More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Jennifer Goulet

In June, I wrote a piece for AlterNet, titled 8 Awesome Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. The gist: When a media outlet decides that atheism is important, they all too often turn to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth about race or gender — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?” Atheism does have better leaders — so I profiled eight of them, to bring just a small fragment of the range and variety of atheist leadership to more people’s attention.

At the end of that piece, I wrote, “And these eight are the tip of the iceberg… I could write a new profile of a different atheist leader every week, and still be at it ten years from now.”

So I decided: Why not do that?

I don’t know if I’ll do it for ten years. But for at least a while, once a week I’ll be profiling and interviewing a different leader in organized atheism.

This week’s profile: Jennifer Goulet.

GC: Tell me briefly what your organization does and what you do for them. (If you’re in a leadership position with more than one atheist organization, feel free to tell me about more than one.)

Jennifer Goulet
I’m a co-founder and current president of the Tri-City Freethinkers, located in the religiously-conservative southeastern corner of Washington State. We bring religion-free community members together in person and online to develop the social support network that is often missing when one isn’t a member of a religious group. We have monthly meetups and several special events throughout the year that include picnics, parties, field trips, and a variety of guest speakers, authors, and performers. We often partner with other local organizations whose goals intersect with ours, such as the local LGBTQ groups, and when necessary, we put pressure on our elected officials.

We have a very active Facebook community with roughly 400 local members. It is a safe space where we can interact 24/7 to ask questions of each other, request and offer help, plan activities, make each other laugh, and vent about issues we are facing as atheists without religious family and friends seeing it.

I am also the coordinator for the Mid-Columbia Coalition of Reason and a co-chair of the Secular Coalition for Washington.

Tell me about a specific project or projects your organization is working on.

We are currently intervening in two of our city councils where “freedom to discriminate” resolutions, drafted by an out-of-state ultraconservative Christian organization, have been proposed. This winter we hope to erect an irreverent display in a local public park near a nativity that has been put up for years. We are in a perpetual state of planning for the next big event, guest speaker, or author.

Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next 10 to 20 years?

I hope that atheism will become so widely accepted that no one in America feels the need to hide their freedom from belief. I want even more atheists out there doing good for good’s sake when the burden of constantly fighting for our rights is finally lifted. We will be free to fully turn our attention to social and economic justice issues, human rights, and environmentalism on a global scale.

I anticipate that we will become a more organized political bloc that politicians actively court. I expect to have more openly-atheist elected officials to more accurately represent our numbers (which I expect to be much larger in 10 to 20 years!). Once we are no longer a marginalized population fighting for our place at the table, look out world because we are going to do some amazing things!

What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?

Having sufficient financial and human resources is an ongoing struggle for mid-sized, locally-focused nonprofits like ours, though it has gotten better for us as we’ve grown. Our members have so many great ideas of what we’d like to do, but the question is always, “Okay, so where are we going to get the money and who has the time to roll up their sleeves and do it?” I expect a lot of groups around the country are facing these same obstacles. The national organizations understand the power of grassroots activism on the local level, and some are reaching out to offer assistance with their own limited resources, but as far as I know there aren’t any that are helping groups with two key undertakings — obtaining 501(c)(3) status and writing effective grant requests.

It can be overwhelmingly challenging and time consuming to achieve these two basic objectives when you don’t have people who know how to do it. Those barriers, when overcome, can be the key to launching a thriving, effective organization. Assistance in the form of consulting services provided by one of the national organizations or access to a network of volunteers who have successfully navigated through the process or even a “So you want to start an atheist nonprofit?” how-to guide compiled to specifically meet the unique needs of atheist nonprofits would allow group leaders to spend less time re-creating the wheel and skip ahead to the part where we get to work on all those awesome ideas that can have a direct impact on people in our communities when implemented.

Do you consider yourself a “new atheist”? Why or why not?

