Monthly Archives: March 2013

Atheist Morality vs Christian Morality

I’m delighted to announce that, over the next 12-18 months I’ll be working with Professors Tom Arcaro and Duane McClearn of Elon University, North Carolina on analyzing and writing about the results of Tom’s international atheist survey, “Better understanding the world of atheists”.

The survey, undertaken earlier this year, elicited over 8000 responses – nearly 10 per cent of those from Australia and New Zealand.

Tom has set up the Serving Atheists blog so that we can, progressively, communicate the results of the survey to respondents and the public and we invite your feedback. Ultimately, it’s envisaged that the survey will form the basis for a series of articles and, perhaps, a book.

I’ve just published my first blog post on the Australasian responses to the first question on atheist vs Christian morality. I hope you’ll find the results as interesting as I did!

The morality question – the Australasian response

Tales on a Tutu

About 12 months ago I found a photo on the internet that really inspired me. It was a photo of a fat lady in a tutu and she looked beautiful – really beautiful.

“Wow!” I thought. “Could I wear a tutu?”

I always wanted one – ever since I was a tiny little girl. But now, at Size 24, was it possible I could wear one and not look like a right dork?

I was so nervous about it, I took the photo of the lady in the tutu and photoshopped my head on to it. Could I? Could I?

I decided to take the plunge. I ordered a virtual truckload of black tulle from America, and, armed with a YouTube instruction video I began threading lengths of tulle on to an elastic waistband.

When it was finished, I was thrilled. I felt fluffy and feminine and flirty – something which is rather hard to achieve once you’ve reached the extreme end of ‘Plus Size’.

My tutu got its first outing at my friend, Vicki’s, 50th birthday party. It was an 80s theme so I dressed it up with Madonna-style net gloves and an overload of jewellery. I felt fairly confident that, in the context of a costume party I wouldn’t look silly but, there was a catch. To get to the river cruiser Vicki’s husband had booked for the party, I first had to stuff myself and my many metres of tulle into the back of a taxi and then, then, I had to walk about 300 metres through the South Bank Parklands on full display to that dreaded beast – teh General Public.

As I stepped out of the cab, I took a deep breath and said to myself, “You can do this – don’t let them see you’re nervous”.  Then I sashayed along the river walk in a fair approximation of Naomi Campbell on a Paris catwalk, and, you know, I don’t think one person even gave me a sideways glance.

Feeling a combination of relief and affront, I arrived at the appointed pier where my tutu was met with many compliments from my fellow party-goers. It was going to be a great night!

As we chugged up the river with 80s music thumping out of the sound system, I laughed, I sang, and I actually danced so hard that I’m still suffering the foot injury 12 months later! I had a ball and I felt like Cinderella in my lovely, fluffy black tutu.

Tutu - Vickis Party

Almost floating on air, I disembarked from the boat at the end of the cruise, happily anticipating some after-party drinks at a nearby pub. The crew greeted us as we left, murmuring parting greetings such as, “Goodnight!” “Hope you had a good night!” “Did you have fun?”

And then, as I reached the bottom of the gangplank to be greeted by the smiling crew, a female crew member said to me, “Are you going on from here?”

photo (56)

“Yes!” I said, “We’re going up to the Plough Inn.”

“You’re not going to wear THAT are you?” she said, looking pointedly at my tutu.

It was as if someone had taken a knife and stabbed me through the heart. If I had been a balloon, you would have heard the bang in Blackbutt.

Fighting back tears, I decided I wasn’t going to be a silent victim. I complained to the captain of the boat. I explained that I’d had a great night but his crew member’s cruel jibe had just ruined it.

I did go to the pub afterwards and I didn’t take off my tutu and again, I don’t think anyone on the walk through the Parklands or in the pub could have given a toss about what I was wearing, but it didn’t take the sting out of that one, nasty jibe.

And now, I was faced with a dilemma. I planned to wear the tutu to another event – not a costume party this time but a gala dinner. Was I just putting myself up for ridicule? I tried, in vain, to find an alternative outfit but everything I looked at in my size was unflattering, boring and had no ‘character’ at all. I sent photos of myself in my tutu to some trusted friends. Should I wear it? Would I look ridiculous? Was I kidding myself? I’m 54, size 24 and I want to wear a fucking tutu to a REALLY BIG EVENT – who am I fucking kidding?

