More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Jennifer Goulet

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: Jennifer Goulet.

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.)

Jennifer GouletI’m a co-founder and current president of the Tri-City Freethinkers, located in the religiously-conservative southeastern corner of Washington State. We bring religion-free community members together in person and online to develop the social support network that is often missing when one isn’t a member of a religious group. We have monthly meetups and several special events throughout the year that include picnics, parties, field trips, and a variety of guest speakers, authors, and performers. We often partner with other local organizations whose goals intersect with ours, such as the local LGBTQ groups, and when necessary, we put pressure on our elected officials.

We have a very active Facebook community with roughly 400 local members. It is a safe space where we can interact 24/7 to ask questions of each other, request and offer help, plan activities, make each other laugh, and vent about issues we are facing as atheists without religious family and friends seeing it.

I am also the coordinator for the Mid-Columbia Coalition of Reason and a co-chair of the Secular Coalition for Washington.

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

We are currently intervening in two of our city councils where “freedom to discriminate” resolutions, drafted by an out-of-state ultraconservative Christian organization, have been proposed. This winter we hope to erect an irreverent display in a local public park near a nativity that has been put up for years. We are in a perpetual state of planning for the next big event, guest speaker, or author.

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

I hope that atheism will become so widely accepted that no one in America feels the need to hide their freedom from belief. I want even more atheists out there doing good for good’s sake when the burden of constantly fighting for our rights is finally lifted. We will be free to fully turn our attention to social and economic justice issues, human rights, and environmentalism on a global scale.

I anticipate that we will become a more organized political bloc that politicians actively court. I expect to have more openly-atheist elected officials to more accurately represent our numbers (which I expect to be much larger in 10 to 20 years!). Once we are no longer a marginalized population fighting for our place at the table, look out world because we are going to do some amazing things!

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

Having sufficient financial and human resources is an ongoing struggle for mid-sized, locally-focused nonprofits like ours, though it has gotten better for us as we’ve grown. Our members have so many great ideas of what we’d like to do, but the question is always, “Okay, so where are we going to get the money and who has the time to roll up their sleeves and do it?” I expect a lot of groups around the country are facing these same obstacles. The national organizations understand the power of grassroots activism on the local level, and some are reaching out to offer assistance with their own limited resources, but as far as I know there aren’t any that are helping groups with two key undertakings — obtaining 501(c)(3) status and writing effective grant requests.

It can be overwhelmingly challenging and time consuming to achieve these two basic objectives when you don’t have people who know how to do it. Those barriers, when overcome, can be the key to launching a thriving, effective organization. Assistance in the form of consulting services provided by one of the national organizations or access to a network of volunteers who have successfully navigated through the process or even a “So you want to start an atheist nonprofit?” how-to guide compiled to specifically meet the unique needs of atheist nonprofits would allow group leaders to spend less time re-creating the wheel and skip ahead to the part where we get to work on all those awesome ideas that can have a direct impact on people in our communities when implemented.

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

Jennifer Goulet Pride Parade with Flying Spaghetti Monster“New Atheist” seems to be defined in many different ways depending on who you ask or what you read. I will say that I am an anti-theistic Secular Humanist atheist whose ambitions intersect with feminism, racism, economic and political justice, and environmentalism. So no, I haven’t used the term to define myself. It doesn’t say anything about who I am, what is meaningful to me, or what I do.

Any questions you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to add?

I’d add that I encourage people to get involved in their local atheist communities, and if there aren’t any, to consider starting one. When three of us first met for coffee almost eight years ago, I never dreamed we’d grow to 500+ people or that we’d be so active, organized, and visible. If you live in a conservative religious town, you may think you are the only atheist. I thought that, too, but I guarantee you aren’t alone. Build it and they will come.


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.

Godless Perverts Story Hour — and Bridget Crutchfield Speaking in SF — Saturday August 29!

SF Atheists and Godless Perverts team up to bring you back-to-back events!

We have a Godless Perverts Story Hour coming up in San Francisco on Saturday, August 29! The Story Hour is the performance/ entertainment/ literary reading branch of the Godless Perverts empire — we’ll be bringing you depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities, as well as critical, mocking, and blasphemous views of sex and religion. And we’re very excited to be bringing in an out-of-town performer — Bridgett Crutchfield, President of Black Nonbelievers of Detroit! Bridget is speaking to San Francisco Atheists in the afternoon (3:30 pm), and participating in the Godless Perverts Story Hour in the evening (7:00 pm). Both events are at the Women’s Building in the Audre Lorde room, 3543 18th St. in San Francisco (between Valencia and Guerrero), near the 16th & Mission BART station.

