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American Atheists’ Outreach at CPAC: Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Conservatives? I Am.

[3/2/15 Correction: The article originally stated that American Atheists president Dave Silverman is a registered Republican. Dave informed me of the error today and said he is “a registered Independent who always votes Democrat because of the theocracy in the GOP platform.” I sincerely apologize for the error. –DG]

 

I first connected with Jamila Bey because of Skepchick. Back in late 2005 or early 2006, months before working for the Center for Inquiry, I responded to a journalist’s request on a Black Freethinkers Yahoo group. That resulted in a phone interview with a passionate writer who was writing a piece on black atheist women for a new monthly online newsletter. Her article “Farthest Back in the Closet” was published in the second issue of the Skepchick e-zine.

Jamila Bey We Are AAH DC AdIn 2009, I met Jamila in person after giving a presentation on diversity and outreach at the Center for Inquiry–DC. When I became the director of African Americans for Humanism in 2010, I invited her to the AAH advisory committee. And in 2011, I asked her to be one of the faces of the We Are AAH ad campaign. By then I understood that Jamila is a capable spokesperson with years of experience doing radio, public speaking, and debate—and it’s clear that she isn’t afraid to represent controversial positions in difficult circumstances. So when I heard that she joined the American Atheists board a couple years ago, I was glad that she would be one of the diverse voices in leadership positions that help shape the atheist movement.

American Atheists at CPAC

Last year, American Atheists (AA) bought a booth for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), but they were booted just before the event started. And let’s just say there were some vigorous criticisms and defenses surrounding AA president Dave Silverman’s comments regarding why atheists should have a presence at the conference. Yeah. Let’s just say that.

So I was a little surprised to learn on Thursday that AA bought a booth for last week’s CPAC and that AA board member Jamila Bey would be on stage that day. Whoa! How did they manage that, I wondered? And why hadn’t I heard about it sooner? Well, I thought, Jamila’s sure to give an interesting presentation. You tell ’em, Jamila!

Later that day I saw an update from Friendly Atheist: “Atheist Jamila Bey at CPAC: ‘Embrace Me. Let Me Vote for GOP Candidates.'” The article includes these quotes from Jamila’s talk:

Jamila Bey CPAC talk on C-SPANAs conservatives, we’ve always been a family. Remember: we were the party that formed against slavery. We have preserved the Union before and we have persevered in a changing landscape. Our time to do this again is now.

Today I stand before you not just as a fellow conservative, I stand before you as a member of a growing Republican family that has inherited a new generation of potential leaders with millions of voters that we cannot afford to ignore. The law is: change or die. And to grow with our changing family, we must embrace this future to maintain our value systems, and, as Donald Rumsfeld put it best, we’ve gotta prepare for the unknown.

Wh…what?

My stomach twisted. I was confused. My thoughts ran something like this: “Jamila Bey is a conservative?! There’s no way. Is there? How could she be? Wait…what could she mean by that? Maybe she’s just a Republican. Dave Silverman is a registered Republican… [Correction 3/2/15: Dave Silverman is a registered Independent.] But she said out loud that she’s conservative! How?! THERE’S NO WAY!!!”

I watched the full presentation on C-SPAN to see if there was some context missing. There wasn’t. She said it, right there! And…and…she quoted Donald Rumsfeld!

I was flabbergasted because I couldn’t reconcile the Jamila I thought I knew with the Jamila that those CPAC comments seemed to define. Conservative! But they’re against…they’re against my very nature! Everything I stand for! My rights. My freedoms. Conservative! How?

On social media I saw that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. How could an outspoken atheist black woman be a conservative? What did Jamila mean when she identified as a conservative? Was this pandering? But why the hell would atheists want to pander to those assholes? Was it a savvy political maneuver? What could she possibly mean?

My answer is I don’t know. Although people at conferences keep mistaking me for her, I’m not Jamila, and she’s more than capable of sharing her perspective in her own words if she wants to! I wondered, of course—the dissonance last week broke my brain so hard that I Googled “conservative” to make sure I understood the definition. I know that it’s very effective to communicate to an audience, especially a hostile audience, that you share their values if you want them to listen to you, and Jamila’s an experienced public speaker. Also it’s not weird for atheist activists to be fiscal conservatives. I’ll talk about what went through my own mind because I respect my friend too much to want to speculate publicly about her political views. (Yo Jamila, send me a link if you write something up!)

Strategies for Atheist Activism

Beyond whatever Jamila’s personal politics might be, there has again been discussion of American Atheists’ objectives at CPAC. AA addressed some of the criticism and questions on Friday in a 29-minute video featuring AA President Dave Silverman and AA Communications Manager Danielle Muscato.

If you have the time, I highly recommend listening to Dave’s answers in his own words. Here are some of the ideas expressed in the video (transcription my own; remarks by Dave Silverman unless otherwise noted):

  • American Atheists wants to show the CPAC crowd that “conservative” does not equal “Christian.”

American Atheists is at CPAC to spread the word among the people at CPAC that conservatism is not a synonym for Christianity and that there are many many—in fact tens of millions of people—who would vote conservative if not for the theocratic agenda, the social conservative side of conservatism.

  • “Conservative” also does not equal “Republican.”

Of course there’s a big difference between conservatives and Republicans, okay. Republicans have a platform. Conservatism is much broader. And we need to push that Republican platform. We need to push the conservatives to push the Republican platform to clear itself of the Christian crap and make itself a party of all the people so that we atheists—and you know this is gonna be strange for the atheists in the audience—can actually have two candidates from which to choose in the elections.

  • “Conservatism” means “small government.”

Well conservatism is what conservatives say it is, and that is small government.

…I’ll pay the minimum taxes to keep me safe and to protect me, to have a strong military and to protect my rights, but that’s where it stops. Give me the small government that we want. And that’s what conservatism is. That’s my view of what conservatism is.

  • “Social conservatism” is the opposite of small-government “conservatism.”

Now we’re talking social conservatism, is actually the exact opposite of conservatism. It’s the government being bigger; it’s the government going into your life; it’s the government telling you what you can do with your body, when you can do with your body, who you can marry, what you have, how long you have to live. It’s ridiculous and it’s not conservative. It’s theocracy.

  • There are many atheists who are fiscally conservative but socially liberal.

First of all there’s a substantial amount of atheists here. And these atheists are not social conservatives. These are socially liberal atheists, voting conservatives. These are people who are pro-choice. There are people who are pro-marriage equality, pro-death with dignity. But they’re not major issues for these people. They’re minor issues.

  • American Atheists is not at CPAC to recruit atheists who are “social conservatives.”

And again, I want to stress, this is not about recruiting atheists who are anti-abortion or atheists who are anti-gay marriage. There are very few of those. Very very few of them. What we’re finding is the atheists who are on our side, on the humanist side, they just don’t see the importance of it as to be as high as the other issues.

  • Many of those atheists vote conservative because other issues are more important to them than are atheist issues.

The major issues for these atheists are things like gun rights and small government and immigration reform.

  • American Atheists is trying to get conservative atheists (who are socially liberal) to raise their voices as atheists and to be more concerned with atheist issues including separation of church and state and “equality.”

So these atheists are kinda pushing that off to the side and swallowing the bitter pill, and doing what they think is more important. We’re here to raise awareness of the fact that they shouldn’t do that.

What we’re finding is the atheists who are on our side, on the humanist side, they just don’t see the importance of it as to be as high as the other issues. We’re here to raise that profile. We’re here to raise the awareness of the fact that they need to see this as more important and they need to push it within their party.

  • Atheist conservatives need to come out of the closet and raise their profile so that other conservatives will know that atheists matter.

