I’m on Twitter!

Twitter-logo I have gone to the dark side, and am now on Twitter! If you want to know the things that are on my mind that can be compressed into 140 characters, come follow me! I’m @GretaChristina. Atheist feminist sex writer and blogger, public speaker, bi-dyke, rabble-rouser, firebrand, food snob, fashionista without a budget, keeper of the pillow fort. Come say hi!

Puritan Pundits Should Chill Out — Here Are 5 Reasons I’m Happy I’ve Had Lots of Casual Sex

Casual-sex-movie-poster The phenomenon of women who have sex for its own sake seems to baffle many people. It’s widely believed that women have sex for love, commitment, poor self-control, to manipulate men, to please men, to make babies, to sooth their low self-esteem, and just about any reason at all other than their own pleasure. (While men, of course, are rutting horndogs who just want to stick it in the nearest wet hole available.) Sex, according to this trope, is by its nature a commodity that women possess and men are trying to obtain… and the phenomenon of women who are “giving it away,” who are defying these assumptions and treating sex as a pleasurable interaction between equals, is making the punditocracy piss all over itself.

Mark Regnerus, Slate: “If women were more fully in charge of how their relationships transpired, we’d be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts, longer relationships, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying going on.”

Rachel Simmons, relationship advice columnist for Teen Vogue: “These letters worry me. They signify a growing trend in girls’ sexual lives where they are giving themselves to guys on guys’ terms. They hook up first and ask later.”

Bill O’Reilly: “Many women who get pregnant are blasted out of their minds when they have sex.”

Susan Walsh, Hooking Up Smart: “They cannot see that as she [self-proclaimed proud- and- happy slut Jaclyn Friedman] proclaims her detachment from sex, she gets emotionally wounded every single time. They take heart from her proclamation that sluthood is a healing thing. Ms. Friedman is a hot mess. Craiglist Casual Encounters was not a miracle, it was a disaster that broke her heart again. I hope she does find Love, the whole enchilada.”

Laura Sessions Stepp, author of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both… oh, just look at the title.

Then there’s the piece that got me staying up until four in the morning writing about this in the first place: Christian author Don Miller, who recently asked his female readers (and his male ones, in a separate post) if they’ve ever had casual sex… and if so, why. Miller doesn’t ask this in a neutral way, a way that expresses a genuine desire for an honest answer. He’s asking in a way that makes it obvious what he thinks the answer will be — whatever the reason is, it must be bad, bad, bad. In fact, he’s asking in a way that totally slants the answers he’s likely to get. He’s asking “why some girls give up sex easily” (as if sex for women is always a surrender), and “do you use sex for some kind of social power or to make yourself feel good?”

It’s like a push-poll — a political poll designed to elicit a particular response, so you can shape people’s opinions and make your position seem more popular than it really is.

Legs crossed And this push-poll tendency is shared by many of those who ask, “Why on earth would women want casual hook-ups?”. They’re not asking the question, “Why do some women have casual sex?” They’re asking the question, “Why on earth would some women have casual sex, when it’s so clearly a bad idea that will do them and other women harm and is obviously not in their best interest?” And they’re doing this despite research showing that casual sex isn’t, in fact, psychologically harmful for young adults. They’re basing their questions on the common assumption that women’s natural state is to keep their legs closed unless they’ve got their hands on marriage or commitment… and that women who don’t are some sort of baffling phenomenon that needs to be explained.

So I thought I’d try to explain it.

I’ve had a lot of experience with casual sex. It’s been a while, and I’m not particularly interested in it anymore. But for many years, pretty much all the sex I had fell somewhere on the “casual” spectrum. Personal ad hookups; occasional sex with friends; sex clubs and sex parties; ongoing sexual friendships… that’s what my sex life looked like for a long time.

And needless to say — but I’m going to say it anyway — a lot of this casual sex was a good idea. A wonderful idea, in fact. A lot of it was done for excellent, healthy reasons. And the effect it’s had on my sex life and my love life has been overwhelmingly positive.

You want to know why I had it? Here’s why.

*

Thus begins my latest piece on AlterNet, Puritan Pundits Should Chill Out — Here Are 5 Reasons I’m Happy I’ve Had Lots of Casual Sex. To find out the reasons I had casual sex for so many years — and the reasons I feel overwhelmingly positive about it now — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

The Switch to Freethought Blogs – Some Questions Answered

Freethought blogs

As regular readers already know, this blog is going to be migrating. I’m going to be part of the new Freethought Blogs network, started by Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars and PZ Myers at Pharyngula. That transition is happening soon — September 1, to be precise.