Bridgett Crutchfield

Bridgett Crutchfield

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Bridgett (known as ‘Bria’) was raised, baptized and disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s Witness faith. She segued to Pentecostal Christianity and assumed leadership roles as Prophetess, Intercessory Prayer Warrior and Evangelist. After thoughtful reflection and finally being honest with herself, Bria realized she was an Atheist. In 2011, she Founded Minority Atheists of MI, and founded Detroit affiliate of Black Nonbelievers in 2013. Bridgett has a heart for newly identified Atheists and those who’ve been hurt within the secular community.

Juba Kalamka

Juba Kalamka

Maggie Mayhem 150 square

Maggie Mayhem



statue-of-liberty

Liberty N. Justice

Anthony O'Con

Anthony O’Con



Chris Hall

Chris Hall

Greta Christina

Greta Christina


Our other readers and performers for the evening include Juba Kalamka, Maggie Mayhem, Liberty N. Justice, Anthony O’Con, and co-hosts Greta Christina and Chris Hall. So please join us at the Women’s Building for an evening about how to have good sex without having any gods, goddesses, spirits, or their earthly representatives hanging over your shoulder and telling you that you’re doing it wrong. The evening’s entertainment will have a range of voices — sexy and serious, passionate and funny, and all of the above — talking about how our sexualities can not only exist, but even thrive, without the supernatural.

This is a joint event, co-sponsored by Godless Perverts and San Francisco Atheists. Bridgett Crutchfield will be speaking to San Francisco Atheists in the afternoon (3:30 pm), on “So You Wanna Be An Ally? How to engage the African American community with sensitivity, forethought, and compassion in the face of opposition, oppression and racism.” The Godless Perverts Story Hour is happening in the evening (7:00 pm). Both events are at the Women’s Building in the Audre Lorde room, 3543 18th St. in San Francisco (between Valencia and Guerrero), near the 16th & Mission BART station. (Yes, that’s right — we’re NOT at the Center for Sex and Culture this time, we ARE at the Women’s Building.) Suggested donation for the afternoon San Francisco Atheists event is $5, with no-one turned away for lack of funds. Suggested donation for the Godless Perverts Story Hour is $10-20 — again with no-one turned away for lack of funds. We hope to see you there!


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 Problem of Nuance in a Wonderful and Terrible World

Content note: passing reference to sexual assault of minors. This piece was originally published in Free Inquiry.

slashed circle sign“Fundamentalist believers want everything to be simple. They want their moral choices to be straightforward: they want a clear rulebook that outlines their choices, written for them by a perfect god. They want the world divided up into clearly labeled categories, with good people in one box and evil people in another. It’s so childish. The world isn’t like that. And the world shouldn’t be like that. It would be horrible. Why would they even want that?”

Lots of atheists I know say stuff like this. I say it myself. And then I have one of those days, when I’m hit with a barrage of difficult, complicated choices with no clear answer, and by the end of the day I’m exhausted with decision fatigue and couldn’t even tell you what kind of ice cream I wanted. I have one of those days, when someone I thought I knew well does something that’s not just appalling but completely out of character, unlike anything I’ve ever seen them do, and the ground starts to crack under my feet as I wonder how many of my other friends are hiding crucial parts of their faces and their characters and their lives. I have one of those days, when the sun is shining and our backyard is beautiful and tranquil, and people on the other side of the globe are kidnapping schoolgirls and selling them into sex slavery, and I don’t know how to live in the world with it being so astonishingly wonderful and at the same time so deeply terrible. I have one of those days, or weeks, or months, or years. Or the world has one of those days, or weeks, or months, or years. And I suddenly get a lot more sympathy for the desire for an either/or world.

I don’t agree with it, of course. I’ll get to that in a minute. I don’t think it’s an accurate view of the world, and ultimately I don’t think it’s a desirable one. I’m just saying that I get why some people yearn for it.

Nuance is hard. [Read more…]

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Lauren Lane

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: Lauren Lane.

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.)

