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2012 Reflections

I have a short memory. I usually roll along in the moment, taking in questions, problems, and ideas as they come to me. More than once in the past few weeks I have had a conversation with a friend or coworker, only to have them come back to continue the conversation after a pause of a few minutes, but my mind has already moved on to something else. What were we talking about? I’m not sure if this is a symptom of our fast-paced short-attention-span society or if it’s just how my mind works anyway.

So, with that in mind I thought it would be a good idea to take a good look at what happened in 2012, so as not to rush headlong into 2013 without pausing for a moment’s reflection. After taking some time to brainstorm and look though my old posts, here is a summary of what happened in my life over the past year in rough chronological order.

Lasik – January

This time last year, I was preparing to go under the laser in early January. I have been dependent on glasses for all daily activities that require sight since I was about eight years old, and I got tired of it. In late 2010 I decided to ask my optometrist about the possibility of getting Lasik surgery, and that got the ball rolling. After a few months my vision finally stabilized. My eyes are no longer dry, and I will be going to the optometrist for my one-year Lasik checkup in about a month. I have loved living without relying on glasses!

You can read about my Lasik experiences here: Tag Archives: Lasik

Reason Rally – March

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In March I had the great pleasure of attending the Reason Rally, the largest gathering of atheists and non-religious people ever. And it was a blast! Even after going to atheist conferences and been quite used to having atheist company for years, it was quite a wonderful experience to be surrounded by such a sea of secularism. For more about the Reason Rally, check out The Reason Rally: No Fair-weather Atheists Here!

Reasonable Living – March

Starting in March, a former Baptist teacher/minister who has been a member of the Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers for some time now started a Sunday morning group to discuss Humanist ethics, values, and how to live the good secular life. Since then, this group has been a regular part of my life, and it deserves a mention in the top events of my life in 2012. You can read more about Reasonable Living here: Reasonable Living and Intentional Community.

Women in Secularism Conference – May

In May I got to attend the Women in Secularism Conference, which was also my first conference with the Center for Inquiry. This was a unique conference to discuss the contributions and roles of women in the secular movement. I wrote about my experiences and ideas from this conference in Ideas from the Women in Secularism Conference.

Doctor Who – May

I started watching Doctor Who in May. Actually, I was watching The Empty Child from season 1 on the airplane home from the Women in Secularism Conference, and that was the episode (along with The Doctor Dances) that got me hooked. Thanks to Doctor Who and Tumblr, I have learned such concepts as “fandom” and “cosplay.” I have TARDIS Christmas tree lights, and my stepkids got my a cardboard standup TARDIS for Christmas. Yep, I am having a lot of fun with this.

Marriage on my Birthday – June

In June, one of my husband’s older sons got married, and on the same day as my birthday, too. It wasn’t planned that way, but it was a great party. :)

Kentucky Freethought Convention – October

In October, I got to help out with the planning and execution of the first ever Kentucky Freethought Convention which was a great success!  You can view the presentation videos on Vimeo, and read about it at Kentucky Freethought Convention Wrapup.

I bought a car! – October

In October, I bought my first new car! It’s a Subaru Outback, and I am very pleased with it. :)

Skepticon V – November

Ed and I attended Skepticon in Springfield, MO for the second year in a row this year. Skepticon is always a great time! You can read all about it at Skepticon 5: Science, Atheism, and Doctor Who?

The world didn’t end! – December

Despite all the doomsday prophecies, the world did not end on December 21, 2012. Still we had a great End of the World/Holiday Party at my place on the Winter Solstice.

Now, on to 2013! 

The Reason Rally: No Fair-weather Atheists Here!

Despite the cool temperatures and intermittent rain, a crowd numbering from 20,000-25,000 gathered on the National Mall to celebrate reason, science, and godlessness. And I was very pleased and proud to be there among them.

My husband and I at the Reason Rally.

It was quite an experience to be at the largest freethought gathering of all time, and I can only imagine what it was like for those who had never come to an atheist gathering. The first time I met another person that I could speak with about atheism, I was thrilled beyond belief. Walking into a room with a few hundred atheists at my first American Atheists convention three years ago was like a dream. But this was an experience beyond all of that.

The speakers were of a variety from scientists and professors like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers to singers like Shelly Segal and comedians like Eddie Izzard and Tim Minchin. This was a Rally for Reason, but not a dry intellectual unfeeling type of reason. It marks a landmark in a trend I have seen in the atheist movement. We are continuing to move beyond the intellectual halls and into the experience of everyday life. This movement is about reason and intellectualism, but also about community and life and emotion. The life of reason includes all of these things too. This is the “New Atheism.”

Bad Religion rocking the Reason Rally

You can find more information about the Reason Rally, and pictures of the speakers, performers, and massive crowd at ReasonRally.org.

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See you at the Reason Rally!

