Everything Should Be Open To Questioning? Not Quite

photo showing a happy couple

Being an atheist, I have spent a lot of time debating religious people about all sorts of things such as my freedom to be an atheist to the US motto (In God We Trust) being printed on our money. The theist is on the wrong side of the debate all the time but they seem to believe my equality and freedom is subject to debate. No one would rationally support that kind of injustice. Imagine my shock when a fellow atheist, trying to support debating the equality of women, used a line of argument we atheists dismiss out of hand when fundamentalist Christians use it against Evolution.

This all stems from the unending internal Internet arguments over sexism in secular groups that I’ve written about before in this blog. The fighting has devolved into unproductive name calling and whining one sees on the middle school playground. I try to avoid reading blog posts specifically about the conflict because those posts just seem to be attempts by the authors to feel superior to a straw man and no one really listens to what is being said. The signal to noise ratio is very low.

I’ve been a reader of the blog “Atheist Revolution” for a number of years. The other day I read the post titled Secular Woman and the Abort Theocracy Campaign. The post talked about the “Abort Theocracy” project that the group Secular Woman introduced recently. According to the Facebook home of the project:

A project focused on the intersection of religious power over women’s bodily autonomy and sovereignty, dedicated to terminating that connection by opposing religious influence in government.

Abort Theocracy

The majority of Vjack’s post restated some objections to the abortion terminology used (tone and word debates in the secular community is another post entirely) but the end of his post caught my “ear”:

Having said that, it would be a mistake to expect me to throw my support behind Secular Woman anytime soon. They lost me when they decided that their preferred definition of feminism is “a given, and not a topic for debate.” Far too often, I have observed how this sentiment closes down healthy, rational discussions about gender and feminism. I do not believe this is how the atheist/freethought/secular community is supposed to operate, and I find that it actually does more harm than good to feminism. While I respect and agree with their lack of desire to expose themselves to what they consider sexist viewpoints, I reject the implication that their decisions about what is sexist and what is not are beyond question.

Secular Woman and the Abort Theocracy Campaign

When I made a comment about being troubled by his remark that feminism should be debated Vjack replied:

Yes, I want us to be free to question ANYTHING. Would I personally debate whether restaurants should be allowed to serve African-Americans? No, I wouldn’t. But I also recognize that my personal values and preferences are not universal, and I want us to be able to discuss issues like racism and sexism in a free and open manner. 

I am not inclined to accept restrictions on what can and cannot be discussed or questioned. Asking questions should not be discouraged. Anything and everything can reasonably be questioned: feminism, sexism, racism, equality, politics, science morality, all of it. No subjects can be off limits to free inquiry.

Now where have I heard something similar?

Freedom of Inquiry

I believe that there is much evidence in support of both sides of the debate. Thus, I feel that both should be taught, along with all supporting evidence. This will cause students to search for the answers themselves instead of force-feeding them the consensus view. If the evidence is so strong against creationism, why should we be so afraid of presenting the idea in school?

People need to learn both points.

It is limiting freedom and it is a disgrace to democracy not to teach both points of view. By refusing to pay Christian schools and make them separate from public schools they are (whether trying to or not) killing Christianity, which is one of the most positive religions in the world! I don’t understand how anyone can think differently considering Christianity is what most of our nations policy’s and everything we stand for as a nation was founded upon.

Should public schools teach creationism alongside evolution in science classes?

These are just a small sample of stuff we atheists hear all the time about Evolution. I’m fairly certain that Vjack wouldn’t want Evolution to be debated alongside creationism like that in the public schools. In fact he said so in another post:

Legislation [allowing teaching of creationism] like this seriously undermines public education by placing myth on equal footing with science in the classroom. Every single one of us has a personal stake in the education our children receive. These are our future doctors, scientists, and the like. We need them to be competent. Moreover, measures like this not only make us a laughing stock around the globe but ensure that our country will be unable to compete at the international level.

And those of us who are members of the reality-based community had better care because legislation like this goes a long way toward demolishing the separation of church and state upon which we depend. Many states have already passed laws severely restricting (or even banning) abortion services. Despite being illegal under Roe, the left cannot sue for fear that the conservative Supreme Court will respond by overturning Roe. It is not difficult to imagine conservatives using precisely this same playbook to Christianize one state after another.

Creationists Win Big in Tennessee

So I guess he does accept restrictions on what can and cannot be discussed or questioned as long it doesn’t affect him? Those Christians who want to teach Creationism just want a debate and for kids to ask questions. What is wrong with that?

