Intransitive Gratitude: Feeling Thankful in a Godless World

I first published this on Thanksgiving 2011, and have decided to make it a Thanksgiving tradition.

thank youIf you don’t believe in God, what does gratitude mean?

I don’t mean specific gratitude towards specific people for specific benevolent acts. I mean that more broad, general, sweeping sense of gratitude: gratitude for things like good health, having food to eat, having friends and family, the mere fact of being alive at all.

I started thinking about this when I was watching the “Thanks for Skepticon” video that the Fellowship of Freethought Dallas put together, where they asked participants at Skepticon 4 to say what they were thankful for. Most of the folks in the video — myself included — took the question at face value, and spoke of our intense gratitude: for science and medicine, for friends and family, for jobs in an unstable economy, for trees, for the very fact that we exist at all.

But some participants — specifically PZ Myers and American Atheists president David Silverman — questioned the entire assumption behind the project. Silverman simply reframed the question: instead of saying what he was thankful for, he spoke about who he was thankful to. And Myers took on the entire enterprise directly. He said that asking people to be thankful for something was an attempt to “anthropomorphize the universe.” He said there were lots of things he liked — being alive, his wife, his kids, squid — but he wasn’t going to express gratitude to the universe, since the universe wasn’t capable of expressing any gratitude back.

Hm. Interesting point.

So this video — and the subsequent discussion of it on my blog — got me thinking: If you don’t believe in God, does it even make sense to say that you’re grateful for stuff? Not to specific people who did specific nice things — that kind of gratitude makes sense, obviously — but just general gratitude for the good things in our lives? Does the emotion of gratitude have to have a specific object, a conscious actor who made choices that affected our lives in positive ways? Or can we feel grateful without an object?

Is there such a thing as intransitive gratitude? [Read more…]

Godless Perverts Social Club in Oakland Thursday 11/19: Genderqueer & Trans Identities, Hosted by Cinnamon Maxxine!

Gender-Queer-Grafitti-CharlesHutchins-700x400

The Godless Perverts Social Club is meeting in Oakland on Thursday, November 19 — and we’re very happy to present a Social Club hosted by Cinnamon Maxxine, a local genderqueer sex worker and performer for a session discussing trans and nonbinary gender identities.

The binary of boy/girl man/woman has been treated as obvious and unquestionable for centuries, even those who fought and chafed against the rigid roles that society assigns according to sex. But the more that we talk about sex and gender, the less the binary fits everyone. Tonight, Cinnamon Maxxine will guide us in a conversation about what being nonbinary, genderqueer, or trans means, the ways that society (even in liberal or “sex-positive” communities) tries to enforce gender, and how our concepts of gender are evolving in culture, religion, and politics.

We welcome everybody of all genders (or none) to come join us in this discussion. Please be prepared to respect everyone’s choice of pronoun.

We meet at Telegraph Beer Garden, 2318 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland (near the 19th Street BART station). 7-9 pm. It’s free, although we ask that you buy food and/or drink if you can to support the venue. Hope to see you there!


Cinnamon Maxxine

Cinnamon Maxxine

Cinnamon Maxxine is a Bay Area original. Born and raised in Oakland, Cinnamon Maxxine is determined to be an advocate for those who are typically left under-represented. From people of color to people of size to people with invisible disabilities and trauma. Cinnamon Maxxine seeks to give those communities a voice. You can find Cinnamon here:

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More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Jeffrey L. Falick

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: Jeffrey L. Falick.

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.)

Jeffrey Falick 200JF: My professional leadership position is to serve as the Secular Humanistic rabbi of the Birmingham Temple Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Michigan. (The name “Birmingham Temple” is an historic holdover from the days when it was a more conventional liberal Jewish synagogue.)

Humanistic Judaism — which began in my community — combines an adherence to the philosophy of Secular Humanism with a celebration of Jewish culture. We are basically secular Jews who choose to adapt the forms and functions of Jewish customs in ways that serve our needs as non-theists. This is no “theist-lite” brand of Judaism. I am an outspoken atheist. Rather, it is a way to enjoy our cultural heritage in a manner that conforms to our commitment to Secular Humanistic principles. Whatever cannot conform or adapt does not survive!

