Check your privilege! Part 2

In my last post, I discussed white privilege and how to find out if you have it. Now I want to turn to another kind of privilege, one that is particularly relevant to the atheist community right now. I have already talked about the many recent examples of sexism and misogyny that have dogged atheism recently. Now I would like to talk about sexism in the light of male privilege. Before getting into the details of male privilege, I would like to highlight a recent issue: the one that gave rise to Atheism+.

When Jen McCreight said

I don’t feel safe as a woman in this community – and I feel less safe than I do as a woman in science, or a woman in gaming, or hell, as a woman walking down the fucking sidewalk

a whole can of worms opened up. Many people understood, sympathized, or empathized with Jen’s statement. Other people blew up, arguing that this was a ridiculous statement: how is it possible not to be safer at a convention – in a room full of people – than walking down the street? Another class of response was to ask for evidence: what is the evidence that you are safer on the street than at a con? The latter two types of response are missing the point. Jen did not claim that as a woman she is safer on the street than at a con; this would have been a claim that could be supported or refuted with evidence from research on the relative frequency of assaults on women in different settings. Neither did she claim that as Jen McCreight she is safer on the street than at a con. I doubt there is any published research on this question, but Jen would be able to offer up data regarding all the times she has been attacked in different settings. Of course, this may not satisfy the most hyper-skeptical among us as these would be anecdotal data. But why am I even making the distinction between Jen-as-a-woman and Jen-as-Jen-McCreight? This distinction is relevant because, in the context of a public atheist/skeptic event, she is not just one of many women walking around. She is a woman who has

“received sexual invitations from strangers around the country”,

who has been

“repeatedly told I can never speak out against people objectifying or sexually harassing me because a joke about my boobs was eternal “consent”,

who has received

“hundreds of comments accusing me being a man-hating, castrating, humorless, ugly, overreacting harpy”,

who has

“become used to being called a cunt or having people threaten to contact my employers because a feminist can’t be a good scientist.”

In short, she is a public figure in the atheist/skeptical/freethought community who has received many threats of violence. Given this, I can see how Jen may feel less safe in an environment where there is a chance that there are a few individuals who recognize her by sight and wish her ill than in an environment where she is anonymous. This does not seem irrational.

I now want to stress that her claim was not that she is less safe in the atheist community than on the sidewalk, but that she feels less safe in the atheist community than on the sidewalk. This claim does not belong in the class of claims that require, or can be supported or refuted by, evidence. If I were to say “I have a headache” or “I feel sad”, no-one would ask me to provide supporting evidence. People would be happy to accept these statements without challenging the truth-status of these claims. Why? First, because they of little consequence, which I do agree is not true of Jen’s claim. Second, because they are my subjective feelings, and we are typically happy to allow that people have subjective experiences that may not be true for the rest of us at this time, and this second reason is true of Jen’s claim. The key difference, however, is that when I talk of headaches or sadness, others can easily simulate what it feels like to be me because they have probably experienced both of these feelings themselves at many different times in their lives. However, it is not the case – and I am happy that it is not the case – that all of us have felt threatened in the way that Jen describes. This is because we have not been subjected to the same abuse and threats that she has. This makes it potentially harder to simulate what it feels like to be Jen. People who have received threats and have been in public spaces in which those who have issued the threats may also be present will probably have a much easier time simulating what it feels like to be Jen.

All of this talk of phenomenology, alluded to in my last post, is essentially the problem of other minds. If I want to be hyper-skeptical, I can make the argument that I have no way of knowing that other people (or animals) have thoughts, feelings, or any kind of conscious experience that is in any way similar to what I experience.

Given the subjective nature of the claim of feeling less safe, adducing the threats received by Jen is not even necessary for accepting that her feelings regarding specific places or situations may differ from other people’s. It is quite possible that Jen could feel safer in one situation than another even if she were not well-known to the atheist community and had not been the recipient of harassment.

The example I have discussed is a specific case of a more general problem: empathizing with others, or – if empathy is not possible because one has no similar experiences to draw upon – accepting the idea that different people have different experiences. That was the point of the White Privilege Pop Quiz, and it is also the point of Barry Deutsch’sMale Privilege Checklist:

1. My odds of being hired for a job, when competing against female applicants, are probably skewed in my favor. The more prestigious the job, the larger the odds are skewed.

2. I can be confident that my co-workers won’t think I got my job because of my sex – even though that might be true.

3. If I am never promoted, it’s not because of my sex.

4. If I fail in my job or career, I can feel sure this won’t be seen as a black mark against my entire sex’s capabilities.

5. I am far less likely to face sexual harassment at work than my female co-workers are.

6. If I do the same task as a woman, and if the measurement is at all subjective, chances are people will think I did a better job.

7. If I’m a teen or adult, and if I can stay out of prison, my odds of being raped are relatively low.

8. On average, I am taught to fear walking alone after dark in average public spaces much less than my female counterparts are.

9. If I choose not to have children, my masculinity will not be called into question.

10. If I have children but do not provide primary care for them, my masculinity will not be called into question.

11. If I have children and provide primary care for them, I’ll be praised for extraordinary parenting if I’m even marginally competent.

