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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

New Atheists, Rape Accusations, Feminism, and Rand's Identity in "Save Send Delete."

Edgar Degas "Interior" aka "The Rape" Source

The other day I received an intriguing email from my friend and colleague Dr. Linda Kornasky. Linda is a feminist and free thinker. Linda alerted me to a conversation Atheists and feminists are having about gender relations in the New Atheist movement. She informed me that there has been an accusation of rape against a high profile American Atheist, and much discussion of other harassment of women Atheists by male Atheists.

By the way, I'm capitalizing "Atheist" here. I'm not talking about all those who don't believe in God, but, rather, a subset of atheists who are organized and who devote time and energy to being part of the New Atheist movement.

Linda suggested something to me. Would I publicly announce the identity of Rand, the pseudonymous Atheist in my book "Save Send Delete"? Linda had read the book and was certain that discussion of it could make significant contributions to the conversation Atheist feminists had been having about gender relations.

I agreed with Linda. I would LOVE to be part of any such discussion. I read the links Linda sent.


Linda sent me a link to a post by Jennifer McCreight, who blogs under the handle "Blag Hag." McCreight's blog post entitled "How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy's Club & Why It's Time for a New Wave of Atheism" included a critique of New Atheism that I agree with 100 percent. This critique was written by Natalie Reed, and it is brilliant – and devastating.

Reed suddenly had a realization. She realized that the New Atheists were often economically elite, white, heterosexual men. She realized that they were "activists" around Atheism, and only Atheism, because they had never experienced misogyny or poverty or racism. The only "enemy" these New Atheist men had ever fought was Christianity – a relatively easy target. In fighting Christianity, they suddenly were able to depict themselves as heroic champions. They could do this without ever looking in any critical way at their own economic, color, and gender privilege.

Reed reported suddenly having "the creepy thought that the reason a lot of outspoken, committed, passionate atheists are choosing [New Atheism] as their arena is because they're too selfish, too entitled, or too sheltered to allow any other issues to really matter to them…

There's some kind of weird psychological need that a lot of people, perhaps in response to feelings that their belief of their privileges being earned is under threat, to valorize and mythologize themselves as valiant Robin Hoods…

What atheism is offering so many middle-class, white, heterosexual, able-bodied men is the capacity to see themselves as these savvy, smart, daring, controversial rogues who are standing up against an oppressive dogma in order to liberate the deluded sheeple…they get to be the heroes of their own narratives, instead of a passive passenger adrift on social forces more or less beyond their control… social forces that happened to guide them into a relatively safe and comfy position.

No matter how limited your views, no matter how much privilege you have, when you prop yourself up against Christianity, you get to be clever, and you get to be the rebel."

Brava, Natalie Reed, brava!

Oh, gosh, my friend Linda Kornasky was so right! I did so want to be part of this conversation Atheist feminists are having! And yes, "Save Send Delete" could contribute to it!

I kept reading.

Again, on Jennifer McCreight's Blag Hag blog, I found one prominent Atheist's reply to a woman critic. I quote it, below. Fair warning. This is a vile piece of writing, purposely written to provoke pain in the reader.

"I will make you a rape victim if you don't fuck off...I think we should give the guy who raped you a medal. I hope you fucking drown in rape semen, you ugly, mean-spirited cow…Is that kind of like the way that rapists dick went in your pussy? Or did he use your asshole…I'm going to rape you with my fist."

There's a lot more to this, but this excerpt gives you the main idea of the whole paragraph.

Shocked, shocked
Atheist feminists are shocked, shocked to discover the worst kinds of misogyny in their ranks.

Their shock is symptomatic of their movement.

Look. Isn't it just a little bit disingenuous for New Atheist feminist to be troubled that New Atheist men speak badly to them and sexually harass them?

Look at their heroes. New Atheist Richard Dawkins compares religion to smallpox. New Atheist Sam Harris suggests that people should be killed for religious belief. New Atheist Christopher Hitchens smeared Mother Teresa. Scientist Pim van Lommel accused New Atheist Michael Shermer of using his column in Scientific American to misrepresent van Lommel's near-death research. New Atheist Daniel Dennett says that Atheists should be called "Brights" because they are smarter than non-Atheists.

Bill Maher's hateful comments about people of faith are too many to quote here. In internet discussions, Atheists frequently refer to Jesus as a "dead Jew on a stick" and communion as "dead Jew zombie cannibalism and vampirism." There's a reason why there is a spate of articles denouncing the New Atheists with one certain adjective: "obnoxious."

New Atheist feminists are shocked, shocked to discover that a community built on hate, unearned privilege, denial of responsibility for others, and violation turns its hate, privilege, irresponsibility and violation on its own.

We've seen this movie before. "Meet the new boss; same as the old boss." It's the repeat of a predictable pattern. The New Atheist movement has the exact same, shopworn and tired flaws that all Utopian movements have.

Utopian movements announce: "The past was really bad! The present status quo is corrupt and flawed! We will create a pristine, flawless future!"

As long as you announce yourself as capable of perfecting the world, the ends justifies the means. You are the savior of humanity, and in the course of that salvation, you allow yourself the right to destroy. You are the iconoclast. "I am become Shiva, the destroyer of worlds." As Maximilian Robespierre said, "You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs." You can't bring on the New Atheist utopia without raping a few naïve followers. Small price to pay!

Nazism, Communism, France's Revolutionary Terror, and various notorious communes, like the Westboro Baptist Church, were and are utopian.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. As long as you insist on perfection, the only reward real life offers – just good enough – forever eludes you. The revolution eats its young. Maximilian Robespierre, known as "The Incorruptible One," was decapitated by his own purifying machine – the guillotine.

