Celebrating Our Dead

Today I had a strong urge to visit someone’s grave. She was a coworker who I worked with for about five years. She retired a year or two ago, and passed away in 2013. We shared an enjoyment of photography, and because we knew each other’s politics, we avoided discussions of that sort. She was a kind woman, always quick with a smile and a laugh. She liked to tell stories of her family and vacations. She was a hard worker, and knew how to care for all of the little details that keep a lab running. She was happy to teach what she knew, and taught me a lot of what I know about this place.

I don’t know where she’s buried, and as I toyed with the idea of seeking out her grave, reality began to intrude. I know that nothing exists after death. I will return to earth and sky and stardust, as did my coworker, and so I mused over this strong desire to visit “her”. I flipped through the logic: I don’t care about visiting her physical body – because eww. I don’t really want to drive a gazillion miles to find the physical cemetery in which she’s buried. I want to remember her contributions, the happiness that she brought me. I want to grieve that she won’t contribute anything new, and I want to mourn that I no longer have this particular source of inspiration physically present in my life. In short, I miss her.

Going to her final “resting place” – seeing the literal and figurative concreteness of her headstone seems like a good way to put firmly in my mind that she is gone, and standing in front of a grave perhaps gives me permission to indulge in a moment of reflection, joy and sorrow. Where else do we have to celebrate our dead after the initial ceremonies, the potlucks and goodbyes? Only among those who shared the experience of knowing them, or in our own minds – in those moments of quiet and stillness that come too few and far between.

*****

As a sort of related-aside: Cemeteries and burial grounds take up a lot of space on this planet. This is a funny thing to one who sees nothing inherently special in flesh and bones not connected by consciousness. As I was about to post this, I saw a link on Facebook about cool things to do with your body when you’re dead. I think I’d like to be a coral reef.

FtBConscience TONIGHT!

It’s here! Yay!

Oh crap – it’s here!

You’ve read about it! You’ve chatted excitedly on social media about it! And now the wait is over! Tonight is the start of FtBCON

This is very exciting. I LOVE attending conferences. They’re little nuggets of energy-packed, inspiring, information-sharing. They’re like a triple shot of caffeine! A jump start to the engine of my skepticism! Okay, I may not have gotten much sleep last night. And speaking of caffeine: I’ve had a lot already this morning.

FtBConscience is FREE and ONLINE. It’s nice not having to pack an overnight bag, make hotel reservations or find couch space, take a long car ride or navigate an airport and get groped by theTSA, or budget for meals and gas and all of the little expenses that come with traveling. And FtBCon has an incredibly laid back dress code for attendees and presenters alike (PJs! PJs!)

Another really cool thing about being online: We have booked speakers from all over the world. We have booked ONE HUNDRED AND NINE panelists, according to Lanyrd! Many of our speakers are in North America, but we also have panelists from Australia, Africa, Asia and Europe. I’m not sure if we have any South American-based speakers… Hmmm… Next year we need to go for FULL world domination. We are, however, anticipating audience participants from all four corners of the globe (I love the contradictory nature of that statement. You know what I need right now? MOAR COFFEEEEEE!!!)

You can view the schedule of this weekend’s events on our Lanyrd site, the official FtBCon website, or on Google+. We have a Facebook page, and the Twitter hashtag is #FtBCon. To learn about HOW TO PARTICIPATE as an attendee, check out the front page of the FtBCon website.

I’ve listed the panels that I’m going to be on below. Hope to see you there!

Reproductive Rights

Satuday July 20th – 2pm CST – Official Google+ session page

A panel of reproductive rights activists come together to discuss access to abortion in current events, clinic escorting and some common religious and non-religious arguments against abortion. Our panel consists of clinic escorts – including one panelist who volunteered before FACE laws went into effect (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances), health care professionals, an author and several bloggers who write about reproductive rights. Our panelists hail from Minnesota, Kentucky, Virginia and Ireland.

Atheist Music

Saturday July 20th – 9pm CST – Official Google+ session page

Join us to hear a few songs and have a casual chat with ukulelist and FtB blogger Ashley Miller, classically trained singers Ania Bula and JT Eberhard, and Australian singer-songwriter Shelley Segal. At conferences you can sometimes catch JT belting out musicals or warming up a mike with a bit of opera. Shelley Segal published An Atheist Album in 2011, and she has played at the Reason Rally, the American Atheist Convention, Women In Secularism and other events. Ashley graces YouTube with her ukulele stylings and Ania will wow you with her clear, heady soprano. Seanna Watson, director of CFI-Ottowa, and Steve Watson – a former church guitarist – will also be joining us. We’ll discuss issues relating to music and religion, the role music plays in our lives as secularists and some our favorite atheist songs and artists. Panel facilitated by Brianne Bilyeu.

