Category Archives: atheism

DJ Fact Correction

I generally don’t take the time to fact correct every random person who misrepresents what I say, because it’s a herculean task, but I’m surprised to find, after all the positive back and forth between us, that DJ went and said this:

All we knew about was that someone was removed from the speaker reception because he wasn’t permitted to be there, and was apparently drunk. In her blog post and in further comments, Ashley says she didn’t feel like the harassment was worth reporting to JREF staff or hotel staff at the time, nor did she nor anyone else mention it in one of the TAM attendee surveys.

No, absolutely not true, and an abhorrent misrepresentation of what happened.

From the man who reported the incident:

…he was rude and talking to several ladies with inappropriate language. I told you [DJ] about him and you took immediate action and talked to the gentleman and you took him from the room.

At that time, DJ only knew what I told him and he acted immediately and did the right thing. There is a chance that DJ does not remember this because he only knew that the guy was rude, drunk and needed to leave. DJ did not stop to think about it – he just took action.

I had been told it was already reported, because it was reported and dealt with by DJ, I didn’t know a second report was necessary. Had DJ himself not been the one who handled the issue initially, if I had thought that he’d totally forget, if I thought he would think that being alerted to a man bothering women translated to just a guy who wasn’t invited, or if I knew that he had not gotten complete information, I would have immediately made an additional report.

Because the issue was very much worth reporting to the JREF staff — which is why it was, it just turned out that the report was incomplete.

To say that I did not think it was worth reporting is a lie and an egregious one at that.

Furthermore, I did not think that DJ would ever be going around saying that no harassment was ever documented at TAM. I didn’t think DJ would be saying that the low attendance problems at TAM were from women talking about sexism they experience. I didn’t think that DJ would ever be saying that the only problem that TAM needs to correct is that victims just don’t officially report enough.

I am extremely lucky that there were other witnesses, I hate to think what other women who’ve been harassed are thinking right now. What would people be saying about me right now if I hadn’t had half a dozen other people there? I mean, considering what they’re already saying.

I hate posting about this stuff. I absolutely despise it, because it’s hard to deal with the comments and it’s hard to relive all the harassment — and not just that one incident, but the lifetime of cultural shame and guilt and horror and anger that comes with every incident. I think what some people are missing is how much that can hurt and how difficult it is to expose yourself like that. Should women report it?  Absolutely, but it’s really difficult to do so because it is painful and when people act the way DJ is acting right now, it makes it even harder.

TAM9 Harassment New Information

First off: Anyone who has had an incident at TAM, however small, should write it down and send it to DJ (djgrothe@randi.org) ASAP.

DJ’s explanation of the event:

Hi Ashley, I was wracking my brains trying to place the incident you are blogging about. So we looked up in our database of last year’s attendees anyone fitting the description and location of the man you mention in your blog post, and I believe we now know who it was: someone who was being asked to leave the private speakers reception (he wasn’t a speaker, nor invited to the reception, and appeared drunk).

DJ goes on to say he was confused because I thought I’d meant the guy had been kicked out of TAM not just from the reception.  DJ e-mailed me the guy’s Facebook profile and I confirmed that it was the correct guy and DJ asked for a full report, which I have sent him.  I assume that with an official written report, at this point DJ will have to stop saying that there’s never been a report.  I suppose it will now be that there’s only ever been one report.

Phil Ferguson, of Skeptic Money, is the person who brought the guy to DJ’s attention:

This was at the speaker reception. There was one person that was not supposed to be in the room (i do not know if he was even at TAM) he was rude and talking to several ladies with inappropriate language. I told you about him and you took immediate action and talked to the gentleman and you took him from the room.

The guy was a TAM attendee, he was wearing his badge and was in TAM’s database.

I want to reiterate that my complaint is not about how DJ handled this, he handled it swiftly and efficiently and everyone in the room was impressed.  He also made the effort to find out who it was and get a report after I wrote my blog post.  He is absolutely to be commended, he is doing a great job of handling these things when they arise.

The problem is that he’s going around saying that women are making unfounded complaints because there has never been a report of bad behavior at TAM and women like me, who complain about bad behavior on blogs, are why other women aren’t going to TAM and that’s my fault.

TAM felt it was important enough to kick the guy out of the reception, but did not think it was important enough to get detailed accounts or write down what happened, even though several people congratulated DJ for doing the right thing.

Since there are a number of incidents, detailed after this, where JREF staff helped someone who complained about behavior but DJ has no knowledge of any reports of behavior, I recommend that when they help someone who complains verbally they make a note of it and make sure they understand what happened, so that DJ has a more accurate record of what his staff has actually done and what incidents have been acted upon. I think many people, myself included, made the assumption that telling someone on the staff what was going and them acting on it means that you’ve reported the incident, but apparently if you did not write it down, it doesn’t count.

From PZ:

someone had blown through the nearly empty hallways while a session was ongoing to make lewd remarks to someone sitting at the tables; it was reported, I heard, and I joined in with another fellow to look for the “gentleman”…he’d escaped, so it didn’t happen? There was also an incident on twitter in which a prospective attendee threatened to grope Rebecca Watson on an elevator at TAM; I thought his registration was revoked

From Kitty Mervine:

I had an issue at the Del Mar [pre-DJ], was handled very well by two members of the JREF staff and South Point. I’m not kidding, my hair was set on fire. So well resolved except he showed up at South Point at the Del Mar. I talked to the South Point security and they assured me ONE WORD from me and he would be OUT. (and they had no clue WHO I was, but this guy is in their “data base” as a bad one). They were even “do you want us to remove him now? Do you feel uncomfortable?” The man was NOT attending TAM, he was simply at the Del Mar with his wife and talking quietly, so I said “no”. But later a security person from South Point (she informed me she was a veteran) came over to check with me again. I was “no I’m fine”. I would say South Point security has as their first goal the comfort of all their guests. A person can just be making you feel uncomfortable, and South Point will react quickly. I admire them so much.

And what follows are several other people’s memory of the speaker event that I talked about in my previous post.

I was a little surprised, since the day before (or within a couple of days before) I tagged him in a comment where I referenced how well he handled that situation, and why I took that as a good sign for how well the JREF was handling policing TAM. … Well, it wasn’t just you. Jenn had the exact same experience as you with the same guy at the same time. And I’m relatively sure it was made clear that it was as much of an issue as it was because the guy was going from woman to woman.

This guy was being very
persistent in his attentions to you, and then to Jamila Bey. Possibly to
other women as well, although I didn’t witness that. I didn’t see him
grope anybody, but I did see him follow you around persistently and  be
very invasive of your physical space. I remember that he was drunk off his
ass. I didn’t personally witness DJ escort him out of the room, but I
heard second-hand that that’s what happened.

I remember the guy. He was definitely violating our personal space and hopping from woman to woman

I clapped DJ on the back and the other guy who helped kick creeper dude out. I can’t wildly speculate as to how insignificant was this event or how widespread were events similar such that none can be recalled, but it was memorable to me. And this wasn’t three women looking for something to bitch about- this guy was egregious enough to be obviously a nuisance (at LEAST) to the entire roomful containing both genders.

As I recall, DJ was approached because a drunk man was repeatedly bothering women, and it was my impression at the time that DJ either personally asked him to leave the reception, or saw to it that someone else escorted him out. I agree that he was ejected just from the reception and not from the entire TAM conference. I don’t recall the exact words that were used, so it’s possible that what DJ took away from the conversation was merely that someone was drunk and disruptive, but I know that it was clear to all of us that he was harassing women specifically, and we all believed that that was the reason this action was taken. As Jarrett said, we all were impressed at the time that the incident was taken seriously and we thought it was handled well.

