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Greta Christina, "Coming Out Atheist"

The ACSJ is proud to have author Greta Christina visiting to talk about her new book "Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other, And Why?"

Coming out is the most powerful political act atheists can take. But coming out can be difficult and risky. What are some specific, practical, nuts-and-bolts strategies we can use: to come out of the closet, to support each other in coming out, and to make the atheist community a safer place to come out into? What can atheists learn about coming out from the LGBT community and their decades of coming-out experience -- and what can we learn from the important differences between coming out atheist and coming out queer?

About the Speaker: Greta Christina is author of "Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other, And Why?", and of "Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless." She blogs at the cleverly named Greta Christina's Blog, one of the most widely-read and well-respected blogs in the atheist blogosphere, and is a regular contributor to the online political magazines AlterNet and Salon. She was ranked by an independent analyst as one of the Top Ten most popular atheist bloggers, and her writing has appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers, and anthologies, including Ms., Penthouse, Skeptical Inquirer, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the anthology Everything You Know About God Is Wrong. She has been writing professionally since 1989, on topics including atheism, skepticism, sexuality and sex-positivity, LGBT issues, politics, culture, and whatever crosses her mind. She tweets at Greta Christina. She lives in San Francisco with her wife, Ingrid.

For those first-timers, our schedule for the evening normally goes like this:

6:30-7:15  -  Mingle and eat dinner

7:15-7:30  -  ACSJ announcements

7:30-8:00  -  Featured Presentation

8:00-8:30  -  Q&A

8:30-9:30  -  More meet and mingle 

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  • Invisible Pink U.

    56 atheists/skeptics/freethinkers in attendance at this event. Excellent turnout!

    May 11, 2014

  • Mitchell D.

    It's funny. Our ACSJ group is like a 12 step support group because there's this massive fantasy that lives out in the big world called god. It's the emperor with no clothes and yet billions of people believe the emperor wears the regal ermine. So we band together to tell ourselves that it's all a fiction, and the emperor is naked. Well, it is a fiction. There's no micro-percent chance that there's a god, at least until I see some empirical evidence, which hasn't and won't happen. I, for one, deal with it by stepping out of this discussion and asking why people need to believe, which puts it in the sphere of psychobiology. There is no god in the debate. In the meantime, let's continue to get together and enjoy each others company and help condition ourselves away from other people's fantasies.

    6 · May 2, 2014

    • Mitchell D.

      See also http://en.wikipedia.o...­. None of us are immune from cognitive bias and logical fallacies. We serve each other as checks and balances.

      4 · May 5, 2014

    • Larry G.

      Your gambling analogy makes perfect sense.

      1 · May 5, 2014

  • Emily

    While I enjoyed Greta's talk very much, this was my first meet up with this group and I'm sorely disappointed by the agnostic comments made at the end. I'm an out agnostic atheist. I am not on a fence, I'm not afraid of the word atheist, and I have no doubt about my stance. The presumption that you know, and ridicule, the reason behind a person's agnostic label does our community a disservice. If you want to know why I, we, are agnostic ask the agnostic, not the atheist. Thank you Greta for you response as well.

    6 · April 30, 2014

    • Kennita

      Words matter -- they're what we use to order our perceptions. One can carve up meme-space differently by saying "At a very high level, humans can be broken down into two categories: 1) All humans who believe NO god exists; 2) All humans who don't fall into category #1." It's a matter of who is claiming the lion's share of the ideological territory. Shedding misconceptions of words may not be most of what ACSJ and similar groups do, but to call it a "very small part" is to give it short shrift.

      1 · May 4, 2014

    • Kennita

      Note that part of the mission statement at sanjjoseatheissts.com reads "We promote a positive public perception of atheists ..." -- that would probably not be necessary if atheists already had a positive public perception.We need to make one, andI contend that the word is a not-insignificant part of the equation.

      2 · May 4, 2014

  • Lyn C

    Another topic that was touched upon at this event was secular addiction recovery options. Byron has suggested a learning opportunity taking place in Santa Rosa on the 31st.

    http://www.meetup.com/Atheist-Community-of-San-Jose/events/180468932/

    Please check it out and RSVP!

