Two nations divided by a common skepticism?

By Aphra Behn

When we consider events occurring in skepticism in the US we perhaps should remember that the US is not the UK.

The US is not like the UK in a huge number of ways, it really is very, very foreign, but the shared language all too often masks this, especially when it is read rather than heard.

This makes it difficult for us to fully understand and appreciate the situation and context that fuels debates in US skepticism about sexism and harassment. The US is NOT the UK and there are a number of important differences between the two. Out of the two the US is the secular state but religion seems to play a far greater role in politics and daily life across the pond than two thirds of our non-secular island with it’s Monarch led state religion.

The first relevant difference is that there is a gender war going on there, very explicitly, in a way which is not happening here. I don’t mean in skepticism itself, in the movement or the community or whatever you choose to call it, I mean in the US as a whole. The anti-abortion, anti-birth-control legislation are the most blatant examples of salvos in this anti-woman conflict.

Now while I won’t say the UK is not sexist, we have our own issues to contend and deal with, I will say it’s not as viciously misogynist as the US appears to be.

In the context of this cultural background it should be no surprise that the issues of sexism, feminism and harassment in Skepticism are more heightened in the US, because the issue of silencing women is more heightened there: as this infographic shows women are frighteningly absent from mainstream political coverage in the states. The numbers for women in UK journalism are offered here.

The second relevant way that the two countries differ is that the explicitly anti-science pro-religion agenda of the neocons (“we create our own reality”) skews almost all public debate in the US. In the US, famously, being religious is an electoral advantage,(being an atheist and holding office is in some states technically illegal) while over here paying anything more than lip service to religion is often seen an electoral liability (or a joke such as Goves bible scheme). Yes the UK has its own Christian right lobbying against abortion rights and portraying secularists as militant atheists hellbent on destroying religion for the most part their influence is far less than their US counterparts.

The strangle-hold that religion (often very simplistic un-nuanced religion) has on the legislation in the US drives a lot of the skeptical discourse, certainly in the CFI and the JREF. This may be in part because of D J Grothe’s personal journey from religion to atheism of course. But atheism seems to drive the skeptical agenda in the US, which is a clear response to the way religion drives the political agenda.

All of this is to say that it’s no surprise that Skepticism here does not appear to be as sexist or as agenda-driven as skepticism in the US, because the movements in each country reflect the societies they are reacting to.

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0 Responses to Two nations divided by a common skepticism?

  1. Jeuan David Jones says:

    Two state religions in the UK? What is the second? I don’t recognize much in this article that is unequivocal reality in the UK to make a meaningful comparison. It is claimed that one of the two countries is ‘very, very foreign’. What does this mean? It’s an assertion without any follow-up; the rest of the article disappoints after these two assertions fizzle out.

    Finally, an appeal to proof-read and edit: it’s = it is; its is the possessive pronoun. There, their: are both being used for the same meaning in the same sentence, or is it just badly phrased: ‘for the most part there influence is far less than their US counterparts.’?

    • On the issue of proof reading “mea culpa”. Not the authors fault.

      The two state religions in the UK are the Church of England and the Church of Scotland.

      ETA: I’ll have to change that. Another of my additions that was wrong *sigh*

  2. Aphra Behn says:

    Jeuan David Jones, this was originally posted in another part of the internet as an off-the-top-of-my-head comment on the stooshie about feminism and skepticism in the US and the fall-out of that stooshie in the UK. I actually prefaced it “Two not-yet-well-thought-out reactions”. Keir asked if he could post it here and I said “yes of course, so long as I don’t have to do anything more to it”. Keir’s minor additions have improved it.

    The comment that the US “really is very, very foreign” is based on my subjective experiences over the years: I find it’s easy for people in the UK to assume that we understand the US because we don’t need to put what they say through Google Translate. This assumption is wrong.

    That’s it really.

    Thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting.


  3. Aphra Behn says:

    Sure, Hayley. But why?

    I’m not saying that what’s going on in the US does not matter in the UK.

    All I pointed out is that the skeptical movement in the each country is a product of the local culture, and the cultures of the US and UK are more different than is obvious at first, second or even tenth sight. (I say that as an Englishwoman who’s spent most of the past 12 years one way or another working with Americans, sometimes within American organisations).

    The British have far, far more in common (culturally and intellectualy) with our fellow Europeans on this side of the Atalantic than we do with our fellow Anglophones on the other side.

    And my point is important precisely BECAUSE what is going on in the US matters.


  4. Aphra Behn says:

    … my point is that this is important ….

    I doubt that my point itself is important at all. One day I’ll preview before I post.

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