FreeOK 2015

FreeOK 2015

Imagine if you will a camp meeting of atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and pagans.  Focus on that conceptual image for a moment and you can grasp the essence of the fifth annual Oklahoma Freethought ConventionFreeOK 2015 was held on Saturday, June 20th at the Cox Business Center in Tulsa.  This is another of those local community functions which make this the most conservative stretch of Old Route 66 habitable.  Yours truly was on hand for this all day annual event just as I was for the preceding four.

Cox_Business_Center_Tulsa

This year’s convention coordinators had an impressive slate of eight speakers, a few of whom have graced this event with their presence before.  All brought a positive and educative message to the attendees, this year numbering around 300.  As with any other group of like-minded adults, validation of common knowledge was reaffirmed by each speaker.

FreeOK_2015

Leading off was one Dr. Jason Heap who spoke on the topic of restoring religious liberty.  Dr. Heap holds a Master’s in Divinity from Texas Christian University as well as a Master’s in History from the University of Oxford in the UK.  His more recent claim to fame is his lawsuit against the U.S. Navy for denying his application to the Chaplain Corps as a Humanist Chaplain.  One truth I have learned since my departure from organized religion and belief in deity some nineteen years ago is the more education a person has the more likely they are to embrace atheism or agnosticism.  This was something Dr. Heap’s talk reaffirmed for me.

The second speaker was a survivor of an abusive traditional fundamentalist religious lifestyle.  Vyckie Garrison managed to educate her way out of the  Quiverfull movement and found No Longer Quivering, an organization dedicated to helping those recovering from involvement in such fundamentalist religions.  Ms. Garrison’s story of dysfunctional family ties and less-than-comfortable upbringing I’m sure resonated with many present.  Her description of living a letter-of-the-law scriptural marriage as a Quiverfull spouse was something I certainly understood, myself having been a Mormon for over twenty years.  Again, this speaker’s story of her departure from her faith began with her own education and critical thinking.  In her case she had an enlightened   extended family member who gently facilitated the process for her.  I thought it was wonderful all of Ms. Garrison’s children were present to support her.

ATHEIST

Ryan Bell, the third speaker in the lineup, is a former Seventh Day Adventist pastor known for spending 2014 exploring the limits of theism and atheism in the United States in what he refers to as A Year Without God.  Mr. Bell also blogs at Year Without God.  I got the sense that this man was still in his transition process from being a religious believer to be a non-religious non-believer. Everyone evolves at their own pace and some evolve more quickly than others.  Mr. Bell’s talk made me glad I did not invest in a life of religion any more than I already had done.  I also understand fully how difficult it is to let go of old ingrained habits of belief.  Those changes are the hardest to make for just about all of us.

After lunch we resumed with a talk by Dr. Darrel Ray, author of such works as The God Virus and Sex and God.  Of all the talks given today, Dr. Ray’s was the most educational.  He vividly illustrated how pseudo-science embraced by rightwing policymakers and judges is doing some very real harm to otherwise likely harmless people.  Dr. Ray put forth some questions very worthy of critical examination:  Is sex and pornography really an addiction?  What is the criteria for addiction?  Who peer reviews the science used by sex therapists?  It was noted by Dr. Ray that the purity and abstinence culture is modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous.  He also noted that there has been no peer reviewed research showing abstinence as an effective treatment for alcohol or sex addiction!  Also, there is no sex addiction diagnosis in the DSM-V.  What concerned me the most is that, according to Dr. Ray, juvenile judges are using the diagnosis of sex/porn addiction to make judicial decisions.  Also, Dr. Ray enlightened us as to where a lot of the purported sexual experts advancing the notion of sex/porn addiction receive their education:  Brigham Young University…..BYU where students must agree to live the Mormon Law of Chastity.  Yes, BYU, where all graduate students not married are to limit their dating activities to holding hands with the one member of the opposite sex and thinking pure thoughts!  Dr. Ray made reference to the source of much of his information, that being Dr. Marty Klein and Dr. David Ley’s book The Myth of Sex Addiction.