And we’re here to say okay, these people need to raise their voices. They’re not raising their voices. They need to sing. They need to shout. They need to wear their atheist pins. They need to come out of the closet here. Here! at CPAC! So that the candidates who espouse those Christian views will see that they’re not all Christians. We have to raise awareness within the ranks of the fact that atheists exist here in CPAC in conservatism. And that we’re relevant and that we vote and that we matter. So that those conservatives, so that the Rand Pauls and the Ted Cruzes can acknowledge us. So that the Rick Perrys and the Rick Santorums in the world can at least understand that not all their followers are Christians, and that they are hurting conservatism when they assume that they are.

  • American Atheists is fostering humanism and equality at CPAC.

So we’re here to actually push humanism. So you’ve got this bubble, okay, you’ve got this this cauldron, this stew, okay, and that’s what we’re seeing here. It’s a stew. And some of these people are humanists but they don’t see it as important as it should be. So we’re here to raise that awareness, push that up, get humanism in conservatism. Foster it. Bubble it up. Make it known. Make it obvious. Make us not the bad guys. Make us not the evil ones. Make us the good guys clamoring for equality just like we are all the time. This is how we make humanism prosper—by going where it’s not and bubbling it up, going where it’s not prominent, pushing it up, fostering it, nourishing it, making it a presence.

  •  It is effective for atheists and humanists to have a presence within conservatism to push atheism and foster humanism.

We have to come into the belly of the beast and push atheism and push equality where it’s not being pushed. Where otherwise people are just assuming that those crazy Tea Partiers represent all conservatives. They don’t.

We’re here to foster the method, the, the scientific method, the social humanistic method of, of equality. And we’re fostering it here, where nobody else would. We’re alone fostering it here. We’re the only ones pushing equality. We’re the only ones pushing atheism. We’re the only ones pushing not just equality for atheism, but equality for all non-Christians, right here at CPAC. We are making a difference in the belly of the beast here and it’s a difference for good.

Danielle: I mean, this is it, this is the place where these types of big-picture political changes happen. And like I said, we are a civil rights nonprofit focusing on atheism, not on politics, but this is where you have to go if you want to make those changes. And we’re making them, we’re actually making progress, and it’s so exciting to see this happening, to see this starting to happen.

Some of this reminds me of the discussions around whether atheists should be involved in interfaith efforts. But there’s a key difference—the interfaith activists aren’t trying to stomp all over my rights, but the Rick Santorums are. (Man, fuck that guy.)

I mentioned that I felt my stomach twist when I heard Jamila identify as a conservative—I had a literal visceral reaction. As a skeptic, I recognize that it’s hard to think about all of this while trying to minimize my obvious intense (and, I’d say, perfectly reasonable) assumptions and biases. There’s a lot of dissonance when a friend identifies as a member of a powerful group I feel antipathy towards, a group that I spend a lot of my activist time fighting against. It’s not hard to understand why American Atheists’ casual hobnobbing with, and identification as, conservatives brings forth feelings of hurt, anger, and betrayal from other atheists.

As an organizer who’s interested in effective activism, I want to put myself into different shoes and try to look at this from a more neutral perspective. So let’s look at the strategy.

Does This Outreach Work?

Do you think their strategy is effective? I would love to hear what Skepchick readers think about this.

One obvious downside is that associating with conservative conferences and allying with conservative causes alienates some current supporters and may sour potential future supporters. I think that AA wants to minimize this—hence the video above.

After AA’s presence at CPAC last year, American Secular Census published “Courting atheist conservatives: a misguided strategy, statistically.” You can read several different arguments there.

Let’s take a charitable look at some of the arguments in support of their stated strategy.

Dave Silverman argues that atheists need to foster change from within the conservative movement. Does that work? Generally, it’s a good tactic. Can the same arguments that were made to support atheist participation in interfaith work also be made for atheist participation in conservative events? In this case, if conservatives start thinking that atheist voters matter, and that leads them to shift their platforms away from religious fundamentalism (while retaining their other conservative platforms, I assume), I (somewhat grudgingly) acknowledge that it would be an improvement. So I do think the arguments are similar—if we’re talking specifically about the atheist movement.

What are the goals of the atheist movement? The American Atheists website says that it “fights to protect the absolute separation of religion from government and raise the profile of atheism in the public discourse.” In the video, Danielle Muscato said, “We are a civil rights nonprofit focusing on atheism, not on politics.” If we assume that these statements are reflective of the atheist movement’s fundamental objectives, then having an organized presence in conservative groups seems like a good idea. Having a voice in those spaces can raise the profile of atheism in public discourse, and it can help make sure that the separation of church and state is defended.

Is it true that having an organized presence helps shift the party from within? Let’s look at a different issue. It seems that a growing number of the CPAC crowd, particularly young people, now support marriage equalityU.S. News reported: “CPAC might be brimming with young ideology and energy – more than half of the conference’s attendees are between the ages of 18 and 25.” And as Jamila mentioned in her remarks at CPAC, surveys show that young people are increasingly secular. While the conservative movement softens its stand against same-sex marriage because it doesn’t want to alienate young conservatives, isn’t it also wise to get them to pay attention to atheists and consider shifting their platforms to make sure they are attractive to young secular people?

But that objective highlights one of the problems. If conservatives become more accommodating to atheists and secular people, then they’re more likely to do well, and I don’t want them to do well! For many of us, those basic atheist movement goals mentioned above are not our primary motivations for being involved in this broad and wacky “movement,” and “the movement” is actually a collection of related movements with overlapping but different goals. Yes, I want conservatives to be less religious, but I don’t want conservatives to win. I feel more strongly about public education and health care safety nets than I do about prayer at football games. Even though I don’t think that secular organizations can or should be involved with every single issue, and I know that it’s effective to speak to conservatives using language that suggests we’re trying to help them, and I know that it’s good to try to foster change from within…I still don’t want to help CPAC conservatives be better at anything, and I know I’m not alone on that. Blech. It’s difficult to feel positive about AA’s efforts to help atheist conservatives shift their movement in a positive direction if I don’t want conservatives to succeed. Perhaps that’s short-sighted?

On the other hand, Dave said (and other AA staffers have echoed this) that the American Atheists strategy is not about helping conservatives. It’s about helping atheists. From the video (at 7:04):

Danielle: …So is it the goal of American Atheists to help conservatism prosper—is that something that American Atheists is trying to accomplish here?

Dave: This isn’t about conservatism so much as it is about atheism, right? This is about the separation of church and state. This is about having atheists matter, okay. We’re not pushing a conservative agenda or a liberal agenda. We’re pushing atheism, we’re pushing atheist relevance, we’re pushing the separation of church and state, we’re pushing equality, okay. That’s all we ever push. And we’re pushing it here just as we would push it anywhere else. But it is more important that we push it here, because nobody else is pushing it here. Okay? And it has to be pushed. This is something and…you know people that are getting upset about this, they don’t understand—we have to do this. We have to come into the belly of the beast and push atheism and push equality where it’s not being pushed. Where otherwise people are just assuming that those crazy Tea Partiers represent all conservatives. They don’t.

In the video, Dave describes American Atheists’ goals as long-term. Their long game is to foster atheism and the issues that are integral to the atheist movement (church-state separation and “equality”) by having an organized presence at a massive conference—over 11,300 attendees this year!—with some of the most powerful political movers and shakers including just about every one of the 2016 Republican presidential candidates. Why wouldn’t it be worthwhile to have an organized atheist or secular presence there? And remember, Dave and Danielle noted that they’re not there to recruit atheists who are social conservatives.

There’s much more that can be said about goals, strategies, and tactics, and I hope to see some of that conversation in the comments below. I’ll highlight only one other consideration that’s connected to the previous tactic. I mentioned different goals and different movements, and Dave Silverman described different kinds of conservatism. Dave also said that AA is trying to foster humanism within conservatism. Does having an organized atheist presence at conservative conferences foster humanism?

