Wednesday, February 27, 2013

An Interview with Lady Atheist

The following is an interview with Lady Atheist.

What motivated you to start your blog? What motivates you today to continue?

I don't remember why I originally started it but I re-started it after I moved to Indiana.  I felt like I'd gone into a time travel vortex and wound up in the 1950s.  It was a very isolating feeling after coming from an ethnically and religiously diverse neighborhood and workplace in D.C.  I had lived in a neighborhood with neighbors from Ethiopia, Ghana, Colombia, El Salvador, India, the Middle East, Russia, Europe, and the Far East.  I knew muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Catholics, and atheists, and then I came to Fundytown, U.S.A.   I saw "Men at Work" signs for the first time in thirty years, and the women staffing my workplace, which is dominated by women, talked about "man hours" and "manning the desk."  I don't think I'd ever experienced that kind of language before!  And then about half of the license plates read "In God we Trust," with an image of a waving U.S. flag -- and it's not a special issue plate.  It's one of two basic choices.  (That was one of my first blog posts.)  Quite a few of my blog posts are about how shockingly behind and fundamentalist this state is.  Last week I had a CT scan done and the waiting room had a Gideon's Bible and some religious literature, along with the usual magazines.  That's the second time I've seen that here.  I asked a coworker and he said it's typical here.  You'd never see that in D.C.  When disconnects like that happen in my life it makes me think.... and then I blog about it.

Also, I thought that the blogosphere and the booksphere (?) of atheism was dominated by men and hoped I could bring a female perspective to the table.  I'm not a feminist in the academic sense of the word, just in the practical sense of the word.  I think that just by being female I'll notice things a man might overlook.  Last  year Malala Yousefzai's story truly outraged me and I have incredible admiration for her.  When I was her age I asked if I could take drafting and I was told I'd have to take the boys' shop classes as well, and I'd be the only girl... which pretty much meant being bullied, so I backed down and never learned how to make a birdhouse or a decent drawing of one.  And here she is risking her life, and almost dying, just to go to school at all.  It's possible for a man to empathize with that but I really imagined myself in her shoes.  I don't think I would have had her courage.  As a child and teen I was definitely repressed, but nothing like that.  I haven't seen male bloggers talking about her very much and I was almost obsessed for awhile.

Out of twenty interviews with atheist bloggers, you are only my second female interviewee. this shows that either not many atheist activists are women, or that women often turn me down for interviews (among other things.) Assuming the first scenario, how can we turn more women on to atheism?

I think the social aspect of religion is very appealing to women.  The stereotype is that we're friendlier and more interested in connecting with others and forming mutually supportive bonds.  Although I'm girly in a lot of ways, I "think like a man" to an extent, (grew up with only brothers, male cousins and male friends-of-family!) and I'm something of an introvert so I don't miss the churchy things as much, but it would be nice to have gal pals.

I suspect that church for many women isn't so much about what you believe as what you *do.*  I've known people who church-shop based on the social activities.  It's how Rick Warren built his empire.  Some of my friends in D.C. went the direction of New Age "seeking," which offers some of the same satisfactions but it's still believing in the supernatural.  Without religion, you can fill up your schedule but all the people would be different from day to day.   Atheist groups and gatherings need to have more fun stuff just for socializing.  I think that has to be at the local level to replace that nurturing that comes from church.  hmmm I wonder if I know enough atheists to get a softball team together for the church league...

Yours was one of the blogs that inspired my link round-up posts. Obviously, mine are much shorter and haphazard than yours. What is your criteria for link worthy content? What are your favorite blogs or websites?

Aw shucks.  Infidel753's round-ups inspired mine.  During the heated election season last year I was sick of reading about politics, which is what his round-ups focused on for awhile, and I wanted to read more about religion, so I started my own round-ups.  I don't have special criteria except that the item has to get to me emotionally -- like it makes me laugh, makes me angry, makes me smile -- or it's just darned interesting and new.  I like learning about what's happening in other countries and non-Christian religions especially.  I wish U.S. news outlets would cover these things.  I go looking for them because I feel cheated by our news system.

My favorite website is google news!  I follow many blogs and I can't say any are real favorites because they all have some great posts and some posts that don't do much for me.  I like posts that give me an insight to the way religion works, and ones that clarify academic topics that are hard for "outsiders" to learn about.  Blogs by people who used to be deep into a totalitarian form of religion are fascinating to me.  A whole book like that would feel too much like Jerry Springer voyeurism to me.  Blogs are bite-sized and more focused.

You use an alias on your blog. To what extent are you "out" in your personal life? What do you suppose would happen if you used your real name on your blog?

