The Ethics of women-only screenings of Wonder Woman

I’ve read that some cinemas in America have been offering ‘women-only’ screenings of Wonder Woman.  Predictably, there have been cries of outrage at the discriminatory nature of this.

I have no idea how the restriction is enforced, since the criteria seems to be that it’s restricted to those who self-identify as a woman.  If, hypothetically, a cis-male wanted to go, but claimed he identified as a woman at the ticket booth, I don’t know how he could be rejected without his then being able to claim that they were discriminating against his decision to dress and act in traditionally male ways whilst self-identifying as a woman.  It also poses problems for queer and intersex people or those who don’t identify with binary gender tropes.

But all those practical issues aside, I’m trying to work out whether it’s a good thing, or not, in principle.  As a general rule I’m against gender division or any kind of discrimination on the basis of gender.  I can see the value in enforcing gender distinctions in certain sporting contexts (eg. most Olympic events).  I can see the obvious value in prohibiting men from, say, a women’s safe house, or even in having ‘women only’ (or ‘men only’) gyms.  But is having men prohibited from a film screening like these examples?  Or is it more akin to prohibiting women from a gentleman’s club?

For a ‘one-off’, it seems to fall under the banner of a simple ‘promotional activity’ or gimmick, and certainly doesn’t cause any real harm.  But the principle is still one I’m uncomfortable with, for reasons I can’t quite articulate.

Perhaps it’s that the danger is that it will weaken the ability to object if, say, someone was to offer “muslim-only” screenings, or “non-religious-only” screenings, or “heterosexual-only” screenings.  Or if this was to extend to all-screenings for a given cinema (or film), or to (let’s say) a “white-only” taxi company.  My question, I suppose, is when is it reasonable to refuse to serve a demographic segment without basing this on reasons of safety or equity?

I’ve never been a particular fan of “slippery-slope” arguments or argumentum ad absurdum.  There are all sorts of things which are perfectly appropriate which, if pushed to their logical conclusion, become absurd.  The paradox of thrift is a nice, non-political example.  It is good for individuals to save as much as possible, but disastrous for a society to do so collectively.  Argument by absurdity is not a very rigorous way to refute something, so I don’t want to say that “this is exactly the same principle as saying that women should be prohibited from public office (or the priesthood) and if you don’t object to one you can’t object to the other”.  But why might someone say that a “women only” screening is perfectly appropriate ethically but that a “cis-gender only” screening is abhorrent.  I feel it has something to do with balancing power relationships, but I’m not especially adept at ethical reasoning in this milieu.

I think it’s similar to my ambivalence about having ‘minimum quotas’ on female politicians.  I’m all for fairer representation and for strategies to support getting more women into politics and positions of leadership.  I just also feel that merit should be the over-riding criterion and feel there must somehow be a better way.  I have no idea what that ‘better way’ might be.

I realise this is an area in which I’m still a novice in my thinking, so if someone could point me to places that help to untangle the ethical issues that would be much appreciated.

Is this purely my white, male privilege that’s being made uncomfortable, or is there something else at work?


President Evil

I whipped up the image below one lunchtime the day before President Trump was sworn into office.

I never posted it, but felt like now was an appropriate time.

For the record, I’ve never played the game.

president evil

Why Luke isn’t as historical as you think it is

Åâàíãåëèñò ËóêàIn my circles, Luke is often the ‘go-to’ for a historically credible gospel for seekers.  This is perhaps partly because of its opening:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Ironically, Luke* is quite explicit about not being an eye-witness, of course.  However, the author seems to make a claim that he’s done good historical research and is effectively compiling a suite of eyewitness reports.

That ain’t necessarily so.

Continue reading “Why Luke isn’t as historical as you think it is”

A quick primer on gaslighting, to prepare for a world of ‘alternative facts’

I don’t typically follow the politics of other countries that closely.  But like many, I’ve been somewhat bewildered by Trump’s inauguration.  I feel a little like Adam Lee, who wrote:

“This past weekend’s inauguration didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t. Despite the evidence, it’s hard for me to accept that the presidency of Donald Trump is really happening. Watching the news feels like we’ve been granted a collective glimpse into an alternate timeline, a bad future, as a warning and a means of averting it.”

Alongside everything else, we had the bizarre scenario of Trump claiming record numbers at his inauguration, and the response from his spokesperson that evidence contradicting this was merely one option among “alternative facts”.

If that isn’t Orwellian double-speak, then I don’t know what is.  I almost expect Trump to formally declare he is opening an actual ‘Ministry of Truth’, as an F-U to those leftist intellectuals who don’t agree with him in all things. Continue reading “A quick primer on gaslighting, to prepare for a world of ‘alternative facts’”

You’ve got to be LOUD!

In honour of the upcoming inauguration, I give you its rightful anthem song, from the wonderful musical Matilda, by Tim Minchin.

It’s ‘Loud’.

