Texas Freethought Convention / Atheist Alliance America Convention

This is going to be a fairly quick and dirty review of the weekend. I’ve got work to catch up on, a wedding to plan and there are a number of things that have fallen through the cracks (the winners of the wig and dress will have their items soon, I promise)… I’m sticking with first names (with some exceptions) as I don’t want to out anyone . This is probably the worst event write-up in history, and I don’t plan to edit it. This is stream-of-memory brain dump, so that I don’t forget the event.

Thursday, Beth and I packed up the car and made the 3-hour trek to the convention in Houston. While we were checking in to the hotel, Natalie spotted Beth and came over to talk about Godless Bitches…and that kick-started both of our weekends. Beth went upstairs to wash her hair and change and I headed directly to the hotel bar where some convention attendees and speakers had already started to congregate. Had a chance to talk to Karen and Jimmy and a few dozen other people while drinking and laughing and speculating about the fun that was about to commence. PZ Myers arrived around 11pm and despite claiming that he wouldn’t have time to drink with us on Thursday, he quickly succumbed to peer pressure.

Friday morning started in the basement with a quick welcome from Nick Lee (AAA) and Paul Mitchel (TFC) and then PZ Myers took the stage to start the convention off with an entertaining and informative talk on mutants. Yes, there were a couple of scary “science” slides but they were tempered by great explanations and humor. It turns out that comic book superhero tales have it all wrong about mutations, how they work and what they do…and that we’re all mutants!

After lunch, I did a quick 30 minutes with the Secular Student Alliance. I don’t recall what I said, but it must have been acceptable, as I’m still on their Speakers Bureau list. I then ran downstairs to sit in on the last half of “The Magic Sandwich Show” with AronRa and Thunderfoot. While I was running around to these events, Michael Shermer explained “Why People Believe in God” in one room while a panel of speakers talked about “Diversity” in another. I wish I could tell you what they said, but we have yet to figure out a way for me to be everywhere. (I’m working on it, though.)

After a quick break, I sat in on a panel discussion on “Growing Local Organizations” with Jim Parker, Terry McDonald and Staise Gonzales. Staise gave some great information and talked about the amazing growth that Houston group has enjoyed. Terry and Jim also had lots of great advice. I pretty much just encouraged people to let their group be whatever the membership needed it to be. Our group is so unique that I really wasn’t the right person for that panel, but I enjoyed it, shared what I could – and took away a few ideas that might help our local group.

While that panel was going on, Beth was in the main room listening to Sikivu Hutchinson talk. I’ll see if I can coax her to offer a quick summary of that talk. As I was on a panel and Beth was at Sikivu’s talk, we both missed the exceptional Margaret Downey (who was absolutely charming the entire weekend). One of the problems with these simultaneous break-out sessions is that you are going to miss some events. Fortunately, we knew that Margaret would be on a second panel on Saturday – so Beth took the only opportunity to hear Sikivu speak.

After a quick break, Michael Shermer was supposed to give a talk about “The Believing Brain” but it was too similar to his previous talk, so he shifted focus and gave a different talk. I really wish that I could tell you what it was called, but I honestly can’t recall. It culminated in a video of a reworking of the famous Milgram experiment.

I ran into Matthew Chapman just prior to dinner and told him we were looking forward to his screening of “The Ledge“. He went on to have dinner with Christopher Hitchens while Beth and I trotted off to the local Hard Rock with some old and new friends from the convention.

We watched “The Ledge” when we returned, but there was a bit of confusion over the time that the film would start. As it happens, the film started early which means that it ended early. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that Chapman had been misinformed about the times and wasn’t around to start the Q&A session after it ended. Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with him and he scrambled downstairs to answer questions.

There was much drinking and partying on Friday evening. It’s absolutely surreal to be sitting in the hotel bar visiting with so many attendees and speakers. One minute I might be  meeting someone new, the next I’m talking to Myers/Chapman/Dawkins, the next I’m talking to people I met at a previous event and then we’re all jostling about taking pictures, laughing, drinking and generally having an exceptionally good time.

Unfortunately, Beth became ill and was confined to bed for most of the rest of the weekend. We were both sad that she missed so many of the events that she’d been looking forward to and this will easily go down as the “worst convention ever”, for her. Had she not come down with a bug, this would have probably been her favorite.

