Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Rewarding Weekend on the Atheist Front

This past weekend, Seattle Atheists presented its biggest speaking event of the year. We brought in Greta Christina, a nationally acclaimed queer atheist activist, to talk about what the atheist movement can learn from the GLBT movement. Like everything that Greta's written about, her talk was inspiring and honest, and I'm honored to have helped make this happen.

Backing up a bit, I actually owe quite a bit to Greta, and I'm thrilled to see how the last year has come full circle. About two years ago, due to the usual post-fair-season burnout and a few personal reasons, I needed to break from the atheist groups. It was a necessary time for some introspection without the responsibilities of running a nonprofit (and I withdrew from the social groups, too). I guess everybody hits certain points like that, where they just need some space to recuperate and reflect. Plus, unlike when I first moved to Seattle from the Midwest and immediately gorged myself with this newfound atheist/skeptic/humanist community, I found that I no longer needed something from these groups, so my interest in Seattle Atheists started to wane a little bit. I still loved the org and was glad it existed, but I wasn't sure what my focus was. I kept an eye on what was happening, stayed informed with the news, but I took a break from actually participating.

I started testing the waters again during the summer of 2010, and in September I chanced upon a lecture by Sean Faircloth, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, giving a talk about returning America to its secular roots. His speech was poignant, action-oriented, and well-versed in history and current events, which stuck with me more than talks about the reasons why religion is illogical, or how the Bible doesn't make sense, etc., etc.. A match was lit.

I don't think it was more than a week later when I decided to show my support for our locally produced Ask an Atheist TV show and sat in the studio audience. Once I arrived, I was told that we had a celebrity atheist blogger in our midst, though I was embarrassed to admit I hadn't heard of Greta Christina before. At any rate, getting an up-close-and-personal glimpse of the amazing work that was being put into this show really moved me. I had been following the show at home and on the Internet, and that afternoon I watched Case and Mike do an impressively researched skeptical segment about 9/11 truthers. I was filled with such pride to see how the TV show was developing, and what better way to reach out to the greater population. The entire concept behind the show made atheists visible and approachable. Got a question about us? Just ask! And the calls poured in—not just from Seattle, but from all over the country.

Following the program, the studio audience was treated to a bonus—Mike’s interview with Greta Christina. Among other things, she talked about the history of the gay movement and the parallels it had with the newer atheist movement, and it was about that time when I recognized what I was looking for—activism. My focus had finally shifted from “What can [atheist group] do for me?” to “What can I do for the atheist movement?” I had rekindled the fire and found a new motivation, and what better timing? The Seattle Atheists elections were that same month, so I decided to get back on the board.

During our discussions at the board retreat and subsequent conversations with our members, I was happy to see the organization desiring a similar shift in focus. Like previous years, we’ve put on some great events this term that featured speakers including Jen McCreight (on Boobquake), Bob Seidensticker (on apologetics), and Valerie Tarico (on recovering from religion), and when it came time to pick our big-name speaker of the year, I couldn’t help suggesting Greta.

It was an absolute pleasure getting to meet Greta and her wife Ingrid in person. (Playing chauffeur was pretty fun, too—shame I didn't know earlier in the ride that they were huge fans of They Might Be Giants.) They are simply amazing individuals who have a lot of valuable insight on the gay and atheist movements. In both her writings and her lectures, I love the way Greta puts together her thoughts into intelligent, well-thought-out pieces. Her writing especially takes all the scattered ideas I've had floating around in my brain and organizes them, quite thoroughly, into comprehensive, coherent commentaries. This weekend's speech was no different. I almost wish I could find fault with her ideas, but I can't. I love everything she has to say.

We had a successful panel discussion following the lecture, which featured women atheists giving a more local perspective on their experiences with atheism and gender. There was a lot of great discussion about diversity and what can be done to cultivate stronger and more inclusive godless communities. Plus, on Sunday Greta was interviewed by Ask an Atheist (which is now a radio show) about her thoughts on bigotry as applied to atheism and atheists.

This was a wonderful, rewarding weekend all around, and I thank Greta and Ingrid for sharing their time with us. I hope to work more with them in the future.

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