“Interpath” — An Alternative to “Interfaith”?

Would the word “interpath” work as an alternative to “interfaith”?

“Interfaith” is the word that commonly gets used to describe people and organizations of different religious affiliations working together and keeping lines of communication open. And a lot of godless people and godless organizations want to take part in this interfaith thing, and indeed already are. A lot of godless folks are willing, and indeed even eager, to open lines of communication with progressive religious groups, and to work with them on issues we have in common (church/ state separation, LGBT rights, reproductive rights, and more).

But a lot of godless folks are not comfortable doing this using the word “interfaith.” We don’t see ourselves as having “faith” — in fact, the idea that atheism is a “faith” just like religion is one of the more common myths and misunderstandings held about us. And the word “interfaith” often gets used against us, in a “damned if we do/ damned if we don’t” way. If religious groups want us to participate in “interfaith” efforts and we push back against the word, saying that it doesn’t really include us and puts us on the margins of an effort that’s supposedly about being inclusive, we get told, “It’s just a word, don’t take it so literally.” But if religious groups don’t want us to participate in “interfaith” efforts, the word gets used against us. “This is about people and organizations of faith — and you yourself say that you don’t have faith.” And unsurprisingly, it’s the religious groups who get to decide whether any given “interfaith” activity should or should not include us.

This has happened more than once. And it’s happened in important situations — most notably, in public and supposedly “interfaith” memorial services. In the supposedly “interfaith” memorial service for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, humanists had no representation — despite extensive attempts from secular groups to be included, and despite the fact that members of the Humanist Community at Harvard were severely injured in the bombing.

For the record, I do think religious groups have the right to have events and communication lines that are dedicated specifically to… well, to religious groups. If people want to get together and talk about how they all believe in the supernatural, and do coalition work with other people who believe in the supernatural — sure. Knock yourself out. But if they’re going to do that, I think they need to spell out that that’s what they’re doing. They shouldn’t get to hide behind the concept that “interfaith is about faith — except when we say it isn’t — so of course no atheists or humanists are allowed. That’s just not what this is about. Unless we say it is.” And if an event does not have a specifically religious focus — such as a public ritual that’s supposed to include all citizens — I think it needs to include non-believers. Not through the side door, and not as a “sure, you can be part of this too, even though the word we’re organizing around specifically excludes you and is even anathema to many of you” afterthought, but fully included.

Very few atheists object to the actual activity of godless people and groups getting involved in interfaith work (although some of us don’t want to take part in it ourselves). But a whole lot of us have real problems with the language — to the point where some atheists don’t want to participate in interfaith stuff, at all, if it’s going to be under that name. Assorted alternatives to the word have been floated, but none have stuck.

So when I was speaking at Boston University last week, and when we were going out to dinner afterwards, I was introduced to a possible alternative that I think has potential to stick:

Interpath.

The word was coined (as far as I know) by Derek Lewis Knox. He had this to say about in in a message to me on Facebook:

For me, the word “interfaith” is no longer acceptable, because it reinforces the privilege of “faith,” and it is not right to expect atheists/non-religious to participate under the label “faith,” as that ignores the real concerns many have about faith as “belief without evidence.” Secondly, “interpath” is more accurate about many world religions (Taoism, Confucianism, Jainism, streams of Buddhism and Judaism) that are more like ways of life, and don’t emphasize faith the same way Christianity does. Third, “interpath” reflects that we are polarized not just by religious differences, but by culture, geography, politics, and economic/environmental perspective, and it is important to build understanding across all of these lines.

Thoughts? Do you like it? Would it work? EDIT: If you don’t like it, do you have an alternative word that you think would work better? Or do you just not like the entire idea of working in coalition with religious groups?

Godless Perverts Social Club 1st Anniversary — Tuesday April 1!

Godless Perverts Banner

Tuesday, April 1, is the next Godless Perverts Social Club — the casual, hanging-out social arm of the Godless Perverts empire — and we’ll be celebrating our first anniversary! We’ve been hosting Social Clubs since April 2013: I know, hard to believe, right? To mark this momentous occasion, I’ll be bringing a big sack of atheist books, dirty books, and porn DVDs to give away, from my own years as a reviewer. And we might even bring silly party hats.

Join us every first Tuesday of every month at Wicked Grounds, San Francisco’s renowned BDSM-themed coffee house, for an evening of conversation and socializing. 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 on the first Tuesday of every month for an evening of conversation and socializing. All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome.

Wicked Grounds is at 289 8th Street in San Francisco, just three blocks from the Civic Center BART station. There’s no admission, but we ask that you buy food and drink at the counter, or make a donation to the venue. Wicked Grounds has yummy food and drink options ranging from full dinners to coffee and tea, with lots of snacks and baked goods and other light nosh in between, and some of the best milkshakes in the city. We’ll be there from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. RSVP on the Bay Area Atheists/Agnostics/Humanists/Freethinkers/Skeptics Meetup page, if you want a reminder or just like RSVP-ing to things. Hope to see you there!

Greta Speaking/ Book Party in San Francisco April 26!