Jennifer Goulet Pride Parade with Flying Spaghetti Monster
“New Atheist” seems to be defined in many different ways depending on who you ask or what you read. I will say that I am an anti-theistic Secular Humanist atheist whose ambitions intersect with feminism, racism, economic and political justice, and environmentalism. So no, I haven’t used the term to define myself. It doesn’t say anything about who I am, what is meaningful to me, or what I do.

Any questions you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to add?

I’d add that I encourage people to get involved in their local atheist communities, and if there aren’t any, to consider starting one. When three of us first met for coffee almost eight years ago, I never dreamed we’d grow to 500+ people or that we’d be so active, organized, and visible. If you live in a conservative religious town, you may think you are the only atheist. I thought that, too, but I guarantee you aren’t alone. Build it and they will come.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPG
Coming Out Atheist
Bending
why are you atheists so angry
Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Jennifer Goulet
{advertisement}

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Lauren Lane

In June, I wrote a piece for AlterNet, titled 8 Awesome Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. The gist: When a media outlet decides that atheism is important, they all too often turn to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth about race or gender — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?” Atheism does have better leaders — so I profiled eight of them, to bring just a small fragment of the range and variety of atheist leadership to more people’s attention.

At the end of that piece, I wrote, “And these eight are the tip of the iceberg… I could write a new profile of a different atheist leader every week, and still be at it ten years from now.”

So I decided: Why not do that?

I don’t know if I’ll do it for ten years. But for at least a while, once a week I’ll be profiling and interviewing a different leader in organized atheism.

This week’s profile: Lauren Lane.

GC: Tell me briefly what your organization does and what you do for them. (If you’re in a leadership position with more than one atheist organization, feel free to tell me about more than one.)

Lauren Lane
LL: I am the co-founder and current Executive Director of Skepticon, the universe’s largest skeptic convention located annually in Springfield, MO. It is the mission of Skepticon to support, promote, and develop free-thought skeptic, and scientific communities through inclusive educational programming… which is just a fancy way of saying we all get together to share ideas, knowledge, and high fives. Skepticon is a non-profit organization that is run entirely by volunteer organizers — all the money we raise goes directly to funding the conference. Donate today and help us spread the awesome!

This year Skepticon 8 will be held the weekend of November 13th–15th, 2015 at the Ramada Oasis Hotel and Convention Center. Come hang out! We’re cool!

Tell me about a specific project or projects your organization is working on.

Our nonprofit revolves around the planning and execution of our conference. We spend all year fundraising, building, and organizing the best possible conference we can manage in all of our collective spare time. Over the past eight years, we’ve seen our con grow from a small student run affair to a wicked awesome con that spans three days and includes a dance, workshops, and as many dinosaurs as one can handle.

Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next 10 to 20 years?

In a perfect world, organized atheism will fully embrace social activism and it will have propelled us into a bigger and brighter future.

What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?

The challenges facing the atheist movement are many: infighting, apathy, burnout, douchebags, diversity, sexism… the list goes on and on. I don’t think there’s one issue that is bigger than the others but there does seem to be some sort of cycle where one becomes more prominent for a while. For the record, I despise them all equally.

Do you consider yourself a “new atheist”? Why or why not?

If your definition of “new atheist” is one that means a godless person who values intersectional justice and activism — then absolutely. I’ve never seen my work in the secular movement to be insular or devoid of intersectionality with issues such as feminism, LGBTQ activism, racism, politics, etc. In my mind, these issues are all inherently linked and I have done my best in my activism as a heathen to reflect that.

Besides, if all this movement was about was whether or not a sky daddy existed it would be super boring.

Any questions you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to add?

Skepticon organizers
Yes, I’d like to take a moment to encourage more people to do more things. This movement needs everyone at all skill levels to step in and help out in whatever capacity they are able. Don’t let the jerks scare you or keep you down — there are plenty more non-jerks waiting to be your friend.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPG
Coming Out Atheist
Bending
why are you atheists so angry
Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Lauren Lane

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Vic Wang

In June, I wrote a piece for AlterNet, titled 8 Awesome Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. The gist: When a media outlet decides that atheism is important, they all too often turn to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth about race or gender — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?” Atheism does have better leaders — so I profiled eight of them, to bring just a small fragment of the range and variety of atheist leadership to more people’s attention.