Video Games, Religion and Morality

Saturday July 20th – 11pm CST – Official Google+ session page

Religion and morality systems in video games are often grossly oversimplified, to the point where choices are entirely binary and you’re often forced, as a gamer, to do things that you might otherwise find appalling, like working in service of a god or gods. How are these heady topics handled in the slowly-maturing video game industry? Who’s already doing this stuff right? How can these topics’ treatment be improved?

Thank you, Representative Mendez!

Pheonix News Times Blogs reported about Arizona Representative Juan Mendez‘s secular humanist delivery during today’s opening session:

From PNT:

Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads,” Mendez said. “I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.

A visible atheist in Arizona politics??? A visible atheist in American politics??? Praise FSM!

He also quoted Carl Sagan’s “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”

Thank you to Rep. Mendez from this secular humanist atheist. Thank you for the god-free invocation, for being a role-model for other politicians who might wish to be more open about their lack of religion but who feel unable to do so in our current religulous political climate, and for upholding the constitution of the United States.

If you feel like thanking Representative Juan Mendez for his support and representation, his email is jmendez@azleg.gov

Godless and grieving about Boston

Hi! My name is Brianne, and I’m godless!

I have something that I want you to know, and then to deeply and fully understand and accept: “godless” doesn’t mean “evil”.

The idea is that to know God means to know love. And that must mean that if you don’t know God then you don’t know love. And “love” means “good” in this version of the story.  And if God = Love = Good, then Not God = Not Love = Not Good, i.e, Godless = Bad.

All of which is bullshit…and poor logic to boot. But these ideas about the relationship between god, love and goodness abound in our culture, and “godless” gets rolled out every time people do bad things, with the Boston Marathon bombing being no exception.

Yesterday Michael Sullivan, a Massachusetts Senate candidate, was reported as having described the bombing as a “horrific, cowardly and godless act”. After the news hit social media, his campaign quickly offered a clarification that the would-be Senator did NOT say “godless”, but rather “gutless”. A quick glance through the comments on that FB status update show that a lot of people support the originally-reported “godless as synonymous with evil” label.

You don’t have to believe in God to be a good person (hi!), and you can feel that you have a devout and healthy relationship with God and still do horrifying, cowardly things. Belief in a god or lack thereof are not strong predictors of one’s behaviors or attitudes. So let’s stop using “godless” as a negative term, k? 

Grieving and Interfaith Services – A note to those advocating for interfaith services in times of tragedy.

Atheists in Boston (and across the state, nation and world) are grieving, as are people of many different faiths. Most people would agree that after a tragedy of the type and scale of the Boston Marathon bombing, we need a place to gather, to share our grief across many shoulders, to heal. That place, for me, would not be an interfaith service. When it comes to grieving and honoring our dead, interfaith services leave me cold. Here’s why:

A major part of being an atheist is coming to grips with the idea that we are mortal creatures and that there is no afterlife. Because of this belief I feel that when people say things like, “they’re in heaven now, they’re with the angels, they’re with god” we trivialize our loss. As an atheist I believe that after death a person is very much gone, erased from existence, never to reappear. There is no do-over in heaven or through reincarnation. There is no silver lining to an unfair death from cancer, accident or intentional violence, or from a death of old age for that matter. Upon someone’s death, we have well and truly lost that person. Many atheists hold this life to be so very precious and strive to make it better because we believe there is no afterlife. This is the only chance we get to have a fulfilling life and a positive influence on the world around us.

When people are robbed of their lives through tragic circumstances, I don’t want to join in at your interfaith service if the congregation will be singing praises to god (who via his omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence could prevent all tragedies), and listen to sermons about god’s divine plan and afterlife and how victims are in a better place.  It causes me pain to realize that I am suffering what I perceive to be a permanent loss, while others have the confidence that the loss is merely temporary (this happens anyway, but when the person leading the service is authoritatively talking about heaven and such, it makes it worse. It draws a line – believers on the comforting afterlife side, me feeling like I’m on the cynical side refusing to be comforted) . We’re on different wavelengths, and we are grieving differently.

