Atheism gains a new activist.

Courtney with PZ Myers wearing matching shirts.

Courtney with PZ Myers at Skepticon 5.

I first encountered Courtney about 8 years ago when I was blogging on xanga in between classes.  She was engaged to a particularly obtuse young evangelical (who really took that label seriously) named Gabe.  It was a weekly chore almost to take whatever Gabe and Courtney were saying about the lord and rip it to shreds as a break between assignments.  Gabe was always indignant and cocky, insisting the tatters at his feet that used to be his arguments were instead an impenetrable fortress.

Courtney, on the other hand, didn’t care for what I did, but she would always respond to what I said.  Eventually she and Gabe both stopped commenting on my blog.  A few years later, she asked me if I would read a blog post of hers.  I consented, expecting to spend half an hour setting her straight.  Instead, I found a post trashing religion and the political right.  Courtney had abandoned her faith.

I met Courtney for the first time at the North Texas Secular Student Convention this last year and we hit it off.  She’s married now, to a particularly nice dude.  She also came to Skepticon this year and saw me get all engaged.

During the weekend, she sent me this email.

At first you were my adversary. I “debated” you (and by “debated” I mean “got my ass publicly kicked by”) and you left me with so many things to ponder. I never left our conversations feeling apathetic. Initially I set out to prove you wrong. It proved too great a task. So I converted to atheism.
Fast forward a few years. I went to my first “actual” atheist convention – The North Texas Secular Student Convention. I met a lot of great people (I finally met you, despite the fact I’d “known” you for several years at that point). I started becoming more active in the community, but I was always more a participant than a leader. Soon, I am going to change that. I’ve been asked to be the Volunteer Coordinator at this year’s North Texas Secular Convention – and I’ve agreed. I’m very excited to give the tiniest bit back to a community that has changed my life in so many super-amazing ways. There’s no way I could possibly pay back what this community has done for me – but I’m going to do my damnedest.
Without this community, I’d be incredibly lonely. Social interaction has never been my strong suit, but these great people (first and foremost you, because you introduced me to so many great folks) have always made me feel like one of their own. I wouldn’t know this community without you, and I thank you for that.
So, to summarize – thank you. Thank you for making me think. Thank you for making me challenge what I considered to be real. And mostly, thank you for introducing me to this amazing group of people. This is the best community one could ask for, and I’d never have known that except for you. I can’t thank you enough.
P.S. There are no word to describe how happy I am for you and Michaelyn. I can’t wait for your wedding. You two epitomize true, beautiful, love. Also you’re uber-disgusting. And I mean that in the most complimentary way ever. :)

For those of you who say arguing with Christians never changes anything, you could not be more wrong.  As I’ve written before

I am told by many other atheists that we should be careful not to offend religious people.  Though I do not advocate offending people for the sake of offending people, when this argument gets applied to genuine criticism of religion it does not move me in the slightest.  I do not want religious people to be comfortable in their beliefs.  I want them to worry that when they step out of church that they will lose an argument if Jesus gets brought up.  I want them to view me as the enemy – hell, I am the enemy of their religion.  I want them to be mad at atheists so much they either stop bringing Jesus up in public (win) or they engage atheists (win).  I want them to want to beat me because that means they’re learning, even if it’s in the interest of besting me.

As long as people are learning, as long as they’re exposing themselves to the facts, and as long as they’re thinking, religion is losing.  I may not convert them, but knowledge mixed with reality will.

And now atheism gets yet another activist. What a great way to start my morning.

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.

  • TCC

    Sounds a lot like my own story. (Also, it was great meeting you at Skepticon: you really made me feel welcome.)

  • Rhubarb The Bear

    Since this mirrors so much of my past… I have met the enemy, and he is me. (With apologies to Walk Kelly, for not even being able to playfully mangle the grammar.)

    • Rhubarb The Bear

      WALT. Dammit.

  • Steven Olsen

    Welcome to the movement Courtney!

  • Kevin Butler


    If you want to find out more about the upcoming North Texas Secular Convention, head on over to!

    • Courtney C.


      NTXSC is an awesome event. I’m not biased.

  • IslandBrewer

    And JT, it’s your fault, Courtney becoming an atheist. And of course, there are probably hundreds of other Courtneys that you don’t know about, quietly questioning their beliefs because you put an evil atheist worm in their godly brain meats.

    So there you go. You have changed the world for the better. Never ever ever doubt that what you’re doing is the right thing, JT.

  • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    And who knows how much more collateral enlightenment that deconversion caused.

  • ugh

    The tone of this story is so self-congratulating.

    • baal

      I didn’t read it that way but ymmv. There is also an empirical question on the best way to interact with christians if your goal is to increase acceptance of atheism or to get more public support for secularism.
      JT is a ‘new atheist’ in that he’s apologetically anti-religion. He doesn’t always talk pretty but I don’t see him being gratuitous in his attacks. This post represents a success of his approach, that’s something I want to know about. There is also enough detail that I can probably generalize a little about how it worked and why. If anything, the problem is a reluctance of bloggers to post stories like this one since it will get comments like yours.

    • Anonymous

      So what if it is? Sometimes we deserve to congratulate ourselves.

  • Rebecca Hensler

    Because I am half-awake, and sometimes a little shallow, what stood out for me in this piece was “JT BLOGGED ON XANGA?” I don’t know if I have ever met anyone else (who wasn’t a middle school student in 2004) who blogged on Xanga. Cool.

  • Courtney C.

    Anybody who has ever met JT knows that he is one of the least self-congratulatory people there is. Sometimes it’s just nice to know our efforts aren’t in vain. Nothing self-aggrandizing about that.

  • Azkyroth

    For those of you who say arguing with Christians never changes anything, you could not be more wrong.

    I don’t think anyone really sincerely believes that. It’s always seemed pretty obvious to me that people who claim it are personally phobic of arguing in general, and it happening makes them deeply uncomfortable, and they don’t care about anything, anything else at all except making it stop.

    (Yes, I know this makes it stone-stupid for them to argue as insistently as they do with people who argue with believers. People aren’t always rational.)

  • Jasper

    Whenever I hear someone like Dillahunty talk about his religious past, I feel like it should be a sore spot – like someone talking about some ex-spouse from one’s past. For someone talking about one’s former religiosity, especially those who were very into it, I feel like we’re talking about something they betrayed… something that shouldn’t be spoken of, because, well, they were very wrong – so I’d think it’d be an awkward topic to discuss how wrong they were before. I’m not sure I’m articulating this well…

    Instead, what I keep saying are genuinely thankful people who are happy to trash their religious past. It isn’t awkward. They’re dancing on their religiosity’s grave. That always surprises me.

    • Jasper

      “… what I keep saying hearing…”

      Go go gadget proofread.

    • TCC

      For someone talking about one’s former religiosity, especially those who were very into it, I feel like we’re talking about something they betrayed… something that shouldn’t be spoken of, because, well, they were very wrong – so I’d think it’d be an awkward topic to discuss how wrong they were before.

      On the contrary, that’s something that needs to be talked about, desperately so. I can’t grow as a person without coming to terms with who I am as opposed to who I used to be, including the beliefs I once held. We can’t deny our pasts, only move forward into our waiting futures. That’s why confronting our religious histories is something that so many of us do unapologetically. What’s more, coming to terms with that can help others who aren’t as far along in the process, so we know that there’s other incentive to talk about these things. It’s all good, seriously.