At the end of that piece, I wrote, “And these eight are the tip of the iceberg… I could write a new profile of a different atheist leader every week, and still be at it ten years from now.”

So I decided: Why not do that?

I don’t know if I’ll do it for ten years. But for at least a while, once a week I’ll be profiling and interviewing a different leader in organized atheism.

This week’s profile: Vic Wang.

GC: Tell me briefly what your organization does and what you do for them. (If you’re in a leadership position with more than one atheist organization, feel free to tell me about more than one.)

Vic Wang
VW: I’m currently the President of Humanists of Houston. We’re a chapter of the American Humanist Association and host events such as guest speakers, discussion groups, book clubs, volunteer outings, activism, and social gatherings. We average around 20-25 events per month and we’re currently at almost 1,900 Meetup members, making us the second largest AHA chapter on the Meetup network (and on pace to become the largest by the end of the year).

As President I basically oversee all aspects of the organization, both in “real life” and online across our social media presence (Meetup, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, etc), as well as our in-person monthly board meetings.

I also have a blog at deusxed.wordpress.com where I write about humanism, religion, and secularism.

Tell me about a specific project or projects your organization is working on.

We’ve been collaborating with Atheists Helping the Homeless to hold monthly giveaways of supplies to the homeless, usually serving around 40-50 people per giveaway. We’ve also held numerous demonstrations outside the Saudi Arabian Consulate in support of Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for advocating secular values online. We recently completed a fundraiser for Camp Quest Texas, where we raised over $3,000 from our members to help underprivileged children attend the camp, which turned out to be the most ever raised by an organization in a single year. And we recently had a booth at the Houston Pride festival as well as a float in the Pride Parade, which I believe was a first in the history of the Houston freethought community.

Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next 10 to 20 years?

Vic Wang Humanists of Houston
I’d love to continue seeing further diversification of the freethought community. I’d love to see further growth in the community, both in terms of numbers and in resources. I’d love to see local freethought groups throughout the country with their own facilities and paid staff positions, enabling us to provide services at the level that have traditionally been the exclusive domain of churches and “mainstream” non-profits. I’d love for there to be vastly more opportunities for people to be full-time freethought activists, without being limited to the national organizations or needing to necessarily be a “big name” in the movement. Of course, on the other hand if the secularization of society continues to the point where the need for explicitly atheistic organizations disappears, I can live with that too.

What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?

One challenge I’ve observed involves the rise of what have been loosely referred to as “atheist churches”. The idea of taking the best of what churches have to offer and stripping away the supernatural elements sounds great in principle (one analogy I’ve heard is a person who finds a rock in their shoe, and tosses out the rock instead of the entire shoe). But consider the problems we’ve seen (and continue to see) throughout the church world: groupthink, tribalism, hero worship, shunning, willful ignorance of leadership abuses… These failings aren’t necessarily tied to a god belief or supernaturalism; if anything they’re pitfalls that everyone is susceptible to, and secular organizations certainly aren’t immune. So, is simply tossing out the supernaturalism enough? Or are there other aspects of the church format/structure which, if left unchecked, tend to reinforce these behaviors and leave people even more susceptible to these failings? Unfortunately I suspect the answer is yes, and that this is an issue we’re going to see even more of going forward.

Then of course there’s the ongoing rift between those in the freethought community who embrace positive humanistic values, and those who don’t (and in some cases outright reject them, or even reject the “humanist” label entirely). Fortunately it seems that the vast majority of atheists (and the overwhelming majority of those who consider themselves humanists) believe in actively working to make the world better, including supporting the fight for equal rights, promoting altruism, and demonstrating compassion for disadvantaged groups. But those who don’t share those values seem to be disproportionately vocal — particularly online — which I think leads to a skewed perception of what the freethought community is about.

Do you consider yourself a “new atheist”? Why or why not?

It depends on the context, really; when I encounter people pushing their religious views in a dishonest or bigoted way, I have no problem with calling them out on it. And on my blog, I certainly don’t hold back in my critiques of religion.