Coming Out Atheist cover 150I’m having a book party for my upcoming book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why! It’ll be in San Francisco at Modern Times Bookstore Collective, on Saturday April 26, from 3:30-5:30 pm. There’ll be food and drink, and I’ll be speaking about the book and answering questions. The event is being sponsored by San Francisco Atheists.

Here are the details of all my upcoming speaking events for the next few months. In addition to San Francisco, I’ll be speaking in Ames IA, St. Peter MN, Salt Lake City (the American Atheists convention), San Jose CA, Phoenix AZ (the SSA Con West), and Chicago, IL (Humanism At Work, the Foundation Beyond Belief conference). If you’re in any of these places, I hope to see you there!

CITY: Ames, Iowa (Iowa State University)
DATE: Wednesday, April 9
TIME: 7:00 PM
LOCATION: Carver Hall 101, Iowa State University
HOSTS/SPONSORS: ISU Atheist & Agnostic Society (ISUAAS)
TOPIC: What can the atheist movement learn from the LGBT movement?
SUMMARY: The atheist movement is already modeling itself on the LGBT movement in many ways — most obviously with its focus on coming out of the closet. What else can the atheist movement learn from the LGBT movement… both from its successes and its failures?
COST: Free and open to the public

CITY: St Peter, MN (Gustavus Adolphus College)
DATE: Thursday, April 10
TIME: 7:00 pm
LOCATION: Wallenberg Auditorium, Nobel Hall, Gustavus Adolphus College
HOSTS/SPONSORS: Gustavus Secular Student Alliance
TOPIC: Why Are You Atheists So Angry?
SUMMARY: The atheist movement is often accused of being driven by anger. What are so many atheists so angry about? Is this anger legitimate? And can anger be an effective force behind a movement for social change?
COST: Free and open to the public

CITY: Salt Lake City, UT (American Atheists Convention)
DATE: April 17-20
LOCATION: Hilton Salt Lake City Center
HOSTS/SPONSORS: American Atheists
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?
OTHER SPEAKERS: Chris Kluwe, Denise Stapley, Mark White, PZ Myers, Maryam Namazie, Marsha Botzer, Matt Dillahunty, Sikivu Hutchinson, Rev. Barry Lynn, Juan Mendez, Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, Vyckie Garrison, David Fitzgerald, Beth Presswood, Amanda Knief, and many more
COST: $40 – 329
EVENT URL: http://www.atheists.org/convention2014

CITY: San Francisco, CA
DATE: Saturday, April 26
TIME: 3:30 PM
LOCATION: Modern Times Bookstore Collective, 2919 24th Street in San Francisco (close to the 24th and Mission BART station)
HOSTS/SPONSORS: San Francisco Atheists
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why
SUMMARY: See above
SPECIAL INFO: This is a book party as well as a talk, and food/ drink will be served
COST: Free and open to the public

CITY: San Jose, CA
DATE: Wednesday, April 30
TIME: 7:00 PM
LOCATION: San Jose Woman’s Club, 75 South 11th Street, San Jose, CA
HOSTS/SPONSORS: San Jose Atheists
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why?
SUMMARY: See above
COST: Free and open to the public
EVENT URL: http://www.meetup.com/Atheist-Community-of-San-Jose/events/161081902/

CITY: Phoenix, AZ (Secular Student Alliance Conference West)
DATE: Friday, June 20 – Sunday, June 22
LOCATION: Arizona State University in Phoenix
HOSTS/SPONSORS: Secular Student Alliance
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist: Special Student Edition
SUMMARY: Coming out is the most powerful political act atheists can take. But coming out can be difficult and risky. And students — college, high school, and earlier — face special challenges in coming out. 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?
COST: $39 – $149; group rates and travel aid are available
EVENT URL: https://www.secularstudents.org/2014con/west/

CITY: Chicago, IL (Humanism At Work, the Foundation Beyond Belief conference)
DATE: Friday July 18 – Sunday July 20
LOCATION: Hilton Rosemont/ O’Hare, Chicago, IL
HOSTS/SPONSORS: Foundation Beyond Belief
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist — How It Helps the World
SUMMARY: Coming out is the most powerful political act atheists can take, and one of the most powerful acts we can take to make life better for ourselves and other atheists. But are there ways that coming out makes life better, not just for atheists, but for believers and the rest of the world?
OTHER SPEAKERS: Hemant Mehta, Leo Igwe, Rebecca Vitsmun, Caroline Fiennes, Brittany Shoots-Reinhard, Hemley Gonzalez, Alix Jules, Pathfinders Panel (Conor Robinson, Ben Blanchard, Michelle Huey, Wendy Webber), and more
COST: $129/ticket ($149 after April 15)
EVENT URL: http://humanismatwork.org/

Comet and Houdini Snuggling

I’m sick of the abortion thing being the top things on my blog, but I’m traveling and don’t have time or energy to write a new piece. So here are some cute pictures of Comet and Houdini snuggling.

Comet and Houdini 1

Comet and Houdini 2

Comet and Houdini 3

Comet and Houdini 4

I know, right?

Massimo Pigliucci, Abortion, and the Scope of Tradition – UPDATED

UPDATE: Important note: This post has a different comment policy than the standard one on this blog. Comment policy is at the end of this post.

