Why I Am an Atheist Writer

The question here is not, “Why am I an atheist?” I think I’ve answered that question ad nauseum. (Not that that’s going to stop me from continuing to answer it…)

Computer_keyboard The question is, “Why am I an atheist writer?” Or maybe, since I consider my writing to be a form of activism: Why am I an atheist activist? Why am I involving myself so deeply in the so-called “new” atheist movement?

This question sometimes gets asked of me by trolls. People who don’t want anyone to be involved in the atheist movement. People who think the whole movement is a waste of time (or who want to convince people in the movement that it’s a waste of time… probably because it’s anything but).

But it also gets asked of me by… well, by me.

I have become involved in this movement to a degree that surprises even myself. It’s taken over my writing career, my personal life, my time wasted on the Internet, my time just in general, my conversations with Ingrid, the inside of my head… to a degree I never would have expected when I first picked up a copy of The God Delusion.

I’ve been thinking about why. And I think my reasons boil down to three basic categories: the noble and inspired, the pragmatic and Machiavellian, and the broad sweep of history/ just plain fun.

Inspired 1) The noble, inspired reasons.

I’m an atheist writer and activist because I think atheism is important. Really, really important.

Religion, obviously, is a hugely influential force in human society. And I have come to the conclusion that it’s (a) a mistaken idea about the world, and (b) an idea that, on the whole, does significantly more harm than good. I think the world would be far better off without religion, and while of course I passionately defend people’s religious freedom and their right to believe whatever the hell they want, I also think that trying to persuade people out of religious belief — and trying to make the world a safer place to be a non-believer — are goals worth reaching for.

(To be more specific — and to give credit where credit is due — I’m an atheist writer and activist because of Richard Dawkins and The God Delusion. I argued my way through the entire length of that book; I called Dr. Dawkins an astonishing assortment of rude names during the course of reading it… and by the end, I had not only given up calling myself agnostic and was proudly calling myself an atheist, but had been persuaded that atheism was an important issue, and one that deserved a significant portion of my time and writing career. I was inspired by his writing, and I want to pass on this inspiration to others.)

Machiavelli 2) The pragmatic, Machiavellian reasons.

Atheism is a growth industry.

Whenever I’m commiserating with a fellow writer about the trials of a writing career, I always take pains to point this out. I’ve gotten more traction out of my atheist writing than I have out of any other topic I’ve written about. And yes, that includes the sex writing. My atheist writing gets me more traffic, more recognition, more credibility, than anything I’ve ever written. By several orders of magnitude. (And it earns me more money, too.) Any hope I have of being a seriously successful full-time writer hinges on the atheism. I’d be an idiot not to ride this pony all the way to the finish line.

Gay liberation day 1970 3) The broad sweep of history/ just plain fun reasons.

It’s easiest to explain this one to queers. Whenever I’m explaining my atheist activism to queer activists, I always ask them, “If you could go back in time and be part of the queer movement right after Stonewall… wouldn’t you do it? Wouldn’t you want to be part of this movement right as it was getting off the ground — when it was all new and exciting, and you could make a real mark and shape the direction it went in?”

That’s how I feel about the atheist movement.

When it comes to social change movements, I’ve always been late to the party. I was late to the feminist party; I was late to the LGBT party; I was late to the lesbian sex wars (although not as late as I was to these other parties).

But I’m not late to the atheism party. Or at least, not very late. The atheist movement, in my opinion, is very much where the LGBT movement was about 35 years ago, right after the Stonewall riots. Like the post-Stonewall LGBT movement, there’s been an atheist movement for decades (if not longer) — but in the last few years, it’s become more visible, more vocal, more outspoken, less apologetic, more activist, better organized. Dramatically. By several orders of magnitude. We’ve gone from being on almost nobody’s radar, to being a major topic of conversation on TV news shows and in op-ed pages, at water coolers and on Facebook… in a stunningly short amount of time.

And I get to be part of it. Now. Not twenty or thirty years from now — now. I get to be in on the ground floor. (Or the floor just above the ground floor, anyway.)

Which means two things about my involvement.

History It means I have a chance to make a real mark. As I’ve gassed on pompously in the past: If the atheist movement succeeds — if those of us trying to persuade people out of religion eventually succeed, if current trends continue and the number of people who don’t believe in God continues to grow, if eventually everybody (or almost everybody) abandons the religion hypothesis entirely — it will be one of the most important developments in human history. It will be like the Enlightenment, or the Industrial Revolution. It will be the sort of thing historians write about. People will see human history as divided into two eras: When We Believed In Gods, and When We Stopped Believing In Gods. Having a chance to be part of that — having a chance to be even a small footnote when the history of this movement gets written — is one of the most richly rewarding things I’ve ever done.

Joy And it means that it’s a hoot and a holler.

The atheist movement, right now, is more fun than a barrel of narwhals. (Causing a commotion, ’cause we are so awesome!) As I’ve also gassed on about before: Activists in the early days of a movement tend to be totally freaking amazing. They tend to have strong personalities, independent spirits, a huge amount of self-confidence, a passion for social change, a vision for the future, a wicked sense of humor, a metric shitload of courage, and an unbelievably thick skin. (They can also be stubborn, aggravating, arrogant pains in the ass… but that comes with the abovementioned territory, and IMO it’s a price totally worth paying.)

And that makes this movement exciting, and inspiring, and hilarious, and intellectually stimulating, and wildly entertaining.

I get to work for something I believe in. I get to advance my writing career. I get to be part of history. And I get to have a ball doing it.

Who on Earth wouldn’t want to do that?

Atheist Meme of the Day: Beliefs Affect Actions

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Why do many atheists care what other people believe? Because people act on their beliefs. If religious beliefs only affected the people who held them, most atheists wouldn’t care very much about them. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

A Feminist Defense of Boobquake

Greta boobquake Chances are you’ve heard about Boobquake. It went viral pretty fast.

In case you haven’t: Iranian Muslim prayer leader Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was recently quoted as saying, “Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.”

No, really. I know, you thought earthquakes were caused by plate tectonics — but really, it’s immodestly dressed women, leading young men astray.

So Jen McCreight — feminist/ atheist blogger, student leader, award-winning scholar in evolution and genetics, and all-around bad-ass — decided to conduct a fun little pop-science experiment: Encourage women to dress immodestly for one day, and see if there was any significant increase in earthquakes or seismic activity. It was meant to be a small, offhand joke among her blog readers and Facebook friends; instead, it went totally viral on the Internets, and wound up with news coverage on CNN, the BBC, the Washington Post, and all over the damn place. (Conflict of interest alert: I know McCreight, and have a friendly collegial relationship with her.)

But many feminists responded very negatively to Boobquake, calling it exploitative, demeaning, trivializing, objectifying, and a whole host of other sexist bad things. Beth Mann at Salon said, “Women on parade again … sigh. Since when did we “stick it to the man” by wearing low-cut shirts or short shorts?… Unfortunately, we live in a world that sees that kind of freedom of expression as a photo opportunity or another cheap thrill.” Jill at I Blame the Patriarchy described the event as, “encouraging women to protest oppression by capitulating to Dude Nation’s fondest desire.” Negar Mottahedeh and Golbarg Bashi created a Facebook group in response, Brainquake… describing McCreight as a “so-called feminist,” decrying how Boobquake “has aroused the evidently insatiable enthusiasm of the web community, male supporters in particular who can’t wait to see ‘regular’ girls and women, many their direct friends to ‘showing off their tits’,” and arguing that “Violence against women and girls has a direct correlation to the sexualisation of women and girls.” Etc. Etc.

So before I begin my rant, let me summarize.

A patriarchal, profoundly misogynist man used his position of religious authority to demonize and control women, and to irrelevantly blame the ills of the world on our vile, dangerous sexuality.

Women responded by saying, “Screw you. Our sexuality is not responsible for earthquakes — snicker — or any other horrible ills. Our sexuality is amazing, and we will claim it and flaunt it any damn way we choose. Our bodies, our right to decide.”

How, exactly, is that not feminist?

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Thus begins my new piece on Carnal Nation, A Feminist Defense of Boobquake. To find out more about why I think Boobquake was feminist — and to find out why I think the feminist objections to Boobquake were essentially just more moderate versions of the original “Immodest women cause earthquakes” insanity — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy! (And yay for my new “Media Darling” gig at Carnal Nation! Watch for me there, every other week!)

Atheist Meme of the Day: What Would Convince You That You Were Mistaken?

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

If religious believers can’t say what evidence would change their minds — if nothing could possibly persuade them that their religion was mistaken — then it’s unfair for them to accuse atheists of being close-minded and unwilling to consider other possibilities. Especially since most atheists *can* answer that question. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

New Fishnet Story: “Three”

Fishnetlogo I bring him home from a show on a Friday night. Through the blacklights and a filter of beer and tequila, he’s friendly and vibrant, his skin a canvas of tattoos and piercings. I have already drunk too much by the time I meet him, but he stays with me after the show, walking night-noisy streets at my shoulder and laughing over coffee until I’m sober enough to drive. He’s from out of town, staying at a hotel with friends, so I take him back to my messy apartment and we push the clean laundry off the bed and finish a bottle of wine and fuck like two people who know they’ll never have to find out whether it’s a mistake or not.

