In Which I Am Not Filled With Optimism
Via Ophelia Benson, this unwelcome news: the Center for Inquiry's podcast Point of Inquiry, which I listened to regularly until now, is seeing a change in hosts. D.J. Grothe, who formerly conducted the interviews, is leaving to serve as the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation. He'll be replaced by a rotating series of hosts, and the most important of which, who's expected to conduct approximately half of Point of Inquiry's new interviews, is Chris Mooney.
On its face, this is a bizarre choice. No one has expressed more consistently than Chris Mooney the view that atheists should sit down, shut up, and not speak our minds if doing so might upset or offend anyone. Yet he's now the head interviewer for a podcast whose stated purpose is to interview the leading minds of today, including a majority of guests who are well-known atheists and religious skeptics. What is he going to ask them? Will the interview be thirty minutes of silence, since he's against giving such people additional opportunity to air their views? More plausibly, will he steer clear of any interview topic that might give his guests the opportunity to express opinions he dislikes, or select only guests who agree with his accommodationist viewpoint of silence and surrender?
Although I have nothing against the other named interviewers, Robert Price and Karen Stollznow, I've come to the conclusion that I can no longer in good conscience listen to or promote Point of Inquiry. D.J. Grothe conducted interviews with skill and professionalism, regardless of his guest's viewpoint, and I'm sorry to see him go (though I am glad to see the atheist movement developing the kind of infrastructure that leads to competition for outreach jobs like these). But I'm not optimistic about his replacement.
So, it seems I need to find some new atheist/skeptic-themed podcasts. Anyone have any suggestions? Feel free to recommend your favorite in the comments.
I believe I've successfully upgraded the site to the newest version of WordPress. Hopefully, this will keep out hacker attacks like the one from a few weeks ago. I think all the glitches resulting from the upgrade have been ironed out, but if you see anything that doesn't work right, or that seems different from how you remember, please let me know.
In the last reader feedback thread, the question was raised of adding a plugin to permit editing comments after they've been posted. Now that the upgrade is complete, I'm going to look into that. I know that Friendly Atheist has something like this, so I'll try to find out what he's using and get the same code set up here.
UPDATE: I've installed a plugin which promises the ability to edit and/or request deletion of comments for up to 5 minutes after they've been posted. Try it out and let me know how it works!
Weekly Link Roundup
For the holiday season, some goodies this weekend:
• First up, some music for the season: the blogger Lirone, of Words That Sing, in collaboration with William Morris, composer in residence at the British Humanist Association (did you know the British Humanist Association had a composer in residence? me neither!), has written a humanist carol, Gathering Round the Fire. It's 99 cents on iTunes, and all profits will go to the BHA. I downloaded and listened to it, and I enjoyed it greatly. Check it out, support a good cause, and lend a little bit of humanist cheer to your holiday gathering!
• Next, CNN has a surprisingly sympathetic interview with Richard Dawkins on evolution and atheist advocacy.
• The Daily Mail's Andrew Alexander offers a "heartfelt plea for atheism", an eloquent essay only slightly marred by an ignorant passage about climate change.
• Hanna Rosin asks whether the prosperity gospel contributed to the economic crash.
• On Daily Kos, it's a shameful day for the Irish Catholic Church, as a long-awaited report is released about the complicity of the bishops in sex abuse by predator priests.
• And finally, from Time, an unsparing essay about the subjugation and abuse of women in Islamic countries. (Did you know a Saudi Arabian woman has no legal proof of her existence besides her name on her husband's ID card? I didn't.) This is the kind of thing that the New Atheists get called "shrill" and "strident" when we write.
Also, you may have noticed that posts on Daylight Atheism are now classified by tag in addition to the six major categories (also, there's a tag cloud). I implemented this as a result of suggestions in the reader feedback thread, and I've been working my way backwards tagging older posts. Before I go further with that, I'm interested if people have any opinions on it. Too many tags? Too few? Are some missing that you'd like to see included? Personally, I'm still considering whether to add the "Science" tag to the posts on Lee Strobel.
