Highlights from Skepticon 4

Skepticon 4.  Wow.  Fucking wow.  Katie Hartman, Rob Lehr, Blythe Clutter, Ryan Culbertson-Faegre, Jeffrey Markus, Cody Works, Lauren Lane, and all the other organizers and volunteers put together something very special.  It is not only those who attended who owe them a debt of gratitude, but everybody in this movement.


1.  The audience

Excited. Passionate. One of the volunteers counted 15 empty seats at peak, which put attendance at that time at 1,135 non-believers stretching equally across so many demographics, including the young.  I loved getting to meet the people who drive this movement.  I loved getting hugs from everybody.  Amy from St. Louis gave phenomenal hugs!

This was the crowd filing in 40 minutes before the talk.  It looked just like this 15 minutes before the opening talk.  We filled up the main conference hotel and the back up hotel.  The energy was fantastic.  I wish we could keep that energy all year.

This event belongs to all of us.  We are all equal at Skepticon.  It wouldn’t be what it is without the people traveling to it and validating all our efforts.  I am so grateful to the Skepticon attendees.

1.  Greta Christina

I’ve seen her Atheists and Anger talk 2874087272374 times. I will still never miss it.  She gets better every time I hear her speak and man, did she ever bring the house down this weekend.  Greta  is such a good person you can’t help but feel good when she kicks ass.

I’ve become good friends with Greta and Jen over the last year, and getting to have the wonder triplets together in the same place is always a treat.  (If you’re an organizer and want to book all three of us, we’ll do our best to make it easy on you :D)

1.  Hemant Mehta

My mother and brother hate math like Catholic priests hate eye witnesses.  They were going to go do something else during Hemants talk on critical thinking in math education before I told them I wouldn’t miss the talk for the world having seen Hemant rock the crowd at the SSA Annual Convention with it over the Summer.  They stayed and laughed throughout.  Hemant had converted them by the end of the talk.

Hemant once wrote that he’d always be in the audience for one of my talks if he could.  The feeling is mutual, and I’ll even take it a step further: I never want to follow this guy on stage.

1.  Sam Singleton

Sam wrote a brand-new show he debuted at Skepticon this year that everybody agrees was the most fun-filled hour of the weekend.  Sam commands the crowd’s attention with the same inescapable presence as Greta, but in a completely different and refreshing way.  Like Greta, Sam is a man of the people – a real class act.  I meet some speakers in this movement who have a “Don’t you know who I am?” attitude, and then I meet some people of great influence who would almost be shocked if you apprised them of their fame.  Sam embodies the latter category (as does Greta Christina, PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, David Fitzgerald, Jen McCreight, Hemant, and others).  These are the types of people I always tried to bring to Skepticon and I’m glad the new team is keeping on with that.

His new show, “Revival”, had a music section.  Sam invited me a few months ago to lead the music section and I had a blast!

1.  Seeing my family and friends

I have the most wonderful family in the world.  I love my mother, father, and brother more than I can ever describe and, due to living so far away and being on the road so much speaking, I seldom get to see them.

In September of this year my brother, who had never seen me speak, made the journey to Atlanta with another close friend of ours to see my talk at Dragon*Con.  That meant the world to me.  The feeling was similar getting to share with him this project that I helped get going.

My parents would be proud of me if I elected to shine shoes for a living, but I do enjoy being in an environment where I feel I’ve earned their pride.

Then there was the homecoming.  I got to see all my old friends and catch up with them.  I have so many people in that town pulling for me, and I was happy to get to tell them how the last year has treated me and to hear about their upcoming projects.

1.  Dr. David Burger

Dr. Dave, as he is affectionately known in Springfield, co-founded the MSU Church of the FSM and led the organization before I did.  He is the most capable and inventive leader you’ve never heard of.  Frankly, he’s the reason all of us who made Skepticon happen, and who continue to make Skepticon happen, are where we are.  He started all of it.  The man’s a legend and it’s always good to see him.

1.  Speaking to people after my talk

This time was special.  This time I was surrounded by people who had just learned they weren’t alone in the world – some who were realizing for the first time that being sick is not their fault.

It was beautiful beyond words.

1.  Stopping in Indiana

On the way to Skepticon we stopped at a gas station in Indiana.  The Jesus in this place was thicker than bullshit in a creation museum.  We found chick tracts on all the arcade games which Cambridge liberated for her growing collection.

At this gas station, Mike purchased a bag of T.G.I. Friday’s cheese sticks (they were like gourmet cheetos).  In describing the snacky goodness inside, the back of the bag used the phrase “…with a surprisingly great taste!”

