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Freethinkers and Outreach — Can It Work?

June 21, 2013
What Are We DOING?

What Are We DOING?

Do We Have a Fight Chance?

Tomorrow marks a new day for me.  My local group and started maturing to the point where we can start reaching beyond our scope and effecting change in our very theistic community.  We’re actually going to meet to discuss HOW we can help those around us; how we can build bonds with the community; how we can begin to change the perspective of those who view us as outcasts, heathens, the unenlightened, etc.

I should be thrilled, but I’m not.

Why?

Here’s an anecdotal example.  I worked with one of the members of the group about setting something up at the place where she works — a community for senior citizens.  We ironed out the logistics and I approached the (now) 155 members of the group through our vibrant Facebook page.  One of the guys helped me tag the announcement so that it is the first thing someone sees when they go to the page.  Understand, this page is very active.  If you’ve read my previous blogs you’ll note that people come here throughout the day, everyday, to share/vent/dialogue with like-minded people.

You’ll also know one of my major issues is that we do a hell of a lot of whining without much to back it up.  We talk a good game but when it comes time to strapping on the cleats and hitting the field, we’re no where to be found.  This is exactly what I’m experiencing at the moment with the Outreach efforts.  No one has committed to helping cook food and visit with a group of lonely senior citizens for two hours!  This is one of the easiest things we could be doing for our community and I’ve not a nibble yet.

I’m discouraged.

Disheartened.

Dis-spirited.

We talk about how sick and tired we are of the believers propagating the “myth” that freethinkers are good people too (yes, even “those atheists”) and then when the shit hits the face, there isn’t a freethinker around to get his/her face dirty.

Tomorrow is my last chance at hope.  A very small contingent of us are meeting, over beers, of course (hey, the catholics have their wine, so don’t judge!)  to discuss our first event & how we can build a plan for the future of our Outreach.

My question to you, heathen nation, have any of you been part of a similar group?  Do any of you know real tricks, techniques and tips that worked with an unmotivated, apathetic (seemingly, who am I to accuse, after all) group?  How does this small group light a fire?

I’m at a loss & looking for the life vest.

Save your ‘amens’, can I get a hand?

Changes

June 17, 2013

No, I’m not up for a full blog again, not just yet.  Instead I want to admit that I think I’m entering a new phase of my atheism.  Those of you who have been kind enough to follow my pathetic blog thus far know that I started out wanting to share my experience with you all, to document one of the most important events in my life, and to provide a therapeutic journal to myself as I go through this. 

I figure, at some point in the future, I’ll actually need to reflect on all of this again.  Hell, if nothing else, if I am wrong and there is a god, then I can reroute his web browser to this page and he can see for himself how much I struggled and how he continued to be vacant in my life.

Well, my blogging has sucked but I feel I’ve fought the good fight on Twitter (@theidespise) and I’ve gotten deeply involved with my local freethought group, taking up the charge to establish, organize and lead our first-ever Outreach efforts.  I’ve even started working on building my first two podcasts; it’s all been fun but very distracting.

……I’m rambling, I apologize…..but the reason I’m posting this quick post is this: I think I’m getting over my anger/rage/angst about the pain religion has caused in my life and believe I’m starting to turn the corner into a healthier me, a me that can dialogue with many more believers than I’ve been able to up to this point. 

It’s all so very strange to think that I can have patience with many of these people, all but the most severe fundamentalists—those types, I still have a bone to pick because of the damage they do to others.

But, for now, I’m awkwardly excited at the prospect of being a more rational atheist.  I believe that ‘me’ will be able to do more good, to mitigate the impact of the religious, to reach out to those who, like me just recently, felt lost and alone and without a kindred spirit.

Now is the start of me being effective in my efforts to counter the religious community.  

Look out believers!  Here I come!

Herding Hippies

May 20, 2013

The Struggle to Organize Non-Believers

Who is brave enough to herd this crowd?

Who is brave enough to herd this crowd?

Say what you will about freethinkers, but one recent revelation I’ve had is that freethinkers could not organize their way out of a burning gas station….with one, clear, unobstructed exit door.  Our community is a “lost” one, and not in the way religious like to label us.