What we do have in common is our shared grief over the suffering and tragedy that has befallen us, and that we have lost friends and family and community members who are no longer with us in this life. This is the shared human experience to which we can all relate. And together we can mourn our losses, and remember and celebrate those lives. But I have a hard time doing that at a religion-based service that praises your god and thanks him for “calling them home”.

And I’m not saying don’t have interfaith services. If you insist on following a religion, I implore you to do your damnedest to reconcile the conflicting views and attitudes that you have with other religions, as they do with yours – for all of our peace! Join hands in prayer to your various gods and take comfort in the fact that you all believe that your loved ones live on somewhere else (and try to avoid banding together against those who don’t). But don’t make your interfaith service the only service. Don’t make your interfaith service a government-sanctioned service. And don’t make it the PRIMARY service, with a little secular vigil tossed out as a bone to those of us who don’t believe in gods or an afterlife. As a representative government, let’s make the primary, official memorial be a secular recognition of the loss in our community, so that all people can gather to share our grief and to unite against the darkness of our own eventual mortality.

Atheists Anonymous

“They couldn’t be free in the United States of America to say that they were atheists! I thought that was just terrible.” – Bridget Clarke-Smith speaking about the group, Atheists Anonymous, that she founded at her retirement center. This video highlights some of the challenges older atheists face. You rock, Bridget.

Hat Tip to Steve Peterson in the Minnesota Atheists Facebook group.

Student Atheists on the Radio

On Sunday I had the pleasure of interviewing two members of the University of Minnesota’s Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists (CASH), Bryan Carver and Joshua Brose. The interview was a live, in-studio chat for Atheists Talk on KTNF (AM950). Carver and Joshua were good sports and agreed to take a photo with me, even though it was before 9am on a Sunday morning.

From the left: Joshua Brose, me, Bryan Carver

During the interview we discussed Joshua and Carver’s background, how they as students found CASH, and what their involvement in the group is. We chatted about the role that CASH plays on campus and in its members’ lives. We discussed some of the events that they’ve already held this year including the Brother Jed counterprotest and Everyone Draw Mohammed Day. They shared information about upcoming CASH events (which are usually open to the public), including a mentalist in November and SkepTech, a conference that they’re hosting next spring which will feature some pretty big names in the secular community (whoever is first on the list is the coolest speaker ever. Truth.). And to close the interview, they each shared what they believe is the one of the most important issues affecting young atheists today.

I had a very good time doing this interview, and I love working with Atheists Talk radio as a host and interviewer. I like knowing that there is a weekly atheist radio in my area that not only delivers awesome interviews (In the past couple of months alone we’ve have Alex Bezerow, Howard Bloom, Chris Rodda, Rebecca Stott, Guy P. Harrison, Matt McCormick, Herb Silverman, Teresa MacBain, David Niose, Jessica Ahlquist…well, I could go on, but now we’re all the way back to July), but also information about local atheist events and activities individuals and families.

You, uh, know we primarily fund this radio show with donations from listeners and supporters, right? *cough* Anyone, any donation amount, anytime. Go ahead, click the link. You know you want to. We have the best tagline ever: “Atheists Talk: It’s good radio without the Good Book.” That’s worth a few bucks just for sheer awesomeness, right?

You can listen to the CASH interview with Joshua, Carver and me in several places: the Minnesota Atheists radio page, in the KTNF archives, or you can search on iTunes for the podcast “Minnesota Atheists Atheists Talk”. Or maybe even here if the player embeds correctly:




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Look Who’s In The News!

Stephanie Zvan from Almost Diamonds and a handful of my fellow Minnesota Atheists participated in an extensive interview with Canadian media La Presse. The article is in French, but the page seems to translate pretty well on Google Chrome. The interview is mostly in English with French subtitles, although there are a few moments of French narration (mock outrage: French!? I thought this was about ‘Murica!). The piece was done for an ongoing project called “Sur La Route Du Mississippi”, which is described this way by the site:

On the eve of the U.S. elections, journalist Isabelle Audet and cameraman Frédéric Guiro roam the Mississippi Valley from north to south, to meet the Americans.

I can’t figure out how to embed the video, so click on the link to be taken to the source. Way to represent, y’all!

 

Calling Atheist Artists!

This is a post by guest blogger Ellen Bulger.

