Some Thoughts on Depression and Solitude

So I’m having this conundrum.

woman alone in window seatOn the one hand: I love solitude. And I mean LOVE it. Long stretches of time to myself have always been a luxurious pleasure for me. Before I was with Ingrid, there were years where I spent Christmas Day alone every year — and it was one of the most delightful parts of the holiday season, an oasis of quiet solitude and self-indulgence in the middle of a social whirl. When Ingrid and I first got together and were contemplating whether to move in together, one of the issues we looked at was how I would get my much-needed time and space alone. (In fact, we didn’t move in together for seven years — not entirely for this reason, but partly.) And one of the biggest benefits of quitting my day job and becoming a full-time freelance writer was that it gave me long stretches of solitude.

In fact, I don’t just love time alone. I need it. I’m an introvert, and a big part of what that means is that I’m replenished and rejuvenated by time alone, and exhausted by time with others. It’s not that I don’t enjoy time with others — I do, very much. It’s just that I hit a wall with it. I enjoy it for a couple/few hours (more or fewer hours depending on the people and the situation), and then I get tired and need to go away and be alone for a while. (I believe the term for this is “social introvert.”) Solitude isn’t just a pleasure: it’s a necessity.

On the other hand:

Ever since this current stretch of depression, I’ve been paying attention to when I’m depressed and when I’m not. I’m paying attention to what gives me depressive symptoms, and what alleviates them, and what actually bolsters my mental health and makes me feel positively robust.

And I’m finding that when I have many days in a row where I spend many hours alone in the house without interacting with anyone but Ingrid and the cats, I tend to get depressed. When I get out of the house every day, and interact every day at least briefly with human beings who aren’t Ingrid, my mental health improves. This isn’t the entire picture, of course — my mental health also improves when I take my meds, go to therapy, get exercise, meditate — but it’s a big part of it.

I’m thinking about this because I’ve recently started a new mental health self-care routine. Instead of just generically promising myself that I’ll leave the house once a day to do some unspecified thing, I now have a specific routine. Every weekday, unless I have some particular other thing scheduled, I get to a cafe by 1:00 pm, and work on my laptop there. And I’ve found, just in the week that I’ve been doing this, with no other substantial change in my life, that my mental health has significantly improved. I’ve been having a rough patch with depression in the last few months — not terrible, but not great, and very stubborn — and just in this past week, I’ve become more alert, more energetic, more hopeful and optimistic, more engaged with the world. Heck, I’ve been positively bouncy at times — and I haven’t been bouncy in months.

Dammit to fucking hell. [Read more…]

Godless Perverts Social Club Meets Tuesday, August 4!


The next Godless Perverts Social Club is Tuesday, August 4!

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. All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome.

So please join us at Wicked Grounds, the kink cafe and boutique at 289 8th Street at Folsom in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART). We meet on the first Tuesday and the third Thursday of every month. 7-9 pm. Admission is free, but we ask that you buy food and/or drink at the cafe if you can: they have beverages, light snacks, full meals, and milkshakes made of literal awesome sauce. [Read more…]

What Are Your Favorite Physical Sensations?

hand printOn Facebook the other day, someone posted the question, “What are your favorite physical sensations?” I liked the game, swiped it for my own Facebook page, and thought I’d post it here as well. Reading other people’s responses has been making me happy, and is reminding me of some of my own that I missed. Plus it feels all humanist and shit. The joys of the body in the here and now, and all that.

A few of my own answers that leap immediately to mind: Sinking into a just-hot-enough bath. Being in a bath and scrubbing my skin with scented salt-and-oil scrub I made myself. Stroking my own skin after a bath. The first sip of a cup of coffee made exactly the way I like it. Biting into a perfectly ripe nectarine. The feel of a light warm breeze on my skin (I don’t get that NEARLY enough, in San Francisco it’s usually chilly enough that when I’m outside I want long sleeves). Wrapping a soft soft blanket around me, and settling into another soft soft blanket behind me. Stroking a cat’s fur. Muscle soreness after a good workout (especially a weight workout). The scent of slow-roasting tomato sauce. The feel and scent of freshly-done laundry. The view of our backyard from our back room. Ingrid’s hair between my fingers. So many food things I can’t even say them all here, but a lot of it is first tastes: first taste of chocolate melting on my tongue, first taste of toasted cheese on good bread, first bite into a gooey pastry thing with some sort of cream, first taste of a ridiculously well-crafted cocktail made with bourbon. Walking: pretty much anywhere, but especially in my neighborhood and my city, and also especially in a strange city. The sight of good street art.

