Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court, and the Toxic Notion of Corporate Personhood

Do you remember back in 2008, when Sarah Palin was asked which Supreme Court decisions she didn’t agree with other than Roe v. Wade, and she couldn’t think of any? I remember it became sort of a game among some of us: as ordinary citizens who were not running for the second highest public office in the country, how many Supreme Court decisions could we think of that we didn’t agree with? I came up with about half a dozen right off the top of my head. Dred Scott, obviously. Plessy v. Ferguson. Bowers v. Hardwick. Bush v. Gore. (Chime in with your own in the comments!)

And — very importantly, so important that I would rank it as one of the most disastrous events in our country’s history, with profound and far-reaching toxic effects touching every aspect of everyone’s lives on a day-to-day basis — Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, in which the Court determined that corporations are legally people, with constitutional rights comparable to those of actual people.

the-corporation-book coverIt’s been pointed out, by many people before me, that if for-profit corporations really were human beings, they would be sociopaths. Their primary motivation is entirely self-serving — in fact, they’re legally required to prioritize maximizing profit over all other concerns. As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his Citizens United dissent, “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.” And it’s been pointed out, by many people before me, that corporate personhood tips the balance of power in the U.S. — since corporations have Constitutional rights that actual people have, and they have enormous amounts of wealth that most actual people don’t, they can effectively control the entire political process. Corporate personhood doesn’t just tip the balance of power. It plants a giant Godzilla foot on one side of the balance of power. It crushes the entire scale of justice. Again, to quote Justice Stevens’ Citizens United dissent: “A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”

And now, corporations don’t just have the right to donate as much money to political campaigns as they want to, thus entirely controlling the political process, because money equals free speech and corporations are people with the right to free speech.

They now have the right to religious freedom. With the Hobby Lobby decision, corporations don’t have to obey the law and cover birth control in their health insurance plans, if the corporation’s religious beliefs oppose it.

“The corporation’s religious beliefs.” Roll that phrase over in your head a few times.

Now, here’s the thing. An actual individual person’s right to religious freedom mostly just affects their own actions. They can wear a cross, avoid pork and shellfish, pray to Mecca five times a day. Their religious freedom doesn’t give them the right to control other people’s actions. The only exception I can think of is a parent’s rights to determine their children’s religious upbringing — and even that has limits in most states. It’s true that actual religious organizations, such as churches or synagogues or religious schools, have some rights to control what their employees and participants in their programs can do: they can hire and fire on the basis of religious ideology, demand that students adhere to a religious moral code, etc. But religious organizations have special limits and responsibilities. They can’t endorse political candidates, for one thing (not if they want to stay tax-exempt). And very importantly, they’re expected to have religion as their primary motivation — not the maximization of profit.

But a corporation’s “right” to religious freedom doesn’t only affect their own practices. A corporation’s “right” to religious freedom gives them the right to control, not only their own decisions, but the decisions of the people who work for them. The owners of Hobby Lobby now not only have the right to choose for themselves whether to use birth control — they have the right to make that decision for their employees. The Hobby Lobby decision essentially gives corporations the same rights as religious organizations — with none of the special limits or responsibilities.

You might argue that people don’t have to work for Hobby Lobby if they don’t like their policies. You might argue that Hobby Lobby employees can pay for their own birth control, separate from the health insurance provided by their employers. The problem with that is that we have a shitty economy, in which huge numbers of people are financially unstable and insecure at best. We have an antiquated health insurance system in which health care is tied, for absurd reasons rooted in obsolete historical quirks, to employment. We have a country in which “take this job and shove it” is, for huge numbers of people, simply not an option. And we have all this, again, largely because of laws and policies controlled by corporate money.

