Brief Reason Rally Thoughts

Brief Reason Rally Thoughts
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A view of the Washington Monument and some fellow ralliers on their way to the Lincoln Memorial. Note the verse on the t-shirt.

The walk to the Rally from our hotel was long, but fun. Ed and I were wearing our “LouAville Atheists and Freethinkers” shirts which got a lot of notice and comments and also signaled to all the other rally people to where we were going. We had some good company and interesting scenery on the way, including a pass right by the Washington Monument. I’d seen it from a distance before, but never so close up.
We arrived at the Rally at about 10:30am, about 1/2 hour after the official start time. Once we got there, we found a nice grassy shady spot under the trees alongside the reflecting pool and settled in. We were far enough from the stage to just barely be able to see what was being projected on the large screens, but we had no problem hearing everything as long as the sound system didn’t glitch.
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Bill Nye is addressing the Reason Rally crowd about the need to take climate change seriously.

There were several speakers at the Reason Rally that I had not heard of before, which was fine for me since I’ve been to enough conventions that I’ve heard many of the well-known speakers many times before. It was good to hear fresh voices. One of my favorite talks was the guy from Hollywood Squares, John Davidson. (Yea, I had to look up his name since before the rally I had not heard of him.) He talked about how he’d been an atheist though much of his career, but spent most of that time hiding that fact. He talked about how he’d turned down a gig once because the sponsors wanted him to either pray or sing a gospel tune at the end of it — though he didn’t tell them why he backed out. It was very interesting to me to hear the ways that being a closeted atheist had affected his life and his career. It was only fairly recently that he came out as part of the Openly Secular project.

Another top moment for me was when Penn Jillette did a duet with the singer who had been berated for being an atheist on Ecuador’s Got Talent. (Seriously, if you haven’t seen the video, Google “atheist on Ecuador’s Got Talent. She shows some amazing composure and courage though the whole ordeal.)
And I loved yelling “ATHEIST!” with about 15,000 other people during Dave SIlverman’s talk, too.  🙂
I was at the Reason Rally in 2012 so I can’t help but make a few comparisons. The 2012 rally had a more tightly packed crowd, and more of a “We’re here, we’re atheists, get used to it!” type of feel. More like what I’d expect of a rally. The 2016 Rally had a bit more of a toned down feel which was more like “We’re here, we’re atheists, now how do we make the world a better place?” vibe. There was a large crowd, but it was spread out — especially at our distance from the stage — and we were able to sit on our blanket on the banked area and still see the stage. This time I am a mom, and I welcome the more “family friendly” aspect of the rally. As the movement matures it becomes not only about knocking religion off its pedestal (though that aspect is not going away) but also about the scientific and humanistic concerns like social equality and climate change. I think this is a good thing, and a sign that the moment is maturing. After all, atheism is only about the a rejection of the claims of theism, but atheists — real flesh and blood atheists — have concerns that go well beyond that.
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Fan of Reason in one hand, and Sonic Screwdriver in the other. That’s my girl!

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The Feeling of Firebrand Atheism

The Feeling of Firebrand Atheism

I have recently read Fighting God, by David Silverman. The topic of the book is firebrand atheism, and the normalization of atheism in American society, from the perspective of the president of American Atheists. It’s an interesting and unique read and I recommend anyone to pick it up. But this isn’t a book review.

I have been thinking lately about firebrand atheism. Loud, proud, unapologetic atheism. A little over ten years ago when I first came out as an atheist, I was really enthused about my new take on the world and ready to go to bat for it. I was still angry at the idea that some people in my life apparently thought that I should keep quiet in the face of what I saw as ridiculous superstition, and keep the obvious truth to myself. As if in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, the child had been reprimanded and punished for speaking up rather than affirmed by all the adults who had been fearfully silent about the obvious truth.

I’ve calmed down since then, and the thought of sticking my neck out in an uncertain situation to defend an unpopular idea gives me a tight feeling around my chest and stomach area. You know what I am talking about–anxiety. I don’t like conflict, though debating can be fun when I am pretty confident I am right. What I have discovered over and over is that the feeling is the same whether I am right or wrong to speak up. Since it is the same feeling, it can be hard to tell sometimes when it is caused by my cowardice or lack of self-confidence when I should be bold, or if it is a sign that something is not quite right with what I am saying. Maybe sometimes it means that there is an inconsistency in my argument and I should be quiet until I sharpen my point a bit more. Or that being right–perhaps in a discussion with a family member–is not the top priority at the moment.

The quote below from Bertrand Russell resonates with me and gets at the heart of what I am trying to say.

“Ever since puberty I have believed in the value of two things: kindness and clear thinking. At first these two remained more or less distinct; when I felt triumphant I believed most in clear thinking, and in the opposite mood I believed most in kindness.”
― Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell

However there is more to the quote after that.

“Gradually, the two have come more and more together in my feelings. I find that much unclear thought exists as an excuse for cruelty, and that much cruelty is prompted by superstitious beliefs.”