SECOND UPDATE: Pigliucci has now updated his post, from saying that abortion should always be a very difficult and emotional step, to saying that “certain types of abortion (say, last trimester)” should always be a very difficult and emotional step. He has now transparently noted in the post itself that he has made this change, although he had not done so at the time the post was written. It’s still a bullshit argument — it’s incredibly patronizing to tell women how to feel about their own abortions — but it’s a somewhat different bullshit argument.

The point is: so what? What does any of the above, including abortion, fiscal conservativeness (or not), support for the military (or not), owning guns (or not), and liking or disliking Obama have to do with atheism? Nothing, absolutely nothing.
-Massimo Pigliucci, “David Silverman and the scope of atheism,” Rationally Speaking blog

Dear Massimo Pigliucci:

You seriously think abortion has nothing to do with atheism?

Actually, let’s get a couple of quick things out of the way first. Thank you so much for dismissing the issue of the basic right to bodily autonomy of half the human race as a “tempest in a teapot.” Thank you for referring to the recent controversy about it as “the meat of the matter — such as it is (emphasis mine). What a great way to make women in the atheist movement, and women who are considering joining the atheist movement, think that our issues are taken seriously by the movement’s leaders. As I said in my original post on this topic: By all means, let’s treat the right to abortion as a philosophical exercise in which both sides should be thoughtfully considered and given intellectual validity — as opposed to a serious, real-world battle in which women’s right to bodily autonomy is being chipped away at and in which women are literally dying. And then, perhaps, we can have yet another panel at another atheist conference about why there aren’t more women in the atheist movement.

/sarcasm

Stephanie Zvan has already masterfully taken apart your whole thing about how abortion should always be a very difficult and emotional step.* I assume someone else will take apart your troubling mischaracterization of David Silverman’s original remarks (the ones that started this latest firestorm). And I assume someone else will take apart your insistence that your previous support of abortion and other women’s rights should somehow give you a “get out of criticism free” card for screwing this one up so massively. So here’s what I want to say to you:

Do you seriously think abortion has nothing to do with atheism?

Are you aware that the fight against abortion rights has been waged, almost entirely, by the Religious Right? Are you aware that the case against abortion rights is almost entirely centered in religion?

Of course atheism has something to say about abortion. What atheism has to say about abortion is, “There are no gods. You have no evidence that your god exists — and you certainly have no evidence that your god shares your political opinions. So stop trying to make laws and public policy based on what you think your god wants. If you can’t make a good secular argument for why some people’s basic right to bodily autonomy is trivial and they should be forced by law to lend their organs to a zygote/ embryo/ fetus for nine months — and not a craptastic, laughable-if-it-weren’t-such-an-important-issue retread of the religious arguments, but an actual solid secular argument — then get the hell out of the way, and let people make their own decisions about their own bodies.”

Abortion rights are supported by over 98% of atheists. Do you think that’s a coincidence? Do you really not get how deeply connected this issue is with religion?

You say that “pretty much the only social issues that ought to unite every atheist are the separation of Church and State and the right of unbelievers.” First, and very importantly: Abortion access is a church-state separation issue. Again: The anti-choice agenda is almost entirely driven by the Religious Right, and the arguments against is are almost entirely centered on religion. Yes, there is a whisper-thin veneer of secularism painted over these laws — just like there’s a whisper-thin veneer of secularism painted over intelligent design being taught in public schools. It’s still, obviously, an issue of secularism. Getting religion out of government doesn’t just mean things like getting the “under God” part of the Pledge of Allegiance out of public schools. It also means getting laws based on religion, laws overwhelmingly or entirely motivated by religion, out of our government. It means getting religion out of our laws about abortion, birth control, same-sex marriage, LGBT employment rights, public funding of charitable organizations, sex education in public schools, parental responsibilities to provide medical care to their children, licensing of day care centers, licensing of hospitals that don’t follow standards of medical care, and more.

Second: You’re arguing that organized atheism should only work on issues that logically and directly descend from atheism itself. If we take this argument to its logical conclusion, there are literally no atheist issues. There are literally no issues that logically ought to unite every atheist. Being an atheist doesn’t automatically lead to the logical conclusion that church and state should be separated — you could be an atheist and still think religion is good for most people and therefore should be entrenched in law. And you can certainly be an atheist and still think pursuing church/state separation is sometimes a bad idea — look at all the atheists pushing back against the American Humanist Association fighting memorial crosses on public land, or against American Atheists pursuing the court case about the 9/11 cross. You could even be an atheist and not support the rights of unbelievers — again, you could regret your atheism, and think that religion on the whole is better for most people, and therefore think that atheists should be treated as second-class citizens so more people will stick with religion.

Almost no atheists take those positions, of course. (Apart from the “Do we really have to fight public crosses that people are emotionally attached to?” ones.) But almost no atheists are anti-choice, either. Almost no atheists are against same-sex marriage. And for many atheists, these and other issues are every bit as entwined with our atheism as atheists’ rights and traditional church/state separation issues — with every bit as much logical support for that entwining.

So what you’re saying is not, in fact, that organized atheism should only work on issues that logically descend from atheism itself.

