Support the Foundation Beyond Belief! Last Chance for 2014!

So you know how a lot of us keep talking about how organized atheism needs to spend less time and resources talking about 17 more reasons God doesn’t exist, and more time and resources making these finite lives of ours better for everyone? In particular, you know how a lot of us keep talking about how organized atheism needs to get more involved in social justice issues and intersectional issues that disproportionately affect marginalized people?

foundation beyond belief logo

Here are a few of the projects the Foundation Beyond Belief has supported.

Reproductive rights and family planning. Rape prevention aimed at men. Housing and support for homeless LGBT youth in New York City. Legal support for refugee children from Central America attempting to enter the United States. Legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. Support and advocacy for political asylees. Support for LGBT students in religious schools. International women’s human rights. Poverty in Haiti, Honduras, the United States. The Black Skeptics of Los Angeles First in the Family Humanist Scholarship Fund, awarding scholarships to South Los Angeles LAUSD students who are going to be the first in their immediate families to go to college. The Innocence Project.

The Foundation Beyond Belief is walking the walk.

If you’re not familiar with them: The Foundation Beyond Belief is a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation created to focus, encourage and demonstrate humanist generosity and compassion. They make contributions to charitable organizations that support their humanist goals; they sponsor humanist volunteer teams; they’re developing a humanist disaster response program; and they’re launching a Humanist Service Corps, which will open in July 2015 as six humanist volunteers begin a year of service in and around the witch camps of northern Ghana.

They rock.

If you’re looking for a tax-deductible non-profit organization to donate money to before 2014 ends, the Foundation Beyond Belief would be an awesome choice. They currently have a fundraising goal of $75,000 before the end of the year, to ensure that their programming will continue and thrive in 2015. As of this writing, they’re within $3,500 of that goal. It would be mega-awesome if they could start 2015 with that fundraising goal taken care of.

Quick note, for the purposes of full disclosure: I’m now on the Foundation Beyond Belief’s Board of Directors. I just got elected. So I’m not exactly unbiased here. But there’s a reason I decided to run for the Foundation Beyond Belief’s Board of Directors. This organization walks the walk. Again: If you’re looking for a place to donate money to before 2014 ends, the Foundation Beyond Belief would be an excellent choice.

Should Atheists Celebrate Christmas? The Social Justice Angle

why-believe-in-a-god-santa-bus-adSo I’ve been thinking about the question of atheists and Christmas, or other religious holidays that get 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. In the last couple of weeks, Beth Presswood, of the Godless Bitches podcast and the Atheist Community of Austin, has been ripping him a new one about it on Facebook.

My overall angle on this is that every atheist has to find their own ways of coping with religion’s intrusion into everyday life. 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.

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

Oh. There’s a social justice angle to this.

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 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.

Godless Perverts is Not for Everyone: What Inclusivity Means to Us, and What It Doesn’t Mean

I Love Feminism, by Jay Morrison

This is a joint statement by Greta Christina and Chris Hall, originally posted on the Godless Perverts site.

Godless Perverts is not for everyone.

We mean that in the gentler, more informal sense of the term: Not everyone is going to like it. Not everyone is going to enjoy discussion groups, entertainments, or parties centered on godless views of sexuality. They may not enjoy our frank, explicit explorations of sex, including a wide variety of unconventional sexualities; they may not enjoy the views of religion that come up in our meetups and entertainments — some of which are harshly critical and mocking, others of which are sympathetic. That’s okay. We can’t be all things to all people, and we’re fine with that.

But we’re also not for everyone in the somewhat harsher sense of the term: We are not open to everybody. There are going to be times when we have to tell people they’re not welcome.

This is hard. Almost everyone has had painful experiences with being told, openly or otherwise, that they’re not welcome in a group. Almost all of us have had painful experiences being picked last for a team at school, or being treated like an outcast at a social event. The two of us certainly have. It’s a difficult thing to experience, and it’s not an experience we dole out lightly. (The Geek Social Fallacies can be very seductive, including Geek Social Fallacy #1: Ostracizers Are Evil.) But the unfortunate reality is that if we want to create a welcoming space for people who support and value our mission, we will sometimes have to ask people to leave. [Read more…]

Death and Injustice: How Can Humanists Respond?