(I’m going to stay away from sexual ones, because I’ve become more private about that stuff lately.)

What are yours? (I’m going to ask people to stay away from sexual ones in this space, since sometimes that can be a little TMI with strangers.)

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

“Why is the left hijacking atheism to pass an agenda?” A Fun New Atheist Game

dice and figuresLet’s play a game!

Backstory for the game: A few days ago, I posted a piece here, Eight Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, in which I interviewed eight leaders of atheist organizations, and expressed my frustration with lazy media outlets who decide to examine the burgeoning atheist movement by profiling Dawkins or Harris and calling it a day. (This is frustrating for many reasons: Dawkins and Harris regularly say horribly racist and sexist things, to these media outlets and elsewhere — and even if that weren’t so, it’s an extremely narrow and blinkered view of organized atheism.)

The other day, I got this comment in response:

Why is the left hijacking atheism to pass an agenda? Shame on you.

[insert sounds of uncontrollable laughter]

For those who didn’t read the piece and thus don’t understand why this is funny: The leaders I profiled head up the following organizations: Grief Beyond Belief, Center for Inquiry, Secular Student Alliance, Foundation Beyond Belief, Camp Quest, Ex-Muslims of North America, Black Nonbelievers, and Recovering From Religion. With one or two possible exceptions, these are some of the most mainstream, most uncontroversial groups in organized atheism. Most of them are community and support organizations — actually, all of them are community and support organizations, although CFI does a lot of other stuff too. I am baffled by the notion that these organizations somehow constitute a leftist hijacking of atheism. (Or I would be baffled, if I thought this person had read the piece past the first paragraph.)

So I want to turn this into a game! To play, answer any or all of these questions:

1) Why IS the left hijacking atheism to pass an agenda?

2) What exactly, is the evil leftist agenda being promoted by these particular organizations? Remember that atheism itself cannot be the evil leftist agenda — your answer must be applicable not only for an atheist, but for an atheist who supports the idea of organized atheism enough to not want “atheism” to be “hijacked.”

3) If these organizations constitute a leftist hijacking of the One True Atheist Agenda — what is that true agenda, and which organizations do represent it?

Answers can be funny, absurdist, imaginative, logical-conclusion-y, or even serious attempts to understand why someone would see these organizations in this way. Extra points (in the point system I make up in my head and probably won’t bother to share with anyone else) for answers that manage to be all of these. If you like, you can find some dice and a game board, and move pieces around in a manner you find pleasing.

Your time starts — now!

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Alix Jules

In June, I wrote a piece for AlterNet, titled 8 Awesome Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. The gist: When a media outlet decides that atheism is important, they all too often turn to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth about race or gender — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?” Atheism does have better leaders — so I profiled eight of them, to bring just a small fragment of the range and variety of atheist leadership to more people’s attention.

At the end of that piece, I wrote, “And these eight are the tip of the iceberg… I could write a new profile of a different atheist leader every week, and still be at it ten years from now.”

So I decided: Why not do that?

I don’t know if I’ll do it for ten years. But for at least a while, once a week I’ll be profiling and interviewing a different leader in organized atheism.

Alix Jules 1This week’s profile/interview: Alix Jules. Jules is President of Black Non-Believers of Dallas (BNOD), an organization created to provide networking opportunities for nonbelieving peoples of color. It is open to everyone; however, its focus is to provide a safe space for godless black and brown nonbelievers. They provide a southern beacon to our friends in shared disbelief, reminding them they’re not alone. Jules is also Board Member/Treasurer of Secular Avenue, a 501(c)(3) organization formed to help secular people in need to achieve safety, stability, and autonomy. The initial focus of Secular Avenue is SAFE, a program to assist people who are unsafe at home due to leaving religion, religious extremism, domestic abuse, or coming out as LGBTQ. He occasionally contributes to writing projects, blogs, podcasts, rallies, protests, etc.

GC: Tell me about a specific project or projects your organization is working on.

