Why Atheism Demands Social Justice

I’m going to go out on a limb here: being an atheist demands that we work for social justice.

A lot of atheists will argue with this. They’ll say that atheism means one thing and one thing only: the lack of belief in any god. And in the most literal sense, they’re right. It’s different from secular humanism in that way. Secular humanism is more than just not believing in gods or the supernatural. It’s a positive, multifaceted philosophy that includes specific principles of ethical conduct. Atheism, technically, means only the conclusion that there are no gods.

But conclusions don’t stand in a vacuum. They have implications. That’s true for the conclusion that there are no gods as much as any other conclusion. When you conclude that there are no gods, I would argue that one of the implications is a demand that we work for social justice: an end to extreme poverty, political disempowerment, government corruption, gross inequality in economic opportunity, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and so on. For reasons that are high-minded and noble and altruistic… and also for reasons that are pragmatic and Machiavellian to the point of being crass.

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Thus begins my first column for Free Inquiry magazine, Why Atheism Demands Social Justice. To read more about both the high-minded reasons that atheists should work for social justice, and the crass, Machiavellian reasons, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

“Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” To Be Published By Pitchstone!

Excting book news! The print edition of Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless is going to be published by Pitchstone Publishing!

It’s currently available on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. The audio book will be published by Audible.com in about three months. I’d been planning to self-publish the print edition as well — but Pitchstone contacted me, and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Namely, the offer to publish the print edition of my book. They’re a small press, specializing in atheist books, including Attack of the Theocrats by Sean Faircloth, and Candidate Without a Prayer by Herb Silverman. I’m very happy to have my book in their catalog.

There is a small downside to this news, which is that it’s going to take slightly longer to get the print edition out (print-on-demand publishing is somewhat faster than conventional publishing). It’s now scheduled to come out in mid-June. The very big upside, though, is that it’ll be much more widely available. Pitchstone has distribution channels that I have zero access to as a self-publisher. So the book will be available in bookstores and everything!

As soon as it’s out, I’ll announce it here on the blog, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (my Twitter handle is @gretachristina). And here, once again, for those who have missed previous announcements about the book, is the description, and some wonderfully flattering blurbs. Watch this space for future announcements! [Read more…]

Podcast Interview on “This Is Really Happening”

“If you really want something to be true, that’s when you have to question it.”

Back when the whole Rapture thing was happening, I did an interview with a filmmaker who was working on a documentary about it. That interview has now been turned into a podcast on the “This Is Really Happening” podcast program. It’s an interesting format: instead of the standard back-and-forth Q&A, there’s no narration or interviewer’s voice: it’s just pieces from my side of the conversation woven together. Here’s the description of the podcast series:

Plumbing the depths of the human experience, This Is Actually Happening presents an occasional audio podcast with a simple challenge we pose to our listeners: What is it like to be someone else? In short storytelling format with no narration, This Is Actually Happening allows us to briefly travel to strange yet familiar worlds – the lives of others.

You can download the Greta-themed podcast (and others in the series) on Podomatic, or for free on iTunes. It’s Episode 11: “What if you didn’t believe in belief itself?” Enjoy!

Will Atheism Become Easier?

In the next generation or so, will it be easier to become an atheist?

I don’t mean socially or politically easier. I’m not wondering whether there will eventually be less anti-atheist bigotry, discrimination, stigma, whether state and church will be better separated, etc. (That’s not what I’m thinking about today, anyway.) I’m wondering if it will become emotionally easier, and philosophically.

Here’s what I mean, and why I’m asking. Years ago, I had a conversation at a party with my friend Tim. It was a somewhat tipsy conversation, so I may not be remembering it entirely accurately, but I think this was the gist of it: We were talking about existentialism (yes, I have tipsy party conversations about existentialism, so sue me), and Tim was saying that he agreed with the original existentialists about how, from any external objective perspective, there’s no meaning to our lives, and meaning is something we create entirely for ourselves. And then he said something like, “The difference is that I don’t see why that’s a problem. Sure, I create my own meaning. So what? That’s fine with me. Sartre and Camus and that whole crowd thought this was a barely-tolerable psychological state that had to be struggled with on a daily basis… but I don’t see what the big deal is.”

I knew immediately what he meant. And I said something like, “I wonder if the difference is that they made up existentialism, it was totally new to them… but we grew up with it. The idea was already in the air. Even if you didn’t grow up in an intellectual household, the basic idea had already filtered down into the culture. So when we were figuring out the world and our place in it, existentialism just seemed normal.”

This is what I’m wondering about atheism. [Read more…]

Greta Speaking in Las Vegas, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco!

I have some speaking gigs coming up this month, in Las Vegas, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco! If you’re going to be around, come check it out! (Although the Las Vegas talk, alas, is only open to UNLV students and faculty.) I pretty much always do Q&A after my talks, so if you have something you want to ask, or you just want to say Howdy, please come by. Here are the details:

EVENT/ HOSTS: Secular Student Alliance at UNLV
DATE: Tuesday, April 17
TIME: 7:00 pm
LOCATION: Student Union Theater, University of Nevada at Las Vegas
TOPIC: “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?”
SUMMARY: 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?
COST: Free — but open to UNLV students and faculty only. Sorry.

EVENT/ HOSTS: Humanist Society of Santa Barbara
DATE: Saturday, April 21
TIME: 2:30 pm
LOCATION: Vista Del Monte Retirement Campus, Patio Room, 3775 Modoc Rd., Santa Barbara
TOPIC: “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?”
SUMMARY: See above
COST: $2.00 – $5.00 donation requested; open to the public

EVENT: Godless Perverts: Atheism and Alternative Sexualities (panel discussion with Q&A)
PANELISTS: Me, Maggie Mayhem, Charlie Glickman, and Chris Hall
DATE: Thursday, April 26
TIME: 7:00 pm
LOCATION: Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission Street, San Francisco (near Civic Center BART)
SUMMARY: What’s it like to be a queer or kinky atheist? Alt-sex communities might favor calling the goddess or tantric rituals instead of a church revival, but the belief that a spiritual life makes you a better person is as common as in Middle America. The reality is that for nonbelievers, dungeons and Pride Parades can be as unwelcoming as the neighborhoods they grew up in.
Whether you’re a believer or a skeptic, come join us at the Center for Sex and Culture on Thursday, April 26 for a dynamic conversation exploring the role of atheists, agnostics, and skeptics in alternative sexuality. The panel features Greta Christina, Charlie Glickman, Chris Hall, and Maggie Mayhem speaking about how to be a good perv without God(dess), community attitudes that privilege religious and spiritual beliefs, how science can be ecstatic, what atheists call out when they come, and much more.
COST: Sliding scale, $10-20 requested.

Brief Blog Break, and Kitten Pics!

I’m going to be in New York from Wednesday 4/11 through Sunday 4/15. This is not a work trip — it’s the first actual non-family-gathering vacation that Ingrid and I have taken in I don’t know how long — and while I’ll be looking in on comments to make sure that they’re not blowing up, I may not be doing much actual blogging when I’m gone.

So in the meantime, here are some cute kitten pictures!

Comet’s favorite new toy is the magnetic alphabet letters we use to spell things on the fridge. She’s gotten very adept at leaping up at the side of the fridge to knock them down, so we’ve been keeping them up high where she couldn’t get at them. We thought.

The other evening, we found her prowling about with a letter E in her mouth. We put it back… only to find her playing with it again the next day. We couldn’t figure out how she’d gotten it, since the letters were all up high. Was the magnet weak? Were we knocking it over ourselves?

Nope.

Comet can now get to the top of the fridge.

Please note that in this photo, she actually has a letter in her mouth. More pics after the jump. [Read more…]

Prostitution Is Not Sex Slavery

Dammit to hell. I really, really didn’t want my first reply to something by Taslima Nasreen to be an argument. I have tremendous respect for the woman and her work, and I would have loved for my first piece on her work to be gushing and adoring.

But I can’t let this go by without opposition.

Nasreen has written a post titled “Sex Slavery must be abolished.” Hard to argue with. Except that throughout the piece, she equates all forms of prostitution with sexual slavery. She says prostitution is always patriarchal oppression, always sexual exploitation, always sexual violence, that women are always forced into it, that it is never a vocation choice, that it is always human rights abuse, that all of it harms women.

Now. It’s certainly the case that prostitution is sometimes sexual slavery, patriarchal oppression, violent, not freely chosen, abusive, and harmful. In fact, if Nasreen wanted to claim that it often is all these things, I probably wouldn’t argue with that. It’s hard to get accurate statistics on how widespread the abusive versions of prostitution are compared to the non-abusive versions — it’s illegal, and it’s a charged issue, so it’s hard to get accurate, non-biased data about it. But I won’t deny that the abusive and exploitative versions of prostitute are a serious problem around the world. And of course, I stand in passionate opposition to abusive and exploitative sexual slavery. Of course I am eager to find solutions that reduce these harms as much as is humanly possible, and if possible that eliminate them entirely.

My problem is with the idea that, because prostitution is sometimes or often abusive and exploitative, it therefore always is — and that it is by its very nature.

My problem is this: What do you say to women — and men, there are plenty of male prostitutes — who say that this is not their experience?

What do you say to the women and men who currently work as prostitutes, or who once worked as prostitutes, who say that they freely chose the work, and are happy with that choice? [Read more…]

Greta Reading in San Francisco, Monday 4/9

UPDATE! The event starts at 7:30 pm, not 7:00 pm!

If you’re in San Francisco tonight, Monday April 9, come hear me read! There’s a reading, discussion, and book signing about sex writing and culture, with the editors of Best Sex Writing 2012: The State of Today’s Sexual Culture, along with some of the contributors. I have an essay in the anthology — “Atheists Do It Better: Why Leaving Religion Leads to Better Sex” — so I’m going to be reading, along with series editor Rachel Kramer Bussel, guest judge Susie Bright, and contributors Tracy Clark-Flory, Thomas S. Roche, and others.

Here’s a little info about the book to whet your appetite:

In Best Sex Writing 2012, sex columnist Rachel Kramer Bussel and noted commentator Susie Bright, this year’s guest judge, collect the most challenging and provocative work on this endlessly evocative subject. Find out what’s behind the latest political sex scandals in “Sex, Lies, and Hush Money,” learn about how “Atheists Do It Better” and find out “Why Lying About Monogamy Matters.” From an insider look at being gay in the military pre-DADT and an impassioned defense of circumcision to a dating site for people with STDs, nuanced explorations of teen sex laws, prostitution, sex at 66, SlutWalks, female orgasm workshops, and more, Best Sex Writing 2012 explores the smarter side of sexuality. This is bedtime reading for erotic intellectuals and those who want to go behind the latest leering headlines for real talk about the topic on everyone’s lips.

The reading is at Booksmith, 1644 Haight St, San Francisco, from 7:00 7:30 – 9:00 pm. it’s free — and free cupcakes will be served! The Booksmith calendar only lists Rachel and Susie, but I’ll definitely be there. Hope you will be, too!

Welcome Taslima Nasrin to Freethought Blogs!

Taslima Nasrin has joined the Freethought Blogs network! We are honored to have her blog, No Country for Women, in our company. Here’s her bio:

Taslima Nasreen, an award-winning writer, physician, secular humanist and human rights activist, is known for her powerful writings on women oppression and unflinching criticism of religion, despite forced exile and multiple fatwas calling for her death. In India, Bangladesh and abroad, Nasreen’s fiction, nonfiction, poetry and memoir have topped the best-seller’s list. Taslima Nasreen was born in Bangladesh. She started writing from the age of 13. Her writings won the hearts of people across the border and she landed with the prestigious literary award Ananda from India in 1992 and 2000. Taslima won The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament in 1994. She received the Kurt Tucholsky Award from Swedish PEN, the Simone de Beauvoir Award and Human Rights Award from Government of France. She is a Humanist Laureate in The International Academy for Humanism,USA. She won Distinguished Humanist Award from International Humanist and Ethical Union, Free-thought Heroine award from Freedom From Religion foundation, USA., Erwin Fischer Award from IBKA,Germany,and Feminist Press Award, USA . She got the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh prize for Promotion of the Tolerance and Non-violence in 2005. Bestowed with honorary doctorates from Gent University and UCL in Belgium, and American University of Paris and Paris Diderot University in France, she has addressed gatherings in major venues of the world like the European Parliament, National Assembly of France, Universities of Sorbonne, Oxford, Harvard, Yale, etc. She got fellowships as a research scholar of Harvard and New York Universities. She was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow in the USA in 2009. Taslima has written 35 books in Bengali, which includes poetry, essays, novels and autobiography series. Her works have been translated in twenty Indian and European languages.Some of her books are banned in Bangladesh. Because of her thoughts and ideals she has been banned, blacklisted and banished from Bengal, both from Bangladesh and West Bengal part of India. She has been prevented from returning to her country for the last 18 years.

Please stop by her blog and welcome her to the network!

Fashion Friday: Atheist T-Shirts in Women’s Styles

Today in Fashion Friday, we have a double treat — a post about fashion, AND a post about inclusivity in the atheist movement! All in one!

So I got this email the other day, from the organizers of Skepticon, asking for help promoting their advance T-shirt sales (help I duly provided). I took a look at the site, hoping that I wouldn’t see what I knew I probably was going to see, hoping that this time it would be different. And there it was.

No women’s T-shirts.

This drives me up a tree. I have a drawer full of atheist conference T-shirts that I pretty much never wear, because they’re men’s t-shirts and they look like crap on me. And now it looks like I’m going to have another one.

Sigh.

Before I start my rant, I’m going to be very clear right up front: I think Skepticon is an amazing event, one of the most inspiring and fun gatherings we have. And the Skepticon organizers are awesome. They’re doing something really difficult — putting on a major, national-level conference, one of the largest atheist/ skeptical events in the calendar — and they’re doing it for free. They’re also doing something I (a) think is hugely important and (b) personally hate doing and totally suck at — on-the-ground, in-the-flesh event and community organizing — and my hat is off to them. Ditto the other conference organizers, the other organizations, the other local groups, the other student groups, who have this same T-shirt problem.

And I’m also going to be clear right up front: This isn’t just about Skepticon, or even mostly about Skepticon. Skepticon happened to be the event I was looking at when the straw broke my camel’s back. But LOTS of other conferences, organizations, local groups, student groups, do this exact same thing. Just last month, at the American Atheists convention, while they did have women’s shirts for sale, the free goodie-bag T-shirts were all men’s shirts. And I’ve seen it again and again and again. This isn’t about Skepticon. This is about every atheist conference, organization, local group, student group — and there are a LOT of them — that sells or gives away T-shirts… and only does it in men’s styles.

Folks — this is not okay.

When you only have t-shirts in men’s styles, it is a nearly perfect symbol of the attitude that the atheist movement is for men.

When you only have t-shirts in men’s styles, it is a nearly perfect symbol of the attitude that this should be a “one size fits all” movement, and that this size should be the size it already is: a size that comfortably fits men, and that women have to awkwardly fit ourselves into as best we can.

If you think this is only my issue — think again. I sometimes give talks on diversity in the atheist movement, and when I do I often mention the T-shirt issue — and it almost always gets a HUGE round of applause from the women in the audience. And don’t tell me that the T-shirts are “unisex.” “Unisex” T-shirts means “men’s T-shirts that we’re trying to pawn off on women.” “Unisex” T-shirts is just giving a different name to the problem, and pretending it’s a solution.

I understand that there are economic issues here: when printing T-shirts in bulk, it’s more expensive to print them in more than one style. There are ways around that — the assorted “print on demand” sources, like Cafe Press and Zazzle — but there are reasons why that doesn’t always work. So here’s a thought: If you can only afford to print T-shirts in one style… why not make it a women’s style? Men can wear women’s T-shirts, too, and some men even prefer them (just as some women are fine with men’s T-shirts, and even prefer them). And sure, a lot of men don’t much like women’s T-shirts and don’t think they look good in them — just like lots of women don’t much like men’s T-shirts and don’t think we look good in them. Why should it always be women who get the suck end of that stick?

And even as I type those words, I can feel the discomfort and resistance radiating out from the Internet. “Men, wearing women’s T-shirts? EWWWW! That’s weird! It makes sense for women to wear men’s clothes sometimes — but it’d be totally bizarre for men to wear women’s clothes!”

And I want to ask: Why is that?

Why does it make sense for “male” to be the default that women fit themselves into — but it’s weird for “female” to be the default that men fit themselves into?

Why is it that if women complain about only being offered men’s T-shirts, we’ll almost certainly be seen as vain and shallow and trivial for caring so much about our looks… but if men complained about only being offered women’s T-shirts, it’d almost certainly be seen as an entirely reasonably objection to an unacceptable imposition?

And why do we find androgyny more acceptable in women than in men? Why do we think it’s reasonable and even attractive for women to look like men, and to aspire to look like men… but we think it’s weird and demeaning and laughable for men to look like women, or to aspire to look like women? Why do we think it makes perfect sense for women to be more masculine, but we think it’s absurd for men to be more feminine? Why do we think it makes perfect sense for masculinity to be not only the default, but the ideal, to which both women and men should aspire?

Never mind. I think I answered my own question.

I realize this is a small thing, a first-world problem if I ever heard one. But sexism isn’t just about the big things, wage discrimination and domestic violence and so on. It’s the summation of lots of little things, the barrage of slights and insults and degradations and casual dismissals we deal with every day. (Watch “Mad Men” sometime to get an idea of what I’m talking about.) This is one of them. It gets up my nose — and based on my experiences mentioning it in my talks, it gets up a lot of other women’s noses as well.

So if you want to tell women, “Sure, you can come to this event, but this is basically a boy’s club and you’ll just have to fit yourselves in as best you can,” then keep on only having men’s T-shirts. But if you want to tell women, “You’re welcome here! You’re every bit as much a part of this movement as any man!”, having women’s t-shirts is a great way to do it.

Please, please, please — Skepticon, American Atheists, every other conference and organization and local group and student group — find a way.