I have a few friends at work who are also atheists, and that's helped me overcome my initial feeling of isolation a lot!  Using an alias gives me some freedom to comment on religious stuff I encounter at work, though more and more I just share it with non-believing coworkers.  Someone offered to pray for my CT results to be normal, and I found a fellow non-believer to talk about that with.  (and roll eyes)  I'm polite to believers because they mean well, but it's grating.  One of my non-believing friends gets an e-mail a few times a month from another coworker who tries to convert her.  She is a member of FFRF and long-time atheist so she takes it as a challenge and debates her friend.  I just don't want to deal with that crap so I don't advertise but I wouldn't lie about it either.

Ten years ago I was living in Texas and a coworker who was only tangentially related to my job kept sending me Godspam.  I asked her to stop it, and I told her I'm an atheist.  She kept sending it.  She didn't target me.  She was just too lazy to delete my name from the mail header when she hit "Forward" to her whole contact list.  Finally, I copied & pasted her contact list, and all the contact lists in all the headers of all the other forwards before it, and I sent out one huge spam of excerpts from Bertrand Russell's "Why I am Not A Christian."  After that, the Godspam stopped, but really...  that's what it takes with some people.  Godtalk is considered "harmless" and "nice," and atheists are already considered whiny babies about prayer in school, etc., so I'd rather not go there.  ... and then there are the Christians who are not so nice.  You don't know who they are until they decide to make life rough for you.  You can't unring that bell, and I have to work with these people.  I haven't told my neighbors but they know I don't go to church on Sunday or put up Christmas decorations so they have probably figured it out.

To what extent do you believe Jesus was real? Did he exist? Did he perform miracles? What do you base this on?

I was brought up in the Episcopal church with the standard belief that all of it really happened.  It took some time for the beliefs to unravel after I realized the supernatural stuff just wasn't tenable.  I've been reading the books of Bart Ehrman and others, which are just plain interesting history.  At this point I think there probably was a guy named Jesus who had a cult following and got executed by the Romans.  Everything else is likely bogus or faked. I'm currently reading Ehrman's Lost Christianities, which is an eye-opener.  During the first few centuries, Christians hardly agreed about anything except there being a guy named Jesus who was a leader who got killed.   History is so easily faked.  Look at Elvis sightings, or Scientology or Northern Korea.  Why couldn't Christianity have started the same way?  Holy books shouldn't be read as journalism.  Even journalism shouldn't be read as journalism!  There's always something unsaid or a story that goes by the wayside because some other story is more interesting.  I think the miracles were either outright fakes or stories borrowed from myth.  Early Christians were more concerned with converting people or promoting their theology than in telling any history so they aren't trustworthy sources.  And there are no other sources.

Who is your favorite atheist public figure?

Lewis Black.  For him, religion is funny in a stab-me-in-the-eye-and-kill-me-now kind of way.

What do you see as the most beneficial aspect of religion? The most harmful?

Most beneficial:  having someone come to your hospital room when you need comfort.  I wouldn't find the prayers or fairy tales comforting, but having someone there during your bad times is important.  I can't really count on my family to be any comfort.  People who do that every day would be pretty good company when you feel like crap.

Most harmful:  Giving credence to visions and hallucinations of the mentally ill.  Mental illness runs in my family, and it's hard to tell someone who's read the Bible that God wasn't really talking to him.  Not that someone with a delusion about a celebrity couldn't be equally sick, but aside from some movies and TV shows, there's no societal support for believing it.  And then if the delusional person can convince other people that God has spoken to him/her, there's that chance of a destructive cult starting up.  Could Charles Manson or Jim Jones have convinced people to kill for them if they hadn't been primed to believe God could speak to chosen people?  If Christianity would adopt the position that God no longer talks to people, I'd be more sympathetic toward them.


  1. Way to man-up to this interview! ;-) Just kidding.

    I enjoyed the perspective. Good interview.

  2. Good interview.

    I must admit, I've never thought twice about the phrases "manning the desk" or "man hours". Although I guess I also haven't heard either in quite a while.

  3. Thank you thank you. We all have a unique perspective, and vive la difference.

  4. This interview caused me to ponder three things:

    (1) how easy it is to live in a place like Portland, Oregon;
    (2) how stalker-like is religious behavior: stalkers for God, and stalkers of God; and
    (3) what a good name for a softball team "Satan's Sluggers" would be.

    1. Satan's team probably has a scary looking batboy.

  5. I like the softball team name! Though "Secular Sluggers" might have to go on the paperwork to get accepted. ;-)

  6. Good interview. Thanks LadyAtheist & Grundy.

    In the theist-atheist blogosphere I've been following recently, I have rarely (never actually) seen any references to Unitarianism (anti-trinitarianism) or to Buddhism. What causes the focus on Christianity (Catholicism + Protestantism)?

  7. Unitarians, Buddhists (and Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and what-nots) in the United States are not attempting to impose their beliefs on others. Christians are, hence they're the threat we respond to.