Doing Double Duty

A growing trend in the Secular/Atheist/Skeptic movement:
charity.

picture of a woman smiling outdoors
SWiSS Co-Director Lavada Luening

About 4 years ago I began hosting an annual Halloween costume party at my home here in WI.  I usually have a cute theme, this year it is Gods and Goddesses.  I have have to drag my husband kicking and screaming the whole time to help me pull it off, but I couldn’t do it without him.  I always do a Hunger Task Force Food Drive as a price for entry to the party where they get free food, booze, and some sort of fabulous entertainment or special celebrity guest.  I have hosted this party with Southeast WI Freethinkers (SWiFT) a local non-profit freethinker organization, and this year SWiSS (Southeast Wisconsin Secular She-Thinkers) is having their Coming Out Gala at this year’s event.  Shelley Segal will be playing for our guests this year as well.  So much fun….and for a good cause too.

Last month I attended Pastahcon ( #Pastah2015) put on by Brian Fields and his team at Pennsylvania Atheists and Humanists and 11 sponsors that included SWiSS, Camp Quest, Be Secular and others. They put on a wonderful event with more than 20 fantastic speakers and entertainers including Aron Ra, Matt Dillahunty, Marybeth Mooney, Seth Andrews, David Fitzgerald, Mandisa Thomas, and my girl crush Shelley Segal. I went to 2 VIP parties…and after-parties aplenty.  Listened to great comedy, music, lectures, and podcasts.  But despite all that super fun stuff that I was a part of…it was the very last thing that I was the most excited about before the conference started. And I was rightly so…as it exceeded all my expectations.   

The very last 2 hours before we left for the 12 hour drive back to WI, my husband and I were privileged to be on a team of 80 volunteers, including speakers and entertainers from the event mixed with vendors and attendees, from the Annual PA State Atheist/Humanist Conference.  We assembled and packed 30,300 meals for Atheists Fight Hunger in tandem with Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. PA Non-Believers , raised $7,575 (.25 per meal) in just 1 year. Almost 25% of those donations came from the volunteers attending the event! And after having experienced it, it has left such an impression on me.  I hope this trend continues.

It provided a unique bonding experience for all those involved.  Working side by side with your role models, peers, fans, and old friends… I made new friends that I am sure will be part of my life for years to come. I was standing side by side with Richard Carrier and Amanda Mestkas…. can you imagine?!!! Even my husband enjoyed himself!!!

I would love to see every event that is hosted by a secular/atheist/freethinker/skeptic or whatever group have a humanitarian component.  Events that raise awareness entertain, and give back are the way of the future.  Mark my words.

Historically Accurate vs. Being an Asshole

Blackface is racist no matter why you’re donning it.
An experienced reenactor explains why.

Woman with glassed and a red hat smiling at camera
SWiSS Co-Director Charvonne Carlson

As of late, there is a growing number of cosplay who feel the need to do “blackface”. Their reasoning is that they are doing it to be more historically “accurate”. Unfortunately for the People of Color audience, the majority of us think you are an “asshole.”

See, reenactors, cosplayers, and the like have been doing this for decades. In all of those years, not once have I seen or heard of any that in order to be more authentic they need to paint their face the skin tone of the person they were portraying if they happen to be of a color different from theirs. At least not until now.

While make-up technique and products have advanced to amazing levels, it isn’t necessary, especially in cosplay, where you have myriad characters to choose from that are various colors of green, purple and pink — if playing with the make-up is what you are looking to do. So I am a little taken aback when I see a cosplay or reenactor don “blackface”, “yellowface”, “brownface” or “redface”.

