Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

Taking Sides

There has been a battle going on in the atheists/skeptical movement over the past year or so.  It is a battle about sexism.  I won’t go into the details because there are too many incidents and opinions to mention here.  For an introduction, if you are not familiar with what’s been happening, see PZ Myers’ blog post.  Make sure you visit the links there, and the links in those links.  

PZ feels that it is time to take sides, and I agree.

Sexism is wrong.  Rape is horrible and wrong.  Anyone who supports these things whether openly, through making excuses for them, or just pretending they don’t matter is wrong; period.  These people try to explain away sexism, to rationalize it, to excuse it in any way they can.  They make threats of violence, rape, and even death agains the women who come forward with their experiences of being victimized.  

These are the same people who claim to be rational.  They deride the religious for being irrational in their beliefs; for supporting and rationalizing their beliefs with senseless excuses and rationalizations while they do exactly the same thing in their defense and denial of sexism in the atheist and skeptical communities. 

These people are wrong and no amount of rationalization can change that.  They are immoral, plain and simple.

I take the side of every woman, all women, who live with sexism every day.  I take the side of inclusion.  I take the side of equality and fairness.  I take the side of humanism.  I take the side of what is right and moral; the idea that every woman has the right to not just be safe, but feel safe, at all atheist and skeptical conferences and events, to never have to live with threats of violence, rape, and death just for speaking out about their experiences with sexism.

These are painful times we are going through, but if we want to advance the causes of atheist and skepticism, we must clean our own house or we can never claim the high moral ground against the religious, who use their gods to claim the same.

We must demand of our conference organizers that they not invite speakers who are known to engage in sexist and predatory behavior.  We must demand that they bar these people from all conferences and events.   If they refuse, then we must refuse to attend their events and to contribute to their organizations.  We must insist that the CFI, the JREF, and all other atheist and skeptical organizations refuse these sexists and predators venues for their speeches and writings.  We must insist that they remove these people from their organizations.  If they don’t, then they don’t get our support or our money.  

As a society of atheists and skeptics, we must shun those sexist predators and all who support them.  This is not a war, but a boycott.  We must boycott their speeches, their appearances, their books, and their podcasts.     We must make them outcasts and pariahs.   

It is time to take sides.  If you truly care about your community and what it should stand for, then take the side of what is right and moral, or be left in the dustbin of history.

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Feminism, Humanism, Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , , | 3 Comments

It’s Not About Abortion Anymore

The so called War on Women has been escalating for months now.  Republican controlled legislatures across the country have been proposing and passing laws that aim to restrict the legal procedure of abortion by basically bullying women and doctors with threats of unneeded exams, arrests, and anything else that they can think of.  

Until now, the issue of the morality of abortion has been up for debate.  Until now.  

State Reps. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, and Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga of the Michigan House of Representatives have been told that they may no longer speak on the House floor.   The reason is that they dared to propose an amendment to a that would put new restrictions on abortion provider which would restrict a man’s access to a vasectomy.

Brown, who voted against the legislation, told supporters of the bill, “I’m flattered you’re all so interested in my vagina. But no means no.”

And Byrum was gaveled out of order after she protested when she wasn’t allowed to speak on her amendment to the bill that would have required proof of a medical emergency or that a man’s life was in danger before a doctor could perform a vasectomy. 1

This action by the leader of the Republican controlled house has turned this debate from one about abortion to one of the right to free speech.  Not only are the representatives being denied their right to speak about a bill that is up for consideration, they constituents are being denied their rights to representation.  

A democracy requires freedom of speech and a voice for everyone in the democratic process.  By denying these women their right to speak out against a proposed law that they disagree with, by denying the voters their right to effective representation, the Republican majority seeks to silence the minority. They seek to silence anyone who would dare challenge them.  This is not democracy; it is despotism.   

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of abortion, if you value what the U.S. stands for; freedom, democracy, liberty, then you must abhor an attempt to shut out and silence dissenting voices in the political process.

It is no longer about the morality of abortion.  It is about the morality of despotism.  It is about the rights of the minority being trampled by the majority.  

The American Revolution came about because Great Britain sought to control us against our will, without giving us the right of representation.  Now the political majority are attempting to do the same by denying dissenters the right to speak out, thereby denying them, and their voters, a voice in the political process.

We are slowly letting our liberties bleed away and those liberties, once gone, will be difficult to regain.    The freedom of speech is the most important right we have.  To attempt to take it away by political force should appall and frighten everyone of us.  

