Revisited: Resigning My AFA Membership


I’m pretty sure I haven’t mentioned it on any of my blogs, nor at any great length on social media, but in late 2016 I sent an old fashioned snail mail to the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) withdrawing my membership. Later, in early 2017, not at all to my surprise I was sent an automated email telling me that my membership with the AFA was due for renewal.

As you’d expect, I fired off an email spanning all of three sentences (not including salutatory lines) asking them to read my resignation dated the 5th of December, 2016, and to amend their records. I’ve never liked the idea of resigning after getting into arrears.

The next day I got a reply from Julian Jordan, the AFA’s Treasurer/IT Administrator, apologizing for the renewal notice, informing me that the AFA’s records would be updated, and claiming that my letter did not appear to be received. Julian used the word “appear”, and I think it’s an apt choice of term.

I don’t suspect malice on Julian’s count on this matter. I do suspect he was being truthful in saying he’d never seen the letter. But despite the decline of Australia Post, I’m skeptical of the notion that my letter didn’t make it into the AFA post office box. Unless you’re sending vinyl in the mail, Australia Post aren’t that bad (yet); I was quite meticulous with my handling of the envelope (after having had resignations from/subscriptions with other organizations go “missing” in the past), and I can think of an array of reasons why some people in the AFA wouldn’t want folks reading my letter.

Fast-forward to now, and in recent days, Julian Jordan has commented on a post on a friend’s Facebook timeline, twice threatening to sue them in a manner that at least appears calculated towards leverage; “I may consider taking out a defamation case against you”, “You may be hearing from my lawyers.” [Emphasis mine.] It’s the lingering threat brought about by the ambiguity in the word “may” that makes it look purposed to elicit anxiety; as if Matt is supposed to consider himself at Julian’s mercy in perpetuity, or at least, for the time being. And that’s before taking all the gaslighting into consideration.

So what’s Julian got a bee in his bonnet about? In Inciting Incident podcast #139, Matt (of Iced Coffee fame) quoted an AFA committee member as saying that the accounting at the AFA was “terrible”. Said AFA committee member is named in the thread, and if what they say about the skill of treasury is a poor representation, then that’s not a great thing. I have no idea of how well the AFA’s finances have been handled and I decline to speculate myself, but quoting a committee member’s claims isn’t nearly the same as simply repeating them. This combination of a lingering threat, pompous gasbagging, and the attendant disregard of the use-mention distinction; it reminds me of the threats of legal action made against Julie Posetti in 2010. (But don’t take this as legal advice – I’m not qualified to offer it).

Also, it’s been my observation that this is often the juncture in a defamation complaint where lawyers usually tell their client to shut up and let the warnings and cease and desist letters get delivered under a legal professional’s letterhead. You have to wonder if the perception of trying to leverage someone with a defamation allegation in plain sight of the public would help a person convince a court that their claim was geared towards the redress of damages, rather than, well… other stuff.

I have difficulty abiding this kind of behaviour, and I think it’s best that when it happens, you don’t silence yourself, and instead express something honest and something that the people threatening litigation may not want expressed. So for my part, I’m going to publish the “missing” resignation letter from 2016.

Resignation from the AFA (5th December, 2016)

Dear Atheist Foundation of Australia,

Effective as of receipt, I wish for my membership with the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) to end.

Without wanting to bore either of us with long-winded accounts, I have been aware of complaints concerning the conduct of previous president David Nicholls, and current president Kylie Sturgess. While I have enough information from an array of sources to allow me to form an opinion of either president, and while my sources couldn’t be dismissed as being all hearsay or Internet gossip, these complaints in essence do not form the basis of my resignation – if they were, I would have resigned sooner, or at least would be approaching matters differently now.

Rather, my concerns relate to how a number of committee members and organizers have dealt with these complaints. Specifically in relation to these matters, I’ve been witness to both contradictions between the accounts these parties make, and to these parties contradicting themselves, usually when modifying their story based on who they’re attempting to appeal to or manipulate at any given moment.

