Atheist

Reason Rally 2016

Hi everyone. I’m back from the Reason Rally so I thought I’d share my time and thoughts with you. The first Reason Rally was such a great experience. It was going to be a once in a lifetime event and I just had to be there. I was a fledgling atheist and being surrounded by so many like-minded individuals was great. The speakers themselves were amazing, not to mention their impactful words. I was inspired as I mentioned in an earlier post. I just knew, when I heard about the upcoming Reason Rally, that I just had to be there.

At the end of 2015, I heard an interview with David Silverman that he had a book coming out. I pre-ordered the ebook on Amazon and read it in one day. After that I was transformed. I was angry. I was ready to lay down my banner as atheist and adopt the apropos adjective “Firebrand”. I created the Twitter account (@PittAtheist) and this blog. I joined our local CFI chapter and got involved with the local community. I stopped listening to many of my mundane podcasts and devoured many of the atheist-driven ones (I plan to do a full write up on all the podcasts I listen to). My free time was now almost-wholly devoted to this cause. I just KNEW I had to go to the Reason Rally.

After listening to The Thinking Atheist podcast with Seth Anderson I also bought a ticket to the after party because I wanted to see Monster on Sunday live. I also bought a ticket to the pre-rally comedy show after hearing that David Smalley of Dogma Debate (I’m now a 4th Listener) was going to emcee it. I work as a delivery driver and so have many hours alone in my van to listen to podcasts. I swear there are weeks I hear these guys’ voices more than my family’s.

At the first Reason Rally I was there to be inspired. This Reason Rally, I wanted to break out of my shell and interact. I wanted to meet people. I wanted to, in person, thank the people who have changed my life tell them such and thank them for the tireless work that they do. And so I, with my hat as my badge, set off for DC.

The P and the A are my icon so I made the hat for people to recognize me.

The P and the A are my icon so I made the hat for people to recognize me.

I, being the crazy on-time person that I am, showed up at the comedy show’s hotel a few hours in advance. So I took a seat at the bar looked over the food menu, then saw this.2016-06-03 17.17.35

I had to order “The Hitch” as Johnnie Walker Black Label is my favorite drink as well. As I’ve said for years, “Good enough for Hitch, good enough for me”. So with a belly full of food and drink, I made my way to the comedy show. While in line I got a tweet from Jenica of Dogma Debate saying that she saw my hat in line (Sadly, I never got to meet her in person, but hey the FFRF convention is just around the corner!) and that was the first indication that this was going to be an awesome event. I’ll just get this out of the way now, but it will keep coming up. Every person I met was so kind, generous with their time, and dammit just good people. My heart overflows with the outpouring of support this community shows and I’m proud to be just a member of it.

The comedians were great and there was just such a positive vibe in the room. No one was negative, just a fun atmosphere living in the moment. During one of the breaks, I got my first encounter with celebrity (to me anyways). I learned about the Dogma Debate podcast from a friend in the community. On her recommendation I downloaded the most recent episode, which had to deal with the SJW movement. Now I had my own thoughts and feelings on the issue and wasn’t expecting much, truth be told. But upon listening to the episode I was blown away. There was an honesty in the host that you don’t hear in the mainstream media. He asked good, tough questions (similar to the ones I had) and got good honest responses back. Now, my mind didn’t change on the subject but I had such respect for the discourse that I listened to. This was a show I looked forward to listening to. I heard about Greydon Square (I’m a hardcore metal head and I was blown away by this rap artist, who incidentally I was put in contact with and chatted over Twitter to, because of Dogma Debate) and Monster on Sunday (More on them later). But it was their three hour episode about a protest over the trans-bathroom issue that made me financially support them. These people did something. They went and were apart of the protest. And they spoke so passionately and candidly about the subject, it blew me away. These were the type of atheist advocates I wanted to become. Me and David Smalley

After the comedy show I got back to my hotel and tried my best to get to sleep. It was Xmas Eve night all over again. I had a hard time falling asleep because of the growing excitement in me.

Shower, breakfast, pre-rally selfie and the tweeting began.

Pre-Reason Rally Selfie so my followers could find me.

Pre-Reason Rally Selfie so my followers could find me.

