Why I <3 Daniel Radcliffe

NOTE: This is a post was originally posted February 23, 2012 on the Humanist Community Project —HarvardHumanist.org

No, I’m not a crazed Harry Potter fan. In fact I’ve only made it through one and a half of the books (I got bored honestly). I do plan on going back at some point because I’ve heard bits and pieces of some of the material that didn’t make it into the movies and I find some of the class politics of the magical world interesting. The movies were really fun fantasy epics that I appreciate and that is as far as my Potter-fandom goes.

My Radcliffe-fandom however has only increased since the last movie wrapped.

Over the past year or so, articles have been flying about the interwebs about quotes and interviews where Radcliffe has been open about his atheism, this has been especially useful when I speak to people about humanism and can now add to my famous non-theists a younger person who almost everyone can recognize. Sorry to the many great intellectuals and famous folks that are non-theists, but while Sam Harris is quite dashing, people don’t look at his photo and recognize him as one of their favorite characters of their childhood (or adulthood for the older fans).

So Radcliff is an atheist and that is neat (and useful for talks) but what REALLY has me using less-than-three emoticons around his name is his charity work, specifically the Trevor Project but the broader story here is that atheists, humanists, and non-theists do good work. We are motivated to help those in need not based on heavenly reward but from an deep impulse to help fellow human beings, or as I like to say, we are motivated not from without, but from within.


And if you ❤ Daniel as much as I do, you will probably ❤ ❤ ❤ the Humanist Graduate Community at Harvard (HGCH), which, for its third annual Spring Break Service Trip, will travel to LA to work with the Trevor Project (http://www.thetrevorproject.org/) and other groups that support LGBT youth in crisis.


Being OUT as an Atheist

From the Freedom From Religion Foundation's latest billboard campaign

Post 18 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

In the past year there seems to be a unique moment happening nationally around visibility in the larger nontheist community. It seems everywhere I turn there are bill board campaigns, print advertising, bus ads, commercials, and more. Not in humanist publications but in the places you’d least suspect. Which are the places I would argue they are needed the most. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has launched a billboard campaign in Raleigh, North Carolina. Another pair of campaigns are the OUT campaign and Consider Humanism Campaign.

I’ve heard from humanists both positive and negative rections to the various campaigns that have come before this one about how they either make folks feel proud and excited or left worrying about the negative fallout. I’ve also heard and read debates similar to this one about LGBT Pride Festivals and Parades and the perception of the LGBT community. That by having sexy Go-Go boys that are mostly naked — in the parades, not on a humanist billboard — that we aren’t winning over people to our side but instead upsetting those who were fine with gay people but now are not. I don’t really buy this debate that we lose supporters by increasing visibility. I agree that there can and often is fallout and reaction, sometimes even dangerous reaction. I do not think these campaigns (for either community) are about conversion. I’ve never decided what I believe about the universe or whether I’m attracted to men by billboards or parades. I have felt validated though, I have felt pride, I have felt safer in the moment.

I was talking with someone recently about traveling in the south and she shared that while she sees pro-LGBT bumper stickers all the time around Minneapolis when she visits family in the South seeing them means more to her. I can relate, when I’m in an unfamiliar place I look for things that bring me comfort and when I’m somewhere I don’t think I belong because of who I am I especially look for reassurance that it is okay I’m there and on a deeper level that I’m safe. I realize seeing a bumper sticker or billboard won’t actually help me if someone wants to hurt me, but knowing I’m not the only one of whatever personal identity is feeling stressed by a situation helps and that is where these sorts of campaigns really help. They help the 12 year old who is in a family and a place that they can’t choose or control feel like they aren’t the only one even when they’ve never met another person like them.

I grew came of age with Will & Grace and Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a teen and high schooler. The queer and non-Christian characters showed me that there are people out there who aren’t straight and who aren’t Christian (both of these types of people were novelties for me). There shows didn’t keep me from being teased at school, but knowing that all the people in my life I’d met up to that point didn’t represent all the possibilities gave me hope. Sometimes when your in a place you don’t want to be, surrounded by people who don’t think you should be the way you are, that little bit of hope and knowing really counts. Now I’m surrounded by people who validate and reflect who I am but when I was young I remember the first gay character I ever saw on TV, I remember the first atheist I read about. I remember thinking if I’m not the only one then there isn’t something inherently wrong with me and if I’m not the only one then others have done this before. Would I still not believe in God if I hadn’t watched Buffy? Most assuredly. I also would have kept quiet about it longer and wouldn’t have used the word wiggins or contemplated the plural of apocalypse as a teen. Seeing parts of ourselves reflected in our environment doesn’t dramatically change who we will turn out to be, but that assurance can shift how safe we feel, keep us going, and keep us sane.