AJ: Black Non-Believers of Dallas is sending a child to Camp Quest this year through our sponsorship. We had more than normal cries of “reverse discrimination” this year, so we may start raising money a little earlier for next year where we’d like to sponsor more children nationally.

Secular Avenue is always fundraising to help survivors. The more money we take in, the bigger the impact on lives.

Personally, I’m very excited about the Secular Social Justice Conference in January, the Black Nonbelievers Anniversary celebration in 2016 and Apostacon this year in Sept, which will be held in Dallas. I’m excited to be speaking at each.

Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next 10 to 20 years?

Honestly, I’d like to see so much progress in secularism in the next 20 years that the organized atheism movement becomes obsolete.

It might be a little Utopian, but the idea of generalized godlessness or normalized agnosticism, minus any theocratic undertones or allusions to doctrine, would be awesome! I’d like to see Atheism so mainstream that we’ve replaced the term “Atheist Leaders” with “leaders who just happen to be Atheist.” All without controversy.

That would at least signal some muting of the booming religious right and maybe even indicate an abridgment of their encroaching religious agendas. As a humanist, I find that there are so many other things to focus on including civil liberties, general inequalities, education, health, wealth disparities, various forms of privilege, and all the bad “isms” and bigotry. God’s just not that important. Unfortunately, many of those aforementioned “isms” still center on what his followers believe he demands.

In contrast, growing global religiosity in places like Africa (where unchecked superstitious beliefs, witchcraft, and homophobia run rampant) will demand attention from the worldwide atheist and secular humanist communities.

However, I fear, as we’ve seen with our response to American #BlackLivesMattering, that ideas such as #AllBlackLivesMattering or #AfricanLivesMattering will culminate into a self-aggrandizing show of telethon sponsorships, denial of the role played by certain racial actors in creating the problem, or passive acceptance that those #BlackLivesOverThereDon’tMatterEither.

What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?

Atheists are human too and many of them refuse to accept that. There is some narcissism that comes with organized atheism. We “know better” when it comes to god. That’s almost a universal affirmation. Unfortunately, being presumably right about one thing does not make us necessarily right about everything. That’s fallacious. We are prone to many of the aforementioned “isms,” but instead of justifying them “because god” we’ve shifted to shielding ourselves from our own criticism.

This is particularly the case when addressing race.

Every few years people want to classify atheism as a mental illness. Of course I disagree with this assessment, however if we were to plot it on an axis like an illness, I’d guess that Atheism would have an extremely high co-morbidity rate with colorblindness.

There also tends to be lack of acknowledgement of the intersectionality of issues where organized atheism could have impact, but my arguments are besieged by claims of scope creep, flat out denial, or ally paralysis. On issues such as the flag, police brutality and/or murder, false incarceration issues, etc., you’ll find less than prominent ministers shouting from the rooftops – but nothing from their more prominent godless peers.

Figuratively speaking, imagine the message if the president of a national atheist organization known for running brash anti-theistic billboards in December, were to show up on the ground to protest the treatment of “humans beings” as “black people” at the hands of the police.

Imagine that.

Alix Jules 2Do you consider yourself a “new atheist”? Why or why not?

I do, but less so today than I once did when I joined the “new atheist” movement. I’m an atheist that happens to be black, or a person of color, but everyone sees black first (colorblind or not). When I came out as an atheist, I was very out. I still have the in your face T-shirts.

However, I’ve shifted over the years to adopt more of a Humanist label. I don’t shy away from the term “Atheist,” but my humanity is tested daily and my humanism compels me to do more than “not believe in gods.”

In addition, it can become an operose task to embrace a movement that although growing in diversity, isn’t at its core inclusive. Actively addressing what’s wrong with the world, rather than meandering through life self-satiating on the fruits of knowledge, drives me. My atheism is somewhere between byproduct and fountainhead of my humanism – and I try my best to not let it become a wedge distancing me from other humans that need help.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

What Should People *Not* Say to Grieving Nonbelievers?

tearsI’m writing a piece for AlterNet, tentatively titled “Things Not to Say to Grieving Nonbelievers” — and I’m collecting stories.

If you’re an atheist or other nonbeliever, and you have a story (or stories) about things believers said to you when you were grieving that were callous, insensitive, disrespectful, clueless, or otherwise hurtful or upsetting — I want to hear about it. To the best of your recollection, please tell me what the circumstances were, what was said, who said it (i.e., was it a friend, a sibling, etc.), and why it was upsetting. If you only feel comfortable telling part of this, that’s fine.

