We over here at Skepticon Headquarters are very happy to share Greta Christina’s amazing speech from SK5 with the transcript below thanks to the wonderful Joy Westgate-Scherer.

Introduction: Our first speaker, Greta, is going to be Skyping in, so please be patient.  She is going to do a short speech, then we’re going to do some Q&A, so we are going to start a line.  Please be nice, don’t push and shove, and we’ll type the questions in and she will sound like God in the room.  And we’ll love it.


Ok, here we go.

[technical interlude to connect via Skype]


Greta Christina (starting at 2:00): Ok, can you see me? [audience applause/cheers]  And are you ready for me to start talking? [audience applause/cheers]  Ok, technology is wonderful.  I’m just gonna assume this is working, and I’m gonna get started.


Thank you so much.  It completely sucks that I cannot be there is person this year at Skepticon, but I am so enormously grateful to the people who made this Skype thing happen.  I’m grateful to Lauren and Katie and all the other Skepticon volunteers who made this happen.  And I’m also just hugely grateful to all the scientists and the technicians and the other people in the world who invented this technology, and who made this kind of thing possible.  That just really, that just blows my mind.  I can be in San Francisco and you’re in Springfield and I can still give a talk even though I can’t be there.  That just is amazing.  You know, we live in the future, that’s so cool.
And by the same token, the reason I can’t be there in person this year totally sucks.  For those of you who don’t know, I was diagnosed last month with endometrial cancer.  That’s cancer of the uterine lining, and I had a hysterectomy just a couple of weeks ago, which totally freaking sucks.  But at much as this surgery sucked, and as much as the recovery from it is continuing to suck, I’m so enormously grateful to the people who made that surgery possible.  I’m grateful to the doctors and the nurses and the medical staff who took care of me, obviously, but I’m also grateful to everybody in the medical sciences.  Everybody who over the last several decades has been researching cancer and finding better ways to prevent it and to detect it early and to treat it.  It totally sucks that I’m not at Skepticon, but on the plus side, I don’t have cancer.  You know, two and a half weeks ago, I had cancer and I now don’t have cancer.  And also, I got to be operated on with robotic arms.  So, how cool is that?  You know what?  Yay science!


And that’s sort of what I want to talk about today… by the way, it’s really weird that I can’t hear you, and you can hear me, so I’m just gonna keep talking.  And that’s what I want to talk about today.  I’m not going to give a full length talk; I think that giving a long talk via Skype would be really weird and really boring, but I do want to talk for a few minutes before we get to the Q&A.  And what I want to talk about is how science and how atheism and how skepticism can make our lives better in a crisis.


Ok, so the last couple months of my life have been an unbelievable shitstorm.  For those of you who don’t know, not only did I just get diagnosed with cancer, but my father died literally two weeks before I got the cancer diagnosis.  And, if I saw that in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it. I would think it was ridiculous.  I would think that is the most ridiculously manipulative screenwriter in the world, they’re yanking our chain, that doesn’t happen to anybody.  You know, who the hell get diagnosed with cancer two weeks after their father dies?  It’s like somebody has to fire the screenwriter.  But that has been the reality of my life.


And there is a common assumption among religious believers, and even amongst some atheists, that in shitstorm – in a crisis of this magnitude – religion is necessary.  And that has not been my experience.  I mean, you’ve all heard the phrase “There’s no atheists in foxholes”?  Well, you know what?  Getting diagnosed with cancer two weeks after your father dies?  That has got to qualify as a foxhole.  You know, short of an actual, literal foxhole that they have in the army and in the military, what I’ve been going through in the last two months has got to be one of the most foxholely foxholes that there is, and I am still an atheist.  I’m still a passionate atheist.  There is no part of me that has wanted to turn to religion during this shitstorm.  And I have found tremendous comfort in atheism, in naturalism, and in humanism, and in skepticism.


