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    Building a Community of Reason

    Yesterday I attended the 2nd annual Philadelphia Coalition of Reason (PhillyCoR) Picnic. PhillyCoR is an umbrella organization which unites several freethought, Humanist, atheist, and secular organizations together. The picnic was a great way to mix all of our respective groups together and to engage in intellectual dialog, brainstorming, and just some pleasant conversation.

    One of the most important aspects of this picnic however, was to help form a greater community of reason. That is what PhillyCoR is about and what the new UnitedCoR is seeking to do in cities around the nation. The Coalitions of Reason are a great first step in creating and strengthening the community. But it isn’t enough in and of itself.

    For starters, let me ask a rhetorical question to my atheist readers. Are you a member of your local freethought group? Most atheists are not and yet if we are to form a community, a support system for dealing with the theistic pressures of society, and a voting block capable of countering the Religious Right, we need to take the first step by joining our local freethought groups. Usually people can become members of their local groups for less than $50. Usually the membership costs are about $35. What about national atheist groups? Most atheists are not members of any of the larger organizations either.

    Toward the end of the picnic, I was talking with a few fellow freethinkers about one of the other problems that I see within the community of reason. Atheists don’t support each other nearly as much as we should. The truth is that I am just as guilty of this as most other atheists, but I am going to try to change that and you should too.

    A few of my friends have written atheist books which they have self-published (despite my objections to self-publishing) and I have yet to support them by buying their books. So, today I plan on buying “Of Men and Muses” by Tom Verenna and “Malevolent Design” by Matt Edwards. One thing that I think my fellow atheists can and should do is to support the efforts of other atheists.

    There are also many atheist podcasts and shows out there. Shows like the Infidel Guy and The Atheist Experience which depend on listener support. Atheist blogs (including this one) often have donate or contribute buttons which are rarely actually used. But times are tough right now and like most people atheists don’t have a lot of extra money flowing around that they can just throw around. But I think almost everyone has a few dollars to spare here and there. So I think that if you enjoy a particular podcast or blog, you should donate at least $5 every once in awhile. That’s not enough to break anyone’s piggy bank, but it is enough to let people know that you appreciate what they are doing.

    The sad fact is that it is really embarrassing. Christians generally are having the same tough times that we are and yet they donate their last dollar to churches and Christian ministries. Now I don’t think anyone should donate their last dollar, so if you really can’t put food on the table, then please don’t feel bad about not supporting your fellow freethinkers, but the fact is that very few people are really in that bad of a financial state. We can all certainly afford to support the each other’s efforts a little bit every now and then. I don’t think atheists will ever really donate to atheistic endeavors in the same way Christians donate to Christian ministries, nor do I think we need to compete in that way. We don’t generally use fear and guilt to get people to “sacrifice” until it really hurts (like Jesus). That type of soliciting donations I think is dishonest and cruel. But I do think that the atheist community needs to do better than we currently are doing.

    Not all contributions necessarily need to be monetary either (although monetary contributes certainly help a lot). There are things we can do to support each other which are free. We can help promote our fellow atheists blogs, podcasts, youtube videos, etc. We can post links to various social networking sites, use word of mouth to help promote other people’s projects, and simply contribute ideas.

    The message for today is that atheists need to start supporting each other and forming stronger communities with each other. People of reason need to start organizing. When I first de-converted from theism, I felt alone as an atheist. It was before the internet was widely used. Now we can find like minded people all over the country. The fact is that there are atheists all over the country in every state. We don’t have to be alone any more.


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    • http://www.myspace.com/itsahicke Her3tiK

      “if you really can’t put food on the table, then please DO feel bad about not supporting your fellow freethinkers”

      I’d usually ignore typos, but you might want to fix this one one you get the chance; it sends a bit of a conflicting message.

      • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

        Lol, sorry about that. Thanx for the heads up.

