What do you do at an atheist conference?

Well, I’m finding out.  Technically, this is Day 2.  Last night was an informal fundraising dinner where I got to meet and speak with a few of the presenters, but it was mostly social.

Matt Dillahunty (Greta behind me) and me and the Thursday night dinner

Today began bright and early at the Embassy Suites in Des Moines, Iowa with the welcome by the mayor of the city.  That was immediately followed by the welcome by the president of American Atheists.  He was interviewed by Bill O’Reilly last year when billboard were put up in various cities.  In his opening speech, he took us through a series of statements beginning with “Consider an America….”

“…where judges can make decisions without fear of being removed from the bench.”     “…where science can be taught in schools by teachers without the threat of being fired.”   “…where loving families can adopt and raise children as they wish.”                        “…where our government begins its sessions with ‘Let’s get to work!'”                    “….where women can make decisions about their own bodies.”

Our first speaker was Jeff Sharlett, the author of “C Street” and “The Family”, the secret religious organization in Washington that has housed and sheltered a number of Republican scandal-makers, including up to this morning, John Ensign.  He was fascinating in his report about his experience with this group, and it is an incredibly important read, no matter your politics.  I’ll buy the Kindle version of his books and I promise I’ll  blog about them afterward, but I recommend them even before I read them.   http://jeffsharlet.com/

Next we heard from Edwin Kagin, who is my new hero.  He’s the legal representation of American Atheists, and handles most of the litigation.  He highlighted two recent cases:  in Utah, the fallen officers’ memorial case – where crosses are erected in their honor, whether or not they were believers.  That case was resolved at the state supreme court in AA’s favor.  The second case involved the Kentucky Homeland Security statement that says that:  “…the security of the country…cannot be assured without a belief in Almighty God”.  The state attorney general ruled that case unconstitutional as well.  Mr. Kagin is charming and articulate – he’s from the area in Kentucky where my mother’s family is from, and his accent was familiar and endearing.  http://www.edwinkagin.com/  Click on the link just to read the lovely tribute he wrote to his precious wife he lost last February.

Following Mr. Kagin is one of my favorite bloggers, if not my favorite, Greta Christina.  She presented a talk on Atheists and Anger (http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/10/atheists-and-an.html) which was magnificent.  This blog entry is pretty close to the speech she gave, and she was wonderful.  (A little disclaimer:  Greta’s blog is not only an atheist blog, it is also a porn blog, so heads up).  On the first night, I even got the chance to chat with her a bit.  I first found her blog as a trainer, as she shares her own journey to reclaim her health (just search for her entries on weight management/fitness).

We had a little comedy routine by Troy Conrad, who did a great George Bush bit, then heard from another attorney, Eddie Tabash who is also a debater.  Our final speaker was Matthew Chapman.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbwFB6tr2y4).  He is a great-great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, and is a filmmaker and author.  He has made a film, The Ledge, with Liv Tyler, that has been accepted at the 2011 Sundance film festival.  We got to have our own, private screening before its June release!  It was incredibly powerful and profoundly moving.  It’s a thriller/drama and I won’t spoil it, but you should go see this film.

I’m learning that this group is rowdy and bawdy and snarky and FUNNY.  I’ve enjoyed meeting some very interesting people, and if it were not after 1 in the morning, I would tell you more about them.  We had a costume party tonight that was a scream!

can’t quite see Greta’s GREAT steampunk costume!
me and PZ Myers, one of my academic rockstars

I plan to blog again tomorrow night (but tomorrow night is the pub crawl, so I’m not promising) and try to post some pics.

Here’s to 4-5 hours of sleep…

Thanks for reading!