10 Christmas Carols Even An Atheist Could Love

This piece was originally published on AlterNet in 2010. I’m dragging it out again for the holidays.

carol singingWhat do you do if you’re an atheist who likes Christmas carols?

It’s widely assumed that atheists, by definition, hate Christmas. And it’s an assumption I’m baffled by. I like Christmas. Lots of atheists I know like Christmas. Plenty of atheists recognize the need for rituals that strengthen social bonds and mark the passing of the seasons. Especially when the season in question is dark and wet and freezing cold. Add in a culturally- sanctioned excuse to spend a month of Saturdays eating, drinking, flirting, and showing off our most festive shoes, and we’re totally there. And we find our own ways to adapt/ create/ subvert the holiday traditions to our own godless ends.

Sure, most of us would like for our governments to not be sponsoring religious displays at the holidays. Or any other time. What with the whole “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” thing. And some of us do rather resent the cultural hegemony of one particular religious tradition being crammed down everybody’s throat, in a grotesque, mutant mating of homogenized consumerism and saccharine piety. But many of us are very fond of Christmas. Some atheists even like Christmas carols. I’m one of them.

It is, however, definitely the case that, since I’ve become an atheist activist, my pleasure in many Christmas carols has been somewhat diminished. It’s harder for me to sing out lustily about angels and magic stars and the miracle of the virgin birth, without rolling my eyes just a little. And I do notice the more screwed-up content of many Christmas songs more than I used to: the guilty self-loathing, the fixation on the blood sacrifice, the not- so- subtle anti-Semitism. I’m content to sing most of these songs anyway (except “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which always makes me cringe). But for some time now, I’ve been on the lookout for Christmas songs that I can sing entirely happily, without getting into annoying theological debates in my head.

So, with the help of my Facebook friends, I’ve compiled a list of Christmas songs that atheists can love unreservedly.

The rules, made up entirely by me (you can make up your own rules for your own list):

mary and baby jesusSongs cannot have any mention of God, Jesus, angels, saints, or miracles. Not even in Latin. This is the key, the raison d’etre of this whole silly game. I’m not going to start making exceptions just so I can sneak in the “Boar’s Head Carol.” And yes, this rules out “Good King Wenceslas.” Hey, I like it too, it’s pretty and has a nice (if somewhat politically complicated) message about how rich kings should help poor people. But come on, people. It’s about a Christian saint with magical powers. No can do. (I will, however, grant a “saints with magical powers” exemption to Santa.)

Songs must be reasonably well-known. Yes, this rules out some truly excellent stuff. Many of my favorite Christmas songs, atheist or otherwise, are on the obscure side: from the grisly, gothy, paganesque “Corpus Christi Carol” (I do love me some gruesome Christmas songs), to the simultaneously haunting and peppy “Patapan,” to Tim Minchin’s funny, touching, pointedly godless “White Wine in the Sun.” But it’s no fun singing Christmas songs by yourself. For a song to make my list, a reasonable number of people at your holiday party should be able to sing it… or at least chime in on the first verse before trailing off into awkward pauses and “La la la”s.

No song parodies. It hurts like major surgery for me to make this rule. Some of my very favorite Christmas songs of all time are song parodies: my friend Tim’s hilariously on-target Christmas-themed parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Christmas Rhapsody”; the entire “Very Scary Solstice” songbook from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society; every Mad Magazine Christmas carol parody ever written. Song parodies are an excellent way to redeem a pretty Christmas tune from cringe-inducing lyrics, and many are just excellent songs on their own. But the idea here is that atheists can have a completely heartfelt, non-snarky love for Christmas music. So to make it onto my list, songs must be entirely sincere. (I will, however, give bonus points to classic Christmas songs that have spawned good parodies.)

Songs have to be good songs. A subjective judgment, I realize. And for the purposes of this game, one that is to be made entirely by me. Deal with it. I don’t care how secular it is: “Suzy Snowflake” is not making it onto my freaking Christmas song list.

Bonus points: A song gets bonus points for not mentioning the word “Christmas.” It’s okay if it does — I don’t think the word has to mean “Christ’s Mass,” any more than “goodbye” has to mean “God be with you” or “Thursday” has to mean “Thor’s day.” But songs that have become widely accepted Christmas carols without even mentioning the concept get bonus points: for chutzpah, if nothing else.

