This is a writeup of my notes for the talk I delivered at Skepticamp 2013, entitled Critical Atheism – left and right in Australian atheism/why we need an atheist Left. First published at http://criticalatheism.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/speech-given-at-skepticamp-2013/
Summary: Atheist and freethought movements have been active in this country for over 120 years. They have had more of an effect on our lives than most would realise, but drama, controversy and splits have never been too far away. nineteenth century secularists understood the importance of politics for their movements, but these days many of us don’t understand what ‘left’ and ‘right’ mean, leaving ‘new atheism’ representing only one side of what used to be a productive debate. Critical atheism is the start of a coherent left wing atheist movement, for those of us who want more than liberal, rationalist atheism.
The talk and Q&A were recorded and will be showing up on youtube.com/user/SkepticampAU at Skepticamp’s leisure.
After my talk I did a couple of radio interviews for The Skeptic Zone, on a variety of related and not-so-related topics including (as far as I can remember) atheist mardi gras floats, UTS Atheists’ Society and marrying a car! They will probably be aired within the next month, and can be found at www.skepticzone.tv
CRITICAL ATHEISM – WHY WE NEED AN ATHEIST LEFT
This story starts in late nineteenth century Melbourne, with the Australasian Secular Association. Just like us, the ASA was full of drama and ridiculousness.
A few differences:
- As a minority, pariah community, simply being a freethinker was more radical by default. They ran a Sunday Lyceum, waved embroidered banners and had picnics. They built the Hall of Science because noone would rent them space. Also, people could get away with more ranting, as no one was listening.
- Politics was seen differently. This was before the current political parties dominated discourse, and drew conceptions of Right and Left into the centre. In fact it was pre-federation. It was also before Communism linked socialism and totalitarianism, and failure. Australia also narrowly escaped a civil war – maybe there was more understanding and commitment to different political philosophies.
- Freethought was steeped in socialist and anarchist tendencies, more than the liberal ones that now dominate. The Anti-Sabbatarians arose from the ASA, going to gaol to fight, successfully, for the public library to open on Sundays. All public institutions were closed the only day working people could access them. They saw the oppressions of religion as just one amongst many problems in society. On the other side, the liberals were still active. Joseph Symes saw liberty as purely the freedom to think, and badmouthed those who did more as “the washed off filth of the association, collected in the anarchist slough” (in Sparrow). He only wanted to proselytise, and decried those who didn’t see the ‘light’ of rationalism as “dullards” who “must go to the wall”.
Today, you can see Symes’ liberal atheism in New Atheism. Though there are many great people here, the figureheads have been outspokenly liberal, even “weaponised in the service of the extreme right”
- Hitchinns called people “sluts” and “sob sister”. He said about Fallujah that “the death toll is not nearly high enough”.
- Harris: “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists”.
- Hirsi Ali: “All muslim schools. Close them down”.
- Dawkins is well known for sexist comments
- The current president of Sydney Atheists Inc feels his mission in life is to convert people to nonbelief, and that is what will make the world a better place.
Though they may all call themselves progressive, and will do things like supporting gay marriage, they will also prop up the system and even support war, with the excuse that it will ‘liberate’ women.
Certainly some of us will “oppose the worst excesses of Islamophobia and have the grace to find the polemical excesses of Harris et al somewhat embarassing”, but that’s not really enough to round out the movement.
Most lefties – the socialists, anarchists and atheists who see religion as one part of their understanding of oppression – won’t touch this movement with a bargepole.
This has all been happening for a decade – the ‘new atheist publishing boom is considered to have been 2004-2006. Last year, some things came to a head, mostly over sexism in atheist and skeptic movements in America.
Jen McCreight had been active in atheism for several years. She started a non-theist club at her conservative university. She ran Boobquake, a response to someone saying that immoddest dress caused earthquakes. Successful, well loved, she felt safe and at home in her atheist community. Then her Boobquake fame resulted in millions of propositions, which assumed her consent for all sorts of harassment just for having talked about ‘boobs’. When she turned these strangers down, it turned into vicious insults. She started talking about feminism. She says “I thought messages like ‘please stop sexually harassing me’ would be simple for skeptics and rationalists”, but no: out communities called her a “man-hating, castrating, humourless, ugly, overreacting harpy”. There were floods of rape jokes.
It’s not just her – she says that a year before, Rebecca Watson had said “Guys, don’t do that” and was still receiving constant death and rape threats.
So McCreight started Atheism Plus. Whatever may or may not have happened with women being aggressive or unreasonable or otherwise unacceptable, as I heard people saying at the time, even in this community here – this is what it all came from.
It was intended as Atheism + Skepticism + Humanism, all together. “It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and applies skepticism to everything“, including social issues… and itself.
I think she has it right, in the model of the Anti-Sabbatarians, and all the other radical atheists who worked for not only the right for atheists to testify in court, but abortion, birth control and the eight hour day. But she was talking about feminism, so she was howled down even more than before. She was insulted, threatened, discredited in her own communities. Everyone around her was attacked.
To me, this only highlights how correct her message is, and how important.
To go forward, instead of associating a laundry list of good things to atheism, and propping up something which flashed and burnt out, however unjustly, I’m trying to theorise a good, solid basis for a left within atheism. Critical Atheism – like critical theory, not so much critical thinking. We’ve got that down already.
The fundamentals of Critical Atheism:
- Critique religion within the wider context of society, institutions, oppressions.
- Thus, anti-islamophobia and anti-sexism.
- Praxis – the confluence of theory and practice. Not just talk, and not just unguided action.
That’s only a start, though – we need help from all of you who actually are more radical than liberal – or at all interested!
http://jeffsparrow.net/articles/the-weaponisation-of-atheism/ – all quotes from and about Symes, the ASA and New Atheists are taken from this article.
http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/08/how-i-unwittingly-infiltrated-the-boys-club-why-its-time-for-a-new-wave-of-atheism/ – Jen McCreight’s blog. This and the next few posts were where she set out Atheism Plus. All quotes from or about McCreight, Watson or Atheism Plus are from here.
Essay. First in several years. deadline 8.30am, submitted 6.40am. how’s that! of course that was on the second extension, but still. only nine days since the original deadline!
the sun is shining, the birds are singing – but the’ve been at it all night! i’m doing surprisingly well for having pulled an allnighter – though we’ll see how i am when i have to get up and go out at 1.30… now, i should attempt to sleep.
