Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Atheism Nonplussed

As noted, I am a member of Minnesota Atheists and--in a general sense--appreciate the efforts of my fellow non-believers who publicly stand up for the respectability of our philosophical position.

Some months ago I got sick of the online atheist community and mostly have avoided perusing their sites.  I wish we could overthrow most of our current leadership, essentially.

I feel an activist duty to make a monthly foray into the semi-public conversation, sometimes simply politely pushing back when a 'friend' makes a profession of religious belief within social media, or--equally importantly--pushing back against bullshit promulgated by high-status atheists.

And so in that spirit of duty I today comment on a recent Non Prophets podcast.

Caveat:  If you're not interested in atheism, you may costlessly elect to skip today's blogpost--as its point is likely tediously obvious.  The episode upon which I am here commenting does not constitute good art and is, frankly, not worth your time.  But within the aggressive atheist club I suspect listening to it all the way through, once started, is difficult to avoid.

Within today's comment I expressly avoid discussion of my glee at Jeff Dee's recent demotion from hosting The Atheist Experience and his mindbendingly horrible attempts at comedy.  (By the final fifth of the podcast, the collective psychic groan emanating from all other participants--at Dee's antics--approaches the overwhelming, while remaining entirely inaudible to Dee.)

My first comment pertains to 16:30 within the podcast.  A person has written in to the show asking for the panelists' general reactions to the Atheism+ innovation.

After 16:30 Jeff Dee mockingly reads the emailer's question, signalling to the ostensible cognoscenti that anyone expressing the most minor deviation from Atheism+ must be received as a rube from the sticks. It's important to Dee to communicate to you how stupid this person must be, to suggest Atheism+ might be in any way problematic.

At 17:10 Russell Glasser attempts to dispel the discomfort in the air:  When people write in to us (I paraphrase) on this topic--he says--they invariably mis-predict our stance pertaining to Atheism+.

Upon hearing this I start:  Glasser's group is part of the Freethought Blogs media empire; any hip American atheist could only assume his invariant profession of devotion to Atheism+.  But Glasser says he's going to surprise us.  On to 17:10.

Dee says the writer has put [Atheist+] Movement 'in scare quotes.'  Perhaps Dee is unaware there are multiple reasons a writer might put any specific phase within quotation marks; scaring readers is by no means the only motivation which might be satisfied by their employ.

Dee's opening tone of ridicule presages a slew of cheap shots.   Those unenthused by the claims of Atheism+ are wrong to care--Dee notifies listeners--since the movement so clearly has no moral imperialism at its core.

For a person to claim agnosticism toward those who perceive themselves morally-improved versions of oneself is of course unusual.  Dee's central hunch is nonsensical--but he doesn't care since he's sure his side holds the political might.

Dee insists the atheist who detests some of Atheism+'s particularities should confine himself to refraining from joining Atheism+'s principle organs.  Any more vocal opposition to Atheism+ would constitute--for Dee--'getting upon one's high horse.'  In other words, Dee demands we accord Atheism+ a pristine innocence, holding the tendency above our otherwise omnidirectional skepticism.

At 18:45 Dee doesn't get these people who freak out about Atheism+.  Who?--I wonder.  I myself frankly question Atheism+--though I have at no point freaked out against it, nor has any known person suggested that I have.

At 18:45 Dee defends the Atheism+ clique for maintaining a members-only web sub-community.  Dee has not in fact proposed a defensible reason for such separatism.  At 19:15 Denis Loubet--though he eventually cowers--offers some momentary gentle push-back.

At 20:00 Dee insists opponents of Atheism+ are obtuse for not categorizing it precisely as they would The Atheist House of Pancakes.  Those who perceive Atheism+ as having political ambitions are--to Dee--daft.  Dee will not seek out the most thoughtful critics of Atheism+--he chooses instead the simpler task of caricaturing unnamed critics and then ridiculing his stick-figures.

At 21:00 Dee issues his infamous 'Get off your fucking high horse.'  Dee is extremely offended so many thinking people disagree with him, surely they must be sanctimonious twits.

At 22:00 the group bonds over the dogmatic assertion that rank-and-file atheists who express any opinion or concern about any self-identified sub-group constitutes neuroticism.  Any such expression should simply be assumed out-of-bounds.

At 22:40 Glasser asserts all his teammates support feminism.  Feminism of course has many meanings; in my own metropolitan area it constitutes a McCarthyite pseudo-progressive pressure group [having long succeeded in casting myself outside Internet polite society for the most dubious of reasons].  When the Austin Atheists embrace feminism their rank-and-file simply understands it to equate to the desire to treat people fairly without regard to their gender.