But really, outside of those contexts I rarely spend much time criticizing religion in my day to day life, or even really bring it up at all. And as an organization (HOH), we’ve certainly made a conscious effort to show that our goal is to promote positive secular humanistic values, as opposed to being just an “anti-religious” group. Not that it isn’t an important part of humanism to be skeptical of religious claims and call out the harms that religion causes, of course. But we’ve made it clear that we’d much rather be defined by the positive values we believe in as opposed to the supernatural ones we don’t.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPG
Coming Out Atheist
Bending
why are you atheists so angry
Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Vic Wang

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Jim G. Helton

In June, I wrote a piece for AlterNet, titled 8 Awesome Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. The gist: When a media outlet decides that atheism is important, they all too often turn to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth about race or gender — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?” Atheism does have better leaders — so I profiled eight of them, to bring just a small fragment of the range and variety of atheist leadership to more people’s attention.

At the end of that piece, I wrote, “And these eight are the tip of the iceberg… I could write a new profile of a different atheist leader every week, and still be at it ten years from now.”

So I decided: Why not do that?

I don’t know if I’ll do it for ten years. But for at least a while, once a week I’ll be profiling and interviewing a different leader in organized atheism.

This week’s profile: Jim G. Helton.

GC: Tell me briefly what your organization does and what you do for them. (If you’re in a leadership position with more than one atheist organization, feel free to tell me about more than one.)

Jim G Helton
JH: I’m Founder & President of the Tri-State Freethinkers, Regional Director in Kentucky for American Atheists, and consultant for the Secular Student Alliance. I also oversee legislation for Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Wyoming, & Washington for Hemant Mehta, in which he gave me my favorite title, Overlord.

The group that I spend most of my time with is the Tri-State Freethinkers. We are a local group that has members from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Our group can most easily be summarized through the acronym A.C.E.S., which stands for Activism, Community, Education, and Social. We provide a community for people and have been repeatedly praised for our well-rounded activities.

Tell me about a specific project or projects your organization is working on.

Equal Rights and separation of church and state are the two biggest issues we tend to tackle. They seem to go hand in hand. We have also partnered with several other organizations who are helping people in the community, including Planned Parenthood. We have taken a stance on several social issues, such as the humane treatment of animals and trying to stop the death penalty in Ohio.

Abstinence Only Sex Ed: Eliminating abstinence only sex education in public schools. We have had success with my son’s school. We are working on some of the districts now with the goal to be to take this to the state level next year.

Gideons Bibles: We have successfully challenged bible distributions in several public schools in Kentucky by passing out humanist and atheist books. As long as the press covers the event the Gideons cannot show up, according to their own by-laws.

CEDAW: The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. We helped get this resolution passed this spring and are hoping to have the ordinance passed this fall with funding. A couple key points from CEDAW are equal pay for women, access to healthcare, domestic violence support, and stopping human trafficking.

Baptists Park: The Mayor of Cincinnati has proposed to build a park on church property. We have sent a letter and contacted the FFRF.

Feeding the homeless: We have been working on a farm, growing fresh produce for those in need. Next month we are going to feed around 150 people. This includes buying all the food, preparing it, and distributing it.

Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next 10 to 20 years?

I would like to see it organized enough to not only take on atheist issues, but also tackle social issues and have the power to effect elections. We are starting to see some of the national and local organizations work together on projects such as the Reason Rally. I would like this type of cooperation to happen on a regular basis.

What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?

Tri State Freethinkers at Pride Parade
The main challenge I see for local groups is that it’s usually one person leading the charge, and if something happens to that one person or that person burns out, the organization falls apart. A true leader has the ability to inspire others and get a lot more people involved. We need to prepare future leaders so the movement doesn’t skip a beat.

Do you consider yourself a “new atheist”? Why or why not?

Yes, because I have only been an atheist for less than three years. I think the difference with “new atheism” is that we are no longer staying silent — we are much more organized. Many more people are coming out of the closet every day.

Any questions you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to add?