This is part one of two interconnected assignments – the next one is coming up soon enough. The diagram didn’t copy in, so i described it in place.
Does the analytical framework of Lifelong Education enable greater insight and understanding of learning and change in the context of community group organising?
[figure: two axes. “Old people” up top, “Young people” below.
“Non-formal settings” to the left, “Formal settings” to the right.
Quadrants marked 1-4, clockwise from the top left.]
Dimensions of lifelong education (Boshier 1998, p7)
This paper explores Lifelong Education as outlined in the Faure report (Faure et al. 1972) and in Boshier’s analysis (Boshier 1998). It finds that, despite neglect in Lifelong Learning circles, the Faure report is still engaging, while its goal of developing learning societies and its primary aspects of vertical and horizontal integration and democratisation are relevant and adaptable.
Part One examines how the concepts of Lifelong Learning, combined with later thought on its discourses, can help understand and improve the organisation of contemporary community groups. An example is made of Sydney Queer Atheists (SQA), a small community group in Sydney, Australia which engages in non-formal and informal education and learning. Part Two considers these concepts in a wider lens.
The author is an organiser and participant in SQA, and draws on an anarchist-utopian tradition. The paper assumes that education, broadly conceived, is good for individuals, communities and societies alike.
THE FAURE REPORT
The Faure Report, Learning to be: The world of education today and tomorrow was written in 1972 by Edgar Faure and the International Commission on the Development of Education of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). An ambitious work, it was meant to revolutionise education around the world, advising the governments of both rich and poor countries. Writing 26 years later, Boshier considered “the original report is still an excellent template for educational reform” (Boshier 1998, p5). Now, 15 years further into the neoliberal project, the document and its master concept of Lifelong Education are still relevant and illuminating.
Much as every corporation now has to be a ‘learning organisation’, in 1972 the concept of the moment, from Paris to Ontario, was the learning society (Boshier 1998, p7). In a learning society, education is a fundamental human right for all rather than a luxury, and responsibility for it is also spread throughout society (Faure et al. 1972). The main aim of the Faure report is to develop learning societies, and the vehicle is Lifelong Education.
Lifelong education is a utopian concept which arose from the social changes of the 1960s. It was influential only briefly, and implemented by few governments (Field) yet its inspiring theory has continued to have an impact as a minor tradition and has more recently been picked up by the government in China (Boshier & Huang 2007). It was, however, quickly overshadowed by lifelong learning, where learning becomes the responsibility of the individual, largely as a way to make a corporation more competitive.
There are three main facets to Lifelong Education: vertical integration, horizontal integration and democratisation. Boshier portrays the first two as axes that outline quadrants, as shown in the diagram above. The vertical axis regards learning across the lifespan; the horizontal covers the sites of learning – formal, non-formal, informal, semi-formal (Kalantzis and Cope p31) and in between. The quadrants formed by this schema would each receive equal emphasis and distribution of resources (Boshier p9) such that everyone can access a variety of education options at any age. It is important to note that the axes are permeable; individuals will, and should, participate in all segments over time. The emphasis would be on the quality of learning, not how it is achieved.
Vertical integration regards opening up education for people of all ages. Faure refutes the “traditional” idea that all education should be “provided during the first years of life, before entry into ‘active life’” (Faure et al. 1972, p190). However this is not simply about provision of educational opportunities; in a non-compulsory system, not only must structural barriers such as cost, unnecessarily restrictive prerequisites and lack of resources be dismantled to provide access, but psychosocial barriers must also be tackled, such as “audiotapes inside people’s heads [that] send negative messages about returning to education” (Boshier 1998, p10). Further, “Equal access is not equal opportunity. This must comprise equal chance of success” (Faure et al. 1972, p72).
Beyond Faure, theory on access and accessibility has continued to develop. The term ‘accessibility’ is used to differentiate the need to change systems to meet the needs of people, from ‘access’ which assists people to meet the needs of the systems. (Wright in Rogers 2006 p131). Despite predating the theory and terminology, Lifelong Education requires accessibility.
A horizontally integrated society is one which offers a diversity of settings for education and learning, from formal to non-formal to informal. Currently in western cities such as Sydney, most recognised, funded education exists in formal settings such as schools, universities and TAFE colleges. Access to formal study largely relies on accreditation from previous formal study in a structured system of prerequisites. Non-formal education is available in reading groups, learning circles, learning webs, summer camps, community organisations, prisons, workplaces and homes. However this vast array of learning opportunities often go unrecognised, unorganised and underresourced, even stigmatised. Sites of informal learning such as travel, media, listening to poets and social interaction in general are even more neglected, with the exception in Australia of public awareness campaigns. (Field 2006, Boshier 1998)
In contrast, a learning society with truly “lifewide” (Rogers 2006), horizontally integrated education would recognise, resource and value them all as equal parts of learning. Faure did not want to dismantle formal structures, but develop and mainstream “a more pluralistic and accessible array of opportunities for education throughout the life cycle” (Boshier 1998, p11).
Democratisation, according to Lemaresquier, “has been made synonymous with uniformity and rigidity” (in Faure 1972, p75) in an attempt to provide equal opportunities for all by lockstepping compulsory schooling. However, Lifelong Education’s concept of democratisation is very different, regarding “more widespread involvement of learners in the design and management of their educational processes.” (Boshier 1998, p11) This is integrally linked with access. Practically, this involves the multiple entry, exit and re-entry points of recurrent education, eroding the distinctions between different levels, sites and disciplines and reducing the “inordinate importance given to selection, examinations, and diplomas. The system rewards the strong, the lucky and the conformists [and] it blames and penalises the unfortunate, the slow, the ill-adapted, the people who are and who feel different” (Faure 1972, p75). However, democratisation is also an end in itself, involving a revival of humans’ “natural drive towards knowledge” (Faure et al. 1972, pXXIX) and blurring the boundaries between teacher and learner, while learning participatory democracy.
