2010 American Atheist Convention: The Ugly (or, When I Cried)

April 7, 2010

This post is the final installation in a series of reports on the 2010 American Atheist Convention. For my favorite sessions from the convention, check out “The Good” post; for those that were bad but not the most offensive, check out “The Bad.”

Throughout the course of the 2010 American Atheist Convention I had extensive conversations with attendees around a single, significant question: what kind of Atheist community are we building? Some of these conversations were constructive; others weren’t. Yet even in the most productive there was considerable disagreement. How do we best assemble a community of non-belief? Is it by contrasting our identities to those of others? And if so, in what ways do we go about this? By mocking them, or by forging our own unique, singular identity based on the values we hold in esteem?

From these conversations, I have come to better understand how my “accomodationism” turns some off in the same way the blasphemy model offends my sensibilities. All the more, I gained key insight into the pragmatic problems of unifying these perspectives; just as it would be challenging to get all Christians under one roof and have every party in agreement, Atheists struggle to come to a consensus about community priorities.

Yet I still cannot help but wonder: how can we bemoan being such a hated minority, as nearly all speakers at the convention did, while practicing hate toward others? This way of community constructivism – dismantling another’s identity to build one’s own – strikes me as the easier but more fundamentally limited model, and it was out in full force at the convention. The American Atheist Convention seemed, in some ways, to aim to offend. In this respect, it hit its target with force. And one moment in particular, on the first day of the convention, left me feeling so assaulted that I nearly walked out of the room and didn’t return.

Edwin Kagin

kaginAs he was introduced it was said that, with his acts of blasphemy, American Atheist National Legal Director Edwin Kagin strikes a “fine balance of seriousness and making fun of this silly crap [religion].” Kagin’s introduction also included a rousing commemoration for his late wife, which was exceedingly moving. The fact that his wife recently passed makes it all the more difficult for me to say so, but I found his session the most offensive by a landslide – and, in hindsight, it seems clear that this was his intention.

Kagin opened by referring to Ireland’s recently passed anti-blasphemy law (as I reported on). He was understandably bothered by that, and offered an opposing definition for “blasphemy” out of his book, Baubles of Blasphemy. Per Kagin, blasphemy “is the crime of making fun of ridiculous beliefs someone else holds sacred.” With that, I had some idea where his talk was headed. But even I, with all my initial trepidation about this convention, couldn’t have predicted just how far he would go.

From the get go Kagin had little to no regard for offering ideas on how to bolster Atheistic communities or for making an intellectual case against religion – he was perfectly happy to simply shout at those in the audience about how religion ought to be brought down. “We can use their nonsense against them,” Kagin said, only offering the mocking of religious ideas and identities as a way of engaging them. “And it is nonsense, profound nonsense.”

Continuing with this theme, he quoted Martin Luther as saying “reason is the greatest enemy that faith has” and referenced that Luther believed that the world was relatively young. As with every religious reference he made that day, Kagin of course did not contextualize these statement; Luther said a lot more about reason than that, and was working within a limited understanding of the world, while today we have a much greater capacity for reason and have used it to determine that the world is much older than Luther believed. But instead of using this reason to philosophize about empathy, Kagin was happier to mock the religious by turning them into caricatures, selecting the things that are easiest to critique instead of taking on the significant, worthwhile task of working to find a way to reconcile the realities of religious lives with his own reality. But this obviously wasn’t the aspiration of the man who arrogantly announced: “I don’t want to be unduly condescending to ignorant people, but I do distinguish between ignorant and stupid… You can fix ignorant but you can’t fix stupid.”

Referring to the response to these kinds of claims as made in his book Baubles of Blasphemy, Kagin took a moment to congratulate himself mid-way through his speech. “People thought I was mocking that religion… and you know what, I was,” Kagin said proudly. “Some things need to be mocked, and to not do so is an abomination. You know why? We are right and they are wrong!”

Though I will argue against the mocking that occurred there that day, to label one who chooses not to engage in such behavior an abominationist was a clear sign that my beliefs were not welcome in that room. Kagin seemed to suggest that blasphemy is a powerful political tool and that any Atheist who does not employ it is not doing his or her Atheistic duty. And in some respects he is right. Blasphemy certainly can be impactful (just ask Martin Luther). But what kind of impact do we want to have? The answer in that room seemed to be greater isolation from the rest of the world – myself included.

But what disturbed me most is that no one else in the room seemed even a little fazed. Instead, they leapt out of their chairs, rallied, cheered, and rushed forward to be “debaptized.”

That’s right – in what sounds like the punchline of a joke caricaturizing Atheists, there was a “debaptizing” ceremony in which Kagin dressed up in a costume that was supposed to resemble a Middle Eastern man and took a hair dryer to anyone interested in having their “waters of baptism” blown away while he bellowed contemptuous religious references. I spoke with several individuals after and asked them about the ceremony – what it symbolized for them and why they did it. Some indicated that they had been baptized before and wanted to essentially “take it back.” But the majority said that they participated because they found it funny.