Advice I can give other leaders of organizations: There are a lot of good leaders out there doing amazing things. What separates the great leaders from the good leaders is the ability to inspire others. There are too many grassroots groups where the leader of the organization does everything. The reason the Tri-State Freethinkers have been so successful is we have built a team. I wanted to change the world and I thought the best place to start was in my own backyard.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPG
Coming Out Atheist
Bending
why are you atheists so angry
Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Jim G. Helton

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Monette Richards

In June, I wrote a piece for AlterNet, titled 8 Awesome Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. The gist: When a media outlet decides that atheism is important, they all too often turn to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth about race or gender — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?” Atheism does have better leaders — so I profiled eight of them, to bring just a small fragment of the range and variety of atheist leadership to more people’s attention.

At the end of that piece, I wrote, “And these eight are the tip of the iceberg… I could write a new profile of a different atheist leader every week, and still be at it ten years from now.”

So I decided: Why not do that?

I don’t know if I’ll do it for ten years. But for at least a while, once a week I’ll be profiling and interviewing a different leader in organized atheism.

This week’s profile: Monette Richards.

GC: Tell me briefly what your organization does and what you do for them. (If you’re in a leadership position with more than one atheist organization, feel free to tell me about more than one.)

Monette Richards photo by Amy Davis Roth
MR: I currently hold dual citizenship in the secular movement. My first home is on the Board of Secular Woman. Our goal is to amplify the voices of secular women and, basically, find ways to make the secular movement more friendly and welcoming to them. I do all the backend IT work and whatever else I can do to help: tabling and speaking at conferences, membership fulfilment, whatever we need at the moment.

I am also the President of our local chapter, Center For Inquiry – Northeast Ohio. While wearing this particular hat, I am working hard to build a community that is welcoming, accepting and able to support its members. Everyone needs a community that has their back whether they find themselves facing a violation of their First Amendment rights or without reliable day care.

Tell me about a specific project or projects your organization is working on.

Secular Woman, along with C.A.S.H. and Minnesota Atheists, are sponsoring Secular Women Work, an activist conference. Our secular movement is widespread, loosely connected and is made up, as movements are, primarily of volunteers. Many of us spend so much of our volunteered time learning how to navigate the particular activist corners we occupy. This is a perpetual reinvention of the wheel. We will be bringing as many of those skills together as we can, so we can all learn from each other and become a much more effective movement. Then nothing, nothing will be able to stop us from taking over the world!

CFI – NEOhio, on the other hand, is working with Senator Skindell on Ohio SB50, a Secular Celebrant bill. In Ohio, only individuals ordained through a church, along with a few elected officials, can solemnize marriages. This puts our community at a disadvantage when it comes to being able to have the ceremonies we want to have, where we want to have them. The bill is currently stuck in committee, If you live in Ohio, call the head of the committee, Senator Bill Coley (614-466-8072) and tell him to get this bill moving! Then call your Senator and tell them to support the bill. Then come to our next Lobby Day and tell them both in person!

Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next 10 to 20 years?

I would absolutely love it if organized atheism was completely unnecessary within the next decade or so. Failing that, I fantasize that it has grown up and grown big enough to include so much more than First Amendment battles, that it has taken on the anti-choice movement head on and forced them back, that it has fully embraced BLM [Black Lives Matter], that it has grown so diverse that Secular Woman becomes completely irrelevant and redundant! Go Team!

What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?

Monette Richards at Ohio State House
A narrow focus on the establishment clause has left our movement myopic and ill prepared to engage with many of the other issues facing us. This year alone, states have enacted 51 restrictions on reproductive health and our movement is still arguing over whether atheism means more than disbelief in gods. It is time to accept that our movement is about more than prayers before football games, more than Ten Commandment displays in courthouses, more than Bibles in classrooms. We need diversity, not just in our membership but in our goals as well.

Do you consider yourself a “new atheist”? Why or why not?

