Skepticon Wrap-Up

This was my first year coming to a Skepticon and it was a blast! I meet some cool people, and learned a lot of great stuff. From what I had heard prior, I knew Skepticon was an skeptics convention, though I didn’t know how much it would be about atheism (which I thought was great). Then again, most of the talks had nothing directly to do with atheism–which is great if you have been doing this long enough that the basic atheist arguments and discussions are old hat.

David Silverman set the tone for the entire weekend on Saturday morning with his speech “Skepticism, Atheism, and our Common Movement.” He pointed out, and I agree, that while “atheist” is not synonymous with “skeptic,” the two categories of people have an incredible overlap of people and that skeptics play a large and vital role in the secular movement. He also encouraged the crowd at Skepticon not to be afraid to use the word “atheist” in public whenever the question of religious affiliation comes up. When friends and family know that someone they love and know personally is an atheist, it’s less likely that they will hold negative stereotypes in their minds about atheists. This has worked for other movements, and it can work for us.

Most of the talks were not directly related to atheism, but had to do with science, rationality, and clear thinking in general. There were two talks addressing cognitive biases (Eliezer Yudkowsky) and how our own thinking can go wrong (Spencer Greenberg), a couple of basic and interesting talks on molecular genetics and addressed popular misunderstandings of genes (P.Z.Myers and Jen McCreight), a speech on undercover paranormal investigations (Joe Nickell), the need for critical thinking in math education (Hemant Mehta), and the crazy history and beliefs of Mormonism (David Fitzgerald). There was also a talk on the “Straw Vulcan”–ways in which logic and rationality and misrepresented in popular media  (Julia Galef), and I may write more on that later as I have thought about this a lot before and find the topic fascinating.

One of the more unusual speeches was from Darrel Ray on “Sex and Secularism” presenting the results of a study that queried how leaving religion had affected their sex lives. I think I had even participated in that survey some time ago, but I had forgotten about it. A major theme that Darrel Ray has proposed is that religion roots itself in people’s lives by generating a great deal of guilt about normal and healthy sexual (and other) behaviors, and then also promotes itself as the cure to ease that guilty feeling. That is a bit of a simplification of his thesis, and one day I need to read his book “The God Virus” and examine his idea more throughly.

Without a doubt, the most fun presentation was put on by the “Atheist Evangelist” Sam Singleton, which was in part a parody of a charismatic style  church service, and in part a (semi) serious sermon to secular people about giving thanks to the people who deserve our gratitude. At least, I took it somewhat seriously, because I think it was a great message. Thank you Brother Sam!

The final presentation was the most powerful and incredibly personal of them all. The title of JT Eberhard’s presentation was “Why the Skeptic Community Must Concern Itself with Mental Illness.” In which he came out as someone who has struggled silently for years with anorexia. The whole experience was so heart rending and emotional I find a difficult time describing it. There is such a stigma attached both with admitting that there is something wrong with your mind, and also with seeking help and taking medication to treat it because of a fear that that means  you are weak. He delivered a heartfelt plea to the skeptical community to address the incorrect and non-scientific views on mental illness just the same way as the community exposes the frauds of homeopathy. And for those who have mental illness to come out and help remove the stigma in the same way that we are calling atheists to come out and remove the stigma of nonbelief. Mental illness is not an issue I have had to deal with personally, and he presented a view of this problem that I have never been able to see before. The reception from the crowd was also amazing. We all love you JT!

Observations of an atheist abortion clinic escort…

I hadn’t been in a couple of months, but yesterday I decided to get up early to escort at the clinic. Thursday was the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, so the issue of choice and personal freedom was on my mind. After not being there for a while the scene was especially eery, or maybe that was the fog from the river. It’s easy to forget about the gauntlet these women are forced to run in order to go to the doctor. Continue reading

Another Saturday Morning

This morning at the the local abortion clinic was a bit different from the usual. The Kentucky Right to Life Association is having their convention in Louisville this weekend, so we were expecting a lot more protesters than usual. What we got were a lot more escorts and about the usual number of protesters. Continue reading

Meaningful rather than Spiritual

I’ve been reading a book called “The Atheist’s Way: Living Well without Gods” by Eric Maisel. I recommend this book to anyone who has considered him or herself to be a ‘spiritual atheist,’ because I have found a concept in this book that has changed my mind about how atheists should address ideas of ‘spirituality. Continue reading

Dr. Tiller and Satya

It’s getting longer than I like between posts so I think I should write an update.

First of all I was totally saddened and PISSED at the murder of Dr. Tiller. Anyone who has seen my Facebook page knows this well. What upsets me the most is the cavalier and even sometimes gleeful attitude of some pro-lifers. As if they are saying “well, we don’t condone murder, but he had it coming.” In response, I have pledged $10 a month to Planned Parenthood for the next year–probably longer. I am utterly convinced that it was the hateful rhetoric of groups like Operation Rescue that killed him–not just some loner with a gun. It take everything in me to remind myself that most pro-life people are good people concerned with protecting babies, even if they have been badly misinformed about the facts around abortion and filled with the fore-mentioned hateful rhetoric.

And that brings me to my next thought. One of the teachers at Yoga East has been talking about a yama each week, and recently she brought up Satya. This is usually translated as truthfulness. Here is what a quick Google search brought up on the topic.

Satya (Truthfulness)
Satya means “to speak the truth,” yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing. Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa. The Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, says: “Speak the truth which is pleasant. Do not speak unpleasant truths. Do not lie, even if the lies are pleasing to the ear. That is the eternal law, the dharma.” Please note that this does not mean speak lie. Keeping quiet and saying lies are two different things.

(from http://yoga.iloveindia.com/limbs-of-yoga/yama.html)
 

[I should note here that I don’t believe in holy scripture, and do not give special pleading to yoga philosophy. But just sometimes these old writings have some great concepts and this is one of those cases where I think they really got it right.]

I couldn’t help but think of Satya in the context of the debate over abortion and the murder of Dr. Tiller. I’ll give the Operation Rescue folks the benefit of the doubt, in that they really think they are speaking the truth when they call abortion murder and Dr. Tiller a murderer. I used to be on their side in the issue, too.  Abortion is a hard issue to deal with and is not something than anyone considers a good thing. Necessary sometimes, but not good. I cannot believe that they are really speaking the truth. Words that inspire people to murder and violence are not truth. Words that smear and vilify women who have found themselves confronting this horrible and painful decision do not express truth. Words that call a doctor who saves women’s lives a murderer are not truth.

Truth, whether it is pleasant or unpleasast, bring light and understanding to the subject at hand, not rage and violence. When the “truth” we speak creates more heat than light, we should reconsider our words and our attitudes.