And yet, to me, the “debaptizing” ceremony wasn’t even the most odious part. Worst of all was a nasty segment in which, immediately prior to the ceremony, Kagin blew into an animal horn and called for “his wives,” at which point a group of three young white women entered the room dressed in Burkas, or traditional religious garb for some Muslim women. They sang a song Kagin co-wrote called “Back in their Burkas Again” about women and Islam. I don’t mean to sensationalize but I couldn’t help but wonder if what I felt in that moment was akin to what it must be like to be a non-racist white person at a community meeting who suddenly realizes she or he is in fact attending a Ku Klux Klan rally, watching with frozen horror and nausea as the organizers parade men in blackface before an audience that hoots and hollers with glee.

At this point, I wanted to walk out. Hell, I wanted to storm out. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more offended to call this my community. They announced that ABC News was there to film the ceremony and my face reddened with embarrassment as I imagined how many people would witness this and feel justified in how they’ve stereotyped Atheists. “This is supposed to redeem the world?” I asked myself. “If this is what it looks like not to be religious, I’m not sure I want to call myself secular.” To quote Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun’s reflection after attending the Global Atheist Convention: “I’ve never felt more like believing in God… Is this what morally superior people do when God has gone? In that case, bring God back.”

conventionI stuck it out the whole time, even though – and I am terribly embarrassed to admit this because it rarely happens – I began to cry. I remained for the sake of journalistic integrity – to hear it out from start to finish to be fair before offering my account – and for the sake of a full awareness of the state of affairs of the largest Atheist group in America. It took a lot of willpower to stay fixed in my seat. I honestly can’t recall the last time I felt such shame. I felt so wholly wrong for sitting quietly in the back of the room instead of speaking up. I wanted to say something but didn’t know what to say or how to say it. I still don’t.

Look – I have a sense of humor. I enjoy certain strains of blasphemy as much as the next secular person. Saved! and Dogma are two of my favorite movies. I spend at least half of a given day joking around with friends – yesterday, for example, I participated in a particularly debaucherous pun exchange about dinosaurs and sex that I won’t share here (but oh, how I wish I could). But Kagin’s speech was anything but funny. There is nothing humorous about hate embodied.

As his speech came to a conclusion, it became clear that Kagin wanted to light a fire beneath Atheists. He was trying to incite, using incendiary language to rally the troops. “By weakening our nation and our understanding of science, [religious people] are engaged in acts of terrorism,” Kagin boomed. “By teaching our children things are other than the way they are, they are engaged in child abuse.” Kagin predicted an upcoming American religious civil war and followed up this forecast with aggressive, anti-religious rhetoric. With talk like his, I wouldn’t be surprised if such a conflict is in fact realized. You want to avoid a religious civil war? Try respectful, engaged interfaith dialogue. All Kagin seemed to be doing was fanning the flames. “If it weren’t for these fools we’d be at the stars by now.” Funny, because I’ve never felt further from the heavens.

If there are nearly 20 million Atheists in America, as Kagin suggested, it begs the question: where are they? They weren’t at this conference, which probably had a few hundred at most. I can only speculate, but I imagine (and hope) that their absence signifies that such a scene would hold little appeal to them. Atheism doesn’t have to come at the expense of respect and basic decency. Many speakers throughout the convention lamented the lack of traction Atheism has gained in America, in spite of vigorous attempts to assert itself in the public realm. After this day, the underlying reason couldn’t be any clearer. I’ve never wanted to call myself an Atheist less.

My feeling is that many in that banquet hall had been burned by religion at one point or another in their lives. I sympathize – religion has been a catalyst for significant pain in my life. But what happened in that room was painful, too. As I sat there watching three women don holy Muslim dress and sing an offensive song about a rich tradition, I understood that they had good intentions. The song was intended to call out the repression of women in some forms of Islam. But I also couldn’t help but think of a dear friend who wears the hijab because it makes her feel empowered and in touch with the tradition of her people, and how grossly this song misrepresented her. Though it perhaps intended to serve as a form of liberation, the song represented profound oppression. With all of the smart and kind people in the room, I could not believe the enthusiasm it aroused. I’ve quoted him before and I’ll quote him again; as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This type of behavior seems like self-sabotage in Atheism’s quest for acceptance and justice.

In his talk, Eddie Tabash said “that there is no more noble effort to be undertaken than explaining to society-at-large why no supernatural being or beings exist.” I for one could not disagree more. I couldn’t help but wonder when passing a group of low-income housing units on the train en route to the conference: Why aren’t we non-religious doing more to organize and help those in need? Perhaps it is because we are too busy decrying religion –  what some Atheists see as “the root of the problem” – to deal with the pressing issues of our present reality. Meanwhile, religious efforts to help those in need far outnumber secular ones. Are these our priorities? Blowing a hair dryer in one another’s faces and laughing at how clever we are while thousands of people suffer every day and religious people are on the frontlines offering them respite?