See, I have been doing medieval reenactment for a number of years. Never once in that time did any of us think that in order to be more accurate to the period we were representing that we should, “paint” ourselves. The things we obsessed about, was getting our outfits as correct and believable to the time we were portraying as possible. Making sure our encampments matched what we felt was an authentic representation of how they lived during that time, the food they ate, the dishes they used, down to whether or not underwear was a “thing”. We nitpicked over hair styles, veils, shoes, the nails used to make a box, and not once did anyone stand up and exclaim, ahhh we need to paint ourselves white, or brown, or yellow so that we match the time period correctly. NOT ONCE! Because we understood the negative association with that practice AND it wasn’t necessary. If you did all the other parts right, we could imagine the skin tone you might have had during that time.

So I say all this because while I completely understand the need to be as close to the real thing as possible, short of BEING it, it is not necessary to alienate and anger an entire group of people in the name of accuracy. Because what you really are doing is being an ASSHOLE.

 

Namaste,

Charvonne Carlson

“Hey, sexy. Hello?”

Street harassment and why it needs to stop

woman smiling with sunglasses in front of water
SWiSS Secretary Christine Jackson

 

The street in front of my apartment building was being re-paved. As I walked to the bus stop on my way to work, I saw a construction worker across the street and had a crazy notion that he would say something unnecessary to me. He chose, “Hey, sexy.” When I kept my eyes forward and kept walking without responding, he said, “Hello?”, as if perplexed that I might ignore his sincere attempt to talk to me.

I don’t mind being considered sexy. I do mind being accosted by some rando who believes that yelling comments about my body from across the street is an appropriate and authentic way to engage with me. Why be a cliché? Why should I feel on edge every time I pass by a man with a yellow hat and a neon vest?

Later that evening, when I got off work, I dropped my earphones as the bus pulled up. I picked up my earphones and boarded the bus, and as I walked by the bus driver said, “You don’t want to forget your lipstick.” I didn’t engage.

Why make such a comment? Why trivialize my clumsiness by mentioning lipstick? Why not save your “sense of humor” for the man getting on the bus behind me?

I’m shocked by how quickly and naturally these comments fly out of men’s mouths, showing that such ways of interacting with women are deeply embedded in the male psyche. Having these two incidents occur in the same day impressed upon me an important truth: women’s boundaries are under attack every day solely and specifically based on their gender. It’s unsettling to hear unsolicited comments tinged with sexual or sexist connotations. As a woman taking public transportation most of the time, I put up a guard to fend off crazy. I don’t usually have to fend off casual sexism spoken with the ease of a benign hello.

Stop Street Harassment, a nonprofit organization dedicated to offering resources and information to end street harassment, offers this working definition: “Gender-based street harassment is unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Street harassment includes unwanted whistling, leering, sexist, homophobic or transphobic slurs, persistent requests for someone’s name, number or destination after they’ve said no, sexual names, comments and demands, following, flashing, public masturbation, groping, sexual assault, and rape.” More information can be found here: http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/

Street harassment matters. It is not a compliment or a harmless joke. It is part and parcel of the struggle women have every day to be seen and treated with respect. It is a by-product of a sexist culture that devalues women and their autonomy over their own bodies and sexuality. It is a boundary violation that is all the more disturbing in its normalcy and prevalence.  It needs to stop.

Filling The Void

Lavada Luening

When people “deconvert,” are they left with nothing? How do secular non-theists handle life’s big questions, traditions, rituals, and celebrations once they take god out of the equation?

picture of a woman smiling outdoors
SWiSS Co-Director Lavada Luening

I was talking to a friend over coffee today and she was lamenting about a time when she actually managed to “deconvert” a woman she once knew; from Christianity, and how much she regretted it.  I have to tell you I was a little shocked.  I mean, isn’t that every atheist’s fantasy?…To reason someone out of their “delusional trappings.”  I am not even sure I have actually achieved that myself, much less felt guilty about it.  So, of course, I asked her why.  Again, her answer was surprising, but at least I could empathize.  As her friend awakened from her sleep, Paula saw firsthand the aftermath.  A woman who was left alone to deal with the emptiness left behind when her faith disappeared. I can imagine the way her friend felt…I mean, I took my own journey out of religion, but mine was gradual.  I awakened on my own.  I came to my reality through cognitive dissonance, not because someone used logic to show me the way there.  I was alone in the beginning…as virtually all my friends and family at the time were religious….I didn’t even possess the vocabulary to define myself as an atheist. Thank goodness for the Googles. It was a gradual transition for me, and that was hard enough.

