Monday, July 2, 2012

Why You Should Attend an Atheist Conference

If you are an atheist, you might have been so put off by the civil war regarding sexism and harassment that you don't want to be anywhere near an atheist gathering. I understand that feeling as I've said here. However, I think I have a solution to that despair - one that certainly worked well for me.

Just fucking go.

Forget the bullshit and the whining, the fighting and the name-calling, the eye-rolling and the caterwauling and just go to a meeting. Large or small, doesn't matter. National, state, or local - makes no difference. Find a meetup and go.

Despite my deep despair over how the atheist internet community has become a rather unwelcoming and hostile space, I thought back about how all my real-life, in-person gatherings have been fabulous. So Nathan and I put on our DFFT t-shirts, packed our bags, and went to the Alabama Freethought Association's Glorious Fourth at Lake Hypatia. And guess what? It was wonderful! It was the best medicine yet.

It's one thing to read great blogs but it's quite another thing to meet Al Stefanelli, JT Eberhard, and Dr. Darrel Ray and find out that they are warm, caring, friendly human beings. And when I say those words, I mean them. I'm talking about people who laughed with me, listened to me, hugged me in both joy and sorrow. Real folks with real feelings. 

It's tempting to let the internet become our idea of what the world really looks like and maybe to some degree it is. But it's also true that there is the face-to-face world where we can find greater empathy and solidarity with others. If our efforts to spread skepticism and freethinking values is to succeed, we must be willing to communicate those values with others and reinforce them in our community. We must be willing to work with others and to encourage each other. Conferences can do that. They can give us a place to come together, have fun, learn new things, and figure out how to be better people.

We can't sit around and wait for our community to be perfect. Indeed, I would argue that our community is not a place for perfect people - it's a place for people who are continually striving to learn more and be better people. Just as Christians tell you that you can't wait for the church to be perfect, neither can we sit around wringing our hands and waiting for our time to come. We must show up at these meetings and work for what we want. 

In this vein, I'm going to stop sitting around and waiting for the perfect post to come into my head. Instead, I'm going to try to write here every day and, if the post isn't perfect, so what? At least I will be moving in the right direction.

So too do I encourage you to stop waiting for a comfortable moment and seize the day. Do what you can - no matter how small. Go to a local meetup. Get involved in a conversation. Start that blog. Make a small move and the next will be easier and easier until, before you know it, you're taking large strides. That's how our community is going to get larger, better, and more effective.

So find a local meetup or a conference close by. Grab a friend or two and go. Do it and become part of our community instead of someone just sitting on the sidelines. Do it today because the world needs to hear our voice and the atheist community needs to hear yours.