February 1, 2013

Why I Don't Go To Skeptic Conferences

Why I Don't Go to Skeptic Conferences

Author's note: This article is several years old and expresses views that I no longer agree with.

Back when I came to terms and accepted my own atheism and came out as an atheist to my friends in 2010, I was flirting with the idea of going to Skepticon III. At the same time, I was looking for other skeptic and atheist organizations that were more in my local area than in Springfield, which, while it's in Missouri, it's still at the least a 225 mile drive.

I didn't find any that didn't require me driving into the city of Saint Louis, though I could have just been looking in the wrong places. I was an atheist at the earliest 10 years ago, I didn't actually realise I was one until 7 year ago, and officially came out going on 3 years ago. So initially, I was looking for such groups as a way to meet other atheists, partly I'm sure to form a sort of confirmation for myself. But it's not that much of a loss; I've fully accepted that I'm an atheist, and I'm not at all ashamed by it.

However, back to the topic. The reason I didn't go to Skepticon III or Skepticon IV was because of lack of transportation. I wasn't heartbroken by it. Hell, after Skepticon III, I found David Fitzgerald's presentation online, so I was content (David was the main reason why I was planning on attending, and Skepticon IV for Darrel Ray).

I did initially plan on attending Skepticon V, but what initially made me not buy a ticket was a web threat that my anti-virus stopped. I also had continuing concerns of being able to afford the trip or securing a ride. But what ultimately hammered the final nail in the coffin was the explosion of the "Atheism Plus" movement.

When Atheism Plus sprang into existence from Jen McCreight's blog in August 2012, I was skeptical, primarily from how fast my Facebook friends were changing their profile pictures to the A+ symbol, and their religious views as "Atheism +". When I looked into what it was about, as I don't read the FreeThought Blog network, sure, it seemed good at first glance, kind of like how "Right To Work" sounds nice. I didn't adopt the term, because I felt I had enough labels already and didn't need a new one.

A few weeks went by, and I noticed atheists and members of the atheism plus movement were arguing with each other. Later, Richard Carrier and PZ Myers were being asshats to the people commenting in their blogs. Around the same time, people on Youtube within the "Atheism Plus community" were blocking people for slightly disagreeing. Both the blogosphere and the vlogosphere were censoring their way to a consensus under the guise of "free speech" and "private property"; essentially, somebody who disagrees with them is trying to impede of their free speech, and that their Youtube account or their blog is their property and they have the right to ban people from it.

This behaviour reminded me of the very behaviour that we atheists, including members of atheism plus, criticise the religious of doing. Verbal abuse to those who disagree with you, removing people's comments, blocking them? There were just too many instances of where I thought this new movement was like a religion.

I did have an argument with a number of atheism plus members on somebody's status once. That number was no more than 5 against me at any one time. And that may partly be why I saw them as religious; it felt almost like having to speak to a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses or a pair of Mormons; it was mainly two people, but it went up to no more than 5 as people chimed in. I definitely wouldn't say that I was a victim or that I was bullied, but the terms "misogynist" and "rape apologist" were labeled onto me merely for stating that I don't think bullying bullies is the right thing to do.

I am not going to go to any conferences that condone such behavior. I am not going to go to a "Skeptic" conference whose members fail at applying the critical thinking skills and skepticism that they claim to possess and praise. Call it my own personal boycott, but I just can't bring myself to overlook such behavior, especially when the speaker(s) platform could be abused and talk about issues that really don't belong in a conference where the subject is related to atheism.

I believe addressing feminist issues are important, but I don't think an Atheism conference is the appropriate place, much like how discussing one's favourite breed of canine isn't appropriate in a club that talks about felines. I am a feminist by definition, though I feel the word "feminist" itself doesn't do any justice, and I prefer "gender equality".

I'm not a militant atheist. I wasn't before Atheism Plus came around, and I'm not going to be a militant atheist now either.

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author Tiger Craven About Tiger
Tiger is a 22 year old college student, activist, and professional living in the Saint Louis metro area. When he's not being apathetic to the idea of God or writing about atheism, he is serving a presidential term for a mental health organisation and a board membership of another, does public speaking about mental illness and disability, and is a photographer and a bassist.