But Paula’s anonymous friend felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath her.  All those big questions were still there and all those easy answers were gone.  How did we get here?  What is my purpose?  What happens when I die?  There are ways to answer these questions without gods, but it is not easy.  To know how we got here, you need to give yourself an in-depth education in astrophysics, geology, biology, genetics, chemistry,  and history.  I say in-depth because it is more than just learning about science in general…but WHY science is a better way to investigate reality.  How science works and how it is self-correcting, and how we can question what we are taught and test it for ourselves.  This tool is a slayer of myths and a shield that protects us from charlatans and those who wish to keep us ignorant of reality.  There really is no reason to feel empty, but how can you know that until you make the effort inform yourself?

We stand on the shoulders of giants.  We have inherited a magnificent accumulation of knowledge,  from the most brilliant minds humanity has ever produced….and we have it all in a convenient hand-held device that seems to operate by magic in and of itself. Technology has come a long way from the harnessing of fire or the flint arrows of our distant ancestors…but the real change has happened in our access to that information.  Within seconds I can have every whim and question  thoroughly satisfied, and I can do it essentially for free. This ever-quickening accumulation of knowledge has made it virtually impossible to believe the way I was taught by my religious education to answer those big questions.  I am very grateful that I was born at this time in history, because in the not so distant past, access to knowledge was strictly limited to the wealthy, priests, and kings.  My class, my gender, and my heritage would have denied me the ability to discern fact from fiction.   I might not have had the option of learning to read as recently as 100 years ago.  But even now, with all the advantages and privileges we are born into, it is a challenge to get this knowledge and understanding of how we really got here into the minds of some.

I can communicate instantly with those brilliant minds from the past and the present.  I have time to think about the future…not just the immediate future either.  I can understand the end of the Earth, the end of the sun, the colliding of the Milky and Andromeda galaxies, even the ultimate end of our universe if I want to. The predictive power of science gives me the ability to know what will happen after I am long gone from this, my one and only existence. All the prophets that have ever claimed such things fail  miserably when compared to the consistency and reliability of science. Science also gives me the tools to figure where I came from and my true relatedness to everything…literally everything.  In my opinion, this a much more satisfying way of answering the questions of how I came to be and what happens after I am not here anymore.  Science has yet to answer all questions, but it can at least establish a track record of what works and what doesn’t work for discerning reality. But in any circumstance the power to free ourselves from ignorance has never before been this accessible.

The answer to our purpose as individuals is for us to decide ourselves….What can be more awesome and uplifting than that?  To choose what my life means is everything and nothing at the same time.  I know that I was not born to be used as tool in some grand plan and that ultimately me and everything else will be recycled, until every atom evaporates into a cold nothing that will neither help nor harm the “grand scheme of things”.  There is a freedom and a burden that comes with this knowledge.  I have the liberty to use my life to experience the universe right now…to know myself as I really am, to feel what the cosmos really is, to use my brief existence to feel what pleasures and pains this universe is capable of.  I feel a burden to not waste it.  I won’t get another…this is it.  What I want is really all there is.  And I want to know everything I can know.  I want to feel everything I can feel. I want to love and be loved.  The universe is capable of creating love…Isn’t that AMAZING!?  

If believing in a deity makes a person feel love and connectedness to the universe, there really is nothing inherently wrong with that.  Humans are social creatures, and sharing experiences with each other, seeking answers that comfort us and satisfy our questions, and even the need to control our environment (which includes other people sometimes) is natural to our species. The rituals and traditions we perform together are manifestations of love, remembrance, and community.  They exist within and without religion. I happen to exist in a time and place that affords me the luxury of options some never had.  I have ideals and principles that are unique to me, but that I can share with others.  My enlightenment has replaced the warm and fuzzy feeling I received from thinking about Jesus and heaven, but it hasn’t released me from my need and want to share a certain common ground with others.  It has also released me from confusion and anger I had about  the obvious contradictions this world presents.