Even as I put forth my strong critique here, I want to make it known that I didn’t come to the 2010 American Atheist Convention to pick a fight – as we recently saw on this blog, that is rarely fruitful. I went to learn. I went because I wanted to know what the current state of affairs on Atheism was. And though there were moments that weren’t as offensive, and models of dynamic and foreword-thinking strategies for promoting Atheistic agendas in a respectful manner, Kagin’s speech was so egregious that I left with little hope for the Atheist movement. The speakers at the convention spent a good deal of time lamenting how disconnected from the rest of the world Atheism is, and then Kagin built up another barbed fence. To me, this community couldn’t feel any more isolated or any less interested in collaboration with others. It is no wonder the rest of the world despises Atheists – we mock them and then stomp our feet when they don’t accept us with arms wide open.

You think religious people are keeping you from approaching the stars, Kagin? Maybe it’s because you’re trying to build a spaceship alone.

This post was the final installation in a series of reports on the 2010 American Atheist Convention; you can read the first two here and here. Stay tuned: this upcoming Sunday – Tuesday (4/11-4/13/2010) I will be in Rochester, NY for an Interfaith Understanding Conference, and the following weekend I will be in Boston for the Secular Student Alliance Leadership Summit. I’ll be posting reflections and reports here, and I’ll also be tweeting about my experiences. Also, check out an archive of my interview with Vocalo / 89.5 FM WBEW about my experience at the 2010 American Atheist Convention, and tune in next week when I report live from Rochester.

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53 Responses to “2010 American Atheist Convention: The Ugly (or, When I Cried)”

  1. Katherine said

    Hi Chris! I’ve started reading your blog, and while I don’t always agree with what you say, it’s always though provoking, and you clearly care about building respect and communication.

    Just one question/comment about this post: Were those women really in Burqas, or were they just wearing clothing that fit a more general definition of hijab? There’s a pretty big difference between dressing modestly and completely shutting off meaningful human interaction (which strangely enough, is something that some burqua wearing women find empowering). You also refer to this as ‘traditional religious garb for Muslim women’, which I believe is inaccurate. It’s traditional garb within some segments of Arab cultures; much like FGM, it predates the spread of Islam, and often leads to angry accusations against the religion, rather than the original culture which is actually responsible for the behavior in question.

  2. Emily said

    Thanks for this post Chris! I’m sorry you were made to feel this way but I think your explanation here is really rational and relatable. Thank you for writing something so thoughtful and motivating.

    I’m with you. When I established myself as a religious nonbeliever I was more than a little hesitant to label myself as an atheist. So much so that I used to say I was agnostic, though it really wasn’t what I believed. Today I feel very proud to consider myself a humanist. There is an intelligent optimism and real sense of camaraderie. There is no us versus them – we are in this world together, all of us. I really like that.

    I don’t believe in nothing, I believe in my family, my friends, I believe in people I will never met; I think that is a very good thing. It could be a little risky, but above all else I have faith in people. For most, belief is a spectrum, which if nothing else started somewhere and evolved through experiences. It is more than a little silly to mock anywhere one might have been or might be going because of misunderstanding or anger or whatever else.

    What are we doing with our lives if not striving to be more tolerant. I hope to make the world a better place, not an uglier one.

    Cheers!

  3. Bruce said

    Bigotry is bigotry. There’s really no difference between the kind you so vividly describe here and any other. It’s always based on ignorance, playing off of and perpetuating stereotypes and caricatures, limited or no contact with the group being targeted, and a desire to feel superior. I know that this is really challenging for you so you’re to be applauded for taking it on.

  4. Jphn B Hodges said

    See my post on “Attitudes of Atheists Toward Religion” at
    http://www.atheistnexus.org/profiles/blogs/attitudes-of-atheists-toward?xg_source=activity

  5. Tom Hand said

    Firstly, Martin Luther King Jr also said that moderates- who thought ignoring some battles because they were offensive and possibly pushed potential supporters away- were more damaging to “the cause” than the out-and-out racists (Letter from a Birmingham Jail).

    Secondly, the Burqa is Arabic, not Islamic; and it’s a completely different animal than the hijab. And though there are women that wear both willingly, there are those who do/did not. Areas where a governmental change occurs, the mandatory donning of the burqa in public are lifted, and women who once wore the burqa no longer do, illustrate this point. Satire is protected speech, and there is a very long tradition of using it to ridicule and mock unjust and unproportional practices. This particular satire never once says anything that isn’t true. (The song, in it’s entirety, is on pages 143-144 of _Baubles of Blasphemey_ by Edwin Kagin.) Furthermore, it never says anything about Islam, Arabs, or even Sharia- though it does talk of law and laws. None of those words appear in the text. Why assume that it’s racist or xenophobic?

    Thirdly, “De-baptism” is ironic. I was baptised Episcopalian when I was less than a year old- I’ve seen the pictures. Both Edwin’s blow dryer and that priest’s handful of water mean the same to me. Except, I could willingly accent to the de-baptism, and the baptism was done to me, without concern for me own wishes- whatever they may have been at a couple months old (probably to be fed, or allowed to sleep). And, I appreciate the ironic commentary on the ritualistic behavior- funny means a lot to me.