Many people have been asking questions about the transition. So I thought I’d answer the most commonly- asked ones now.

Is the old blog still going to be here?

Yes. There are way too many links to this blog out in the internet. I don’t want all those links to be broken. I’ll keep this blog around for archival purposes, and I’ll probably do so for as close to forever as I can.

But I’ll also be moving my archives over to my FTB blog. And I’d hugely appreciate it if y’all could link to the FTB archives as much as is humanly possible. I’ll be getting paid by the hit count, and if all those links to (oh, say, just to give on example completely at random) “Atheists and Anger” were to get directed to my FTB blog instead of here, it would make a big, big difference. I’m just sayin’, is all.

Will comments stay open on the old blog?

For the moment. I may close them eventually, though. I really want people to move to the new blog. And I don’t want to have to do moderation/ spam control on two blogs forever.

Will my FeedBlitz notifications/ RSS feed still work?

I’ll see if I can get FeedBlitz to update to the new blog. If not, we’ll have to start again. RSS will definitely not work. You’ll have to re-subscribe to the new blog.

What about your non-atheist blogging? What about your writing about sex/ politics/ feminism/ cat photos/ etc.? Where are you going to do that?

Don’t worry! I’m going to do all of that blogging on Freethought Blogs! Freethought Blogs is exactly that — free thought. The focus is on atheism and other forms of godlessness, obviously… but the other FTB bloggers are blogging about plenty of other topics, and I plan to do so as well.

I’m sure the blog will evolve with time, and I’m sure that this evolution will be affected by being in the network and by the kind of traffic I get from it. But I don’t expect the basic vision to change very dramatically.

And yes, I’ve been assured that I can keep writing explicitly about sex. If anything, I’ll probably wind up blogging about sex more than I have been lately. I currently don’t have any regular paid gigs as a sex writer, and that has seriously limited how much time I can spend doing it. But Freethought Blogs is itself a paying gig. So that whole “I have to prioritize writing that actually brings in some income” equation I’ve been doing for so long is about to take a dramatic shift… in the direction of focusing more on the blog, and writing more original content for it, and blogging more about whatever the fuck happens to be on my mind. I really like doing sex writing, and I’m excited and happy that I’ll now be able to bring in some money for doing it.

If you have any other questions about my transition to Freethought Blogs, ask them here. I’ll see you at the new network in about a week!

Grief Beyond Belief — How Atheists Are Dealing With Death

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Grief beyond belief logoIn a society that reflexively copes with death by using religion, grieving atheists are turning to each other.

How do you deal with death — your own, or that of people you love — when you don’t believe in God or an afterlife?

Especially when our culture so commonly handles grief with religion… in ways that are so deeply ingrained, people often aren’t aware of it?

A new online faith-free grief support group, Grief Beyond Belief, is grappling with that very question. And the launch of the group — along with its rapid growth — presents another compelling question: Why do so many atheists need and want a separate godless sub-culture… for grief support, or anything else?

Grief Beyond Belief was launched by Rebecca Hensler after the death of her three-month-old son. Shortly after Jude’s death, she discovered Compassionate Friends, an online network of parents grieving the deaths of their children. But even though Compassionate Friends is not a religious organization, she says, “I often felt alienated by assurances from other members that my son was in heaven or by offers to pray for me, comforts that were kindly meant but that I do not believe and cannot accept.” And she knew there were others who felt the same way. (Conflict of interest alert: Hensler and I are friends, and I actively encouraged and supported her in launching this group.)

So about a year later, she started a Facebook page, Grief Beyond Belief. And the group grew and flourished far beyond her expectations. Once the atheist blogosphere heard about the group, news about it spread like wildfire, and membership in the group grew rapidly, rising to over a thousand in just the first couple of weeks. The group is open to atheists, agnostics, humanists, and anyone without belief in a higher power or an afterlife, to share memories, photos, thoughts, feelings or questions, and to give others support, perspective, empathy, or simply a non-judgmental ear. And it’s also open to believers who are questioning, struggling with, or letting go of their beliefs. As long as you don’t offer prayers, proselytize for your religious beliefs, or tell other members that their dead loved ones are in a better place with the angels, you’re welcome to join.

So why do atheists need this?