You can post your story or stories in the comments here — or, if you prefer, you can email them to me at (If you email me, please put “Grieving Nonbeliever” in the subject line.) Please be sure to tell me what name you want to be quoted under (if you don’t, I’ll err on the side of caution and make up a pseudonym for you). Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

“The lion’s share of what is on Facebook”: Some Thoughts on Online Politics

In response to my earlier post, Some Notes to Progressives on Criticizing Conservatives, I got this comment:

Greta, what you are citing is not issue advocacy. It is mindless and immature ranting, which is the lion’s share of what is on Facebook. I have almost given up trying to have anything resembling an exchange of ideas on Facebook. It is just not the type of forum that is conducive to a rational discourse, without heavy moderation and a commitment among participants to keep it at a sensible level. Too much ignorance for me.

It’s a commonly expressed sentiment, so I wanted to amplify my reply. Thus, this blog post.

Facebook thumbs upSorry, but I don’t buy the idea that “oh, that’s just Facebook.” For one thing, it’s not true (or it’s often not true). I’ve seen, and participated in, many very good political conversations on Facebook and other social media. Yes, it requires heavy moderation and a commitment among participants. That’s true of any online forum.

For another: Interaction on social media is human interaction. [Read more…]

Some Notes to Progressives on Criticizing Conservatives


Based on some Facebook interactions (I won’t post them here, but you can see the interactions in this thread), I have a couple of notes to progressives on criticizing conservatives.

Note 1: Can you please not criticize Ann Coulter by talking about her prominent Adam’s apple, or saying she looks like a man? It’s sexist, and it’s transphobic. It’s sexist because you’re criticizing a woman in the public sphere by insulting her appearance, when that shouldn’t be relevant. And it’s both sexist and transphobic to insult women by saying they look like men: it reinforces the rigid gender binary, and reinforces the gender policing of trans people. There are approximately 879,500,403 legitimately negative things you can say about Ann Coulter. There’s no need to resort to sexism and transphobia. Thanks.

Aaaaaaaaaaand, Note 2: When someone says, “Hey, when you criticize conservatives, can you please not do it in this sexist and transphobic way,” and you reply (paraphrasing here, but not by much), “I’M NOT BEING TRANSPHOBIC OR SEXIST, THEY’RE A TERRIBLE PERSON SO I SHOULD BE ABLE TO SAY ANYTHING I WANT ABOUT THEM INCLUDING INSULTING WOMEN FOR LOOKING UGLY AND TRANS, AND I’M GOING TO THROW IN SOME HOMOPHOBIC INSULTS AT A CONSERVATIVE I THINK IS GAY WHILE I’M AT IT, YOU’RE BEING PC AND UNDERMINING FREEZE PEACH, DON’T TELL ME TO STOP I WILL DO WHATEVER I WANT FOREVER” — you have 100% failed at being an ally. In fact, you’ve 100% failed at being progressive. You are more interested in rooting for Team Progressive and dissing Team Conservative than you are in actually advocating for the issues that progressives supposedly care about.

I’m just sayin’, is all.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Atheists of Color — Updating the List

Please note: This post has a different comment policy than my standard one. Please read the entire piece to the end before commenting. It’s not that long.

A few years ago, I compiled a list of prominent atheists of color, and organizations of atheists of color, here on this blog. I did this for a number of reasons: mostly so that conference organizers, event organizers for local and student groups, anthology editors, bloggers, journalists, and people who are simply participants in the atheist community could easily be made familiar with the work of a wider range of atheists — a range that’s more diverse, and more reflective of the actual makeup of the atheist community. (tl;dr: Conference organizers, you no longer have an excuse. :-) )

The list is now somewhat out of date, and I’d like to update it. Please let me know in the comments if you know any of the following:

People/ organizations who should be on the list but aren’t. IMPORTANT: Please don’t just list their name! I need their name, the URL for their blog/ website if they have one, and a SHORT list of credentials: books, blogs, publications they write for, achievements, etc. Compiling and updating this list is enough work without having to do a ton of Googling.

