The Telegraph: “Atheism is an old boys’ club. More women should admit to being Godless”

Jan 13, 2016

The Telegraph – January 11, 2016
The trouble with the atheist movement, of which I consider myself a part, is that sometimes it just looks far too much like religion.

To put it bluntly: it’s pale, stale and male.

Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, are often referred to as atheism’s ‘four horsemen’. All deeply interesting individuals – but also exactly the sort of faces that a patriarchal religion might appoint as its elders.

Recognising this, Somali author and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali was added to the clique when Hitchens died (the fourth horse-woman).

But – maths alert – having twenty-five percent representation is not the same as equality and it still isn’t remotely surprising to find an atheist event with an all-male line-up.

Any public discussion around atheism tends to come from men, too. Comedians Ricky Gervais and Robin Ince have appeared in a stage show about it. And who can forget Stephen Fry’s hugely popular video on the subject from last year, in which he branded God “utterly evil”.

With a shortage of women at the table, the movement’s focus has tended to land on issues such as free speech and has often failed to engage with others like reproductive rights.

Continue reading the entire article by clicking the name of the source below.

27 comments on “The Telegraph: “Atheism is an old boys’ club. More women should admit to being Godless”

  • @OP – With a shortage of women at the table, the movement’s focus has tended to land on issues such as free speech and has often failed to engage with others like reproductive rights.

    Even though there are fewer publicly prominent atheist ladies, clearly this journalist has not bothered to do the basic homework.

    SOURCE The Telegraph

    Ah! That explains it!!!



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  • 3
    hisxmark says:

    Perhaps women are under-represented because it is dangerous to “come out”.
    Women react to stress differently than men do. In spite of what the modern feminists say, men and women are actually different.



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  • What about “The Happy Heretic”, Judith Hayes? There’s at least one other female atheist blogger out there. And hey, I’m a woman, just not a famous one.

    IMO, free speech is the most important issue for all atheists at this time. Long before I retired, I made the serious mistake of telling some coworkers that I was an agnostic (my atheism didn’t appear until after 9/11), mistakenly believing that it was somehow against the law for them to harass me for it. Oops. People can do a lot of just-barely-legal harassment at the workplace. That’s marginally easier if you are female, but not by much.



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  • I’m Canadian, but often travel with Road Scholar, an American group. I don’t go out of my way to tell people I’m an atheist but don’t usually try to hide it either. I’ve found it’s not a big deal in Canada. But once, on a Road Scholar trip, I mentioned my atheism to an American couple who immediately turned away from me and continued to snub me during the entire trip. Since then I’ve been careful not to speak about religion to Americans unless they give me some clue of their feelings first in case I get the same treatment. I don’t know if a man would react similarly.



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  • I’m from the UK where it’s not so unusual to be an atheist, although I try not to use it as a label nowadays.
    I had a great time when I was in Jacksonville, Florida, working with a lot of people there could produce some strange reactions if you anounced you were atheist. I was working directly with a Muslim guy who was very much a moderate, our co-workers invited us to the local church as they were convinced they could convert us both to being Christian. I found out in due course that the only other atheist working on the same site was the female secretary who worked in the office. She said it wasn’t so bad for me to ‘come out’ as I was still accepted as ‘one of the boys’. Whereas she would not get away with it.
    Perhaps there are a lot of female atheists/nones who just prefer to keep a low profile.
    I also had the good fortune to work with a female electronics engineer who was a Palestinian Muslim working in one of the Emirates. We used to have some lengthy discussions as she had never heard of atheism before and thought everyone from the west was Christian. The whole idea of there not being a God was something she had never even considered, but it was immediately apparent that such thoughts were best discussed in private where we were at the time. Even so I did hear her explaining the principle of the ‘golden rule’ to another English person who was trying to argue for no morality without God.
    Again this example shows there could be a very underestimated group of non-believers and doubters who just can’t or won’t ‘come out’ and I suspect women can find it a lot harder than men. Hence we get this old boys club effect.
    Hopefully there will come a sort of tipping point as the numbers of those who are able to be open about their non belief increases.