Salt in the Wound

Comforting hands For some grieving non-believers, the comforts offered by religious believers are neutral, and can even be positive. These atheists don’t agree that their dead loved ones are still alive and that they’ll see them again someday; but they can accept the intent behind the sentiments, and can feel connected with and supported by believers even though they don’t share the beliefs.

But for many non-believers, these comforts are actively upsetting. They are the antithesis of comforting. They rub salt in the wound.

For many grieving non-believers, the “comforts” of religion and religious views of death present a terrible choice: Either pretend to agree with ideas they reject and in many cases actively oppose… or open up about their non-belief, and start a potentially divisive argument at a time when they most need connection and comfort. As GBB member William Farlin Cain said, “I was still very much in the atheist closet at the time [my mom] passed away, and I was surrounded by believers saying all the things believers say, and I had to say them too just to keep the peace. It was hard.”

Religious ideas about death can also make atheists feel alienated: hyper-aware of their marginalized status, and of the ways that atheists in our culture are invisible at best. As I’ve told believers who were pressing their religious “comforts” on me even though I’d explicitly said I didn’t want that: If you wouldn’t tell a Jewish person that their dead loved one is in the arms of Jesus Christ, why would you think it’s appropriate to tell a non-believer that their dead loved one is in Heaven? And yet many believers do think this is appropriate… to the point where they not only offer nonbelievers the “comfort” of their opinion that death is not final, but persist in doing so even when specifically asked not to. They’re so steeped in the idea of religion as a comfort, they seem unable to think of any other way to comfort those in need. And they seem unable to see that their beliefs aren’t universally shared by everyone.

God sistine chapel But these beliefs aren’t universally shared. And they aren’t seen as universally comforting, either. In fact, religious ideas about death can be profoundly upsetting to people who don’t believe them. Sentiments that many believers find comforting — such as Heaven and Hell, or God’s plan for life and death — are, for many non-believers, more than just ideas they don’t agree with. They are ideas they find distressing, hurtful, and repugnant. As GBB member Lisa M. Lilly said, “After my parents were killed by a drunk driver, people said things to me that I found extremely difficult to hear, such as that their deaths were God’s plan or God’s will. While I’m sure the speakers thought they were offering comfort, the idea that God wanted my mother to be run over and die in the street and my father to suffer 6 1/2 weeks with severe injuries, only to die after several surgeries, was appalling to me.” And as GBB member Karen Vidrine commented, “Even when believers don’t say it, I know they are thinking of Hell and how to tell me my children [who committed suicide] are there.” Even though atheists don’t agree with these ideas, they’re still disturbing — and they’re the last thing they want to hear about when they’re struggling with their grief.

God is not great This isn’t just true for non-believers, either. It’s often true for grieving believers as well. In fact, as Hensler points out, the death of a loved one is often a trigger for questioning or abandoning religious faith — especially if that death is particularly painful or unjust. (This is a big reason why Hensler created the group to welcome not only atheists, but believers who are questioning their faith.) The idea that death is part of God’s plan, for instance, is comforting to some — but for many, this idea either makes them angry at God, or guilt-ridden about what they or their loved ones did wrong to bring on his wrath. And the idea of Heaven or another perfectly blissful afterlife is often comforting only when you don’t think about it very carefully. When you consider the idea of a spiritual “place” where we somehow are ourselves and yet magically don’t change or grow, don’t experience any conflict, don’t have the freedom to screw up, and are untroubled by the suffering of others (either living or in Hell)… this idea can become more and more disturbing the more carefully you consider it. And many people find that they cope with death and grief far better without it.

But the reality is that spiritual beliefs permeate grief support — so much so that it’s invisible to believers, who often perpetuate it without even thinking. As GBB founder Hensler pointed out, even in the non-religious Compassionate Friends group, “so many of their members are religious or spiritual that there is no real way to participate without being constantly exposed to comments about god, angels and signs. And when I posted about my son and my grief on the page, commenters frequently projected those beliefs onto me, with offers to pray or reassurances that Jude is in heaven. Half the time I felt understood and supported, and half the time I felt like screaming.” GBB member Kevin Millham echoes this sentiment. “The hospice in which my wife died has a wonderful bereavement program, and I now belong to a grief support there. Everyone tries to be supportive and not proselytize, but the other members are Christians without exception, and we often hear in group meetings how their faith is helping them get through (though I notice they’re having every bit as hard a time as I am…). What helps them does not help me, however, and I find that talk of an afterlife I do not believe in is a way of minimizing my attempts to deal with the finality of my wife’s death, however well-intentioned the ‘better place’ comments may be.”