“Why is it a surprise?” we collectively wondered.

So what were your favorite parts?  Which speakers moved you?

Thanks for such a good time, everybody.  I’ll never forget this event.  Let’s do it again in a year, eh?

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • http://twitter.com/jubydoo Juby!

    This was my first Skepticon. It was everything I thought it would be and more. Thank you, JT, for getting it started, and thanks to the MSU Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster for making it better year after year. I can’t wait until Skepticon V!

  • Ray Moscow

    I’m glad Bro Sam’s show was a hit. He’s one of my favourite people.

    It sounds like the entire conference consisted of one hit after another.

  • martha

    I stayed for your talk, JT, even though that wasn’t the plan & meant another night on the road and a dicey Monday morning, but I was already pretty darn impressed by the other speakers and didn’t want to leave. Glad I stayed. Driving out I was thinking about different religious types I’ve seen deal with their own or other people’s mental illness and realized you and your friends are the best example of forthright, positve, effective coping I can remember- so Best in Show to the Atheists on that one.

  • fastlane

    I just wish it were during a part of the year when the weather is nicer.

    I need more excuses to do x-country trips on my motorcycle.

  • Larry

    I’ll second that WOW JT. I should have chased you down and given you a big hug. You guys have made history in Springfield. Too many dedicated people to individually mention, but my debt of gradtitude to you all. Especially JT. I would like to give a special shout out to Steven Olsen, president of the Springfield Freethinkers, its many volunteers and UniCor for the Billboard project, something I never thought could happen in Springfield, Mo. in my lifetime. Hell, I should probably be greatful to the audacity of the Kansas State Board of Education and most certainly to Bobby Henderson who fathered the birth of FSM back in 2005. Progress has already exceeded my hopes. I’m one happy heathen.

  • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    It was amazing – many congratulations for all you’ve achieved. I was seriously impressed.

  • Anne

    I didn’t get a chance to speak to you after your presentation, because you were mobbed and I had to head back home.

    I was one of “the four” in the second row. I was in tears most of the time you were talking, mostly because I have been out of a special hospital for only about a month now. The pain is still really raw, and I not only know you aren’t a pussy for getting up in front of Skepticon and talking about a huge stigma, I know you’re a hell of a lot braver than I am. I still can’t talk about it to even my closest friends, much less a crowd of strangers.

    You go, dude. Or, given the exercise thing, you stop. Cut it out. Just talk. You do that really well. You can sing, too. English or Italian, either one.

    • John-Henry Beck

      What, don’t care for the other languages he can sing in? ;-)

    • MathMike

      On my way home, I popped in my iPod for some podcast listening. The first thing I got was George Hrab. And he started off with a thought that I mentally tied into JT’s wonderful talk. He said, Nothing you fear is ever as bad as you think it will be. Try to remember that when you start talking with your friends about what you’re going through. Nothing you fear is ever as bad as you think it will be.

  • Norkus

    Hey buddy,
    I just thought I would say thank you for your discussion last night. It really moved me in a couple different ways. Learning about your battle with anorexia really opened my eyes and even more so hit home. When I was 13 my sister Chandra took her own life. She had and was being treated for fibromyalgia the majority of her life, but there were more underlying issues that were never addressed. She had struggled with anorexia and bulimia and attempted suicide multiple times before. Before she died most everyone thought she was just crying out for attention and instead of her friends and family helping her like in your story she was made to look like she was a criminal. At one point our father even refused to have any contact with her because she was a “disgrace.” On October 14, 2001 she was found in her apartment where she and taken about have of her pain meds. She was 24.

    Recently I have been dealing with similar feeling that you had described. I have been just been trying to ignore my feelings of worthlessness and my lack of self motivation. I figured that I just was an unhappy person and never realized that there could actually be something physically wrong with me. I made the first step today and scheduled an appointment with a therapist on campus today. It has been so long since I have been truly happy and I really can’t remember what being happy really is anymore.

    Again I want to thank you for sharing your story. I believe you have given me a nudge in the right direction and I want to encourage you to continue sharing your story. My hope is that if more people understand the signs of depression and realize that it is a real problem we can keep these kind of tragedies from happening.

  • Janis Mattox

    Must see video of your performance in Revival!!!!

  • H.D.Lynn

    Went to the SSA for the first time this year in Ohio, but Missouri was a little far away for me right now. I can’t wait for the videos!

  • http://cort.as/1M5c gayvalencia

    Incredible points. Sound arguments. Keep up the good work.

  • Katie Tims

    I missed you. *SADFACE*

    It was great to see you though, even if it was only for a minute!