On April 14th, blogger Greta Christina posted this screed, upbraiding the organization American Atheists for their recent outreach to conservatives at CPAC. Ms. Christina then goes on to relay a series of “incidents” that she heard about at the recent, American Atheists convention, and concludes that these “incidents” were at least partially caused by American Atheists’ CPAC outreach. She then goes on to strawman the views of conservative atheists, and smears all conservatives as being racist, homophobic, sexist, etc, She then goes on to conflate disagreement with “microagressions” and “harassment.” She ends the article by claiming that American Atheists is alienating the “wrong people” (presumably the people that agree with Ms. Christina), in order “to court people, whose values… are toxic and vile.” As an atheist who considers myself a fiscal conservative/libertarian, I would like to offer a response to this poorly written smear piece.
Greta Christina’s laundry list of petty grievances
At the beginning of her piece, Ms. Christina mentions a laundry list of “incidents” that she claims occurred at the recent American Atheists convention in Memphis. When I first read the article, I assumed that she was going to present troubling events and then try to blame them on conservatives. I was surprised to read a laughable list of “incidents” where Ms. Christina is angry about people saying things that she doesn’t like-most of the time, it is simply people disagreeing with her. She also offers no evidence that any of these “incidents” has any relationship to American Atheist’s conservative outreach. Let’s take a look each of the supposedly troubling “incidents” that Ms. Christina lists.
The first incident that Ms. Christina mentions involves blackface. At first glance, this appears like it could be troubling indeed. Was somebody going around at the American Atheists dressed in blackface? No,. Instead, Ms. Christina tells the story of a (presumably drunk) man who sat next to her and an african-American friend at the hotel bar. According to Ms. Christina, after a few minutes of conversation, the man told her that he dressed as a black person for halloween and that he didn’t think it was offensive. That’s it-there is no mention of him using racial slurs or otherwise disparaging african-Americans. While I would agree that it is rude and inappropriate to start conversations about contentious issues with random strangers at a bar(and it is especially rude to start an argument with a stranger), this isn’t really an incident of racism, but rather simply a drunk person behaving like a rude asshole. Ms. Christina offers no evidence to indicate that this person is a conservative or any reason to believe that his obnoxious behavior was a function of his political views. Of all the incidents that are listed this is the most serious, yet it is nothing more than a drunk being rude. The subsequent “incidents” are even more laughable.
The next “incident” Ms. Christina mentions involves fellow “Freethought” blogger Heina Dadabhoy. Heina Dadabhoy is an ex-Muslim who sometimes speaks and writes about her opinions of Islam. Ms Christina laments the fact that several people (Oh no!) had talked to Ms. Dadabhoy and expressed opinions about Islam that she disagreed with. That’s it, that is the extent of Ms. Christina (and presumably Ms. Dadabhoy’s) grievance. While being an ex-Muslim would possibly make Ms. Dadabhoy more knowledgeable about Islam than some other people, that fact alone does not make every opinion of hers on Islam correct. It certainly should not give her the expectation that nobody should be able to express a different opinion to her. Ms. Christina’s idea that American Atheists should be concerned about people disagreeing with Heina Dadabhoy is absolutely absurd.
The next “incident” that Ms. Christina whines about is the keynote speech by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ms. Cristina selectively quotes a small snippet of the speech and claims that Hirsi Ali minimized and ignored discrimination and hatred towards gay people in America. That is simply not the case-she simply compares the magnitude of the problem of anti-gay discrimination in the United States with the magnitude of the problem in the Islamic world. In parts of her speech, Ms. Hirsi Ali explicitly states that gay people face subtle discrimination in the United STates, and even praises Apple CEO Tim Cook for informing the public about the problems faced by LGBT Americans. The full speech that Ms. Cristina selectively quoted from can be viewed here. Michael Nugent deconstructs a similar argument (with the same selective quoting) made by PZ Myers here. In this complaint, Ms. Christina is either being deliberately dishonest, or she did not even bother to watch the speech that she is complaining about. Whether the complaint is rooted in ignorance or dishonesty, it deserves to be ignored. One thing to note is that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an ex-Muslim, just like Heina Dadabhoy. One might notice Ms. Christina’s selective outrage about criticism of ex-Muslims- when people disagree with Heina Dadabhoy it is an outrage that shouldn’t be allowed to happen again, but when Ms. Christina disagrees with Hirsi Ali, it is perfectly alright to voice that disagreement and even alright to dishonestly misrepresent Hirsi Ali’s words when doing so. It is quite the double-standard, and it appears to indicate that Ms. Cristina’s primary concern is simply silencing those that she disagrees with.
