Tagatheism

Why I Drifted Away from the Atheist Movement

I don’t believe in god. And though I meditate and seek to develop a sense of myself as part of something much larger than myself, I don’t think of myself as “spiritual.”

I am, in short, an atheist.

But for the past few years I’ve been hesitant to call myself one. It’s not because I’m worried about being shunned by my friends or in my community. I live in a very secular city and work in a very secular industry. Few of my friends are religious, and those that are have been exceedingly tolerant of my beliefs — or lack thereof. A few of my colleagues are religious, most seem not to be, and, either way, almost no one is particularly interested in talking about it.

No, I’m loath to use the A word because the most vocal and visible proponents of atheism have strayed so far away from promoting reason, tolerance and secular values into promoting misogyny, xenophobia and far-right politics.

But for at least a couple years, from sometime in 2006 until sometime in 2009, I was a militant atheist, dashing off dozens of blog posts condemning religious thought for promoting murder and mutilation. I thought we, the atheists of the world, were railing against injustice and speaking truth to power.

Atheism felt just and true and important. But no longer. What happened?

Atheism as Justification for Xenophobia

Over time I sensed that for far too many people in the movement, atheism was if not a front then at least a rationalization for xenophobia or racism or both. As a long-time advocate of permissive immigration policies, that didn’t sit well for me.

I thought, and still do think, that one of the best ways a secular society can help those living under extremist religious regimes is to welcome them into our own countries. What I saw instead were atheists aligning themselves with bigots and Christian fundamentalists to promote xenophobic propaganda and reactionary immigration policies. I joined in with many other atheist bloggers in posting Fitna when it came out, but ended up feeling like a tool for doing so. That was probably the beginning of the end.

A Changing View of Religion

At some point I was swayed by Scott Atran’s critique of the New Atheist movement. He also advocated the use of positive role models for Muslim children, as opposed to the eradication of the religion, as a way of fighting terrorism, which made good sense.

Over time I also began to realize that I, like many other Movement Atheists, had been equating Islam as a whole with a relatively small fringe. Although I bristled at first at the term “Islamaphobia” since I think it’s entirely reasonable to critique religion in general and Islam in particular, I’ve come to realize that it’s a perfectly fitting term for what it describes: an irrational fear and hatred of all people who practice that particular religion.

When you spend a lot time reading about fatwas against Salman Rushdie, it can be easy to get paranoid about a grand international network of Muslim assassins out to kill anyone who criticizes the religion. But that doesn’t exist, and the fear-mongering of Islamaphobes does no one any good.

Meanwhile, I was developing a more nuanced view of what organized religion as a whole actually is, which I suppose I should save for another essay. Suffice it to say, I simply became less worried about religion as an institution.

The Monomania of Atheists

Then there was the monomaniacal focus on religion to the exclusion of all other social issues. I was particularly frustrated with what I saw as a lack of interest on the part of Movement Atheists in the root causes of extreme religiosity, such as poverty and lack of access to education. Given the broad overlap between atheism and libertarianism, I started to notice a tendency of atheists to blame poverty on religion, rather than vice versa. The end of religion was being promoted as a panacea that could solve all the world’s troubles.

I also developed a sense that Movement Atheists wouldn’t be happy with any other movement until they dropped all other causes and joined the crusade against Islam. Gay marriage in the U.S. was to take a backseat to the treatment of gays in predominantly Muslim nations. No feminist issues were to be discussed ever — not as long honor killing was still happening anywhere in the world.

Honor killing became a particular sticking point for me as I started to look into and think more deeply about “crimes of passion” (as they’re called when a non-Muslim man commits them) and lethal domestic violence in the U.S., and came to the conclusion that it had more to do with toxic masculinity than religion. That led me to fully embrace feminist thought, putting me further at odds with the atheist movement.

Shark Jump

By 2011, when Dawkins published his “Dear Muslima” comment — suggesting that women who complained about sexual harassment in the workplace should shut the fuck up because at least they weren’t having their genitals mutilated — I’d already drifted away, but it’s the nice illustration of just about everything that’s wrong with Movement Atheism.