Lauren LaneLL: I am the co-founder and current Executive Director of Skepticon, the universe’s largest skeptic convention located annually in Springfield, MO. It is the mission of Skepticon to support, promote, and develop free-thought skeptic, and scientific communities through inclusive educational programming… which is just a fancy way of saying we all get together to share ideas, knowledge, and high fives. Skepticon is a non-profit organization that is run entirely by volunteer organizers — all the money we raise goes directly to funding the conference. Donate today and help us spread the awesome!

This year Skepticon 8 will be held the weekend of November 13th–15th, 2015 at the Ramada Oasis Hotel and Convention Center. Come hang out! We’re cool!

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

Our nonprofit revolves around the planning and execution of our conference. We spend all year fundraising, building, and organizing the best possible conference we can manage in all of our collective spare time. Over the past eight years, we’ve seen our con grow from a small student run affair to a wicked awesome con that spans three days and includes a dance, workshops, and as many dinosaurs as one can handle.

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

In a perfect world, organized atheism will fully embrace social activism and it will have propelled us into a bigger and brighter future.

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

The challenges facing the atheist movement are many: infighting, apathy, burnout, douchebags, diversity, sexism… the list goes on and on. I don’t think there’s one issue that is bigger than the others but there does seem to be some sort of cycle where one becomes more prominent for a while. For the record, I despise them all equally.

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

If your definition of “new atheist” is one that means a godless person who values intersectional justice and activism — then absolutely. I’ve never seen my work in the secular movement to be insular or devoid of intersectionality with issues such as feminism, LGBTQ activism, racism, politics, etc. In my mind, these issues are all inherently linked and I have done my best in my activism as a heathen to reflect that.

Besides, if all this movement was about was whether or not a sky daddy existed it would be super boring.

Any questions you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to add?

Skepticon organizersYes, I’d like to take a moment to encourage more people to do more things. This movement needs everyone at all skill levels to step in and help out in whatever capacity they are able. Don’t let the jerks scare you or keep you down — there are plenty more non-jerks waiting to be your friend.


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.

Getting Atheists to Talk About Death

This piece was originally published in Free Inquiry magazine.

gravestonesSo I’m a public speaker. One of the many topics I speak about is death — atheist philosophies of death, and how atheists can find comfort and meaning in the face of our own mortality and the death of people we love. My talks about death are among my most popular: the questions and comments during the Q&A are always compelling and heartfelt, and the conversations afterwards are always intense and greatly appreciated.

They’re among my most popular talks — when I get a chance to give them, that is.

My talks about death are also among my least requested. In the five years that I’ve been a public speaker, I’ve been asked to speak about sex, about anger, about coming out as an atheist, more times than I can count. I’ve been asked to speak about death maybe half a dozen times. It seems that once the conversation gets started, atheists love to talk about death — but it’s really hard to get that conversation started.

This isn’t about my public speaking career. I am now done talking about my public speaking career. This is about a larger question: How can we get atheists to talk about death?

I mean, of course I get it. Death is a weird, hard subject. (To put it mildly.) Of course I get that when people are casting about for a conversation-starter, the first place we go is not usually, “Hey, we’re all mortal and doomed, and the people we loved who are dead are really gone forever and we’ll never see them again!” It’s not exactly light cocktail-party banter.

gravestone RIP Greta ChristinaIt’s also a hugely important subject. It’s especially important for atheists. When people are questioning their religion, or when they’re in the process of leaving it, the fear of death is often one of the most difficult things they have to face. Accepting the reality that death is truly final, when you’ve believed for most of your life that it’s just a temporary interruption of service — that’s rough. Helping to make this a little less rough, helping to ease that transition and show some possible ways through it, is one of the best things we can do to make atheism look like a viable, welcoming option.

But death is a subject that atheists often concede, without needing to. [Read more…]

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Vic Wang

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: Vic Wang.

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.)

Vic WangVW: I’m currently the President of Humanists of Houston. We’re a chapter of the American Humanist Association and host events such as guest speakers, discussion groups, book clubs, volunteer outings, activism, and social gatherings. We average around 20-25 events per month and we’re currently at almost 1,900 Meetup members, making us the second largest AHA chapter on the Meetup network (and on pace to become the largest by the end of the year).

As President I basically oversee all aspects of the organization, both in “real life” and online across our social media presence (Meetup, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, etc), as well as our in-person monthly board meetings.