My day-to-day functions are pretty similar to many members of the “clergy” (a word I don’t use) but without the dogma, doctrines, authoritarianism or loyalty to tradition that characterize everything that they do. So while the functions are similar, the mindset is completely different. The best comparison might be to the (sadly diminishing) UU Humanistic clergy. I visit the sick, I provide Humanistic resources for people in crisis, I lead Humanistic life cycle ceremonies, I teach (about Humanism and the historical and contemporary Jewish experience), and I coordinate speakers and cultural programs. I also serve as a kind of liaison to the greater Humanistic community.

In addition to my professional position, I’m also on the executive committee of our North American body, the Society for Humanistic Judaism, and active in the American Humanist Association. I am president and co-founder of the local AHA chapter, Humanists of Southeast Michigan.

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

Because this is a thriving congregation of Secular Humanists, there are always a dozen or more things happening here. One of my biggest projects has been to open our doors to the larger non-theistic community. We are fortunate to have a building and there are simply not very many Humanistic spaces like ours in the world. We now host the local Sunday Assembly, frequent programs of the Center for Inquiry and the Humanists of Southeast Michigan, just to name a few.

The Humanists of Southeast Michigan is a very new group that has really taken off. We have thirty members and we have just decided that our biggest project going forward is to support women’s reproductive rights. We have a huge problem in our state with Catholic hospitals taking over formerly secular ones and imposing their religious restrictions, mainly on women. And, of course, we want to do everything we can to support Planned Parenthood during their current crisis.

Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next 10 to 20 years?
What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?

I’m not really sure how I feel about “movement atheism.” On one hand, I think it’s fantastic to see all of us getting together at a Reason Rally and in other venues. But then I read or listen to some public atheists and I’m appalled at the ways that they think. Something that really surprised me when I “came out” as an atheist is the misogyny and backward thinking about race. On the other hand, I do believe that the vast majority of us agree on probably 95% of the really important issues even if we have different “styles.” In that sense I support the notion of “movement atheism.”

Jeffrey Falick at rallyI think one of our greatest challenges is to provide enough variety so that we have something to offer non-theists with different needs. Those who love the good things that religion had to offer – community, celebration, ties to heritage – can have their Sunday Assemblies, UU Humanistic fellowships, Ethical Culture groups and Secular Humanistic synagogues. Those seeking other forms of organized community – political activism, recovery from religion, atheist advocacy – need to be able to find something for themselves, too. And we all need to cooperate. In the largest sense we are one community even if we have many subdivisions.

I am convinced that atheism will one day become the default position in our society. I know that this will not happen in ten to twenty years, but we are moving slowly in that direction. The atheist organizers of today are pioneers. The more outlets that we create for living outside of a theistic framework, the better we will be prepared to welcome the atheists of the future!

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

I’m just a regular atheist with a commitment to a life of reason and compassion. My preferred “label” is Secular Humanist (I capitalize these words to draw attention to their legitimacy parallel to the ways that religions capitalize their titles).

I tend to think of the “new atheists” as a group of writers more than anything else. I agree with some of what they write and I disagree with some of it too. It depends on the writer and the topic! I think the most gratifying part of the “new atheist” movement (if it is one) is the visibility that it provided. It’s terribly important for a put-upon group to have people brave enough to point the way to others seeking to leave their closets. When I was a conventional rabbi I lived in an “atheist” closet. For professional and personal reasons I was frightened to admit to myself that I was, indeed, an atheist. Some of their books helped to nudge me out.

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

One of the things that I love about being out as an atheist and conducting my life as a Secular Humanistic is that my beliefs are entirely consistent with my behavior. This plays out in really interesting ways in my professional life, too.

Just this past week I met with a member of my community who is coming out as a bisexual. He and his wife are trying to negotiate how to have an ethical open relationship.

After we talked, I reflected on how it would have gone if I were still a conventional rabbi, committed to traditional values. I could not possibly have helped him to think through the ethical dimensions of this change in his relationship because I would have been antagonistic to the very idea.