This is the question that breaks my brain. I’m tempted to flip the question: Does helping conservatives foster humanism? Then my gut response is “Hell no!” But aren’t some humanists fiscal conservatives and libertarians? Certainly, yes—but it’s a small minority, and I think it’s a minority for a reason. I’m not a socialist, but I don’t think it was accidental that the early humanist movement in the U.S. was closely tied to socialism. I know I believe in some political ideas that seem intuitively obvious and have strong emotions tied to some of the issues. But I will try to take a charitable look at Dave’s argument (although my gut says he’s wrong wrong wrong and also boooo conservatives but I’ll put that into better words).

There are 11,000 people at CPAC. A significant number of them are atheists, and some are humanists. Some conservative goals conflict with the goals of the atheist movement and the goals of humanism. I agree that having an organized atheist presence at CPAC that pushes atheism and fosters change from within can help the atheist movement accomplish its goals. But I am still afraid that helping the conservative movement recruit young people is harmful to humanism’s goals, because many conservative goals and methods are in direct conflict with humanism’s goals. I understand that there are conservative and libertarian humanists who think otherwise…but I think they’re mostly wrong. Again, I recognize that I have strong feelings about political issues which make it harder for me to consider alternative perspectives. (Note, Rick Santorum was my senator for twelve. fucking. years. Grrr. Strong feelings.)

I’m not as confident in my conclusion as my friends were about the actual color of that dress, but at this moment I’m persuaded by Dave’s argument for AA’s involvement in CPAC (although organized atheism at CPAC is a tiny secular vegetable in a big meaty religion-flavored stew in a cauldron that might be built out of selfishness. I know, I know. I got biases.). I hope they’re right that their involvement can help push secular and atheist issues from within a large and powerful movement, even as it will push some secular liberals away from their work. Considering the increasing number of young secular people, AA might be in a good place to have a growing secular impact on the conservative movement. But I fear in our two-party political system that anything we do that empowers conservatives will ultimately harm “our side.” The libertarian Koch Brothers, for example, support same-sex marriage and abortion rights—David Koch even made abortion rights part of his political platform when he ran for president in 1980—but they pour money into Focus on the Family because evangelical Christians vote for conservative candidates who are tied to the Koch Brothers’ economic interests. (And the Kochs are rumored to be atheists…) Splitting religious and social conservatism from fiscal conservatism seems like a good goal. It’s hard to imagine it happening in our two-party political system.

Politics, man. Complicated business, and I’m no expert. Feedback, further discussion of movement strategy, and gentle criticisms are welcome in the comments.

 

(For the record since I discuss personal politics here: I’m registered independent, but I’m comfortable identifying as a progressive.)

Featured photo credit: Brian Engler, from the first Women in Secularism conference

DebGod

DebGod

Debbie is keenly interested in secularism, skepticism, magic and deception, LGBTQ issues, language and perception, and general geekery. She works at the Center for Inquiry as director of outreach, director of African Americans for Humanism, and intro-doer for Point of Inquiry. You can find her on Twitter: @debgod.

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53 Comments

  1. March 1, 2015 at 7:06 pm —

    There is much that doesn’t make any sense in Bey’s attempts. First off, no matter how Bey tries to redefine conservatism, there’s the reality of what CPAC means by “conservative”. Which is Christian, fundamentalist, theocratic conservatism. Bey can’t change that with a couple of paragraphs in a speech. Speaker after speaker at CPAC invoked God, invoked Christ, hailed “In God We Trust” as our national motto. Secondly, there’s the demographic reality of the Republican party. They rely on tens of millions of Christian fundamentalist voters to gain and hold office. There are maybe, a few thousand atheist conservative voters. The GOP is not about to abandon millions of religious fundamentalist voters for a few thousand atheists. Lastly, there’s a basic fallacy in Bey’s arguments. Atheists and humanists are by their nature progressives, seeking change. Conservatives are opposed to change, that’s fundamental to conservative philosophy. Bey seems to confuse libertarianism with humanism, when in fact they are at odds. It may be true, as you point out, that a minority of atheists are also libertarians, but the vast majority of us are humanists seeking stronger communities and better lives for all.

  2. March 1, 2015 at 7:15 pm —

    It’s a No-True Scotsman situation. The “social conservative” villains versus the “economic conservative” heroes out to show us who the real conservatives are. This argument elides the last 40 years or so of Republican political strategy that has wedded the two for electoral advantage. It’s an outlook that pretends that the Southern Strategy never existed. That Ronald Reagan didn’t kick off his campaign for President in Philadelphia, Mississippi, talking about states rights to a receptive and pale audience a stones throw away from where they pulled the bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner from under a dam in 1964.

    This view, of Noble True Conservatives struggling for control of the wretched masses of yokels and racists disappears the Willie Horton ad campaign, the rise of the Drug War and the era of mass incarceration as if they were aberrations instead of the predictable tools of the Republican party to win elections. It’s the same twaddle that David Brooks regurgitates weekly, as the Blogger Driftglass terms it “Whig Fan Fiction”.

    The fact of the matter is that “small government” conservatism rhetoric has always been just that, a rhetorical tool put to use as a smokescreen to cover for “social” conservatisms excesses. The conservatives have always wanted the government to be just small enough to be unable to interfere in their profitable businesses yet large enough to protect them from the resentment of the great mass of people they harm and exploit. That was true long before the conservatives went from dominating the Democrats to dominating the Republicans

    ” I’ll pay the minimum taxes to keep me safe and to protect me, to have a strong military and to protect my rights, but that’s where it stops…”

    I don’t know David Silverman’s soul nor do I wish to judge his character from a soundbite, but he has to realize that the philosophy he is espousing is that of the landed gentry at best, the slaveholder at worst. Every expansion of the franchise, every enumeration of rights, every step towards anything that reasonable Americans can agree on as freedom has required intervention from the Federal Government in response to public pressure. And the social conservatives that Silverman thinks are aberrant to “real small government” conservatism have been exploiting that alliance throughout our history.

    The fact of the matter is that the very existence of an event like CPAC is a repudiation of Silverman’s reasons to be there. It’s where “social conservatives” line up to take the money of “small government” conservatives in order to plan their strategy to win elections. You can argue (as I do) that it is becoming a doomed strategy. But I don’t think you argue that there are supposedly people of good humanist nature at CPAC if you believe that “humanist” means anything real. If you are a good humanist, if you want to help your fellow Atheists who are attending “Comic Con for Shitheels” then you best serve them by helping them find the door.

  3. March 1, 2015 at 7:24 pm —

    I became a fan of Jamila Bey when I heard her talk in ’11 at an AA event. Since then, I’ve enjoyed her articles and listened to her guest spots on podcasts when I found them. That ended the second I found out she was a conservative Republican. I unfollowed her on Twitter and plan to generally avoid her work in the future. Last year, when Silverman went to CPAC, he said it was because he was “fiscally conservative,” supported “gun rights,” and welcomed those who promote “secular arguments against abortion” to AA. I understood this to mean that Silverman wanted to help his fellow Republicans shred the social safety net, increase income inequality while increasing military spending, increase gun violence, and to oppose the reproductive rights of women and trans-men who can become pregnant. I passionately and without reservation oppose all these goals of Silverman’s American Atheists and did not renew my membership.

    Silverman merely scratched the surface of Republican values I find repugnant. There’s also opposition to accurate teaching of history/science/current events, opposition to minority voting rights, opposition to environmental, food safety, and consumer protection regulations. Conservative Republican governors have indisputably caused the deaths of thousands of their citizens through their opposition to the ACA. And, oh yeah, conservative Republicans oppose attempts to decrease anthropogenic global warming, an existential threat to human civilization.

