Todd Akin and how the Christian Right’s delusion of an all-powerful God hurts people

I am about as far from the Christian Right as you can get, religiously and politically, and it’s not always apparent how closely that religious fervor is related to what I think of as the most cruel and stupid of the beliefs that the right-wing clings to.

Todd Akin, current representative and Senate nominee, said one of the most offensively stupid things I’ve ever heard.  Admittedly, I am as far from him on the abortion debate as one can get, but I do have some sympathy for people who think abortion is murder without exception.  I happen to think that it doesn’t matter whether it is murder or not — in all other circumstances, people have the right to use any means necessary to protect their own body from unwanted invaders and harm, I don’t see pregnancy as different.

Regardless, his scientifically illiterate justification for allowing no exceptions for rape is rather astonishing:

People always try to make that one of those things, ‘Oh, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question.’  It seems to me, first of all, what I understand from doctors is that’s really where—if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

Todd Akin’s absurd claim that people who are “legitimately” raped can’t get pregnant is symptomatic of the larger problem of the Christian Right. When you think that there is an all-powerful God overlooking everything, it’s difficult to cope with the cognitive dissonance that bad things happen to good people and that most solutions to problems are imperfect.

The problem of evil in the world is nothing new, but it is much easier to ignore if you blame all bad things on bad actions on the part of victims rather than societal problems or true injustice.  It would be too cruel for someone to get pregnant from a rape, so she must have not been raped, not really raped, only kind of raped.  They aren’t saying these things to justify their positions, they genuinely believe them because not to would be so difficult to all of their other beliefs.

There can’t be systematic injustice — God wouldn’t allow it, so women and black people and poor people are all simply reaping what they’ve sewn or playing their appropriate role, not being hurt by unnecessary prejudice and cruelty.  Women can’t be raped, they are always asking for it.  People on welfare must be bad people, that’s why they deserve to be poor.  They are different from us.  That’s why when Rush Limbaugh takes government handouts, it is OK, because he’s really a good person, but when some black welfare queen takes it, it is not OK, because she’s really a bad person.  Limbaugh doing drugs is someone who needs counseling, inner city kids doing drugs are criminals.  Why should there be social safety nets for bad people?  Because in the mind of a Christian, the world can be broken into the good people and the bad people.  Somehow they miss that almost everyone is just a people people, not particularly good or bad.

To be a Christian, you must believe that God is all-powerful and good, and so you’re forced to believe that people have asked for their bad fates and that solutions to problems are simple, otherwise you have to start questioning the God hypothesis and admitting that the responsibility for making to world a better place for your fellow man is yours.

Texas Politician Blames Non-Christians for Shooting

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) has taken the bold step of being the most prominent asshole to try to use the tragedy in Colorado to further a political agenda.  That political agenda is talk about how atheists are destroying the country.  From HuffPo:

“People say … where was God in all of this?” Gohmert said. “We’ve threatened high school graduation participations, if they use God’s name, they’re going to be jailed … I mean that kind of stuff. Where was God? What have we done with God? We don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.”

That’s right.  Someone like Max Nielson challenging his high school graduation prayer are the reason some cruel, heartless man shot dozens of people at a movie.  And Gohmert apparently lives in a strange alternate universe where people trying to get others not to force them to pray is exactly like sending someone to prison for saying the word “God”.

The tragedy is horrific enough, using it to score political points is despicable.

@replouiegohmert

Washington Office

Room: 511 Cannon HOB
Address: 2440 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-3035

Texas Office

Address: 1121 ESE Loop 323, Ste 206
Tyler, TX 75701
Phone: 903-561-6349

 

 This is who is running against Rep Gohmert, if you’re curious: http://www.votemckellar.com/

 

Watch me argue with a bunch of punks: with drinking game

FtB did another video podcast, if that’s what they’re called, in which we talked about education.  If you’d like to see me all huffy about education being a social justice issue (WHICH IT IS) feel free to skip forward to 1:04:45.

