This conversation, in who knows how may houses across America? How many grown sons and daughters get guilt and shame from their parents just for coming to their own conclusions about religion? How many families divided over differences of opinions on the invisible and unknowable? For deciding that what they were taught about an invisible divine being makes no sense? For being atheists? It’s all too familiar, and breaks my heart.
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: 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: 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: 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.
This year’s American Atheist convention marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of American Atheists in the city where the party was started, Austin, Texas. It is also where I spent this past weekend. As always it was a great time, and even though I don’t get the same high as I once did from seeing a big room full of atheists when I first went to the AA Convention back in 2010, it is still refreshing to be among a group of people who are so refreshingly enthusiastic and open.
Those of you who are unfamiliar with atheist conventions may be asking what do atheists do and talk about in their conventions? The topics at this year’s convention included the importance of grassroots activism in the protection of the separation between church and state, how atheism is now a community rather than a set of isolated individuals (and what that implies), why evolution makes sense of the human body much better than “Intelligent Design,” multiple talks on how to continue to increase the diversity of the atheist movement, the relationship between atheism and humanism, and feminism. That is the short list. In the next few days (or when I get the opportunity) I’ll be writing in more detail about what I learned at the American Atheists Convention about these topics.
Of course the convention was not all sitting around and listening to speakers though. Evening activities included a pub crawl, concerts, a comedy show and a costume party.
Apologies for the lack of new content as of late. For the past couple of months I’ve put most of my website and blogging energies into the sites for Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers and the Kentucky Secular Society.
In the meantime, until I get a new blog post cooked up, here is a touching video from the Thinking Atheist about the idea of an afterlife and about what gives meaning and purpose to life. Enjoy
In September 2011, Operation Save America* started their States of Refuge* campaign. The stated goal was “...to establish the first abortion free states since Roe vs. Wade.”* The targeted states were those with only one abortion clinic at the time. This included Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. With help from anti-abortion legislators, they are nearing their goal in Mississippi.
State Representative Bubba Carpenter recently told a group of local county Republicans that “We have literally stopped abortion in the state of Mississippi,” and that “the other side [is] like, ‘Well, the poor pitiful women that can’t afford to go out of state are just going to start doing them at home with a coat hanger.’ That’s what we’ve heard over and over and over. But hey, you have to have moral values.”I hope I am not the only one who finds this quote shocking. When your moral values include forcing desperate women to unsafe and unsanitary medical procedures because that is the only way they can access them, you might need to rethink the basis of your morality.
Once again it is the special day of the year (at least in the USA) to acknowledge and accept the good things in our lives. Especially those good things which we did not earn: care given to us when we were helpless, rights won for us even before we were born, an entire social structure built up for us so we don’t have to live in daily fear. So easy to take these for granted, but where would we be without them!
And here’s a song called Gratitude by Shelly Segal.
Apparently, the supposed “War on Christmas” has already come to my home city, even before Thanksgiving. A press release went out calling Louisville’s big Light Up Louisville spruce a “Community Tree.” And this has stirred controversy and hurt feelings.
It’s Called the Community Christmas Tree - WDRB.com
But not to worry, the city is not going to be “PC” or anything horrid like that. The tree is going to be called the “Community Christmas Tree.”
Don’t misunderstand, I have no problem with calling it a Christmas tree. It would still be a Christmas tree to me even if the city did officially call it a “Community Tree.” I am, after all, a product of a Christian upbringing and I have plenty of warm fuzzy memories of sitting under the Christmas tree. What shocks me (though maybe it shouldn’t by now) is the response of the Christians in this city to the naming of a tree. I have a small sampling of reactions pulled from Mayor Fisher’s Facebook wall (names masked for privacy, of course). Most are negative reactions, though I threw a couple of interesting positive reactions in for balance.
My favorite negative comment is the “what have we turned into??” comment. I mean, what have we become for calling a Christmas tree a Community tree? A bit more pluralistic? Many of the comments make it clear that the authors think that the city Christmas celebration ought to be a blatant state endorsement of their religion. After all, it’s tradition, right? And tradition is always right. /sarcasm.
It’s not just Louisville of course. Any time a government pronouncement around the winter holidays does not explicitly endorse CHRISTmas, this happens. There is no pronouncement coming from our government regarding how or when or why anyone will be allowed to observe Christmas or any other holiday. America has no government religion, and any county, city, state, or national observance has to be for all citizens, not just the traditional majority. Neither belief in, nor deference to, Christianity or any other religion is required for full participation in civic life in this country. And that, my friends, is the core of our beloved religious freedom.
See also: Wiki Article on Christian Privilege.
After long months of planning and preparation, the day finally arrived. Yesterday, Saturday October 6th was the first ever Kentucky Freethought Convention. And what a success it was! While targeted primarily to freethinking Kentuckians, it was about the same size in attendance as the first national American Atheist convention that I attended three years ago. We even had a few attendees who drove all the way from West Virginia and Tennessee. The final attendance is estimated to be over 250.
There was a great mix of topics by a variety of speakers both local to Kentucky and nationally known.