    I wanted to see if last year maybe I misread Silverman’s intentions, so I watched as much of this year’s interview with Danielle Muscato as I could stand. I again understood that Silverman wanted to help conservative Republicans get votes. I have a hard time imagining something more harmful, not only to me personally, but to millions of Americans, than for more conservative Republicans to win elections. I want to support people and organizations who use their time and resources help people, not hurt them. So, so long American Atheists, Silverman, and Bey.

    • March 4, 2015 at 12:54 am —

      Silverman never, ever said that he welcomed those who promote “secular arguments against abortion”. That is not an accurate or honest thing to say.
      I stand with people who oppose American Atheists decision to court US “conservatives” (*spit*). Nobody hates US conservatives and their thoroughly dishonest positions more than I do. But American Atheists is in the atheist business. Not the liberal business. Their misguided attempts to look for “humanist” conservatives does not mean that they are or want to abandon their liberal secular base.
      I count Dave as one of my good friends. But his understanding of “fiscal conservatism” is flawed. I don’t think he realizes how intentionally and deliberately monstrous and predatory it is.
      But again, this doesn’t mean AA has flipped to the dark side. It’s just a strategy that they are trying to promote their core mission – to advance the position of Atheists in the US.

    • March 4, 2015 at 6:59 am —

      Silverman was quoted as saying, “I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion,”…. “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”

      In the context of attending CPAC, in part, to obtain more members, a conference of people who fervently oppose women’s rights to reproductive autonomy and health, I hardly think the misunderstanding, if it exists, was my fault.

      In this year’s interview with Danielle Muscato, he does claim that, “And again, I want to stress, this is not about recruiting atheists who are anti-abortion…” The issue now is that I don’t believe him because Silverman has never explicitly stated that he would turn down donations/memberships from those who actively and effectively fight against women’s rights. In fact, if Silverman would make such a statement now, I would personally apologize to him. I think all available evidence supports that Silverman has increased the number of anti-choice members of AA, and that’s one of the myriad of reasons why I personally find his values to be in opposition to mine.

      • March 4, 2015 at 3:20 pm —

        Dave did say “”I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion,”…. “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”
        He also said he completely disagreed with that “secular argument”. At no point did he say he welcomed them to AA. However, if they *are* atheists, then they *are* welcome. If people with goofy or dangerous ideas identify as atheists, then they should be able to go to atheist conventions (actually anybody should be able to if they behave, but that’s another story).
        During the 2013 AA con, those anti-abortion “atheists” had a booth. Rebecca and Amy confronted them. Separately, so did I. I think it is a much better idea to allow people to make their case, and then publicly demonstrate why they are wrong, than to ban them. If their ideas have merit, they will stand on their own. If they don’t (and they didn’t) then they won’t stand on their own (and they didn’t). Instead, those people with those bad ideas became the focus of many blog posts (including here) for years after, that showed just why their ideas were wrong. People like Dilahunty and Aron Ra still attempt to debate them to show them why their ideas are wrong.
        I personally don’t think AA was at CPAC to recruit new members. I think they were there for their stated reason – to show “conservative” atheists that they’re not alone (or whatever). As with last year, I think it is a bad idea for them to be there. But I know that does not mean that Dave or AA has actively tried to increased the number of anti-choice members of AA (he, and everyone else at AA) is publicly and vocally pro-choice, and if you think his values are in opposition to yours, then you have a very different understanding of his values than I do.

        • March 4, 2015 at 7:00 pm —

          What percentage of CPAC attendees think “fiscally conservative” includes government defunding of Planned Parenthood? 97%? Higher? Everybody but Dave?

          If my rough estimate is wildly inaccurate, do you think the good people of Fox News might someday figure out a way to increase the accuracy of public perception of their values?

          Bey wrote in her post: “And people did come by the booth! Many signed up for their annual membership- free for one year for all who signed up at the conference.” Silverman has also said on multiple occasions that he went to CPAC last year and this, in part, to recruit. Also, it sucks that I paid full price for my one-year American Atheists membership, while Silverman gave the same thing for free to a bunch of rich assholes who hate me.

          Silverman stated in his interview this year “I’ll pay the minimum taxes to keep me safe and to protect me, to have a strong military and to protect my rights, but that’s where it stops.” He deliberately chose to exclude healthcare, education, environmental/consumer/worker protection, Social Security, and protecting *minority* rights (including voting, fair housing, anti-discrimination, etc.). If his attitude is not, “I’ve got mine, sucks to be you,” he can start by retracting his previous unambiguous statement to the contrary.

          In this year’s interview, Silverman also stated, “When Christianity is pushed by conservativism, non-Christians are pushed away from conservatism. And that’s going to result in them losing votes. And the way that they can fix this is by…” Silverman’s statement is that conservatives losing votes is something that American Atheists can help them “fix.” I think conservatives potentially losing votes is a reason for a small amount of optimism. I have my fingers crossed that Silverman catastrophically fails in his clearly stated goal to help conservatives get more votes because I think millions of Americans deserve a better future.

          Not judging you, you seem cool, but I could never be friends with the guy.

  4. March 1, 2015 at 7:56 pm —

    Actually, it is weird for atheist activists to be fiscal conservatives. Fiscal conservatism is a faith based doctrine that utterly rejects the need to check beliefs against empirical results. Trickle down does not work. Government austerity in an economy that is producing below capacity always hurts economic productivity. Tax cuts aren’t some miracle producer of economic growth at the levels of U.S. taxation. Deficits and debt for a country like the U.S. a world power that has it’s own currency, are not the problem they might be for Greece, a far weaker country without its own currency. Any kind of sensible national health care/health insurance policy really is cheaper and produces better health care results than the U.S. status quo and status quo ante.

    There is nothing about fiscal conservatism that in any way accords with respect for rational thought and empirical testing. For an atheist activist, or an atheist activist organization, to embrace the rejection of empirical reality, to decree that religious style faith is a path to truth, isn’t just weird; rather it undercuts the ability to succeed as an atheist activist. An atheist activist who embraces faith has no argument to make in favor of being an atheist.

    • March 2, 2015 at 10:56 am —

      I try to avoid conflating faith and poorly validated academic frameworks.

      Like it or not, there’s a real backing to Austrian economics, and it takes some serious knowledge of the field to recognize that it’s not valid. As a logician, if you give them their assumptions, the conclusions they derive tend to be quite valid, and at first glance, those assumptions only appear minutely inaccurate.

      To my view as an atheist, the notion that faith isn’t a valid reason to believe something should be only very judiciously used as a reason to dismiss non-religious beliefs. I see all too many people take reasonable, sane concepts and declare them religions. Off the top of my head jerkbags do that with: global warming, evolution(?!?), feminism, capitalism, communism, and government are all things I’ve seen that label dropped on.

      • March 2, 2015 at 3:40 pm —

        A backing to Austrian economics? Yes, but it’s non-scientific. Praxeology, the framework that Von Mises, et al., invented to legitimize their ideology is explicitly anti-empiricist and is based on a priori deduction.

        “Praxeology is a theoretical and systematic, not a historical, science. Its scope is human action as such, irrespective of all environmental, accidental, and individual circumstances of the concrete acts. Its cognition is purely formal and general without reference to the material content and the particular features of the actual case. It aims at knowledge valid for all instances in which the conditions exactly correspond to those implied in its assumptions and inferences. Its statements and propositions are not derived from experience. They are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori. They are not subject to verification or falsification on the ground of experience and facts.”
        https://mises.org/humanaction/chap2sec1.asp

        I don’t see how anyone who self-identifies as a supporter of empiricism or the scientific method could fall for Austrian economics, especially, if you take a few minutes just reading about it’s supporting framework and the history of its creation.

