Withdrawing My Endorsement of Sunday Assembly Los Angeles

When I was invited to be the main speaker for the first-ever Sunday Assembly Los Angeles, I felt very optimistic. The people with whom I worked were so incredibly helpful, I got to cover an awesome topic that gave me an excuse to further educate myself, and the event went swimmingly. The press coverage wasn’t bad, either. I later spoke at the first Sunday Assembly Orange County as well.

As rarely happens, I had hope about something. But, as always happens when I do have them, those hopes were dashed. I have recently found out that this April, Sunday Assembly Los Angeles is hosting Michael Shermer. His talk is promoting the latest of his many books.

The topic? Morality. Yes, really.

Based on all that is at hand, as well as a promise I have made before, I have no choice but to not only decline the offer they have given me to emcee a future event but also to withdraw, with regret and apology, any form of support or endorsement I have ever given to SA-LA.

Contact information for SA-LA can be found here. I especially encourage you to reach out and share your concerns if you are local to Southern California.

I reached out to them already. Details of that below the jump. Continue reading “Withdrawing My Endorsement of Sunday Assembly Los Angeles”

Withdrawing My Endorsement of Sunday Assembly Los Angeles

Dear Associated Press: That Picture Was of Sunday Assembly LA’s Main Speaker

Update: The issue is to be rectified.

A mega-church is defined as a church that has “2,000 or more in average weekend attendance.” Seeing as Sunday Assembly can measure its attendance in hundreds, not thousands, it doesn’t quite qualify. Nor have there been enough Sunday Assemblies for there to be anything approximately approaching “average weekend attendance.” So much for the AP’s reporting choices (which have gone on to influence ABC NewsVoice of RussiaSalon, and even The Raw Story).

In terms of connotations rather than strict denotation, I’m going to quote Hemant.

Semantics aside, there’s another problem with the coverage. As many of you have alerted me to the fact, I’d be remiss in not mentioning the fact that a picture of me is trending on Yahoo News. What the Associated Press missed what that I was not only an attendee, I was the main speaker for the Los Angeles iteration of Sunday Assembly.

Yes, this out and proud atheist was invited to be the main speaker for Sunday Assembly Los Angeles, which was held this past weekend. The LA event page listed the word “atheist” and there were plenty of allusions to atheism, godlessness, and even hints of anti-theism at Sunday Assembly LA. Whatever might have happened at other locations, the Los Angeles version of Sunday Assembly had a very clear target audience: those who believe in no gods and follow no religions, including those who self-identify as atheists.

As I mentioned in my talk there, which was about people overlooked by history to whom we can be grateful, the gathering was, by far, the most church-like thing I’ve ever attended in my ex-Muslim life. It felt odd and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself when asked to clap, stamp, sing, and otherwise show my enthusiasm in a vocal way. All the same, as the picture of me that’s trending shows, I had an awesome time.

If only the the caption had managed to mention the fact that I was, as I mentioned, the main speaker for the event.

Why is this important to me? Obviously, it represents something of a missed opportunity for promotion for me. More importantly, the erasure of my name and my role in the event angers me because it’s coverage like this that promotes the notion that atheism is still a white-dominated old boys’ club. The reason I’m happy to put my name and face on things is to directly combat and challenge that idea, to ensure that both those curious about and wary of atheism are aware that it isn’t just for a certain class of people. I cannot work to do so if reporters at an event fail to recognize that one of the pictures they chose to depict the event just happens to include its main longform speaker. Such neglect contributes towards the further stigmatization and marginalization of non-white, non-male atheists.

To the contributors at the Associated Press responsible for this omission, I ask that you do your job and amend the caption to include my name and my role in Sunday Assembly Los Angeles.

Dear Associated Press: That Picture Was of Sunday Assembly LA’s Main Speaker