PhillyCOR 8th annual Unity Picnic: July 27th @1pm

For the last 8 years, the Philadelphia area branch (PhillyCOR) of the Coalition of Reason has thrown an annual picnic, and this year’s picnic is coming up.  My friend Staks, who is the coordinator for the local group, wants to get the word out for this event, so I figured the 3 of you who read this might be interested. I’m hoping to make it, so if you’re interested please join us!

Here are the details:



Portability and Polyamory

I am now aware that we need some pictures of poly families in front of this

Over the last several months, as I was looking for work, I kept limiting my searches to the Philadelphia area.  In addition to the fact that I really love Philadelphia, the simple fact is that I have many connections here.  And in addition to the various family and friends that are in the area, the majority of my lovers are local.  Moving would, therefore, mean a shift in the nature of those local relationships.  For me specifically, having a local relationship become a long-distant relationship would be a painful and unhappy transition.  I very much like close physical proximity to my partners, as physical intimacy (and by that I don’t just mean sex) is very important to me in a relationship.

Therefore, I feel anchored to Philadelphia.  The fact that this town has been my home for the vast majority of my life does not hurt either.  The idea, then, of moving to another city (because I don’t want to be far from a major city for more than the time a vacation might take) fills me with sadness and anxiety.  Thus, I have been limiting my searches to local opportunities, career-wise.  What would i do if offered a really good job faraway? I don’t know.  It would have to be a damned good offer.  I wouldn’t mind a job that was partially travel, however.  I think I would actually like that.

Monogamous couples may, therefore, have an advantage that many polyamorous people may not have.  The nature of sharing, creating networks or families, and finding those people locally which is often common in polyamorous relationships means re-locating for a new job opportunity, or whatever else might cause a move to a new city or region, might be more difficult than it might be for a monogamous family.  Leaving a place, when polyamorous, might also include leaving behind people.

That is, even if I did win the lottery and wanted to buy a house in Italy, I may have to leave behind people I’d rather see frequently.  So, if I win the lottery, I guess I’m buying a large house in West Philly.  Then spend a month of the worst of winter in Italy, or wherever.  Because winter sucks.  Seriously, go away winter! You suck.  Also, I don’t play the lottery, so that’s not likely.

Now, there are many polyamorous people who have partners of various level of intimacy who live all over their country or the world.  Some people are able to maintain long-distance relationships, where the people involved may only see each other a few times a year or less, while keeping some local relationships as well.  Certainly, being polyamorous does not require that our partners be close to us, geographically.  It just makes it easier, in many ways.

Certainly the ability to travel frequently will be a function of wealth, and while polyamory might seem to be dominated by relatively wealthy people, there are many people who are polyamorous for whom taking a plane, train, or automobile to visit someone 1000 miles away may not be realistic.  Hell, I have a lover who lives less than 2 hours away (by car) who I may not see easily for a while.  Timing and scheduling is also an issue, even if I have the money to make the trip.

But even in situations where one might have long-distance partners and lovers, any potential move might cause changes in the frequency of visits, especially as you move farther away from some and possibly closer to others.

Certainly, this implies that the more remote or spread out communities are, the more an issue location becomes.  In major cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc (yes, including Philadelphia), you will find a greater opportunity for creating larger networks, families, and communities of polyamorous people.  Meetup groups, facebook pages, and other tools for interconnection make creating closer networks more possible, and will allow you to find like-minded people in your area.  That is the major advantage of metropolitan living, and one of the reasons I think city-living is awesome.  Of course, I just love cities, so I’m likely rationalizing, but not completely.

More remote locations, far away from cities, will have a harder time making connections to local people.  Of course, as various types of non-monogamy spread in our culture, this problem may alleviate itself, assuming that all of the wierdos (and I love wierdos, so I’m not using that in a deroigatory manner) don’t move into the cities.  Certainly, the phenomenon of wierdos moving to metropolitan areas, and out of the boonies, is a trend many of us have noticed.  But there are still many of us wierd people out there in the sticks, and if they want like-minded companionship they may have to rely on the internet to communicate with them, unless they have already snagged those people in their web of sticky, booniness.  Hopefully not without consent; there are enough stereotypes about wierd people in the boonies already.