To reiterate the specifics, I remember that he reached a certain level of extreme that had Ashley and Jen (I believe it was only the two of them standing together at that moment) that finally another gentleman (whose name I don’t recall) decided to go get DJ and explain the situation to him, as, in a way that’s not remotely surprising given everything we normally hear in these situations, Ashley and Jen were not comfortable stirring up MORE trouble on their own.

That said, I wasn’t privy to the conversation that this gentleman had with DJ, so it is purely ASSUMPTION on my part that he described the situation accurately. It’s possible he merely stated that the guy was drunk and obnoxious. I do recall overhearing DJ ask more than one person if they knew whose guest he was, implying he was trying to track the person’s validation for being at the reception, and shortly thereafter I noticed the man in question had been successfully removed.

So among a reasonable number of people it was known that this person was drunk, obnoxious, talking three inches from the faces of any women he could get near, and saying suggestive things to them. What I can’t say for certain is how well this was communicated back to DJ in the process of informing him that this man was harassing the women at the reception.

Harassment at TAM9

EDIT: More information in a follow-up post

So, Greg Laden has a post on FtB about DJ Grothe making some kind of horrible comments about how women who complain about harassment are making women afraid to come to conferences.  And that, as far as he knows, he is unaware of any reports of harassment.  Which is weird because I was sexually harassed by a guy last year at the TAM9 speaker’s reception, as were some other women, and the guy was kicked out for it. And I was told that it was DJ himself who made him leave.

From my recap last year:

That evening I went to a presenter’s reception, and got to spend some time hanging out with a lot of awesome people who were going to be speaking, including Debbie Goddard who I had not previously spent much time with.  But there was a drunk british guy from Shrewsbury who would not leave me alone.  I hate wine breath.  And I was not nice to him, but he kept following me.  He was so annoying that every time I tried to escape and enter a new conversation, everyone who was in that conversation would leave and leave me stranded.

He also kept touching me, which I found very disconcerting.  Fortunately, I was eventually rescued, and he was asked to leave, but it was pretty gross.

I guess it didn’t mean much to him at the time, or he forgot, or didn’t realize that it wasn’t just that the guy was annoying, it was that he was inappropriately touching me and backing me into corners and asking me to have sex with him after I told him to stop, or that DJ wasn’t who kicked him out and it was someone else on the TAM staff.  In fact, I was impressed with TAM so much for ultimately intervening that I didn’t want to go into explicit detail of exactly how gross the guy had been to me, for fear of making TAM look bad.

In any event, someone was harassing me and someone from TAM made it stop.  I’m sure part of it was that I was really upset, but I was touched that they’d fixed the problem so quickly and proud of them for doing so.  And, probably because it was very upsetting at the time, I am currently upset that apparently no one at TAM remembers or took note of it — like somehow it didn’t count because it happened to me?  Because I and the other woman harassed were speakers?  Or I didn’t write something down?  Like I should have written up a report?

But if that didn’t count as a report of harassment, I’m not sure what to think of DJ’s claims that there’s never been one, other than he’s playing with semantics.  Here’s his comment from FB (bolding is mine):

It is true that harassment issues are much discussed in some quarters of the skeptics and atheist and other allied movements (all generally for the better, to the extent the emotionally charged issues are tempered with evidence) but to my knowledge there has never been a report filed of sexual harassment at TAM and there have been zero reports of harassment at the TAMs we’ve put on while I’ve been at JREF.

Of course that doesn’t mean such didn’t happen, but of 800+ responses to our attendee survey last year, only three people said they were made to feel unwelcome by someone at the event: one, a man who didn’t like all the magic; two, a woman who was ridiculed for her veganism; and three, a conservative who didn’t feel welcome because of what he saw as an undue emphasis by speakers and attendees on progressive and leftist ideals. (One woman at the event did, however, complain to staff that she felt she may be harassed by someone in the future, and felt uncomfortable about the man, and while we are concerned about such concerns, she didn’t complain of any actual activity that had happened that the hotel or security or law enforcement or others could take action on.)

I believe I understand the impulse to protect people from harm (this is a strong motivation for skeptics, after all) but telling newbies that they need to be on guard against so-called sexual predators at our events, or that the movement or movements are “unsafe for women,” may be a sure-fire way of making some women feel unwelcome who otherwise would feel and be safe and welcomed. As for policies, I think Ben is on the right track. We are all against harassment or bullying of any kind, sexual or otherwise. Any incident of harassment or assault should immediately be reported to security and law enforcement, and JREF staff and the hotel staff stand ready to assist should any regrettable incident ever occur, God forbid. But again, no such incident has ever occurred at TAM to my knowledge, and I believe that bears mentioning in current discussions about how prevalent are the unnamed “sexual predators” at various atheist and skeptical events.

Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been on reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

Women in Secularism: The Good, The Bad, The Awesome

Earlier this year I had to make a financial choice — I could either afford to go to DC for the Women in Secularism conference or I could afford to go to Vegas for The Amazing Meeting.  I say this not to denigrate TAM, but I could not have made a better decision.  The Women in Secularism conference is far and away the best atheist/skeptic conference that I’ve ever been to.  If you missed it, and you probably did, you need to not miss it again.

One of the things that I have trouble with in this movement is the lack of focus on issues that “matter”.  I came to the secular movement from the LGBT movement, fresh off of the Prop 8 loss, I discovered that out-and-proud atheists also had a movement, and I was eager to join a fight that I thought impacted everything, including LGBT and women’s issues.  So I went to the OCFA conference, to local skeptic and atheist meetups, I went to TAM, to Dragon*Con’s Skeptrack, to the SCA lobbying training, I wrote about it here, I wrote about it for secular.org, I gave speeches.  In short, I got involved.

Photo by Brian Engler

This month is my two year anniversary of being involved with this movement and, as someone who cares deeply about social justice, it has very often been a very difficult movement to be a part of.  For me the great appeal of secularism, the great tragedy of religion, and my own personal passion for this cause is all centered around the fact that religion is the source of many evils or used to justify those evils perpetrated against humanity.  As was said several times over the weekend, UFOs and Bigfoot aren’t that important to me, skepticism is much more interesting when applied to issues that impact people’s lives in serious ways.  Children, minorities, people of color, women, poor people, the disabled, the elderly, LGBT, and other marginalized groups would benefit so much from having the tragic consequences of religious bigotry removed from their lives.

So when people in charge of important organizations speak on a panel at TAM to say that social justice isn’t and shouldn’t be within the purview of skepticism, or people in my local atheist group leave because they think it is inappropriate that someone posted a link to a story about the Rally Against the War on Women because who cares about that feminist bullshit, or important people in the movement tell me not to bother submitting something to TAM if it has anything to do, even tangentially, with women’s issues, I start to doubt why I am even involved.

This conference was the antidote to that.  If you are someone in this movement who wants it to be about creating change in the world, this is the conference you should have been at.  If you are someone who thinks all that atheists and skeptics should do is talk about is why the bible is stupid and why UFOs aren’t real, then it really wasn’t for you.  I think that UFOs and critiquing the Bible and all of that are important discussions, but I think they are a reflection of an old, traditional, white male scientist way of thinking, and it’s not why I want to be involved.

I know why I am involved, and this conference was it.  In reality, it wasn’t the “Women in Secularism” conference, it was the “Secularism for Social Justice” conference.  I am proud to have been a part of it.