But today, as a Secular Humanist, tradition has no claim on my values. This is liberating. It enabled me to openly embrace this couple’s journey, to lend a willing ear and to refer him to some resources to explore the ethical way to take that journey. Even the most progressive of conventional theistic rabbis can’t do this. They remain loyal to a tradition that idealizes monogamy.

This is an incredible gift of Secular Humanism and one that I would never have experienced had I not embraced my atheism.


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 Holiday Benefit Party for St. James Infirmary – Please Support!

Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time 2015

Godless Perverts is hosting a fundraiser party for St. James Infirmary, the health clinic for sex workers in San Francisco — and we need your help to make it happen!

Every year, Godless Perverts hosts a Holiday Fun Time party, with festive food and drink, door prizes, atheist holiday songs, ridiculously adorable icebreaker games, and more. (This year’s party will be on Saturday, December 12, at Borderlands Cafe.)

This year, we’re turning the party into a fundraiser 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.

Godless Perverts wholeheartedly supports St. James Infirmary — and we want to put our money where our mouth is. So this year’s Holiday Fun Time is a fundraiser. All donations collected at the party will go directly to St. James Infirmary. We’re aiming to make it a barn-burner that raises a heap o’ cash!

But we need your help. We need to cover the expenses of throwing the party: renting the space, printing songbooks, acquiring door prizes, providing food and beverage (the party’s a potluck, but we need to offer something to our early arrivals!). So we’re doing a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe.

We’ve estimated that our total costs will be $700. If we raise more than that, or if the party expenses are less than that, any extra funds will go to St. James Infirmary. (If the party expenses are more than that, we will suck it up and pay out of our pockets — we will not spend more than $700 of your donations on party expenses.)

Please help make this happen! Even small amounts help — if you can only donate $5 or $10 or $20, it really does add up. Your donations will help us throw an awesome party that brings in a bucket of cash for St. James Infirmary. Let’s do this! Please support the event, and spread the word!

(You can also donate directly to St. James Infirmary.)

Godless Perverts Social Club — Game Night! Tuesday November 3

Godless-Perverts-Social-Club-Game-Night-Blog-Banner

This month, we’re trying something different: Godless Perverts is having a game night! As regular attendees of the Godless Perverts Social Club may have noticed, Wicked Grounds (San Francisco’s legendary kink cafe) has a huge stash of games including chess and checkers, Cards Against Humanity, Scrabble, Fluxx, Gloom, Slash, and much, much more. Feel free to bring your own games if you’re not sure that Wicked Grounds has a copy of your favorite.

(Note: If you decide to play Cards Against Humanity, please be cautious; it can be a really hard game between people who don’t know each other and aren’t familiar with each others’ limits and triggers.)

We meet at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th Street in San Francisco (at Folsom, near Civic Center BART), 7-9pm. It’s free, although we ask that you buy food and/or drink at the cafe if you can. All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome. Community is one of the reasons we started Godless Perverts. There are few enough places to land when you decide that you’re an atheist; far fewer if you’re also LGBT, queer, kinky, poly, trans, or are just interested in sexuality. And the sex-positive/ alt-sex/ whatever- you- want- to- call- it community isn’t always the most welcoming place for non-believers. So please join us! We meet in San Francisco at Wicked Grounds on the first Tuesday of every month: we also meet on the third Thursday of every month in Oakland, at Telegraph Beer Garden.

Godless Perverts presents and promotes a positive view of sexuality without religion, by and for sex-positive atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-believers, through performance events, panel discussions, social gatherings, media productions, and other appropriate outlets. Our events and media productions present depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities — including positive, traumatic, and complex experiences — focusing on the intersections of sexuality with atheism, materialism, skepticism, and science, as well as critical, questioning, mocking, or blasphemous views of sex and religion.

Godless Perverts is committed to feminism, diversity, inclusivity, and social justice. We seek to create safe and welcoming environments for all non-believers and believing allies who are respectful of the mission, and are committed to taking positive action to achieve this. 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.

