The Director of Atheist Nexus Speaks Out on Atheist Communities

(Report by Hugh Kramer) I've just returned from a meeting of the Ventura County atheists where we heard a talk by and had a discussion with Richard Haynes, who runs Atheist Nexus, the new (it just celebrated it's first birthday) social networking site exclusively for non-theists. Richard, who sometimes writes under the sobriquet, "Brother Richard," was formerly an associate minister at a 12,000 member evangelical mega-church in Georgia. In 1993, he experienced a crisis of conscience over some of it's practices and, with his young wife and baby daughter, left the church. After a lot of vicissitudes and soul-searching, both he and his wife concluded that they no longer believed in God. Some of the habits of his time as an evangelist have persisted though and now he has dedicated himself to encouraging other atheists to "come out of the closet" and form themselves into a self-sustaining community. That, in fact, was the subject of his talk.
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Personally I'm torn on this issue. I see valid points on both side.

"I will proudly tell you and everyone else here that if I had not come here this conversation would not even be taking place."

There is a difference between bringing up points and being an ass about it.

You seem to like confrontation for it's own sake. You also seem to interject your assumption into what you read. As you appeared to assume the motives behind the SECULAR Center's volunteering offering.
"Do you not see the similarity here or is your vision only limited to the narrow issue of your right to believe anything you want, and everyone else having to accommodate your Atheism in every place at all times even in an old geezers home full of pre-dead Christians who just want to, as corny and stupid as it sounds to us just want to float to heaven on a cloud." -- Alber
Mike: might as well be fiction because you have zero credibility.

Kinda wondering that myself - how exactly do you recognise a girl's face if its the first time you've ever seen it ?

Tall tales, designed to impress and endear. Fail.
Well I see the girl almost every day as she and my daughter walk to the bus stop across the way. She has a very distinctive manner of dress for my area so it doesn't take Shelockian powers of deductive reasoning. We have a very small Muslim population and it is rare to see a covered woman in this city.

Would it help you doubters if I swore to god that it is true may I rot in purgatory for two weeks before being carted off to the ninth circle for eternity if it isn't. Well perhaps not even that coming from an Atheist is enough to convince you doubting Thomases so believe what you like.

The incident is of no great importance to the matter at hand, and I only related it because I had thought someone was seeking the initial cause for my interest. The matter of the inequality of the Burqa stands on it's own, so address the issue and forget about the neighbor girl.
This, with a notable exception, is a good discussion.

I think that we need to distinguish between*** Burqas in Muslim countries and elsewhere. It is very difficult to outlaw Burqa's in a 'free' country. While I would personally love to see the end of the practice, it is a gross invasion of privacy to forbid it, especially if the majority would support a ban. Yes, that sounds backward but let's be honest, freedom-type laws exist to protect the minority. If a woman chooses to wear it, it is beyond big-brother to tell her no. Who distinguishes between those that are more comfortable with that level of modesty and those who are forced by their families to conform?

In Muslim nations where it is law, not convention, it is awful. Sure, but that is their nation. Not our call to make in that case.

President Sarkozy's statement is fine as an opinion, hell it is one most of us share. But as a matter of policy, it was a bit over the top.


*** Edit because to between
Mike as always you make a nice summation of the issue at hand.
thank you, sir. I went off the reservation on my last post but I feel rather strongly about this.

I need a drink.
Here is an American Muslim woman putting forward much the same argument as most of those who responded to this issue [emphases added]:

"The French government’s actions are remnants of the colonial mindset; Sarkozy’s comments not only belittle the capacity and autonomy of Muslims around the world, they also seek to impose an interpretation of Islam onto the Muslims in his country. It’s as if the French government is saying to it’s five Million Muslims: “You can stay here as long as you let us tell you what your religion is really about and where you are allowed to practice it.” This type of dehumanization and reduction of the Muslim identity and intellect will not streamline the integration of Muslims into western societies; it will only further the stigmatization of the Muslim “other” as morally and cognitively inferior.