Like Christopher Hitchens would say, “religion poisons everything.” People act in harmful ways sometimes because they hold superstitious beliefs, even though they believe themselves to be doing good. For now my strategy has been boldness in the public arena–online and among strangers–and more meekness among people I know and care about personally.

Where do you think you should draw the line between respect for people and criticism of beliefs and ideas?

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Atheism and Science Communication #aacon13

Atheism and Science Communication #aacon13
Cara Santa Maria is the senior science correspondent for The Huffington Post, where she hosts and co-produces a weekly video series called "Talk Nerdy To Me." She's also a co-host on the new Weather Channel series, "Hacking The Planet."

Cara Santa Maria is the senior science correspondent for The Huffington Post, where she hosts and co-produces a weekly video series called “Talk Nerdy To Me.” She’s also a co-host on the new Weather Channel series, “Hacking The Planet.”

This post is a continuation of what I learned at the American Atheists 2013 convention. Cara Santa Maria was one of the speakers at AACON that I had not heard of before, though I’ve likely come across her writings at one point or another since I have visited the Huffington Post from time to time.

According to her bio on the list of convention speakers,

Cara Santa Maria is the senior science correspondent for The Huffington Post, where she hosts and co-produces a weekly video series called “Talk Nerdy To Me.” She’s also a co-host on the new Weather Channel series, “Hacking The Planet.” A North Texas native, Cara currently lives in Los Angeles. Prior to moving to the west coast, she taught biology and psychology courses to university undergraduates and high school students in Texas and New York. Her published research has spanned various topics, including clinical psychological assessment, the neuropsychology of blindness, neuronal cell culture techniques, and computational neurophysiology.

Just in the act of showing up at a national atheist convention, Cara demonstrates that is not necessary to hide or downplay atheism to be a successful science communicator. She also showed a method of counteracting wrong religiously inspired beliefs about science by showing a video that explains why the creationist claim about inaccuracies of  carbon 14 dating and other radiometric dating methods is wrong. These methods are used very accurately to date fossils and even the age of the earth. It is also a good video if you are interested in how radiometric dating works. I’ll add it to this post if I can find it online.

CaraSantaMariaTwitter

In my experience, education about science will inevitably push against religious beliefs. I have personal experience from my childhood about my father scoffing at “millions or billions of years” statements in science programs that we all enjoyed watching. There was also the recent discussion that touched on religious belief with my trainer that started merely with an offhand statement about how people do not recognize randomness when they see it. You can’t really discuss science without bumping against someone’s religious sensibilities, and this is something that science educators need to contend with.

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Diversity in Atheism #aacon2013

Diversity in Atheism #aacon2013

Here is what I learned at the American Atheists 2013 Conference about what we can do to increase the diversity of the movement. 

David Tamayo: President and founder of Hispanic American Freethinkers, a national nonprofit educational organization with emphasis on serving the Latino community.

David Tamayo: President and founder of Hispanic American Freethinkers, a national nonprofit educational organization with emphasis on serving the Latino community.

David Tamayo: A major way to reach out to Hispanics and help secularize Hispanic culture is to reach out to the girls and encourage them to enter math, science, and technology-related fields. It has been demonstrated that higher levels of education generally lead to higher levels of secularity in a population. This works as a counter to the “macho” Hispanic culture of sharply divided male and female roles which perpetuates a norm were women are expected to be both subservient to the men and to enforce the religious norms in the family, aka, be the one who drags the kids to church. David encourages women who are in the math, science, and technology fields to reach out and encourage Hispanic girls and show them that these are fields where women belong and where they can do well.

Mandisa Thomas is founder and president of Black Freethinkers, Inc and co-host of the Black Freethinkers BlogTalk radio show.

Mandisa Thomas: The way to reach out to the black communities is to focus more on their specific needs and concerns. Many times larger groups do not have the time and resources to focus specifically on black (or other minority) issues, but smaller groups within those organizations can focus on these areas. Having “side” groups that are a part of larger atheist groups and are specifically for women, or blacks, or other subgroups is good for meeting specific needs and highlighting the diversity of the atheist movement.

Richard Carrier is the author of Sense and Goodness Without God, Proving History, and Not the Impossible Faith. He has a Ph.D. in ancient history and specializes in the modern philosophy of naturalism,  the origins of Christianity, and the intellectual history of Greece and Rome.

Richard Carrier is the author of Sense and Goodness Without God, Proving History, and Not the Impossible Faith. He has a Ph.D. in ancient history and specializes in the modern philosophy of naturalism, the origins of Christianity, and the intellectual history of Greece and Rome.

Richard Carrier: Atheism is now a community, and not just a bunch of isolated individuals, and we need to take care in how we are represented to the wider world. One way to do this is to support women atheists online by calling out mean and harassing behavior of atheists online. Show to the world, and to those who are being harassed that they do not represent us as a movement.

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