 FSM_FreeOK_2015_2

The next speaker gained national notoriety after her home in Moore, OK was destroyed by the May 20th, 2013 EF 5 tornado.  Rebecca Vitsmun was being interviewed by CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer when he forced her hand.  Mrs. Vitsmun has since relocated to the Pacific Northwest and is now actively involved in forming Humanist Disaster Recovery Teams.  She spoke passionately about how religious based recovery people who were helping her sort through the debris after losing her home two years ago and how judgmental one woman was when it was made known she did not belong to a church and was not indoctrinating her children in religious teachings.  Mrs. Vitsmum is coordinating with Foundation Beyond Belief and the Beyond Belief Network as well as FEMA in forming community based humanist disaster response teams.  Her story was very personal and very moving.

Rebecca Vitsmun

Rebecca Vitsmun

The last three speakers have been guests at previous FreeOK conventions.

Aron Ra is an atheist vlogger and activist well known for his cogent arguments in favor of disbelief in deity.  He always seems to leave me with a useful take-home tidbit.  This time it was “All religious rights are imaginary.”

Aron Ra

Aron Ra

Seth Andrews, The Thinking Atheist, was the one whose team was videotaping the entirety of the day’s events.  He is a former Christian radio personality and now well known member of the Atheist Community of Tulsa.  Seth transitioned out of belief in deity in early 2011 and related a story of how his evolution to non-believing non-believer impacted his still devout Christian family members.  He related a story about how he brutally told his ailing twin sister that her faith in God was nonsense and how he could not buy it.  After careful reflection he later made amends with his sibling and apologized for being such an uncaring asshole.  This was Seth’s example of a delicate balancing act we former believers have to perform when dealing with family members who still believe.  It is incumbent on us to identify when a situation is about us and when it is about someone else.  Seth’s sister’s faith was for her a part of her coping mechanism in dealing with a debilitating disease.  For a lot of us that is a hard lesson to learn.  Fortunately for Seth, I don’t think it did any real lasting damage to his   relationship with his sister.

Seth Andrews, The Thinking Atheist

Seth Andrews, The Thinking Atheist

The last speaker was Matt Dillahunty, the former president of the Atheist Community of Austin, TX and host of the cable access program The Atheist Experience.  Mr. Dillahunty dispensed with a talk as it was late in the day and instead wowed everyone with a magic show the centerpiece of which was a mathematical square that managed to produce the day’s date.

6202015

The attendees even got to hear some of latest routine of local stand-up comic and Tulsa attorney Sheila Naifeh before the Q&A panel.

Sheila Naifeh

Sheila Naifeh

At the end of it most of the speakers sat for a panel for Q&A before the convention adjourned.

FreeOK2015_Speakers

Throughout the entire day there was a distinct sense of community in the convention hall.  My hat is off to all the this years organizers and sponsors of FreeOK 2015 as well as the host organization, the Atheist Community of Tulsa which represented by the group’s vice-president,  Ms. Allison Spicer.

ACT VP Alison Spicer

ACT VP Alison Spicer

 Also, I would like to extend my thanks to the event’s defacto Master of Ceremonies, Mr. William Poire for his dedication and willingness to go the extra mile.

William Poire

William Poire

Will provided a few moments in between speakers for a woman from Duncan, OK by the name of Lea who recently became the focal point of controversy and scorn after her formal complaint against Wilson Elementary School for allowing a faculty to distribute Christian bibles to third graders, one of whom was her child.  Lea has had her vehicle vandalized and has had other negative fallout resulting from this action.  My heart as I’m sure everyone else’s present went out to her.  It was good to have in our company.

It was a full Saturday well spent.  Attendees came from as far away as Kansas City and Texas.  If ever a fellow member of the Good Without God club can make it, I highly encourage attending an Oklahoma Freethought Convention.  I promise it will be an experience like none other you’ve ever had.

Until next time……….

UnitedCoR

1 Comment

  1. Route66Kid
    Jun 21, 2015

    Here is a link for the GoFundMe site to help Lea and her family move out of Duncan, OK:

    http://www.gofundme.com/tj7y9sfs