Greta Speaking in San Francisco, Sat. April 30

San Francisco AtheistsHi, all! Just a reminder: I’ll be speaking in San Francisco tomorrow, Saturday April 30, at the monthly meeting of the San Francisco Atheists. The event is downtown (Schroeder’s Restaurant, 240 Front St.), near both BART and MUNI. The topic du jour: “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” Here’s the summary:

Why are you atheists so angry? The atheist movement is often accused of being driven by anger. What are so many atheists so angry about? Is this anger legitimate? And can anger be an effective force behind a movement for social change?

And here are the details:

LOCATION: San Francisco, CA, Schroeder’s Restaurant, 240 Front St.
TIME: 4:30pm – 7:00 pm
TOPIC: Why Are You Atheists So Angry?
SPONSOR: San Francisco Atheists
DURATION: 60 minutes, plus Q&A
COST: Free

I’ll be doing Q&A, so come prepared with questions… or just come by to say howdy! Hope to see you there!

Crush PZ Myers — And Support Camp Quest!

Camp quest logo

We’re having a blogging contest to see who can raise more money for Camp Quest, the kids’ camp for children of atheists, freethinkers, humanists, and other non-supernaturalists.

Five awesome atheist bloggers are competing to see who can raise the most money to support Camp Quest!

Since one of those bloggers is the indomitable PZ Myers of Pharyngula, we have made two teams in order to make this competition more fair.

Team 1 (yaaaaay!): Greta Christina of Greta Christina’s Blog (that’s me!), Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist, Jen McCreight of Blag Hag, and JT Eberhard of Zerowing21.

Team 2 (BOOOOOOO! Unclean! Unclean!): PZ Myers of Pharyngula.

The first team to raise $5,000 for Camp Quest, or the team that has raised the most by June 1, 2011 will win!

You obviously want to support Team Greta/ Hemant/ Jen/ JT… right? You don’t want the evil tentacles of PZ’s cephalopod army to dominate the atheosphere? Fight for the underdog! Fight for the cause of freedom and justice! Fight for puppies, and apple pie, and Christmas!

What will the winning team receive? Bragging rights. Pure and simple. All contestants and contributors receive: the knowledge that they have supported a fantastic program for freethinking families and their children. And the knowledge that we have CRUSHED PZ! Click on the Chipin widget below, and spend the rest of your day basking in the knowledge that you have struck a blow for goodness and light.

Oh, right. The actual cause we’re raising money for. You probably want to know a little more about that, don’t you?

If you’re not familiar with them, Camp Quest is the first residential summer camp in the history of the United States aimed at the children of Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists, Brights, or whatever other terms might be applied to those who hold to a naturalistic, not supernatural world view. The purpose of Camp Quest is to provide children of freethinking parents a residential summer camp dedicated to improving the human condition through rational inquiry, critical and creative thinking, scientific method, self-respect, ethics, competency, democracy, free speech, and the separation of religion and government.

The nontheist community offers many programs for adults, but very few for children. To provide a future for our values we need to provide freethinking families with a place for their kids to find community, develop critical thinking skills, and learn ethics and values. Fortunately, that is what Camp Quest is all about. Well, that, and all of the summer camp fun that you can pack into a week.

Camp Quest builds a community for children and teenagers from atheist, agnostic, humanist and other freethinking families. They provide campers a place to explore their developing worldviews, ask questions, and make friends in an environment supportive of critical thinking and skepticism. Camp Quest is open to campers from all backgrounds. They encourage campers to think for themselves, be comfortable with who they are, and engage respectfully with people who have different views.

And yes, Camp Quest is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, and donations are tax deductible.

You can help support this awesome cause, strengthen the future of the atheist community… and help stave off the crushing arms of PZ’s cephalopod army! Just click on the handy Chipin widget. That number again:

One More Reason Religion Is So Messed Up: Respected Theologian Defends Genocide and Infanticide

A respected, mainstream theologian is seriously arguing that as long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to kill pretty much anybody.

William lane craig “Respected Theologian Defends Infanticide.”

Why did this story not make headlines?

In a recent post on his Reasonable Faith site, famed Christian apologist and debater William Lane Craig published an explanation for why the genocide and infanticide ordered by God against the Canaanites in the Old Testament was morally defensible. For God, at any rate — and for people following God’s orders. Short version: When guilty people got killed, they deserved it because they were guilty and bad… and when innocent people got killed, even when innocent babies were killed, they went to Heaven, and it was all hunky dory in the end.

No, really.

Here are some choice excerpts:

God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel.

and:

Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

and:

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.