Don’t let your rights be trampled on just because you agree with those who would take them away.  Tell your representatives at every level of government that you won’t let this stand.  

As Michigan State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer said,

“Right now we are seeing our Republican colleagues in the House working to take away our rights to choose, our rights to health care, our rights to make decisions about our bodies. And just today, they’re taking away our female colleagues rights in the House, they’re right to speak on the floor.” 2

 

1) http://www.freep.com/article/20120614/NEWS15/120614049

2) http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/15/michigan-lawmakers-barred-from-floor-after-vagina-vasectomy-remarks/?iref=allsearch

June 17, 2012 Posted by | Humanism, Religion, secular humanism, Social Justice | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Skepticism’s Dirty Little Secret Isn’t Secret Anymore

It started with Elevatorgate.  Rebecca Watson related an experience she had at a conference at which she’d just spoken about how uncomfortable it makes women to be constantly hit on at conferences.  Afterwards she was going up to her hotel room in the elevator and there was a man there with her who was at the conference.  He asked her if she’d like to go back to his room.  That was exactly the type of unwelcome advance that she was speaking out about.  In a video blog about the incident she simply asked men to please not do that.  

She didn’t  call the guy a scumbag, she didn’t rail against men in general, or even those types in particular.  She didn’t call for all women to rally around the feminists flag.  She merely asked men to be respectful of women and not hit on them.

For her troubles she was called a bitch and a cunt.  She was told that she deserved to be raped.  She was threatened with rape and violence.  Even the venerable Richard Dawkins weighed in saying that women like her needed to stop whining and think about all the women in the world who are forced into prostitution, abused by men, forcible raped, etc.  

All of this highlighted the ugly underbelly of the skeptic, humanist, and atheist communities: men just don’t get it.   Yes, there women around the world in much worse situations that Rebecca and other women like her in our society.  That’s not the point.  The point is that women feel unsafe in places where they should feel safe.  The point is that women are being treated like objects.  This treatment may not raise to the level rape, forced prostitution, or genital mutilation, but it is still unacceptable because it creates fear in thousands of women.  No one she feel unsafe, especially in a community that prides itself on its inclusiveness.

Not only do some men in our community not get it, some are downright misogynistic.  They are quick to call women who speak out about sexism in the community feminazis, whores, and man-haters.  

Then there are the, what I will call, accommodationist.  They try to show their understanding and support of women while at the same time making excuses for mens’ bad behavior.  They say that these men are a product of their society, that they didn’t mean to offend, or some other lame assed excuse.  

The fact is that there is no excuse for sexist and myogynistic behavior.  And there certainly is no excuse for character assignations and threats of violence.  

Women in the community have had enough of this disgusting behavior from men.   They have said resoundingly that they do not feel safe at conferences.  The vicious attacks from the misogynists have frightened them.

The effects of this may be seen at this year’s registration for TAM.  Up until last year, registration for women was close to about 40%.  So far this year it is 18%.  Once can’t help but wonder if the events of this past year have had an influence on the huge drop in female registrations for TAM.

JD Grothe, president of the JREF and TAM’s organizer certainly thinks so.  He recently stated, 

Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been on reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

He singled out Rebecca as one of those who were being, as he claimed, irresponsible.

Rebecca: Off the top of my head, your quote in USA Today might suggest that the freethought or skeptics movements are unsafe for women. This is from the article:

“I thought it was a safe space,” Watson said of the freethought community. “The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is that it is not a safe space. . . ”

Rebecca recently announce that she will not be attending TAM this year.  I don’t blame her.  This is incredibly sad, not because a well know skeptic won’t be attending, but because that those 40% of woman attending last year is in large part due to Rebecca and others at Skepchick.  They have been raising money for years to send women to TAM and have succeeded in helping the number of women attending TAM to double over the last few years.   This surge in women attendees have spilled over into other conferences such as Skepticon, and has fueled a flowering of hundreds of skeptical female voices in the blogosphere.  

I was pondering attending TAM, but decided against it several weeks ago for financially reasons.  Now I’m defiantly glad that we didn’t register.  I would have been compelled to not attend TAM, despite losing  a substantial amount of money for the registration fee.  But more importantly, I could not attend TAM because I can not condone, or support with my money and presence, DJ’s stance here.  Blaming women who speak out about their feelings and fears is no different than blaming a rape victim for being raped.  

Of course this doesn’t rise to the level of rape, but the results are in the same.  Women are being victimized by being blamed for speaking out and taking action against an injustice.  They are being made to feel violated simply by saying they feel unsafe.  