FAURE OVER TIME
While some of the Faure report’s concepts and more terminology have entered our vocabulary, the main content was quickly overlaid with others more in line with the new order of neoliberalism Edwards illustrates this change by separating out three different discourses that each claim Faure’s term “learning societies”, yet interpret it in radically different ways (in Boshier p12):
– A “learning market” where learners make ‘rational’ decisions to choose educational offerings based on their own needs and the needs of employers
– An “arena for citizenship” where an individual has a responsibility to learn in order to benefit society
– An “arena for participation” “at the centrepiece of an active and socially engaged lifestyle for groups of learners, tribes or collectives”.
This distinction appears some decades later, once theory had progressed further. The first is the most common discourse from soon after Faure to now. The Faure report was intended to sit squarely in the second category, concerned with uplifting people for the purpose of making societies run well and cohesively for the betterment of all. However, the third and newer category has much to offer. This article proposes that, in this time of uncertainty and aggressive capitalism when considerations of citizenship are so badly restricted, the new home of utopian thought and possibilities for radical change, such as Faure once represented, is in the third category. Also, it proposes that plenty of the report and its main concepts are still relevant and useful for adapting to small groups and cultural communities.
EDUCATION FOR PARTICIPATION IN COMMUNITY GROUPS
Edwards’ third point, education for participation is tailor made for community organisations and community organisations are tailor made for fulfilling education for participation.
CASE STUDY: SYDNEY QUEER ATHEISTS
Sydney Queer Atheists (SQA) is a small community group in Sydney, Australia which has arisen out of the organisation of an atheist float in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade every year since 2009. In March 2012 it formalised and started running monthly meetings, subsequently separating from Sydney Atheists Inc. and becoming autonomous. Since then, it has produced another float, one workshop at a student queer conference, one small fundraising dinner, another small dinner event and regular monthly meetings. Now, after a year of trying to anything more than running an annual float, the group is in crisis. Members have no motivation to continue running events as there is no common purpose, no vision of the potential of the group beyond hard work and a small social pool.
SQA has been known to educate the atheist community about queer issues and the queer community, as well as the general audience at Mardi Gras, about coming out as atheist. Internally, it has also encouraged informal learning and occasionally non-formal education, on many topics from minority religions to organising floats. The educational possibilities have been articulated, but have not been seen as core, or worth effort and commitment.
LIFELONG EDUCATION AND SQA
There are several reasons why people join a group like SQA. The biggest portion is to find social interaction with similar people and be part of a likeminded community, or even to find a partner. However most other reasons revolve around learning and education, or the activist flipside of teaching and transmitting messages to others. In the current neoliberal world the social and economic needs of individuals are foregrounded, but there are still people, groups and theories of education which buck the system.
Understanding Lifelong Education and its fate in neoliberalism also suggests why building the group is a difficult task. Not only is it an intersectional minority group, but it is a group formed around identity and difference, which have little place in a world of markets, majorities and individual responsibilities. Despite rhetorics of multiculturalism and diversity, it runs against the grain of the current dominant paradigm. Where the group really fits is within the arena of participation. Operating outside of the mainstream can be difficult, but rewarding. Being independent, the group is free to embody and enjoy it. There will still be pressure from the outside world, but there is the potential to be an oasis within it.
Once the arena of participation is embraced, Faure’s ideas may be able to help SQA by locating it within non-formal education, and thus within a broader project. In the optimistic context of Lifelong Education, SQA needs to fulfil its best possible purposes, which are the educational ones, not just the social ones that have attracted members in the past. If the group needs to find new people who are more interested in this than in current activities, then the new agenda must be publicised.
To establish a charter which clearly locates SQA within Lifelong Education would be particularly helpful, not just for orienting the group within education, but also for focussing it on what it needs to be in order to do education well. It’s not just about providing educational opportunities and hoping people attend, the group needs to work with the axes on a micro scale to create a learning community as well as working towards a learning society: recognise all ages, work with a variety of levels of formality and be democratic.
In SQA, decisions are already made as a collective, but there is a resistance where people want a ‘leader’ to show the way. Lifelong Education suggests that the democratisation is crucial to increasing involvement, so the group needs to educate people about collectives and get them on board with doing things differently from the mainstream.
SQA is mostly a group of adults who have left formal education. Queer atheists in formal education tend to have access to a variety of queer and atheist groups that fulfil their social and intellectual needs. Young people are hard to advertise to because of stigma; double stigma here.
While the intention of the horizontal axis is to map diversity in educational settings, not the instructional processes within them, (Boshier p11), applying the broad concepts down a level can also be worthy of consideration. SQA could benefit from availing itself of a variety of strategies, from the informality of a social event within a queer, atheist context, to excursions, dialogues with other groups, discussions, reading groups, forums, to the formality of a series of lectures or a structured course with a certificate of completion.
Boshier, R. (1998). Edgar faure after 25 years: Down but not out. In J. Holford, P. Jarvis & C. Griffin (Eds.), International perspectives on lifelong learning (pp. 3-20). London: Kogan Page.
Boshier, R., & Huang, Y. (2007). Shuang yu: Vertical and horizontal dimensions of china’s extraordinary learning village. Studies in Continuing Education, 29(1), 51-70.
Faure, E., Herrera, F., Kaddoura, A., Lopes, H., Petrovsky, A. V Rahnema, M. & Champion Ward, F. (1972). Learning to be: The world of education today and tomorrow. Paris: UNESCO.
Field, J. (2006). Lifelong learning: A design for the future? Lifelong learning and the new educational order (pp. 9-43). Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham.
Kalantzis, M., & Cope, B. (2012). New learning: Elements of a science of education (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Rogers, A. (2006). Escaping the slums or changing the slums? lifelong learning and social transformations. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 52(2), 125-137.
this is an article i got published in Querelle 2012.
As I was thinking about writing this article, by chance I came across a word that summed up exactly why I care about atheism: religionormativity.
Just as we’re familiar with heteronormativity, roughly the privileging of heterosexuality, religionormativity is the privileging of religion, religious views of the world and religious interests.
Religionormativity, and specifically christonormativity, is rampant in Australia. It’s why our atheist Prime Minister spends tax money for catholics to visit the Vatican and says that she doesn’t think society is ‘ready’ for marriage equality. It’s why we see churches and billboards displaying crosses like gallows in the town square, and dub it ‘freedom of speech’. It’s why cuts to cities’ christmas budgets generate more outcry than cuts to the country’s welfare budget, and even minority religions feel the need to vocally perform their acceptance of the all-pervasive decorations.