Why is Vjack wrong about debating feminism? One reason I see, is it seems feminism is being used (intentionally or not) as a synonym for sexism, which it isn’t. Feminism is about equality of women and accepting that women are equal to men doesn’t take anything away from men.

Of course, society has applied different standards of treatment between men and women. Before feminism women couldn’t own property, have their own bank account, and lost custody battles for children during a divorce because they didn’t have a good job (if they could get a divorce).

If one thinks feminism still needs to be debated in 2013 then you don’t really mean everything should be questioned since you aren’t questioning the obvious and systematic male privilege that still exists today. I tend to see far more blog posts complaining about women fighting for their right to equality then the real problems women face due to bias from men – religious and atheists. 

What gets me is that many of the injustices to women that feminism attempts to resolve was done in the name or based on religious beliefs. For Atheists to side with theists by trying to marginalize women makes my brain hurt.

Bad things tend to happen when one starts debating “degrees” of equality. You can debate policy decisions as a result of having across the board equality but you can’t question equality itself. We are either all equal or we aren’t.

I’m sure that the men in this stupid “debate” will claim that the women they are trying to marginalize want to censor them. Creationists say the same thing when they lose in their attempt to teach their religion in the public schools. They cry about being censored yet we dismiss their argument.

Just think of what could be accomplished if the freethinking men had spent all their time on activities that were positive for the whole freethought community. We can discuss language being used or actions that have happened or even issues like the subject of Vjack’s post that sparked this post. The floor of these discussions is that we are all equal.

I’m not saying these men hate women (although they give off a negative vibe), should be censored, or unreasonably banned from public events. People make mistakes and even atheists believe in irrational shit sometimes. As Vjack himself wrote:

We atheists can still accept conspiracy theories, support the type of pseudoscience in which the Huffington Post traffics, or prefer not to exercise reason at all outside of the question of gods. We can be irrational, especially when we’ve managed to convince ourselves that we are right and others are wrong. And I suppose we can even dismiss science when it suits us.

Personal Experience vs. Science

Again I don’t think Vjack is a bad person and I will continue to read his blog. On this “debate” issue, I just think he’s wrong

Sexism in secular groups is an issue in the community but outside these minor white hot Internet flame wars, the issue is addressed in rational, productive, inclusive, and positive ways – as it should be.

*Update 05/04/2013*

Vjack responded with a new blog post over at his place. You can check out the full post at Genuine Misunderstanding vs. Axe-Grinding

Here is my take on his response:

His post is one way to respond to a question about one’s position on an issue – say the person misunderstood what was said or aren’t using words like you were using them. People take that route when they just don’t want to be questioned about a position they hold.

Vjack didn’t change his position – he still claims he questions everything calling it “critical inquiry”. The point of my post was that human equality isn’t subject to “critical inquiry” – we either are all equal or we aren’t.

At the end of his post he writes:

I support asking questions and engaging in rational discussion about feminism and other social issues just as I do about science. Moreover, I believe that refusing to think critically about feminism undermines the goal of equality much like refusing to think critically about science undermines the scientific enterprise. I’m not sure why this is so difficult to grasp or how I can be any clearer.

Genuine Misunderstanding vs. Axe-Grinding

What I didn’t read in that post or the follow-up to his first post the words to the effect that he agreed that we are all equal or we aren’t. Avoiding even a subtle reference to all of us being equal forces me to fill in the blank and assume in the case of women, he doesn’t. Besides one doesn’t really question things one agrees with, right?

He mentions he thinks we should question Evolution but that isn’t the same as what the creationists say about Evolution. Their idea of questioning Evolution is that it doesn’t exist or is wrong while those of us like Vjack question the matter of how Evolution operates in nature. This is kind of how creationists misuse the word “Theory” to undercut the truth that Evolution is a fact that exasperate scientists all the time.

Vjack claims I have an axe-to-grind but I think people who think it is a good idea to cyber-stalk and publicly threaten to confront women in order to “question” feminism isn’t critical inquiry – THAT is having an axe-to-grind.

Again as I said in my post, questioning equality is pointless. There is no benefit to the freethought community to marginalize women and ignores the fact that many women have been on the front lines fighting for the rights of non-believers. A secular woman who calls themselves a feminist is NOT the same as atheist anti-vaxxer or ghost believer. There is no new truth to be gained by questioning feminism.

I might actually agree with some of what Vjack is questioning if he would maybe call it questioning gender politics – which is what I believe he thinks he is questioning because feminism isn’t a sacred cow.

But of course I’ll probably be accused of misunderstanding and grinding my axe….