How Outspoken Atheists Are Failing Miserably
In recent weeks, I feel like I’ve been in a permanent swirly, ice-cold toilet bowl water twisting and churning around my head. I keep getting sent tweets from people who, apparently, have a problem with me but don’t have the guts to approach me themselves. It makes me giggle, sending laugh bubbles up from the bottom of my wet, porcelain kingdom. Why are people afraid of me? I’m just a copywriter/housewife in a small town on the left side of Canada who spends the majority of her days helping her elderly dog get outside to shit. Why am I so intimidating to these people?
It matters not, and is worthy of only a few giggles on my end. I can’t focus on it, because I feel it’s all very petty. I do what I do here as Godless Mom because I believe there is a cause that needs champions. Somehow, when I started writing as Godless Mom, you all responded. You all liked what I had to say, and so I feel I owe it to each of you to stay focused on those causes that need champions. There are men and women whose lives are being destroyed just because they don’t believe in God. This, this, is far more important to me than what some activists across the pond are finding necessary to say behind my back.
Over a year ago, I posted a video to my YouTube channel expressing my opinion on the actions of organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I explained that I thought fighting the ten commandments on government property, and other actions like this, felt petty when real people were in real danger for being atheist. I have since changed my mind on this, mostly after reading David Silverman’s Fighting God. I now understand why it is important, but I still feel we are failing the people whose lives are being threatened for their lack of belief in God.
We have established so many things as the Godless – we have come so far, but where we continually fail, is being able to provide safe haven for men and women in Muslim-majority countries who no longer believe in God and find themselves facing jail time, corporal punishment and sometimes even death. People like Raif Badawi should be on the forefront of our minds, over this petty infighting bullshit. This is a problem that has been in the back of my head since I first spoke with my friend, Mubarak.
I want to explain to you how I got here because I think it will clarify how frustrated I am about this issue.
I began my own business when I was twenty-one mostly because I was sick of working for other people for very little money. I was successful. I made a lot of money (and spent it). I wasn’t fulfilled though and spent most of my free time campaigning online to end the death penalty and raising awareness for wrongful convictions. In fact, my current Twitter account, @godless_mom, used to be @vlu77 and was the main account for a blog I developed that focused on prison issues, genpop.org. I did this for many years, was heavily involved in the campaign to commute Troy Davis’ sentence to life in prison, Tookie Williams as well, and the successful campaign to end the death penalty in New Mexico. I did my own independent fundraising for the Innocence Project and the NCADP. It was then that Barack Obama followed me on Twitter, and as such, still follows @godless_mom. During this time, I also connected with writers on death row, and typed up and published their works on a blog called Walkalone.
I also volunteered at no-kill pet shelters in Mexico during this time both with the dogs as well as designing and maintaining web sites.
I worked pretty hard on all of this, and in time I found it difficult to focus on anything else. I loathed my paid work. It sucked the life out of me. I wanted to help people (and doggies) and instead, I was sitting alone staring at my computer. So, I decided to look for work in a non-profit. What I found was a marketing director position for a chain of North American addiction recovery facilities. I would work at their head office, which was attached to their fundraising grocery store and run the campaigns for the addiction recovery facilities, their fundraising grocery stores and the 200+ orphanages in Africa and Haiti that they funded. The organization was staffed mainly by graduates of the addiction recovery program, and the grocery store was staffed almost entirely by current program participants. I worked closely with the men and women who were recovering from addiction to the point that I still consider many of them my friends. It was not easy, especially when one of the men I was closest with relapsed and passed away in 2012. When I discovered that actions the organization took against my now deceased friend, may have led to his death, I had no choice but to leave.
That’s around the time I moved away from the city and out to the Okanagan Valley, and when I started writing this blog, Godless Mom. Soon after I began it, I was contacted by Mubarak Bala, and helped run the campaign to free him from being locked up in a mental institution for being an atheist. While I helped run this campaign, I searched and searched and searched for organizations that were properly set up, both financially and legally, to help ex-Muslims in Muslim-majority countries find asylum in the west. I didn’t find any. I haven’t found any since.
I came from an extensive background of activism in which the organizations I worked alongside or in just got shit done. They saw a problem and they worked their ass off to fix it. If they faced a legal problem, they either found volunteer lawyers to clear it up, or fundraised to hire a lawyer to clear it up. They had funds behind them to approach each new situation as it came along. They were organized, goal-oriented and focused and despite my differences with the foundation I worked for, they too, fell into this category. Take no shit, get it the fuck done. That is how I was taught to operate when human lives were at risk.
