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Women In Secularism 2 – Women Leaving Religion panel liveblog #wiscfi

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Intros

Moderator: Stephanie Zvan
Panelists:
- Vyckie Garrison – No Longer Quivering. Ex Quiverfull, seven children, got out 5 years ago. Considered man to be head of the household
- Jamilla Bey – “You may not have noticed but I am an African American”. As irreligious, “statistically speaking I don’t exist”. At 4, realized compulsion to believe in Santa forced her to be good. Summary: Nonexistent black baptist muslim jew jehovah’s witness atheist.
- Theresa McBain – Exec director of a humanist organization. Came out as atheist at last year’s American Atheists conference, former pastor. Living as out is difficult. Working for change in Florida
- Maryam Namazie – *feedback, low mic volume* “God is against me today.” Name means prayer, muslims ask her to call herself Ex-Namazie. In islam, greatest humiliation is to be considered a woman. If people are challenged with death, then atheists will come out visibly and break the taboo.

Stephanie: As you discovered you no longer believed, what kind of separation / isolation did you experience?

Jamilla: Was disowned by parents (un-disowned now). Stephanie: “I don’t think ‘re-owning’ sounds any better!”

When one’s culture allows the narrative to be formed to be authentic is to be “something”, you cede that ground — forcing all blacks to be god-fearing to be real blacks. When Jamilla was disowned, she cried for her baby who was cut off from his knowledge of self. Husband’s mother was a racist bigot antisemite, projected a lot of her feelings on the innocent child (her husband) by baptising it to keep jewish side from wanting anything to do with him.

Was part of a radio documentary on black atheists, and was only one whose family would talk to reporter. Most blacks feel as though if they come out, they lose their families, and “aren’t black any more”. Feel intrinsic love for gospel songs for the community with family/culture, but might nod head grudgingly.

Vyckie: Mother saw what this was doing to her family, did not like the abuse and controlling, was very supportive, but if she kept with Vyckie, she’d have to give up Jesus to continue being close with her. Watches Fox News and almost everything she says is offensive. Have to let a lot of it go.

Kids are all ready to ditch the whole oppressive thing, were happy to latch on to her leaving the leaving. Suddenly kids are a little more difficult to control too.

Theresa: Similar circumstances — by posting to Youtube, lots of people saw simultaneously, and lots of fallout. A year and a half later, still seeing fallout when people are finding out and saying horrible things to her, sending shaming presents, doing the “I’ll pray for you”. Going back to home in Alabama, had to experience acrimony from all the people who knew she no longer believed. Didn’t want disbelief to be true — lost her entire existence.

Have grown to learn who she is, apart of religion, still learning how to live without it. Didn’t know anyone outside of that circle. Stepped off a cliff, realized there’s nothign there. “Well, you’re there. I’m not saying you’re nothing. Don’t tweet that please! In enough trouble already! Just tweet that I’m a wonderful person and my jokes are amazing.”

Have redeveloped a fragile relationship with family members after death of her dad. But there’s still uncomfortable silence, because rest of family is entirely about religion. Awkward when people’s entire life was to eat dinner then go sing the hymns of the faith. Distressing that husband is conservative and atheism is dirty little secret. *starts to tear up… I’m right there with her.*

Son said “okay, mom, I’ve been an atheist for a long time now.” Has even tattooed a red atheist symbol on calf. She can’t bring herself to do that — still has the verse about no tattoos ringing in her head. Other son is apatheist, fell out of family too, is collateral damage. Church hasn’t reached out to her now. “Have to make notes now… I don’t know if it’s atheism that makes you lose your memory, or… middle age…” One church member in band with Theresa sent last message saying “I’m not going to communicate with you any more, but I want you to know that you led me back to a god you no longer believe in… and I’ll hate you for that.” Painful.

Maryam: Islam has state power in many places. Being considered an authentic muslim involves being an islamist — wanting sharia law, veil, etc. There is no homogeneous culture anywhere. Dominant culture is of the ruling class and Islamism, but there’s pushback in many places. There is no one reaction to “I’m leaving religion” — surprising how many people are supportive and actually closet atheists. Father’s a muslim but doesn’t want to kill me. Crowd: “yay!” “I know, yay!”

Most difficult thing is there is no uniform response.

When at Humanist convention, was asked “we serve homemade rum here, hope you don’t mind” — it’s like a stamp that is burned into you.

Son was born in Britain, is being taught about Islam, was shown Iranian flag and wants to pray at lunches. Maryam “would burn the Iranian flag any time.” Why is he having Islam shoved down his throat?

