Just Because You’re An Atheist…

Posted by on February 10, 2012 in Featured, Thoughts | 26 comments

There’s often an assumption made by people who are atheist that generally those who are like minded in their views on God and religion will be like minded in other areas around human rights, gender equality, marriage equality, animal rights, and any other viewpoint that may have to do with “right” versus “wrong”. This is not a value judgement, this is more about perception; atheists tend to champion causes aside from the simple statement that “there is no god”. And there is a simple reason for this, that those who see the attitudes and values forced upon others by religious doctrine and dogma will tend to see inequality elsewhere when it arises. It is great to see so many passionate people acting as stalwarts for the rights of others and for the planet makes me feel I am not alone in my quest to make the world a better place. And while I label myself “atheist”, this speaks more of my tendency to examine situations and come to a conclusion based on evidence and observation, with the “God question” being but one of many questions that are raised.

However this does not mean that all “atheists” are like this, and it does not mean that atheists are all reasonable and rational people. This past week has proven this, with two examples of extremely sexist behaviour, one on Facebook by the famous atheist magician Penn Jillette, and the other coming from a “popular” atheist YouTuber named The Amazing Atheist, both who displayed utterly stupendous examples of not only sexism, but damaging misogyny on their respective pages or platforms du jour. I’m not going to post their comments here, but I’ll link to them do you can see for yourself at your own discretion what they were saying.

One may argue that the levels of sexist stupidity displayed by these two are on different playing fields, the first calling someone a “cunt” for a disagreement in a viewpoint, the other only just falling short of a violent and sexually brutal death threat, both use sexually violent language, the kind that misogynists seem to use far too freely. This comes to me as no surprise from these two, both have a reputation for being brash to say the least, and the former, the Amazing Atheist, is known to have done this kind of thing before.

Know however that this is not a storm in a teacup. Places like Reddit are rife with misogynistic group-think, like the example of the 15 year old girl who was given a copy of Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World” by her mother, and was then subjected to a whole thread of men making innuendo about how they’d “do her”. Rape jokes ensued, hilarity did not follow.

Or the case of the British blokes magazine Unilad who published a story about “dating” which stated:

“If the girl you’ve taken for a drink… won’t ‘spread for your head’, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds.”

The comments which followed the article were more disgusting than the article, and all the usual crass rape jokes came to the fore, but the real furore came when the article was pulled from the publication. It is fair to note that the last link is not from an “atheist” group, but a bunch of blokey “lads havin a laff”, but it goes to illustrate what we’re up against here.

At this point I think it’s important to note that men do not think this way, not all of us anyway. There is an element in society, an uneducated, undisciplined, underdeveloped (and unaware?) segment that thinks that jokes about rape are funny, that language which demeans women (or anyone else for that matter) are completely acceptable, and some of these people have a platform from which they spin their idiocy; it’s called the Internet.

Any fool can have a voice, and any prick can voice their opinions. Any halfwit with a computer can glean a following of like minded halfwits, and there is no censorship of ideas (yet) an no fact checking. Anyone impassioned enough about an idea, right or wrong, can voice their opinions online. This is a good thing, but when it comes of freedom of expression, the person being “free” has a social responsibility to the wider community, and they should be held accountable for their actions.

Which brings me back to my point. Just because someone is an atheist, and speaks up against the fallacies and injustices caused by religion, it does not follow that they stand for anything else worth standing up for. There is no accounting for personal idiocy. The Internet assures that. “Atheism” does not assure fairness or even reasonable thinking, it is only the answer to a single question, “Is there a god?”. Everything else is up for grabs.

When people identify themselves as “atheist”, or for that matter any other standpoint on anything, there is no assurance that these people are reasonable, just as those who stand for unreasonable ideas cannot be said to be all unreasonable. This happens in all walks of life, there are the shining lights, there are the line-walkers, and there are the the low-lifes who should really think more before posting their idiocy.

