Yes, I’ve written an imaginary PR e-mail from Edwina Rogers, the controversial new Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America, based on conjectures and false hopes and a little bit of AbFab. It seemed the thing to do.
“I want to start off with an apology for something I feel like I, and the SCA, have done a poor job of. We’ve done a poor job of introducing me and an incredibly poor job of reaching out to opinion leaders in the atheist movement. Undoubtedly, the behind-closed-doors decision to make what was bound to be a controversial hiring decision should have been tempered by a more comprehensive and immediate introduction and explanation of why I, of all people, was chosen for this position.
I have identified as a non-theist for a long time, but I am very new to this movement. This is not because I don’t care about the issues you care about, I very much do, but they have not been my focus and, because of that, I really didn’t realize how bad things were until recently. My career and my focus have been very issue centered, some of these issues overlapped with my own secular beliefs, but the fact is that issue-focused work tends to create a very insular worldview. So, in many ways, I am a recent convert, not to your beliefs, but to your cause.
Which is where I have made another mistake. This community is very engaged and very well-informed and I have done my best to educate myself quickly, but there are things I have missed on the way. My recollection of statistics about Republicans from 20 years ago, for example, is not really the best gauge of Republicans now. Sometimes I forget that that was an entire generation ago, it doesn’t seem that long to me. And I have to admit that my claims that the majority of Republicans are pro-choice, OK with gay rights, and for the separation of church and state were as much a result of wishful thinking as they were of ignorance. I have had statistics shown to me that do indeed prove I was dead wrong on this front.
And I need your help on this front. I am trying, but I just am not as well-educated about this as those people who have focused on this cause their whole lives. I know the goals of the coalition and am well-versed in those goals and don’t doubt my ability to execute them, but as for the wider culture of the secular movement and the less specific goals thereof, I will need more time to learn the nuances, and I hope you will help me rather than condemning me for my neophyte status.
My final big mistake is that I’ve been trying to focus exclusively on my positives without acknowledging my negatives and without engaging with them openly and honestly. This is a fault of being in politics, it makes you quite the bullshit artist. I should have known better in this community than to think I could dance around questions without being called on it. So let me say that you are right. You are right that I’ve worked for and support a party that disagrees, in majority but not in totality, with many of your goals. But I was working for causes that I cared very deeply about, and I will not apologize for doing that. And I will not abandon my party because other people have taken it in a direction I disagree with. It is better for all of us if we can bring the party back in line with the goals of the secular community and I really do think that is possible.
So, just to recap, I haven’t done a good enough job introducing myself, I haven’t had the time to educate myself as thoroughly as the community is educated, and I have not been clear on acknowledging that there were some negatives to my background. That said, I think I bring a lot to the table that I hope you can appreciate.
I am an experienced lobbyist and I know the workings of DC very well. I have led coalitions in the past and had great success. Although my work with Republicans is difficult for many of you to accept, it gives me an in to people who might not otherwise be as interested in hearing what we have to say. And I am legitimately, passionately interested in promoting this cause. I did not simply apply because I needed a job — I had a job, one that was a lot less contentious — I applied because I have become aware of some of the horrible inequities in this country for people who are secular. I am just as horrified as all of you at the degree of influence the Christian Right has on the government, and I want to change that. I have the credentials to do the job from a strictly political side, but I promise you that I am here because I want to be, because this cause is important to me, and because I think that I personally can make a difference through this position with the SCA.
The SCA chose me because I was, in their opinion, the best person for the job. I wouldn’t dream of asking you to take it on faith that theirs was the best choice, but I hope that you can give me a chance and the benefit of the doubt for a little while. I look forward to talking with you at conferences and through our local organizations. Together, I really do think we can change this country in meaningful ways on important issues.
Sean Faircloth is the writer of the excellent book that I am currently reading on my kindle, “Attack of the Theocrats! How the Religious Right Harms Us All“. He also has some very impressive speeches that he’s given over the past several years working with the Secular Coalition of America and the Richard Dawkins Foundation; and he’ll be at the Reason Rally this weekend.