Hopeless Herd of Hippies

Those of you who know me are aware that I spent the majority of my adult life serving in the United States military.  I never envisioned making a career out of it, but it happened.  In hindsight, I now see a correlation between the suppression of my freethinking capabilities and my service to my country; stripping people of ‘individuality’ being something the military excels at.  I did walk away with some useful skills and principles.  Some of those include:

–          Stop bitching if you’re not willing to do

–          If you say you are going to do, then do

–          Actions, not words, matter

I’ve come to the conclusion that freethinkers are a hopeless herd of hippies when it comes to organizing us into any semblance of a vehicle for any action.  I’ve recently reached out to the “community” in this blog by questioning its existence.  I received the same feedback I get on Twitter when I ask my followers for insight and guidance on organizing freethinkers.  The response is always the same, “<insert empathetic statement here> Freethinkers are like herding cats <insert personal farewell, usually including the word ‘dude’ here>.”

Almost a year into my membership in our local group, the inertia grates on me worse than proverbial ‘nails on a chalkboard’.  In the time I have been part of this group I cannot calculate how many hours I’ve spent in strategic discussions and actions aimed at helping the group move forward.  I’ve developed strategic documents, I’ve participated in polls and discussions aimed at moving us forward.  I’ve urged, begged, pleaded and, maybe even once or twice, antagonized the other 140 people in the group (who aren’t doing much beyond posting memes on our Facebook) to actually care enough about the issues they’re bitching about to do something, to get involved.

…..and almost a year into this experience all I’ve seen as a result is the same small handful of people, of “doers” doing all of the doing…..while everyone else sits on the sideline and complains about the Christian world around them.

Silence Is Acceptance

Far be it for me to tell freethinkers what to think, slightly tongue-in-cheek, but I can’t deny the core value of mine that, if you’re going to whine, bitch or complain, you better be willing to do something, anything, to be the change you want to see.  It’s just who I am.  I don’t see much use in spending energy whining if you’re completely unwilling to do even the most simple things to change your experience.

The culture of passivity is ridiculous when, in general, a specific subsection of our world spends so much time communicating how unjust everything around them is.  It may be different in other countries, but in America, freethinkers are shouted down and marginalized.  It is a fact of our existence and one that is unlikely to change any time soon.  Yet, if you ask your friendly neighborhood freethinker in America, 9 times out of 10 that person willingly disengages from doing anything to change that…..except to bitch anStopd whine.

Don’t Tell Me What to Think

I have also recently discovered that the hippy-nature, the rebellious, innate piece of our core, reacts strongly when freethinkers take a stance about the freethinking community.  We’re all supportive of each other when freethinkers tell God’sNazis© what we think of their proselytizing and, even, simply their faith/beliefs … but let a freethinker take a stance with his or her own community and the torches get lit and the villagers rush the gate to call out the beast.

I recently got into a heated discussion with a slanderous freethinker in our group because she presumed I was speaking directly to her when I was calling for ANY action from our group.  You see, Montgomery, Alabama is filled with nothing-to-do.  It is a city (2nd more “extremely religious” city in America according to a recent Gallop poll) based around faith.  It is a city that, twenty or so years ago, refused a large amusement park because it would detract from the family-centric perspective of the community.  It is a back-water stain on the American landscape, filled with racists and bigots … oh, and also the state capital.  There is very little to do to fill your time here even for the regular (read: Christian) citizens, never mind anyone with a secular perspective.

My crime against my freethought group?  A deliberately phrased “call-out”; essentially, stop your bitching if you’re not willing to be a change-agent.  DO SOMETHING.

What I received in return was agreement from a few and a scathing response from someone who is sssssoooooo busy that they can’t DO anything.  Mostly she was upset because she personalized that I was attempting to guilt her into action….a preposterous non-point.

DO Something

The beauty of being a change-agent is that it comes in all forms and shapes and sizes.

You don’t have to march on city hall

You don’t have to burn churches to the ground (you probably shouldn’t do that, by the way)

You don’t have to donate all of your money to the “cause”

No, instead, most often, you simply have to give a little of yourself.  What I have discovered is that freethinkers, in general, appear to have a difficult time with that.  Of course, there are examples and non-examples; it’d be ridiculous to say otherwise.  Why is so hard?  What is so difficult about giving a Saturday to volunteer in the community?  How hard would it be to maybe just help get a food drive going?

