Quick Post: No, seriously… What is this ‘Open Letter’? #atheism #misogyny #wtf #racism

I’m writing up a post on another issue and happened to come across this ‘open letter from the secular community‘.

Long story short, pop-atheism has a serious problem smack bang in the middle of the ‘movement’ (in the bowel sense).  Because pop-atheism relies so heavily on intuition and the assertion of a particular viewpoint as the default rational perspective, it absolutely cannot deal with the concept of plurality.  Plurality is anathema to pop-atheism.  There’s One True Rationality, One True Logic, and, therefore, One True Culture — a secular culture.

But nobody can work out what a secular culture is, so we get ‘Take our current culture and delete anywhere it says the word “God”‘.

Feminist philosophers, of course, have a lot to say about this sort of buffoonish stupidity.  Even the fundamental concepts which pop-atheists consider default rational: the building blocks of logic, for example, aren’t value-neutral.  When this is pointed out, a lot of very angry white guys who are pathologically incapable of grappling with criticism lash out.  Pop-atheism is openly misogynistic and definitely not a safe space for anybody who’s a white guy.  I’ve been in face-to-face conversations with pop-atheists where I have been very fortunate to have several thousand years of privilege behind me — it’s much harder to shout down somebody who is quite accustomed to living in an ivory tower.  I know others from different backgrounds who just straight up refuse to engage with pop-atheists.

Thus we get to the ‘open letter’ which is… strange.

The principle that women and men should have equal rights flows from our core values as a movement. Historically, there has been a close connection between traditional religion and suppression of women, with dogma and superstition providing the rationale for depriving women of fundamental rights. In promoting science and secularism, we are at the same time seeking to secure the dignity of all individuals. We seek not only civil equality for everyone, regardless of sex, but an end to discriminatory social structures and conventions – again often the legacy of our religious heritage—that limit opportunities for both women and men.

Unfortunately, the discussion of these issues has suffered from the same problems that plague online discussion in general—although arguably to a greater extent. Some blogs and comments actually exhibit hatred, including rape threats and insults denigrating women. Hatred has no place in our movement. We unequivocally and unreservedly condemn those who resort to communicating in such a vile and despicable manner.


Here are some things that we plan to do to make our online secular community a place where we can exchange ideas and views instead of insults. We hope that others may also find this approach useful.

Here are some things that we plan to do to make our online secular community a place where we can exchange ideas and views instead of insults. We hope that others may also find this approach useful.


Go offline before going online: pick up the phone. 
When you hear that an organization or member of our community is doing something that you think is wrong or bad for the community, call and talk with them, find out what they are actually doing and why they are doing it. If you don’t have a phone number, send a private email and arrange a time to talk. So much of the time there’s more to the story, and talking to another person on the other side of the issue can help us more fully understand the situation. Plus, a phone call makes it easier for people who are making mistakes to change course, because they aren’t on the defensive as they would be after being called out publicly.

Wait… what?  Just what?  So if you’ve got somebody being a misogynist jackhole, the correct response from the woman being attacked is not to respond with anger, indignation, or any of the other perfectly legitimate responses; she should consider how the jackhole will respond to being criticised.  We need to make the community a safe space for jackholes.

Dial down the drama.
It’s tempting to overuse inflammatory and derogatory rhetoric. It gets attention. We should be cautious about using this tactic within our community because of the long-term damage it does to relationships and morale. When critiquing people within our community, everyone should remember that our goal is to persuade our allies to see our perspective and modify their opinions. Insults don’t change opinions; they harden them.

There’s some weird definition of ‘insult’ being used here.  If I call somebody a racist jackhole, is that an insult?  What if they are being a racist jackhole?  What if I point out their racism without using the word ‘jackhole’?

As it turns out, insults do change opinions.  Ad hominem (in the sense of ‘insult’) is a powerful and important pedagogic tool.

Help others along.
We should remember that we weren’t born knowing the things we know now. To get to the reasoned conclusions that we’ve reached, we learned by reading, thinking, and talking with others. When we encounter someone espousing a view we think is based on lack of knowledge or experience, we should remember that we have all held ill-informed views. We should cultivate patience and try to educate instead of condemn.

There we go.  Don’t condemn the racist, misogynistic mouthbreathers in the atheist community.  We all need to sit down very patiently and explain to them why being racist, misogynist mouthbreathers is a bad thing.  And if they don’t listen, then we need to try harder.  It is our role to educate these halfwits and to consider how it must feel to be an ignorant spunkerchief.

Importantly, there is no declaration within the letter that the responsibility not to be a turd rests with the turds.  This letter is not about making it a safe space for everybody: it’s to render the natural, sensible, and appropriate response to such cockery as illegitimate.  Pointing out the nasty underbelly of the atheist community is divisive and there’s no room for divisiveness.  It’s similar to Andrew Bolt’s: ‘People of colour are being divisive when they declare that they are people of colour.’

Seriously.  These pop-atheists are just the worst people.

That is my reasoned conclusion.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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