And songs get bonus points for being written more than 100 years ago. I’m not a reflexive hater of modern Christmas songs; in fact, some of them I quite like. But some of the best stuff about Christmas music is the old, old, tunes: the soaring, haunting melodies and harmonies that resonate back through the centuries. If a song can do that and still not mention the baby Jesus, I’m sold.

So with these rules in mind, here are my Top Ten Christmas Carols Even An Atheist Could Love. [Read more…]

The Santa Delusion

father-christmas-santa-claus-200If you ever believed in Santa — how did you find out that he wasn’t real? And how did you feel about it?

I vividly remember the Christmas I figured it out. There were three main clues:

1) The writing on the tags on the Santa presents was the same as my dad’s.

2) The wrapping paper on the Santa presents was the same as the presents from my parents.

3) On Christmas morning, our stockings (mine and my brothers) each had a tangerine. Later that day, I noticed that there were only two tangerines in the fruit drawer, where the night before there had been four. (I was kind of obsessed with tangerines. Still am.) This, for some reason, was the final “A ha!” moment.

Okay, so obviously my parents weren’t trying very hard.

I wasn’t at all traumatized. I was actually really proud of myself for having figured it out. I was proud of myself for having outsmarted the adults, and having seen through their ruse. I wasn’t mad at them, though: generally I wanted them to be honest with me, but I think I saw Santa as kind of a game. You hide things and keep secrets and deceive people in games — you don’t start a game of Go Fish by showing everyone your hand — and while I didn’t think of it this way consciously at the time, I think that’s more or less how I saw it.

I don’t remember telling my parents that I’d figured it out, but I didn’t do that thing of pretending I still believed so I could keep getting presents. It seriously never occurred to me — but not because I wasn’t a materialistic little shit, I totally was. It’s just that the presents were obviously coming from my parents, and I figured they were going to keep on coming from my parents. It didn’t occur to me that they’d stop. (Which they didn’t: my folks kept giving about the same amount of stuff after the Santa game was up.)

So if you ever believed in Santa — how did you find out that he wasn’t real? Did you figure it out on your own? Were you told by siblings, parents, schoolmates, someone else? And how did you react? How did you feel about it — and who, if anyone, did you tell?

And if you didn’t ever believe in Santa, but you knew about it — how did you deal with it? Did you keep the secret? Did you tell? How did you feel about 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.

Godless Perverts Raises Over $900 for St. James Infirmary!

st james infirmary

Wow.

Wow, wow, wow.

On Saturday December 12, Godless Perverts hosted a benefit party for St. James Infirmary, the San Francisco health clinic run by and for sex workers. We just finished tallying up the numbers — and we raised over $900! ($901, to be precise.)

This was our first big fundraising event, and we’re delighted that it went so well. Everyone at the party had a grand time — the silly icebreaker game was a big hit, as it mysteriously is every year. We had a wonderful spread of yummy food and beverage. The fraudulent Tarot readings were eerie and hilarious. And very importantly — between donations made at the event, and overflow from our online fundraiser, we raised over $900. St. James Infirmary is an important and valuable resource: they provide sex workers of all genders with health care and counseling of all kinds, including primary care service, gynecological and urological medical care, STI testing and counselling, needle exchanges, and support groups. We were delighted to be able to pull together the energy and resources of the Godless Perverts community, to support the clinic in such a tangible way. We’ll definitely be doing this sort of event again!

We want to extend a huge “Thank You” to everyone who helped out. [Read more…]

No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus

Recapping this for the holiday season. For those who aren’t familiar with the famous essay, “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus” which this piece is satirizing/ commenting on/ replying to, here’s the original, published in 1897. Enjoy!

santa claus 1“Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

-Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are right. There is no Santa Claus. It’s a story made up by your parents.

Your friends have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except when they see. And good for them. Skepticism is healthy. It keeps us from being duped by liars and scam artists and people who want to control and manipulate us. More importantly: Skepticism helps us understand reality. And reality is amazing. Reality is far more important, and far more interesting, than anything we could make up about it.

Your friends understand that there is plenty about the world which is not comprehensible by their little minds. They understand that all minds, whether they be adults’ or children’s, are little. They see that in this great universe of ours, humanity is a mere insect, an ant, in our intellect, as compared with the boundless world about us. But your friends also see that the only way we can gain a better understanding of this great universe is to question, and investigate, and not believe in myths simply because they’re told to us by our parents and teachers and newspaper editorial writers.

Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they simply understand that Santa Claus does not freaking exist. [Read more…]

Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time, Saturday Dec. 12 – A Benefit for St. James Infirmary!

Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time 2015

Godless Perverts is throwing our annual Holiday Fun Time party! Who says that the holidays are only for the believers? Just as families don’t stop giving presents after the kids realize that Santa is a fake, the godless can have a great time during the holidays even without any gods, deities, angels, or spirits watching over them. And Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time is just the place to do it! It’s at Borderlands Cafe this year, 870 Valencia St. near the 24th and Mission BART station — and this year, we’re making it a fundraiser for St. James Infirmary, the health clinic for sex workers in San Francisco!

We’ll have:

Festive food and drink! It’s a potluck: we’ll provide food, but we’d love to add your holiday treats to the buffet.
Adorably ridiculous icebreaker games!
Atheist holiday songs, celebrating the improper, twisted, and just plain silly!
Door prizes, including books and DVDs that are godless, pervy, or both!

And this year, Greta will be doing fraudulent Tarot readings! Well, okay, all Tarot readings are fraudulent — but she’s telling you that up front. (She used to take this seriously back in her woo days, and she’s actually really good at it.)

Blasphemous costumes, sexy costumes, awesome combinations of the above, and other festive garb are encouraged, but by no means required.

This year’s party is a benefit for St. James Infirmary. St. James is a unique healthcare resource, even in San Francisco. Founded by and for sex workers, they provide free, compassionate and nonjudgmental healthcare and social services for current and former sex workers of all genders and sexual orientations. Like so many San Francisco non-profits, they are being forced to move after losing their lease. They need to find a new site by the end of the year. We wholeheartedly support the organization, and we want to help them out. So all donations collected at the party will go directly to St. James Infirmary. Greta’s going to charge $2 a minute for the fraudulent Tarot readings, and all proceeds from that will also go to St. James Infirmary.

We’re asking for donations of $10-$20 at the door — but please just donate what you can, whether that’s less than $10, or more than $20. (We’re also collecting funds now to cover the costs of throwing the party — please help make it happen if you can!)

Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time is at Borderlands Cafe this year, 870 Valencia St. in San Francisco (at 20th Street, near the 24th and Mission BART station). Saturday, December 12, 8:00 to 11:00 pm. We hope to see you there!

Seven Reasons for Atheists to Celebrate the Holidays

This piece was originally published on AlterNet. I’m reposting as part of my holiday tradition thing.

grinchIt’s often assumed that the atheist position on what is politely termed “the holiday season” is one of disregard at best, contempt and annoyance at worst. After all, the reasons for most of the standard winter holidays are supposedly religious — the birth of the Savior, eight days of miraculous light, yada yada yada. Why would atheists want anything to do with that?

But atheists’ reactions to the holidays are wildly varied. Yes, some atheists despise them: the enforced jollity, the shameless twisting of genuine human emotion to sell useless consumer crap, the tyrannical forcing of mawkish piety down everyone’s throats. (Some believers loathe the holidays for the exact same reasons.) But some of us love the holidays. We love the parties, the decorations, the smell of pine trees in people’s houses, the excuse to eat ourselves sick, the reminder that we do in fact love our family and friends. We’re cognizant of the shameless twisting and mawkish piety and whatnot — but we can deal with it. It’s worth it for an excuse to drink eggnog with our loved ones and bellow out “Angels We Have Heard On High” in half-assed four-part harmony. (In fact, when it comes to the holidays, atheists are in something of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position. If we scorn them, we get called Scroogy killjoys… but if we embrace them, we get called hypocrites. Oh, well. Whaddya gonna do.)

So today, I want to talk about some of the reasons that some atheists love the holidays: in hopes that believers might better understand who we are and where we’re coming from… and in hopes that a few Scroogy killjoys, atheist and otherwise, might be tempted to join the party. (If not — no big. I recognize and validate your entirely reasonable annoyance at the holidays. And besides, Scroogy killjoys are an important holiday tradition.) [Read more…]

Should Atheists Celebrate Christmas? The Social Justice Angle

Reprinting this from last year. I think it may become a holiday tradition.

why-believe-in-a-god-santa-bus-adI’ve been thinking about the question of atheists and Christmas, or other religious holidays that get secularized and folded into cultures and subcultures. And I’ve been realizing that there’s a social justice angle.