HIGHLIGHTS (all quotes paraphrased)

  • Typing 13000 words while liveblogging
  • I place as much value on anonymous comments made on blogs as I do on statements of eternal love made after a late night drinking at a bar. – Susan Jacoby
  • This conference is a good start, the first of its kind, but these panels BELONG in regular conferences. There are places for these issues at every conference we hold. Especially on science and education. Things have not changed enough, and women are the primary educators and caregivers. Secular organizations, if they want more women, are going to have to address this. The reason men aren’t here isn’t because the conference isn’t welcome, but because men in the movement don’t give a shit about this. – Susan Jacoby
  • Both religion and sexism are hard to give up. They’re ingrained and it’s tough to overcome, especially because it’s not conscious. Giving up religion feels freeing, but giving up sexist beliefs as a man isn’t necessarily freeing because it means examining, acknowledging, and confronting privilege. It feels like reentering a place where you’re made to feel guilty. But sexism impacts men too, and men don’t seem to realize it. Men get called girly as an insult and are driven away from being themselves if they’re not “man enough”. They don’t care about reproductive rights. As though they don’t have to deal with getting a girl preggo. – Jen McCreight
  • Sikivu and Ophelia disagreeing strongly, and talking about it rationally and pleasantly.
  • Recognition of the underground acknowledgement of the bad guys in the movement and how women are afraid to speak up about it because it will hurt them instead of the well-known man.
  • Panel arguments that were over details of implementation and how to fight, not over whether there was a problem in the first place
  • I have never found a trace of morality in my own religion – Wafa Sultan
  • The complete rejection of the Prime Directive and everyone agreeing that helping women in other cultures is a moral duty, not cultural imperialism.
  • It’s cultural imperialism to help these women? Tell the to the girl who had her clitoris cut off, tell that to the girls who had acid thrown on their faces for going to school, tell that to the women being stoned to death for the crime of being raped. Tell that to them and then FUCK YOU.  – Greta Christina
  • Having a military base in Saudi Arabia isn’t imperialism but opening a school is? If you can invade a country how can you not open schools? We need more secular schools, not more army bases! – Wafa Sultan
  • Wafa Motherfucking Sultan.  For many personal reasons, it was a very difficult and traumatic talk to sit through and I was nearly sobbing by the end of it, if I hadn’t been transcribing, I’m sure I would have been.  I hope that this talk goes up first, it needs to be seen.
  • A lot of people are talking about issues that apparently have nothing to do with secularism, should Catholic hospitals get public funding and refuse to give the morning after pill, should black boys be frisked without probable cause in NYC, we are skeptics, we’re good with numbers, we should care about it. These stories, we who are skeptical, we who believe that morality does not come down from on high, we who understand that it is our obligation as humans to first do no harm and make sure that others are not harmed, have to — HAVE TO — tell our stories. – Jamila Bey
  • We’re so foundational. If I can convince people to spend more time thinking about things, using critical thinking, it’ll fix a lot of these other problems I’m fighting for. Because our message is so basic and foundational, I think that it is a part of everything else. – Debbie Goddard

NITPICKS

  • Some of the talks were either too broad and not focused enough.  I say this with absolute love, because there was not woman who spoke that I didn’t want to hear more from, but many of the talks were so detail rich on such a broad topic that they were very difficult to follow.  Annie Laurie Gaylor was particularly guilty of this, I’m afraid I didn’t retain very much of what she talked about because it was basically just a list of names.  Her argument, which was that women have historically been freethinkers, could have been made in a way that wasn’t as hard to follow.  I just didn’t know any of the names or have any point of reference.  Susan Jacoby did a lot of the using names without explaining who they are thing as well.
  • Using cards to take questions was great, but I didn’t have access to any and would have had to interrupt the session or leave to get cards to be able to ask questions.  I think there needs to be a stack under each chair.  Especially since my neighbors all grabbed all of the cards immediately when they sat down so I had none!
  • The talks were too long, I’d rather have heard shorter talks from more people and some of them felt a little stretched out, I’m thinking of Bernice Sandler’s in particular, but just generally I think hour long talks are excessive when you’ve got so many other people who didn’t get to speak.  The panels were the perfect length.
  • Attendance.  I would have liked to see a lot more men and people of color in the audience.  I said it was the Social Justice in Secularism conference, and I think that’s how it should be advertised, because it wasn’t just about women and it wasn’t just for women and women’s issues are human rights issues.  So much of what we covered this year was new territory for these conferences, I hope that the conference continues and continues to expand into covering topics like prison reform and drug policy — things that impact women even though they aren’t traditionally thought of as “women’s issues” and were brought up several times over the weekend.
  • I admit that, because I work in media and I study media, I am unusually focused on this, but I wish that there had been more time spent on addressing the representation of women in the media.  And if you need someone to rant about that next year, I’m sure I’m only one of a whole lot of women in the movement who could go on and on for hours.

Readin’ a list; Photo by Brian Engler

And my final complaint, which is not a nitpick and not the fault of the conference, is the tragic performance of Edwina Rogers, who literally read a list from an old power point presentation over the course of 15 minutes and then left the conference entirely without taking any questions.  She had been there before the speech, available to be approached, so she wasn’t hiding entirely and I wouldn’t accuse her of that, she was just avoiding having to publicly answer questions.  And she clearly was not hired to be a charismatic public speaker and I never missed the overly enthusiastic rabble rousing of Sean Faircloth more.  This wasn’t just my response, I heard this from several people who didn’t know anything about her background.

I also had the opportunity to meet her and I was disappointed in that as well.  She just threw talking points at me about opening state chapters, and she and Woody, her handler from the SCA, both acted like they didn’t know who I was.  This despite the fact that I was recruited by the SCA to be one of the the first bloggers for their organization’s website, I spent hours and hours last year with Woody, led a panel discussion for the SCA last year, and have sent them much feedback and, admittedly unsolicited, advice about Edwina.  If they don’t know who I am, it’s insulting, and if they do know and they acted like they don’t, that’s even more insulting.

That said, Melody Hensley did an amazing job with this and deserves all of the credit in the world.  Conferences, especially first ones, are incredibly difficult to pull off.  This was so much better than I had hoped for, I have come away impressed by everyone involved.  Well, almost.

I will be adding a list of resources mentioned while I was taking notes over the weekend, for people who want to read more or watch videos that were recommended.

Liveblogging the Women in Secularism Conference VI

10:34 Any way to push women’s rights in politics?

Jamila: Until there are more women in office they will have to compromise everything to get anything. Run. Pay to play. Organize on the internet. Women do not right op eds, letters to the editors. Op Ed Project, google them, get in your local paper, pitch your stories, tell them it’s going on, tell them they need to know. It’s great to rant on reddit, you’ve got to get in front of people who can do something, those are journalism. Run for office if you don’t like it.

Many are apathetic even if they agree with us, how do we get them to care?

Jen: Visit the midwest or south. I use scare tactics. Lifelong secular person, I didn’t care at all until I moved to a conservative community in college and it scared the crap about me and they were trying to convert me. Many don’t realize because it’s not immediately impacting them. I moved to Seattle now it’s like atheist paradise. I try to bring up what’s actually happening in other parts of the country. If you’re not active you’re going to get screwed over eventually too.

What are the strategic advantages for our movement?

Greta: We rule the internet. We can mobilize the internet at a moment’s notice. Do you remember that we made the american cancer society’s life miserable for weeks? Anyone paying attention in the non-profit world knows don’t piss of the atheists. The Foundation Beyond Belief wanted to participate as a team member, initially they said yes, and then said no and lied about it and changed the story and lied. It got out, the atheists made their lives a misery for weeks. A lot of theists were also upset. They wanted to give you half a million dollars, my aunt died of cancer, what the fuck were you doing you don’t want their money. We run the internet and we should run with that. FBB found another cancer organization that was like we want your money and people and mobilizing and creating visibility.

Debbie: It’s called Light the Night, so keep an eye out. Doing it in Sep and Oct.

The role of pop culture?

Jamila: Tell our stories. Put an atheist in your movement, make them sympathetic. Come out. When people see you it’s really hard to hate you and oppress you.

