Is It Ethical to Conceal Your Atheism?

This piece was originally published in Free Inquiry magazine.

Let’s say you’re an atheist. Let’s say you’re a college student. Let’s say your parents are supporting you, including paying your tuition. And let’s say your parents are adamantly opposed to atheism — so much so that if they learned about your atheism, they would stop paying your tuition, cut off all financial support, and cut you out of the family. (Not a hypothetical situation, unfortunately.)

Is it ethical to conceal your atheism?

Coming Out AtheistWe often treat this question, and questions like it, as a no-brainer. In my book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, I repeatedly counsel atheists to hold off on coming out if they don’t think it’s safe — if they think it will get them fired from their jobs, cut off by their parents, kicked out of their homes. I do think coming out is ultimately the right choice for most people — overwhelmingly, most atheists who have come out say it made their lives better and they’re glad they did it — but I think it makes sense to hold off if the timing is bad. As I delicately phrased it in the book, “Don’t screw up your life.” I give this advice without hesitation, and it’s mostly accepted without hesitation.

But I’ve gotten some questions about this — yes, from atheists — that have made me look at this question more carefully. I’m still coming to the same conclusion — but I think it’s more difficult than I’d originally thought, with a more nuanced answer.

The issue at hand: If people are giving you something, and they wouldn’t give it to you if they knew something about you, is it ethical to lie about that information, or even simply to withhold it? If a boss were considering hiring you, and you knew they wouldn’t if they knew about your embezzlement conviction, is it ethical for you to conceal that? If someone you were dating were considering marrying you, and you knew they wouldn’t if they knew you were a Republican, is it ethical for you to conceal that? I think most people would say No.

So by the same token, if your parents wouldn’t pay your tuition if they knew you were an atheist — don’t they have the right to make that decision? Isn’t it their money, and their right to decide what to do with it? Isn’t honesty a core ethical value — especially when people are making decisions that would be affected by your information? [Read more...]

5 Reasons to Stop Talking Sh*t About People From the South and Midwest

united states map divided by regions“If I ever hear another elitist jerk use the term flyover people, I’ll punch him in the mouth.” -John Waters, Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America

I don’t approve of threats of physical violence. Not even hyperbolic ones. But I absolutely know where John Waters is coming from. And while I don’t intend to punch anyone in the mouth, I completely understand — and share — his anger at this bullshit notion of “flyover country.”

I recently did a speaking tour of the Midwest, promoting my new book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. This isn’t new for me: I’ve been doing public speaking for years, and I do it a lot in the Midwest and South. And every time I come home from one of these trips, I bring back a huge suitcase full of respect for people in the Midwest and South — and a hearty desire to say “Fuck You” to anyone who makes snotty remarks about “flyover country” or “flyover people.” Not all progressives do this, of course — but I hear it often enough that I need to say something. Here are five reasons coastal progressives need to permanently purge these phrases from their vocabulary.


Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 5 Reasons to Stop Talking Sh*t About People From the South and Midwest. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

25 years ago today

25 years ago today, I was on Durant Street in Berkeley, on my way to Kip’s sports bar to watch the World Series, when I felt a sharp JOLT, as if someone had yanked the rug I was standing on — except the rug was the sidewalk. Sharp jolt, and then a rumbling, rolling shake, for what felt like a longish time. When it was over, I thought, “Hm, I wonder how big that was?” — and went on to Kip’s to watch the game. (I’d been through earthquakes before. I was jaded.)

Loma_Prieta_Shake_MapBut the game wasn’t on. The cable was out. Someone had a portable radio, but it was hard to hear in the crowded bar. It wasn’t until the TV came back on that I realized, “Oh. This was big. Oh. OH. Part of 880 collapsed. Part of the Bay Bridge collapsed. The Marina is on fire. OH. This was BIG.”

I headed immediately to my friends’ house (hi, Eric!). I was living alone, and I didn’t want to be alone. I stayed there for several days. I remember buying donuts, because it seemed like in a natural disaster, there ought to be donuts.

That jolt shifted my life in more ways than one. My main workplace. BASS/Ticketmaster, was damaged beyond repair, and they took the opportunity to move their offices from Oakland to Walnut Creek… thus inspiring me to get another job, at the San Francisco Bay Times… thus inspiring me to move from Oakland to SF. The Bay Times also eventually became one of my first regular paid writing gigs, doing film reviews… which led to my gig for the Spectator doing film reviews about sexual themes in mainstream movies… which got me noticed in the sex-writing world… which led to me editing my first book, Paying For It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients. Funny how the totally unexpected, out-of-nowhere jolt can drastically shape your life.

In memory of the 63 who died.

Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

Why, Despite the Incredibly Discouraging Crap That’s Been Going On in Recent Weeks and Months and Years, I Still Have Hope for Organized Atheism

Cologne_Germany_Cologne-Gay-Pride-cheerleadersI know. Here comes Greta, the eternal optimist, the relentless Pollyanna cheerleader, always holding out for hope. Stay with me. I really think I’m right about this.

Yes, the recent weeks in organized atheism have been incredibly discouraging, disheartening, disillusioning, demoralizing, dis- and de- just about every good thing that keeps people engaged in activism. Heck, the recent months and years in organized atheism have often been discouraging. Our most visible representatives are saying and doing horrible things: they’re perpetuating horrible sexist and racist ideas, they’re trivializing rape and making excuses for it and blaming the victims of it, they’re apparently committing sexual assault. The online hatred and harassment squad has been in full force. The defenses, denials, rationalizations, trivializations, and victim-blaming about all of this have been in full force. And in the last few weeks, all of this has been in overdrive. I can totally understand why some people, even people who have been in organized atheism for years — strike that, especially people who have been in organized atheism for years — would be losing hope. I’m feeling it, too.

And I’m not going to say for a second that the awful shit isn’t awful. I’m certainly not going to say that we shouldn’t talk about it just because it’s giving people a sad. I’m not going to tell anyone else that they’re bad or wrong for being disheartened — or even that they have any obligation to stay in organized atheism.

What I’m going to say is that I have hope. And I’m going to explain why. [Read more...]

5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men

If you have a scrap of progressive politics in your bones, it’s no surprise to you that sexism hurts women. Like, duh. That’s kind of the definition of the word.

But we don’t talk as much about how sexism hurts men. Understandably. When you look at the grotesque ways women are damaged by sexism—from economic inequality to political disenfranchisement to literal, physical abuse—it makes perfect sense that we’d care more about how sexism, patriarchy and rigid gender roles affect women than we do about how they affect men.

But men undoubtedly get screwed up by this stuff, too. Not screwed up as badly as women, to be sure… but not trivially, either. I care about it. And I think other feminists—and other women and men who may not see themselves as feminists—ought to care about it, too.

I care about this stuff for a lot of reasons. I care because I have men and boys in my life, men and boys who matter to me; I see how they get twisted into knots by gender roles that are not only insanely rigid but impossibly contradictory, and it makes me sick and sad and seriously pissed off. I care because I care about justice: fair is fair, and I don’t want to solve the problem of gender inequality by making things suck worse for men.

And I care for entirely pragmatic, even Machiavellian reasons. I care because I care about feminism… and I think one of the best things we can do to advance feminism is to get more men on board. If we can convince more men that sexism screws up their lives, too—and that life shared with free and equal women is a whole lot more fun—we’re going to get a lot more men on our side. (Like the bumpersticker a friend once had on her truck: “Feminists Fuck Better.”)

So I’ve been looking more carefully at the specific ways sexism hurts men. In particular, I’ve been looking at our society’s expectations of men, our very definitions of maleness. I’ve been looking at how rigid and narrow many of these expectations are, creating a razor-thin window of acceptable manly behavior that you’d have to be a professional tightrope walker to navigate. (Which would be a problem, since “professional tightrope walker” is definitely outside the parameters of acceptable manliness.) I’ve been looking at how so many of these expectations are not only rigid, but totally contradictory, creating a vision of idealized manhood that’s not just ridiculous but literally unattainable. And I’ve been asking the men in my life—friends, colleagues, family members, community members, guys I know on the Internet—what kinds of expectations they get about Being A Man and how those expectations affect them.

Here is a list of five.


Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet and Salon, 5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men. This is actually an older piece that they’re reprinting: if I’d known, I probably would have revised it, and I definitely would have cleaned up the broken links. :-p But I’m glad they’re reprinting it: one of the most common MRA tropes is that feminists don’t care about the ways that gender roles and rigid gender expectations hurt men, and that’s just flatly not true. Anyway. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Godless Perverts Social Club, October 16! Discussion Topic: “Being Godless During the Holidays”

Godless Perverts Banner

The next Godless Perverts Social Club is this Thursday October 16 — and the discussion topic is “Being Godless During the Holidays”!

The Godless Perverts presents and promotes a positive view of sexuality without religion, by and for sex-positive atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-believers — and the Godless Perverts Social Club is our socializing/ hanging out branch. 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 — we meet at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th Street in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART), the first Tuesday and third Thursday of every month. Our next meeting is this Thursday October 16!

Road sign that says "Holiday season just ahead" on blue sky backgroundWe’re doing slightly different formats for the two clubs. Our Third Thursday Social Clubs are a little more structured — we’ll pick a topic, let people know what it is ahead of time, have a moderator/ host who leads the discussion, maybe even get in special guests to guide discussions on particular topics. In October, that’ll be Thursday October 16. The topic for this Thursday: Being Godless During the Holidays. As the year draws to a close, we can look forward to taking a double-barrelled hit of good cheer from all directions, whether we want it or not. The holidays can be a lot of fun, but they can also be scary, lonely times. For nonbelievers, or people with alternative sexualities or genders, the holidays can be that time when our communities or families remind us that we just don’t fit. How do you handle the holidays? Love them or hate them? Do you start to clash with friends, lovers, or family members who just wish you’d join in and be “normal”? Or do you just find your own way to go along and enjoy the party? [Read more...]