I won’t consider attending TAM until I see that the organizers are willing to stop blaming women and take real, meaningful actions to stop sexual harassment at their conference.  I am also withholding my financial support for the JREF and will no longer write for the JREF blog while these conditions remain.

I am hoping that men in the community will respond to these events by voicing their support for Rebecca and all women in our community who are outraged by this latest turn of events.  I would call on PZ Myers, Phil Plait and other prominent male skeptics, who I know wholeheartedly support women’s rights,  to avoid TAM.  We need to send a message to DJ and other organizers that this behavior will not stand.  Maybe if we start throwing our support and our money behind other events, such at  CFI’s Women in Secularism conference, this will send a message to organizers of conferences to take real, meaningful actions to alleviate this problem.  Hopefully this will allow us to create events and venues where all participants can feel welcomed and safe. 

 

 

 

defiantly

June 2, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Feminism, Humanism, secular humanism, Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Heaven & Hell

 

John Shook has a great piece on the Center For Inquiry blog about how religion isn’t about hope, but personal wish-fullfillment, control, and our secret desire for revenge.  Here are two paragraphs that nicely sum up what I want to talk about today:

Heaven and hell are more about enforcing moral retribution upon everyone, and not about loving consolation for everyone. I said earlier that religion personally is largely about private wish-fulfillment. But at the social level, religion is mostly about imposing a public moral system. And not just any moral system – religions with heavens and hells have moral systems about obedience, vengeance, and retribution. With heaven and hell, private wish-fulfillment nicely pairs up with public moral-expectation. God delivers love to us because we feel deserving of that love. God delivers vengeful retribution upon others because we wish we could do it to them ourselves.

When believers say, “My God is all about Love!” what they are actually saying is that God really loves them and doesn’t love others. These are the kind of people who can’t feel truly loved unless someone else doesn’t get that love. Such a childishly selfish attitude, barely tolerable from the three year-old pushing the older sibling away from the parental lap, is entirely despicable from adults. Yet religious societies take this to the public level, effectively frightening members into obedience, and warning outsiders not in that good company that they will suffer for it. Join our religion, the message rings out, or else you’ll get hell for it!

I’ve read several blog posts today about this subject of heaven and hell and how you can’t have a heaven without a hell.  Except for Unitarian Universalists, all most no religion, especially forms of Christianity, has a concept of Heaven without a corresponding hell.  The problem with this, besides the horrific fact that so many people seem to take pleasure at the potential eternal suffering of others, is that hell just doesn’t fit in with the concept of a god of love.  God is seen as a parental figure, someone who makes the rules and rewards or punishes and who we always want to try to please.  What parent would willingly send their child somewhere where they would be tortured and tormented?  Only an sick, sadistic parent would.  So if there is hell, then god is a sick sadist.

Religious belief like this is, as John says, childishly selfish.  It has pain and punishment for those we are jealous of built right in.  The only real love there is the love for those we choose to love and for ourselves.

This is why I take a humanist approach to life.  Humanism has at it’s core the wellbeing of all people, everywhere.  When you put all people on a level playing field and treat them all equally, then you can’t help but act in the best interests of everyone.  Of course we have to take care of ourselves and our loved ones, but humanist ideals say that we shouldn’t do that at the expense of others.

As John sums up in another of his posts on the same subject:

Give me a morality, a humanist one, that finally centers on the one life that we all know we have.

March 20, 2011 Posted by | Atheism, Humanism, Religion | , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The Shame of the Shame of Sex

I had an amazing, day-long conversation on FB with an old, dear friend and a new friend of hers that she introduced me to.  The conversation was about sex.  It ranged from the innate beauty of the penis,  the importance (or lack thereof) of penis size, the the sensitivity and depth of the vaginal canal, female ejaculation,  what constitutes real intimacy,  the consciousness  shattering of shared mutual orgasms, to my new friend (a woman) giving me male masturbation advice that included interesting and clever devices.

There was mutual agreement that the shame associated with sex in our society is almost always motivated by males trying to maintain their supposed privilege where they feel that they have control over women, especially their sexuality.  This we all also agreed is complete and utter bullshit.

I’ve said it before here, anything that happens between consenting adults, regardless of gender, orientation, or numbers of people involved, is perfectly OK and, more importantly, perfectly natural.

