Self Publishing Versus Conventional Publishing? 5 Big Advantages of DIY Publishing — and 5 Reasons to Reconsider

Why Are You Atheists So Angry?Ever since I self-published the ebook of “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless” — and ever since I got the print edition published by a conventional small-press publisher, Pitchstone — other writers have been asking me for advice about self-publishing, conventional publishing, and which they should pursue.

I have become a serious convert to self-publishing, and am a big booster of it. But I also recognize that the success of “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” is something of an outlier in the self-publishing world, and that this avenue isn’t for everyone. So I want to do a bit of a public service announcement for other writers, and lay out what I see as the major advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing versus conventional publishing. [Read more...]

Greta Speaking in Texas – Update! SMU Event Now Open to the Public!

UPDATE: My October speaking events at Stanford and in Texas have been cancelled, due to my father’s death. I am hoping to reschedule for a later date; if I do, I’ll announce it on this blog.

I have some updates on my upcoming speaking tour in Texas. Most importantly: The event at Southern Methodist University in University Park is now open to the public! And some of the other previously un-announced details for the Texas tour have now been announced as well — including talk topics. I’ll be giving talks on “Atheism and Anger,” “Resistance Is Not Futile: Is Arguing About Religion Worth It?”, and “Atheism and Sexuality.”

Here are the current details for all the currently confirmed Texas events. UPDATE: And here’s a link to useful maps for the SMU and UTA events.

CITY: Dallas, TX
DATE: Wednesday, October 10
TIME: 4:30 pm
LOCATION: Townview Magnet Center (high school) – exact location TBA
EVENT/ HOSTS: Secular Thinkers Alliance at TMC
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: TBA — probably free but NOT open to the public

CITY: University Park, TX
DATE: Wednesday, October 10
TIME: 7:00
LOCATION: Southern Methodist University – exact location TBA Umpherey-Lee 241
EVENT/ HOSTS: Secular Humanists of SMU. Co-sponsored by the Fellowship of Freethought — Dallas.
TOPIC: Resistance Is Not Futile: Is Arguing About Religion Worth It?
SUMMARY: Many atheists think that trying to persuade people out of religion never works, and simply alienates people. But debating believers about their beliefs can be effective — in changing people’s minds about religion, as well as in achieving other goals of the atheist community. When does it makes sense to debate about religion? How should we go about it? And what should our expectations be for what these debates can accomplish?
COST: Free Suggested donation of $5 – and now open to the public!

CITY: Arlington, TX
DATE: Thursday, October 11
TIME: 6:00 pm
LOCATION: University of Texas at Arlington, Bluebonnet Ballroom
EVENT/ HOSTS: Freethinkers of UTA, co-sponsored by Metroplex Atheists. RSVP on Facebook.
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
SUMMARY: 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?
COST: Students free, non-students $10, open to the public


Hope to see you there!

“Cheering to the Pep Squad” — My New Secular Alternative to “Preaching to the Choir”

Thanks to everyone who chimed in with suggestions for a secular alternative to the phrase, “preaching to the choir.” Lots of people had very good suggestions, and if (like me) you’re trying to get religious phrases out of your language unless you’re actually talking about religion, I encourage y’all to look at the comment thread and pick the ones you like best. I love crowdsourcing!

(If you don’t care about this “getting religious phrases out of your language” thing, btw, that’s totally fine. Every atheist gets to decide for themselves where they draw the line between “totally secularized religious language” and “religious language that still conveys tacit support for religious ideas.” And every atheist gets to decide for themselves whether they even care about this.)

megaphoneBut the replacement for “preaching to the choir” that I liked best is “cheering to the pep squad.” (Thanks to northierthanthou for the suggestion, to others who made similar suggestions, and to everyone who participated in the conversation!) I think that’s the one I’ll be using. Here’s why.

1: “Cheering to the pep squad” is personal. It conveys the image of a person talking to a group of people. “Coals to Newcastle” or other phrases connoting “delivering something to a place that already has lots of it” don’t convey that sense of personal communication of ideas. Same with “kicking at an open door.” Although I do like that phrase, and may wind up using it sometimes.

2: “Cheering to the pep squad” conveys what I see as the central concept in the phrase “preaching to the choir”: the idea of trying to persuade people who already agree with you, and in fact whose job it is to help convey those very same ideas.

This is why I personally like “cheering to the pep squad” better than “lecturing to the faculty,” btw. “Lecturing to the faculty” got a lot of votes in the discussion thread. But as many people in the conversation pointed out, “lecturing to the faculty” is, in fact, a useful endeavor, one which actually goes on in many schools. Faculty members don’t always agree about everything. They may even attend lectures as part of how they resolve disagreements. So for me, that phrase doesn’t quite fit.

3: “Cheering to the pep squad” conveys the same vibe of the phrase “preaching to the choir” — the vibe of pointlessness, the vibe of wasting your efforts persuading people who already agree with you. But it also leaves room open for questions and interpretation about this supposed pointlessness. When the concept of “preaching to the choir” comes up, it’s often pointed out that “preaching to the choir” isn’t always pointless. Sometimes the choir needs to be motivated, inspired, revved up. Sometimes you need to persuade people on your side: not that you’re right, but that the fight is worth fighting. And giving people words for ideas and feelings they’ve been experiencing but couldn’t find words for… that’s useful. As former preacher and Atheist Nexus founder Richard Haynes said, “Sure, you preach to the choir — that’s how you get them to sing.”

“Cheering to the pep squad” leaves that same door open. Often, cheering to the pep squad is a waste of time — they’re already pretty darned cheerful. But sometimes the pep squad needs cheering. And it’s often worth discussing whether any given instance of cheering to the pep squad is useful motivation, or a pointless echoing back and forth between people who all already agree.

So that’s my vote. But again… not trying to establish dogma here. If you like another phrase instead, by all means, go ahead and use it. And if I’ve already convinced you that this phrase is a good one, I won’t keep hammering on about it. I don’t want to be cheering to the pep squad here. :-)

Oh, btw: A side discussion was started in that same thread, looking for secular alternatives to the phrase, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I’d like to put in a vote for, “There but for a lot of luck go I.” Same scansion and everything! But I also like my brother’s suggestion, “There but for the hammer of Thor go I.” Not strictly secular, but sometimes talking about gods that nobody believes in anymore has much the same effect. What are your thoughts?

Make Sure You Can Vote

Yesterday was National Voter Registration Day, which I missed because I was taking a five-mile walk, punctuated by stopping into bookstores and sitting in cafes. But I saw this graphic on Facebook late in the day, and it inspired me to comment.

keep calm and register to vote national voter registration day

The Republican Party is basically trying to steal this election by making it harder for likely Democratic voters to vote. Voter fraud is a virtually non-existent problem in the United States — in the entire decade between 2000 and 2010, only 13 people were convicted of impersonating someone else in order to vote in their name — but with voter ID laws, millions of legal, eligible voters will not be able to vote. This is not an accidental side effect of voter ID laws — it’s the whole freaking point. They’ve said as much, in actual words.

And this issue isn’t just about voter ID: in many states, early voting is being reduced or limited. And in the crucial swing state of Ohio, the voting hours have been made different from district to district, with heavily Democratic districts being limited to voting during working hours on weekdays, and heavily Republican districts being given expanded voting hours on nights and weekends.

The Republican Party is trying to prevent African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, students, poor people, and other citizens who are legally allowed to vote and are likely to vote Democratic from voting.

Don’t let them.

Make sure you’re registered to vote. Make sure you have whatever fucking stupid ID they require of you to vote. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time on Election Day to vote. Better yet — vote early or absentee if you can. And then — or hell, now — pressure your elected officials to stop disenfranchising voters already.

However you’re inclined to vote — Democratic, Republican, independent, Libertarian, Green, Socialist, Silly Party — make sure you can vote. And make sure you do vote.

Oh, and memo to the Republican Party: If your campaign strategy is “citizens who are likely to vote hate us, so we’re going to try to keep millions of them from voting”? Maybe you need to change that. Maybe you should look at adopting a “having policies that don’t make people hate us” strategy instead. Just a thought.

How Confrontationalism Can Open Doors

This piece was originally published in The Humanist magazine, in my Fierce Humanism column.

twenty dollar bill In God We Trust crossed offA woman walks into a café, orders a coffee and, before she pays, crosses off “In God We Trust” on her $20 bill. The woman is me, and scratching the motto off money is something I often do.

This time the woman behind the counter gave me a look. Irritated, offended. She looked like she wanted to tell me off, or start an argument. But instead she shrugged, and said (paraphrasing here), “Whatever floats your boat.”

I felt uncomfortable. Like most people, I don’t like upsetting others or making them mad at me. I’m fairly comfortable with confrontation online—heck, it’s my job, and it’s a job I enjoy—but when it’s in person, it makes me feel self-conscious and anxious. While the woman was getting my coffee, I had a brief argument with myself in my head. Was this bit of visibility for secularism worth the irritation and offense I had caused? Had I actually turned someone off to the ideas I was trying to convey? Was it obnoxious of me to do my little “secular government” visibility action in front of the barista, who is professionally required to be polite to me and doesn’t have the option of telling me to piss off? In doing my visibility shtick and trying to open some eyes to some new ideas and questions, had I instead just closed a door?

Here’s what happened next. [Read more...]

Greta Speaking at Stanford and in Texas

UPDATE: My October speaking events at Stanford and in Texas have been cancelled, due to my father’s death. I am hoping to reschedule for a later date; if I do, I’ll announce it on this blog.

UPDATE: The event at Southern Methodist University in University Park, TX is now open to the public! Some of the other previously un-announced details for the Texas tour have now been announced as well, including talk topics.

Hi, all. I have some speaking gigs coming up in October: one at Stanford, and then several in Texas. The details of the Texas tour are still being worked out, and some additional events may be added to it — but I wanted to get the word out now about the confirmed events, so people who want to come hear me speak could start making plans.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Not all the Texas events are open to the public. In fact, of the currently confirmed events, right now only one of them is. It’s likely that at least one and possibly two other Texas events will be added to the tour… but right now, the only confirmed event that’s open to non-students is the one at Arlington. Just so’s you know. Two of the Texas events are now open to the public — the UTA event at Arlington, and the Southern Methodist University at University Park.

CITY: Stanford, CA
DATE: Wednesday, October 3
TIME: 7:00pm
LOCATION: Stanford University, Serra Mall, Building 420, room 041 (map)
EVENT/ HOSTS: Humanist Community at Stanford and Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics (AHA!) @ Stanford. Also sponsored by the Graduate Student Council and the ASSU Undergraduate Senate. Rsvp on Facebook.
TOPIC: Coming Out: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why?
SUMMARY: Coming out is the most powerful political act atheists can take. But coming out can be difficult and risky. What are some specific, practical, nuts-and-bolts strategies we can use: to come out of the closet, to support each other in coming out, and to make the atheist community a safer place to come out into? What can atheists learn about coming out from the LGBT community and their decades of coming-out experience — and what can we learn from the important differences between coming out atheist and coming out queer?
COST: Free and open to the public

CITY: Dallas, TX
DATE: Wednesday, October 10
TIME: 4:30 pm
LOCATION: Townview Magnet Center (high school) – exact location TBA
EVENT/ HOSTS: Secular Thinkers Alliance at TMC
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: TBA — probably free but NOT open to the public

CITY: University Park, TX
DATE: Wednesday, October 10
TIME: 7:00
LOCATION: Southern Methodist University – exact location TBA Umpherey-Lee 241
EVENT/ HOSTS: Secular Humanists of SMU. Co-sponsored by the Fellowship of Freethought — Dallas.
TOPIC: Resistance Is Not Futile: Is Arguing About Religion Worth It?
SUMMARY: Many atheists think that trying to persuade people out of religion never works, and simply alienates people. But debating believers about their beliefs can be effective — in changing people’s minds about religion, as well as in achieving other goals of the atheist community. When does it makes sense to debate about religion? How should we go about it? And what should our expectations be for what these debates can accomplish?
COST: Free Suggested donation of $5 – and now open to the public!

CITY: Arlington, TX
DATE: Thursday, October 11
TIME: 6:00 pm
LOCATION: University of Texas at Arlington, Bluebonnet Ballroom
EVENT/ HOSTS: Freethinkers of UTA, co-sponsored by Metroplex Atheists. RSVP on Facebook.
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
SUMMARY: 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?
COST: Students free, non-students $10, open to the public

Hope to see you there!

What’s Been Going On

Fuck it. I’m just going to write about it.

I alluded to it in passing when I said I was taking a break from the blog, but I wasn’t ready to write about it in any detail then. I am now. Here’s what’s been going on, and why I’ve been taking a break.

Regular long-time readers of this blog may remember that my father has been in poor health for some time. Many years, actually. A little over five years ago, he had a pretty big stroke, and he never really recovered from it. His language was permanently damaged, as was some other brain function. His health has been in gradual decline ever since, and we’ve had a number of crises and sharp declines, where it seemed possible — likely, even — that he would die soon. But he always stabilized. I was going to say “recovered,” but that’s the wrong word: after each crisis, he would stabilize at a lower level of health and functioning, with less ability to communicate and get around and take care of himself. We’ve been in a state where my father could very likely die any day… or not die for weeks… or months… or years. Every time he had another sharp decline, we went into crisis mode, thinking the end was now finally close. And then he would stabilize, and settle into the new low.

We’ve been in this state for years.

A couple of weeks ago, my brother called to tell me that our dad had another decline, and has now been put into home hospice care. He’s stable, but his functioning is very low indeed. He has a hospital bed set up in his living room, and he hasn’t left it for any significant amount of time for over two weeks. His language abilities, seriously impaired ever since his first stroke, are now almost gone.

When your brother calls you tell you that your dad is in home hospice care, you brace yourself, and get into “impending death” mode. Except the reality is that we are now, once again, in a state where my father could very likely die any day now… or not die for weeks… or months… or years. Closer to the end then he was, probably. And with significantly worse quality of life. But we still don’t know.

This, as you may have gathered, is unbelievably hard to deal with. [Read more...]

4 Ways Christianity Sneaks Into Our Secular Government — And Why it Matters

In God We Trust“In God We Trust” on the money. “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Creches and crosses on public land. Religious mottos on public buildings. Prayers starting public government meetings. Prayers in the public schools. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the religious right was right, and the United States really was a Christian nation.

Of course it’s not. The United States is a secular nation. The principle that citizens have the right to reach their own conclusions about religion, and that government should stay out of that choice, is deeply enshrined in the foundation of our government, in the First Amendment and elsewhere. This separation of state and church was not accidental or an oversight — it was written into the Constitution by careful, conscious choice, made against significant pushback. And the country has citizens who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan, “spiritual but not religious,” many other religions — plus, of course, citizens without any religion at all.

Yet what often gets called “ceremonial deism” is all over our government. Now, when this “ceremonial deism” get challenged in court, it typically gets defended — and is often even upheld by judges — on the grounds that it isn’t really religious. In court, its defenders argue that all this God talk is obviously just tradition, without any actual religious meaning. (How could you silly people think that “God” means something religious?) But when you look at the ideas and motivations driving this “ceremonial deism,” it becomes clear that it’s anything but secular. Passionate religious belief is driving every one of these battles. It wouldn’t be defended so fiercely if real religious fervor weren’t behind it. And every one of these “ceremonial” incursions of religion into government gets used — on the ground, in tangible, real-world ways — to marginalize non-believers, and to treat them as second-class citizens.

Here are four ways that the concept of God gets into government — and pushes atheist citizens to the sidelines.

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This begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 4 Ways Christianity Sneaks Into Our Secular Government — And Why it Matters. To find out how “synbolic” religion gets into our government — and how it has an effect on our citizens that’s very real indeed — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

For Our Cats, We Rearranged Our Home — and Our Lives!

Catster editor: “We’re looking for stories about how people clean or rearrange their homes and their physical space to accommodate their cats. Do you have any stories like that?”

Me: Gales of uncontrollable laughter, verging on hysteria.

Comet her first day on the counterBefore we got our current batch of kitties, we spent days getting our home ready: getting a new cat condo, new litter boxes, and so on. The day we got them home, we spent hours following the little monsters around while they got into more and more trouble. As we hastily cleared off spaces it hadn’t occurred to us in our wildest dreams they could get into, we realized just how laughably inadequate our preparations had been.

Rearranging our space to accommodate our cats? We’ve rearranged our freaking lives.

Here are some of the highlights:

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Thus begins my latest piece for Catster, For Our Cats, We Rearranged Our Home — and Our Lives! To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!