Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Carolina Secular Conference Recap

Joey Kirkman and Shanon Nebo
In late September I had the pleasure of attending the Carolina Secular Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina for the first time. I had heard of the event through Facebook friends as several of them were speaking there including Bria Crutchfield of the Minority Atheists of Michigan who was the keynote speaker on the second day. Since I hadn't been to a convention in some time I decided to make arrangements to travel to Charlotte. I was prepared to have some good times and meet some great secular people.

Atheist Avengers podcasting
I arrived on a Friday afternoon, one of the first to check in to the hotel. The Hilton Executive Park was a beautiful hotel with a lot of space for the size of the convention. I had dinner and then joined the others in a room reserved for a speaker meet and greet event. I met some great people there and watched the Atheist Avengers podcast recorded right in the room. There was some dancing and a lot of loud music so eventually I moved on to an impromptu afterglow in the hotel courtyard. One of the things that really struck me was the friendliness and cooperation between the various Carolina groups that were represented at the convention. That's something I wish more organizations in different areas would work on.

Dancing and music
As the night ended I retired back to my room for some sleep. I awoke to a knocking on the door and upon answering was knocked across the room into a granite counter corner which cracked my head open. Apparently a drunk man invaded the hotel and was forcibly entering rooms looking for someone that did something to his girlfriend. I'm still working with police to fully understand what happened and file charges. After a trip to the emergency room and back I ended up staying up for the night. One of the things I am grateful for is that this incident didn't darken this great event.

I've never really needed anything from our community in the past. I've always stressed the importance of a good community in producing effective activism and reaching our secular goals. During the aftermath of the night's incident I experienced a lot of care and concern from many including some who weren't even at the event. It feels tremendous to have such a community and I am very grateful to be a part of it and this only makes me want to find more nonbelievers to include.

Bria Crutchfield's keynote
In the morning I headed back to catch Mandisa Thomas's talk on the past and future of the Black Nonbelievers organization. I managed to get in one more speaker before I had to go take a much desired nap. I woke up in time for lunch and Faisal Saeed Al Mutar's talk on Islam and middle eastern politics. After dinner I caught our very own Bria Crutchfield's keynote speech to the crowd gathered about diversity in our community. It was extremely well received and I hope it didn't fall on deaf ears. I'll be sharing the video when it comes out to my many Detroit friends who didn't get a chance to be there.

I spent the rest of the night as part of a large gathering of secular folks in the courtyard again. I ended up meeting a lot of interesting people. I finally got to meet Jennifer Lovejoy and her husband who organized the convention. They did a wonderful job and I look forwards to the next one in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. If you haven't been there I highly recommend you find a way as it's one of the most beautiful spots in the states.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Beliefs Have Consequences

Intimidation using religion
I had a great time at the Motor City Pride event last weekend. Many atheists showed up to help out and the minority group had zero negative interactions. I really think it went well, and we are collecting ideas to make it even better next year.

Despite the fact that it went well for us, there were some odd additions this year that I don't remember being there last year. One of them was a woman who stood in front of the entrance bearing a sign warning everyone that entered the festival that god was out to get them. Most people ignored her but a few took the time to complain about her obviously unwelcome presence.

I've heard many times that people have a 'right to their beliefs', used most often to silence criticism of religion. While people obviously have a legal right to their beliefs and free speech, no set of beliefs should be shielded from scrutiny. This kind of thinking is rather common and it springs from the false notion that beliefs alone cannot harm anyone.

Our beliefs inform our actions; we will act according to our desires and intentions given our beliefs about the world. Any action a person takes necessarily involves them believing something about the world. Furthermore other people are influenced by our beliefs because we express them and communicate them to the world. These people's actions may later be affected by being exposed to the beliefs of others, this is most easily seen in children but it holds true for all of us. Whether we like it or not, beliefs have consequences and are every bit as important ethically as actions.

What each of us can do is to be ready to subject beliefs of any kind to the same kinds of scrutiny and judgement that we do actions. This can be uncomfortable, especially when those beliefs are the basis of another person's religion. But if we want to create a better society we need to find the intellectual and moral courage to be active in shaping the beliefs of our society.

One of the consequences of the anti-LGBT religious sentiment we see so often is that it leads others to believe that there is a moral problem with LGBT people. This belief that is slowly fading in our society has led to a great amount of material harm for LGBT people and their communities that goes beyond legal fights for civil rights. An example was seen on Sunday at this pride festival where a young man was attacked by a large number of anti-LGBT people.
The beating of a gay man was caught on tape at Detroit’s Motor City Pride, a gay and lesbian friendly event, held over the weekend.The video shows 20-year-old Christin Howard, a gay man, fighting off attackers Sunday along Detroit’s Riverwalk as the gay pride festival happened in nearby Hart Plaza.Howard says five to eight men attacked him. At one point, all the young men joined in on the attack as Christin was on the ground, helpless. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Minority Atheists Group Tables Motor City Pride

The Minority Atheists of Michigan have received confirmation of their booth at Motor City Pride Festival. I had a wonderful time last year and I look forwards to having the same kind of experience at this year's event. You can find more information on their meetup event site if you're interested in attending.