The next “incident” mentioned is the silliest and most ridiculous of all- Ms. Christina is outraged that one of her friends got into an argument on Twitter with someone that had a table at the convention. Apparently, sometime during the convention, Rebecca Hensler of “Grief Beyond Belief”, got into a brief Twitter exchange with Kristine Kruszelnicki, who is part of a secular anti-abortion group. Due to the level of concern expressed about the Twitter argument, one would expect that their was an angry exchange with vile slurs or threats, but that is not the case at all. The entire respectful Twitter exchange can be seen here. Ms. Christina is upset that Ms. Kruszelnicki stated that crisis pregnancy centers are far from perfect but she works to improve them. That is it, that is all. Greta Christina is outraged that someone at the convention disagreed with her friend on Twitter, and she actually expects American Atheists to take steps to prevent such “incidents” from happening again. Her position is so ludicrous that it has reached the point of self-parody. Ms. Christina also takes some cheap shots at Ms. Kruzelnicki’s organization, even claiming it is comparable to “Humanists for Jim Crow”. While I personally am strongly in favor of abortion rights (I am even an occasional donor to abortion rights organizations), I recognize that all opponents of abortion are not raging misogynists motivated out of hatred towards women. Ms. Christina’s constant need to smear and misrepresent her ideological opponents just further illustrates her complete inability to have a reasonable debate about anything.
The final “incident” again involves Heina Dadabhoy. According to Ms. Christina, Ms. Dadabhoy told a person that she felt that “anti-feminist” atheists present a more “credible threat” to her physical safety than Islamists do. Apparently, this person responded that he was an “anti-feminist” but would protect her from anyone that tried to do harm to her. Ms. Christina (and possibly Ms. Dadabhoy) are outraged by this remark, but why? Reasonable people do not condone violent acts against those that disagree with them. Any decent person would intervene to protect someone from physical harm, regardless of whether or not that person is an ideological enemy. What is the the reason for taking offense? Perhaps Ms. Christina’s constant need to demonize and silence her ideological opponents is an indication that she doesn’t feel the same way-perhaps she could not conceive of protecting an ideological enemy from physical harm. As to Ms. Dadabhoy’s claim-she is entitled to her opinion, but it seems to be contradicted by the facts. I am not aware of any incidents of atheist bloggers or speakers being violently attacked by “anti-feminist atheists”. On the other hand, there have been two atheist bloggers murdered in recent months by islamists, as well as high profile attacks by islamists on ideological enemies like Charlie Hebdo(it should be mentioned that the chance of an atheist blogger being attacked in America by islamists is still extremely low).
Strawmanning and smearing atheist conservatives
After expounding on her petty list of perceived slights, Ms. Christina goes into a fact and evidence free rant smearing and denouncing conservatives as the embodiment of every form of evil that she can imagine. In the style of right-wing blowhards like Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter, she offers no substantive criticism of conservative positions, and only offers smears- simply labeling them as sexists, racists, homophobes, etc. While I will not waste time addressing her unsupported ad hominem smears, the errors in what she says go far deeper than that. Ms. Christina also presents a strawman picture of conservative atheists, and makes the erroneous argument that all “conservatives” hold the same exact views on every single issue.
“Conservative”, “liberal”, and “libertarian” are nebulous terms that can mean different things to different people. The fact that two people may identify with a given term does not mean that they subscribe to the same definition of the term. The platforms of the two major political parties do not always correspond neatly with those groups either, and that further muddles things. While there are normally some common views among the groups (otherwise the terms would have no value whatsoever), there is invariably a diversity of views among any group of people who identify with the same political group. The obvious error in Great Christina’s description of conservatives is that she is claiming that all conservatives hold the same exact views as hardcore social conservatives. She throws out the example of Phil Robertson as if all conservatives agree with his anti-gay views. She claims that all conservatives oppose abortion, oppose, gay-rights, and support the war on drugs.
She is absolutely, completely wrong about this. There are a large group of libertarian leaning conservatives that are socially liberal but fiscally conservative. Many of these people attend CPAC. While it is true that social conservatives have an outsized influence at CPAC, that does not mean that the libertarian types don’t exist. Just as one example, former GOP(now Libertarian) Gov. Gary Johnson has spoken at CPAC for the last several years. He supports drug legalization, abortion rights, and same-sex marriage (a position he endorsed before President Obama did). While it may be a difficult concept for someone as smug and arrogant as Greta Christina to understand, many voters prioritize issues differently than she does. That is why a person who prioritizes economic growth/economic freedom over abortion rights might vote for somebody like Mitt Romney even if they were liberal on social issues like abortion rights. It seems that Ms. Christina can’t comprehend this though-she appears to believe that voting for a candidate implies that the voter believes in every position that the candidate and their party hold (at least for conservatives).