Drink every time Chris Rodda says David Barton
Drink every time PZ mocks JT for video games
Drink every time JT and I start laughing apparently unrelated to anything happening in the conversation
Drink every time Nikki Haley is a horrible person

PS: EDUCATION IS A SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUE

Social Justice and the Secular Community: a discussion

Me and fellow Freethought Bloggers: PZ Myers, Brianne Bilyeu, Russell Glasser, Ian Cromwell, Al Stefanelli, Justin Griffith, and Ophelia Benson discussing social justice issues place in the secular movement.

Secular Woman: National Organization Devoted to Women in Secularism

There is a new organization on the scene, and one that I am very excited about.  I hope it is successful, because it seems to be pulling together a lot of the things the feminists in the movement have been calling for.  The organization is focused on raising money to give grants to send women to conferences, much like SurlyAmy has been doing; collecting the sexual harassment policies for different conferences in one place, much like Stephanie Zvan and others have been doing; and developing a Speaker’s Bureau to encourage conferences to invite women, much like Blag Hag’s list of women speakers.

It’s not that any of those women’s efforts have been unsuccessful, but rather that the ad hoc collection of efforts from different women now has a centralized, official effort.

I also think it’s important that the constant arguments about this seem to have been making a huge impact.  Even the, in my opinion, completely wrongheaded attacks on Sexual Harassment Policies from thunderf00t and Todd Stiefel have been coming from a place of assuming that policies are good and necessary, just that they need to be less trusting of women’s honesty in reporting sexual harassment.

Through strategic partnerships, Secular Woman will also advocate for equal pay, reproductive choice, and marriage equality, addressing political trends the group sees as ideologically-motivated threats to its members’ freedom of conscience.

I have joined.  The first 25 student memberships are free, so if you’re a student, get on that!

Feminism, Privilege, and Learning About Humility

This is a guest post from Patrick Mitchell, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Ashley F. Miller

One year ago, after one of the most agonizing struggles of my life, I finally shook off the chains of fundamentalist Christianity, leaving me free to explore ideas in a way I never dreamt possible: in color.  You see, in Fundyland™, everything is black and white: You are for me or against me, men are the head, women serve. Sex outside marriage is evil, sex inside marriage is required.

Drinking “gender role” tripe for 10 years from fundamentalist Bible passages and pastors, alongside the idea that feminism is the devil, served to create a large barrier for me understanding feminism in a meaningful way much longer than it took me to understand homosexuality wasn’t a sin, or that enjoying sex is natural.

Also, I’m male.

I have been wanting to distill my thoughts about feminism in the context of my atheism for some time, and on the year anniversary of my freedom, I figured it would be a good occasion.  This is an expansion of the thoughts I had on my own blog, and Ashley (who has strongly influenced my own feminism in positive ways) was gracious enough to allow me the opportunity for this platform.

Misogyny Is Everywhere

“Grow a pair,” “Man Up,” “Pansy,” are phrases that misogynist and Fundyland™ culture uses to denigrate the feminine and elevate the masculine.  Phrases I used to use without a moment’s thought that state unabashedly “Men are strong, women are weak.” And yet this could not be further from the truth.  I have seen women with more strength of character and resolve than dozens of men: these claims are demonstrably false.

Anita Sarkeesian’s series on Tropes vs. Women served to help me realize just how much misogyny has infected our culture, such that it is nearly hidden from view.  Traditional gender roles, defined by the apostle Paul and ignorantly parroted across the world today, are inherently sexist and entirely stupid. There is absolutely no reason why “Men are the head of the household” should be taken for granted.  In fundamentalism, everything is black and white.  In reality, there is color.

Women have the right to function in a relationship as they desire to define themselves. I have no right, no recompense, nor stature with which to demand (or even suggest) the way in which two genders interact with one another.  When one realizes that sexuality and gender itself is fluid, the archaic notion of ‘roles’ should promptly be defenstrated from any rational person’s mind.

And thus, I must continue to fight against my own past, the small-mindedness of my fundamentalist background, to see the opposite sex as a full human, lacking in nothing, whose values and expertise must and should be evaluated on her terms, not on mine.

I Am Privileged

The thing about the word privilege, is that its one of those things that is nearly impossible to understand until you’ve experienced life without it.  When I lost my faith, but more specifically when I became public about it, I learned what its like to be in the minority of wordview, to have people hate and judge me based on something fundamentally outside my control.