12. If I have children and a career, no one will think I’m selfish for not staying at home.

13. If I seek political office, my relationship with my children, or who I hire to take care of them, will probably not be scrutinized by the press.

14. My elected representatives are mostly people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more this is true.

15. When I ask to see “the person in charge,” odds are I will face a person of my own sex. The higher-up in the organization the person is, the surer I can be.

16. As a child, chances are I was encouraged to be more active and outgoing than my sisters.

17. As a child, I could choose from an almost infinite variety of children’s media featuring positive, active, non-stereotyped heroes of my own sex. I never had to look for it; male protagonists were (and are) the default.

18. As a child, chances are I got more teacher attention than girls who raised their hands just as often.

19. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether or not it has sexist overtones.

20. I can turn on the television or glance at the front page of the newspaper and see people of my own sex widely represented.

21. If I’m careless with my financial affairs it won’t be attributed to my sex.

22. If I’m careless with my driving it won’t be attributed to my sex.

23. I can speak in public to a large group without putting my sex on trial.

24. Even if I sleep with a lot of women, there is no chance that I will be seriously labeled a “slut,” nor is there any male counterpart to “slut-bashing.”

25. I do not have to worry about the message my wardrobe sends about my sexual availability.

26. My clothing is typically less expensive and better-constructed than women’s clothing for the same social status. While I have fewer options, my clothes will probably fit better than a woman’s without tailoring.

27. The grooming regimen expected of me is relatively cheap and consumes little time.

28. If I buy a new car, chances are I’ll be offered a better price than a woman buying the same car.

29. If I’m not conventionally attractive, the disadvantages are relatively small and easy to ignore.

30. I can be loud with no fear of being called a shrew. I can be aggressive with no fear of being called a bitch.

31. I can ask for legal protection from violence that happens mostly to men without being seen as a selfish special interest, since that kind of violence is called “crime” and is a general social concern. (Violence that happens mostly to women is usually called “domestic violence” or “acquaintance rape,” and is seen as a special interest issue.)

32. I can be confident that the ordinary language of day-to-day existence will always include my sex. “All men are created equal,” mailman, chairman, freshman, he.

33. My ability to make important decisions and my capability in general will never be questioned depending on what time of the month it is.

34. I will never be expected to change my name upon marriage or questioned if I don’t change my name.

35. The decision to hire me will not be based on assumptions about whether or not I might choose to have a family sometime soon.

36. Every major religion in the world is led primarily by people of my own sex. Even God, in most major religions, is pictured as male.

37. Most major religions argue that I should be the head of my household, while my wife and children should be subservient to me.

38. If I have a wife or live-in girlfriend, chances are we’ll divide up household chores so that she does most of the labor, and in particular the most repetitive and unrewarding tasks.

39. If I have children with my girlfriend or wife, I can expect her to do most of the basic childcare such as changing diapers and feeding.

40. If I have children with my wife or girlfriend, and it turns out that one of us needs to make career sacrifices to raise the kids, chances are we’ll both assume the career sacrificed should be hers.

41. Assuming I am heterosexual, magazines, billboards, television, movies, pornography, and virtually all of media is filled with images of scantily-clad women intended to appeal to me sexually. Such images of men exist, but are rarer.

42. In general, I am under much less pressure to be thin than my female counterparts are. If I am fat, I probably suffer fewer social and economic consequences for being fat than fat women do.

43. If I am heterosexual, it’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll ever be beaten up by a spouse or lover.

44. Complete strangers generally do not walk up to me on the street and tell me to “smile.”

45. Sexual harassment on the street virtually never happens to me. I do not need to plot my movements through public space in order to avoid being sexually harassed, or to mitigate sexual harassment.

45. On average, I am not interrupted by women as often as women are interrupted by men.

46. I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.

I agree with the vast majority of these statements. As with the White Privilege test, the point isn’t that I am a sexist, or that I can choose not to have this privilege. The point is that I should now be aware that I have male privilege, and have some minimal idea about what women may experience. I still do not know what it is like to be a woman, but I am aware that the phenomenology of being a woman is not the same as the phenomenology of being a man.

You may be a woman who does not agree that all of the statements on the list are representative of your experiences, but that does not mean that this is true for all women. Jen McCreight recently blogged about Richard Dawkins retweeting the following:

I’m a woman & an atheist blogger, & never experienced sexist abuse from fellow atheists. Maybe because I don’t assume they’re misogynists?

Jen then quotes a nice critique:

From Veronica at Purple NoiZe:

Good for you Lucy. Good for you. There are numerous women who have, but I’m glad you’re not one of them.

The problem, however, with this tweet is of course the second sentence. Lucy seems to be saying that either is the abuse imagined, i.e. that the recipients interpret the abuse as sexist while it is actually just for laughs or something. It is a little tricky to treat death and rape threats as funny jokes, but I suppose if you’re naive enough you could manage it. The other option is that the abuse women receive online is caused by women assuming these people are misogynists, therefore the sexism is really the victim’s fault for being so uppity. The classic victim blaming that we so often see of rape victims.