To such mainstream naive moderates a commitment to 'feminism' in no way requires one to condemn the USA for opposing Japan in WW2, for example.  One hundred miles from where I live feminists must certainly be sane, goes the widely accepted meme.

At 24:00 Glasser launches into a defense of Atheism+'s 'mission creep,' based on the organizational needs of atheist groups--they often find they have stubborn reactionaries among their dues-payers, people requiring moral improvement from people such as Glasser.

Pretty soon (Glasser assures us) you have a guy showing up to meetings who loudly proclaims he uses hypnotism to get chicks to do whatever he wants--and then goes on to hitting on women at every meeting.  Honorable men have to take a more aggressive position reining in the swarming dues-paying blackguards, e.g.  The moment atheist leaders ease up on the boot the rank-and-file will immediately start voicing such reactionary desires, goes the meme.  Without the progressive Glass-Dee finger on the scale, atheism-curious women will be effectively turned away by the slob masses, we are instructed.

So at 25:00 Glasser is effectively pushing back against Dee's hands-off approach:  In fact, aggressive affirmative action is called for.  So now our discussion is within the frame of organizational politics:  'How can we make the greatest number of people feel comfortable,' etc.  On the contrary, an important reason I accord respectability to an atheist organization is for its courage in disregarding incentives to adopt popularity-expanding public positions.

When we encounter other upright atheists, one reason we have a tendency to bond with each other is due our awareness of our mutual acceptance of the importance of defending several unpopular positions.  We correctly resist arguments focusing upon the maximization of public popularity.

Moving on from 26:30, Glasser suggests those who question Atheism+ must be sexists and/or racists.  Such people must be unconcerned about moral imperatives such as 'broadening the pool of speakers' at atheist conferences.  Failing to care deeply about which egos get stroked at national atheist conferences--to Glasser--indicates moral impurity in anyone calling himself an atheist activist.

At 27:30 Glasser suggests 'Atheism+' has been vilified in the same manner Atheism itself has been vilified.

 At 28:15 Glasser announces progressives should unite with anyone as unfairly verbally assaulted as Jen McCreight.  To be honest I have not seriously looked at Ms. McCreight's writing, beyond her initial Atheism+ effort, by which I was not impressed.

At 29:00 Glasser ridiculously suggests those opposed to Atheism+ must think 'I don't believe in God and that's where the whole thing ends.'

At 29:30 Glasser makes clear support for Atheism+ is needed for the practical reason of organizational self-promotion.   To do otherwise would constitute--the white man shares with his all-white panelists--'becoming an old white guys' club.'  That would be really bad.

At 31:30 Dee professes belief that if the values of Atheism+ prove attractive we will naturally observe the sub-group's overtaking of the overall movement, over time.  Atheism+, Dee and Glasser agree, has a right to exist--as if anyone suggests otherwise.

At 33:00 Dee states (to unanimous agreement) atheists must take a hands-off approach to any atheist sub-group that simultaneously advocates on behalf of some other set of values.

Then Dee equates criticism of Atheism+ to the boring obsession some people supposedly have, for taking down the work of some specific film director.  To criticize the thing Dee strongly supports is to be a fanatic in other words.  'It's not terribly helpful,' Dee laments--as if he can safely assume our primary goal in life is to be helpful to his ideological preferences.

At 34:00 Loubet makes clear his uncritical support for Atheism+:  Criticizing Atheism+ from the standpoint of being an atheist is precisely the same as criticizing gay marriage from the perspective of a married heterosexual person.  Again--in other words--Dee, Loubet and Glasser insist all atheists must presuppose the ideological neutrality of Atheism+, despite rampant evidence to the contrary.

At 34:30 Dee argues that those opposed to Atheism+ must be knee-jerk opponents of gay marriage.  We who oppose Atheism+ must be represented by some individual who wrote an email to the Non Prophets, we learn.  And Dee will have us know:  He doesn't agree with our [undefined] 'prejudice.'

By 35:30 we've descended to Loubet trying, 'If gays can get married then people who see me get married might assume I'm gay.'  I doubt--even in Texas--one can fairly assume all who question Atheism+ can fairly be assumed to be opponents of gay marriage.