Lt. Angela Banks draws blood from a mannequin during training for antilogous blood transfusionThere are religions that permit, and even demand, discrimination on the basis of race. Can corporations now fire black employees, or refuse to serve black customers, if they claim that it’s part of their religion? There are religions that permit, and even demand, segregation by gender. Can corporations now fire women, or refuse to serve women customers, or demand that women employees and customers work and shop separately from men, if they claim that it’s part of their religion? Can corporations now fire employees, or refuse to serve customers, based on their religion — or lack thereof? As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, “Would the exemption… extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]… Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”

Corporations in the United States have nearly unlimited power. And with today’s Hobby Lobby ruling, corporations now have the rights of individuals, and the rights of religious organizations, and the rights of… well, of corporations. Plus they have massive wealth. And because they control the political process, they have the power to keep expanding that power. (If you think the Supreme Court is beyond the reach of corporations — think about who appoints and approves them.) They have nearly unlimited power. They have the power to keep expanding that power. And they are required by law to maximize their self-interest over all other concerns.

Does that seem like a good idea?

There is a serious movement happening to amend the Constitution and overturn corporate personhood. Please support Move to Amend and Wolf PAC: sign their petitions, support the organizations, and spread the word. And obviously: Boycott Hobby Lobby.

Seeking Atheist Grief Stories for “Grief Beyond Belief” Book

UPDATE/ CLARIFICATION: Some questions we’ve gotten about this project have made us realize that we need to clarify. We’re looking for grief stories from non-believers — but we’re not seeking submissions for an anthology that we’re editing. We’re seeking personal accounts that we’ll be using for our research, and that we’ll be quoting from in the book. People sending in stories don’t have to be professional or even semi-professional writers, and stories will probably not be printed in their entirety (unless they’re very short): we’ll be excerpting them/ quoting from them.

If you’re an atheist. agnostic, humanist, skeptic, freethinker, or any other sort of non-believer in God and the supernatural — and you have an experience (or experiences) with grief — we want to hear about it.

I’m going to be collaborating on a book about faith-free grief with Rebecca Hensler, founder and co-moderator of Grief Beyond Belief, the online grief support group for non-believers. (Working title: Grief Beyond Belief: Living With Loss as Atheists and Other Non-Believers.) We’re looking for stories from non-believers about their experiences with grief. We want to hear from you if you:

* were a non-believer at the time you experienced the loss/grief;
* became a non-believer while you were acutely grieving;
* re-experienced old griefs or losses when you became a non-believer;
* have any other experience related to faith-free grief that you want to tell us about.

We want to hear all stories — positive, negative, mixed, complex, changing over time. And we want to hear both the parts that relate to your secularism and the parts that are just about grief — who you lost, how it affected you, what comforted you, and how you have or have not learned to live with your grief.

The following questions may help you get started, but please don’t take them as either limits or requirements. You are not expected to answer every question or touch on every topic. If you have something to say about your experience of faith-free grief, whether or not it fits one of these categories, we want to hear it. Stories can be of any length.

* What has your experience of grief been like? What have been some of your feelings, thoughts, actions?
* Do you think you experience grief differently than believers? If you were once a believer, do you experience grief differently as a non-believer than you did as a believer?
* Are there experiences of grief that you think are the same or similar for everyone — religious or not?
* How has it been dealing with religious believers — in your family, friends, or the world in general?
* What kind of successes or difficulties have you encountered in seeking grief support that felt appropriate for your needs?
* Have caregivers (therapists, support groups, doctors or other medical providers) assumed that you were religious, or pressed religion on you? If so, what was your experience of that?
* How do you feel about religion generally when it comes to your grief? For instance: Has grief made you wish that you believed? Has grief made you angry about religion? Has grief made you more sympathetic with believers? Are there other feelings you’ve had about religion related to grief?
* Was death or grief part of why you became an atheist? If so, what was that experience like?
* If you have mental health issues (such as depression), how has grief affected that?
* Has your experience of grief has changed over time — and if so, how?
* What have other people done or said (family, friends, or anyone) that’s helped you with your grief? What have other people done or said that’s been unhelpful?
* Have you gotten support from atheist communities — either online or in-person, either grief-specific support or more general community support? What was your experience of that?
* Are there secular ideas about death and grief that you’ve found helpful? (This can include songs, poems, quotations, philosophies, books, movies, TV shows, or anything else.)