Context: Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of its flagship magazine Free Inquiry, wrote an essay and a book a few years back, arguing that no atheist should celebrate Christmas ever ever ever — yes, he uses the words “should” and “shouldn’t,” repeatedly. He’s opined about this topic many times, including comments (on Facebook and elsewhere) that atheists who do celebrate Christmas aren’t “real atheists,” are “hypocrites,” and are giving “aid and comfort to the enemy.” He doesn’t even approve of secular Solstice celebrations. He’s not alone: lots of atheists are very vocal, not only about the fact that they personally don’t celebrate Christmas, but about their disapproval of any other atheist who does. Every year around this time of year, Beth Presswood, of the Godless Bitches podcast and the Atheist Community of Austin, rips these folks a new one about it on Facebook.

My overall angle on this question is that every atheist has to find their own ways of coping with religion’s intrusion into everyday life. This is true for every other marginalized group, who has to find ways of dealing with the dominant culture, and it’s true for us. Some of us push back on it with everything we’ve got. Some of us are fine with secularized versions of religious traditions — sincere or mocking or both. Some of us are fine going along with religious traditions. And many of us mix and match: pushing back against some religious incursions, accepting or creating secularized versions of others, going along with still others. I have zero problem with this. I’m finding my own way of handling Christmas, a balance of festivity, mockery, tradition, and resistance that works for me, and it does not trouble me in the slightest that other people are more traditional about it, while others are more oppositional, or are simply not interested. (Side note: If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you think you’d enjoy a festively blasphemous atheist holiday party, come to the Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time at Borderlands Cafe on Dec. 12!)

So I was thinking about all this, and it occurred to me:

Oh. There’s a social justice angle.

Yes, different atheists have different ways of handling religion and its intrusions into everyday life. There are lots of reasons for that. But one of the big ones is: How much do they rely on a social support system that’s structured around religion? Are they in a culture or subculture or family that’s very religious? Would refusing to participate in traditions like Christmas — traditions that are religious, or semi-religious, or quasi-religious, or secularized religious — mean alienating people they can’t afford to alienate, for practical reasons or emotional ones? Would refusing to participate mean isolating themselves from the continuity that people get from traditions, the sense of connection to something larger?

And certain forms of marginalization can play into this.

African-Americans are more likely to have deeply religious families and communities, who they can’t afford to alienate or simply don’t want to. Poor people are more likely to have deeply religious families and communities, who they can’t afford to alienate or simply don’t want to. For women, the social costs of disconnecting from family traditions are often greater than they are for men, since the job of perpetuating these traditions is commonly seen as women’s work. Many LGBT people, who have been cut off from their families, find much-needed practical and emotional support in LGBT-friendly churches or other religions, and a much-needed sense of continuity and connection.

So insisting that no true atheist would celebrate Christmas is pretty damn insensitive to the different realities of different atheists — black atheists, poor atheists, women atheists, LGBT atheists, any atheists in other marginalized groups — who are more dependent on religious structures, or whose lives are just more intertwined with religious people.

Atheists with other forms of marginalization are often treated as traitors to their race, their gender, their culture. Why on earth would we want to pile onto that from the other side? Many black atheists already get a bellyful of, “You’re not really black.” It’s seriously messed-up to pile onto that with, “You’re not really an atheist.”


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 Godless Perverts is Supporting St. James Infirmary for the Holidays

outlaw-poverty-not-prostitutes-st-james-infirmary

This post was written by Chris Hall for Godless Perverts, and originally appeared on the Godless Perverts website.

We may be Godless, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know how to party. For the last two years, we’ve helped the non-believer community celebrate the winter holidays in a secular fashion by holding the Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time, a social event complete with icebreaker games, weird songs, and decadent desserts. We’re having it at Borderlands Café this year, a magnificent community space, and we’ve got a lot of great uses planned out for it.

We’ll have our usual silly icebreaker games, goofy but fun holiday songs (Walt Kelly’s “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie” is a perennial favorite), delicious potluck holiday treats (bring your favorite to share – we will!), and the pleasure of connecting with our fellow secularists. And this year, Greta’s going to be giving openly fraudulent Tarot card readings! She’s almost completely guaranteed not to tell your future (except by accident), but it’s just as sure to be a great deal of fun. It’ll be on Saturday, December 12, 8-11 pm, at Borderlands Café, 870 Valencia St. in San Francisco, near the 24th St. & Mission BART station.