I would recommend the event to any atheist simply because the chance to get out and meet the public. It's important that we serve as an educational force in society - that's a big part of the compounding effects of coming out. While at AACON in April I heard a talk about natural allies given by Marsha Botzer. I have been thinking about this lately and it's also a reason to need to engage in bridge building activities that demonstrate our community's commitment to the wider one we are a part of.

I hope to see you there.

Friday, May 2, 2014

American Atheists National Convention 2014 Recap

Weekend program.
The weekend before last I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 American Atheists National Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had meant to attend for many years but was prevented by various circumstances. I had high hopes for this event. I wanted to connect to friends new and old. I certainly wanted to listen to some of the speakers that I had heard so much about. I was interested in learning more about the organization in general and its current state. To those ends I made a reservation and scheduled a flight out to what turned out to be a very beautiful Salt Lake City.

Susi Bocks lent me a photo of Dan Fincke and herself.
Things didn't start out so well - I missed my flight and the first two days of the convention. I didn't arrive until Friday morning so I missed out on a lot of the experience. When I arrived I was presented with a program booklet and a T-shirt. The booklet stated that the theme of the weekend was "If you think you know atheism - think again." I thought it was an interesting slogan as I felt pretty well acquainted with atheism but I was open to seeing something I hadn't before.

Got into a photo with Greta Christina.
Susi with Dillahunty.
I missed Dave Silverman's talk on normalizing atheism but picked up a decent amount of it from Dan Fincke's Facebook and Twitter feeds which I found very useful. I got to meet Dan after having been a reader for quite some time and pick his brain on some ethical topics I've been mulling over for some time.  I watched Mr. Diety's comedic talk and an episode from the show. David Silverman, the television producer of The Simpsons, showed a religiously themed episode to the crowd. There was a scientist there who gave a talk on astrophysics and the search for alien life in the Universe. Afterwards I took a break to find the room they had reserved for the exhibits and vendors. I picked up a decent amount of secular paraphernalia there which I took home with me. I had dinner out with some friends in a group that included Matt Dillahunty, Greta Christina and a few others that were speaking or exhibiting at the convention. I stayed up slightly late at the convention bar area conversing with other attendees to end the night.

While I was busy hearing talks they protest against reason.
The next morning saw the beginning of a day full of talks presented at a very rapid pace. I started out watching the international atheism panel comprised of Maryam Namazie, Cristina Rad, and Faisal Saeed Al Mutar discuss secular concerns around the world. I thought to myself that Namazie was particularly eloquent during that panel. I stayed for Sikivu Hutchinson's and Barry Lynn's talks which were probably my favorite two. Later in the evening I listened to Marsha Botzer give a talk on atheism and LGBT interests being natural allies and Greta Christina tell us about the importance of coming out as atheists. The last thing I did was watch Jeremiah Camara's film Contradiction which I had been meaning to see for some time since I talked about it with him at the Blackout rally in New York. The night concluded with a pub crawl that I tagged along for and ending up meeting some great people in the community.

Zombie Jesus!
Pub crawl time.
Sunday I slept in and only stayed for a single talk to hear Vyckie Garrison discuss the Quiverfull movement and Christian Patriarchy. I had been interested in learning more about this after reading about it in Libby Anne's blog and seeing it here and there in the news. I'm interested in learning about how many Christian sects implement their religion into the family life and how that affects those families.  It was a great talk and capped off a wonderful series of talks that I had the good fortune to attend. There were Christians protesting outside all weekend with a barrage of signs and music. I didn't engage them but the Zombie Atheist from the Heathen Half Hour podcast entertained them by showing off his zombie Jesus tattoo. They weren't as amused as I was apparently. I had to get a picture of it while I was there and he graciously lent me his arm to photograph.

With Chris Kluwe leaving SLC.
Towards the end of the evening I had to catch my plane but I stopped to talk and get a photo with the NFL player and keynote speaker Chris Kluwe outside the airport. Leaving atheist events, especially larger ones, always seems to leave me with a desire to reminisce about them. While I sat waiting for my flight I was filled with an empty feeling that settles in after meeting so many interesting and wonderful people. Despite my extreme introversion I was able to meet a lot of memorable people. The convention made a lasting impression on me both for the organization that put on a very professional event and the diverse community that made me feel more welcome there that I can often feel in my private life. Next year's stop is in Memphis, TN and I hope to organize a trip there with friends from our local groups here in MI.