As well as the victim-blaming implied in the second sentence, this is good example of the point I am trying to make: just because you have not experienced something or have not felt a particular way in a situation, it doesn’t mean that other people haven’t.

Note that all the arguments I make in this post can be applied to Rebecca Watson’s experiences as well.

The Male Privilege Checklist is copied from Barry Deutsch’s site, where he explains the reasons for compiling it:

In 1990, Wellesley College professor Peggy McIntosh wrote an essay called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. McIntosh observes that whites in the U.S. are “taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” To illustrate these invisible systems, McIntosh wrote a list of 26 invisible privileges whites benefit from.

As McIntosh points out, men also tend to be unaware of their own privileges as men. In the spirit of McIntosh’s essay, I thought I’d compile a list similar to McIntosh’s, focusing on the invisible privileges benefiting men.

Thanks again to Corinne Zimmerman for inspiring this post.

Check your privilege! Part 1

Today I am writing about white privilege. If you are already familiar with the work of Peggy McIntosh, Molly Secours, and the many other people who have explained this concept, and if you ‘get it’, then please feel free to ignore this. If you don’t know what I am talking about, or if you have heard of white privilege, but don’t get it, please do read on.

I think one of the best ways to explain what is meant by white privilege is to have you take Molly Secours’ White Privilege Pop Quiz. This is a quick and easy multiple-choice quiz. There are no right or wrong answers; just pick the answer that is true for you.

A) When was the first time you were made aware of your racial identity and realized that your ‘race’ would play a pivotal role in the challenges you faced on a daily basis.

1) 1-5    2) 6-10    3) 11-present    4) never

B) How often are you reminded about being the race with which you identify?

1) several times a day    2) once a day    3) several times a week    4) once a month    5) never

C) As a child how often were you given safety instructions on how to walk through a department store or public establishment in a way that did not foster suspicion or attract attention?

1) frequently    2) sometimes    3) rarely    4) never

D) How often have you been (or are you now) coached by parents or guardians or family members on how to behave or what to say in order to avoid being perceived as dangerous or menacing when confronted by law
enforcement, teachers or authority figures?

1) frequently    2) sometimes    3) rarely    4) never

E) How often do you talk with close friends and family members (or just wonder to yourself) whether or not your racial identity is negatively impacting your daily interactions with others?

1) everyday    2) once a week    3) once a month    4) once a year    5) never

F) How often have you wondered if your race negatively impacted a job interview, a grade, a confrontation with a co-worker or a friend?

1) too many to count    2) periodically    3) seldom    4) never

G) How often are you the only person (or very few) of your identified race in daily activities? Including Church, school, bars, nightclubs etc?

1) always    2) frequently    3) seldom    4) never

H) Have you ever been tempted to deny your racial identity in order to feel more comfortable in a particular setting or to have an advantage?

1) always    2) frequently    3) seldom    4) never

I) Have you ever found yourself feeling frustrated, invisible or ashamed in a history class because you felt ‘your people’ weren’t represented (or represented accurately) in “His-story”.

1) yes, always    2) yes, often    3) yes, sometimes    4) never

J) While watching television or movies do you often feel that people who look like you or are racially/culturally connected to you are not represented (or misrepresented) in the media?

1) yes, always    2) yes, often    3) yes, sometimes    4) never

K) How often have you been challenged and/or corrected by someone about how ‘you identify’ racially?

1) more than 5 times    2) several times    3) once    4) never

L) How often have you adjusted your behavior out of concern that people might assume or suspect you to be lazy, inarticulate, untrustworthy, criminal, or unintelligent because of your race.

1) more than 5 times    2) several times    3) once    4) never

M) How often do you notice that the majority of authority figures in your school career or work environment–who sign your checks or supervise your daily activities–are identified with another race and/or culture?

1) always    2) often    3) sometimes    4) never

N) How often do you feel in need of reassurance (or to reassure other family members) you/they are ‘just as good as’ (not better) than someone of another racial group because of a negative experience?

1) Always    2) Frequently    3) Seldom    4) Never

O) How often have you wondered if something you said or did in a public setting might reflect negatively on your identified race?

1) frequently    2) sometimes    3) seldom    4) never

If you answered numbers 3, 4 or 5 for more than 3 questions then you are someone who experiences white privilege. If you answered number 3, 4 or 5 for more than 7 questions, then you are definitely a ‘card carrying member’ of white privilege. And if you answered 3, 4 or 5 for more than 10 questions, let’s just say, ‘it’s a done deal’.

So how did you do? I answered “never” to all 15 questions, so I definitely have white privilege. So what does this say about me. Does it mean I am a racist? No. Does it mean that I am to blame for the state of affairs that led to me having white privilege? No. It means nothing except that I should now be aware that I have white privilege, and have some minimal idea about what other people – those who do not answer “never” to all the questions – may experience. I still do not know what it is like to be someone who isn’t white, but I am aware that the phenomenology of being non-white is not the same as the phenomenology of being white.