I want to make something very clear before I go on: William Lane Craig is not some drooling wingnut. He’s not some extremist Fred Phelps type, ranting about how God’s hateful vengeance is upon us for tolerating homosexuality. He’s not some itinerant street preacher, railing on college campuses about premarital holding hands. He’s an extensively- educated, widely-published, widely-read theological scholar and debater. When believers accuse atheists of ignoring sophisticated modern theology, Craig is one of the people they’re talking about.

And he said that as long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to kill pretty much anybody. It’s okay to kill bad people, because they’re bad and they deserve it… and it’s okay to kill good people, because they wind up in Heaven. As long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to systematically wipe out entire races. As long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to slaughter babies and children. Craig said — not essentially, not as a paraphrase, but literally, in quotable words — “the death of these children was actually their salvation.”

So why did this story not make headlines? Why was there not an appalled outcry from the Christian world? Why didn’t Christian leaders from all sects take to the pulpits to disavow Craig, and to express their utter repugnance with his views, and to explain in no uncertain terms that their religion does not, and will not, defend the extermination of races or the slaughter of children?

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, One More Reason Religion Is So Messed Up: Respected Theologian Defends Genocide and Infanticide. To read more about Craig’s grotesque pronouncement, why its grotesquery isn’t really that unusual, and what its grotesquery says about the nature of religion and why it’s inherently harmful, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Upcoming Talks in Des Moines, Sacramento, and San Francisco – And Brief Blog Break

Hi, all! Just a reminder about some upcoming talks I have. I’ll be speaking at the American Atheists national convention this weekend in Des Moines, Iowa — and the week after I come back, I have talks scheduled in both Sacramento and San Francisco. I’ll be speaking on the topics of “Atheism and Sexuality” and “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” Here are the summaries:

Atheism and sexuality. The sexual morality of traditional religion tends to be based, not on solid ethical principles, but on a set of taboos about what kinds of sex God does and doesn’t want people to have. And while the sex-positive community offers a more thoughtful view of sexual morality, it still often frames sexuality as positive by seeing it as a spiritual experience. What are some atheist alternatives to these views? How can atheists view sexual ethics without a belief in God? And how can atheists view sexual transcendence without a belief in the supernatural?

Why are you atheists so angry? The atheist movement is often accused of being driven by anger. What are so many atheists so angry about? Is this anger legitimate? And can anger be an effective force behind a movement for social change?

If you’re in any of these cities, come by and say hello! Here are the details. (Some of this information has been updated since the last time I posted a schedule, so please make note of any changes.)

Americanatheists LOCATION: Des Moines, IA, Embassy Suites Hotel/ Convention Center – American Atheists national convention
TIME: 2:00 – 3:00 pm, followed by book signing from 5:30 – 7:00
TOPIC: Why Are Atheists So Angry?
SPONSOR: American Atheists
DURATION: 40 minutes, plus a little Q&A if time permits
COST: See convention website for details

Sacramento City College LOCATION: Sacramento, CA, Sacramento City College, Student Center
TIME: 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
SPONSOR: Sac City Freethinkers, Sacramento City College
DURATION: 60 minutes, plus Q&A
COST: Free to all Los Rios Community College District students and employees
$5 at the door for general public

San Francisco Atheists LOCATION: San Francisco, CA Schroeder’s Restaurant, 240 Front St.
TIME: 4:30pm – 7:00 pm
TOPIC: Why Are You Atheists So Angry?
SPONSOR: San Francisco Atheists
DURATION: 60 minutes, plus Q&A
COST: Free

Hope to see you there! I’ll be doing Q&A at most of these talks, so come prepared with questions… or just come by to say howdy!

BTW, I’ll try to blog a little while I’m gone, but I may not have the time. (If past experience is any indication, I probably won’t.) I’ll be back on Monday with my regular non-schedule. See you soon!

Is Monogamy Fair?

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. I never reprinted it here, for reasons that now escape me. But the Blowfish Blog archives are apparently no longer on the Internets, and the original piece is no longer available. So in the interest of completism and making all my published works accessible, I’m going ahead and posting it here.

In any romantic/ sexual relationship, is it reasonable to expect your partner to limit their sexual activity in any way?

Weird question, I know. Here’s why I’m asking it.

Watching porn In a recent column, I talked about porn in relationships. I asked, “In a monogamous relationship, is it reasonable to expect your partner to not watch porn?” And I concluded that it was not. I argued that, for the same reason people don’t have the right to expect their partners not to watch reality TV or read true crime — on their own time, when they don’t have any obligations and their partner isn’t around — people don’t have the right to expect their partners not to enjoy porn. I argued that people have some basic rights to privacy and autonomy — yes, strangely enough, even when they’re in serious committed relationships — and that the things people do on their own time, in ways that don’t have any significant impact on their partner, are entirely their own damn business.