Again — please don’t feel limited by these categories, and don’t feel that you have to respond to all of them. If you have something to say about your experience of faith-free grief, we want to hear it.

You can post your stories here, or email them privately to griefbeyondbelief (at) gmail (dot) com. Please let us know how you would prefer to be quoted: by your full name, your first name only, your online handle, or a made-up name. (If you don’t tell us, we’ll err on the side of caution, and will use a made-up name.) Thank you so much — we know these can be difficult experiences to write about, and we intensely appreciate you doing this to help other people.

-Greta Christina and Rebecca Hensler

Depression, and Mental Health as a Balance Beam Over a Pit

Content note: Depression. Obviously. (Also note that this post has a somewhat different comment policy than usual: it’s at the end of the post.)

There’s this analogy I’ve been using lately to think about my depression and my mental health care. I’m finding it useful, so I thought I’d share it with the rest of the class.

I’m not the first person to describe depression as feeling like being in a pit. And as my depression has been getting better (in the classic “two steps forward, one step back” fits and starts), I’m not the first person to describe that process as feeling like clawing my way out of the pit. But there’s another stage of mental health recovery, the stage I’m in now, that feels somewhat different.

feet on balance beamI feel like I’m out of the pit. But I feel like the ground I’m standing on is very narrow. I feel like I’m walking on a balance beam that’s suspended over the pit.

For some months now, I’ve felt more or less okay most of the time. But that okayness has felt somewhat shaky. Easily disturbed. Fairly small things make me feel bad out of all proportion to the badness; large things, or even medium-to-large things, can trigger a recurrence of the depression, or of some of the depressive symptoms.

And my mental health care has to be very carefully managed; my mental state rigorously monitored, my self-care precisely titrated. I need exactly the right amount of rest and sleep — not so much that I get torpid, not so little that I get exhausted. I need exactly the right amount of socializing — not so much that I get exhausted, not so little that I feel isolated. I need exactly the right amount of alone time — not so much that I feel isolated, not so little that I get overwhelmed. I need to spend exactly the right amount of time on work, exercise, meditation, pleasure, so I feel calm and engaged rather than overwhelmed, or aimless, or both. Small excesses in any direction have to be adjusted for immediately, or they can easily push me into the bad place.

This is not what I’m like most of the time. Of course I’m made happy or sad by external events; of course I try to keep work and pleasure and rest in a healthy balance. But when I’m not in the middle of (or recovering from) a serious depressive episode, I’m generally on a pretty even emotional keel. My basic outlook on life is not only steady, but is largely self-generated. And I can have stretches where my work and pleasure and rest, my time alone and my social time, are temporarily out of whack. I want them to balance out in the long run, but I can have longish stretches where I’m busting my ass to finish a project, or am running around being a social butterfly, or am lying around being lazy, without it risking my mental health.

It hasn’t felt like that lately. I feel like every step I take has to be small, and careful, and intensely conscious. And I feel like even if my steps are small and careful, I could easily be knocked off balance by a stiff breeze. I feel like I’m walking on a balance beam that’s suspended over the pit.

A few weeks ago, a couple of crises arose. (That’s generally what triggers a depressive episode: I can usually handle one bad thing in my life, but multiple serious stressors are what knock me into the pit.) So a few weeks ago, a couple of crises arose — and it felt like I’d been knocked off the balance beam. It didn’t feel like I’d fallen back into the pit, exactly. But it felt like I was clutching onto the balance beam with my fingertips, dangling over the pit, scrambling to pull myself back up. I got back on the beam again — but I felt wobbly, and my footing was shaky. And then another crisis came along, and I got knocked over again. I’m just now hoisting myself back up, and am trying to regain my footing.

catwalk FEMA_Mitigation_Team_Inspects_Raw_Water_Intake_TowerSo when it comes to mental health care, I feel like my job now… well, right now, today, my job is to hoist myself back onto the beam. But once I’m back on the beam, and my footing is steady and I’m not wobbling or flailing, I feel like my job is to widen the balance beam — so it’s more like a catwalk, or a bridge, or a platform. I’m doing carefully managed, rigorously monitored, precisely titrated self-care, partly because in the short run it keeps me on the balance beam, but also because in the long run it widens the balance beam, and makes it more stable.

