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…]

Godless Perverts Social Club Thursday July 16: After Marriage Equality, What’s Next?

Godless Perverts Social Club banner 7-16-15

The Godless Perverts Social Club is meeting tonight, Thursday July 16! We’re picking a discussion topic ahead of time — and this time, the topic is After Marriage Equality, What’s Next? Marriage equality is now legal across the U.S. So what’s next for sexual and gender politics? In the fight for secular sexual liberation and against the religious right, what issues should be our priority? Should we be focusing on transgender rights, employment and housing discrimination, homelessness among LGBT teens? Should polyamorous marriage be on the table? How shall queer communities face the problems of racism and classism? And how can atheists and skeptics support the fight for secular, evidence-based policies about gender and sex?

So please join us! 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) welcome. 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.

The Godless Perverts Social Club meets on the first Tuesday and the third Thursday of every month, 7-9 pm, at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th Street at Folsom in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART). 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…]

Greta Speaking in Manteca, CA! Plus San Juan Puerto Rico, and Winnipeg Manitoba

Hi, all! I’m speaking tomorrow (Wednesday, July 15) in Manteca, CA, on the topic of “Coming Out Atheist – How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why”! Plus I have speaking gigs coming up in San Juan Puerto Rico, and Winnipeg Manitoba. Details are below. If you’re in or near any of these cities, I hope to see you there!

Coming Out AtheistCITY: Manteca, CA
DATE: Wednesday, July 15, 2015
TIME: 7:15 pm
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?
LOCATION: Manteca Library, 320 W Center St, Manteca, CA
HOST: Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers
COST: Free. Suggested donations of $20 to support this and future colloquiums are appreciated.
EVENT URL: meetup.com/Stockton-Atheist/events/219545698/ [Read more…]

Dream diary, 7/10/15: Walking the line

sao-joao-avenueI dreamed that there was a new hobby sweeping the nation, called “Walking the Line” or just “Walking.” On an agreed-upon day, people would come out in the streets and walk down the line in the middle of the street, carrying interesting objects. When they passed each other, they would offer each other the object they were carrying, and decide whether or not they wanted to trade. It occurred to me at one point that it might be dangerous, but it was clear that the car drivers were respectful of the hobby and were driving very safely.

This was an extremely pleasant dream: I ran into lots of people I know and like, and got to enjoy looking at many interesting objects.


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 Are People Bigoted, Even When It Costs Them Money?

burning moneySo there’s this interesting social justice question that has some people puzzled. Why do businesses and businesspeople continue to do things that are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, classist, etc. — even when it works against their own immediate, tangible interests?

I was thinking about this when I was listening to the Cracked podcast interview with Andrew Ti, of Yo, Is This Racist? Ti was talking, among many other things, about TV producers who are weirdly not cranking out a dozen “Empire” ripoffs — even though the show is hugely successful, and even though TV is one of the most derivative industries around. (Ti was mostly talking about the sad excuses given by network execs for why they weren’t making more shows like “Empire.”)

But this question comes up a lot. It comes up in discussions of why bakers won’t sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples — even in the midst of a same-sex wedding boom. It comes up in discussions of housing, and why landlords and homeowners are less likely, even flatly unwilling, to rent or sell to black people. It comes up in discussions of hiring, and why employers reject highly qualified job candidates who would contribute greatly to their company, simply because those candidates are women/ people of color/ transgender/ otherwise marginalized. It’s absurdly common for businesspeople to perpetuate bigotry, either consciously or unconsciously — even when it means the loss of immediate, substantial profit. And this cuts across a large variety of businesses.

Sometimes this phenomenon gets treated with bafflement. “They’re so foolish! Don’t they realize they’re losing money?” Sometimes it gets treated as cause for optimism. “This means we’ll eventually win! Market forces and natural greed will break down bigotry and oppression! Capitalism will prevail!”

I don’t see it that way. I think it says something completely different. I think it says this:

The fact that people keep doing bigoted things, even when it works against their immediate financial interests, shows just how valuable privilege is.

empireEven if you lose money by not making a dozen “Empire” ripoffs, you still gain by perpetuating white privilege.

Even if you lose money by not renting or selling to black people, you still gain by perpetuating white privilege.

Even if you lose money by not hiring talented women, you still gain by perpetuating male privilege.

Even if you lose money by not selling gelato to the hundreds of attendees at an atheist convention, you still gain by perpetuating religious privilege, and more specifically Christian privilege.

Even if you lose money by refusing to sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples, you still gain by perpetuating heterosexual privilege.

Etc.

Think of it this way. Think about affirmative action, and the arguments that are most commonly marshaled against it. “You’re lowering the bar! You’re diluting the talent pool! By going out of your way to look for qualified black people, Hispanic people, women, disabled people, LGBT people — you’re discriminating against all those super-talented straight cisgender able-bodied white guys!”