What you’re saying is that organized atheism should only work on issues that it has traditionally worked on in the past.

What you’re saying is that the people who have traditionally been running organized atheism, the people who have been setting the agenda of organized atheism for decades, are the people who should continue to set the agenda.

What you’re saying is that the old guard should get to keep running the show.

For many people, the things that led them to begin questioning religion are real-world issues that affect real people, ways that religion screws up people’s lives by the millions: abortion, birth control, LGBT rights, religious frauds preying on poor neighborhoods, religious interference with HIV prevention and education, abstinence-only sex education, religion inspiring people to disown their gay children and even sentence gay people to death. That’s not what ultimately got them to disbelieve (usually) — but it’s often a huge part of the process. What you’re saying to these people is, “It’s great that you stopped believing in your god or gods. It’s great that your passion to stop pointless suffering caused by religion helped drive you out of it. Now, let’s get to work. But you don’t get to help decide what we work on. The issues you care most about, the issues that drove you out of religion, shouldn’t have anything to do with your atheist activism. And I will fight tooth and nail to keep you from changing our agenda. Work on the issues I think of as atheist issues, the issues we’ve always worked on — or get out.”

If we take your argument to its logical conclusion, atheists shouldn’t even be forming supportive local communities that do anything at all other than sit around and discuss the fact that God doesn’t exist. After all, what do pub nights or family picnics have to do with atheism? Is that the atheism you want? It’s not the one I want. It’s not the one thousands of atheists want. And you don’t get to set the agenda for all of us. If you want to keep working on rights for non-believers and traditional issues of church/ state separation — that is awesome. If you even want to start or support an organization specifically dedicated to those issues — that is awesome. Those are important, relevant issues. But you apparently want atheists who care more about other issues — issues that are every bit as relevant to atheism as yours are — to stop doing the atheist activism they care about… simply because it isn’t what you think of as atheist activism.

At best, at the most charitable interpretation of your words, you’re making the argument from tradition — one of the worst, least rational arguments around. At an only slightly less charitable interpretation, you’re making the argument from privilege. You’re making the argument that the people currently running things should continue to run things. In fact, the argument from tradition is an argument from privilege.

Knock it off.

The face of atheism is changing. It’s expanding. It’s getting larger, younger, more diverse, with new ideas about what atheism is and what its priorities and values should be. And this is a good thing. This is a necessary thing if organized atheism is going to continue to grow. Why are you trying to get in the way?

*Note: Pigliucci’s piece, as originally written, said that abortion should always be a very difficult and emotional step. He has since revised it, as he notes in the comment section, to say that “certain types of abortion (say, last trimester)” should always be a very difficult and emotional step — although he has not, as of this writing, transparently noted in the post itself that he has made this change. (UPDATE: Pigliucci has now transparently noted the change in the piece.)

UPDATE: Comment policy for this post: I am not willing to host a debate about abortion in this blog. I am willing to host a meta-debate about the controversy this issue has stirred in the atheist community, and the things various people in the community have said about it. But I am not going to host a debate about the basic right to abortion — any more than I would host a debate about whether gay people should be locked up in prisons or mental institutions for being gay. There are plenty of places on the Internet where you can debate the question of whether people with working uteruses have the basic right of bodily autonomy. This is not one of them. Violators will be put into comment moderation (or banned, if their comments are sufficiently vile), and their comments will be disemvoweled. Thank you.

Greta Speaking at SASHACon in Columbia MO, and in Boston!

Reminder — I’m speaking at the free SASHACon conference this weekend in Columbia, MO — and I’ll be speaking in Boston at Boston University Tuesday, March 18!

Here are the details of all my upcoming speaking events for the next few months. In addition to SASHACon and Boston, I’ll be speaking in Ames IA, St. Peter MN, Salt Lake City (the American Atheists convention), San Jose CA, Phoenix AZ (the SSA Con West), and Chicago, IL (Humanism At Work, the Foundation Beyond Belief conference). If you’re in any of these places, I hope to see you there!

CITY: Columbia, MO (SashaCon)
DATE: March 15-16
LOCATION: 319 Jesse Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO
HOSTS/SPONSORS: MU SASHA (Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists & Agnostics) and Kansas City Atheist Coalition
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: Maryam Namazie, Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, Hemant Mehta, Matt Dillahunty, Dave Muscato, Mary Muscato, Libby Cowgill, Mark Flinn, and Napoleon Chagnon
COST: Free and open to the public
EVENT URL: http://sashacon.com/

CITY: Boston, MA (Boston University)
DATE: Tuesday, March 18
TIME: 7:00 pm
LOCATION: Boston University, Kenmore Classroom Building 101, 575 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA
HOSTS/SPONSORS: Humanists of Boston University
TOPIC: Why Are You Atheists So Angry?
SUMMARY: The atheist movement is often accused of being driven by anger. What are so many atheists so angry about? Is this anger legitimate? And can anger be an effective force behind a movement for social change?
COST: Free and open to the public