You know honestly, right now, if I believed in a god who made this shit happen on purpose, I wouldn’t be comforted.  And I would be trying to find the biggest ladder I could, climb up to Heaven, and punch this guy’s lights out.  I mean, either that, or I’d be wracked with guilt and confusion trying to figure out what I’d done to deserve this.  What lesson I was supposed to learn from it.  If I had a relationship with an imaginary personal creator who supposedly loved me, and yet who made all this shit happen on purpose, that would be just about the most toxic, fucked up relationship that I can imagine.  You know, I can’t even begin to see that as comforting.  When I try to picture that relationship, what I feel is rage, guilt, confusion, and a poisonous mess of cognitive dissonance.  On the other hand, it is tremendously comforting to see the shitstorm as physical cause and effect.  Look, my father didn’t die, and I didn’t get cancer, because some asshole in the sky was pulling the strings.  You know, my father died and I got cancer because of physical cause and effect.  And the unbelievably shitty timing of this, the unbelievable shitty timing of getting the cancer diagnosis two weeks after my father died? You know, that’s sometimes how physical cause and effect works.


You know, you roll a pair of dice long enough, chances are very good that eventually you’re going to get snake eyes.  You know, you live a long enough life, and chances are at some point you’re going to get two or three unbelievably crappy things happening at about the same time.  And yes, that can be hard to accept.  Sometimes it’s hard to accept that oftentimes we have little or no control over what happens to us.  But when I compared that idea – when I compared the idea that yes, sometimes life sucks and I just have to deal with things as best I can, with the idea that someone is fucking with me on purpose and they won’t tell me why – I mean, I full on find the first idea much more reassuring and much more comforting.


And yes, absolutely I can learn lessons from all of this.  And I am already learning lessons from all of this.  There is no possible way that I can be the same person after all of this happened that I was before.  But I get to decide what lessons I learn from it.  There’s not some asshole in the sky yanking my chain to try to teach me a lesson.  There’s no lesson I’m being taught here, I get to decide what lesson I’m taught here.  And that’s the power that I have.  I don’t have the pretend power that if I pray hard enough and I do the right kinds of rituals to appease an imaginary friend in the sky my life is always going to be awesome.  I don’t have that power and I can’t fool myself into thinking I have that kind of power.  What I do have is the real power to learn from the experiences that life hands me, and use what I’ve learned to make myself a better person.  And to make life better for other people based on the experiences I have, both the awesome ones and the shitty ones.


So yes – atheism, and naturalism, and seeing the world as physical cause and effect, without supernatural intervention, has helped me tremendously.  And skepticism has also helped me tremendously, more than I can say.  I can talk about that for a very, very long time, but again, I really do want to keep this fairly short.  So the main thing I want to say is this, about how skepticism has really helped me in this shitstorm.  Knowing about cognitive biases; knowing about denial, and wishful thinking, and pseudo-patterns, and confirmation bias, and all other ways that our minds play tricks on us.  That has made it much, much easier to deal with this shitstorm.


I cannot tell you the number of bad decisions that I could see my brain trying to make during all of this.  To give just one example out of many, many, many examples: The number of times during all of this, during the time between my cancer diagnosis and having the surgery, that my brain tried to tell me “You don’t really have cancer.  This is all a big mistake.  You don’t have to keep your doctor’s appointment, you don’t have to do your follow up.  You don’t have to get up at four o’clock in the morning so that some strangers can cut into you and you can have a really shitty time of recovery for six weeks afterward.  That’s not going to be any fun, and you don’t have cancer.  Why should you bother?  You feel fine.  Go back to bed, don’t worry about it, just go shopping, you’ll be fine.”  The number of times my brain tried to tell me that, I cannot even tell you.  And there are in fact people who really do that.  My wife Ingrid is a nurse, and she’s here by the way and she’s going to want to say hi in a little bit.


[talking over each other]

Ingrid: Helloooo!

Greta: Hi! There she is!

Ingrid: There I am! Hi!


Greta: There’s Ingrid.  She really misses you too, and wishes she could be there.  We both really hate that we can’t be at Skepticon,.