When it comes to misogyny and “rape-talk”, my heart sinks and I just hope people see the error of their ways. There is no excuse in this age for such talk, and these words are damaging to all of society. It is NOT OKAY, and a joke is not “just a joke”; it’s a statement which says “it’s okay to be a misogynist if it’s in done in jest.” Penn Jillette’s use of the word “cunt” is not okay, because it reinforces stereotypes about women and the objectification of the female anatomy as something to be despised.

This does nothing for those of us who are actively trying to make the world a better place. Just because you are an “atheist” it does not follow that you’re a rational and reasonable person. There are assholes in every community, and while I can see why people who call themselves atheist would like to bring these dark moments of on the internet to some sort of justice. For me, however, it’s not about atheism at all, it’s about being a real human being who cares for others around me, not a hateful and snivelling group-think sexist pig. Grow the fuck up.

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26 Comments

  1. So much this Martin. So very much. Thank you.

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  2. Way to go Martin, well spoken.

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  3. I was stunned at Penn’s response, and what the Amazing Atheist did simply made no sense. I guess that’s why it’s called irrational.

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  4. Great post Martin.

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  5. I believe we all have had a “slip of the tongue” on the blogs we comment on and tend to regret having said something so forcefully or having used certain inappropriate words. But let’s not forget that if someone has presented a good opinion on their topic that gives you something to think about, that we should just let the “C” word or “F” bomb slip by and contribute it to them being careless or really emotional about the topic. How many of us actually take a lot of time to stop and prepare what we’re going to say in a comment box? Not many. However, if it is going to be a long, opinionated message then we must definitely think seriously and try to use the best language skills we are capable of using. I’m going to put a plug in for Jake Farr-Wharton’s book, “Letters to Christian Leaders” and Bart Centre (Dromedary Hump)’s book ,”The Atheist Camel”. I do this because I love the way both authors can manipulate regular words to appear to cut your throat!

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  6. Am I missing something? Penn used a word with a clear gender bias. It is unacceptable presumably because it is derogatory slang that refers to gender specific anatomy, right?

    Then what of your use of the word “prick” to describe and deride those with whom you disagree?

    Unless you are claiming some singular entitlement to the use of the baser aspects of our language. Or you divide who can be insulted in what manner based on gender.

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    • Quite right Jason, but I point you to the meaning of “prick” which has other meanings than just to describe “penises”, such as a thorn or a prickle. Unpleasant to say the least. “Cunt” haS no other meaning than the undesirable description of formal genitalia.

      http://www.thefreedictionary.com/_/dict.aspx?word=prick

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      • Are we going to pretend that “prick” is not a word used almost exclusively as a derogatory reference to males because it is a phallic reference? I could see how denying the patently obvious would be preferable to admitting that you partake in the same gender based discrimination you claim to oppose.

        I guess “just because your an atheist”, this does not preclude you from post hoc rationalization that is readily transparent to any honest objective observer of the facts.

        In the alternative, I will play your definition game. Can you say it is honestly fair for you to defend your use of the word prick by finding alternative definitions which are not sexual in nature without doing the same for Mr. Jillette?

        http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cunt

        Cunt: (vulgar, offensive, colloquial, countable) An extremely unpleasant or objectionable person (in US, especially a woman; in UK or Ireland, more usually a man).

        http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cunt

        2b – A contemptible person

        Or from your very own source:

        http://www.thefreedictionary.com/_/dict.aspx?word=cunt

        3b – A contemptible person

        Using your dishonest argument, cunt was acceptably used by Penn Jillette. If you would like to provide an honest response where you admit that you knew prick referred to a penis, I would be interested to hear your distinction between the two.

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        • Well I guess you got me there. In fact I used it in a total intentional irony. In English, not American English, a prick can be either a thorn in ones side, “I felt a prick as I walked through the brambles” or it can mean penis. You can take what you want from this, but the word “cunt” means female genitalia FIRST and the vulgar sense of “contemptible person” is secondary. It’s in the history of the language. I was using it to mean a thorn or annoyance.