    1 · May 4, 2014

  • Kennita

    In some ways I could go with "nonbeliever"; it's strictly speaking descriptive, it''s not as in-your-face as "atheist", and it's easier to ignore completely. But sometimes I think religious people need somebody in their face to jolt them out of their all-the-good-people-do-it complacency.

    May 2, 2014

    • Dana N.

      Yes, if the person asking me if I believe in god, I got with, "No, I'm an atheists and don't believe in gods." I usually use nonbelievers and godless when I'm talking to the the godless:-)

      May 2, 2014

    • Bob M.

      Unless we enjoy arguing (or at least discussing stuff like this), the life a person leads--their behavior and tolerance for instance--is more important.

      2 · May 3, 2014

  • Bob M.

    Nice group, organized evening, n prezzo by Greta . The only negative for me is someone else got the "Foundation of Faith and the Catholic Church" book that I won in the silent auction!

    May 3, 2014

  • Dana N.

    The atheist/agnostic discussions are so similar to the vegetarian/vegan ones. It's funny how we can get so entangled in trying to clarify two words, when we really do champion the same cause. With atheist/agnostic is living without beliefs in gods. With vegetarian/vegan it's leaving meat out of the diet for the sake of compassion for animals and concern with the environment. The arguments arise over little details that can side track us.

    4 · May 2, 2014

    • Dana N.

      I know. You mentioned that before. Yes, the veg diet is healthier and better for the enviro. I have 3 reasons:-)

      1 · May 2, 2014

    • Bob M.

      I agree w you, Dana. For me there is no particular test to demo "purity" towards identification for any life aspect such as atheist or agnostic. Wittgensteinlit the way to lead us out of that mess. The key is not getting wrapped up into confusion or discord over words or labels. That said, I really liked Greta's engaging and practical prezzo. See you again soon kindred person.

      1 · May 3, 2014

  • Tom H.

    I really enjoyed Greta's "Why are you Atheists so Angry" book, listened to it several times on Audible... good for long commutes! Looking forward to this new book, I wonder if the story I sent her got in it in any way. Unfortunately I can't make due to some health issues. Enjoy!

    1 · April 29, 2014

    • Susan M.

      I hope you're feeling better soon, Tom!

      1 · May 1, 2014

    • Tom H.

      I am. The brain is back to normal and the shoulder is mending slowly. The back is sore because old men's backs are always sore.

      1 · May 2, 2014

  • Tim

    The short and sweet of it for me is: We can't know anything for sure, but we can be pretty damn sure of what we know. Knowledge is not binary. If I'm 98% sure I don't worry about it. That's my take on religion. The more specific the claims about god, the more my confidence goes up that it's bullshit. That's why deists are harder to disprove. They can just keep backing away from the details of god until they are basically agnostic.

    3 · May 2, 2014

  • Dana N.

    I like the term non-believer, because it also implies lack of belief for anything without compelling evidence. Godless is another I use often.

    5 · May 2, 2014

  • Werner H.

    ....(continuation). But even to scientists we often run into the situation where we cannot determine which of two possible mechanisms (models, theories) is correct. try as we might, we cannot find an experiment that distinguishes the two theories. At that point, we stop worrying about it, because for all practical purposes IT DOESN'T MATTER. We simply table the discussion and go back to doing more useful studies. If you can't find a practical situation where the theory or mechanism or label makes a practical difference, then it doesn't matter which theory is correct or what you call the process. Until improved technology allows a practical difference, we are content to leave it as an open question. Likewise, the difference between being "certain" and "most likely but not sure" that gods don't exist is so far down in the details that neither theory has a practical difference. We should all be agnostics, leave the question open, and go about the practical issues in our lives.

    3 · May 1, 2014

    • Jim L.

      Mary, it's impossible to prove something doesn't exist. That applies to all things. It's doubly hard when the creature you are attempting to prove doesn't (or does) exist is all-knowing and all-seeing (in the classic definition) and would thus know of your test and be able to alter the results as they desire.

      1 · May 2, 2014

    • Jim L.

      (cont) (hit enter too early)

      Given those basic issues, obviously I cannot be 100% sure gawd does not exist, but I find the idea so unlikely that I have no problem calling myself an Atheist, regardless of how Dawkins feels on the subject.