We got the shuttle and arrived about an hour early. Being at the other end of the National Mall made for some spectacular photos and just a great setting for the rally. I got to walk around a bit before and got some shots at the Lincoln Memorial. My friend and I then checked out the exhibitors tent, reupped my membership to American Atheists, collected some various propaganda, and found a nice, shady location to drop anchor for the festivities. 2016-06-04 11.49.40

It was overcast for most of the day, but the heat and humidity was still around making for a somewhat sweaty/uncomfortable day. But that didn’t hamper anything. The first few speakers were good. We even did the Pledge of Allegiance the “right” way, which is always fun. Then this tweet came across my timeline

Oh man, oh man. Am I going to get to meet him? What the hell do you say to the person you admire so much? Shit I bought his book as an ebook from Amazon. Bloody well can’t sign an ebook. So I work up the nerve to head over to at least shake his hand and thank him for all the work he does. I wait in a rather unkempt line and it was finally my turn. Damn he’s tall (not Penn Jillette tall, but then again, who is?). This was it, my chance. And he was the nicest guy. Shook my hand, posed for a picture, seemed genuinely honored at my heaping amount of praise for his work and he even acquiesced to my odd request.

David Fucking Silverman

David
Fucking
Silverman

DAVID SILVERMAN SIGNED MY KINDLE!!!!

DAVID SILVERMAN SIGNED MY KINDLE!!!!

Walking a few inches above the ground, I made my way back to my spot to hear Penn Jillette (My atheist sherpa) give his presentation. Technical difficulties abound, it was still an awesome experience. I’m just as emotional as he is, so when he introduced James Randi to the stage, well, it certainly got dusty all of a sudden.

It got nearing lunch time and there was a slight break in the acts I really wanted to see (Can’t wait to catch everything on YouTube in a few days) so my friend and I trotted off in search of food. We cruised through the protesters, ate, and with some time before Mr. Silverman took the stage headed to the Vietnam War Memorial. I was a history major in school and this was an awe-inspiring moment for me. It truly solidified my anti-hawk war status. There it was. A giant black scar in the middle of the capital of our great country. I am certain proud to be an American, but I’m even prouder of those who gave their lives so we could be such a great free country. Without those and so countless other men and women giving everything, we certainly couldn’t be holding the rally we all were attending. In all honesty, nothing but the utmost of respect to these individuals.

Panorama shot of the Vietnam War Memorial

Panorama shot of the Vietnam War Memorial

With precious minutes to spare before the speech I really wanted to see, I head into a portajohn for necessary business. I step out and kinda/sorta recognize a guy walking our way with a camera. Looking at tiny Twitter user icons on your phone and seeing a living, breathing human walking your way, certainly lends some skepticism. But with the luck I had been having meeting people, I took a shot. “Excuse me, but are you Seth?”

Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist podcast

It’s Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist podcast!

Indeed it was. There’s no way he could have lied, because once he spoke, I was slapped in the face with his amazing, perfect-for-radio, voice. This was another podcast I found in my blooming, fire-brand infancy. And honestly, even if you aren’t a fan of podcasts or don’t even know how they work, check out this episode because it, for me, is the pinnacle of atheist activism media. In this episode he tackles home-schooling cults and let me say, it was an eye-opener.

http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/podcast/homeschool-cults-part-1-of-2

http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/podcast/homeschool-cults-part-2-of-2

When it gets posted to YouTube, I’ll post the David Silverman speech here. It was something to behold. It was uplifting, funny and most importantly rallying. I am an atheist. Period. I matter. I vote. I have a voice and come nothing or high water, I will be heard. I can’t thank you enough, Mr. Silverman. Me being moved by your speech was an understatement.

My friend and I wandered around some more took in a few sights and set anchor again for more speeches. Cara Santa Maria (Who hosts another podcast I listen “Talk Nerdy”) gave a real fun speech. And she introduced Bill Nye, who c’mon, is everyone’s favorite science guy. I was standing on the footpath behind all the people sitting. Just then this guy with a  hat stands up directly in my line of sight.2016-06-04 16.30.20

He’s walking to the footpath and stops to take in the rest of Mr. Nye’s speech. I had to applaud this dude with his choice of footwear.

Sweet sciencey Chucks, mister.

Sweet sciencey Chucks, mister.

He turns around and HOLY SHIT!!!! IT’S LAWRENCE KRAUSS!!!!!

Lawrence Krauss in the house!!!!

Lawrence Krauss in the house!!!!