As a secular atheist, I must allow for others to also share their worldviews on an equal playing field.  Of course, I wish everyone would agree with me, and put in the effort to become science-literate, but that is probably not realistic. I would love to share the awesomeness I feel when I learn something new about the world, and I can do that without religion or gods, but not necessarily without my friends and family.  I can recognize that concepts like “god” and “religion” are manifestations of humanity’s instinct to find the reasons things happen or don’t happen and simultaneously recognize that humanity has produced an even more effective tool to do just that.

If I ever do manage to “deconvert” a person, I promise to make the effort to guide them to the information they need. Perhaps we have a responsibility to those minds we change, replacing their faith in the stories that explain the big questions, with the knowledge we have accumulated over the years. Facts, critical thinking, and logic are the best tools to know our place and time in the vast, complicated, subtle, hostile, and beautiful cosmos.  We mustn’t fail the deconverted by failing to share these things.  Perhaps the guilt Paula felt over her friend’s predicament could’ve been avoided, then again perhaps not.  But I appreciated her sharing her story and her perspective. In this manner we grow…..Changing the world one person at a time.

Changing The World One Person At A Time

WARNING: This post contains a verbatim exchange between the author and an anonymous fan. The language has been left intact to preserve the integrity of the person’s message; however, it does not represent the message of the author or of SWiSS. See our disclaimer for more information.

picture of a woman smiling outdoors
SWiSS Co-Director Lavada Luening

Activism poses struggles to those of us who happen to live in America.  But there is another world outside of our bubble…A world where a person like me would not be safe.  That world is just as real as mine.  Those reminders come to me from time to time, and I would like to share one of those messages with you.

My experiences as an activist often seem mundane and repetitive.  I face a constant but mild resistance to my attitudes and opinions, even amongst my peers. It would be very easy for me to quit or let things slide while others pick up the torch and carry on fighting oppression and inequality.  But I can’t.  I can’t just quit.  Why?  Because I know there are people out there who need me, people without a voice.  I am their voice.  I don’t speak for them…they speak through me. They matter to me and they should matter to you.

Sometimes I get really down.  I have lost many friends during my rise as a Secular Atheist Activist and blogger.  Sometimes I want to give up….I mean, is losing some of my friends and family really worth it? But then I get a message like this one.  It reminds me that I really AM trying to change the world.  I AM changing the world. We have it very easy here in America.  There are still fights to fight, but relatively we have it pretty good.  I worry for people like this man.  And he worries for his people, as do I.  It is important to remember that it is not always WHO we are talking to, it is about WHO is listening.

A letter from a fan…I will call him AZ

AZ- Just fucking love you profile pic…damn..awesome

Me- Thank you, baby.

AZ- You are welcome sweetheart…

AZ- Ur smile is sexy and makes one fall in love with it…

Me- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ycFJRRaqaU

AZ- Fuck..YouTube is banned in Pakistan. Its banned because these paki bastards thinks that YouTube contain blasphemous content so we have to ban it..Religion has fucked up everything everywhere..

AZ- But I will use a proxy to watch it…

Me- Yay.

AZ- Censorship sux

AZ- I am going to watch it using my proxies on my laptop

AZ- Wow!..I am watching you on YouTube..that is amazing…

AZ- Fucking love your voice and your accent…

Me- It was a bit…I was going for funny. lol

AZ- Let me watch it thoroughly…

AZ- This stuff is awesome. Hella funny..