If we think about this “reasoning” for six seconds, it becomes clear how absurd it is. Expanding a job search to look for qualified people who might not otherwise have been considered — that’s not diluting the talent pool. That’s expanding it. That’s getting more talented people into consideration.

And that’s exactly the problem.

Affirmative action doesn’t lower the bar. Affirmative action brings in more competition.

If you only have to compete against straight, white, cisgender, able-bodied, middle-class men — you’re going to do a whole lot better than if you’re competing against, you know, everyone. And if you’re only okay at your job — which, let’s face it, an awful lot of people are — more competition means you won’t do so well. (To use just one example: When Major League Baseball began to racially integrate, a lot of marginal white players wound up getting cut.)

And jobs are just one example. This phenomenon plays out in pretty much every business where conscious or unconscious bigotry exists — which is to say, pretty much every business.

Privilege is profitable. It’s profitable in thousands of observable, well-documented ways. It’s profitable in the long run, in the medium run, in the short run. In the (usually) unconscious cost-benefit analysis of “bigotry” versus “equality,” privilege is so profitable that perpetuating it is worth losing out on large bundles of cash being dangled right in front of your nose.

So what do we do?

We need to keep putting on the pressure.

We need to make it a whole lot harder to be bigoted than it is not to be. We need to make bigotry more inconvenient, more time-consuming, more costly. When businesspeople say and do bigoted things, we need to make it result in a PR nightmare and some expensive lawsuits and a whole bunch of customers saying, “Screw you, we’re taking our business elsewhere.” Market forces are not going to do it on their own: we need to create the forces that push things in our direction. (Please note that when pundits decry the so-called “witch hunts” and “lynch mobs” consisting of a whole lot of people on the Internet saying, “That’s racist,” “That’s sexist,” “That’s transphobic,” etc. — they’re basically saying, “Please stop putting pressure on people to not be bigoted. Please stop making bigotry inconvenient.”)

Privilege is profitable. We need to make it a huge pain in the ass. We need to make the cost-benefit analysis skew on the side of equality. We need to make bigotry not worth it.


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.

Greta Speaking in Columbus OH This Weekend — Getting an Award at the 2015 SSA Annual Conference! Plus Manteca CA; San Juan Puerto Rico; and Winnipeg Manitoba

SSA Con 2015 banner

Hi, all! I have some speaking gigs coming up soon — including at this weekend’s 2015 Secular Student Alliance Annual Conference in Columbus, OH, where I’m being given an award! I’m receiving the inaugural Ambassador Award, given to the Secular Student Alliance donor who best serves as a champion for the organization. Such an ambassador repeatedly and widely shares why the Secular Student Alliance matters and is worthy of passionate support with as many people as possible. I’m also giving a talk there on Activism Burnout: Prevention and Treatment, and I’m moderating a panel discussion on LGBT Activism Beyond Same-Sex Marriage. It’s going to be a busy weekend!

Plus I have other gigs coming up in Manteca CA; San Juan Puerto Rico; and Winnipeg Manitoba. Details are below. If you’re in or near any of these cities, I hope to see you there!

CITY: Columbus, OH (2015 SSA Annual Conference)
DATES: July 10-12, 2015
EVENT: 2015 SSA Annual Conference
TOPIC: Activism Burnout: Prevention and Treatment
SUMMARY: One of the most important keys to the success of the atheist movement is keeping activists engaged for the long haul. But the most inspired and motivated activists are often the ones most likely to eventually burn out. What are some practical strategies for preventing burnout — and for managing it when it happens? And how can activists support each other in not burning out?
LOCATION: The Ohio State University, Ohio Union, 1739 N. High Street, Columbus, OH
HOST: Secular Student Alliance
COST: $49 and up; group discounts available
EVENT URL: secularstudents.org/2015con [Read more…]

The “Coming Out Atheist” Donation Recipient for May-June 2015: The CFI Student Leadership Conference!

Coming Out Atheist coverAs some of you may already know, I’ve pledged to donate 10% of my income from my new book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, to atheist organizations, charities, and projects.

Here’s why. I got lots of help with this book, and working on it felt very much like a collaboration, a community effort. (To some extent that’s true with any book, but it was even more true with this one.) Because coming out is really different for different atheists, it was hugely important to get detailed feedback on the book, so my personal perspective wasn’t completely skewing my depiction of other people’s experiences. So I asked lots of friends and colleagues to give me detailed feedback on the book: either on the book as a whole, or on particular chapters about atheists with very different experiences from mine (such as the chapters on parents, students, clergy, people in the U.S. military, and people in theocracies). Many people were very generous with their time helping out: they put a whole lot of time and work and thought into a project that wasn’t theirs, because they thought it would benefit the community. And, of course, I had the help of the hundreds of people who wrote in with their coming-out story, or who told their coming-out story in one of the books or websites I cited, or who just told me your coming-out story in person.