    • http://www.myspace.com/DD_NU4EVER Diana

      I was just de-converted this year…I was always on the fence (Agnostic) but a Christian pushed me over the edge, and I’m glad she did. But, I felt that loneliness and that longing for community.
      I’ve joined a local group of atheists and I belong to a social network, Atheist Nexus. My first blog there was about you. You have helped me greatly. I may get too enthusiastic in my responses but only because reading blogs like this are such a huge burst of fresh air. At first I was a bit overwhelmed by how great it felt to not be alone anymore. If there is a national atheist or freethinkers alliance out there, I want to be a part of it. This kind of freedom shouldn’t be anyones’ dirty little secret.

    • http://myspace.com/scott888 Scott

      One reason many people continue to be religious is because a big part of their social lives is thru the church so for them to go atheist is to give up their community. So making an equivalent community is what is necessary to fulfill that need.

      So far, the online atheist community has been awesome. I’ve been an atheist since 10 grade after it occurred to me after my studies of evolution and astronomy revealed that genesis and the bible get in the way and don’t really fit into the story of our real origins. It wasn’t until I went on a date with this girl and upon learning I was atheist lost interest in me that I decided to find myspace groups about atheism. The groups were great but my conservative viewpoints on economics and such isolated me and I met a bunch of backlash.

      I friend’ed Dangerous Talk during my time in the myspace group forums because Staks always posted ads to his blog in those groups but I didn’t really pay attention to his blogs all that much until the election time where I felt McCain was being condemned too much. Overtime though I came into acceptance of liberal viewpoints because I was simultaneously being screwed the system I used to like that favors the elite because it became apparent that I was not part of the elite despite what I learned in college.

      So for awhile I looked like a troll like Tomkinson or whatever his name is but when Matt appeared I decided to unleash my encyclopedic knowledge of sciences on him. While it didn’t change his viewpoints I eventually came to be a respected poster due to the knowledge I bring and after debating a few people intensely I came to see how to properly debate people on online forums.

      So this blog is very influential to me and I’m sure my posts involving science are influential to other atheists and if I am lucky, some Christians. This blog also is lead by a decent atheist rather than in the other unmoderated atheist groups on myspace that were way too far left and were sheep of the atheist variety in that they weren’t too good at freethinking.

      I tend to have unpopular viewpoints such as me supporting the wars in the middle east (and that was the main reason I actually like Bush unlike most atheists, he knew how to use military power) and supporting even more wars in Iran and North Kora so long as their isn’t a draft because I feel that may be the only way to modernize the region and will benefit us in the long run though we might get lucky and Iran might modernize itself. But I find I get away with unpopular viewpoints because I have credibility in other areas. Besides, when many (rational) viewpoints are considered, better thinking happens.

      If we get some atheist social structure outside the internet, it would be a good networking tool for us to use.

    • http://BitchSpot.JadeDragonOnline.com Cephus

      Personally, I disagree entirely with the whole idea of “safe spaces”. If you don’t want to be criticized for your beliefs, go hide in a closet. If you decide to put your beliefs out there, expect them to be questioned and challenged. There should never be a place where a belief, *ANY* belief, is totally safe from rational and critical evaluation.

      As for your second part, that was my one and only New Year’s Resolution, to leap off the drama train. I stopped following anyone on Twitter who primarily talked about the drama, I stopped reading blogs that focused on the drama and I ditched a couple of podcasts that spent far too much time reporting on the drama. And you know something? It’s been a wonderful 2 months so far!

      • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

        Awesome!

    • http://twitter.com/zerodash Gregory Shefler

      The call to stop reading posts intended to stir the proverbial pot is a sound one. Considering that so much of this drama is about pageviews and revenue, the evaporation of hits would do much to stem the nonsense.

      However, the most vitriolic and prolific name-callers and well-poisoners are the ones with the biggest stake in blog hits and speaking gigs, and controversy always creates cash. These people will take the longest to ratchet down the rhetoric and attacks- and sadly they are the same ones who are causing the most damage.

      I love that this conversation is even beginning to happen, though I still think the community is wrecked beyond repair.

      • http://BitchSpot.JadeDragonOnline.com Cephus

        No matter how much the people at FtB claim it isn’t about money, it’s funny that the second that the pot starts to stop boiling, one of the most vocal people at FtB will say something idiotic to bring the page hits back up.