Jen: That works. My favorite movie when I was 8 was Contact. The main character is a female strong willed scientist who is also an atheist. The more I watched it the more I thought she thinks like me and that’s OK. I read a study a week ago that looked at the top 100 films last year, 11 female leads, they were almost all stereotypes. It works when you have role models.

Greta: I would love an atheist equivalent of a media watchdog that points to bad depictions and patterns. And there are these patterns of depictions of atheists in the media. Put out a press release.

Today is the 15 year anniversary of Contact!

What is the future of secular interaction with the parties and politics?

Jamila: That’s a book. That I wish I could write right now.

Greta: I think it’s a long game. Traditional pols see us as toxic. And that was true of the gay movement in the 1970s. And they became powerhouse that the democrats couldnt ignore. But the republicans are screwing themselves because young people aren’t hostile. Doesn’t mean we should give up, to play the long game, we need to start now, but we shouldn’t expect huge payoff right away but in 5 years we can become.

Debbie: A lot of what we do is defined by what our enemies do. Right now it seems to be the religious right and they’re closely allied with the republican party. It forces most of us to side with democrats. If the religious right continues, I think default wise, we will be allied with democrats. However I think we will see a shift in that, the religious right will become less popular because young people aren’t interested. We’ll be into liberal progressives on social issues.

Is the secular movement trying to become all encompassing?

Debbie: We’re so foundational. If I can convince people to spend more time thinking about things, using critical thinking, it’ll fix a lot of these other problems I’m fighting for. Because our message is so basic and foundational, I think that it is a part of everything else.

APPLAUSE

Debbie: We see same sex issues, we have positions, you should look at science and data. You’re coming to the wrong conclusion because of bias. Let’s look at facts and history.

Greta: Anti-Discrimination Support System watch. That thing I talked about exists. Margaret Downey (sp)

JMH: Atheists have been traditionally progressive in a lot of fields. Elizabeth Cady Stanton knew she was risking her position in the women’s movement, but she thought religion caused the problems and so she spoke out. Black atheists working on socialism and civil rights. Hubert Harrison (?)

10:19 JMH: we don’t know our history, writing Doubt made me more hopeful for the future of our movement, there’s always been people questioning. The one suggestion I have is the Cold War seemed to shut down questioning, but we’re not there anymore and now our most murderous enemies are often on the fundamentalist side. Specifically, this history gives us reassurance about who we are, not just the facts but they addressed different things, what can do about forgetting our history? Annie Laurie Gaylor’s talk was amazing and showed us how much we forgot and these women addressed questions that we don’t always address now? Anyone want to take it.

Debbie: We spoke together about what we might discuss on this panel and also wanting to make sure we had interesting new things. Is there enough to talk about? There’s too much. I am going to try to have a contrary opinion even though I’m going first. Most people who get involved don’t need the history because it’s not why they’re getting involved. Why do people get involved in church? We make fun of people who are religious because they haven’t read the bible and don’t know their history. Because the purpose is to provide community. And then we kind of do that to, we might not know our history of freethought, that’s not why they’re coming to groups or arguing on the internet. Those in leadership should absolutely know, and about other social movements too, we should absolutely know the history. Things feel very new, maybe this is because the internet makes my attention span think everything is new. Pre-Youtube I don’t even know what was going on in the world. The whole world would benefit from learning knowing more history. Yes we would benefit, no it’s not why we’re coming to groups, maybe add more to venues and educate.

Jamila: Quickest answer: Yes, we should know more about our history. I’m a big fan of gifting biographies. We need to let it be know that there were always people who doubted. We need to make sure that those who are in league with the way we think that they’re aware of it. I’m going to go back to February, I love talking about, did you know they were atheists. That kind of thing. Letting people know. We can always share our wishlist on certain big internet retailers that oppress local bookstores. I wish we did more reading as a society, especially since I make my living as a journalist. But I’m a journalist on radio, so maybe there will be a Youtube meme.

Debbie: I just jotted down, if you’ve been in the bookstore, you’ve seen the banner we made for african american for humanism, we had banners with african american famous figures who were freethinkers. It is so important to people to know that there are people who look like them who think this way. To know that atheism is something that’s been present in black history, again, so important to people. In the black community people would say that atheism and freethinking is a eurocentric perspective and it’s an outside group telling them how to be, when we show the history and we’ve been part of it. Like in feminism, did you know all these people were freethinkers too? This is our history, it represents me and my history too.

Greta: What they said. Diversity work, this is nuts and bolts work, if you want to do events with black sororities or feminists, do a history of women and african american freethinkers. How diverse we’ve always been. I think there’s a divide between the old guard and the young who want to do everything differently. I think our history is important, especially learning other social change movements, but I also think that there’s a tendency that because we’ve always done something this way we must always do it that way. Like the skeptic movt has always been about ufos and bigfoot and can’t now be about the drug war and prison reform because that’s how it’s always been done. We’re changing quickly, we need to be nimble. I wouldn’t want a focus on history to become we have to always do things the way people in the movement are already comfortable with. One of the lessons from history is we can’t always keep doing things the way we always to do.

Jen: You made the one point I was clinging onto so I’ll say yes.

10:07 Greta: People who came out earlier tend to be people who are very independently minded and don’t care as much about social things. When it’s hard to come out the people who come out are people who don’t care so much about other people and don’t care as much about being social. But that’s changing because it’s becoming easier and we’ll be a community of people who are more social. We’re going to have more diversity of interests. The local groups that are strongest are the ones with most diverse range of activities. A lot of times what religious groups offer is a lot of different things, support, child care, guidance, food bank, charity, social justice, picnics. A huge variety of things. If you just activism or just skeptics in the pub or just service, there’s people you’re not reaching who might be interested. That makes a big difference.

Jen: It is hard going last! Sorry Debbie. I don’t have kids, I’ve never been religious, and I like to rage on the activities. I don’t want to sing or be social, I do like eating food and so there’s just basic things that your group can do to get a social network. It’s important to have some traditions in the group. Not rituals. Like my group at Purdue came up with this, they went out to dinner every Sunday night. Once they started doing this, the group became tight knit, they are closer, they feel like part of a group. Regular scheduled meals. Food is universal, they have to eat.

10:03 JMH: What do people, women and men and parents, get from religion? Music, singing, the quietness of periods of it, quietness with other people, and silly things like at the megachurch I once visited, they had parking for people who were coming the first time, welcoming. What do you think? How could we do some of that?

Debbie: Historically we’ve brought in people who are in science and philosophy, and not so much young parents. People who had time and had disposable incomes. There were a lot of people who didn’t like religion and we had humanists who liked to sing and the atheists wanted to talk about the bible and skeptics were hands off religion and let’s talk about the brain and ufos. They all seem to like to drink a lot. Sometimes we’re quiet together cuz we’re drinking so much. And what do people get from that, and religion cover a lot of important things. Social bonding and networks. African americans say when you move to a new city and you want to meet and get connected with new people and the black community, you immediately go to a church. Maybe those venues don’t exist for people to meet new people. The social aspects, we’re seeing that our movement is able to provide more of that, there are groups everywhere now because we are exploding. we’ll see more of that. It becomes a problem when we think we know what everyone wants. I think the debates between confrontationalists and accomodationists argue claim they know what everyone wants, some people like singing and holding hands but not everyone. The internet arguments people realize we’re diverse and have different needs. We have people on the autism spectrum, me too probably, which is cool, I’m good at math, but are less interested in community and hold handing.