Monday, April 21, 2014

How NOT To Build Our Community

I recently returned home from the American Atheists National Convention 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. I'll be writing about my experiences soon. I had a great time with so many friends both new and old that I wanted the experience to keep going. To that end, I signed up for some upcoming meetups around metro Detroit. One of them, Detroit's newest group, the Black Nonbelievers of Detroit was a group I had been meaning to attend for quite some time. Upon sending RSVP for the next meetup, I was greeted by a new member posting as not attending with this:
Are you separating your selves by your skin color? That is almost like being RACIST. Blacks have the most racist er I mean black groups of all races. Does that make blacks the most racist people in America?
Needless to say, this was a letdown for me after experiencing such a rush of good feelings in Utah. To see this kind of staggering ignorance and selfishness on display is deeply troubling.

I'm very proud of the Black Nonbelievers here in Detroit as well as in the other states. Rather than "separating themselves by their skin color" they have created a community where people can celebrate their freedom from religion and theism, meet other like-minded individuals, feel welcomed into atheist groups, and contribute to our larger community. Indeed the future success of our community demands that we grow into inclusiveness and not regress into exclusivity. To say nothing of the moral obligation.

On the topic of "RACIST", racism is indeed related to the formation of these groups albeit not in the way described. Because of our racist society it is necessary to have spaces for marginalized groups, much in the same way that we have atheist places that are not meant for believers. It doesn't mean that others are not welcome, simply that they are not the focus. Even so, I have felt welcome at every event or group that focuses on the black atheist experience. In certain cases, more so than at certain predominately white groups or events.

I sat down and contemplated how selfish a person must be to have thousands, literally thousands, of secular groups available that focus on them and to object in such a manner to the one group they could find that doesn't specifically focus on them. And some say that atheists can't experience being awestruck.

I wondered if this person could just be trolling. But then I remembered that it happened in Hemant's comment thread just last year. I wanted very much to think this person wasn't a freethinking humanist interested in actual intellectual discussion. The name is redacted due to BNOD's rules. Sure enough, interests listed ranged from Humanism to Secularism and Freethinker.

This kind of behavior is so disappointing to see from my own community. This is why we need codes of conduct and anti-harrassment policies along with effective and strong leadership that follows through on such things. We need to encourage the growth of our community by enforcing positive values and cleaning up the bigotry that threatens our shared goals.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Internet And Atheism

I recently read a review of a study published in the MIT Technology Review that suggests that the internet is killing religion slowly. I've suggested in the past that the fossil fuels of religious fervor are fear and ignorance - and the internet is rapidly removing the latter from our society. I've seen atheists malign the internet in casual conversation as if it has no relevance to the community. This is ironic when these people took their first steps away from religion using the internet as their research tool. It reminds me of the hypocrisy of former Christian atheists that suggest that Christians can't learn or change their mind. This distrust of the internet within the community has always befuddled me given that there exists strong reasons to think that the recent decline of religious observance in the states is due to the internet. This report strengthens my previous conviction that the internet is a very powerful tool for atheist activism.
That’s a fascinating result. It implies that since 1990, the increase in Internet use has had as powerful an influence on religious affiliation as the drop in religious upbringing.
I agree with this part very much in that the internet usage of my generation has had a profound impact on our lack of religiosity. This doesn't necessarily imply that the internet produces atheists, only that it produces less religiosity. I think the latter can sometimes generate more of the former, but I'm satisfied with seeing religiosity decline nonetheless. I think also that this demonstrates that people are able to change their mind and evaluate evidence better than we give them credit for.
But there is something else going on here too. Downey has found three factors—the drop in religious upbringing, the increase in college-level education and the increase in Internet use—that together explain about 50 percent of the drop in religious affiliation.
But what of the other 50 percent? In the data, the only factor that correlates with this is date of birth—people born later are less likely to have a religious affiliation. But as Downey points out, year of birth cannot be a causal factor. “So about half of the observed change remains unexplained,” he says.
At the same time, it appears that almost half of the suggested causes of the decline of religion are unknown. My own personal opinion on this is that the entrance of the religious right into politics is embarrassing the religious youth right out of the their own religion. I've noticed that the most famous Christians are not seen as heroes by the younger Christians. This tells me that the religious themselves are causing some of their own problems with keeping people interested in religion.

This is one of the reasons that I blog, other than getting some of my own anti-religious frustration out of my system. It's why I use social networks like Facebook and Twitter as well. My own initial introduction to atheism using that word was through a poker forum on the internet (the legendary 2+2 forums). So I continue to think the internet is a big part of fighting religion.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Speaking In Ohio

Next week on Monday, March 10 I'll be speaking in Toledo, Ohio at the Sanger Branch Library to the Great Lakes Atheists. I wrote about this group when they held their convention last year, and I've been meaning to get back to see them all. Traveling around and meeting different atheists from various locations around the country and keeping in touch is becoming one of my more rewarding experiences within our community.

I don't know what I'm going to talk about when I get there, either a rehash of a talk I gave at Michigan Atheists about Fake Christian Medical Insurance or perhaps something about the Kalei Wilson affair with the SSA group in North Carolina. Either way it will be a great time and I'm happy to get back there so soon as it's a great group of people and I've missed them since the convention.

Great Lakes Atheists
March 10, 6:00 PM
Sanger Public Library
3030 West Central Ave, Toledo OH