FtB page hits down ~70% in 18 months

Freethought Blogs was once a pretty happening place. It was like Scienceblogs or Discoveryblogs but with a whole lot more atheism. In essence, it was a dose of science with a heap of New Atheism. And that made a lot of sense. As I’ve said before, New Atheism is very much a reflection of scientific thinking: Before we are to believe some claim (especially if it’s a significant claim), evidence is a must. But then the tone changed drastically at FtB. We went from people who placed atheism first when speaking about atheism – because that’s fucking logical – to people who were very much atheism-second bloggers. Science was almost entirely out the window. Philosophy? That was only ever there because of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, (of course) Dennett, and Coyne. Once we had people like PZ Myers, Richard Carrier, and Rebecca Watson decide that feminism needed to be the dominant theme in the atheist community, philosophy was deader than ever, at least in the worst circles. These people didn’t draw issue with the likes of William Lane Craig because they saw fundamental problems with his philosophical arguments; their issue was always that he wasn’t a feminist. It’s the same reason Dawkins and others have lost the support of these people. They don’t care why someone believes something – it doesn’t matter if a person isn’t a feminist because he hates women, because feminism is not a part of any religion, because he’s a utilitarian, because he’s a libertarian, because he’s an egalitarian, or for any other reason. All that matters is you aren’t a feminist, so you hate women and you’re not with us, you’re against us. It’s like George W. Bush weaseled his way into the atheist movement. You aren’t a real American unless you support American foreign policy; you aren’t a real atheist ally unless you support feminism.

And now here we are with atheism+, the movement that is to atheism as “patriotism” is to American conservatives. Consistency and coherency are secondary to this movement. You must support x, y, and z “social justice” issues, but to hell with explaining why all these issues tie together. To hell with explaining why atheism, an entirely descriptive position, is fundamentally related to any of these issues. To hell with explaining the benefit in destroying the big tent of New Atheism, the tent which encompassed those who are pro-science and against religion regardless of their views on GMO’s or abortion or Iraq or gun rights. None of that matters in the splinter group – nay, the splinter effort – that is atheism+. Philosophy only isn’t dead to that movement because it was never alive to them in the first place.

So what has the result been? From a once happening place, Freethought Blogs has fallen and continues to fall. Its page hits are down about 70% in the last few months. Fewer and fewer people are interested in the split. Fewer and fewer people want to be part of a movement which so eschews philosophy. Atheism+ is little more than a political movement with a political foundation. That isn’t the basis of the surge in atheism around the globe in recent decades. Richard Dawkins didn’t become famous for his politics. No one became a New Atheist because they are for or against marriage equality. That’s just not what this is all about. Atheism plussers simply do not understand the point to all this. They don’t get it at all.

Thought of the day

Atheism+ is little more than an attempt to destroy the fledgling and so far successful New Atheist movement. It disgusts me.

Misunderstandings

One of the things I enjoy most when it comes to blogging is the creation of series. I have all my “Thought of the day” and “Fun fact of the day” posts, amongst others, and they tend to go over well. I’m hoping to make this current post the first in a series called “Misunderstandings”. Sometimes these don’t pan out, so who knows, but it’s worth a shot. I’ll probably focus on theological and creationist arguments, but I expect some variety. In fact, this first post is going to include two different topics, each dealing with misunderstandings by atheists (though one is regarding a theological argument). So let’s get started.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science Facebook page:

A status update was made several days ago on the RDF page that said something to the effect of:

One of the greatest earthquakes in human history occurred in China in the 16th century, killing some 800,000 people. More’s the pity they hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ, thus denying them eternal access to heaven.

This is paraphrased because, unfortunately, the post was taken down. Many users objected to what they thought was an implication that those dead Chinese were ignorant; they found it crude and unliked the page. I think they all missed the point. Soon after, this post was made:

Some religious groups spend great amounts of energy and money to convince others that unless they accept Jesus as their personal savior they will burn in hell. Some people embrace science and, for example, focus on decreasing the death rate from a vicious disease such as pancreatic cancer. Which viewpoint is more compassionate? — Sean Faircloth, Dir. of Strategy & Policy

I believe Sean, a former Maine legislator, made the first post as well, but I don’t recall his signature. At any rate, the initial point of the posts is identical. The second one changes from natural disaster to disease and asks a specific question, but the premises are the same. And what was the reaction? A straight-forward discussion that understood the point.