Saturday was fairly crazy for me. I started with Dale McGowan‘s talk on “Humanity at Work” and then had to scramble over to my own room for the next break-out session. I honestly didn’t think we’d have much turnout for my talk. First of all, I’d already spoken for the SCA, AronRa’s “Magic Sandwich Show” and a panel discussion…so I figured most of the people who might want to hear me speak had already done so. Secondly, it was billed as ‘Matt Dillahunty “Atheist Experience” (Podcast?)’. This caused quite a bit of confusion, as many people thought I was going to a live version of the show. It’s pretty difficult to do a live, call-in show, driven by theistic calls…when you don’t have a phone and aren’t on at the regular time/channel/stream. And finally, I was up against Darrel Ray (talking about Sex and Religion, in the main room) and a panel discussion with Margaret Downey, Sunsara Taylor and Staise Gonzales talking about women in the movement.

Despite my concerns that I’d be talking to a handful of people, we filled the room to overflowing! Our audiences are absolutely amazing and they made this one of my favorite convention moments from any convention. Jen Peeples had arrived Friday evening and we decided that in order to make this meet as many people’s expectations as possible, she’d join me on the stage and we’d do a ‘mock’ show. We played the theme song, I spoke for a few minutes and then we had a lot of fun passing the mic around to “callers” in the audience while Jen and I answered questions.

After lunch, I went to the main room to hear Eugenie Scott talk about “The Rise and Fall of Evolution Education in Texas”. While I was familiar with the content of her talk (having lived through much of this fight), I thoroughly enjoyed her summary of the problems, failures and successes that occurred.

I skipped the SCA talk in order to check in on Beth…and then I had to make a very difficult decision. The original plan had been for me to go to Vic Stenger‘s talk, “Faster than Light? The theological implications” while Beth went to the panel discussion on “Secular Family” (Kendall, Haynes and  McGowan). This meant that we’d miss Sunsara Taylor’s talk (“The Emancipation of Humanity and a World without Gods: A Revolutionary Perspective”), but we’d have covered more ground. With her sick, and cloning still illegal, I opted to go to the Secular Family panel. As it turns out, Beth was feeling slightly better and managed to join me for this discussion.

All three speakers offered good information for secular families – but the Q&A portion was one of the best of the weekend. Why? Because there were real people in the crowd, with real issues – and they were looking for help. How do we build our community to better support families? How do we help our kids deal with bullying? How should we deal with religious family members proselytizing? How do we best teach our kids to handle grief? The questions kept rolling and while I can’t speak for anyone else, I got a lot out of it. We definitely need more panels like this one.

We then went to the “National Activism” panel with Sean Faircloth, Margaret Downey and Richard Haynes. This occurred at the same time as the “Science Education” panel with Barbara Forest, Eugenie Scott, Vic Stenger and PZ Myers as well as Todd Steifel‘s “Adopt-a-School Campaign” program. We had originally planned to split up for these, but when your wife is sick, you stick close by.

As this panel was about to start, we noticed that attendance for all of the panels had dropped off rather sharply and that the 4th floor balcony was full of people standing in line. Christopher Hitchens had arrived and agreed to spend some time signing books. This wasn’t part of the schedule but the word had spread quickly. The “National Activism” panel was pretty straight forward and while I greatly admire all 3 speakers, I was a bit pre-occupied. I sat near one of the two doors to the room and every few minutes someone would open the door, peak in and then close the door. It was a frustrating distraction.

The keynote address and banquet pretty much deserve their own post, which I probably won’t have time to write. Briefly, though:

This is an evening I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Dawkins and Hitchens arrived together to a thunderous standing ovation. Hitchens was thin and appeared weak – but only at first glance. There’s just something indescribable about the man. Beyond that first glance there is strength. Beyond that first glance there is a fighter who demonstrated grace, strength and courage. After a beautiful introduction and keynote from Dawkins, Hitch came up to accept the “Richard Dawkins Award”…

One might have expected a brief acceptance speech, but he spoke at length and as beautifully as ever (despite problems with his voice) – and then he took questions from the audience. When I say he took questions, I mean the man sat there and answered queries about his thoughts on everything from the situation in Turkey to his thoughts on the misogyny of patriarchal systems. And then, when his time was up, he continued answering questions. Much has been written about his response to an 8-year-old girl who asked for a suggested reading list…I highly recommend that you check it out.

Hitch was, well, Hitch. For a brief moment during the entrance he was unrecognizable…but that doesn’t last. I certainly hope this wasn’t his final speaking engagement and I’m saddened by the fact that he and I have never had an opportunity to speak, but this was a night to remember and I’m thrilled that I was present.