Suffice to say I don’t think the truth, whatever either of us thinks that is, is quite that malleable even when one has such an array of interests and personalities to deal with. I’m not in a position to fix any of this, nor do I have the time or inclination to try burning it all down.

In case this doesn’t satisfy peoples’ curiosity, I’ll go on just a little further.

I’m considering becoming politically active again, as I was back before The End of Faith was even a thing. This would likely entail advocacy in an area where I’m supposed to be some kind of para-professional, so I’d at least like to be able to respond to people with a straight face.

Not being a particularly competent liar and given what I’ve seen of how the AFA executive accounts for itself, I’d find explaining why I’m a member of the AFA difficult to couch in compelling terms. Given some of the areas where the AFA presents itself as authoritative are proximal to my para-professional interests (e.g. science, critical thinking and secular education), such explanations would be relevant to colleagues assessing my trustworthiness.

The possibility of discounted tickets to another atheist convention isn’t nearly enough to offset this. It’s a liability I can’t abide.

I find it highly unlikely that the person reading this has no idea of what I’m talking about, but on the off chance this correspondence finds its way into the hands of someone that naïve, I’ll mention two things, then close.

First, when people appear vague in raising these kinds of matters, as I probably do, it’s not always because their concerns are incoherent or ill-conceived. Sometimes they’re not telling you everything they know just to see if you’ll try to fill the void with bulls**t. They’re giving you enough rope to hang yourself. I’d encourage you to use this tactic yourself, as it’s yielded tremendous results for me so many times; Australian secular circles are chock full of bulls**t artists, and mostly gormless ones at that.

This, however, is not the purpose for my brevity.

Another reason people omit details, especially when signing out, is for the obvious reason that it’s so goddamn fekking tedious dealing with bulls**t. On that note, I’ve already seen another AFA organizer given enough rope in the past few weeks via the above method, so I see no need to repeat the trick, as repeatable and comedy-producing as it may be. Nor do I have any desire to receive the same boilerplate condescension dressed up as rationalism I’ve seen served-up to others, so while formal confirmation of my exit would be all nice and dandy, the rest is quite unnecessary, thank you very much.

That’s it. I’m out.

With all due respect,

Bruce Everett

A Few Concluding Words

There’s a degree to which this kind of thing is too self-regarding. I’m certainly not entirely comfortable with posting this (or posts like this) for that very reason.

“I don’t know this guy. Who does he think he is, thinking his resignation matters enough to be published?”

I think I’ll decline this kind of invitation to passivity more often in future. But what’s so special about my resignation anyway? Well, nothing. It doesn’t need to be special in order to be worthy, even if it’s only just a little worthy of being put out there. And really, as far as the AFA is concerned, I don’t have terribly much else to say and I felt compelled to express something under the circumstances.

You don’t believe the complaints in my resignation letter? Want more details? Well fine, don’t believe me. That’s perfectly okay, albeit a bit beside the point.

You don’t always need to have material evidence resolving some point of contention in order to know when someone, or a faction of people, are bullshitting about said point of contention. If they contradict themselves enough, or they as group members contradict each other enough, you know they’re not being straight with you, whatever the truth may be.

If you keep a bullshitter talking long enough they’ll often trip up this way. If they’re canny enough, they’ll realise this and put a sock in it before too long.

Often, that’s enough information to make a decision, even if not entirely revealing.

So instead of hosting some kind of did they / didn’t they inquiry into the AFA, the prospect of which frankly bores me*, I’m just going to commit to continuing to not put up with people who can’t keep their stories straight, and ask that the reader does much the same.

No doubt there’ll be more examples to come, from a variety of sources. This shit’s not in short supply.

~ Bruce

* Which is not to pre-judge others that have an interest in doing so. It’s just I’ve seen enough for my own decision making, and beyond that it’s all supererogatory for me. By all means dig away at it yourself.

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