To finish off Saturday night, atheist comedian Keith Lowell Jenson and journalist Ted Cox gave a demonstration of "ex-gay" conversion therapy. The quack idea undergirding this is that men are gay because they were deprived of love by their fathers, and experiencing real manly affection will cure them of their confused and unnatural lust. Here, Hemant Mehta (who was an extremely good sport about the whole thing) demonstrates how this works with the help of some volunteers from the audience. I have to say it seems, to my naive observer's eye, as if this kind of "therapy" just might possibly have the opposite effect to that intended.
After the requisite carousing on Saturday night, Sunday was the last day of the conference. Although I had to miss the last few talks in order to catch a flight, I did see several panels on Sunday morning. Here, Amanda Metskas explains the importance of Camp Quest, a secular summer camp for kids from nonreligious families, which like the SSA is growing rapidly nationwide. Amanda brought one of her campers up on stage to teach us the Corn Dance, though it was just a little too early in the morning for me.
Andrew Tripp also gave a talk on the importance of social justice to atheism. Last but not least, there was a particularly good talk by Brendan Murphy on how atheists can and should deal with mental illness (I didn't get any pictures of that, unfortunately). But before I left for the airport, I had time to take pictures with some old friends, as well as some other marvelous people I met for the first time that weekend:
Me with David Fitzgerald, Lori Fazzino (who's doing her Ph.D thesis on the sociology of the New Atheist movement), and one other gentleman whose name I didn't catch.
Me with Kelley Freeman of the USC Pastafarians (who crocheted this adorable fellow currently sitting on my desk - thanks, Kelley!), and Dr. Amy Young, who won an award on Friday night for Best Advisor. She's the advisor of an SSA affiliate at Central College, a private religious university in Iowa - and considering she doesn't have tenure, it must have taken impressive courage to volunteer.
All in all, I had a fantastic time, and I have to give full credit to the SSA staff for running an amazing conference. They picked a perfect venue, kept things moving along with clockwork precision, had just the right mix of serious stuff and fun, and even threw in bonus goodies like providing three full catered meals and free rides to and from the airport. (And, of course, they invited me!) But if I had to pick my favorite thing about the conference, it was probably the decision to borrow an idea from the TED talks and put each speaker up for just 20 minutes at a time. This kept things fast-moving and lively, kept people's patience from flagging, and meant that little time was wasted if a talk wasn't to your taste. This is an idea that I'd like to see more conferences adopt. A barrage of successive hour-long talks can wear down the hardiest convention-goer, even when the speakers are people we like and want to hear.
As far as my speaking invitation goes, I've said this before and I'll say it again: People like me have the easy job. I get to fly into a city, spend a half hour or an hour giving my talk, hang out with my friends from the blogosphere, meet some cool new people, have some drinks at a local watering hole, and then head home. It's the SSA employees and the student activists who have the harder, less visible, but far more important and necessary work: they have to organize a bunch of unruly atheists, hold groups together through student turnover, take care of the fliering and the tabling, schedule regular meetings and service events, do all the planning and the legwork for big conventions, and much more. The people who do all this are the heart and soul of the secular movement, and they deserve our deepest appreciation. (As usual, Greta Christina says this far better.)
And that work is bearing fruit. Posts like this one from JT offer photographic evidence of just how quickly the secular movement, and in particular the secular student movement, has grown in just the last few years. Part of the credit must surely go to the outstanding talent of the SSA, but I think another part is that this is a movement whose time has come. The SSA has tapped into something deep and widespread, something that was just awaiting the spark to catalyze its explosive growth. It's my honor to be a part of it all, in whatever way I can - and I can't wait to see where this is going to take us in another ten or twenty years.
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