Let’s be clear about this. If your answers indicate that you experience white privilege, you should not be getting defensive; you are not being accused of anything:

  • “White Privilege” is not a slur or an insult
  • It is not derogatory
  • It is not something you can stop, start, eliminate or get more of
  • Acknowledging that you have it does not change anything
  • Denying that you have it does not change anything
  • You have no reason to be ashamed of it
  • Someone saying you have White Privilege is equivalent to pointing at an Oak Tree and saying “That is an Oak Tree.” It is a statement of fact.
  • “Checking your privilege” makes you a decent human being and the best part is that even if you are constantly “Checking it” you are also constantly benefitting from it
  • Because of the above, there is no down side to “Checking your privilege” which means if you don’t, you are a double whammy dirt bag
  • It’s okay to not fully understand how to “Check your privilege”
  • It is NOT okay to not make a conscious effort to learn
  • White Privilege isn’t something dirty. It’s just something you have if you are white.

OK, so I have white privilege (as do many of you reading this), and I understand that is purely descriptive. No value judgments are being made. So what’s the point in all of this? Reminding myself of some of the items on the quiz will (I hope) stop me from saying stupid things about other people’s experiences. For example, I like my town. It seems like a nice place, and there are definitely nice people in it. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of racism. But how do I know that? Well, in my experience, few people have said racist things to me, or in my presence. My experience is valid in the sense that it is true that I have not seen a lot of evidence for racism. But it is a leap for me to claim that as a result of my experiences, there is little racism. “Checking my privilege” enables me to realize that other people may have different experiences; they may be more likely to be exposed to racism than I am, or be more likely to notice it where I didn’t, simply by virtue of not being white.

How should I feel about my privilege? Hard to say. It inspires some guilt, but I understand that I may not have said or done anything that I should feel guilty about. It can inspire defensiveness, denial, or a desire to point out that some criminals are black: just look at some of the comments on Molly’s quiz. But defensiveness, denial, and generalization from statistical outliers are not appropriate responses. I really rather like what PZ Myers’ said as a response to how people feel about disparity:

I’m a white male middle-class professional. I profit from disparity, and it simultaneously gives me guilt and worry that someone might take my privileges away from me. But I can’t in good conscience live in the illusion that I somehow deserve more than a poor black woman making ends meet with menial labor; I don’t. I’m just the recipient of the blessings of chance and history.

Molly Secours’ pop quiz has its origins in the classic essay, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. In this essay, Peggy McIntosh gives a list of statements that identify

some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined. As far as I can tell, my African American coworkers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place and time of work cannot count on most of these conditions.

You can go read the whole essay, but here are a few of the items on the list:

  • Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
  • I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
  • I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
  • I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.
  • I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.
  • I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.

This quote from the essay explains why having an awareness of white privilege is important:

It seems to me that obliviousness about white advantage, like obliviousness about male advantage, is kept strongly inculturated in the United States so as to maintain the myth of meritocracy, the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all. Keeping most people unaware that freedom of confident action is there for just a small number of people props up those in power and serves to keep power in the hands of the same groups that have most of it already.

Thanks to Corinne Zimmerman for pointing me in the direction of the white privilege quiz, and thus inspiring this post.

Atheism+, misogyny, and the trouble with trolls

There has been a lot of conversation about Atheism+ over the last week. Excellent summaries of the arguments against Atheism+, and rebuttals to those arguments are presented by Jen McCreight, Greta Christina, and PZ Myers.

Many of the discussions have been about whether A+ is really just the same as humanism. In addition to the verbal rebuttals linked to above, Jason Thibeault uses a nice set of Venn diagrams to make the same point.

Per Smith uses this diagram in illustrating his scholarly analysis of A+ as a sectarian movement. (Note that although it may seem that he is criticising A+ for being sectarian, he points out in the comments that he is describing a fairly common phenomenon, not making a value judgment over whether it is a good or bad thing.) What caught my interest, however, was not Per’s description of sectarianism, but one of the comments:

The biggest problem with this, is that is places ‘other miscreants’ in with misogynists etc. When we are actually talking about tolls. Trolling is a sport, the aim of which is to get a reaction out of people who are perceived to be pompous and thin skinned. In other words, to get drama out of drama queens. Within the rules of this game, no tactic is considered too underhand….

…In fact noting is sacred, anything from antisemitism to child abuse and be used or abused, and to ‘spout your own views’ is considered a ‘troll fail’. Therefore a troll may threaten rape, but this does nothing to inform us of his/her views on rape, misogyny or anything else. It doesn’t even indicate that the troll disagrees with the views of the person they are trolling.

I think Vicky makes an excellent point; let’s look at this more closely. Many of the opinions that atheism+ is a response to may be opinions voiced by trolls. Those opinions are therefore not representative of “actual” opinions, but rather reflect the fact that a troll can find some rich pickings by voicing nasty opinions about women and sexual assault, for example.