Monogamy But when I was writing this, I realized that some non-monogamist hard-liners would say the same thing about any sort of sexual activity outside a relationship. Some non-monogamy advocates — not many, but some — would argue that the right to make your own decisions about how to spend your own time extends to having sex with other people. I wrote that people had no more right to expect their partners not to watch porn than to expect them not to watch reality TV… and as I wrote it, I could hear voices in the back of my head saying, “But how is sex different from porn? If watching porn is no different from watching reality TV, then how is having sex with someone outside the relationship any different than seeing a basketball game with someone outside the relationship?”

Now, as you may have guessed, I don’t agree with those voices. I do, however, think this is a harder question than it might seem on the surface, and a murkier one, without an obvious place to draw the line. (To some extent, this is one of my “thinking out loud” pieces, and I’m not sure I’ve got the answer quite right.) Ultimately, though, I do think there’s a difference — even if it’s a murky and non-obvious difference — between watching depictions of other people having sex, and actually having sex with other people.

The difference is… well, other people.

Opening up tristan taormino I think non-monogamy changes a relationship, in a way that porn does not. I think non-monogamy changes a relationship — because it brings other people into it.

For starters, those other people have desires of their own, and limits of their own, and rights of their own… desires and limits and rights that have to be taken into consideration.

The porn video doesn’t care if you don’t see it for months at a time. The dirty novel doesn’t have a special new kink that it really wants to explore with you. The book of French postcards doesn’t have a preference about whether or not you discuss it with your partner. The adult comic book doesn’t get hurt if you throw it away without so much as a phone call. Other people do. And they have the right to expect that their cares and kinks and preferences and feelings will get some attention. From both partners in a relationship — not just the one they’re boffing.

Which means that non-monogamy changes the relationship. For everyone in it. Even if you have the simplest, most limited kind of non-monogamous relationship — say, the “You and I are a primary couple, we can have sex with other people but only on our own time, and those other people won’t get involved in our romantic or social life” kind — the other people you’re involved with are still living, breathing, autonomous people, with lives and selves of their own. So both partners in that relationship have to treat the outside person’s desires and limits and rights as if they matter… even if only one of those partners is getting the outside nookie.

Plus, other people have emotions of their own — emotions that aren’t always predictable. Porn isn’t going to get obsessed with you and stalk you, or fall in love with you even though you clearly said upfront that that wasn’t an option. And you probably aren’t going to fall in love with your porn. Okay, yes, some people do get fixated on porn to an unhealthy degree. People can get fixated on anything to an unhealthy degree, from weightlifting to “Star Trek” to collecting porcelain pigs. But sexual relationships with other people carry a degree of risk that sexual relationships with books or photos or Internet videos just don’t. (And that’s not even mentioning the physical risk of STI’s and whatnot.)

Deep inside annie sprinkle Finally — for now, anyway — other people change. They change in ways you can’t expect, and ways you have to adapt to. The only way your copy of “Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle” is going to change is when it comes out in a new 30th anniversary edition loaded with DVD extras. (We hope!) But with other people, you can have a nice, neat arrangement that makes everybody happy… and then what does that other person go and do but be human, and want something more than they used to, or something less, or something different. Which you then have to accept, or reject, or re-negotiate.

All of which means that non-monogamy requires a level of involvement and negotiation and processing that porn simply doesn’t demand — involvement and negotiation and processing that can have a significant impact on your relationship. It can be a good impact, mind you: a great impact even, an impact that keeps communication open and eroticism alive. But it’s an impact, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

I mean, when it comes to porn, what do you have to negotiate? “Don’t look at it when I’m around.” Or, “If you’re going to look at it when I’m around, let’s pick something we both want to watch together.” Or, “If you watch it so much that you can’t pay your bills and we never have sex, we’re going to have deep trouble.” Or, “Keep the volume down when I’m trying to sleep.” Your arrangements about it don’t have to be any more complicated than your arrangements about any other book or magazine, TV show or Internet site. And they’re entirely between the two of you. They involve your wants and feelings and nobody else’s, and they only have to change if the two of you change.

So that’s why porn and sex are different.

Now, there is an area where this moderately clear distinction starts to get murky. And that area is sex work: prostitution, stripping, pro domination, other forms of live professional sexual entertainment.