        I seem to remember that when Thunderf00t was thrown off FtB, PZ Myers had to hand out about $3000 in unpaid ad revenue funds for Thunderf00t’s time there. Don’t tell me they’re not doing it for the money, I’ll believe that the day they take all the ad revenue off their site and are still doing this.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          Money. It always gets the better of us.

    • http://twitter.com/AlephSquared Aleph Squared

      You misunderstand the idea of a safe space. I’ll limit this to online safe spaces since that’s mostly what’s relevant to Dan’s piece.

      Online, a safe space is a forum in which, yes, questioning certain ideas is not allowed. For example, there are safe spaces for rape survivors online where certain arguments and topics are not permitted because the people participating in that space find them triggering or simply want to be somewhere where they don’t have to deal with answering those arguments.

      There are safe spaces online for trans* people, where Human Sexuality 101 and Gender 101 questions are not allowed, where people arguing that trans* people aren’t real aren’t allowed, where statements like “trans* women are just men who’ve cut their penises off” or “so if someone says they’re a muskrat are you going to believe them” are deleted.

      These spaces serve a very important purpose for the psychological well-being of the people using them. Moreover, they have every right to say “in our space, these things are not allowed.” Why would you deny them that?

      • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

        Actually, I think that is exactly how I defined safe space. As a place where certain topics and criticisms are forbidden. I don’t believe any place should be safe space from criticism. I support a free speech and free thought ideology. While I agree with you that they people have the right to restrict, moderate, and censor as they see fit, I don’t believe they should exercise that right. In the interest of the free market place of ideas, I believe all ideas should be open to criticism. If their is someone in a particular forum who is abusive, then other people in the forum should take it upon themselves to criticize that person and those who are “triggered” should learn to ignore such people. This is particularly the case within the skeptical community.

        I understand your desire for a safe space in a professional situation, but not within the greater community of reason. If for example a psychologist wants to create a particular forum for his or her patients, that is one thing, but a forum for freethinkers which restricts the freedom of thought seems silly to me. A forum for skeptics which restrict skepticism, seems silly to me as well. This is what I object to.

        Christians also like to claim a safe space and I don’t approve of that either. Many Christians are angry that atheists criticize there beliefs at all and since atheism dominates the internets, many Christians like to claim any space they can to be a safe space. To me this is just a way to avoid criticism for bad ideas.

        • http://twitter.com/AlephSquared Aleph Squared

          In the interest of the free market place of ideas, I believe all ideas should be open to criticism.

          There’s a difference between all ideas being open to criticism and all ideas being open to criticism in all places and at all times

          A forum for skeptics which restrict skepticism, seems silly to me as well. This is what I object to.

          Then what you object to is skeptic-oriented safe spaces, not safe spaces in general?

          Look: there’s a couple extremely obvious and practical reasons to ban certain discussions in certain spaces. Here’s an example: sure, all ideas should be open to criticism and debate, but most math-forums and blogs online have at this point banned debate and discussion of Cantor’s set theory and things like .999…. = 1 because if we didn’t then we’d never be able to get anything else done. There are places reserved for debunking crank ideas about these and educating people, but most serious math places have declared them off-limits. A similar example: I like talking about gender with trans* people. We don’t want to have to justify the distinction between gender and sex in every freaking discussion in every freaking place. So in a lot of places we simply say, “this is not the place to question the claim that gender is culturally constructed. Here we assume this, and discuss higher-level ideas.” If we didn’t, literally every damn discussion would be rehashing the same basic ideas over and over.

          Yes, it should be possible to question every idea, but not in every space. Even without getting into aspects of safe spaces in terms of protecting marginalized voices, I feel like it is fairly clear that in some cases it is necessary to ban certain topics of discussion.

          • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

            I think I covered that in this paragraph:
            I understand your desire for a safe space in a professional situation,
            but not within the greater community of reason. If for example a
            psychologist wants to create a particular forum for his or her patients,
            that is one thing, but a forum for freethinkers which restricts the
            freedom of thought seems silly to me. A forum for skeptics which
            restrict skepticism, seems silly to me as well. This is what I object
            to.