Protests

(Note: the following contains references to racist, transphobic, and misogynistic violence.)

In the face of unjust death—what can humanists say and do?

I have a new book out called Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, a short collection of essays offering secular ways to handle your own mortality and the deaths of those you love. [It comes out December 11 in ebook and audiobook; print edition will come later.] In it, I talk about some humanist ways of coping with death and highlight philosophies that might provide some consolation and meaning—including the idea that death is a natural part of the physical universe; that mortality makes us treasure our lives; that we were all astronomically lucky to have been born at all; that religious views of death are only comforting if you don’t think about them carefully; and more.

But when Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014, and when his body was left in the street for over four hours, and when a grand jury decided that the questions about his death didn’t warrant a jury trial and declined to indict his killer on even the most minor charges—I found myself with very little to say. And when, a week after that grand jury announcement, another grand jury in New York City declined to indict another police officer (Daniel Pantaleo) in the death of another unarmed black man (Eric Garner)—I was almost speechless.

Of course I’ve had plenty to say about racist policing, about prosecutors deliberately tanking cases, about how over 99 percent of grand juries indict but less than five percent will do it to a cop. (Although mostly what I’ve had to say about that has been, “Go read these pieces by black writers, they know a lot more about this than I do.”) But when it comes to any consolations humanism might have for people grieving for Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the injustice surrounding their deaths, I’ve been coming up largely empty.

So, in the face of unjust death—what can humanists say and do?

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for The Humanist magazine, Death and Injustice: How Can Humanists Respond? To read more, read the rest of the piece.

(Note: Some of the comments at the link are okay, but some are appalling. The next time someone says, “You shouldn’t call yourself an atheist, if you care about atheism plus social justice you should call yourself a humanist” — or the next time someone says, “Humanism already means caring about racism and sexism and all that, so why should I call myself a feminist or anti-racist, I just call myself a humanist and that covers it” — I’m pointing them to these comments. Self-identified humanists can be total fucking assholes.)

Ferguson Links

Here are some posts about Ferguson, Michael Brown, Darren Wilson, and related stuff, which I think are worth reading.

It’s Incredibly Rare For A Grand Jury To Do What Ferguson’s Just Did

Fake Michael Brown case pathologist: ‘If they want to think I’m a doctor, that’s their issue’

Structural and Institutional Racism Exists Within Police Forces

When Force is Hardest to Justify, Victims of Police Violence are More Likely to be Black

Ferguson: 5 Points We Need to Understand

St. Louis police officers’ group demands Rams players be disciplined for ‘hands up, don’t shoot’

Charges Dropped For Cop Who Fatally Shot Sleeping 7-Year-Old Girl

The Talk (cartoon by Steve Sack)

the talk cartoon

‘Racism without racists’: White supremacy so deeply American that we don’t even see it

Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson

12 things white people can do now because Ferguson

6 Things White Parents Can Do to Raise Racially Conscious Children

Ferguson Public Library (you can make donations)

Ferguson Defense Fund

BlackLivesMatter Bay Area Legal Fund

No, No, No, No, No: Ferguson, Michael Brown, and the Failure to Indict Darren Wilson

No.

No, no, no, no, no.

When major world events happen, I don’t always comment. I have a tendency to not say anything unless I have something unique to say, something I haven’t seen anyone else say yet.

But sometimes, that doesn’t matter. Sometimes, I just have be one more voice. Even though other people will no doubt have things to say that are more perceptive, more informed, more eloquent, sometimes I have to add my voice to the chorus. This is one of those times.

No. This is not acceptable. It is not acceptable that millions of Americans live in a police state because their skin is black or brown. It is not acceptable that police can shoot unarmed black men who have their hands in the air, and not even fucking get indicted. Forget about getting convicted — Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, and did not even get fucking indicted.

I do not consent to this decision.

I may say more later. Right now, I need to say this:

No. No, no, no, no, no.

