Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Why I admire Godless Mom

If you've spent any time around vocal atheism on twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or blogs, you've no doubt come across Godless Mom aka Courtney (I'll be referring to her as Godless Mom, GM, and Courtney) 

I was aware of her a long time before I connected with her. It was all likes and retweets until I saw she was trying to raise awareness of Mubarak Bala. Mubarak is a Nigerian man who was beaten, drugged, and unlawfully imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital by his father and uncles...because he's an atheist. You can read the full story, written by Courtney, here

I had a bit of profile on twitter and this seemed like something I could really help with, so I emailed Courtney offering my assistance. What GM did was simply amazing. She rallied people, organised people, contacted people. She did everything she could to free Mubarak from his hospital prison. It was my first real glimpse of the person behind the memes, the person behind the tweets. And I was impressed. 

Sometime later Courtney approached me asking me to write a guest spot for her blog. I couldn't believe it. GODLESS MOM wanted *me* to write something for her. Did I have a fanboy moment? I sure did! 

From here we started talking more and more, becoming super close friends and I got to know more and more about this wonderful person. 

We spoke a lot about high-level things: favourite bands, favourite movies, favourite books and the like. But also more in-depth things like our experiences with our kids, tough situations we'd been through and how we're both socialists. One thing we discussed was Courtney's friend Ashleigh Aston-Moore. Ashleigh was a young actress who, we discovered, played my favourite character in the film Now & Then. Ashleigh had a troubled life, which, sadly, came to an end in 2007. Courtney told me about her friendship with Ashleigh, and then what she went through went Ashleigh became ill and had trouble with drugs. Courtney recently wrote about the experience. You can read that story here. The lengths Courtney went to for her friend highlight was kind of person she is. So kind, so compassionate. It still brings a tear to my eye knowing this actually happened. 

If there is one thing I admire GM for, above all else, it's her kindness. She is a beautiful, kind, soul (I'm sure you know I don't mean soul in the religious sense). She just wants everyone to be happy. She's written about holding grudges (she's against) and being kind to people and wanting the best for everyone and is always supporting causes that mean people are treated equally and fairly. 

She seems to *always* be looking out for other people. Always putting her own life on hold to help others. I don't think I've known anyone to be so giving of themselves. She's raised money for a Youth Centre, she's spent hundreds of hours working on wrongful convictions, and she's recently written a serious about atheists on death row. She's also raising a son, who, from this distance at least, seems really cool (he's into Star Wars) and seems like a great kid, and a step-daughter that I know Courtney loves as though the 'step-' isn't there. I talk to GM pretty much every day and she's forever mentioning what she's down with the kids recently and what they're up to. She's an incredibly devoted and loving mother or 'mum' (I can't get on board this 'mom' stuff). 

If there's a close second to her kindness that I admire, it's her writing. I've never read a blog post of hers I didn't like. She's always thoughtful, and absolutely hilarious. Some of the phrases she uses just make me laugh out loud. 

The best thing she's ever written, and *by far* the best blog or blog series I've ever read is her series on the death penalty. I used to be in favour of the death penalty, but changed my mind many years ago. But I know that if I were still in favour, I wouldn't be after reading this series.  The link is to the final part of the series, Part 6, called 'The Ultimate Punishment'. It has links to all the previous parts. (I didn't link to the first part because that doesn't have links to the other parts!). It's an amazing piece of writing. It doesn't rely on emotion, but isn't just cold hard facts, either. If you come away from this series still in favour of the death penalty, then you have serious deficiencies in logic, reason, and compassion. 

Although GM is far more optimistic about this happening than I am, as previously mentioned, we are both strong socialists. I recognise that socialism fails (to a degree) because people are greedy and people are lazy. This is also why capitalism fails. However I strongly believe that if everyone was in it for everyone, socialism would be far better than capitalism. The countries that rate highest in population happiness and health and well-being, have strong socialist tendencies. Particularly socialised medicine, including universal healthcare. Courtney actually thinks this will one day be the world standard. She envisages a 'Star Trek' like world. That's how she describes it. I not only admire that this is her perfect view of the world, I admire her optimism in thinking it's going to happen. It may...but not in my lifetime. 