    Fourthly, there is a case to be made that religious indoctrination of the very young is child abuse. Arguments that Dawkins makes, and many support- and many disagree with. None of that means that either side has a monopoly on being right.

    Fifthly, and it’s quite possible this should be at the top of my comments, the ABC News off camera reporter was there for a very specific reason- and it wasn’t the debaptism ceremony. It was Massimo Pigliucci. It is my understanding, from a well placed source inside the organization of American Atheists, that ABC was filming a piece on double-Dr Pigliucci, and that’s why they were at the convention at all. As he was the first- and probably the most prominent- person debaptised that day, it would appear to lead credence to my source. Furthermore, the reporter interviewed Kagin, afterward, in the product room. Thus allowing Kagin to explain the point, history, and the purpose behind the debaptisms.

    Finally, the THEME for the convention was BLASPHEMY. Blasphemy offends people- and if you don’t see the humor of being blasphemous in the definition of blasphemy, I’m not sure I can explain this to you. Of course it would make some people cringe. Of course it would offend some people- name me a blasphemy that doesn’t offend anyone. Of course it’s not everyone’s “cup of tea”. No one is saying you have to blaspheme to be an Atheist. What they are saying is that religion is not a privileged ideology, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. It’s an opinion, with no basis in fact, and just as we don’t (and shouldn’t) tip-toe around racism (or other nasty opinions rooted in fantasy) we shan’t give a pass on religion. Is that the best way to “convert” to “our team”? Who cares? I’m not trying to convert people- I’ve met Faith-based Atheists, and they disturb me as much as all other faith-based ideologues.

    We all have our means and our methods for what we do, and anyone who can’t rationally justify their actions and behavior deserves to be called on it. But that doesn’t mean there’s only one way to do things, and it doesn’t mean that people should treat religion differently than any other irrational philosophy. It saddens me that you were so negatively affected by our irreverence; but I can’t change that. Give those of us you disagree with in Our community the same chances you give to those outside it. While there are always those who follow along in the wake of events, many of us have thought out our positions just as carefully as you have yours. We arrived at different conclusions- possibly because we’re not the same personages and possibly because we’re not looking at all the same facts. That doesn’t mean either of us is wrong, per se. Regardless of the side of the fence, the grass is still green, and the polemics have been eagerly fostering strife and conflict within Our community- more so recently, in my limited experience- let’s not make their job easier. It is Our community, after all, and it needs all of Our ideas and approaches if it’s going to succeed as a community.

  6. Chris,

    I was present, and my wife was wearing one of the burkas. I found no bigotry at all in the presentation you describe.

    Your statement “three women don holy Muslim dress and sing an offensive song about a rich tradition” is baffling to me. You seem to be saying that we should honor all forms of holiness, even holiness that represses women! Should we honor the holiness of creationism? Should we honor the holiness of biblical slavery?

    As someone who was present, most of what you have written here is total nonsense.

    Ed Hensley

  7. For those who wish to see what really happened, you can see the performance and read the lyrics here.

    http://skepticsresource.com/?p=3569

    • Joey said

      Edwin,
      That was incredibly offensive, and actually makes you all look crazy. The comments coming from the crowd? it seems a room full of self important blow hards making light of something far more complex than “burkas are sexy!” or “I see an ankle!” What about women who choose to wear a burka? what about fighting for woman’s rights regardless of religion? women have suffered long enough, and you and your awful wife should be ashamed.

      ps. how does mrs. hensley she sleep at night?

      • SkepticalSeeker said

        I sleep quite well, thank you for your concern. If you can’t stand a bit of satire, I don’t know what to say.

  8. Bruce said

    Bigotry, in whatever form, is based on ignorance, playing off of and perpetuating stereotypes, limited or no contact with the group being targeted, and a desire to feel superior. What’s unfortunate is that it limits who people have contact with and can learn from. It’s through contact that they end up shedding their caricatures. Yet, for whatever reason, many would rather cling to their misperceptions than have them challenged. This strikes me as another case of that.

  9. Chris used comments from an extremist and bigot, Andrew Bolt, in his argument against the world atheist conference. Does this make Chris a bigot?

    Here are some other gems from Andre Bolt:

    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/shut_up_about_islam_and_be_safe/

    “Even when such “leaders” claim Hirsi Ali stigmatises them as violent and anti-liberal, they confirm there is in fact something to fear”

    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/column_time_to_talk_about_islam/

    “The real threat to peace here is not Anglo racism but Islamist radicalism. ”

    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/dont_call_the_terrorists_by_their_name

    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/the_backlash_continues/

    “Muslim? Not an architect then? ”

    Before complaining about non-existent bigotry, Chris should check his sources for real bigotry.

  10. Will said

    Dug the convention articles. We’re discussing similar issues tonight at the secular meeting. Keep the good work dude

  11. Margaret Downey said

    What did you think of my effort to organize a 2013 Unity Event? Did you stop by the table to learn more? Education about nontheism is of great importance and I tried to present an opportunity for us to rally at a specific event. Would love to hear your commentary.