I honestly don’t know. I’m not familiar enough with the term. I googled. I read. I am undecided that it matters. I am an anti-theist in that I do think religion, eventually, should be made irrelevant. But, that doesn’t mean I’m forging a hardcore schedule of stopping grandma from thanking Jesus as the nice man who made her dinner possible or calling CPS on families who teach their children about hell.

Any questions you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to add?

Something I feel necessary to say whenever I talk about me and my place in the movement. I have no college education. I am not especially smart. I have no wicked talents. I am not ambitious. I am nothing special. This is important to recognize because it can be anyone of us (but more correctly, all of us) working to make the secular movement a success. It doesn’t take a degree to be effective, but it does take getting involved.

(Black and white photo by Amy Davis Roth.)

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPG
Coming Out Atheist
Bending
why are you atheists so angry
Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Monette Richards

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Alix Jules

In June, I wrote a piece for AlterNet, titled 8 Awesome Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. The gist: When a media outlet decides that atheism is important, they all too often turn to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth about race or gender — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?” Atheism does have better leaders — so I profiled eight of them, to bring just a small fragment of the range and variety of atheist leadership to more people’s attention.

At the end of that piece, I wrote, “And these eight are the tip of the iceberg… I could write a new profile of a different atheist leader every week, and still be at it ten years from now.”

So I decided: Why not do that?

I don’t know if I’ll do it for ten years. But for at least a while, once a week I’ll be profiling and interviewing a different leader in organized atheism.

Alix Jules 1
This week’s profile/interview: Alix Jules. Jules is President of Black Non-Believers of Dallas (BNOD), an organization created to provide networking opportunities for nonbelieving peoples of color. It is open to everyone; however, its focus is to provide a safe space for godless black and brown nonbelievers. They provide a southern beacon to our friends in shared disbelief, reminding them they’re not alone. Jules is also Board Member/Treasurer of Secular Avenue, a 501(c)(3) organization formed to help secular people in need to achieve safety, stability, and autonomy. The initial focus of Secular Avenue is SAFE, a program to assist people who are unsafe at home due to leaving religion, religious extremism, domestic abuse, or coming out as LGBTQ. He occasionally contributes to writing projects, blogs, podcasts, rallies, protests, etc.

GC: Tell me about a specific project or projects your organization is working on.

AJ: Black Non-Believers of Dallas is sending a child to Camp Quest this year through our sponsorship. We had more than normal cries of “reverse discrimination” this year, so we may start raising money a little earlier for next year where we’d like to sponsor more children nationally.

Secular Avenue is always fundraising to help survivors. The more money we take in, the bigger the impact on lives. Secularavenue.org

Personally, I’m very excited about the Secular Social Justice Conference in January, the Black Nonbelievers Anniversary celebration in 2016 and Apostacon this year in Sept, which will be held in Dallas. I’m excited to be speaking at each.

Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next 10 to 20 years?

Honestly, I’d like to see so much progress in secularism in the next 20 years that the organized atheism movement becomes obsolete.

It might be a little Utopian, but the idea of generalized godlessness or normalized agnosticism, minus any theocratic undertones or allusions to doctrine, would be awesome! I’d like to see Atheism so mainstream that we’ve replaced the term “Atheist Leaders” with “leaders who just happen to be Atheist.” All without controversy.

That would at least signal some muting of the booming religious right and maybe even indicate an abridgment of their encroaching religious agendas. As a humanist, I find that there are so many other things to focus on including civil liberties, general inequalities, education, health, wealth disparities, various forms of privilege, and all the bad “isms” and bigotry. God’s just not that important. Unfortunately, many of those aforementioned “isms” still center on what his followers believe he demands.

In contrast, growing global religiosity in places like Africa (where unchecked superstitious beliefs, witchcraft, and homophobia run rampant) will demand attention from the worldwide atheist and secular humanist communities.

However, I fear, as we’ve seen with our response to American #BlackLivesMattering, that ideas such as #AllBlackLivesMattering or #AfricanLivesMattering will culminate into a self-aggrandizing show of telethon sponsorships, denial of the role played by certain racial actors in creating the problem, or passive acceptance that those #BlackLivesOverThereDon’tMatterEither.