Getting to known Godless Mom has opened up a whole new world for me, not the least of which is being her colleague and co-host on our Podcast "Common Heathens" (Common, because we're both in the Commonwealth, and heathens, know why). It's hard because of timezone differences. We really do have maybe a few hours each week in which we can get together to do it. If one of us happens to be busy, it can be two or more weeks before we can arrange another time. But I tell you...the wait is *always* worth it. We say it often, but it's just a highlight to be able to talk to my friend across the world. That people are interested in what we have to say is just an added bonus. It really is one of the things that makes my life better. 

I can't end this post about what I admire about Godless Mom without mentioning our friendship. To this day I still get a buzz when she sends me a message or mentions me on twitter or emails me or includes me in a post. I honestly still think 'Godless Mom talks to ME!'. It's a genuine thrill. 

There's no situation I can go to her with that she won't give me advice and offer a helping hand. From dealing with teenage girls, to setting up my photography business, to what kind of car to buy, to dealing with twitter trolls (her best advice ever: 'Don't let that cunt ruin twitter for you'). Sometimes it feels like she exists just to help me out. She also laughs at my jokes, likes what I have to say when I write blogs, and likes me enough to have me as a cohost on her podcast! She's happy when my football team wins and comforts me when they lose. And she LOVES my photos. She's always telling me that she loves my work and is asking me to come to her home town to take photos. It's a wonderful feeling to have someone you admire love your work so much. 

Despite all the above, I really don't have the words to describe properly why I admire Courtney so much. Without living in my head and knowing how having her in my life makes me feel, you'll just never understand. 

She is not only the best friend, by far, I've made thanks to being Mr Oz Atheist, she's simply the best thing to happen to me thanks to being Mr Oz Atheist. 

And that's why I admire Godless Mom. 

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Why I Admire Matt Dillahunty

Right at the beginning of becoming more outspoken as an atheist I happened across YouTube videos of a public access TV show out of Austin, Texas. It was called 'The Atheist Experience'. It's a call-in show where the hosts take calls, usually from theists, and answer them. If you're reading my blog, it's likely because you follow me on twitter. If you follow me on twitter, you've almost undoubtedly already hear of The Atheist Experience! 

In case you haven't, there's a bunch of hosts, with two on each episode, on a rotating basis. The host who immediately stuck out for me was Matt Dillahunty. 

I immediately liked how he went about it. He was relentless and so forthright. I admired how he'd stop callers at the very first fallacy, even if it were only halfway through their sentence. And he knew his stuff. He could reference the bible without having to look up passages. He had a counter for everything theists would call up with. 

I've since seen him do various debates and he always brings that same relentless logic when sharing the stage with a theist. He didn't drop any confidence or self-assured attitude. But he never appears arrogant. 

In 2010 I was lucky enough to not only meet Matt, but spend 10 days with him when he, AronRa and Seth Andrews came to Australia for the 'Unholy Trinity' tour. They did presentations in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. He was a pleasure to be with and I suffered none of that 'don't meet your heroes' fallout. 

I met him at Sydney airport, when I flew in from New Zealand, landing about an hour after I flew in from Melbourne. We were picked up by a guy named Tim. I introduced myself as Donovan (you know, given that's my name!) we shook hands and then Tim drove us to our accommodation. I knew Matt followed me on twitter, but I didn't know if he'd paid much attention. The next day he said 'Donovan, if you'd told me you were Mr Oz Atheist I'd have known you!'. I'm surprised when anyone outside twitter knowns me by my twitter handled, but to have Matt Dillahunty - the person who, more than anyone else, is the reason Mr Oz Atheist is even a thing - say that was quite a moment. 