It’s almost like Richard Dawkins and those in his group occasionally offend people. I just wish it were only the religious who misunderstood the points they make.

The First Cause argument on the Atheists of Maine Facebook page:

Staying with the Facebook theme, I posted a note to the Atheists of Maine page a couple of weeks ago. It was basically just a re-post of something I wrote on FTSOS about the First Cause argument. My rebuttal to that awful, awful argument goes something like this: A “cause” is the colloquial way we describe the scientific concept of a force. We define a force as mass multiplied by acceleration, f=ma. Acceleration is the change in velocity over time. Thus, time is clearly essential in the First Cause argument. However, time did not exist ‘prior’ to the Big Bang, so theists cannot use it in their argument. Since they cannot use time, and since time is necessary in order to even define “cause”, they need to argue something different.

This is simple enough, but one AoM member, Neil Cole, raised a rather incoherent objection:

As an atheist I obviously don’t think any god created the universe or caused it to exist. That said, there are some issues with this post that I would like to address. The first and most important would be the incorrect usage of Newton’s laws. A casual search for the range and validity of Newton’s laws will yield the following:

“These three laws hold to a good approximation for macroscopic objects under everyday conditions. However, Newton’s laws (combined with universal gravitation and classical electrodynamics) are inappropriate for use in certain circumstances, most notably at very small scales, very high speeds (in special relativity, the Lorentz factor must be included in the expression for momentum along with rest mass and velocity) or very strong gravitational fields.”-wiki

The big bang is a phenomenon which is subject to such restrictions. What we know about the universe breaks down around Planck time (5 x 10^-44 seconds). It is wrong to say that we completely understand time or that we completely understand causation.

It’s easy enough to see why this doesn’t even address the argument at hand: the First Cause argument concerns a ‘point’, realm, or whatever one wishes to call it, which existed (or exists) outside the Universe. We aren’t talking about the Big Bang. We aren’t talking about extreme speeds or small scales. Cole even admits this:

Clearly you don’t seem to get that I know this already but I will humor you even though you have not answered my question, [God is] outside [the Universe].

(We referred to the “first cause” as “God” for the sake of simplicity and since, clearly, that’s what the argument is getting towards anyway.)

Now that we had established that God is outside the Universe in this argument, I wanted to be sure we also established that he performed the act which created the Universe from that same place. Cole responds:

Since he is fictional and has magical powers, why not?

This isn’t exactly the best answer since I was asking my question in the context of the given argument at hand. That is, I was asking if God performed the act to create the Universe from outside the Universe, as per the First Cause argument. However, this is still progress. I next asked if God could exert a force (as defined by Newton’s second law) from his timeless ‘location’ outside the Universe. Cole says:

You assume God is exerting a force. In that “place” the word force may not even apply to what “is”.

It is the argument, not I, that assumes the exertion of a force, but still, there we have it. According to the First Cause argument, God is outside the Universe, he caused the Universe into existence, and he did this in a place where, at least as far as we know, the concept of force doesn’t apply since we cannot demonstrate the existence of time. Neil Cole admits each essential element, making my ultimate point for me as his conclusion to this point in the ‘debate’. Yet, we still see this later:

Your argument may not posit that it might not be a force but that is because you failed to understand that Newton’s laws are inappropriate here. You also conflate cause with force which may not be the same thing in the other “place”.

Despite admitting that we aren’t talking about the Big Bang – that is, he admitted that we’re talking about a ‘point’ prior to the Universe, which is necessarily prior to the Big Bang – he still reverts to his point about high speeds and small scales. He then goes one bizarre (and, frankly, embarrassing) step further and claims that a force is not the same thing as a cause. Let’s take a look at a translation of Newton’s own words:

“Law II: The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impress’d; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impress’d.”