Consider, for example, Dawkins extreme hypocrisy in writing that comment. He suggested that the incident that Rebecca Watson described — and the subsequent harassment she received as a result of daring to mention it — was so minor in comparison to the myriad ways that women suffer in other parts of the world that she shouldn’t even talk about it at all. But if people should only mention the worst of all abuses, then why is Dawkins even writing about a woman writing about her experiences? Shouldn’t he be writing about something more important?

The inescapable conclusion is that Dawkins was merely using atheism as a bludgeon to silence women who dared to speak out against abuse in the West because he the topic made him uncomfortable. He felt threatened by women, and did what he could to push the conversation away from the ways men abuse women in the West and onto a convenient scapegoat.

And we’ve seen that again and again in the atheist community in recent years, from the barbaric treatment of women like Jennifer McCreight within the atheist community to Dawkins’s rape victim blaming.

If there was a single shark jumping moment, though, it had to have been the controversy surrounding Park51, the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” which was actually a community center that was to include — in addition to a performing arts center, swimming pool and gym, among other things — a large prayer room.

Movement Atheists thought the idea of Muslims praying inside a building two blocks away from the WTC site was so offensive that it should be illegal. Yes, the very same people who gleefully publish drawings of Mohammad to intentionally offend Muslims were offended at the very thought of someone praying in a room behind closed doors. Liberal values like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and property rights went right out the window. That was especially rich coming from the libertarians.

That whole ordeal, along with the movement’s vocal support of France’s burqa ban, laid bare the hypocrisy and irrationality of atheist movement. It was then clear that this movement wasn’t about fighting theocracy, giving voice to those oppressed by religion, or advancing the ideals of an open society. It was about imposing their own beliefs on other people. And I wanted nothing to do with it.

Bloodied Hands

I started writing this about a week ago, while thinking about the role of atheism in the overlapping reactionary, pick-up artist, GamerGate, and Men’s Rights Advocacy communities — recently dubbed the “Redpill Right.” It made me think about what I’d once had in common with those men, and what had changed.

And then today, three Muslim people were murdered in Chapel Hill by a militant atheist. Someone who wrote things on Facebook that sound not entirely unlike things I used to write on this very blog. That spurred me to finish writing it.

Of course there are those, like Dawkins, who will argue that actually, it’s about ethics in parking violations. But by Dawkins’s own logic, all atheists — myself included — now have blood on our hands, by making the world safe for extremists like Craig Stephen Hicks. And there’s probably some truth to that.

Which leaves me wondering where to go from here. There’s a case to be made that I, and all other non-believers who don’t share a reactionary, misogynistic view of the world should become active in Movement Atheism, to turn it around and make it safe for the marginalized. Maybe even change the minds of some of the worst offenders in the scene.

But I think changing those minds will be subject to the same sorts of backlash effects that I expect we’d see trying to convert the religious to atheism. And those of us who don’t fit in with this brand of atheism are simply best moving on. We can promote reason and secular values without the tunnel vision of Movement Atheism.

Better then to wander away and leave these sad, frightened men to shout into the darkness alone, with nary a god to hear them.

Is Being Spiritual But Not Religious Dangerous To Your Mental Health?

A recent paper published in The British Journal of Psychiatry looks at surveys of 7,400 people in the United Kingdom for links between mental health and religiousness and spirituality. I could only find the abstract online, but Mark Vernon (a former priest turned agnostic Christian journalist) wrote about the paper for The Guardian here.

Vernon focused on the paper’s finding that spiritual but not religious people are more prone to . But there were two other unusual findings:

-Non-spiritual, non-religious people were no more likely to have mental health disorders, other than heavy drinking (the abstract notes that they also are more likely to have tried drugs, but doesn’t indicate that they are more likely to have developed a habitual drug habit). This conflicts with previous studies that assumed that religion was a key part of happiness.