The 10 days I got to spend with Matt were great. We drank tequila, checked out stars, went to a casino, went to Australia zoo walked around Brisbane, walked around Sydney, and walked around my home city of Melbourne, which Matt said was his favourite Australian city. He liked the 'vibe'. I should add there was a whole bunch of people who did these things too! Including my partner for the Melbourne stuff. It wasn't like it was just Matt and me! :D

I liked that despite being in Australia as a 'celebrity' he was so down to earth. We were talking one night and I'd told him about his influence on me being a vocal atheist and how I was excited to meet him. He thanked me and said 'but I hope now you just think I'm just someone who's good to hangout with' (he may not have said 'hangout'). And I did. I enjoyed spending time with 'Matt' not necessarily 'Matt Dillahunty off The Atheist Experience'. 

He has, more than once, invited me to his house (should I ever be able to get to Austin), even saying he'd pick me up from the airport. I'd love to have him show me around his hometown as I was show him around mine. 

And that is why I admire Matt Dillahunty. 

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Why I Admire Stephen King

It would have been early 1988, when I was 14, going on 15, that we received a pamphlet from Doubleday book club in our letterbox. I had a look and I was promised two extremely discounted books (maybe 80% off?) for simply saying 'I'd like two books'. 

Well that was the large print. The fine print said I had to then pay full price for some books. I think it was a selected book each month and you had to opt out, rather than in, if you didn't want it. Anyway, that's not really the point of this story. 

I don't know which was the second book I chose, but I will always remember the first. 

Stephen King's The Tommyknockers. I did the thing you're always told not to do...I judged a book by its cover. I think I'd heard of Stephen by then but I wasn't much of a reader at that point. But the cover of The Tommyknockers piqued my interest and I could have my own copy for just a couple of dollars. So I bought it, read it...and was hooked for life. 

I've since collected every Stephen King book I can afford. Many I have two copies of because the US version and the UK version usually have different covers. 

King had humble beginnings, being raised, with his brother, by his mother alone, after their father left when Stephen was just two years old. His father said he was going to buy a pack of cigarettes, but never returned. 

Jump a few decades and Stephen King has now sold over 350 million books, putting him in the top 4 english language writers of all time. 

I admire his determination and persistence. He would supplement his income by selling short stories to men's magazine, whilst working/trying to find work as a teacher. He was once fined $250 for driving over a traffic cone, paying the fine with a $250 cheque he received for his story 'The Raft'. (Originally called The Float'). 

When he did find teaching work, he would get home and write late into the night. He's a wonderful example of working hard to achieve your goals. 

He abandoned his manuscript for Carrie, before being encouraged by his wife, Tabitha, to complete it. He sold it for $2,500. Later selling the paperback rights for $400,000. It was his first of over 50 published novels. Stories have it that he gave Tabitha the news by buying her a much needed hair dryer. She told him they couldn't afford it. He smiled, and told her they could. I hope this story is true! 

He still writes every day. Telling an interviewer once that he didn't write on Christmas or Thanks Giving, just so he didn't seem too weird. 

I admire his willingness to 'give back'. He has toured the US visiting only small, independent book stores, to help them with sales. He conducts writing seminars to teach people to be better writers, he's a long time supporter of various charities, including Heifer International, an organisation that teaches sustainable farming, helps those farmers to gain access to markets, and helps empower women by teaching them leadership skills. 

With his wife they have set up the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation. Since 1986 they have been giving grants to help address the causes and consequences of social and environmental problems. (Interestingly they won't provide grants for, among other things, "renovations to churches or other religious properties or institutions"). 

It's clear that his charitable focus is on sustainability and addressing the root cause of problems, which is, I think, how it should be done. 

Finally, I admire his politics. He's clearly a left leaning person and has not been at all shy in his condemnation of Donald Trump and Trump's embarrassing presidency. A brief scroll through Stephen's twitter time line will show you all you need to know there. 

In summary, I admire Stephen's determination and persistence, his willingness to give back to his community, and his resistance to bad politicians. 

And I'm a bloody huge fan on his books!