The fact is, and what I tried to get our local chapter to understand, is that it doesn’t take that much.  The benefits are numerable; to the people it helps and to those giving to the community, and for the name of freethought everywhere.  By contributing to the health of our communities where we live, work and play, we slowly begin to shift the perception of freethinkers as a population.  We take back power from those who continually (consciously or unconsciously) oppress and marginalize us.  Consistent efforts would allow us to begin to leverage the more positive shift in public opinion.

Public opinion, especially faith-based opinion, changes very slowly.  But when the community itself, the people whose lives are impacted by the religious majority, refuse to even take the smallest steps to make the world a better place … even in the name of humanism, then change is unlikely to happen.  When so few are willing to contribute to the greater good, those who do act carry a burden which, ultimately, wears down even the most-hardy freethinkers.

Don’t get me wrong, you can think what you want (who am I to tell you what to think, after all?) but, when you can’t help with an outreach effort, when you can’t be bothered to donate $5 worth of canned goods to a Freethinkers Food Drive, etc., you’ve lost your “right” to bitch about the leverage Christians have in the world around us.

You don’t agree?  You don’t like that opinion?  You think you should be able to whine all you want without lifting your finger to be a change agent?  Tough shit.

It’s mirror-check time for you.

Honestly, for a “community” (which I’m still not convinced this is) of supposed humanists, the freethinking community is proving to be very “light” on the humanist piece.

Does An Atheist Community Actually Exist?

April 23, 2013
He Is Alone -- Are We?

He Is Alone — Are We?

I cannot help but feel frustrated with the Atheist community at the moment. To use the word ‘community’ when describing my experience with my local group is to insult the very definition of the word. It would be like calling Paul Ryan a politician with a ‘slightly skewed perspective of reality’.

To me, community is about people banding together to help each other. It isn’t a welfare system, but it also isn’t just a grouping of people existing, whether physically or metaphysically, in vacuum tubes. It is tangible and intangible. It is supportive and critical. It is perpetual.

I started writing this blog entry earlier in the week when I was frustrated with my local group and its inept leadership and found myself wrapping up my week being frustrated by my online community as well, culminating in a particularly-vocal freethinker instructing other freethinkers on how they should think and why they were wrong for thinking like they did…..yes, a ‘freethinker’ did this…….

Atheists constantly whine about leverage Christians have in public policy, our school systems and our local communities. We whine about how our lives are impacted by their wishes and desires, that we’re subjected to whatever archaic whims they have, yet we don’t have the initiative or sense to take the practical steps towards a solution.

Let’s be candid; from my short experience as a non-believer, we jokingly excuse the fact that we cannot put aside our differences to organize under a cause. We flippantly disregard the weakness of our networking within our group. We recognize our unity against the Nazis of Christianity and Islam and yet, when it comes to our internal dialogue, we suddenly become intolerant to alternate viewpoints.

Atheism is a non-belief; for many it is not a calling. It doesn’t matter how invasive the religious community is; the typical atheist will suffer it in relative silence, wishing for more power and a voice, yet those who have established a sort of community consistently fail to respond. Many atheists moan about their lot in life, that they are forced to acquiesce to their religious neighbor, yet those who have the power to lay the foundations for action remain locked in inertia.

I had heard this about the freethought community when I first risked joining my local group. Initially I didn’t see the apathetic reality, not until one member of the group shared job struggles with the rest of us in our Facebook group. Her struggle highlighted the lack of professional networking in our local group. Many of us fear for our jobs because of our location in the middle of Alabama. For many, to admit your atheism to anyone in your office is to put your paycheck at serious risk. It was painfully obvious that we may be a social group but, when it came to being able to assist each other professionally, we were an ineffectual organization. I proposed to the group of over 120 freethinkers that we should begin to build our own professional network as well  (after all, how do people get jobs besides knowing someone) on LinkedIn. I’m a professional, I’ve got a strong network on that medium, and I understand how beneficial (and true) the maxim is when it comes to searching for jobs. I played off another member’s post that Christians ‘hook each other up’ when it comes to good jobs (insert whiny voice). Yet, something as simple as linking to each other on LinkedIn, to help each other professionally, was a failure–utterly and miserably. It was the first of many I’ve experienced in our freethought group. We’ve organized talks with atheists who have come from out of town to speak and only had 10 people show up in support. We’ve done fundraising efforts which directly benefitted our local community and only had a pittance in terms of donations.  Forget Christ’s Nazis; we’ve been our own worst enemies.