Jamila: Black church and children. FINALLY. Here is my experience. I saw a speech at a center not too far from me, Debbie, talking about diversity. In February, the month when all black people events happen. Joke. Based in reality. I show up and there’s a center that’s headed by a woman and she goes I’m a hugger and me too and we hug, and I listen and look around. And there are people who look like me, and many people in this crowd, and I was told I should come to this parent thing. And I show up with my kid, no one’s saying don’t vaccinate and no one saying well, mine is an indigo child. But, I was literally embraced, my kid got playmates, we were sort of likeminded. There will be people who are like Jamila is loud and obnoxious and we will never hang out, and that’s fine, but others have gone to the zoo together, and just hung out when we were bored. I really think that when we allow people to organically seek each other out and say this is what I need and group up under the understanding that our birthday you will be proselytized or we will permit slut shaming. We see the world through a particular lens, so when we go to the movies about a God with a hammer and we go yeah that’s awesome. We don’t have to pray, we do not believe that Jesus is lord, we don’t have to assure people we don’t believe Thor is god. When I go to the hairdresser with my skeptical girlfriends our convos are much different from choir choir how’s your mama choir. It allows me to me and not on guard. And the community is stronger. Is Reba here? She rocks! When I visited I got to see her family group, I was blown away. Dads were leading activities. Whole families showed up, kids showed up alone. This community is there and available and they’re talking about science. Be who you are, be out, let people find you, because I genuinely have experienced that I know I will go to a thing where God ain’t gonna come up and I can find someone to get my hair done with and kids to babysit mine. We need to do more where the whole family is invited and kids can meet.

9:50 Debbie: A lot of times with activism you need to first define goals and then decide tactics. Like the election in Nov, you realize some goal is important, some group that is a competitor might be a group you need to work with right now to vote a certain way, that’s why coalitions exist. As we broaden and get new people, we realize that we have shared goals with some groups, but they don’t want is in there feminist group or LGBT group and that is tricky. And sometimes we overlap in goals, and these groups might be filled with woo. We have more people who are interested in working within groups to bring skepticism and atheists can be good feminists. It’s a kind of coalition building, but more overarching. I do outreach to coalitions of black sciences. Most black groups they love them some jesus, and they love science too, but let’s start with a prayer. So we ask why don’t you want us and don’t you want to help us advance science. We come in conflict with that religion, we still have goals of advancing critical thinking we need to communicate in those groups.

Greta: I think it’s assumed that if you’re confrontational and vocally opposed to religion, it’s going to be difficult, and I don’t think this is not necessarily true. They had a group that did everybody draw mohammed and it was controversial and will it be impossible after to do coalitions, they did and the muslim student group was unhappy and had a lot of conversations, and that was the beginning, and now they are doing alliance work together. It opened up a conversations and they explained why they were doing it, and discovered they had some things in common. We should not assume that if we criticize religion it shuts the door to alliances.

9:44 JMH: I want to ask about coalitions, with the religious, is it a good idea or should we keep it “pure”?

Jennifer: I thought it was very interesting when Greta said that when movements become mainstream they ally with religion and as we become mainstream we become more involved in interfaith. I don’t think working with religious groups is bad, even though I hate the term and a lot about interfaith. When I was in college, we were involved with the Episcopalians a lot because the only thing we disagreed with was the God question. Those sort of relationships work, you have a common set of values and you’re willing to set God aside to work on LGBT rights or separation issues. I do not like when atheist groups are asked to set aside their values and shouldn’t be offensive and should be more polite. The offensive thing is that we don’t believe, we can’t compromise those values. I don’t have faith, based on evidence and reason and faith is bad, I don’t want to be inter. It’s fine working with religious groups, they can’t tell us to shut up about things that make us uncomfortable.

Greta: What she said. The nature of alliance work is that you don’t agree on everything, you temporarily you set aside the things you disagree about — if you didn’t disagree, you would be in the same group. The question is are there people who we disagree with on so much that we shouldn’t work with them at all.

Jamila: It’s hard on the panel cuz I gotta follow that. Rule 1 of debate is that you define your terms. That’s also the rule I like to follow in all relationships. What do we want? Want to give a public shout out to the childcare upstairs that helps us mommies show up and bring our kids. Mine is going to have such wonderful memories of his first Surlyramics and the secularist women conference. He’s at a school in DC, 13% score at grade level in science. These are first graders. These are fifth graders. If those people who love science and maybe some who love Jesus and Allah and FSM wish to come together and go to that school and the parents who don’t have the luxury of showing up and helping, if they want to come together and do some experiments and talk about photosynthesis and talk about the world we all agree we live in actually does, I am willing to do that. I am willing to do that while wearing my FSM pendant, my evolve earrings. I will probably not wear the “show me on the doll where jesus touched you” shirt. When there is a goal, a task, an outcome we can see, I am willing to say OK, well, showing up, got your flair, pins on, go! But, there are times when the price is too high, there are times when you being there is going to be a problem. There are times where you’re going to be told if you don’t sign our declaration of faith, you can’t. You have to cover. I believe that every individual who wishes to do something, should, and bring all of themselves. If you feel I too suffer from OCD and I gotta come and do my thing or else the earthcore will cool with these people and then we’ll tap together and whatever we do. I am against a policy one way or another. Define your terms figure out the cost/benefit and go yes or no. Where a button, sing some John Lennon.

Audience : Not Cee Lo’s version

9:34 Jamila: I am a journalist, I’m going to talk about that perspective. I began writing for a black newspaper, minority media covers small things that happen in their communities and then it gets picked up by larger media and that’s how we got the civil rights movements. I was inspired by that history. I’ve always been inspired by getting stories that other people don’t have — that’s called a scoop. There’s a separation between activism and journalism, but when I find something that’s wrong, when people start to see, then people start to act. Now, am I an activist, that’s a whole other talk I give. Now the future should be informed by the past and other movements and now that we have the internet information fast. This is a return to an ideal of the founders, separation of church and state. You don’t want to use birth control, be quiverfull and get a show on the Discovery Channel. 2012 we have a bunch of elections that matter. A lot of people are talking about issues that apparently have nothing to do with secularism, should Catholic hospitals get public funding and refuse to give the morning after pill, should black boys be frisked without probable cause in NYC, we are skeptics, we’re good with numbers, we should care about it. These stories, we who are skeptical, we who believe that morality does not come down from on high, we who understand that it is our obligation as humans to first do no harm and make sure that others are not harmed, have to — HAVE TO — tell our stories. Preferable to a journalist who will listen and get it right. The future of this movement is the future of the world, it is younger, it is browner, it is a beautiful sight to behold, it is more similar than it is dissimilar and all it needs is a little care and feeding and kumbayah.

Debbie: I’m one of the people who’ve gotten involved because I did student groups and went to a CFI student leadership conference… 12 years ago. As I became an activist, I met people who had attended leadership conferences like Hemant, DJ Grothe, August, Stephanie LeRoy. Investing in the student movement is crucial. We didn’t have as many women 10 years ago who came out of the student movements who became the loudest and brash voices. Seculebrities are changing, we’re seeing shifts in what the movement is interested. The scope of the movement is changing and it’s a movement that’s hard to categorize. CFI has a broader mission, atheism, skepticism, philosophy. We call it the movement, but they are different sides. The humanist side we see a lot more young women involved, I’d like to see more of that in skepticism. Our interests are broadening. Historically it dealt with UFOs and Chubacabras, but there are a lot of people getting involved who care about vaccinations and mothers and children and things that people involved 20 years ago didn’t care about because it reflected who was involved, white scientist men. We see more women, people of color, and one of the core shifts we see is in class. A lot of these things are class issues, as the scope broadens, we’ll see more people involved. Instead of chupacabras we might focus on prison reform. Problems in education system, keep creationism out, but do we know what education is like in the south and in detroit? Most of the people in the movement don”t think about that. More people involved in social justice and service. It’ll be a hard shift because there are a lot of people who don’t think about that, there’s a focus on atheism that thinks we should focus only on why we don’t believe or what’s wrong with the bible. And we wonder why people with 3 kids and 2 jobs don’t come to these things?

