In even-numbered years, I make the drive up I-44 to Tulsa for FreeOK, Oklahoma’s premier secular conference. (In odd-numbered years, it is hosted in my home city, and I get to go home at night to my precious memory foam. I mean, family. My precious family.)
For me personally, the greatest joys to be had at regional conferences are making new friends, catching up with old friends, and just generally shooting the breeze with freethinkers from all over the state and all walks of life. That said, I’m going to stick mostly to the official agenda here, in the hopes of giving the reader a general sense of the formally structured event.
Kelly Damerow spoke first, making the case for secularism and explaining how the Secular Coalition for America helps to move secularism forward on a daily basis. I spoke with her later as she was tabling for SCA and I was very favorably impressed with her professionalism and comprehensive understanding of ongoing church/state struggles. Conference organizers, keep an eye on her coming up. Politicians, keep an eye out for her coming your way.
This is such a beautiful slide and a wonderfully apt metaphor. Sarah Morehead explained the process of recovery from religion, and how organizations like Recovering from Religion can help support individuals and communities in the process.
Author David McAfee gave a talk about how to sensibly discuss sensitive topics by building on common ground. This is more needed than ever, in my opinion, given the ongoing polarization and balkanization of our national discourse.
After McAfee’s talk, we broke for lunch. I ended up with a group of old friends at Joe Momma’s pizza, where there was a raucous children’s birthday party underway. It has been theorized that our Tulsan guides may have pulled one over on us respecting restaurant recommendations, but the pizza was delicious, and really, who doesn’t love balloon animals?
Although I would rather keep organized atheism (as such) at least an arm’s length away from partisan politics, CJ makes a compelling case.
Steve Wells of the Skeptics Annotated Bible gave an hilarious and well-received presentation in full Biblical costume. For the last 15 years he has been educating the internets on how to critically analyse various Scriptures, it was an honor to have him here in Oklahoma.
The final talk of the day was given by Nate Phelps, survivor of Westboro Baptist Church. His personal story is always moving, he was mobbed by sympathetic apostates immediately after the talk. Working one’s way free from fundamentalism is a common enough experience around here, though very few have come so far nor sacrificed so much.
After the talks, we broke for dinner and a movie:
I love the idea of incorporating documentary film into these sort of events, despite my aforementioned misgivings about politicizing the movement.
After the screening, there was some sort of casual reception, but the people who were present for that event seem to be somewhat fuzzy on the details. More on that later, or not.
[All photographs by TEAcup Photography, used by permission]