I shook his hand and thanked him for all the work he’s done. I loved “The Unbelievers” and his book “A Universe from Nothing” is about as good as any science book out there. Mr. Krauss is a genius and a treasure. And speaking with him, he was the kindest, gentlest, most gracious man I met. We all should look up to him and be like him.

After a few more talks (Seriously, to all the people who were there, Kelly Carlin’s speech was kinda weird, right? If I’m alone in the statement, so be it, but I just had to throw my $0.02 out there) my friend left and I wandered about on my own. Just hanging out behind all the tents was Mr. Hemant Mehta, who we’ve all read articles by. No picture but I did get to shake his hand and thank him for his work. Same goes for Dave Rubin (Fuck, that’s an attractive dude. I was a sweaty mess and he, with his perfectly gelled hair and mirrored Ray-bans, looked amazing ). No picture, but I did thank him for his podcast. He tackles some tough issues but with an air of integrity, honesty, and just comes to conclusions using facts, that I just admire. He’s a great figure for the atheist community and I hope he has a ton of success.

The Reason Rally ended and I, wearily, made my way to the Crystal City after-party. To add one thing until I get into the meat of this part of my story…In the after-party they had gender neutral bathrooms. Both the typical men’s and women’s rooms, had a sign up saying it was gender neutral. And I never encountered those before. And you know what happened? I went in, peed, washed my hands, and left. See how easy that is? Was there men in there with me? Was there women in there with me?  I don’t know because I peed, washed my hands, then left.

I only had one interest at the after party: Monster on Sunday. It has been a while since my last concert and I wanted to let loose. Guys, this is a seriously good band. Forget the message for a moment, there’s significant talent here. The lead singer has pipes and a stage presence that’s unbeatable and Lee is a fucking monster on the bass.

Monster on Sunday

Monster on Sunday

LEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

LEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Add into this talent their atheist message and well they’ve got me as a fan for life. I first heard about the band through my podcasts (Dogma Debate and The Thinking Atheist, if I recall correctly). I downloaded their album and immediately fell in love with their song “Pain”. The rest are good too, don’t get me wrong, but that song has some goddamn emotion behind it. Give it a listen if you have a chance and definitely show them some love. There really is something special about ending the Reason Rally, rocking out to an atheist rock band with Aron Ra on your left and David Silverman on your right.

Well, I thought that was the end of my Reason Rally experience. I was tired from a long day in the sun and long night rocking hard. I was so drunk on tired it was hard to see straight. I was coming up the escalator, as the party was on the lowest floor, and I heard someone yell something. Words weren’t important at the time, and in my confusion and stupor and mental atrophy, I said, without thought, “I recognize that voice”. The perpetrator stopped in his tracks and turned around. I didn’t recognize the face, but when he spoke again, it clicked. It was Eli Bosnick from my favorite collection of atheist/comedy podcasts, “God Awful Movies”, “The Skeptocrat”, and “Scathing Atheist”. Lo and behold, these two other guys come down and it was the other two hosts! I was so unprepared and completely taken aback. I’ve had these guys cracking me up in my head for a few months now with no idea what they looked like. And now I’m standing in front of them and not really believing it until they start talking. I take the escalator behind them and just start laughing to myself. These three are obviously great friends and here they are talking like normal friends do about mundane stuff and I’m flipping out because….I KNOW THOSE VOICES!

Noah Lugeons, Heath Enwright, Eli Bosnick, and me in the most perfect Reason Rally foursome possible.

Noah Lugeons, Heath Enwright, Eli Bosnick, and me in the most perfect Reason Rally foursome possible.

 

It truly was an awesome end to an awesome weekend.

And before I close out this blog post, I want to give a special shout-out to two of my twitter followers.

@Letha_Hughes and @ThomTrue

Because of the Reason Rally I was able to meet these two in person. You’re always leery of meeting people from the internet. Anyone can hide behind a username and type in one way and act in a completely different way. But it bears repeating, this community has some of the best people on earth. I’m beyond happy to have connected with you guys. In a crowd that big, it’s hard to meet up with people, but we found a way. With no overstatement, you two have pushed me to go on and do more online so that I can attempt to meet more awesome people, but make no mistake, I’ll always remember who was there first.

Me and @ThomTrue

Me and @ThomTrue

 

Me and @Letha_Hughes

Me and @Letha_Hughes

So again, thank you to all I met. It was a profoundly amazing experience. It’ll be hard to top it in 2020, but you can be damn sure I’ll be there, ready, willing, and able to try.