      • March 2, 2015 at 4:01 pm —

        What in the world is a “logician”? That’s not actually a thing.

        • March 2, 2015 at 4:20 pm —

          Here is one answer.

        • March 2, 2015 at 4:54 pm —

          I just meant as a person who approaches things in a logical way. I wasn’t endorsing Austrian economics. Their conclusions are bad, their assumptions are awful, and their supporters are the worst.

          I totally failed to communicate that I think it’s garbage in garbage out.

          But, there’s a lot of academic material supporting it, even if that’s not good stuff.

          Now everyone’s thinking I’m some sorta Austrian apologist, and I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant “Please, stop calling things that are dumb that people believe religion”

          Sorry.

        • March 4, 2015 at 4:41 pm —

          Most people believe they approach things in a logical way….

  5. March 1, 2015 at 8:07 pm —

    The truth is that atheists are terrible judges of character when it comes to people taking leadership roles. There’s a tendency to bend over backwards to explain away what almost always becomes clear long term: the people who run “movement atheism” are authoritarians who are interested in wealth and power, and are generally uninterested in or even opposed to anything related to social justice. I think we should at this point be so far past giving people the benefit of the doubt, especially when their words and actions are pretty clear if you accept them at face value.

    • March 2, 2015 at 7:55 am —

      As a conservative Republican, Silverman prefers the higher unemployment, lower average incomes, poorer health and education outcomes found in Republican regimes verses Democratic. (Compare say, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The needless death toll for Walker’s blocking the ACA in Wisconsin alone is estimated to be between 139 and 671.) There’s not much ambiguity remaining regarding Silverman’s character, though he *is* charming in person. The degree to which Silverman “succeeds” is the degree to which human suffering will increase.

      • March 4, 2015 at 1:02 am —

        Dave is neither a conservative, nor a Republican. And he doesn’t prefer any of those things you accuse him of preferring.

      • March 4, 2015 at 7:07 am —

        Silverman *specifically* said that he was a “fiscally conservative” voter. That is, someone who supports conservative Republican economic policies that have been objectively proven to lead to higher unemployment, lower average incomes, poorer health and education outcomes. There’s no chance of misunderstanding, but perhaps he was misquoted last year.

        • March 4, 2015 at 3:45 pm —

          Yeah, he did say that. But he was wrong when he did. He thinks “fiscally conservative” means “taxes as low as possible for all”.
          What he doesn’t realize is that what conservatives mean by “low taxes for all” is primarily low taxes for the wealthy, so they can build jobs, stimulate the economy, and other such proven false nonsense. The reality is that a 3% tax hike for many in the middle class means they may have to skip a con that year (and maybe it will be AA con). But a 3% tax hike on the wealthy literally means nothing except they will die with less money. It has been demonstrated time after time that marginal tax increases on the wealthy do wonders for the economy, and they simply do not spend less or “create less jobs”.
          When he said he was for gun rights, he seemed to mean responsible citizens should be allowed to own reasonable amounts and types of firearms (I completely disagree with him on this btw). What he doesn’t realize is that when conservatives say they are for gun rights, they mean absolutely no regulations or rules at all. They mean punishing doctors who ask if there is a gun in the household of patients. They mean no background checks at all for any purchase. They mean no denying any guns to anyone – criminals, mentally ill, children, whatever.
          Many people who think they are “conservative” on these issues (and others), think that because they have been lied to by the “true conservatives”. The people who want to scare citizens into thinking that if they don’t vote for this anti-choice anti-gay, theocratic scumbag of a candidate, they are going to lose their guns and go broke with new taxes. And many citizens believe them, because it is presented in believable – yet thoroughly dishonest – package.
          So, no, Silverman does not support conservative republican economic policies. He supports “low taxes” and “gun rights”, but those are not the “low taxes” and “gun rights” that today’s GOP crazy evil bastards support.
          Even the perpetually deluded “Libertarians” in the US don’t mean the same thing as the rest of the GOP when they talk of “taxes” and “freedoms”.

  6. March 1, 2015 at 8:09 pm —

    Doesn’t the atheist community have enough racists, sexists, and transphobes without RWNJs coming in?

    • March 1, 2015 at 11:19 pm —

      Trav Mamone,

      I have a feeling that won’t be too much of a problem. Cpac for the most part seems to be an event for far right Christians, many of which don’t particulary like athiests in addition to loose women and gays. I doubt many, if any of them will becouse athiests becouse of this.

  7. March 1, 2015 at 9:02 pm —

    I was struck by this perspective from Danielle Muscato: “We are a civil rights nonprofit focusing on atheism, not on politics.”

    I thought that civil rights were connected to politics… Besides that, the quote made me think of American Atheists as more like the ACLU than like the American Humanist Association. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

    In 1978, the ACLU defended the right of neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, IL. Their defense led to the resignation of many ACLU members. But the ACLU had a specific mission regarding civil rights, and it stuck to its defense of the neo-Nazis.

    People don’t have to like neo-Nazis to want to defend their right to march.

    As I was writing the post, I tried to think of “the atheist movement” (in the U.S.) as the limited amount of “movement” that may be based on atheism—not humanism, not skepticism, not all the issues that secular people tend to care about, not critical thinking. Just atheism. AA says it fights for church-state separation, civil rights (equality?) for nonbelievers, and a voice in the public sphere. That’s pretty minimal. They have a focused mission that cuts across the political spectrum. I suppose the ACLU does as well.

    The question I was trying to answer about whether reaching out to conservatives is effective was limited to those atheist movement goals. And I’m still having a hard time thinking about it because my atheist politics are tied to humanist and skepticism-related goals. I thought about it, and I agree with Dave that advancing atheism doesn’t require advancing liberal politics. It is about making sure that politics are not tangled with religion.

    For me, thinking about this highlighted the fact that atheism is only part of my activist focus and my interest. Evidence-based public policy, and humanist policy, are very important to me, and those doesn’t necessarily come out of atheism or atheist politicians. Clearly, atheism isn’t sufficient for those. (Exhibit A: Koch Bros.)

    • March 1, 2015 at 10:16 pm —

      AA says it fights for church-state separation, civil rights (equality?) for nonbelievers, and a voice in the public sphere.

      CPAC and organizations like it (I know it’s a conference before the pedants attack) explicitly fight all of those goals, some going as far as to embrace The Family and with it dominionism. There is nothing to be gained by attracting Libertarians much less full conservatives to the cause of atheism.

      Fiscal conservatism has been proven to not work for anyone who isn’t already privileged and I am baffled why anyone who isn’t playing, as John Scalzi calls it, on the lowest difficulty setting would espouse it.

      As for the ACLU, even though they have a focused mission of protecting free speech of all kinds are hated by the right because they are most often the people being told they can’t trample on the rights of others.

  8. March 1, 2015 at 9:15 pm —

    I understand that outreach to conservatives may be useful for some portions of an atheist movement agenda. Those are not the bulk of the hypothetical agenda that interest me. I am more interested in partnering with and influencing the Religious Left in broadening progressivism to include nonbelievers better, and in pushing back against the Religious Right, than I am in promoting secularism among conservatives. I would hope that “social liberal” people would become so disgusted with the conservative movement they they leave and join with the progressives, swallowing their distaste for big government rather than their distaste for theocracy.

  9. March 1, 2015 at 9:29 pm —

    There’s an article over on salon.com, pointing to a 1951 article by William Buckley, that is claimed to be the foundation of modern conservatism. The salon author summarizes the thesis of modern movement conservatism as:

    “The Enlightenment, the intellectual basis of Western Civilization, was wrong. Rational argument supported by facts did not lead to sound societal decisions, Buckley claimed; it led people astray. Christianity and an economy based on untrammeled individualism were truths that should not be questioned. ”

    So if you throw out Christianity from modern conservatism, you’re left with (actual) atheistic Randian “libertarian-ism” who believe certain “facts” regardless of empirical evidence. Or as progressives politely term them, selfish pigs.

