Perverts Put Out Is Tomorrow! Plus Greta Speaking in Minneapolis, SF Again, Stanford, Akron, Tacoma, and at Skepticon!

Hi, all! Perverts Put Out, San Francisco’s legendary pansexual reading/performance series, is happening tomorrow! I’ll be reading, along with Jaime Cortez, Gina deVries, Mario Gayle, Juba Kalamka, Henry and Glenn, Lori Selke, horehound stillpoint, Fran Varian, and your hosts Simon Sheppard and Dr. Carol Queen. Perverts Put Put is one of my favorite events on the calendar: I never miss it if I can possibly help it, it’s always great and is frequently transcendent. Hope to see you there!

CITY: San Francisco, CA (Perverts Put Out)
DATE: Saturday, July 27
TIME: 8:00 pm
LOCATION: The Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA (near Civic Center BART)
EVENT: Perverts Put Out — Pre-Dore Debauch
TOPIC: I have no idea. It’s Perverts Put Out. I’ll probably be reading porn.
EVENT SUMMARY/ OTHER PERFORMERS: Join a sexy celebration of leather and lust at Perverts Put Out!’s annual pre-Dore-Alley-Fair show, with performers including Greta Christina, Jaime Cortez, Gina deVries, Mario Gayle, Juba Kalamka, Henry and Glenn, Lori Selke, horehound stillpoint, Fran Varian, and your hosts Simon Sheppard and Dr. Carol Queen.
COST: $10-25 sliding scale, no-one turned away. A benefit for the Center for Sex and Culture.
EVENT URL: http://www.simonsheppard.com/simonsheppard%27su.html

And I have some other speaking gigs coming up that I wanted to let you know about: in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Akron, Stanford, Tacoma, and at Skepticon in Springfield, MO. Here are the details. Hope to see you there!

CITY: Minneapolis, MN (Minnesota Atheists/American Atheists Regional Conference)
DATE: Saturday, August 10
TIME: All-day conference
LOCATION: Ramada Plaza, 1330 Industrial Blvd NE, Minneapolis, MN
EVENT/HOSTS: Minnesota Atheists/American Atheists Regional Conference
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?
OTHER SPEAKERS: PZ Myers, Hector Avalos, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Amanda Knief, Greg Laden, Stephanie Zvan, Rohit Ravindran, Kim Socha, Jill Carlson, James Zimmerman, Eric Jayne, Cliff Buhl, and Susan Campion.
COST: $10.00 – $60.00
EXTRA EVENT: The evening before the conference, the minor league baseball team The St. Paul Saints will change their name for the day to the Mr. Paul Aints, in honor of the atheist conference. Seriously. A special group rate is available for the game for conference attendees.
EVENT URL: http://mnatheists.org/

CITY: San Francisco, CA (Godless Perverts Story Hour)
DATE: Saturday, August 31
TIME: 7:00 pm
LOCATION: The Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA (near Civic Center BART)
EVENT: The Godless Perverts Story Hour
TOPIC: I have no idea. It’s the Godless Perverts Story Hour. I’ll probably be reading something about religion and sex.
EVENT SUMMARY: Join us for another evening of blasphemy and depravity at our next Godless Perverts Story Hour on Saturday, August 31. The Godless Perverts Story Hour is an evening about how to have good sex without having any gods, goddesses, spirits, or their earthly representatives hanging over your shoulder and telling you that you’re doing it wrong. We’ll be bringing you depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities, as well as critical, mocking, and blasphemous views of sex and religion. The evening’s entertainment will have a range of voices — sexy and serious, passionate and funny, and all of the above — talking about how our sexualities can not only exist, but even thrive, without the supernatural.
OTHER PERFORMERS: As of now, our lineup for August 31 includes Molly Weatherfield (aka Pam Rosenthal), Victor Harris, Jen Cross, Virgie Tovar, Kate Sirls, M. Christian, and Simon Sheppard — plus your charming hosts Greta Christina, David Fitzgerald, and Chris Hall. Other readers and performers will be announced as appropriate.
COST: $10-20 sliding scale donation. No-one turned away for lack of funds. A benefit for the Center for Sex and Culture.
EVENT URL: http://www.godlessperverts.com/event/godless-perverts-story-hour-august-2013/

CITY: Stanford, CA
DATE: Tuesday, October 15
TIME: TBA
LOCATION: TBA
HOSTS: Humanist Community at Stanford and Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at Stanford (AHA!)
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist: 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: TBA

CITY: Akron, OH (The Sexy Secular Conference)
DATE: Saturday, Oct. 19
TIME: All-day conference
LOCATION: The University of Akron, Student Union Theater Rm. 210, Akron, OH
EVENT/HOSTS: The Secular Student Alliance at The University of Akron
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?
OTHER SPEAKERS: Annie Laurie Gaylor, Aron Ra, Heina Dadabhoy, Nate Phelps, Jamila Bey, Dr. Darrel Ray, David Fitzgerald, Katherine Stewart, and Mandisa Thomas
COST: Free and open to the public
EVENT URL: http://sexysecularconference.com/