It’s why we accept religious private schools and the fact that they often get more funding than public schools, while even the ‘secular, compulsory and free’ public schools teach christmas as curriculum for three months of the year and allow scripture teachers in to openly teach dogma every week. Primary Ethics has fought hard to run ethics classes in NSW schools for the non-scripture students who are often neglected and discriminated against, but even they dare not touch the religions’ regular access to school students, nor acknowledge any link to atheism. Now our government now upholds the right to put untrained religious ‘chaplains’ into state schools despite the High Court’s ruling against the program. Our government which still has prayers in parliament. It’s all religionormativity, and it’s dangerous. Secular people regularly accept that queerness and nonbelief are matters for adults only, which allows religions to stereotype us as the dangerous ones, who shouldn’t be around kids. Certainly not all religions commit these travesties, but they all support the religionormativity which is why we have to fight for adoption, insemination and even the right to teach. Not only do religions get tax breaks because dissemination of religion is still categorised as charitable in our law, but they also get permanent exemptions to the anti-discrimination laws that keep us out of their schools, adoption agencies and crisis shelters.
The census doesn’t give us data on atheists, as the question is framed religionormatively. However the number of people who marked ‘no religion’ has grown in this latest census to 22.3% of the population, counting us at nearly a quarter of the country, and bigger than any single religious group except catholicism, even without the 8.6% of the population who didn’t answer the question, those who answered ‘jedi’ or ‘pastafarian’ and all the people who put down their family’s religion instead of their own beliefs. Yet people still say ‘but we all believe in the same god anyway’ and really believe they’re being inclusive. And we let them get away with it.
In queer communities, we often think we’re better than that! We can analyse the effects of religious lobby groups on politics and the media, and we’re certainly clued in to the marriage debate and the motives of the players. A high proportion of us are nonbelievers, and an understanding of the destructiveness of intolerant churches and conservative religious families resonates through us, whether or not we’ve experienced the effects personally. Indeed, I’m glad to live within such an astute crowd.
However, all is not perfect. We have our own subtle forms of religionormativity that we often hold dear. In communities so full of atheists and other nonbelievers, we often let this aspect of ourselves remain closeted. We don’t want to recognise this, because we still fall prey to the idea that outing ourselves, declaring our belief structures, is oppressive to those of us who still are religious. Even while we find some people’s beliefs to often be pretty odd, we underestimate them by placing our assumptions about their sensibilities above our own freedom to be out and proud atheists, agnostics, secular humanists or whatever else we want to be.
We need to come out about our beliefs just as much as we need to come out about our sexualities. To name ourselves allows us to build communities where we can openly express ourselves and stand together for what we need. We already know this. So examine your own internalised religionormativity and come out, so that everyone else can too.
Join the Queer Atheists at firstname.lastname@example.org
aww, i feel special. someone is putting a lot of effort into trying to either convert me or annoy me. it’s not like regular spam, i don’t feel my computer or my data is under threat, so i’m torn between ignoring, investigating this strange world of online christians, and writing them all nice letters to let them know that they’ve got someone maliciously using their services for purposes they presumably don’t intend. and i’d seriously go for the latter if i was sure their ridiculously cheery and welcoming tone would continue once they heard that i’m an atheist. as it is, they’re christians. i can’t trust them to not turn out bigoted once it’s clear i’m neither one of them nor any kind of prospect for them.
the first was from ‘got questions ministries’, they’re american of course. subject: “welcome to question of the week”.
Thank you for subscribing to our Question of the Week.
You will receive your first edition on the first Friday from today.
friday hasn’t yet come, but while i was oh so avidly waiting, another three gems turned up. this one’s from allaboutgod.net, which sounds pretty boring. the mustn’t think so though, since they take the opportunity to use their name no less than eight times. and i just love that capitalisation, i wonder how they can take such a thing seriously – but then i’ve never seen the site and i doubt i ever will. subject: “Verify Your Email on All About GOD!” at least i won’t be getting further mail from them.
We need to verify your email address before you can sign in to All About GOD.
Please click on the link below to verify your email address:
This one is more amusing, subject: “[wholename] Your ChristianDatingForFree.com Registration Information”. i like the nice touch of the password, not so much using my whole name.
Dear [wholename] ,
Thank you for registering at http://www.christiandatingforfree.com
Please click on the following link to activate your account and confirm that all of your information is correct:
If you CANNOT click on the above link, please copy and paste it into your browser.
Here are your login details- make sure to type them in EXACTLY (including capital and lowercase if you have any):
Should you have any questions or comments about anything, please send them to ChristianDatingForFree.com <email@example.com>
The Christian Dating For Free team
unfortunately, this one didn’t stay dead. subject: “Your Account has been Activated”
Thank you so much for registering at Christian Dating For Free!
I wanted to personally welcome you and also sincerely apologize if you had any difficulties receiving your activation email. We have had a couple of problems with people not receiving their activation emails today and I wanted to make sure you were not having this problem.
I have gone ahead and manually activated your account so you will not have to deal with this if it is in fact an issue.
Your sign in details are:
Thank you again for signing up. We hope that you will have a wonderful experience on Christian Dating For Free.
not impressed. activation codes are there for a reason, and this is precisely that reason. now here’s a curious one, subject: “needhim.org: Praise Him!!” i really really don’t need any hims. note the praise bit, complete with exclamation marks, comes from a gratuitous comment by my anonymous giver of stupidity. why would anyone write things like that? it doesn’t say anything. or that’s what i think, as a rational person…
This is to confirm that we have received your request for personal assistance. Please do not reply to this e-mail.
You should receive a personal response by e-mail within the next several business days.
Response Centers staff
P.S. Your Question/Comment was:
and an eager three hours later, subject: “Re: needhim.org: Praise Him!!”
Hello and thank you for visiting needhim.org! My name is Sue.
I’m excited that you made the decision to accept Christ as your Savior. This is the most important decision you will ever make! I know that I have never regretted it!
When you asked Christ to be your savior, several things happened.
-Christ came into your life (Revelation 3:20)
-You became a child of God (John 1:12)
-Your sins were forgiven (Col 1:14)
-You now have the gift of eternal life (1 John 5:11)
These are just a few of God’s amazing promises to those who follow him. Do they make sense to you?
Becoming a follower of Christ is just the first step on a fantastic journey, and most of us need help on that trip. We are completely committed to helping people find God, and then grow in their relationship with Him.