Although I personally believe that the burqa is too often used as a tool of oppression against Muslim women around the world, particularly in societies in which women are most at risk and vulnerable, the French government does not have the right or the appropriate authority to speak about what my religion is. If Sarkozy had spoken about the burqa as private citizen, and not a president, I might have agreed with him. But the moment he turned Muslim religious interpretation and Muslim dress into a policy issue, he violated not only the fundamentals of his nation’s secularism but also the integrity and humanity of Muslims around the world. He took away our right to speak for ourselves by presuming that he could speak on our behalf. And although a burqa ban would work in my best interest as a Muslim woman who sees nothing fair or just or beautiful in “religious” mandates obligating women to experience life through burqas, I recognize that a secular government’s interpretation of any “Islamic” mandate represents the high likelihood of even greater infringements of Muslims’ right to practice our religion in the future.

That being said, in addition to insisting on a right to speak for ourselves and practice our religion as we deem fit, we Muslims must begin to cleanse our collective beliefs of the toxins that plague our families, communities, and societies. Just as Muslims have a personal and collective responsibility to oppose attempts by outside institutions or individuals to speak on our behalf without acknowledging our right to think and act for ourselves, we must also resist patriarchal institutions within our religious communities. We cannot continue to impose outdated and sexist ideals of female modesty and containment on our women. If Muslim women anywhere are made to believe that their religiosity and purity hinges on the wearing of a burqa, I believe that this is dehumanizing and cruel."

Also, from another source: "The number of French Muslim women who wear the burqa or the niqab is minuscule, and one would have to go out of his way to visit les banlieues (Paris's poor suburbs) to spot one or two. "

"Meanwhile, Huda Benkaran, a French Algerian social worker who has been involved in helping Muslim women to integrate in France thinks that outlawing the burqa is a "stupid proposal" made by a "an imbecile."

"What does Sarkozy think? Outlawing burqas is going to make these women walk outside in a sundress? They just won't leave home as often. He is sentencing them to prison!" Benkaran says in anger.
Well the overwhelming majority of the government members in France who take direction from their constituency, including two of the three Muslim women in the Cabinet think that the Burqa needs to be banned in public. I am sure you can find Muslims who support the continuance of it, the continuance of Female Genital Mutilation, and who agree with the killing of Atheists, the killing of Gays, the beheading of Jews, and the utter annihilation of western culture to be replaced with an Islamic Caliphate so paste all the links you like in support of Brother Richards stance that the Muslim slaves have to extract themselves from their own pit of misery. It is their own bed of thorns so let them lie in it. There were many people opposed to the emancipation of Black Slaves in the USA once upon a time as well, so those links can be thrown in as well and we can just mentally substitute the common usage vernacular word for Black in those times with the word Islamic Woman as we read along.

Lincoln freeing the black slaves in the USA, even though many of them were born into it, and as far as some of them may have been concerned had a fairly tolerable life while not a perfect analogy is a fairly close comparison to what President Sarkozy is trying to do for those Islamic slave girls in France. He is trying to emancipate them with the equivalent to President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

I wonder if American Feminists have the same dismissive outlook on the plight of women in Islam as you do Kristy. Besides myself are there any feminists in the house who can contribute their input on the topic?
It is always quite odd to read people talking about me. It always feels like I am watching my own funeral. Oh wait, I shouldn’t have said that. Someone may get the idea I believe it’s possible to watch your own burial rituals. For the record, I don’t believe in spirits (or any other form of supernaturalism).

As a matter of principle, I try not to comment much on Nexus. Even though I often want to do, I don’t want people to mistake my personal views for those of “Nexus corporal.” It drives me crazy, but this is my cross to bear (crap more unintended religious talk).

I always find it quite amusing when people assume either I am a “secret Christian,” or now “torn between belief and non.” I don’t know what I have to do. I don’t have ruby slippers, but I am willing to don a pair of red sneakers, click my heels together, and chant “I deny the Holy Spirit” three times. But that would be silly since I don’t believe in the Holy Spirit (or Casper for that matter).

Thanks for the concern, but I am absolutely resolute in my not believing in god(s). However, I will always quote Bible verses. Because I know them, and there is no reason not to. I also quote Shakespeare (much of which you can’t understand unless you have a basic understanding of Scripture), movies, poetry, etc., and I don’t believe any of them are divine or written by a god(s). As Hugh pointed out in his article, I wholeheartedly believe we can, “Chew up the meat and spit out the bones.” I believe it is possible to take the positive things my church experiences have taught me, pluck out the superstitions and negative crap, and apply them to the building of nontheist communities. You could also apply the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

My “Christianese” is often due to the religious culture in which I lived for so long. It is no more wrong than someone who lives in Jewish culture saying, “Oy vey. These Goys.”