Also important: Please DO NOT hesitate to nominate yourself for this list! If you’re an atheist of color and you’re any sort of public figure, either within the atheist community or outside of it — blogger, community organizer, scholar, scientist, author, artist, musician, activist, whatever — please let me know. Again, please provide your name, URL for your blog/ website if you have one, and a SHORT list of your credentials. And if you’re already on the list, but your information is incorrect or incomplete, please let me know.

People/ organizations who are on the list but shouldn’t be. If there’s anyone on this list who isn’t actually an atheist, or has stopped identifying as an atheist since this list was first created, or is no longer a public figure and has dropped off the radar, please let me know. Also, if anyone on this list is now dead, please let me know: this is meant to be a list of atheists of color who are alive and active now. And if any of the organizations on the list have since folded, please let me know.

NOTE ABOUT BLOGGERS: If a blogger hasn’t updated their blog in six months, and hasn’t stated on their blog that they’re taking a hiatus and plan to return, I’m going to drop them from the list, unless someone gives me a strong argument for keeping them on.

Up to date credentials/ biographical info. If the credentials/ biographical info for anyone on this list is out of date — if people have new books, new blogs, new positions at their organizations, if they’re working for different organizations, etc. — please let me know.

Up to date URLs. If you know the URLs for any of the people on this list who don’t have URLs listed? If there are URLs on this list that are out of date, and you know the current URL? Please let me know.

Once again, here’s a link to the original list.

A couple of notes on what I’m looking for here:

First: This is not intended to be a list of famous atheists of color throughout history. That would certainly be an awesomely useful project (and if anyone knows of this project existing, please speak up!) — but it’s not this project. This is meant to be a list of atheists of color who are alive and active now.

Second, and very importantly: I do not want to get into an argument here about why we need this list, or how we should just be color blind and ignore race altogether. In a perfect world, maybe we wouldn’t need it. We don’t live in a perfect world. Among other things, well- meaning people can unconsciously perpetuate racial bias without intending to… and we need to take conscious action to counter this unconscious tendency. If you think the atheist movement doesn’t need to make a conscious effort to be more inclusive, then please read these pieces:

Getting It Right Early: Why Atheists Need to Act Now on Gender and Race
Race, Gender, and Atheism, Part 2: What We Need To Do — And Why

And if, after reading those pieces — not skimming them or reading the titles, but actually reading them — you still think we don’t need to make a conscious effort to be more inclusive of people of color, then please make your arguments ON THOSE POSTS. Not here. Comments here arguing that we don’t need this list will be disemvoweled or deleted. This post is for people who will find this list useful and informative, and/or who want to make suggestions about keeping it accurate and up to date.

I do welcome some degree of debate here about whether a particular person should or should not be included: are they really an atheist, are they prominent enough (although I’ll tend to err on the side of inclusion there), etc. But I do not welcome debate here about whether this list should exist. Thank you.

Third: Please make your suggestions here, in comments on this blog. Please do not email them to me. I do want there to be an opportunity for public discussion about additions, deletions, or other changes. (And I’m somewhat concerned about assholes trying to troll the list: that’ll be less easy to do if there are eyes on the process other than mine.) Also, it’s easier for me to manage this if all the revisions are in one place. Thanks!

Note: I know that there are problems/ issues with the phrase “people of color” (among other things, it lumps together people from widely divergent cultural backgrounds as if not being white was the same experience for everyone). In general, I’m trying to use the phrase less. In this case, though, I’m going to stick with the phrase, imperfect though it is: brevity is key here, and anyway this list has a lot of people linking to it and citing it and searching for it, and I don’t want to screw that up.

Oh, and in case you’re not already aware of it: here, in a similar vein, is a large list of awesome female atheists, compiled by Jen McCreight at BlagHag.)

Thanks for your help!

Eight Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

If you’ve read anything about the blossoming atheist movement, there’s a good chance it was about Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. And if you’re a reasonably progressive person who cares about sexism and racism, and you’ve read about Dawkins or Harris, there’s an excellent chance that the top of your head came off.

There’s this pattern with media coverage of organized atheism. When a media outlet decides that atheism is interesting and important, they all too often turn to Dawkins or Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?”

Atheism does have better leaders. Plenty of them. Organized atheism has hundreds of leaders, arguably thousands — leaders of support organizations, charitable organizations, advocacy groups, online communities, local groups, and more. I’d like to introduce you to eight of them.