It’s not the same, but it knocked me down enough notches to recognize I was too stupid, too arrogant, and too blind to really know how well I had it.  This is the fundamental idea of privilege, be it white, male, cis, or rich (all of which I am).  Therefore I have an uphill battle to recognize it in myself.

The first time my own privilege reared its head was when I first read about Watsongate (in an uninformed rant on /r/atheism).  I thought it was the most infantile reaction, and was behind Dawkins for calling out what was clearly a childish plea for attention.

Then I read about Watsongate from Ashley’s perspective.  Thanks to the SSA here in our meager town of Columbia, SC, I knew Ashley personally and was more likely to respect what she had to say. She isn’t the type of person that gets behind idiots with bad ideas, so I read.  And I learned about Schrodinger’s rapist, and started to realize I’ve never felt fearful for my sexual identity being violated, and very rarely have I been objectified in a way that made me uncomfortable.  Then I learned about the statistics, numbers that run through feminists’ minds, that had never crossed my own.

And then it hit me: I didn’t know, and couldn’t know, what it feels like to be threatened.

So in the face of this fact, I did what any good skeptic should: withhold judgement, assess the facts, and change my mind if the facts deem it so.  And thus, I did.

The Skeptic Community Needs Feminism

First, let me say that I don’t use the word “need” to say that feminists need me, or anyone, to achieve their goals, in any way that denigrates their role or prior achievements.  Nor am I at all mature in this movement, so my commentary must come with a grain of salt.

But in this past year, after reading about the Rebecca Watson incident, after what The Amazing Atheist said, and the current debacle over TAM’s reporting policy, it is clear that there is a need for the voices of those who are actually aware and affected by the issues to speak up, and to have the attention of everyone when they say something.  On blogs, posts, walls, reddit threads, everywhere in the skeptic movement it is clear that there is a man-child level of misogyny that rivals our fundamentalist foes: women are routinely denigrated, slut-shamed, and recognized for their ability to reproduce rather than the quality and content of their discourse.  Ashley has obliged before on this issue.

This is a problem. A hill that the community faces, that will bring it to a grinding halt if we don’t take a step back and address the issues.  I would prefer that we all just became aware that calling people ‘cunt,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘slut,’ etc. is bigoted and stupid, but at the very least we should continue fighting to enact policies that protect the speech of sexual harassment whistleblowers.

The sad thing is, we look more like the religious than than skeptics and freethinkers when we treat one another this way.

The US Needs Feminism

The recent string of back-woods Bible-fueled insanity in this country highlight the need for us to shape the discourse of our nation towards recognizing misogyny and feminist-sensitive issues.  The uptick across several states in invasive and psychologically damaging procedures to dissuade (and disparage) women who seek abortions from having them in incredibly humiliating ways.

The Catholic Leagues attempt to take away women’s health rights by masking legalized suffering in religious terms means that atheist feminists are uniquely qualified to answer both questions: It is not alright to force women to suffer, and especially not because of a 2000-year-old delusional fairy tale.

Across this country, there are senators and Congressmen who have been elected who are so steeped in their own privilege as to render them incapable of representing 51% of the voting muscle of the nation.  This is a problem, and should be recognized and addressed by those of us with minds and eyes enough to see the problem.

Seeing in Color

After this year, I can recognize the beauty that is feminism, and the demon of my own ingorance that I need to continually stab until it rears its ugly head no more.  In my small way, I seek to educate others about the journey I’ve had and what it’s taught me.  To be sure, there are irrational sexists out there who would masquerade under the title of feminism, but their rantings do not make the issues any less important or real.  I have to check my privilege at the door to continue this conversation, and thanks to people like Ashley, Greta Christina, Sikivu Hutchenson, the Godless Bitches, and many others, I’m learning.

And I want to continue this conversation, for a long, long time.

About The Author


Patrick Mitchell is a 27-year old Electrical Engineering Ph.D. Student at University of South Carolina.  He became a Christian at age 16 and studied theology and apologetics, was president of USC’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and served as a lay minister and worship leader in multiple congregations.  His interests include History, Theology, Philosophy, Music, Engineering, and Psychology.  He blogs at his personal website, the Coffee Shop Atheist, writes for his School Newspaper, and is an officer of The Pastafarians @ USC, a SSA affiliate group.