-According to Vernon’s write-up, non-spiritual, non-religious people tended not to have education beyond secondary school, challenging previous findings that atheists are more intelligent (or perhaps the assumption that intelligent people go to university).

Vernon concludes that churches in Britain should do a better job of reaching spiritual people who don’t have religious affiliations. He’s holding on to the idea that religion can treat mental health issues, but I think he’s reading too much into the study. First of all, it will need to be repeated and compared with other studies with conflicting results. Second, it’s not clear that religiosity is what “healed” anyone — correlation vs. causation and all that. But it does lend some credence to concerns about religious practices being taken out of context.

Being An Atheist Is A Hassle, But Being A Lady Atheist Can Be The Pits

Vice interviews “Boobquake” founder Jennifer McCreight:

Is it fair to say that, on the whole, atheists aren’t that crazy about feminism?

I think, for some people, atheism is the one minority identity they have. They’re not gay, they’re not black, they live in the United States, and a lot of them are middle-class or higher. Being an “atheist” is the one thing that they take on as their cause, and they think it’s the most important because it’s the only one that affects them. It puts their priorities out of order a little bit. Once you’ve figured out God doesn’t exist, that’s great! But there are other irrational things you might believe in, like sexism.

Full Story: Vice: ATHEISM?-?SEXISM?=?ATHEISM?+

See also: How I Unwittingly Infiltrated The Boys Club And Why It’s Time For a New Wave Of Atheism:

I don’t feel safe as a woman in this community – and I feel less safe than I do as a woman in science, or a woman in gaming, or hell, as a woman walking down the fucking sidewalk. People shat themselves with rage at the suggestion that cons should have anti-sexual harassment policies. DJ Grothe, president of JREF, blamed those evil feminist bloggers for TAM’s female attendance problem instead of trying to fix what’s scaring women away (and then blocked me on Twitter and unfriended me on Facebook for good measure). A 15 year old girl posted a photo of herself holding a Carl Sagan book to r/atheism and got a flood of rape jokes in return. The Amazing Atheist purposefully tried to trigger a rape survivor. Paula Kirby decided we’re all feminazis and femistasis. I’ve become used to being called a cunt or having people threaten to contact my employers because a feminist can’t be a good scientist. Rebecca Watson is still receiving constant rape and death threats a year after she said “Guys, don’t do that.” And mentioning her name is a Beetlejuice-like trigger for a new torrent of hate mail.

Previously: How An Anti-Feminist Screed Ended Up In a Physics Journal

Sam Harris’ Take Down Of Newsweek’s “Heaven Is Real” Story

Newsweek cover: "Heaven Is Real"

I had mostly written Sam Harris off (different story entirely), but this is important stuff regarding Newsweek‘s baffling cover story of Eben Alexander’s pseudoscientific (at best) claim that heaven is real:

As many of you know, I am interested in “spiritual” experiences of the sort Alexander reports. Unlike many atheists, I don’t doubt the subjective phenomena themselves—that is, I don’t believe that everyone who claims to have seen an angel, or left his body in a trance, or become one with the universe, is lying or mentally ill. Indeed, I have had similar experiences myself in meditation, in lucid dreams (even while meditating in a lucid dream), and through the use of various psychedelics (in times gone by). I know that astonishing changes in the contents of consciousness are possible and can be psychologically transformative.

And, unlike many neuroscientists and philosophers, I remain agnostic on the question of how consciousness is related to the physical world. There are, of course, very good reasons to believe that it is an emergent property of brain activity, just as the rest of the human mind obviously is. But we know nothing about how such a miracle of emergence might occur. And if consciousness were, in fact, irreducible—or even separable from the brain in a way that would give comfort to Saint Augustine—my worldview would not be overturned. I know that we do not understand consciousness, and nothing that I think I know about the cosmos, or about the patent falsity of most religious beliefs, requires that I deny this. So, although I am an atheist who can be expected to be unforgiving of religious dogma, I am not reflexively hostile to claims of the sort Alexander has made. In principle, my mind is open. (It really is.)