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  • “having twenty-five percent representation is not the same as equality” oh PLEASE not this quota BS. If there were as many female atheist personalities they would be pushed forward, that doesn’t imply that we must have 50% women at all costs everywhere. The atheist movement is intrinsically for gender equality, there’s no need for feminism here.



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  • @OP – To put it bluntly: it’s pale, stale and male. – SOURCE The Telegraph.

    Psychological projection in place of resreached articles it would appear!

    http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2011/mar/04/women-national-newspapers

    It is still a men’s world in national newspaper journalism, according to a survey released last night by the campaigning group Women in Journalism (WiJ).

    The study found that 74% of news journalists on the nationals are men and that men also dominate political and business journalism. Somewhat less surprisingly, just 3% of sports journalists are women

    Among other eye-opening findings are that The Independent had the lowest proportion of female staff. Just 25% of its editorial team are women. The Sun. the Daily Telegraph were little different, with just 26% of female staff.*

    At the other end of the scale, the papers with the highest proportion of women journalists were The Observer and the Daily Mail, both with 36% of women, closely followed by the Daily Express with 35%.

    But then the Torygraph is the mouthpiece of the Christian right!



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  • Apparently one can’t comment at the source article site. So I’ll note here that It’s a stupid, really brainless and offensively so, article. Those guys are the faces of the “new atheism” because they earned it. They have written popular books on the subject that have made them that. Their talks are watched. Their lectures and debates are heavily attended. If you want to make an impression, quit whining and start doing something that makes you stand out. Dawkins has been writing on this since The Selfish Gene. He has given perhaps millions of people the courage to come of the closet as to their atheism. That is important and significant. The others to a somewhat lesser degree have also made their mark. Who else ranks with them? And why? And screw tokenism.



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  • 10
    hisxmark says:

    From the article:
    “With a shortage of women at the table, the movement’s focus has tended to land on issues such as free speech and has often failed to engage with others like reproductive rights.

    These are vital to female emancipation. We can talk about equality in the workplace all day, but it’s meaningless if we forget that, until very recently, the main thing keeping women out of the office was that we spent half of our adult lives pregnant and the other half stopping toddlers from eating each other’s bogies.”

    What the author doesn’t seem to comprehend is that atheism isn’t about anything but atheism. Free speech is certainly a tangential issue, but feminism is something else entirely. Atheism isn’t about liberal, conservative or progressive, except that those things do have some statistical correlation because they all correlate with intelligence and education.

    It would not surprise me to learn that some atheists are misogynists, but that is not an issue that needs to be dragged into meetings or forums. It is simply off-topic.



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  • Whenever atheism is criticised for statistically real flaws in the atheist movement that nonetheless pale in comparison to the religious equivalent, we should learn two lessons from that. (In this example, you try finding a religious group whose clergy is 25% female.) One, we ought to do something about it; two, religion has even more to do.

    When a group is underrepresented in each context, we should look at the consequences that this has. Remember Elevatorgate? Remember the fact that Richard Dawkins’s response was initially poor, but he quickly not only learned a lesson but took steps to make amends for it? I wish the RCC was like that. Perhaps we should be doing more to complain about religion’s detrimental effects on women’s issues. However, at least we’re not the kind of group that, through low consideration of women, tries to block such things as reproductive rights (or, to take examples beyond the Western world, the education of girls or the reduced marital or legal importance of women relative to men).



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  • Exactly. The example has only one other ‘better’ state. On such a small sample why would it need to be 50/50 anyway.
    I was ignoring the fact this comes from David Cameron’s newsletter and also forgetting the number of women in senior positions in most religions, or lack of!



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  • To put it bluntly: it’s pale, stale and male.