Yet atheists still complain.

We attack idiots like Sacerdotus on Twitter but when it comes to ACTION we are pathetically inept. Maybe it’s because most atheists are comfortable. Maybe it’s because I’m a newborn to atheism and I’m still energized. Maybe it’s because atheists, in general, really don’t give a shit. Or maybe it’s because atheists are people and, if supervising people for all these years has taught me one thing, it is that people simply love to complain.

Until the atheist ‘community’ is willing to organize, willing to establish the formal channels required of an organized entity, we will be forever futile. To sit around (in social media or at a Meetup event) and bitch is juvenile if you’re not willing to back it up with action.

I’m swiftly becoming disillusioned with the freethought community.

It’s high-time freethinkers put-up or shut-up.

Until then, we are not a community, no matter how hard we attempt to convince ourselves that we are.

Simple.

America – Where Women Are Not Allowed to Evolve

April 10, 2013
Get 'em early!

Get ’em early!

This picture is from today’s local newspaper.  It’s supposed to be a celebration of ‘goodness‘, but I simply couldn’t get past the cover image…….and the subtle reinforcement of culture expectations.

This isn’t really going to be a new blog entry; simply something I wanted to vent about without being limited to 140 characters.  I just don’t get it.

It’s 2013; have we not evolved past the need to celebrate femininity by holding these ridiculous contests?  If you read the article, you will see that the intent who genuine and good-natured and contributed to society.  It celebrated the unique and special individuality we, as humans, all share. Yet I’m still stuck on this image of two young women, complete in their pageant crowns and sashes, decorating special young ladies (of course, the even was held in a local church). This is on the front page of the paper!

When was the last time you saw a picture of a young teen on the front page of a paper for doing something well in a sporting event?  When did we celebrate the female athlete?  Oh no, when it comes to sports, girls can’t even get the lead story in the sporting section, never mind the paper’s lead story.

This is America’s southeast for you.  Where thought and reason come to die and they cling to the standard cultural roles that have suffocated people for generations.  This morning’s front page was just one more reminder for me that things will change very, very slowly here (if they even change at all).

As a father with daughters I can only shake my head at how “automated” our response to these things is…..people just don’t see an issue with it.

Thankfully, for my daughters, I’ve of the perspective that I will use today’s paper as a reminder and teaching lesson for them–to show them that they can be anything they want and so much more than what society expects of them.  Thank you for allowing me to rant!

A Conversation With A Believer

April 8, 2013
Atheist and Theist Chat

Atheist and Theist Chat

In my short time on Twitter I’ve come across plenty of stupid.  There is nothing which will numb intelligence quicker than speaking with a certain group of believers; these simpletons of debate and reason are the worst representatives of the believing class–of course I’m speaking of Young Earth Creationists.  Though it’s fun to play “poke and twist” with these neophytes of thought, I rarely dream of filling my days interacting with them.  To those freethinkers, secularists, atheists, etc., who do enjoy calling them to task, I applaud you.

I spend more days than not interacting with fundamentalists but it’s not something I do for fun; it is something which must be done.  We, the non-believing/non-theistic community, should never go quiet in the face of religious vitriol; it is a responsibility we all share if one is to take a more altruistic viewpoint.  So common is it to speak with a nonsensical believer that, I admit, I almost come to expect idiocy to fill their 140 characters the minute I read their profile.  I’ve all but given up hope on finding someone who does not share beliefs on Twitter with whom I cannot have a good-natured, deep and focused debate about religion with.  Those of you who have read my much-neglected blog know that I live in Alabama and that I still call myself a newborn in terms of my non-belief.  Each day I learn a little bit more about who I am and that is not an easy journey to undertake in the birthing blanket of baby Jesus.  I need interaction with people who can think, if for no other reason than to ensure that I keep thinking.  It is such a rare occurrence here that I crave it, but to speak and have a healthy debate with a believer in my own back yard is a non-starter, and nigh on impossible.  That is why I sought out a community on Twitter and was not surprised to find that Twitter is an even worse representation of Christianity than the manufactured “real” lives of the people I’m surrounded by on a daily basis.  It came as a pleasant surprise, then, that I was actually able to meet a believer who can hold a fair conversation and with whom I can disagree with on a fundamental basis yet still discuss those differences.  The beauty of a conversation where people can hear each other is a wonderful thing.