I skipped the final two events of the evening in order to try to spend some time with Beth before heading out to socialize.

I wound up drinking until about 2:30am – at which time, Paul Mitchell informed me that I needed to be at the “Celebreakfast” at 8. I’d say he ‘reminded’ me, but I missed the initial e-mail notification. So Sunday started off with Beth and I eating breakfast with some of the convention’s VIP guests. I had a great time, despite being tired, but Beth was still sick and went back to bed right after breakfast.

I missed part of Barbara Forrest‘s talk, “They Call it Academic Freedom” but what I saw was exceptionally informative. Her work with the Wedge document and the Dover trial is legendary, but this talk chronicled the shifting language that creationists have used to try to weasel their views into science education.

At this point, the event transformed into the “Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason – Superfestival!!!!”. They didn’t actually call it that, but that’s what it was. Elisabeth Cornwell spoke first, explaining the need for reason and science…which lead into Sean Faircloth’s call-to-action which never fails to excite and motivate the crowd….which lead into Richard Dawkins’ wonderful talk about his new book, “The Magic of Reality”.

It may have been written with 12-year-olds in mind, but I’m not going to wait until I have a 12-year-old to read it. I’m reading it now…and if we have kids, it’ll be something they grow up reading. I was very jealous of the CampQuest youth who were invited on stage to play with the app for the book. :)

The convention was over, but there was one more thing I needed to do. I’d been invited to an SCA dinner event on Sunday evening and Beth was feeling well enough to go with me – and I’m very glad that she did. It was a great way to close out the weekend, especially as she had spent so much of it in bed.

In all, this was a successful weekend. There were a number of mistakes, but we’ll chalk them up to “lessons learned” and I’m optimistic that next year’s Texas Freethought Convention will be even more successful. While it’s doubtful that we’ll have Dawkins or Hitchens, I’m sure that the speakers and events will make for a great convention – while we wait for the Mayan calendar to wind down…

 

 

Introductions: Matt Dillahunty

So, we’ve moved the blog over to a new home and the obligatory introductions have commenced.

Hi, I’m Matt and I’m an atheist and a former Christian. As this sounds a bit like an Alcoholics Anonymous introduction, allow me to shred the nonsensical victim-promoting 12 steps by turning them on their head:

1. I’m not powerless and my life is not unmanageable. I’m responsible for my own actions and I can change my mind and my behavior – though I’ll occasionally need assistance from other humans.

2. I’ve come to recognize that I’m not divorced from sanity and that I don’t require any “Power greater than ourselves” to fix me.

3. I’ve made a decision to base my life decisions on reason and evidence and this lead, inevitably, to the rejection of god-claims…but I wouldn’t turn my  life over to a god even if one existed. It’s my life…go live vicariously through someone else.

4. I have made and continue to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself. (One of only 3 ‘steps’ that I’ll support, as written.)

5. I’ve admitted to others that I’m wrong…but I see no need to admit this to a god, even if one existed.

6. I won’t be needing any gods to remove defects of character.

7. I won’t be humbly asking any gods to remove shortcomings. (Are there really 12 steps, if so many seem to say the same thing? Is this the ‘let go and let god’ program, or what?)

8. I didn’t make a list of people I’ve harmed, but I’m willing to make amends where they’re needed.

9. I’ve made amends…where possible. This 12-step thing is really tedious.

10. I’ll continue to take personal inventory and admit when I’m wrong.

11. I have no use for prayer and couldn’t care less what “God’s will” is.

12. Nope…no spiritual awakenings here – but I will be carrying a message to others.

I’m currently the president of the Atheist Community of Austin, host of our public-access and internet-streaming television program, “The Atheist Experience” and a regular contributor to our other podcast, “The Non-Prophets“. I’ve been hosting the TV show for nearly 6 years, though the show has been around for 14 (it was started while I was still a Christian). I’m also on the Secular Student Alliance’s Speakers’ Bureau and enjoy travelling around to universities and conventions for talks and debates on morality, religion, skepticism, atheism…and a host of other subjects.

In addition to those volunteer efforts, I work a full time job and I’m helping to plan my wedding to Beth Presswood (who is now hosting her own podcast covering feminism and atheism: Godless Bitches), on October 30th, 2011.

I’ll try to get out additional information, but I’m preparing my talk for the Texas Freethought Convention/Atheist Alliance America Convention that is happening next weekend in Houston, TX.

