The Freethought Blogs Light the Night Team! With Dares and Forfeits!

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Light the Night Walk logoSo Freethought Blogs has gotten onto the Foundation Beyond Belief/ Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation Light the Night bandwagon! And I’ll be doing ridiculous dares and forfeits to encourage y’all to donate! (As will at least some other Freethought Bloggers — Ed Brayton is already soliciting suggestions on Facebook.)

We’ve started a virtual team, which basically means you can participate by just clicking a few clicks and donating some money. Even a small amount helps — it really does add up. And then you can walk up and down in your living room for a couple of miles, if you’re feeling left out of the whole walkathon thing.

In fact… you know what? If you take a walk up and down your living room as part of a “do it yourself” walkathon, and you videotape it and put it on the Internet, I will personally donate $50 to the FTB Light the Night team. $50 per video, capping out at $500. (I’ll also post links to the videos on my blog.)

Or else you can actually take part in the Light the Night walk in your own city: as part of a Foundation Beyond Belief team, or as part of some other team, or just on your own. You don’t have to be part of an official team to be part of the walk — you can just register as an individual, either online or at the event.

This means a fair amount to me. What with being a cancer survivor and all. Also, I’m the Foundation Beyond Belief International Team’s Honored Hero for 2013, which is a vaguely big deal. And since I’m the Honored Poobah, it seems right that I should take at least some of the “dares and forfeits” bullet.

So here goes.

If the Freethought Blogs team raises $1,000, I will dye all my hair purple and green for Skepticon. Right now I have genteel little green and purple streaks. If we raise $1,000, I will dye the whole shebang. I will basically hand myself over to my hairdresser, tell her “purple and green,” and let her have at it.

And for every $1,000 that the Freethought Blogs team raises over that, I will do some other dare or forfeit… chosen from a list of suggestions made by you sadistic bastards here in the comments. (When you’re considering your suggestions, please remember: I’m a cancer survivor. Which means that you have to feel sorry for me and be nice to me. :-) )

foundation beyond belief logoAnd if the entire Foundation Beyond Belief team reaches its goal of raising $500,000 in 2013, I will walk across the entire city of San Francisco, in the wildest outfit I can come up with. (With sensible shoes, though — I’m not stupid.) Yes, I’ll be doing my very own personal Bay to Breakers, with whatever friends and family I can sucker into joining me.

That’s not an outrageous goal, by the way. In 2012, the Foundation Beyond Belief raised $430,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation… and that was the very first year they participated in this thing. It was the largest amount ever raised by a first year non-corporate team and the 4th largest amount raised by any team in the nation in 2012, including corporate teams. So that’s pretty cool. And $500,000 is totally do-able.

So sign up! Be an official part of the Freethought Blogs Light the Night team! Let’s make use of human beings’ evolutionary tendency towards tribalism and group loyalty, and turn it towards good! Go, team, go!

Here, by the way, are pics of the San Francisco Light the Night Walk. I’ve actually never done one of the fundraiser walkatony things before: I didn’t know what to expect, but it was actually pretty neat. And we got to walk on the grounds at the baseball park, which was cool.

Light the Night Walk 01

Me at the starting line. Representing the godless community with my Secular Student Alliance Surly! (More after the jump.) [Read more…]

Blog Break Cat Photo

I’m going into writer hibernation and taking a blog break through October 31, while I finish my next book, “Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.”

In the meantime, here is a cat photo. I’ve pre-scheduled at least one cat photo for every day of my break, so you won’t be lonely.

Comet

Comet!

Blog Break Cat Photo

I’m going into writer hibernation and taking a blog break through October 31, while I finish my next book, “Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.”

In the meantime, here is a cat photo. I’ve pre-scheduled at least one cat photo for every day of my break, so you won’t be lonely.

Houdini

Houdini!

Blog Break Through October 31

I finally signed the book contract with Pitchstone (publishers of the print edition of “Why Are You Atheist So Angry?”) for “Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Which is hugely exciting! But it means I now have to finish actually writing the thing.

So I’m going into writer hibernation. No Facebook. No Twitter. (Except for very short announcements of upcoming events.) Minimal emailing. I’ll fulfill any deadlines or other professional and personal obligations I’ve already made… but I’m not taking on any additional ones until after October 31.

And no blogging. (Again, except for very short announcements of upcoming events.)

I know. I suck. But I’ve been trying to fit this book in around the cracks of the rest of my work, and it just isn’t working. I need to set aside just about everything else until at least an initial draft of the book is done.

In the meantime, here is a cat photo. I’ve pre-scheduled at least one cat photo for every day of my break, so you won’t be lonely.Talisker

Talisker!