Greta Christina also makes the silly claim that libertarian types don’t exist. She states:
“And don’t come at me with “fiscally conservative, socially liberal.” That’s bullshit.”
Of course, being Greta Christina, she doesn’t really articulate why that is “bullshit”, but she promises to write a blog post on it at a later time. For the meantime though, she just claims that fiscal conservatives are the same laundry list of bad things that plain old conservatives are, She tries to assert that As someone who holds, fiscally conservative and socially liberal political views, I can assure you that I do exist, and there are many others with similar views.
Redefining opposing views as “microagressions”
After she is finished smearing and misrepresenting conservatives, Ms. Christina moves on to the most revealing part of her post. She also makes clear why she included her silly list of “incidents: at the beginning of her post. She writes:
“If American Atheists is successful in courting conservative atheists, and if more conservative atheists start coming to our conventions and joining our local organizations, then incidents like the ones I described are going to happen more. They’re going to happen more at conferences, in local community groups, in online forums — anywhere our community gathers.”
This is very revealing. She evokes the conservative boogeyman to imply that more conservatives in atheism will mean more “incidents” like the ones she listed. Putting aside the fact that there is no reason to believe that conservatives had anything to do with what happened, the list of “incidents” is absolutely ridiculous. With the exception of the very first one (which was nothing more than a rude/annoying conversation at a bar), all of the incidents are simply people expressing views that Greta Christina disagrees with. One incident was nothing more than a polite tweet from someone that she disagreed with! Ms. Christina is revealing her true intent-she simply wants American Atheists to exclude people that she disagrees with.
She then writes:
“You can have all the harassment policies and codes of conduct you want. You can say in your conference program and your conference website that you prohibit “harassment related to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, religion.” Those are good things, and many of us in this community fought hard for them. But if you’re deliberately courting people who are seriously retrograde on these issues, the effect of that policy is going to be limited at best. At best, it puts marginalized people attending your events in a position where we’re coping with a barrage of microaggressions; a position where we have to decide which microaggressions rise to the level of a policy violation, and whether we even have the energy to deal with reporting them. At best, it sends mixed signals: your code of conduct says one thing, but your dog-whistle to conservatives says another, and the people your policy is supposedly there to protect are not going to trust you to take action. At worst, it sends a signal that’s crystal clear: We don’t want to be perceived as racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. — but we’re going out of our way to court members who are all those things.”
Here she goes even further. She brings up harassment policies and then tries to frame her petty complaints as instances of harassment. She throws around the term “microagressions”, implying that these incidents where people disagreed with her constituted “harassment” by a barrage of said “microagressions.” She feels that American Atheists should exclude conservatives to protect her from the “microagressions” of people disagreeing with her. She ends by listing strawman versions of the views held by her ideological opponents and offers how those strawman views would offend people, The main point of her post seems to be that she wants American Atheists to exclude anyone who disagrees with her so as not to offend her and her friends. It is apparent that if Greta Christina’s is successful in her efforts to get conservatives excluded she won’t just stop there- she will continue to claim offense until every person that disagrees with her is pushed away.
My advice for American Atheists
Greta Christina’s idea that American Atheists should exclude conservatives (and pretty much anyone else who disagrees with her) are completely without merit and should be ignored. Her desire for complete ideological conformity is troubling, and it is something one would expect to find in a fundamentalist religious organization, not an atheist one, A healthy debate and a diversity of opinion is something that should be encouraged, and it certainly doesn’t constitute “harassment”. I am glad to see American Atheists reaching out to conservative atheists too, and I hope that such outreach continues (and I hope it expands to libertarians).
People like Greta Christina are toxic to the success of an organization. She is perpetually aggrieved, and will not allow anyone to present an opposing view without smearing them or crying :harassment”. She acts as if American Atheists is her own private social club, where she can simply get rid of anyone she doesn’t like. You don’t need someone like that involved in your organization, and she would probably be happier working with an organization that she can fully control (I heard atheism plus needs people.) My last piece of advice is this-don’t give toxic people like that speaking slots at your convention.