 

Rabbi really, really wants Intelligent Design to be true, so it must be!

I’ve tried to respond to this post, but they’re rather sluggish about approving comments that might expose their idiocy, so I’m posting my reply here.

The Rabbi writes:

The obvious and most significant conclusion that can be drawn from all their splendid work in the lab is that the only reasonable explanation for the emergence of life is Intelligent Design!

Bzzzt!

The mere fact that something CAN be accomplished by intelligent design does not indicate that it can ONLY be accomplished by intelligent design, nor does it indicate that other similar occurrences are most likely the result of intelligent design.

The fact that I have an intelligently designed machine in my kitchen that can freeze water doesn’t mean that the best explanation for the polar ice caps is a giant, intelligently designed freezer.

I’ll agree that this subject (the creation of life in the laboratory) doesn’t significantly add to the origin of life discussion (meaning it doesn’t confirm a source, despite demonstrating a possible mechanism) – which means, in case you missed it while eagerly rushing toward a presentation of your own, unsupported hypothesis, that it doesn’t lend any significant credence to ANY position regarding origins. Including intelligent design.

So, congratulations to the Intelligent Design crowd for, once again, posting their sloppy thinking publicly. It goes a long way toward helping to educate the next generation.

Mark/Bob/Thomas from London

I’m going to try to explain this very simply, because the amount of mail coming about this is staggering.

Basically, the claim is “Mark from Stone Church is also Bob and Thomas from London and I can’t believe you guys can’t figure this out. His accent was even obviously fake!”

Yes, the accent was horrible. Yes, it was probably Mark. So what do we do about that? We have NO caller ID. We can’t prove that it’s the same person. I can’t know that he doesn’t honestly believe what he’s saying, even if he fakes an accent. I can’t prove that ANYONE actually believes the shit they say on the phone.

But if the conversation is allowing us to make good points and the caller is cooperative, what reason do I have to ruin it by saying “I think you’re a liar. I think you’re that same ‘Mark’ guy…”? And what if I’m wrong?

It’s simply a bad idea to go making accusations like that in the middle of the show, when I have no supporting evidence.

Curiously, people seem to hear “Mark’s” voice everywhere. In addition to the three in the title there are one or two other callers who people feel are also the same guy. Sometimes I can hear the similarities, sometimes I can’t.

Congratulations to those of you who can always hear it and always get it right (though I’m not sure how you know that you’re right), but exactly what do you propose we do about it?

It’s time for the Blag Hag BLOGATHON for the SSA!


I’m not just on the Secular Student Alliance‘s Speaker’s Bureau, I’m a fan of the work they do and as supportive as I can possibly be. (Which basically means that I talk them up whenever I can and then run around to whatever schools ask me to speak.)

Well, Jen McCreight of Blag Hag fame, is gearing up for another BLOGATHON to raise more money for the SSA. It seems that some people actually find time to not only blog, but blog for a good cause. In 2009, she raised $531.17 and last year she raised an amazing $2753.10…and this year, she’s trying to raise BILLIONS (or at least “more”).

So, if the SSA is your bag (and why wouldn’t it be?!) and you have some money that you were saving for a good cause, get over there and donate!

Yes, I know, I’ve asked people to donate to the ACA, Camp Quest, American Atheists, The Atheist Community of Austin, Atheist Alliance America, The Texas Freethought Convention, The Texas Freedom Network, The Seculare Coalition for America, The James Randi Educational Foundation, Atheists Helping the Homeless and a few others…and it will continue. Why?

– Because these are organizations that are doing good work and need funding.
– Because everyone can’t donate every time (or any time, for some) but without reminders donations tend to drop off.

Don’t worry, I don’t assume that you’re a bad person for not donating. I’ve been poor (more than I’d like to admit) and unable to donate money.

I won’t even think you’re a bad person for not donating time – everyone isn’t comfortable helping out.

But for those who can, or feel like the should, I’ll happily show you a picture of intellectually-starved college and high-school students that should tug at your heart and purse strings…

The drag episode…pre-show notes.

Tomorrow (later today, actually) I’ll be heading down to the studio, in drag. I wanted to take a few minutes, before the show, to talk about the process of making this happen and why it’s unlikely to happen again (I think you’ll agree I’ve got good reasons). That said, this is a positive post – because the process has been educational and that’s something that I tend to enjoy.