I also have a blog at deusxed.wordpress.com where I write about humanism, religion, and secularism.

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

We’ve been collaborating with Atheists Helping the Homeless to hold monthly giveaways of supplies to the homeless, usually serving around 40-50 people per giveaway. We’ve also held numerous demonstrations outside the Saudi Arabian Consulate in support of Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for advocating secular values online. We recently completed a fundraiser for Camp Quest Texas, where we raised over $3,000 from our members to help underprivileged children attend the camp, which turned out to be the most ever raised by an organization in a single year. And we recently had a booth at the Houston Pride festival as well as a float in the Pride Parade, which I believe was a first in the history of the Houston freethought community.

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

Vic Wang Humanists of HoustonI’d love to continue seeing further diversification of the freethought community. I’d love to see further growth in the community, both in terms of numbers and in resources. I’d love to see local freethought groups throughout the country with their own facilities and paid staff positions, enabling us to provide services at the level that have traditionally been the exclusive domain of churches and “mainstream” non-profits. I’d love for there to be vastly more opportunities for people to be full-time freethought activists, without being limited to the national organizations or needing to necessarily be a “big name” in the movement. Of course, on the other hand if the secularization of society continues to the point where the need for explicitly atheistic organizations disappears, I can live with that too.

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

One challenge I’ve observed involves the rise of what have been loosely referred to as “atheist churches”. The idea of taking the best of what churches have to offer and stripping away the supernatural elements sounds great in principle (one analogy I’ve heard is a person who finds a rock in their shoe, and tosses out the rock instead of the entire shoe). But consider the problems we’ve seen (and continue to see) throughout the church world: groupthink, tribalism, hero worship, shunning, willful ignorance of leadership abuses… These failings aren’t necessarily tied to a god belief or supernaturalism; if anything they’re pitfalls that everyone is susceptible to, and secular organizations certainly aren’t immune. So, is simply tossing out the supernaturalism enough? Or are there other aspects of the church format/structure which, if left unchecked, tend to reinforce these behaviors and leave people even more susceptible to these failings? Unfortunately I suspect the answer is yes, and that this is an issue we’re going to see even more of going forward.

Then of course there’s the ongoing rift between those in the freethought community who embrace positive humanistic values, and those who don’t (and in some cases outright reject them, or even reject the “humanist” label entirely). Fortunately it seems that the vast majority of atheists (and the overwhelming majority of those who consider themselves humanists) believe in actively working to make the world better, including supporting the fight for equal rights, promoting altruism, and demonstrating compassion for disadvantaged groups. But those who don’t share those values seem to be disproportionately vocal — particularly online — which I think leads to a skewed perception of what the freethought community is about.

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

It depends on the context, really; when I encounter people pushing their religious views in a dishonest or bigoted way, I have no problem with calling them out on it. And on my blog, I certainly don’t hold back in my critiques of religion.

But really, outside of those contexts I rarely spend much time criticizing religion in my day to day life, or even really bring it up at all. And as an organization (HOH), we’ve certainly made a conscious effort to show that our goal is to promote positive secular humanistic values, as opposed to being just an “anti-religious” group. Not that it isn’t an important part of humanism to be skeptical of religious claims and call out the harms that religion causes, of course. But we’ve made it clear that we’d much rather be defined by the positive values we believe in as opposed to the supernatural ones we don’t.


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.

An Encouraging Word to Atheists in Conservative Areas

red state blue state by county credit michael gastnerI spend a lot of time traveling around the U.S., giving talks to atheist groups. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with the people in these groups — especially with the organizers. And I’ve noticed some patterns. With the caveat that these are just my own personal observations and not any kind of careful scientific study, and with the caveat that there are many exceptions to these patterns, I’ve noticed the following.

The strongest, healthiest atheist groups, with the most members, the most volunteers, the widest variety of activities, the most visibility, the most staying power of members, the members who seem happiest with the group and most committed to it, tend to be either:

a) Groups that have strong, energetic leaders with good social skills,

and/or b) Groups in conservative areas.

I’m going to say that again: All other things being equal (which of course they never are), the strongest, largest, healthiest, most robust atheist groups in the United States tend to be the ones in conservative areas.

I’m repeating that observation, and stressing it, because of another pattern I’ve noticed: When I talk with members of atheist groups in conservative areas, even when I talk with the leaders of those groups, they often seem surprised that their group is doing so well. They often say things like, “This area is actually pretty conservative. I’m kind of surprised that our group is so large and healthy.”