So I approached a person, who I’ll call Carson, and asked if he’d be so kind as to allow me to pry into his life.  His story interested me, mostly because we are demographically similar yet, most interestingly and appropriately, our spiritual/religious paths are mirror images of each other—common, but inverse, images.  What intrigued me Carson was his claim that he was, at one point, a non-believer and he had turned to religion.  I could not reconcile the factual revelation I had experienced with his anecdotal reasoning.  How could someone take a journey from evidence and reason to the land of make-believe and complete speculation … and an adult, no less?  I had to know.

Fortunately Carson was kind enough to chat about his perspective and, more intimately, his journey towards religion.  What follows is, I believe, a genuine perspective from an atheist-turned-believer:

One of the initial questions I ask believers is where they’re from and what was the religion of their parents, if any.  Carson was raised in America’s northeast; in a place I’m very familiar with.  Unlike my current situation in Alabama, Carson grew up in a part of America where the act of thinking is still valued and practiced, many of its people highly educated and modern in their interpretation of the bible.

The impact of parental influence in our early years is incalculable.  Carson admits, however, that communication between him and his parents, in regards to religion, was miniscule.  “I did not talk with them,” he stated.  “I just learned over time that they despised any and all religion and never mentioned believing in any god.”  One could jump at the easy conclusion that he took to the opposing viewpoint of his parents, as many children are prone to do.  I don’t do that with Carson; I feel he deserves better and his admission of his parent’s stance led me to consider just how important it is for non-believing parents to talk to their children about their perspective.  I’m not implying that fault should be assigned to Carson’s parents, or Carson, for his reaction (after all, he is getting what he needs at this point in his life) but I cannot shake the feeling that had his parents bothered to talk to him about their thoughts and feelings, that he might have had a better foundation from which to make decisions later in his life.

I say this because Carson readily admits that he had no established faith prior to finding his current church.  He admits to having “no faith in anything.”  I cannot relate to that early existence; his being the exact opposite of mine.  Carson’s parents were both alcoholics who fought often (he actually says ‘constantly’).  Imagine a life as a young boy where you are aware of your parent’s scorn for religion and that they do not find salvation or release in a common community but, instead, in a bottle.  Further imagine these parents being incapable of modeling appropriate relational behavior.  Understanding this, is it no wonder that Carson discusses becoming withdrawn and isolated, having experienced such an unpleasant upbringing?  Who could fault him?

Only Carson knows the true cost of this on his adult life.  Alcohol played as much a role in his life as it did in his parent’s lives.  During my time as an alcohol and drug counselor I saw this quite often, where the child (especially a son) would cope with life’s stresses in the same unhealthy manner as their parents.  Carson admits to drinking too much at times; even as recently as a few years ago he admits to “rarely being sober.”  Throughout his life he partied to cope, partied to continue living and, even today, Carson is medicated for depression.  This isn’t a condemnation of the man; this is a reflection of his reality.  Before we deride him for now finding strength in “god”, we have (or at least we should) consider the path he has walked in life.

Imagine a reality where you risk opening up to people as an adult because of the effect of childhood memories.  Scorned by family, his friends tried to help but, as with many of us, it was incumbent upon him to accept that assistance.  Yet those early life experiences influenced (and limited) his ability to do just that which would help him.  That is Carson’s reality; he was ridiculed and mocked for opening up to important people in his life when he was a child to the point where he still needs to medicate to cope as an adult….let that sink in for a moment before you judge him and his beliefs.

Carson’s religious development is one of isolation.  His parents did not help and he did not talk to anyone about this aspect of his life until early adulthood.  Even then, he admits, those religious exploration discussions were more about escaping his parents than discovering religion.  Ultimately he found a church in the area where he lives, the United Church of Christ (www.ucc.org), a Protestant denomination that he now calls home.