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Thus begins the latest story on Fishnet, the online erotic fiction magazine I’m editing: Three, by Leftarrow. To read more, read the rest of the story. (Not for anyone under 18.) Enjoy!

On Trying New Things… And Re-Trying Old Ones

Sushi_roll I was eating sushi the other day… yes, I promise, this is about sex.

I was eating sushi the other day, and it sparked a mini-revelation about trying new things — and about re-trying old things I think I don’t like. And it’s occurring to me that this mini-revelation could apply to lots of things other than food. Like — oh, say, just to pick one example completely at random — sex.

I’ve been trying of late to expand my horizons about food. I’m a mildly picky eater, and I really don’t want to be. There’s a huge world of food out there that millions of people take tremendous pleasure in, and I don’t want to be closed off to it. (You can start drawing parallels with sex anytime.) And if other people are enjoying some culinary delicacy, then… well, that’s certainly no guarantee that I’m going to like it. But it’s a pretty good guarantee that I’m not actually going to die from it.

So I’m trying to expand my horizons. Which means trying new things, obviously. But it also means re-trying things I’ve tried before, and decided I didn’t like.

And I had a mini-revelation about a specific strategy for doing that… a strategy that I think can be applied to sex as well.

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Thus begins my latest piece for the Blowfish Blog, On Trying New Things… And Re-Trying Old Ones. To find out my specific strategy for learning to like food I thought I didn’t like — and how that strategy can be applied to sex — read the rest of the piece. (And if you feel inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

Atheist Meme of the Day: Good Ideas Should Welcome Criticism

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

If an idea is good, it should be able to withstand questions and criticism, and should even welcome them. And that’s just as true of religion as anything else. When believers passionately insist that religion should be above criticism, it doesn’t make the God hypothesis look stronger — it makes it look weaker. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Why “I Feel It In My Heart” Is a Terrible Justification for God’s Existence

Sacredheart “I just feel God in my heart. I sense his presence. Why should I doubt that? Any more than I doubt my senses?”

As I’ve written before: Most of the arguments I encounter for religion are dreadful. They’re not even arguments. They’re attempts to make arguments go away: attempts to deflect legitimate questions; bigoted attacks on atheists’ character; fuzzy confusions between evidence and wishful thinking; the moral equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling, “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you!” Or worse.

But some arguments for religion and God are real arguments. They’re not good arguments — but they are arguments, sincere attempts to offer evidence supporting the God hypothesis. So I want to do these arguments the honor of engaging with them… and point out why, exactly, they don’t hold water.

Today’s argument: “I feel it in my heart.”

“I just sense God intuitively. (Or the soul, or the metaphysical world, or whatever.) I feel it. His existence seems obvious to me, in the same way that the existence of the Earth under my feet seems obvious. Why should I doubt that perception — any more than I doubt my perception of the Earth?”

This is a tricky one to argue against. Not because it’s a good argument — it’s not — but because it’s a singularly stubborn one. Religious experiences can be very vivid, very powerful. I had them myself, back when I had religious beliefs. (I still have them, in fact: I just don’t interpret them as religious anymore.) And they can feel real — almost as real as physical perception, in some ways even more so. What’s more, this argument is singularly resistant to reason… since, almost by definition, it’s not very interested in reason.

But here’s the problem. Well, one of many problems.

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Thus begins my latest piece on AlterNet, Why “I Feel It In My Heart” Is a Terrible Justification for God’s Existence. To find out the problem — a whole bunch of problems, actually — with the “I feel it in my heart” argument, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Atheist Meme of the Day: Atheism Does Not Require 100% Positive Proof

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Not believing in God doesn’t require 100% positive proof that God doesn’t exist… any more than not believing in unicorns requires 100% positive proof that unicorns don’t exist. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

I Feel The Earth Move: Boobquake 2010!

As you may already have heard — it’s not only been all over the atheosphere, but all over the news — Iranian Muslim prayer leader Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was recently quoted as saying, “Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.”

Blag Hag blogger, atheist student leader, and all-around badass Jen McCreight is conducting a scientific experiment: Get women around the world to dress immodestly for one day — today, Monday, April 26 — and see if we cause a significant uptick in seismic activity.

So with Jen, for the sake of science, I offer my boobs. (And Ingrid offers hers.)

Greta boobquake 2

Greta boobquake 1

Ingrid boobquake

Greta_and_ingrid_boobquake