Do you know of a strong Bible-believing church in your area? Finding and getting involved in a good church is critical to growing in your walk with God. There you hopefully will find people who have followed Christ for a long time, who can help guide you in your new faith.
The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I would love to hear the circumstances that led to your decision, and then answer any questions you might have.
Also, please check out www.LookToJesus.com for a whole bunch of great resources that can help you get started off on the right foot in your walk with God.
I look forward to hearing back from you. Please e-mail me any time with questions — or let me know how I can pray for you. Have prayed for your country because of the cyclone that moved on shore and the damage and injury from such a huge storm. I pray that you and your family are safe.
God bless you today, and welcome to God’s family!
so i thought that was it, but i got this the next day; subject: “Completing your profile on ChristianCafe.com”. this one’s all pretty; the banner reads “Welcome to ChristianCafe.com All Christian. All Single.” fading into a sepia image of a man’s hand with a ring on the middle finger, writing with a gold pen next to a teacup, a pair of wire and tortiseshell reading glasses and an envelope.
Getting started on ChristianCafe.com
Thank you for creating an account the other day. You’ve made the first step towards a healthy relationship with another Christian single!
The next step is to complete your profile so you can let others know what’s important to you. This also gives you access to the Members section – complimentary for up to ten days! – where you can search for interesting people, send and receive email and instant messages, see who’s online when you are, post photos, and much more!Completing your profile in one easy step
Go to www.christiancafe.com and enter your username and password:
Password: [WHOLENAME]HKB632541Be sure to enter your full username and full password as listed above. Your password consists of your username as well as numbers.
wow, my username as well as numbers. the outtake is even funnier, beside a small picture of a laughing couple at their wedding reception, white strapless dress, suit, flowers, tall candles:
“My lovely wife Hailey and I met on ChristianCafe.com. It has been wonderful and we are extremely blessed as we have furthered our walks with the Lord as a couple.” – Jaron and Hailey, Married
Get started now and find out who’s waiting to hear from you!
Want to unsubscribe from ChristianCafe.com? Remove my account
(C) 1998-2010 RealCafes.com Inc. All rights reserved.
and then the next day, subject: “AlphaLife Registration”. someone wants to send me mail for free it seems. of course they’re the church, so we’re all already paying for the drivel.
Thank you for registering online to receive the AlphaLife Newsletter which is produced quarterly. We send out the newsletter quarterly via postal mail. While we also do occasional email updates, the Alpha Life Newsletter is our main way of sharing news, updates and information about Alpha, courses, testimonies, resources and events. If you would like to receive this quarterly newsletter, please forward your postal address so that we can send you the latest copy.
Customer Relationship Management Coordinator
Alpha Australia National Office
PO Box 10, Kerrimuir VIC 3129
Tel: (03) 9899 8050
i wonder what tomorrow will bring??
it’s that time of year. i was doing so well in crawling out from the rock i’ve been under for the last year or so, only to have to retreat again. the world out there is dangerous, with scary flashing lights, terrifying music, rampant consumerism and alcoholism prompted by enforced exposure to family. and it’s all about two imaginary religious figures; one that’s caused trouble for centuries and one that was created by the coca cola company in 1931.
the celebration of religion, and one strand in particular, even by people who have been oppressed by it throughout history. visual pollution and waste of electricity, noise pollution that’s particularly pernicious because i was forced against my will to learn all the tunes and words when i was at school so i can never again tune them out. consumerism, debt and risk of death by crushing in the sales in aid of an exchange of worthless junk and wrapping paper resulting in landfill and abandoned pets. a geographically inappropriate spread of unnecessary food, heavy with hot dead animals on one of the hottest days of the year. religion accepted, and even demanded in the public arena and even in my workplace. cutting down trees to stick in pots and strangle within an inch of their recently lost lives with tinsel. religious ads in public places where atheist messages were refused, reminding me that this festival for everyone is for everyone but me. fake snow in bushfire season. religious music, overt and covert played in public institutions like train stations, making a mockery of the idea of a secular state. emphasis on traditional family structures and values and the neglect of those who don’t fit. preposterous stories that are supposed to be factual and even get taught in schools, discouraging the development of any sense of reason. another reminder that the coca cola corporation has taken over the world. the idea that it’s more important to donate toys once a year than food and money throughout the year. encouraging children to believe utter lies while expecting them to be upset when they discover the truth. the squashing of dissent and typecasting of people who don’t like all this as an unpleasant fictional character who was, bizarrely, most memorably portrayed by a disney duck. the horrific tradition of getting family members who don’t want to see eachother the rest of the year into a room together to have the same old arguments, comment on eachother’s weight and abuse alcohol just to cope, while the women stay in the kitchen and do all the work. the expression of enthusiasm for all this through the wearing of hats with fur or present, bell and wreath earrings.
really, if you smugly tell me that your family doesn’t bake a turkey, does it really make it all ok again?
this made me feel a little better:
i can’t believe it. semester is over, i’ve submitted my second assignment. it was due yesterday and i got it in at 12.45 this morning. less than an hour late, that’s pretty incredible for me. i was given less than two weeks for it, right after putting in another one in exactly two weeks. did he think the problem had disappeared because i came through once? well i guess this makes it nearly-twice, though it’s pretty substandard for an essay. i’m hoping he accepts it as an experiment, project or case study, especially since i’ve included my draft objects and rules as… what, supporting evidence? writing that was the reason i couldn’t spend time on this, oh, apart from formwork being laid for a concrete path outside my window on my last day to work on it, with no warning… so i hope he appreciates it even though i’ve given him a big rant with not nearly the referencing i expect of myself. or the coherence, and i know i’ve often put in work that just didn’t have time to be put together. oh, and it’s totally unedited. i think a majority of the text was actually written between about 10pm and 12.45am, and i’m not one of those people who can rely on that kind of thing. and i had an 8am meeting in the city this morning. so i’m very glad i’m generally pretty literate. it shouldn’t be massacred too much as i did employ my usual colour coding system to mark paragraphs which have some kind of start, finish and idea. by the time i clicked send, all i had was blue text so i’m hoping my running categorisation was at least slightly accurate. i doubt i’ll be able to read it again to find out, but it’s here just in case. as for the actual content… it’s been a very interesting exercise, but i’m not actually going to stand by what i’ve said too heavily. at least not unless i’m forced to actually read the thing and find out what i’ve said! i’m doing that nice turn where one writes in a blog things that should probably remain private – there are two people mentioned specifically and i’ve edited out the name of the one who isn’t me, but it’s not hard to tell who i’m talking about if you know the organisation. in painting the situation with a broad brush i suspect i’ve been overly harsh or at least rude to him, and in examining the situation from the perspective of what i personally can contribute i suspect i’ve exagerated my own competence. whatever my misgivings, this is my archive of essays so i’m posting it, in the assumption that nothing bad will come of it, as why would anyone want to read it if i can’t even manage to? but hah! turns out it’s within 10% of word count and i didn’t even check. had to do something right, somewhere…
Leadership in Sydney Atheists Incorporated
Sydney Atheist Action Group was formed a year and a half ago in April 2008, by members of a non-political discussion group, the Atheist Meetup, who wanted to do something beyond the scope of that group. Initially the Action Group consisted of a collective structure along with eight collective working groups which dealt with various projects and functions identified by the members in the first meeting.