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Bakari Chavanu

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: Bakari Chavanu.

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.)

Bakari Chavanu 200BC: The purpose of the Black Humanists and Non-Believers of Sacramento is to specifically outreach to people of African descent who are either atheists or are thinking in that direction. Since we formed the group back in October of 2015 2014, we have mainly hosted tables at predominantly African American events in Sacramento, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Expo, the Black Book Faire, and Juneteenth, as well as the annual Freethought Day.

We think it’s important to engage people at these events about atheism, theism, and humanism. Using Meetup.com, we also plan and hold social activities, including a monthly breakfast and book club. By having a presence on Meetup, several African Americans have joined our group, specifically because it is a Black atheist and humanist group which they felt more comfortable joining. [Note from GC: The group also has a Facebook page.]

Mashariki [co-organizer of Black Humanists and Non-Believers of Sacramento] and I are also board members of the Reason Center, which is a non-profit community center of atheist affiliated groups. Though we’re a Black atheist group, we also try to network with other atheist groups in the area and beyond.

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

In the coming months we plan to organize workshops around related issues, and I personally would like to see us hold formal debates with representatives of the Black theist community. There simply has not been enough public debates about religion in Black communities, though there certainly lots of discussions about religious and theistic issues.

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

I would like see a lot more outreach to young people because I think it’s critical that they hear both sides of the theist-atheist debate. I also would like to connect with atheists who support social and economic justice, because for me atheism is about what you don’t believe in, but humanism is what you do believe in. I would like to see humanism as a political ideology for shaping political, social, and economic policies.

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

Bakari Chavanu co-hosting table at Martin Luther King Jr Expo in SacramentoThe challenge I think is being able to reach out and engage people about the problems and even dangers of religious beliefs. Unfortunately, too many public and political institutions and social relationships in the US and around the world are still largely shaped by religious beliefs, practices, and discrimination. Though more and more young people are leaving the church, there are still large numbers of people who don’t get the opportunity to engage critically about what they are told to believe. Our role as atheist activists is to humbly reach out to those folks.

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

No I don’t think I’m a “new atheist,” at least not in terms of how the media as seemed to frame term. Typically “new atheist” refers to the so-called four horsemen: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Bennet. Of course I am not one of them, though I read and respect their work and their contributions to helping build and spread the atheist movement.

I consider myself a humanist, and an advocate of modern socialism, because I think these ideologies could make the world better, by transforming humanity out of the destructive aspirations of economic competition, greed, and exploitation of resources — motivated by obscene wealth accumulation. My view of humanism is that it must encompass a struggle against racism and White supremacy, sexism, and the environmental destruction of the planet. The term “new atheist” doesn’t tie together atheism with issues of social and economic justice, so I can’t say the term applies to me.


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 Part About Black Lives Mattering Where White People Shut Up and Listen

This piece was originally published in The Humanist.

black lives matterListen up, fellow white people.

If we care about racism — and if we’re humanists, we bloody well better — there’s something we need to do. It’s enormously important. If any other action we take is going to be useful, we need to take this one. And sometimes, it can be really freaking difficult.

We need to shut up and listen.

“Black lives matter” means — among many other things — that black voices matter. So white people need to listen to those black voices. In person and online, with friends and colleagues and friends-of-friends and in-laws and strangers, wherever there are conversations about racism, white people need to listen.

And listening means not talking.

It doesn’t mean “jumping in with arguments about topics we know little about.” It doesn’t mean “waiting patiently until the other person has stopped talking, so we can say whatever we were going to say anyway.” It doesn’t mean “making the conversation all about us and our hurt feelings over being told we said something racist.” It doesn’t mean “constantly changing the subject away from racism and towards something we’re more comfortable with — like how black people are being mean to us, or how we’d be more likely to listen if they spoke more pleasantly.” It doesn’t mean “telling black people how to run their movement” or “telling black people how to talk to white people” — especially when that advice is almost always “tone it down,” “be easier to deal with,” and “don’t make us feel bad.”