    And throwing out the Enlightenment and replacing it with the Book of Rand is almost certainly scarier than some of the more moderate and populist philosophies that can conceivably come out of the Bible (see Pope Francis.)

    http://www.salon.com/2015/03/01/its_worse_than_scott_walker_and_ted_cruz_secrets_of_conservatives_decades_long_war_on_truth/

  10. March 1, 2015 at 10:50 pm —

    In America, “liberal” and “conservative” both describe a package of social and economic ideas that aren’t really connected to each other. There is no reason that someone who opposes Government regulation of business and a low top tax rate should be against same-sex marriage and legalized abortion. But in America, they go together.

    The atheists of past generations tended to be conservative, from Ayn Rand to the Social Darwinists. William Jennings Bryan – the guy who prosecuted the Monkey Trial – was what we would call economically liberal and a strong fighter for unions and fairness for the working man. In fact, he actually began to oppose evolution because the Social Darwinists used it as a justification for oppression – survival of the fittest included the workplace. The old anarchists and logical positivists – and some atheist heads of state, like Calles in Mexico – were all VERY conservative.

    And some of them were also prudish as all hell. The Bolsheviks were atheist, extreme left economically, but extremely conservative when it came to things like sex.

  11. March 2, 2015 at 12:31 am —

    A) The American Conservative Union is unrepentant in its acceptance of outright bigotry in terms of its sponsorship. Sponsoring them with a booth is granting them legitimacy from your organization. B) Your ‘big tent’ isn’t big if you think the invisible hand of the market will magically take care of civil rights for everyone. It just means your shoving others down for better scraps from the table.

  12. March 2, 2015 at 1:03 am —

    Debbie, thank you for writing this thoughtful article. I first encountered Jamila Bey when she spoke at Women in Secularism (also where I first encountered you — we didn’t meet personally, but I was in the audience) and was extremely impressed with her talk (also yours). I was pretty shocked to hear her identify as a conservative in this video, and my subsequent thoughts were much like yours. I’m looking forward to her elaborating on this position, if she chooses to. I don’t know whether AA’s strategy of engaging with political conservatives at CPAC will be successful in helping atheism, but if it’s capable of shifting the Overton window within the Republican party and/or conservative movement even slightly towards secularism, it will be a good thing.

  13. March 2, 2015 at 5:18 am —

    So I’m really tired right now and won’t go into details, but ANYONE that votes for a conservative, regardless of the reason, is voting to criminalize my very existence and put millions like me on the street. I suffer from severe depression and anxiety due to the things conservatives have done here. I’m on disability insurance right now and only have the money to live and the health care I need because of liberals and “big government” so fuck anyone that thinks other human live are not as important as tax breaks for those that can afford it.

  14. March 2, 2015 at 5:49 am —

    I don’t believe conservatism, even broadly construed, is very compatible with humanism; the idea that government should be as strictly limited as possible is directly at odds with the idea that our society should be making the care of the most vulnerable a matter of course.

    Certainly there is vanishingly little humanism to be seen in the policies of the Republican Party, and I don’t see inserting a tiny cadre of atheist voices as being likely to change that. Rather, it allows them to do the Stephen Colbert (character’s) point-and-hug: “See, I have a non-Christian friend!”

  15. March 2, 2015 at 9:24 am —

    This article highlights one of the biggest problems in American politics: labels. Americans are way too hung up on Team Red vs Team Blue, so much so that they are often willing to ignore idiotic things politicians do as long as they are members of the right team.

    Bush II was purportedly a “Conservative,” yet he presided over what was arguably the largest expansion of government in the past 50 years, and Medicare Part D was a straight-up progressive social program.

    Obama is purportedly a “Liberal,” yet he presides over an administration that exhibits an almost Orwellian disregard for civil rights, claiming the right to kill Americans abroad sans due process and spying on its own citizens in the name of “protecting” them (the NSA mass data collection program was just quietly reapproved in case you didn’t know).

    Former NSA chief Michael Hayden, architect of the mass data collection just called himself an “unrelenting Libertarian.”

    It’s not what people call themselves that matters, it’s what they do.

  16. March 2, 2015 at 9:38 am —

    I am having a hard time reconciling the American Atheists billboard/bus sign campaign, that was sometimes deliberately irritating to their target audience, with this desire to seduce them now.

  17. March 2, 2015 at 9:51 am —

    Some stats show that as many as 20% of atheists consider themselves to be politically conservative. That means atheist “leaders” sometimes will have to listen to waffle about balanced budgets and other jibberish to get a few more votes on a petition or a few more dollars in the piggy bank.

    That’s not an ideal situation, but this is not an ideal world, to state the obvious.

  18. March 2, 2015 at 10:55 am —

    ” I’ll pay the minimum taxes to keep me safe and to protect me, to have a strong military and to protect my rights, but that’s where it stops…”

    Noticably absent: education, healthcare, social support, meassures that address systematic inequalities. In the long run, it simply means “I pay the government so it shoots the starving masses or at least lets me do so myself”.

    I think I’m giving up on atheism as such. while it is true that it should be more than “one god less”, it’s meaningless for all the important things. I don’t care WHY you oppose abortion rights (or just don’t care about them since it doesn’t affect you) or universal healthcare. To do so is WRONG and makes you a BAD PERSON.
    So, I said it.

    • March 2, 2015 at 11:09 am —

      The key word in Silverman’s sentence there is obvious for its repetition: “me”. He’s perfectly happy with a government that takes care of him and his needs, not so much anybody else’s. In my book that makes you at least an asshole, or as you put it, a BAD PERSON.

  19. March 2, 2015 at 11:06 am —

    Cheeseus, Silverman.

    I hate to wade to deeply into this. I can, in fact, see the point o seeking out atheists anywhere they’re found if you’re an organization called American Atheists. But this:

    What we’re finding is the atheists who are on our side, on the humanist side, they just don’t see the importance of it as to be as high as the other issues.

    Seriously? If you think gun rights and low taxes are more important than marriage equality and reproductive choice and a whole bunch of other issues he didn’t even mention specifically, then you’re not much of a humanist. Not to mention that sounds like the very definition of privilege.

    • March 2, 2015 at 4:33 pm —

      Yeah, that was my othe FU moment. People who think that fundamental human rights are kind of important but not as important as paying, say, 2% less taxes…

  20. March 2, 2015 at 12:56 pm —

    Yes, the party of Lincoln was the Republican Party, but it was not the conservative party of its day. In fact, it was far more liberal than its Democrat opponents.

    The Republican Party remained more or less liberal until the Taft faction took over during Teddy Roosevelt’s tenure as president. That was when the big money interests came to dominate the GOP, and social and political conservatism became the Republican norm.

    I am disappointed that Bey offered this Republican spin on history that the Republican Party was always conservative, even in its beginning. The Party that freed the slaves was not a conservative organization.

  21. March 2, 2015 at 1:54 pm —

    I agree with the intent of the AA outreach but CPAC??? That is like trying to work on interfaith projects with Westboro Baptist Church.

    CPAC is full of the extreme right of the GOP. Movement atheism has enough issues with extremism without bring in those CPAC yahoos.

  22. March 2, 2015 at 3:27 pm —

    I’ve heard many times from conservative (usually libertarian) atheists that we should be united against our common enemies, the religious. What they often fail to understand is that I would far rather unite with progressive believers against our common enemy the conservatives. They might make for poor conversation but they’re the ones who get my donations.