CITY: Tacoma, WA (CFI Summit)
DATES: October 24-27 (don’t know which day I’m speaking)
LOCATION: Hotel Murano, 1320 Broadway, Tacoma, WA
EVENT/HOSTS: A joint conference of the Center for Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
TOPIC: TBA
OTHER SPEAKERS: Susan Jacoby, Bill Nye, Eugenie Scott, Cara Santa Maria, Phil Zuckerman, Katherine Stewart, Leonard Mlodinow, Todd Stiefel, and more
COST: $50.00 – $199.00
EVENT URL: http://www.cfisummit.org/

CITY: Springfield, MO (Skepticon)
DATES: November 15th-17th
LOCATION: Springfield Expo Center, Springfield, MO
EVENT: Skepticon!
TOPIC: TBA
EVENT SUMMARY: Skepticon is an annual skeptic/freethinker/atheist/awesome conference that is held annually in Springfield, MO. It is the mission of Skepticon to support, promote, and develop free-thought skeptic, and scientific communities through inclusive educational programming. Skepticon is also the largest free skeptic conference in the nation.
OTHER SPEAKERS: Seth Andrews, Richard Carrier, John Corvino, JT Eberhard, David Fitzgerald, Debbie
Goddard, Rebecca Hensler, Keith Lowell Jensen, Amanda Knief, Amanda Marcotte, Hemant Mehta, Monica R. Miller, PZ Myers, Aron Ra, Shelley Segal, David Tamayo, and Rebecca Watson.
COST: Free. This is a TOTALLY FREE conference. Discount hotel rates available.
EVENT URL: http://skepticon.org/

Godless Perverts Story Hour at Skepticon! With Rebecca Watson, Heina Dadabhoy, and Keith Lowell Jensen! Plus Upcoming Events in San Francisco!

skepticon 6 logo

The Godless Perverts Story Hour is taking the show on the road once more — this time to Skepticon! Skepticon is the mega-awesome and totally free skeptic/ atheist convention is Springfield, MO. And this year, as part of their Friday night festivities, they’re playing host to the Godless Perverts Story Hour! Plus we have events coming up in San Francisco — one a week from Tuesday, and one at the end of August!

The Godless Perverts Story Hour is an evening about how to have good sex without having any gods, goddesses, spirits, or their earthly representatives hanging over your shoulder and telling you that you’re doing it wrong. And we’re so excited to be bringing it to Skepticon! Co-hosted by Greta Christina and David Fitzgerald, and with readings and performances by Rebecca Watson, Heina Dadabhoy, and Keith Lowell Jensen (along with Greta and David), we’ll be bringing you depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities, as well as critical, mocking, and blasphemous views of sex and religion. The evening’s entertainment will have a range of voices — sexy and serious, passionate and funny, and all of the above — talking about how our sexualities can not only exist, but even thrive, without the supernatural.

We’ve only got one life — what better way to spend it than an evening of sexy godless fun?

Please note: This event is for people 18 and over only.

If you support Skepticon and the whole idea of major free conferences, please consider supporting them with a donation. There’s a really fun fundraiser going on right now with Shelley Segal: people are voting with their dollars on song topics, and Shelley will write a song about the winning topic and sing it at Skepticon. And she’ll personally serenade the highest bidder!

And the Godless Perverts have two events coming up soon in San Francisco! Mark your calendars!

The Godless Perverts Social Club is now meeting in San Francisco on the first Tuesday of every month — and our next gathering is on Tuesday, August 6. Community is one of the reasons we started Godless Perverts. There are few enough places to land when you decide that you’re an atheist; far fewer if you’re also LGBT, queer, kinky, poly, trans, or are just interested in sexuality. And the sex-positive/ alt-sex/ whatever- you- want- to- call- it community isn’t always the most welcoming place for non-believers. So please join us at Wicked Grounds, San Francisco’s renowned BDSM-themed coffee house — 289 8th St in San Francisco, near Civic Center BART — for an evening of conversation and socializing. All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) welcome. There’s no admission, but we ask that you buy food and drink at the counter, or make a donation to the venue.

And join us for another evening of blasphemy and depravity at our next performance event, the Godless Perverts Story Hour, on Saturday, August 31!

Jen-Cross-150x150 Virgie-Tovar-naughtyface-150x150 Kate-Sirls-150x150 VictorHarris-150x150

M-Christian-150x150 SImons_head_shot-150x150 PamRosenthal-e1370489619352-150x150 Chris Hall

Dave-Pic-sideways-150x150 Greta-big-150x150

Our performer lineup for August 31 includes Molly Weatherfield (aka Pam Rosenthal), Victor Harris, Jen Cross, Virgie Tovar, Kate Sirls, M. Christian, and Simon Sheppard — plus your charming hosts Greta Christina, David Fitzgerald, and Chris Hall. The Godless Perverts Story Hour will be at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St. in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART). $10-20 sliding scale donation; no-one turned away for lack of funds; benefit for the Center for Sex and Culture. Hope to see you there!

FtBCon: Videos Are Up — and a Survey!

ftb conscience

FtBConscience, the online conference hosted by Freethought Blogs, is over. But all the sessions are available online! I wasn’t able to attend a lot of it (I had an all-day thing I was doing on Saturday), but Ingrid and I are going through a bunch of the sessions we missed… and so far, they’ve been fascinating.