            Also, there is the context of this post which is specifically talking about the atheist infighting and the civility pledge created by Dan to address it.

          • http://www.facebook.com/gojaejin Jeremy J. Goard

            I guess, oddly enough, I agree with Aleph Squared in the reasonableness of banning certain discussions for the sake of having productive exchanges rather than being frequently derailed by the same old canards.

            If I’m wanting to learn something from a conversation on gender and sexuality, I don’t want to have to keep rehashing the overwhelming evidence that gender is only partly socially constructed, and cannot be understood very well at all without reference to proximate biological causes like hormones and brain morphology, or to ancestral selection pressures. I’d like to have conversations about all of the major questions within the scientifically supported framework, rather than having to keep facedesking at social constructivists resorting to the Naturalistic Fallacy, or invoking an anecdote as “rebuttal” to statistical evidence, etc, etc.

            So, no, I don’t want them to stop banning me, just so we can keep on shouting to one another in frustration. No, what I would like is for them to move from their religious dogmatism toward scientific rationality.

    • Guest

      I can’t speak for anyone else, and it certainly appears that I’m in the minority even for my “side”.

      But for me, the problem has very little to do with drama or with personal animosity.

      I fully agreed with Watson about Elevator Guy, though “Dear Muslima” was a completely unprofessional slip from someone of Dawkins’ standing. I also strongly believe that atheism has very clear ties to some currently active political positions, though not all, and that it’s inevitable that an atheist movement will also be a socially liberal movement in some important ways.

      My problem is with the non-empirical, quasi-religious dogmas of “second wave” feminism and related intellectual movements of the anti-liberal left, and especially with the anti-skeptical, almost Orwellian techniques of intimidation and exclusion that have been, and continue to be, involved in their propagation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gojaejin Jeremy J. Goard

      I can’t speak for anyone else, and it certainly appears that I’m in the minority even for my “side”.

      But for me, the problem has very little to do with drama or with personal animosity.

      I fully agreed with Watson about Elevator Guy, thought “Dear Muslima” was a completely unprofessional slip from someone of Dawkins’ standing. I also strongly believe that atheism has very clear ties to some currently active political positions, though not all, and that it’s inevitable that an atheist movement will also be a socially liberal movement in some important ways.

      My problem is with the non-empirical, quasi-religious dogmas of “second wave” feminism and related intellectual movements of the anti-liberal left, and especially with the anti-skeptical, almost Orwellian techniques of intimidation and exclusion that have been, and continue to be, involved in their propagation.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gojaejin Jeremy J. Goard

        Hm, so when I delete in order to fix a typo, it double-posts, keeping the first copy as an anonymous Guest. I’m guessing that’s a deliberate setting to avoid people taking back what they’ve posted, and not just a flaw of the software?

        • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

          Flaw in the software. BTW, I agree with your comment. Good job.

    • http://www.atheistrev.com/ vjack

      As long as the infighting affects our community, it strikes me as “newsworthy” in some respect. I have little need to dwell on it, but I will likely address it periodically if there are new developments or I have something new to say about it.

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      Also, I have no co-authors. I am responsible for all the content on DangerousTalk. I am not responsible for anything on any other blog in the network. Right now drama sells. That is why there is drama. But if people stop buying, then it won’t sell and people will stop writing about it. That is the whole point of this post.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      The essence of a safe space is that certain kinds of content are absent or even disallowed. An atheist safe space, for example, is one where theists don’t get involved evangelising or posting or maybe even reading. A drama-free safe space would be one in which people refrain from carrying on old grudges, name-calling, and generally propagating mass-hysterical butthurt.

      Personally, I’d be happy to participate in either sort of space described above, and I’ve done so often enough in the past. Don’t think that’s going to happen again anytime soon, not until people learn to criticise each other’s ideas without going after their character.