I want to give some of that back. So I’m donating 10% of my income from this book to atheist organizations, charities, and projects: a different one each month. Each month, one of the people who helped with the book gets to pick the recipient. (For complicated and boring reasons, this donation is consolidating the donations for both May and June.)

The recipient for May-June 2015, chosen by Debbie Goddard, is the Center for Inquiry Leadership Conference.

cfi student leadership conference banner

Since 1996, the Center for Inquiry’s campus outreach initiative has brought together student organizers and activists to train them in outreach, advocacy, activism, and leadership. Now, the conference has expanded to include both campus and community leaders.

The CFI Leadership Conference is designed around three main objectives. First, they give student and local group leaders the tools and skills they need to make an impact in their communities. Second, they create an atmosphere where new and experienced leaders can network and establish important connections to other grassroots leaders in the movement. Finally, they hope to inspire and energize the attendees and empower them to make real change in the world.

The Center for Inquiry is a 501(c) nonprofit, and donations to them are tax-deductible. If you want to support the Leadership Conference too, here’s their donation page!



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.

Seven Reasons “Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal” is Nonsense

one-hundred-dollar-bill“Well, I’m conservative — but I’m not one of those racist, homophobic, dripping-with-hate Tea Party bigots! I’m pro-choice! I’m pro-same-sex-marriage! I’m not a racist! I just want lower taxes, and smaller government, and less government regulation of business. I’m fiscally conservative, and socially liberal.”

How many liberals and progressives have heard this? It’s ridiculously common. Hell, even David Koch of the Koch Brothers has said, “I’m a conservative on economic matters and I’m a social liberal.”

And it’s wrong. R-O-N-G Rong.

You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues. And conservative fiscal policies do enormous social harm. That’s true even for the mildest, most generous version of “fiscal conservatism” — low taxes, small government, reduced regulation, a free market. These policies perpetuate human rights abuses. They make life harder for people who already have hard lives. Even if the people supporting these policies don’t intend this, the policies are racist, sexist, classist (obviously), ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise socially retrograde. In many ways, they do more harm than so-called “social policies” that are supposedly separate from economic ones. Here are seven reasons that “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” is nonsense.

empty-change-purse1: Poverty, and the cycle of poverty. This is the big one. Poverty is a social issue. The cycle of poverty — the ways that poverty itself makes it harder to get out of poverty, the ways that poverty can be a permanent trap lasting for generations — is a social issue, and a human rights issue. [Read more…]

Godless Perverts Social Club, Tuesday July 7 and Thursday July 16!

Godless Perverts Social Club banner 7-7-15

We have two Godless Perverts Social Clubs in July! The next one is this Tuesday, July 7 — and the one after that is Thursday, July 16.

Tuesday July 7 is one of our Casual meetups — we’re not picking a topic ahead of time, we’ll just chat about whatever comes up. Conversation is usually related to sex, sexuality, gender, atheism, religion, skepticism, science, etc. — but not always.

Godless Perverts Social Club banner 7-16-15

On Thursday July 16, we’re picking a discussion topic ahead of time — and this time, the topic is After Marriage Equality, What’s Next? Marriage equality is now legal across the U.S. So what’s next for sexual and gender politics? In the fight for secular sexual liberation and against the religious right, what issues should be our priority? Should we be focusing on transgender rights, employment and housing discrimination, homelessness among LGBT teens? Should polyamorous marriage be on the table? How shall queer communities face the problems of racism and classism? And how can atheists and skeptics support the fight for secular, evidence-based policies about gender and sex?

So please join us! 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) welcome. 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.

The Godless Perverts Social Club meets on the first Tuesday and the third Thursday of every month, 7-9 pm, at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th Street at Folsom in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART). 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…]

Speak the Truth, Do the (Blank)

Game time!

I was at an event at a Unitarian church a little while ago, and I saw a stained glass window that puzzled me. It’s a decorative pattern, featuring furly banners with words on them. But the last banner is blank. The window reads, “Speak the Truth, Do the (Blank).”

stained glass window speak the truth do the (blank)

So I have two topics of conversation here.

One: Why the blank banner? My guess is that the original piece of stained glass got broken, and it was cheaper to replace it with a blank banner than one with the missing word. But that’s just a guess. Anyone have any actual information shedding light on this — or any entertainingly uninformed speculation of their own?

Two, and much more fun: How would you fill in the blank?

“Speak the truth, do the (blank).”

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.