Saturday, July 9, 2011

Elevator Guy, Rebecca Watson, Richard Dawkins, Fun With Atheism! - by Jennifer MIchael Hecht

I rewrote this. It's better! I left the old version up, below.

On Rebecca Watson and Elevator Man and Richard Dawkins -- Though this post starts with a strange story about me and an odd event, keep reading and you will understand.

Ahem, To wit:

Yesterday, I saw a picture of myself on the Poetry Foundation website, it was an old picture (24+years old) and I was wearing a white cotton shift. I remembered I was also wearing it once, 23 years ago when a friend (Steve H.) was late to pick me up at the train station at Takoma Park outside DC and that young man followed me off the train and then kind of followed me at the "station" and it was dark and I was alone and he eventually got so close that I turned around and said, Hello? I was scared, curious, worried, but not sensing danger from this lithe and okay seeming but clearly following-me tenaciously young man. And he said, "I'm sorry to bother you, but I have often thought about, kind of like a wishful daydream, that I was born a girl, a woman." Oh I said, surprised and tipsy on the good absurdity of the freshly rained spring blacktop parkinglot holding my odd follower and me. He continued, "If I could be a girl or a woman I would want to be exactly like you, with your long hair and natural white dress and casual face." And we talked a nice talk in the weird lit night. Then Steve, showed up in his slow car and took me back to our version of planet earth, the house with the kitchen in the back where we all stayed all that times those years.

This story illustrates that the young man was wrong to do something that frightened me, but he had the best, dearest, queerest, sweetest, weirdest intentions. We can guess what men are like, given statistics and our knowledge of testosterone, but we can NOT know in any given case, what a man's intentions are before he acts them out. Men, despite stats and hormones, are as different from one another as are women.

I do not think we have to boycott Richard Dawkin's books, though I am entirely on Rebecca Watson's side that elevator guy was creepy in act if not in intention; and I think she behaved well and wonderfully in telling the world about it sweetly and without much drama. Dawkins way over acted and yes, should be scolded for it in my mind, and I don't scold people unless I am their mother or they have asked my opinion, but I do say it was wrong and I will sidle away from Dawkins on any Dais until he makes this right in public (where he made it wrong), but I bet he is learning his lesson from all this talk, and doesn't need the boycott to happen to teach him. (He has always treated me like unwanted furniture in his way, or perhaps like lint, even when he and I were presenting on the same stage at a place where I was a fellow of the hosting intellectual club and he was not (!) but whatev. Just saying. He could brush up on American manners or on his dealing with philosopher women or maybe he just needed sleep and was overtasked that day and I am being to sensitive, which is always possible.) Let's give him a little space and time to think this through though, before we act as rashly as he did, posting that screed, let us act better and give some time and space, people need it and I think, in spite of all, he deserves it. Now everyone leave Watson some space to, unless she says otherwise. I think she did good and was brave and must be feeling a bit worn out from all this, so chill.

Jennifer Michael Hecht, Phamous Atheist, Poet, and Fillosopher

PS This kind of fighting has gone on for some time.

There were men and women atheists in Ancient Judea and we know of at least one woman who sometimes talked philosophy in Epicurus's godless garden (c. 250-270 BC), late in the gloaming and the Hellenistic night. All through history some men and women haven't believed any of the nonsense legends and have instead struggled with subtle religious ideas and their natural counterparts. Throughout all of this the men and women sometimes squabble and often fight about sex.

The only known notable atheist in Ancient Jewish history, other than Epicurus (even today the word for atheist in Hebrew and in Jewish texts in other languages is "Epicurean") was Elisha (it's a long story) born around the year 100 AD and the only person to defend Elisha as having a right to his opinion was the famed-for-wisdom wife of the great Rabbi Meir's wife, Beruriah. Because she too was a rationalist atheist Jew. Beruriah was the only woman to be treated as a person of learning and halaka decision in the Talmud. She was married to a great rabbi but was also the daughter of an even greater rabbi and was renown and sought-out for her sharp wit as well as her scriptural knowledge.

There was a rabbi who was much more conservative, -- well most were! Beruriah described God as essentially not there, though she was not as specific as Elisha who declared there is no God (I told you, it's a long story. It is in Doubt: A History, I talk about it in the early chapters when it happens and then again in the last chapters when moderns refind the story and write it as drama and philosophical psychology) -- So, right, there was this Rabbi Yosi the Galilean who was known for being kind of a sexist jerkwad saying philosophers shouldn't waste words talking with women. Then one day he and his little group were lost and he saw Beruriah and her entourage and he said to her, "Oh Beruriah, Daughter of the great Rabbi, woman of wisdom, can you tell me how to find my path to the town of Lod?" And she answered, "Foolish Galilean, did not the rabbis say 'Engage not in much talk with women'? You should have asked, "Which to Lod?"

Thus atheists have been cracking jokes about pompous men and lost boys and wise-acre tough girls and commentary by sharp-penned smart-ass women for several millennia. Relax and enjoy it.


  1. I hope someone posts a comment.

    Impatiently yours,


  2. Love it! Yay snarky wise cracking women of history.

  3. Thanks Jen Hancock for this awesome comment! Hereby encouraged I shall soon post more portraits of snarky wise cracking women of history, particularly poetic atheist ones!


  4. Thank *you* for your comment. And you are welcome! xoxjmh

  5. It's an excellent post. Thank you for writing it!