My New Tattoo

Permanence. Few things in life have this quality. People change. Locations change. Hell, even strongly held beliefs change. As I’ve said previously, I was a Catholic and became an atheist. I don’t see myself going back. Ever. 

I am proud of this change I have made. Proud of what it symbolizes. Proud of the wonderful community I’ve entered. Proud of the changes I hope I’ll soon be making in my local community. 

I’ve written previously that I became an atheist in high school. It wasn’t until one event that I became more outspoken in my atheism. I attended the Reason Rally in 2012. My hope was to go to a fun event and listen to some people who I had grown to have a fondness for. I got to hear my favorite musician, Tim Minchin perform. In fact, while there he did my favorite artistic endeavor “Storm”. After standing in the rain, saying those words I had memorized, I thought nothing would top that. I love “Storm” and all that it signifies. I think it’s brilliant written and even more brilliantly performed. I was awestruck at the sense of community as we all said those words, similar to the feelings of patriotism when a large group sings the national anthem. I thought, at that time, nothing would top it. I got a video from my personal hero, Penn Jillette. I got to see, who some claim is my doppelganger, and someone I really respect, Adam Savage speak. I got to see a beloved comedian, Eddie Izzard, say some really impassioned words. I got to learn who Greta Christina was and have come to enjoy her writing. I got to see the Amazing Randi truly live up to his name. Then I got to see a man who I truly, deeply respect speak. And I was stunned at the way his words resonated with me.

The phrase that hit home with me the most was “Let no one who knows you, think that they don’t know an atheist.” That shook me to my core. Yeah, I was an atheist. Yes, my family and some of my friends knew. But I’m part of something larger now. And it was part of my responsibilty and duty to live up to those ideals. To share my point of view, in fact, the correct world view that this is no god. A simple, yet powerful statement. Everything I do, is because there is no god. I am a good person, period. No fear of punishment, no expectation of reward, good for goodness’ sake. I wanted to be a knowledgeable person that others who had doubts or mere questions could come to for said knowledge or advice. It was at that time I wanted an atheist tattoo. I wanted to proudly display that I am a man of reason, logic, and science. That my actions and thoughts were only determined by pure, testable facts. But…what to get?

I didn’t want to be antagonistic. “Piss Christ” or a picture of someone defecating on a bible, would get the point across but not the message I wanted to send. Something simple, but still recognizable. Something overt and not hidden. Not something regrettable in a few years time. I wanted a symbol of who I was and just how much being an atheist meant to me. I stewed awhile and came across the Out Campaign.

The Out Campaign was designed to create awareness about atheism and freethought. It borrowed a theme from “The Scarlet Letter” and its symbol is a red letter “A”. A symbol meant at one time to denote shame and in turn create solidarity. No longer will we be shamed into silence by being an atheist. We are out and proud and those days of hiding were no more. What better thing to “brand” oneself with? The fact that The Out Campaign was endorsed by Richard Dawkins and his foundation was just icing on the cake for me. Mr. Dawkins has done so much for my path to being an open atheist, that I felt this was easily the right decision for me.

I took awhile to decide when to get it. I got a few more tattoos in the interim, but the thought was always in the back of my mind. When I got my Doctor Who tattoo all I could think was “This could be my atheist one instead”.

After reading David Silverman’s book “Fighting God” I knew when it had to be done. I had made plans to attend the Reason Rally in 2016. With how much the event meant to me and how transformative it was, I knew that I wanted it done for the upcoming rally. So without further ado:

Tattoo

The Day It All Changed

I became an atheist at a young age. I went through Catholic Sunday school all the way until eighth grade, but I stopped believing long before that. Kinda around the age you come to find *SPOILER ALERT* that the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus are not real too.
Now,  when I was younger it seemed to be a bad thing. Being that my parents and to my knowledge everyone around me was a theist, I kept my atheism to myself.  It was my thing. Whatever you did was your thing. While we both couldn’t be right, I was okay with the notion that you believed what you wanted.  However, one day that changed. One day it wasn’t enough for me to be an atheist. The world needed to know it. The world needed to know that the majority were wrong. And that innocent people died because of sheer ignorance.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001. We all know the stories. The truths and the fictions. The stories, the heartbreak, the unnecessary loss. As we, around the world, the atheist community can point to one specific date in time and say, “Religion is harmful.” A holy book…a god…wanted these people to commit these acts, all because “America” didn’t believe in the same nonsense as another group. This lead to a terrorist attack. Lives were lost. Solely, because of religion.
I was in high school when these events took place. I was scared. I was worried. I was nervous. But as the hours wore on, as more truth-filled information became available, what I mostly became was pissed. Pissed at what the world allows. Pissed at what is OK to believe. It’s OK for those people to believe they will go to “heaven” (no proof of existence) if they kill people who don’t believe like them. This is utter nonsense. This is a travesty. Why is faith a good thing? Why do we, as rational beings, say it’s okay to believe things without evidence. And on top of that, people are god-damn fucking proud of it. It all culminated in an utter hatred of religion. It’s cute that you think one man gathered every species of every animal everywhere and put them ALL on one boat. Cute. It’s a fucking travesty you think it’s okay to murder heretics. Twisted.
I was an outspoken, militant atheist from that point on. We’re better than this. There’s not one reason for the world to allow this mass delusion to continue. When 9/11 happened I was done with being nice and kind to religious people. You can like a different sports team than me and I can be okay with that. It doesn’t cause pain. It doesn’t kill people. Jokingly, you can be “wrong” about liking the Philadelphia Flyers. Religion causes untold psychological problems.  Religion hurts. Religion kills. Period. There’s no excuse to be silent anymore. There’s no excuse not to fight for reason.
It’s best summed up by something I heard from the great Professor Richard Dawkins say at the Reason Rally in 2012. His point was to let no one who knows you, think they don’t know an atheist. That was my mission. That was my goal. Atheists are around. Atheists exist. We’re good people. And on the “god” question, we’re right. Period.

 

This I Believe

This is going to be a longish post so bear with me. Here is a few things I believe, so that you can better understand me and why I’m beginning this journey.

I believe this is no supernatural. Reality are the things we can see/touch/hear/quantify/etc. Anything outside of that is non-existent. When we can do those things, then things exist. I make no claims that there never was and never will be a deity. Only that the evidence for such is so lacking it borders on unacceptable. Again, I’m open to the idea that a deity could exist because tomorrow that evidence could appear, or next week, next month, etc. However, from everything I’ve experienced, I do not live my life thinking that it is a plausible occurrence. Thus, I consider myself an atheist.

Now that is a scary word to many, many people. It was hard for me to accept for a short time. However, there’s no need to be scared of it. It means several things to me as well. One is that I don’t think of anything concerning an afterlife. The time I have alive is all I get, so I really try to make the most of it. I do what I enjoy because a time will come where I won’t be able to do such things. It also makes me treat people with respect. I can’t be a mean, disrespectful person my whole life and casually repent on my deathbed. I have to take responsibility for my actions now because there is no other time to do so. Atheism also created in my a newfound respect for other people and their decisions. I, honestly, have any reason to discriminate. We are all humans. We should all have equal rights. There is no scientific, logical reason that LGBT people should suffer indiscretions from a government who is supposedly outside the sphere of religious influence. The only person who should be concerned with getting an abortion is the owner of the uterus. No one else gets a say when I get a wart removed from my foot, even though that’s a “living thing”. I’ve come to learn that “religious freedom” is synonymous with “I am free to impose my religious doctrines upon you” and I just don’t think that is right. We are a free society and should be free from this.

This has lead me to my activism. I have been an atheist for almost 15 years and only recently have I been so outspoken about it. Two things changed me. One was attending the Reason Rally in 2012 (and I will be attending in 2016!!! Much more on that in later posts) and the other was reading David Silverman’s book “Fighting God”. In his book, he lays out, quite clearly, not the reasons to be an atheist, but to be an outspoken, “Firebrand” atheist. He has facts to back this up which I urge every atheist I know to read this fantastic book. It really opened my eyes to the stigma and harsh reality that us atheists face and is a primer on how and why to fight back.

Be forewarned. I will not tread lightly on the subject of religion. Ridicule of ideas is a completely ok thing in my book. And it will happen here…a lot.

And now for this blog. I got tired of sitting on Twitter and other places not doing much of anything. I wanted to participate. I wanted to be seen and heard. I wanted to be another soldier…in the war on Christmas! But seriously, I wanted to do something. So I made this blog and a brand new Twitter feed so I could be someone more than myself. I could become part of the bigger Atheist community!