Listening means just that — listening. It means letting the other person have the floor. It means letting the other person decide the topic and set the tone. It means that whatever talking we do is peripheral, done in service of understanding and amplifying. And sometimes — much of the time — it means shutting our mouths, and opening our minds.

White people in the U.S. are brought up to expect a lot — often without realizing it, often without even realizing that these expectations exist and that people who aren’t white expect very different things. (If you’re in doubt about this, go read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh — or, for a funnier version of the same idea, Product Review: The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege from L.L. Bean by Joyce Miller.) And one of the things we expect most is an audience. We expect to have the floor. We expect that when we talk, people will listen. We expect that our ideas will be taken seriously; that any disagreement will be respectful and deferential; that we’ll be treated as authoritative, even when we’re talking out of our asses.

We expect that our voices will matter.

But you know what? In this national conversation about racism, our voices don’t matter so much. They’re not completely trivial — for one thing, we should be talking with other white people when they’re being racist — but they’re peripheral. They’re not what’s really important.

the new jim crow book coverBlack people know a whole lot more about racism than white people do. Black people know more about racist policing, and racist police brutality. Black people know more about racism in employment, education, fiscal policy, election policy, drug policy, prison policy, urban planning, labor laws. Black people know more about microaggressions, the small pieces of unconscious racism they encounter every day, dozens of times a day, from the day they’re conscious until the day they die. Black people, and other people of color, are the experts in racism — in a way that white people will never be.

And maybe more to the point: This national conversation about racism? It’s about black people. It’s about black lives, black experiences. It’s not about us — except in the ways that we affect black people, and other people of color.

For white folks, this is a huge reversal. Again: We are brought up with the unconscious, unexamined expectation that our experiences are the ones that matter — and the lives of black people and other people of color only matter when they affect us. For a quick and dirty demonstration, look at popular culture. Look at how often black actors play supporting roles, while white actors get the lead. Look at how often entire casts are overwhelmingly white, with just a handful (at best) of black actors or other actors of color. Look at how white characters across films and stories are varied and multi-dimensional, while black ones largely fall into a handful of tropes. Look at the absurdly common trope of the Magical Negro (seriously, look it up), swooping in with their uncanny wisdom to fix the white hero’s life. The message gets hammered in again and again: White lives matter, and black lives don’t, except when they affect white lives.

Well, guess what? In this national conversation about racism, white voices are not the ones that matter. It’s not just that we aren’t the experts. It’s not just that black people and other people of color know way more about racism than we do. It’s that this conversation is not about us. We are the supporting cast this time — and we need to listen to the leads.

Here are a few specific ways to listen.

Between the World and Me book coverWe can read books and articles by black authors.

We can follow black writers and activists on social media.

When people on social media link to writing by black writers — we can read it. We can click on the actual article, and not just read the headline. We can read the whole piece, not just the first paragraph. If we haven’t read the whole piece, we can hold off on coming to conclusions and shooting our mouths off.

When a unfamiliar concept comes up in a conversation about race — we can Google it.

We can accept that we have racist ideas — all of us, every single one — and not react with “I’m not a racist, how dare you say that!” when someone points one of them out.

If a black person says something about race that we don’t agree with — instead of arguing, we can ask. Instead of jumping in with “That’s wrong, WRONG WRONG WRONG, I don’t know about that or understand it so it can’t be right,” we can ask: “I’m not familiar with that idea or fact — can you please explain it, or point me to a resource that explains it?”

If a black person says something about race that we don’t agree with, we can ask — but we can also not expect them to educate us on demand. We can understand how exhausting and demoralizing it can be to do Racism 101, a dozen times a day, every day, for a lifetime. We can acknowledge that doing Racism 101 is not an obligation, and when black people decide to do it with us, they’re doing us a favor. We can ask — and accept if the answer is, “I am not in the mood, here’s a nice Racism 101 resource” — or even, “I am not in the mood, do your own damn Googling.” We can understand that our desire to be educated, on demand, at the very moment we want it, by the exact person we want it from, does not take priority over black people’s desire to talk about what they want, when they want, with whom they want. Again — we can understand that this is not about us.