First, I’m probably not going to be very attractive (but I’m sure someone out there will certainly disagree). I’m a big guy and it was difficult to find clothes that fit, so this won’t be any sort of slinky, sexy number…because my body just won’t do that.

We had difficulty finding a dress in my size that didn’t cost a fortune. We ended up settling on the Urban Nomad versatile skirt from Earthbound Trading Company. It’s actually a pretty cool item and I think I can safely recommend it. Beth got one as well and mine won’t be going to waste as I already have a good friend who would like mine after the show is over. (It’s late, so I’m not linking all of these items…Google is your friend).

I wear a 48R suit jacket and we had one hell of a time finding any bra that would actually fit. We settled for a cheap 52DD bra from Walmart that we’re going to stuff with socks and other things to give me the breasts I’ll need to hold up the dress. We also grabbed a plus-sized camisole, which will give me a layered look. The bra and camisole probably won’t find a home, so I’ll box them up for future costume events that are less extravagant.

We picked up cheap jewelry at the mall, but I only had one of my ears pierced. I didn’t want to take too many shortcuts, so we went ahead and got the other one pierced as well. (Actually, we re-pierced the one that had previously been pierced, as it had partially closed up.) I actually like wearing the earrings, so that will probably stick around.

Shoes just weren’t going to happen. Any shoes in my size were a ridiculous expense for what is, most likely, a one-time event. We settled on some cheap, but stylish, orange flip-flops and Beth hot-glued some sunflowers on them.

Saturday morning, I went to the nail salon for a full manicure, pedicure and eyebrow waxing. No, I’m not joking. I now have gorgeous red fingernails and toenails – and much less bushy, though still far-too-dark eyebrows.

This evening, we attempted to use a Nair-like product to remove hair from my legs and upper body. Absolutely no hair was removed by this cheap, dollar-store knock-off. So…as it was late, out came the clippers that I use to trim my head and beard and off came the body hair. This was followed by a couples shaving session that, I’m pretty sure, strengthened our relationship.

We didn’t remove all of my body hair, though – which prompted Beth to point out that having hair from my nipples to mid-thigh gives the impression that I’m wearing a girdle of hair.

Later today, I’ll get dressed, put on my wig, drive to a friend’s house for the final make-up and then down to the studio.

I’ll spend some time tomorrow talking about what I learned, but the past few weeks have been very informative. I have a great deal more respect for what women and drag queens and people with gender-identity issues have to go through – and I’m not just talking about the shaving and shopping (when nothing fits). More on that tomorrow.

Now for the reason this probably won’t happen again: it’s expensive.

I’m extremely grateful to everyone who donated to Camp Quest and I’ll do almost anything for a great cause. I’m proud of our team, I’m proud of PZ, I’m proud of Camp Quest and I’m very proud of everyone who helped send kids to camp…but the money I spent on nails, makeup, outfits and other expenses will, in the future, simply be donated directly to Camp Quest (or whichever organization I’m raising money for).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did this and I think the money was well spent for what I learned – but I’ll try to come up with cheaper incentives in the future, and just donate money directly to the charity involved.

And now, on with the show…

One night stand with Jesus (…or, we get mail)

Here’s an e-mail from someone who made a video rebuttal to something Russell and I said, then begged us to comment on it and then didn’t like that I called him out for rationalizing away the horrible doctrines he accepts by implying that we’re all God’s playthings to do with as he pleases.

He was moved to write (unedited):

You know, i watched quite a bit of your stuff a few months ago, just when i was realy beginning to go deeper in to my relationship with Christ. After i had listened to the things you guys where saying i began to feel attacked for some reason. And started questioning my own character. Your poison started to pull me away from a God who has loved and looked after me all my life, despite the ravages of religion. Christ told me in 2003 to follow him. That night was very real to me. Theres no other way to explain what happened to me, and i think it had to happen that way otherwise i would never have beleived. I would have fallen away as soon as someone would try to pull me apart. Like you try so hard to do.
I mite not be a seasoned christian with all the answers like you. But i will always have that night. I will always have the times i cried out to Jesus in the back of ambulances and he pulled me through.
He gave me hope that i will see my Brother again. And so much more.
And that alone, you and your goons will never take from me.

I dont know why you never felt or herd Christ in your 25 years of “being a Christian”
And im sorry for what it has done for you.