Eventually, I decided to wear it. As I got dressed I was so nervous I was almost physically ill. I can’t tell you the effort it took to walk into that crowd of people in my tutu and I can’t tell you how gobsmacked I was when the response was neither the non-commital ‘meh’ of the passers-by at the South Bank Parklands or the sneering taunt of the tactless crew member. It was, universally, “Wow! You look a-MAZING!”  Even people I didn’t know were coming up to me just to tell me they loved the tutu.

photo (51)

My friend, Gregory, actually demanded that I remove a piece of the tulle and bequeath him with a souvenir. It has since been affixed to his mascot, Shadforth Wilbury Sheep. I feel deeply honoured.

Shadforth Wilbury Sheep

Now, of course, there may have been a lot of people at the function who didn’t notice the tutu at all. There may have been lots who took one look at the big girl in the phoofy dress and had a little snort of laughter to themselves. But, I didn’t feel embarrassed at all. I just felt like I’d worn an outfit that reflected how I felt about myself and that people had responded well to that – and perhaps admired the teensy little bit of bravery that it took to wear it.

The tutu has had another outing since then. I wore it recently to an marriage equality rally. And really, if you can’t wear a tutu to a gay rights rally, where the hell can you wear it? I felt I’d brought my own little bit of Mardi Gras to Toowoomba and, once again, the tutu was accepted in the spirit in which it was worn.

photo (12)

And, all this stemmed from a woman who I didn’t know putting up a photo of herself on the internet.

After I made the tutu I tracked down her blog and sent her a note to let her know how she’d inspired me. Later, I sent her a photo of myself at the gala dinner. We became ‘Twitter’ friends and, as it turns out, she lives in south-east Queensland, so I had planned, at some time, to get to know her in person.

The lady in the tutu, I discovered, is a ‘fat activist’. As an activist, myself, I admired her for taking on what is possibly the Western world’s last acceptable form of discrimination and saying, “This is not right!”

It’s an uphill battle. I’ve found even members of the skeptical community – who would have a fit if someone made a racist, sexist or homophobic comment – will happily post photos of fat women on their Facebook page so that their friends can join in a fat-shaming-fest.

From time to time, I’ve taken them on. But, I’m just one woman with only so much time and ‘religion and politics’ is my chosen area of activism, so I don’t blog or write a lot on the discrimination suffered by many people who don’t conform with society’s idea of ‘acceptably svelte’. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s an important issue. It’s just that I can’t fight every injustice in the world. However, I was happy to network with and support a person who had, apparently, taken this on as her chosen crusade.

Mercifully, I suffer very little discrimination because of my weight. My friends and family love me as I am and if people stare, point and whisper about me when I’m out in public, I have to say I’ve never noticed it.  And it’s not as if I dress to be ignored. I am the atheist ‘bling queen’ – there is no subtlety in my fashion choices. I like to stand out in a crowd. I like to be noticed. If I saw someone doing a double-take as I walked past them, I’d generally assume it was just because I looked FABULOUS!  That’s not to deny the experience of others, but for me, the cruel barb from the crew member was the exception, not the norm.

The only other overt insult I can recall is a disgruntled neighbour who once shouted across the back fence, “Fat bitch! You’ve never done a day’s work in your life!” Ah, if only that were true! If others have had similar uncharitable thoughts about me, they’ve been kind enough to keep them to themselves.

I guess one’s romantic life tends to suffer when your belly ceases to be flat and your boobs head south, but then by the time the weight had reached “Big Girls’ Department’ proportions, I’d really lost as much interest in men as they had in me. There were a couple of dopes along the way who had problems with my expanding waistline. The first, a multi-millionaire from Western Queensland, murmured in my ear, “What happened to you? You used to be so beautiful.”

I replied that I still was beautiful and sent both him and his millions packing. Mother was devastated!

The second suitor, not exactly a sylph-like figure himself, decided that my figure just didn’t ‘do’ it for him, so I returned to Queensland and left him to his one true love – the bottle.

So, although I’ve got off lightly in the fat-discrimination stakes, I’m not completely oblivious to the indignities suffered by larger women (and, I expect, men). Having befriended a self-confessed ‘fat activist’ it seemed natural to share examples of ‘fat’ abuse when I came across them. After all, this is how my activism works. I depend on my network to keep me informed. Many of the things I write or campaign about come from readers of this blog, or from Facebook or Twitter contacts saying, “Hey, Chrys! Have you seen this?”

Of course, just because someone sends me a link to something, it doesn’t mean I feel compelled to act on it. If I did, I’d be working 442,023 hours a day. In most cases, I take a look. If it’s interesting, I might share it with my network. If I find myself really ticked off, I might write about it or take some other positive action. If I don’t have the time, I may send it off to someone else in my network and ask if they can respond. I certainly can’t act on every ‘tip off’ and I don’t think my network expects me to.