In the end, intimacy, both physical and emotional, come down to the following:  openness, honesty, and respect.  One of these lovely women mentioned to me that she had problems with men because they viewed her openness as a invitation to hit on her.  She said that she never could figure out the rules.  I told her that I have three rules, which are stated above: openness, honesty, and respect.  And those rules apply to all relationships of all types, not just sexual ones.

It was one of the most fascinating and stimulating (pun intended) conversations I’ve ever had.  I found it so refreshing to be able to talk to women who were so comfortable with their sexuality and so confident in themselves.  They are both also very articulate and intelligentand they showed great respect to myself and each other.  I find these traits in a women to be irresistibly attractive.

The problem with many men is that they find these traits in women to be highly threatening.  They can’t deal with a woman who is so secure and comfortable in her sexuality.  I believe it truly frightens them.  It is because they have this false sense of privilege that leads them to believe that they must control the women in their lives.

Personally, I find it liberating, fascinating, and beautiful.

Oh and I learned something else very interesting in the discussion yesterday.  One of the women has studied the sexual practices and mores of ancient societies.  Did you know that women in ancient  Greece loved small penises?  They considered large penises grotesque.  As Spock would say, fascinating!

How comfortable are you with your sexuality?  How about with the sexuality of others?   Comments are most welcomed and encouraged.

 

March 19, 2011 Posted by | Feminism, Humanism | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Example of Careless Perpetuation of Sexism. This Time the Victim is an 11 Year Old Girl.

Last November in Cleveland, Texas 18 young men and boys were charged with raping an 11 year old girl.  The act was recorded on a cell phone video and discovered by the girl’s teacher who reported the crime.

While this is a heinous enough crime in and of its self, the reporting of this story in no less a paper than the NY Times compounded the the pain that the girl and her family must feel by perpetuating the myth that the victim “had it coming”.

“Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.”

While bringing up what a woman was wearing, how she was acting or what she was doing to try to justify that “she had it coming” is disgusting enough as it is, to even ask these questions about an 11 year old girl is beyond the reason.  An 11 year old has no real concept about how the way she dresses or acts will effect men.  To even hint at the “she had it coming” myth is simply irresponsible reporting.

But that isn’t all that is wrong with the article.  The reporter goes on to state:

“The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?

It’s just destroyed our community,” said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.””

Not once in the article is the girl’s welfare even mentioned.  Nowhere do we hear about the pain and trauma that an innocent 11 year old girl endured at the hand of 18 males.  That is 1.6 males violating her for every year of her life.  Where is the community outrage and concern for this poor girl?  Who there is talking about how she will have to live with this the reset of her life?  There is something seriously wrong with a society  that has more concern for the male perpetrators than the female victim.

Change.org has a site where you can sign your name to a letter that will be sent to the NY Times protesting their editorial decision to publish this sexist perpetuating article.

 

March 10, 2011 Posted by | Feminism, Humanism | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What We Can Learn From Bonobos

There is an article at Physorg.com that discusses the peaceful bonobos, a species with which we share more than 98% of our genetic material.  Violence has never been observed within bonobo communities and it seems that they have perfected a wonderful way of dealing with tension among members.

“One way bonobos deal with conflict and tension is to have sex. Yes, they’re the ultimate hippies–they make love, not war. “Whenever things get tense in the bonobo world, they’ll usually have some kind of sociosexual activity and this seems to really help everybody get along. But another one of the ways that they sort of have this peaceful society is they’re naturally more tolerant. They share more, and if one of them gets upset, it’s not just sex but they can also hug and comfort one another.””

Let us all take a page from the bonobo play book.  Hugs and sex for everyone!  Get out there and spread the love!

March 9, 2011 Posted by | Humanism, Science | , , , | 1 Comment

The God’s Will Fallacy

…during (Timothy) Dwight’s tenure, since he personally delivered more than two hundred sermons to undergraduates on the dangers of religious infidelity. One of his most memorable perorations proclaimed the immorality of smallpox vaccination, introduced by Dr. William Jenner in 1796. An earlier form of inoculation against smallpox had been employed by progressive, educated New Englanders like the Adams family since the 1760s. In a departure from the general eighteenth-century approval of scientific advances—a predilection of many orthodox believers as well as freethinkers—Dwight argued that if God had decided from all eternity that an individual’s fate was to die of smallpox, it was a sin to interfere with the divine plan through a man-made trick like vaccination.”

 

The above quote is from Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby.  It is an excellent example of the inhumanness of a conservative religious mindset.  It is the supernatural version of the Naturalism Fallacy.