NO.

no

Decisions Are Made By Those Who Show Up: Why Voting and Calling Congress Isn’t a Waste of Time

your vote counts buttonWhen I first wrote this piece a few years ago, I wrote it specifically to encourage people to call or email their Congresspeople or other elected representatives. But it applies just as well to voting. So I’m recycling it here today. I’m concerned that progressives in the U.S. may not turn out very heavily in tomorrow’s election, since a lot of progressives are very disillusioned with politics and government right now. I don’t care. Vote anyway. This piece talks about why. Just replace “calling Congress” with “voting.”

Okay. The title is a bit off. A more accurate title would be, “Why Calling Or Emailing Congress, The President, And Your Other Elected Officials Not Only Isn’t A Waste Of Time, But Is One Of The Most Important Things We Can Do To Take Back Our Supposedly Democratically Elected Government.” But the Writer’s Union would have my head if I went with a title like that…

cel phoneI’m writing today to ask you to write and/or email your Senator, your Congressperson, your President. Your governor. Your mayor. Your city council. Your school board. If you don’t live in the U.S.: Your Prime Minister, your Premiere, your MP, your Assemblymember, your Deputy, whatever.

Not on any particular issue. Just in general. On whatever issue you care about.

And I want to argue that this is not a waste of time. I want to argue that this is one of the single most effective political actions we can take: not just to change this policy or that policy, but to change the entire way our government works, and the amount of power we have in it.

When I wrote my recent piece exhorting readers to call/ email Congress and the President about the public option for health care, many of you followed through, with a heartening degree of enthusiasm. But a surprising number of politically aware, politically astute people were strongly resistant: not to the public option for health care, but to the very idea of contacting their elected officials at all. They thought their voices wouldn’t be heard or cared about. They thought it was a waste of time.

I want to persuade you that it is not a waste of time.

And I want to persuade myself as well. I don’t call or email my representatives nearly as much as I think I should, and I’m writing this partly to remind myself to do it more.

Here is my thesis.

empty voting boothsThe fact that Americans feel so alienated from our government? The fact that so many people don’t vote? The fact that most people don’t call or email the President or their Congresspeople to tell them how they feel about important issues? The fact that so many people think politicians don’t care about them anyway, so there’s no reason they should bother getting involved?

This plays directly into the hands of the very people we don’t want running the show.

This is one of the main reasons government is so much more responsive to hard-line extremists and big-money corporate interests than it is to the majority of people it’s representing.

This is one of the main reasons government is so screwed up.

When very few people get involved in politics — when very few people even bother to vote, and even fewer bother to call or email their elected representatives — then the few people who do bother are the ones who get listened to. The hard-line extremists get to set the terms of the debate. Them, and the people with money.

baptizing of americaWhy do you think the extreme religious right was so successful, for so long, in setting this country’s political agenda? They were successful, in large part, because they had an extraordinarily well-oiled machine of millions of inspired people who would make phone calls and write letters at the drop of a hat. When the folks on the mailing lists of the religious right got a call for action telling them to call or write their Congressperson, they didn’t lapse into cynicism about how no politician really cares about them — and they didn’t lapse into soul-searching about whether they were sufficiently educated on this issue to express their opinion. They bloody well picked up the phone and called.

Decisions are made by those who show up.

And if we want to be making the decisions, we have to show up.

There’s a larger, more systemic way that this plays out, too. The fact that people feel jaded and alienated by politics and government? It’s a textbook example of a vicious circle. The less that people get involved in their government, the less politicians have to worry about the voters — and the more they can suck up to big money contributors. And the more that politicians suck up to big money contributors, the more alienated and jaded people get about government… and the less likely they are to get involved.

figures moving computer mouseThis circle isn’t going to get broken by elected officials. And it sure as hell isn’t going to get broken by corporate interests. The only way it’s going to get broken is by citizens picking up their phones or getting on their computers and telling their elected officials, “If you want my vote ever again, you freaking well better vote for X.” And then Y. And then Z. Over, and over, and over again. The only people who can break this circle are you and me.

Not getting involved doesn’t make government better. It makes government worse. It plays right into the hands of the corporate interests, who find it easier to get laws written their way when there aren’t all those pesky citizens to worry about.