So, when I recently sent my  ‘fat activist’ friend a  link to an article which castigated Elton John for hiring – gasp! – overweight nannies for his children and appended it with the acronym “WTF?” it wasn’t with any particular expectation that she would take up the cudgel on my behalf.  I wasn’t delegating a task to her. I just thought that, as a fat activist (her words, not mine) she would be interested in the subject matter.

Apparently not. I later noticed that she had unfollowed me on Twitter. “Strange,” I thought. It wasn’t a big deal, but I hadn’t fallen out with her and I wondered why. I checked her account – it had been made private. I’d done that once when I was being bullied and I worried that she might have had a similar problem.  When I dropped off the internet a couple of years ago, I was sustained by the number of people who actually noticed and took the time to contact me privately to ask why. So, I emailed her and said, “RU OK?”

“… just thought I’d check to see that everything’s OK with you – and between us. Have you been bullied? Anything I can help with?” I said.

I was stunned to receive a very terse response telling me that it was ‘unacceptable’ to send her a link to an article about fat hate; that she was ‘sick of people sending me links to articles about fat hate and expecting me to be their bullhorn, to take on the issue or to be the voice of fat activism with absolutely no thought how that fat hate may affect me’.

When I had retrieved my jaw from the carpet, I went back and checked her blog. And yes, it was still there. And yes, her “About” blurb still said, “My name is … and I’m a fat activist”.

I read her latest blog. It was about a fat-hate issue she’d been alerted to due to a number of retweets and shares on the internet. Was I missing something?

I wrote back to her saying I was sorry I had upset her by sharing the link, but I felt she was sending mixed messages. How can you style yourself as an ‘activist’ and then castigate people for sharing information about the very issue you claim to be campaigning about?

Apparently, I was supposed to know that she doesn’t want to be an activist 24/7 – just when it suits her.

Boy, can I relate to that!

When I’ve sat up until 2am writing a blog post or article and someone notices I’m still online and sends me an email or Facebook message saying, “By the way, can you look at this?” or “Should my school be able to do this?” or “Can you write an article about this?”  I sometimes think – “Give me a break! Do you know what time it is?”

But then, I realise that I chose this. I chose to be a public commentator. I chose to be an activist. I chose to put my shingle up on the internet. Nobody forced me into it!

And, if, having styled myself as an activist,  people treat me that way, I have no call to complain. Having established my areas of interest as religion and politics, skeptical issues and alt-med, it would seem pretty churlish to start unfollowing people who wanted to share information on those subjects with me!

From time to time, there has been the odd person who has demanded that I should write about a particular subject. “Why don’t you attack Muslims?” is the most common complaint; to which I reply, “Why don’t you do it and send me the link – I’ll promote your work.” No-one’s ever taken me up on it!

But ultimately, this is the thing. You’re either an activist or you’re not. You can’t be an activist on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am until 3pm and then expect people not to bother you outside of those hours. You’re either in it boots and all, or you should really take down your shingle.

And I’m not against that, either. I’ve taken mine down before when it all got too hard. This is a voluntary job for the most part and it does wear you down after a while. But the responsibility rests on you to take yourself away from it. You can’t say, “I don’t know how many times I’ve told people not to …” This is the internet. We all deal with a surfeit of information. Most of the time people don’t read what you’ve written. Indeed, I was shocked to discover recently that not everyone I know reads everything I write! They might be equally shocked to discover I don’t read every tweet in my timeline!

The internet gives you the tools to control input from others – you really can’t expect others to filter their activities according to your whims.

So, today, I’ve lost a friend – or at least, a potential friend – because I had the temerity to send her a link to an article on the subject of her activism. Apparently, I should have known it was unwelcome. How, I’m not quite sure. It makes no sense to me.

I can only say that, it seems to me that if you style yourself as an activist, you implicitly invite others to send you information relevant to that cause.

I guess it’s akin to wearing a tutu. You are implicitly – or perhaps explicitly – saying, “Look at me! Notice me!”

There is no subtlety in a tutu and there is no subtlety in being an online activist.

In life, you have two choices. You can fly below the radar, or you can bling up and say, “Here I am world! Look at me!”  And whether you do that by being an activist, by dying your hair a shocking pink, by wearing outrageously large earrings, or by looking absolutely fabulous in a tutu – you’d better be prepared for the world to respond to your invitation.