The common way of saying this? ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’ or ‘For every cause, there is an effect’. It isn’t up for debate that the First Cause argument is premised on Newton’s second law, nor that this law is about causation on a macroscopic scale. Thus, the First Cause argument is specifically positing that God created the Universe by means of force on a macroscopic scale, and it is doing this because of the observation Newton made so many centuries ago that seems obvious to us today.

There was later a problem with Cole lying – he claimed I wouldn’t answer his questions despite my request for him to re-ask the one he had posed to me earlier, then, when I repeated that I wanted to answer him, he just continued to claim I would not – and so sometimes his tendency to misunderstand what others say is clearly nothing more than base dishonesty, but in the primary issue here, he just doesn’t get the whole picture. When broken down for him, he gets all the parts – the argument places God outside the Universe, presupposes the existence of time, and has nothing to do with the Big Bang – but he entirely misunderstands things when they’re all put together. I wish I could just say he was lying here as well because then I would get how someone could raise such incoherent points, but that isn’t the case. The fact is, he misunderstood the argument even as he agreed with all its parts.

Atheist lobbying in Maine

I recently wrote about the Secular Coalition for America’s push to establish chapters in all 50 states. I mentioned that I had been interviewed for a piece in the local Maine newspapers concerning that push. Here is that piece:

Rarely does a news release headline jump off the screen like this one that landed last week in my inbox: “Maine atheists to organize state lobbying group this month.”

Good heavens. As if Maine doesn’t have enough to argue about these days.

Later this week, the Secular Coalition for America will open its phone lines to anyone and everyone in Maine who a) doesn’t believe in God, b) can’t be sure there is a God or c) believes, regardless of his or her spiritual underpinnings, that government at any level should not be doing anything in the name of the man (or woman) upstairs…

“Lobbying is the tip of the iceberg,” [Sean] Faircloth agreed. Like the gay rights movement has done over the last three or four decades, he said, “the key is building a grassroots organization that has credibility.”

Which is where Mainers like Michael Hawkins come in.

Hawkins, 27, grew up attending the Roman Catholic St. Mary’s School in Augusta.

His road to atheism began when he was in his teens and heard a group of God-fearing adults asserting, with utmost certainty, that the Earth is a mere 7,000 years old.

“I knew that wasn’t true — but I didn’t know why it wasn’t true or by how much they were wrong,” recalled Hawkins, who’s now one course away from a bachelor’s degree in biology and helped found a loosely knit group on Facebook called Atheists of Maine.

Hawkins, upon hearing about the Secular Coalition for America’s conference call at 1 p.m. Thursday, said he’ll definitely be on the line. (To join in, call 530-881-1400 and punch in the access code 978895.)

But where it all goes from there, Hawkins said, is still up in the air.

He’s well aware that “there’s a lot of stigma around the word” atheist.

And he harbors no illusions that in Maine’s current political climate, wary politicians on either side of the aisle might embrace what undoubtedly would be branded the “atheist agenda.”

“With the Republicans in control of everything, it’s not going to be well received,” Hawkins predicted. “It’ll take a little while.”

If not an eternity.

The comment sections on this article are interesting. (The article appears on several websites because many of Maine’s major newspapers are owned by the same company.) Some people are going off with the usual garbage about atheists calling the religious stupid. I’ve never heard or read any major atheist do this. Other people are attacking Faircloth for this or that. One person even said he doesn’t have a real job, even though he’s one of only 4 people listed at the head of the Richard Dawkins Foundation. A few are trying to tackle the writer, Bill Nemitz, for one imagined thing or another. Hey, maybe my mention of the fact that Republicans control everything in Maine right now really is Nemitz’s political agenda. That totally makes sense. Fortunately, a good number of people are simply excited about this. We’ve even seen a slight uptick in membership on the Facebook page Atheists of Maine.

My only disappointment is that my old school got a mention. It isn’t something I’ve ever tried to hide, but I’m sure the people at St. Michael School (previously known as St. Mary’s) weren’t overly excited about it. As much as I disagree with the Catholic religion, I’m constantly grateful that I went to that school over the less than stellar public choices in the area.