You guys are like naughty kids who dont like the fact you have to follow the rules, thet what God says goes. You reject him because you know whats going to happen to you and you hate him for it.
So your going to do your level best to take as many with you as possible.
With the rubbish that flows like efluient from your mouth. Just like the great deciever.
I dont push my veiw on anyone, if people read my stuff. Its up to them. If the kids ask me about Christ i tell them. Otherwise i grow my faith in Christ. And i do this because deep inside, despite the poison of people like you and the doubt you breed. I know Christ is real, and you can chuck off as much as you want about it and be little it as much as you want.
But you are the one that twists his word and takes it it out of context, that is obvious from your show. You pray on Christians searching for answers. And enjoy the the easy game.

Ive seen what mans religion has done, and yes it is mind blowing how people can cause such pain and suffering in a Loving Gods name.
But that still doesnt change the person of Christ and his love for us and even you.
You need to turn from this and go back to Christ as you already know you should, or fight him and blame him for all the worlds problems and die alone.
The things you said to me in your last letter were quite character destroying and demoralising. But thats because you dont know me. Just like you dont know all those people whose lives you may have already destoyed by taking there hope away from them. Without Christ in your corner and regardless of how smart you think you are against a mans undertanding of God. You will still have to stand before him. And that you can do nothing about.

If you regect him then he will give you what you want, because you wanted it.
As for me your smuggness has made me feel ill. And i am going to continue to love Jesus despite Religion, including yours.
You have nothing good to say.

EDIT: For clarity:

I probably shouldn’t have posted this. I didn’t think about the fact that you’re all not familiar with the discussion (and I won’t be posting the full discussion or the video, for privacy issues).

I realize, now, that it looks like I’m simply poking fun at someone – that’s not the case.

This was much more about demonstrating the sort of road blocks people put up and the way the rationalize their position. Instead of honestly assessing the issues (which may simply be beyond comprehension due to preconceptions), it’s easier to imagine that the person you’re arguing with is simply lying and evil.

It’s the result of the protective mechanisms built into many religions – and in some cases it’s virtually impossible to overcome.

Seven Heroes updated.

There seems to have been some confusion (some on my part, some on the part of people who read or skimmed my last post).

The first error was mine. The post from David Silverman was a blog post and not an American Atheists press release, as I had represented. That said, it was a public statement on the subject from the President of the organization and I think it carries similar weight…but perhaps not.

Some people have mistakenly assumed that AA was planning legal action over this. They’re not. I never thought they were and I thought I was clear about that when I wrote:

American Atheists does a great job of making sure that they only take legal battles that they’re likely to win and they’ve been critical of Michael Newdow, and others, who risk setting bad legal precedent by challenging things we aren’t likely to win. I’m not in complete agreement on every decision about which cases we take and which we don’t, but I recognize that we have to be careful.

I really wish, though, that the same sort of careful thinking went into decisions about which issues to challenge in the court of public opinion.

Evidently, that wasn’t clear enough and I apologize. There is no legal action being taken here, it was simply an editorial piece.

Additionally, some people, rather ironically, took this opportunity to over-react and beat up on David or American Atheists or whatever…

That’s a mistake. David is a friend and while there may be one or two fine points on which we disagree, that’s true for all of my friends including ACA members, co-hosts on the shows and even Beth. I’m encouraged by the changes he’s made to American Atheists. I’m also supportive, optimistic and eager to work with him and AA on almost any project that my schedule allows for.

This was about one very fine point of disagreement. What I should have done was also link to comments and statements by other people that I disagree with (CFI NY was on Fox news, evidently, essentially agreeing with the AA blog post). That would have helped to ensure that this didn’t turn into a “beat up on Dave and AA” theme…because that’s a bigger mistake than the post I objected to.

Suffice it to say, I’ll take a slightly different approach in the future to avoid confusion. My opinion on this subject hasn’t changed – but discussing these differences benefits all of us. Or at least I’d hope it does.

Seven Heroes…and press releases.

Atheists aren’t always going to agree. That’s just an undeniable truth. I am, perhaps, a bit abnormal because I actually like the fact that we often disagree. Among my atheist friends, it’s often the ones I disagree with that I most value and the disagreements often help us all more than we realize.

For example, I like and value David Silverman and American Atheists. In general, I support what they’re doing…but there are going to be times when we don’t completely see eye-to-eye and today is one of those days.

Here’s the AA press release…go ahead and read it, I’ll wait.

American Atheists does a great job of making sure that they only take legal battles that they’re likely to win and they’ve been critical of Michael Newdow, and others, who risk setting bad legal precedent by challenging things we aren’t likely to win. I’m not in complete agreement on every decision about which cases we take and which we don’t, but I recognize that we have to be careful.

