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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Edwina Rogers - the new SCA Executive Director

Over at Talking Philosophy, I've been cautiously positive about the appointment of Edwina Rogers as the new Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. We should at least start to see what her priorities are, and how effective she might be, before we write her off over her past work for Republican administrations. Too much gloom could undermine her and be self-fulfilling.

But ... that said, early reports on an interview she recently did with Greta Christina worry me - see my comment on the post. I'd like to think that Rogers is a hired gun ... or better still someone who has been a hired gun in the past but has now reached a time in her life when she wants to commit to a cause that she believes in. Either way, she could be fine in an Executive Director position, which involves professional management, policy development, public relations, etc., skills. It's the sort of position that I understand quite well, and as far as I'm concerned her past associations don't rule out her being able to do this job effectively.

However, if she comes into the job with a narrow understanding of secular government (the kind of narrow understanding that I argue against in Chapter 5, in particular, of Freedom of Religion and the Secular State), then that will skew her priorities and effectiveness. Likewise, if she has severely deluded views about the Republican Party, and is not just being nice about it in public as a lobbying tactic.

This situation needs to be watched carefully. I want to be open-minded, but I feel cautious .... and now more so.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

What is a secular opinion on the carbon tax?

Russell Blackford said...

There are probably many opinions on the Australian carbon tax that are based solely on secular considerations. If you want to know mine, I'm in favour of a carbon tax.

Anonymous said...

Why do you support a carbon tax?

Russell Blackford said...

That's way off-topic.

James Sweet said...

Yeah, the GC interview was a disaster for Rogers. She was already going to be a tough sell, but there was definitely an opportunity. While a non-trivial number of people wrote her off immediately, the majority response seemed to be, "I dunno about this... but let's give her a chance."

But there's very few people sounding the "let's give her a chance" line after the GC interview. I think the central problem, more than anything else, is that she tried to talk to secularists like you talk to Fox News viewers, only changing the content and not the technique. To quote briefly from a blog post I wrote yesterday:

When addressing Fox News viewers, the overriding priority is to not give an inch...it turns out that when arguing in front of secularists, priority #1 is to not make statements that are disproven by 5 minutes of Googling. This is not to say you can't ever get away with lying to skeptics, but your lies can't be blatantly obvious to anyone with an internet connection.

Rogers is apparently used to addressing an audience where an effective response to someone pointing out a problem is, "Problem? What problem? That's not a problem! How do you even know that's a problem?" But this audience wants to here, "Yes, I am aware of that problem, and I want to fix it." Even ignoring whether one approach is "better" or "worse" than the other, she just struck completely the wrong tone for her audience. Big screw-up.

She simply needed to say something along the lines of, "Yes, the Republican mainstream is wrong about those things. But I know there are at least some people in the Republican party who share our secular values -- I am one of them! -- and I want to bring that into the mainstream." Would that have placated very many people? Not really. But it at least wouldn't have antagonized the people who were willing to give her a chance.