So anyway, Ingrid is a nurse, and she will tell you that there are people who will ignore their diagnosis of life-threatening illness, and pretend that they’re not really real.  But because I’m practiced in skepticism, because I’m so intimately familiar with my years of experience in the skeptical community with how denial and wishful thinking and so on work, it was so much easier to recognize this bad thinking and see it as cognitive bias and therefore to not listen, and to do what I had to do to take care of myself.


And, of course, I have been displacing like crazy.  I have been getting anxious, and upset, and angry, and completely obsessed with tiny little details about the most trivial shit you can imagine.  In the week before I had my surgery, my “To Do” list was filled to the brim.  Somewhat with things that really did need to be taken care of – there were things that needed to be taken care of before the surgery – but some of it was with ridiculous stuff that absolutely did not need to be done, was not that high a priority, that other people could help me with, and that I was totally fixated on.  And I knew that I was displacing; I can tell that.  I knew that what I was anxious and upset and frightened and angry about was the cancer and my father being dead.


And I knew, knew I was displacing all of that fear and anger and anxiety and so on into these other areas of my life, which were area that I had a little more control over.  Displace is kind of a funny thing: even when you recognize that you are doing it, it doesn’t stop you from doing it.  I mean, I was sitting there going “I’m really displacing right now” and yet, I’m still really anxious about this stupid things I’m displacing about.  But recognizing that I was doing it, it didn’t stop it, but it made it easier to not get completely sucked up by it.  You know, when I was able to say to myself “I’m displacing”, it is not actually a matter of life and death whether I get my favorite brand of ginger ale in the refrigerator before the surgery.  It didn’t stop the displacement, but it made it easier to relax.  It made it easier to not stress out quite so much about the fucking ginger ale.  I still displaced, but I was able to recognize it, and I was able to not get completely absorbed by it, and even to have a sense of humor about it.


And that’s because of skepticism.  That’s because I was able to recognize, I was practiced in recognizing my own cognitive biases, and to see them for what they were.  Because of years of involvement in the skeptical community.  I’ve written before about how skepticism is a discipline.  How skepticism can even be seen as a practice.  And like any discipline or practice, the more you do it the better you get at it.  And the more you do it in your everyday life, the easier and more natural it is to do it in a crisis.  If you lift weights three times a week during your ordinary life, it’ll be that much easier to drag yourself out of a wrecked car if you have to.  And by the same token, you know, intellectual practice helps you practice in an actual crisis as well.  If you do your best in your ordinary life to stay self-skeptical, and to stay conscience of your own cognitive biases on a daily basis, it’s that much easier to stay smart and focused and to make smart, evidenced based, reality based decisions in a crisis.  And that’s been true for me during this shitstorm, and I have skepticism to thank for it.


And finally, the atheist community has been a tremendous comfort.  I have felt so loved and supported and valued during this shitstorm, I can’t even tell you.  I got financial support; as some of you know I did a fundraiser after my cancer diagnosis, and to help me cover expenses since I wouldn’t be able to work for a while, and the response was overwhelming.  Thank you so much to everybody who helped out with that!  You have no idea how much of a burden that lifted from me.  And even more importantly, I got emotional support and I got psychological support in droves; I got a wave of it.  And I can’t really talk about that too much, ‘cause I’m going to start crying if I do; but again, I cannot tell you just how important that was to me, and what a difference it’s made, and how much better it’s made this recovery.


Still, one of the most common critique against atheism is that people need religion.  And that people need religion’s social support networks for support during stressful times.  And I do think that atheist has a long way to go in this department, but I also think we have come an enormous way.  We have come such a long way, even in just the last few years.  I’ve been involved in the community; being part of this community made this shitstorm tolerable.  It didn’t make it better, it didn’t make it great, it has just still really just stucked enormous donkey dicks, but it’s made it tolerable, it’s made it better.  And it’s given me a sense of hope.  It’s given me a sense of something to look forward to.  It’s given me a sense that after this is all over, I’m going to have something to do that’s worthwhile and meaningful and joyful and fun.