If we’re talking about racism, we can share and quote black voices.

If we’re protesting in the streets, and reporters try to talk with us, we can say, “This isn’t about me. This is about black lives. Talk with them.”

If we’re criticized in a conversation about racism, we can listen to the content, and let go of the tone it was said in. We can recognize that the conversation is not about us, and that our hurt feelings over being told “You said something racist” are not as important as, you know, racism.

If we’re criticized in a conversation about racism, we can think about the content, before we respond to it. Instead of reacting immediately, we can stop talking, think, look things up, talk with other people, think some more, and let ourselves cool off, before we respond.

If we’re criticized in a conversation about racism, we can consider whether we need to respond at all, with anything other than, “Sorry,” or even, “I’m not sure I agree, but I’m listening, let me think about that.” We can remember that our opinions are not the most important thing.

We can quit responding to critiques of racism with “Lighten up,” “You’re being too sensitive,” or “That’s so PC.” That is literally saying to black people, “The things that matter to you don’t matter to me. They shouldn’t matter to anyone. They don’t matter to anyone — they only matter to black people, and black people don’t count.” (Also, as humanists and rationalists, we should note that as debate points, “Lighten up,” “You’re being too sensitive,” and “That’s so PC” are entirely lacking in content. All they say is “That isn’t important and I’m going to dismiss it” — while dodging the actual point.)

And whenever this is uncomfortable or painful or upsetting, we can remember — did I mention this already? — that this is not about us. We can remember that as upsetting as these conversations might be for us, racism is a thousand times worse. We can remember that white people have been the protagonists, the center of attention, for centuries — and we can let these conversations be about, you know, the people they’re actually about.

I get that this can be hard. We all think of ourselves as the center of our own universes, and we all want things to be about us. And humanists especially love to talk. We love dialogue, debate, the free and open examination and questioning of ideas. I love those things, too. But if we care about racism — and if we’re humanists, we bloody well better — we need to care about justice, human rights, ethics, and compassion, more than we care about the sound of our own voices.

And in this national conversation about racism, that means shutting up and listening.


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: Jenn Ramirez

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: Jenn Ramirez.

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.)

Jenn Ramirez with watermark 200JR: I am an organizer for the Riverside Atheists and Free Thinkers, also known as RAFT. We are a grassroots organization dedicated to building community for non-believers in the Inland Empire of Southern California. We hold various events such as dinners, pub nights, chess nights, family picnics, charity events, as well as our very popular monthly speaker series. Additionally, we are staunch advocates for the separation of church and state, and you will often find us engaging in various outreach activities and demonstrating when necessary.

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

RAFT is currently working on our Charity Beyond Belief 2015: Winter Survival Packs for the Homeless campaign. From October to December, members of RAFT (or anyone) can come to any meetup and either provide a monetary donation or a specific item from a list provided. We will then come together in November and build these special packs containing blankets, sweaters, lotion, chapstick and other necessities to survive the winter. In December, we will go out as a group to one of our local parks and distribute them. As of right now, we already have one member who is committed to donating over a dozen blankets and sweaters for this cause and have already received some amazing donations. This event was very successful last year and I anticipate that RAFT will be able to contribute more this year.

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

I hope we continue to build more organizations and communities that advocate for non-believers and the separation of church and state. I also hope we can continue to work together to break down the misconceptions about non-believers. But one of the biggest things I’d like to see is more diversity in the movement. It’s important to see more women, the LGBTQIA community, and people of color stepping up in leadership roles. I think that is going to have a big impact in our movement overall.

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

I think like any group that gets organized, one of our biggest problems is infighting. We see it a lot in the atheist community and we have to remember that we have goals in mind. And we can’t reach these goals if we can’t work together. For smaller groups like mine, money is definitely an issue. So many organizers pay for the groups out of pocket to make the events successful. It would be nice to see that change one day.

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

I consider myself many things and I imagine I fall along the line of a “new atheist” because I am so outspoken. I am a feminist atheist focused on building community for non-believers while addressing social justice issues.