With their difficulty finding performers to present, perhaps Tim could have offered to have this one performed for monsieur Trump.


Or an alternative – not quite as apropos, but still relevant – also from Matilda, Telly.

Postscript to Teresa MacBain’s eisstasy

Yesterday I wrote about the pastor-turned-atheist-turned pastor again, Teresa MacBain (Teresa MacBain’s Eisstasy).

Since writing the post, I’ve been able to listen to her sermon telling her story (“Grace Redefined”), available from her website.

(I know…I should have listened to this first)

It confirms my conclusions, but I found it fascinating listening, and it filled in most of the blanks for me. If you have a spare half hour, I’d recommend listening.

It confirms that her reasons for trying atheism were emotionally driven and her reasons for returning are arguably even more so.

Even though Teresa and I are both former pastors, our stories are fundamentally different.


For me, it is all about knowing what is true and accepting that (despite the costs).

For Teresa, it is all about being known and being accepted.


Obviously, I believe Teresa is wrong in her conclusions, but I do think I understand her and (for what it’s worth) I can accept that.

When her life turned tough (and it really did), she no longer felt loved by God and so concluded that there was no god.  But when life went from bad to worse in the wake of her public apostasy (and the disgrace of the Harvard debacle), and Teresa realised it was no easy thing to find community outside the church, she admits that she needed community, and so went to a progressive church again to find it.

And she found it.

And the acceptance was wonderful.

And although she doesn’t give any hints that she has resolved any of the intellectual difficulties with Christian belief, those were never the key things for her anyway, and she has chosen to ignore them, because acceptance (grace) is more important to her.


After watching the video her story all makes perfect sense.

The video rings true, and it is excellent to be able to walk in someone else’s shoes for a bit.  There is only one main point in the video which didn’t ring true, and that is her claim that she didn’t understand Grace beforehand.

While this is always possible, I suspect this is instead a convenient refashioning of what she really means, which is that she had never quite experienced how wonderful grace and acceptance feels, until now.  I’d be surprised if we were to look through her sermon archive, if we didn’t find a traditional protestant understanding of Grace being preached – “it’s not what we do, but what God has done for us in Jesus”.  But for Teresa to be able to say that she only just understands that now is an easy way of explaining why she went wrong and of now preaching that message anew.


Her revelation about grace is not new to me, though.  Her ‘redefinition’ is the evangelical standard one (even if a little light on the Jesus bit for those of my heritage).  I’ve preached an entire sermon series on Grace – but now I understand both the flaws in that doctrine and why even if you ignore those flaws the entire Christian system collapses in any case.


Having seen the video, I don’t think Teresa wants the limelight.  I think she just wants to be part of an accepting community who will love her despite her flaws, and whom she can love and minister to.

It’s an important reminder that community really matters – not just to Teresa, but to everyone.

Even though it’s sad at one level that fear, pain and brokenness caused Teresa’s will to falter and to stumble back to the security of the fold, I think I also agree with Galen Broaddus in his blog post,

But after a great deal of reflection, I’m actually glad that Teresa has returned to her Christian roots.

I don’t mean that in a snarky way, like she wasn’t worthy enough to be “one of us.” The more I think about it, the more I can’t help but conclude that atheism was simply never a good fit for Teresa. She wore her atheism like an ill-fitting set of overalls. I don’t think she was insincere about it, but I do think that her attempt to remake herself from pastor to atheist leader never quite worked.


There is absolutely nothing about Teresa’s fall to grace that gives me pause – no new evidence or information that calls my reasoning or conclusions into question.

I think Teresa will be happier with this change, because for Teresa, ‘integrity’ and ‘truth’ fall into line behind ‘acceptance’ and ‘love’.

For me, it’s the other way around.

Teresa MacBain’s Eisstasy

teresatalkAmerican Atheists’ “Atheist of the Year 2012”, Teresa MacBain has rediscovered God.

To coin a word, she has eisstasized (the opposite of apostasy).

To former Christians like me, this raises an interesting question – how does this happen, if, having seen behind the curtain, you know that the religion is myth, without substance?

Some are suggesting that this is consistent with a broader pattern of poor integrity from Teresa.  When she first came out as an atheist, she did so publically to strangers, at an atheist conference, some days before telling her own congregation.  Later, she was found to have fraudulently claimed to have an MDiv when taking a position at Harvard, which she never in fact completed.  She then did not inform The Clergy Project of her changed views, and instead needed to be approached about this (after launching her new website), before admitting that yes, she now believed in the supernatural again.

At best, all this shows poor judgement, though there are plausible reasons for suggesting each of these situations do not necessarily imply calculated intent to deceive or cause harm.

Some suggest there is a pattern of attention-seeking behaviour, which is certainly possible, but not in itself especially good or bad.