There is a somewhat philosophical issue here: how can we tell if someone is trolling, as opposed to voicing his actual opinion? Most of the time we can assume that when people say things, the content of their speech match up (to a reasonable extent) with the contents of their attitudes and beliefs. Of course, people do lie, and it can be hard to ascertain whether someone is telling the truth or not. But trolling is a special case. The motivation for a troll to respond with “chicks are bitchez!!!”, or a slightly more subtle “atheists are just like religious fundamentalists”, is to provoke a response. And the troll may or may not be lying. That is, the contents of his mind may or may not bear some correspondence to the words.

So when a blog commenter makes a statement, we cannot always know if he is a troll or whether he is reasonably sincere. How we categorize these statements informs how we respond. A sincere statement should be responded to with a link to the eleventy places where that particular argument is dealt with, at least. A troll can be ignored (but see the paragraph at the end of this post) , and should not be counted as evidence that atheist/secular/skeptical/humanist men are misogynists/racists/privileged etc. Or should he? As mentioned above, it may well be the case that the troll, whilst trolling, is actually making statements that reflect his attitudes. In which case he should be counted as one of the atheists etc. who are misogynists etc. But we cannot always tell.

Do these distinctions matter? Does the suspicion that many of the voices speaking out against the “evils of feminism” may not be sincere alter what we consider to be an appropriate response? Is atheism+ necessary if all the jerks within atheism/skepticism are trolls? My answers to these questions are “maybe”, “no”, and “yes”, respectively, but this is partly because I really don’t get the troll mentality. I get why people (usually adolescents) engage in pranks. I get why a pompous voice of authority can be an alluring target. What I don’t get is the “anything goes” approach. I don’t get how it’s OK to say hurtful things to victims of rape or any other abuse or injustice. I don’t get how it’s OK to pick vulnerable targets, find the things that are most hurtful, and attack those targets with passion and glee.

The very fact that trolls exist, and that they consider victims of rape, institutional sexism, or any other kind of misogyny to be valid targets is a problem. It’s part of our culture. While trolls may not be sincerely stating their beliefs, the fact that anyone considers their behavior to be acceptable is a real problem, and it is a problem that is plausibly entwined with the problem that there are people who do sincerely hold the values espoused by the trolls. In reality, it is extremely unlikely that all the misogynist comments that have been made regarding feminism and atheism+ are from trolls. As Greta Christina points out

I am getting very tired of people responding to these posts by saying things like, “Don’t give them attention. Don’t feed the trolls.” This has been addressed at length, in the #mencallmethings: “whore” comment thread, and elsewhere. (Here is a very good short video on that subject, summing up why “don’t feed the trolls” is a terrible response to sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, or other group-based hate.) The tl;dr: This is not a few trolls trying to get attention and stir up any kind of response. This is a sustained campaign of misogyny, aimed at driving feminist women out of a community. And ignoring it does not make it go away. Ignoring it gives it tacit consent. The only way to deal with it is to point it out, and shame it, and make it clear that our community does not tolerate it. When you respond to a woman speaking out about misogyny by saying, “Don’t feed the trolls,” you are essentially telling us, “Stay silent about the misogynist shit you have to deal with on a daily basis.”

And do watch the video Greta linked to.

Are religious/conservative states more charitable?

…or as Hemant Mehta puts it, Are Atheists Being Stingy When It Comes to Charity?

Hemant describes data presented on the website of The Chronicle Of Philanthopy

Donors in Southern states, for instance, give roughly 5.2 percent of their discretionary income to charity—both to religious and to secular groups—compared with donors in the Northeast, who give 4.0 percent.

But the generosity ranking changes when religion is taken out of the picture. People in the Northeast give the most, providing 1.4 percent of their discretionary income to secular charities, compared with those in the South, who give 0.9 percent.

Unfortunately, none of the many other charts and analyses presented on The Chronicle Of Philanthropy website split the data by donations to religious vs secular oranisations. Is this an issue? Yes, because donations to churches are not really charitable contributions. Much of that money goes into church coffers rather than getting spent on good causes.

To be fair, churches can be excellent at charitable work, but this isn’t always the case. According to a report by the Council for Secular Humanism, a surprisingly small proportion of church funds is spent on charitable causes:

For instance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS or Mormon Church), which regularly trumpets its charitable donations, gave about $1 billion to charitable causes between 1985 and 2008. That may seem like a lot until you divide it by the twenty-three-year time span and realize this church is donating only about 0.7 percent of its annual income. Other religions are more charitable. For instance, the United Methodist Church allocated about 29 percent of its revenues to charitable causes in 2010 (about $62 million of $214 million received). One calculation of the resources expended by 271 U.S. congregations found that, on average, “operating expenses” totaled 71 percent of all the expenditures of religions, much of that going to pay ministers’ salaries. Financial contributions addressing the physical needs of the poor fall within the remaining 29 percent of expenditures. While these numbers may be higher as a percentage of income than typical charitable giving by corporations, they are not hugely higher (depending on the religion) and are substantially lower in absolute terms. Wal-Mart, for instance, gives about $1.75 billion in food aid to charities each year, or twenty-eight times all of the money allotted for charity by the United Methodist Church and almost double what the LDS Church has given in the last twenty-five years.

