Damn, where do I start? My mind is bursting at the seams! So is my metaphorical heart. Attending the Secular Student Alliance Conference this year was an absolutely mind blowing experience.
I've never really attended any sort of serious secular gathering before and as far as getting together with fellow skeptics goes, my only other ventures have been a meeting of the Fayetteville Freethinkers on the same day as the NWA Pride Parade. That was another fantastic heartfelt experience that did a lot for my confidence and determination, but was not nearly on the same level. It can't compare in what it did for my growth as a person in such a short amount of time. I am filled with more appreciation, passion, love, excitement, determination, and pride than I think I have ever felt before. I feel like I could take on the world.
It meant a lot to me, more than I can articulately express, as I noted on Facebook: “You guys are all fantastic. I can't begin to express my appreciation for all the work you guys have done! This weekend I may have had the best time of my life so far. This conference meant so much to me as a freethinker who has just begun to start in the world of activism; I have never felt so respected and it is an incredible feeling to be able to have meaningful conversations with people who care and are willing to return your passion.”
I really mean it. The conservative area of Northwest Arkansas often leaves me feeling alone amidst a sea of indoctrinated blind faith where I rarely find conversations of any depth and often feel hesitant to let people know what I think out of fear of condemnation. I avoid commentary when told things such as 'bless you', 'god provides', 'you've been blessed', 'why weren't you at church this Christmas', and other such assertions with a politeness that condones the continuance of their assumptions. I can remember an instance when I corrected a woman on my ankh not being a cross when she happily informed me that she was “also a Christian” and liked my “cross” and was met with almost immediate coldness and disregard: her entire personality did an alarming one-eighty. All I said was “oh, it's not a cross – it's an ankh”. I stated nothing more when I easily could have pushed the topic further, such as noting that the symbol was representative of humanism and my love of Ancient Egypt, as well as that it predates the use of the crucifix as a religious symbol by at least five thousand years. It is more likely even older.
I have a lot of room in my heart for people and a lot of passion for life, as well as a complicated past revolving around emotional abuse, so I admittedly do not have the thickest skin when it comes to being rejected and assaulted with religious absurdity. This can be very conflicting when I like to show people a lot of respect, but do not feel religion deserves an ounce. In the majority of cases I honestly feel that the concept of religion and the lack of critical thinking that comes along with it should be strongly criticized.
This step into the world of activism and networking with colleagues in critical thinking have filled me with the fire to stand up for myself and evidence-based reasoning. It has given me the fuel to keep my confidence aloft. It has given me the strength to pursue my goals and fight irrationality and injustice. Every penny I spent on this trip was worth it. I feel enriched and stronger as a person, truly emblazoned and full of the drive to make a difference. For some time I've considered the thought of leaving the area to more accepting grounds, but now I know that NWA needs me and there are others like me who need the support and assurance I have gotten this past weekend. I will not abandon them in such a time of change and growing awareness that skeptics of all kinds do indeed exist alongside the religious.
I met a lot of incredible people. Ben, JT, Debbie, Joel, Kay, Kelley, Frank, Cassy, Cambridge, Robbie! Mark, Kai, Conrad! There were so many more of you, forgive me if you were not mentioned, I simply didn't have the time to get to know all of you. Hopefully I will through the internet and come Skepticon!
Speaking of Ben, Frank, and Debbie. I'm so glad that Michelle and I weren't the only ones with good taste in Panera Bread! It was awesome to be able to have that final farewell. I got my tattoo right after that – not counting our ironic brief contact with the “Columbus Israelites” on the way – so you guys will be of particular remembrance associated with it.
Lyz, Nate, August, Sharon, Jesse, Derrick, Leslie, all you hard workers at the SSA! You have no idea how much your continued efforts and commitment mean to me as a secular student. You've given me so much strength. Lyz, I gotta give you particular mention. You were the absolute best and of huge help to Michelle and I. We wouldn't have gotten around with you! Thank-You, Thank-You, Thank-You.
Hemant, Greta, and Jen. What awesome inspirations for the aspiring blogger! I did not get to speak a whole lot with you guys, but did meet some with Greta at the zoo and was able to chat with Hemant on the walk back from Noodles. You guys were so welcoming and full of information and stories to tell. I hope I get the opportunity to speak with you all again!
After three fantastic days, it was an enriching, but bittersweet ending. I was and still am completely high on socialization and intellectual bliss, but a mere three days was a tease. I didn't nearly have enough time to meet and hang out with everyone like I would have liked.
There is so much more I could say, but I'll break it up into posts more-or-less sticking to a topic throughout the next few days so I don't drag this out into an endless stream of rambling. That aside, welcome to my first blog entry! It's a fledgling work in progress and is going to revolve around an extreme diverse amount of topics. It won't all be related to skepticism and science; I also love to talk about fiction, writing in general, comic books, video games, daily experiences, you name it.