From there Harris proceeds to tear Alexander a new one.

Sam Haris: This Must Be Heaven

(via Brainsturbator)

New Dossier: Susan Blackmore

susan blackmore

Blackmore was an important influence for me a few years ago when I was giving up on practicing magick because she had been through the same thing studying ESP: she researched it for years and determined that there wasn’t evidence to support her hypothesis. But she remained interested in “extraordinary human experience,” and showed me that it was possible to research and examine these issues from an open minded and respectful yet skeptical way. Blackmore considers these experiences an important part of the human condition worthy of our study and consideration, regardless of whether the causes are paranormal, psychological or neurological.

Dr. Susan Blackmore is a researcher of consciousness and what she calls “extraordinary human experience,” which includes experiences often referred to as “paranormal,” including out of body experiences and alien abduction. She has a PhD in parapsychology from the University of Surrey, where she studied ESP and memory and eventually gave up belief in the paranormal and adopted a more skeptical worldview.

Dossier: Susan Blackmore

PZ Myers on Alan Moore and Magic

A while back Cat Vincent asked why no atheists debated Alan Moore at the skeptics conference TAM London. I told Cat that I personally didn’t have much to debate with Moore.

Moore’s position, staked out in this essay on magic as well as the magic essay from Dodgem Logic 3 (which I think is a better version of the “Fossil Angels” essay, and extends the purpose of magic from art in particular to creativity in general), is that that magic is a process that takes place probably in one’s own mind and doesn’t confer the power to fulfill wishes. For example, in Dodgem Logic he wrote that using magic to try to get money handed to you was pointless. Instead, you were better off using magic to try to find some creative way to actually earn some money. He claims to have seen visions of gods, but admits they could very well be hallucinations. There’s not much room to debate a guy who says magic can’t fulfill all your wishes and that he could be tripping balls mad.

Biologist and noted atheist blogger PZ Myers seems to agree:

Moore has an affinity for a 2nd century oracular sock puppet, but he doesn’t worship it. He believes in magic, but he doesn’t believe in the supernatural. He also doesn’t like religion. I agreed with almost everything he said 100% (although he did speculate a bit about the absence of explanation for memory, which he thought was a mystery because there are no changes in the structure of the brain that last for more than a few weeks, which is total bullshit, and he wondered if the purpose of junk DNA was to store memories, which is bullshit on fire. But, OK, the rest of the talk was mostly fun.)

Moore is a writer, and his explanation was basically that the weirdness was to spark creativity; for instance, he talked about staring into a quartz crystal and seeing visions, but he was quite plain that it wasn’t supernatural, it wasn’t the crystal, it was his own mind generating and imposing ideas on what he saw. And that’s all right with me — it fits very well with how I see science functioning.

Pharyngula: Alan Moore at Cheltenham

Actually, I think if there’s anything to debate Alan Moore about it’s whether what he describes as magic is truly “magic” at all. But I’m not particularly interested in having that debate, and I doubt he really is either.

Does Religion Make People Happier – Or Conformity?

A couple months ago I linked to a story about the happiest guy in the world. One of the ways this was calculated was based on religion – religious people are typically assumed to be the happier than non-religious people. And apparently religious Jews are expected to be happiest of all.

But are religious people actually happier? According to Nigel Barber, an evolutionary psychologist, that might not be the case. Barber writes:

Much of the research linking religiosity and happiness was conducted in the U.S. where more religious people are slightly happier. Researchers saw this as evidence for the universal benefits of religion (a perspective that interests evolutionary psychologists like myself because it helps explain why religion is so common around the globe). Yet, there is no association between religiousness and happiness in either Denmark or the Netherlands (3).

Why the difference? Religious people are in the majority in the U.S., but in a minority in Denmark and the Netherlands. Feeling part of the mainstream may be comforting whereas being in the minority is potentially stressful. Ethnic minorities around the world tend to have higher blood pressure, for example – this being a reliable index of stress.

