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This is a post I’ve been meaning to write, and I saw a great tweet this afternoon that inspiring me to decide it’s time to put this out there. The question I’m curious about is, why do the most important things get overlooked?
This is from Bridget Gaudette, the State Director of American Atheists for Florida, and Vice President of Outreach for Secular Woman.
When I used to be a Christian, I always hated the way some preachers preached about sin & hell, and others preached about love and acceptance. According to the New Testament, both were part of Jesus’s message. And both are effective ways to communicate why (if Christianity were actually true), it’s important to be a good Christian. Research has shown that, in fact, the two methods are about equally effective, just depending on the age of the congregation: For older congregations, preaching about hell keeps people from becoming apostates. For younger congregations, preaching love & acceptance draws them into the religion in the first place. [I am sorry that I cannot find the study I want to cite for this; I will keep looking!]. Or rather, what I hated about it is when preachers would bicker at each other over the “right” way to preach. My thinking was always along the lines of, find what works for your congregation, and use it.
I feel like the secular movement has a parallel division. We have talks and panels on accommodation versus confrontation at conferences—Skepticon 3, for example. It is interesting to us, but as a “dismal science” student, I find this a very inefficient use of our time. When we have so many brilliant, secular people in the room together, is whether we should be provocative or socratic really the best use of our time? Surely there are bigger problems a roomful of trained critical-thinkers with an average IQ in the stratosphere can solve.
Or take more topical discussion on sexual harassment policies. While it’s important for the future of our movement that everyone feels safe & comfortable attending conferences—after all, it doesn’t matter WHAT we talk about at conference if no one shows up—I feel like this is a lower priority than some of the other problems atheists face in the world. We’re all on the same side here.
A little while ago, I made a Facebook cover picture. I was responding to the insulting idea that humans are sinners for doing things normal people do, like commit “thoughtcrimes” of lust—we are animals! This is what animals do!—or fail to be “perfect,” as Christians insist we are supposed to be.
(You’re welcome to download this and use it, if you’d like.)
The part that I think says it the most for me is “My only creed: Do that which is right.” This is based on the motto of the Universal Life Church seminary, an online ordination service, whose motto is “Do only that which is right.” I believe the ULC’s motto is a good ideal but unrealistic as a rule. People aren’t perfect and we should do the best we can, but that’s as much as anyone can reasonably ask of us.
This may be hypocritical of me, but I am tired of reading blog posts about this stuff.
This is a call to people who are making conferences difficult for people to attend: Stop being creeps. It’s really that simple. If you can’t stop yourself from being a creep, don’t attend. Most conferences post videos of the talks online later on, so you won’t miss anything. I just feel like it’s time for us to move on from this. People being jailed, beaten, tortured, and killed because they are atheists. Schoolchildren are learning ridiculous nonsense. People with political power are trying to take away access to birth control and abortion. Children are being raped and religious leaders are covering it up. A hundred billion dollars a year is not taxed because it’s being donated to pseudo-charities simply on the basis of their belief in magic. People are dying because they don’t get vaccinated and they spend all their money and time on homeopathy, acupuncture, and other bullshit. Don’t we have better things to be passionately enraged about? I do.
To be clear, I think that it’s great that some bloggers have chosen to focus on this issue. Harassment policies are something we needed in place at conferences. But now that they are, I would like to see us get to more big-picture issues, and more specific policies that affect greater numbers of people more urgently and dangerously. I would like to see more bloggers focus on coming out. I would like to see more bloggers focus on science education advocacy and literacy. I would like to see more bloggers focus on ending oppression. I am not going to make any friends saying this, but I think we can all agree that objectively, someone asking you an inappropriate question at a conference is less of a concern—or should be—than Alexander Aan’s imprisonment, just as the first example off the top of my head. (If you don’t know who that is, this is exactly what I’m talking about).
I know my privilege is showing. If you think I’m wrong, tell me why, and I will respond to your comments. I just want to see the movement be as efficient as possible in accomplishing our longer-term goals.
Dave Muscato is the 2012 Writing Intern for the Secular Student Alliance in Columbus, Ohio. He is also Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com. Opinions posted here do not necessarily reflect the views of MU SASHA, the Secular Student Alliance, nor the Humanist Community at Harvard.
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