Of course, the internet has been a huge boon to social connections of all kinds, and certainly the increased ability to communicate has helped the polyamorous as well as the atheist communities, and will continue to accelerate their growth in terms of exposure, understanding, and even the spreading of our good news (monogamy is not the only way! Tell your friends!).  This tool of interconnection will allow people of all locations, boonies, suburbs, or city, to find people that may provide joy, growth, and intimacy to their lives.  And then when we go out into the world for whatever reasons we do so, we might have a better idea of where to go.

In terms of actual physical closeness, insofar as that is a factor that matters to specific people, the interconnections we create may tend to anchor us to a specific region, city, or even neighborhood.  And if those people in the boonies do want to move, they have the option of moving closer to other poeple that they want to be near.  It makes me wonder how poly people compare to everyone else in terms of mobility; how often they move, how far they move, etc.  I have no idea what those numbers would look like, and I don’t know if anyone else does either (if anyone is likely to know, Elisabeth Sheff is probably the person).

The other side of this issue of being anchored to a location by relationships is that I get to feel more at home where I am.  Philadelphia, and the surrounding suburbs, is my home.  If I’m in South Philly, I’m near home.  I’f I’m north of Vine, I’m not far from one partner.  If I’m over in South Jersey, I’m near another.  The more connections I have nearby, the more it feels like home.  And of course, if I’m in West Philly, downtown, or even out in the near suburbs, I feel at home.  But, that’s always been the case for me.  And now that I’m back in the city, I find that I’m really looking forward to long walks in warm weather.  I’m so done with winter!

Last Day for discount hotel reservations for PA state atheist conference (get your tickets now!)

From Margaret Downey, president of the Freethought Society:

On September 13, 14, and 15, 2013, the Freethought Society (FS) and other co-sponsors will host the 2013 Pennsylvania Atheist/Humanist Conference in Philadelphia at The Embassy Suites (9000 Bartram Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). To take advantage of discounted room rates that are good only until August 18, 2013, please visit:

(Mention group code 113 for the discount of $130 a night.)

Phone: (215) 365-4500

The weekend events will kick off with the opening of the world’s only Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center staffed by Friggatriskaidekaphobia doctors and nurses who will seek to cure attendees of their superstitions. The anti-superstition bash will include mirror breaking, dancing under a ladder, a magic show and many more activities. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own umbrellas for dancing inside. An interactive museum of superstition will disclose the origins of common and uncommon superstitions.

There will also be live musical performances, games, souvenirs, caricature artists and dessert.

The activities continue with a different focus on Saturday, September 14 and Sunday, September 15. Local and national nontheist speakers will highlight the subjects of freedom of thought, maintaining separation of religion and government, building community and the promotion of a unified effort to attract supporters.

The program also includes a comedy show and two concerts.

To purchase tickets and to get more information, please see the following website:

The list of speakers and entertainers so far include:

American Humanist Officers and Board Members
Herb Silverman
Becky Hale
Debbie Allen
Maggie Ardiente


Others include:


Seth Andrews

Author, Blogger, Podcaster and Video Producer


Jamila Bey

Washington, DC Journalist and Podcaster

Rob Boston

Author and Senior Policy Analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State


James Croft

Representing the Harvard Humanist Community


Dave DeLuca

A rising atheist star debuting his Common Sense Comedy act


Jerry DeWitt

former minister and author


JT Eberhard

Blogger, Debater and Co-Founder of SkeptiCon


Sean Faircloth

Author and Director of Strategy and Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation


Fred Edwords

Activist and Executive Director of UnitedCOR


Steve Hill

Atheist Comedian


George Hrab

Popular Atheist Musician, Comedian, Podcaster and Gadfly


AJ Johnson

Writer, Promoter, Vice-President and Co-Founder of BeSecular


Amanda Knief

Author and Executive Director of American Atheists


Lauri Lebo

Journalist, Writer and Author of “The Devil in Dover: An Insider’s Story of Dogma vs. Darwin in Small-town America”


Tracy Lockwood

Former religious cult member


Teresa MacBain

Former pastor and Executive Director of Humanists of Florida


Joe Nickell

Author and Skeptical Investigator of the paranormal


Edwina Rogers

Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America


Shelley Segal

Popular Australian Singer/Songwriter at the Top of the Charts!