Dr. James Krupa, Professor of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kentucky, spoke on the importance of quality education in evolution and science for students who are not majoring in science.
Edwin Kagin spoke about the origins and history of Camp Quest, a summer camp for the children of secular parents which focuses on the importance of science and critical thinking (along with other fun summer camp activities). Camp Quest was started in Kentucky and in the past 10 years has spread all over the United States and to Europe.
Seth Andrews, of the Thinking Atheist podcast and former Christian radio broadcaster, told of his experience of coming out as an atheist and of handling the conflict with family that this can sometimes cause. He also had a bit of fun poking fun at some of the most ridiculous expressions of religion in modern America.
Dr. Gretchen Mann, Chef Medical Officer at the Louisville Military Entrance Processing Station, discussed how she, along with the Military Religious Freedom Association and Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers put a stop to the active proselytizing by the Gideons of military recruits at the MEPS centers all over the country.
Annalise Fonza, former United Methodist clergywoman and current member of Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta, spoke about her past as a member of the clergy, the issues faced by nonbelievers in African American communities, and the importance of diversity in race, gender, and sexual orientation in the atheist movement.
Former Minister’s Panel.
As the last speaker for the day, Will Gervais, Associate Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kentucky. spoke about the recent psychological studies on societal perceptions of atheists, and the connection between analytical thinking and non-religious thought. I don’t have a picture for Dr. Gervais, but when I have one I will post it.
We all had a great time and made great connections with one another. I am looking forward to next year’s convention!
Too much is going on the past several days for my to focus on a single thing. Today I will be writing about Atheism+ and the insanity at the DNC.
I really like the idea of Atheism Plus. To me, this is not a new thing, but what I have been for years. Technically speaking, an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in a god or in gods, and I have no problem with that specific definition. But atheists as people are so much more going on than merely not believing in gods. Just talking about that gets very boring after a while. Let’s get together as atheists and talk about feminism and social justice and how to live ethical lives. I like having a term for this that does not gloss over the “atheist,” the way several people have used the term “humanist,” and still incorporates the general principles of humanism and skepticism. I have added the A+ logo to my sidebar, and if you click on it, it will take you to the Atheism Plus website. Not much there yet, except for a pretty active forum that I will be checking from time to time.
Also, for more reading about A+ check out
How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism
Atheism Plus, and Some Thoughts on Divisiveness
On an entirely different topic…
….what is this ridiculousness at the DNC around adding God back into their platform and also some sort of statement about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel? Why the hell is an American political party making a resolution about the proper capital of another sovereign nation? Anyway, there was a vote during the convention to revise the party platform. Any revisions require a two-thirds vote, and they did this by having the audience of delegates call out “yea” or “no.” Here is where it gets really ridiculous. They held the vote to add the “God language” and the resolution on Israel’s capital city three times, and while the “no’s” were at least as loud as the “yea’s” each time, the DNC chair went ahead and adopted the resolution anyway. What kind of vote is this? I might expect this sort of thing from the RNC, but what is this but a statement by the DNC that us godless citizens are just not welcome among them? This sort of behavior at the DNC has cause me to really consider switching my party affiliation from Democrat to Independent. I won’t tell anyone else what to do, but I have to wonder what kind of impact it would have if all the Democrat atheists in this country did the same.
It is time for the Kentucky State Fair, and for the third year in a row, the Kentucky Secular Society and the Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers will be representing. Tonight, I will be volunteering in the KySS booth from from 6-10pm. I am a bit of a veteran at this by now, having volunteered at the booth for the past two years, and I am taking a bit of time to reflect on past experiences I have had with the people who have come to visit our booth.
Tell most people that you are presenting a public face of atheism to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and they will look at you like you are just a bit crazy. But after driving around Louisville with a Darwin Fish or a similar symbol on my car for over ten years now, I’ve found it’s not quite as scary as people seem to think. But then, I suppose it depends on who you come in contact with on a daily basis. If you have a highly religious boss, family, or if many in your close circle of friends are highly religious then open expressions of disbelief will be rather more intimidating. And that is the main reason we have an atheist booth at the State Fair. To reach out to the lonely atheists and doubters out there who are surrounded by religiosity and think there is no one else in Kentucky that thinks like they do.
Lots of these people come by our booth and give us the thumbs up and thank us and comment that they thought they were the only atheists in Kentucky. These are the fun and easy interactions, and the thing that keeps up coming back year after year. We do also get folks who come to argue with us, to tell us all about their expertise in biblical prophecy, or to inform us that “every knee will bow,” or to condescendingly declare that they will pray for us poor sinners. And we seem to get a lot who just shout out some Christian slogan and then walk right on by. It will be my goal this year to remember that these are just fine people who are trying to go on with their lives, and we have just declared something so shocking to them that it threatens to upset the whole applecart of their thinking. “We are atheist, and proud of it.” My goal this year will be to remember to have some compassion for these people and not to get angry at them.
My other goal is to interact with a lot of people and have some fun!
More updates and information about the KySS State Fair Booth at http://www.KySecularSociety.org.