Adam Lee’s strange views about religious women and male sexuality

“anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” – a sentiment attributed to Jesus which almost comes out in Adam Lee’s post on the Skepchick network

Adam Lee, blogger at Daylight Atheism on the Patheos network, reveals some strange attitudes about religious women and male sexuality in a recent piece he authored for the Skepchick network as part of the ‘speaking out against hate directed at women’ series which perpetuates a false and damaging narrative – that the secular community is a dangerous, unwelcoming, and hostile place for women. I will address some of his points from his Skepchick contribution in this piece.

Lee writes,

There’s one thing that just about every atheist activist agrees on, which is that religion has always treated women as inferior. […] And yet, even though men are the faces and the voices of organized religion, even though they wield the power and set the doctrines, they still depend on women. In order to perpetuate themselves, the churches need women’s attendance, women’s unpaid labor, and especially women’s willingness to have children and to raise them in the faith.

This is a vulnerability that’s crying out for atheists to exploit. If we could offer religious women a better alternative […] then they’d have every reason to flock to our banner, draining the churches’ vitality in the bargain. This could be such a devastating blow, it seems to me, we should be bending all our efforts toward it. We should be doing everything possible to reach out to women; we should be throwing the doors wide open to welcome them in.

But this isn’t happening. Women aren’t turning away from religion en masse, and the atheist movement still has a majority of men. And while there are undoubtedly multiple causes for this, over the last few years we’ve seen one very obvious and glaring reason: the sexist hate and harassment that atheist women far too often encounter in our online and real-life communities.

Lee’s position here seems to be most odd – that only if the secular community were a more welcoming environment for religious women, religious women would “have every reason to flock to our banner.” His unfortunate language, talking about how secular individuals need to “exploit” a “vulnerability” (which leads to bringing religious women to the secular community) seems very naive.

I would like to put forth an uncontroversial hypothesis: religious women aren’t involved with the secular community likely because they are religious, not because the secular community — regardless of whether it actually is or not — is not welcoming to women. Religious women aren’t involved with the secular community for the same reasons I am not involved with the Christian community – we don’t share the same beliefs and are thus not interested in being part of a community of people with whom we disagree. It should also be noted that many people — men and women alike — regardless of their beliefs — are simply not interested in the secular community because they lack interest, free time, money, transportation, etc.

Lee admits there are “multiple causes” for religious women not “turning away from religion en masse” and, instead of putting the obvious reasons forth, he posits “one very obvious and glaring reason: the sexist hate and harassment that atheist women far too often encounter in our online and real-life communities.”

I would like to know what, exactly, Lee is talking about here. What is this “sexist hate and harassment” women are facing in real-life communities and how is this keeping away religious women? Are religious women carefully following what Lee believes is happening and thinking “hm, maybe I shouldn’t ‘deconvert’ to atheism because of sexism in the atheist community?” I highly doubt it. Religious women aren’t involved in the secular community because they are religious…and many religious women, I would have to say, really enjoy being active in their religious communities – completely absent of any subjugation or compelling force which mandates their participation.

Lee continues, making a very odd statement demonizing male sexuality,

Most of us became atheists for intellectual reasons, because we find the arguments for theism unconvincing, or for moral reasons, because we find its teachings intolerable. But it seems to me that there’s a small number of men (and a smaller number of women) who are atheists purely because they delight in being offensive, because they believe no one has the right to tell them what to do. They think this community is a place where they can indulge those impulses: where they can be as crass and boorish as they want, where they can leer at or hit on women in any way they want, or cheer on those who do. And too often, we’ve seen that when women object to this treatment, however politely, they become the targets of a campaign of violent threats, abusive hate mail and dehumanizing filth.

Here is the narrative, in context, that Lee puts forth: there exist some men who are atheists not because of intellectual reasons, but because they want to indulge in sin attend atheist conferences specifically with intent to “leer at or hit on women in any way they want.” This doesn’t even seem remotely plausible. Perhaps some men, regardless of how they arrived at atheism, attend conferences and “leer at” or “hit on women” because they want to ‘hook up’ while on vacation or simply find some women attractive – but I doubt they take the effort to attend atheist conferences because they see the community as “a place where they can indulge those impluses.” Why would they go through all of the trouble of attending atheist conferences, anyway, and not just go to a nightclub to express their sexuality?

Men, as many humans do, flirt with those whom they find to be desirable. Do men at atheist conventions believe they can do whatever they want? What is this “whatever they want” Lee is talking about? No one really knows because Lee provides no explanation and fails to link any instance of inappropriate behavior at conferences by men. Leering at and hitting on people is typical human interaction in social spaces.

If people don’t like being looked at or flirted with, they can politely tell the person they are not interested, remove themselves from the situation, tolerate the behavior, or ask a person to stop a certain behavior. Looking at something, though, well, I don’t think that can (or should) be prevented. Lee’s just one step from imitating Jesus who is attributed with saying “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in is heart” and arguing for thoughtcrime. Rather than trusting women to be assertive and acknowledging their agency, Lee apparently needs to rebuke this behavior and speak out against the mythical bad men who arrived at atheism and attend atheist conferences because they want to indulge impulses.

Adam Lee, anyway, seems to prop himself up as a savior talking about — as he writes in the Skepchick piece — what seems to be, on the surface, a “fight” “about the treatment of women.” There apparently is a battle between good and evil; “creepy men” are at war with feminist women who object to being looked at in an ‘unapproved’ manner. The soul of the atheist movement is at stake; Lee writes, “it’s about what kind of community we want atheism to be.”

So much for David Silverman and Surly Amy both saying that they want people to have sex at conferences…flirting and leering at people is unacceptable. Male sexuality is something to be demonized. ‘Male privilege’ is the original sin. We ‘bad men’ need the good feminists to dictate behavior. The ‘good men’ will sanction the bad men, the “predators” as Lee calls them, and save the atheist community from this grand threat which is excluding religious women.

Strange times.