Me- Bernie played along really well….it was a good time

AZ- Yeah the way he is making a serious face is cool…lols

AZ- And you are playing like a true actor…

AZ- You make me laugh my ass off every time you say BROTHER BURNIE…hahhahahah

Me- lol

AZ- Lol..Lavada, actually people who live in USA and Europe don’t know how precious it is to express your thoughts on YouTube or any other platform living in your country…it’s we who know it..if I write just one word and I mean just one small word which even slightly remotely say anything about Islam or Mohammad I will be killed brutally the very next day…

You know we have thousands of examples in my country where people are killed brutally because they were accused of blasphemy. One of my university class fellow has been accused of blasphemy and been put behind bars. He is being sentenced to death and no lawyer is ready to defend his case because one lawyer who was defending his case was been killed by these bloody Muslims…after that no lawyer is ready to risk his life…

This is the kind of fucked up system Islam produced…people like you are our heroes. When you speak so openly against religion and destroy it you are actually speaking our hearts. There is no better sight for us oppressed people but to watch you kicking the shit out if religion. It is a pleasure and an honor to be your friend Lavada. And keep the good work on..

Me- Thank you so much.

Me-I hope we can help your people.

Me- I am your friend.

Me- I stand with you

AZ- And I am proud to have a brave friend like you. I am trying to spread awareness about science here..I run a TV production house. We make documentaries and TV commercials. I try to spread the secular ideas, scientific knowledge through our productions. I also am a faculty member of various universities where I teach Film and TV. I mostly talk about science in my lectures and the secular values. Though all of these values are considered alien here but my students like them and they regularly ask me to speak about scientific advancements and its triumphs. I feel a burden of passing the knowledge that I have to people around me and I think this is the only way I can do that.

Me- That is wonderful. Please be safe. Secularism doesn’t need any more martyrs.

AZ- Yeah, no martyrs at all. I am very careful. That is why you don’t see anything on my profile which is against Islam. No matter how much I hate religion especially Islam I just can’t say a single word against it.. This is why I value people like Sam Harris, Dawkins, and others who are speaking up against this evil ideology. This is why I loved watching your YouTube video. Just keep the good stuff up and let me know if you need me at any level. I will be there…

End of message.

There is a great burden on those who are awake and aware of the dangers that lie in wait for those who speak the truth. In the small ways we speak and they listen we are changing the world. Thank you, AZ.  You moved me to tears, and continue to move me to action.  My heart goes out to you and your people. Together we WILL change the world one person at a time. Stay safe my friend.

Xoxo-V

On Bernie Sanders…

Woman with glassed and a red hat smiling at camera
SWiSS Co-Director Charvonne Carlson

I  am certain you all have read, commented, talked, and debated, about the latest interruption of a Bernie Sanders’ rally.   There were  strong opinions, mis-information, slandering, name calling, threatening,  and vitriolic words spewed by a lot of folks. I would like to address my recent issues with Bernie Sanders.

I am currently on the fence as a Bernie Sanders supporter.  His recent response when his speeches were interrupted was to walk away. This has raised questions for me as to whether he is a candidate I can vote for.  Do I really want a President who, when faced with conflict or adversity, would walk away?

The next President of the United States will be charged with potentially selecting the next 2-4 Supreme Court Justices, will have to start open relations and talks with Cuba, will have to be able to negotiate and sit at tables with heads of countries whose practices and policies may not be agreeable.

Who will have to make split-second decisions when a threat either at home or abroad happens.

A President who will have to find a way to bring together a divided people, while maintaining and upholding the equal rights and protections of all the people.

Will have to make hard, not necessarily popular, decisions.

Will have to converse and engage with a wide variety of individuals throughout the world.

This will require a person who can converse, negotiate, and work with people of diverse backgrounds. A person who when challenged and things get difficult, will not walk away, but sit down, and meet the challenges head on.

I still believe that Bernie Sanders is one of the best candidates for the Presidency. His record shows he is truly a supporter of the People and he does want the best for ALL.  For those reasons, I hope in future situations he chooses to demonstrate the above mentioned strengths I feel are necessary to be the President of the United States.