What’s Up?

I cannot tell you how excited I am to be joining Freethought Blogs.  Interestingly enough, I was asked to join FtB exactly 2 years after I started blogging about skepticism and atheism.  I am a relatively new voice in this atheist/skeptic/oh-my-god-don’t-conflate-the-two blogosphere, though I have been blogging for 14 years.

Many of you know me, but some of you do not.  So hello!  I’m Ashley, there’s a bio over there that basically says I know too much about movies and talk a lot.  The thing that most people seem to find shocking about me is that I worked on Toddlers & Tiaras.  What else?  They should be bringing my archives over eventually, but my old site is http://ashleyfmiller.wordpress.com

Here is a list of things I love:

  • The World Cup
  • Karaoke
  • Baby Sea Turtles
  • Rainbows, Sparkles, Sparkly Rainbows, Rainbow Sparkles
  • Drag queens
  • Otters
  • Alan Rickman
  • Great White Sharks

Here is a list of things I hate:

  • Perfume
  • Allergies
  • Ron Paulians
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  • Everything
  • Dark Harbor
  • Kevin Costner

In summation:

 

TAM9 Harassment New Information

First off: Anyone who has had an incident at TAM, however small, should write it down and send it to DJ (djgrothe@randi.org) ASAP.

DJ’s explanation of the event:

Hi Ashley, I was wracking my brains trying to place the incident you are blogging about. So we looked up in our database of last year’s attendees anyone fitting the description and location of the man you mention in your blog post, and I believe we now know who it was: someone who was being asked to leave the private speakers reception (he wasn’t a speaker, nor invited to the reception, and appeared drunk).

DJ goes on to say he was confused because I thought I’d meant the guy had been kicked out of TAM not just from the reception.  DJ e-mailed me the guy’s Facebook profile and I confirmed that it was the correct guy and DJ asked for a full report, which I have sent him.  I assume that with an official written report, at this point DJ will have to stop saying that there’s never been a report.  I suppose it will now be that there’s only ever been one report.

Phil Ferguson, of Skeptic Money, is the person who brought the guy to DJ’s attention:

This was at the speaker reception. There was one person that was not supposed to be in the room (i do not know if he was even at TAM) he was rude and talking to several ladies with inappropriate language. I told you about him and you took immediate action and talked to the gentleman and you took him from the room.

The guy was a TAM attendee, he was wearing his badge and was in TAM’s database.

I want to reiterate that my complaint is not about how DJ handled this, he handled it swiftly and efficiently and everyone in the room was impressed.  He also made the effort to find out who it was and get a report after I wrote my blog post.  He is absolutely to be commended, he is doing a great job of handling these things when they arise.

The problem is that he’s going around saying that women are making unfounded complaints because there has never been a report of bad behavior at TAM and women like me, who complain about bad behavior on blogs, are why other women aren’t going to TAM and that’s my fault.

TAM felt it was important enough to kick the guy out of the reception, but did not think it was important enough to get detailed accounts or write down what happened, even though several people congratulated DJ for doing the right thing.

Since there are a number of incidents, detailed after this, where JREF staff helped someone who complained about behavior but DJ has no knowledge of any reports of behavior, I recommend that when they help someone who complains verbally they make a note of it and make sure they understand what happened, so that DJ has a more accurate record of what his staff has actually done and what incidents have been acted upon. I think many people, myself included, made the assumption that telling someone on the staff what was going and them acting on it means that you’ve reported the incident, but apparently if you did not write it down, it doesn’t count.

From PZ:

someone had blown through the nearly empty hallways while a session was ongoing to make lewd remarks to someone sitting at the tables; it was reported, I heard, and I joined in with another fellow to look for the “gentleman”…he’d escaped, so it didn’t happen? There was also an incident on twitter in which a prospective attendee threatened to grope Rebecca Watson on an elevator at TAM; I thought his registration was revoked

From Kitty Mervine:

I had an issue at the Del Mar [pre-DJ], was handled very well by two members of the JREF staff and South Point. I’m not kidding, my hair was set on fire. So well resolved except he showed up at South Point at the Del Mar. I talked to the South Point security and they assured me ONE WORD from me and he would be OUT. (and they had no clue WHO I was, but this guy is in their “data base” as a bad one). They were even “do you want us to remove him now? Do you feel uncomfortable?” The man was NOT attending TAM, he was simply at the Del Mar with his wife and talking quietly, so I said “no”. But later a security person from South Point (she informed me she was a veteran) came over to check with me again. I was “no I’m fine”. I would say South Point security has as their first goal the comfort of all their guests. A person can just be making you feel uncomfortable, and South Point will react quickly. I admire them so much.