And I always reply: I am not in the least bit surprised. This surprised me a bit when I first started traveling around the country speaking to atheist groups — but I’ve now seen it over and over and over again. And it now makes perfect sense.

Conservative regions are where atheist communities are needed most. In conservative regions, the social and economic and political life is often built around religion, and religion is deeply woven into it. The places people go to for social support, for political and business networking, just to hang out with friends, are often religious. The places people go to do charitable and social justice work, for themselves and for others, are often religious. Even the entertainment and activities, the things to see and do, are often built around religion. In conservative regions, the religion itself is more likely to be conservative — and thus more likely to be oppressive. There’s a lot more anti-atheist hostility. Atheists are more likely to feel isolated, alienated, like they can never speak their minds or be themselves. Etc., etc., etc.

Conservative regions are where atheist communities are needed most. It’s not in the least bit surprising that that’s where atheist groups tend to be strongest. There are exceptions, of course: there are some very strong atheist communities in some fairly liberal parts of the country (Minneapolis leaps to mind). But as a general trend, this pattern is very striking.

I’m saying this for a couple of reasons. One: I want to make sure atheists in conservative regions don’t assume they’re alone.

arkansas mapI’m remembering a conversation at the atheist caucus of Creating Change, the big annual LGBT conference in the U.S. One of the people at the caucus, someone who wasn’t very familiar with organized atheism, said they lived in Arkansas — and they were sure they were the only atheist in Arkansas. In response, the professional atheists at the caucus practically fell over each other to reassure that person: No, you are definitely not the only atheist in Arkansas. Not only are you not the only atheist in Arkansas — there’s an atheist community in Arkansas. There’s probably more than one. And in fact, the atheist groups in Arkansas stand a good chance of being pretty robust.

I want to make sure atheists in conservative regions know they’re not alone. I want them to Google “Atheists in Arkansas,” “Atheists in Kansas,” “Atheists in Arizona.” I want them to go to Meetup and search for atheist groups in their area. I want them to go looking for communities if they need and want them; I want them to just have the reassurance that these communities exist.

The second reason I’m saying this: I want atheists in conservative regions to start more atheist groups.

I want atheists in conservative regions to know they’re not alone — and I want them to know that starting an atheist group is not a waste of time. If there isn’t an atheist group super-close to them, if the nearest atheist group is in the biggest city in the state and it’s an hour or two drive away — I want them to consider just starting one up.

If you’re a strong, energetic leader with good social skills, and if you think you’d make a good leader of an atheist community, I don’t I want you thinking, “That’s a waste of time. There’s no way an atheist group will take off here. It’s too conservative. It’s too religious.” If you live in a conservative, very religious part of the country — that is exactly the kind of place where atheist communities thrive.

There are other reasons you might decide not to start an atheist group. You may decide that it’s too risky, that you can’t afford the blowback, that you don’t have the time. But please, please, DO NOT assume that it’s a waste of time. If you’re a strong, energetic leader with good social skills, and you’re in a conservative area — you are exactly the right person, in exactly the right place. The community you start stands an excellent chance of surviving, of thriving, and of being awesome.

(Red state/blue state map by Michael Gastner, via Wikimedia Commons.)


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: Jim G. Helton

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: Jim G. Helton.

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.)

Jim G HeltonJH: I’m Founder & President of the Tri-State Freethinkers, Regional Director in Kentucky for American Atheists, and consultant for the Secular Student Alliance. I also oversee legislation for Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Wyoming, & Washington for Hemant Mehta, in which he gave me my favorite title, Overlord.

The group that I spend most of my time with is the Tri-State Freethinkers. We are a local group that has members from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Our group can most easily be summarized through the acronym A.C.E.S., which stands for Activism, Community, Education, and Social. We provide a community for people and have been repeatedly praised for our well-rounded activities.

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

Equal Rights and separation of church and state are the two biggest issues we tend to tackle. They seem to go hand in hand. We have also partnered with several other organizations who are helping people in the community, including Planned Parenthood. We have taken a stance on several social issues, such as the humane treatment of animals and trying to stop the death penalty in Ohio.

Abstinence Only Sex Ed: Eliminating abstinence only sex education in public schools. We have had success with my son’s school. We are working on some of the districts now with the goal to be to take this to the state level next year.