It’s always sad to lose the friendship of someone you admire. But I will always be grateful that I found the photo of that gorgeous, large lady in a tutu on the internet. She inspired me. She made me brave. She helped me reconnect with my femininity. She has substantially influenced my subsequent fashion choices. I feel better for having known her. There are very few people who ‘change your life’ – but I think that she really did change mine.

Chrys - tutu

Chrys Stevenson

Hattonvale Nursery Queensland – homophobic rant

OK, I get it. Things are tough for small businesses and when you’ve got a little bit of the market cornered, it must be irksome when a nearby business starts to target the same customers. But, that’s the chance any business takes and it’s not incumbent upon any business to protect the profits of its neighbours.

The owners of Hattonvale Nursery on the Warrego Highway, Queensland, seem to have a different view, however. They’ve got their knickers in a knot because the guys at Wet Dreams Aquatics at nearby Plainlands have, apparently, started selling plants as well as aquarium products. Shock! Horror!

Now, a little argy-bargy between businesses in difficult economic times is to be expected but Hattonvale Nursery went way beyond the pale when they aired their grievances against Wet Dreams Aquatics on their Facebook page (since taken down and then reinstated).

This wasn’t a quiet bitch about local businesses sticking to their own defined markets. No. This was a full-scale homophobic rant against the owners of Wet Dreams Aquatics.

Hatton Vale

Now, I don’t know anything about the owners of Wet Dreams Aquatics – except that they obviously have a cute sense of humour!  Are they gay, straight or otherwise? I don’t know and don’t care – and nor should anyone else. It certainly has absolutely nothing to do with how they run their business.

I also know nothing about the owners of Hattonvale Nursery. I assume from the tenor of their Facebook message that they attend one of the local fundamentalist Christian churches, or at least, consider themselves ‘good Christians’. And yet, their message drips with hate and intolerance. Can anyone – Christian or atheist – imagine the Jesus of the New Testament writing (or approving of) such a disgustingly small-minded, sickeningly prejudiced message against the pariahs of his day – lepers? tax collectors? prostitutes?

All I can say is, Hattonvale Nursery, you should be ashamed. You give Queenslanders a bad name. You give your local area a bad name. You give Christianity a bad name. And, you certainly red flag your business as one that as many decent people as possible should stay away from.

As for the blokes at Wet Dreams Aquatics, I’m assuming this isn’t doing their business any harm at all. I note that people are liking their Facebook page in droves.  Whatever ‘Wet Dreams’ they may have for the expansion of their business, let’s hope this nasty little incident ironically turns it into a ‘Wet Reality’!

I understand that a peaceful protest outside Hattonvale Nursery is being planned for 10am, Sunday, 10 March (please note, the statue shop just outside the nursery is not affiliated with the homophobes who own the nursery).

The owner has not reacted well, posting on Facebook:

hatton vale 2

Hatton vale 3


Red necked ignorance is a fact of life, I guess, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it or give those who express such views a free pass. I’m not calling for people to congregate outside of Hattonvale Nursery with pitchforks and flaming torches, but I would encourage Queenslanders, in particular, to spread the word about this business and, perhaps, decide to buy your plants elsewhere.

Funnily enough, for someone who is so preoccupied with the ‘ethics’ of his competitors, the owner of Hattonvale Nursery doesn’t seem to have spent much time reading the very book he cites as the source of his own ethical code.

Luke 6:42

New International Version (NIV)

42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Luke 6:29

New International Version (NIV)

29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.

Matthew 7:1

New International Version (NIV)

Judging Others

7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

Matthew 19:24

New International Version (NIV)

24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

But then, I guess for someone who runs a nursery, cherry-picking comes naturally, eh?

Chrys Stevenson

NB: Hatton Vale, Queensland is actually two words, but, in referring to the nursery,  I have preserved the one-word spelling of its own Facebook page.

Atheist Charity

Atheists can be proud that, through the internet, we have been able to form a strong, international community.

Events like the Global Atheist Convention, along with local humanist, rationalist, atheist and skeptical organisations allow us to meet and become real friends in the real world.

But atheist charity is a concept which is still developing. Foundation Beyond Belief, formed several years ago by Dale McGowan (author of Parenting Beyond Belief), is now strongly supported and expanding internationally. An FBB chapter will soon be operating here in Australia. To date, FBB has given away close to a million dollars to selected, secular charities.

On a smaller scale, we still lag behind churches – mainly because we lack the organisation of religious denominations. Our face to face gatherings tend to be small and we have no pastor at the pulpit to say, “Dave’s been having some health problems lately and had to take a lot of time of work. Let’s dig deep and help out the family and, ladies, how about organising some baking to deliver to Dave’s family.”

