(Trigger warning: abuse, rape)

Earlier today, I was notified that The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, is launching a Kickstarter for a book called God Is An Abusive Boyfriend (And You Should Break Up). If it isn’t obvious from the title, the book is about making specious comparisons between domestic violence and religion. As someone who was raised strict Catholic and has had abusive partners in the past, I’d like to list six things my abusive exes did to me that god never did to me!

A book cover with a tall man with a beard whose face is hidden by clouds putting an arm around a young woman, who looks uncomfortable.1) Hit me
2) Hold me down and force me to have sex while I begged him to stop
3) Show up at my house/workplace/school unannounced to try and “win me back” after I left him
4) Give me expensive gifts and then use them as emotional blackmail when I was upset with him
5) Blow up over petty disagreements so I was always afraid of “setting him off”
6) Intentionally humiliate me in front of his family and friends, then play it off as a joke when I got upset

Some things worth highlighting from the Kickstarter:

  • If you’re not religious, we hope you find it entertaining and informative.” I agree, jokes about domestic violence are super entertaining!
  • From the video: “Personally, this is the most fun I’ve ever had on a writing project.” To respond to that, I’d like to quote fellow Skepchick Julia Burke: “WOMEN ARE NOT YOUR FUCKING POP CULTURE REFERENCE PAWN IN YOUR GILMORE GIRLS ATHEISM.”
  • We understand some people will have strong feelings about this project, but it’s certainly not our goal to offend anyone.” Oh, well in that case!

 

Are there instances where religion is used to justify the oppression of women? Absolutely. But to define someone else’s personal religious beliefs for them while making a hacky joke about domestic violence is just gross and extremely disappointing. And yet, people still wonder why there aren’t more women involved in organized atheism.

Rather than give to this Kickstarter, why not donate some money to a local domestic violence shelter? I don’t know what else to say to express my serious disappointment, so I’ll just let Tyra Banks speak for me.


 

EDIT (August 7, 2014): Hemant has announced he is cancelling the Kickstarter.

Sarah

Sarah

Sarah is a feminist, atheist vegan with Crohn’s Disease, and she won’t shut up about any of those things. You really need to follow her on Twitter (and probably Google+, just to be safe).

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22 Comments

  1. Avatar of boyofd
    August 6, 2014 at 4:29 pm —

    I appreciate this article because it gives me perspective that I honestly would have missed. It also disappoints me that, after looking at the pages from the book that are shown on the KS page, it appears that the same book could be titled: “God is a Neglectful Partner” or “God is a Shitty Boyfriend,” or something similar without needing to tone down the “points” made in the book (which are just picture-book-ish one-liners). That title doesn’t even enhance the “joke” for the people oblivious to abuse victims.

    Separate from the abuse issue, I also really liked this terrible example of logic: “The reaction was overwhelmingly positive (at least from the viewers who watched the whole thing).” Translated: “People who disliked or were offended by my video were significantly more likely to turn it off before it ended than those who liked it.” Ground breaking.

  2. Avatar of Amy Roth
    August 6, 2014 at 5:06 pm —

    This book seems to send the message that only women are dumb enough to get in an abusive relationship. Interesting that it is targeted in such a way.

    • Avatar of Jon Brewer
      August 6, 2014 at 7:04 pm —

      Well, straight women, gay men, and bisexuals of both sexes, one could ‘technically’ argue.

      There’s also he idiocy of the notion that it’s always possible to break up without repercussions. Abusers…don’t take rejection well. (Understatement of the century.) Then again, historically, religion hasn’t either, and atheism is still a capital offense in some parts of the world.

  3. Avatar of marilove
    August 6, 2014 at 5:23 pm —

    “We understand some people will have strong feelings about this project, but it’s certainly not our goal to offend anyone.”

    This right here is what gets me most. So they are aware that this sort of connection is possibly offensive, but they care so little about those they clearly know they are going to offend, they do it anyway. Merely to amuse. How nice is that.

    I used to respect The Friendly Atheist. No more. This is just the end of my rope. Using abuse victims for a joke? Disgusting.

    • Avatar of boyofd
      August 6, 2014 at 5:52 pm —

      I’m not sure it make a difference to you, but my assumption is that they are indicating they are aware that it will be offensive to Christians/religious folks, which it obviously would be (to most). My guess is that they were originally tone death to the idea that this was offensive in other ways. At least, I hope that is the case.

    • Avatar of jynnan_tonnyx
      August 7, 2014 at 11:34 am —

      “I used to respect The Friendly Atheist. No more.”

      Yeah, I’ve kinda been done with him since the whole Elevatorgate thing. If memory serves, as the conflict started to really snowball, his response was basically to play “neutral”: something along the lines of “Hey, everyone, let’s let this go. We’re all on the same side.”

      That was about the point when I realized, no, we are clearly not all on the same side.

    • Avatar of jtradke
      August 7, 2014 at 12:14 pm —

      He’s “friendly” insofar as friendliness means “not fighting”, which ignores the fact that there are fights worth having.

  4. Avatar of marilove
    August 6, 2014 at 5:23 pm —

    And in fact, this doesn’t come off as very “friendly” to me.