CITY: Ames, Iowa (Iowa State University)
DATE: Wednesday, April 9
TIME: 7:00 PM
LOCATION: Carver Hall 101, Iowa State University
HOSTS/SPONSORS: ISU Atheist & Agnostic Society (ISUAAS)
TOPIC: What can the atheist movement learn from the LGBT movement?
SUMMARY: The atheist movement is already modeling itself on the LGBT movement in many ways — most obviously with its focus on coming out of the closet. What else can the atheist movement learn from the LGBT movement… both from its successes and its failures?
COST: Free and open to the public

CITY: St Peter, MN (Gustavus Adolphus College)
DATE: Thursday, April 10
TIME: 7:00 pm
LOCATION: Wallenberg Auditorium, Nobel Hall, Gustavus Adolphus College
HOSTS/SPONSORS: Gustavus Secular Student Alliance
TOPIC: Why Are You Atheists So Angry?
SUMMARY: See above
COST: Free and open to the public

CITY: Salt Lake City, UT (American Atheists Convention)
DATE: April 17-20
LOCATION: Hilton Salt Lake City Center
HOSTS/SPONSORS: American Atheists
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why?
SUMMARY: See above
OTHER SPEAKERS: Chris Kluwe, Denise Stapley, Mark White, PZ Myers, Maryam Namazie, Marsha Botzer, Matt Dillahunty, Sikivu Hutchinson, Rev. Barry Lynn, Juan Mendez, Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, Vyckie Garrison, David Fitzgerald, Beth Presswood, Amanda Knief, and many more
COST: $40 – 329
EVENT URL: http://www.atheists.org/convention2014

CITY: San Jose, CA
DATE: Wednesday, April 30
TIME: 7:00 PM
LOCATION: San Jose Woman’s Club, 75 South 11th Street, San Jose, CA
HOSTS/SPONSORS: San Jose Atheists
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why?
SUMMARY: See above
COST: Free and open to the public
EVENT URL: http://www.meetup.com/Atheist-Community-of-San-Jose/events/161081902/

CITY: Phoenix, AZ (Secular Student Alliance Conference West)
DATE: Friday, June 20 – Sunday, June 22
LOCATION: Arizona State University in Phoenix
HOSTS/SPONSORS: Secular Student Alliance
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist: Special Student Edition
SUMMARY: Coming out is the most powerful political act atheists can take. But coming out can be difficult and risky. And students — college, high school, and earlier — face special challenges in coming out. 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?
COST: $39 – $149; group rates and travel aid are available
EVENT URL: https://www.secularstudents.org/2014con/west/

CITY: Chicago, IL (Humanism At Work, the Foundation Beyond Belief conference)
DATE: Friday July 18 – Sunday July 20
LOCATION: Hilton Rosemont/ O’Hare, Chicago, IL
HOSTS/SPONSORS: Foundation Beyond Belief
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist — How It Helps the World
SUMMARY: Coming out is the most powerful political act atheists can take, and one of the most powerful acts we can take to make life better for ourselves and other atheists. But are there ways that coming out makes life better, not just for atheists, but for believers and the rest of the world?
OTHER SPEAKERS: Hemant Mehta, Leo Igwe, Rebecca Vitsmun, Caroline Fiennes, Brittany Shoots-Reinhard, Hemley Gonzalez, Alix Jules, Pathfinders Panel (Conor Robinson, Ben Blanchard, Michelle Huey, Wendy Webber), and more
COST: $129/ticket ($149 after April 15)
EVENT URL: http://humanismatwork.org/

In Honor of Pi Day — Greta’s Amazing Chocolate Pie!

pi plateIn honor of today being Pi Day (3.14), here is a recap of my renowned chocolate pie recipe!

This is a ridiculously easy, unbelievably delicious recipe for chocolate pie. And it’s not just me saying so: friends have been known to demand it for celebratory events, and will shed hot tears of bitter disappointment if it doesn’t appear at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It’s very distinctive — most people who try it say they haven’t had anything else quite like it — and it’s one of those rare recipes that seems really elegant and like it would be really complicated, but in fact is insanely simple. The pie crust is 9/10th of the work.

The recipe came from my mother, but I don’t know where she got it from. I’ve been making it for many years now, and have refined the recipe a bit over the years, mostly in the direction of using better ingredients. I did an experimental version for my birthday a couple of years ago (in addition to a classic version), which was a big hit, so I’m including that variation here as well.

CLASSIC CHOCOLATE PIE
INGREDIENTS
1 single pie crust (this is an open-faced pie). More on pie crust in a tic.
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 Tbsp. evaporated milk
2 squares/ ounces baking chocolate (unsweetened)
Whipped cream (optional in theory, mandatory in my opinion)

chocolateA quick note on the baking chocolate: For the sweet love of Loki and all the gods in Valhalla, use Scharffen Berger’s if you possibly can, or some other seriously good baking chocolate. I made this pie for years using just regular baking chocolate from the supermarket, and it was perfectly yummy… but once I started using Scharffen Berger’s, it amped up from delicious to transcendent. I frankly don’t much care for Scharffen Berger’s eating chocolate, I think the mouth-feel is insufficiently creamy… but for cooking, their baking chocolate is beyond compare.