Some go even further to suggest that either (i) the whole thing may have been conceived as a fraud in advance, or else (ii) she is still an atheist but is lying now to try to deceive Christians who’ll pay handsomely to hear her tell them they are right.  Certainly, it is true that there is a lot more money to be made from the “prodigal made good” narrative, but again, it will need to be seen whether Teresa seeks to gain financially from this.  Her new personal website perhaps implies this is a trajectory she may take, but the details are yet to be seen.  Because there is undoubtedly money to be made from this story, I expect someone will push her to ‘write the book’ at some point.


Personally, I don’t think we need to imagine underhandedness on Teresa’s part.  I think it is thoroughly plausible that she has simply decided that she would rather have a metanarrative that includes a god, rather than one without it.  Her husband remained Christian, and she is on the record for saying she misses the music, the relationships, the ritual.  And yes, I expect, the income, security and prestige of the pastorate (at some level).

On a simple cost-benefit analysis, I expect the benefits of ‘including God in her life’ far outweighed the benefits of leaving God out.  From a purely pragmatic perspective, her decision makes some sense.

There are real and ongoing costs to the decision to reject Christianity:

“I don’t want to go home,” she [MacBain] muses in the recording, deflation flattening her voice. “I don’t want to have to be in Publix or Wal-Mart or somewhere and worry about who’s going to see me and who’s going to corner me and just tell me off.”

But MacBain did go home. People shunned her. Job interviews were canceled. (

That’s hard to live with.

More to the point, I don’t think there is especially good evidence that her original apostasy was especially rigorously thought through.  Many of her cited reasons are on the emotional end: “how could a loving God torment people for eternity”?

I don’t know, of course, but it’s quite possible she hasn’t looked into the evolution of El or of Yahweh’s place in the Canaanite pantheon of gods and his progression to a henotheistic then monotheistic god, or of the influence of Zoroastrian dualism on the evolution of exilic and post-exilic Jewish thought, or an investigation into miracle claims from across the religious spectrum, or an appreciation of the implications of critical scholarship of the Bible, or any number of other elements that undermine the integrity and plausibility of the Christian mythos.  That is, if her motivations were more along the lines of “I just find it so hard to believe anymore”, then that’s not such a hard thing to overcome, when ‘not believing’ leads to far more trouble than its worth.  If she has moved to the position of a ‘progressive Christian’, then perhaps she is aware of many of these things, but nevertheless finds it hard to let go of a vague noumenal sense of ‘something more’, and the beauty of the best-parts of the Christian concept of grace.


Personally, I think her apostasy was genuine.  I reads as a genuine process.

I think her eisstasy is probably also genuine.  I don’t think she’s now going to deliberately malign those who don’t believe in God, and she’ll try to be sensitive and caring in her progressive Christianity (she’s issued a short statement).

I suspect that she didn’t do the hard work of rigorously working through why Christianity was true or false, and so her atheistic conclusions were fundamentally emotionally based and flimsy, and thus changeable.

I hope Teresa manages to find joy and contentment in the days ahead of her, and is able to help people in positive ways, as she is able, without doing harm (intentional or otherwise).

Frankly, that’s what I hope for everyone.

Unbelief 90 years ago

Sometimes it’s good to get a little perspective.

The following link is Carl Van Doran’s take on ‘Why I am an unbeliever’, from 1926:


It is beautifully written.  The quote is 90 years old, and I think that some contemporary atheists could learn much from Carl about how to speak of those with whom you disagree.

[Aside: The new Atheos app seems (from what I’ve seen so far) basically to be teaching non-theists not to be a***holes when talking with theists. I suppose that’s got to be a good thing inasmuch as it’s (sadly) needed. I’m sure the app will go much further delving into application of the Socratic method, but I’ve only just started looking at it.]

Van Doran’s piece has a gentlemanly dignity to the writing which doesn’t water down his position in any way, yet also tries to avoid unnecessarily belittling his antagonist.carl-van-doren

Continue reading “Unbelief 90 years ago”


Is it just us?

The new Australian census ad, encouraging people to pause, and still complete their census (after the meltdown of the system on actual census night) presents a truly bizarre message.

If you haven’t seen it, have a look.

My wife pointed this one out to me.

It was an interesting decision to cast an innocent-looking couple who are made to sit, frozen, while a very-faintly middle-eastern looking stranger walks into their living room and calmly accesses their computer as they look on, powerless to stop him.  But don’t worry, your private data is safe with us.

I’m not sure this is the message they were looking for.

Even with that unfortunate element to one side, it’s odd to highlight the frozen/broken element of the whole exercise.  A whole lot of people basically felt like they wasted a night of their life ‘on hold’ for census night.  They can probably empathise all too well with the frozen couple, and don’t especially want a repeat attempt.

And even apart from all that – I simply don’t get it.  Shouldn’t the couple who’ve been frozen simply unfreeze and happily complete their census.  Why does having someone else complete it for them make any sense whatsoever?!?