The following is a speech about child abuse at the hands of the religious.
THIS IS WHY
This is why it’s absolutely necessary for secular people to make their voice heard, because it is not being heard by the government. The government is so overwhelmingly controlled by the religious that they have carved out special rights that destroy people’s lives. If adults want to throw their lives into the nonsense, that’s one thing, but harm perpetrated against children should be an offense to everyone.
So, I will see you at the Reason Rally. This is our opportunity to demand a voice. To speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
(Another excellent resource about religious child abuse is “Breaking Their Will” by Janet Heimlich. I read it last year and it was not only a very fair book, in terms of its approach to mainstream faith, but also a very disturbing and necessary book about child abuse and how cults and religions lead to it.)
I want to like Barbara Drescher’s blog, and I really try, because she’s really smart and usually makes solid arguments and we’re FB friends. She is generally quite knowledgeable and I agree with her a fair amount — perhaps my difficulty is a generational thing, because where I disagree with her, it always feels like a personal attack from her. Her recent series of posts really rankled, despite the fact that I don’t feel like I am accurately described by her general complaints of the new kids in the movement. I really tried to see her point of view, and I just cannot, and reading them just makes me feel irritated and insulted.
My trouble with Drescher is, and always has been, her constant dismissal of anyone who doesn’t have credentials that live up to her personal standards. Anyone who is too young, anyone who doesn’t have the right degree, or a high enough degree, or enough time devoted to the movement, or hasn’t read enough of the “right” books doesn’t have the right to be a part of the movement. It’s academic elitism at its very worst, and if her approach to skepticism was the only one, we’d lose a lot of voices, and with them a lot of people who are interested in the movement.
It’s as though she wants to be the self-appointed arbiter of who should and who shouldn’t be allowed to speak. And, admittedly, wouldn’t we all like to have that power? Perhaps the “old guard” thinks of skepticism as their baby, so when it changes or has an influx of numbers, that change is scary, regardless of whether it is positive or negative. Growth is healthy for a movement, but it also means that it changes in ways that are unpredictable and difficult to navigate — perhaps we’re in second or third wave skepticism.
And this is where it seems the “old guard” should step in and be mentors for new members, to reach out to them, to include them — to educate them about the movement in a way that doesn’t seem to say “I’m better than you, you should shut up.” Hey! Tone! Maybe she thinks being elitist will make people want to be part of the elite too? That sort of makes sense in my mind. Or maybe she’s trying to get people to stop contributing without getting a PhD in Skeptology? I’m not sure what her goal is. And perhaps that is intentional, I am not part of her “we”, I am part of the influx of new people from the atheist crowd who are taking over skepticism for our own nefarious purposes.
She seems to operate under a wish for the movement to remain small, both in number of contributors and in size of impact. Does she dislike the idea of a big movement? I don’t understand it at all. I can’t fathom why someone would want to denigrate the young contributors who are the people most likely to ensure the future promotion of skepticism.
And I literally cannot comprehend, in a way that makes me feel like I must be missing something, this tendency for the “old guard” to want to keep skepticism away from subjects that impact people’s daily lives in massively important ways. I just don’t understand intentionally limiting the scope when doing so keeps skepticism from being relevant to most people.
Maybe this is the crux of the issue. Skepticism to me is an approach to improving the world, a thought process that can be applied to everything, and that should be applied to much more of what happens around us every day. I suspect that Drescher feels the same way, it’s just that we differ on what we think is appropriate to skept.
I am angry because an influx of people who have stumbled upon or been recruited to the work of Skepticism are making it much more difficult. We’re moving backwards. This is happening, in part, because some of these rookies insist that their understanding of that work is as good or better than the understanding of people who have studied and worked in the field for years. Many have little or no education in the basics of science or the scientific process. Some claim to follow the teachings of people whose works they have never read. Some believe that the ‘old guard’ have more to learn from them than the other way around. These people voice their opinions on blogs and in talks, discussing topics about which they consider themselves competent after reading a couple of blog posts, listening to a podcast, considering their own limited experiences, or MAYBE reading a book or two on the topic.