9:21 This is on the future of secularism. The panel looks tired. Except Jamila, she looks totally awake. I’m guessing wrangling kids does that to you.

Jen: As a student I feel obligated to point out that I think students are the future of secularism. The one thing I have to point out is that I also think the students are the present. The SSA has been exploding recently, we have 350 groups, only a few years ago it was 100. When I founded the SSA at Purdue, that’s what got me involved in the movement was being involved on the campus. CCC is dropping in the opposite direction and they have millions of more dollars in their budget that we do, like 100 times, we have a staff member per 70 campuses, they have three per campus. Students are putting on conferences.

Greta: What she said. Want to shift gears, want to talk about the internet. The fact that we have the internet gives me tremendous hope for the future. I talk a lot about our similarity to the LGBT movement, one of the things I think about is damn if the LGBT had the internet in 1969. I want to talk about the big blowups that happen online. The fact that we’re having these fights gives me tremendous hope and optimism. I’m glad we’re having these fights now, looking at the history of other movements, in the early stages they did not deal with their stuff about race and sex, it took them a long time to get around to it. Even though it’s ugly, I’m given hope that whenever it blows up now, the conversation is different from what it was a year ago, 2-5 years ago. It was a lot more divided, split on gender lines, and that’s changing. There’s a lot more men calling them feminists and making feminist arguments. There’s more of a general assumption that sexism exists and matters. Gee is it really sexism if a 15 year old girl puts a picture of herself with a book on reddit and she gets rape jokes and comments about her appearance? More men are saying YES. Bloggers get emails all the time about you changed my mind about atheism, but I also get emails, you changed my mind about feminism. Everytime we have one of these frustrating I can’t believe atheists think this stupid shit, the fact that we’re having these arguments now, it’s going to be so much better in 5, 10, 20 years.

9:07 I will probably not be here all morning, but I will liveblog however long I’m here

From left to right: Jennifer Michael Hecht, Jennifer McCreight, Greta Christina, Jamila Bey, Debbie Goddard. This is the panel of all of my favorite people.

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Liveblogging the Women in Secularism Conference I

10:00 Minority outnumber white babies panic. Rebecca would like to defend skeptics from the charge of being more male and more conservative, but she cannot. Rebecca talks about feminism and skepticism, NH would have forced doctors to give pseudoscience to women before abortions, angry emails were sent in that misinformation given to women seeking abortion are not a science issue. Contraception is not science. This happens every time she mentions an issue involving women.

Atheists are a little better than skeptics. They seem to leave issues that involve women to the feminists even when they are appropriate, like killing witches in Africa, or female genital mutilation. Of course, every time FGM is brought up, the first thing brought up is BUT MY PENIS WAS CIRCUMCISED. Rape threats in response to her talking about it.

Secularists get that religion is dangerous for women and generally want to protect women, but it’s somewhere below crossing out In God We Trust from their dollar bill. But they more or less get it.

In Australia there were Muslim protesters and the atheists started chanting “Where are the Women?” in protest. Apparently unaware that none of the protesting atheists were women.

9:51 Talking about the horrific billboards that said that “The most dangerous place for a black/latino child was in the womb”. This propaganda informs legislation.

Portrays women of color as dangerous breeders. Hispanic women drop anchor babies and are a threat. The horrific edit of the Violence Against Women Act which disenfranchise undocumented and lgbt women. We need to have an awareness of women of color. There are almost none in the room. I say almost none, but that’s generous in that I’m pretty sure the only women of color here are speakers. :/

Women of color are disproportionately sent to prison and disenfranchised and denied the ability to make minimum wage because of felony laws.

9:48 I love Sikivu’s voice. Not really not important, but true. She’ s from South LA, police terrorism was and is a fact of life. Darryl Gates (sp) was the white supremacist in charge of the LAPD. Eula Love was killed by two officers after allegedly wielding a knife, the first protest she remembers to go to. It was hard for her to believe at the time that a mother was murdered in her own home, home was supposed to be safe space and private sanctuary. For black women, home has not traditionally been safe space because they are less than human, less than female, sexualized, racially other bodies for public control.

We can not frame the so called war on women strictly in terms of a christian backlash if we are not looking at the degree to which women have been institutionally denied reproductive freedom through mass incarceration. Black and hispanics are presented as dangerous breeding. Calling out South Carolina for locking up poor women that the rights of the fetus supersede the rights of the mother who uses dangerous substances. Fetal homicide, where women are not only worth less than fetuses, but should be put in jail for not taking appropriate care of themselves.

9:40 Panel on intersection of atheism and feminism. Annie Laurie Gaylor introducing, from left to right, Sikivu Hutchinson, Rebecca Watson, Ophelia Benson, Jennifer McCreight. I do not know Annie or Ophelia, so it’s exciting to see them. And always exciting to see those I do know.

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9:37 I just met Edwina Rogers. Yep. I will talk about that later.

9:26 Why is atheist community building considered girly?

It’s intellectual, and we all know that’s gay and nerdy, but she doesn’t think that the perception of men is the reason that there’s difficulty building communities. The more they are a minority, the more vibrant. It’s not the same draw in secular places like NY or DC because it’s not hard to find people who think like you. Churches sponsor lots of things, but secular orgs are not as deeply involved in volunteer works, not involved in dating mechanisms. Meeting a secular guy it’s not so easy. What’s primarily needed is for local secular groups to be more involved in local education. Defeat of intelligent design curriculum like in Dover Pennsylvania, women were deeply involved, because they care about things that impact their families and offer outreach on activities they’d be involved with anyway.

9:21 Fundamentalist problem: I think I have the absolute truth, how is that not a gift rather than an imposition on a non-believer?

Do you think women who are secular are seen as immoral because are perceived as being a hedonist?

The idea that religion is the only thing that keeps women from uncontrolled sexuality is very old and very strong. Feminists were not cute enough and couldn’t get men, but also they wanted to throw everything out and have all of the sex that they wanted. These issues are easier for men.

Why aren’t there men, why isn’t there a panel for how men can help, why didn’t we try to get more men here?

She doesn’t think the gender balance would be any different with a new panel, even if that’s a good subject, but that’s not why there aren’t men here. They aren’t here because they see these issues as not important and not a primary issue. This conference is a good start, the first of its kind, but these panels BELONG in regular conferences. There are places for these issues at every conference we hold. Especially on science and education. Things have not changed enough, and women are the primary educators and caregivers. Secular organizations, if they want more women, are going to have to address this. The reason men aren’t here isn’t because the conference isn’t welcome, but because men in the movement don’t give a shit about this. Paul Kurtz was a philosopher and hired philosophers, which was a field that has always been hostile to women.

Her full speech will be cleaned up and made available eventually. This is being recorded and will be available.

9:12 Q&A

What are the symptoms of anti-religious dementia?

A craving for chocolate when you would otherwise be at church. Disagreeing with everything the vatican says. Wearing clothes that show the shape of your body.

Why are so many secularists dogmatic to the point of rudeness?

There are dogmatic atheists and secularist, who treat the religious as stupid. And that isn’t true and a bad tact, not because i am kind and gentle, but because no one responds to being told they are stupid.

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9:08 Separation of church and state should be non-partisan, but unfortunately the Republican and Libertarian parties are dominated by the religious. This means that economic conservatives.

There are not many men here. I would say that the ratio is maybe ten to one. Women’s Rights is not a position taken for granted in the movement, for some unfathomable reason.

Topic switch to Muslim women rights. She argued with Dinesh D’Souza (sp) last week. He says the left is responsible for 9/11 and is trying to undermine the family and promote secular values. You know, like not cutting off genitalia or murder women in retaliation for her dishonor. Yep.