          If you think it was a slip of the keyboard, and my use of it here makes me just as much as at fault than Penn, then feel free, rally against me as much as you want, I stand by what I wrote. But I think you’re missing the point of the exercise. Even the vulgar use of the word “prick” cannot harbour the level of offense as the word “cunt” in it’s less offensive guise.

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          • First, and honestly, would you, in normal usage, refer to a woman as a prick? I sincerely doubt it.

            More importantly; are we talking about the level of offense raised by a word or the systemic sexist reinforcement of gender stereotypes? If the idea is that we should not be re-enforcing negative stereotypes based on gender, the use of the word prick seems more of an error. This is because it is more readily accepted by people in general. It is, by your own estimation, a gender based stereotype less likely to cause offense than the use of the word “cunt.”

            In short, if the idea of your article is, in part, that we should not make biased gender specific statements because it re-enforces negative gender stereotypes, the use of prick should be more targeted because it is a more accepted. If cunt is more offensive, then the use of the word “prick” in a derogatory sense is worse, because it is a more socially acceptable gender based stereotype.

            If instead, as you suggest in your comments, the use of the word “cunt” is more unacceptable because it is more offensive to the general population, I think we can both see the error with this reasoning. If not, I can draw a corollary that should connect the dots for itself: Not believing in God is more offensive to the general population than being a baptist.

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          • Seems I’ve become a prick in your side Jason. ;)

            Ok point taken. It was carefully chosen because of the dual meaning. I could have called them “dickheads” which could be taken no other way. I’m not changing it. If you don’t like it, well it seems I have yet another unsatisfied customer.

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  7. Hi Jason. As a woman who would always want to avoid gender bias, especially when it is directed at myself just because I am female, it also affects me (emotionally) when I see such behavior directed at my gender. I never participate in male-bashing. I am very vocal on my discussion board (FRDB). But I could think of more colorful names to call people (of any gender) who like to refer to people as “cunts.” I think Martin was very restrained in the usage of the word “prick” especially in comparison to a word like “cunt” which was aimed at women.

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    • My point is that referring to a woman as a “cunt” reinforces negative stereotypes about women while referring to them as a part of their anatomy. Using the word “prick” is the exact same thing.

      Whether someone is offended cannot be the standard by which we judge people’s words. For example, I would be surprised if Rick Santorum read my opinion of him, and was not offended. The level of his offense has no impact on the validity of my opinion. And the level of his offense does not effect the derogatory terms he should be allowed to employ in responding to me.

      If the point is that if using negative gender stereotypes is wrong for someone we disagree with in all instances, we cannot change the standard for ourselves or those with whom we agree.

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    • Hey, I don’t know in Australia, but in America, “cunt” is a very strong word, there are no two ways to dice it: it is misogynistic and used only as derogatory for women. It reduces a woman to being just an anatomical part of interest to men, and calling a man a “cunt” is insulting only because it puts him in an “inferior” category. In America “prick” is totally benign as an insult, although it is mostly gendered, it is at worst, rude, but not hateful. It does not reduce a guy to being exclusively a penis.

      It’s all about the balance of power: a man being called a prick by a woman is not being labeled “inferior”, is being labeled as obnoxious, mostly. While a woman being called a “cunt” by a guy is being put in her place.” Penn Jillette really went overboard with his bile, go figure. Why would he be so irritated by someone that he simply did not find funny? It would be hard to find any other explanation than pretty basic misogyny. His comment was simply hateful. I’ve never been a fan of Penn Jillette anyway. I don’t like his political views and he thinks too much of himself. He is obnoxious for the sake of being obnoxious.

      Great post, Martin!

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  8. As I consider you both friends lets step back a moment. Martin and Jason have already seen my argument on G+ but I guess it all migrated over here. I’ll expand.