Soon one member, A., was proposing structures, setting agendas, chairing collective meetings and doing a large proportion of the talking, while putting a particular viewpoint, “Positive Atheism”; encouraging working groups to set targets and report to the main collective.
In July 2008 came the group’s first big challenge and chance for exposure, responding to a papal visit and the NSW government’s corresponding financial and planning indiscretions. Priority was focused heavily on the world youth day and tshirts working groups, to the exclusion of most others. The plan was ambitious for a fledgling group, now rebranded as Sydney Atheists, including poll posters, a picnic, a small ‘greeting’ protest, and involvement in the large No To Pope protest, with a big banner and several people wearing Sydney Atheists tshirts. Overall people were very pleased with the events and the response, which supported a much grander view of the small organisation, in line with the new name and A.’s vision. A. was solidified as a leader due to guiding the planning process, much work, and being listed as the contact person and therefore being interviewed several times.
In September 2008, in line with this vision, Sydney Atheists incorporated. The organisation gained a committee structure, a legal status, a post box, restructured subcommittees run by officebearers, A. as president, and tensions over transparency, control and purpose. A. and a few others took care of the paperwork and legal aspects, a few points were hashed out in big acrimonious meetings and others were glossed over in order to meet deadlines. An executive was formed, with many office bearer positions tailored to specific candidates. Elections therefore went smoothly despite opposition to the previous process.
In the next year there were many achievements, from a stall at the Newtown Festival, a Mardi Gras float and progress on getting philosophy classes into NSW schools, to regular social events and podcasts and maintaining a functional website. Yet division was solidifying within the committee, as it began to appear that four people were running the organisation without the support of the rest of the active membership. Several members were concerned about accessibility and transparency issues, ranging from loss of membership forms and lack of minutes to closed meetings, and an assortment of questions regarding purpose and direction. A member was castigated for being aggressive while wearing a Sydney Atheists tshirt, and the president tried to install a manifesto which not only took an unpopular position, but was seen by many as inappropriate for an atheist organisation, regardless of popularity. Suspicion grew and people were attacked on all sides; in part, A.’s style was simply incompatible with the activists. His initiating of structure was seen as far too directive for a voluntary organisation full of people who wish to lead change themselves and not just follow. There were many attempts to resolve misunderstandings and come to compromises, but suspicion only increased and aggression became more vocal online, while both committee and subcommittee attendance decreased.
Currently, Sydney Atheists runs mainly through an email list, a website, monthly meetings and irregular subcommittee meetings, and unofficially through Meetup events. Most productive work is at a halt, with the latest people doing work on the education subcommittee dropping out without handovers, and the IT subcommittee overloaded and underattended. Most members of the structured committee have resigned or dropped out of communication, and while people are still confused about that structure, monthly committee meetings, scheduled two hours prior to Meetup events, are now running with acceptable attendance under the assumption that any interested person is equally entitled to attend, participate and vote. The current participants are heavily drawn from those who were involved in subgroup work and the discussions dissenting to the structure. Meetings and email discussion are now both largely calm and productive, though not all tasks required are committed to, or enforced.
The organisation seems to be cohering due to a more ideologically homogenous group remaining motivated to be active at the present time, in the wake of several resignations. In September 2009 A. announced his intention to resign as president, followed rapidly by the other office bearers. Online argument died down and meetings began to be held and attended. The first AGM was set for November, and productive discussion began on how to change the structure beforehand, to make the organisation more workable. The period between the resignations and the annual general meeting was acknowledged as important for the next stage of the organisation. After two well-attended, calm and productive committee meetings in September and October, there seemed to be a sense among attendees that there was a chance to make changes which could be ratified properly at the AGM, leading into a stable new year. People volunteered to make changes to the Objects and Rules of the organisation, and to give notice of the AGM. However lapses still existed in allocating and monitoring tasks, and after a while all discussion stopped. The pre-AGM meetings were not organised and a draft revised Objects and Rules was not written by the deadline for posting notice of AGM business.
In November 2009, the AGM was rescheduled for December and the conditions were finally met correctly, including a final draft revision being submitted for ratification. Several trenchant problems appear to have been resolved since one group ceded control to the other, though the effects of the latter’s leadership have not yet been well tested. Considering what can be anticipated from the organisation’s entire history, however, there is still much to do. If they are accepted, the revised Objects and Rules should take significant steps to providing an acceptable sense of purpose that is concrete enough for everyone to grasp, and address all identified transparency and accessibility issues.
Beyond that, the group needs to articulate whether it leans towards educating non-atheists or creating atheist community internally; in a group so similar to a social movement, these distinctions are not obvious (West 2008). It will need to examine motivations for involvement and ensure enough people see benefits which are high enough to cancel out their costs of involvement, despite having just abolished yet another personal benefit – the power and status of gaining an office bearer position. As we cut the position of President, the lack of an hierarchical leader becomes even clearer. The group must become open to emergent leadership and shared leadership (Carte, Chidambaram & Becker 2006), and it has some access to common forms of leadership substitutes; subcommittees can work like teams in some respects, members are commonly highly educated and interested in self education, and a strong use of technology allows information to be shared and decisions made over a broader base (Howell et al. 1990).
