Information is trickling out through the major media centres about the 2011 National Household Survey, released this morning by Statistics Canada. But I know what you guys are interested in. Continue reading
I wanted to fully respond to a recent comment that questioned why atheist conferences discuss “activist” issues like diversity rather than just stick to “a discussion about Atheism.” Here’s the full comment, by Chyrch:
People get pissed off when discussing sexism (and racism for that matter) because we’re constantly bombarded with it. The main reason I don’t go to Atheist conferences is because of crap like this. It should be a discussion about Atheism, and instead half the conference is unqualified bloggers who just want to speak about what they’re passionate about.
The general sense of the Atheist community as a whole, is simply that it’s full of activists who happen to be Atheists.
I think there’s quite a few issues here, and I think they may be prevalent enough to warrant this response.
By Andrew Komar
Tom Sears has a new op-ed up in the Daily Star proclaiming that the numbers of the atheist movement ‘doom us to irrelevancy’. I’m not going to spend my time here debunking the numerous attacks, misconceptions and smears against non-theists, but the mere fact that Sears felt it necessary to write it is yet another example of the persecution complex that many Christians seem to have.
Sears mentions the American Atheist recent billboard put up in New Jersey- The “You Know its a Myth” campaign, as yet another example of our shrillness. For the record, the stated purpose of that particular campaign was to reach out to closeted atheists, which has NOTHING to do with Christians. Here are their words :
Millions of atheists are closeted, choosing to go along to get along, and feigning religion to their friends, family, and coworkers. American Atheists understands the pressure to fit in, but we maintain that for people to love you, they must know the real you.
Evidently, Sears thinks the stated motives of the campaign are ‘really’ an attack on Christianity. Look, sir, if your faith is such that a billboard challenging it is enough to destroy it, you must not have had much there in the first place. And if that was the case, you’re lucky that Bill Donahue and the Catholics are there to reassure you on the other side of the tunnel with this billboard:
I applaud these billboards for reaching out to this silent minority. Whether the size of that minority is 3% (as repeatedly asserted by Sears) or closer to 30% the fact is that atheists are not nearly as organized as our religious brothers and sisters. Lacking any cohesive ideology beyond an agreement that there is probably no god(s), we are a diverse group, with many different reasons for that general conclusion. Believe it or not, Mr Sears, but there is no atheist religion. We’re human- and we crave a community that understands us. The billboards are a (repeatedly stated as such) effort to reach out and build that community.
If your a Christian and you read the billboard, I don’t expect you to magically lose your faith. For all I care, you are welcome to continue believing in Jesus, God or Santa Claus; they are all the same in my books. However, when we have the audacity to speak up for ourselves, I’d be nice if we weren’t challenged at every step by the majority that already has every damn privilege.
As for ‘ tear[ing] down one more longstanding tradition and belief’, I’ve never met any atheists who are actually interested in getting rid of Christmas. I happen to love Christmas, the celebration of which obviously predates Christianity.. The midwinter celebration is a human tradition as old as civilization- why shouldn’t we want to pull together and celebrate warmth and fellowship during the darkest days of the year? If you’d like to claim that it’s all about Jesus, go right ahead. But in the interests of mutual understanding, don’t expect everyone else to agree.
So, to Mr Sears and like minded Christians: Merry Christmas and happy holidays from the bottom of my loving, godless heart! I hope you’ll take a greater effort next time in actually understanding our position before you decide to dump on us during this season of mid-winter joy. I doubt it, but I’m always open to evidence that shakes my beliefs. Are you?
I want to outline an argument that occurred to me recently regarding religious instruction in public schools. These are sort of preliminary thoughts that I’m not sure I fully hold and I want feedback and constructive criticism, especially since what I’m about to lay out goes fairly contrary to the typical approach to secularism. It’s also worth pointing out that this is likely only feasible in Canada and other countries without explicit separations of church and state, since the religious teachings are very clearly banned in US classrooms.
Specifically, Razim Khan, who writes at Gene Expression on Discover Magazine Blogs, thinks that the whole article was about a fairy-tale.
Let me summarize his post, and feel free to correct me at any point if I straw-man his arguments.
- Razim was a leader in a freethought group that also featured a Eurasian woman as a president, a treasurer with a Muslim Arab father (was the treasurer from an Arab country then?), and himself who is brown. Therefore, there are no race problems in general.
- “The most secular nations in the world are those of East Asia,” and therefore most atheists are non-whites.
- But East-Asians aren’t prominent atheists because their culture doesn’t feature as oppressive of religions as Christianity so there’s no counter-movement to religion there. Basically Asians are apathetic with regards to religion.
- South Asians are particularly religious so “all the Hemant Mehtas and Alorn Shahas will not change the structural parameters which make atheism.”