Greta Speaking in San Francisco, Sacramento, SF Again, Stanford, Akron OH, Tacoma WA, and Springfield MO

I have some speaking/ reading gigs coming up in the next couple of months, in San Francisco, Sacramento, SF Again, Stanford, Akron OH, Tacoma WA, and Springfield MO. The events include Perverts Put Out, Sacramento Freethought Day, Litquake in the Castro, The Sexy Secular Conference, CFI Summit — and, of course, Skepticon! Hope to see you there!

CITY: San Francisco, CA (Perverts Put Out)
DATE: Saturday, September 28
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: oin a sexy celebration of leather and lust at Perverts Put Out!’s annual pre-Folsom-Fair show, with performers including Jen Cross, Greta Christina, Philip Huang, Steven Schwartz, horehound stillpoint, Naamen Tilahun, Xan West, and Mollena Williams, with your hosts Simon Sheppard and Dr. Carol Queen.
COST: $10-25 sliding scale
EVENT URL: http://www.simonsheppard.com/simonsheppard%27su.html

CITY: Sacramento, CA — Sacramento Freethought Day
DATE: Saturday, October 12 (they’re also having a Lobby Day on the day of Friday October 11, which I’m going to have to pass on, and a reception the evening of Friday October 11, which I’ll be attending)
TIME: 10:45 am – 6:30 pm
LOCATION: William A. Carroll Amphitheatre in William Land Park, 1401 Sutterville Road, Sacramento, CA
EVENT: Sacramento Freethought Day
TOPIC: TBA
EVENT SUMMARY/ OTHER SPEAKERS: Sacramento Freethought Day combines the fun and atmosphere of a fair with the education and activism of a conference. It’s a festival of freethought. They’ll have speakers and live entertainment, family activities, an authors’ panel with Q&A, and more! Other speakers: Annie Laurie Gaylor, Heina Dadabhoy, Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, Carrie Poppy, Victor Harris, AmyJo Mattheis, Dan Riley, Andrea Griffith, Jason Testerman, Neil Wehneman, and Jason Frye.
COST: Free! They do ask that you register in advance, and they’re happy to take donations to support the festival.
EVENT URL: http://freethoughtday.org/

CITY: San Francisco, CA (Litquake in the Castro)
DATE: Sunday, October 13
TIME: 1:00 PM
LOCATION: Jane Warner Plaza, Market and Castro Streets, San Francisco, CA
EVENT: Litquake in the Castro
TOPIC: TBA
EVENT SUMMARY/ OTHER READERS: Provocative readings set outdoors at the epicenter of the LGBT world. In partnership with the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District. Other readers include Mark Abramson, Nick Krieger, Monica Nolan, and Kevin Sessums.
COST: Free and open to the public.

CITY: Stanford, CA
DATE: Tuesday, October 15
TIME: 7:00 pm
LOCATION: TBA
HOSTS: Humanist Community at Stanford and Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at Stanford (AHA!)
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: Free and open to the public

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: See above
OTHER SPEAKERS: Annie Laurie Gaylor, Aron Ra, Heina Dadabhoy, Nate Phelps, Dr. Darrel Ray, David Fitzgerald, Katherine Stewart, and Mandisa Thomas
COST: Free and open to the public. Donations to support the conference are appreciated.
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: Activism Burnout — Prevention and Treatment
SUMMARY: One of the most important keys to the success of the atheist movement is keeping activists engaged for the long haul. But the most inspired and motivated activists are often the ones most likely to eventually burn out. What are some practical strategies for preventing burnout — and for managing it when it happens? And how can activists support each other in not burning out?
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.
SPECIAL EVENT: At this year’s Skepticon, we’ll be hosting a Godless Perverts Story Hour! 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. The Skepticon event will feature readings and performances by Rebecca Watson, Keith Lowell Jensen, and Heina Heina Dadabhoy, as well as hosts David Fitzgerald and my own bad self.
COST: Free. This is a TOTALLY FREE conference. Discount hotel rates available. They do ask that you register for the conference, and they would love donations to help keep it going.
EVENT URL: http://skepticon.org/

Secular Meditation: Is This Practice Making Me “More Buddhist”? Take One Guess

So I got this comment from sciamannata on my recent post, Secular Meditation: The Serenity to Accept What Could Be Changed, But Doesn’t Actually Need to Be:

You are becoming more Buddhist every day :-)

…and I have stopped arguing with you in my head about this — especially while I am trying myself to meditate — because you seem to be doing very well as it is; in other words, you don’t seem to be missing out hugely by not using explicitly Buddhist concepts.

