May 6, 2013 by kittynh
I’d like to first off say, that I always read the comments to be posted to “Yankee Skeptic”. This is my blog, and my choice is to read every comment submitted. I don’t post every comment, but I read every comment.
I often don’t post a comment not because it is an attack on me or my writing, but because someone else is being attacked. They don’t sign off on everything I write, and I feel using my blog comments as a place for bullying would be not fair to the person being attacked. It’s one thing to start a fight, but to throw someone into a fight without their consent, is well, being a dick.
There was one case though where a very well known blogger asked me if he could include my name in his blog, with a warning it was going to generate some negative comments. I was proud give him permission to use my name.
My slight brush with “fame” started when one of my favorite skeptics and friends, Phil Plait, gave a talk at TAM called “Don’t Be A Dick”. His timing was perfect. I had just survived the Richard Dawkins “why any believer is horrible and just adding to the problem” talk. Let’s face it Dawkins is big time, no make that BIG TIME. I like him as I know several people that left a faith that was harmful to them just from reading one of his books.
True story, one of my atheist friend gave her son a Kindle. Her son was also at that time a Christian. My friend smartly loaded up the kindle with books, including one of Richard Dawkins. Her son eventually ran out of reading material, and is so avid a reader that he is read the Dawkins book. He became an atheist, and for him, this was incredibly important. He left a faith that was adamant in the belief that what he was born as, homosexual, was a sin.
I have nothing but admiration for Dawkin’s the writer.
However, I was feeling, slightly unwelcome at TAM as I am a Deist. Yes, I know all the arguments. I have two lovely atheist daughters that I am proud of and admire. But I just can’t kick that belief, and what that belief gave and gives me. I was rather relieved recently when reading that Thomas Paine and I kind of feel the same about God. I go out of my way to be respectful of my atheist friends and family. I have to laugh as the majority of my friends are atheists, and they are far more respectful to me than Christians and other believers are to them.
Sometimes, a new friend is shocked when I have to break it to them “Well, you know, I’m not an atheist.” I don’t bring it up often, and I belong to several atheist organizations because I feel the need to help combat the extreme prejudice I see my atheist friends and family endure.
Still, I’m not going to lie. I do feel a spiritual connection and it has proven helpful to me in my life. Growing up in a loving liberal progressive church that was focused on activism in this world, rather than the afterlife, probably contributed to my deep connection to what is very possibly a wrong perception on my part. I am a dinosaur, as liberal progressive churches die out and extremists clash with a growing atheist population. I am also very relieved that my daughters became atheists rather than fundamentalist extremist believers of any sort.
But, that TAM was I was wondering if I should still be a skeptic. I wanted to still be part of the skeptic community of course! I never minded talking about or defending my limited beliefs when challenged, it was just not something I was comfortable doing over and over again. Still, if you have a belief and can’t defend it, it isn’t much of a belief.
Dawkins at one point mentioned he didn’t work with or hang around with people that were believers in God. He seemed to think he never was around religious people at all. I found that a bit odd, certainly he met many people during his day that believed in some sort of religion. Perhaps his definition of “friend” and “interaction” was different than mine. I know the people at restaurants I regularly eat at, I know the librarians and all about their families, I know the people at the local post office. I can’t imagine one can go through their lives without meeting and interacting and getting to know lots of religious people. It’s hard to avoid them! But perhaps he was implying atheists shouldn’t hang out or be friends with any believers. That was when I began to feel worried about attending TAM.
I sort of pulled into my shell, wondering if it was really alright for me to be at TAM, or was I insulting all my atheist friends. After all, atheist, except Dawkins it seems, have to put up with believers at work, at home with their families, with their neighbors and sometimes they lost friends because of their lack of belief. I worried I was trespassing on one of their few times to really bond with fellow atheists and while I enjoyed being able to talk about my own work and find suggestions and inspiration at TAM, was I wrong to be there?
Then Phil gave his talk “Don’t Be A Dick”. I sat there is wonder, as a feeling of “Hey it’s OK for me to be here!” washed over me. I also began to see that other people attending had some beliefs I wasn’t comfortable with. I’m not much of a Libertarian. I have had to sit through some Libertarian talks I didn’t agree with at all. But do I think Libertarian leaders shouldn’t come and talk about their belief we’ll all do just fine without the government? Of course they are welcome, because they are defending their belief, and educating me. I may not come out agreeing, but I don’t think any two people in the world agree on everything.
Phil’s talk brought me out of a funk. I had been pretty much hiding from people, there was a sense some people might not want to eat with me or have a drink at the bar with me. My close skeptic friends that already know I’m a Deist were fine, but I was sticking pretty close to them.
Phil’s talk, about how we need to be more inclusive and also respectful to our fellow human beings, believers or not, was life changing. Here was someone that also had written books that were a huge impact on the lives of others, especially the many students I had worked with that love “Bad Astronomy”. His blog opens the world to all of us. I read it and so often say “Wow, the Universe is so incredibly weird!” (It is!). He’s also just a very nice person. If Phil said it was fine for me to be at TAM, it was fine for me to be at TAM. Inclusion is a win/win situation. While I wouldn’t want fundie Christians to invade TAM, I rather imagine they would more than meet their match with the erudite and intelligent skeptics that would challenge them.
I did indeed go crying up to Phil. TAM is a very important event I look forward to every year. Phil gave me back TAM.
Later Phil asked if he could include my name in the blog post he was writing about the talk. He knew it would get a lot of commentary. I was honored to say “Of course”. Sure enough, if you look online, his talk and blog posts garnered a lot of attention and negative, as well as positive, reactions.
Many people for the first time, that thought they knew me, found out I wasn’t an atheist. I had to deal with that. But one thing I did not have to deal with were the comments. I just didn’t read them. My friends, those that were willing to accept my not being an atheist, kept asking “Did you READ what so and so wrote?” I would reply with “Well, no I haven’t and I won’t be doing so”.
I had a chuckle also when I attended an event later where I chatted briefly with Dawkins and even sat one table over from him. I laughed as while not friends, he was indeed interacting with someone that was not an atheist. He just didn’t know it, and somehow he survived.
I try to keep Phil’s words in mind with my work with believers of Bigfoot, aliens and ghosts. The average believer is truly a person deserving of being treated with respect. We may not agree, but intelligent conversation and educational interaction will convert far more than threats and derision.
In other words, I have to practice “Don’t Be a Dick” in my own skeptic work, and indeed I hope in my day to day interactions with other people.
Dawkins may not interact or know any believers in the paranormal, be it Bigfoot or God, but I do. Keeping Phil’s words in mind just makes life a little more better for all of us.