  5. Avatar of mrmisconception
    August 6, 2014 at 6:06 pm —

    In answer to this criticism Hemant adds

    Because people have suggested that we’re somehow making light of domestic violence, we wanted to assure you that’s not the case. In fact, we take the issue very seriously. This idea of God as an abusive partner is not a new one and a lot has been written about the parallels. Many of those essays, however, are written for a more academic audience. Our goal is to simplify those thoughts and present them in a way that will hopefully be more effective.

    So “others have done it” is a valid excuse and makes it totes OK? Cause it’s dumbed down, that can’t make it even worse. Ever.

    Is Hemant bucking for a name change to The Clueless Atheist?

    • Avatar of Michael Waters
      August 6, 2014 at 7:31 pm —

      That’s more of less what I’ve been thinking off him since that secular pro-life incident.

  6. Avatar of walking points memo
    August 6, 2014 at 10:31 pm —

    imagine if instead he devoted these resources to a more worthy cause like finding out how does catdog procreate

  7. Avatar of Deborah Bell
    August 6, 2014 at 11:36 pm —

    When I was coming to atheism, one of the steps along the way was thinking through the fact that the god I had been taught to believe in would be a really scary and evil individual if he were human, and deciding being “god” didn’t change that. So I kind of resonate with that basic premise, but it sucks they have to go so carelessly off on a tangent with it. Some sort of novelization or allegory that made the true weirdness of the described character attributed to this god character accessible as someone none of us wants to know and none of us could in good conscience serve even he did exist might be useful rather than this. But I suppose that would take hard work and time and effort, and wouldn’t be as fun or flashy.

  8. Avatar of lamuella
    August 7, 2014 at 4:16 am —

    So at a stroke they alienate:

    1) religious people, who won’t appreciate their god being compared to an abuser
    2) Anyone who gives a crap about victims of domestic abuse and doesn’t want to see their suffering used for a cheap gag

    So all you have left is pretty much atheist dudebros. Which is the target market for a lot of people like this go for. No thanks.

  9. Avatar of Cygore
    August 7, 2014 at 6:44 am —

    It might have worked if he used the title, but then did a serious book on the subject of religious coercion. Just like The God Delusion and God is not Great were provocative titles, but treated the subject of religion seriously. A book treating domestic abuse as a joke, however, doesn’t work, or is next to impossible to pull off.

    • Avatar of jtradke
      August 7, 2014 at 12:19 pm —

      Right. Like, the comparison’s not inapt, that’s not really the problem here, it’s the fact that they’re *joking* about it. That picture of the woman cowering in the shadow of “God” ceases to be funny when you engage your empathy circuits for two seconds and understand that some people actually do literally cower under the threat of violence from their partner.

  10. Avatar of Chris Rippel
    August 7, 2014 at 9:15 am —

    Thanks for writing this article. Though I had heard of this project I hadn’t given it any thought until reading this article. Signed “Guy who has never been in an abusive relationship though I do recall saying some stupid and mean things to girls when I was young.”

  11. Avatar of Skepotter
    August 7, 2014 at 9:58 am —

    Libby Anne (Love, Joy, Feminism blog) does a superb job of describing the nuances of religious coercion. The above bit is more of a travesty. A toy for the dudebros.

  12. Avatar of Raina
    August 7, 2014 at 11:34 am —

    It is disappointing, though not at all surprising, that many of the popular/ prominent figures in the mainstream atheist movement continue to appropriate the experiences of oppressed groups for the purposes of attacking religion. This is disgusting. Although I never have been a victim of intimate partner violence it disgusts me to see this sort of violence trivialized. This only further demonstrates how mainstream atheism is centered around the experiences of white cishetero men.

  13. Avatar of Ellen Taylor
    August 7, 2014 at 5:18 pm —

    I was just wondering if you see a difference between Hemant’s kickstarter and the part of the following presentation that starts at around 7:00 and ends at around 10:00?:

  14. Avatar of sevlevboss
    August 7, 2014 at 11:05 pm —

    Let’s remember, that unlike your ex-boyfriend (and holy-shit what an asshole), God is, thankfully, fictional.

    I say thankfully, because if that asshole was real, you would be subject to a guy who says you better love him or he’ll have you punished.

    I agree wholeheartedly that fictional abuse is much better than non-fictional abuse. That said, there are many, many believers out there who are afraid not to love God in fear of the punishment. For them, the abuse is real, even if not as severe as what you experienced (ASSHOLE!!!!).

  15. Avatar of zeyus
    August 28, 2014 at 10:21 pm —

    While I understand and appreciate your point of view, I’d like to point out that some of us that grew up in religious households did experience physical violence as a form of punishment from god (of course meted out by dutiful parents)

    Being a jehovah’s witness growing up meant that the emotional blackmail was extremely strong, and any deviation from the prescribed course meant the potential abandonment from your entire circle of friends and family.

    Of course, god being a fictional character actually does nothing itself, but so many times people use god and the bible as an excuse to do bad things (not to mention the atrocious acts of god in the bible itself) and those that supposedly represent him also use their positions to take advantage of those they supposedly look after.

    That doesn’t make it OK to treat domestic violence as a laughing issue but there are more forms of abuse than just physical, and my upbringing definitely encompassed most of them.

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