 

The Naturalism Fallacy basically assumes that anything that is natural is good and by extension, anything that isn’t natural is bad.  Here we have the supernatural version of that which I shall call the God’s Will Fallacy.  This fallacy assumes that anything that mankind does to change or enhance the human condition is wrong because god made things the way they are and we are flouting the will of god if we try to influence things.

 

This ties back into the Calvinistic principles of Unconditional election and Limited atonement upon which modern conservative Christianity is based.  In a nutshell, Unconditional elections states that those who shall be saved were destined by god from the begging of time to be saved and everyone else was destine to spend eternity in hell.  Limited atonement says that Jesus died only for the sins of the elect.

 

I find these concepts to be grossly arrogant and selfish.  The ideas they promulgate are no different than any other ideology that promotes a select group of people gaining and holding power over everyone else.  We see this in almost every religion.  Christians have their pope, bishops, priests, ministers and pastors. Islam has it’s imams, Hinduism has it’s caste system.  We also see this in secular, mainly political, movements such as kingdoms, dictatorships, oligarchies, and even to a lesser extent, republics.

 

All of these ideologies are about power of the few over the many.  As Baron Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”  His observation, while somewhat pedantic and extreme, has real relevancy.  The quote above illustrates this nicely.  Mr. Dwight’s lack of empathy for the suffering of his fellow human beings is corrupted by the fallacy of “God’s Will”.  When put into practice, millions of lives are adversely affected.

 

This is just one example of the corrupting influence that religion can have on society.  This is why we need a popular movement based on the values of humanism.  Values that put the welfare of all human beings first and foremost.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | Religion | , , , , | 11 Comments

Coexistence?

A dear friend of mine posted some disturbing videos from Indonesia of people being stoned to death for one religious offense or another on her Facebook profile to highlight the terrible violence that religion continues to inspire. She changed her profile photo to
wpid-174270_830719950_2402185_n-2011-02-13-18-21.jpg

I found what I consider to be a much more accurate version of the Coexist sign above,

wpid-sexist_by_dailyatheist-small-2011-02-13-18-21.png
*by http://dailyatheist.deviantart.com/. Used with permission.

I’m not a graphic artist, but I’m sure if I had the talent I could come up with other signs that contained more “truthiness” that the Coexist one.

Of course, the Coexist message represents something to strive for and as such it serves its purpose well. If religious coexistence was a fact, we wouldn’t need the logo in the first place.

While I fully support efforts for peoples of all faith to coexist, my feelings, as I said in my response to one of the videos, is that to coexist we must see each other as fellow humans, not as believers and unbelievers and until we can throw off all vestiges of religions, that can never happen. As long as people allow religion to guide how they live their lives, the violence and hatred will continue. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but we need to be realistic about just how insidious the influence of religion really is and how very difficult it will be to change that.

February 13, 2011 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Comments on Atheism and Gender Equality

Here is an illuminating comment on my earlier post from a reader, Sas, and my reply:

  1. Thanks for this . I have been appalled by some men’s attitudes – I left Christianity hoping for an equal world and was horrified to see the same old crap in the atheist camp. ” girls are naturally less intelligent that’s why they go to church ” No you twat, church has free childcare and you don’t get touched up.Treat women right and they’ll join you.Also try to understand that liking men and sex doesn’t mean they will sleep with any man – ESP not the older ones who think we are gagging for a father figure…wpid-94fe68a35b9b4a2c0ba2445621a62470-2011-02-8-16-27.jpg Comment by Sas | February 8, 2011 | Edit | Reply
  2. Ps lots of men don’t like sex and will make you feel bad for asking for it. Strangely they lie about that to their male friends.wpid-6f2daef3a2c555a4bdb80036526e0f36-2011-02-8-16-27.jpg Comment by Sas | February 8, 2011 | Edit | Reply
  3. Sas, I agree with you completely. Men need to understand that just because a woman is sexually liberated doesn’t mean she will sleep with everyone, especially them. Yes, biology is powerful. Yes, males evolved to try to have sex with as many females as possible in order to pass on their genes. But to use this as an excuse to treat women solely as sexual objects is disingenuous and wrong. This only supports the theists’ contention that atheists are all amoral darwinists. We are moral creatures who have the benefit of intelligence and rational thought to rise above our evolutionary imperatives, especially when they interfere with our ability to responsibly interact with each other.wpid-402c429e71fcb15b380d58cd3ca72867-2011-02-8-16-27.jpg Comment by Jay Walker | February 8, 2011 | Edit | Reply

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Atheism, Humanism, Skeptical | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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