When I first got the cancer diagnosis, there was this period of about three days after I got the news that I had cancer and before I got the news that “Yes you have cancer but it’s not really all that bad”, “It’s probably stage one”, “It’s probably entirely treatable”, before the hysterectomy; I had this period of about three days when I knew I had cancer, and I didn’t know how bad it was.  And that was a really scary three days.  And when I first got that cancer diagnosis, one of my first thoughts was “I can’t die!  I have to go to Skepticon.”  [laughing] “I can’t die, I have to go  to American Atheists in March!”  You know, I can’t die, I have to go to the Secular Student Alliance conference in July.  I have books to write, I have talks to give, I have conferences to go to, I have things I have to gas on about in my blog. One of my first thoughts, when I found out I had cancer, was I’m not ready to die, I have too much work to do.  And I am definitely not ready to be finished working with Atheism.  And I am so delighted – as shitty as this cancer has been, and as shitty as the recovery from it is – I’m so delighted that I get to live.  And I get to not have cancer anymore.  And I get to be part of this community.  I get to come out of this recovery, and I get to come back to you.  And I hope for many more years to come I get to be part of this.  I cannot wait for this stupid recovery to be over, so I can get back to work and so I can get back to working with all of you.  Working with you is a joy and a privilege and I cannot wait to get back into it again.  Thank you.


[audience applause/cheers]


Moderator: All right, if you guys want to line up, we’ll do Q&A.  Please keep it short.

[Note: the questions asked by the audience are being typed to Greta via Skype, and she then reads the questions aloud and responds.  Due to this delay, there are long pauses between questions and answers]


[19:32] Female voice: Did you have to deal with well-meaning people proselytizing to you in the hospital?

Greta: So the question is, “Did I have to deal with well-meaning people preaching to me in the hospital?”  The answer is no.  First of all, I wasn’t in the hospital for very long.  Basically, they try now to do surgery in-and-out as much as they possibly can, and I know there’s a lot of people who think that’s for economic reasons, they just don’t wanna have to pay, your insurance doesn’t want to have to pay for a hospital stay.  The reality is that hospitals aren’t very good places to be; they’re places where people tend to get sick, ‘cause there’s a lot of sick people there with germs, and so they actually try to kick you out.  And so I wasn’t even there overnight.  I got in first thing in the morning, I was there throughout the day, and they sent me home that afternoon.  And no, nobody preached to me.  They asked me what I religious affiliation was, I said Atheism, and nobody said a word about it after that.  So they were actually very respectful, and I was very grateful for that.


[20:53] Male voice: Are you writing another book?  And when can I buy it?

Greta: The question is “Are you writing another book, and where can I buy it?”   I am working on a couple of different books right now, I’m not sure which is going to be out first.  First of all, my current book, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, is available for sale at Skepticon.  And in fact, I was really hoping to be there to sign copies, and obviously I can’t.  So what I did was I pre-signed a whole bunch of stickers and at the table where they’re selling books, they have stickers with my signature so you can get the special “Greta Christina Skepticon cancer pre-signature” copy of the book.
I’m working on a couple of different books, and I’m currently working on a coming-out guide for atheists, and I had been hoping that that would be out in March, I don’t think now that’s going to happen, but I’m hoping that that’s going to be out by the summer.  So it’s my basically coming-out-atheist, how to do it, how to help each other, and why.  And I’m also currently working on an erotica collection.  I’ve been writing porn stories – not to put too fine a point on it – for several years, and I’m putting together a collection of those, and that’s probably just be published as an ebook, so it’ll be available online, hopefully in a few months, but I don’t know exactly when.  Again, the cancer sort of threw a monkey wrench into all my plans.  But you can buy my current book in the lobby right now, and hopefully my atheist coming-out guide in all outlets this summer.


[22:41] Male Voice: How would you change the health care system?