  12. Brian Wood said

    I have faith that canned beets make women bowlegged. Don’t ask for evidence; it’s a matter of faith. Don’t mock me; it’s a matter of faith.

  13. edhensley said

    I am a skeptic. I do not take at face value anything written on the internet (or elsewhere), inlcuding tirades by atheists. Some atheists are not skeptics. Chris Stedman did not use proper skepticism in writing this blog.

    As noted in my earlier post, he quoted Andrew Bolt as a credible source on the activities at the Global Atheists Convention. Stedman used Bolt’s quote on the as a means to attack bigotry by atheists Stedman perceives as bigots. Unfortunately, Bolt has a history of anti-Islam, anti-atheism, and anti-Dawkins and Hitchens diatribes.

    For a lesson is skepticsim, go to the following website:

    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/

    In the search area, type Islam and press enter. Read the results.
    Do the same for Atheist.
    Do the same for Dawkins.
    Do the same for Hitchens.

    Bolt hated Dawkins (“Barbarian”, “Savage”, “hypocrit”,”blind”), atheists, and Muslims long before the convention. He posted videos of Christmas carols, decried the decline of the church, and even posted excuses for the Cathloic church sex scandal (quoting someone else, “very, very small numbers of children in the care or teaching of the Catholic Church in Europe in recent decades were sexually abused, but very, very many of them actually received a decent standard of education”).

    Does Chris Stedman expect me to believe that Andrew Bolt’s assessment of the Global Atheist Convention is accurate? His prior posts show that no matter what happened at that convention, Bolt would have condemned it with is typical bigotted diatribe.

    Chris’s failure to apply any skepticism to what he reads on the internet only diminishes his assessment of the American Atheists Convention.

    I hope that my fellow atheists are more skeptical than Chris in their future blogs.

  14. Jon said

    Sorry to hear about this strange fundamentalist atheism. I’m not sure dialogue with fundamentalists of any stripe is very worthwhile, because in my experience, they are too dogmatic and blinded by their own beliefs to appreciate the reasons of others.

    Thanks for the report, Chris!

  15. thinkpinkradio said

    i applaud chris for not doing as the romans did. just because you attend an atheist’s convention doesn’t mean you have to “understand” their offensive rhetoric and performances.

    on a basic level, i empathize wanting to lash out at institutions that have a history of oppression. however on an even more basic level, my parents taught be about two wrongs not making a right when i was about 5 years old.

  16. SkepticalSeeker said

    I was one of the women singing in the burka, and I must say it was an interesting experience. I would have liked to sing better, but I think it turned out pretty good with about 10 minutes preparation.

    I think it is good to respect everyone, religious or not. This song and dance was a satire on the ridiculousness and harm done by this particular religious tradition. Besides, if it was only a matter of women choosing to cover themselves or not it would not be so much of an issue in my mind. But women in countries where burkas are enforced on them are not free to make their own decision in the matter. They face sometimes extremely severe consequences if they choose not to go along with it. We hear about things happening to women in muslim countries from time to time when they don’t submit “properly”–along the lines of beatings, killings, and having acid thrown in their faces. If there is any religious tradition that deserves a lampooning, it’s the burka.

    As for the convention, did anyone also read the reports of Massimo Pigliucci’s statements that atheism is not an inevitable result of scientific education? Or other very reasonable, nuanced, and respectful statements by Paul Kurtz, Dan Barker, or other speakers at the convention? Somehow, I doubt it.

  17. […] NonProphet Status « 2010 American Atheist Convention: The Ugly (or, When I Cried) […]

  18. SkepticalSeeker said

    Ok, now I’ve seen your other blog post and see that you have noted the other speakers. My bad. You do seem determined to focus most attention on what you hated rather than what you thought was reasonable. Why is that?

  19. Cambridge said

    The title needs work but you get the point:

  20. Andrew said

    I couldn’t read the whole blog as it was dripping with stupidity. How the flying fire truck does wearing burkas amount to racism, you ignorant fool? It is the complete and utter opposite! They are highlighting the oppression of women that has maintained despite the west’s involvement in that region. You are obviously too thick to see that.

  21. freethinker said

    What is deemed as offensive is in “the eye of the beholder ” . If what you experienced was offensive to you..then it was. For others to try to “justify” their behavior doesn’t make it any less offensive. If Cambridge wants to feel better about her choice to participate in something that offended you by saying “you have no sense of humor”…that reflects lack of personal responsibility to me. ( reminds me of when we thought it was ok to mimic some kid in elementary school because we thought “it was funny”) She may believe that what she did was justified/not offensive. That is OK. If so, it would be more effective for her to say “it was not my intention to offend…it was my intention to …” I would consider myself Agnostic… Interestingly…I hear Christians talking all the time with enthusiasm about how wonderful it is to be a Christian…you should be one too! I have yet to hear what makes this group so great or why anyone should be excited to be one of them…Sad

  22. Danny said

    I’m not trying to be a jerk but frankly, the atheist movement can do without your softball approach. The only reason there is a growing community out there at all is because of people who are not afraid to mock what should be mocked, and stand up for what is sensible. If people like you had their way, we would all live lives of quiet cowardice much like you did at the ceremony by not standing up and voicing your concern for something that you didn’t like. I’m not saying you have to like it, I’m saying if the movement were populated with people like you (who quietly cower and then write blogs about it later) then there wouldn’t be a community at all. I’ll take Hitchens’ and Dawkins’ approach over your style any day. At least they get something done.