If you missed some or all of this conference, and want to check them out… well, that’s the glory of an online conference. All the sessions were recorded as they were happening, and you can check any or all of them out right now! Just go to the conference schedule, click on the title of the session you want to watch, and scroll down to the video!

If you’re particularly interested in the sessions I was part of, you can go directly there: Sex & Skepticism (with me, Ginny Brown, Franklin Veaux, Benny, Sophie Hirschfeld, and Miri M.), and Atheism and Grief (with me, Rebecca Hensler, Nicome Taylor and Hank Fox).

And if you did watch/ participate in some or all of the conference, please take a moment to fill out our survey! We’re hoping to do more of these in the future, and your input will help us make it even awesomer. (And yes, “awesomer” is a word, Haven’t you heard the line in that song, “A trip to the moon on awesomer wings”? That’s how it goes, right?) Anyway.

On Being a Feminist Writing Dirty Kinky Porn

So, I write porn. Most of my porn is kinky. Most of my kinky porn is female-submissive. And most of my female-submissive kinky porn is opposite-sex, male-dominated. I’ve just come out with a collection of my smut — excuse me, erotic fiction — “Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More” (available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords; audiobook and paperback coming soon). And while the book has lesbian kink, bisexual kink, gay male kink, fem-dom/ male-sub kink, unicorn-dom/ rainbow-sub kink, and even some non-kink, it’s true that women being spanked, beaten, controlled, used, objectified, humiliated, punished, and generally overpowered by men in dreadful dreadful ways is a dominating theme. (I know. Terrible pun.)

Also, I’m a feminist. An ardent one at that.

So what’s that about? And how do I reconcile it? Is there even anything to reconcile?

I know that when 50 Shades of Gray went viral, pundits from all over the pundit-sphere were racking their brains trying to figure out why all these ladies were so hot to read kinky porn about a woman getting sexually pushed around. I’ve written my own convoluted analysis: not about 50 Shades per se, I haven’t read it and probably won’t, but about the general trend of female-penned, female-submissive porn. But the more I think about this question, the more I think that we may be overthinking it.

I think the question may not be, “Why do women want to fantasize about being submissive?” I think the question may be, “Why do people want to fantasize about being submissive?”

*****

Bending coverTo read the rest of my essay, go to On Being a Feminist Writing Dirty Kinky Porn, my guest post on Erotica For All.

Here’s the deal: I’ve been doing a blog tour for my new erotic fiction collection, “Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.” Today’s installment in the tour is a guest post I wrote for Erotica For All, On Being a Feminist Writing Dirty Kinky Porn: a feminist perspective on male-dominant female-submissive kinky porn, with thoughts on why some women enjoy consuming and creating it, and how it might fit into feminism.

And remember — the book is currently available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. Audiobook and paperback are coming soon!

Previous stops on this blog tour:

6/3:
Ozy Frantz’s Blog: Is Erotic Shame Real Shame? (guest post by me)
Ozy Frantz’s Blog: Christian Domestic Discipline (extended excerpt)

Ozy Frantz has taken down their blog. These posts have now been reprinted on my own blog:
Is Erotic Shame “Real” Shame? (essay)
Excerpt from Christian Domestic Discipline (extended excerpt)

6/4:
Brute Reason: Greta Christina on Writing Dirty Stories (interview with Miri)

6/5:
Lusty Lady, Rachel Kramer Bussell: Excerpt from Craig’s List (extended excerpt)

6/7:
Charlie Glickman’s Blog: “Discover just how far sexy goes” (brief review/ blurb)

6/10:
WWJTD? JT Eberhard: On Being an Atheist Writing Religious Porn, plus Excerpt from Penitence as a Perpetual Motion Machine (guest post by me, plus extended excerpt)

6/12:
Passions and Provocations, Pam Rosenthal (a.k.a. Molly Weatherfield): How to Read a Remarkable Work of Erotica (review/ essay)

6/13:
Curvacious Dee’s Blog: Bent Fiction, plus Excerpt from Doing It Over (review, plus extended excerpt)

6/13:
Susie Bright’s Journal: Pain, Kink, Shame — and a Unicorn Chaser. Greta Christina’s New Erotic Epic! (brief review and extended excerpt from The Shame Photos

6/14:
En Tequila Es Verdad, Dana Hunter’s blog: Why Is Kink Fun? (guest post by me)

6/18:
Under His Hand, Kaya’s blog: Excerpt from This Week (extended excerpts)

6/19:
Heina, Skepchick: Why Atheists Say “God” When They Have Sex (essay)

6/21:
Girl on the Net: Someone else’s story (essay/review)

6/23:
Trollop Salon, Alison Tyler’s interview blog: Greta Christina is in the Salon! (interview plus excerpt)

6/25:
io9: How to Write a Sex Scene Between a Unicorn and a Rainbow (guest post)

6/27:
Maggie Mayhem’s blog: 5 Things That Piss Off This Godless Pervert (guest post)

Secular Meditation: “That’s not for me”

“I could never meditate. I can’t sit still for more than five minutes. I’m too impatient, too restless, too driven, too abstract, too ambitious, too overloaded, too much of a worrier, too much of a multi-tasker, too much of a rapid-fire thinker and talker, too easily bored, too attracted to action, too much of a sensation junkie.”