Greta: “How would you change the healthcare system?”  [laughing] My goodness.  That is a very long, large question.  The number one thing I would say is that I would really like to see America, I would like to see the United States, have a health care system that’s more similar to what they have in most of Europe and most of Canada.  I think it’s ridiculous that whether or not you get health insurance and health care should be based on whether or not you’re employed.  People tend to think of that as just a normal, natural state of affairs, and what people who’ve studied history know is that it’s a weird artifact of US history, having to do with the fact that during a period in US history when there was a wage freeze; employers weren’t allowed to raise wages and so what they did instead of raising wages was they offered benefits such as health insurance.  And that’s how health insurance got tied to employment in the United States.  It’s this completely random historical artifact; there’s no reason it has to be that way.

And I’m really lucky that I have health insurance, because I get my health insurance through Ingrid, whom I’m married to.  There’s lots of people in the United States who aren’t that lucky, and it doesn’t have anything to do with them being good people, it doesn’t have anything to do with them being responsible people, they just haven’t the breaks that I’ve had.  So that is the number one change that I’d like to make to the health care system, is that I think we need to have single payer, universal health care.  Period.


[24:34] Female voice: What is your favorite ginger ale?  [audience laughter]

Greta: What is in my favorite ginger ale?”  [laughing]  I really like Reed’s …  [aside] what is super ginger ale called here again?

Ingrid: It’s Reed’s Extra Gingery Ginger Ale.  It’s in a green bottle that looks like a beer bottle.  You can buy it in health food stores in the Bay Area.  I don’t know about outside the Bay Area.

Greta: Yeah, what she said.  It’s Reed’s, whatever their extra-ginger ginger brew is.  It’s got the most ginger ever and it’s delicious.


[25:22] Male voice: How long did you and Ingrid date before you got engaged?

Greta: [laughing] “How long did you and your now wife date before you got engaged?”  Ingrid’s a little embarrassed by this question.  I’m not going to tell the story how we got together, ‘cause that’s a bit personal, and kind of embarrassing story.  What I will tell, is… I’ll answer this question, which is a long time.


Ingrid and I were together for seven years, actually, before we even moved in together.  And we had decided to get married our 5th anniversary.  Our 5th anniversary is when we got engaged, and I’m really glad, actually, that we waited.  We’ve always waiting to make major steps, take major steps and major decisions in our relationship to make sure we were both ready.  Like I said, we didn’t move in together, we weren’t even sure we were going to move in together, for a long time, and I’m really glad that we did.


I realize that part of that luck is that we didn’t want kids, and so we didn’t have any kind of timetable.  But I do sometimes think… people who’ve seen my atheism and sexuality talk know that this is one of my favorite rants.  I think a lot of times people make decisions about their relationships based on the sense of a timetable, based on the sense that you know “You gotta hurry up”, that there is this external timetable of when you’re supposed to move in together, and when you’re supposed to stop seeing other people, and when you’re supposed to have kids and get married and so on.  And I’m actually really glad that we took as long as we did to make these major steps because by the time we did decide to get married, and by the time we did move in together, we were both really ready.  Would you agree with that?
Ingrid: Yes.  And also, this coming Monday, November 12th, is the seventh anniversary of one of our weddings (we’ve had three).

Greta: [laughing]  What she said.  We’ve now been married three times because of the changing same sex marriage laws in California.  So we have three anniversaries, but the November 12th is the seventh?

Ingrid: Seventh anniversary of the big wedding with all the friends and family.
Greta: Yeah, big wedding with the dresses and the cake and everybody.