I want to get to a place, not just where I don’t feel depressed, but where I can get bad news or have a bad day without it making me depressed. I want to get to a place where I’m not being knocked about by every gust of wind that comes along; where my mood isn’t totally shaped by whether the last thing I saw on Facebook was happy or sad. I want to get to a place where my mood is shaped by my fundamental optimism and empathy and high energy and general good nature, as much as (or more than) it is by the crisis of the week. I want to get to a place where I’m not constantly thinking, “What would be best for my depression now? Would it be better to finish that blog post? To go to the gym? To go to the cafe? To masturbate? To meditate?” I want to get to a place where I don’t have to drop everything and do self-care the moment I feel inspired to, because I don’t know when that window is going to open again.

The pit is always going to be there. That’s what it means to have chronic depression, even with infrequent episodes. I’ll never be able to ignore it entirely; I’ll always have to do some degree of mental health self-care to keep from falling into it. But I want to get back to a place where I don’t have to devote rigorous attention every waking minute to my mental health care, and can just get on with my life.

Comment policy for this post: It sucks that I should have to spell this out, but past experience has taught me that I do: Please do not give unsolicited amateur medical advice, to me or to anyone else with mental illness, in the comments. Or anywhere, for that matter. Talk about your own experiences until the cows come home; ask questions until you’re blue in the face (except for douchy passive-aggressive question like “Why don’t you understand that psych meds are poison?” or “Will you read this article explaining why psych meds are poison?”). If you need this spelled out in more detail, please read Why You Really, Seriously, No Fooling, Should Not Give Unsolicited Amateur Medical Advice to People with Mental Illness (Or to Anyone, Really), Episode 563,305. Thanks.

Related post:
On Being on Anti-Depressants Indefinitely, Very Likely for the Rest of My Life

“A very positive and practical guide from a great writer”: Amazon Customer Review for “Coming Out Atheist”

Hey, apparently I’m the cool aunt people wish they had!

Got a nice customer review on Amazon for Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why! Five stars out of five. (In fact, the book now has 22 customer reviews — and 20 of them are five stars out of five, with one four-star review!) Here’s what GeorgeWiman had to say:

A very positive and practical guide from a great writer.

Greta seems immediately like family, and many have described her as the cool aunt they wish they had. Her guide on coming out recognizes that everyone’s situation is different. Some people live in very accepting families and have accepting workplaces. Some people are in college or otherwise financially dependent. High school students, soldiers, and people who live in theocratic countries where it is very dangerous to come out as an atheist. Even ministers who have stopped believing and are looking for an exit that doesn’t pass through isolation and poverty.

She relates dozens of stories from her readers, to give us a sense of what we might encounter. And with a few notable exceptions (see “theocracy”), life is actually better after coming out. For one thing many people discover previously unknown atheists around them, and begin to enjoy the self-confidence of no longer watching every word and gesture.

When I started to come out as an atheist, I made a few mistakes and was told by a close relative to just stay in the closet. But I’m very glad I came out, and wish I’d had this book when I did. Highly recommended.

Thanks, George! (I especially love the part about being the cool aunt — that makes me really happy.) And if any of you have read Coming Out Atheist, it’d be awesome if you’d post a review.

***

Here, by the way, is ordering info for the book in all three formats — print, ebook, and audiobook!

Coming Out Atheist cover 150Ebook edition:

The Kindle edition is available on Amazon. (That’s the link for Amazon US, btw — it’s available in other regions as well.)