Bake the unfilled pie shell for 5-10 minutes at 450 degrees, until it’s starting to firm up a little but isn’t cooked through. Melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan. Add the other ingredients (minus the whipped cream) and mix; you can do this in the saucepan. (I add the eggs last, so the melted butter and chocolate have a chance to cool and the eggs don’t scramble.) Pour the filling into the pie shell. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 325 degrees, until the filling is set. (I usually test it at 30 minutes, but it usually still needs another 5-10 minutes. When it’s no longer jiggling in the middle, it’s done.)

That’s it.

No, really.

I told you. Ridiculously easy. Not counting the pie crust, the actual work you put into this pie takes about five minutes.

I always serve this with whipped cream, as the pie is intensely rich and dense, and I think the whipped cream gives it balance. But many people prefer it with the richness and denseness unadulterated, and scoff at the whipped cream as an unnecessary frill for lightweights. My advice: Make whipped cream available, and let your guests decide. (Don’t add too much sugar to the whipped cream; this pie is plenty sweet.)

EXPERIMENTAL CHOCOLATE PIE

Make the exact same recipe above, but when mixing the filling, add:

white pepper1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper

This experiment has been a big success. It gives the pie a nice, exotic, spicy bite that I think enhances the chocolate and gives it complexity and depth. But it also makes it less purely chocolatey. A lot of what makes this pie so yummy is its “pure essence of chocolate straight to the hindbrain” quality, and you do lose that with the spices. You be the judge. You can always make two — one classic, one experimental — and switch back and forth between the two until you explode. I’ve now served both the straight-up chocolate version and the spiced version several times, and opinions are deeply divided as to which is better. My suggestion: Make one of each. Why the hell not?

BTW, if you wind up making this pie and come up with your own experimental variations — let me know! Cayenne might also be good — I love me some chocolate with cayenne — or maybe rosemary and almond. And I’m considering using vanilla vodka for the crust instead of regular vodka. (I’ve tried adding alcohol, and it didn’t work that great: if you add enough to get significant flavor, the texture gets goopy. I’m going to stick with dry spices from now on.)

Speaking of which:

NOTES ON PIE CRUST

For years, I made this pie with store-bought pie crusts, mostly because one of the things I liked best about it was how easy and fast it was, and making my own pie crust would defeat that purpose. Also, pie crust was one of those cooking tasks that for some reason I found scary and daunting. And it’s true that if you get a decent quality store-bought pie crust made with butter, it will make a perfectly fine pie.

pie crustBut I was recently taught how to make pie crust by my upstairs neighbor, Laura the Pie Queen… and it is one of the refinements that has elevated this pie from Perfectly Good to Ambrosially Exquisite. I have now become a complete convert — a snob, one might even say — and will have no further truck with store- bought pie crust. And while homemade pie crust is definitely both more time- consuming and more difficult (it reduced me to near- hysterics the first couple of times), like most things it gets easier and faster with practice.

Here’s the recipe Laura gave me. Some of the reasoning behind it: Crisco makes pie crust flakier, butter makes it more flavorful… which is why I like this recipe, which uses both. And using vodka to moisten the dough makes for a flakier crust, as it evaporates during baking. (You want to use as little liquid as you can to make the dough hold together, since more liquid makes the crust tougher: the vodka facilitates this.) This is a recipe for an entire two-crusted pie; since the chocolate pie is open-faced, halve this recipe if you’re making just one pie, or make it all if you’re making two pies. Which I usually do. We will never get leftovers if I don’t make two pies.

2 – 1/2 cups (12 – 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1 tsp. table salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
12 Tbsp. (1 – 1/2 sticks) cold butter (frozen is good)
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening (Crisco or equivalent)
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup cold vodka

pie crust 2Sift dry ingredients together. Cut butter and shortening into smallish pieces, add to flour. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, break butter and shortening into smaller and smaller pieces covered with flour, until the little floury fat-balls are roughly pea-sized. Sprinkle in the water and vodka, enough to make the dough hold together and roll out, without making it too sticky. (You may wind up using slightly more or less liquid than the recipe calls for, depending. Don’t ask me “depending on what.” Just depending.) Sprinkle more flour on your rolling surface and your rolling pin, and roll the dough out. Place it gently in the pie plate, flatten the edges over the lip of the pie plate, and prick the bottom and sides with a fork. Proceed.

In general, you want to work the pie dough as little as humanly possible while still making it a coherent whole. Don’t overwork the dough while breaking up the butter and shortening; use as few strokes as possible to roll it out. And everything that can be cold, should be cold.

Like I said: The pie crust is 9/10th of the work. It’s totally worth it, though. If you can’t bear it, go ahead and buy a crust from the store. Better yet, get your upstairs neighbor to make it for you. (Thanks again, Laura!)

If you make this pie, let me know how it turns out. If you make an experimental variation that you like, let me know what it is. Happy eating!

Having a Reasonable Debate About Abortion – A Clarification

IMPORTANT UPDATE: James Croft has changed his mind on this, and has apologized and offered a retraction. Good for him.

I thought this was pretty clear in the original post on the abortion debates, and most people seem to have gotten it. But I’m going to spell it out more blatantly for those who seem to be having trouble with reading for comprehension.