My involvement in Sydney Atheists has been varied. I started the Action Group by cultivating members and setting up email groups, putting opinions and sharing visions, calling meetings, chairing them and setting their agendas. I stepped away when A. took over, I had no expertise in the style of organisation he was establishing and, as Oliver (Oliver 1984) would suggest, the benefits no longer balanced out the costs since my work was no longer essential. I stopped attending committee meetings in pubs unless I had been specifically requested to, and concentrated instead on the working groups in which I had a particular interest; the survey group was working on a project I’ve had in mind for many years and the education group concerns issues I work with and study. I also initiated the 2009 Sydney Atheists Mardi Gras Bus Campaign float, and found a partner to help me run it. Throughout, I kept in touch with other members who shared my views, waiting for an opportunity to make changes without tearing down any good things that the current leaders were doing.
I was overseas when internal conflict started getting severe, but I was in contact with several people about the situation and when I returned I resumed active involvement. I participated in email discussions, between attempting to mediate the conflict a little and more encouraging the dissenters to align and take action. I attended all committee meetings, the first of which dealt with the resignations. I had plenty to say and supported others but didn’t take on any specific tasks. A week before the AGM was set, I realised that the legal notice had not gone out and it was too late to call the meeting for the date we had agreed on, much less nominate for positions or give notice for an agenda item. There had been no word from the people who took responsibility for policy or notices, so I alerted the email list with all the details I could find, and sat down with the Objects and Rules to make my own draft revision, which I made available as soon as possible. While absolutely no discussion of the document appeared online, I kept prompting the correspondence until the timeslot that we planned to have the AGM became a committee meeting primarily for review of the document, and the AGM was bumped back to the first date that I understood would be legal if the notice went out on the day we met.
I consider revising the Objects and Rules to be an important instance of leadership as people have been trying hard to follow them, but their density was a barrier (Oliver 1984) to involvement for many people unfamiliar with legal documents. Doing the actual work of writing of the revision was also important, as it appears the job was a sticking point, preventing progress.
The new version is written in plain English in many important places, though not everywhere. I intend to adjust even more, and offer a third version if necessary, at next year’s AGM. I have changed the vision statement to something more directed to what I believe the current active members want, including references to atheism and activism, both of which were specifically omitted from the original. I have abolished all office bearer positions except for Secretary and Treasurer, leaving leadership of different projects in the hands of the relevant subcommittee. I have made it easier to join the organisation, and based committee membership on meeting attendance, like a collective. In short, I have made the organisation’s purpose more specific, and opened up the structure so people can participate more easily while discouraging those who seek to control power or gain personal prestige.
At the pre-AGM committee meeting on November 22, I chaired the meeting. Over four hours, about ten people went through the document step by step and ended up with a draft revision we were all pleased with. Thanks to wireless internet, we put also put out acceptable official notices immediately. When we were done I took the document home to check, edit, format and make non-substantive changes that no one had wanted to linger over. It is posted on the website with three weeks before the AGM for members to read it and suggest small amendments. One has already been made. Considering that ten people were happy with the revision, which is well above our quorum requirements, I expect the revision to be ratified on November 14.
Other than working with documents, I believe I can show leadership in discussing direction, cultivating ties and ensuring I am informed enough to be able to step in as needed. I expect to continue keeping in touch with active members so that I am in a position to check up on undertakings being kept; also with the people who have moved away from the organisation over its troubles, to try to encourage them back now there is more room for them, while monitoring the membership to ensure that the cohesion we have recently achieved is not actually reliant on exclusivity. I also wish to educate myself about association rules and the incorporation act so we do not need to rely on A.’s expertise as much as we did, while still taking him up on his offer to explain the formalities. I intend to encourage making ties to other communities and demographics, not just through cooperation with established groups, but starting UTS Atheists and a Queeredge movement, supporting the fledgling Australian University Atheists, establishing Sydney Queer Atheists which hasn’t done anything since Mardi Gras 2009, and restarting work on a public survey of atheist self-identification. Each project has its own timeline, but will all benefit Sydney Atheists, helping the organisation and the atheist community in general become a more diverse and political. A final issue on which I feel I will have to wait for the right opportunity to rectify, is the lack of distinction between Sydney Atheists and the Atheist Meetup in the eyes of many, members and strangers alike.
Carte, T.A., Chidambaram, L. & Becker, A. 2006, ‘Emergent leadership in self-managed virtual teams’, Group Decision and Negotiation, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 323-343.
Howell, J.P., Bowen, D.E., Dorfman, P.W., Kerr, S. & Podsakoff, P.M. 1990, ‘Substitutes for leadership: Effective alternatives to ineffective leadership’, Organizational Dynamics, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 20-39.
Oliver, P. 1984, ‘”If You Don’t Do it, Nobody Else Will”: Active and Token Contributors to Local Collective Action’, American Sociological Review, vol. 49, no. 5, pp. 601 – 610.
West, D. 2008, ‘Informal public leadership: the case of social movements’, in P. Hart & J. Uhr (eds), Public Leadership: Perspectives and Practices, ANU E Press, Canberra, pp. 133 – 144.
finally, finally, catholic world youth day week fiasco (deceptively marketed as world youth day) is behind us. all that is left is a few stray red orange yellow backpacks wandering around and a general sense of trauma. and, hopefully, a precedent for ridiculous laws to be challenged, and some atheist pride.
i didn’t really do much about the organising. i went to the meetings at newq, but i didn’t put my hand up for much, and i didn’t go to many meetings at other venues, including the important one, that happened to be on my birthday. the group i started so recently went on without me. i keep feeling like i should be apologising, but in fact it’s a spectacularly good thing, that i kick started something that is able to run without me.
i also didn’t get to most of the events i wanted to, even when it was no longer illegal to be ‘irritating’, and i stopped hiding under the bed waiting for it to all go away. i missed the world truth day event, world heathens day at unsw, the welcome, the kiss-in, and even the heretics’ bbq that sydney atheists put on right at the end. the time got changed a couple of hours beforehand, so i drove in early to check for people wandering around lost, but both gates were blocked off, so i wandered off to meet alex and we went and sat in a park in newtown. when the new time came and we tried to go back, there were roadblocks everywhere and we ended up going in circles. i got summoned by sms so we tried again, and it was even worse – half a dozen road blocks, with a river of pilgrims passing in front. some you could pass, if you waited, but you would always find another.