    I’ll say first of all, if someone thinks it’s stale then why don’t they get off their comfy couch and get out there in the fray?! The author must live in a secular location where religion doesn’t confront her very often. She really should come across the pond here and see what vile actions the religiously deluded get up to in this place. Nothing stale about it. I have long suspected that the Brit atheists don’t have a clear picture as to the challenges that the American atheists face and can’t fathom why we come across as so belligerent at times. I really don’t think we are out there bruising for a fight but these evangelical nuts and the devout catholics in this place feel it is their duty to impose their unethical beliefs on the population whether they want it or not. Mostly the American atheists are pushing them back to be at least in compliance with our Constitution. That is a full time job here and there’s nothing stale about it. It takes substantial resilience to go against these pugnacious reactionaries.

    As for the pale aspect, I really hope this can be addressed as well. It is certainly unsettling to see how attached the American blacks are to their Christian churches. I understand that their churches were a rallying point in the civil rights movement here but the Christian message has now circled around to keep their minds in bondage and to hold them back. There is a nascent black atheist group but I don’t feel like they’re integrated with us and I’d like for them to have a larger presence than what they do have. Just thinking that I really hope that group will have some public presence at the upcoming Reason Rally. Will they have a speaker there? So I agree with her about the accusation of “pale”.

    It’s the male component of the statement that is of particular interest to me. I don’t understand why some of the commenters above have taken a defensive attitude about this. I think the numbers on this are pretty solid at this point. There are significantly less female atheists than males. When we discover such a discrepancy, isn’t it correct to investigate why this exists? I can’t help but wonder why this exists and what are the consequences of this discrepancy and if we want to encourage more women to dump their religions then how can we make it easier to do so? I have said here before that I want more women to take leadership roles as atheists, humanists and human rights advocates because it has a great effect on us to see women as good role models that we admire. I want women to say to themselves – “She’s an atheist and she’s a good person too.” and “She doesn’t bring her kids to church/mosque/temple, but they’re great kids who know right from wrong.” The next thing I want is for them to leave their religion behind and to take their children with them! If we don’t offer good alternative communities then they will continue to put up with the misogynistic archaic bullshit that they were brought up in because they think that’s all that’s out there and it’s necessary to bring up their kids to be good people.

    Affirmative action is an ethical approach toward amelioration of discrimination. I’m not asking for a formal program of Affirmative action in our community but I am asking for the guys in our community to consider how important it is to promote the female, atheist public intellectuals amongst us. In this model, anything less than 50% requires investigation and action to move toward that number. Once that percentage is achieved then super support can be reduced, assuming that we would then have a pipeline established to maintain that correct percentage.

    With a shortage of women at the table, the movement’s focus has tended to land on issues such as free speech and has often failed to engage with others like reproductive rights.

    Without free speech we will be cut off at the knees when we try to fight for reproductive rights and any other rights at all. When atheists fight to maintain our free speech we are also clearing the way for other groups to protest as well. Those groups include feminists, civil rights activists, animal rights activists and human rights activists in general. But it is encouraging to see that our atheist intellectuals have just lately taken a stand to speak out against anti-abortion, anti-choice oppressors in Texas and elsewhere regarding a case that will be in front of the US Supreme Court in the near future.

    From the CFI site:

    Steven Pinker, Eugenie Scott, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, and more than 40 other eminent scientists and public intellectuals are backing the Center for Inquiry in a brief to the Supreme Court criticizing the state of Texas’s onerous restrictions on abortion providers. CFI’s brief argues that the alleged expert, scientific testimony used to justify the restrictions is flawed pseudoscience and the Court cannot constitutionally rely on it.

    No one is taking anything away from the accomplishments of our four horsemen and our other males in our leadership roles. All credit to all of them. Defensive postures by us are a waste of time. Let’s put our energy into positive movement forward by boosting our numbers in the population segments that need the most support. That is what is in everyone’s best interest here.



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  • MODs, can you delete my comment of 8:18 please? Now that the comment I replied to is gone mine appears even more hostile than it was when I wrote it. I don’t like it and it wrecks this thread. Up to you though. L



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  • LaurieB
    Jan 14, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Perhaps I can make few suggestions.