In my recent writings about secular meditation, I’ve been making a point of staying away from proselytizing. I’ve been focusing on my own experience with this practice, and talking a little about the research about it, and not trying to persuade everyone else to do it. I’m going to continue with that policy. For one thing, I don’t know enough about the research on this mindfulness/ meditation technique: I don’t know if it’s a universally useful form of mental-health hygiene, like brushing your teeth; or more of a “This is useful for people wih X, Y, and Z personalities and conditions, not so much for people with A, B, and C” thing; or more of a “This is useful for X percentage of the population we’ve studied who’ve tried it and stuck with it, but we have no idea why it works for some people and not others” thing. I don’t know. So I’m not going to pitch this practice to everyone. That’s not what I want to do today, and probably not ever.

What I want to do today is counter a mistaken assumption some people make about this practice… so y’all can make up your own minds about whether it might be something that would be good for you, without the mistaken assumption gumming up the works.

cooked michael pollan coverThis is probably one of those “white van on the corner” things, where once you’re thinking about something you start noticing it everywhere. But I’ve recently started seeing a bunch of writings from people insisting that they could never meditate, because, reasons. I saw it in a fashion/ lifestyle magazine (“More,” I think — it wasn’t very good, I tossed it right after reading it), a piece that was supposedly about “why I gave up on meditation” with no actual explanation of why she gave up on meditation other than “I tried it for an hour and it was boring and made me twitchy so I gave up.” More substantially, I saw it in Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (a fine book, btw, and one which I’m enjoying a great deal), where he said this on trying to have patience, practice, and presence in the kitchen:

Unfortunately, not one of the “p”s came easily to me. I tend toward impatience, particularly in my dealings with the material world, and only seldom do I find myself attending to one thing at a time. Or, for that matter, to the present, a tense I have a great deal of trouble inhabiting. My native tense is the future conditional, a low simmer of unspecified worry being the usual condition. I couldn’t meditate if my life depended on it.

And I’ve seen this same trope elsewhere, although offhand I can’t remember where.

So here’s the thing:

I’m one of those people, too. I’m impatient, restless, driven, abstract, ambitious, overloaded, a worrier, a multi-tasker, a rapid-fire thinker and talker, easily bored, attracted to action, a sensation junkie who can’t sit still for more than five minutes.

And that is exactly why meditation feels so good, and is so good for me.

If I was already naturally peaceful, naturally accepting, naturally good at staying present in my life and being in the moment, I probably wouldn’t need to meditate. Meditation feels good, and is good for me, precisely because I’m impatient, restless, driven, abstract, ambitious, overloaded, a worrier, a multi-tasker, a rapid-fire thinker and talker, easily bored, attracted to action, a sensation junkie who can’t sit still for more than five minutes. Meditation feels good, and is good for me, precisely because it gives me what I lack: the ability to be still, to focus on one thing at a time, to have a modicum of serenity about things I can’t change, to actually experience my life and my surroundings and the people I’m with without constantly planning and analyzing and worrying and thinking about how to fix things and rehearsing an endless stream of “what if” scenarios.

Now, it is certainly the case that, for all these reasons, meditation doesn’t come easily or naturally to me. It took me a while to feel comfortable with it… and I’m still not always comfortable with it, there are still sessions where it makes me anxious and twitchy and bored. It took me a while to get the hang of it… and I suspect that I still don’t really have the hang of it, not nearly as much as I will in a few months/ years/ decades.

dumb-bellIt’s reminding me a bit of weight training. When I first started hitting the weights, it felt weird, awkward, self-conscious, uncomfortable. I felt better after I did it… but the doing of it was hard. But it was exactly the stuff that was hard about it — the fact that my body wasn’t used to working in this way, or being worked in this way — that was why I needed to do it. I needed to get myself from a state where exercise was hard, to a state where it was relatively easy, and seemed natural, and actually felt pleasurable and good. And the only way to get there was to go through a stretch where it felt uncomfortable.

It feels like that with meditation. My mind isn’t used to working in this way, or being worked in this way. It sometimes feels weird, awkward, self-conscious, uncomfortable. I feel better after doing it, but the doing of it is sometimes hard. Less now than it was at first… but still sometimes. I need to get myself from a state where mindfulness is hard, to a state where’s it’s relatively easy, and seems natural, and actually feels pleasurable and good.

I’m one of those people. And I’m so glad I didn’t give up after the first week and say, “This isn’t for me.” This is definitely for me. And the very fact that I’m not there yet, the very fact that this doesn’t quite feel like me yet… that’s the reason it’s for me.