Curious, I asked Carson what religion provides to this prior-atheist that family/friends/etc could not.  For me, I simply cannot relate to the thought that religion can provide something that real people (and reality) are incapable of providing.  For Carson, however, religion has given him hope and purpose.  Though I cannot fault him for that pursuit; I have to wonder, from a humanistic perspective, the sheer conflict intrinsic to that position which is too long to debate in this single blog.  Least to point; how could an omniscient, omnipotent god desire to put someone like Carson through an entire life of hell, surrounded by destructive and unhealthy relationships, simply to lead him to the UCC around the age of 30 to find salvation through Christ?  Couldn’t this all-powerful god have spared Carson twenty-something years of pain, hurt, agony, self-depreciation and despair to introduce him to this sanctified love in some less-costly manner?  This is where the mental gymnastics begin for apologists and is exactly the reason I won’t delve further into that train of thought.

I don’t know Carson personally, but I know that, even though we sit on polar opposite sides of the mystical fence, I could have a beer with him and talk, converse and hold fellowship.  Carson is proof positive that not all Christians are bad people.  He also validates the perspective that not all people are led to Christ blindly.  He’s a good guy.  He has survived from a beginning that might have crushed others, relying on himself and, now, his church family, to help him get to where he is today.  When I asked him where he saw himself in ten years, Carson hoped to still be surrounded by the love of his new church family; that speaks volumes to me.  Carson is “in a better place” now.

It seems that the familial cycle might end with Carson.  He told me that, unlike his parents, were he to have children someday, he would explain his beliefs to them but would not force anything on them.  I, for one, hope he does that in the most fair and balanced way possible, giving them all of the support, love and opportunity to question that so many are not given as children–including yours truly.

Even if you disagree with his stance on religion, you have to acknowledge that he found utility in his Christ—he is able to live a happier, more fulfilling life.  For that, and for your time in this pursuit, Carson, I salute you.  May you continue to find the happiness you seek.

Alabama – The Most ‘Godly’ of States

January 22, 2013

Home-made Jesus Attention GrabberMy family and I went on a hike today with our dogs.  While traversing Alabama’s back roads to get to our destination, a mere 25 mile one-way drive, we counted no less than thirty-three churches.  Adding to that total, we were also fortunate enough to have been exposed to no less than 15 back-country signs of various methods of construct, which pass for billboards in this neck of the woods, reminding us of such glorious messages as ‘Jesus is the only answer’ or the ever-dependable ‘Jesus Saves’—at which I’m instantly reminded of the t-shirt with the prone Jesus, in full garb, diving to save an excellently placed soccer shot.  It was all a little too much on a beautiful weekend day that I simply wanted to fill with quality family time.  All of this from the most racist, bigoted backwater I’ve experienced in all of my years on this planet.  Such overt reminders of “god’s” presence in a land full of “Christians” who hate each other based on such important eternal qualities such as the color of their skin or who they sleep with.  It’s all so encouraging.

I’ve got nothing against believers wanting to ‘do their thing’; I just wish they would understand that it is exactly this bombardment of the senses; the proliferation of their message is an excellent example of what antagonizes non-believers.  Even the most inert of people existing without Christ in their lives begin to experience the grating sensations triggered by this overdose of the “truth”, imagine what it’s like for the more active in the community.  Many Christians are guilty of espousing the “crimes” of the secular when they feel they’re being “attacked” without provocation, without seeing this sensory ambush for what it really is.  Yet, they easily maintain their innocence.

Honestly, what type of message do they think these tactics send?  Do they honestly believe that this is simply a message of outreach and nothing more?  Claiming that the message is both intended and communicated in the most innocuous of ways is about as accurate as claiming that religion hasn’t been responsible for a single death in the history of the human race.

They’re methodology is soaked in enmity and to claim anything less is misleading.  So to you, the Christian who loves the fact that there isn’t a corner in southern America not populated by a church or those that see no problem with private citizens cluttering public roads promoting their establishment, (one whose history is connected to hundreds of years of suppression) I proclaim: you are not innocent.  Any hate or aggression or resistance you meet from those who do not share your beliefs is justified.  Stop claiming you’re victims.  Stop professing your innocence.  Stop claiming ignorance; you choose to shove your message down people’s throats.  You choose to take advantage of the fact that you have “the numbers” to force compliance.  You are not innocent.

And you deserve all of the vitriol that comes your way.