The Nook edition is available at Barnes & Noble.

The Smashwords edition is available on Smashwords. Right now, it’s only available on Smashwords in epub format: I’m working to make it available in other formats.

All ebook editions and formats cost just $9.99.

Print edition:

The print edition is now available through Powell’s Books.

The print edition is also available at Amazon. However, be advised (if you haven’t been already) that seriously abusive labor practices have been reported at Amazon warehouses. Please bear that in mind when you’re deciding where to buy my book — or indeed, where to buy anything. (For the records: Powell’s employees are unionized.) Again, that’s the link for Amazon US — it’s available in other regions as well.

You can also buy the print edition at your local bookstore. If they don’t currently carry it, you can special order it. (Bookstores can get it from standard wholesalers; wholesale info is below.) Support your local bookstore!

The print edition is $17.95 USD. It is published by Pitchstone Publishing.

Wholesale sales of the print edition:

Bookstores and other retailers can get the book from Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and other standard wholesale distributors. It can also be purchased directly from the publisher, Pitchstone Publishing.

Audiobook edition:

The audiobook version is available on Audible.

The audiobook is also available through Amazon.

The audiobook is also available through iTunes.

And yes, I did the recording for it!

“MUST READ if you are closeted about your godlessness!”: Amazon Review of “Coming Out Atheist”

Got a nice customer review on Amazon for Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why! Five stars out of five. (In fact, the book now has 21 customer reviews — and 19 of them are five stars out of five, with one four-star review!) Here’s what Lori Fazzino had to say:

MUST READ if you are closeted about your godlessness!

Greta does an amazing job of outlining the importance of coming out about being a non-believer. This book is wonderful in giving tips about coming out to different audiences. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking to come out and even to people who have had friends/loved ones come out about their godlessness to them!

Thanks, Lori! (For the sake of full disclosure, Lori is a friend and colleague of mine.) And if any of you have read Coming Out Atheist, it’d be awesome if you’d post a review.

***

Here, by the way, is ordering info for the book in all three formats — print, ebook, and audiobook!

Coming Out Atheist cover 150Ebook edition:

The Kindle edition is available on Amazon. (That’s the link for Amazon US, btw — it’s available in other regions as well.)

The Nook edition is available at Barnes & Noble.

The Smashwords edition is available on Smashwords. Right now, it’s only available on Smashwords in epub format: I’m working to make it available in other formats.

All ebook editions and formats cost just $9.99.

Print edition:

The print edition is now available through Powell’s Books.

The print edition is also available at Amazon. However, be advised (if you haven’t been already) that seriously abusive labor practices have been reported at Amazon warehouses. Please bear that in mind when you’re deciding where to buy my book — or indeed, where to buy anything. (For the records: Powell’s employees are unionized.) Again, that’s the link for Amazon US — it’s available in other regions as well.

You can also buy the print edition at your local bookstore. If they don’t currently carry it, you can special order it. (Bookstores can get it from standard wholesalers; wholesale info is below.) Support your local bookstore!

The print edition is $17.95 USD. It is published by Pitchstone Publishing.

Wholesale sales of the print edition:

Bookstores and other retailers can get the book from Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and other standard wholesale distributors. It can also be purchased directly from the publisher, Pitchstone Publishing.

Audiobook edition:

The audiobook version is available on Audible.

The audiobook is also available through Amazon.

The audiobook is also available through iTunes.

And yes, I did the recording for it!

Grief Beyond Belief Now Has a Website!

Grief Beyond Belief bannerThree years ago, Grief Beyond Belief was launched — an online support group for grieving non-believers. It was started as a Facebook group, but while that format worked well for quote a while, the group has become larger, with a wider variety of needs, than a Facebook group could really manage. Also, plenty of people who needed and wanted the service don’t use Facebook.

So last week, Grief Beyond Belief launched its website. It includes interactive forums, a library, a resource guide, and more. Here, I’ll let founder and co-organizer Rebecca Hensler tell you all about it herself.