This year, as you may know, we’re doing it a little bit differently. The Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time is not only going to be fun, but it’s going to be a fundraiser for an organization that we’ve admired for a long time: The St. James Infirmary.

To do that, we’re trying to raise $700 to pay for space rental, refreshments, and assorted expenses of this year’s party. We’re almost just over halfway there, thanks to the generosity of some of you. As we get closer to our goal, we thought that it would be a good time to talk about the organization that we’re supporting this year, and why we think that they’re so awesome.

St James Infirmary Ad: Someone You Know is a Sex WorkerWhat is St. James Infirmary?

In a nutshell, the St. James Infirmary is an occupational health clinic run by and for sex workers. Founded in 1999 by members of COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) and the Exotic Dancers Alliance, they remain the first and only of their kind. They provide sex workers of all genders with health care and counseling of all kinds, including primary care service, gynecological and urological medical care, STI testing and counselling, needle exchanges, and support groups. Trust us when we say that all of this work does much more for sex work communities than any of the various “rescue” operations (i.e. arresting sex workers for their own good), or john-shaming programs that are popular in mainstream politics.

Why Sex Workers Need Their Own Health Care Resources

Sometimes when people hear about St James, the first response is to ask why sex workers need health care resources especially for them. The simple answer is that even the most legal sex work – such as stripping or adult modelling – is heavily stigmatized. For that matter, sexual pleasure is heavily stigmatized. Most doctors aren’t trained in how to address human sexuality beyond matters of basic physiology, and certainly not in the day-to-day realities of sex work. Have you ever tried to talk to your doctor or a nurse about discomfort “down there” or problems with how your body feels during sex? For most people it’s an incredibly uncomfortable experience. Imagine the difficulty of doing that if you also add in the problem that your work is, by its nature, either illegal or socially condemned. [Read more…]

Why I Support Foundation Beyond Belief

foundation beyond belief banner

You know about Foundation Beyond Belief, right? It’s the humanist philanthropic organization that channels money and volunteering from humanists, atheists, and other non-believers, into projects that improve this world and this life. As you may know, I’m on their board of directors. So when I ask you to support the organization (and tell you about the fun fundraising competition we’re having, and the fun auction that Be Secular is running for us!), I’m obviously biased. But I’m on their board for a reason.

You know how a bunch of us in the atheist movement keep saying that it isn’t enough to just not believe in gods? You know how we keep saying that organized atheism needs to provide some of what religion provides — including outlets for organized charitable, philanthropic, and social justice work? You know how we keep saying that organized atheism needs be address the interests and channel the energy of a wider variety of people than have traditionally been involved in it? You know how we keep saying that non-belief has implications — and one of those implications is that since there’s no gods and no afterlife, this life is the only one we have, and it’s up to us to make it better for everyone?

Foundation Beyond Belief is actually doing this.

Here are some of the organizations and projects FBB has supported:

transgender law center logoTransgender Law Center, running one-on-one legal clinics for transgender and gender nonconforming people.

Center for Reproductive Rights, using the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.

Community Change, Inc., approaching racism, racial relations, and racial responsibility from the perspective that racial inequalities are a white problem.

Global Village Project, an innovative special purpose school for refugee girls and young women with interrupted schooling.

Prison University Project, providing higher education programs to people incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison.

Pure Earth, bringing a scientific approach to pollution reduction meant to benefit extremely poor communities abroad.

DC Central Kitchen, tackling food distribution availability in Washington, DC.

Men Can Stop Rape, mobilizing men to create cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women.

Akili Dada, a full-service developmental program aimed at helping Kenyan girls and women build leadership skills.

Modest Needs Foundation, working to meet the needs of the hardworking, low income members of society, who are often left without a safety net when unexpected expenses occur.

innocence project of texas logoInnocence Project of Texas, securing the release of those wrongfully convicted of crimes in Texas, and educating the public about the causes and effects of wrongful convictions.

You see what I’m getting at?

A lot of us are saying, and have been saying for some time, that organized atheism needs to do this sort of work. Foundation Beyond Belief is doing it. And we need your support.

We’re doing a big year-end fundraising drive. Your donations will be matched up to $20,000, thanks to a generous matching donation from the Bella and Stella Foundation. And we’re doing a fun fundraising competition, for both individuals and community groups! Prizes for individuals range from T-shirts, autographed books & other secular swag to trips to conferences or shows by celebrity atheists. For groups, FBB will provide speaker(s) to the group that gets the most mentions and/or raises the most funds using the #HumanistsCare hashtag. Detail are at the link. If your atheist/ humanist/ freethought group is looking for a fun activity that will get your group more involved in community service, this is a great one.