At any rate, I hope the SCA makes a big splash in Maine. I’ll keep things updated.

Secular Coalition for America and the organization of Maine nontheists

The Secular Coalition for America has announced that it is seeking to establish chapters across all 50 states:

The Secular Coalition for America is excited to announce the initial organizing efforts for a chapter in Louisiana this month. The state chapter will lobby state lawmakers in favor of a strong separation of religion and government.

The initial organizing call for the Secular Coalition for Louisiana will be held on September 12th at 3:00PM ET / 2:00PM CT. The SCA encourages interested participants to call in. Participation is open to anyone who supports a strong separation of religion and government and wants to get involved, irrespective of personal religious beliefs.

Other state chapters being organized later this month include Delaware, District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Since June, the SCA successfully held initial organizing calls for new chapters in 27 states. Participants will be trained in lobbying state lawmakers, and the chapter will be provided with a website and other materials.

The big effort here, as far as I can tell, is going to be to dampen the negative effects religion has in politics. Namely, the goals will be to kill stealth creationist bills, promote science education, and maybe even support pro-science candidates. Along with this will come to the promotion of Gnu Atheist values.*

I’m excited about this; I’ve already contacted the former Executive Director of the SCA, Sean Faircloth. He is a former Maine legislator and currently heads up strategy and policy for the Richard Dawkins foundation. I’m not 100% of his involvement with the group at this point, but I do know he is being interviewed for an article that will appear in the Maine Sunday Telegram in a couple of days. (I was also interviewed for the piece.) I hope he can help get me started with all this or at least point me in the right direction. Maine atheists, agnostics, and nonbelievers need to be organized.

The current “organization” for Maine atheists and others currently amounts to an Atheists of Maine Facebook page I run with two other people. As far as I can tell, it is the largest collection of atheists in the state, so if you haven’t liked it yet, you should. I plan on utilizing it to do what I can to help establish an SCA chapter in Maine.

“DEEP RIFTS”

Quite some time ago there was an article written about the Gnu Atheist movement that said there were “deep rifts” among so-called adherents. Or maybe it was some random blog post. I don’t know and it’s not important. What I do know and what is important is that PZ Myers made a post about it and ever since it has become a rallying cry for people who don’t want to address division amongst Gnu Atheists. That is, whenever someone raises the possibility that there isn’t a notable cohesiveness amongst atheists out there, the response from certain people (usually those of the freethoughtblogs.com persuasion) is to declare “DEEP RIFTS!” and then say atheists are a diverse group and blah blah blah. It’s generally a cop-out.

That isn’t to say atheists aren’t a diverse group. We necessarily are. After all, atheism is purely descriptive (something PZ doesn’t understand). We have no more normative connection with each other than anyone else has with, well, anyone else. That changes slightly with Gnu Atheism, of course, since Gnu Atheism is about using a more forceful and critical voice concerning religion; Gnu atheists are united in the value that religion is, mostly, not a good thing and should be confronted. However, that’s where the inherently shared values end. After that point, there is no reason to expect one atheist to believe the same thing as the next. That fact is even more significant when we’re talking about atheism sans any qualifiers (such as Gnu).

This presents a problem for some people. There is a desire amongst a handful of people to create a more cohesive group, to coalesce around certain ideas. That’s understandable and no one can be faulted for wanting to do that. However, it can’t be done merely under the banner of atheism – again and again and again, atheism is purely descriptive. No matter how much so many theists want to accuse atheists of believing this or that moral dictate and no matter how much some atheists want to parade particular atheist values, it can’t be done. The whole idea is philosophically incoherent. So what’s the solution? Enter Atheism+:

It illustrates that we’re more than just “dictionary” atheists who happen to not believe in gods and that we want to be a positive force in the world. Commenter dcortesi suggested how this gets atheists out of the “negativity trap” that we so often find ourselves in, when people ask stuff like “What do you atheists do, besides sitting around not-praying, eh?”