    Furthermore, do you not understand the concepts of irony and parody?

  23. Well said Danny!

    Rosa Parks offended people by not giving up her seat on the bus.

    Martin Luther King was also criticized for his fiery speeches.

    If homosexuals never offended anyone, they would still be in their closets instead of on the verge of being able to marry and serve openly in the military.

    Great movements are not lead by cowards!

    • Tim DeMay said

      Dude, you realize under your criteria Chris is more of a leader than any of you commenting and obviously offended figureheads, yesh?

      Is the coward the one who plays along, or the one who risks being the outcast of his own group?

    • Daisy said

      “If homosexuals never offended anyone, they would still be in their closets instead of on the verge of being able to marry and serve openly in the military.”

      Come again?

  24. I posted this in response to “Burkagate Response”, but I thought I would post it here as well.

    Here is the link to the February meetup of the Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers:

    http://atheists.meetup.com/175/calendar/12367615/?from=list&offset=0

    “Our guest speaker for February will be Haleh Karimi from Iranians for Peace. She will be giving us an overview of the Persian history, culture and religion and how it relates to global peace.

    From the Iranians for Peace Website ( http://www.iraniansfo… ):
    “Haleh Karimi is a native of Tehran, Iran. Haleh left Iran at the age of 14 to attend school in United States and Switzerland. She graduated from American College of Switzerland and later completed her degrees in Computer Information Systems in U.S. Haleh’s passion in life is to raise awareness to global issues about Peace and Justice through Education and dialogue. She is very active in the community where she lives and serves on the board of directors of several local and international organizations such as World Affairs Council, Interfaith path to Peace, Iranians for Peace, and others.”

    Haleh works with my wife (SkepticalSeeker) who wore one of the Burkas. We also had the leader of Interfaith Paths to Peace at that meeting.

    It is a shame that the author of this blog did not take the time to talk with any of the women who wore the burkas before writing about the event.

  25. Ben said

    Edwin… great movements are also not led by fools.

    Martin Luther King Jr. was fiery, but he was also unfailingly kind and good-hearted, and he recognized the importance of having white allies. His was not a message of eradicating whites, but of creating a world in which people of all races could live harmoniously.

    LGBT people have also not come as far as they have for mocking, belittling, or stereotyping straight people. As someone who works in LGBT advocacy, I can tell you that much of our work demands us to invite and rely upon straight allies and advocates.

    You think that great movements are built on offending people? They most certainly are not. Great movements are built on coalition-building, creating alliances based on mutual interest, and steadfast endurance against oppression.

    I have little experience of the “Atheist community” but if you all here are the best they’ve got, you will never accomplish anything. Nothing you have written here has persuaded me that you are the reasonable or rational ones, merely that you are the combative and childish ones. If your beliefs are founded on reason, SHOW IT. If you think religion oppresses people, then work to help those people. Where are the Atheist organizations responding to major world disasters? Where are the Atheist organizations compiling aid to be sent to fight HIV/AIDS, poverty, and disease? What are the Atheist organizations operating homeless shelters in their buildings? What are the Atheist organizations operating food shelves? What are the Atheist organizations helping people find employment they desperately need? I can name churches, synagogues, and mosques off the top of my head that provide these services.

    The more you rail against religion, the more religion will win. Because while religious people or organizations may say or believe some incredible things, they also perform some incredible services. Action speaks. If you think you are morally or intellectually superior to religious people, show it.

  26. freethinker said

    Well said Tim! As for Danny’s statement that “the atheist movement can do without Chris’ softball approach” ..You might want to be careful who you toss to the wayside …. I don’t see the atheist movement out there making great strides being the creators of positive change ….If I hear anything it is generally NOT positive and as a matter of fact I don’t ever hear much about them at ALL! It is refreshing to hear a voice like Chris’ …someone trying to show that there are people who may not believe in God but have better things to do with their time than to try to tell you “you are wrong/stupid to believe in God” People who are more interested in trying to find common ground with people of faith/or no faith than to try to demonstrate intellectual superiority. I think it is admirable, not cowardly that Chris chose not to do anything at the time of the conference. He clearly understands self control and respect.

  27. SkepticalSeeker said

    Wow. You really don’t know anything about who you are talking too. If only it was possible to know the people you lambast over the internet. I know of few people who have less desire to merely offend people and piss them off than Ed. If you knew him in person, you would not say things like that. The point is that we should not cowardly hide what we think and be afraid to point out the problems and absurdities in religious traditions. Especially ones that really hurt people and beat them down. We should respect people’s feelings, but not to the point that we don’t speak out when we need to.