[27:43] Male Voice: Last year, you spoke on an atheist death panel at Skepticon, and have any of your views about death changed since then?  [exchange for clarification of the information in the question]

Greta: “Last year, you spoke on an atheist death panel.  Have your views changed since then?”  So yeah, last year at Skepticon, there was a “death panel” – it was basically, a panel on the topic of death – and I don’t remember exactly what I said at that time, so it’s a little hard for me to know whether my views have changed.  But certainly…  I mean, certainly in the last couple of months, my views on death have been, shall we say, put to the test.  They’ve been made much more real and much less abstract.  Dealing with my father’s death, and dealing with the cancer diagnosis and being faced with my own mortality, it really made my philosophies about death… it made me have to be more practical about them, and it made them a lot more real and a lot more visceral, rather than sort of an abstraction.  And not that they were a complete abstraction, I’ve certainly dealt with death in the past.  So I don’t know if my views have changed, and certainly my philosophies about death that I’ve been thinking about over the last several years, ever since I became a non-believer, have been a comfort to me in this time.  And they’ve been a big reason why I haven’t felt a need to turn to religion, is because I do have this very solid grounding in atheist and humanist and naturalist philosophies of death, ‘cause this is something I’ve been thinking about for many, many years.  I think the main thing that I…  I’ve a good friend of mine, Rebecca Hensler – she’s the founder of the Grief Beyond Belief support network on Facebook, it’s a support network for non-believers who are grieving – and she told me after that panel, which she watched remotely, that she’d been surprised that we didn’t really talk about grief.  That when we talked about death, we mostly talked about facing our own death and our own mortality, and we didn’t talk that much about the grieving over people that we loved who had died.  And I do think that is something I would like to see the atheist community talk about more, and do more writing about.


And the main thing that I think – and this isn’t so much a changing of my views as it is an evolving of them – is I don’t think atheists need to be afraid of the topic of death.  I think that atheists tend to shy away from the topic of death, and we tend to sort of concede that ground to religious believers.  And we tend to concede the ground that “Of course it would be better to believe in an afterlife if we could,” and “Of course it would be better if there were a Heaven or if there were reincarnation or if there were a god” and so on, and “Of course it would be nicer to think that”, but I don’t actually think that’s true.  And in the years that I’ve spent thinking about death as an atheist, I’ve come to realize that religious views of death are really only comforting to the degree that you don’t think about them very carefully; they’re only comforting if they’re not examined.  And I know that that was true for me as a believer, is that when I believed in reincarnation and so on, I sort of had to not think about it very carefully, and not really examine those beliefs, and that created a lot of cognitive dissonance which is really uncomfortable.  And I think that atheist and humanist and naturalist views of death, they’re not as instantly comforting, but they are more profoundly comforting, and they are more substantially comforting because they don’t create cognitive dissonance; you don’t have to lie to yourself to believe them.


And so what I think is that, the main thing that I think has not so much changed as evolved, is that I think that we don’t need to be afraid of the topic of death.  In fact, I would like to see us discuss it more, because I do think that one of reasons that people do cling to religion is that they have a hard time facing death – both their own mortality and the death of the people they love – and they can’t imagine facing it without religion.  And I think we need to talk about atheist and naturalist and humanist and skeptical views of death, and philosophies of death we find comforting, that we find reassuring, that we find help give us solace.  Because that helps give people who are considering atheism, but are afraid of it, it gives them a safer place to land.


[33:06] Female Voice: What advice would you give us on how to make Atheism more acceptable in heavily religious areas, like ours?

“What advice would you give us on how to make Atheism more acceptable in heavily religious areas, like ours?”  That’s a really good question.  People who’ve seen me talk before know that when I say something is a really good question it means I don’t have a ready answer.  I think the main thing we need to do is to work on making Atheist communities stronger, and especially in-person, local Atheist communities.  I think we’ve actually done an excellent job in creating internet community for atheists, and that’s actually hugely important, especially for people in heavily religious areas.  You know, I sometimes think about where the LGBT movement would be if we’d had the internet in 1970.  And we’d be so far ahead of where we are now, it would be ridiculous.