Paying_for_it Here’s why sex work is murkier. Sex workers are people, obviously. I hope I’m not going to get any debate about that. But with a few exceptions, they’re people who aren’t going to have expectations or make demands outside the professional encounter itself. They’re, you know, professionals, and whatever feelings they might have about their encounters with you, they’re skilled at drawing boundaries between their personal feelings and their professional responsibilities. With a few exceptions, sex workers aren’t going to ask to see you more often, or ask for something sexually that’s outside your agreement with your partner, or stalk you because they think you’re their soulmate. I’m not saying it never happens — but it’s rare.

So it could be argued that the non-monogamy issues I’m talking about here — the concern that other people have needs, desires, emotions, changes, any of which could affect your relationship — don’t apply to sex workers. And it could therefore be argued that, while it might be reasonable to want your partner to not have (shall we say) amateur sex outside your relationship, it’s not reasonable to expect them not to see strippers or pro dominants or prostitutes… since encounters with strippers or pro dominants or prostitutes aren’t likely to seriously affect the relationship.

I don’t know. It still seems somehow different to me. But I’m not sure exactly why. I haven’t gotten that far yet.

Thoughts?

The Rest Stop

Please note: This story contains extensive sexual content — what with it being porn and all — and is not to be read by readers who are under 18, or who do not want to read adult material.

The Rest Stop

He pulls his pickup truck into the rest stop. It’s one in the morning on a weeknight. The rest stop isn’t a happenstance place where he stopped to catch some sleep before moving on. It’s his destination.

Nobody else is there yet. But another truck that had been behind him on the highway pulls in after him. He ducks his head, prays to God for forgiveness, then flashes his lights. A specific sequence of shorts and longs, signaling what he’s here for: signaling generally, and then more particularly, what he’s here for. A sequence he now knows intimately. A sequence he sometimes has nightmares about.

The truck behind him flashes back.

[Read more...]

Minneapolis & Salt Lake City Talks — And Brief Blog Break

Just a reminder: I’m going to be on a mini speaking tour this week, with stops in Minneapolis and Salt Lake City. If you’re in/ near either city, come by to hear me rant and say howdy! I’ll try to blog when I’m gone, but I make no promises.

At both venues, my talk will be: “What can the atheist movement learn from the LGBT movement?” The atheist movement is already modeling itself on the LGBT movement in many ways — most obviously with its focus on coming out of the closet. What else can the atheist movement learn from the LGBT movement… both from its successes and its failures?

Here are the details. Hope to see you there!

Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and HumanistsDATE: Thursday, April 14
LOCATION: Minneapolis, MN, University of Minnesota, Murphy Hall 130, 206 Church Street SE
TIME: 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
TOPIC: What Can the Atheist Movement Learn From the LGBT Movement?
SPONSOR: Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists, University of Minnesota
DURATION: 60 minutes, plus Q&A
COST: Free

Secular Humanism, Inquiry and FreethoughtDATE: Saturday, April 16
LOCATION: Salt Lake City, UT, University of Utah, University of Utah Social and Behavioral Science Auditorium, 392 South 1530 East
TIME: 7:00 – 8:30 pm
TOPIC: What Can the Atheist Movement Learn From the LGBT Movement?
SPONSOR: SHIFT: Secular Humanism, Inquiry and Freethought, University of Utah
DURATION: 60 minutes, plus Q&A
COST: Free

Hope to see you there!

Gay Mafiosi and Group Marriage Monotheists: Sex, “Caprica,” and a Changing World

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. I never reprinted it here, since it was very topical, and by the time the reprint rights had reverted to me the show was no longer on the air. But the Blowfish Blog archives are apparently no longer on the Internets, and the original piece is no longer available. So in the interest of completism and making all my published works accessible, I’m going ahead and posting it here.

Caprica 1 Well, I wasn’t expecting this.

I’ve recently gotten sucked into “Caprica,” the prequel series to “Battlestar Galactica” airing on the SyFy Channel. (Yes, this is about sex — hear me out.) I hadn’t planned to put yet another hour-long drama on my TV schedule, and Loki knows I don’t have time for it; but I watched fifteen minutes of the pilot when I was channel surfing, and I got hooked. I’m such a slut. Give me a complex, thoughtful, nuanced exploration of consciousness and selfhood, and I’m anybody’s.

And the show has had some surprising plot developments in the sexual arena — developments that were all the more surprising for how unceremoniously they were introduced.

A quick precis, for those who aren’t familiar: The weekly science fiction TV series, “Caprica,” takes place in a world that’s eerily parallel to Earth. But the world has some interesting differences from ours, and at the time this story takes place, they’re a few years/ decades ahead of us. Technologically, and socially.