Hemant also points out that the analysis of charitable donations by state, which makes “red” states look more charitable than “blue” states, is misleading with religious donations included. The chart looks like this:

I thought it would be interesting to see what this would look like without religious donations included. However, after much searching, I cannot find the detailed data necessary to do this. However, we do know that from the images above what proportion of donations are to religious organizations by region. For example, residents of Illinois give an average 4.2% of their discretionary income to charity. By looking at the maps, we can see that although residents of the midwest give an average 4.3%, they only give 0.9% to secular charities. The proportion of donations that go to secular charities in the midwest is therefore 0.21. We can do the same for all the map regions and multiply the percentages given in each state by the proportion given to secular charities for the region, giving us a rough estimate of donations to secular charities by state. Yes, this is hugely kludgey and assumes that religious/secular donation ratios are the same across states in a region, but it’s all I have to go on. The results look like this:

World + dog united in scorn at Akin

In a rare few hours of unity, the entire world has come together to point at Todd Akin and laugh.

Of course his stupendously offensive, hurtful, misinformed, deranged remarks are not a laughing matter. Mark Turner at Friendly Atheist points out that, in addition to the obvious callous stupidity of the remarks, it is remarkable that Akin only mumbled a not-very-apology rather than immediately resigning:

What concerns me is that he is still in a position to say such things. As I’ve already mentioned, Akin has already made three other sackable offenses this week — how has he not been removed? How has he not been pressured to stepped down? It used to be that politicians were very careful about what they said in public — no doubt some may have shared Akin’s views, but no would dare be so candid. Even the staunchest of Republicans would still carry out the political process with an air of respect for their opponent, their voters, and at the very least themselves.

It seems that the last ten years has seen that system thrown out and replaced by a system which sees people who shouldn’t be running a street corner lemonade stand running for high office.

Turner then notes:

When someone runs for election to any position, they are essentially trying to get a job. They are trying to convince voters that they can do it better than the other guy. Why, then, does it seem that the least suitable people, with the lowest qualifications and the least practical experience, continually get elected.

Voters have to vote for someone, but it is the senior members of the GOP who chose to back Akin with not just logistical and ideological support but hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds. Was there really no one else?

Why is there no chain of command? Who is Akin’s GOP “boss”? Why can he not be thrown out of the Republican party? Some of the answers to these questions are the result of years worth of apathy and mistrust in the political system that seems to have resulted in the Tea Party. Why is no one in the corridors of power within the Republican party leaning on Akin to resign? Hell, why has he not resigned himself out of the utter shame he has brought on himself, his political party, and his state. Politicians in other countries have lost their position for far far less than Akin, usually pressured to resign to senior party leaders.

Hear hear!

Maybe there is some justice, however:

Republican U.S. Congressman Todd Akin is quitting his senate race, according to multiple GOP politicos, including CNN’s Erick Erickson, and Richard Grenell, Mitt Romney’s former foreign policy spokesperson.

But the matter is not yet settled. Even though the Republican chairman has urged Akin to give up his bid for senator, Akin may not quit:

But Akin insisted he would continue to pursue his Senate bid. Later on Twitter, he vowed to stay in the race and called on supporters to donate to his campaign.

Priebus, however, joined a chorus of Republicans urging Akin to drop out of the running.

“If it was me, and I wouldn’t say anything that dumb as he has, but if it was me, and I had an opportunity to let someone else run to actually give ourselves a better chance of winning, I would step aside,” Priebus said.

According to Missouri election law, Akin has until Tuesday evening to drop out of the race with little difficulty. He can choose to withdraw at a later date, but such an exit would require more paperwork and involve a court order. It would also give Republicans less time to build a campaign for the new nominee against McCaskill, a Democrat the GOP deems vulnerable in this year’s election.

Referring to Akin’s statement as “biologically stupid” and “bizarre,” Priebus on Monday said he’s “hopeful” the congressman hears the numerous calls for his departure from the race.

Fingers crossed…

Republicans are getting more and more insane

***WARNING*** may cause uncontrollable rage and/or despair

This blew my mind:

Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri who is running against Sen. Claire McCaskill, justified his opposition to abortion rights even in case of rape with a claim that victims of “legitimate rape” have unnamed biological defenses that prevent pregnancy.

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin said that even in the worst-case scenario — when the supposed natural protections against unwanted pregnancy fail — abortion should still not be a legal option for the rape victim.

You can check if you like, this isn’t from The Onion. This is a real politician who would like to be a senator. My first thought was that this must some weird mind-manipulation to make Romney and Ryan seem sane. My second one was that Akin thinks this is a serious and reasonable thing to say.

Akin started backpedaling as soon as everyone responded with “WTF?!!!”

In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year. Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.

However, he immediately shoved his foot back into his mouth:

I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action. I also recognize that there are those who, like my opponent, support abortion and I understand I may not have their support in this election.

and then quickly tried to change the topic

But I also believe that this election is about a wide range of very important issues, starting with the economy and the type of country we will be leaving our children and grandchildren. We’ve had 42 straight months of unacceptably high unemployment, trillion-dollar deficits, and Democratic leaders in Washington who are focused on growing government, instead of jobs. That is my primary focus in this campaign and while there are those who want to distract from that, knowing they cannot defend the Democrats’ failed economic record of the last four years, that will continue to be my focus in the months ahead.

