A Disappoint BEAST Editorial
A couple of recent events have me disappointed in American Atheists. I agree with most of what they do, but being a skeptic means you have to call bullshit when you see it, even when it’s coming from friends.
First of all!
And I like to think that I’m friends with American Atheists. A couple of weeks ago BEAST contributor Joe Dixon and I interviewed their President Dave Silverman. At one point I asked a question about how civil rights struggles against segregation and for marriage equality might not be the best comparison to make when talking about the secular cause. I said that the difference as I saw it was that there’s an “element of choice” in being an atheist while traits like race, ethnicity, and sexual preferences are genetically caused.
I think Silverman misunderstood what I was trying to say, or maybe I just didn’t express myself clearly. But he seemed to think I was saying that we can choose what we find to be convincing. What I meant was more like that we can choose to re-evaluate our beliefs. People can enter into or leave a faith later in life and for the most part we accept their sincerity. But when someone says that they’ve prayed away their homosexuality, we rightfully tend to think they’re full of shit. That’s what I meant by there being an element of choice inre: theism where it doesn’t exist in other civil rights issues.
So at first I thought I just didn’t convey that very well in the moment and that Silverman misunderstood me. But it seems like his organization understood what it means to have a choice when it comes to re-examining one’s theism:
This billboard and a similar one with a Hebrew translation went up in NYC neighborhoods just ten days after I posted our Silverman interview (at least one of them did). Maybe he wanted to take my poorly worded question as an opportunity to counter a popular misconception theists have about atheists, i.e. that we’re just being rebellious for its own sake and are choosing to say we don’t believe in God in order to spite Yahweh and make Jesus cry. That possibility is why I didn’t mention this earlier. But then…
And Another Thing!
Just yesterday, this popped up on my Twitter timeline:
Tom Harkin is a US Senator (D-IA). Those of us who follow skeptics’ issues might recognize his name from when he tried to get alternative medicine covered under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka OBAMMERCARE. Harkin’s amendment ultimately failed, so fortunately none of us are going to be compelled to subsidize the quackery industry. But if Harkin had his way, we would.
Remember, this is the Reason Rally. I thought the point was to advocate for reason-based policy in our government. That’s why it’s taking place in Washington, DC. It’s not just to celebrate atheism – which would be a fine goal in itself. So why have someone who’s known as an opponent of evidence-based politics give a video greeting there? Is it so we can throw tomatoes at the screen?
And it’s not like the rally’s desperate for congressional cred. Representative Pete Stark of California (D-Oakland) is already slated to give a video testimonial and, unlike Harkin, he’s an out atheist who’s taken no anti-science positions – as far as I can tell.
Back in 2009, skeptic bloggers rightfully lost their shit when Atheist Alliance International gave an atheist award to Bill Maher for his movie Religulous. Part of the award had to do with advocating science and, like Harkin, Maher is a promoter of woo medicine. Although he’s pretty influential in a way, Maher’s just a talk show host. Harkin is an actual politician. And a Senator, at that. He’s one of the 100 most powerful legislators in America. But so far I haven’t heard a peep about Harkin addressing the Reason Rally.
[UPDATE] I forgot to also point out that Harkin was instrumental in creating the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine in 1992. And it’s not like he was just out to test whether or not alt-med worked, because he later lamented the fact that none of his nonsense could be validated with empirical evidence.