At 36:00 the hosts bond over their shared condemnation of an email writer's hope that Atheism+ supporters will 'relent.'  People who question Atheism+ must oppose racial harmony and gender neutrality, freelances Dee.  If you disagree with Dee 'you're a dick.'  At 36:40 Glasser repulsively amplifies, 'If atheism doesn't welcome bigots then our market is smaller.'

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Blue Hotel

The second error:  We're informed that Minnesota Atheists will be lobbying legislators on behalf of 'allowing the sale of alcohol on Sundays.'

We're informed this is a Blue Law and therefore--ostensibly--a self-evident priority for our opposition. 

I disagree:  Simply because a social practice has some religious origin doesn't require us to expunge it forthwith. The names of the days of the week, we are aware, refer to ancient gods, yet everyone appears happy to maintain their use.  Ending the ban on Sunday sales does not strike this atheist as an important moral priority.

It is much more urgent for us to reach out to religious believers in the community and try to get them to defend their faiths' weird tenets, always respecting the preferences of those who refuse interaction. 

At the atheist event a fellow resident of Eden Prairie mentioned that our suburb's Catholic church--Pax Christi--has a sign out front announcing 'All Are Welcome.'  Several major, popular priests at Pax Christi have been universally-acknowledged ultralibs.  That sign employs code language that neither of Edina's two Catholic churches would display, pre-Francis at least.

The third judgmental error which I observed at MN Atheists monthly meeting:

A board member informs us Rebecca Watson has agreed to speak at the next Minnesota Atheists annual powwow.  I have criticized Watson occasionally, here.

Rebecca Watson is not more admirable than the average individual.  If you believe otherwise, I will be happy to take on any challenge.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Tie that Binds

I attended Minnesota Atheists monthly meeting the other day at Southdale Library.  I've been a member for most of the past year but haven't participated much.  A 'non-profit, educational organization that seeks to promote the positive contributions of atheism to society and to maintain separation of state and church' would appear non-controversial.

MA has fewer than 250 dues-paying members; were it an Eden Prairie church it might well not rank in the top ten.  Fewer than 25 people attend the meeting on Sunday.

During the enjoyable session I learn of three things Minnesota Atheists is in the midst of doing, all wrong, each deserving its own blogpost.  Today we will consider the meeting's central topic:

A friendly and esteemed MA leader gives a laser assisted PowerPoint presentation informing attendees of the organization's legislative activism to change Minnesota law on marriage celebrants.  MA has come out in favor of changing the state statutes to add 'atheist organizations' to the religious ones already empowered to confer legitimacy upon marriage celebrants.

Minnesota Atheists' involvement in monogamy promotion comes just after the organization's energetic support for same-sex marriage; that's why we're now discussing this.

Several non-believing marriage celebrants attend the meeting; three atheist couples are interviewed briefly in front of the group.

Technically, a marriage celebrant makes sure two individuals meet the legal requirements for getting married and have been observed entering the matrimonial estate voluntarily.  Non-technically, the marriage celebrant confers legitimacy, gravitas and permanence upon a sexually exclusive romantic relationship.  A marriage celebrant magically unites a couple publicly in a celebratory manner, with some flowery words.

'If my wedding is officiated by a Minnesota Atheists approved celebrant,' I inquire, 'Will I be correct in saying that Minnesota Atheists looks favorably upon my union?'

From the dues-payer's perspective, that seems problematic:  Receiving Minnesota Atheists' imprimatur might be valuable to a wide variety of folks:  Why limit it to couples getting married?

At the post-meeting dinner at Q.Cumbers, the presenter responds:  The MA-credentialed celebrant is simply wishing the best for the couple, on the organization's behalf.  She is merely ensuring that the couple meets the statutory requirements for marriage.  The MA-credentialed celebrant need not admire PZ Myers, he assures me.

'But isn't the celebrant effectively speaking in the name of Minnesota Atheists, announcing our approval of two individuals?'  He acknowledges for example, that such a celebrant might refuse to unite a couple that includes an openly sexist man.

He makes my point, in other words:  This is a bad idea.  There are other ways than this of fixing the statute's error.  We ought not deputize any individual to confer organizational approval solely upon monogamous unions.

Even now being married enhances one's social acceptance.  One pays a non-negligible social cost for being divorced--and that cost compounds with multiple divorces.  Maybe Minnesotans need to support marriage's exalted status, in part by collectively imposing social costs upon those whose marriages have failed.  I'm skeptical.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


In 2012 one endured a lengthy period of somewhat paralytic unemployment, leaving a dozen years of largely thespian 'commitment' to a NASDAQ-listed corporate entity.