    I won’t speak on Martin’s intent. I can’t. However, even if Martin is using “prick” to refer to a person (generally male) I do not think it carries the same weight as “cunt” (generally female here in the States) and it is not due to gender inequality or gender sensitivity. It has to do with the person it was uttered by, at whom it was uttered, and why. I’m talking severity here.

    Penn Jillette’s use of the word “cunt” directed at Lindy West is different than Martin’s use of the word “prick” directed at some general type of person or even alluding to Jillette or AA. This is due to cause and effect in conversation. Jillette, with a history of this sort of thing is specifically using the word “cunt” it to disparage a woman for daring to make jokes. Just because he did not find them funny, it does not follow that she is a “cunt.” That makes no sense. Conversely, either Jillette or Amazing Atheist being called “pricks”, in these instances, is directly due to their actions, over the top speech, and really…for being pricks. As in walking, talking dicks. Because their assholes.

    Calling them “pricks” or anything else is a response to their already disgusting behavior. Whereas the people Jillette and AA attacked (a female writer and a male rape victim, respectively) did nothing that would deserve criticism, let alone being attacked with that level of vitriol. I am in no way an advocate for politically correct speech. That would make me a hypocrite as I curse like a motherfucking sailor.

    My overall point, if you accept it, is that the words and their meaning are not equal, but not due to some politically correct need to establish false equivalency in speech or because one word is worse than the other. It’s is because in one instance it is justified. In another, it is not. I may catch flak for that, but I think it’s accurate.

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    • So is it ok to call a group that is predominantly female “a group of cunts” in the correct context if it is uttered by the correct individual? If the idea is that certain people can be called cunts and certain people can call people cunts, I don’t see how we get beyond saying that the people with whom we agree get to use words that others do not. And the people we don’t like can be called things that others cannot.

      Certainty of correctness cannot be enough to justify a differing standard. Penn Jillette is just as certain that Lindy West should be called a cunt as you are that he should be called a prick.

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  9. The only response I’m going to bother to make is that this discussion, while not invalid, is missing the point of Martin’s post.

    Not all atheists are rationalists. Atheism does not, and cannot, make any claims to superior (or any) morals. It doesn’t denote anything other than the lack of belief in gods. Now, the recent Atheist (big A) movement largely does have a philosophy of rationalism and increased morality (by way of rejection of Biblical morals) but this, in effect, is an amalgamation of atheism, humanism, skepticism, rationalism, naturalism, etc. under the Atheist banner.

    We can argue about the use of words and what is appropriate, but it isn’t the point here.

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  10. Culture, context and intent are just as relevant as a word’s etymology.  I agree that “cunt” and “prick” should be culturally  equal but they are not. The person using that word toward a woman is aware of the level of offense associated with the term and chose it for that effect.  “Nigger should not be more offensive than “cracker” but it is ~due to the cultural significance.  If the intent of the use of “nigger” is to imply “brotherhood” as it is in some cases, then the word ceases to be offensive to the person to whom it is referring.  I think Martin’s (and my) outrage is with the decision to call a woman by the most offensive name in the lexicon for women. 

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    • The word “nigger”, when used in a derogatory manner, is necessarily tied to the era of slavery and Jim Crow. Its use carries with it the inherent implication that there is a clear distinction between the races, that black people are inferior, and that black people are rightly property. It is used, not only to insult an individual but to display that the speaker holds this particular world view; in essence “we” should own “you.” That is, in my opinion, why it could never be properly used as an insult. It cannot be separated from what it implies. And anyone who uses the word is assumed to be intending to use it in this manner.

      So my question is this; do you see the word “cunt” carrying with it a necessary implication of male/female inequality and the inferiority of wemen? In your opinion does its use do more than insult an individual that it is directed against? Does it show a fundamentally flawed world view where men are superior to women?