the one event i did get to, though, was the big protest on saturday. that was good. queer people and atheists, and queer atheists, which is a beautiful sight to see. and some who weren’t queer or atheist – the friendly catholics, the raelians (yes i know they call themselves atheist), the polish news team with their wyd lanyards flying agressively. standing around at taylor square went on for long enough to chat to most people i knew, and marching to the park felt positive and strong. not so being let into the enclosure, ringed with police, chanting across the barriers at the tide of pilgrims swarming down the mardi gras route. just wrong, really. we were using old forms of showing our displeasure, with watered down, ‘friendly’ messages. the tshirts may say pope go homo, but the message of the day was exhorting them to protect themselves. i don’t think many of them would care, even if they could hear and understand what we were chanting for all of a few seconds as they walked by our contained protest. mostly, from what i saw, we were laughed at and blessed, which was very unpleasant, as we watched in horror as the hordes just kept coming. if anyone was looking for a show of strength, i was certainly reminded of the way the world works. despite a respectable turnout, as protests these days go, they outnumbered us, by probably a thousand times. they also out-niced us, as wishy washy as our vocal messages were. of course, that’s not quite such a reflection of their church. still, there was one incident, to keep it lively; a pilgrim managed to jump the fence, get past the cops and take a swing at one of us. and for the first time ever, the police defended us, and took him away in handcuffs. handcuffs that he held up in victory, but handcuffs nonetheless. the police in this country have been helpful when i’ve been broken into or had my bag stolen, but not so great when i’ve been assaulted or crashed into. i have had them be sometimes friendly, sometimes incredibly abusive on the road, and when i’ve exercised that old democratic right to protest, i’ve seen them range from officious to menacing to planting a horse’s hoof five centimetres from my face. so sometimes it’s nice to see them doing their job, and think that maybe here, unlike many places, i won’t be dangerously discriminated against for being an out atheist.
when people don’t understand why i hate the whole christmas period so violently, i explain patiently how i was brought up jewish, where christmas is a symbol of the persecuting and evangelising dominant other, and how i’m an atheist, which makes christmas also a symbol of the irrational and brainwashed dominant other. then they say, wide eyed, ‘but christmas isn’t about christianity any more, it’s about family and presents’, and expect me to find christmas as a symbol of the conservative and wasteful dominant other to be comforting and cheerful.
stock up on anything you’ll need from the shopping centres. november is coming.
i was listening to a panel of speakers the other day at camp betty. it was called Barbarism Begins at Home, and whilst many interesting things were mentioned, and important issues raised, i found myself increasingly irritated by so many people’s lack of ability to talk about racism without making more generalisations. i think this is not a minor consideration, but a fundamental problem in how we deal with such issues.
unfortunately, due to the necessity of warmer clothing and my reliance on others in finding my way around, i couldn’t stay for the questions. on the way home, however, i thought more about another issue that had upset me. like the generalisations, i had sat there feeling irritated, but also feeling that i didn’t have the right to be. when i talked to others though, it came out as something important.
the second issue was with the very final statement of (i believe) Hegemony, Homonormativity and the ‘War on Terror’, which my memory has paraphrased as ‘maybe religious belief is the most radical thing left’.
i’ve heard this before. i’ve muttered about its obvious flaws of logic before. i’ve been scared that people actually seem to believe it before. there are some religious people you just can’t argue with, but when lefties and nonbelievers start saying things like this and expecting it to aid anti racism or religious tolerance, i start to get very uncomfortable.
i have two serious problems with this argument, as i have heard it previously. i wouldn’t want to make too many assumptions about this particular speaker, when i didn’t get to discuss it with him personally. the first problem is the smug belief of many people living within the bubble, that if something is not common within our little radical community, that actually makes it extra radical. i had trouble being accepted in the queer community when i had long hair. that is a serious problem, but it does not make my hair radical, even though hair does have the potential to be a radical issue. i felt marginalised when i lived in epping and nobody would come and visit, or help our campaigns at macquare because they said they needed a passport to get there, though i made the journey several times a week. maybe perservering with the losing battle at club mac could have been seen as radical; suburban living was just depressing. unusual does not mean radical, and we really don’t have enough hegemony to make something radical just because of its position within the bubble, when it is actually boringly common in the outside world.
i can understand that someone with a serious religious belief may also have difficulty fitting into the queer radical bubble of which i have become so fond since moving to newtown and achieving hair that gives out fewer wrong signals to this particular community. i sympathise, especially when that religion is one like islam, which is marginalised most places around here, not just in the queer community. though i’d like to think we’re better than some as we keep ourselves aware of the issues, there are certainly still many problems around inclusiveness which we need to keep dealing with. a difference, or a person, doesn’t need to be radical to deserve respect.
on to the second objection: i don’t want to rehash arguments against religion – there are many places you can read them, especially now we’re in a nice little nonbelief publishing boom. yes, religion tends to be heirarchical, patriarchal, warmongering, unprovable, incredible. what i want to know is why, when everyone knows these things, does noone stand up for atheism?
any left wing person, nonbelievers and religious people alike, can criticise the church. hillsong, opus dei, the mormons, jehovah’s witnesses, scientologists, catholics, anglicans, whichever form of orthodoxy they’ve even heard of. christian union, evangelical union, student life, css. the one one their neighbour adheres to, the one they were brought up with, the one they attend every week. the pope, pell, jensen, the archbishop of nigeria, fred nile, catholic labor parliamentarians, the liberals’ prayer group. conservatism, evangelicalism, evangelism, views on women, reproductive rights, discrimination loopholes, tax breaks. islam is a little tricky with all those issues relating to racism and imperialism, but we’re getting there now that spokespeople have been saying unfortunate things. in australia, judaism is fair game in some contexts, though in europe thoughtful people treat it just as carefully as islam.
why, then, don’t we stand up about our own fundamental beliefs about the world? there are stacks of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, freethinkers, skeptics, rationalists, dissenters, deists, unitarians, pastafarians who profess to believe in the flying spaghetti monster, devotees of the invisible pink unicorn, adherents to jedi, even pagans, wiccans and satanists. almost anyone who identifies as any of these is a nonbeliever, or at least friendly.
phew! the rest of the argument needs more composition – not an easy question. watch out for the rest of the post!