I did not say anywhere in this post that no pro-choice advocates should ever debate abortion anywhere. What I am saying is this:

1) I want pro-choice advocates to respond to anti-choice arguments (when they choose to do so) with the same level of outrage, ridicule, and moral revulsion they would treat arguments for imprisoning gay people, enslaving black people, marital rape, and other violations of bodily autonomy. We debate and discuss morally repulsive positions that violate people’s bodily autonomy differently than we do positions we disagree with but can see the value of (or just don’t see as morally repulsive). When it comes to arguing against anti-choice arguments, I want us to do the latter.

1a) Related to this. I do not want pro-choice advocates (in this case, Hemant Mehta) to give a platform to anti-choice arguments, with no comment whatsoever, as if they were just another interesting political topic for discussion and debate — as opposed to the grotesque violation of the right to bodily autonomy that they are.

2) I want pro-choice advocates to quit telling women and people with uteruses to be more polite, kinder, and less angry when their basic right to bodily autonomy is debated, or when people handle the issue in a piss-poor way.

3) I do not want to host that debate in my own blog. In the Having a Reasonable Debate About Abortion post, I am willing to have a meta-debate about the controversy in the community, and in fact created a space for it — but I am not willing to host a debate about my right to not be forced to be an organ donor for nine months.

Any problems with any of that?

Having a Reasonable Debate About Abortion

Important note: This post has a different comment policy than the standard one on this blog. Comment policy is at the end of this post.

UPDATE: Clarification added at the end, for some people who seem to have some problems with reading for comprehension.

SECOND, VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE: James Croft has changed his mind on this, and has apologized and offered a retraction. Good for him.

I did not want to get into this. I’m in the very last stages of production on the new book, and I’m exhausted, and I was planning to take a break from controversies and firestorms for a little while. And this one is deeply distressing: it involves people I respect, people I think are doing good work, people I think of as allies and in some cases even consider friends.

But I can’t not talk about this.

Yes. By all means. Let’s have a calm, reasonable debate about abortion.

talk_bubblesLet’s have a calm, reasonable discussion about my basic humanity, and my basic human right to physical autonomy. Let’s have a calm, reasonable discussion about whether I should be forced, by law, and at significant risk to my own health and safety and life, to donate my organs for nine months to an embryo/ fetus.*

Let’s have that discussion again. And again. And again and again and again and again and again. And again. Okay, sure, we’ve been having these debates for decades now. But let’s dredge it up again. Let’s treat the basic bodily autonomy of people with uteruses** as a subject that’s up for discussion, a subject that reasonable people can disagree about. And let’s be calm and reasonable about it.

Let’s discuss the secular arguments against abortion, and talk about how the issue isn’t as clear-cut as issues like school prayer or same-sex marriage — David Silverman. Let’s give space in our blogs to the secular arguments against abortion, with no comment on their complete and utter lack of meritHemant Mehta. Let’s talk about how anti-abortion arguments are so provocative, and how although it may be an unpopular view, it’s very important that we try to discuss questions like abortion in an open way, because these debates are essential for the spirit of inquiry — James Croft. (UPDATE: James Croft has changed his mind on this, and has apologized and offered a retraction.) Let’s talk about how the people in these debates are engaging in freethinking, and how the anger being expressed about the debates is a sign of intellectual timidity — Ed Beck (in comments). Let’s get defensive and pissy about how people who expressing fury about this issue are being reckless, and treat people who supposedly misunderstood our statements as irresponsible, rather than apologizing for our poor communication and the damage caused by it — David Silverman again.

And then, perhaps, we can have another panel at another atheist conference about why there aren’t more women in the atheist movement.

/sarcasm

Yes, I understand that the people quoted above, and most of the other people involved in this firestorm, are themselves pro-choice — at least, in the most basic sense that they personally support abortion being legal. That’s not the point.

sexual inversion book coverSee, here’s the thing. I don’t see a lot of atheist leaders and bloggers suggesting that we have a calm, reasonable debate about whether homosexuality is a mental illness and gay people should be locked in mental institutions. I don’t see them suggesting that we have a calm, reasonable debate about whether or not black people are human beings or are some other sub-human species who should serve white people. I don’t see them talking with reporters about those arguments, or giving them space in their blogs without comment. I don’t see them saying that because we’re freethinkers, because we support free inquiry and the free exchange of ideas, that therefore we should freely inquire into the issue of whether black people and gay people are fully human with the basic right to bodily autonomy. I don’t see them saying that the “be willing to question anything and everything” spirit of skepticism applies to questions that have dehumanization built into their very core. I see them recognizing these arguments as morally reprehensible on the face of it.

So why is abortion a special case?

I said above that we were having yet another debate about my basic human right to physical autonomy. Technically, that’s not true: I had a hysterectomy in 2012, and I literally cannot get pregnant now. But this is still about me. The conversation about abortion treats women’s bodily autonomy as a legitimate topic of debate. And that bloody well does affect me. If the right to abortion is up for debate, then my right to have consensual sex with whoever I choose, my right to masturbate, my right to dress as I please, my right to not be raped, are all up for debate as well.