Then I came to write as Godless Mom and found myself fighting to help a man whose family had beaten him, drugged him and had him locked up in a hospital because he said he was no longer a Muslim. I operated the only way I knew how: get shit the fuck done. I lead the charge with this attitude and in no time, the BBC, ABC, AP, Vice, Guardian, Independent and many more major news outlets were covering Mubarak’s story. I didn’t think twice, I just got shit done. We got shit done.
When we sought help, we did get a lot, but not enough. Mubarak had to live in hiding in the very country in which his life was still being threatened because we couldn’t get him out of there. Nothing had ever been so frustrating before in my life, nor has it since. Here is a highly educated chemical engineer who spoke beautiful English and articulated his thoughts with clarity, who wanted nothing more than to just attend more school, work his ass off and contribute to society, but who was being forced to couch hop, having to trust that these generous hosts wouldn’t reveal where he was for fear someone might find him and kill him.
And we didn’t do shit for him.
He’s still. Fucking. There.
Raif Badawi is still locked up. Now there is a new atheist tweeter in Saudi Arabia who is facing lashes and prison time for being an atheist. We lost five bloggers to brutal murder last year. We lost almost an entire staff of cartoonists, and we nearly lost the Eagles of Death Metal and had the Deftones played one day earlier, we could have lost them, too. We lost hundreds of people in Paris that night, people who just wanted to enjoy a night out. LGBT continue to face discrimination and murder. Women continue to face FGM and honour violence/killing. Just yesterday, Mubarak sent me video and photos of child brides in Nigeria, no older than eight or nine being married off to men in their thirties and forties.
“This is the life here,” Mubarak said to me after I expressed my horror.
We keep losing. We keep fucking losing and every fucking time I login to Twitter, I see why.
While some people with large platforms wished to help our efforts with Mubarak, such as Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Peter Boghossian (some of them even putting up some dough and autographed books to help rescue him), many, many other outspoken atheists with far larger platforms than my own, decided not to.
What were those people doing at the time that was so much more important? Infighting. Calling people bigots. While Sam Harris’ publisher sent us a stack of books to raise money with for an African man whose life was being threatened, those who refused even to retweet the cause were labelling Sam a bigot. While Richard Dawkins graciously retweeted our campaign on several occasions to his massive audience (which led to my web site crashing), to help save an African man, there were those who refused to do the same labelling Dawkins a bigot.
What I have come to learn here, is that there are people who are more concerned with how much every outspoken atheist agrees with every other outspoken atheist, than they are about the lives of the people being affected adversely by religion all over the world. What I have come to learn is that there are those who stand up and do shit, while others sit in the audience and criticize them for whatever the hell they can find.
There are people who have spent the last couple of weeks hellbent on and obsessed with calling me a bigot to whomever they come across, who did not help me when Mubarak was locked up. To these people, I would like to propose a challenge:
I challenge anyone throwing around the word bigot like rice on a wedding day, to turn their focus to other things. I challenge you to, the next time you feel the word bigot nearly escaping your mouths or fingertips, find someone who needs your help instead and help them. Redirect that negative energy into something positive. Put your fucking money where your mouth is.
Imagine the people we could help, the things we could accomplish if we could stop being so petty and childish to each other, and focus on things that have real life or death consequences.
If making sure a twitter audience thinks I am a bigot is really the best way to be spending your energy, you cannot call yourself an activist. I can promise you though, you won’t find me behaving this way. You can call me the most awful name in the book, and I still won’t lower myself to your level, because I have real shit to do.
To those of you who do want to help, I think we need to step up our game. I’ve thought this for a long time, coming from working on movements that actually accomplished things, to this shitshow of disorganization and infighting, I have been frustrated about this for a very long time. I want to help men and women get the fuck out of Muslim-majority countries. I want to be set up and organized to do this, with funds and immigration lawyers behind us. Whether we need to start a new organization or help with the efforts of one that already exists doesn’t matter to me. I will do what it takes. Will you?
If you can’t find yourself getting involved in such a project, maybe because you have time constraints or financial obstacles, I understand. But please show that you support the atheist community focusing on important things, by ignoring those who insist on their petty, desperate smear campaigns. Don’t waste your limited time on them. Instead, focus on Raif and the men and women like him who so desperately need us right now.
I challenge us all to rise above this and get some real work done.