    I’ll say first of all, if someone thinks it’s stale then why don’t they get off their comfy couch and get out there in the fray?! The author must live in a secular location where religion doesn’t confront her very often.

    I suspect that she has looked no further than her journalist colleagues for a sample – with a top-up from the more prominent atheist authors.

    As for the pale aspect, I really hope this can be addressed as well. It is certainly unsettling to see how attached the American blacks are to their Christian churches.

    Again, I suspect this reflects the make-up in the office of a right-wing newspaper rather than atheists in general. (Assasinated Asian bloggers, or flogged Arabs, are not “pale”)

    It’s the male component of the statement that is of particular interest to me. I don’t understand why some of the commenters above have taken a defensive attitude about this. I think the numbers on this are pretty solid at this point. There are significantly less female atheists than males. When we discover such a discrepancy, isn’t it correct to investigate why this exists?

    I think there are several causes. Girls are frequently brought up to defer to authority, – especially religious authority, and females tend to group and bow to peer-pressure as teens.
    There is also the biggie, that proselytizers make determined efforts to recruit mothers and children, so many early childhood group activities are based in religious venues, where social pressures are applied.

    In the US, even hospitals and clinics are run by religious organisations.

    I can’t help but wonder why this exists and what are the consequences of this discrepancy and if we want to encourage more women to dump their religions then how can we make it easier to do so?

    The evidence suggests reducing dependence on religious services, by providing state healthcare and social support.

    With a shortage of women at the table, the movement’s focus has tended to land on issues such as free speech and has often failed to engage with others like reproductive rights.

    Without free speech we will be cut off at the knees when we try to fight for reproductive rights and any other rights at all. When atheists fight to maintain our free speech we are also clearing the way for other groups to protest as well.

    This exclusive “free speech” claim, and absence of women’s issues, looks like asserted fiction – if this RDFS site and various atheist authored articles are anything to go by!

    Does any informed person seriously think new atheists do not campaign against dogmatic religious intrusions encroaching on:- contraception, and sex education, with anti-abortionist legislation, religious circumcision, forced marriages, and religious subservience of women tackled?

    Of course on many aspects of religious nuttery, highly educated world authorities speak in thier capacity as scientists, rather than as atheists.
    That’s the thing about a rational approach. The issues are dealt with on the basis of evidence, expertise, and on their merits, without reference to dogmas, ideologies or cultural badges.
    Atheism is neiither a religion nor an ideology. It has no dogmas, so none are exibited for public viewing.



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  • An argument based on my domestic observations is that, for all the “equality” between men and women, men possessing the nerdier disposition (S. Baron Cohen “Autism is the extreme end of the male character” ) still have less role in the socialising of children. Religion and its cultural survival is essentially about the socialising of children. I suggest that women are the natural social engineers here and may achieve their contribution to cultural rationalisation in a more immediate and effective, if personal, manner. They may simply feel (if mothers) less inclined to politicking on the matter, investing nearer to home.

    Now I’m no longer quite so convinced that Aspiedom is so male a trait as its painted, nor that intellectual modes of socialisation are not possible, increasingly inviting men into family “social engineering”, but there may still be something there.

    Membership of political parties in the UK is 50:50. The split between men and women when it comes to actual politicians is another matter.



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  • I’m not sure why anyone has to belong to any club, label, group or organization or follow anyone else’s theory about life, love, religion or anything for that matter. Live and let live. Seek for yourselves what ‘you” must do for your own lives and peace.

    I left the church because of labels, stereotyping, bullying, apathy and the judgement/condemnation when I opposed, questioned or refused to abide by what I saw happening/not happening…
    It truly makes no sense when people who follow any type of supposed “peaceful” faith/ideology try to jam their crap down other’s throats. (And I do NOT mean solely only terrorist sects of Islam – I mean them all) What part of doing that is a personal and peaceful walk/journey?
    We each are different: Different upbringings, different experiences, different struggles…different thoughts, different emotions, and certainly different beliefs/morals.