  28. Ben said

    SkepticalSeeker – You lament how I mischaracterize or misunderstand strangers online after proclaiming Chris “humorless,” a “coward,” and so forth for merely expressing his perspective on your conference. Sorry, but I don’t buy your attempts now to backtrack and proclaim yourselves to be the reasonable voices in this conversation. You and your cohorts here have already revealed much about your character and unfortunately, it’s not a pretty sight to those of us who are deeply invested in forging just, equitable communities that include both people of faith as well as skeptics.

    If you were truly interested in fighting the kind of soul-killing oppression that exists in our world, I think you could find better ways to spend your time than insulting a blogger who happened not to like your idea of humor.

  29. edhensley said

    “You think that great movements are built on offending people? ”

    I never said that. These are your words not mine. It is amazing how you twist everything that is said.

    People are offended by billboards that say “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” Is this billboard offensive to Ben and Chris? Maybe not to you, but there have been polls TV shows where people have proclaimed this to be offensive. She we tear down all these billboards because some Christians are offended?

    Some people are going to be offended by no matter what we do.

    Furthermore, your blogs do not seem to realize that we have had a Muslims speak at our meetups even though I mentioned that in this blog. We also had two Jews (Congressman John Yarmuth and the secretary of our local Americans United for Separation of Church and State) and we have had two Christians (Peter Smith, Courier-Journal religious reporter and Alicia Pedreira, Christian lesbian who was fired by KY Baptist Children’s Home http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/09a0316p-06.pdf). Your comments about us not working with people of other faiths is completely untrue!

    Nobody has defended Chris for his use of quotes by Andrew Bolt. This is one of my major points. Instead of talking to Edwin Kagin or the women wearing Burkas, Chris chose to quote from a writer from the other side of the world talkign about a different convention. If Chris had taken two seconds to research Andrew Bolt, he would have realized that Bolt has made statements about Islam far more offensive than anything presented in the song. Bolt’s prior record of rants and tirardes against Muslims and atheists are proof that his rant about the Global Atheist Convention was not a genuine reaction to the convention but is rather a continuation of his constant smears. Chris’s lack of skepticism was apparent as he used this quote by Bolt as evidence of a genuine reaction rather than confirmation of Bolt’s prior biases.

    In summary, Chris’s blog and Ben’s comments are filled with ignorant assumptions about people that you have not taken the time to get to know. If possible, you need to talk to people before you write blogs about them. Chris had the opportunity at the convention, but he failed to do so.

    • Tim DeMay said

      i never thought i’d see self-righteousness in the atheist community completely overcome that in my own christian community. didn’t think it was possible. you and skepticalseeker have proved me wrong: you chose to argue nonlinearly, make ad hominem attacks, and then backtrack to a place of righteous indignation when any similar assumption is made about you. (as for that nonlinear part, when you say great movements are led by cowards, and then in the sentences previous say that these non-cowards are people who offended others, it is no far and illogical leap to get to great movements are led by those who offend. that’s just simple logic).

      out of curiousity, did you seek to have a conversation with Chris before posting publicly about him on his own blog? did the wonderful youtube commenter seek a conversation with Chris?

  30. edhensley said

    Once again, you have ignored Chris’s use of Andres Bolt as a source for his tirade.

    If I were going to make a blog entry about Chris, I would attempt to talk with him first, especailly if I were at an event with him. My comments were in response to Chris’s hypocritical accusations on his blog. They are hypocritical, since he uses Andrew Bolt as a source for his attacks. Andrew Bolt has made statements far more offensive than anything in the song. You seem to be wanting to avoid this topic.

  31. Chris Jeffers said

    you should be a presenter not dissenter, all views should be heard and resources gathered/garnered. HOWEVER, I cannot believe this is your take-away from all the things mentioned in Edwin’s speech.
    I think the time of your touchy/feelie atheism has its place but mostly in the past or with ultra-liberal deists who you can partner with to your heart content. I hope you do good and others can rely on your support.
    In the light of 911, Texas school board, honor killing, pedophilia priests, climate change, laws designed to silence us…our struggle is life and death, nothing less. If you cannot be outraged by these things move over, rollover, speak-up/shut-up, evolve, get evolved, but stay the fuck out of my way and the way of those who are fighting for justice, against delusionals with power, money, position (who command people willing to kill and be killed) and have everything to lose if we are heard and understood. Wake up!

    • freethinker said

      Very Ugly Chris Jeffers…Hopefully these good people will stay “the fuck out of your way” ….and continue to WORK not fight for justice and understanding …

      • Chris Jeffers said

        listen I think the blog author, you and your kind have your place and maybe you will inherit/be the future politicians of our cause, and I am not saying he was a coward at that moment (because of his honest/misguided feelings), and said as much in response to PandyFackleresque who I adore, but I saw the video it wasn’t even mild satire. THIS IS ALL BS. Next time you/him join in, stand up, schedule time to present, represent your views or wait your turn when the dust settles. if not, then I will be calling you both cowards and not half as nicely as PandyFackleresque. With or without my growing outrage things are going to get ugly, so hold on you clueless f-ing bastard!