More than Brunch on Sundays for Nonbelievers

Post 17 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

Sundays might either be really amazing or pretty boring for folks that don’t believe in Gods depening on your perspective. Sure you can sleep in, or go to brunch but what else do you do when a significant percentage of other people are off at a church or other Sunday morning religious service?

Side Note: While the  figure is 40% for average American weekly church attendance, that might be highly over reported so you might not be alone in wanting to sleep in.

Sundays have a lot of options, but beyond that one day a week there are lots of other opportunities to join up with freethinking crowds all across Minnesota.

Check out the highlights below for the first half of April. More events and event details can be found on the events calendar. Don’t forget there are also two big freethinker conferences happening in April as well!

April 1-15 Event Highlights

  • Sunday, April 3, 9-11am
    Lake Superior Freethinkers Monthly Meeting | Duluth, MN
  • Sunday, April 3, 10:30-11:30am
    FUS Service: Spirituality for Skeptics | Minneapolis, MN
  • Thursday, April 7, 7-8pm
    Humanists of Minnesota presents “Corporate Personhood” | Minneapolis, MN
  • Thursday, April 14, 5pm
    Drinking Skeptically | Minneapolis, MN
  • Thursday, April 14, 6:30pm
    Rochester Area Freethinkers Monthly Meeting | Rochester, MN

All events I know about for the first half of April are online now. If you know of any I missed drop them in the comments. I will be adding the rest of April and beyond in coming days.

National Gatherings for Nonbelievers

Post 16 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

April is a big conference month for folks who don’t believe in god. Check out two of the largest gatherings of humanists, atheists, and freethinkers.

April 7-10 | American Humanist Association: The Beacon of Humanism

The Beacon of Humanism is the American Humanist Association’s national conference. This year is the 70th annual and it is one of the largest gatherings of humanists, freethinkers, and atheists in the United States. This year it is in Boston and being hosted by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard.

Find out more: http://www.americanhumanist.org/What_We_Do/Annual_Conference/2011

April 21-24 | American Atheists: National Convention

The national gathering of American Atheists is going to be relatively close to Minnesota this year in Des Moines, IA. Don’t miss some of the biggest names in the Atheist Movement when they come to the Midwest!

Find out more: http://www.atheists.org/events/National_Convention

Can You Know?

Post 15 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

I’m a planner, so are most of my close friends. We have an extensive google calendar sharing operation going on as well as a google group just to communicate plans and misadventures. We often can’t book plans with less than two weeks notice and toggling on all ten of our gcals lights up a screen like the 4th of July.

One individual is proposing to ruin all my upcoming plans more than 56 days from now. His name is Harold Camping and he knows when the world is going to end. You might be saying to yourself lots of people claim this and no one pays attention. There was that movie about it, there have been news reports about the Mayan Calendar ending, but the thing here is some people are listening to Mr. Camping. He isn’t a biblical scholar nor does he seem to hold and theological degree but no one seems to mind.

There are billboards, he has a radio show, and he has followers. Now the thing about this is, as long as these people don’t hurt anyone in the days leading up until the possible end I’m fine with them believing this. But I’m concerned over two things:

  1. What happens nearer May 21, 2011 when some people think the end is nigh?
  2. And what is the PR plan for May 22, 2011?

The story linked above points to part of the naswer for my second question:

His followers, in turn, are trusting Camping. Allison Warden, a 29-year-old office manager in Raleigh, N.C., runs a website, WeCanKnow.com, dedicated to spreading news of Camping’s predictions. But what if he is wrong?

“It is a fair enough question,” she said. “But the fact that it is in Scripture is why you can say it with such a degree of certainty. It’s one of those things where you have to trust God.”

I mean the validity of this claim is easily settled for me, I plan to write my follow up post to this one on May 22, 2011 or if I’m wrong then I will have other things on my mind I’m sure. I think the larger issue here is that people are really unhappy and nervous about the future right now. National and global events have people have had people on edge and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight — for most of us. I believe this is leading people to want someone with a clearcut answer and you can’t get much more specific than an exact date.

One final problem I have is the minor inconsistency of the date in question. If it is clear and knowable by someone reading an English translation of a King James Bible why are there two dates being advertised?