Funeral And planning funerals and memorials with religious content is so common that, even when non-believers explicitly request secular ceremonies upon their death, these wishes frequently get ignored. Said GBB member Julie Downing Wirtz, “When my mom died, she left explicit instructions for her funeral. It was to be in the funeral home, not the church, she wanted 2 songs played, and she named them clearly. Well, some of my siblings chose not to honor her wishes, went to the Catholic church my mother no longer attended, somehow got the pastor there to allow the funeral service, but he would not allow the songs that my mom felt would give us comfort, since they were not religious songs.” This also happened to GBB member Kevin Millham when his wife died: “The memorials we had discussed and agreed upon before her death were pretty much hijacked by local religious and spiritual types.”

Even supposedly secular memorials often get infused with religious or spiritual content. And this tendency is so deeply ingrained, the people planning these events aren’t even aware that the content is religious, and might be unwelcome to non-believers. Hensler tells the story of a memorial held for a number of children, including her son — a memorial that was explicitly described as non-religious. “A book was read to all the children in attendance,” she says, “who were mostly grieving siblings. The book was written from the point of view of a dead child, describing ‘where I am now’ in vague, stars-and-rainbows sorts of terms. It disturbed me, particularly because my late son was one of the children honored at the ceremony. How can they say an event will be non-religious and then teach the children who attend about a version of afterlife?” And before you ask… this didn’t happen in a small town in the Midwest, or the deeply religious South. It happened in San Francisco — one of the most secular, least traditionally religious, most diversity-supportive cities in the country. As Hensler noted, “A whole lot of people seem to think that as long as you aren’t talking about Jesus, any support you provide is universally welcome.

Coexist This latter point cannot be emphasized enough. There’s an all-too- common assumption that “non-religious” means “not adhering to the tenets of a specific religious sect.” If you aren’t talking about Jesus, or Allah, or reincarnation — if all you’re talking about is non-specific ideas of some sort of higher power or some sort of afterlife — that’s typically seen to be “non-religious.” Atheism — or indeed, any sort of non-belief in any supernatural beings or forces — is still so invisible in our culture that the possibility simply isn’t considered. So even supposedly inclusive, secular events end up with religious or spiritual content that leaves non-believers out in the cold.

But even if none of this were the case — even if grieving atheists were never confronted with religious ideas about death in upsetting or alienating ways, or even if no atheists were upset or alienated by these ideas — the need for non- faith- based grief support would still be powerful.

Because in a time of grief, the need for others who understand, others with a similar outlook on life and death, is powerful.

Good without god Secular and religious views of life — and death — can be radically different. The view that life and death are deliberately guided by a conscious supernatural being is radically different from the view that life and death are entirely natural processes, guided by physical cause and effect. The view that consciousness is a metaphysical substance with the ability to survive death is radically different from the view that consciousness is a biological process created by the brain, and that it ends when the brain dies. The view that life is permanent is radically different from the view that life is ephemeral.

Holding_hands And the forms of comfort and perspective that we find helpful in grief can also be radically different. The idea that life is eternal and we’ll see our loved ones again someday is radically different from the idea that life is transitory and therefore ought to be intensely treasured. The idea that life and death are part of God’s benevolent plan is radically different from the idea that life and death are part of natural cause and effect, and that we and our loved ones are part of the physical universe and are intimately connected with it. The idea that our dead loved ones are no longer suffering because they’re in a blissful Heaven is radically different from the idea that our dead loved ones are no longer suffering because they no longer exist, and that being dead is no more painful or frightening than not having been born yet. The idea that death is an illusion is radically different from the idea that death is necessary for life and change to be possible. The idea that the soul will live forever is radically different from the idea that things don’t have to be permanent to be valuable and meaningful. The idea that there will be a final judgment in which the bad are punished and the good are rewarded is radically different from the idea that we were all phenomenally, astronomically lucky to have been born at all. The idea that our loved ones will always live on in an afterlife is radically different from the idea that we keep our loved ones alive in our memories, and that they live on in the ways they changed us and the world. Believers and non-believers have many things in common, and much of what we find comforting during grief is the same — but much of it is seriously different, and even contradictory.

