Sunday, April 7, 2013

How Skepchick and AtheismPlus make atheists look cheap, ineffective, immature, petty and stubborn

CFI wrote a letter to the secular community regarding some of the recent internet drama.

The letter is largely a critique of the level of discourse online:
Communicating primarily online can make it difficult to recognize each other’s humanity. Online we don’t have the same vocal and physical cues to tell us what another person means by his or her comments, so it’s easier for misunderstandings to develop. 
Among its recommendations, it includes:
  • Go offline before going online: pick up the phone. When you hear that an organization or member of our community is doing something that you think is wrong or bad for the community, call and talk with them, find out what they are actually doing and why they are doing it.  If you don’t have a phone number, send a private email and arrange a time to talk. 
  • Listen more. We miss the nuances and differences within “the other side” once an issue becomes polarized, while continuing to see our side as filled with nuance and distinctions.  There is a tendency to stop listening and treat everyone associated with an opposing position as a monolithic group. 
  • Dial down the drama. It’s tempting to overuse inflammatory and derogatory rhetoric. It gets attention. 
  • Be more charitable. We should remember that the purpose of argument within our community is to come to shared and correct conclusions that move us forward, not to score points against the opposing side. 

Sounds reasonable, right?

The letter sounded reasonable enough for these people:

David Silverman, President, American Atheists
Rebecca Hale, President, American Humanist Association
Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director, American Humanist Association
Chuck VonDerAhe, President, Atheist Alliance of America
Richard Haynes, President, Atheist Nexus
Ayanna Watson, CEO, Black Atheists of America, Inc.
Mandisa L. Thomas, President, Black Nonbelievers, Inc.
Mynga Futrell, for Brights Central, at The Brights’ Net
Amanda Metskas, Executive Director, Camp Quest
Ronald Lindsay, President and CEO, Center for Inquiry
Tom Flynn, Executive Director, The Council for Secular Humanism
Jan Meshon, President, FreeThoughtAction
Joseph McDaniel Stewart, Vice President, FreeThoughtAction
Margaret Downey, Founder and President, Freethought Society
D.J. Grothe, President, James Randi Educational Foundation 
Stuart Jordan, President, Institute for Science and Human Values
Jason Torpy, President, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers
R. Elisabeth Cornwell, Executive Director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
Edwina Rogers, Executive Director, Secular Coalition for America
August E. Brunsman IV, Executive Director, Secular Student Alliance
Todd Stiefel, President, Stiefel Freethought Foundation
Fred Edwords, National Director, United Coalition of Reason

What did Rebecca Watson think of this even handed letter?

Watson regards the letter as a "stone tablet". In a letter back to the leaders, Watson writes:
The fact that large organizations in this movement communicate via stone tablet presents unique challenges. For one, it can be difficult for those of us at the bottom of the mountain to understand what, exactly, went into the making of the tablet. For instance, if the tablet references the harassment of women in this movement, how many of the harassed women were consulted, if any? [...] If secular leaders want to show they care about women’s equality, they should stop etching tablets and start actively participating in the massive feminist fight against the Religious Right that is currently happening in the US and elsewhere.
The amazing part of this: Watson managed to turn a letter about "dialing down the drama" into a dramatic interrogation of the organization's processes, motivations and actions. 

It gets worse. Watson adds:
Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, isn’t listed on the open letter. I assume it’s because he was too busy making reproductive justice one of AU’s core issues. In fact, I just stopped typing this post for a few minutes so I could go donate $25 to AU. You should, too.
This is the work of a professional troll.

Items to consider:

  1. At no time has Barry Lynn or AU made a statement criticizing CFI's letter. Watson implies that they declined to sign the letter, however the facts of the matter may simply be they were not yet asked to sign the letter.
  2. Watson calls out AU's womens' rights work just to stab at the signers of the letter. Oddly enough, CFI is sponsoring "Women in Secularism" which Watson happens to be speaking at. But in the context of this article, Watson conveniently forgets that in order to make CFI seem like an archaic old boy's club.
Watson continues:
Once all that is taken care of, I think the tablet looks great. I’m a big fan of moderating blogs and forums. I’m a big fan of listening, and helping others, and being charitable, and those things are so, so easy to do in a community where I’m not relentlessly attacked from within. For instance, the disagreements I have with other feminists are by and large productive and interesting. Maybe one day I can say the same about secularists.
Translation: "Now that I've fragged a whole bunch of secular organizations, let me tell you how charitable I am when conversing with people that aren't a bunch of atheist dickheads." (the d-word being one that is acceptable in Skepchick circles)

What does it look like Watson is doing?