The fact that we have the internet is a huge advantage to us.  Because it means that if you’re coming out as an atheist in Nowheresville, Missouri, you can find out that there are other atheists.  All you have to do is type in “Atheism” into Google, and you can find millions of other atheist to talk to.  So I do think that the fact that we have an atheist community online that’s so strong is hugely helpful, but I think that to make atheism more acceptable in heavily religious areas, a lot of what we need to do is to create more of an in-person community.  The reality is that religion does provide a lot of basic human social needs.  I don’t think that it provides needs that only religion can provide.  I think there are secular alternatives to all the things that religion provides, that are as good as – or better – than religion.  You know, better because it’s not based on a foundation of lies, which is awesome.  But I do think we need to do that.  We need to provide…  You know, when you poll people about what they get out of religion, why they go to the particular church or temple or mosque or whatever they go to, they don’t say that they go because of the theology.  They don’t say “Well, I really examined this particular church’s views on the Trinity and on ‘faith vs good works’ and this was much more inline with my philosophy.”  What they say is that they like the community, that it provides childcare, the music is beautiful, it’s “I found friends there”, “the preaching is entertaining and comforting”, “they have good coffee”, “they have picnics that I can take my kids to”, and so on.  So I think that we need to do that.


And I could talk for a long time about building community, but I think one of the most important things about building a strong community is that we build a diverse community.  I think that we need to be sure that our local communities serve the needs of as wide a variety of people as possible.  That means in terms of racial diversity and gender diversity and class diversity and so on.  And it also means the diversity of there are some people who like to listen to talks and there are some people who like to do activism and there are some people who like to do social activities and there are some people who like to do community service.  And if a community does all of those things, then it’s going to be stronger and more appealing to a variety of people.


And so, I would really like to see atheist communities become stronger, and I think that that’s- and you know, the main thing we need to do to make atheist more acceptable everywhere is to just come out of the closet, to the degree that we can.  If you can come out, come out.  To the degree that you can come out, come out.  Come out to whoever you feel safe coming out to.  Because that’s what’s going to be what makes religious people realize that we’re not monsters.


[37:22] Male Voice: Greta, since you’ve came out with your cancer diagnosis, I just wondered if you’ve had to deal with any more threats of violence or death threats against you.

Since you’ve come out with your cancer diagnosis, have you had any death threats or threats of violence against you?”  No, I haven’t actually.  I don’t know, people may or may not know this, but because of some of my writing, particularly because of some of my feminist writing, I have gotten death threats and other threats of violence against me from other atheists, which is actually really sad.  It’s one of the things that makes me most sad is that the people who I fear most, the people who I most fear for my safety and my life are not religious believers, they are other atheists, and that just makes me tremendously sad.  When I have gotten – especially in this last year – just this barrage of threats and abuse.


I have not been getting that since the cancer diagnosis, and I don’t know how much of that is because I simply haven’t been doing very much writing, and I certainly haven’t been writing on controversial topics; I’ve mostly just been writing about the cancer and about my father dying and so on.  So I haven’t been writing about the kinds of topics that make people mad at me.  And I don’t know how much of it, to be honest, that there’s sort of this people don’t want to criticize me or be mean to me in public because I just got diagnosed with cancer, and you’re not supposed to be mean to people who have cancer.


So a part of me is almost looking forward to the normality of getting back to my normal atheist life, where people hate me because I’m a feminist, but also a part of me hopes that some of the people who have been directing threats against me, and who have been hostile to me, that some of this experience makes them realize that I’m a human being, and that other people you disagree with are human beings.  And I would hope that some of what this makes them realize is that if you have strong disagreements and ideological disagreements with people, that you express those disagreements in a civil way, and in a way that doesn’t involve threats and abuse.  Because the people on the other end of the line are human beings who have lives and who don’t deserve that.


[40:14] So I don’t know if that was the last question, or if there was one more question after that.  That wasn’t clear to me.  Ok, so that was the last question.


So thank you all so much.  I’m so, so, so sorry that I can’t be there in person, but once again, I am so grateful to Lauren and to Katie at to everyone else at Skepticon who made the Skype thing possible.  I really wish I could be there in person.  Go eat awesome food at the Gastropub for me, go have an awesome time, and I’ll be there next year.


[audience applause]


[final minute laughter and closing the Skype session]


1 Comment

Dominic Seger · January 11, 2013 at 7:06 am

Im forwarding this to all my friends. Wonderful!

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