And what follows are several other people’s memory of the speaker event that I talked about in my previous post.

I was a little surprised, since the day before (or within a couple of days before) I tagged him in a comment where I referenced how well he handled that situation, and why I took that as a good sign for how well the JREF was handling policing TAM. … Well, it wasn’t just you. Jenn had the exact same experience as you with the same guy at the same time. And I’m relatively sure it was made clear that it was as much of an issue as it was because the guy was going from woman to woman.

This guy was being very
persistent in his attentions to you, and then to Jamila Bey. Possibly to
other women as well, although I didn’t witness that. I didn’t see him
grope anybody, but I did see him follow you around persistently and  be
very invasive of your physical space. I remember that he was drunk off his
ass. I didn’t personally witness DJ escort him out of the room, but I
heard second-hand that that’s what happened.

I remember the guy. He was definitely violating our personal space and hopping from woman to woman

I clapped DJ on the back and the other guy who helped kick creeper dude out. I can’t wildly speculate as to how insignificant was this event or how widespread were events similar such that none can be recalled, but it was memorable to me. And this wasn’t three women looking for something to bitch about- this guy was egregious enough to be obviously a nuisance (at LEAST) to the entire roomful containing both genders.

As I recall, DJ was approached because a drunk man was repeatedly bothering women, and it was my impression at the time that DJ either personally asked him to leave the reception, or saw to it that someone else escorted him out. I agree that he was ejected just from the reception and not from the entire TAM conference. I don’t recall the exact words that were used, so it’s possible that what DJ took away from the conversation was merely that someone was drunk and disruptive, but I know that it was clear to all of us that he was harassing women specifically, and we all believed that that was the reason this action was taken. As Jarrett said, we all were impressed at the time that the incident was taken seriously and we thought it was handled well.

To reiterate the specifics, I remember that he reached a certain level of extreme that had Ashley and Jen (I believe it was only the two of them standing together at that moment) that finally another gentleman (whose name I don’t recall) decided to go get DJ and explain the situation to him, as, in a way that’s not remotely surprising given everything we normally hear in these situations, Ashley and Jen were not comfortable stirring up MORE trouble on their own.

That said, I wasn’t privy to the conversation that this gentleman had with DJ, so it is purely ASSUMPTION on my part that he described the situation accurately. It’s possible he merely stated that the guy was drunk and obnoxious. I do recall overhearing DJ ask more than one person if they knew whose guest he was, implying he was trying to track the person’s validation for being at the reception, and shortly thereafter I noticed the man in question had been successfully removed.

So among a reasonable number of people it was known that this person was drunk, obnoxious, talking three inches from the faces of any women he could get near, and saying suggestive things to them. What I can’t say for certain is how well this was communicated back to DJ in the process of informing him that this man was harassing the women at the reception.

Women in Secularism: The Good, The Bad, The Awesome

Earlier this year I had to make a financial choice — I could either afford to go to DC for the Women in Secularism conference or I could afford to go to Vegas for The Amazing Meeting.  I say this not to denigrate TAM, but I could not have made a better decision.  The Women in Secularism conference is far and away the best atheist/skeptic conference that I’ve ever been to.  If you missed it, and you probably did, you need to not miss it again.

One of the things that I have trouble with in this movement is the lack of focus on issues that “matter”.  I came to the secular movement from the LGBT movement, fresh off of the Prop 8 loss, I discovered that out-and-proud atheists also had a movement, and I was eager to join a fight that I thought impacted everything, including LGBT and women’s issues.  So I went to the OCFA conference, to local skeptic and atheist meetups, I went to TAM, to Dragon*Con’s Skeptrack, to the SCA lobbying training, I wrote about it here, I wrote about it for secular.org, I gave speeches.  In short, I got involved.

