The following is an interview with Cephus of Bitchspot.
Your blog has gone through a few transformations in an effort to appeal to your varied readership. Ultimately, you have decided to continue Bitchspot blog for yourself without cartering to an audience. What do you get out of commiting your thoughts to bytes?
Just to give a bit of history that I don't think I've ever given on the blog (hey, an exclusive), I was one of the founding moderators of the Dalnet IRC network #atheism channel, way back in the day. It was a channel that turned into one of the most populous channels on the entire network. We'd draw in huge numbers of people every night and I quickly realized that debating theists, my primary purpose, was virtually impossible with hundreds of people all typing at once, you couldn't track a particular conversation or type nearly fast enough to keep up with a dozen debates going on simultaneously. It was great to have open access, the format just sucked. I had also been involved in debate forums for a long time, and while there, the signal-to-noise ratio was much better, the moderation policy for many forums prohibited people from even questioning theist beliefs since it might make people "unhappy". You make people unhappy, you get suspended or banned, that's just the way it goes on most forums. So I spent most of my time on these forums, debating with theists, biting my tongue until it bled. Enter Bitchspot. To be honest, back in 2005 when I started Bitchspot, it was never intended to appeal to a wide audience, it was a sounding board where I could rant against things that really pissed me off. My wife came up with the name, it was literally my spot to bitch. I didn't care then how many people read it, it just got bigger than I expected because my focus was mostly on religion and the atheist blogosphere really wasn't that large back then and people gravitated toward it. I think my biggest failure was when I started to care what my readers wanted more than what I was writing the blog for. As the hits grew, I started catering to the readers, writing what they wanted to read, not what I wanted to write. I had tons of hits, which made no real difference to me since I've never had an ad on Bitchspot in it's entire history and have never made a penny, but I ended up burning out. I dreaded having to sit down and write that next article. It wasn't fun so I quit. Months later though, I found that I missed it, not for the notoriety, but because I still needed that place where I could get my thoughts out. When I "rebooted" the system about 18 months ago, after changing hosting for my domain, I reintroduced Bitchspot on it's original mission. People either like what I write or they don't. Luckily, there seem to be a sizeable number of people who do enjoy what I write and stop by every day.
Typically, the religious lean right politically while the secular lean left. Why do you think that is and why are you an exception?
I'm a lifelong conservative, I was conservative when I was religious, there was really no reason to reject conservatism just because I dropped religion. I predate the modern neo-conservative movement in the Republican party. I'm part of the old school Goldwater conservatism, where religion played virtually no part. In fact, it was Goldwater who recognized the coming storm and warned the Republican party to reject fundamentalist Christianity,long before it became the hallmark of modern neo-conservatism. According to Goldwater, “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” What's sad is that so many people aren't old enough to remember the Republican party before the Reagan era, when conservatism actually meant something. Today, what many people assume is actual conservatism, is neo-conservatism. It's fiscally liberal religious fascism and nothing more. It's not that the religious lean to the right, it's that we've allowed the neo-conservatives, who were originally highly-religious Southern Democrats, who abandoned the party in the 60s and 70s over issues like civil rights and abortion, to redefine the terminology. They don't stand for anything that defined conservatism in the pre-Reagan era, they've just brought in a lot of foreign concepts and declared them to be "conservative" and over the years, people who didn't know any better accepted that shorthand as truth. It just isn't.
I imagine most of my readers are voting Obama. Is there a case you can make for Romney taking into account the social issues atheists tend to value?
My problem is that, in no Presidential election in the past 25-30 years, has there been a candidate I could support with a clear conscience, who accurately represents my views. There is no real conservative party currently in existence in America and hasn't been for some time. I have never voted party lines, I vote for the best candidate, or failing that, the one who will do the least damage. In 2008, I voted for Obama, not because I wanted Obama in office, but I wanted Palin anywhere near the Oval Office even less. I never expected Obama to be a good President and I wasn't disappointed. This time around, I'm not voting for Romney, I'm voting against Obama. I think Romney will harm the nation less than a second term for the Obama administration. Most of the issues that the religious wingnut Republicans talk about are things that Romney couldn't change if he wanted to. Hopefully, we'll end up with another 4 years of political gridlock where nothing gets done, while conservatives dream of a nation where someone worth voting for actually runs for political office. So yes, I am voting for Romney, or at the very least, putting an "X" next to his name, for all the good it will do me since I live in a very liberal state and all of the electoral votes are already going to Obama no matter what I vote.