And “socially” is where the sex comes in. (Caution: Spoiler alert. Multiple spoilers. Suck it up.) There’s a major gay character in “Caprica,” and there’s a major polyamorous character. And the way these characters and their sexualities get woven into the story shows a huge leap forward in the way our culture has started to view alternative sexualities… and an enormous leap forward in how we view our sexual future.

Let’s start with the gay character.

Sam-adama There’s an equivalent of the Mafia in “Caprica,” a criminal organization called the Ha’la’tha. One of the story’s major characters, Joseph Adama (Esai Morales), is a renowned defense attorney with deep connections to the Mob, and his brother, Sam Adama (Sasha Roiz), is one of the Mob’s enforcers.

And a few episodes into the show, we learn that Sam is gay.

But this development isn’t presented as a shocker. It isn’t presented as The Big Gay Revelation. Here’s how we find out: Sam’s young nephew William (Sina Najafi) is at dinner with Sam and his husband, Larry (Julius Chapple), and he’s asking them why they never had kids. That’s it. That’s the Big Gay Moment. It isn’t even remotely a big effing deal. It’s just the moment in the story when we find out more about Sam Adama and his home life… and Sam’s home life includes his husband, Larry.

Sam adama larry And as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Larry is completely accepted as Sam’s husband, by Sam’s brother as well as his nephew — and, as far as I can tell, by everyone else in the story. When Joseph is desperately trying to find Sam, he calls Larry — just like you’d call anyone’s husband or wife if you were desperately trying to reach them. Joseph is freaked out that he can’t reach his brother… but his attitude towards Larry, and the fact of his marriage with his brother, is entirely nonchalant. And as of this writing, there’s nothing in the story to indicate that Sam is in the closet, or that his Mob colleagues have any issues at all with his gayness.

This would be surprising enough for any character on a mainstream TV series. (If the SyFy channel counts as “mainstream,” that is.) Even when a TV series is gay positive, it almost always has to make the gayness a major plot point or the central defining feature of the gay character in question. A gay character in mainstream TV is almost always The Gay Character.

Sam-adama-kills1 But given the character of Sam Adama, this fact is downright flabbergasting. Sam is a freaking Mafia enforcer. He throws trash cans through store windows, and kidnaps the wives of industry leaders, and murders politicians by knifing them to death in their sleep. The guy wears wife-beaters, for heaven’s sake. He’s about as far from a gay stereotype as you can get. You might expect to see a gay TV character who’s a graphic designer or a struggling actor/ waiter, or even a doctor or a lawyer. But a gay character who’s a macho thug? Entrenched in a criminal organization based on macho thuggery?

This, to me, speaks of the normalization of homosexuality… more than a hundred episodes of “Will and Grace.” It speaks of a world that recognizes the simple fact that anybody can be gay. It speaks of a world that recognizes that gayness is only one part of a gay person’s life… and often not the most interesting part. And it speaks of a world that recognizes the fact of gayness as a simple fact of human life.

Sister-Clarice-Willow So that’s the gayness. Now let’s move on to the group marriage. There’s another interesting major character in “Caprica”: Clarice Willow (Polly Walker), the headmistress of an exclusive private high school, the Athena Academy. (Caprican society is largely polytheistic, believing in a version of the old Greek gods.) And, as it turns out a few episodes into the show, she’s a member of a group marriage.

Now, Clarice’s group marriage isn’t treated quite as casually as Sam’s marriage to Larry. It’s introduced with a bit of… not fanfare exactly, but surprise. One of Clarice’s students, Lacy Rand (Magda Apanowicz), comes to her house for a visit — and discovers that she lives with multiple husbands, and multiple wives. And Lacy has a little frisson of nervous excitement when she realizes this. “I knew a few kids from group marriages — it’s cool,” she says… in a voice indicating that she actually doesn’t actually know that much about group marriage, and thinks it’s “cool” in the sense of “edgy and slightly outre.”

Clarice willow lacy rand But at no point is there any implication that Clarice could get into trouble for bringing her student to her group marriage home. Or indeed, for being in a group marriage in the first place. There’s no indication that she’s endangering her job — her job, I’ll remind you, as the head of a high school, attended by underaged teenagers and everything — by being in a group marriage, and inviting one of her students home to visit it.

It’s more than a little comparable to what being gay is like now. Here on Earth, I mean. Being gay is still a little bit shocking (for some people), still a conversation piece (more so in some parts of the country and the world than others). But, at least with the more politically moderate people and places, it’s entirely legal, more or less accepted, only mildly surprising, and not something that will get you drummed out of town or fired from your job for corrupting the morals of the children.

