Sunday, March 9, 2014

What Did David Silverman Actually Say?

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, has recently been featured in an article on The Raw Story, in which he first asserted that, "Christianity and conservatism are not inextricably linked".

Although it would seem the vast majority of Conservatives are Christian, it is arguable that not all them are, and that some may even be atheists. Silverman confirms that conservative atheists exist and even goes so far as to call himself "fiscally conservative". He also said "that social conservatives are holding down the real conservatives."

Silverman also brought up various social concerns that many Conservatives have, citing theocratic tendencies for those concerns with, perhaps, one exception:

“I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion,” said Silverman. “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”

That one quote has sparked quite a bit of unrest in the secular community. I've read several incredibly concerned comments and articles about this quote, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned, too. However, I have decided to reserve judgment until a clarification has been made.

What Silverman said, exactly, is that "there is a secular argument against abortion". Let's define "secular".

sec·u·lar
  [sek-yuh-ler]   adjective
1. of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.            
2. not pertaining to or connected with religion (opposed to sacred ): secular music. 
3. (of education, a school, etc.) concerned with nonreligious subjects.
4. (of members of the clergy) not belonging to a religious order; not bound by monastic vows (opposed to regular ).
5. occurring or celebrated once in an age or century: the secular games of Rome.

Nowhere in this definition is mentioned morality, science, logic, or reason. It is preferable that these things would go hand in hand, but that just isn't always the case. Not all atheists are humanists, and not all atheists are skeptics. It is vastly unfortunate that a trait I thought would really help to separate the wheat from the chaff doesn't quite do the job. There are immoral and bigoted atheists. There are atheists who believe, firmly, in the existence of Big Foot, atheists that don't vaccinate their children, atheists that believe in homeopathy, and even atheist misogynists.


If you really want to understand the secular argument against abortion, feel free to peruse that organization's website. I was pleasantly surprised to see a quasi pro-woman perspective or two when it came to rape and sex education, but they qualify as certifiably misogynistic. They hold that a fertilized egg is a person and worthy of certain rights, namely life. They dismiss the rights of the woman as secondary and claim a moral high ground in defending embryonic and fetal personhood. Being ignorant and/or misogynistic while being secular is very possible, if incredibly sad and infuriating.


I have established that a secular reason against abortion does, in fact, exist. I assert that it is a terrible one fueled by a misguided desire to defend the "helpless" and treat women as second class citizens. It is my hope that Silverman was referencing these reasons as merely existing, and couldn't dismiss all the opponents of abortion as religious because of it. Saying that something is real is not the same as saying that it is good or justified, and I can't, in good conscience, react with condemnation for what he said without some kind of clarification. 

9 comments:

  1. Sure Shannon.
    I was talking to a lot of press this week - I mean a LOT of press, and most of it hostile. When I was talking to Raw Story I gave them the same pitch I'd given so many times before: Conservatism is basically divided into two parts, fiscal conservatism, which is real conservatism, and Social conservatism, which is Christian theocracy masquerading as conservatism, with the latter holding down the former. Is the fiscals dropped the Christian social bullshit, I said, real conservatism would benefit from the influx of conservative atheists who avoid the movement due to the theocratic aspects.

    I said that all of the social conservative agenda was religious in nature, to which the reporter eagerly countered that there was a secular argument for abortion. He clearly knew he was right, and so did I - there is a secular argument (one with which I firmly disagree) whose existence I cannot deny.

    Rather than take the road to discussing abortion, I acquiesced to his correct counterpoint, returned to my point, and said that school prayer, LGBT equality, and Death with dignity were better examples of purely Christian positions ("it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage"), and we went on with the discussion on why American Atheists was there.

    There's my scandal. The rest of what you may have read is reckless "positing" by people who didn't do what you did - ask me. Thank you for being responsible.

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    1. I really appreciate the comment and the very clear clarification, Dave.

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  3. I think we are too quick as a species to react to certain triggers and presume we've heard the "rest of the argument". We look for patterns and signs in particular words and phrases.

    I find it best to presume either misunderstanding or cockup before I presume something completely against what I understand someone's nature to be.

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    1. I agree with you, here, and I have to admit that I felt that "icky" gut reaction when I read the quote, initially. However, after reading the quote several times and really thinking about the context of it's delivery, I could not arrive at the conclusion that anything misogynistic was meant by it. That gut reaction was simply that.

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  4. There is "slut shaming" that goes on when a woman has a child out of wedlock. I think this is a religious position that is imposed. Many abortions have been sought for this very reason. How sad. The atheist community should welcome these women into a supportive environment which would alleviate the need for abortion.

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    1. Add: Since the religious community of Conservatives only welcome the women with shaming and attempts at forcing them to change their choices regarding sexuality.

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    2. Although shaming does occur when women have children out of wedlock (I know this from personal experience), and it is arguable this may be part or all of a reason why a woman would want an abortion, and that such shaming SHOULD NOT occur, abortion is about a woman having the ability to do with her body as she pleases, whatever the reason. I think that we can support single mothers and women wanting abortions at the same time and that we most definitely should.

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  5. "...we can support single mothers and women wanting abortions at the same time and that we most definitely should." Quite an astute quote that's often understood&implied rather than stated as it's so obvious...except to the "Forced Birthers"crowd, whom I occasionally think they're either brain dead, in a coma, or both, or even left brain lobotomised and unable to string sentences creatively together to form ideas, and so rely on Bumper stickers, and buzzwords alone. To think, requires words to hang ideas on, not just impressions of feeling for the 'helpless' misguidedly. Yes, the fetus is helpless and at the mercy of their parent symbiote, which is precisely why the fetus has no say, the potential mother speaks for and on behalf of it since it is dependent on her and not the reverse. Kinda the way some Tea Partiers like to think that when a gov't worker is paid by taxpayers money then they can still bitch, forgetting that once paid to workers for some service that taxpayers money stopped being taxpayers, and became services rendered and so no longer remaining taxpayers, or money collected from citizens for work done on behalf of citizens.
    Great observation, Shanon.

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