    I’ve supported both American Atheists and Jamila a lot over the years, but I’m regretting it now. I never want to be in the position where I support someone with terrible politics because I like their cosmology.

  23. March 2, 2015 at 3:41 pm —

    Thank you for the links to American Secular Census, Debbie. I appreciate that this was a difficult blog to write, and I feel you were more than fair in your coverage. I’ve attempted to engage Jamila Bey on her Facebook timeline about her CPAC appearance, but I don’t feel any of her (or several others’) responses really addressed the key points I raised. It is probably the wrong venue and bad timing.

    Reaching out to conservatives is not a new thing in the freethought movement. Atheists have been attempting for years to dismantle the theocratic impulses of the CPAC/GOP crowd: via direct and grassroots lobbying, via lawsuits, via the media, via formation of a PAC, via publication of the Secular Majority platform based on opinion data from the American Secular Census, and even by hiring a Republican insider a few years ago to “work both sides of the aisle” for the Secular Coalition for America, of which American Atheists is a member. The official GOP platform hasn’t budged a bit for all those efforts; it still opposes marriage equality, reproductive choice, and stem cell research, to name just a few of many, many planks that most atheists and humanists would find contradictory to the values our movement organizations are obligated via their missions to advance.

    Jamila’s concern for her son’s education and future are understandable and very sincere, I am convinced — but she does not offer any evidence for the GOP/CPAC model or even “small government” (a loaded and inaccurate term, IMHO) holding the key to opportunity for him. To the contrary — their record on public education is known more for its medically inaccurate sex education, creationism in science class, attempts to rewrite history lessons with a Christian dominionist theme, tuition vouchers that divert our tax dollars to religious instruction and proselytism, and in many classrooms egregious violations of the church-state separation American Atheists claims to champion.

    Reaching out to those who hold opposing views to our own can be productive — we probably need to be doing more of it, actually — but Jamila was not present at CPAC as an individual. She was there as a director of American Atheists, recognizable as a movement leader. Moreover, the president of that organization’s board, Dave Silverman, has also attended CPAC in his official capacity and worked with the organization’s public relations director, Danielle Muscato, to produce an interview about the rationale for American Atheists’ outreach there. This organization’s repeated overtures to CPAC, exclusively, is perplexing from a strategic standpoint, since truly “big tent” atheism would not risk alienating potential supporters with political stances and associations unrelated to mission, or at least would attempt a balanced approach. But I am not an American Atheists member or donor, so I have no standing to object — those decisions belong ultimately to its board of directors, including Dave and Jamila. The fears that I *can* legitimately air have to do with, for starters, the message we are presenting as a movement to political constituencies, the public, and elected officials.

    Secular organizations have gone to great lengths to identify specific issues to address; we have held the debates backstage as to which issues are truly within our purview (and different groups have come to different conclusions — probably a healthy thing); in general we have been unified and consistent about ignoring political associations to focus on positions taken on issues we are charged with advancing. (I am reminded of a conversation some years ago between Secular Coalition founder Herb Silverman and a GOP candidate in South Carolina. “Could you support me in this election?” Herb was asked. “Yes,” he responded, “I could. If you changed your positions on just about everything, I could support you.”)

    In no case have the ideas raised by Dave and Jamila at CPAC (things like “small government,” “strong military,” and “low taxes”) been among those issues addressed by the secular movement; yet now we have atheist leaders appearing in their official capacities emphasizing them in ways that suggest these are core or at least widely-held principles in the atheist community — that, in our diversity, we include a significant number of conservative Republicans just yearning for our party to return to its roots and jettison theocracy so we can support it again. In fact, there is no data at all to support such a conclusion; and what data we do have suggests exactly the opposite: in 2012, American Secular Census registrants voted for and donated to Republicans dead last, after Democrats, Greens, and Libertarians, in that order. The secular movement is not defined by its leaders, but outsiders (particularly outsiders who identify with a movement like conservatism that holds the concept of authority in higher esteem), may not understand that. The truth is, I’m not sure all our leaders understand it, either. And what is a progressive secular to do with Dave’s embrace of the word “humanism” other than to conclude, “Well, then I guess I’m not a humanist either,” and walk away from the movement altogether?

    The messaging is just too muddled here, and from where I sit the root of it seems to lie with American Atheist leaders continuing (from last year at CPAC time) to conflate their own personal opinions with the official stances and strategies of their organizations and perhaps the movement at large — a giant case of confirmation bias.

    But my deeper concern is that American Atheists, as a 501(c)3 educational organization, is supposed to be avoiding partisan politics. For an AA leader to show up at a deeply partisan political event and announce “I am one of you,” followed by advice about the need to reform and how to do it — without even a pretense of educating Dems, Greens, and Libertarians about the concerns of secular constituents as well — seems incredibly risky to me, with potential fallout not just for AA but also for the Secular Coalition for America (AA’s lobbying organization which still must avoid partisan associations) and all of the Secular Coalition’s other member groups. There is already significant overlap in the governance of some of these groups; for example, in addition to her position at American Atheists, Jamila Bey also serves on the Secular Coalition board of directors. (I intended to cite others, but at this time the American Atheists site appears to be down.)

    Thanks again for your analysis, Debbie, and to other thoughtful commenters.

    • March 2, 2015 at 4:32 pm —

      I, too, was troubled by Silverman’s use of “humanism.” By doing so, he is literally denying the humanity of those of us who will be directly harmed by the increase in the number of conservative Republicans in power. Must be a nice position to be in.
      Silverman’s strategy isn’t puzzling in the least. He can do simple math and he’s calculated that one Koch brother, or equivalent, makes up for losing untold thousands of good people – and he will still come out ahead by several orders of magnitude.
      I don’t fear “fallout” against AA or against Silverman. I fear his success – at enriching Silverman and AA at the expense of me and a bunch of people I care about, including the most disadvantaged Americans. The degree to which Silverman is successful is the degree to which I will have a harder time finding and keeping a job, the degree to which I will struggle to obtain a living wage, the degree to which I risk dying from an easily treatable illness that I cannot afford to have treated, the degree to which my two elderly parents will receive their earned benefits from the government, to only *begin* to list the harm.
      This is a deeply personal issue on so many levels, and I’m hoping against hope that Silverman, and the members of the AA board who share his values, are defeated in their efforts to harm me.

  24. March 2, 2015 at 3:48 pm —

    Sigh.. The whole – minimal government, but strong military things…

    Ok, what does that even mean exactly? Because, here is the thing, when you cut taxes, you have to cut programs, or workers. Even now we have clearly stupid shit, like the statistic I once heard, ironically from the libertarian source, which states that there is “less than one” person in the whole country responsible for maintaining safe water regulations – i.e., the government, how ever many such people there really are, have 5,000 other things to do, besides just making sure every state follows the correct standards, for their *own* local water sources. Mind, if you ship it across state lines, there is a whole other set of agencies that can do the making sure, but the one responsible for making sure each state, internally, follows sensible rules… isn’t being funded properly.

    This is always going to be my argument “against” the “small government” bullshit. Because, near as I can tell, it always means, “Defund the stuff I think isn’t important, even if I have no clue what it does, how big its job is, or why it exists in the first place.” I want effective government, and.. unfortunately, human nature being what it is, for it to be effective, you either have to remove all the idiots from government, who are actively trying to break shit, because they literally can’t comprehend why it needs to be funded, or.. you have to layer more and more agencies over the mess, in the hope that all the idiots spend too much time stabbing each other in the back to notice that something they don’t like, because they don’t bloody understand it, is getting done **in spite** of them.

    Its really unclear to me, given which sort of people whine about “smaller government”, how you get to the former (less idiots), instead of just funding the later (enough interference that they can’t sabotage things too badly).