And it plays right into the right-wing “keep government small and taxes low” rhetoric — otherwise translated as, “Keep taxes on rich people and big corporations low; keep regulations on business to a bare minimum if that; and keep government services for poor and middle- class people stripped to the bone.” People’s cynicism about government, their belief that it never helps them and doesn’t have anything to do with them unless it’s screwing them over, and it’s always better to have it small and weak since it sucks so badly? That’s one of the strongest cards in the right wing’s hand.

firefightersI’ve written about this before, and I’ll write it again: Government is — in theory, and at least some of the time in practice — the way a society pools some of its resources, to provide itself with structures and services that make that society function smoothly and that promote the common good. And it’s the way a society decides how those pooled resources should be used. It’s one of the main ways that a society shares, cooperates, works together, takes care of each other — all those great ideals we learned in kindergarten. Government is roads, parks, fire departments, street sweepers, public health educators, emergency services, sewers, schools. Government is not Them. Government — democratic government, anyway — is Us.

But for government to do all this and be all this, not just in theory but in practice, we need to start seeing government as Us.

control keyAnd calling/ emailing your President, your Senators, your Congressperson, your governor and your mayor and your dogcatcher, is one of the most powerful things we can do to turn government from Them into Us. It reminds our elected officials that they work for Us, that they’re there to represent Us. And maybe just as importantly, it reminds us of that, too.

If you want to look at it idealistically: Many elected officials get into politics because they want to make a difference, and want to represent the will of their voters. And those officials are desperately wishing for citizens to kick up a stink on important issues: it makes it easier for them to fight special interests, and it lets them know that we’ve got their back. (It’s a whole lot easier to tell your big campaign contributors, “No,” when you can say, “I’m really sorry, but my phone is ringing off the hook about this one, and if I don’t support/ oppose it my voters will have my head.”)

But you can also see this in a completely venal, Machiavellian view… and still come to the same conclusion. Squeaky wheels. Grease. Many elected officials don’t much care about making a difference… but they bloody well care about getting re-elected. Politicians assume that if people care enough about an issue to call or write about it, they’ll care enough to vote the bums out on election day. If enough people call or write, it can override the voice of big- money special interests — even for the most self-serving politician in the world.

pigs at the trough book coverI get that it’s easy to be cynical about politics. Boy, howdy, do I get it. You don’t have to tell me about the massive role that big money and corporate lobbying plays in government and policy; or about the short attention span of citizens and how easily distracted they can be by the Drama of the Day; or about the great advantage incumbents have over challengers and how it contributes to inertia and indifference in politicians; or about how easy it is for voters to be manipulated by fear. I am 47 years old, and I’ve been participating in my government for almost three decades and observing it for longer than that, and I am under no illusions about how deeply sucky government can be. I get it.

But I also think that cynicism is the easy way out. Cynicism is just a way of not having to care, so you don’t risk being disappointed. Not calling or emailing an elected official, because you think they don’t care and won’t listen, is like never asking out the girl or guy you think is really cute, because you’re afraid they’ll say no. It’s giving up before you’ve even started.

I keep thinking about that quote from Voltaire: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Politics is never, ever, ever perfect. Politics is the art of compromise… and the art of compromise is often an ugly, messy, dumb art.

But giving up is not the answer. Giving up is not going to make government better. Giving up is actively making it worse. Giving up on government because we can’t make it perfect is the enemy of making it good. Or at least, making it better.

And better is… well, better. As my friend Nosmo King points out: The lesser of two evils is less evil. How is that a hard decision?

This isn’t idealism. It’s harm reduction.

cynicism from diogenes to dilbert book coverStay cynical if you want to. Keep being a jaded, cynical hard-ass who thinks all government officials are selfish, power-hungry jerks. But be a jaded, cynical hard-ass who thinks all government officials are selfish, power-hungry jerks… and who calls or emails them to tell them what jerks they’re being, and what exactly you expect them to do to be marginally less jerky.

Be a jaded, cynical hard-ass. But don’t be a nihilist. Don’t give up. People fought and died for the idea of participatory democracy: not just in the United States, but all over the world. In many parts of the world, they’re still fighting and dying for it. You’re lucky. You don’t have to fight and die to keep this idea alive. You just have to call or email your elected officials. And you just have to vote.