So for many grieving non-believers, the comfort offered by religious believers is, at best, not particularly comforting. Even if it isn’t actively upsetting, it simply doesn’t connect. And so the comfort, perspective, practical guidance, support, and simple “I’ve been there and know what you’re going through” offered by the Grief Beyond Belief network has been intensely welcomed. As Hensler says, “One of the hardest parts about the first few days of Grief Beyond Belief was the number of people who said, “I wish this had existed when…”

Circle holding hands GBB member Nita-Jane Grigson: “I get a sense of support from other people going through what I’m going through, that my friends don’t understand.” GBB member William Farlin Cain: “Other grief groups more or less insist I indulge my ‘spiritual side,’ and I just want something of the rational as I revisit the grieving process these years later.” GBB member Karen Vidrine: “I like being able to comment and vent about my children’s deaths, suicides, without fear of judgment.” GBB member James Sweet: “I look for the same things I think just about anyone is looking for in a grief support group: To know other people are going through the same things; to vent; to share; to find hope in loss, to see that no matter how terrible the tragedy, life still goes on. I just don’t need to worry so much about having to bite my tongue.” GBB member Lisa M. Lilly: “I am grateful to Grief Beyond Belief for providing a forum where feelings of loss are acknowledged and shared without anyone insisting that somehow the tragedy is a good thing or fits with religious views held by others.” GBB member Kevin Millham: “I come here to be with kindred spirits who will understand what it is I’m going through even if we do not often respond directly to each other’s posts. Just knowing that I’m not alone in my (lack of) beliefs is a comfort when in my hometown I feel so alienated.”

Even people who currently aren’t grieving are finding Grief Beyond Belief valuable — because it helps them support the bereaved non-believers in their lives. GBB member Julie Downing Wirtz says, “As a trained Funeral Celebrant, and Life Tribute Specialist, serving only non-religious families, I find the posts at GBB help me to serve my clients with a better understanding of the various thoughts that go through people’s minds when they are grieving, many of which are very different from my own experiences.” And GBB member Christine M. Pedro-Panuyas concurs. ” I haven’t lost anyone close to me, but what Grief Beyond Belief has really done for me is it helped me know what to say to those who have lost someone. It helped me learn the words to say that are comforting and are comforting in a powerful way because they are true.”

When The Trump Card Fails

Trump card It’s commonly assumed that death is religion’s trump card. No matter what atheism has to offer — a better sex life, freedom from religion’s often random taboos, the embrace of reality over wishful thinking, etc. — many people automatically assume that, when it comes to death and grief, the comfort of believing in an afterlife will always win out. They assume that any argument for atheism being, you know, true, will ultimately crumble in the face of our desire for death to not be the end.

Many atheists reject this assumption passionately. We point out that many religious beliefs about death are far from comforting — Hell being the most obvious — and that many former believers welcome atheism as a profound relief. We point out that religious beliefs about death are only comforting when you don’t think about them very carefully. We point out that a philosophy that accepts reality is inherently more comforting than a philosophy based on wishful thinking… since it doesn’t involve cognitive dissonance and the unease of self-deception. And we point out that there are many godless philosophies of death that offer comfort, meaning, and hope — with complete acceptance of the permanence of death, and without any belief in any sort of afterlife.

But it’s one thing to face the general idea of death with a godless philosophy. It’s another thing entirely when someone you love dies, and you’re dealing with the immediate and painful reality of grief.

Grief beyond belief logo And that’s what groups like Grief Beyond Belief are about.

That’s what the burgeoning atheist community is about.

So if you ever wonder why atheists need our own space — our own meetup groups, our own student groups, our own online forums, our own organizations, our own support networks — remember that.

And if you need it yourself — please know that it’s here.

You can join Grief Beyond Belief by going to the Facebook group and clicking the “like” button.

I Need a Banner For My Freethought Blog!

Freethought blogs

I’m going to be moving my blog to the Freethought Blogs network soon, and I need a banner! Any designers out there want to help? I’ll send you copies of all four of my books if I use your design!

Specs:

The banner needs to be 728×120 pixels.

It needs to have the title of the blog, “Greta Christina’s Blog,” in pretty big letters.

It needs to have the tagline of the blog, “Atheism, sex, politics, dreams, and whatever. Thinking out loud since 2005.” in smaller letters.

It doesn’t have to incorporate my portrait pic, since that will be on the blog elsewhere. But it can incorporate it if you can make it work.