I am enraged about this. And it is incredibly distressing to learn that some of my colleagues, my allies, even my friends, think that my rage is unreasonable. Yes, I understand that these people are themselves pro-choice. That’s not the point. The point is that they are treating women’s right to basic physical autonomy as just another interesting political topic for discussion and debate. The point is that they are showing little to no understanding about why people are so enraged about this, and little to no concern about that rage. The point is that they are showing a whole lot more concern about their hurt feelings over being the target of that rage, or about the hurt feelings of other targets, than they are about the hurt feelings of women getting our basic humanity called into question for the 874,905,836,513th time.

There’s an interesting thing about David Silverman’s comment, the one that sparked this firestorm in the first place. You know the place where he said that there was a secular argument against abortion, and the issue wasn’t as clear-cut as same-sex marriage? That’s just flatly not true. There are secular arguments against same-sex marriage. There are secular arguments against same-sex marriage made by gay people. And these aren’t just pathetic retreads of the Religious Right’s arguments, either, the way that secular arguments against abortion are. There are gay people who oppose the entire institution of marriage, or who think that issues other than marriage equality should be a greater priority for the LGBT movement, or both. I don’t agree with those arguments — but they deserve to be taken a lot more seriously than the craptastic secular arguments against abortion.

So why is abortion different?

Why are arguments against same-sex marriage being dismissed by almost all atheists as preposterous and insulting, while arguments against choice are being treated as issues worthy of sober consideration? Despite the overwhelming support among non-believers for the right to abortion — over 98%, roughly the same as the support among non-believers for same-sex marriage, and in fact slightly higher — why are the spectacularly bad secular arguments for abortion being treated as a special case?

As a queer person, I have come to expect full-throated support from the atheist movement for my right to have sex with whoever I choose — and either an outraged rant or a passionate horse-laugh aimed at any arguments against that right. I had assumed — despite the demoralizing debates about sexism and feminism that have been raging in the movement — that I could expect equally full-throated support, and equal rage and ridicule, for my right to not be forced to give birth.

It is incredibly distressing to learn otherwise.

Why Are You Atheists So Angry?Oh, and finally: If you ever cheered me on when I ranted righteously about the power of atheist anger, and are now saying that pro-choice advocates need to calm down and not get so worked up about abortion? Please go fuck yourself. Thank you.

*****

Comment policy for this post: I am not willing to host a debate about abortion in this blog. I am willing to host a meta-debate about the controversy this issue has stirred in the atheist community, and the things various people in the community have said about it. But I am not going to host a debate about the basic right to abortion — any more than I would host a debate about whether gay people should be locked up in prisons or mental institutions for being gay. There are plenty of places on the Internet where you can debate the question of whether people with working uteruses have the basic right of bodily autonomy. This is not one of them. Violators will be put into comment moderation (or banned, if their comments are sufficiently vile), and their comments will be disemvoweled. Thank you.

*(Go read Judith Jarvis Thomson on this, if you haven’t already. Even if you concede, purely for the sake of argument, that an embryo or a fetus is a complete human being, people are still under no moral obligation to donate our organs to these purported people for close to a year, at considerable risk of our safety. The question of abortion is, at its core, a question of our fundamental right to bodily autonomy.)

**Abortion is an interesting and tricky issue when it comes to gender — it obviously affects women disproportionately, and the arguments against it are deeply rooted in sexism and misogyny. But the right to abortion also affects trans men who have not had bottom surgery; and it doesn’t have the same affect on trans women or other women without uteruses (except in that it affects all issues of bodily autonomy, as noted above). I’m trying to use “people with uteruses” when I’m talking about the specific right to abortion, and “women” when I’m talking about how sexism and misogyny play into it. My apologies if I’m getting that wrong.

*****

CLARIFICATION: I thought this was pretty clear in the original post, and most people seem to have gotten it. But I’m going to spell it out more blatantly for those who seem to be having trouble with reading for comprehension.

I did not say anywhere in this post that no pro-choice advocates should ever debate abortion anywhere. What I am saying is this:

1) I want pro-choice advocates to respond to anti-choice arguments (when they choose to do so) with the same level of outrage, ridicule, and moral revulsion they would treat arguments for imprisoning gay people, enslaving black people, marital rape, and other violations of bodily autonomy. We debate and discuss morally repulsive positions that violate people’s bodily autonomy differently than we do positions we disagree with but can see the value of (or just don’t see as morally repulsive). When it comes to arguing against anti-choice arguments, I want us to do the latter.

1a) Related to this. I do not want pro-choice advocates (in this case, Hemant Mehta) to give a platform to anti-choice arguments, with no comment whatsoever, as if they were just another interesting political topic for discussion and debate — as opposed to the grotesque violation of the right to bodily autonomy that they are.

2) I want pro-choice advocates to quit telling women and people with uteruses to be more polite, kinder, and less angry when their basic right to bodily autonomy is debated, or when people handle the issue in a piss-poor way.

3) I do not want to host that debate in my own blog. In this post, I am willing to have a meta-debate about the controversy in the community, and in fact created a space for it — but I am not willing to host a debate about my right to not be forced to be an organ donor for nine months.

Any problems with any of that?