Reason Rally 2016 Was A Family Reunion

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Left to right: Ari Stillman, the Prophet Jeremiah, me, Ms. Ashley, and Eli Bosnick

There’s some debate about whether or not Reason Rally 2016 was a success or not. Hemant Mehta recently wrote about several factors that may have had something to do with why there were only around 10,000 attendees compared to the estimated 30,000 that went to the first one, and while he brings up several good points, I still think it was a success. I didn’t get a chance to hear all the speakers, but the ones I did hear–David Silverman, Lawrence Krauss, Cara Santa Maria, and Bill Nye–were fantastic. But the main reason why I say it was a success was because, to me, it was a family reunion.

Ever since I started the Bi Any Means podcast and writing for The Humanist last year, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with countless bloggers, writers, podcasters, and activists online. Reason Rally was my chance to finally meet them all in person. And let me tell you–I’ve never felt more welcome ever in my life than I did this past weekend!

Friday night before the Rally, I had drinks with the folks from No Religion Required, The Gaytheist Manifesto, Bill and Suzy from Bar Room Atheist, Eli Bosnick of The Scathing Atheist, Korrine of the Ehtheist Podcast, Heretic Woman from Beyond the Trailer Park, Wyatt Matthers from Atheist Avengers, Andrew Garber from Atheist Roundtable, Phil Ferguson, Shelley Segal, and a few others. We hugged, we drank, we laughed, and we took selfies. On my way back to my hotel room, Chris Stedman walked up to me and said, “Hey, Trav!” I hardly got any sleep that night from trying to process the fact that all the people I hear on my iPod week after week are actually real people!

Then came the Reason Rally where I met even more awesome people:

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Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist podcast. Nicest guy in the world!

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Stephanie Guttormson.

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Mandisa Thomas

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Jessica Xiao of the American Humanist Association

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Matthew Facciani

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Callie Wright

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Sincere Kirabo

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Damien AtHope

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Adam Collins (who is a damn good kisser)

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Me, Derrick, and Ms. Bea Haven from Promoting Secular Feminism

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Jenica Crail

And that’s just a handful!

Near the end of the Rally (right when Nye was spreaking, actually), Jenica and I talked about how, while the speakers were great, the event was more than just hearing a bunch of people saying cool things on stage.  It was about meeting online friends in person for the first time, and making new friends. It was about not feeling like the token freak, like I told Stephanie. It was about being surrounded by people who feel just as strongly about separation of church and state as you do. It was about being in a safe space where no one judges you based on who you are. As Bobby C would say, it’s about family. Bobby often says the atheist community is family, and based on my experience, he’s right.

And that’s why I can’t leave the atheist movement. Despite all the assholes online, the community in general is extremely welcoming. Groucho Marx once said, “I’d never join a club that would allow me as a member,” but based on all the love and support I received this past weekend, I’m glad to be a part of this family.

Dogmatism is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

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In light of the recent terrorist attack in Brussels, I’m sharing a blog post I wrote a few months ago shortly after the Paris attack.

Remember that thing I wrote the other day, about how everyone thinks their interpretation of reality is the right one? At best, this mentality leads to petty arguments on the Internet, but at its worse it leads to yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris.

I really don’t want to debate whether Islam is “a religion of peace” or “a religion of dashing your enemies to pieces” because a) I’d rather have ex-Muslims like Heina Dadabhoy and Sadaf Ali tell their stories instead of talking over them, and b) neither statement tells the full story. Like the Christian Bible, there are several ways to interpret the Quran, ranging from liberal Islam to Islamism. However, just like with fundamentalist Christianity, fundamentalist Islam has its roots in scripture. So I don’t agree with Reza Aslan; religion did play a part in yesterday’s attacks, along with other factors.

Instead I want to talk about the one thing that ties Christian fundamentalism, Islamism, and other dangerous ideologies together: dogmatism.

Google defines dogmatism as “the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.” Most people use the word fundamentalism as a synonym for dogmatism, but there’s a slight difference. Fundamentalism, as Google defines it, “upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.” This is why, as James Croft explains, there’s no such thing as a “fundamentalist atheist” because atheism has no Bible.