Caprica group marriage And like Sam Adama’s gayness, Clarice Willow’s group marriage isn’t presented as the most interesting or important aspect of her character. It’s played a little more for curiosity and titillation than Sam’s marriage with Larry; especially in the scene with four people all in bed together (switching partners at an unspoken signal — this seems to be an “everyone’s on a schedule of who sleeps with whom” version of group marriage, not free-form polyamory), and in the scenes when it seems like Clarice might be trying to draw Lacy into the arrangement by introducing her to one of her younger, dishier husbands. But the group marriage is presented as a familiar arrangement in this society, if a somewhat unusual one. And it’s presented as an essentially unthreatening arrangement. The fact that Clarice turns out to be a monotheist — now, that’s a serious threat to Caprican society. (Especially from what we know from “Battlestar Galactica” about how this story turns out.) The fact that she has multiple husbands and wives — that’s seen as relatively normal.

And all of this is a huge departure for mainstream TV dramas. Even in “Big Love,” the most famous current TV show featuring multiple relationships (it’s the show about Mormon polygamy), the fact of the characters’ polygamy is the central defining feature of their lives, and the lynchpin on which the entire storyline turns. I’m hard-pressed to think of another TV program aside from “Caprica” in which multiple relationships are seen as a standard, if somewhat edgy, form of romantic interaction that a stable society could incorporate… and in which same-sex relationships are seen as so normal as to need no further comment.

Now. It could be argued that these two characters still perpetuate stereotypes about unconventional sexuality… since neither of them is exactly a moral paragon. Sam Adama is, after all, a Mafia enforcer, a criminal who threatens/ beats up/ murders people for money. And Clarice Willow turns out to be involved in an extremist monotheistic terrorist organization. (In “Caprica,” again, the society is mostly polytheistic… and monotheists are looked upon as dangerous, radical religious fanatics with an inflexible morality and a close-minded hatred of anyone with different beliefs. Much the way Islam is seen in much of the Western world.) It could be argued that these characters perpetuate the stereotype of sexual minorities as amoral: self-centered pursuers of their own desires, with no concern for decency or social stability.

Caprica-cast But… well, I have two Buts here. One is that in “Caprica,” pretty much all the characters are morally ambiguous. This is a complex, thoughtful, nuanced story — morally as well as in other ways — and it doesn’t trade in obvious villains and heroes. Sam Adama and Clarice Willow are morally troubling characters… but so are Daniel Graystone, and Joseph Adama, and Lacy, and Zoe, and Amanda, and pretty much every single character in the show. Sam and Clarice are fucked-up people doing terrible things for noble reasons, or what they see as noble reasons… and in this story, that makes them fit right in.

My other “But” is this: Yes, Sam, and Clarice are morally troubling characters. But there’s no implication that their sexual lives are the cause of their moral shakiness. What makes Clarice bad is her religious fanaticism, not her unconventional marital arrangement; and at this point in the story, it’s not even clear whether her husbands or wives are even aware of her involvement in religious extremism. And Sam Adama’s marriage to Larry is one of the best things about him: a humanizing element, giving his character motivation and depth. Their ethics are deeply problematic; their sexuality is fine.

It’s wonderful to see. And it’s especially wonderful to see in a science fiction show. “Caprica” is technically set in the distant past; but it’s clearly providing an “alternate reality” version of humanity’s future. I so want science fiction to be more visionary about sexuality than conventional fiction… and all too often, it so is not. (The various iterations of “Star Trek,” for instance, were so far behind the curve on gayness, it was embarrassing.) It’s a nice sign of how far we’ve come sexually that a regular TV series — and a critically acclaimed one at that — could be this imaginative and forward- thinking about sexuality, and still get on the air. And it’s comforting to think that “Caprica’s” vision of a sexual culture might someday be ours.

If the Cylons don’t get us, that is.

Why Do Atheists Have to Advertise?

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

“Are you good without God? Millions are.”

“Imagine no religion.”

“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Cfi-living-without-religion Atheist ad campaigns are everywhere. Around the U.S. and around the world, atheist organizations have been buying space on billboards, buses, TV and more, with messages ranging from the mild-mannered “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone” to the in-your-face “You know it’s a myth.” The current “Living Without Religion” campaign from the Center for Inquiry, letting the world know that “You don’t need God — to hope, to care, to love, to live” — is only the latest in a series of advertising blitzes: from American Atheists, the Coalition of Reason, the American Humanist Association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and many other organizations. Even local student atheist groups have been getting into the act, using buses in their college towns to spread the good news about atheism.