David Silverman

President of American Atheist


Jamy Ian Swiss

Magician and Senior Fellow of the James Randi Foundation


David Tamayo

Podcaster and Founder of Hispanic American Freethinkers


Joe Wenke

Lawyer and Author

The conference fee is $113. The price includes the Friday night Friday the 13th party ticket, Saturday buffet lunch and dinner, plenary passes for Saturday and Sunday. A VIP package is available, as well as student pricing, day passes, and other options.

Please do not miss this great event on par with national conferences. Remember that the deadline for discount hotel rooms is August 12, 2013.


I will be there all weekend (I will be a volunteer performing all sorts of tasks), and will look forward to seeing you there!

So, remember Friday the 13th of September.  If you have not seen Maraget’s friggatriskaidekaphobia parties (she does them every couple of years), you should come for that and then decide to spend the entire weekend with awesome people (no, I’m not just talking about me).


See you all there.

Philadelphia in Spring: reflections of youth and self

[Edit: this is a post composed by Gina, but I (Shaun) will be adding commentary in Green]


When I decided that I would take the week off to celebrate my birthday, I was impressed when several people (namely Shaun, Ginny and my best friend Peter) decided to take a day off during the week to spend with me.  I was quite glad because not only did I get to spend entire days with the people I adore, but I wasn’t lonely while Wes worked his long hours.  Peter took Monday off to take me guitar shopping.  Ginny and I spent the day together on Wednesday being ridiculously girly by getting pedicures and then having fru fru cocktails at a very trendy bar/restaurant in Center City.  I spent Thursday with Shaun, having no idea what we would be doing.  Shaun can be secretive sometimes…or perhaps it’s just him not knowing what he wants to do…whatever it is, I was looking forward to whatever he had in store.

I basically winged it.  OK, that’s not completely true.  I did research to see what was available to do that day, wrote down possibilities, and moved towards a specific direction.  I’m more spontaneous than itinerary-creating.


So, we woke up and he cooked breakfast while I sat on the little love seat in their kitchen plucking away on his neglected guitar.  I make it a point to tune it up and play it a bit every time I’m there.  Guitars, and most instruments, need to be nurtured and played with as they age or they wither and die.  It’s true!  Playing them regularly keeps them youthful and spry and age translates into wisdom and beauty instead of bitterness and discord.

Get it?  Guitars are like people.  I’m so fucking poetic!

It’s true.  Her poesy is wikkid sick!

After eating a lovely meal, we set out and decided that Thursday was a day for walking.  It would ultimately be a warm 78 degrees and though it was overcast in the early hours of the morning, the sun was out in uninterrupted full force for the whole afternoon.  We wandered over to the art museum area, a place I haven’t walked around in years.  I have been to the art museum itself recently, but I haven’t partaken of the beauty of Fairmount Park in quite a while.  I used to go there a lot with an ex boyfriend of mine, an ex that I thought I was going to marry, an ex with whom things ended quite poorly.

It’s one of my favorite parts of the city to explore.  I have discovered old ruins, abandoned warehouses, and great concrete structures jutting into the Schuylkill (Philly native win; I didn’t need to look up how to spell that!) river accessible via the bike path near Manyunk.  We didn’t venture that far today, not having bikes with us.

Shaun and I both grew up in Philadelphia.  Neither of us grew up with a lot of money.  We went to school in approximately the same area around the same time.  While the circumstances of our upbringing were certainly different, there were various things that were parallel.  It was exciting to go around parts of town that had significance to both of us, to share points of view on the same places, to look at things again with older eyes, eyes that have changed perspectives multiple times since leaving many of these things behind years earlier.

Can you tell that I was getting a little sentimental?

We wandered along the river where both of us were getting sunburned (and didn’t know to the extent until that evening).  After hours of that, we decided that it was time for snacks and beer (or in my case wine.  It’s almost always wine. Something red and cheap.  Poifect!)  Being on the Parkway at the time, we decided that we should try out a pub across the street from Shaun’s old school, Friends Select.