Photo by Brian Engler

This month is my two year anniversary of being involved with this movement and, as someone who cares deeply about social justice, it has very often been a very difficult movement to be a part of.  For me the great appeal of secularism, the great tragedy of religion, and my own personal passion for this cause is all centered around the fact that religion is the source of many evils or used to justify those evils perpetrated against humanity.  As was said several times over the weekend, UFOs and Bigfoot aren’t that important to me, skepticism is much more interesting when applied to issues that impact people’s lives in serious ways.  Children, minorities, people of color, women, poor people, the disabled, the elderly, LGBT, and other marginalized groups would benefit so much from having the tragic consequences of religious bigotry removed from their lives.

So when people in charge of important organizations speak on a panel at TAM to say that social justice isn’t and shouldn’t be within the purview of skepticism, or people in my local atheist group leave because they think it is inappropriate that someone posted a link to a story about the Rally Against the War on Women because who cares about that feminist bullshit, or important people in the movement tell me not to bother submitting something to TAM if it has anything to do, even tangentially, with women’s issues, I start to doubt why I am even involved.

This conference was the antidote to that.  If you are someone in this movement who wants it to be about creating change in the world, this is the conference you should have been at.  If you are someone who thinks all that atheists and skeptics should do is talk about is why the bible is stupid and why UFOs aren’t real, then it really wasn’t for you.  I think that UFOs and critiquing the Bible and all of that are important discussions, but I think they are a reflection of an old, traditional, white male scientist way of thinking, and it’s not why I want to be involved.

I know why I am involved, and this conference was it.  In reality, it wasn’t the “Women in Secularism” conference, it was the “Secularism for Social Justice” conference.  I am proud to have been a part of it.

HIGHLIGHTS (all quotes paraphrased)

  • Typing 13000 words while liveblogging
  • I place as much value on anonymous comments made on blogs as I do on statements of eternal love made after a late night drinking at a bar. – Susan Jacoby
  • This conference is a good start, the first of its kind, but these panels BELONG in regular conferences. There are places for these issues at every conference we hold. Especially on science and education. Things have not changed enough, and women are the primary educators and caregivers. Secular organizations, if they want more women, are going to have to address this. The reason men aren’t here isn’t because the conference isn’t welcome, but because men in the movement don’t give a shit about this. – Susan Jacoby
  • Both religion and sexism are hard to give up. They’re ingrained and it’s tough to overcome, especially because it’s not conscious. Giving up religion feels freeing, but giving up sexist beliefs as a man isn’t necessarily freeing because it means examining, acknowledging, and confronting privilege. It feels like reentering a place where you’re made to feel guilty. But sexism impacts men too, and men don’t seem to realize it. Men get called girly as an insult and are driven away from being themselves if they’re not “man enough”. They don’t care about reproductive rights. As though they don’t have to deal with getting a girl preggo. – Jen McCreight
  • Sikivu and Ophelia disagreeing strongly, and talking about it rationally and pleasantly.
  • Recognition of the underground acknowledgement of the bad guys in the movement and how women are afraid to speak up about it because it will hurt them instead of the well-known man.
  • Panel arguments that were over details of implementation and how to fight, not over whether there was a problem in the first place
  • I have never found a trace of morality in my own religion – Wafa Sultan
  • The complete rejection of the Prime Directive and everyone agreeing that helping women in other cultures is a moral duty, not cultural imperialism.
  • It’s cultural imperialism to help these women? Tell the to the girl who had her clitoris cut off, tell that to the girls who had acid thrown on their faces for going to school, tell that to the women being stoned to death for the crime of being raped. Tell that to them and then FUCK YOU.  – Greta Christina
  • Having a military base in Saudi Arabia isn’t imperialism but opening a school is? If you can invade a country how can you not open schools? We need more secular schools, not more army bases! – Wafa Sultan
  • Wafa Motherfucking Sultan.  For many personal reasons, it was a very difficult and traumatic talk to sit through and I was nearly sobbing by the end of it, if I hadn’t been transcribing, I’m sure I would have been.  I hope that this talk goes up first, it needs to be seen.
  • A lot of people are talking about issues that apparently have nothing to do with secularism, should Catholic hospitals get public funding and refuse to give the morning after pill, should black boys be frisked without probable cause in NYC, we are skeptics, we’re good with numbers, we should care about it. These stories, we who are skeptical, we who believe that morality does not come down from on high, we who understand that it is our obligation as humans to first do no harm and make sure that others are not harmed, have to — HAVE TO — tell our stories. – Jamila Bey
  • We’re so foundational. If I can convince people to spend more time thinking about things, using critical thinking, it’ll fix a lot of these other problems I’m fighting for. Because our message is so basic and foundational, I think that it is a part of everything else. – Debbie Goddard