And whenever they do, they are almost guaranteed to garner resistance. Conservative religionists often object vehemently to the very concept of atheist advertising: in many cases trying to get the ad campaigns stopped altogether, and frequently even vandalizing the billboards. (In what has to be the irony of the year, some bus companies have stopped accepting all religious-themed ads, simply so they don’t have to accept ads from atheists.) And while moderate and progressive believers have never (to my knowledge) tried to stop these atheist ad campaigns from moving forward, many are still baffled and even offended by the ads. They see them as proselytizing, evangelical… and they don’t understand why people who are opposed to religion would be proselytizing and evangelical.

So why do atheists do this?

Why do atheists spend substantial amounts of money and resources to let the world know we exist, and to get our ideas across?

Which Atheists?

The first thing you have to remember is this: Not all atheist ads campaigns are created equal. Different atheist organizations create different ad campaigns, with different goals, and different strategies for achieving those goals. So when you ask, “Why do atheists have to advertise?”, the first question you have to answer is, “Which atheists?”

SecularLife Some atheist ad campaigns, for instance, are purely about visibility. The sole message behind them: “Atheists exist.” The folks behind these campaigns know that visibility is key to acceptance of atheists — just like it’s key to acceptance of LGBT people. Simply getting people familiar with atheists, and getting them comfortable with the concept of atheism, goes a long way to countering anti-atheist prejudice and hostility. What’s more, the folks behind these campaigns know that plenty of non-believers feel isolated — cut off from family and friends if they’re open about their atheism, hiding in secrecy and silence if they’re not — and they want these people know that they aren’t alone. It’s like the annual Coming Out Day campaign for LGBT people.

Good without god Other of these ad campaigns are about information. They’re there to counter myths about atheists. They’re not just telling you, “Atheists exist” — they’re telling you, “Atheists exist, and are good, happy people.” Misinformation and bigotry against atheists abound, and many atheist ad campaigns — including the current “Living Without Religion” one from the Center for Inquiry — are aimed at countering this misinformation. They’re aimed at letting the world know that, contrary to popular opinion, atheists have morality, meaning, joy, and hope in our lives… just as much as religious believers. It’s like a public service information campaign, letting you know that, contrary to popular opinion, HIV is a treatable illness/ Arab Americans are your peaceful hard-working neighbors/ the library is open late on Thursdays.

Join the club Still other campaigns are trying to gain new members for their atheist groups. They aren’t necessarily trying to persuade anyone out of religion… but they know that there are non-believers in their communities, people who feel isolated, people who may even think they’re the only ones who think they way they do. And they want those folks to know that atheist organizations are available: to provide community, to provide support, to provide education and entertainment, to simply provide reinforcement for the idea that they aren’t crazy or immoral for thinking the way they do. Like a softball team flyering for new players… or the AARP advertising for new members, and letting you know about the wonderful programs they have available for people over 50.

Theres probably no god And still others are, in fact, actively trying to change people’s minds about religion. They’re trying to persuade people that atheism is, you know, correct: that there is no God, and people should stop believing… or, at the very least, consider the possibility that their beliefs might be mistaken. Or they’re trying to persuade people to respect the separation of church and state, even if they believe in God. Like Pepsi trying to persuade you to buy their products instead of Coke’s… or Marriage Equality trying to get you to vote against Prop 8.

Of course, while these ad campaigns do have different goals, many of those goals dovetail and overlap. The “atheist visibility” folks may not be deliberately trying to persuade people out of religion, for instance… but since religion relies on social agreement to perpetuate itself, the mere act of saying “Atheists exist, not everyone believes in God” lays a small but powerful piece of dynamite under its foundations. The “deconversion” folks may be trying to get people to question their faith… but they’re also getting atheism on a lot more people’s radar. And while the “countering misinformation” campaigns aren’t necessarily designed to increase group membership, that’s often the effect.

And I would argue that every single one of these goals is valid.

After all — they’re valid for every other human endeavor.

When it comes to every other human idea/ affiliation/ activity/ organization, we think it’s perfectly reasonable for people to make themselves visible. To make information available. To let others who might be interested know that a group exists. To persuade others who don’t agree to change their minds. When it comes to politics, science, art, medicine, hobbies, philosophy, food, etc., we consider it not only acceptable, but positive and worthwhile, to share our ideas, and to get our points of view into the world, and to make our case when we really think we’re right.

Why should atheism be the exception?

Probably no cod If it’s okay for Democrats to run ads saying, “Vote Democratic”? If it’s okay for the Boston Red Sox to run ads saying, “Go Sox”? If it’s okay for the Red Hot Organization to run ads saying, “Safe sex is hot sex”? If it’s okay for Greenpeace to run ads saying (seriously) “There’s probably no cod, now let’s stop overfishing & think of the future”? Then why on Earth is it not okay for the Center for Inquiry to run ads saying, “You don’t need God — to hope, to care, to love, to live”? Or even for American Atheists to run ads saying, “You know it’s a myth”?