We are…
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

This sounds all welcoming and nice, and only the fourth point could really exclude a lot of people (at least on paper). Because, who rejects social justice? Who rejects women’s rights? Who embraces racism? Who doesn’t see critical thinking favorably? Of course, it’s clear that all these things are speaking of liberal values, just as “family values” is code for a conservative point of view. And that’s the rub. It isn’t one that’s meant to be hidden, nor is anyone trying to hide it, but it isn’t out there on paper: Atheism+ is meant first as a label for atheist, (caricature) feminist liberals. It is meant to create an exclusionary community of individuals who…ah, hell. Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s Freethoughtblogs. It’s a label for just about everyone who blogs at freethoughtblogs.com. Anyone who thinks Rebecca Watson is a mook need not apply.

So where’s the problem, then? Who gives a rat’s ass if a bunch of people already deep in groupthink want to give themselves a new label? What difference could it possibly make? Well. The answer is simple. It’s all about division.

“DEEP RIFTS” has become an inside joke among a fair number of atheists, atheists who don’t think there is any real separation in the community, but there’s no denying it any longer. The entire mentality of Freethoughtblogs and now Atheism+ is George W. Bush’s old chestnut, “Either you’re with us or you’re against us.” Don’t believe me? Take a look:

Atheism+ is our movement. We will not consider you a part of it, we will not work with you, we will not befriend you. We will heretofore denounce you as the irrational or immoral scum you are (if such you are).

Check it out in practice:

Let me summarize: “You disagree in the least bit?! You’re evil and you can go fuck yourself!”

There are even attacks on Richard Dawkins for who-the-hell-knows-what:

That great controversialist, that person who has been called too confrontational, that person who told everyone religion is delusion, that person who has debated beloved religious leaders, that person who has publicly faced down the nastiest pundits of our time–Richard Dawkins–has no better means of telling you you’re wrong than posting passive-aggressive tweets trying to attack ad revenue.

It then shows a series of Tweets from Dawkins where he tells people not to help out sites that drum up false controversy. I don’t know, nor do I care, what the specific details are behind this, but we can presume it has something to do with Freethoughtblogs. Take a look at some of the comments:

“When I first identified as an atheist I thought Dawkins was great but, the more I listen to him, the more he rubs me the wrong way.”

“I’ve always had and always will have great respect for Richard Dawkins’ work as a science communicator and an advocate for atheism. But lately, I’ve been losing a lot of respect for him otherwise.”

“He’s saying there is no real problem with bigotry in this movement, that you all are lying for money? M’kay.”

When a community that owes a huge part of its existence to one man – there are plenty of others, but Dawkins is easily the most significant – when that community starts going after him (and with shit logic, at that), it becomes extremely difficult to deny that the likes of PZ and others have created significant division. The deep rifts in the atheist community are very real; I don’t think I need quotations around them at this point. Freethoughtblogs, PZ Myers, Jen McCreight, and the pitfalls of groupthink have caused an ideological split amongst atheists today. In one camp we have those who have agendas external to Gnu Atheism, external to the problem of religion and the promotion of science. In the other camp, we still have reason and a commitment to basic Humanistic values, a commitment to promote a world that rejects superstition while embracing the wonder of science. In this other camp, this older camp, we have a group of people who are still focused on the task at hand.

Atheism on the rise

Since the last Gallup poll was taken, just before the emergence of so-called New Atheism, the rate at which people call themselves atheists has risen significantly:

The poll, called “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” found that the number of Americans who say they are “religious” dropped from 73 percent in 2005 (the last time the poll was conducted) to 60 percent.

At the same time, the number of Americans who say they are atheists rose, from 1 percent to 5 percent.

I don’t think this is a reflection of changing beliefs. Rather, it is a reflection of changing attitudes:

“The obvious implication is that this is a manifestation of the New Atheism movement,” said Ryan Cragun, a University of Tampa sociologist of religion who studies American and global atheism.

Still, Cragun does not believe the poll shows more people are becoming atheists, but rather that more people are willing to identify as atheists.

For a very long time, religiosity has been a central characteristic of the American identity,” he said. “But what this suggests is that is changing and people are feeling less inclined to identify as religious to comply with what it means to be a good person in the U.S.”