I’m not a designer, and don’t know what else to say in terms of specs or vision or what I’m looking for generally. But if you ask me questions, I’ll answer them as best I can. You can check out see what the other Freethought Blogs bloggers are using for banners, if that helps.

And my books are:

Best Erotic Comics 2008
Best Erotic Comics 2009
Paying For It: A Guide by Sex Workers For Their Clients (now out of print, except on Kindle)
Three Kinds of Asking For It: Erotic Novellas by Jill Soloway, Greta Christina, and Eric Albert

I’m very much looking forward to this transition — and I think a good banner could definitely help draw and keep traffic. Holler if you want to help out!

The Karaoke Pledge Has Been Completed!

And here it is, as promised — video of me singing karaoke.

Jesus fictional Christ.

Camp Quest As some of you may remember, a few months ago a bunch of atheist bloggers did a fundraising competition for Camp Quest (the kids’ camp for children of atheists, freethinkers, humanists, and other non-supernaturalists), pitting PZ Myers of Pharyngula against pretty much every other atheist blogger we could round up. The competition got… diverting, to say the least, with PZ offering to shave his beard into a hideous ’80s moustache if he won, and several members of Team Awesome responding by offering to publicly embarrass ourselves in an assortment of amusing ways for the entertainment of the atheist community if we won. Adam Lee at Daylight Atheism offered to grow a beard (in an effort to offset PZ’s beard-shaving proposal and keep facial hair homeostasis within the atheist blogosphere); Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience offered to do an episode of the show in drag; C.L. Hanson at Letters from a Broad offered to organize a showtunes sing-along (which, as far as I know, she hasn’t yet done — how about it, C.L.?); Jen McCreight at Blag Hag offered to learn to ride a bike on video; JT Eberhard at WWJTD offered to wax his legs and shave his head.

And I offered to sing karaoke, and post video of it online.

As you may remember, Team Awesome won. We raised a total of $15,418.79: PZ Myers raised a paltry total of $14,656.01. So the two teams combined raised $30,074.80 for the wonderful, inspiring, eminently worthy cause of Camp Quest.

Which was great.

No, really. I’m very, very happy about this.

Sigh.

So. Okay. The last three of these pledges — mine, Jen’s, and JT’s — were carried out at the recent Secular Student Alliance conference. Video footage was taken, and has been compiled, and has now been posted to the Internet.

I’m only on for a few seconds in the video. Which is fine with me. But if you feel a compelling need to hear more of what my singing voice sounds like through a shitty microphone in a noisy bar at the tail end of a weekend-long conference when my voice is shot… take it up with videographer Ashley Paramore, aka healthyaddict, who put the montage together. My pledge has now been fulfilled, and honor has been upheld, and I can attempt to put this episode in the back of my mind.

Until next year’s contest.

Hm. What should I pledge next time around?

(Video below the jump, since putting it above the jump mucks up my archives.)

[Read more…]

We Are Atheism – Greta’s Video

Y’all know about the It Gets Better project, right? Where people make YouTube videos telling gay teenagers that life gets better after high school, and that living as a gay person can be okay… and indeed, much better than okay?

We are atheism

A similar project has just started for atheists: We Are Atheism. It’s not specifically targeted at atheist teenagers (although “What would you say to your teenage self?” is a common thread in many of the videos). It was created to provide an outlet for all atheists, of any age, to come out of the closet; to help people find other atheists in their area; to empower people to start their own atheist organizations in areas that don’t currently have one; and to let other people — atheists and otherwise — simply see the faces of atheism, and to see that atheists can be good people with happy, meaningful lives.

I’ve done a video for the project myself, if you want to check it out! Six minutes and eight seconds of pure Greta awesomeness! (Video below the jump, since putting it above the jump mucks up my archives.)

And you can make your own “We Are Atheism” video! This isn’t about a handful of semi- high- profile atheists: this is about all of us, our entire community. We want to make this project as big as possible, and give as wide a variety of faces to atheism as we can. So take part. Come out, come out, wherever you are!

[Read more…]

Memo to Religious People: Many Atheists Don’t Want to Hear That Their Loved Ones “Are in Heaven” — New Group for Non-Believers Helps Atheists Grieve

Grief beyond belief logo In a society that reflexively copes with death by using religion, grieving atheists are turning to each other.

How do you deal with death — your own, or that of people you love — when you don’t believe in God or an afterlife?