If religion contributes to happiness, then the most religious countries should be happiest. Yet, the opposite is true.

Psychology Today: Does religion make people happier?

Could it be then that the level of happiness enjoyed by religious people in the U.S. is a result of conformity, rather than religion itself? If that were the case, we should expect religious people in more secular countries, controlled for income, to be less happy than non-religious people in those countries. Is this the case?

Here’s a recent ranking of the top 10 happiest countries in the world.

Chief of International Pedophilia Ring Blames Nazism on Atheism

The Pope

I know the whole world is abuzz about this, but I’m gonna have my say anyway. Pope Benedict XVI (formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) said:

Even in our own lifetimes we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.

“As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny.

BBC: Row after Pope’s remarks on atheism and Nazis

(via David Forbes)

The Beeb piece mentions that Ratzinger was in the Nazi Youth when he was a teenage – a point I don’t think is terribly relevant. It fails to mention:

1. Adolf Hitler was a member of the Catholic Church until his death (and for the occultniks and conspiracy analysts out there: even what Nazi Mysticism there is evidence for had an expressly Christian element.

2. Ratzinger conspired to cover-up the activities of his global child rape gang.

3. The Catholic Church’s relative silence on the matter of the holocaust while it was occurring.

So what’s the bigger threat to the world? Atheism or Catholicism? (If the Pope really wanted to make a point about atheism, he could have invoked the suppression of religion in Soviet Russia).

This sort of thing drives me bonkers – as innocent people were being sent to prison as part of the Satanic Panic, priests and Boy Scouts masters were actually out raping children and covering it up. And this creep has the gall to blame one of the worst genocides in history – one that was carried out in the name of Christianity! – on atheism?

The True Face of Faith Healing

faith healing

The image above was taken by the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. In it, Rebecca Wyland is holding Alayna, who has a massive growth completely covering her left eye. The growth, a hemangioma, is a mass of blood vessels. Some infants are born with them, and they are typically corrected while very small. In this case, the Wylands chose not to take their daughter to a doctor. Instead, Rebecca Wyland anointed her daughter with oil and wiped off the discharge from Alayna’s eye each time she changed the child’s diaper.

At this point, the growth has begun to erode Alayna’s eye socket, and may have caused permanent damage to her eye.

Both parents have been charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment, a Class C felony which may earn them each five years in prison.

Meanwhile, the Wylands are trying desperately to regain custody, even offering a plan to ensure the child gets medical care, including such ideas as a live-in supervisor of sorts, or regular visits from state employees to check up on them.

Secular Daily News: The True Face of Faith Healing

(via OVO)

Sanal Edamaruku’s quest to bring reason to India

Pandit Surender Sharma attempts to kill Sanal Edamaruku

Rationalising India has never been easy. Given the country’s vast population, its pervasive poverty and its dizzying array of ethnic groups, languages and religions, many deem it impossible.

Nevertheless, Mr Edamaruku has dedicated his life to exposing the charlatans — from levitating village fakirs to televangelist yoga masters — who he says are obstructing an Indian Enlightenment. He has had a busy month, with one guru arrested over prostitution, another caught in a sex-tape scandal, a third kidnapping a female follower and a fourth allegedly causing a stampede that killed 63 people. […]

His organisation traces its origins to the 1930s when the “Thinker’s Library” series of books, published by Britain’s Rationalist Press Association, were first imported to India. They included works by Aldous Huxley, Charles Darwin and H.G. Wells; among the early subscribers was Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.

The Indian Rationalist Association was founded officially in Madras in 1949 with the encouragement of the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who sent a long letter of congratulations. For the next three decades it had no more than 300 members and focused on publishing pamphlets and debating within the country’s intellectual elite. […]

Exposing such tricks can be risky. A guru called Balti (Bucket) Baba once smashed a burning hot clay pot in Mr Edamaruku’s face after he revealed that the holy man was using a heat resistant pad to pick it up.

Times: Sceptic challenges guru to kill him live on TV

Previously:

Atheism = 1, Magick = 0

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