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      I guess I disagree with your definition of what a safe space is. It seems to be more than a mere absence of certain thoughts and ideas, but rather a place where certain thoughts and ideas are restricted and as you pointed out disallowed. .

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      I’m a member of a few atheist-only secret groups, which are safe spaces for atheists to hang out and talk about all sorts of stuff without having to constantly do counter-apologetics, argue against believers, or worry about the tender feelings of people of faith. The only real restriction of ideas is at the point of entry, but it’s a major filter. I love having that sort of safe space for my local atheist group, as well as the other local groups in the state, and I haven’t seen any persuasive argument that we should open those up to theistic participants.

      Now I suppose you aren’t really trying to carve out a drama-free zone here if you don’t mind having threads derailed towards drama, e.g. a post about evo-psych devolves into thread about personalities on each side.

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      Like I said before, you have the right to do whatever you like, but I don’t think it is a good model for skeptical thinking to create safe spaces. If you had previously had hoards of Christians attending your meeting with the intention of disruption, then I can understand the restriction, but my local groups are open to the public and very rarely do any religious believers show up. When they do, it become obvious very quickly and it hasn’t been a problem. Their beliefs are criticized and they realize that they aren’t in Kansas any more. They are not in a “safe space” and the lack of evidence for their beliefs exposes those beliefs for what they are. Some actually de-convert (but not on the spot of course).

      One example is when I saw one guy come to a Freethought Society lecture on evolution. He sat in the back taking notes and asked very hostile questions in support of creationism. His questions were answered and after the lecture, a crowd of atheists came over to him and offered to answer any more questions he might have. About 6 months later I saw him again at another lecture and he was mentioned that he recently de-converted.

      Did a believer ever come to one of your meeting and did you ever have to kick out someone because you found out that they believed in deities? I don’t think you should do that. Our ideas are better than that. If someone is disruptive, that is different, but just because someone believes in something ridiculous doesn’t mean we should prevent them from learning about reality.

      On this forum, I try to give everyone a fair shake. I don’t hold comments for moderation, but I will delete comments if they break my pretty liberal comment policy. People can bring their drama here if that is what they want to do (as long as it doesn’t violate my policy), but I’m probably not going to entertain the drama. With that said, feel free to disagree with my opinions, criticize my opinions, etc. I don’t believe in a safe space from criticism.

    • http://BitchSpot.JadeDragonOnline.com Cephus

      Sheesh, must be boring, only hanging around with people whose only point in common is not believing in gods. I’d much rather spend my time with people I actually share things in common with, whether they have imaginary beliefs or not.

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      Actually, it turns out that most of the atheist groups I go to tend to be filled with people who share a lot of my interests. Most atheists are geeks who are interested in politics and progressive causes. Some of the groups I go to feature great speakers who talk about a variety of subjects from science and philosophy, to politics and journalism.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      It’s just the opposite of boring. We can argue about all sorts of political or ethical questions without anyone citing to divine authority or holy write to give us preapproved solutions from millennia ago.

      Boring would be to hang about with only Marxists, or only Objectivists, or only center-left liberal secularists. As it is, we have quite the diverse group.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      “Did a believer ever come to one of your meeting and did you ever have to kick out someone because you found out that they believed in deities?”

      No, but I wasn’t talking about real-world events, but rather online spaces. Our lectures are open to the public, we’ve had theists come to some of our meetups (usually with a spouse or relative) and never yet had a problem. Our private Facebook group is only open to atheists, however, and pretty much everyone prefers it that way. I would agree that this is not “good model for skeptical thinking” about the question of whether theism is true, but that is not a primary goal for that particular forum. The Oklahoma Atheists is primarily concerned with building up a community of unbelief, but we are actively involved with a separate group dedicated primarily to skepticism: http://www.caleblack.com/ucoskeptics/index.html

      “I don’t believe in a safe space from criticism.”

      Nor do I, at least not when it comes to running my blog. However, if an atheist group wants to shield its members from a constant barrage of religious apologia by making their group private or invitation only, I don’t see any problem with that. Not everyone needs to be doing skepticism or philosophy of religion all of the time.