Other pieces in this series:
On Starting a Secular Meditation Practice
Meditation and Breakfast
Meditation, and the Difference Between Theory and Practice
Some Thoughts on Secular Meditation and Depression/Anxiety
Secular Meditation, and Doing One Thing at a Time
Secular Meditation: “Energy,” and Attention/ Awareness
Secular Meditation: How Down Time is Changing
Secular Meditation: “This is my job”
Secular Meditation: I Am Who I Am

FTBConscience: The Online Freethought Blogs Conference, July 19-21!

ftb conscience

So Freethought Blogs is having a conference! An online/ virtual conference. It’s taking place on July 19-21, 2013 and will focus on social justice, technology, and the future of the freethought movement. Without travel, registration, or hotel costs, FtBCon will be accessible to freethinkers around the world. Here’s the website with more details, and here’s the schedule: still being updated, but here’s what’s on the schedule and when for now. (Please note that all times on the schedule are in Central Standard Time.) Conference sessions will be held through Google+ hangouts. And yes, this will be an interactive conference: attendees will have the opportunity to interact with each other in chat rooms and to submit questions to moderators.

Speakers and panelists include Freethought Bloggers PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, Crommunist, Jason Thibeault, Ashley F. Miller, Kate Donovan, Miri M., Greta Christina, Ophelia Benson, Russell Glasser, Richard Carrier, Avicenna, Brianne Bilyeu, Zinnia Jones, Chris Clarke, Stephanie Zvan, Yemisi Ilesanmi, and Aron Ra… plus guests Jamila Bey, Rebecca Watson, David Silverman, Debbie Goddard, Shelley Segal, Beth Presswood, Heina Dadabhoy, Ania Bula, James Croft, Desiree Schell, JT Eberhard, Amy Roth, Hemant Mehta, Kim Rippere, Dan Fincke, Rebecca Hensler, Anti-Intellect, Emily Finke, Hank Fox, Lauren Lane, Sarah Moglia, Vyckie D. Garrison, and many more! Topics include: sex and skepticism, mission creep, climate change, atheism and art, relationships in a godless world, reproductive rights, atheist music, environmental activism, myths and facts about trans people, atheism and grief, the Asian faces of freethought, immigrant’s rights, and much, much more.

My own bad self: I’m going to be on the Sex & Skepticism panel, with Ginny Brown, Franklin Veaux, Benny, Sophie Hirschfeld, and Miri M., Friday July 19th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm CST — and on the Atheism and Grief panel, with Rebecca Hensler, Nicome Taylor, and Hank Fox, Sunday July 21, from 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm CST.

Again, this will be an interactive conference: attendees will have the opportunity to interact with each other in chat rooms and to submit questions to moderators. The chat room is moderated: we want this to be a fun and interesting experience for everyone, which means we’ve got no time for trolls, and anyone that the mods decide is being abusive or rude will be banned from the chat. When submitting questions to session moderators, make sure it’s clear which session your question pertains to, since we’ll occasionally have two sessions going at the same time. (We probably won’t be able to ask every question that gets submitted to us, but we’ll do our best.) And yes, we have a harassment policy: go to the Website and check it out.

If you think you’re going to attend, please like our page on Facebook and RSVP attending to our Facebook event! And all the presentations and panels will be moderated — so if you can’t attend the conference live, or if you can attend some of it but not all, you’ll be able to check out the stuff you find interesting later on YouTube.

Hope to see you there! This is the first time we’ve done this, and we’re really looking forward to it. Should be loads of fun!

What Three Questions Will Get You Excited?

I need a dumb distraction. Anyone want to play a game?

I keep getting this spam with the subject line, “3 Questions That Will Excite Any Woman!” Of course they don’t tell you what the three questions are — they want you to buy their stupid product, which will supposedly tell you what these magical foolproof woman-exciting questions are. And I’m fairly certain that there do not exist three questions that are guaranteed to excite any and every woman. Sexually or otherwise.

But I keep thinking: Are there three questions that would excite me, under just about any circumstances?

Of course I was tempted to go with, “What is your name?” “What is your quest?” “What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow?” But I decided to be a little more original than that. Here’s my stab at it.

1: “Did you read in the New York Times that they’ve definitively discovered the cause of abiogenesis?”
2: “Hey, isn’t that Jon Hamm over there in the corner making eyes at you?”
3: “Do you know that your hair is on fire?”

What about you? What three questions will get you excited?

On Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman Verdict — and What “Freethought” Does Not Fracking Well Mean

Please note: This blog post has a different comment policy from my usual one. It appears at the end of the post.

Other people have written about the details of the George Zimmerman case, and the verdict, more clearly and eloquently than I can. This piece does a pretty good job, as does this, as does this, as does this, as does this, as does this. But I feel that I need to get on the record about this. I may be disjointed, I may not be my usual eloquent self, but I can’t let this pass in silence.

Sometimes, I am deeply ashamed of my country. This is one of those times. The George Zimmerman verdict is making me physically ill.

I didn’t blog about the George Zimmerman verdict the day that it happened, or the day after, because I was out of town at my father’s memorial and the scattering of his ashes (and was then flying back home). And I can’t stop thinking about how I feel about my father’s death… and then thinking about how Trayvon Martin’s parents must feel. There have been moments when my grief over my father has felt nearly unbearable — and my father died at age 79, quietly in his sleep, after a long decline and years of very low quality of life from which death was a respite, of natural causes that nobody in this world could consider unjust. I cannot begin to imagine what it must feel like to be grieving the death of your teenaged child, who was hunted down and shot, whose death came from a systemic hatred and contempt of your race that you and yours have to live with every second of every minute of every day of every year of your entire life… and whose killer, in a grotesque travesty of justice, was acquitted.