Often on the Atheist News Podcast, I try to explain the Christian perspective so it can be understandable, not in any way, justifiable. I think we first must understand, and once we do, we should seek to be understood. Many atheists have no idea what Christians actually believe. I understand that many don’t care, and I am okay with that. However, we will never be able to help others come to reason, if we can’t meet them where they are. I am a big fan of Pat Condell; however I seriously doubt he has had many people give up their theism because of his rants. I, however, have had several because of my approach. This is okay with me as well. I wouldn’t change a thing. I think both tactics are needed.

While we are on the topic of the podcast, I wish Joe was my lapdog. Joe and I disagree on a lot of things.

I will admit as well, that some of my habits from my time being an evangelist have followed me into my new views. I don’t apologize for that either. This is who I am. I care passionately about people, and I am “evangelical” (religious word used on purpose) about freeing people from religious bondage.

Let me be clear. I support the total separation of church and state, and champion individual liberty. I believe individuals should be free to think, do, and “wear” what they please. I support the legalization of (most) drugs, prostitution, and anything else people can do to harm themselves. I believe government has no right to interfere with individual freedom unless it threatens or endangers other individuals.

I have never shown any respect for Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion. That being said, I support individuals rights to being religious. People have the right to be stupid. So you could say, I honor people’s freedom of beliefs, but if they bring it to the public arena, it deserves to be ridiculed if it is ridiculous.

It is dangerous to speak in absolute terms. We should never say, “All people.” This is the worst form of bigotry. It is like saying, “All Asians are smart,” Or, “All blacks are stupid.” So it is impossible to say, “All burqa wearers are oppressed.” It may be true that 99.999999999999 percent are forced to wear it. But we can’t say all. Now, I support the government stepping in to protect the oppressed, and if any woman goes to the authorities and says they are forced to wear anything, they should step in and help her. It is quite appalling to imply that a woman being stoned is somehow my (or Joe’s) fault. Not one person will be harmed because of our view, and not one person will be saved for the opposing view. And where do we draw the line? Should American women not be allowed to wear Catholic school girl uniforms because women were abused in Catholic schools? God, I hope not! (That’s another religious word used on purpose). Some of my best strip-club experiences involved these outfits.

A side note: If anyone is interested, I have written about the silliness of Islamic beauty pageants here, and the burqa wearing sexual activist Wedad Lootah here.

I am amazed that anyone thought we were serious when we talked about the church passing out beer. We were joking about it being a great reason to go to church. I love beer and steak too (sorry vegetarians). Nevertheless, I am quite aware that the way to poison someone is not to hand someone a vial of poison. You take something yummy (i.e. steak) and hid the poison within it. Of course, I don’t think this church is poisoning the beer, but their archaic and antiquated theology is pretty close.

Okay, there’s my two cents. I am not interested in going back and forth arguing. I think it is counterproductive, and as I said, I don’t want people to think I am speaking for Nexus.

To quote the great prophet Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” (I should also note that by quoting King, I don't endorse all he does or says. Also, I don't think he is divine.)
The closet god-freak: I am amazed that anyone thought we were serious when we talked about the church passing out beer.

As an experienced preacher, you should really know better than to overestimate people's intelligence. Just because someone claims to be an atheist, it doesn't automatically mean they're not retarded.

I have written about the silliness of Islamic beauty pageants

“Can’t we all just get along?”

Probably not. Atheists are human and thus exhibit all the foibles that can be found in any other group of people. By and large I think we're a fairly smart and empathetic bunch but we can still be like people in church when they get up to sing a hymn (hey, if you can use religious metaphors, so can I); no matter how many good voices there are, there's always a few that sing off-key and occasionally make you wince. For the sake of all, we learn to live with it.
That was very entertaining Richard, but when you say that you aren't interested in going back and forth arguing do you mean that you will refuse to drop the above sideshow of mostly misdirection and concentrate exclusively on the particulars of your opposition to countries placing restrictions on the Islamic Burqa?




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