He uses world statistics to demonstrate number 2 and UK statistics for number 4.
Now to deconstruct.
Number 1 is simply an anecdote, and if anything potentially demonstrates how a few minorities in leadership positions can encourage more – thereby increasing diversity overall.
Number 2 is a statistic that doesn’t address the article in question at all, and actually demonstrates the need for further outreach.
His third argument is misguided because it doesn’t address Shaha’s article about the demographics of the organizations behind the atheist movement and further troubling because the rates of Christianity in Chinese and Korean cultures is skyrocketing due to aggressive proselytization. To not reach out to these cultures (which he admits would be largely sympathetic) is to abandon these people to dangerous Western superstitions.
With the latter half of his article he almost dips into a cultural-relativistic form of racism (yes, brown people can be racist too), by suggesting that people from certain cultures are too predisposed to religion or apathy to be involved in what ought to be a universal movement. He seems to argue that Asians are predisposed to certain beliefs (or at least are raised with them), so outreach is pointless and expectations that they care about Western atheist struggles are ill-placed.
Similarly, the comments on my last article brought up the issue of what the goal of increasing diversity is and what the objectives of the atheist movement even are (that’s a post of its own).
One would think that reaching out to atheists of all shapes, sizes, colours, backgrounds, income levels, (etc.) would be an obvious enough goal in an of itself, however there are other reasons to increase diversity.
First, people with similar backgrounds tend to think alike. We can easily fail to see or recognize the extent of the harm of Eastern religions including Hinduism and Buddhism. By increasing diversity in our ranks and leadership we expose ourselves to new ideas and points of view, and that’s something I think most freethinkers are in favour of.
Second, we will be taken less seriously if we’re seen as an Old White Men’s club (or even as a white men’s club since the younger movement is alive and well today). By including women and people of colour, we can defeat charges from religions that we are racist or otherwise.
Really, just watch Greta Christina and Debbie Goddard talk about this because they know where it’s at:
When it comes to bringing diversity to the freethought movement, I encompass almost the exact opposite of everything it needs.
I am a straight, white, male, Canadian, with secular parents who was raised in rural Alberta. My mother’s side is British and my dad’s side traces back to Ireland (via Canada and the USA). I’m even generically brown-haired and blue-eyed.
The only time I stick out is when I attend the BC Humanist meetings and am the sole representative of the under-45 crowd.
However, because of all of this, it is even more imperative that I admit my privilege and continue to make calls for greater diversity at our meetings and conferences.
A freethought conference is being planned by the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought (in the BC interior), entitled “Imagine No Religion.”
Their speakers list initially featured PZ Myers, Brian Dalton, Chris DiCarlo and Nate Phelps. They’ve since added Stuart Bechman and Jen McCreight.
That’s one young female and a bunch of old white dudes.
It’s not enough.
As Jen points out on her blog:
It’s not that we lack worthy non-white atheists: It’s that we have plenty of wonderful non-white atheists who we forget about. If you think people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Maryam Namazie, Hemant Mehta, Ariane Sherine, Salman Rushdie, and Debbie Goddard are “second rate,” you are part of the problem.
This is Vancouver’s demographic makeup (note the 1/4 Chinese population):
Does an average skeptic or atheist event look like that? Judge for yourself (note the lack of Chinese audience members):
Photo credit: Fred Bremmer.
Finally, this isn’t an attempt to paint the atheist leaders as racist, sexists pigs. We are all privileged in certain ways (the fact you are reading this means you have internet access, which is something more than 2/3s of the world lacks), and recognizing those privileges and counteracting them is the first step to curing the problems.
I apparently missed a great conference earlier this summer at the Secular Student Alliance (read Katie’s description here). If you have a spare hour and a half, watch both of these videos (if not, make the time).
The first is Debbie Goddard’s talk which focuses on diversity in the freethought movement. It’s a bit abbreviated, so I think her full-length talk might have been a bit more valuable, but it does do a very good job at introducing the challenges as they stand in the movement.
The next video is of Greta Christina who talked about what the atheist movement can learn from the LGBT movement. She has many great points which include the need for more community building (especially offline and off campuses), that our debates about tone are stupid and we need both firebrands and diplomats (something I strongly agree with), that our debates over language are equally stupid (atheist vs. agnostics vs. skeptic vs. humanist etc.), and that we need to be prepared for mainstream (i.e. when atheism is no longer cool). She also talked for a while about how the LGBT movement failed horribly at building a diverse movement and is now paying for being predominantly white men. She emphasized that we have the opportunity to fix this in the atheist movement (because it is a problem), and that we have to keep talking about it.
This talk is exceptional, and I can’t wait for her to come to Vancouver in the fall (details are still being negotiated between the SFU Skeptics and her).
Be sure to subscribe to Greta’s blog too as her writing is consistently awesome.