What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?

Atheists are human too and many of them refuse to accept that. There is some narcissism that comes with organized atheism. We “know better” when it comes to god. That’s almost a universal affirmation. Unfortunately, being presumably right about one thing does not make us necessarily right about everything. That’s fallacious. We are prone to many of the aforementioned “isms,” but instead of justifying them “because god” we’ve shifted to shielding ourselves from our own criticism.

This is particularly the case when addressing race.

Every few years people want to classify atheism as a mental illness. Of course I disagree with this assessment, however if we were to plot it on an axis like an illness, I’d guess that Atheism would have an extremely high co-morbidity rate with colorblindness.

There also tends to be lack of acknowledgement of the intersectionality of issues where organized atheism could have impact, but my arguments are besieged by claims of scope creep, flat out denial, or ally paralysis. On issues such as the flag, police brutality and/or murder, false incarceration issues, etc., you’ll find less than prominent ministers shouting from the rooftops – but nothing from their more prominent godless peers.

Figuratively speaking, imagine the message if the president of a national atheist organization known for running brash anti-theistic billboards in December, were to show up on the ground to protest the treatment of “humans beings” as “black people” at the hands of the police.

Imagine that.

Alix Jules 2
Do you consider yourself a “new atheist”? Why or why not?

I do, but less so today than I once did when I joined the “new atheist” movement. I’m an atheist that happens to be black, or a person of color, but everyone sees black first (colorblind or not). When I came out as an atheist, I was very out. I still have the in your face T-shirts.

However, I’ve shifted over the years to adopt more of a Humanist label. I don’t shy away from the term “Atheist,” but my humanity is tested daily and my humanism compels me to do more than “not believe in gods.”

In addition, it can become an operose task to embrace a movement that although growing in diversity, isn’t at its core inclusive. Actively addressing what’s wrong with the world, rather than meandering through life self-satiating on the fruits of knowledge, drives me. My atheism is somewhere between byproduct and fountainhead of my humanism – and I try my best to not let it become a wedge distancing me from other humans that need help.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPG
Coming Out Atheist
Bending
why are you atheists so angry
Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Alix Jules

Eight Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

If you’ve read anything about the blossoming atheist movement, there’s a good chance it was about Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. And if you’re a reasonably progressive person who cares about sexism and racism, and you’ve read about Dawkins or Harris, there’s an excellent chance that the top of your head came off.

There’s this pattern with media coverage of organized atheism. When a media outlet decides that atheism is interesting and important, they all too often turn to Dawkins or Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?”

Atheism does have better leaders. Plenty of them. Organized atheism has hundreds of leaders, arguably thousands — leaders of support organizations, charitable organizations, advocacy groups, online communities, local groups, and more. I’d like to introduce you to eight of them.

(Transparency note: All the people on this list are colleagues, and some are friends.)

Rebecca Hensler 150
1: Rebecca Hensler. In 2011, Hensler founded Grief Beyond Belief, a support organization for people who are grieving without belief in an afterlife or a higher power. They provide online and face-to-face opportunities for people to share compassion, advice, and resources without the intrusion of religion or spiritualism. Since 2011, they have expanded to a confidential Facebook-based support group with over 1,800 members and seven other volunteer administrators; a website with a library of over 300 links to faith-free grief writing, podcasts and videos; and secular grief-support workshops at freethought events around the US. Right now, they’re working on bringing secular grief support workshops to as many communities as possible.

Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next ten to twenty years?

Well, first of all, I want everyone who joins the organized community with respect and goodwill to feel welcomed, included and represented, regardless of gender, economic resources, race, education, political leanings or age. That means that so-called leaders need to cut the crap and check themselves and each other regarding how they treat people who aren’t in the same demographic as the “Four Horsemen.” I don’t want to be part of a community that says, “Welcome to new atheism; now fork out a couple hundred bucks to register for a conference and prepare for a weekend of microaggressions and invisibility.” When nonbelievers who never even knew there was an organized atheist community encounter it through Grief Beyond Belief, I want them to feel like there is a place to plug in where their needs are considered and their contributions — whatever they may be — are appreciated.