Shaun and I have an ongoing joke about Friends Select.  I went to J.R. Masterman (a few blocks north of FS) and when I was in highschool many of my friends were obsessed with several people who went to FS.  To them, everyone at FS was deep and interesting (and totes hot) and it was my friends’ missions to appear cool enough to impress them.  It is unlikely that I ever actually saw Shaun there as he is 4 years older and shouldn’t be paying attention to 15 year olds anyway (RIGHT, SHAUN? Right.  I stopped that years ago.  At least 15 years ago. Probably longer.  I’m almost 35….)…although, when I was that age, everyone thought I was 25, so you never know.  I would pass FS regularly on my walk down to the El to get home and there would always be students loitering outside of the Subway sandwich place across the street from FS.  I used to sit on the ground and play Nirvana songs with this guy Leslie (we’d harmonize on “Rape Me”…classy!).

This same spot, as well as the nearby “triangle park,” is where I would play hacky sack.  No, really! 

So the joke is that I couldn’t stand FS kids.  They seemed so out of touch with everything but went on like they had some kind of unique perspective.  I recall one kid in particular was telling some people the story of how he spent the night wandering the streets with a homeless man and now he totally gets what it’s like to be homeless…as he replaced the batteries in his Walkman and ate a snack.  I was amazed that anyone took this guy seriously, but he had women eating out of his hands.  “Wow!  What a sacrifice you made that night!  you really understand things now, man.”  This how most of them came across to me.  Shaun insists there were many who weren’t like that.  I believe him, but, you know, I was 16 and bored to tears by 16 year olds.

So we arrived at the pub (although not Mace’s Crossong, the pub referred to above) and Shaun gets a gleam in his eye and says, “Oh man, we should go into Friends Select!  It would absolutely amuse me to bring you there.”  I figured it would be funny and it was true that I never actually had the opportunity to go in there before, so in we went.  Shaun thought about pretending to be prospective parents, but instead he introduced himself as a former student and the people in the office figured out who was still teaching there that Shaun may have known.  We got visitor badges and started wandering the halls.

It was a very nice place, with multiple halls winding around.  I was certainly amused being in Shaun’s old stomping grounds (and at how much nicer the place was than Masterman.  Oh, public schools).  We walked through the elementary school and then the middle school…and then found ourselves in the highschool.  Suddenly I was right back at 18.  There was a row of lockers and backpacks strewn in front of them and kids hanging around waiting to go home.  I saw a sign that said “Class of 2012” and I felt completely ancient.  So two very difficult sets of emotions came at me: memories of being 14 – 18 and miserable (followed by being relatively miserable in my 20’s too), and the realization that I had graduated highschool 13 years ago.  And that combined with all the memories of the ex that I used to walk around in Fairmount Park with.

Shaun ended up talking to one of his favorite math teachers (Ralph Reinwald, if anyone cares) who happened to be there.  I peeked into the chemistry lab (which was impressive) and steadily became overwhelmed by all of it.  Shaun’s teacher reminded me a lot of a teacher I had back then who had died on TWA Flight 800.  This teacher was also incredibly brilliant and I hadn’t remembered any of my teachers being that learned and smart.  They likely were and we just never talked about such things, but it was an amazing thing to see.

It was great seeing Ralph and talking for about 15 minutes.  I had considered asking him if he wanted to join us for dinner/drinks, since we were going, but it was Gina’s day, so I didn’t.  I might have to do that some other time.

We went to leave, but another teacher (administrator, actually.  Stuart Land, who is the director of alumni/ae programs) wanted to say hi. While we waited, I went into the auditorium (which was exceptional) and was completely overcome by emotion.  I discovered theater for myself in highschool and spent a great deal of time in the auditorium at Masterman and there was something about being in a highschool auditorium that brought everything back.  I fought back tears and floated off in my mind while Shaun caught up with the teacher.

We left finally and I fell apart in the courtyard in front of the school.  It was strange and I didn’t really understand it entirely at the time…but I was happy that Shaun was there because…well, because I want him to know these things about me.

How often we forget, or at least under appreciate, how fragile and emotional we can be when it comes to memory and youth.  I am so proud of the person Gina is today and I am honored to see that she is capable of showing vulnerability with me, for it shows great beauty, strength, and trust in her and our relationship.  I’m a lucky person to have her in my life.

When we meet people at various points in our lives, they don’t know anything about us right away.  There are the things that we can tell others over time, things we are conscious enough of that we feel that we can articulate them.  But there are so many things that we might not think to tell, or we might not realize are significant.  I most likely have talked about what highschool was like, how I felt about myself back then, what my friends were like, all of that, to him before, but perhaps even I had forgotten what it was really like to be in my own head then.  While I am a big fan of paying attention to initial emotions, figuring them out and choosing proper courses of action for dealing with them healthily, I also think it important to let these waves of memory and emotion be expressed to those close to me.  The more you show the people you love, the more they can learn to understand you and help you as relationships progressed.  Shaun wrote about exactly this today with some amazing literary skill and intellectual brilliance.

We quickly found a bar (or two) to while away the daylight hours and as I got drunker and more dehydrated (and a little unstable from all the memories of the day), I talked a lot, but my thoughts kept going back to how different life is now than it was then and that while I felt old for a moment, I wouldn’t want to go back for anything.  I feel younger now than I did then having shed a few pieces of baggage.  I would prefer to feel wise at 31 than wait until I’m 61 to figure anything out.  My life as it is now makes me incredibly happy.  Happiness was something that I thought was not something I would ever truly have.  When I think back to what I expected when I was 18, this is not what I envisioned and actual happiness wasn’t really part of it.  I always thought that I would be 75 and finally over everything and then, and only then, when I was old and theoretically wiser, I would be that old laughing lady.

Ah, wait until what your 75-year-old self says about the 31-year-old self! Hows that for humility! I would love to know what I will understand at that age (if I make it that far, of course), but know I cannot know now.  Stupid time-space continuum!

So, now I just get more decades of being an old laughing lady.  What an unexpected surprise!

I hope that I can go along for the ride, my old, wise lady.

Two Philadelphia atheist events this weekend

For those of you in the Philadelphia area, I have a couple of events you may be interested in.  They are both affiliated with the Freethought Society, which is run by my friend Margaret Downey, and I will be attending one of both of them.

The first is the Human Tree of Knowledge in West Chester on Saturday December 3rd at 3:00 PM.  The reason it will be a human tree rather than a real one is because the presence of a real tree has been blocked by the city of West Chester, as has been covered recently over at Hemant’s place.  I was there for at least two of the real trees before this form of protest was necessary, as I have worked with Margaret Downey and the FTS for many years.

If you are interested in following news or in networking with people involved, there is also a facebook group.  I will be there on Saturday and will almost certainly do dinner afterwords.  After that I may grab a point at the Iron Hill Brewery since I love their Pig Iron Porter so much.

The second event is the following day, Sunday December 4th, and is in Philadelphia.  More specifically it is at the Ethical Society at Rittenhouse Square.  Here is an image of the flier, copies of which may appear there in the next couple of days.

I am not yet sure if I will attend this event.  I’m not big on holiday rituals, but it may be a good time to catch up with local people of reason.

If you will be in the Philadelphia and/or West Chester area this coming weekend, make a point to attend or pass along the information to others who may be interested.

Finding a poly community IRL

Some years ago, when I decided I wanted to live a polyamorous lifestyle, I discovered a local meetup groupand started to attend meetings, met some people (including a lover or two), and learned a lot.  That group still exists.  I don’t go to meetings anymore for a few reasons, but I will not dwell on that right now.

Instead, I want to talk about how I have become part of a small group of people who are predominantly polyamorous (and therefore there are many interlinking connections both sexual and non-sexual) who are young, intelligent, fun, and includes many atheists.

That is to say, not exactly like my experience elsewhere.  Yes, they were fun, and I met people with insightful and useful things to teach me, but the general age gap was noticeable (younger people tended to come, but not to be repeat attenders), and the predominance of non-atheists was somewhat annoying.

So, how did I land among such people? Well, some luck and some causation related to he fact hat my fiance is not only a sexy, sexy lady but also quite intelligent, personable, and therefore a means towards making friend with people who like that sort of thing.  And of course they know people.

