The FreethoughtBlogs lot just got called out by Paula Kirby, for being (in her words) totalitarian and intolerant of dissent. PZ and Ophelia mention it here, here and here. Following on from the Rebecca Watson business which the last few posts on this site publicised, she also had a minor spat with me, Rhys and Hayley over on Twitter.
It’s important to say at this point that Paula was one of the first widely-read atheist writers I got to know, and one of the most influential on me. I respect her to a very profound degree – but here I think she’s very much mistaken, and since I don’t want an elephant in the room next time we inevitably meet, I feel like I need to say why. But while I’ll do that soon, it’s not what this post is about.
The FtB crowd have been getting a kicking recently, especially with the recent JREF events, because of stances they tend to take. Most of this has nothing to do with Paula. There are plenty of other people calling Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight feminazis, and if you search #FTBullies on Twitter you’ll find pages and pages of results. Ophelia in particular has mentioned this in on Butterflies and Wheels, and it was no doubt she and other FtB writers whom DJ Grothe originally called ‘irresponsible’.
These accusations need to be addressed, but that’s also not what this post is about. That’s coming up, and besides, other people are already doing it; better than I could, quite possibly. In this blog, I’m just going to state something very simply:
I love FreethoughtBlogs.
I’m not sucking up to them. Okay, I am a bit. But you know why? Because FtB is, personally, my favourite atheist site by a long, long way.
Now, clearly my opinion is just that: personal, subjective, an opinion. But for all the accusations of throwing their weight around, there’s a reason FtB has weight: it’s extremely popular. None of these people have to read it, and I’m not asking you to read it if you’re reading this. In fact, I’m not even asking you to like it.
But it’s obvious large numbers of people do like it. Over five thousand, according to Facebook. And while, contrary to some of what Paula suggested, no one who disagrees is being stopped from saying so, I think it’s time FtB-lovers sent in some support – because while it’s easy to be negative on the internet, especially on sarcasm-positive social networks like Twitter, sticking up for people is important.
I’ve only ever written one piece of fanmail, but I’m devoting this post to two things. First, a statement that I personally think FreethoughtBlogs is awesome; secondly, an invitation to you if you do too.
What do I love about FtB? Well, to begin with, I love many of the individual blogs. Specifically, here are some which are my favourites (and because this is a personal, subjective list, don’t think I’m slandering anyone who isn’t here – it could be I just haven’t read enough of them).
- I love what Stephanie Zvan writes at Almost Diamonds – her posts on the harassment issues, her comments in the FtB hivemind discussion on it, her posts about sex and sex education. I love that her blog includes fiction – because who says you can’t do that on your skeptical blog?
- I love Black Skeptics. It’s awesome just that they exist. And I especially love Sikivu Hutchinson’s demonstration that you can be both postmodern and skeptical. (Ophelia – hold on, you’re below – take note.) Her discussion of that ‘slavery’ billboard made me seriously rethink images like that, and her comments on policing from the WiS conference made me nod far too noticeably in my relatives’ kitchen.
- I love Blag Hag. I love Boobquake, Jen’s list of awesome female atheists and her ‘edgy yet friendly’ talk. Of all the responses ‘Dear Muslima’ got – yes, I’m going there – hers was my favourite. (I don’t love how her surname is pronounced. It’s so damn counterintuitive. But I’m learning to accept it.)
- I love Ophelia Benson. Except perhaps for PZ, she was probably the first Freethoughtblogs writer I ever encountered. She comes to the aid of anyone who needs support – including, previously, me – and I still can’t get my head round how she posts so often. Ophelia, you are the greatest and I’m lucky to know you. Please never stop doing what you do.
- I loved the sheer smackdown of Cristina Rad’s reply, when Neil deGrasse Tyson made silly comments about the term ‘atheist’. I love the speech she made at Reason Rally (and also, incidentally, the earrings she wore).