Pushes identity politics, segregation.

Things are changing though. What’s considered culturally authentic — sometimes feel like there’s no escape.

Stephanie: How much did you find you had resources available to you, and how much did you have to build these resources yourself?

Theresa: When I came out — she was extremely isolated. Just knew she had to be honest and authentic, so chose a public way to do it, moment of insanity honestly. Not knowing she would be abandoned by essentially everyone, unemployed, scary. Was least thought-out thing she’s ever did in her life. Makes lists constantly. Yet she did this spontaneously.

Atheist community has emotionally and financially supported her even where church walked away and didn’t even check if she had groceries on her way out. Was taken in and given jobs and taken care of emotionally. Atheist community has been greatly supported. Is the only woman to come out of the Clergy Project so far “in case you didnt’ know — Jamilla’s black I’m a woman”

To be offered not one job but two — if you think about what Christianity says it does, atheist community actually does it. Has given her a soft place to land, and even employment in something she’s good at and loves to do. (Me: Sadly, I think this is an exception. Her story is great, but we could do better.) Was even given atheist of the year! As an ex pastor. Not because she’s a trophy, but because she was boldly insane and continues to share her story and tries to help others to come out too. She wants to pay the community back.

Jamilla: Want to give a shout out to CFI DC. Went to The Amazing Meeting with Surly Amy’s scholarship. Everything to do with atheism has had a community behind it. Debbie Goddard gave a great talk with legos (me: I haven’t seen it, need to source it!). Was able to meet other parents and see how much better behaved kids were (really!).

Lots of people just like you that you can have fun with, but even if you don’t drink, going to a bar and eat hot wings with others is great. Expanded this to include tacos, woo!

Easy to gloss it over that there are more divisions between political than religious differences in DC. Wasn’t a replacement for church, but once she started living in Washingtno, it was all fellow heathens helping and supporting and being kind to her child.

Vyckie: “I am so jealous.” Come from town little north of nowhere. Very Christian town. Family published pro-life, pro-”family” Christian values newspaper. Family was able to keep itself going quite well because they were very active in community. Helped DOMA pass in Nebraska (sorry). Was awarded Nebraska Family of the Year in 2003 by Nebraska Family Council (e.g. Focus On the Family). When she left religion, everything kind of fell apart. Didn’t move away with her kids — still had six living with her at the time. Though it was a downgrade in life needs — went from doing to the impossible to doing the overwhelmingly difficult so it was a relief.

What happened for her was, she was reading Alternet (uncle helped her get out, introduced her to it). Was doing that a year after she left, discovered the lit on “quiverfull”, read article promoting the book Quiverfull. This isn’t a title families actually take for themselves, it was invented post-hoc.

Got in touch with Katherine, explained that she was effectively quiverfull, and told story to her. She said “I wish I had you to interview before I had the book published, I didn’t have anyone to talk to who got out!” Was encouraged to create blog No Longer Quivering to tell her story.

“Did you hear about the woman who was quiverfull? She went stork-raving mad.” Aaah, puns.

Didn’t know that she’d be an example for never leaving quiverfull because of “what happened to poor Vyckie”. Even though Quiverfull is an extreme practice, encourages basic beliefs in culturally entrenched ideas like patriarchy. It’s all that writ large. Helps people see where it’s influencing their lives, on a smaller scale.

Writing was like therapy for me. Other women started coming and reading out of curiosity of “what happened to poor Vyckie”, and realizing that it was no longer working out for them either. Grew into a support group for quiverfull women who have been leaving the community.

Moms are weirdly driven to choose to be quiverfull — but kids were pressganged into doing the laundry, the dishes, cooking, home-schooling, being housewives without having the choice to take on that role. Lives were pre-packaged and handed to them, sort of like mommy training.

Loaded with keywords that quiverfull moms and kids might search for, like “courtship” and “modesty”, so they’d end up at No Longer Quivering.

M&aryam: Part of opposition group, socialist political group in Iran. Did refugee work for 20 years, had to get out after a time. Refugees are used to having nothing, supporting and sharing resources with each other. Didn’t find support and resource sharing with atheist and humanist groups. Found mainstream movements to be very pragmatic, in push to become more relevant in interfaith world, move to be less critical of religion to some extent.

Found it difficult with issues of islam, that people feel uncomfortable criticizing it even in atheist movement, because of charges of islamophobia and racism. Finds people will say “but I don’t know islam as much as christianity”, but it’s religion. When she feels at home, it’s with militant atheist groups. Shout out.