Not an unpleasant experience; it's difficult to find people willing to pay one to surf the internet six hours each day.  Our imaginary individual had achieved an exalted state of apathy toward the notion of 'work,' eventually losing the ability to disguise it.

Under the capitalist wolf one needed some paycheck, however humble--and eventually found the nighttime government factory-ish job in which he now toils in esprit de corps with his couple-dozen workmates, many of whom are recent immigrants from a half-dozen African countries and the Middle East, and with working class whites.

Amid sentimental pleasures, let us note a serious moral / political entrant:  One is asked to join the union.  (One is not required to join the union; reports vary as to whether significant social pressure gets applied, to those unwilling to sign up, though I have experienced quite little.)

The cost of joining the public employees' union amounts to less than two hours of overtime per month--or about $400 annually.

Were the question put to me:  A once yearly fee of $400 is by no means unnoticeable; the cost is not negligible.  But even if it were negligible, I feel I'd have to refuse to join the union, on principle.

When the government needs to purchase stuff, the emphasis should be placed on finding the lowest price available.  As a political liberal it's important to me that the government minimize waste; activist government will only be embraced by the public if we can get it to deliver public goods efficiently.

In the private marketplace a person might think he has no means of negotiating 'fairly' with a rich capitalist--and so he might need a labor union to try to even the playing field, so as to get workers more of the profits they help create.  But the owner of a publicly-owned service provider--USPS, say--is the American people, through whose democratically-elected representatives his employer is managed.

If an employee of a public, federal entity feels she is being treated unfairly, she is free to take her case to her political representatives--or to the streets.

When such workers negotiate collectively--to restrict entry and achieve above-market wages, e.g.--their gains are at the expense of the public.  Such inefficiencies constitute a drag on the economy, impeding growth--and so I am a somewhat unusual liberal in thinking that public employee unions aren't a good idea.

That said, one notes most co-workers do seem to be willing to join the union.  It is a topic I try to avoid bringing up as one doesn't generally seek to invite moral examination.  When they make the decision, they aren't giving any consideration to the best interests of service consumers, or to the impact unionization might have on economic growth--your blogger asserts.

They're thinking that when they milk the system for a little gimme, it will be such a small thing that it will have scarcely any effect.  They're wrong.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ludicrous Ways

A friend from a long-passed decade of my life--now sadly residing a third of a globe distant--has taken unexpected, sometimes odd-seeming ideological turns during our subsequent dispersal. (It would be inconceivable anyone might fire such a salvo at me, I hear you.)

He has morphed these years into one with stridently islamoskeptic positions--e.g. that liberals in the west are willfully idiotic in their enthusiasm to capitulate to every Muslim whim, etc.

I reply mentioning I live in a community with a noticeable Muslim minority and toil closely alongside Muslim co-workers--and don't much get the feeling that these people have it in for western liberalism to the extent you seem to fear, if my audience will allow me to indulge in the second person.

A rational, reasonable atheist, I know not all religions are equally menacing; the historical claims made by mainstream Muslims are dubious in the extreme; to base one's morality upon a text so clogged with known errors is a move I implore Islamic friends and neighbors to ponder, within the context of mutual politeness and respect.

With a friendly Muslim co-worker I get across that my criticism of Christianity is also--in its gentlemanly way--blunt.  The degree of female subordination within local Muslim social life cannot help but shock the conscience--but we join hands in our shared awareness of many of suburban Christianity's absurdities.

I speak as one who believes ludicrous ways of thinking and behaving are daily paid obeisance, within his very own local Catholic parish.

Somewhat dispiritingly I see you expose your vulnerability to that most vapid and discredited criticism of moi--that there is something prurient, wrong or unhinged expressed, in my membership at a local Catholic parish, despite my atheism.

Over the years I have articulated a large number of sound reasons in favor of attending religious services, irrespective of one's affinity for magic-based thinking.  If you would like me to briefly review some of the strongest of these, just say so--otherwise I will assume we all know my position exceedingly clear and unwavering.

I mind-read:  A person prone to the above-noted ideological error harbors this riposte: But there are strong reasons against atheists attending Catholic Mass!

To which I have a standing offer:  Give me one good reason.  Not a taker yet. 