- Greta… oh my devil, Greta. Where do I start? I love Greta Christina’s (aptly named) Blog in general, from her posts about fashion and kittens to her talk on atheist approaches to sexuality. I love her recent, brilliant summation of the issues with the JREF. I love her amazing, precise, comprehensive talk about why arguing over god-belief is worthwhile. And then the ‘atheism and anger’ blogs, and the attendant talk at Skepticon. Comrades and godless friends, this. Is. Rock.
- I love the bravery, the bluntness and the humour of Maryam Namazie. I love her determination – with the Council of ex-Muslims, One Law for All or whomever else – and that like Sikivu she’s a properly leftist voice within atheism. I love her rallying ability, and the style with which she shouted religion down at Protest the Pope.
- I love PZ Myers and his writhing Feminazi octopus – I considered ‘femipus’ for a moment, but thought better of it – plus, of course, the total mastery of sarcasm he shows at Pharyngula and in his Twitter feed. (I know this isn’t for everyone, including some other people on this site – but personally I dig it. Like, a lot.)
- I love Sincerely, Natalie Reed. Her comments on intersectionality in campaigning movements are instructive to the degree I recommend them to anyone from the anti-FtB side. I loved the things she said on the Godless Bitches podcast, and her ‘God does not love trans people’ post, which encapsulates perfectly (as does this one from Greta) the angst I feel about ‘God loves us’ narratives among queer people.
- I love the ACA and The Atheist Experience, which I started watching in 2009 back when I had my very first laptop. It was probably the first bit of atheist outreach I encountered post-God Delusion, and I still tune in every time. Matt Dillahunty may be cleverer than anyone else I’ve ever watched, and remember that awesome call from a theist Jen Peeples and Tracie Harris took? (I mentioned Godless Bitches – also an ACA production.)
- I love What Would JT Do, and that JT Eberhard has from all I can tell made the Secular Student Alliance something awesome, of which I wish I could be part. As someone who loves organizing talks, I love the videos from Skepticon, and among his other posts I love the one in which he body-slams Alain de Botton.
- And as with PZ, I love Zinnia Jones’ capacity for barbedness. (Clearly, the letter ‘Z’ confers this.) I fanned on her recent post about circumcision, and the total, characteristic clarity of it, and I loved among others her post about CFI Ontario’s plan to ‘support [.] the trans community’ by dragging up. Also, her YouTube channel.
All of these people are tremendous, and so are many of their co-bloggers from the little of them I’ve seen. But none of them is the biggest reason I love FtB.
The biggest reason is the same one other people have been criticising them recently: that they speak out so often, and so eloquently, on feminism, queer and racial struggles, politics and other Causes That Aren’t Directly Related To Atheism. That while primarily they’re an atheist network, they’re a collective of atheists with other opinions, where atheist discussions on justice, ethics and politics can take place – especially where the perspectives of the marginalized are included.
If we had a word for atheists doing this, what would it be?
Oh yes. ‘Freethought’.
The criticism of religion is a very much older beast than RDFRS, or CFI, or FreethoughtBlogs itself. It’s older than the skeptical movement writers here belong to, and which focuses (don’t get me wrong, correctly) on attacking religion epistemologically.
In Europe, the historic home of freethought, and elsewhere in the world, there exists a long and esteemed tradition of thinkers and writers who called out religion for being unjust and oppressive: traditionally, feminists, Marxists, queer theorists and all the other famous bêtes noires of the Daily Mail have been the first to bash religion. There’s clearly no real dichotomy, and many people who identify with these groups also foreground science, but I relate to that atheist tradition at least as much as to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. And I love FreethoughtBlogs – I adore it – for representing that contingent.
So here’s my invitation to you, if you love it too. Now that I’ve set out what makes that set of writers special to me, I’m not going to try and stop people calling them bullies or totalitarian. They’re entitled to their opinion – but so are we, and while the FtB crowd are, frankly, being bombarded with abuse, I think we ought to share it.
Remember when Tory politicians said we needed to privatise health, and #WeLoveTheNHS trended? I think it’s time for #WeLoveFTB.
Tweet it. I’m about to. Tweet it so that everyone from that network knows we support them, and finds love as well as hate when they search for FtB.