I remain somewhat uneasy about this movement to do mindfulness meditation etc. without acknowledging that it is entirely based on a tradition that was developed and preserved for a couple of thousand years by assorted Asians in an essentially religious context — but if that is what it takes for some more people to benefit from it, hey, Buddhism does have an esplicit concept of “skilful means” that I’m sure encompasses this as well!

Signed, a Buddhist atheist, or atheist Buddhist, who is working on what exactly that means :)

My reply:

Um…. thanks?

A couple of things, though. First, it’s just flatly untrue that MBSR and other secular forms of meditation/ mindfulness are, quote, “entirely” based on Asian religion traditions. For one thing, some form of meditation seems to have been developed independently by several different cultures, and is practiced in several religious traditions. Also, and rather more importantly: In addition to the Asian (and other) religious traditions it’s based on, MBSR is largely based on something very different and very important — namely, medical science. It’s based on double-blinded, placebo-controlled, peer-reviewed, replicated research, examining which of these many millenia-old techniques actually accomplish something, and which are about as useful as bloodletting or exorcism. That’s a pretty significant departure from the religious tradition.

And that’s exactly the reason I’m writing about this in a secular framework. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would be interested in meditation/ mindfulness, and who might benefit from it, but who are put off by the religious trappings that are so often attached to it — trappings make them hostile to it or suspicious of it or both. I was one of those people, for years. So I’m deliberately writing about my experiences from a purely secular angle.

It’s a funny thing. One of the most common criticisms aimed at atheists is, “Look at all the wonderful things religion gives people! Community, social support, comfort in hard times, ritual and tradition, music, art, meditation! People need that!” Then, when we point out that you can have every one of these things without religion, people holler, “Wait! You can’t take the religion out of these traditions and practices! You’re trying to take Christ out of Christmas!” (Or religion out of meditation, or whatever.) We can’t win.

Also, it seems to me that “being a Buddhist” or “becoming a Buddhist” would be a pretty deep and intense matter of personal identity, and would mean rather more than “adopting a handful of the philosophies and practices.” I’ve also adopted philosophies and practices of Epicurianism, Stoicism, Existentialism, Judaism, Christianity. That doesn’t make me an Epicurian, a Stoic, or an Existentialist — and it sure as hell doesn’t make me a Christian or a Jew.

Oh, and one more thing that I feel compelled to say here. From “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless”:

80. I’m angry that, in many Buddhist monasteries, children as young as ten years old are inducted as novice monks. I’m angry that children who can’t possibly understand the tenets and demands of the religion are recruited into devoting their lives to it. And I’m especially angry because the children who become novice monks are typically among the most impoverished — and they’re drawn into abandoning secular life and devoting their lives to the monastery, not out of a sincere religious calling, but out of a need for food and shelter.
81. I’m angry that the current Dalai Lama said that sex can only provide short-term pleasure and is inherently destructive in the long term, even leading to suicide and murder; that all forms of sexuality other than penis-in-vagina intercourse are banned by Buddhist teachings; and that, although he supports the tolerance of gay people, he sees homosexual sex as “wrong,” “unwholesome,” a “bad action,” “vices,” “not acceptable from a Buddhist point of view,” and “contrary to Buddhist ethics.”
82. I’m angry that, in Sri Lanka, the Buddhist majority has perpetrated intimidation, vandalism, violence against Christians and Christian churches.
83. And I’m angry that, when criticisms of religion are leveled, Buddhism all too often gets a free pass. I’m angry that the Westernized version of Buddhism typically ignores or dismisses these abuses. I’m angry that the versions of Buddhism practiced in Nepal or Thailand or Sri Lanka get treated as marginal or trivial, while the version of Buddhism practiced in California is somehow seen as the true faith.

So… yeah. “Becoming more Buddhist”? Not so much. If you want to be an atheist Buddhist, go right ahead. I have no more objections to that than I do to secular Judaism or cultural Catholicism. But as for me… nope. Fuck that noise. Fuck it right in the arse.

Lynda Barry’s “The Stages of Reading”

A truly wonderful comic by Lynda Barry, on the 20 stages of reading, from infancy onward.

Lynda Barry Stages of Reading 7 and 8

I can think of a couple of other stages that aren’t here, though:

Somewhere between #9 and #12: First adult book — not sexy book necessarily, “adult” as in “not written for kids” — that you read and at least somewhat comprehended. (Mine, IIRC, was Slaughterhouse-Five.)