From an altruistic viewpoint, Watson may sincerely believe her biting criticism of the letter and her $25 donation to AU is going to do something for the status of women everywhere. (More on the likelihood of this later)

However, for one that has one iota of experience in office politics knows it appears Watson is positioning herself to be consulted in the future.

If a colleague is known to fly off the handle and sabotage projects that does not pay them enough respect, it turns out that there is a tendency to then rethink relationships with that individual. The distance between the entities must change.

Once more - Watson's motivations may simply be an objective beef with the contents of the letter.

A skeptical viewpoint would wonder what the response would have been if one could not vary the contents, but the process in which the letter was created.

What if Watson was given the draft but could not edit it? Would she sign? Nothing about Watson's response suggests that the organizations even asked Watson to sign, which may have stoked the fire here.

What if the letter was not signed by a secular leaders, but rather a CFI blogger? Perhaps a female blogger? Almost immediately, Watson's "stone tablet" tag line would evaporate and the skepticism of the authors experiences would conceivably be more muted if present at all.

Let's table this for now.

$25 to Americans United to fight for "reproductive justice"? Are you kidding?

This is all kinds of nonsense.

There already exists plenty of effective organizations working in the realm of reproductive rights. Planned Parenthood, for example, has a $1 billion USD annual budget and they have plenty of opinions on the subject. Additionally NARAL Pro-Choice America, which focuses on lobbying for removal of abortion restrictions, has about a $4 million dollar budget.

The goals of secular groups do not prioritize reproductive rights, nor do they encompass reproductive rights. This might surprise people, but organizations like "Americans United for Separation of Church and State" (an organization now $25 richer) and the "Freedom From Religion Foundation" are not incorporated to address reproductive justice as their main goal. They are only happily engaged in it as far as religion is. To the same degree religion invades government to restrict reproductive choices secular groups will find cause to raise that as a violation of the First Amendment. This is by happy accident and not necessarily the core motivations of the organizations.

Only engaging with explicitly secular groups makes the charity of "atheists" seem questionable. When Christians tithe up to 10% of their salary, it ends up being a ridiculous amount of money. Even supplemental organizations are raking in the money:

  • Catholic Charities USA : $4 Billion
  • LDS Humanitarian Services : Another crazy sum of money
  • Salvation Army : Another organization that is not required to report, but likely an absurd figure.
What is typically the atheist response to this generosity?

Secular groups tend to point at:
  • American Red Cross : $ 4 billion
  • Doctors without Borders (USA) :  $ 200 million
  • Planned Parenthood : $ 1 billion
  • Local food banks, fraternal groups and humane societies
The line of reasoning is that atheists aren't giving to Catholic Charities, however they most assuredly are giving to these well-financed, and possibly more effective organizations without any religious affiliation.

"But wait!", the religionist now says, "There are explicitly atheist charities!".

Yes. Since Americans United picked up the baton for reproductive rights, why wouldn't CFI try and feed the hungry?

Now we're left with these groups:
  • Americans United : $ 8 million
  • FFRF : $ 3 million
  • American Atheists : who knows
  • American Humanist Association : $ 2 million
  • Council for Secular Humanism : $ 3 million
Wait, why did we cross Americans United off the list?

It turns out that they aren't necessarily an atheist organization. Barry Lynn is an ordained minister and supports secular government, but that does not mean that AU is part of a "secular community".

The key part about Americans United is the word United - they specifically are not a "free thought", "skeptic" or "atheist" organization because it would undermine unity.

Their summary in Wikipedia:
Americans United is officially non-sectarian and non-partisan. Its national headquarters are in Washington, D.C.. It has both religious and non-religious members, as well as members from various political parties. Many members of the clergy have been involved in the work of Americans United.
The group has admirable focus. The First Amendment of the US constitution.  That's it.

Here is the big joke here - in order to goad secular community leaders into expanding their scope, Skepchick has stumped for a group that does not even desire to see the secular community expand.

What are the strategic goals of Skepchick and AtheismPlus leading us to?

A single organization. One that supports all of their social justice goals. That might earn about a half million dollars worldwide, in a good year.

It is a concept borrowed from Lord of the Rings, in that they have this fantasy that they can model a group around themselves and then a miracle will occur.

Let's throw this insane idea into Mount Doom.


  1. Worked out well for Ron "North Korea" Lindsay... Dial down the drama eh?

    1. Oolon, when will you finally understand that the SJWs will never accept you as one of their own ?