August 26, 2013

Divisive Bloggers at Atheist Conventions, Part II

Long Division (Low album)
Long Division (Low album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The first part can be found here. I had no idea this would end up being a two-parter when I wrote the previous post. However, there has been considerable discussion about American Atheists' upcoming convention and how many people are upset with some of the speakers. American Atheists' president, Dave Silverman, recently posted on Facebook that he is tired of hearing from those who are planning to skip the convention because they do not like a speaker or two. I can't say I blame him. On Twitter, one of his replies indicated, "And yet I'm getting it from all 'sides'." It is truly an unenviable position.

I have read quite a bit of discussion and debate among those who are upset at seeing PZ Myers and Greta Christina on the list of speakers. Among the options I have seen being discussed are:
  1. Skipping the entire convention
  2. Attending the convention but not presentations given by the individuals named above
  3. Attending the convention and the presentations by the above named individuals with plans to engage them during the Q&A portion with what would probably be perceived as hostile questions or comments
Personally, I think #3 is a really bad idea and hope that nobody opts for it. The upside of doing this seems virtually nonexistent and the downside quite massive. Fortunately, it also seems to be far less popular than the other two. As for the other two options (e.g., skipping the entire convention or just the talks from speakers in which one is not interested), I think both have their respective pros and cons.

Skipping the Convention

I agree that it is difficult to reconcile what Silverman said on Brave Hero Radio and what I have seen him tweeting since with inviting PZ Myers and Greta Christina to speak at the convention. Even if one could have overlooked the decision to invite PZ before, it becomes almost impossible to do so in light of his recent allegations against Michael Shermer. I can see how attending the convention might lead one to feel that one was indirectly promoting PZ. I can also understand why some people would prefer to dissociate themselves from any organization that provided PZ with such a platform.

For those insisting that it is crazy to skip a convention just because of a speaker or two, I can't help wondering if they would feel the same way if a convention they wanted to attend had invited a known holocaust denier or someone who had recently made undeniably sexist or racist statements in a public forum. My guess is that few would think twice about skipping a convention who invited such a speaker.

I am also reminded that a large number of people recently called for a full boycott of the Center for Inquiry (not only skipping future conventions but canceling membership) around the Ron Lindsay flap. This happened in spite of the fact that most of us did not find anything Lindsay said in his opening remarks at Women in Secularism 2 even remotely objectionable.

I do not think that anyone choosing to skip the convention should feel guilty about doing so. While my decision would likely be different, I can understand why some would decide to skip the convention and possibly even withdraw their support/membership from American Atheists. While this would not be my choice, I find no grounds to condemn those who would make a different one.

Attending the Convention and Skipping Certain Presentations

I would hate to think that someone who was really excited about attending the convention and looking forward to every other speaker would skip it simply because of a speaker or two. This would almost seem like one was allowing PZ Myers and Greta Christina to chase them away from an experience they would otherwise enjoy. For those who support American Atheists in spite of recent events and want to attend their convention, planning to attend makes good sense. In fact, making a point to skip certain presentations might even communicate something of value to those who are in charge of selecting speakers.

If one values what American Atheists does and one wants to be involved in the organization, I think that one should be able to do so in spite of a couple of poor choices of speakers. Many of the speakers seem like solid choices, and of course, American Atheists is more than their annual conventions. Those who want to influence their course will probably have more success doing so as participants than those who remain on the outside in the hope that their lack of involvement will prove a point.

I do not think that anyone choosing this option should feel guilty about it. While this probably would be my choice, I recognize that it is not the right choice for everyone. I see no reason to condemn those who would make a different choice.

Dave Silverman

I'll wrap up by saying that while Dave Silverman is not perfect and has made some mistakes in how he has handled "the great rift" plaguing the atheist movement, I would not wish his job on anyone. I think he's likely doing the best he can to champion a movement that often seems determined to destroy itself. Maybe we can make an effort to accompany whatever criticism we might send his way with some real solutions. Maybe we can stop expecting him to be some sort of superhero and see what we might be able to do to turn the corner on this sad chapter.

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