The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics

Dear Secular Community: Lest we forget, we’re on the same side.

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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?

Link to original

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

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 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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6 comments on “Dear Secular Community: Lest we forget, we’re on the same side.

  1. Alex Papulis
    July 1, 2012

    I just want to point out that if belief in moral imperatives/requirements (not survival requirements) cannot be justified, that would have consequences for what you’re saying here.

    I mean, what makes something better to be enraged about? Is there really a logic of rage/anger? If someone’s mad about something, what does it mean to say they *should* be more bad about something else? If you’re just drawing their attention to certain issues, in order to get their anger to line up more with yours (in which case they’ll be more likely to act in a way conducive to your goals being met), that’s a different issue, though I don’t think this is what you think you’re doing.

    If someone doesn’t want to be asked inappropriate questions, what do you mean when you say some guy’s imprisonment is a bigger issue? Maybe he cares about his imprisonment more than whoever’s bothered by the questions, but what do you mean when you say his imprisonment is more important?

    I don’t mean to hijack, so you can take these questions as rhetorical. The point is, if morality is false, that has consequences for what is *required* of the movement.

    • MU SASHA Administrator
      July 1, 2012

      Hey Alex!

      I don’t believe I have a logical basis for belief in a naturally-supplied moral imperative, true (naturally-supplied as in non-manmade, although I also think this counts as naturally-supplied). I don’t believe objective morals exist (morals that somehow apply to all people just “because”).

      That doesn’t mean I don’t think that some moral systems aren’t superior to others in terms of happiness to me and people I care about, and my extension, all living things. I want to cause the least amount of suffering to living things, myself included. I know I exist, and it makes me happy to work toward implementing a moral system that makes everyone else suffer as little as possible, including me, whether it turns out that I’m the only person who exists or not. To be clear, I don’t actually believe I’m the only person who exists, but I’m the only person I can prove exists.

      As far as the logic of anger, there’s a difference between “good” anger and “bad” anger. Good anger motivates and helps us understand where our passions – perhaps pathos is a better term than anger or rage. Bad anger is not productive and causes stress-related health problems, etc.

      I’m not sure I understand why you think morality is false. I can understand saying that objective morality can’t be proven, but surely relativism can stand up to logic, even local skepticism about everything except one’s own existence?

      • Alex Papulis
        July 1, 2012


        Like I said, I don’t mean to hijack, so feel free to save a substantive response for another occasion/location.

        Just so we’re on the same page, let me make a (possibly unnecessary) clarification. When I say something like, morality is false in a naturalistic world, by that I mean that there are no moral truths. There are no true statements that go like “one shouldn’t…”, “I should…”, “It’s in his well-being…”

        Of course, it’s a different question (with a pretty obvious answer, I would say) whether or not people hold to moral beliefs, i.e. positive beliefs about right and wrong, etc.

        I think to avoid confusion, we should avoid talking about “moral system” unless we mean something like a set of moral beliefs. We can contrast this with something like, “decision system” or “principles”, by which we mean how a person makes decisions, or perhaps a set of behaviors that a person chooses to engage in or abstain from. I’d say it’s likely that most people have something like a decision system, though it may not be something they’re conscious of as such.

        I don’t deny that if people live by different decision systems or principles, that the outcomes will be different. When people have different principles they live by, they make different decisions, and different decisions tend to lead to different outcomes.

        Likewise, I don’t deny that different states of affairs (more secularism, less pain, perhaps) will be desired or disliked by you, and that by your promoting different sets of principles among others, these things might be more efficiently accomplished. In regards to anger, we can say that some anger is conducive to getting what we desire, other anger less conducive.

        In short, there’s no issue with you having desires and being able to do things to have them fulfilled. Desires, however, are not correct or incorrect, and if morality is false, then it’s never true that one shouldn’t (or should) seek the object of any given desire.

        So, while the secular movement can obviously be more or less effective in reaching goals, what the goals will be at any given point is not a matter for reason. If morality is false, then for any given possible goal, it’s not the case that the movement should (or shouldn’t) seek the achievement of that goal. If people are more inclined to work against inappropriate questions, fine. If not, again, fine. There aren’t more or less important issues (i.e. those which should be given more or less attention), just more or less cared about issues, those for which a resolution is more or less desired. So when people within the movement have differing goals or desires, there can’t be any appeal to reason to change focus.

        Now, this isn’t to say that one can’t say “Look, your desires are XYZ, but what we’re doing gets us UVW. If we change the way we operate, we can get what we want.” Efficiency or effectiveness is one thing, but if the goals or underlying desires aren’t the same, then we’re dealing with a different issue.

        Finally, I think morality is false in a naturalistic world because it is metaphysically incompatible. I don’t want to go through it all here, if you don’t mind. I very briefly lay out the problem as a note in my post on atheism, politics, and bigotry, and if you care to, you can see what I’ve written on reddit. I would really just suggest you read the first chapter of J. L. Mackie’s Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong.

        I will say this about relativism: if the existence of moral values, properties, entities, etc. is incompatible with naturalism, then it’s true for relativism as much as non-relativism.

        This was really long, so like I said, feel free to save a substantive response, if you would like to make one, for a different occasion/location.

  2. mkb
    July 1, 2012

    Well said.

  3. Tara
    July 1, 2012

    I’m sure some people will be pissed at you for posting this but I think you have a very good point. I actually haven’t been as good at keeping up on my atheist blog reading because so many have been all talking about the sexual harassment at conferences. I’m a woman and even I’m like give it a rest.

  4. rocketkirchner
    July 3, 2012

    Actually i dont think that your priviledge shows as much as maybe your naitivity . Did you really think that when you forsook your faith you would find that securalists are any more concerned about social justice and social injustice than a relgiuos practioner ? Hardly.
    why is this ? becuase the issue at bottem is not the secular verses the relgiuos but the tyranny of self and the poisen of selfishnss and pettyness as the root of all oppression .

    in the light of that fact , a re-reading of gospels in the context of its time and how jesus turned the order of its day right side up , mainly for women since all the men come off lookig like idiots and traitors to him and the women dont. When seen in the light of the individual verses Empire , the Christ story sets up a blueprint for the treatment of others that is tuff to beat .

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This entry was posted on July 1, 2012 by in Author: Dave Muscato, In The News.
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