Wanted: Painters, Poets, Potters, Dancers, Filmmakers, Textile Artists, Musicians, Landscape Designers, Novelists, Printmakers, Songwriters, Sculptors, Animators, Actors and Architects…

A lot of atheists like to keep their heads down. Historically, it’s been that or lose ‘em. Recently that has changed and to some it must seem like every atheist in the world is screaming from the rooftops.

Studio © Ellen Bulger

Not hardly. Not no how. For every out atheist I know personally, I know a dozen cryptic ones. These are people who don’t want to make ripples, people who don’t want the attention. Their atheism isn’t necessarily a big secret. They simply aren’t given to PDA, public displays of atheism.

Artists have a reputation for being extroverts, but that is not always the case. In fact, I’m not even sure that extroverts are in the majority in arts communities. Yet even shy artists want their work to be seen.

Lab As Studio © Ellen Bulger

I suspect that the majority of artists would rather just go about making art and don’t much care for the business of promoting their work. Never you mind me, I’ll be in the studio. But they suck it up and go out to get their art in the public eye.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? I’m looking for those of you who live in the overlap of art and atheism.

We’d like to know about your art.

If you are an artist, and you are an atheist, I’d like to learn about the art you are doing. I’d like to know to what extent your atheism influences your art and your life. And I’d like to share your art here on Biodork at Freethought Blogs. My gmail address is Atheists.Artists@ and I’m waiting to hear from you.

Savoring Flavors: A Welcoming Toast to Atheism Plus

This is a post by guest blogger Ellen Bulger.

One of the interesting things about being an aging human is how our flavor preferences can change. Senses are dull a bit, which is a bummer. But no dark cloud is without some silver lining. With muted taste buds some previously overwhelming foods become, as Ms. Goldilocks would put it, just right.

I’ve always craved bitter greens. Cooked or raw, you can’t feed me too much arugula. But until recently I’ve never been fond of bitter and sweet combinations in confections unless there was also an acid component.

Then I started drinking Sanbittèr, a non-alcoholic Campari made by Pellegrino. It came in tiny bottles, a serving size that even Michael Bloomberg would endorse. What’s more, the vivid red color of the stuff was like a stop sign in a glass. It provided such heavy sensory input that you didn’t require much at all. Drinking it was a crazy little contradictory ride. I loved it.

Inside the Carton of Red © Ellen Bulger

Despite the most adorable packaging in the world, Sanbittèr wasn’t popular in the states. It was less popular, even, than Marmite (another of my middle-aged flavor kicks). I had to go to Italian-import specialty stores to find Sanbittèr. Then not long ago, it vanished off the shelves. I couldn’t get my fun little treat any more.

At the same time, the parent company extended their successful Limonata line with grapefruit and blood orange sodas. Most domestic soda is all high-fructose corn syrup  and artificial flavoring. But get this, those crazy Italians use sugar and actual fruit!

Bitters Bottle Base © Ellen Bulger

But the swap of Sanbittèr for Aranciata Rossa echoes marketing trends where only best sellers are marketed. Harry Potter and Batman and pasty pouty vampires are available at every chain pharmacy and big box outlet. And you know there are a lot of people who don’t care fuck all about wizards or comic book crime fighters or teeny-bopper bloodsuckers. But because their interests are diverse, they become invisible to the marketers as there’s no one big homogenized target to hit. I want to take a stand at the grocery store and rip out the invasive Oreo-branded products that are expanding down the cookie aisle like the baked goods version of Phragmites grass. Screw it. I’ll bake my own cookies.

Empty Soldiers in the Morning © Ellen Bulger

In brick and mortar retail, try to find a copy of “Schizopolis” or, oh, anything by Fellini. And yes, we can find just about anything via internet. But you can’t Google something if you can’t even imagine it exists. It is a struggle to maintain the public memory of the possibilities of offbeat, bittersweet alternatives. No, no, no say I! I won’t drink the cultural Kool-aid. If you don’t have what I want, I’ll find it elsewhere, I’ll make it myself. And I might just team up with other people who crave Persian mint yogurt soda or homemade sumac syrup with seltzer. If I sit and sip shandy with these people, I’ll get insights about soda pop that Coke drinkers would never imagine.

So too with Atheism Plus. Diversity can be challenging and stressful. But those who resist it don’t realize how much they stand to gain by embracing it. It’s interesting. It’s exciting. It’s delicious.

And at the end of the day, we’re all thirsty.