Am I allowed to call him a douchebag? Cuz that’s what he is. Just saying.

This crowd doesn’t know about the event last week of the catholic baseball team refusing to play against a team with a girl on it because it would not teach boys proper “respect” for women. I will try to find a link to it during the break.

9:03 Talking about Ingersoll and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and how she was written out of the suffragette movement because she was not religious. Ingersoll felt that the vote was necessary but insufficient for equality.

Men thought that religion was a sort of policeman that prevented wives from fucking around and daughters from being slutty. She used words like chastity, but I like my words better.

Stanton wasn’t really rediscovered until the 1980s and the second wave which focused on similar issues.

Women downplay the importance of secular women in the feminist movement, it’s not talked about or written about, because the religious right accuses them of being Godless. Secular women are more likely to be feminist than anyone though there are exceptions. Ayn Rand. UGH.

There’s a real division between secular humanism and secular conservatism. Humanist and skeptic seems to be the labels there. Skeptics are more male oriented. Yeah. Skeptics are dudeified.

8:55 People are embarrassed by Madalyn Murray O’Hair and they avoid acknowledging her importance in the movement. Unlike Gloria Steinem, she was not traditionally feminine. There was nothing soft about her, nothing that made her “acceptable” to the public.

When Jacoby was given the FFRF award a secular man said that they’d “done a lot for the movement for showing that an atheist woman doesn’t have to be a shrill bitch.”

Many deny the secular nature of the feminist movement, probably because the religious tries to take credit for civil rights movements. You know, cuz the church in the south didn’t fight bitterly against civil rights in the 60s and the KKK isn’t a Christian organization. King’s religion was important, of course, but it was not the only position of religion. Unlike this, women’s rights was never assisted by the religious.

There’s so much history in this, it’s a dense and a little hard to follow. No slides to help. I mean, I hate powerpoint, but there are so many names being thrown out that, unless you are very familiar with the women and the history, it’s a lot.

8:48 Being called soft and the general misogyny isn’t going to deter her, but it does make younger women less interested in participating, not least because the movement in general seems “quaint” and of the 1960s. Being an “atheist” is something she simply was, it wasn’t her concern, she wanted and is primarily a writer.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair is now being discussed. Because she was a woman, it was easier to dismiss her and atheism as nutcase. McCullen called herself a humanist which was less confrontational.

I am going to misspell names before the day is out and probably many times. I am liveblogging and googling takes too long. Forgive me.

8:40 She wants to know why there aren’t as many women in the movement. Even taking into account race and education, being a woman makes you more likely to be an atheist. African American women are better educated than African American men, and they remain the most religious demographic.

Men occasionally assert that women are more religious simply because they are stupider. This got a laugh, not even a rueful one. Laughing at 8:40, these people are definitely more awake that me. Oh, Angry White Guys. Lol, they called her “Suzie”, which is better than “Ugly Old Atheist”. Man, shades of Ron Paulites.

“I place as much value on anonymous comments made on blogs as I do on statements of eternal love made after a late night drinking at a bar.”

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8:36 Susan Jacoby is now up. She wrote the book “Freethinkers” which is a lovely history of secularism in the US.

8:11 Good morning! I will be liveblogging here in reverse chronological order (newest first).  Conference starts in 20 minutes and I need to obtain caffeine.  See you soon.

Women in Secularism Conference 2012

ImageTomorrow I’m going to be getting up bright and early to do all of those things I haven’t finished doing tonight in order to only be woefully behind when I get back home on Sunday, because I’m driving up to Washington, DC to go to the Women in Secularism Conference.

I was going to just do a list of people who I am excited to hear speak, but then I realized that it was everyone whose name I recognized, which meant that basically everyone, so I’m just pasting the whole list here for you!

If you’re in the DC area at all, you should make an effort to come, it’s going to be AWESOME.  Also, I’m hoping that I will get to meet Edwina Rogers.  Really, really hoping that happens because I’d love to report what she’s like in real life.

I will be live-blogging, which will probably translate to Twitter: @ashleyfmiller

SCA: Really? Seriously? What are you doing?

The communications director at the SCA has just posted a blog post about the importance of bipartisanship.  In which she somehow fails to mention Edwina Rogers once AND uses stats that prove exactly how wrong she is.  This is a nightmare.

I think that it is more reasonable to say that the secular movement needs to be “non-partisan” rather than “bipartisan”, but I agree with her conclusion — we need to be reaching out to everyone of every party.

However, the statistics she uses only serve to emphasize the point that the Republican party and Republicans in general are much worse on secular issues than others.

But the GOP is not comprised of only conservative Christians. Another recent study found that 34 percent of Republicans (and 51 percent of the general public) agree that religious conservatives have too much control over the GOP.

One cannot use a statistic that says Republicans are far behind the rest of America in thinking that there is too much religion in government as a positive stat on the Republican stance on religion. And you’re just comparing them to a statistic which they are a part of, compare them to Democrats (60%) and you see an even more telling difference.

Then, she points to 30% of nones who are Republican.

As a result, we haven’t been able to reach quite a few on the conservative side who are either nontheists, or who may be receptive to the secular agenda. And there are quite a few. Nearly 30 percent of “nones”—people who do not identify with any religious affiliation—identify as Republican.

To begin with, the nones include atheists, agnostics, secular unaffiliated, and religious unaffiliated.  Oh, religious you ask?  Yes, in fact over 36% of the nones are religious.  So there are more religious nones than there are Republican nones.

But let us move beyond the fact that having a no affiliation doesn’t make you secular, and address the fact that this is still less than a third of the nones. I’m not saying they don’t matter, but to act like this supports the idea that Republicans are not incredibly anti-secular is absurd.

Finally, and this is a horrific misrepresentation of the data, she writes:

Between the Republican “nones” and the 34 percent of Republicans that don’t like where the Religious Right is taking their party– that’s a lot of people we’re missing if we work with only the other side.

Firstly, there is no reason to believe that the nones and the 34% of Republicans don’t overlap entirely.  Secondly, the way it’s worded is incredibly unclear and makes it seem like the 30% nones is a percentage of the Republican party and should be added to the 34%, it at least makes it look like those two things don’t overlap. Finally, it completely overstates the percentage of nones in the Republican party.  Nones make up 16% of the population, and none Republicans would therefore be 4.8% of the population.  36.4% of the population considers itself Republican, making the nones maybe 13% of Republicans.  And again, no reason to think that they aren’t part of the 34% and no reason to think that they are secular.

To pretend that those happy to mix church and state aren’t the vast majority of the Republican party and establishment is disingenuous, at best, and at worst, it is a transparent lie in an attempt to get us to support Edwina Rogers. Misrepresenting statistics is not the way to rally the community around her.  And it wouldn’t hurt to make this more explicitly an endorsement of your new executive director, because not saying it directly makes this seem a lot less honest.

The SCA should stick to their main argument, which is that we should be reaching out to everyone regardless of party.  Instead they’re playing a game of Lying with Statistics and avoiding every opportunity to be straightforward.  I am so very disappointed in them.

And I want to like Edwina Rogers, I really do.  I love the idea of a Republican on our side, I really do.  But the constant dissembling from her and the SCA is making it absolutely impossible to be on their side, and it’s really quite heartbreaking.

What I would like to hear from Edwina Rogers

Yes, I’ve written an imaginary PR e-mail from Edwina Rogers, the controversial new Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America, based on conjectures and false hopes and a little bit of AbFab.  It seemed the thing to do.

Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the SCA

“I want to start off with an apology for something I feel like I, and the SCA, have done a poor job of.  We’ve done a poor job of introducing me and an incredibly poor job of reaching out to opinion leaders in the atheist movement.  Undoubtedly, the behind-closed-doors decision to make what was bound to be a controversial hiring decision should have been tempered by a more comprehensive and immediate introduction and explanation of why I, of all people, was chosen for this position.