What’s worse, they argue about details with little or no understanding of even the big picture. They believe that their understanding is complete and, therefore, requires no study, no thought beyond the surface features, and certainly not time or mentoring.
And I skept at her claims. I mean, I believe she’s angry, I just don’t believe that we’re moving backwards, that rookies are a bad thing, or that they’re as uneducated as she claims, nor that they are any more convinced of being right than anyone else in the movement — there are a lot of hardheaded people in the movement, including just about everyone in the “old guard”. I also think that the old guard could always learn something from the new kids, because they have a different perspective, and shutting yourself off to that makes you irrelevant quickly. Why is it that people forget what it is like to be young, to be passionate, to want to effect change? Why do they constantly try to bridle that with insults instead of trying to help? I am really bothered by the dismissal of young people, as though they are not fully-formed people who deserve respect and consideration.
I was fortunate enough, in my myriad wanderings through this world wide web, to come across something that’s going on this Easter weekend, which is Blog Against Theocracy.
So, I’m writing an entry for it, because I’m anti-theocracy, which doesn’t necessarily mean anti-religious, but I am also anti-religious. I am not, however, against believing in God, or being spiritual, but I have a real problem with the political power structure that envelopes most organized religions.
I feel that religions take advantage of people who are at their most vulnerable, people who are scared, lonely, facing death, grieving, or simply at a loss as to the meaning of life. These are serious, debilitating issues that everyone faces and religion offers an easy fix for them. “Don’t fear being alone, Jesus loves you; don’t fear death, for you will go to heaven, and so will the loved ones you’ve lost. Also, could you please donate a tenth of your net worth so that we can proselytize to help other weak and pathetic people in need and use that money to take advantage of politicians and control the government protect your interests.”
It’s incredibly difficult to live in this country without religious support. Nothing in the country offers anything like the instant support, acceptance, friendship and network that religion does. Most fraternities and sororities, the boy scouts, 12 step programs, many summer camps, many schools, and the pledge of allegiance (since 1954) all demand your belief in a higher power. I live alone in Los Angeles, I don’t have a lot of friends, I don’t have a support network. I am incredibly vulnerable to the appeal of joining a church or synagogue. I mean, I’m in the entertainment industry, and I’m not Jewish or a Scientologist, how am I ever going to make it?
Religions are a power structure. They are cults, they offer you the chance to fit in with a group, to be supported by the group, so long as you toe the line. You get pressured into supporting irrational ideas, financially and politically. You get put on the ground to do things that no sane person would do on their own. They are incredibly political groups that are about self-promotion, self-protection, and getting away with as much as they can.
Who, in their right mind, would go to someone’s funeral to say that that person deserved it, were they not egged on by a group of supporters? Who would refuse their child medical care were they not part of a group that demanded it? Who would feel obligated to murder people who had harmed no one if it weren’t for religion? Who would attack or murder a woman seeking an abortion without even asking her why she was doing it? Who would refuse two people legal protection of the state, if it weren’t for their small-minded, 2000 year old book? We’re not talking about isolated incidents, we’re talking about things that happen every day, throughout the country, and all over the world.
The founders were incredibly insightful, separating Church from State, but the problem is that churches are allowed to be states of their own. They are impenetrable, untaxable, untouchable by the state. Do I think that churches should be run by the state, no, but I also don’t think they should be above and outside the law. I don’t think they should be allowed to be engaged in politics and spend millions and millions of dollars to get religious legislation passed. I don’t think they should be allowed to hide their criminals and pedophiles. I don’t think God’s forgiveness should remove someone from legal justice.
And so I wait for the US, founded on ideals it never quite lives up to but always strives to achieve, I wait for it to look at its Constitution and realize it needs to do something to protect itself and its citizens from the constant onslaught of religious nonsense. I wait for it to say that I am deserving of equal protection under the law, that I deserve to be protected from mob rule, that other people’s imaginary friends and ancients books of myths are not more important than science and rationality and basic humanity.