First movie or TV adaptation of a beloved book that made you furious because they changed or deleted things that you loved. (For me, that was definitely Winnie the Pooh. FUCK YOU, DISNEY!)

And first time you re-read a beloved children’s book as an adult, and realized that it was even better than you remembered, and that there was tons of stuff in it that had totally gone over your head when you were eight or whatever. (“Alice in Wonderland/ Through the Looking Glass.”) See also: first time you re-read a beloved children’s book as an adult, and realized it really wasn’t all that great. (“Little Women,” anybody?)

Oh, and apropos of nothing: I am being entertained all out of proportion by “The Boring Butterfly” in #2.

So what other stages of reading can you think of?

(Via Pharyngula.)

Fashion Friday on Saturday: Atheist Shoes

There was some fabulous fashion at the Director’s Reception (tonight? last night? what do you call it when it’s after midnight but you haven’t gone to sleep yet?) for the 5th Atheist Film Festival. (Happening today, Saturday, September 14 — you can still get tickets at the door.) In particular, there were loads and loads of truly awesome shoes. So I spent much of the party asking people if I could photograph their shoes (which makes for an interesting ice-breaker), and documenting the shoe parade. And I thought I’d share with the rest of the class.

Shoes

Shoes

More after the jump. [Read more…]

Coming Out Atheist — I Need Your Stories and Advice

NOTE: If you already replied to this request when I first made it back in May, there’s no need to reply again, unless your answers have significantly changed. I have all the old replies. I’m just doing one more round of collecting stories before I finish up the book.

I’m writing a new book — a how-to guide about coming out atheist, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” And I need your stories, and your advice.

IMPORTANT: Please read this entire post before commenting! I’m looking for somewhat specific kinds of stories, with somewhat specific kinds of information. So please don’t just scroll to the comments and pour out your heart. Please read this entire post before pouring out your heart. It’s not that long, I promise.

I’m writing a how-to guide about coming out atheist. I obviously want this guide to reflect a wide range of atheist experiences. So I’m gathering stories. And I’m looking for somewhat specific kinds of information. You don’t have to answer every one of these questions, btw — if you do, it’ll help, but partial answers will also be very useful. [Read more…]

This Is Why We Speak Out: Richard Dawkins Apologizes for Statements on Childhood Sexual Abuse

Content alert: chidhood sexual abuse.

This is why we speak out about these things.

Richard Dawkins has apologized for his earlier statements on childhood sexual abuse.

I cannot know for certain that my companions’ experiences with the same teacher were are brief as mine, and theirs may have been recurrent where mine was not. That’s why I said only “I don’t think he did any of us lasting damage”. We discussed it among ourselves on many occasions, especially after his suicide, and there was indeed general agreement that his gassing himself was far more upsetting than his sexual depredations had been. If I am wrong about any particular individual; if any of my companions really was traumatised by the abuse long after it happened; if, perhaps it happened many times and amounted to more than the single disagreeable but brief fondling that I endured, I apologise.

Full statement here.

I still have some issues with this statement. Dawkins still seems somewhat fixated on the idea that the damage done by childhood sexual abuse is contingent on the frequency of the abuse, or the specific kind of sexual contact. But IMO, this apology is an important step. He has acknowledged that it was wrong of him to extrapolate from his own experience with being molested, which he sees as not having done him any lasting damage, and assume that other people’s experiences and responses to those experiences were the same as his.

And this is why we speak out about these things.

We speak out to educate. We speak out to change minds. We speak out to get voices heard that otherwise would not be heard. We speak out to show people that they are passing on misinformation, that they are missing important pieces of information, that their reasoning is flawed, that their words and actions are causing pain. We speak out to give courage to others who may also want to speak. We speak out to give a voice to people who are afraid to speak, or are unable to speak. And we speak out with passion and anger to make it clear that some positions are not acceptable, and should not be acceptable. We speak out with passion and anger to refuse our consent, to set ourselves apart from ideas and actions we consider reprehensible. We speak out with passion and anger to give notice to others that similar ideas and actions will not be accepted. We speak out with passion and anger to make it clear that real harm has been done. We speak out with passion and anger to say, “You are hurting me, you are hurting other people, please stop it now” — and to get that message heard.

All of that has been accomplished in the pushback against Dawkins’ original statements.

It’s not up to me to accept or not accept Dawkins’ apology. That’s up to victims of childhood sexual abuse, and I will wait to hear from more of them. But since I’ve been writing about Dawkins’ earlier statements, I thought it was important to let people know about his subsequent apology. And in the face of a very distressing, very discouraging time in the atheist and skeptical community, I thought it was worth saying: Speaking out works. Let’s keep it up.