Especially when our culture so commonly handles grief with religion… in ways that are so deeply ingrained, people often aren’t aware of it?

A new online faith-free grief support group, Grief Beyond Belief, is grappling with that very question. And the launch of the group — along with its rapid growth — presents another compelling question: Why do so many atheists need and want a separate godless sub-culture… for grief support, or anything else?

Grief Beyond Belief was launched by Rebecca Hensler after the death of her three-month-old son. Shortly after Jude’s death, she discovered Compassionate Friends, an online network of parents grieving the deaths of their children. But even though Compassionate Friends is not a religious organization, she says, “I often felt alienated by assurances from other members that my son was in heaven or by offers to pray for me, comforts that were kindly meant but that I do not believe and cannot accept.” And she knew there were others who felt the same way. (Conflict of interest alert: Hensler and I are friends, and I actively encouraged and supported her in launching this group.)

So about a year later, she started a Facebook page, Grief Beyond Belief. And the group grew and flourished far beyond her expectations. Once the atheist blogosphere heard about the group, news about it spread like wildfire, and membership in the group grew rapidly, rising to over a thousand in just the first couple of weeks. The group is open to atheists, agnostics, humanists, and anyone without belief in a higher power or an afterlife, to share memories, photos, thoughts, feelings or questions, and to give others support, perspective, empathy, or simply a non-judgmental ear. And it’s also open to believers who are questioning, struggling with, or letting go of their beliefs. As long as you don’t offer prayers, proselytize for your religious beliefs, or tell other members that their dead loved ones are in a better place with the angels, you’re welcome to join.

So why do atheists need this?

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet: Memo to Religious People: Many Atheists Don’t Want to Hear That Their Loved Ones “Are in Heaven” — New Group for Non-Believers Helps Atheists Grieve. To find out more about this grief support group for atheists — including why we need it — read the rest of the piece.

The Best Things About the Midwest Humanist and Freethought Conference

Midwest humanist freethought conference I feel like the scales have been lifted from my eyes. I was blind, but now I see. For most of the time I’ve been going to conferences, I’ve been avoiding conference reports as tedious drudgery… but now that I’ve discovered the secret — don’t worry about being thorough or even coherent, just post a series of disjointed observations about whatever happened to catch my fancy — I’m all inspired, and want to do it every time. (And it makes for perfect “plane ride home” blogging!)

So here, in no particular order, are The Best Things About the Midwest Humanist and Freethought Conference.

Samsingleton 1: Brother Sam Singleton. If you have not seen Brother Sam Singleton, Atheist Evangelist, you are missing one of the great joys of life. Hilarious and chilling, erudite and crass, quoting Voltaire with a vivid Ozarks accent, Brother Sam’s performance kidnaps the style of a Pentecostal revival meeting and uses it to deliver a sharp, compelling, take-no- prisoners atheist rant that makes Christopher Hitchens look like a vanilla cupcake. Truly the best of both worlds: if you think embracing atheism means losing the wild, soaring, inspired artistry of religion, his show is a must-see. I was cranky and groggy about being up at 9am on a Sunday with very little sleep (isn’t that supposed to be one of the benefits of atheism — that we get to sleep in on Sundays?)… and Brother Sam woke me the fuck up. See him if you possibly can. Make it a priority.

Greta behind pillow fort 2: The pillow fort. This is what awaited Jen McCreight when she arrived in Omaha. The impenetrable fortress of pillows! And a devastating ambush with the socks and T-shirts of victory! Photo (and video) by JT Eberhard: campus organizer, Skepticon co-founder, and renowned pillow fort architect. When the history of the atheist movement is written, let it be recorded that its thought leaders were five years old.

(And can I just say: This is one of the best pictures of me that has ever been taken. I am seriously tempted to make it my author pic for my next book. If I were a rock star, I would totally make it my next album cover. [Tangent within a tangent: Has any rock star or rock band ever done an album cover photo behind a pillow fort? And if not, why not?])

Jen McCreight 3: Jen McCreight’s talk. Jen has this unique talent as a speaker. Her manner is casual and approachable, like she’s simply chatting with you and it just happens to be at a lectern with a PowerPoint presentation. And then she sneaks these ideas out that punch you in the brain and shake everything up. Completely sensible ideas, ideas that seem so obvious you can’t believe you didn’t think of them before, ideas that seem even more reasonable given her relaxed and chatty approach… and that will totally fuck with your world. The key concept of her talk — that women’s relationships with God and religion are essentially abusive relationships, with all or most of the classic signs of abuse, and that the reasons women find it hard to leave religion are often the same reasons it’s hard to leave an abusive relationship — is one of those ideas. I am now rethinking a ton of stuff about how to persuade people (especially women) out of religion, and how to make atheism more welcoming to people (especially women) who are leaving it.