I’ve attributed this change in attitude to a number of facts in the past, including the Catholic Church’s rape problems, but I think a good deal of credit goes to Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, and others who have made the phrase “I am an atheist” something that is okay to say.

via The A-Unicornist

Thought of the day

I can’t stress this enough: feminism and atheism are not linked in any significant way.

Where the real persecution is

Christians in America have this habit of pretending that they are some persecuted minority: Our Muslim, socialist, communist, Nazi, white-hating, Kenyan, Marxist president has a war on religion; every December the nation’s retailers wage a war on Christmas; atheists want to ban Christian children from praying to themselves in school. And around and around it goes, Christians pretending that everyone is out to get them, that they have no power, and if we don’t all act fast, religious persecutions and moral decay are on their way. It is all a bald lie. Christians have nothing but power. They hold almost every political seat in the nation, whether on the state or federal level. They dominate the positions of authority in our legal system. Do you need to get time taken off your prison sentence? Don’t say you’ve found deep thinking in moral philosophers. Say you’ve found God and maybe you’ll get to see your family sooner than your atheist cellmate (presuming you are one of the rare people to experience such a person in an American prison).

The real belief-based persecution of people in America happens to two main groups: Muslims and atheists. The former is a relatively new, reactionary persecution related to September 11, but the latter has been happening since the inception of the nation. Look at any time period in the nation’s history to see who is being persecuted and I guarantee atheists will be mentioned every single time. Somewhere there is always someone seething over the idea that a person might not only reject the idea of a god in all its forms, but might also be a good person while doing it. Such an audacious lifestyle has had a strong history of garnering more than its fair share of emotion-based vitriol.

Unfortunately, it isn’t all history. Currently there is one openly atheist member of Congress. Compare that to at least 6 open gays. Or look at the fact that 9% of Americans would never vote for a Jew, yet 49% refuse to ever vote for an atheist. And then there are the actual lives of declared atheists:

[Take the story] of Harry Purdy, born in Manchester, the son of an American GI father he did not know. A year after the US government opened up its records, the then 46-year-old stepped off the plane at Louisville Airport, Kentucky in May 1991 and became the first of the lost GI babies to be reunited with his father. Purdy eventually took up American citizenship and moved over to live in 1993.

“It was a good thing I met him for the first time,” he told me when we met at a roadside restaurant near his home, “but this is Kentucky, this is the Bible Belt. I’m an atheist.” One by one, members of his new family turned against him because of his lack of belief. Harry doesn’t see any of his American family any more. “The last one I saw was my cousin, Ronnie. Every time he invites me over to dinner, he turns to religion. Last time I saw him, I didn’t back out, I took him full on.

“I’ve been told things like ‘I hope you have an accident, die and go to hell.’ So that’s what I’ve been up against.”

Friends have rejected him. “I used to be a good running friend with somebody who doesn’t live far from here. I mentioned on one occasion that I was an atheist and I’ve never seen him again … I came here knowing this was the Bible Belt, but I didn’t realise it was a more like a totalitarian Christian society: you’re either one of them or you’re not and there’s no in between. So I’ve learnt this lesson, to keep it to myself as much as possible.”

It might be suggested that one “solution” is to hide one’s lack of belief. This isn’t going to solve any problems, and even if it did, it isn’t going to solve the right ones. It’s telling people to lie about what they believe because the majority doesn’t want to hear certain voices.

From the outside, keeping your views to yourself may not seem such a problem. But this is only if you think that it’s easy to live hiding who you really are from almost everyone around you, even close family. Take Matt Elder, who lives in Festus, Missouri (pop. 11,602). When I met him in a downtown St Louis diner, he came across as a cheerful, friendly guy, not someone living under a kind of persecution. “They’re not going to cut me off or throw me to the wolves,” he says of his Christian family and in-laws. But if Elder is typical of the trying-to-keep-their-heads-down atheists scattered around the Bible Belt, then his story shows that none of them has it easy.