So, whether it is Thursday night karaoke, the Philly Fringe festival, or Sunday night football (not my thing, but it draws people together for non-football conversations, food, and so forth), I have found myself hanging out with pretty awesome people who are poly or poly-friendly.  It is a wonderful way to live, and I feel a slight twinge of pity for those normal monotonous monogamous people out there who are missing out on all the fun.

Oh well, I’m sure they are having fun too.  So long as everyone is happy, right? I guess.

Well, here’s to living a full life with awesome people!  Philadelphia and the surrounding area certainly has polyamorous people enjoying their lives of all ages, with different interests, and with different goals.  And while there are certainly some poly people who are really bad at it, who perhaps are not mature enough to do it right, or who are using it as an excuse to act poorly in relationships which are not very transparent, honest, or healthy, I hope these are the exceptions.

So thank you, everyone, for being so awesome.  You know who you are.


9/11 and Smarmy Ecumenicalism in Philadelphia

So, I was walking with Gina through town earlier today, since she had to pick up tickets for her show this after noon and evening, and I decided I would walk over to Rittenhouse Square and read my book for a while.  But when I got there, I realized I would be reading no book.  It turned out that the atheist fairy left me some presents.

As I approached the center of the park, I saw a number of white-topped tents set up (there turned out to be 15 of them) and my eyebrows raised.

Today is September 11th I said to myself.  It’s been ten years They are going to be doing some uber patriotic anniversary thing.

Not quite.  Better.

Is that a church group? Is that a Moslem group?

The answer was yes, to both, and my mouth curled into a devilish smirk (of course).  This is going to be fun.

Now, since I had originally planned on being at a wedding this weekend (the trip got canceled due to lack of traveling funds), I had not bothered to pay attention to what might be going on in Philadelphia this weekend, so I didn’t know about this event until I stumbled upon it.  But after I thought about it I realized that I should have known about this anyway…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

15 booths.  One city living group (or something like that), the Shambala meditation center, one Jewish, one Moslem (CAIR), one Turkish American group, and about 10 Christian churches were milling about and talking to each other.  Then I saw the stage, complete with lectern and seal of the Mayer of Philadelphia, Mr. Nutter himself.  He was off stage at first, but that would change.

This was going to be an interfaith, ecumenical lovefest among the local religious groups and I was going to be able to watch.  I was quite amused.  It was called Hands Across the Square.  It was supposed to start at 2:00, and it was around 1:00 when I arrived.  I had time to mingle, and mingle I did.  I had some short but friendly conversations with people who noticed my “Atheism: A Non-Prophet Organization” T-Shirt (what else is a man supposed to wear?), and when it was time for prayers and such, I made my way near the front to watch, take notes, and a couple of pictures.

And before I knew it, I was saying to myself Hey, there’s the mayor.  He’s totally going to speak, isn’t he? Yes, totally going to get his G-O-D on today!  With official government seal and everything.  Yay church and state!

So, when the invocations, prayers, etc started (led by a female priest from St. Mark’s) I started taking notes.  Phrases like the following would be thrown about liberally;

“Celebrate our unity”

“we need each other”

“No religion is an island”

“Disagreement without disrespect’

and, of course…

“One nation under God” (said by a Moslem)

There was a sense that these religious traditions are really alike, and there is no reason for there to be strife.  They doth protest too much, methought, and I started to think about all the things religious texts say about other faiths as I tried not to laugh or look too amused.

And, of course, there were no atheist groups represented.  And, believe me, many of us would have liked to participate.  Had the people organizing the event even considered inviting an atheist, I would have likely heard something about it.  I would have personally loved to address the crown as a voice for atheists; and yes, I would have remained civil, even if I would not have toed the ecumenical line completely.  I suppose that’s why I would not have been invited.

I tried to ask Mayor Nutter, after the event ended, why no atheist was included in the event.  But rather than even get a chance to voice the question he looked me up and down, read my shirt, and made some comment about having to be at another appointment.  Not surprising, really. No time for us atheists, especially with voters around.  We atheists, after all,  are nothing but rabble-rousers and have no place in such an event. We might cause trouble, such as pointing out the utter absurdity of unity through religious difference, especially in how it overlooks the obvious logical flaws in ecumenicalism.  Couldn’t they have at least thrown in a token accommodationist atheist?