JT Eberhard 4: JT Eberhard’s talk. JT’s talk, on the other hand, was anything but casual. JT’s talk — on why reason is a moral obligation, and why atheists ought not to suffer unreason gladly — said hard things about religious belief, and hard things about religious believers, and hard things about atheists who decline to push back against it all. It was one of the darker talks I’ve seen him give. It was also one of the most inspiring. Not in a rah-rah “Atheists are awesome!” way, but in a “This is serious shit, we all need to be stepping up our game” way. (I still don’t agree with him about the primacy of reason in all areas of life — I think there’s a hugely important place in our lives for irrationality and intuition and impulse. Just not when it comes to evaluating truth claims about the non-subjective universe. But that’s a conversation for another day.)

Angry gargoyle scream 5: My angry atheist rant. I gave my “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” talk. I love my “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” talk. It’s one of my two favorite talks to give (running neck and neck with “Atheism and Sexuality”). And judging by the response, other people seem rather fond of it as well. I’m not going to indulge in false modesty. It’s a barn-burner. And I do so enjoy burning a barn.

The ledge movie poster 6: The panel discussion about “The Ledge.” This took me by surprise. There was a screening of Matthew Chapman’s “The Ledge” on Sunday, and a panel discussion about it with the speakers… which the speakers hadn’t actually known about until it was announced from the podium on Saturday. We were all like, “We’re doing what now?” And, “You want us to be coherent on the last day of a conference, about a movie we just finished watching?” But it was actually a fascinating conversation: about the characters’ motivations, and whether atheist characters in movies should be role models or flawed and complex human beings, and how far a film can stretch plausibility for the sake of good storytelling, and what the atheist community can do to fill the human needs that religion is filling, and whether the movie’s main character was a good guy with some asshole tendencies or an asshole with some good tendencies, and more. And it was a conversation that soon spilled out from the speakers’ panel and into the audience. For the last event of the conference, when everyone was drained and sleep-deprived and had Jello for brains, it was surprisingly lively. (And the movie itself is, IMO, excellent. I’d seen it before, back when I reviewed it, and it held up to the second viewing quite nicely.)

Caffeine dreams 7: Hanging out at Caffeine Dreams after it was all over. Caffeine Dreams is a truly delightful space: sprawling and spacious but also intimate, arty but also friendly and welcoming, in an old brick building that used to be two bars that used to be an architect’s home. (According to the barrista, anyway.) Plus plentiful sofas for exhausted speakers/ organizers/ die-hards to collapse into. And Mountain Goats on the sound system. Aaaaaaaaaah. I was fried and jangled when we got there — happy and satisfied, don’t get me wrong, but fried and jangled nonetheless — and Caffeine Dreams was a balm to my non-existent soul. The food wasn’t wildly magnificent or anything, but it was tasty and fresh, and the coffee was strong… and the space was so delightful, it could have made a day-old Quarter Pounder seem delicious. The next time I go to Omaha,
I want to eat every possible meal there.

And the company there was exquisite. Languid, meandering, post- conference- Jello- brain conversations about travel, and chocolate, and relocating the Large Hadron Collider to Columbus (ideally next to Jeni’s Ice Cream), and atheist politics, and life in the military, and whether kittens or puppies are cuter and why. I felt suspended in time, and entirely happy to be exactly where I was.

T-rex There was so much about this conference that was excellent. Hemant Mehta’s talk. Fred Edwords’ talk. Mr. Deity’s talk. The drawing of a T-Rex on the bag of Italian food that Jen and JT and I had delivered to our hotel. (JT had promised a ten-dollar tip to the delivery guy if he drew us a dinosaur, and the delivery guy came through with flying colors.)

But I’ve been to a lot of conferences now… and these conversations among old friends and new are almost always the best thing. You never know when the good ones are going to happen: it could be at the merch table, or at the Steak ‘n’ Shake, or over grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the post-bar-hop sobering-up efforts at the late-night coffeeshop. But whenever and wherever they happen, they are worth it. This movement is becoming a real community; this community is becoming an extended family. It makes me happier than I can say.