  32. lisa said

    to the guy who keeps bringing up andrew bolt: do you seriously think that chris quoting andrew’s reaction to one specific experience suggests that chris would get behind everything he said? chris quoting him obviously doesn’t imply that he would agree with everything andrew said, he was just using one quote. its obvious you’re just trying to distract from what this write up says with something that is irrelevant.

    also, the fact that you’ve invited religious people to your group is also irrelevant here too. chris wasn’t writing about your group was he? he was writing about this convention and an experience in it that offended him. good for you for bringing religious people to your group, but that still doesn’t change the fact that your wife put on a burqua and demeaned an entire group of people in the process at this convention.

    chris never said any of you were bad people, just that he was disapointed by what he saw. you guys are trying to defame his character and call him a coward. it says a lot about his approach vs. yours.

  33. edhensley said

    Lisa,

    Thank you for addressing Andrew Bolt. I used it as an example of Chris’s poor judgement. Chris did not do any proper research before he wrote his blog in this area and in many other areas.

    Chris did not write about “my group”, but he compared my wife’s performance to a white supremacy rally. Chris’s supporters then attacked me and my wife in further blogs by making completely untrue statements about us regarding our interactions with other religions. It was relevant that I educate Chris and others about the people he smeared.

    My wife did not demean an entire group of people. She demeaned the practice of forcing women to wear a Burka.

    You need to get your facts straight before you start smearing people.

  34. […] guest blog, a response to NonProphet Status’ report on the 2010 American Atheist Convention, comes from Andrew Fogle, a D.C.-based cultural, social, and sexual interloper presently studying […]

  35. Billy said

    Rushing off to my internship in a moment, but from a non-secularist (or maybe I’m not? I dunno, still working on my spiritual identity–as I’ve said before, I’m “between faiths”) point of view this brings up one of my biggest concerns about both secular and religious groups–the use and abuse of the idea of “enlightenment” and the impact it has on the overall experience of others.

    When I hear the word “enlightenment” and all its variations being used outside of the purely spiritual sense, it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that I sometimes get passionate about my own political conservatism–because many of those who oppose me will simply dub me “unenlightened” regardless of my own experiences and knowledge base. The little bit I’ve gotten to read of your blog so far makes me realize that, well, the problem is more widespread than just the political spectrum.

    And yes, I guess, that you “need each other and you need [every] other” (my own take on Rabbi Hirschfield’s speech yesterday at the IUC), but the fact that people won’t participate… well, civilly… is the problem for me. But that doesn’t meant that I can’t feel passionately that people *should* change their ways. I don’t feel that these people are less worthy of respect because of views or actions, but I do think they should be a bit more tactful and respectful when they do this.

    As you yourself said yesterday, one of the problems is that those who are vocal in Atheism tend to be incredibly critical of other viewpoints. I thank you for your work and your, well, being here to spread the love and try to open up eyes. It’s not about enlightenment, it’s about awareness.

    And now I really must be off–look forward to reading more posts, though!

  36. […] off a generally bad experience at the 2010 American Atheist Convention (AAC) (see reports: 1, 2, 3), the tone of Nazareth College’s first-ever Interfaith Understanding Conference (IUC) was […]

  37. […] Q&A session Hirschfield was asked about critics and, in light of the recent batch of negative appraisals of my work, I found his answer to be especially wise. “Anytime someone says you […]

  38. […] happen with my own eyes time and time again. People in the “New Atheist” camp identify blasphemy and the deconstruction of religious paradigms as the best way to achieve this. Ironically, I […]

  39. […] New England Leadership Summit. My first conference, AAC, was a mixed bag at best (1, 2, 3). The second, IUC, was consistently excellent (1, 2, […]

  40. tiger said

    That was a great blog post, I anticipate many more post from you.

  41. […] by the things they don’t believe. Because the important topics discussed on this blog (Burkagate, Chalking Muhammad) are so much more powerful when there are stories of real people behind the […]

  42. […] hear secular folks bemoaning the reality that we are a disliked minority; yet moments later, we turn around and mock those who differ from us theologically. Talk about shooting ourselves in the […]

  43. […] I actually think the segment is entirely fair. If we don’t want to be portrayed this way, perhaps we shouldn’t behave this way. You see, I was actually there. Back in April, I attended the American Atheist Convention in Newark, New Jersey. After it was over I published a series of reflections on the experience (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly). […]

  44. […] Broxterman, she of “Burkagate” infamy, has made another YouTube video about me. I’m not surprised this time — I […]

  45. garry mcfeeter said

    Thank you for the article- I did not witness the incidents that you spoke of, but have had similar feelings about similarly shallow, meretriciously confrontational attitudes amongst some atheists. It’s a shame when the championing of reason (what could be more noble with all it infers of understanding and empathy?) becomes such an embarrassing display. We have to beware of our own tendencies towards sectarian fundamentalism if we are to gain any ground in our alleged desire to create an appetite for understanding. Nothing lowers the intelligence like arrogance. Anyway, thanks once again for your blog.

  46. […] Because organized Atheism lacks a robust community and is too negative (as my mom […]

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