    Cynical? Hell yes. Any sane person would be.

    The military is.. the same stupid things, only worse. What do you mean “strong”? Does that mean strong enough to protect the country from people actually attacking the country? Well, not really. Does it means strong enough to deal with world crisis? Err, well, not really that either, since the same “strong military” types that insist this is what its for whine and complain any time the military is used to provide aid (unless it somehow makes their personal cult, or political party look good), and scream even louder if it means their isn’t enough of some part of said military to bomb something they imagine is a threat. The only thing, “strong military”, seems to mean to these people is saber rattling. It means overwhelming force, not just “necessary” force. It means we turn the military into something like the Russians where doing during the cold war – billions spent on projects even the military says they don’t want, need, or just flat won’t work, because, “We would look, or be, weak, if we didn’t waste half the GDP, or more, on useless, costly, ineffective, and ultimately unusable, “next big thing” weapon systems.”, which, spending money on, somehow, makes us look strong, instead of like… I don’t know… idiots again?

    The rest of there “definitions” about what constitutes the sanity of the “conservative” position is much the same. I consider myself a realist? Or, maybe there is some other better word, but I am not sure. Because reality is – you need to not just help, but stop the trajectory, that the bottom levels of society are on, so everyone prospers. The only “peace” you can ever hope to achieve in the long term is one where there is less tribalism. Bombing the neighboring tribe makes them not just “more” tribal, if any of them are left, it creates extremists. No long term alliance, or change in the way a country functions, has ever happened as a result of going into it, killing the bad guys, then either staying there, to remind the ones you missed who to hate, or, oddly enough, leaving, to let the same people pick up the pieces and strike back. The only thing that has “ever” been effective is erasing differences, expanding your success to become their own, to, in short – do the expensive, complicated, and for the bigots, racists, war mongers, and profiteers, impossible thing – give the people that are not on the extreme fringe an option they are willing to fight for, because they don’t want to lose it, when the nut cases take over again. If the common people don’t give a damn, never see, or don’t like, your alternative, they either ignore, bow down to, or side with, the crazies that we need this big, scary assed, expensive, military to “defend against” in the first place.

    And, in the mean time, you waste so much money on keeping that thing running, at peak inefficiency, that your own people start to wonder if.. maybe what you are offering at home isn’t all that worth fighting to keep either (some, might even become so disillusioned they start listening to the crazies lies about how they have a better, or worse, more religiously pure, option).

    In short, wtf does “strong military even mean”? Why does it always seem to be, “Able to piss people off on a grand scale, and 50 times more expensive than necessary to even do that.”? I just don’t get what the heck they think this accomplishes, while robbing their own country of all the other shit they plan to defund to get/stay there.

    If these, and other howlers are what “conservative” means.. then… hell no, I cannot ever agree with them. If they want to talk to me about actually reducing costs, by making the damn government work right, instead of just taking a bloody chain saw to the rose bush, as it where, or figuring out what role the military “should”, and “can” provide in making the world safer, instead of just, inadvertently more dangerous, then great. Until then, they can shove both, and ever other “conservative” value, as its actually practiced, up their asses.

  25. March 3, 2015 at 10:41 pm —

    These AA people are downright scary. Social conservatism is a great evil that can only be defended by people who are backward, one that must be combated until hell freezes over if necessary (never mind the fact that the wars against nature and against middle class/working class/poor people, though productive of infinite harm in the social and cultural arenas, are not worthy of mention; but economic conservatism, in other words the maintenance of fascist neoliberalism, well that’s just a core part of what conservatism’s all about, a legitimate part of the Republican philosophy, so we we’ll just accept it and let it be. Someone needs to point out to Silverman that a small government-strong defense position is an oxymoron. And the idea of pushing humanism into conservatism is absurd. A conservatism that fully ingested humanism would no longer be conservative (in the mode in which right-wingers advocate it). If you look at Humanism’s stated principles they call either directly or implicitly (sorry Debbi :-) for democratic socialism–the sociopolitical philosophy called for in HMI as well as by Martin Luther King, Jr., to my mind the greatest moral leader in American history. The leaders of AA could learn a great deal from him. Silverman seems to define Humanism as “equality.” But equality is impossible without economic justice. Here’s where we see the big lie. AA’s leaders aren’t at CPAC to promote Humanism, certainly not principally. They’re their to further the cause of their narrow atheist ideology, which, it just so happens, will go a lot more smoothly for them if they continue to ignore the plight of countless numbers of people suffering the various effects of economic oppression.

    • March 3, 2015 at 10:48 pm —

      Don’t see a way to edit here. Meant to say “They’re there … “

    • March 4, 2015 at 8:48 am —

      Yep, she pretty much confirmed what I suspected. She is a “I don’t like labels” Libertarian, conservative on issues of economics, immigration, etc.

      She is welcome to be that, and AA is welcome to chase that demographic, but I’ll be saving my money for organizations that realize that economic disparity of the kind that is espoused a CPAC is a far greater risk to our freedoms then whether God is on our currency or they can mumble to their favorite deity before council meetings.

      And don’t get me wrong, those things piss me off something fierce, but if we would get back to a fairly tiered tax system in this country and all it cost me was allowing prayers in county board meetings I’d be leading the first one. And it would be glorious.

      • March 4, 2015 at 9:15 am —

        Amen.

      • March 4, 2015 at 2:34 pm —

        You know, the terms “libertarian” and “conservative” can be somewhat cryptic under any circumstances. They sort of mean whatever the person saying them wants them to mean. But I think most people can vaguely agree with what they mean on economic issues. But what exactly is the conservative/libertarian position on immigration anyway? I wonder because she did mention it, and to me it’s a big issue for anyone calling themselves a humanist.

        As I see it there are basically three positions on immigration that could be called “conservative” or “libertarian”.

        The true libertarian position is open the borders. Let them in, give them documents, treat immigrants like any other American. This position is extreme enough that we might see “In God We Trust” struck off our money before we see it. And it could be really disruptive for a lot of people in the short term. But I actually basically support it.

        The Tea Party position is: Build a wall. Keep all immigrants out unless there’s a desperate need for them, they speak English, and preferably are white and Christian. That position is antithetical to humanism and downright evil.

        The GOP establishment position is: Keep legal immigration difficult and keep harsh laws on the books so that immigrants can be essentially forced into slavery under nearly any conditions by employers under threat of deportation, but talk about building a wall and keeping all immigrants out because the base will vote for you. Nudge nudge, wink wink. That position is also downright evil and antithetical to humanism.

        There’s a fourth position, but I think it’s got to be reserved as the liberal option, since Jeb Bush has been booed for suggesting it: broadly, it’s some kind of improved system, making immigration easier for a lot of people, treating current immigrants as human beings, and still trying to stem the tide of immigration in some way and keep out criminals. If that’s the conservative position, then I don’t see why we haven’t done it yet since it’s also the Democratic party position.

        So I’m really confused over the choice to use immigration as an issue on which she’s conservative, and I’d be curious to know what she (or anyone else who says it) means by it.

  26. March 6, 2015 at 1:37 pm —

    Just noticed I left off part of your name in my comment above, Debbie.

    I’d fix it but don’t see a way of editing.

    My apologies.

  27. March 30, 2015 at 3:04 pm —

    I’ve never understood the Log Cabin Republicans. That’s like me, as as someone of Jewish ancestry, joining a neo-Nazi group. Why would you join a group that actively fights against people like you? I don’t think you can reform the Republican Party from within. The only thing that will change them is for them to keep losing on a national level. If they keep losing the presidency, they’ll eventually get wise to the changing of America. The religious right is so influential in the party that they’ll need to be dragged into the 21st Century out of desperation.

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