So that’s the general principle. Participatory democracy. You know, the principle that this country fought a revolution for.

And yet a lot of people who agree with the principle still don’t follow through in practice. A lot of people who passionately support the idea of participatory democracy still don’t pick up the phone or get on the computer to, you know, participate in it. (Including me a lot of the time.)

Why is that?

I posted this question on Facebook the other day. I asked, “If someone asks you to email your Congressperson, and you don’t, even if you care about the issue — what stops you?”

I wasn’t asking to judge or criticize. Hell, I do this, too. I decide that I’m too tired, too busy, that if I responded to every “Call your Congressperson” email I got I’d never get anything else done. But it does bug me. It’s such a simple thing to do, and it can make such a huge difference, and I’m trying to figure out what, specifically, keeps us from doing it.

So now — again, for my own benefit as much as anybody else’s — I want to respond to some of the answers I got to this question. I want to remind myself, and anyone else reading this, that the reasons for not calling or emailing your elected officials, as understandable as they may be, simply aren’t anywhere near as compelling as the reasons for calling and emailing.

(Here’s Part 2 of the original.) Again, it talks more about calling elected officials than it does about voting… but I think it’s still relevant.

5 Reasons to Stop Talking Sh*t About People From the South and Midwest

united states map divided by regions“If I ever hear another elitist jerk use the term flyover people, I’ll punch him in the mouth.” -John Waters, Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America

I don’t approve of threats of physical violence. Not even hyperbolic ones. But I absolutely know where John Waters is coming from. And while I don’t intend to punch anyone in the mouth, I completely understand — and share — his anger at this bullshit notion of “flyover country.”

I recently did a speaking tour of the Midwest, promoting my new book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. This isn’t new for me: I’ve been doing public speaking for years, and I do it a lot in the Midwest and South. And every time I come home from one of these trips, I bring back a huge suitcase full of respect for people in the Midwest and South — and a hearty desire to say “Fuck You” to anyone who makes snotty remarks about “flyover country” or “flyover people.” Not all progressives do this, of course — but I hear it often enough that I need to say something. Here are five reasons coastal progressives need to permanently purge these phrases from their vocabulary.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 5 Reasons to Stop Talking Sh*t About People From the South and Midwest. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!


Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

Why, Despite the Incredibly Discouraging Crap That’s Been Going On in Recent Weeks and Months and Years, I Still Have Hope for Organized Atheism

Cologne_Germany_Cologne-Gay-Pride-cheerleadersI know. Here comes Greta, the eternal optimist, the relentless Pollyanna cheerleader, always holding out for hope. Stay with me. I really think I’m right about this.

Yes, the recent weeks in organized atheism have been incredibly discouraging, disheartening, disillusioning, demoralizing, dis- and de- just about every good thing that keeps people engaged in activism. Heck, the recent months and years in organized atheism have often been discouraging. Our most visible representatives are saying and doing horrible things: they’re perpetuating horrible sexist and racist ideas, they’re trivializing rape and making excuses for it and blaming the victims of it, they’re apparently committing sexual assault. The online hatred and harassment squad has been in full force. The defenses, denials, rationalizations, trivializations, and victim-blaming about all of this have been in full force. And in the last few weeks, all of this has been in overdrive. I can totally understand why some people, even people who have been in organized atheism for years — strike that, especially people who have been in organized atheism for years — would be losing hope. I’m feeling it, too.

And I’m not going to say for a second that the awful shit isn’t awful. I’m certainly not going to say that we shouldn’t talk about it just because it’s giving people a sad. I’m not going to tell anyone else that they’re bad or wrong for being disheartened — or even that they have any obligation to stay in organized atheism.

What I’m going to say is that I have hope. And I’m going to explain why. [Read more…]

Columbus Day

Found on Facebook:

Columbus Day ecard

Let’s celebrate Columbus Day by walking into someone’s house and telling them we live there now.

Let’s celebrate Columbus Day by walking into someone’s house and telling them we live there now. And shooting them when they don’t leave. And giving them small-pox infested blankets. And giving them new, crappy houses — which we then move into at gunpoint. And doing that again. And again.

Sigh.