NITPICKS

  • Some of the talks were either too broad and not focused enough.  I say this with absolute love, because there was not woman who spoke that I didn’t want to hear more from, but many of the talks were so detail rich on such a broad topic that they were very difficult to follow.  Annie Laurie Gaylor was particularly guilty of this, I’m afraid I didn’t retain very much of what she talked about because it was basically just a list of names.  Her argument, which was that women have historically been freethinkers, could have been made in a way that wasn’t as hard to follow.  I just didn’t know any of the names or have any point of reference.  Susan Jacoby did a lot of the using names without explaining who they are thing as well.
  • Using cards to take questions was great, but I didn’t have access to any and would have had to interrupt the session or leave to get cards to be able to ask questions.  I think there needs to be a stack under each chair.  Especially since my neighbors all grabbed all of the cards immediately when they sat down so I had none!
  • The talks were too long, I’d rather have heard shorter talks from more people and some of them felt a little stretched out, I’m thinking of Bernice Sandler’s in particular, but just generally I think hour long talks are excessive when you’ve got so many other people who didn’t get to speak.  The panels were the perfect length.
  • Attendance.  I would have liked to see a lot more men and people of color in the audience.  I said it was the Social Justice in Secularism conference, and I think that’s how it should be advertised, because it wasn’t just about women and it wasn’t just for women and women’s issues are human rights issues.  So much of what we covered this year was new territory for these conferences, I hope that the conference continues and continues to expand into covering topics like prison reform and drug policy — things that impact women even though they aren’t traditionally thought of as “women’s issues” and were brought up several times over the weekend.
  • I admit that, because I work in media and I study media, I am unusually focused on this, but I wish that there had been more time spent on addressing the representation of women in the media.  And if you need someone to rant about that next year, I’m sure I’m only one of a whole lot of women in the movement who could go on and on for hours.

Readin’ a list; Photo by Brian Engler

And my final complaint, which is not a nitpick and not the fault of the conference, is the tragic performance of Edwina Rogers, who literally read a list from an old power point presentation over the course of 15 minutes and then left the conference entirely without taking any questions.  She had been there before the speech, available to be approached, so she wasn’t hiding entirely and I wouldn’t accuse her of that, she was just avoiding having to publicly answer questions.  And she clearly was not hired to be a charismatic public speaker and I never missed the overly enthusiastic rabble rousing of Sean Faircloth more.  This wasn’t just my response, I heard this from several people who didn’t know anything about her background.

I also had the opportunity to meet her and I was disappointed in that as well.  She just threw talking points at me about opening state chapters, and she and Woody, her handler from the SCA, both acted like they didn’t know who I was.  This despite the fact that I was recruited by the SCA to be one of the the first bloggers for their organization’s website, I spent hours and hours last year with Woody, led a panel discussion for the SCA last year, and have sent them much feedback and, admittedly unsolicited, advice about Edwina.  If they don’t know who I am, it’s insulting, and if they do know and they acted like they don’t, that’s even more insulting.

That said, Melody Hensley did an amazing job with this and deserves all of the credit in the world.  Conferences, especially first ones, are incredibly difficult to pull off.  This was so much better than I had hoped for, I have come away impressed by everyone involved.  Well, almost.

I will be adding a list of resources mentioned while I was taking notes over the weekend, for people who want to read more or watch videos that were recommended.

Send an Atheist to Church: Ashley survives Brookland Baptist Church

As part of a fundraising effort for a cancer charity, the local Pastafarians at USC group took donations, in exchange for which the atheist members agreed to be sent to church.  I was sent, along with three other students, to Brookland Baptist church, in West Columbia, SC.