I cannot begin to imagine. But it is my moral obligation to try.

It is also my moral obligation to do whatever I can to change the world, to do what I can to move this world towards one in which this would never happen, could never happen. It’s a tiny tiny start, not anywhere near enough, but it’s a start: I’ve signed the NAACP petition to the U. S. Department of Justice, asking them to file civil rights violation charges against George Zimmerman. You can sign it, too. If you know of other action that people can take, please make suggestions in the comments.

And in response to some (not all, not even most, but some) of what I’ve been seeing in the online discussions about this — largely among atheists/ skeptics/ etc., since that’s the Internet world I largely inhabit — I also want to say this:

I am sick to fucking death of the idea that “freethought” means “we have to treat all ideas as worthy of consideration, and debate them calmly and without anger, and treat people we disagree with respectfully.” Some ideas are morally repugnant. It is not antithetical to freethought to respond to morally repugnant ideas with rage. It is not antithetical to freethought to tell people with morally repugnant ideas that their ideas are morally repugnant, and that you will have nothing to do with them.

There are some issues that are worthy of calm, considered debate, issues on which people can reasonably disagree and still be friends. The question of whether a young black man should be able to buy candy at a convenience store without being hunted and killed is not one of them.

And I am sick to death of people looking at the national conversation about the George Zimmerman verdict, and acting as if “oh no, people are being mean to people who expressed views they find morally repugnant, they’re swearing at them and unfriending them and blocking them!” was the real issue here, the most important issue, the issue we should all be discussing. A young black man was hunted and killed for the crime of being a young black man, and his killer was acquitted. This is not an isolated case: it reflects the reality of millions of African Americans. And what some people really, really want to talk about is, “People are cussing people out and banning them on Facebook!” If those are your priorities, then please get the fuck out of my life. Do not comment in my blog. Do not read my blog. Do not follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Do not attend my talks. Do not buy my books. Go away, now.

And I am sick to fucking death of the idea that I am somehow morally obligated to host these debates — and these derailing meta-debates — in my own space.

I am not willing to host a debate about this on my blog. I am willing to host many debates on my blog, about many issues. I am willing to make my blog into a place for people to express many ideas and opinions with which I passionately disagree. This is not one of those issues, and this is not one of those times. If you have anything at all to say about this that even remotely hints at implying that what George Zimmerman did was remotely defensible, or that this verdict was anything short of grotesque… do not comment in my blog. Now, or ever. Do not read my blog. Do not follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Do not attend my talks. Do not buy my books. Get the fuck out of my life, now. Thank you.

What Does Religion Provide?

This piece was originally published in Free Inquiry.

What does religion provide?

This is something a lot of atheists and humanists have been asking ourselves: What does religion provide for people? What do people get out of it? Why do they like it? Why do they stay with it, even if they don’t like it? And how can atheists and humanists provide some or all of what religion provides… so that people who are questioning their faith will know that atheism is a viable option, and so people who do leave religion will have a safe place to land?

I think this is a hugely important question, and I’m delighted that our community is working so hard to respond to it. But recently, I’ve started thinking that, as vital as this question is, perhaps we should be reframing it. I think the question, “What does religion provide?” may not be all that useful. I think that instead, maybe we should be asking ourselves, “What do people need?”

I’d like to reframe it this way for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I don’t want to give religion any credit that it doesn’t deserve. I don’t think religion actually provides all that much that people can’t get in other ways. In fact, I would argue that there’s exactly one thing, and only one thing, that religion uniquely provides: a belief in the supernatural. Religion gives people a belief in a supernatural creator or creators, and/or a belief in a supernatural caretaker or caretakers, and/or a belief in a supernatural afterlife. Period. Everything else that religion happens to provide — social support, rituals and rites of passage, a sense of tradition, a sense of purpose and meaning, safety nets, day care, counseling, networking, activities for families, avenues for charitable and social justice work, events that are inspiring and fun, ongoing companionship and continuity — none of that is particular to religion. All of it can be gotten elsewhere.

I do think it’s interesting to ask why these human needs have traditionally been met by religion. Is it a historical accident? Is it because religion has been so relentlessly dominating and controlling? Is there something about belief in the supernatural that makes it easier for people to organize around it? But when we look at more secular societies and the ways that they’re flourishing, it becomes clear that, whatever the reasons are that these human needs have traditionally been met by religion, they certainly don’t have to be. And when we ask ourselves, “What does religion provide?”, I think we’re buying into the idea that religion does something special. I’d rather see us ask, “What do people need that religion currently provides?”

But mostly, I’d like to reframe this question because I think it will help us be better organizers. I think it will help us be more nimble, and more flexible. What people need varies tremendously: depending on their region, their culture, their subculture, their upbringing, their economic status, just on the individual person. And what people need from atheist communities varies tremendously, depending on all those things… and also depending on how dominating a force religion is in their area, and what religions are or are not currently doing for them.