You end with this ejaculation:
...we the HP people have proudly and truculently opposed gender segregation in universities, hate preachers from Muslim backwaters visiting the UK on lecture tours, university authorities chastising atheist societies for ‘offending’ religious [i.e. Muslim] students.  For all this we were attacked by a Muslim group [Loonwatch] in the US, accused by them of being obscurantist neocon Zionists.
In fact I don't know Harry's Place at all well and don't now have time to perform an assessment of it.  That said, you very avoidably err when you pretend to perceive mainstream liberalism as having hitched its saddle to Loonwatch.  There has in fact been no mainstream liberal embrace of Loonwatch; please correct me if you are aware of evidence to the contrary.

The energetically progressive, strongly liberal, high-traffic blog Daily Kos denounces Loonwatch as a fundamentally illiberal splinter fringe front.  Loonwatch does not have mainstream liberalism's esteem.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Eden Prairie, Minnesota
November 15, 2013

Fr. Tim Rudolphi
6820 St. Patrick's Lane
Edina, MN 55439

Hello Fr. Rudolphi,

The other day I received your letter, the envelope stamped ‘SECOND NOTICE – PLEASE REPLY.’  And so I’m replying now.  You’ve asked me to fill out a pledge card, committing myself to some giving level.

I’m somewhat reluctant to do so, as I remain a bit unclear as to whether I’m welcome as a member at St. Patrick’s.  As you’re aware, I’m a polite atheist:  I don’t proselytize within the church, try not to bother anyone, etc.—but I do generally bring a book or newspaper to Mass, to have something productive to do during the boring parts...but I try to be quiet.

I occasionally get involved in conversations with other parishioners—and I’ve noticed that people at the church are sometimes surprised to learn that an atheist is enrolled a member, among them.

If asked, I tell them that years ago I learned that some synagogue-participating Jews are simultaneously unapologetic atheists.  They enjoy participating within their religious institutions for a variety of reasons and are generally welcome there.

It occurred to me that theirs was a good idea:  There are aspects of church membership I enjoy.  Since I had already been a member at St. Patrick’s for decades (while still ‘believing’ in Catholicism, to the extent one can), the church seemed the logical choice—and so I re-joined in 2007 or so.  I try to attend Mass when I’ve got the time, at least once monthly, sometimes more.

When I talk openly with other parishioners, I sometimes encounter hostility.  So I wish I had a better idea of what the church professes, with regard to the non-believer in its midst.  Are we welcome or not?

The church sometimes takes stands I don’t approve of—and under your leadership St. Patrick’s makes it quite difficult for parishioners to complain or take action to change ill-considered policies.  Parishioners are discouraged from meeting with each other to discuss your sermons or Church teachings, for example—and the church library bears a strong resemblance to its North Korean counterpart.

That said, I enjoy attending St. Patrick’s—and I believe the atheist has a constructive role to play, within our parish, since he approaches superstitious claims without bias and is willing to change his views when confronted with persuasive evidence to the contrary (thus far, nil, if you’re curious).

As always, Fr. Rudolphi, I welcome your feedback and always acknowledge your right to believe what you want, without any scintilla of coercion or bullying from me.  I appeal to you solely ‘from one gentleman to another.’

All the best,

Gavin Sullivan

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Adieu October

More than six months ago I joined Minnesota Atheists, so I've been receiving The Minnesota Atheist--the organization's newsletter--for awhile now.  The new one just arrived today, but before opening it I wanted to comment a bit on the October 2013 issue.

On page 4 a volunteer writes up PZ Myers' September address to Minnesota Atheists at the Roseville Library.  PZ Myers--a Lifetime Member--is Minnesota's central celeb atheist and certainly among our state's most widely read bloggers.

Within and without the atheist community, Myers is a lightning rod:  He's the keystone proponent of Atheism+--the movement to tie atheism to a set of ultralib shibboleths, key among them Rebecca Watson-style feminism.

In The Minnesota Atheist of some months ago, an influential member stated that a Minnesota Atheist in good standing might either endorse or not endorse Atheism+.  (Might one actively oppose A+, I asked?--and was stonewalled.)

That said, MN Atheists includes a number of heavy hitters in A+.  The September Roseville event--and Ms. Ehni's coverage of it--incorporate a polite avoidance of the elephant in the room, never acknowledging Dr. Myers' leadership in one beloved and behated faction of the larger movement.

While there are a number of atheist organizations in the state, I've enjoyed being a member of Minnesota Atheists--and even the A+ supporters I've encountered have been friendly.  The organization has 215 regular members (those paying $35 or so annually) and 34 Life members (who kick in a one-time payment of $600).