Brookland Baptist Church

I have not been to church in a long time. The closest I’ve been in the last five years is probably the local Unitarian Universalist fellowship, but as their minister is an atheist, I’m not sure how much that counts.  I have actually been to Brookland Baptist before, at the very end of 2006, when John Edwards was speaking there.  I was highly skeptical of him, but after seeing him demand healthcare for all and declare we needed a way to be patriotic besides war, I absolutely fell in love.  Which turned out real well.

Back to the church:

Brookland Baptist Church is a largely African American megachurch, founded in 1902. On Sunday, not only are the parking lots full, but the lots across the street are not enough. The church claims 5,300 members, seats 1,600 on the floor and 500 in the balcony.

Dove with laser beams

I arrived before my fellow heathens and had to wait outside for them.  Initially, I was quite self-conscious because everyone was staring at me, but when I realized it was just because I was the only white person there, not because I was an atheist, it became less worrisome.  For better or for worse, church services seem to be very heavily segregated.  Just as you’d only find one or two African-Americans at your average Episcopalian service, you’ll only find one or two white people at your average Baptist service.  They were, despite the staring, very nice and friendly.

The rest of the cohort arrived and we were sent up to the balcony because one of our members wanted to film some of the service.  I was a little disappointed not to be in the middle of the throng of people, but also relieved that no one would be judging me for being on Facebook during the boring parts.

And boy were there boring parts!

I am a temporally minded person and therefore was already highly irked that the service started 15 minutes late.  I was even more irked when it turned out that the service lasted nearly two and a half hours.  I would have much rather re-watched The Hunger Games with that time!  How someone sits through that every Sunday is beyond me.

Aside from the absurd length, I didn’t really note too many significant differences in the structure and audience participation than the last time I went to an Episcopalian service.  Admittedly, that service was at one of the churches that left the American Episcopalian church to join the Rwandan one because they hate gays so much, but you know, Episcopalianish.  Brookland did, however, have one of the best announcement voices I’ve ever heard — it was like the “In a world” voice, but he was just reading the locations and dates of events.  It was awesome.

This is the song that never ends

There was a lot of singing.  Interminable singing while the collection plate went around.  As much as comedians joke around that the Anglican church is joyless, but the Baptist church goes crazy with the music, there was no evidence of that.  The musak style choir songs were not joyful, just very long.  Fortunately, I had a book, since we were subjected to what probably added up to over an hour of this.

We were, however, very fortunate to have attended the day that we did because the focus was on education and they were recognizing the scholastic achievements of their students.  I don’t know what there normal services and sermons look like, but this was a perfect illustration of how important churches are to the minority community here.  It’s heartwarming to see an institution take so much time and effort to help children succeed and overcome the shortcomings of their schools and local environments.  It is a real shame that, in most cases, the only place they can find this support is in churches.  I know I’ve said it before, but I will say it again, secularists need to pick up minority causes — they are basic human rights issues and we should be on the front lines supporting them.

The church gave out scholarships to graduating high school seniors, and then had a college graduate come and deliver the speech for the day.  Anrae Jamon Motes graduated from MIT in 2010 and currently works as a consultant; he came to give advice to students in the congregation.  He was fantastic.

Motes plays with legos; I love the internet

The entire thrust of the speech was about using education to empower yourself, especially economically.  This is an important message to this community, a community that does not generally have economic power.  He did not really talk about religion until the very end of the speech, where he focused on the support system that the church had given him.  Truly it is not faith that changes these people’s lives, but the actions and support of this community, and that’s something that is quite moving.

That said, he did give some of the credit to Jesus, but I was very impressed by how pragmatic and practical the overall message of the entire day was.  This was not a day about God’s achievements, it was a day about people’s achievements, and much more enticing to an outsider for being so.

At the very end, the deacon made a call for people to join at a protest/celebration for the arrest that has finally come in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case.  There was a general call for people to be more proactive, to do more than just talk and complain and protest, to actually get out there and vote to change things.  Their goal is to empower people through evangelism, education, and economic change and they emphasized that their community “is about more than winning souls for Christ, it’s about changing lives.”  And to that I can certainly say, “Amen.”