(Transparency note: All the people on this list are colleagues, and some are friends.)

Rebecca Hensler 1501: Rebecca Hensler. In 2011, Hensler founded Grief Beyond Belief, a support organization for people who are grieving without belief in an afterlife or a higher power. They provide online and face-to-face opportunities for people to share compassion, advice, and resources without the intrusion of religion or spiritualism. Since 2011, they have expanded to a confidential Facebook-based support group with over 1,800 members and seven other volunteer administrators; a website with a library of over 300 links to faith-free grief writing, podcasts and videos; and secular grief-support workshops at freethought events around the US. Right now, they’re working on bringing secular grief support workshops to as many communities as possible.

Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next ten to twenty years?

Well, first of all, I want everyone who joins the organized community with respect and goodwill to feel welcomed, included and represented, regardless of gender, economic resources, race, education, political leanings or age. That means that so-called leaders need to cut the crap and check themselves and each other regarding how they treat people who aren’t in the same demographic as the “Four Horsemen.” I don’t want to be part of a community that says, “Welcome to new atheism; now fork out a couple hundred bucks to register for a conference and prepare for a weekend of microaggressions and invisibility.” When nonbelievers who never even knew there was an organized atheist community encounter it through Grief Beyond Belief, I want them to feel like there is a place to plug in where their needs are considered and their contributions — whatever they may be — are appreciated.

Over the next decade, I see the secular support movement growing, meeting an ever broader range of needs, and becoming more visible. I envision the organized atheist community developing as a structure with four sides: a political side including activists, lobbyists and politicians (because we will be seeing out atheist politicians within the next decade); an academic side, including scientists, historians and philosophers; a communications side including writers, podcasters and video producers; and a supportive side meeting the emotional, social and welfare needs of nonbelievers. Imagine what we can do if we all work together and respect and benefit from each other’s work!

What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?

First of all, there’s the realistic fear many have of living as out atheists. People who are physically safe being out, with sufficient resources to cushion themselves from potential harm, must let go of the need to feel comfortable too. There will be a substantial amount of feeling uncomfortable before the majority of Americans are cool with us. We went through it as queers and most of us survived it. Atheists can do it too; at least atheists aren’t fighting an epidemic at the same time.

Secondly, there’s the way the mainstream media is always looking to the same people to speak for our movement. We need to encourage the visibility of the everyday people doing the work of growing and nurturing the community. What is it with movements needing leaders and spokespeople anyway? Just once could we create change without elevating certain people above the rest as symbols of that change?

Thirdly (and you knew I would get to this) there are conflicts within the atheist movement. We often neglect to assume best intentions, which is a strategy necessary for healthy collaboration. But assuming best intentions with our fellow atheists is a challenge when there is a small cadre of atheists whose intentions are not kind or respectful but threatening and abusive, specifically towards women who identify and criticize sexism. There are also a substantial number of community members, many of whom I call friends, who don’t always differentiate that cadre’s hateful and violent speech from respectful disagreement. This has led to a ever-widening chasm between the “let’s all get along” folk and a number of prominent atheist feminists.

The hateful cadre? They can go to nonexistent hell. No one who makes any kind of threat belongs in the atheist community. The rest of us would benefit from figuring out how to work together. That would require the “let’s all get along” folk to stop referring to threats and hate speech as “disagreement.” And it would require us feminists to be very careful ourselves about not mistaking disagreement or ignorance for unforgivable bigotry. As Bernice Johnson Reagon said, “a coalition is not a home”; we should not need to agree or even feel comfortable with each other to work together.

Do you consider yourself a “new atheist”? Why or why not?

Hold on while I google “New Atheists”…

Honestly, I’m not sure. I think and write a lot about atheism, but mostly in terms of what people need to be well and happy in the only lifetime we’ve got. Part of the definition of a New Atheist appears to be encouraging others to let go of faith-based beliefs and base their actions on reason and knowledge; that’s not my role in the atheist community.

However, the secular support movement helps people live with the challenges and troubles that come with being human without turning to myths or mysticism, and that makes leaving religion easier for those who choose to. And I’m not certain the secular support movement would have arisen in the organic way it has without the rise of new atheism first. So maybe I’m post-new-atheism… [Read more…]