If you didn’t know I spoke at this year’s PA State Atheist/Humanist Conference this past weekend, then you’re either not following me on Facebook or Twitter, or just plain not paying attention, so shame on you! On a serious note, the conference was an overwhelming success, concluding in a service project where these godless heathens with zero sense of morality not only packed over 30,000 meals for the homeless, but raised enough money to pay for all of them (thoroughly detailed in JT Eberhard’s write-up here and Hemant Mehta’s piece here). I planned to write something about the Atheists Fight Hunger project, but since I’m trying to catch up with my real life now that I’m back home, JT and Hemant beat me to it. So instead, I thought I’d share my perspective and the aspects that stood out to me as a speaker, attendee, and new friend to many people in the movement that, until now, I’ve only admired from afar. So here goes…
- Within an hour of arriving on the main conference day, having someone approach me to tell me he’s a “big fan.” Wait, WHAT? I was awestruck (and totally unprepared) to have this scenario repeated a bunch more times throughout the weekend. I’m fairly certain my response to hearing that for the first time was. “uh….oh… ok… great, wow, thanks!” Smooth.
- Realizing that while it’s cool to meet the famous podcasters that everyone fawns over and holds up as “secu-lebrities” (a term I learned over the weekend that totally cracked me up), I found myself captivated more by other successful activists, as well as authors/academics who blow me away with how much information they can actually contain inside their skulls. Getting to hang out with them and listen to their talks was an amazing experience.
This one is a tie between my two “is this really happening” moments. First, having one of my favorite authors & speakers flag me down so he wouldn’t lose me while he went to buy my book and have me sign it for him. Then while I was giving my talk, looking up at the crowd to see another one of the authors & speakers I admire follow along, nodding as I commented on the success we’re having with Young Skeptics and the conflicts we’ve had with the Good News Club. Just surreal.
Meeting and talking with other successful secularists who expressed their support for our work with kids through Young Skeptics. Whether it was one who offered “pep talks” when the gravity of running such an important organization in the little spare time I have gets overwhelming, or the others who are looking forward to collaborating on lessons and materials, the support expressed through kind words of appreciation or promises of action was reassuring and energizing. I left the conference with a head full of steam, ready to make a bigger difference.
This one is gonna get mushy. The greatest thing about attending and speaking at PASTAHCon was feeling welcomed and included into a group of people who could have just as easily dismissed me for not being scholarly enough, for being self-published, or for not already being in their clique of conference circuit regulars. Despite going into this as a bit of an outsider, or at minimum, lesser known than the rest of the speakers, I ended up feeling like I was where I belonged. To top that off, I woke up Monday morning to new Facebook friends, new DividedUnderGod Twitter and Facebook followers, and new donations for Young Skeptics. Due to coming out as an open atheist and advocate for secularism, along with my frequent soap box rants against religion and religious extremists, online debates that often got heated and personal, and increasing level of activism, I’ve lost quite a few FB friends and some real-life ones too. But the ones I’ve gained as a result have replaced them by far in numbers, and in quality exponentially.
Thank you everyone for being a part of my family, and for being part of the solution. I can’t wait to come back to PASTAHCon in 2017 (they’re taking next year off), and I’ve already booked my flight and hotel for the Reason Rally, and you should too!