Hey! Look over there everyone! The democrats! Jobs! The economy!

Just going to show how crazy Akin is, Romney and Ryan quickly said “we’re not with him”

… the Romney campaign said it does not share Akin’s view, nor will the Romney-Ryan ticket govern in keeping with his belief that abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape and incest. Akin himself later tried to back away from the comments.

“Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement,” the Romney campaign said in statement. “A Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”

Ryan’s history suggests this is not necessarily true

the rape exemption called for by the Romney campaign would represent a big shift for him. Ryan is among the most socially conservative members of Congress on abortion, favoring a ban even in cases of rape and incest.

Both Akin and Ryan co-sponsored a 2011 bill in Congress that would refine the federal abortion coverage ban exemption for rape to cover only “forcible rape.” That language was dropped under pressure from women’s advocacy groups and Democrats.

Atheism, therefore Feminism

Does being an atheist imply that one is (or should be) a feminist? The answer, according to me, is “yes”. Like many others , I implicitly thought that people who were skeptics and atheists, who rail against the oppression of fundamentalist religion, must stand for a whole bunch of Good Things and against a whole bunch of Bad Things. I assumed they were for liberty, justice, and equality, and against racism, homophobia, sexism, and misogyny.

It turns out that I, and the many others, were wrong. In case you missed it, one bit of the internet has spent some considerable proportion of its time discussing sexism and feminism. The bit of the net I am talking about is the section of the blogosphere centered around the freethought and skepchick blog networks .

A year ago, Rebecca Watson said “Guys, don’t do that” and craziness ensued . The subsequent debates about what is or isn’t acceptable behavior and what does and doesn’t count as sexual harassment led to discussions about sexual harassment policies at conferences . In June 2012, Rebecca explained why she wouldn’t be attending a conference.

Later in June, freethoughtblogs added Thunderf00t to their roster, and he immediately started spewing all kinds of nastiness about sexual harassment. In early July he was booted from the network, and in August it was revealed that he had access to confidential information about freethought bloggers . This led to a very distressing post by Natalie Reed.

Then there’s the campaign against skepchick Surly Amy . And the “feminazi” name calling aimed at freethoughtblogs and skepchick. And probably a whole bunch of other stuff that I don’t remember or didn’t see, given the vast amount of traffic on sexism and feminism.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, and don’t have several hours to read everything I linked to above, here’s the brief summary: it turns out there are many people in the atheist/skeptic community who really hate feminists and feminism, and are willing to wish horrible fates on women who dare to argue that sexism exists within the community and should be dealt with.

So, given the fact that many people who identify as atheists, skeptics, and freethinkers clearly do not identify as feminists, why should I claim that atheism logically implies feminism. Well, there is a sense in which it doesn’t. Atheism means not believing in gods. Nothing else. From a definitional standpoint, arguing that atheism implies anything other than not believing in gods is incorrect. However, atheism as a movement has moved beyond the dictionary definition of the term. A lot of people have stated that dictionary atheism isn’t enough, and that being skeptical should go beyond debunking bigfoot, Loch Ness monster, or alien sightings. What is missing from the old-school of skepticism and atheism is an interest in social justice.

Yes, tarot readers and mediums do prey on their customers, and shouldn’t get away with it, and of course we should be combating religious institutions’ interference in secular life. But we should be asking ourselves why we care about these things. We could say we care about religious interference in secular American life because it is unconstitutional/illegal, and we could argue that the whole point of the United States is freedom of religion, and this is true but, again, it is a narrow technical explanation. If true, then people in other countries should not be trying to promote secularism and we shouldn’t care what happens in those countries as they do not have legal protection against religious influence.

We care about the influence of religion, not just because it violates laws, but because of the real-world outcomes. These include outcomes that atheists and skeptics have been working against for decades, such as the dilution of science education in order to weaken evolution and promote creationism. A good science education is incredibly important, but there are other negative outcomes to fight against as well. Anti-choicers are largely driven by religious motivations, as are those who do not want gays to marry. Those in the middle east who do not like the idea of girls getting educated, and who don’t want women driving, using cell phones, going out in public on their own, or wearing what they want are driven, at least in part, by their religion.

We care about what happens to people who belong to minority ethnic groups, what happens to gays, what happens to the poor, what happens to the starving, what happens to inhabitants of war-torn countries, and what happens to women all over the world for a reason. That reason is not that their suffering is caused (or aided and abetted) by religious individuals and institutions. The reason is that we care what happens to people: we do not like to see others suffer. Why? Because we are moral beings with empathy.

I have often heard the argument that morality derives from faith in the divine, and that atheists in particular have no reason to be moral beings. In fact, just recently one of my friends was relating an anecdote about a conversation he had in his workplace. My friend’s atheism was mentioned by one colleague to a second colleague; the second colleague turned to my friend, shocked, and asked whether my friend was really a nihilist and whether he really thought that life was meaningless and that we have no reason to behave well towards others.