*****

Press Release: griefbeyondbelief.org launched

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SECULAR GRIEF-SUPPORT NETWORK, GRIEF BEYOND BELIEF, LAUNCHES INDEPENDENT WEBSITE

On Thursday, June 19th, secular grief support network Grief Beyond Belief will celebrate three years of providing comfort and community to bereaved nonbelievers with the launch of griefbeyondbelief.org, the internet’s first faith-free grief-support website,

Founded by school counselor Rebecca Hensler following the death of her son, Grief Beyond Belief has been operating on Facebook for three years, providing grieving atheists, Humanists and other Freethinkers with spaces in which to share compassion and advice without the uncomfortable intrusions of prayer and proselytizing. From the page’s much-welcomed launch on Facebook in June 2011, to its surprising growth following glowing coverage in USA Today in Spring of 2012, to its expansion to a confidential Facebook support group the following fall, the community has continued to serve the growing secular population’s need for grief-support appropriate for those who do not believe in a higher power or an afterlife.

“When our Facebook Page reached ten thousand “likes” and our support group swelled to over a thousand members,” explains Hensler, “it became clear that it was time to expand to an independent website where we could provide additional resources for grieving nonbelievers.”

The website offers a number of features previously unavailable through Grief Beyond Belief’s Facebook-based presence, including:

* The world’s largest collection of purely secular grief-related writing, videos, and podcasts, presented in a library of over 250 links sortable by topic or medium.
* A directory of grief resources, including a growing list of secular and Humanist funeral officiants in over 25 US states and 4 countries.
* A blog, which will feature links to newly published writing, news and other media related to secular grief as well as content written specifically for Grief Beyond Belief.
* Interactive forums in which members can share thoughts, feelings and stories, seek and offer comfort and advice, and post tributes to the loved ones for whom they are grieving.

The forum feature also allows subgroups within the network to delve deeper into shared experiences, such as grieving while leaving religion, or losses in common, such as miscarriage or bereavement by suicide.

The evolution of Grief Beyond Belief from a Facebook-based support community to an independent website marks an important step in the progress of the secular support movement, a step that is not going unnoticed by leaders and opinion-makers in the secular world.

“I’m so glad Grief Beyond Belief is expanding into a website,” says Greta Christina, author of the newly released Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. “The service they provide is so important, and now it’ll be much more accessible to a lot more people. The secular grief library and resource guide alone make the site invaluable. And with the website format, it’ll be much easier for grieving non-believers to talk with each other about specific issues they’re dealing with. It’s a big development.”

Sarah Morehead, the Executive Director of Recovering from Religion and American Atheists’ 2013 Atheist of the Year, agrees with Christina about the importance of Grief Beyond Belief’s mission. “People experiencing the heartache and emotional trauma of loss need comfort, community, and acceptance…not conversion attempts.”

Morehead explains how Grief Beyond Belief fits into the larger movement to provide for the emotional needs of the secular community: “Recovering From Religion regularly refers people to Grief Beyond Belief and we see firsthand how much people appreciate a safe, secular, and caring place to deal with the challenging emotions related to the grieving process. Seeing the concept grow from a social media, grassroots effort to a cohesive resource center is truly fantastic, and we are tremendously proud to support and encourage them at every step.”

The website’s launch on June 19, 2014 has been over a year in the planning, as the project has depended on a small group of volunteers to design the site, collect and input links for the library, and gather contact information for the resource directory. All the while, Hensler, her co-administrator, Nita Grigson, and a handful of moderators have continued to provide safe spaces for grieving nonbelievers on Faceboook and plan for the future of secular grief support.

“I know that the next step is to bring secular peer-to-peer grief support into the real world,” says Hensler. “But for now, griefbeyondbelief.org is going to help a whole lot of people who are grieving without faith feel far less alone.”