Of course we can, and have, done this online. When atheist comedian, Sam Singleton’s wife, Cari,  had a terrible accident, atheists from around the world contributed to her recovery – but, of course, Singleton is well known.

Last year, the organisers of the Global Atheist Convention generously donated a ticket to Robert Tobin who has been undergoing treatment for oesophageal cancer but we still had to get him there from Queensland and accommodate him. I was so touched that, within 48 hours of asking for donations on my Facebook page, we had raised enough money to fly Robert to Melbourne, put him up in a budget hotel, and give him a little extra towards transfers and meals.

So, we can do the charity ‘thing’, but ‘online’ it’s somewhat harder because people are naturally skeptical about giving money to people they don’t actually know and who may well be spinning a ‘line’. I’ve been caught this way myself.

Perhaps as our community grows stronger, and our networks expand, we’ll find more instances of atheists supporting atheists-in-need as ‘people we know’ can verify that individuals ‘we don’t know’ are ‘real people’ in ‘genuine need’.

Jenny Sutherland – funds raised to date (7 March 2013).

I have one such example. A delightful member of the atheist community, Jenny Sutherland, suffers a raft of health problems, including lupus, type 1 diabetes, endometriosis and ADHD. She really hit the jackpot, poor kid!  Because of her lupus, getting around is difficult for Jenny. Jenny’s tried struggling on a pair of crutches which are unwieldy, ungainly and take a considerable amount of energy.  Currently, she’s using an old cast-off wheelchair which requires someone to push her, so she has no independence. She really needs a better wheelchair, but the cost of one that will serve her needs is $4,500. That’s a lot of money when you’re disabled! Jenny managed to save up $500 and, with the help of a number of Facebookers, we’ve been able to boost that up to $2,280 but there’s still a way to go.

I met Jenny’s mother, Denise Sutherland, at The Amazing Meeting in Sydney in 2010. Denise is a well-known puzzle writer and author of  a number of “….. for Dummies” books.  Denise and I met again in 2011 when I was in Canberra for Ron Williams’ High Court Challenge against Federal funding for the National School Chaplaincy Program – another brilliant example of atheistic/secular crowd-funding.  Denise and her daughter, Jenny, have since visited my cousin, the brilliant ‘Letter to the Editor’ writer, Doug Steley at his home in country Victoria. So, we know that Denise and Jenny are ‘real’ and that Jenny’s health problems are genuine.

So, if you’d like to participate in a little ‘atheist charity’ and, if you can spare even a small amount, I’d take it as a personal favour if you can make a contribution towards Jenny’s ‘wheels’.

If you’re in Australia you can donate via BPay: Biller Code: xxxx ; Reference No: xxxx

Or, via Direct Deposit to: UBank; Account name: Wheelchair; BSB: xxxx; Account number: xxxx

If you prefer to go really ‘old school’ and write a cheque, you can make it out to: Jenny Sutherland and post it to: xxxx

If you’re from overseas, you can make a donation to Denise’s PayPal account, using her email: xxxxx. Add a note saying it’s for the wheelchair, so Denise will know to transfer those funds into Jen’s account.

There is just over $2,000 to raise to get Jenny into a wheelchair – it’s not a huge ask and I think we can do it. Come on, let’s show a little atheist charity.

Chrys Stevenson

Update: Absolutely fantastic news from Denise Sutherland. The generosity of their friends and the atheist community means that her daughter, Jenny, now has enough money to order a wheelchair. Many, many thanks to all of you who so generously donated.

Jacqui Tomlins has done some great research into Special Religious Education in Victorian public schools. As a teacher, and a ‘rainbow family’ parent, Jacqui adds a very important perspective to the issue of religion in public schools. I highly recommend her blog post.

Chrys Stevenson

Jacqui Tomlins

A couple of weeks ago my kids came home from school (a local state primary) with a letter asking whether I would like them to undertake Special Religious Instruction (SRI). No, I wouldn’t, I told the school – three times in heavily circled biro.  It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this question and every time it really, really annoys me.

So this year I thought I would undertake a little research of my own about SRI; about what goes on in other schools and about how other parents have dealt with this issue. To start with I looked at the legislation that governs this area, the Education and Training Reform Act (2006); section 2.2.10 Education in Government schools to be secular states that:

(1) Except as provided in section 2.2.11, education in Government schools must be secular and not promote any particular religious practice, denomination or sect.

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