One of my earliest memories of my teenage proto-atheism is my reaction to these words from chapter 9 of The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge :

Now that we know that the only thing on the other side of the sky is more sky, the idea of an afterlife has finally been slid into the history books alongside the rest of the quaint and forgotten religions. With heaven and hell gone we are faced with the necessity of making a heaven or hell right here. What with societies and metatechnology and allied disciplines we have come a long way, and life on the civilized worlds is better than it ever was during the black days of superstition. But with the improving of here and now comes the stark realization that here and now is all we have. Each of us has only this one brief experience with the bright light of consciousness in that endless dark night of eternity and must make the most of it. Doing this means we must respect the existence of everyone else and the most criminal act imaginable is the terminating of one of these conscious existences.

My reaction: Oh, wow, that is so evidently true. And coherent.

I was thinking about this quotation just a few days ago. The next day Harry Harrison , the author of the Stainless Steel Rat books, passed away .

My point (I realize that it may not be clear yet) is that atheism does not end with the dictionary definition. I find it hard to see how one can state “I believe in no gods” and then move on without considering the implications. The passage quoted above was the first implication that was made clear to me. This is all there is. There is not afterlife, no eternal reward; putting up with oppression and abuse in the hope that it will all be alright in the next life is tragic. Oppressing and abusing others, whilst offering them hope of some karmic balance in another life, is criminal.

Another implication of atheism is feminism, as described by Amanda Marcotte :

It was atheist thinkers who I first encountered who had an explanation for gender that comported better with the real world evidence. Simone de Beauvoir, author of the seminal text “The Second Sex”, laid out a rationale for feminism that was firmly rooted in her atheist existentialist philosophy. To wildly oversimplify her extremely long argument: There is no God. Therefore, there is no higher authority telling us what we are here “for”. Therefore we have the right to define our own purpose for ourselves. There is no rational reason that this right should only be extended to men, because again, there’s no higher power assigning one gender the role of leaders and the other of servants. Thus, women are equal to men, and as a matter of human decency, should have the same right to self-determination. Elegant, persuasive, and above all other things, logical and evidence-based. Atheism, by all rights, should lead to feminism, I thought. It’s just what’s rational.

Other implications of atheism relate to reproductive rights and gay rights:

Anti-choicers insist that the debate over choice is a theological one over when “life,” i.e. ensoulment begins. If the public at large understood that a substantial percentage of Americans don’t believe in souls at all, then it would be much easier to see why the theological question of when “life” begins has no place in the law at all. Same story with gay rights; if you don’t believe in a supernatural higher power assigning gender roles and telling us what sex and marriage are “for,” then there’s no argument against equality for gays and lesbians.

This is why so many people were so shocked and confused when a number of men and women who identify as atheists started a campaign of verbal harassment, abuse, and threats against other women and men who identify as atheists and feminists. The confusion derives from the incoherence of an atheist taking an anti-feminist stance. As Amanda Marcotte puts it,

a not-insubstantial percentage of atheist men have convinced themselves they can both not believe in a god and somehow still conclude that women were put (by who?) here on Earth for the purpose of pleasing and catering to men. And that therefore women who rebel against that by, say, demanding the right not to be sexually harassed just because some guy feels like it, are evil witches who need to be fiercely attacked. All these years, irrational sexists have thought they needed a God to rely on to tell women that our bodies belong to men and not to us. But it turns out that plenty of men feel that they themselves are the only authority needed to take away this basic right of women’s.

Paul Fidalgo, the Communications Director for the Center for Inquiry, also points out that there has to be more to atheism than disbelief :

This movement (not merely the community of heretics, but the movement) is about lessening the power of religion, superstition, and credulous thinking because we want to live in a world guided by facts, science, and reason, because (and here’s the part I might lose some of you) we want to live in a world that maximizes human happiness, morality, freedom of thought and expression, and equality. Atheism and skepticism for their own sakes are not “causes.” They are not, in and of themselves, worthy of a movement. But we pursue these goals because we know they will bring about a society in which we are more free and equal, and in turn we will be more fulfilled and enriched as a result.

This quotation comes from one of fifteen (so far) statements made by men in leadership roles that have been posted on skepchick, in response to a request made by Surly Amy. These statements are just one of several positive things that have emerged from the discussions of sexism and feminism (although I do want to be clear that lots of *very* negative things have happened too, as outlined at the beginning of this post). A second major outcome is the formation of Secular Woman , a society whose mission is “to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women”. A third outcome is in progress: it is fairly clear that the sense of direction and identity of the atheist movement is changing. I think it has been moving beyond the “second wave” of atheism spearheaded by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett for some time, but recent events have put a sharper focus on issues that go beyond whether there is a god. Jen McCreight is calling for a third wave of atheism :

It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime. We can criticize religion and irrational thinking just as unabashedly and just as publicly, but we need to stop exempting ourselves from that criticism.

The future of atheism will, I hope, be a movement that both implicitly and explicitly stands for humanism.