      3 · May 2, 2014

  • Ashu

    The talk was obviously very good. Thanks for organizing.

    Regarding the discussion about labels, on a lighter note, it reminds me of fictional character Hercule Poirot, who would insist to be labelled as Belgian, rather than being labelled French. Which was pointless, because the British (or rather English) had equal awe/contempt for both (at least in the plot).

    Looking forward to seeing some of you again on Tuesday in the college campus.

    4 · May 2, 2014

  • Mark T.

    Greta is always great!

    2 · May 1, 2014

  • Werner H.

    Although I understand that labels seem important to most people, I'd like to make a plug for Greta's and Don's comments that we shouldn't place too much stake on them. Scientists run into this issue frequently, as we are trying to distinguish between two theories, and I'll use the example of chemical mechanisms. Two molecules can form new, useful compounds by exchanging components: one mechanism is that the molecules first break apart and then exchange parts. Another mechanism is that one molecule first attaches to the second and then the complex rearranges and falls apart into the same products as in the first mechanism. We get to the same products in the end, so to most of us it doesn't matter exactly how that happened. But to chemists, it matters because knowing the mechanism we can devise better ways of making useful new medicines, fuels, plastics, etc. There are detailed experiments we can do to distinguish the mechanisms and practical results from knowing them (continued..)

    1 · May 1, 2014

  • Larry G.

    I have been challenged from time to time about my choice of title. For many years I merely said"agnostic," since my understanding of that term was someone who pretended to no special knowledge. I had plenty of doubts about the existence of deity (any deity), but didn't feel that I could assert positively that none existed. I didn't want to be like the believers, who positively asserted that a god (THEIR god) did exist with no more evidence than I had against the possibility. It seemed (seems) to me rather less likely that one does than that one does not (exist, that is). (Forgive my writing. I've been reading Wodehouse, and you know what that can do to one's mode of expression!)

    Since I started on YouTube eight or nine years ago I have simply identified myself as an atheist. Agnostic/atheist, I suppose is the most correct term, but atheist is the simplest.

    Emily, I hope your disappointment doesn't keep you away. Lots of variety of opinions here, equally welcome.

    5 · May 1, 2014

    • Emily

      To summarize: I'm an agnostic atheist looking to be in the company of open-minded individuals that are gathering to promote a healthy image of not believing in god(s). If something seems to the contrary I will call it out in person. Being my first meet up I had no idea if being an agnostic in that room was a good idea, I didn't want to be eaten alive by 50+ people. : ) I had read the site info but sometimes dynamics change. I look forward to meeting again!

      4 · May 1, 2014

    • Lyn C

      I can completely understand your position and concerns, Emily. I know I was extremely nervous at my first meetup. Our group appreciates the chance to discuss such topics whether it be after a presentation, at another event or here on the event pages/discussion forum. Nobody here wants you to feel left out or unwelcome. I know I look forward to really getting to meet you soon. :)

      2 · May 1, 2014

  • Dana N.

    I really liked Greta's talk. I was hoping, though, she would go into some of the reasons people should consider coming out. There is a big political need, especially with so many Christian fundamentalists in gov threatening women's rights, expressing racism, all of which they feel justified because of the bible.

    There are many more non-believers that gov officials realize. If we all come out, we can represent a voting group that no politicians are currently representing. If they knew how many of us are out here, then we'd have a better chance of getting non-religious people running for office.

    Of course, I do understand coming out is very personal, and often difficult. But that is also why we have the wonderful Atheist Community of San Jose! And yes we are supportive of agnostics as well!

    3 · May 1, 2014

  • Rich D.

    One thing I learned last night is that every time I admit to my atheism (come out again), friends might feel I'm rejecting them. This new insight given to me by Greta C. will help me be tactful and kind to reassure my friends.

    3 · May 1, 2014

    • Jim L.

      I am an Atheist, no question in my mind, but when I talk to believers, I always reassure them that I don't think less of them for believing personally. My main concern is in how religion is used to affect government policies, especially concerning schools, environment and healthcare. Personal believe doesn't matter to me at all. Everyone must come to grips with their own belief or non-belief in gawd. So long as someone believing has zero impact on my life, I simply don't care.