    If you get sick, you go and get a prescribed medication from your doctor for “your” specific malady.
    How then does giving someone else a measure of your medicine from your specifically prescribed medication (formulated only for you based on your body and chemistry make up specifically, and one that which he knows will work for you) cause someone else to be cured/well again from “their” ailment (of which may be similar but completely different) make them feel the same way as you do? It wouldn’t…it might even cause them harm or…kill them if they were allergic (or couldn’t take certain additives) to the ingredients mixed together.
    The same goes for if you dig up and drank from a pure well source, and only you drinks from it, it stays pure.
    However, if you tell others to come drink from that exact same well, you pollute and contaminate the well by the very nature of our differing germs/bacteria. Not only does everyone become sick, you do as well.

    I see this the same way I see all religion and the throngs of people over-zealous in their constant poking and jamming of their one true faith down people’s throats, like crazed farmers in the hot sun on a late autumn’s day, trying to rip still un-ripened fruit from the trees (branches and all) to get it to market before the stores close.
    Fruit that is nowhere ready for harvest even, jamming toxins into it forcing it to at least appear ripe, all to have it wind up tasting bitter or bland in the mouth upon biting into a piece once bought.

    Why do people preach as they do and about what they do? Can they not see themselves/their own actions? You know, like the world sees them, when they (my extremely least favorite practice of all time) persist in posting crap on Facebook about God, and how he’s supposedly changed them, etc all the while acting in a manner truly unbecoming to them (in other settings away from other supposed Christians and certainly other than in one of true Christianly love – full of wisdom, seasoned with love and honey) and then those who hold up signs/shooting people at/in front of abortion clinics or places viewed as otherwise unchristianly)
    What exactly do these people hope to catch (if they’re fishing men or harvesting the new wine? As they call it) Who in their right mind is going to listen to the opposite of what the Bible actually calls its believers to do?

    A much better idea would be to mind your own walk/business, bait your hook and wait for those actually looking for God (if they are), or just leave people alone because you are serving no one constructively, least of all any God. A Christian one or not.

    Just tell everyone to dig for their own pure well source for themselves and keep seeking if they truly want to find one, but to do so within their own property/hearts. Share your own experience if you must, but stop…by all means…forcing your medicine own someone else’s throat! This goes with Atheism as well I think. Let people come to their own conclusion and experience and theories. Atheism shouldn’t become the very thing many of us have moved/or ran away from. Think for yourselves.
    What I put in my mouth shouldn’t sour anyone else’s stomach!

    My logic dictates that if “such and such” is your walk, then it is your business what may happen or not with your soul (if you believe you have one) and/or body…in the end. No one needs to be backed up their experiences/beliefs/opinions…because it is your mind, your life…your personal relationship or journey …no one else’s…
    To thine own self be true…let everyone else find their own truth regardless of what you think.

    Peace



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  • As I said earlier I for one try to avoid the atheist label and I always try not to ram atheism down people’s throats.
    However when we come to truth there is an important distinction perhaps between the decisions we make purely for ourselves and those we are making for others as well. Things we do and say will always impact on others, so in my opinion it is actually important to know what the ‘truth’ is when our action or even lack of action could adversely affect other people.
    A point I once made to a group of JWs was that it didn’t bother me in the slightest whether or not they believed in the existence of a God. But it was of fundamental importance that they should realise there was zero evidence that God was going to save us from global warming and climate change. We needed to act on this and belief in God could actually ruin things for everyone.
    I generally agree with the way you approach this as ‘each to his own’ but that can only go as far as the other side will permit. If we all make no resistance against religion whatsoever then it won’t be long before we suddenly find ourselves living in a theocracy. As far as I am concerned most, if not all religions are based on a set of completely unbelievable stories and myths. This cannot be a good starting point from which to deal with most important real world situations and should therefore be treated as such and religion should be generally disregarded when we need to make important decisions and take actions that affect many lives. Just consider the bishops who get a ‘free’ seat in the UK House of Lords. They are there based solely on their ability to read and say they belive in a fairy story, but they are supposed to be taking part in running a country. So at this level I have to disagree and say we must make a stand, not by being atheist but by being a realist and at the very least refusing to accept, and pointing out, the absolute stupidity of the religious and belief/revelation based arguments.