Dogmatism, on the other hand, can happen with any ideology, whether it’s religious or secular. It’s what happens when one is so sure that one’s own interpretation of reality is the right one, and everybody else is wrong. Of course not all beliefs are automatically dogmatic. After all, as the diagram below illustrates, when use beliefs and truths to gain knowledge:

Epistemology

However, sometimes our beliefs do not align with the facts. I can believe all I want that I’m a millionaire, but one look at my bank account will show that’s not true. But what if I refuse to acknowledge the facts? What if I still believe that I am a millionaire, and I keep spending money like one? Eventually I won’t have any money left, and I’ll be shit out of luck. That, my friends, is how dogmatism works.

This is why epistemology and skepticism are so important: they remind us that we could be wrong. It’s scary to think we could be wrong because we wrap our entire identities around our beliefs. But as Ricky Gervais famously said, “Beliefs don’t change facts. Facts, if you’re rational should change your beliefs.” Plus, with the events of Paris and Beirut, the only alternative, dogmatism, is literally killing us. As Sam Harris wrote in The End of Faith, “If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith”

Talk about free speech but don’t mention Raif Badawi

See update at the end.

Chris Stedman wrote a public Facebook post a couple of days ago about a little misunderstanding between him and the people at The National, an English-language newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates. They invited him to write an opinion piece.

I decided to use this opportunity to look at what I think are the most constructive aspects of a UAE-sponsored UN resolution that calls for interfaith dialogue, free expression, and the open debate of ideas.

I would still rather see more secular dialogue (which of course religious people can perfectly well engage in) than interfaith dialogue (which excludes non-religious people). But if the UAE is a fan of free expression and the open debate of ideas that has to be a good thing. Maybe they can exert some pressure on their neighbors to let Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair out of prison.

Oh wait. [Read more…]

Into the secular tent

From a conversation Chris Stedman had with Phil Zuckerman about the rise in “nones” in the US and whether or not the pugnacity of people like Dawkins and Bill Maher is the chief cause:

CS: What are some of the most important things nontheists can do right now to support the growing number of nonreligious Americans? What should we prioritize?

PZ: In my opinion, the best thing atheists can do right now is to make the world a better place. That means fighting inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, religious fundamentalism, and global warming. When life is hard—when people face suffering—religion tends to be strong; it offers comfort in the face of life’s troubles. But when life is more manageable and secure, people can find meaning and purpose in the here and now.

[Read more…]

It’s like asking, “if we remove the cancer, what will we replace it with?”

Philip Kitcher is interviewed about his new book, Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism. It sounds interesting, and I’ll probably pick it up…but two things annoyed me about the interview: the misrepresentation of the position of some New Atheists, and the religious apologetics. It’s nothing personal about Kitcher, but they’re just two things I bump into all the time, and it’s exasperating.

[Read more…]

Was it a sincere question?

Chris Stedman has a post at RNS replying to Peter Boghossian’s “why gay pride?” tweet. He is, you won’t be surprised to hear, much better at being even-tempered about it than I was.

Many atheists, such as LGBTQ atheist author Greta Christina, responded—but Boghossian dug in and continued to defend his statement, tweeting additional statements like “Questioning that one can be proud to be gay is a leftist blasphemy.” [Read more…]

Openly Secular

Kimberly Winston reports on the Openly Secular campaign.

A new coalition of atheists, humanists and other nonreligious groups is taking a page from the gay rights movement and encouraging people to admit they are “openly secular.”

The coalition — unprecedented in its scope — is broadening a trend of reaching out to religious people and religious groups by making the secular label a catchall for people who are not religious.

I’m not sure how making the secular label a catchall for people who are not religious is reaching out to religious people, but maybe the idea is that “secular” comes across as less antagonistic than “atheist.” People can of course be both secular and religious under one meaning of the word – but that one meaning isn’t the only one, so we get clashes and arguments. [Read more…]