You have been pretty outspoken on your blog against Atheism Plus. Briefly, what it your main beef with it? Is there any uniting factor you'd want atheists to share outside of non belief in gods?
The simple answer is that social justice has nothing to do with atheism and trying to draw a link between the two is irrational on it's face. You can be an atheist, you can be for social justice, but it makes no sense to slap a common label on the two. It makes no sense to confuse two dissimilar ideas, it only serves to confuse legitimate debates between theists and atheists. However, the problem goes much deeper because what Atheism+ claims to be on paper and what it actually does in practice are two entirely different things. It only takes perusing the forums, watching the tweets and reading the blogs to see that what the most vocal Atheism+ adherents say has virtually nothing to do with the set of defining statements made by Jen McCreight. In fact, as I've pointed out numerous times before, the movement claims to be for critical thinking and skepticism, yet that's on the bottom of the list and they've stalled entirely on feminism. I'm still waiting for any of their members to work farther down where they might apply said skepticism and critical thinking to the agenda of Atheism+. Worse yet, and maybe it's because I've been around so long, I've seen exactly this kind of thing happen to other groups, where a sub-set of the population starts pushing a foreign agenda on everyone and doesn't take no for an answer, those groups have universally self-destructed and fallen into obscurity. That's not something I want to see for the atheist community.
In answer to your other question, no. Atheism is the answer to a single question: do you believe in any gods? If you answer anything other than "yes", you are an atheist. Atheism has no creeds, no commandments and no holy books. It has no standards, no passwords or hand signals. You can be a racist and be an atheist. You can be a humanitarian and be an atheist. I'd much prefer someone be the second to the first, but all fit the stated definition of the term. I have no problem with individuals, within the larger community of atheists, finding others who share other common interests, it's called making friends. I have lots of atheist friends who are friends, not because we're atheists, but because we share other interests and enjoy spending time together pursuing those interests. The idea that people have to make exclusive fan clubs and then declare "you can't be an atheist unless you're in our club" is ridiculous.
Who is your favorite atheist? Why?
That's a really hard question because I don't do role models or heroes. I value ideas over people, it's not who says a thing, it's what they say that matters. I can't point to any atheist writers or speakers who influenced me or who are responsible for my rejection of religion because that was done in a much earlier day when public discussion of atheism was almost unheard of. Now I can point to people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and Matt Dillahunty, all of whom are, or were, entertaining to watch in a debate, but that's really because they're all experts on the subject material, experienced in the art of debate and are very good at wiping the walls with the theists they engage.
What do you see as the most harmful aspect of religion?
As I've said in the past, “There is nothing demonstrably true that religion can provide the world that cannot be achieved more rationally through entirely secular means.” That much is true and it damns religion to being logically useless because it gives us nothing truly worthwhile. However, the worst part of religion is that it advances false answers to important questions. Once an individual is convinced they have the answer to a question, they stop seeking alternative answers. As soon as a theist is convinced that every question can be answered by "God did it", they stop looking for anything beyond that. Religious belief shuts down rational investigation of the truth. At least if you say you don't know, you keep looking. Once you give in to an imaginary friend answering all questions, you become satisfied with you beliefs in nonsense.
If you could incorporate any aspect of religion into your life or the life of others without the mythology, what would it be and why? (bonus, how would you incorporate it?)
A lot of people would say that, even once they have lost the faith, they miss the ceremony and the community associated with religion. You do have a built-in family of sorts within a church. If you need help, there are usually programs in place to provide you aid. If you're moving, you can usually find someone willing to help you. If you're a little short between paychecks, many times churches will give you loans to help you out. If you move to a new city, there's usually a church with the same denomination you can jump into and feel like you never left the family. All of these things are positive aspects of a religious institution and I agree that such things are necessary. However, many people continue to attend religious services and pretend to believe religious nonsense, in order to have access to these social services and I really think that's a problem. People should be more concerned with their intellectual integrity than with freebies they might give up by exercising such. That is one of the few places I think an organized atheist community serves a useful purpose, it gives people a nationwide or worldwide community of people who they can join up with and feel fellowship with.
However, I'll be the first person to say that you can just go out and make friends and get the same thing in most cases. That's the downside of the modern online social order, where most of the people you talk to are hundreds or thousands of miles away. It doesn't leave you many people to go out and see a movie with or turn to in time of need. if you need a shoulder to cry on, it doesn't help if the closest shoulder is half a continent away.