      1 · May 1, 2014

  • Dana N.

    I agree with Greta. Atheist, Agnostic, godless, whatever. Which label we use for ourselves is personal choice. I'm not concerned about where agnostics stand verses those like myself who call themselves gnostic atheists. Labels are personal descriptions and they vary widely.

    4 · May 1, 2014

  • Tim

    Another ACSJ home run. Keep them coming guys and gals!

    3 · May 1, 2014

  • Don B.

    I thought that agnostic means that a person cannot be 100% certain. Atheism means that you don't believe any gods exist.
    If so they are not mutually exclusive. An agnostic can be an atheist, a theist, a pantheist/deist, or even a person unsure of possible existence of deities. So maybe most self proclaimed agnostics are probably agnostic atheists. And self proclaimed atheists could be agnostic atheists too.
    But labels are weird. And I think too much emphasis is placed on them. I recall Julia Sweeney said she "came out" to her family and later she also mentioned it in an interview. Of course her family knew about the interview. When she went home, Her Mother yelled, "Its one thing to not believe in God, but to be an ATHEIST!"

    4 · April 30, 2014

    • Tom H.

      Someone pointed out in a podcast somewhere, an atheist doesn't believe there is a god. An agnostic doesn't either, they just have no certainty about it.

      1 · May 1, 2014

  • Tom H.

    I hope there is video, really sorry I couldn't get over the hill.

    May 1, 2014

  • Stephanie H.

    Glad I finally showed up! You guys are doing a GREAT job - such a young, vibrant organization!!

    4 · April 30, 2014

  • Kennita

    Pretty goodv ta lk.

    1 · April 30, 2014

  • Susan M.

    I was outed as an atheist at age 10...and grateful that we moved away a few weeks later. This will be helpful to a lot of people, especially people in their teens and twenties.

    3 · January 18, 2014

    • Dana N.

      That's exactly what happened to me. It was just a few weeks after I told my family I didn't want to go to church anymore that my mom remarried and we moved from the east bay to the south bay. I didn't hear another thing about religion until my kids came home with questions. What's god?

      2 · April 30, 2014

  • Jim L.

    Just bought the new book and sent it to a friend who is a recovering Catholic living in Ohio for his birthday. Looking forward to the talk.

    3 · April 29, 2014

  • Invisible Pink U.

    Explaining the Problem of Free Will - by The Invisible Pink Unicorn
    http://sanjoseatheists.com/explaining-the-problem-of-free-will-by-the-invisible-pink-unicorn/

    1 · April 23, 2014

  • Invisible Pink U.

    For those who are interested, here is some online material by Greta Christina:

    Top 10 reasons I don't believe in God - by Greta Christina http://www.alternet.org/story/154774/the_top_10_reasons_i_don%27t_believe_in_god?page=0%2C0

    Why are you Atheists so angry?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUI_ML1qkQE&feature=g-high-rec

    3 · April 24, 2014

  • Jim L.

    Looking forward to it. Hope we can get a private room. Harry's is very noisy, but not sure we can get a room that will hold 30+ people.

    April 13, 2014

    • Jim L.

      Thanks for the info. Ordered a t-shirt, would like to order a hoodie too, but they only go up to large and I need XL or even 2X. Don't know if you can add that option, but if you do, I'll spend even more money.

      1 · April 13, 2014

    • Jim L.

      And no problem contributing to the room cost.

      1 · April 13, 2014

  • Kurtis R.

    Brian, the event announcement implies ACJS is sponsoring this event. Is there a registration fee? Or another site where we need to register our intent to attend? I'm planning on attending regardless of any additional cost as I've been reading Ms. Christina's blog since I learned about FTB (http://freethoughtblogs.com/) when PZ Myers moved there. I bought her book last year and would love to have it autographed.

    1 · January 18, 2014

    • Brian B.

      We are indeed sponsoring the event and no registration (other than the meetup event) is required. As usual we will ask for those who attend to help donate to cover venue costs, but we do not want to exclude anyone who can't afford to pay a ticket fee. So we are not selling tickets, it will be free to attend. Hope to see you there!

      5 · January 18, 2014

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