The documentary Hug an Atheist, made by Sylvia Broeckx, makes its debut at the Atheist Film Festival in San Francisco on Sept. 14. I’m very excited to see this documentary for many reasons, not the least of which is that I have so many friends who appear in it. Dan Fincke has a post about what you’ll see in the full documentary.
I got to meet Sylvia and her husband last year when they came to the CFI Michigan annual solstice dinner. I wasn’t interviewed for the movie, but Jennifer and Jeremy Beahan were and I think Jeff Seaver was too. This description from Dan caught my attention, both because I’ve heard this story from Jennifer before and because it highlights the importance of secular communities.
After several stories about coping with deaths, both actual losses and the fear of one’s own mortality, Bridget Gaudette talks heartrendingly about grieving for the living–how she deals with her anguish over being traumatically disowned by her Jehovah’s Witness parents for being an atheist. Here Sylvia has such a soft touch for showing an evil of religion. This film is not about talking in generalities or using particular people’s pain to make broad political points. Sylvia just has us listen to one atheist’s matter of fact story about the way her parents treated her terribly. And, oh yeah, it just happens to be for religious reasons. The emphasis, here and elsewhere, is not to advance some argument about all or most religiosity or religious people. But it is just one of those things that atheists deal with.
Then Bridget describes her enthusiasm upon coming across a billboard saying “Don’t believe in God. You Are Not Alone”, which introduced her to secular community. And here the film swings, having subtly emphasized, through a dramatic example, how deliberately isolated, by religious family and friends and church, that deconverts can feel, there is a hopeful discussion of atheist and humanist community and how it can fill a crucial role in people’s lives. Jennifer Beahan amusingly reenacts in sing-song fashion her husband Jeremy giddily “bouncing” into the room one day saying ‘I found atheist church! I found atheist church!”
That “atheist church” was then called the West Michigan Freethought Association and is now CFI Michigan. Jennifer is now the associate director and truly the glue that holds the organization together. I found that group entirely by accident in 2006 and it’s people like Jennifer and Jeremy, who have become dear friends, and many others who are the reason that community quickly felt like home to me. Being a part of that community is incredibly important to me now and I hope that all of you have a group like that to belong to.
This documentary has a lot of really amazing people in it — Dan Fincke, James Croft, Rebecca Hensler, Hemant Mehta, Dale McGowan. So many people in it who are exactly the ones I would pick to represent atheists in a project like this. Can’t wait to see the whole thing. Here are a couple Youtube clips from it: