Taking a break

I’m taking a break from the blog. Probably a week or two.

Reasons:

1: I’m behind schedule on my new book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. I need to get cracking.
2: There’s some health stuff happening with my family. I don’t want to get into it publicly right now, but it’s sapping time and energy.
3: The bastards are grinding me down somewhat, and I want to re-charge my batteries to continue the fight.
4: I promised Jen McCreight I’d pull together the beginnings of a library/ resource guide for Atheism+, and I really want to finish.

I can’t take care of all that, and also write/ moderate the blog. So I’m taking a week or two off. I’ll be back soon.

A Secular Alternative to “Preaching to the Choir”?

I’m looking for a secular alternative to the phrase, “preaching to the choir.” Help?

A bit of background: I’m working on purging religious language out of my vocabulary. Unless, of course, I’m talking about religion. I don’t like the way that religion permeates the language. Religion has gotten to dominate the conversation about almost everything… and the degree to which it permeates the language, even in entirely secular conversation, perpetuates this. (I’ve written about this at greater length in my piece Some Thoughts on Godless Language, btw, if you want a more thorough explanation of this idea.)

So I’m trying to say “For goodness’ sake” instead of “for God’s sake.” When people sneeze, I say “Gesundheit” (it’s German for “health”) instead of “Bless you.” I don’t say “R.I.P.” when people die: when I want to mark their death in writing, I give their name, their birth year, and their death year. And I’m trying to not say “soul,” unless I’m specifically talking about the mistaken idea that consciousness is animated by a supernatural force.

There’s a limit to this, of course. I’m perfectly happy to use the word “Goodbye,” for instance, despite the fact that it originally meant “God be with you.” I’m not going to look for alternatives to the word “Thursday” just because it originally meant “Thor’s day.” When a religious word or phrase enters the secular vocabulary, there’s a point at which it becomes entirely secular, and loses any religious meaning or implication it once had.

And I think every atheist gets to make their own decisions about this. Every atheist gets to make their own judgments about whether a certain word or phrase has become sufficiently secularized for them to feel comfortable using it. And every atheist gets to decide for themselves whether they even care about this. I don’t use the phrase “Bless you” when someone sneezes… but I don’t get bent out of shape if another atheist does.

But I know I’m not the only one who cares about this. And there’s a particular phrase I’m trying to find a particular secular alternative for: “Preaching to the choir.”

It’s an important concept, and one that comes up a lot — the concept of talking to/ persuading people who already agree with you. Important debates go on about this concept, in the atheist movement and elsewhere. Should we talk differently to people who more or less agree with us than we do to those who don’t? Do we tend to form ourselves into a bubble or an echo chamber, where we only listen to people we already agree with and who tell us how smart we all are? Is there value in speaking to people we agree with, on topics we agree about: does it inspire people, motivate them, give them language to express ideas and feelings they were having trouble verbalizing, support and encourage them when they’re feeling tired and demoralized? (As former preacher and Atheist Nexus founder Richard Haynes said at the Atheist Alliance of America conference last weekend, “Sure, you preach to the choir — that’s how you get them to sing.”)

“Preaching to the choir” is an important concept. It comes up a lot in the atheist movement. And I would really like to find a secular alternative to the phrase. I definitely don’t think it’s become secularized, in the way that “goodbye” or “Thursday” have. And I think it carries the implication that religion is good. I think it implies that both “preaching” and a “choir” are good things, and that the problem with “preaching to the choir” is that it’s unnecessary — we should do our wonderful preaching to people who need it, and not to the wonderful choir who’s already on board. I don’t want to endorse that concept. I want to find a secular alternative.

But I’m coming up short. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and haven’t come up with anything. So I want to try to crowdsource it.

Thoughts?

Runway Recap: Boys Against the Girls

I wasn’t planning for this week’s Runway Recap to be about feminism. Really, I wasn’t. Usually my Runway Recaps are my “give it a rest” happy silly fun time. But the producers of the show sort of forced it on me this week, and I’m going with it.

So here’s what I was noticing this week. Lots of designers were hammering on about the “boys against the girls” thing. Lots of designers were pointing out that the men this week were calmly moving forward with their work, and the woman were falling apart. Some designers were speculating that the top was going to be all men, and the bottom was going to be all women. And lots of designers were gassing on about how very different male and female designers are, how men designers are from Mars and women designers are from Venus. In particular, Ven “I Have For Some Reason Decided To Promote My Design Career By Making American Women Hate Me” Budhu could not shut up about how male designers are “stronger,” more edgy and innovative, and female designers are more “practical.” But he wasn’t the only one: even Sonjia was going on about how men design for what they think women should be, and women design for who women actually are.

And yet it didn’t play out that way on the runway. Not even in the slightest.

Top four? Two women, two men. Bottom two? One woman, one man. Safe in the middle? Two men, one woman. As even a split as you could get with nine designers.

As for this “male designers are edgier and more innovative” thing? Bullpucky. Especially coming from Ven “Put a Rose On It” Budhu. In a field largely devoted to perfectly adequate snooze-fests, the two women in the top had by far the artiest, most imaginative, most high-concept, most risk-taking looks of the week. Neither look was entirely successful in its execution. But with a little more time to play, to experiment with different fabrics and cuts, to toss out bad versions of good ideas — you know, like you have in the real world of fashion design, where you generally have more than one day to take an idea from “whole new concept” to “walking the runway” — both of them could be turned into stunners. Both of them had edge to spare. And both of them had ideas that I’ve never seen before — not in a cocktail dress, for damn sure — and that I would absolutely love to see again.

So was there a difference between the women and the men this week? [Read more…]

7 Amazing Atheists Who Aren’t Old White Guys

You’ve heard of Richard Dawkins. Charles Darwin. Mark Twain. … There are some amazing atheists who just don’t get the same credit.

Richard Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens. Sam Harris. Charles Darwin. Mark Twain. These are the names and faces many people associate with atheism. And apart from their atheism, they all have something in common: They’re all white guys.

Atheism is often seen as a white men’s club — by believers, and by all too many atheists as well. But for as long as there have been atheists, there have been atheist women and atheists of color. Some have been vocal and ardent about their atheism; for some, their atheism has been much more incidental to their life’s work. And some of that life’s work has been incredible. Some of it has changed the world… not just for atheists, but for everybody. When you’re imagining the face of atheism, I hope some of these faces — faces from history, or alive and yelling today — will come to mind.

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 7 Amazing Atheists Who Aren’t Old White Guys. (UPDATE: FYI, AlterNet changed the title of this piece from my original one, 7 Inspiring Atheist Women and Atheists Of Color. This is pretty standard in the publishing world: in magazines and newspaper, writers commonly don’t write their own headlines, or get the ones they do write changed.) To read about some awesome atheist women and atheists of color — and to talk about who else might have made it onto the list — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!