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

RAFT group at restaurantI’d like to reach out to anyone who is thinking of joining a local atheist group and say, DO IT. Get out there, meet other like minded individuals, be prepared to be challenged, but most of all know how important community really is. So many of us have lost so much due to our non-belief and we need a safe place to be ourselves. Get active, be supportive, and know that it can be absolutely worth it. Here are a few links to our group:

Our meetup: http://www.meetup.com/Riverside-Atheists-and-FreeThinkers/
FB: https://www.facebook.com/groups/RiversideAtheistsAndFreeThinkers/
Website: http://riversideatheists.com/#/

I also want to give a big shout out to my RAFT crew! I am so grateful to each and every one of you for all of your hard work, dedication and support. Thank you!


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 Social Club in Oakland Thursday, October 15!

Godless-Perverts-Social-Club-Oakland-October-2015-Blog

Join Godless Perverts for another night of godless talk about sexuality, gender, and all the issues that tie them together at Telegraph in Oakland. It’ll be an open discussion night, so bring any thoughts or questions you have with you.

How to Find Us

We’ll be meeting in the back room behind the bar, so we’ll have a separate, somewhat private-ish space to talk about sex and blasphemy and whatnot. Telegraph has lots of food options, mostly in the sandwich/ sausage/ burger family, and including many vegetarian and vegan options. They have a wide selection of beers, and they also have soft drinks for those who don’t drink alcohol. (It is a bar, which means you need to be at least 21 to attend.) Admission is free, but we ask that you buy food and/or drink if you can.

Godless Perverts: Our Policies on Building Safer Spaces

All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome. Community is one of the reasons we started Godless Perverts. There are few enough places to land when you decide that you’re an atheist; far fewer if you’re also LGBT, queer, kinky, poly, trans, or are just interested in sexuality. And the sex-positive/ alt-sex/ whatever- you- want- to- call- it community isn’t always the most welcoming place for non-believers. So please join us! We’ll meet on the third Thursday of every month in Oakland: we’ll also still meet in San Francisco at Wicked Grounds, on the first Tuesday of every month.

Godless Perverts presents and promotes a positive view of sexuality without religion, by and for sex-positive atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-believers, through performance events, panel discussions, social gatherings, media productions, and other appropriate outlets. Our events and media productions present depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities — including positive, traumatic, and complex experiences — focusing on the intersections of sexuality with atheism, materialism, skepticism, and science, as well as critical, questioning, mocking, or blasphemous views of sex and religion.

Godless Perverts is committed to feminism, diversity, inclusivity, and social justice. We seek to create safe and welcoming environments for all non-believers and believing allies who are respectful of the mission, and are committed to taking positive action to achieve this. Please let the moderators or other people in charge of any event know if you encounter harassment, racism, misogyny, transphobia, or other problems at our events.

If you want to be notified about all our Godless Perverts events, sign up for our email mailing list, or follow us on Twitter at @GodlessPerverts. You can also sign up for the Bay Area Atheists/ Agnostics/ Humanists/ Freethinkers/ Skeptics Meetup page, and be notified of all sorts of godless Bay Area events — including the Godless Perverts. And of course, you can always visit our Website to find out what we’re up to, godlessperverts.com. Hope to see you soon!

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Amy Davis Roth

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: Amy Davis Roth.

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.)