I am a Catholic. My church is deeply flawed. New Atheists understand my membership in, and support for, a deeply flawed church as a sign that I am a corrupt fool. They think this because they are intellectually and ethically immature. They don't realize that my membership in the publicly-confessed-as-flawed, trying-to-be-less-flawed Catholic Church is a sign that I am in the exact right church.

A prominent New Atheist has been publicly accused of rape and serial sexual harassment.

How did the New Atheist community respond?

Some women blogged about it. These whistle-blowers have received rape and death threats. At least two found the experience so daunting they publicly announced that they would retire from blogging, or retire from blogging about misogyny among New Atheists.

New Atheist acolytes set up a "defense fund" for the alleged rapist, an economically comfortable minor celebrity who gives no sign of needing extra cash. The fund collected thousands of dollars, in spite of there being no clear immediate need or purpose for the donations that came pouring in, exceeding the fundraisers' target.

I visited the Facebook page of the New Atheist in question. He was ranting about … sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Yes. Really.

Let me make this clear. A New Atheist accused of rape and sexual harassment was publicly excoriating the Catholic Church for sex abuse.

And his devoted little New Atheist acolytes were taking his bait, following along as robotically as a parody of a religious congregation emptily mouthing words in some arcane sacred tongue that in fact is completely void of meaning. "Oh yes," they chanted. "Catholic clerics are so bad because they sexually abuse their blinded and helpless followers," they insisted. "Catholics are such sheep because they don't turn in the alleged rapists."

How do you spell "irony"? I'm dyslexic. I think it's spelled N - E - W -- A - T - H - E - I - S - T.

As a Catholic, I wake up every day knowing that there is mud on my dress. And I know I have to deal with that mud.

I need to be a better person. I need to be more aware of what's going on around me. I need to speak up when I see injustice.

I do that because I live in an imperfect world that I can never perfect. I do that because I want to live up to the foundational documents and example of my faith. Those documents offer us our best map to a better world. We believe that we are all part of God, and all worthy of dignity and respect. We believe in confession and renewal. We are working on it. We are working very hard on what we did wrong and what we can do to make it right.

What are the foundational documents and doctrines of the New Atheists? "We're perfect; you're scum." See where that gets you.

There's something else that the hardcore New Atheist utopians miss. Not-perfectible humans, no matter who they are and what they believe, all share fundamental flaws. Those flaws are not rooted in religion that is something you can eliminate with your guillotines of perfection. Those flaws are rooted in human nature which you can never escape.

You are a charismatic leader who believes in God? You will be tempted to sexually abuse followers.

You are a charismatic leader who doesn't believe in God? You will be tempted to sexually abuse your followers.

Jettison belief in God and you will still burp and fart and your feet will still stink. The hardcore New Atheists really don't get that. No utopians do. That is why they are so dangerous, and so wrong.

So, for today, I will decline Linda's intriguing invitation, and I won't reveal, not in this blog post anyway, Rand's identity. Speaking is good, but being heard is necessary for dialogue, and I'm not confident that New Atheists can hear a Catholic, even if we are all feminists. And, yes, I acknowledge that I am not a name, and my book is not a bestseller, and probably most people don't really care who Rand is.


Natalie Reed's blog post entitled "All In," which included the above-quoted critic of the New Atheist movement can be found here.

Jennifer McCreight's blog entitled "How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy's Club & Why It's Time for a New Wave of Atheism" can be found here.

Jennifer McCreight's blog entitled "Scratch the Amazing Atheist Off Your List, Too," which included the Atheist's ugly response to a woman, can be found here.



  1. Another great piece of writing, Di. Give 'em Hell... uh, indeterminate nothingness? Whatever...
    Great blog none the less.


  2. Danusha, your pessimism about being heard is understandable but is perhaps unjust to both camps. We've listened to each other, even though we disagree on the truth and underlying purpose of the Catholicism we both grew up in. And I think you listened to "Rand" and he listened to you, in the dialogue you depicted in your book. Neither position, theist or atheist, should be reduced to the almost identical insults that proponents on both sides have hurled at each other. According to Judeo-Christian scripture and many religious leaders, atheists (New Atheists as well as old) are immoral fools, and New Atheists have hyperbolically made the same claims about theists.

    For me as a feminist, the more important issue than such a competition of insults is what religion does to women's lives. I wish that more women realized that a tradition of feminist freethinking and humanism exists, as does feminist Catholic (and other kinds of religious) theology. Consider for instance Elizabeth Cady Stanton's insights, predating New Atheism by a century:

    “You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded woman... I have been traveling over the old world during the last few years and have found new food for thought. What power is it that makes the Hindoo woman burn herself upon the funeral pyre of her husband? Her religion. What holds the Turkish woman in the harem? Her religion. By what power do the Mormons perpetuate their system of polygamy? By their religion. Man, of himself, could not do this; but when he declares, 'Thus saith the Lord,' of course he can do it. So long as ministers stand up and tell us Christ is the head of the church, so is man the head of woman, how are we to break the chains which have held women down through the ages? You Christian women look at the Hindoo, the Turkish, the Mormon women, and wonder how they can be held in such bondage...

    Now I ask you if our religion teaches the dignity of woman? It teaches us the abominable idea of the sixth century--Augustine's idea--that motherhood is a curse; that woman is the author of sin, and is most corrupt. Can we ever cultivate any proper sense of self-respect as long as women take such sentiments from the mouths of the priesthood?”

    More recently, and from a formerly Catholic perspective, there is Julia Sweeney's feminist take on atheism in "Letting Go of God."


  3. Linda, thank you for your thoughtful reply. You and I do disagree in our assessments of Christianity, but we agree on respectful discourse, and that is a good thing.