Open Thread: Reader Feedback
I haven't had an open thread in a while, and I wanted to post one for this purpose. This is a thread for Daylight Atheism readers' feedback: on the site and the way I'm managing it.
Do you have any complaints or grievances, general or specific, about the way the site is being run? Extravagant or effusive praise? Any recent posts you especially liked or disliked? Are there any regular features you'd like to see more of, or less of? Suggestions for something I haven't done yet but should? No topics are off-limits; whatever you've got to say, I want to hear it!
I realize these kinds of forums tend to be dominated by people who have strong feelings one way or the other, so I'll also take my cue from the number of responses. But if you think I'm doing just fine, feel free to say that as well.
The floor is now open, so let's hear what's on your mind. I'll try to respond to as much of it as I can.
Revised "About the Author" Page
I've revised the "About the Author" page that can be found via a link on the bottom of the sidebar. The first version of this page was dashed off just before Daylight Atheism was launched, and was never very informative. The new version is more detailed, so if you want to know more about the mysterious fellow behind this website, now's your chance.
I've also added a new page, "Statement of Principles", also linked from the sidebar. This one sums up my core beliefs on a range of philosophical topics, with the aim of explicitly defining the worldview that underlies my posts.
This is an open thread. What's on your mind?
I have reason to believe that the database errors which caused my site to crash last week were the result of a malicious hacker trying to break in. As of now, I don't know whether DA was targeted specifically or whether the responsible party was just looking for any vulnerable site to attack.
Last night, I found several user accounts that had been elevated to administrator privilege levels without my knowledge. I deleted these and set up some countermeasures to prevent a similar attack from happening again, but it's possible the attacker had access to my database for some time. As far as I can tell, nothing has been changed or deleted, but if anyone notices any broken links, strange changes to posts or comments, or any other oddities, please contact me. If you have a user account here, I'd also recommend changing your password.
Introducing a New Guest Author
Today I'm proud to introduce Daylight Atheism's newest guest author, Sikivu Hutchinson. You may know her from when she made a splash earlier this year with an article in the L.A. Watts Times about black atheists coming out of the closet, and I'm happy to offer my site as another platform for her to continue her freethought advocacy. She's also the editor of blackfemlens.org and a commentator for KPFK 90.7 FM radio in Los Angeles. The following post is reprinted with her permission.
Introducing a New Guest Author
Tomorrow, a new guest author will be making her debut on Daylight Atheism. I'm particularly proud of being able to feature her work here, and once I've introduced her, I hope you'll see why.
I first heard of Sarah Braasch through the Freedom from Religion Foundation, where she worked as a legal intern, after coming across two outstanding essays of hers in Freethought Today: The Real Religious Terrorism, about her upbringing as a Jehovah's Witness and how she broke away, and Moroccan Feminine Wiles, about the horrendous misogyny she encountered while spending a summer abroad in Morocco.
In April, I met Sarah in person while attending a luncheon in New York City organized by the FFRF. I invited her to post a guest essay on Daylight Atheism, if she ever wanted to do so - and she graciously agreed!
Sarah Braasch spent her childhood in the Upper Midwest. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with two summa cum laude engineering degrees. After a successful career in the boutique hotel industry in Los Angeles and Miami Beach, Sarah decided to attend law school and become a human and civil rights advocate. She has recently graduated from Fordham Law School in New York City. While in law school, Sarah interned with the Moroccan Organization for Human Rights in Rabat, Morocco, participated in Fordham's International Human Rights Clinic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and attended the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, for a semester. Additionally, Sarah was an intern with the United Nations Development Programme, as well as the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin. Sarah has been awarded the James E. Tolan Fellowship from the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School and will be spending the 2009-2010 academic year as a postgraduate fellow with Ni Putes Ni Soumises (NPNS) in Paris, France. NPNS is a women's rights organization whose aims are to fight gender discrimination and violence by promoting separation of church and state, equality, and gender desegregation.