Namaste,

Charvonne Carlson

Why I Use Words Like “B*tch” and “C*nt”

One lady’s look at loaded language

woman smiling at camera standing against a car wearing a shirt that reads "this is what a feminist looks like"
SWiSS Co-Director Molly Willms

Hi Friends! It’s me, your friendly neighborhood c*nt, here to talk to you about my personal reasons for using loaded language.

A few caveats before we begin: this is by no means an encouragement for anyone and/or everyone to use this language. Don’t use it if it makes you uncomfortable, and you’ll never catch me calling you b*tch or c*nt unless we have established that it is acceptable. This is all me, and it’s my personal opinion.

Further, I do not use loaded language with impunity. As a cisgender hetero white Irish-American woman, I will never use a loaded word such as “the N word.” But just like it is not my boyfriend’s place to tell me I can’t call myself “this b*tch” or “damn Irish,” it’s not my place to tell queer people whether or not they can use “the F word” or to use it against them, for example.

No, my love affair is constrained to words like c*nt and b*tch. Let me tell you why.

As I was growing up, I most frequently heard b*tch in the context of “son of a b*tch.” As in, “I don’t know what that noise is, I just changed the fan belt in the son-of-a-b*tch!”

At first blush, this never fails to make me laugh.

When I dig a little deeper, I realize this is yet another insult intended to hurt a male – son – by implying his relationship with a disreputable woman – his mother. Do we mean a mean woman? A literal female dog?

Most of us don’t think that far when we call something a son of a b*tch. I know I don’t.

So one of the reasons I use these words is simple: I find it funny. I come from a long line of funny people (“So what happened to you” is what you should be thinking), and self-deprecation is one of the sharpest tools in my box o’ laughs.

Which brings me to c*nt.

I used to cringe at the mere sound of this word. I didn’t hear it until I was much older, and then it was invariably used by men against other men (I watch a lot of UK media, gotta love the Scottish).

Until I saw the movie “Bridesmaids,” wherein Kristen Wiig plays an absolute trainwreck who uses the word at her job as a jewelry store clerk to lash out at a bratty teenager with whom she has picked a fight.

She says it juuust too loud and, of course, rightfully, gets fired.

But not before I laughed my ass off.

Suddenly, a woman was using this word – not to hurt me or anyone else (in reality), but to make me laugh.

As a woman in comedy, Wiig has undoubtedly had this word applied to her, as have all of us women who dare to publicly defy someone else’s gender norms.

So when I tell my sister “I am on my period so I acted like a real c*nt to the butcher,” I am wresting the word back from people who want to use it to paint me as wrong, unfeminine, un-woman, deserving of hatred or violence (who hasn’t been threatened with rape by an internet troll, right ladies?)

I am saying: “Hello, world! This is my word! This b*tch can be a real c*nt sometimes and I know it! Just try and hurt me with your words now!”

To loosely quote my favorite character from my least favorite TV show: wear it as armor, and no one can use it to harm you.

And finally, who among you has not used the words “d*ck,” “prick,” “assh*ole,” “c*cksucker” and the like?

Why can we use traditionally male sexual organs as insults with impunity, and traditionally female sexual organs only as vitriolic hate speech?

Obviously there is a gap there: fair or not, I would argue “c*nt” carries a far different, even threatening, implication than “pr*ck,” for which you can thank rape culture and the most harmful aspects of the patriarchy.

But the only way for me, as a woman, to reduce these words to their impotent essence is to desensitize myself.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a-OK with a man (or hateful person of any gender) using the words “c*nt” and “b*tch.” When they are used as weapons, they are ugly.

But when they are used as humor – self-deprecation – a means of relating to my friends in a way that brings down their guard and makes them laugh – they serve my purpose just fine.

Turn down for WHAT?