Gideons Bibles: We have successfully challenged bible distributions in several public schools in Kentucky by passing out humanist and atheist books. As long as the press covers the event the Gideons cannot show up, according to their own by-laws.

CEDAW: The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. We helped get this resolution passed this spring and are hoping to have the ordinance passed this fall with funding. A couple key points from CEDAW are equal pay for women, access to healthcare, domestic violence support, and stopping human trafficking.

Baptists Park: The Mayor of Cincinnati has proposed to build a park on church property. We have sent a letter and contacted the FFRF.

Feeding the homeless: We have been working on a farm, growing fresh produce for those in need. Next month we are going to feed around 150 people. This includes buying all the food, preparing it, and distributing it.

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

I would like to see it organized enough to not only take on atheist issues, but also tackle social issues and have the power to effect elections. We are starting to see some of the national and local organizations work together on projects such as the Reason Rally. I would like this type of cooperation to happen on a regular basis.

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

Tri State Freethinkers at Pride ParadeThe main challenge I see for local groups is that it’s usually one person leading the charge, and if something happens to that one person or that person burns out, the organization falls apart. A true leader has the ability to inspire others and get a lot more people involved. We need to prepare future leaders so the movement doesn’t skip a beat.

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

Yes, because I have only been an atheist for less than three years. I think the difference with “new atheism” is that we are no longer staying silent — we are much more organized. Many more people are coming out of the closet every day.

Any questions you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to add?

Advice I can give other leaders of organizations: There are a lot of good leaders out there doing amazing things. What separates the great leaders from the good leaders is the ability to inspire others. There are too many grassroots groups where the leader of the organization does everything. The reason the Tri-State Freethinkers have been so successful is we have built a team. I wanted to change the world and I thought the best place to start was in my own backyard.


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 Patheos Atheist Channel is Not the Enemy

In the wake of Ed Brayton leaving Freethought Blogs for the Patheos Atheist channel, some people are apparently targeting the entire channel as terrible. This is both unnecessary and inaccurate. Yes, there are some jerks at Patheos Atheist. There are also excellent atheist bloggers there. Many of them are serious social justice advocates. Excellent bloggers at Patheos Atheist include (please note that this is not ane exhaustive list):

Sincere Kirabo, Notes from an Apostate
Alix Jules, The Graffiti Wall
Adam Lee, Daylight Atheism
James Croft, Temple of the Future
Libby Anne, Love Joy Feminism
Kylie Sturgess, Token Skeptic

And of course, Ed Brayton, Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

This isn’t war, people. It’s not even a football rivalry or Coke vs. Pepsi. There is plenty of room in the atheist blogosphere for more than one blog network.

Here’s a link to the Patheos Atheist channel. Ignore the jerks, and check it out.


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.

Sad News: Ed Brayton is Leaving Freethought Blogs

Sad news: Ed Brayton, blogger at Dispatches from the Culture Wars and the creator of Freethought Blogs, is leaving the network. He’ll now be blogging at the Patheos Atheism channel. He’s turned over control of the Freethought Blogs network to the FTB executive committee.

So why am I leaving? Also omnipresent since the start of FTB, as I’m sure you well know, has been controversy. The bloggers here have often gone on crusades and launched battles, most of them necessary and justified. But along with that has come a great deal of drama and stress. I’ve endured several threats of lawsuits against me as the owner of the network over the words and actions of others. I’ve had continual demands that I do something about this or that blogger, that I throw them off the network or censor them. I’ve been caught in the crossfire of a great many fights, continually taking shrapnel in battles that I wasn’t even involved in.

I believe it has to some degree impeded my ability to engage in important activist projects by making some people reluctant to work with me because of all that controversy. That frequent stress has also begun to affect my health. I have two autoimmune disorders that are triggered by stress and I have come to the conclusion that it would be better for my health, both physical and mental, to get out of the crucible and be responsible only for myself and my own words and actions.

Here is his full announcement, explaining his decision in more detail.

I will miss him hugely, but I 100% support his decision to take care of his health and well-being, and wish him all the best. As many people have heard me say, sometimes holding up a four-foot-long banner with the words in big block letters: Self-care is not selfish. I’ll be following him at his Patheos blog, and hope to have many years of happy and fruitful work with him in other arenas.


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.