Why should religion, alone among all other ideas, be entitled to a free ride… free from criticism and questioning and the uncomfortable reminder that not everyone in the world agrees with it?

Vandalism And in fact, when you look at the ugly responses that atheist ad campaigns typically get, the need for them becomes even more obvious. Religious believers have called the ad campaigns “aggressive,” “hateful,” “offensive,” “a disgrace,” “political correctness gone amok,” “terrible,” “disturbing,” and “dangerous.” They’ve said that they “have had their sensibilities assaulted” by the ads, that their beliefs were being “attacked” and “vandalized” by them. They’ve suggested that someone “accidentally burn” the billboards. They’ve equated atheist advertisers with Fred Phelps. And these responses are hardly isolated: they’re very much in line with general American sentiments about atheists, which view us as the most disliked and distrusted minority in America.

Of course atheists need visibility — lots of people are bigoted about us. Of course we need to spread information about who we are — lots of people are ignorant about us. Of course we need to let other atheists know that support networks are available — lots of people are hateful about us. Of course we need to advocate for separation of church and state — lots of people want to make it actually illegal for us to advertise. The very hostility that the atheist ad campaigns generate proves why we need them so badly.

Sauce for the Goose?

Now, some people may think I’m being a hypocrite here. Some people think that religious evangelism sucks, whether it’s atheists or believers doing the “evangelizing” — and they think it’s hypocritical for atheists to cut slack for the atheist ad campaigns. “Sure, she doesn’t like religious proselytizing,” these folks are probably saying, “but she thinks it’s totally okay for atheists to try to swell their ranks and change people’s minds! How is that fair?”

But these people would be mistaken.

Because I don’t, in fact, have any objection to religious evangelists trying to change people’s minds.

Biblefire Don’t get me wrong. I have serious objections to many of the religious evangelists’ methods. I object to their use of fear-mongering as a form of persuasion; to their offering of false hope; to the way they present unsubstantiated opinion as authoritative fact. I object to their arrogant use of personal experience as the keystone of their case, with little or no understanding of the fallibility of the human mind. I object to their dismissal and even contempt of the most fundamental notions of evidence and reason. I object to their use of social pressure and even shunning to enforce complicity and silence dissent within their ranks. I object to their knocking on people’s doors at eight in the morning on a Saturday.

But I do not have any objection whatsoever to the basic idea of religious believers trying to persuade people that they’re right. None. If they think they’re right, then that’s exactly what they ought to do. That’s how the marketplace of ideas works: people share their ideas, they make the case for their ideas, and (in theory, anyway) in the long run the best idea wins. In fact, if these believers were right, and our eternal afterlives in bliss or torment really were contingent on believing the right religion? Then not trying to persuade others to share the faith would be objectionable. Immoral, even. Callous to the point of being monstrous. I disagree passionately with their case, I disagree with how they typically make that case… but I have not even the slightest objection to the idea of them making it.

No religion And I’m not afraid of them. I think the case for atheism is better than the case for religion… by several orders of magnitude. I think that, when stripped of the fear-mongering and social pressure and unsubstantiated opinion and so on, religion falls apart almost laughably fast. I think that religion is a house of cards built inside a fortress, and when the fortress of excuses and diversions and non-arguments gets breached, the actual case for religion is so flimsy it’s almost pathetic. I think atheism is correct; I think the case for atheism is winning, and will continue to win… and I’m not afraid of religious believers making their case.

And the fact that so many believers are afraid of atheists making our case?

That just makes my point for me.

Atheists aren’t the ones trying to shut up religious believers. When religious ads go up on buses and billboards and TV, we roll our eyes and go about our business. We don’t agree with the advertisers… but we don’t try to stop them from advertising. Sure, we’re trying to get religious messages out of government — no Ten Commandments in City Halls, no creationism in public schools, no prayers to start city council meetings, etc. — but that’s a separation of church and state issue. (One that works for religious believers just as much as it does for atheists, I might point out.) When it comes to religious groups hawking their message on their own private property — or on other people’s private property they’ve rented with their own money — we may think it’s obnoxious or silly, but we totally respect their right to do it.

And the fact that so many believers don’t respect atheists’ right to hawk our message? It just shows how weak their message is — and how afraid they are of having it contradicted. As my wife Ingrid points out, “If you’re got God on your side, why are you so afraid of a billboard?”

If religionists thought their case for God was strong, they wouldn’t be trying to silence atheists.

And the fact that they are trying to silence atheists, all by itself, is Exhibit A for exactly why we need to keep advertising.