Be Secular is also running an auction to support Foundation Beyond Belief, starting at 11:00 AM Eastern time on December 1, 2015, and running for 36 hours (through 11:00 PM Eastern time on December 2, 2015). Items range from small to high-end, including art, jewelry, vacations, signed celebrity photos, and more.

And if you don’t want to do the auction thing or the fundraising competition thing, you can also just… well, donate. You can make a one-time donation, which will be used to fund FBB operations; or you can make a monthly donation in any amount (as low as $5 a month), which will go to fund the causes you care about. (And yes, you can tell us which areas you’d like your money to go to!)

Foundation Beyond Belief is walking the walk. Please join us, and help pave the way. 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.

Dear Conference Organizers: A No-Fooling-Around Note About Diversity

chairs at conferenceDear conference organizers:

Thank you so much for inviting me to speak at your conference. I would love to make this happen if it’s possible! I like speaking at conferences: I like meeting new people and re-connecting with old friends, and I especially enjoy meeting with organizers of local community groups. And, of course, I like selling books. :-) I’m happy to speak at local conferences, regional conferences, national and international conferences. My honorarium is low, and my travel requirements are pretty minimal. If I can fit this event into my schedule, I’d love to do it.

However.

If your speaker lineup is overwhelmingly white, I am not willing to speak at your conference.

And when I say this, I mean it. I am not fooling around. Specifically, I mean this:

If you send me a confirmation with a list of scheduled speakers, and that list is overwhelmingly white, I will withdraw from your conference.

I’m sorry to come across like a hardass. But experience has taught me that I have to be. Experience has taught me that if I don’t say something ahead of time, I will often wind up on an overwhelmingly white speaker lineup. Not always — a lot of conference organizers already get this, and are on it — but often. Experience has taught me that, even if I do say something ahead of time, I will still sometimes wind up on an overwhelmingly white speaker lineup. We will then have to have an awkward conversation, where I explain that I’m withdrawing from the conference and why.

Here is a list of prominent atheists of color, and organizations of atheists of color. Many of them are excellent speakers, as are many of the organization leaders. Many of them, like me, have low honoraria and minimal travel requirements. If you book me for your conference, and you then put together an overwhelmingly white speaker lineup, you will have an open slot in your schedule. Please consider filling it with one of these people. Better yet: Please look at this list before you start putting together your speaker lineup, so you have a diverse lineup to begin with.

I understand that event organizing is very difficult, and conference organizing is especially difficult. I understand that it’s hard to co-ordinate schedules, balance content, and arrange for travel and honoraria that will fit your budget. So here’s a tip: When you’re putting together a speaker lineup, START with diversity. START by inviting African-Americans, Latinos, women, disabled people, transgender people, people of Asian descent, people of Middle Eastern descent, other people of color, lesbian and gay and bisexual people, people who have left religions other than Christianity. Don’t just invite the usual suspects, fill up three-quarters of your lineup — and then go, “Crap! Diversity!” and scramble to fill in the last two or three open slots with people who aren’t white, middle-class, college-educated, cisgender, straight, able-bodied, ex-Christian or lifelong-atheist men.

Again, I’m sorry to be a hardass. Generally speaking, I’m an easy speaker to work with: again, my honorarium is low, my travel requirements are pretty minimal, and I try to be as flexible as possible. But this is an extremely high priority for me. In my opinion, this issue — making our communities more welcoming and more supportive of a wider variety of people than are currently participating — is the most important issue currently facing organized atheism in the United States. Diverse speaker lineups at conferences isn’t the only thing we need to do to address this issue, of course, or even the most important thing. Very, very far from it. But it’s one of the things I can do something about. So I’m doing it. Thanks for understanding. Hope we can make this work!

Sincerely,
Greta Christina

P.S. This also applies to harassment policies/ codes of conduct. I won’t speak at a conference that doesn’t have one. That’s been less of an issue lately, though — almost all atheist and skeptic conferences have them now — so I didn’t feel a need to write a whole thing about it.

Note: Yes, this is in reference to a specific event — and no, I’m not going to tell you which one. It was a private conversation, and I’m going to respect that.


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.