Monday, May 23, 2011

The Oakland Rapture RAM report...

Let me start by saying that I was thrilled to be a part of this event and that I had a great time and look forward to more events like this one. Unfortunately, my plane left Oakland at around noon on Sunday, so I had to leave early and missed the last few talks on Sunday - but here's my rundown of the entire weekend...

I arrived in Oakland around 4:20, which of course put me in mind of several jokes ("I'm in Oaksterdam at just the right time!" and "Where's that glaucoma prescription?"), but I was on a mission and there was very little time to squander. I was met at the airport by Donna Warnock, a long-time activist and new friend. We'd had a few conversations on Facebook and I was fortunate to get to spend a lot of time with her in DesMoines at the American Atheists National Convention. She lives in Oakland and graciously agreed to pick me up, treat me to a great dinner and ferry me around most of the weekend.

My first mission was to deliver a present to Greta Christina. Beth had knitted a Flying Spaghetti Monster for her and I didn't want it to get mauled (like the one on the show) before she saw it, so I fired off a text message, figuring I'd get a quick "Thanks! I'll see you in the morning", but instead I got a "Hey, come on over tonight!"...and that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the weekend: a bunch of friendly, fun-loving, godless heathens enjoying each other's company while shrugging off yet another failed rapture.

Donna and I were going to get a quick drink before dinner and as we were walking toward Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon in Jack London Square, I looked over at one of the tables and immediately thought, "That looks like Rebecca Watson" (and, as it turns out, she was thinking "That looks like Matt Dillahunty"). A quick glance to her right confirmed my suspicions as I immediately recognized and smiled at Surly Amy and my long-overdue introduction to Rebecca was quickly made (technically we met briefly at the TAM7 Skepchick party...but if you were there, you'd understand why this kinda counts as the first proper introduction) and we were soon drinking and chatting on a crooked floor in a tiny bar while being lovingly mauled by a tiny little puppy.

"Wait a minute...", you're thinking, "We want to hear about the actual Rapture RAM. Why are we being dragged through this 'look at the fun stuff you didn't get to do and probably would have missed even if you had come' diatribe?"

Well, skip ahead if you like, but it's my story and I want to hit all of the highlights....but you'll miss out on the part where, oh nevermind..

So Donna and I ate a great dinner on the waterfront and then headed into San Francisco to visit Greta. I was finally able to meet her wife, Ingrid (who is similarly awesome) and several of their friends who I rudely, unintentionally and regrettably ignored... because it was also the first time I'd had a chance to meet and talk to Jen McCreight. (We've since added each other to our lists of awesome people. The weekend was full of a lot of mutual admiration introductions along wit many discussions clarifying fine points on which some of us had previously disagreed - and perhaps still do, though with greater clarity and appreciation of the subtleties and the confidence that we're definitely in this together.)

I really don't have the words to express how much I enjoyed getting to interact, in person, with people who quickly went from online allies to 'how many times do you have to interact before you're really "friends"...oh who cares...these are 'my' peeps'...but let's move on to the actual gathering.

David Bryars and I got to chat in the Speakers' room for a few minutes before the event started and he was thrilled that they'd left us copies of Harold Camping's previous books to mock study while we waited.

David spoke about previous failed rapture/apocalyptic predictions and really got the event started off correctly: a little bit of fun, mixed with some education.

Jen McCreight was up next and talked about being both edgy and friendly. I'd seen a recording of this talk online, but it was great to finally hear it in person as she is perfectly suited to this topic. She offered some great examples of good and bad ideas for activism and explained how good ideas can quickly lead to bad ones in a group environment. She also gave one of the most diplomatic dismissal of accommodationist nonsense that I've seen; noting that you're always going to offend people and that there's a place for diplomats and firebrands. Funny, insightful, and just a joy to be around...I hope we're at the same event many, many times.

She was asked where she was on the good cop/bad cop scale and while she acknowledged her bad cop leanings, she made a point that I expanded on in my talk when I noted that whether I'm a good cop or a bad cop seems to depend on who you ask, which clip of the show they've seen and what their preconceptions were before hearing me for the first time.

Jesus made an appearance after Jen's talk, as Troy Conrad continued the levity with the in-costume revelation that we're actually on a reality show called 'Last Planet Standing" followed by a bit of improv where the crowd got to ask Jesus all the questions they'd been hoping to have answered. In addition to rapture clarifications, there were questions about his love life and skin color. As it turns out, Jesus has to appear as a white guy in the U.S. in order to get anyone to listen. Who knew?

I was up next and offered my limerick (there was a contest, though I have no idea what the results were) while I waited for my laptop to power up so that I could kill off all the fun with a very serious talk. My rapture-themed limerick was:

These predictions of eminent doom
Tend to come from religious buffoons
"Any day now!", they say
"We'll be raptured away!"
And it can't come a moment too soon.

I then gave the talk that I probably should have given at the National Convention. Fortunately I've learned a bit from that missed opportunity. I'll post some of the text from the talk later, but it was basically a huge call to action. We have to change minds, we have to get active, we have to change the world and these are all achievable goals. We not only need more blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc. but I think it's also time we actually work toward a network. Yes, an actual cable network dedicated to honest education on issues relevant to and fairly representing secular positions. Programming to educate and to represent the real views, lives, difficulties and achievements of atheists now and throughout history. Programming to educate on civil rights issues, first amendment issues and everything related to a world built on reason and empathy.

It's a big dream, but if we can have 6 shows about pawn shops, anything is possible on cable.

I'll pause here, as there was a lunch break at this point.

Up Next: Ashley Paramore...


  1. Apparently there would have to be a show called Atheist Fit Club.

  2. Matt -- your limerick got picked to win a prize in the random drawing, but since you had left already, another writer got the Surly-ramic instead. Several people recognized it when it was shown on the screen and said, "Oh, that's Matt Dilahunty's limerick ... Is he still here?"

  3. "it's also time we actually work toward a network. Yes, an actual cable network"

    I love this Idea Matt. I also think that the internet - Youtubes and site like it - is a great place to build upon this concept and learn how to produce content before making that jump. Also, while a cable channel would gain you new viewer and audience, the internet would be there again for those who don't/can't receive this hypothetical network.

    As an aside, I would love the Atheist-Experience guys, and maybe some of your allies, to create some new videos where you answer some of the most common questions. Make them sharp and entertaining, and then post them everywhere: At the top of the Iron Chariots WIKI, at the top of every other show or site you do. [With youtube hosting, bandwith is not the problem it was in the past.]

    Basically, you mentioned once that you should put together a book based on some of the best call and arguments you've had. Still a good idea, although I think video is potentially a more powerful medium, especially if the goal is reaching a wide audience.

    Enough rambling - thanks for the Rapture RAM report...

  4. Shouldn't that be "imminent doom" ?


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