I have identified as a non-theist for a long time, but I am very new to this movement.  This is not because I don’t care about the issues you care about, I very much do, but they have not been my focus and, because of that, I really didn’t realize how bad things were until recently.  My career and my focus have been very issue centered, some of these issues overlapped with my own secular beliefs, but the fact is that issue-focused work tends to create a very insular worldview.  So, in many ways, I am a recent convert, not to your beliefs, but to your cause.

Which is where I have made another mistake.  This community is very engaged and very well-informed and I have done my best to educate myself quickly, but there are things I have missed on the way.  My recollection of statistics about Republicans from 20 years ago, for example, is not really the best gauge of Republicans now.  Sometimes I forget that that was an entire generation ago, it doesn’t seem that long to me.  And I have to admit that my claims that the majority of Republicans are pro-choice, OK with gay rights, and for the separation of church and state were as much a result of wishful thinking as they were of ignorance.  I have had statistics shown to me that do indeed prove I was dead wrong on this front.

And I need your help on this front.  I am trying, but I just am not as well-educated about this as those people who have focused on this cause their whole lives.  I know the goals of the coalition and am well-versed in those goals and don’t doubt my ability to execute them, but as for the wider culture of the secular movement and the less specific goals thereof, I will need more time to learn the nuances, and I hope you will help me rather than condemning me for my neophyte status.

My final big mistake is that I’ve been trying to focus exclusively on my positives without acknowledging my negatives and without engaging with them openly and honestly.  This is a fault of being in politics, it makes you quite the bullshit artist.  I should have known better in this community than to think I could dance around questions without being called on it.  So let me say that you are right.  You are right that I’ve worked for and support a party that disagrees, in majority but not in totality, with many of your goals.  But I was working for causes that I cared very deeply about, and I will not apologize for doing that.  And I will not abandon my party because other people have taken it in a direction I disagree with.  It is better for all of us if we can bring the party back in line with the goals of the secular community and I really do think that is possible.

So, just to recap, I haven’t done a good enough job introducing myself, I haven’t had the time to educate myself as thoroughly as the community is educated, and I have not been clear on acknowledging that there were some negatives to my background.  That said, I think I bring a lot to the table that I hope you can appreciate.

I am an experienced lobbyist and I know the workings of DC very well.  I have led coalitions in the past and had great success.  Although my work with Republicans is difficult for many of you to accept, it gives me an in to people who might not otherwise be as interested in hearing what we have to say.  And I am legitimately, passionately interested in promoting this cause.  I did not simply apply because I needed a job — I had a job, one that was a lot less contentious — I applied because I have become aware of some of the horrible inequities in this country for people who are secular.  I am just as horrified as all of you at the degree of influence the Christian Right has on the government, and I want to change that.  I have the credentials to do the job from a strictly political side, but I promise you that I am here because I want to be, because this cause is important to me, and because I think that I personally can make a difference through this position with the SCA.

The SCA chose me because I was, in their opinion, the best person for the job.  I wouldn’t dream of asking you to take it on faith that theirs was the best choice, but I hope that you can give me a chance and the benefit of the doubt for a little while.  I look forward to talking with you at conferences and through our local organizations.  Together, I really do think we can change this country in meaningful ways on important issues.

Best,
Eddie”

Send an Atheist to Church: Ashley survives Brookland Baptist Church

As part of a fundraising effort for a cancer charity, the local Pastafarians at USC group took donations, in exchange for which the atheist members agreed to be sent to church.  I was sent, along with three other students, to Brookland Baptist church, in West Columbia, SC.

Brookland Baptist Church

I have not been to church in a long time. The closest I’ve been in the last five years is probably the local Unitarian Universalist fellowship, but as their minister is an atheist, I’m not sure how much that counts.  I have actually been to Brookland Baptist before, at the very end of 2006, when John Edwards was speaking there.  I was highly skeptical of him, but after seeing him demand healthcare for all and declare we needed a way to be patriotic besides war, I absolutely fell in love.  Which turned out real well.

Back to the church:

Brookland Baptist Church is a largely African American megachurch, founded in 1902. On Sunday, not only are the parking lots full, but the lots across the street are not enough. The church claims 5,300 members, seats 1,600 on the floor and 500 in the balcony.

Dove with laser beams

I arrived before my fellow heathens and had to wait outside for them.  Initially, I was quite self-conscious because everyone was staring at me, but when I realized it was just because I was the only white person there, not because I was an atheist, it became less worrisome.  For better or for worse, church services seem to be very heavily segregated.  Just as you’d only find one or two African-Americans at your average Episcopalian service, you’ll only find one or two white people at your average Baptist service.  They were, despite the staring, very nice and friendly.

The rest of the cohort arrived and we were sent up to the balcony because one of our members wanted to film some of the service.  I was a little disappointed not to be in the middle of the throng of people, but also relieved that no one would be judging me for being on Facebook during the boring parts.

And boy were there boring parts!

I am a temporally minded person and therefore was already highly irked that the service started 15 minutes late.  I was even more irked when it turned out that the service lasted nearly two and a half hours.  I would have much rather re-watched The Hunger Games with that time!  How someone sits through that every Sunday is beyond me.

Aside from the absurd length, I didn’t really note too many significant differences in the structure and audience participation than the last time I went to an Episcopalian service.  Admittedly, that service was at one of the churches that left the American Episcopalian church to join the Rwandan one because they hate gays so much, but you know, Episcopalianish.  Brookland did, however, have one of the best announcement voices I’ve ever heard — it was like the “In a world” voice, but he was just reading the locations and dates of events.  It was awesome.

This is the song that never ends

There was a lot of singing.  Interminable singing while the collection plate went around.  As much as comedians joke around that the Anglican church is joyless, but the Baptist church goes crazy with the music, there was no evidence of that.  The musak style choir songs were not joyful, just very long.  Fortunately, I had a book, since we were subjected to what probably added up to over an hour of this.

We were, however, very fortunate to have attended the day that we did because the focus was on education and they were recognizing the scholastic achievements of their students.  I don’t know what there normal services and sermons look like, but this was a perfect illustration of how important churches are to the minority community here.  It’s heartwarming to see an institution take so much time and effort to help children succeed and overcome the shortcomings of their schools and local environments.  It is a real shame that, in most cases, the only place they can find this support is in churches.  I know I’ve said it before, but I will say it again, secularists need to pick up minority causes — they are basic human rights issues and we should be on the front lines supporting them.

The church gave out scholarships to graduating high school seniors, and then had a college graduate come and deliver the speech for the day.  Anrae Jamon Motes graduated from MIT in 2010 and currently works as a consultant; he came to give advice to students in the congregation.  He was fantastic.

Motes plays with legos; I love the internet

The entire thrust of the speech was about using education to empower yourself, especially economically.  This is an important message to this community, a community that does not generally have economic power.  He did not really talk about religion until the very end of the speech, where he focused on the support system that the church had given him.  Truly it is not faith that changes these people’s lives, but the actions and support of this community, and that’s something that is quite moving.

That said, he did give some of the credit to Jesus, but I was very impressed by how pragmatic and practical the overall message of the entire day was.  This was not a day about God’s achievements, it was a day about people’s achievements, and much more enticing to an outsider for being so.

At the very end, the deacon made a call for people to join at a protest/celebration for the arrest that has finally come in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case.  There was a general call for people to be more proactive, to do more than just talk and complain and protest, to actually get out there and vote to change things.  Their goal is to empower people through evangelism, education, and economic change and they emphasized that their community “is about more than winning souls for Christ, it’s about changing lives.”  And to that I can certainly say, “Amen.”