I really wish, though, that the same sort of careful thinking went into decisions about which issues to challenge in the court of public opinion. Today’s press release is just a monumentally bad idea.

First of all, heaven isn’t a strictly Christian concept. Many people who don’t adhere to any religion hold to this concept in a cultural fashion that is probably more strongly tied to our fear of death and our desire to think and say nice things about the dead than to any specific religious doctrine. Plenty of other religions have heavens and heavenly concepts and plenty of non-religious people will use heaven in a metaphoric or poetic sense.

Second, many Christians would point out that admission into heaven, according to their doctrine, isn’t tied in any way to the heroic actions of those firefighters or the quality of their character. There are many Christians who would point out that, according to their beliefs, the overwhelming majority of those firefighters left the fires of the twin towers and proceeded directly to the fires of hell. Though few would make this claim with the glee of the members of the Westboro Baptist Chruch, it’s still part of their doctrine and they’d also note that the conventional concept of heaven being a place for ‘good’ people is a cultural convention that is only loosely tied to Christianity by way of misunderstanding.

On those grounds, it’s just factually incorrect to repeatedly assert that this reference to heaven is an explicit linkage of Christianity to these individuals. (I’m not denying that it will be viewed that way by some Christians, I’m simply pointing out that it’s the sort of statement that is sufficiently nebulous that it will automatically mesh with the internal concepts of each individual reader…which is why, I suppose, Dave and other atheists are instinctively objecting; their concept places it firmly in the realm of “legitimizing Christianity”.)

More importantly, this is a recipe for being viewed as reactionary curmudgeons. We’re talking about something meant to honor the heroic sacrifice of firefighters during the 9/11 attacks. Even a blatant violation of the constitution might be viewed negatively, but this is going to be viewed very negatively and the constitutional issues are hardly clear, if they even exist. There is no real upside to this – especially if we’re making statements that demonstrate we don’t really understand that there are some cultural references that aren’t an explicit endorsement of any religion.

It’s a bit like objecting to Christmas trees by claiming that they’re explicitly Christian when they most definitely aren’t.

I’m a pretty confrontational guy. I’m an advocate of challenging first amendment violations and religious stupidity and harm at almost every opportunity. I generally support the direct, confrontational direction that Dave and American Atheists have been taking. I mostly liked most of the billboards. I’ve gone after the accomodationist buffons on a regular basis… but this is just a bad idea.

In this case, I’d have opted for no press release, but if I’d done one, I’d have made sure that it was one that was structured in such a way that those who complained about the release would look foolish. Some statements that might work a bit better:

“While atheists don’t share the religious optimism of heavenly afterlives, and we think that something like “Seven Heroes Way” would have been a less contentious and more accurate representation of the fallen, we are pleased to see the memory of these heroic individuals honored.

These firefighters, through training and dedication, overcame our natural, human instincts for self-preservation and charged directly into a deadly situation in an attempt to assist others.

On a day when the divisive conflict between religious ideals resulted in the death of thousands, these individuals focused on the value we place on human life irrespective of religious views and other divisive constructs.

As they moved into harm’s way, there was no consideration of whether the individuals they were saving were Christian, Muslim or atheists. There was no consideration of whether those individuals were gay, straight or transgendered. There was no consideration of whether those individuals shared their personal political views…there were simply people, in need of assistance. We should honor them on those same terms.

In the chaotic aftermath of the ruthless and shameful attacks of 9/11, the character of these individuals truly represented those traits that define heorism and the sort of character that we should all hope to instill in future generations.

Seven, of many, heroes…have shown us the way.”

The crazy, it’s coming!

So, we’ve had a series of e-mails from some little troll (who may be a Poe or genuinely in need of psychiatric treatment) who clearly hates me. The brief summary (of what must be closing in on many dozens of printed pages of nastiness) is this:

1. Guy writes to explain how much I suck and how great everyone else on the show is.

2. Jeff and a few others rip into him, a bit, for some of his comments.

3. Guy writes in to explain why he hates me so much. It turns out he thought I was too nice to Ray Comfort and that I’m disgusting for letting this vile individual who protests soldiers’ funerals get off without a rant.