Amy Davis RothADR: I am the founder and organizing leader of the Los Angeles Women’s Atheist and Agnostic Group. LAWAAG for short. http://lawaag.com LAWAAG is a group that was created to foster friendship and support amongst women who are either atheist or agnostic or in the process of leaving religion. It was created during a time when atheist women online were the main target of online harassment (prior to the gamergate fiasco) and my group was intended, and still is, a safe space for people who primarily identify as women who don’t have a church to go to. I feel that often churches provide really fabulous social and support groups for women but that the atheist community doesn’t much offer that same sort of space specifically for women to find friendship when they feel isolated. I wanted to create something like that for the women in my area. There are a lot of atheist groups in Los Angeles but there was nothing out there specifically for fostering friendship where women’s voices and specific concerns could be focused upon. The group sometimes has speakers come and give talks and when we do we open the group up to all genders and generally have the event at CFI Los Angeles or a public library, but recently we have shifted to doing more directly empowering and culturally educational events that allows us to get together and spend more time getting to know one another, learn a thing or two about the women who visit, and have food and build friendships. For example, we recently started a book club where we read books primarily written by women and then we have an afternoon potluck at my art studio to share our feelings on the literature. We have food and we listen to music and we talk and laugh. Last month we read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Nora Neale Hurston and next up is Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Allison Bechdel. We are also starting Movie Nights in the Fall that will be similar to the book club. You can find these meetups and the others we plan by either joining our meetup page: http://www.meetup.com/LAWAAG/ or our Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/lawaag/ I don’t want LAWAAG to be just another atheist group where people complain about religion. I want to move past that and pay attention to things that matter to actual people going forward, when atheism is no longer a novelty, like social support, friendship, art and education.

I am also a longtime contributor to the blog Skepchick (skepchick.org), a blog about skepticism, feminism and atheism that is primarily focused on women’s issues. I am also the managing editor of Mad Art Lab (madartab.com), a blog on the Skepchick network that is about the intersection of art, science, skepticism and geek culture.

In recent years Skepchick has become more focused on issues surrounding feminism for good reason, but this month I am starting a series called Skepticism 101. It will be a series of posts that brings the site back to its roots of being a site that explains skepticism and is skeptical of claims made about and directed at women. My series will be a very basic overview of the theory of skepticism and critical thinking meant to help new people who aren’t necessarily familiar with the basic concepts. As we get older and become more educated I think we forget that there are younger versions of us out there in the world that could use a little help understanding concepts that to us are obvious, but could really help someone who doesn’t yet understand.

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

Answered above.

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

I would hope that organized atheism becomes more inclusive of people of color, women and other oppressed groups. Right now the culture of atheism puts forward a very white and very cis male face. Atheism often seems to be a white man’s game of arguing until he feels he is right without regard to the ramifications that brings or who he crushes below him. A lot of us saw this play out with the “Elevatorgate” controversy. I want atheism to be something that is not shocking and not needing be constantly argued so that we can move past that and build community, social structure and government that is based on rationality and compassion with science-based information at its core instead of the current mythologies. I want women and those whose voices are often unfairly silenced to matter in this scenario and to be respected equally.

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

I think atheism looks like an uncaring male-centric game right now. Not only do religious people consider it an affront to all they hold sacred but some of us who are living secular lifestyles do not want to align themselves with many of the current leaders, like Dawkins and Sam Harris. I know a lot of women who, in the past few years, walked away from organized atheism because they found it literally terrifying online, exclusionary at events and basically rotten from the core. In my eyes, atheism as a political movement has a huge PR problem and needs to be more inclusive and representative of society as a whole. In order to be that way, it needs to fix its women and bigotry problems first.

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

I am not a new atheist if that means in any way that I want to fight with people online or debate religion through anger or while toting or quoting The God Delusion. I was raised without religion and I don’t hold any anger towards the religious people around me. I think religion is based only on myth and certainly does harm, but I do not fault people who search out the support and safety it brings for many. There are more reasons that religions are popular in our society than simply what is taught in the pages of holy books. I obviously don’t condone any racist, violent or misogynistic aspects of religion but I think education is the way to end the hold of this mythology on our culture and not by militant anger.

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

This is what an atheist looks like Surly Amy necklaceI am an artist who makes a living through my art and that is what enables me to continue doing all the work I do for free like writing for the blogs and running my women’s atheist group. If you can find even a dollar a month to support my Patreon, that is an ongoing art project inspired by science and peer reviewed by actual scientists, I would forever be grateful. Here is the link to that: https://www.patreon.com/SurlyAmy I am also the creator of Surly-Ramics. You can find out more about my handmade jewelry that is inspired by science and nature by going here: http://surlyramics.com

Image of Surly Amy necklace published with permission from the artist.


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.