You’ll have magical experiences and stories to tell for a lifetime

Let’s have a bit of comic relief – let’s drop in on the “Secular Policy Institute” again. I’d forgotten about them…I think I’d vaguely assumed they’d gone to ground after that embarrassing thing where they announced a fancy expensive conference in DC that then apparently never took place. But no, they’re still there and still engaged in empty boasting. Look at the page where they attempt to recruit interns.


Say what? Any organization in the world? Just like that? How would that work exactly? How would interning for a self-styled “institute” that doesn’t actually do anything other than brag about itself provide “the insider shortcut” to your dream job? At [your pick of] any organization in the world?

Well Johnny Monsarrat explains that for you – yes, the Johnny Monsarrat who promoted the Secular Policy “Institute” by emailing people about it and then shouting abusively at them when they didn’t respond with awed enthusiasm.

I’m Johnny Monsarrat, and I was once an intern for Edwina Rogers. Now I’m her Alliance Director at the Secular Policy Institute and run the volunteer and intern programs too.

Just my interview with Edwina two years ago changed my life. I had just flown into Washington DC. Edwina met me at her office but was on her way out to a meeting. Could I come along? Then we could talk after.

Sure, okay, I said. We arrived at an office building, and in the elevator up, she said, “Just watch Grover and how he conducts the meeting. You’ll learn something.”

Grover, I thought… Grover Norquist? The American tax reform heavyweight? This wasn’t just any meeting. Edwina had nonchalantly brought me to the super exclusive weekly insider coordinating meeting of Washington DC’s top Republicans. I felt like James Bond infiltrating a secret society. Amongst 40 of the most famous political operators in town, I was the only liberal, the only guy with long hair, and the only guy wearing blue jeans. And there were donuts.

Working with the Secular Policy Institute is like being bolted into a roller coaster that is duct taped to a Moon rocket, heading for Fame, Glory, and Power. You will have the experience of your life working with us.

Fame, Glory, and Power? Capital letter Fame, Glory, and Power?

How? Where? By what mechanism?

There’s this whole middle thing missing in their work, always. It’s the row of question marks in that meme, the one that ends with “Profit!”

  1. Secular Policy Institute
  2. ???????
  3. Fame, Glory, and Power!!!

They really need to work on that second item.

The Secular Policy Institute is the organization with the philosophy, momentum, and executive power to make a genuine difference. We are more successful than other secular groups because:

Waaaaait wait wait wait – before you tell us why, tell us in what way you are more successful than other secular groups. Or in fact if that’s too high a bar, just tell us in what way you are successful at all.

So, the because:

  • We are true professionals. Unlike many secular groups, we don’t want to settle for amateur anything. We emulate best practices of major organizations like the AARP, NRA, CATO Institute, Heritage Foundation, and American Cancer Society.

No, I don’t believe that at all. I think you’re quite amazingly amateurish. All this empty boasting looks extremely amateurish to me. Admittedly, I’m not a professional institute-haver myself, but as an outsider, I look at your boasting and the word “professional” is not what springs to mind.

  • We are focused. Unlike many secular groups, we aren’t vague about our plans. We take on giant, world-changing projects that inspire donors and volunteers, such as promoting an Indian rationalist’s guide to Hindu scripture and raising money for the world’s first atheist orphanage in Uganda.

No, I don’t believe that either. What happened about that conference, if you’re so focused? I could never find a word about it after the date when it was supposed to take place. You promoted it when you had only two speakers lined up, and then you went quiet about it. That’s not focus. And those two projects sound fine but other secular groups do that kind of thing too, and when they talk about it, they talk about the projects themselves, they don’t brag about the projects simply as advertisements for the groups.

Ah still doing that, are you. No, you’re not, and it’s not a thing you should be saying anyway. It’s hierarchical and revolting. Also, if you’re going to be talking about your Fellows, you should be talking about the many Fellows who left your “Institute” last year. Updating to add: including Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, and Lawrence Krauss. The ones you are still claiming as part of your world’s biggest think tank. The group of big names (also including Rebecca Goldstein and Daniel Dennett) left last June. It’s now April. I have to say it: I don’t think this is carelessness, I think you’re lying. I think you’re knowingly telling the blatant lie that people who left your “institute” ten months ago are still part of it.

  • We organize everyone. We are the world’s biggest secular coalition. Like the Bill Gates Foundation, we talent scout the best projects from our coalition groups and maximize their impact with management coaching, funding, promotion, access to our Fellows, and our contacts in media and government worldwide.

No, you don’t. You know how I know? You don’t organize me! Black swan! Of course you don’t “organize everyone” – what a ludicrous claim. That’s more of that amateurishness: making grotesquely inflated claims that are obviously false.

Then there’s a lot more nonsense about what you get by working for them for nothing – including this jaw-dropper:

  • Keys to the World. Success should be about who you are, not who you know. But it doesn’t hurt to have the hair-raisingly large network of Secular Policy Institute connections on your side. If you give us your time, we will put you in front of any VIP decision-maker in the world for your next job. You will have more than our recommendation. You will have a game-changing, almost unfair advantage over every other applicant. We will make you a star because we believe strongly in meritocracy and investing in people. But we also know the power of having friends in high places — and we want you to go high and be one of those friends!

Can you believe it? They claim they will “put you in front of any VIP decision-maker in the world for your next job”!! Really?!! Heads of state, CEOs, diplomats, the pope, the top people at universities, NGOs, the UN, hospitals, research labs? What complete barefaced nonsense! And then the scummy creepy power-worship and fame-crawling and high places-ogling.

  • Steer the Secular Movement. The Secular Policy Institute is unlocking the potential of dozens of interest groups that just need a boost, some direction, some funding, or some management training. Together we are building a heavy impact. Your voice will be heard by the most important leaders of our cause. You will set the agenda. You become the kingmaker. Help us decide which groups deserve our full attention and resources. Help us shape the shared set of goals that our coalition is based on.

Right. As an intern. As an intern, your voice will be heard by the most important leaders of our cause. You will set the agenda. You become the kingmaker.


  • Adventure. Go backstage at one of our world class events and meet the celebrities. Join us meeting politicians and presenting your plan for legal reform. It’s the adventure of a lifetime. Don’t discount the serendipity of working long hard hours with idealistic yet practical people. You’ll have magical experiences and stories to tell for a lifetime.

Oh for fuck’s sake. They’re not celebrities. They’re academics and intellectuals, who are never celebrities. Some of them have some celebrity among secularist intellectuals, but that’s all you can say. And you don’t need to spend months working for a pretend-institute just to meet them; it’s not that difficult. And there is no “backstage.” It’s not Hollywood and it’s not Broadway; there is no backstage.

As part of our intern program, you don’t start at the basement. You immediately become one of our executives. You sit next to Edwina and send out emails in her name…

Ooooooooooooh now there’s a treat! Do we get to wrap her presents in dollar bills?

Lordy. What a shower.

*Updating to add: And that’s not even true: the three named are not among the Fellows any more, nor are they among the Advocates or on the Advisory Board.

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