4. I explain that he’s a supreme idiot, because he stupidly confused Ray Comfort and the Phelps family and that he should try to know what he’s talking about before he opens his mouth

5. He writes back, falling all over himself to apologize for the mistake and notes that he’s especially embarrassed that he’d already contacted a lawyer to try to get me off the air or force the ACA to fire me. (Seriously. He was trying to legally limit my free speech because I wasn’t enough of an asshole to someone whose free speech he found offensive.)

6. I send back a quick note explaining that given his complete misunderstanding of 1st Amendment rights, I’d rather have Shirley Phelps on the show than continue talking to him. This puts him over the edge and the lawyer threats are followed by threats of making YouTube videos to expose us…

And now, we got this. I’m posting it, unaltered and my only comment (other than LOL) is: aren’t you glad you don’t have to deal with this? (Apologies to some of my friends who probably do have to deal with stuff like this.)

The irony that this was spawned by an accusation that he didn’t understand free speech is particularly amusing. He reminds me a bit of a Bond villain, thwarting his own plan via exposition:

You know what, you guys are right… Free speech conquers all!

Angry sickening hateful people should be able to dance on the coffins of dead veterans at the funeral, according to you. In fact, they should be able to piss on the coffins, right in front of the grieving family. According to you, people should be able to do whatever they want, no matter who they hurt, so why not, right?

You’re absolutely right about everything. It’s ok to verbally abuse people. It’s all right to call them every name in the book, swear at them, belittle them, etc. So I suggest that you start treating your children in such a manner, if you truly feel there’s nothing wrong with it. Free speech, right?

Would you treat your children in the same way you treat some of the callers? If not, then… why not? It’s fun, evidently, and those spoiled little brats probably deserve it.

If you believe totally in free speech, then you won’t mind if I write up an internet article exposing Matt Dillahunty as a 4-time convicted pedophile who has a thing for little boys, Russell Glasser as a transvestite who loves to sniff old men’s armpits, and Jeff Dee as someone who likes to fuck cows and then roll around in their shit.

You want to take this to extremes? Fine. Get ready for the greatest demonstration for free speech you’ve ever seen.

Forget the show. I’m not even going to mention it by name. You don’t deserve the publicitiy. Any clips I use in my documentary will have the title of the show and organization blurred out. Any vocal mention of the names will also be removed.

But as far as the hosts, I will name names. First and last, and their home addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, etc.

I will provide all those details. Free speech, right?

This is going to be fun!

According to you guys, my free speech trumps all your other rights, so don’t you dare worry about those. You wouldn’t let me worry about other people’s rights when it came to OTHER PEOPLE. So now that this principle is going to be applied to you PERSONALLY, you have NO RIGHT TO COMPLAIN.

Fair is fair, right?

You want to mock people’s other rights so badly, or minimize them, or pretend they don’t exist… fine. The gloves are coming off. You’re going to learn the hard way just how important your OTHER rights are.

You want privacy? Fuck that. Your full contact information is going up for all to see, as well as your relatives’ information. We wouldn’t want to leave them out. I’ve already got it all looked up and saved in Word document, for the 3 hosts I will be focusing on.

I could focus on Jen Peeples, too, since she is a lesbian who was once a girls swim coach, convicted of sexual abuse after she was caught fingering one of the underage girls after practice…

And let’s find out what happens when the job market learns that Russell Glasser CHEATED to get his Master’s Degree!

What will the public do when they learn that Jeff Dee once robbed a convenience store at gun point, and then beat up the OLD WOMAN minding the store, so badly that she was hospitalized for SIX WEEKS. He got off on a technicality after only 30 DAYS IN JAIL.

You want to see free speech, well you’re going to get a huge dose of it!

And if, incidentally, the rage of the public mounts against all of you… oh well, at least my right to free speech has been upheld!

I’m going to dig up (or make up) stories about all your family members, too, young and old, to expose them for the nazi-loving, terrorist supporting little delinquents they all are.

Free speech, right?

You have nothing to say against any of this. You condone and support the right of sick religious scumbags to harass a veteran’s grieving family, so you have to support my rights now, to do what I AM GOING TO DO.

Don’t tell me I can’t do this. I am doing it whether you like it or not.

I know the law surrounding slander and libel, and I know exactly how to frame and phrase everything so that it is legal and untouchable in a court of law. Sometimes a question mark in place of a period in the right place is all it takes! So don’t think for a second that I haven’t considered all the angles.

You obviously think that free speech is more important than other rights. Good.

Support my free speech in my documentary and internet expose… or you are all hypocrites.

See you at the movies!