Support to anti-islam workers in middle east is abysmal. Four atheists in prison for being atheists, on death lists for being freethinkers. Discussing these cases (will have to get links for the four). mentioned e.g. Alex Aan, still in prison for being an atheist. Why are we not making enough noise? Would like to do last five minutes of her later talk to do public protest.

Q&A: not a lot of time left. Skipping questions on quiverfull — suggestion to just read Vyckie’s blog.

Q: Hostage threat. How to soften the blow?

Theresa: Very skilled at meeting people and talking for hours. Was talking about education system in Florida last night, with religious person, who asked a similar question and she had to be honest and say “I don’t know.” We need to be honest about it and say it exists.

Need to be more open about struggle it presents. It does create problems with family. Opening conversations is important. Don’t forget need to support the children.

SSA supported her son — referred to it as “congregation”, “DON’T TWEET THAT”

As most things change they change incrementally, little by little.

Will be emailed by “I’m a pastor’s wife and I’m an atheist, do you have resources for me?” Existing resources are insufficient for them. If we want people to come out, we need to support them. “Come out wherever you are” is great, but what are they going to do afterward?

Was on O’Reilly factor, doesn’t want to ever do that again, BillO was *scary*.

Found a hairdresser that’s a freethinker! Ladies, you know that’s serious business! Funny… but sad. How do you support families thrown into atheism?

“What do you do when you’re not in church and you want to get a bunch of people together? Is it a committee?”

Q: “Jamilla: your son, great kid, or greatest kid?”

Jamilla: He’s pretty great. He’s awesome. Super interested in NASA, is four, wants to work on Mars colonization project. Applause!

Q: Do we need to help parents help kids resist indoctrination?

Maryam: Parents are monarchists so she’s a socialist… worried kid will be religious because she’s an atheist. Level of indoctrination in religion that doesn’t take place in atheism. Finds it difficult to deal with seven year old son who comes home partly indoctrinated in religion. Children don’t have a religion, but it’s become impossible to not talk to him about religion when he comes home asking to pray before dinner. Says “if you want to thank anyone, Mommy cooked it, thank me, and the farmers who grew it, etc.”

Son was told that God exists — she says “no he doesn’t.” Doesn’t want it to just be something he was told though. Sometimes he comes up with “religious people are stupid.” Also never says that to him, because there are great religious people, and terrible atheists. Thinks it’s too much of a discussion for a seven year old. Difficult to actually discuss with him, but he’s going to public school not religious, and is getting educated in religion in England. Religious worship is compulsory in UK except in Wales, though it’s a secular society. Are constantly putting religion into children preparing them for adulthood to obey, to not question system or authority or God.

Jamilla: I’m pretty hard line — “Son — we are atheists. Nobody’s proven that there’s a God. People can believe outside, but you can’t come into this house telling us something you can’t prove.” People will judge him for his mother, but she’s demanding a scientific upbringing. She innoculates her child from religion like she does for disease. Is okay with people who are less hardline — will not have a child who is religious, but once he’s eighteen he can make choices. Won’t say “you’re in my house, my rules — where have we heard that before?” But will say “You WILL THINK. You can’t prove it? Mommy wins.”

Maryam: Good way to look at it — not indoctrinating, opposed to that. Why does my child have to be atheist because I’m atheist? No, children have no belief systems, they’re grown into them. Inocculating them with science, rationality, that’s a given. All parents should do that, religious or not.

When your child comes to you and says something about God, you have to be careful not to just give him things to parrot, teacher will side with child who says god exists and it will isolate him. Need to teach children to argue and be rational. Can’t assume kid will be an atheist, because “he is not mine to decide.”

Q: On balance, are you glad you came out?

Jamilla: Poor mental health conditions of MSM who don’t identify as gay/bi — first thought was “I could have told you that”. Being closeted is horrible. Can’t live inauthentically.

Theresa: Agree 100%, cannot live a lie regardless of consequences. Have been told she has a mental disorder that has caused disbelief. Or midlife crisis. “Where’s my sports car!?”

Close with Robyn Cornwell “All of you are true heroes” quote.

Miriam has the next panel while I work out my wifi issues. Pushing this netbook too hard, I think!

Comments

  1. says

    Nitpicking a bit, but Theresa McBain came out as an atheist at the American Atheists National Convention last year, not this conference. I was there when she did.

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