      I personally do not see the word “cunt” carrying this implication any more than any other genital based insult. But maybe I am wrong. I had not actually considered this before. Or maybe you don’t agree this is an important distinction.

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  11. My point is this. I personally would not call anyone a prick. It is not a word I use because I don’t find it effective in communicating anything of substance. I do not have a problem with someone else using it. It just does not hold any persuasive effect with me. And I am not trying to claim some verbal high ground. I recently compared Newt Gingrich’s supporters to people who willingly shovel shit into their mouths. I think it was a bit more artfully done than the preceding sentence suggests but the gist was the same. It did nothing to add to our collective dialogue. It is crude and many would find it as offensive as using the word “cunt.” But it was just an analogy I found funny.

    Likewise, I do not use the word cunt outside of the context of discussing the use of the word cunt. Penn Jillette has written some stuff of which I am a fan and some stuff of which I am not a fan. The referenced tweet is certainly in the ladder category. It was an inapt reference with no substance behind it. But any charge I could level against that tweet could easily be leveled against many of things I have written or said. Granted, I deride people with whom I have a strong fundamental disagreement but that should not bear on the point. You cannot claim a right that you deny others.

    So I would say of Penn Jillette’s comment that is was unpersuasive and inapt. To many observers it would be viewed as no more base than what I have said in the past; statements by which I stand by and would defend if challenged.

    To this point, there is a fundamental difference between an inapt genital reference and a discussion of wanting to rape someone or wanting someone to be raped.

    Also, I should note that I agree with the point of the article. And I have no issue with the use of the word prick. And I am not a fan of what Penn Jillette wrote in the tweet. I just see it as fundamentally different than the other examples cited in the article.

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  12. I agree with you, Jason. I also can see why you keep beating this dead horse. I don’t use words that can convey demeaning sub-texts, let alone words that explicitly deliver an insult to the recipient of the word. Those who know me and read what I write, know that I don’t regularly use crass language.

    However, sometimes I do use a less-than-clean word, because, sadly, in rare occasions, a different word simply would not do. But you cannot equate the use of a word, no matter how crass, used in general terms, to the use of a word addressed to a person in particular with the specific intent to denigrate him or her. It IS different. Clean words can deliver backhanded insults, too; and snide remarks can be more hurtful than crass words. Let’s not miss the point.

    I applaud your effort to improve Marty’s ways of expressing his views, and I thank you for your well though out explanation of your own point of view.

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    • I stand by what I wrote.

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  13. I agree with you 100%, Martin. I recently became the target of a blog post by @AmpAtheist on Twitter for having differential opinions on parenting when it came to teaching Atheism (and the definition of Atheism).

    Just because we agree that god is fictional does not mean that we agree on any other issue…or even on what definition of god is fictional…or what it means to be ‘fictional’. It’s as confusing as when somebody refers to themselves as a Christian: a rather broad spectrum.

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  14. Atheism: Come for the god-talk, stay for the comments about belief and rude words.

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  15. Glad I caught your post, Martin. This comes up not just in how prominent atheists deal with the public, but in how atheists relate to each other.

    Lots of us seem to expect other atheists to be like us. We want other atheists to use words and label themselves the same as we do.

    It’s been said above, but it’s worth repeating: the reality is, the only thing atheists have in common is the lack of belief that any gods exist. The strength of this disbelief, how we word it, our motivations for disbelief, atheists’ support for other causes and movements, our politics and morals—all of these are incidental.

    Many atheists have views which coincide closely with mine. Other atheists couldn’t be more different. Some are SO SURE their way is the only right one that they quickly escalate to the written equivalent of shrieking and personal attacks.

    Again it is almost cliché to observe that atheists are only human. As a group we’re susceptible to idea wars and group dynamics just like religious folks. I hate to see “religious wars” between atheists, but I also know they’re inevitable.

    Everyone has their own style.

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  16. How is calling someone a cunt misogynist, but calling someone a dick isn’t misandrist?

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