CONTACT: Rebecca Hensler
TELEPHONE: 415-606-2195
EMAIL: griefbeyondbelief@gmail.com

Greta Speaking in L.A. and Orange County! Plus Phoenix, DC, Chicago, SF, Denver, Charlotte NC, Sacramento, and Springfield MO

I’m going to be speaking in Los Angeles and Orange County in August! August 17, to be precise. I’ll be speaking at CFI-LA at 11:00 am, and in Costa Mesa at CFI’s “Feed Your Brain” lecture series at 4:30 pm. Details for these and other currently scheduled speaking gigs — including Phoenix AZ, Washington DC, Chicago IL, San Francisco CA, Denver CO, Charlotte NC, Sacramento CA, and Springfield MO — are below. If you’re in any of these places, I hope to see you there!

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: Washington, D.C. (CFI-DC Special Summer Fundraiser Event)
DATE: Saturday, July 12
TIME: 6:00 pm
LOCATION: Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th St NW (14th & V), Washington, D.C.
HOSTS: CFI-DC
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other, 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?
NOTE: This will be a fundraising dinner for CFI-DC. Admission includes a full dinner with open bar.
COST: $50 regular admission; $100 Premier Seating (add book to either option for an additional $15)
EVENT URL: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/dc/events/coming-out-atheist-greta-christina/

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/

CITY: San Francisco, CA (Perverts Put Out!)
DATE: Saturday July 26
TIME: 8:00
LOCATION: The Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission Street, San Francisco (near Civic Center BART)
EVENT: Perverts Put Out!, San Francisco’s long-running pansexual performance series, has featured stellar line-ups of truly twisted, mega-talented artistes — even an occasional naked mayoral candidate — since way back in 1998.
OTHER READERS/PERFORMERS: Princess Cream Pie, horehound stillpoint, Na’amen Tilahun, hosts Simon Sheppard and Dr. Carol Queen, and more.
COST: $10-25 sliding scale
EVENT URL: http://www.simonsheppard.com/simonsheppard%27su.html

CITY: Denver, CO (Colorado Secular Conference)
DATES: Friday August 15 – Sunday August 17
LOCATION: Radisson Hotel Denver Southeast, Aurora, CO
HOSTS/SPONSOR: Colorado Coalition of Reason, with other local groups
TOPIC: Celebrating Secular Diversity
SUMMARY: Making organized atheism more diverse will help make our movement larger and stronger. And it’s also the right thing to do. What are some of the obstacles to diversity? What are some practical steps we can take to become more diverse? And why is this issue so important?
OTHER SPEAKERS: Jamila Bey, Candace Gorham, Seth Andrews, Matt Dillahunty, Hemant Mehta, Mandisa Thomas, Rebecca Hale, Steve Hill, Raúl Martínez, Mikey Weinstein, Amanda Metskas, August Brunsman, David Tamayo, and more.
COST: $35 – $175
EVENT URL: http://www.cosecularconference.org/

CITY: Los Angeles, CA
DATE: Sunday, August 17
TIME: 11:00 am to 1:00 pm
LOCATION: Center for Inquiry-L.A., 4773 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA
HOSTS/SPONSORS: Center for Inquiry-L.A
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other, And Why
SUMMARY: See above
COST: Free for Friends of the Center: $8 for the public: $4 for students (with ID)
EVENT URL: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/la/events/coming_out_atheist/

CITY: Costa Mesa, CA
DATE: Sunday, August 17
TIME: 4:30 pm
LOCATION: Costa Mesa Community Center, 1845 Park Ave. Costa Mesa, CA
HOSTS/SPONSORS: Center for Inquiry-L.A/Community of Orange County
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other, And Why
SUMMARY: See above
COST: Free for Friends of the Center: $8 for the public: $4 for students (with ID)
EVENT URL: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/oc/events/feed_your_brain_lecture_series1/