In San Francisco where I live, there’s lots and lots and lots of stuff available for people who aren’t religious. There’s tons of secular social events, political organizing, charitable work, social justice work, activities and entertainment… having nothing whatsoever to do with religion. So if people aren’t religious, they don’t have as much of a need to turn to the atheist community for these needs. And if people aren’t religious here, they won’t be treated as pariahs. There’s sometimes conflict between atheists and believers… but coming out as an atheist here isn’t a social death knell.

But in the Bible Belt, that’s a lot less true. In the Bible Belt, a huge amount of socializing, charity work, social support, safety nets, economic and political networking, family activities, etc. are done through the churches. You can’t turn around without someone asking you, “What church do you go to?” Religion there is a hugely dominant force in people’s everyday lives. And coming out as an atheist can mean becoming a pariah. It can mean losing jobs, homes, custody of kids, as well as the love and support of family and friends.

So atheists in San Francisco are, on the whole, going to need something very different from their atheist communities than atheists in the Bible Belt.

When we started organizing the Godless Perverts Story Hour in San Francisco, these questions were very much on our minds. The genesis of the Godless Perverts Story Hour: David Fitzgerald and I were traveling to the same conference, happened to be on the same flight, and started talking in the airport about atheist organizing in San Francisco and what we could do to bring more people into the mix. We were thinking out loud, “What will get San Franciscans to come to an event? What do San Franciscans like?” And the answer popped into both of our heads at once: “San Franciscans like sex.” (Obviously people outside San Francisco like sex, too: but in San Francisco, people are generally more willing to be public about it.) So we thought: What if we organized an event where atheist writers do readings about our godless views of sex? We touched base with Chris Hall, who’d already launched the Godless Perverts thing with a well-attended and well-received panel discussion… and the three of us put together the Godless Perverts Story Hour, an evening of depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities, along with critical, mocking, and blasphemous views of sex and religion. And it brought in a nearly sold-out crowd. We’re turning it into a regular event.

Now, if we’d been thinking, “What does religion provide?”, we would have never come up with this. We would have come up with picnics, coming-of-age ceremonies, something like that. There are lots of things that religion traditionally provides, but “explicit sexual entertainment” is not generally among them. But because we were thinking, “What do people need and want?” — and because we were specifically thinking, “What do people in the San Francisco Bay Area need and want?” — we were able to think outside the box, and to come up with an idea that Bay Area atheists responded to.

What people need from an atheist community in San Francisco is different from what they’ll need in Tulsa. It’ll be different in Austin and Manhattan, Minneapolis and Dallas, Montreal and Tokyo, Saskatoon and Seattle and Sydney and South Africa. If we keep asking ourselves, “What does religion provide?”, I think we may focus too much on what religion already provides, and overlook creative ideas that religion is generally missing out on. If instead we ask ourselves, “What do people need?”, I think we’ll be better able to, well, to meet people’s needs — the ones religion is currently filling, as well as the ones religion doesn’t have a clue about. And we won’t be giving religion credit that it hasn’t earned.

Humanism in a Shitstorm

This piece was originally published in The Humanist, in the January / February 2013 issue.

“There are no atheists in foxholes.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this, more times than you care to remember. I’m sure you’ve heard religious believers dismiss secular humanism as shallow, a breezily hedonistic philosophy that dries up and blows away in the face of trauma, mortality, and grief.

It’s malarkey. You probably know that, of course: you probably know plenty of atheists who have been through terrible hardship without turning to religion. Chances are you’ve been through hardship yourself, with your godlessness intact. You may even know — or indeed be — an atheist in a literal foxhole: not the metaphorical kind, but the actual military kind where they’re trying to blow you up.

I want to talk about one of those metaphorical foxholes. I want to talk about how, in the depths of it, my atheism and humanism not only didn’t dry up, but supported me and helped carry me through. And I want to encourage other humanists to talk, with each other and with religious believers, about your own trials and challenges… and the ways that humanism, atheism, materialism, skepticism, and an evidence-based view of the world have helped get you through. (Assuming, of course, that they have.)

The very short summary: In October of 2012, I got hit with a serious one-two punch. My father died early in the month… and less than two weeks later, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Short of an actual military foxhole, this has got to be one of the most foxholey foxholes there is. If I saw this story in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it. I’d think, “That is just stupidly manipulative. Who the hell gets diagnosed with cancer two weeks after their father dies? That doesn’t happen to anyone.” But it happened to me.

The cancer is treatable, and in fact has been treated. I got lucky there (if any kind of cancer can be “lucky”): the cancer was slow-growing, caught early, and entirely treated with hysterectomy, with no chemo or radiation needed. But it was still terrifying. Recovery from the surgery has been slow, often painful, almost always difficult and exhausting. And it was much more traumatic coming so soon after my father’s death. I was just barely beginning to recover from that shock and wrestle with my grief when the news about my cancer came. Plus there was a nasty feedback effect: each of these traumas left me weakened, and less able to cope with the other. (I was, for instance, keeping an almost-daily grief diary on my blog in the days after my father’s death, which was helping me cope with that death and wring some meaning out of it… and which I had to abandon when the cancer came and immediately demanded all my attention.) And of course, the two traumas are closely twined: the harsh realities of mortality and grief, of the eventual death of myself and everyone I love, have been in my face every day, for weeks.