 

Woman with glassed and a red hat smiling at camera
SWiSS Co-Director Charvonne Carlson

These words from a popular song entered my brain as I watched the first half of the Sandra Bland dash cam. The belief that someone does not have the right to answer a question honestly and doesn’t want to put her cigarette out in her own car because a Police Officer “said so”. Is so unreal. There are people out there who will argue, erroneously, that had she just bent to his will, had been submissive, she wouldn’t be in this situation. We tell women this, and people of color of this ALL the friggin’ time…if only…

I wonder if they really believe that lie or if it is there way of trying to make sense of a nonsensical and unnecessary over reaction to human beings by the police force in the United States. As I see it, women and people of color have been turning it down for centuries and it has done us well how? Rape, incest, murder, torture, human trafficking, and child abuse has not stopped because women and people of color have sat and been nice. The 9 people in the Charleston church were praying. What should they have done differently to still be alive? The 93 year old woman who was brutally assaulted and raped was just sitting in her room. What should she have done differently? The stories are endless of examples of when quiet, meek, submissive people are still harassed, harmed, and killed.

If this is happening to us daily, if not hourly, what are we saving by playing the twisted game that the dominant white male culture would have us play? Is there less damage, less wreckage, less soul robbing pain in the world?

So the next time someone tells me to, calm down, not be s loud, just play along, I plan on asking…

TURN DOWN FOR WHAT?!
Charvonne Carlson

The Importance of Talking It Out

The most dangerous quality of an agent of social change is a belief that they have got it all figured out.

That discussion, discomfort, discord, disagreements, doubt and direct criticism are an enemy to their mission.

That silencing the varying beliefs of people with a common goal will achieve that goal more efficiently.

This is a lesson I must learn anew more often than I’d care to admit.

I was once discussing a religion with a friend, and was feeling so uncomfortable, so frustrated, that I wanted to throw in the towel on it all: the conversation, our common beliefs and our honest and caring friendship.

What would have happened if I had?

Besides losing a friend, our work would have halted. They would have continued doing things as they saw fit, and I, as I saw fit.

In my case, that would mean shying away from important issues in favor of avoiding confrontation. That would mean my small group of friends and acquaintances would be the only beneficiaries (or victims, if you prefer) of my point of view.

That would mean a return to my deep-seated low self-esteem, which usually causes me to immediately retract anything anyone disagrees with, and blame myself because a person does not like what I have to say and do.

But most importantly, whatever work we each did would continue to affirm our beliefs, negate the others’, and exist in a space wherein we were unlikely to be challenged. We, and our friends and followers, would continue to march to the same drumbeat, not interacting, not challenging our reasoning and feelings, and likely keeping our influence narrow.

I don’t know how much agreement there was on the fundamental issues as we each walked happily away from this conversation. That does not matter.

Because total agreement is not the point when you’re trying to inspire change.

As a critical thinker, a member of American culture, a skeptic and long-time outsider, disagreement is what got me where I am.

Disagreement is growth. If I never grew in my beliefs or actions, who would I be helping?

Part of the reason my friend and I began to work together was a shared belief that silencing disparate views in a like community was not helpful or productive. We’ve seen companies, religions, political parties, nations, families do that to their own ruin countless times, and to continue it would negate all our attempts at changing the world.

When it comes to SWiSS, I remember this conversation with gratitude. There is no chance I am going to agree with all the people who come to our meetings, share our Facebook posts or even become officers. I hope we all understand and respect this fact.

But the day we stop talking about this, the day we give up on activism because we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, is the day we stop walking our talk.

As long as we are all here to help women, particularly in issues of freedom of and from religion, we must keep talking.

Relationships Between Religious and Nonreligious Friends

 

Navigating relationships with ideological differences.

Lavada Luening

picture of a woman smiling outdoors
SWiSS Co-Director Lavada Luening

 

Are relationships between the faithful and the not-so-faithful over before they start?  

What’s the secret to a mixed-faith relationship?  I feel very lucky to have a partner who shares my values and lack of belief.  But I have plenty of other relationships in my life where that is not the case.  In fact, it is pretty rare that I find a friend that happens to agree with my ideology.  Navigating the choppy waters of interfaith friendships can be everything from trying to traumatizing.  The devastating effects of losing a friend or family member because you disagree about religion can be scarring.  Once bitten… twice shy. This kind of crisis might not have easy answers, but don’t lose heart…there is a way.  