I’m going to continue to put things on my calendar until google blacks out all dates from May 22 on, then I will start to worry. But I am excited to start an Apocalypse tag for this blog!

Consider Humanism Campaign

Post 14 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

I posted earlier this week on the A Week on Facebook campaign, part of the larger OUT Campaign. There is another campaign going on as well, for those who identify more with the term Humanist. It is called Consider Humanism. While each of these campaigns is doing something slightly different, they fit together nicely to create more spaces for people who collectively believe in people and the natural world and not deities and the supernatural.

One of the Consider Humanism videos:

The best few years seems to be an interesting moment in the long history of freethought, atheism, secularism, and humanism (for an EXCELLENT book on this rich history check out Susan Jacoby’s book — Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism). There is more cooperation between different organizations at the national level and a bigger push to be OUT and raise awareness that we exist. We aren’t a tiny sliver of the population but a significant group with a valid alternative path for people who aren’t happy or shunned in various religious communities.

I’m excited to see what the rest of 2011 brings as well as the upcoming US Presidential Elections. Will nonbelievers be part of the conversation in an open way? What would you like to see done next to raise awareness of humanism and the larger freethinker community?

A is for Atheists

Post 12 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

Monday marked the beginning of “A Week” on Facebook (sorry I had the wrong dates down for this one folks). A week of visibility on the world’s largest social network for people who don’t believe in God. It isn’t too late to participate though!

The idea is simply during the week of March 20 – 26 people can change their Facebook profile image to the Scarlet A that many atheists use as a symbol. The theory here is that many nonbelievers are invisible to their peers and there are more of us than you might think (Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, posits 1 billion people could fall into this group).

Are you a nonbeliever? Check out the campaign below for more details and to get your snazzy profile image and the larger OUT Campaign by following the links.

Why I’m a Lifelong Nonprofiteer

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences Annual Conference in Texas

Post 9 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

A while back now a good friend of mine Cary Walski presented at the 2010 Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Technology and Communications Conference. She spoke about Metrics that Matter. In the presentation I was interviewed about my work at my former job (First Universalist Church of Minneapolis) and the amazing Laura Matanah was interviewed about Rainbow Rumpus: the online magazine for youth with LGBT parent (of which I am a board member).

This got me thinking about how people tie together different communities and work in the nonprofit sector. I give, volunteer, or work for nonprofit organizations that cover: unitarain universalist communities, jewish communities, LGBT communities, humanist communities, atheist communities, higher education, and more.

Many of these organizations don’t work together in any real way but they are all advancing things that matter to me. At their core I see these and many more nonprofits advancing the ability to make choices for yourself and to make connections to people that might otherwise be hard to find. I see a parallel here to the debate going on at the federal level in defunding public broadcasting. I know myself and other liberal friends of mine have been thinking about do we want things like NPR funded because we like them or because they really should? A friend posted something about this that I hadn’t thought of coming from Minneapolis, home of Minnesota Public Radio — for smaller communities public broadcasting is sometimes the only source for news. I have many ways to get to information in my life but others do not. When it comes down to it, that is why I love being in the nonprofit sector, the organizations I give my time, treasure, and talent to are creating opportunities for people learn, grow, and build community where they couldn’t before.

The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance. – Benjamin Franklin

Evangelical Disbelief

Post 7 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

I’m struggling with Evangelicals lately. Not Evengelical Christians, some of whom are greatly problematic for me on multiple fronts, but with Evangelical Atheists. This is something I encounter directly within the humanist/atheist/nontheist community and when I’m in multifaith settings is often the biggest hurdle to overcome to get to productive dialog. The chasm between believers and nonbelivers, where the headlines and big stories are largely Christians vs. Atheists or vice versa is something that causes me concern given that both camps have gotten more and more angry in their language and less able to have any sort of civil discourse. Sadly this sort of inability to even hear let alone consider the other side is becoming the norm in religious, political, and just about every other kind of debate leading to dangerous places. A post from a Christian perspective on this issue can be found at Meg Hitchcock’s blog.

The Background:

Yesterday a video continued to make its way around the internets with a young woman basically saying that God made the tragic events in Japan happen to show atheists he exists. It was largely an anti-atheist message tied to the Lenten Season of Christianity. It was later reported by the creator to be a troll video (something made to be intentionally upsetting or to cause chaos). Here are two posts with the original video and then the coming-clean video. The user’s youtube account was shut down as well.

