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.
This week’s profile: Monette Richards.
GC: Tell me briefly what your organization does and what you do for them. (If you’re in a leadership position with more than one atheist organization, feel free to tell me about more than one.)
MR: I currently hold dual citizenship in the secular movement. My first home is on the Board of Secular Woman. Our goal is to amplify the voices of secular women and, basically, find ways to make the secular movement more friendly and welcoming to them. I do all the backend IT work and whatever else I can do to help: tabling and speaking at conferences, membership fulfilment, whatever we need at the moment.
I am also the President of our local chapter, Center For Inquiry – Northeast Ohio. While wearing this particular hat, I am working hard to build a community that is welcoming, accepting and able to support its members. Everyone needs a community that has their back whether they find themselves facing a violation of their First Amendment rights or without reliable day care.
Tell me about a specific project or projects your organization is working on.
Secular Woman, along with C.A.S.H. and Minnesota Atheists, are sponsoring Secular Women Work, an activist conference. Our secular movement is widespread, loosely connected and is made up, as movements are, primarily of volunteers. Many of us spend so much of our volunteered time learning how to navigate the particular activist corners we occupy. This is a perpetual reinvention of the wheel. We will be bringing as many of those skills together as we can, so we can all learn from each other and become a much more effective movement. Then nothing, nothing will be able to stop us from taking over the world!
CFI – NEOhio, on the other hand, is working with Senator Skindell on Ohio SB50, a Secular Celebrant bill. In Ohio, only individuals ordained through a church, along with a few elected officials, can solemnize marriages. This puts our community at a disadvantage when it comes to being able to have the ceremonies we want to have, where we want to have them. The bill is currently stuck in committee, If you live in Ohio, call the head of the committee, Senator Bill Coley (614-466-8072) and tell him to get this bill moving! Then call your Senator and tell them to support the bill. Then come to our next Lobby Day and tell them both in person!
Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next 10 to 20 years?
I would absolutely love it if organized atheism was completely unnecessary within the next decade or so. Failing that, I fantasize that it has grown up and grown big enough to include so much more than First Amendment battles, that it has taken on the anti-choice movement head on and forced them back, that it has fully embraced BLM [Black Lives Matter], that it has grown so diverse that Secular Woman becomes completely irrelevant and redundant! Go Team!
What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?
A narrow focus on the establishment clause has left our movement myopic and ill prepared to engage with many of the other issues facing us. This year alone, states have enacted 51 restrictions on reproductive health and our movement is still arguing over whether atheism means more than disbelief in gods. It is time to accept that our movement is about more than prayers before football games, more than Ten Commandment displays in courthouses, more than Bibles in classrooms. We need diversity, not just in our membership but in our goals as well.
Do you consider yourself a “new atheist”? Why or why not?
I honestly don’t know. I’m not familiar enough with the term. I googled. I read. I am undecided that it matters. I am an anti-theist in that I do think religion, eventually, should be made irrelevant. But, that doesn’t mean I’m forging a hardcore schedule of stopping grandma from thanking Jesus as the nice man who made her dinner possible or calling CPS on families who teach their children about hell.
Any questions you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to add?
Something I feel necessary to say whenever I talk about me and my place in the movement. I have no college education. I am not especially smart. I have no wicked talents. I am not ambitious. I am nothing special. This is important to recognize because it can be anyone of us (but more correctly, all of us) working to make the secular movement a success. It doesn’t take a degree to be effective, but it does take getting involved.
(Black and white photo by Amy Davis Roth.)
Greta 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.