Focusing on our shared values, ideals, and principles is the secret to success. There you go, you really don’t even need to read the rest.  Well…maybe you do, because there is more than one person in a relationship.  Focusing on the commonalities instead of the differences is a skill that they may or may not possess.  Help them develop that skill. Patience, understanding, and persistence on your part, while they find a way past the ideological differences you have, is required.  Debating them about those differences is a sure fire way to put up a road block….Instead; remind them of what you like about eachother, what you both agree on, and the principles you both stand on.  It won’t be hard to see that the love and friendship you share is worth more than the labels we place on ourselves.

 

Of course there are going to be those awkward moments when they give you a dirty look because you took their lord’s name in vain, or they started praying when you started chowing down….But if they are your friend, then you must have something in common.  Focus on that.  Are they kind?  Are they honest?  Are they loyal?  Do you both love poetry?  Do you enjoy binging and watching episodes of Broad City together? Do you both believe in equality, fairness, and justice?  I will guess yes.  Compromise isn’t a bad thing, even if you just agree to disagree. People can and do change, be prepared for that too.

Try framing your relationship in a way that accommodates both world views.  Create a safe place to disagree and still respect each other.  There are probably other ways you already do this in your relationship….For instance, I like sushi and some of my friends don’t.  So when we go out for sushi, they order chicken teriyaki.  Problem solved. I don’t spend hours trying to convince them how delicious sushi is, and they don’t try and convince me why I shouldn’t eat raw fish. I’m sad that they are closed to the experience of effervescent wasabi wafting in their noses upon the first bite, and they remain concerned that I am going to get mercury poisoning….but we leave it up to each other to do what we think is right for ourselves and still enjoy the evening and each others company.

OMG! I have been guilty of scaring my friends away with diatribes about how silly I thought it was that they took a children’s bible story literally. I sent her running for the door.  I have learned this lesson the hard way.  I have actually been told to shut it down by my mother-in-law when I went on and on about the activism I was doing.  In my excited state I barely even noticed that her anger at me was building like the steam in a tea pot, until it was too late and her wrath was whistling in my ears, reducing me to tears.  But then she and my father-in-law came to me and hugged me, assuring me that they loved me and were glad I was happy.  They just didn’t want to listen to my shit. Even though I wasn’t attacking them, they felt attacked.  It was because I was unintentionally disrespecting them, in their own house, right in front of the velvet jesus picture hanging on the dining room wall.  It took a lot of trial and error for me to develop the skill of shutting my big fat mouth, and knowing the time and place for my secular views and activism talk.

In contrast, I also have a neighbor friend who is an ardent believer.  She has a son who occasionally walks my dog, and is very curious about me and my lack of belief.  Her and I have had some wonderful conversations that were mutually beneficial.  We garden together, gossip together, and plan the yearly block parties together.  She makes popcorn for the kiddies with the popcorn machine she borrowed from her church.  And I set up science experiments and explain centrifugal force to the kids while I make them cotton candy with my cotton candy machine.   There is a way to to have your cake and eat it too.

So the moral of the story is this…love each other, be honest with each other, and respect each other.  This doesn’t mean changing who you are to accommodate other people.  It means preserving the balance between their needs and wants and your own.  This isn’t Vada’s world and you’re just living in it.  This is a relationship that requires nurturing in order to blossom into it fullest potential. Stirring the pot from time to time is ok, but remember you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. The sacred and the secular alike are still humans with talents and imperfections…have faith in each other,  not in your self imposed labels.  You will likely find that you have identical values.  Worst case scenario is that you learn from them and help each other see the world through the eyes of someone else.  This is called empathy, and it is a quality I value very highly in my friends.  Try not to change them into something they are not.  Creating an unsafe environment for honesty sets up a dynamic where your friend or loved one can’t be their most authentic self with you, or vise versa.  Do you really want that?