isn't that what progressive Christianity all about: giving Christianity a better rep? But even behind the peace signs and liberal theology, you can still find abuse in progressive religious environments.

For example, Tony Jones' alleged abusive behavior towards his first wife, Julie McMahon.

For those who don't know, Tony Jones is well-known leader of the progressive Christian movement the Emergent Church. He and his first wife Julie divorced a few years ago, and he remarried shortly after. Reports of Jones' abusive behavior first surfaced in 2008, but it wasn't until McMahon left comments on David Hayward's blog this past September that it became a major controversy among progressive Christians. Last month Jones released a statement online denying all allegations. Jones' statement is no longer online, but as R.L. Stollar points out, Jones did not present one single piece of evidence disproving all of McMahon's claims.

On Thursday, Stollar released a series of documents detailing Jones' abusive behavior towards McMahon. The documents include a mental evaluation of McMahon, a testimony from Jones' two children that they witnessed him assaulting her, and a diagnosis of Jones as having a Narcissistic Personalty Disorder.

Christian blogger Matthew Paul Turner wrote on his Facebook page that he could "no longer stay neutral" and called out Jones in light of the new evidence. So far no word from any of Jones' fellow Emergent colleagues

As for me, I don't know what to say. That doesn't mean I refuse to speak out against Jones. Far from it; this story needs to be told. But this story hits a little too close to home for me because from 2010 to 2013, I was part of the Emergent Church.

I was never a leader, or a cohort, or even a minister. But as a confused twenty-something Christian with unconscious dysphoria trying to make sense of Christianity, the Emergent Church was a refuge to me. It gave me room to evolve spiritually and question long-held Christian beliefs. The Emergent Church showed me the Gospel is more than just Jesus dying for my sins; it was about God restoring this broken world. I thought it was the future of Christianity. It gave me a reason to still believe despite all my doubts.

Now I see that the Emergent Church is just another bullshit religious institution. It's too concerned with looking good than actually doing good. It welcomes abusers to the table under the guise of "grace." It automatically dismisses any allegations of abuse without a thorough outside investigation. The Emergent Church is the same old church bureaucracy, but with hipster glasses.

Sure, there are individuals within the Emergent Church that do good things, just like with any religious group, but overall as an institution, the Emergent Church is no different than any other religious institution. The Emergent Church may consider itself to be a "conversation" and not an institution, but it sure looks like one. If it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck . . .
Or in this case, if it looks like an abuser and sounds like an abuser, it's an abuser.