Elder says with a smile that when he goes out wearing his black T-shirt with its large scarlet A – the symbol of the atheist Out Campaign inspired by Richard Dawkins – “you’ll see mothers bring their children a little closer and step a little quickly away”. Elder is not militant and tries to be as accommodating as he can without being a hypocrite. “I would go to church with my wife about every week, just for community. But now, I don’t go because there’s really weird conflicts.” Weirdest of all is his regular appearance on the weekly prayer list. “There are times when people stand up and say stuff out loud to every­one else, and my wife did that while I was there.” I asked him what she said, and his paraphrase was: “My husband no longer believes in God and I’m scared for him and my family.” No wonder Elder feels that now at the church “there’s a target on my back”.

The statistics aren’t any better:

A now famous University of Minnesota study concluded that Americans ranked atheists lower than Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society”. Nearly 48 per cent said they “would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group” (many more than the next most unpopular category, Muslims, at 33.5 per cent).

I can say I’ve personally experienced someone turning me down for the explicit reason that I’m an atheist. I’m not so arrogant as to pretend there couldn’t be other factors, but it isn’t like people are in the habit of letting others down easy by going straight to religious (and non-religious) beliefs. Of course, it is understandable that a person would want to date a like-minded person, but that isn’t what the above poll was about. People were asked how they would feel about their child dating an atheist. The fact that there is a nearly 50% chance my would-be date’s parents were happy with her decision without knowing a thing about me is distressing. It betrays the prejudice which underlies so many of the misconceptions religious folks have about atheists.

A real solution to all these problems is for atheists to make their presence known. That means, when asked or relevant, to proudly state “I am an atheist” in front of absolutely anyone. No quibbling with “non-believer” or other terms of avoidance. Those phrases should be reserved for specific instances and linguistic purposes. If we can’t get rid of the stigma around the word “atheist”, then how can meaningful progress be had?

Some people will disagree with that strategy (such as Sam Harris, as quoted in the article), but for people to know they know atheists is the first step. This isn’t about trumpeting atheism around the public square or getting in anyone’s face; this strategy is not exclusive to Gnu atheists. Anyone who believes there is insufficient evidence for God in the same way there is insufficient evidence for celestial teapots ought to don a scarlet A, whether literally or figuratively. Letting people know we exist is the best way to combat the systematic scorn and persecution so many atheists face in America.

Why a new campaign for black atheists does not offend me

The above title may seem odd, but it is a reference to a post I wrote back in October. In that post I wrote about a short piece by a black atheist explaining why she is an atheist. Her basic point was that she didn’t see a distinction between modern day religion and older religions we now accept as fictional, so she concluded that all religion is false. It was faulty reasoning, but that isn’t what got me. What drew my ire was that she then randomly mentioned the color of her skin. I considered that bad writing because it was a non-sequitur which she didn’t even bother to explain. I’m sure being black has contributed greatly to her perspective in life, but failing to draw a distinction between religious premises is not race-dependent. And if it is, she didn’t bother to tell anyone why.

One result of my response post was some misunderstanding by FTSOS readers. Occasional commenter Paul Kussmann, for instance, claimed I was making racial assumptions. Neil Rickert thought I was offended by the specific content rather than the writing itself. Both were wrong, Paul less understandably so than Neil. The fact is, I cringe at bad writing. In that fact is not a claim on my part to be a great writer (though I think of my skills in the area as quite strong). I simply have a considerable concern for language.

This all brings me to African Americans for Humanism. The group is currently running an ad campaign to bring atheism to the black community and/or encourage black atheists to be more vocal. It’s a good campaign because of the high degree of religiosity amongst blacks. We need to discourage religious belief everywhere, but especially where it holds strong. I support the goals of the AAH and I hope it succeeds.

All that said, could it be rightly claimed that any of this offends me? Of course not. I’ve never denied that being a black atheist is often very different from being a white atheist. It’s important to acknowledge, discuss, and understand these distinctions in order to better advance the cause of humanists and Gnu atheists. I’m confident I have never once expressed a problem with any of this. The only way I would have a qualm with the AAH or its goals is if they were ever expressed in a poorly organized, haphazardly composed, or badly written fashion.

Language matters.