Would the Mayor’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives even know what an accommodationist v. a gnu atheist is? I doubt it.  It’s not really their job, I suppose.  But they didn’t even try and include us.

The prayers and so forth were followed by everyone holding hands in a continuous line around the park, while the church on the corner did some music with it’s bell tower.  A few minutes of silence to remember that horrible day 10 years ago.  I didn’t include myself because, as I told one person who tried to make room for me, I’m philosophically opposed to the basis for this act of religious ecumenicalism, even if it was in part a rememberence of 9/11.  Atheists remember this day too.  And for many of us, myself included, 9/11 was a catalyst for more dramatically opposing religion and faith in our world, not a cause to overlook those differences in order to pretend we can all be friends.  It’s a delusion; religions, while having some good qualities, are a part of the problem, not the solution.  Events such as this are an attempt to cover this fact with wishes and rainbows.

I remain unimpressed.

I do not believe that ecumenicalism is useful.  I do want people to live among each other peacefully, but I think it is a deception to argue, as the many speakers did today, that religions need each other, that the fundamental virtues of compassion, love, and unity supersede the fact that much of religion calls for the death of non-adherents, apostates, and perpetually oppression of women much more than they call for unity.

Unity is a human virtue, usurped by religion and claimed as its own.

I am perpetually annoyed by this short-sighted and insincere attempts by groups such as these to pretend like there are not real things within their religions which make this ecumenical perspective fundamentally flawed.  There are parts of scripture from the Tanakh, the Qu’ran, and the New Testament which make each mutually exclusive to the other.  Granted, the Shambala Center, which was also represented, truly does accept people of all faiths (and no faith, thank you  Jeffrey Lee, for adding that to your talk), but their willingness to accept people does not say whether those people can actually do so with logical coherence.

Oh, right, logical coherence is not really a buzz word in ecumenical circles.  Never mind, I suppose.  This was an event for warm fuzzy feelings devoid of actual critical thought.  They must know that real analysis of religion, faith, and history does not lead to the liberal-porn of ecumenicalism which I saw paraded about today.  And if they don’t know, their levels of compartmentalization transcend anything I would have thought possible.  But, then again, I have stopped being surprised by human inadequacy, especially when it comes to faith.  Moving from a position of faith in gods and souls to the idea that people with other ideas of gods and souls could be their BFF  is not really a huge step.  Never mind that their heaven is not yours, and you aren’t invited.

Without the need for reality-based thinking, there is no limit to the amount of rationalization and one could achieve.  The sky is not even the limit when there is an imaginary heaven above.

There was, of course, a lot of reading from scripture, including Arabic reading from the Qu’ran, Old and New Testaments, and some talk of fearlessness and cowardice (which I thought was actually pretty cool.  I may blog about that later).  I was bemused by the statement, made by more than 2 speakers, that we are all drawn together as “children of Adam” or at least of some god.  Lets just say that I felt a little unrepresented in this category, as I don’t have any Adams in my family (I don’t think) and this god-thingy is somewhat puzzling to me.  Perhaps I’m not a real Philadelphian.  Because, as Mayor Nutter said, “this is so Philadelphia.”  I guess I’m not included, even though it is my home town and all. And while it is true that Philadelphia, with it’s pluralism rooted in William Penn’s view of religious freedom, is a tolerant and open city, Mayor Nutter forgets that there are people that are not of god at all.  He also forgets that he represents a government which is supposed to be neutral in such regards, and I feel somewhat slighted in his office even having a Faith Based Initiatives office, let alone utilizing it in this discriminatory way.

The similarities of these religious traditions are due to the fact that they are done by humans, and not because of any shared divine insight.  Religion has usurped our humanism and called it their own, and they overlook their vast differences in order to try and pretend that we can all just live with each other without conflict.  It’s naive.  Yes, we can live with each other without killing each other, but that’s only because the common decency that exists within most people trumps what the scriptures say when they command us to kill each other.  The people that get together to have these religious love fests are ignoring too much of the scriptures they claim to be god’s word, cherry-picking what they like and ignoring what they don’t.  It’s simply annoying to witness.