Her first post on Daylight Atheism, "Mystery Does Not Equal God", will make its debut tomorrow. Stay tuned!
Sunday Open Thread & Links
• You may have noticed the new "Bookmark/Share This" link below each post, which expands to display links to a variety of social bookmarking sites. If you're a member of any of them, please make use of this! Quite a bit of Daylight Atheism's traffic comes from these sites.
• Next up, Andrew Sullivan criticizes Buddhism by quoting John Horgan, who asks:
It seems legitimate to ask whether a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexuality and parenthood is truly spiritual.
For reference, Sullivan is a Roman Catholic - the church that expects its clergy to be lifelong celibates, and that draws its inspiration from a holy book which commands its followers to be chaste and never marry if they can possibly avoid it (1 Corinthians 7:1,8).
• Finally, there's a compelling post on the blog Racialicious titled Coming Out Black and Agnostic, which addresses the question of how to be open about your nonbelief in an intensely religious African-American community where the church is the center of social life.
I don't usually address racial issues on Daylight Atheism, since this isn't an area where I feel I can speak with any expertise. Nevertheless, I think this is something the atheist community ought to consider. As the comments on that post show, there are many freethinkers in black and minority communities who feel inhibited from speaking out due to the social stigma they're certain to face. This kind of isolation is self-perpetuating, as people who don't know any other nonbelievers are less likely to speak out themselves. We need to reverse this trend and show the world that freethought knows no bounds of skin color or ancestry, but how do we take the first step?
Daylight Atheism: Anniversary #3
Oh yes - it's that time again. As difficult as it is for me to believe, today officially makes it three years I've been writing for Daylight Atheism.
This past year has been the most eventful one yet. I finished writing my first book; met a fellow freethinker in an unlikely setting; was attacked by a sitting member of the U.S. Senate (still a proud moment); and more. As well, I continue to be encouraged by the thriving, friendly community here. It's the commenters that make a site what it is, more so than the author. There are blogs much bigger than mine, much more heavily trafficked; but in terms of the number and especially the quality of the comments, I couldn't be happier. To be honest, I prefer getting a number of comments where I can read every one!
What lies ahead in the coming year for Daylight Atheism? I have a few ideas:
• First off, I'd like to do more pure-science posts. Many of the essays in the Observatory have been aimed at debunking popular superstitions or laying out principles of critical thinking, but I'd like to devote more time to the glories of real science. These new posts will be similar to past essays like "Hello, Beautiful" or "Other Shores". Expect the first of these to start appearing soon.
• I want to stir the pot and get some good debates going. Let's face it, as encouraging as it is to sing the praises of atheism, it would be boring if that was all I did. (In much the same way, a site of nothing but debate and argument would get tedious; I like to have a balance.) I don't just mean debating religious apologetics - I'm confident most of us know those claims and counterclaims in our sleep - but genuinely interesting issues where atheists don't all find common ground.
• In line with the last point, I also want to move in the direction of more guest essays, including some from authors whose positions I don't necessarily agree with - possibly even some from theists. For three years, save for a few exceptions, I've been the sole author - and DA is and always will be my platform first and foremost - but I think any conversation is enriched by a diversity of voices, and I plan to seek out some good ones.
Lastly, there's one more point I want to touch on. These past few months have been a time of consolidation, and now I'm aiming for growth. I remain convinced that there's a huge potential audience of atheists and freethinkers who could stand to hear a friendly voice in the wilderness of superstition, and I want to be the one to reach them.
In terms of traffic, October 2008 was my best month ever, and I want that to be the new baseline. My intent, by the end of this year, is to be routinely surpassing 200,000 hits per month. That's about one-fifth of PZ's traffic, which doesn't sound unreasonable to me.
But if I'm going to reach that milestone, I'm going to need some help from the wisdom of the crowd. I put it to you, readers: What can be done to get Daylight Atheism's name out there? Weekly dissections of the Left Behind books? Live chats? Podcasts and video? More cephalopods? (The first person to suggest Twitter will be taken out and shot.) What say ye?