If there was ever a time when suffering, grief, and a stark reminder of my own mortality could make me turn to religion, this was it. And for days and weeks, I kept waiting for it. I didn’t seriously think I would turn to religious belief — I know the arguments against it too thoroughly — but I kept waiting for the moment when I wished I believed. I kept waiting for the moment when I thought to myself, “Goddammit, this atheism stuff sucks. If only I believed in God or an afterlife, this would be so much easier.” I kept waiting for that shoe to drop… and it kept not happening. The opposite has happened. The thought of religion has been making me queasy… and my humanism has been a profound comfort.

Honestly? If I believed in a god who made this shit happen on purpose, I wouldn’t be comforted. I’d be wanting to find the biggest ladder I could, climb into Heaven, and punch the guy’s lights out. Either that, or I’d be wracked with guilt and confusion trying to figure out what I’d done to deserve this, or what lesson I was supposed to be learning from it. If I had a relationship with an imaginary personal creator who supposedly loved me and yet made this horror show happen on purpose… that would be just about the most toxic, fucked-up relationship I can imagine. I can’t begin to see it as comforting. When I picture that relationship, what I feel is rage, guilt, confusion, and a poisonous mess of cognitive dissonance.

But it is tremendously comforting to see this horror show as physical cause and effect. My father didn’t die, and I didn’t get cancer, because some asshole in the sky was pulling the strings. My father died, and I got cancer, because of cause and effect in the natural world. And the unbelievably shitty timing of it? Physical cause and effect works that way sometimes. You roll a pair of dice long enough, chances are that at some point you’re going to get snake-eyes. You live a long enough life, chances are that at some point you’re going to get two or three horribly crappy things happening at once.

That can be hard to accept. It can be hard to accept that we often have little or no control over what happens to us. But when I compare the idea that “Yeah, sometimes life sucks, and I have to deal with it as best I can” with the idea that “An immensely powerful being is fucking with me on purpose and won’t tell me why”… I, for one, find the first idea much more comforting. I don’t have to torture myself with guilt over how I must have angered my god or screwed up my karma, with that guilt piling onto the trauma I’m already going through. And would the glib cliché that “everything happens for a reason” really give this shitstorm more meaning? Would it really be more comforting to twist my brain into absurd contortions trying to figure out what God was trying to teach me, and why the lesson was both so brutally enforced and so obscure?

Of course I can learn lessons from all this. I’m already learning lessons from it. There’s no way I’m going to be the same person after this shitstorm than I was before it. But I get to decide what lessons I learn from it. I get to infuse it with meaning. And that’s the power I have. I don’t have the pretend power that if I pray hard enough and do the right rituals to appease my imaginary friend, my life will always be awesome. What I do have is the real power to learn from the experiences that life hands me, and to use what I’ve learned to make myself a better person, and to make life better for others.

And the secular philosophies of death that I’ve been writing and reading and contemplating for years now… these have been a tremendous comfort. For instance: The idea that we didn’t exist for billions of years before we were born, and that wasn’t painful or bad, and death will be the same. The idea that our genes and/or ideas will live on after we die. The idea that each of us was astronomically lucky to have been born at all. The idea that death is a deadline, something that helps us focus our lives and treasure the experiences we have. (When I first got the cancer diagnosis, one of my first reactions was, “I can’t die! I have books to write!”) The idea that loss, including death, is necessary for life and change to be possible. The idea that things don’t have to be permanent to be meaningful. The idea that your life, your slice of the timeline, will always have existed even though you die. The idea that death is a natural, physical process that connects us intimately with nature and the universe. In an unspeakably shitty time of my life, all of these ideas have been a deep, solid, very real comfort.

None of these humanist philosophies have made the trauma or grief magically disappear. Any more than prayer or belief in God magically makes trauma or grief magically disappear. When I say that these outlooks are comforting, I don’t mean that they’re a panacea. I mean that they staved off despair. They gave me a bridge over the chasm. When the worst of the fear and grief felt like it would overwhelm me, these outlooks gave me hope: a sense that life was worth returning to, and worth fighting for.

And that’s not trivial.

When I first became a non-believer, I wasn’t familiar with any of these ideas. I didn’t even know that atheist or humanist communities existed. So I had to re-invent the wheel. I had to grind my own way to my godless views of life and death… and I had to go through my earliest experiences of godless hard times on my own. And as a result, those hard times were much harder than they needed to be. I don’t want anyone else to go through that. As hard as these last few weeks have been, they’ve been made far, far easier by the ideas I’ve learned, and the skills I’ve acquired, and the connections and friendships I’ve formed, from my years in the humanist and atheist and skeptical communities.

So let’s talk about this. Let’s not concede the ground of comfort to the religious. Let’s talk about the worst of times… and how humanism can help get us through. Let’s give other people who are questioning their faith, and other people who have let go of their faith and are going through hard times, a hand across the chasm, and a safe place to land.

(Portions of this piece appeared in my Skyped-in talk at Skepticon 5.)