Oh, and after the event the Truthers came out.  They don’t deserve any more comment than that.

Philadelphia Equality Forum

FSGP Equality Forum
On Sunday, May 3, 2009, in the rain and cool Spring weather, The Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia had a table at the Equality Forum, which was an event celebrating GLBT culture in the city.

Now, the question is why an organization for freethinkers (rationalists, secular humanists, atheists, etc) would set up a table at an event such as this? Two reasons; the first is that the vast majority of its members are support equal gay rights and (the second) is that there are many potential new members at such events.

Sally Cramer came to pick me up around 9:30am on Sunday morning. That’s too early, in my opinion, to be doing anything on a Sunday. Sally is the President of FSGP and a good friend of mine. We set up the tent, organized the tables, and as other volunteers slowly made their way to our location near 3rd and Market, we got things started.

The rain probably kept many people away, including many other groups with tables. The people next to our slot on the street had no tent and so spent much of the day huddled together under an umbrella at their table. They looked so cute huddled together, but they left after a couple of hours of this. I wasn’t surprised.

Repent America was there too. They are not quite Fred Phelps and his crew, but they are close enough. For most of the day, we ignored them, and so did most of the people there. I don’t think they liked being ignored.

There were a number of churches with booths there. There are many liberal churches that accept gay members, many of which have gay pastors, ministers, or whatever they call the people that give sermons and all that jazz. We talked with a few of them and had some nice discussions. They are good people, in general, and they didn’t seem to mind our presence much at all.

But we also met quite a few atheists, “agnostics,”, and other non-religious people who were happy to see us there, and who may become members in the near future. The fact that FSGP is having a meeting and lecture at the William Way Community Center (1315 Spruce St; right in the the “gayborhood”) this Friday at 7:00 with Susana Meyer speaking will probably mean we’ll have a few more people show up to our meeting this month. We advertised it at or table, of course.

Most of the day was relatively quiet. We talked with many people, got almost no comments that were not completely welcoming, and had a calm, rainy, and cool day with some fabulous people. That is, until Repent America marched right towards our booth, both followed and also even impeded by, some gay and lesbian folks that were preaching a more inclusive gospel message.

Yes, that’s right folks, the “burn in Hell” Christians and the “God loves all equally” Christians marched right to us, set up shop behind us, and had it out with each other while we, quite amused, watched. OK, some of the volunteers made some comments and we gave a few pamphlets away that were titled “On Religion and Being Gay…What Freethought Has to Offer!”, but mostly we stood nearby and watched.

Bible Wars! Repent America v. Liberal Christians

And as the “burn in Hell” Christians found a place to stand and condemn through a megaphone for a while, many of the local participants did something that I actually disagreed with; they blocked them and tried to shout over them.

Why block them? It just feeds their persecution complex.
Why block them? It just feeds their persecution complex.

We, vocal heathens that we are, had some shirts on. The one I wore said “Hi, I’m your friendly neighborhood atheist!” while some others wore the “Smile, there’s no Hell!” shirt with the smiley face on it. The people with the megaphones saw these and pretty much ignored us. We were for another day, I guess. They just wanted to make sure that everyone there knew that homosexuality is a sin and that they would all go to Hell. The rest kissed there partners, screamed gay pride slogans, and generally fed them everything they wanted to hear while they protested with more than 20 police officers nearby just in case.

In other words, there was no conversation (not that the people from Repent America were willing to talk anyway; they just ignored everything said to them). All I saw were two groups with different interpretations of a book of myths yelling alternative views at each other. All is vanity, I suppose. And while I prefer the “God loves everyone equally” people to be around, I found the whole thing quite silly, in all honesty.

Eventually they all went away, and with the yelling and the noise over, there was nothing left to do. The rain had slowed to a mere drizzle at most and so we took down the tent and went our ways (some of us went to Eulogy to get some dinner and fine Belgian ales). We’ll see how many show up on Friday for the lecture and if we see some more members sign up. All in all, I enjoyed the day.

So thanks to everyone who showed up to volunteer (Greg, Brian, Janice, Scotty, Glen and of course myself). A special thanks to Sally for setting up the event and having all of the materials ready.