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It is now only two weeks until the Reason Rally, and I am getting excited. At last year’s American Atheist convention, when Dave Silverman first announced the big plans, it seemed like the day would never arrive. One of my favorite things about this rally is that it is a movement rally, not just an event for a single organization. In fact, every major freethought and atheist organization is participating in this event. Given the rocky history among some of the atheist organizations in the past, this really is a big deal. The putting aside of differences and focusing on common goals is vital to show how many of us there really are in favor of the Separation of Church and State and rights for the non-religious. We are no longer scattered to and fro, separated from one another and keeping a low and silent profile to avoid being marked by the prejudices of religious friends, family, and employers. Yes, many people still face that situation, but it is changing. We are coming together and showing our numbers and will no longer tolerate being merely tolerated at the will of a religious majority.

Especially after the record-breaking turnout to the American Atheists convention last year, I am looking forward to seeing how many secular Americans come to the Reason Rally!

For more information on the Reason Rally including speakers, musical acts, and information on ride shares, please visit http://www.ReasonRally.org.

Richard Dawkins is good for the Reason Rally

I have noticed something in the attitudes of atheists and other freethinkers toward religion, that it is strongly influenced by the experiences that person has had with religion in the past. Those with a fundamentalist or evangelical background have experienced the suppression of thought and fear of external ideas that goes with fundamentalist indoctrination, and may have seen families, possibly even their own, torn apart by religious differences. They are more likely to be strongly anti-religious, even if they self-censor at times to keep the peace. In fact, the perceived need for self-censorship leads to a great deal of resentment towards the very thought of religion. Religion as they have experienced it is thought-suppressing, guilt-inducing, fanaticism filled bunk. And they rage against it. Understandably.

On the other hand, those from a more liberal and open religious background seem to not quite understand what these former fundamentalists are all worked up about. Or those who have never been religious, but have had lots of experience with reasonable, accepting religious people who you can tell you are an atheist without them making faces at you like they are going to be sick or faint or go berserk on you. Lucky for them.

Somehow, I get the idea that Barbara J. King is likely to fall into the later description, even though I’m not sure what her background is. She is the author of a recent article on the NPR blog titled “Will Richard Dawkins Drive A Stake Through The Heart Of The ‘Reason Rally’?

She seems to think that Richard Dawkins’s outspoken criticism of religion is going to somehow work against the goals of the Reason Rally to combat negative stereotypes of atheists. I, probably the same as Richard Dawkins, does not think that the way for us to combat negative ideas of atheism is for the atheists to make ourselves quieter on the subject of religion, as if it were actually superior to be a religionist (of whatever kind) than to be an atheist as so many apparently assume.

From the article:

In a 2006 interview with Steve Paulson at Salon (during his tenure as professor of public understanding of science), Dawkins suggested that greater intelligence is correlated with atheism. He also said that when it encourages belief in the absence of evidence, “there’s something very evil about faith.”

Slam. That noise you hear is the sound of thousands of minds closing down and turning away from anything that Dawkins might go on to say about science.

By choosing words hurtful and harsh, Dawkins closes off a potential channel of communication about science with people who hold faith dear in their lives.

What does she think Dawkins means by faith, I wonder? She makes clear elsewhere in the article that she is a science-minded person herself and just as frustrated as anyone by the antics of the creationists to sell pseudoscientific crap to children. (My words, not hers.) Surely she does not consider it virtuous to believe claims that have not been proven, or that have been shown to be out of step with modern knowledge of the world? Once again, I think, the problem comes down to “tone.” Saying things like “faith is evil” is going to turn off religious people who have a very rosy view of the virtue of believing unquestioningly in things that one has not seen (see John 20:29). Nevermind that the belief in the virtue of such “faith” is exactly what is at the heart of the harm done in the world in the name of religion, from suicide bombers to Catholic parents who believe the word of the religious authority over that of their hurt child. This is the sort of thing that leads Dawkins and others like him to make such “hurtful and harsh” statements about faith. The hurt that has been perpetuated in the name of faith has been much worse.

I think I know where she is coming from. Sure, there are plenty of people out there who consider themselves believers in a religious tradition but are at the same time pro-science, pro-reason people. At the same time, these are the people who use their reason and learning to reject or reinterpret portions of their religious tradition to make it compatible with a rational life in the modern world. Their traditions have been influenced by secular thought in the direction of progress. Surely we should not isolate ourselves from those who follow the nicer parts of religious tradition and still hold common cause with us secular people.

On the other hand, we are not going to improve the cause of secularism and acceptance of atheists by muzzling the atheist’s criticism of religion. That does not lead to any progress at all, in fact, that just keeps us where we are right now. We will never have an equal place for atheists in society until we get rid of the fear of blasphemy and offense of the religious and lay out all these ideas on the table for open discussion.

Richard Dawkins has given the secular community a great boost, being the first (as far as I know) to stick out his neck and publish a book about atheism with a major publishing company. He’s not going to damage our cause by speaking his mind at the Reason Rally.

Me at a book signing with Dawkins on his tour for The Greatest Show on Earth.