I may have been pretty inactive in the blogosphere lately, with prepping for school and winding up my term at the Toronto Zoo, but I’ve been keeping up with the conversation on Twitter and elsewhere about the sexual harassment controversies within the atheist community, where some people come forward to accuse prominent figures of assault while other people respond with some version of the response “Pics or it didn’t happen” – essentially refusing to take somebody’s word that they were victims of a crime unless they can provide courtroom-worthy evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
Of course, not every rapist will be so obliging as to provide the correct kind of evidence, and many rape victims refuse to go to the law because of the way victims are treated by police and courtroom personnel. Anybody who thinks “What were you wearing?” and “Are you sure you didn’t consent?” are neutral, non-blaming questions designed to get “just the facts, ma’am” needs to spend a bit more time in the real world. (Or, at the very least, the real world as it’s experienced by a woman.)
But I digress. The point I’m making here isn’t about where I fall in the debate (which, by my tone, you can probably guess): it’s about the division that is anguishing the atheist community. It seems it’s particularly anguishing a Tweeter called @TheFinalPope, who had this to say:
Hold up right there. That statement stopped me in my tracks.
Religion is not, and never has been, my enemy. Certain forms of religion that I find oppressive are objectionable to me, yes. And I speak out against those a lot, which may give the impression that I’m anti-religion. For instance, in my posts on the Friendly Atheist, I never shut up about how I think the papacy is doing harm to the faithful, and denying the most charitable impulses of some Catholics.
But if you’re a Catholic who strives to treat everyone kindly and avoid pressing others into following the rules of your faith, I have no quarrel with you or your beliefs. I don’t think the Jesus story from the Bible makes an awful lot of sense, but I don’t need you to agree with me on the point. If it works for you, if it gives your life meaning, and if it doesn’t make you a mean person, then party on.
The same goes for any and all religions. I don’t really see a form of God out there that I can accept as real, but I know I’m wrong sometimes too. If there is a God, I hope he can handle that about me, and if he can’t . . . well, I don’t really care to know him, much less venerate him.
The point is, if you disagree with me about God, that’s fine by me: it’s not enough to make you my enemy.
So no, religion is not the common enemy of atheists. I’m an atheist (in the sense that I withhold belief on the God claim, a category which some people prefer to call agnostic) and religion is not my enemy. I object to religions only to an extent that they harm people or promote cruelty to others. And the last few weeks in the atheist movement has really shown me that theists don’t have a corner on that market.
I’ll be frank: right now I’m struggling with questions about why I affiliate myself with this movement in the first place. I love writing for Friendly Atheist, not least because I get paid, but also because I really do feel passionate about using my past experience and knowledge about Catholicism to help readers understand ways in which the Catholic hierarchy is corrupt and insensitive to the needs of the faithful, and the ways in which it tries to impose its rules on believers and unbelievers alike. And when I first got into the movement, I saw a lot of right in it: the idea of challenging sacred cows, of fighting against the ‘Christian-as-default’ assumption in North American societies, of keeping church and state separated.
Now I’m seeing a lot more of what’s wrong. I’m seeing the way skepticism gets applied only to other people’s beliefs, not to one’s own, and not to people who agree with you. I’m seeing a lot of people willing to be skeptical of rape victims, in spite of the fact that it’s a hugely underreported crime where women alleging rape get put through the victim-blaming wringer, but failing to be skeptical of the cultural narratives undermining them. (“Women lie about rape all the time” is the one coming to mind at the moment.) I’m seeing people failing to ask some really basic questions about the fishy story being told here. People who rape somebody have a compelling reason to lie and say they didn’t: what possible reason does an ordinary woman have to come forward into such a hostile environment and pretend to be a victim of rape?
The most absurd claim I’ve encountered is the idea that PZ Myers and Carrie Poppy have completely invented their anonymous rape victim out of whole cloth for reasons unknown. Self-proclaimed skeptics are claiming that’s more plausible than the idea that a real woman they trust came forward anonymously, not wanting the publicity and attacks directed at her (especially after Rebecca Watson’s experience), but wanting to warn other women that they’d best take care around certain prominent atheist men. Where’s that cherished skepticism now?