Over the next decade, I see the secular support movement growing, meeting an ever broader range of needs, and becoming more visible. I envision the organized atheist community developing as a structure with four sides: a political side including activists, lobbyists and politicians (because we will be seeing out atheist politicians within the next decade); an academic side, including scientists, historians and philosophers; a communications side including writers, podcasters and video producers; and a supportive side meeting the emotional, social and welfare needs of nonbelievers. Imagine what we can do if we all work together and respect and benefit from each other’s work!

What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?

First of all, there’s the realistic fear many have of living as out atheists. People who are physically safe being out, with sufficient resources to cushion themselves from potential harm, must let go of the need to feel comfortable too. There will be a substantial amount of feeling uncomfortable before the majority of Americans are cool with us. We went through it as queers and most of us survived it. Atheists can do it too; at least atheists aren’t fighting an epidemic at the same time.

Secondly, there’s the way the mainstream media is always looking to the same people to speak for our movement. We need to encourage the visibility of the everyday people doing the work of growing and nurturing the community. What is it with movements needing leaders and spokespeople anyway? Just once could we create change without elevating certain people above the rest as symbols of that change?

Thirdly (and you knew I would get to this) there are conflicts within the atheist movement. We often neglect to assume best intentions, which is a strategy necessary for healthy collaboration. But assuming best intentions with our fellow atheists is a challenge when there is a small cadre of atheists whose intentions are not kind or respectful but threatening and abusive, specifically towards women who identify and criticize sexism. There are also a substantial number of community members, many of whom I call friends, who don’t always differentiate that cadre’s hateful and violent speech from respectful disagreement. This has led to a ever-widening chasm between the “let’s all get along” folk and a number of prominent atheist feminists.

The hateful cadre? They can go to nonexistent hell. No one who makes any kind of threat belongs in the atheist community. The rest of us would benefit from figuring out how to work together. That would require the “let’s all get along” folk to stop referring to threats and hate speech as “disagreement.” And it would require us feminists to be very careful ourselves about not mistaking disagreement or ignorance for unforgivable bigotry. As Bernice Johnson Reagon said, “a coalition is not a home”; we should not need to agree or even feel comfortable with each other to work together.

Do you consider yourself a “new atheist”? Why or why not?

Hold on while I google “New Atheists”…

Honestly, I’m not sure. I think and write a lot about atheism, but mostly in terms of what people need to be well and happy in the only lifetime we’ve got. Part of the definition of a New Atheist appears to be encouraging others to let go of faith-based beliefs and base their actions on reason and knowledge; that’s not my role in the atheist community.

However, the secular support movement helps people live with the challenges and troubles that come with being human without turning to myths or mysticism, and that makes leaving religion easier for those who choose to. And I’m not certain the secular support movement would have arisen in the organic way it has without the rise of new atheism first. So maybe I’m post-new-atheism… Continue reading “Eight Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris”

Eight Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris

8 Awesome Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris

If you’ve read anything about the blossoming atheist movement, there’s a good chance it was about Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. And if you’re a reasonably progressive person who cares about sexism and racism, and you’ve read about Dawkins or Harris, there’s an excellent chance that the top of your head came off.

There’s this pattern with media coverage of organized atheism. When a media outlet decides that atheism is interesting and important, they all too often turn to Dawkins or Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?”

Atheism does have better leaders. Plenty of them. Organized atheism has hundreds of leaders, arguably thousands — leaders of support organizations, charitable organizations, advocacy groups, online communities, local groups, and more. I’d like to introduce you to eight of them.

1 Rebecca Hensler 150
2 Debbie Goddard 150
3 August Brunsman 150
4 Muhammad Syed 150

5 Sarah Morehead 150
6 Mandisa Thomas 150
7 Noelle George 150
8 Amanda Metskas 150

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 8 Awesome Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. To find out who they are and to find out more about them, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPG
Coming Out Atheist
Bending
why are you atheists so angry
Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

8 Awesome Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris