Catholic Men* Discuss God, Man, and Atheism

(*and three Catholic women)

Given my interest in dialogue with atheists, I was excited to find out about a new blog, Strange Notions, via a story in Vox Nova today. Discussion that engages the theist-atheist boundary is all too often mired in over-simplifications (to the point of caricature) of one position or the other, and I took a plug from VN as a good sign that this one might really engage with educated opinions on both sides.

I was disappointed, as was the VN blogger, to see that this is not, in fact, a Catholic-Atheist blog, but rather, a Catholic blog devoted to discussions of atheism. Real joint ventures in interfaith dialogue are certainly possible, and intrinsically have more credibility than a dialogue hosted by one side or the other, even when there are regular contributors from the other side, as there are planned to be in this case.

However, that’s not all that disappoints me about this new blog.

“God” and “Man” are the first two topical menus in the blog’s header. Considering that the other menus include entries for “Morality” and “Religion,” you’d think there would have been room for “Humanity” as that second entry.

The page titled “Main Contributors” lists 29 contributors. 24 of them are men, and one is a group of men. Two of the three women listed are converts from atheism; only two of the 24 men are. Of the eleven contributors identified as holding PhDs, all the men are listed with an honorific (either Dr. or Fr.), but Dr. Stacy Trasancos is listed without her honorific. None of the three women are theologians, although Dr. Trasancos, whose doctorate is in chemistry, is presently pursuing a masters in theology.

The comments are not moderated, and the commenting policy requires the use of real names as rule number one: “This provides a basic level of accountability and transparency.” Requiring the use of real names excludes persons who need to keep certain aspects of their identities private: for example, atheists who keep their atheism private to avoid negative repercussions from family, coworkers, or employers. See these wiki articles on Pseudonymity (not the same as anonymity) and Who is harmed by a “Real Names” policy for more information on why this is problematic, but this quote by Skud from the page on pseudonymity sums it up:

A site which requires real/verified names is automatically flagging itself as a potentially/probably unsafe space for women, or for anyone else at risk of harassment, violence, job discrimination, and the like.

Given that the treatment of women has been problematic in both the Catholic church and the atheist community, I suppose none of this should be surprising. But for precisely that reason, they are particularly troubling.

I would hope that a blog devoted to Catholic-atheist dialogue would strive to embody the best characteristics of both communities. I respectfully urge the founders of Strange Notions to reconsider these issues.

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