While the original video seems to be a fake, the ideas behind are not. Groups that fall outside conservative Christendom are often blamed/tied to natural disasters and seen as inherently evil, corrupt, or untrustworthy – a Salon.com article about the last Presidential campaign has some nice summaries and links to other articles and this line:

Thus, white evangelical Ministers are free to advocate American wars based on Biblical mandates, rant hatefully against Islam, and argue that natural disasters occur because God hates gay people.

The view that atheists are inherently bad isn’t just held by a group of evangelical leaders that have a national podium/pulpit to speak from either. While not going as far as saying that nonbelievers are the cause of natural disasters, around half of all Americans say they would refuse to vote for a well-qualified atheist candidate for public office, more than any other minority group in the United States (source: Good Without God by Greg Epstein).

A friend of mine posted the statement “So if I wasn’t ready to say I’m an atheist before, I sure am after watching this video” along with the original troll video linked about above. Which started a firestorm of comments (currently at 52) throughout the day. The first few posts weren’t out of the ordinary with people mostly saying how out of line the post was or how her viewpoint wasn’t what Christianity was really all about. But then the below quoted post happened and I had to keep reading and then write a long (2 comments worth) of response which became this post.

Urg… I dont get what the fuss is. She is christian. This is what ALL Christians think, that its gods will. We should never be disgusted with one christian in particular was should be disgusted with all of them all of the time. Dumb Christians are nothing new. More Christians need black eyes and broken teeth. People tend to re think what they say after you punch em in the mouth.

And later:

Religion breeds willful ignorance. Some people like the warm fuzzy feeling of going to heaven so they say they believe, others kill women and children because they believe. I am as passionate on my position as the most dyed in the wool faith head, the difference between us is I’m fighting for equality and the end to the ridiculous ideas of faith. Religion is just stupid.

My Response on Facebook:

I’m sorry you’ve drawn such a firm line in the sand. I think clearly this person has had a life and childhood that I can’t imagine or may also have actual mental illness. I’m also sorry to the general facebook community for this long post, I promise I have a point. To address something brought up before, many ideas bring about death of innocent people but also save lives at the same time.

Take guns for instance, created to end lives (either of animals or people) which can be used to protect ones home, take down corrupt governments, or murder someone in cold blood. The gun isn’t inherently good or bad but a tool for doing good or bad.

Now take a more abstract idea like money. The idea that one object has some sort of value complete because we as a society say it does and that object can then be traded for other objects. I would say a lot of modern society would be difficult if not impossible to make sort without a concept of money (whole other conversations could be had about this) but lets pretend for a moment that having the ability to quickly earn and spend and trade the time we spend doing things for the resources we need or the things we want is good. Now the same concept is rife with problems, people die because of money, do and have done to them horrible things because of money. But once again these are societal or individual choices on how money is used not something inherent in the concept of money.

I think belief in god/G-d/God(s) and the supernatural in a larger sense to be similar to other concepts. Humans are able to think in the abstract and symbolize, this is what makes humans so special as a species. The idea that there are things beyond what we can see and powers out there that we can barely imagine and yes even possibly an entity that has a plan or motive of some kind isn’t inherently going to cost human life. I would say it is this great amount of imagining that led us as a species to be able to think of things like atoms, quarks, air planes, electricity, viruses, bacteria. All of them are also unperceivable to varying degrees but our obsession with what makes things happen led to our varying degrees of understanding of these and so many more amazing things in the world. And to bring it back closer to the point, the concept of a personal knowable god has led to amazing works of art, architecture, philosophy, and charitable works in the world. I like living in a world with the American Red Cross, and Hospitals in general. Yes, horrible things are done in the name of Christianity and other religions but once again it isn’t the idea that we should get together once a week in a small community of folks that believes in an invisible force that is looking out for humans that is causing these good or bad things. It is the believers that believe them, it always comes back to personal responsibility not the identities we claim, the things we believe, or the tools we employ.

My Takeaway:

As you can imagine with 52 posts and counting there was a lot of discussion around this topic which I think is the real value in this troll video happening. The debate was well underway on many websites before being revealed as a troll video but I don’t think its status as a troll video really matters in the end. Yes it was staged and yes it was offensive, but the ideas, beliefs, and prejudices behind the video and the comments are all real and something to think about and work through not as Christians and Atheists but as human beings with many differences but many more similarities.

The enemy of Humanism is not faith – the enemy of Humanism is hate, it is fear, it is ignorance, it is the darker part of man that is in every Humanist, and every person in the world… But faith is something we have to embrace. Faith in God means believing absolutely in something, with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers. — Joss Whedon