CITY: Charlotte, NC (Carolinas Secular Conference)
DATES: Friday September 26 – Sunday September 28
LOCATION: Hilton Charlotte Executive Park, 5624 Westpark Dr, Charlotte, NC
HOSTS/SPONSORS: Carolinas Secular Association
TOPIC: TBA
OTHER SPEAKERS: Mandisa Thomas; Bria Crutchfield; Steve Ahlquist; Greydon Square; Harry Shaughnessy; Faisal Saeed Al Mutar; and DJ Alex Zygmunt
COST: $125. Includes the Meet and Greet which is also a costume party (costumes optional); all speaking events and workshops; and the Awards Dinner Banquet.
EVENT URL: http://www.carolinassecularassociation.org/conference/

CITY: Sacramento, CA (Sacramento Freethought Day)
DATE: Saturday, October 11
LOCATION: TBA
HOSTS/SPONSOR: Sacramento Atheists and Other Freethinkers
OTHER SPEAKERS: Annie Laurie Gaylor, Heina Dadabhoy, Neil Wehneman, Jason Frye, Sean Faircloth, and more TBA.
TOPIC: I’m not giving a talk at this event, but I’m going to be on their Authors’ Panel.
COST: Free
EVENT URL: http://freethoughtday.org/

CITY: Springfield, MO (Skepticon)
DATES: Friday November 21 – Sunday November 23
LOCATION: Ramada Oasis, Springfield, MO!
OTHER SPEAKERS: PZ Myers, Cara Santa Maria, Hemant Mehta, Dr. Nicole Gugliucci, Ben Blanchard, Melanie Brewster, JT Eberhard, and more.
TOPIC: TBA
COST: Free
EVENT URL: http://skepticon.org/

“Planning to write is not writing”: Like Hell It Isn’t

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”
-E. L. Doctorow

My friend and fellow writer Dana Fredsti posted this quotation on her Facebook page, and asked people — especially other writers — if they had thoughts about it.

Boy, do I ever.

I think Doctorow has his head so far up his ass it’s coming out the other side.

A huge amount of writing is thinking about writing. It’s absurd to say that it isn’t writing unless you’re typing out words that very second. I mean, even when I’m in the “typing out words” part of writing, I spend a fair amount of time staring at the wall or out the window thinking about what I’m going to write — or looking over what I’ve written and thinking about how and whether to revise it. Does that not count as writing, either? And if it does, why does it count ten seconds before I type words, or a minute before I type words, but not an hour or a day before? Why does the revising count ten seconds after I typed words, or a minute after, but not an hour or a day after?

Is there some sort of statute of limitations determining when “thinking about writing” no longer qualifies as writing?

Yes, there are some differences between the “typing out words” part of writing and the “thinking about what to write” part of writing. But in my experience, those are differences of degree, not of kind…. and the degree isn’t that great. And yes, it’s easy to procrastinate by telling yourself things like, “I’m writing in my head,” or by doing every possible thing even vaguely related to writing that isn’t the “typing out words” part. (It’s one of the things that’s so dangerous about Facebook and Twitter: if you’re a writer, going onto Facebook and Twitter do qualify as work, since it’s part of publicity and promotion.) At some point, you have to sit down and do the “typing out words” part of writing: if you never ever get to that, then no, all the planning and thinking in the world doesn’t really count as writing.

But if you do eventually sit down and do the “typing out words” part, then yes — all the planning and thinking and re-thinking totally counts.

Thoughts — from other writers, from other artists, from anyone else with ideas about this?

“Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” YouTube Video Hits Over 200,000 Views!

This is kind of a neat milestone! The YouTube video of my “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” talk at Skepticon 4 — the one that went semi-viral — now has over 200,000 views! Here it is, in case you’re not one of the 200,000 people who’s watched it (or if you are, and you want to watch it again.)

Oh, and is almost always the case with YouTube videos: Don’t read the comments, don’t read the comments, don’t read the comments. Just don’t.

*****

Why Are You Atheists So AngryAnd in case you’re interested in the book that sprang partly from this talk — Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless — here’s the info on it! [Read more…]