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  • Richard Dawkins and “Elevatorgate.”

    I am sorry you brought this up. Why rehash it? No. Dawkins’ response was never poor. Richard Dawkins is an honorable, enlightened and humane person. “Elevatorgate” was bullshit. No lesson to learn, nothing to make amends for! The only lesson is that Ms. Watson is the kind of woman that gives feminism a bad name, in my opinion. (Maybe not a bad person. Maybe just poor judgment, but women and atheists can be jerks too, you know.)

    “The man in the elevator didn’t physically touch her, didn’t attempt to bar her way out of the elevator, didn’t even use foul language at her. He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that….Rebecca’s feeling that the man’s proposition was ‘creepy’ was her own interpretation of his behavior, presumably not his. She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum. But he does me no physical damage and I simply grin and bear it until either I or he gets out of the elevator. It would be different if he physically attacked me.” —Dawkins

    As for his “controversial” comment on Muslim women, Dawkins reminds us to be sensible and to have a sense of proportion: “Muslim women suffer physically from misogyny, their lives are substantially damaged by religiously inspired misogyny. Not just words, real deeds, painful, physical deeds, physical provisions, legally sanctioned demeanings.”



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  • A sense of proportion is important – that’s part of what my post was about. But no such sense is an excuse for our own transgressions – that’s what else my post was about. Take the speck out of your own eye while removing the beam from someone else’s, so to speak. The reason feminism has waves is because “less important” changes can’t be tackled until society has moved forward enough to have granted the “more important” ones.

    Professor Dawkins learned a lesson from the incident, whether or not you did. If you spent your life being regularly propositioned by people significantly larger than you, it would feel harassing. Such an incident in a lift would feel all the more dangerous. The man in that story wasn’t responsible for the world that gave his actions that context. But – this is the point where Elevatorgate can be seen as one example of a much more general problem – we are responsible for assessing our potential actions based on a well-informed understanding of how context shapes their likely impacts. We are also responsible for making decisions based on such insights. A mostly male group may not have as much of this insight across it as it would with greater gender parity. This can make it a more hostile environment for women, which makes the problem harder to fix. When Professor Dawkins arranged to provide childcare at future meetings, that was a move to try to make the environment more welcoming to women (because, despite our best efforts to make society fairer, women still get left with more than their fair share of childcare responsibilities).



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  • 24
    hisxmark says:

    All of that may be true, but it has no bearing on atheism. Feminism is another discussion.
    But: Women choose provocative dress and use makeup to signal sexual availability, but get offended if some “less desirable” male hits on them.
    Whether, male or female, we are still dealing with apes who respond directly from the amygdala without usually involving the pre-frontal cortex at all until the response has already been initiated.
    Women, and men, must learn to deal with the world as it is, which includes the people as they are, and not as one might wish they were.



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  • I think you have it exactly right, Joss. I think RD’s initial response was poor in misjudging the comparatively light and reasonable tone in which RW expressed her feelings. I entirely believe he “got it” later after the escalating round of response and counter-response had died down.

    In dealing with others, reported feelings are primary evidence. Feelings, given our neuro-diversity are never congruent.

    The turn out was a win for reason.



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  • investing nearer to home

    Thank you Phil. I’ve been thinking along similar lines. But what about the UK? It can hardly be considered a political investment to call yourself an atheist there, and yet far fewer women in the UK do so than men.



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  • Since feminism is another discussion, I won’t explain in this thread how you’re simplifying the “but:” example you give. (If you cared you could probably google it.) But how we treat people does have a bearing on the social successes of our movement. The OP’s article isn’t about whether any gods exist; it’s about the sociology of how to make the movement work. Low diversity can damage just about any movement.



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