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John A De Goes

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Is LambdaConf For Conservative Christians, Too?

I’m an atheist.

In fact, I’m a bottom-of-the-barrel atheist, destined, some would say, for the deepest, hottest, and brightest-burning corners of hell.

You see, not only am I an atheist, I’m an amoral atheist, which is the absolute worst kind of atheist.

I believe that “good” can only, ever mean, “I like it,” and bad can only, ever mean, “I don’t like it.” Morality, in my view, is just how we try to objectify what are inherently subjective personal preferences.

But I have absolutely zero animosity towards religious people. I was raised a Christian, and most of my extended family is religious. I watched as my mom’s belief in a god gave her purpose, meaning, and the strength to endure a losing battle with cancer.

I’m OK if people believe I’m going to burn in hell. Doesn’t bother me one bit. No, I don’t want to spend my time defending my beliefs, but from my experience, the vast majority of religious people do not attack me for what I believe. They respect my right to believe what I want, even as I respect theirs.

Earlier this year, I got an email from a Christian asking me if LambdaConf was “for Christians”. After all, every attendee, speaker, volunteer, and staff member must swear to uphold LambdaConf’s Pledge of Conduct, which has explicit protections for minority groups, some of whom will, according to some interpretations of some religious texts, end up burning in hell right alongside me (howdy, friends!).

The question’s a good one. It’s not always clear if and how we can work together in a world of such diverse beliefs.

But without even thinking, I knew exactly how I was going to answer the question.

You see, each year LambdaConf comes together not only or even primarily because of me. Rather, I am extremely indebted to my sister-in-law, Courtney De Goes, who works tirelessly with me to make each year better than the last.

In addition to being an amazing force of good in the world of functional programming, my sister-in-law, like most of my extended family, is also a Christian.

So, ironically, LambdaConf is the offspring of an amoral atheist and a conservative Christian!

If Courtney and I can put aside our differences, respect out mutual right to believe what we will, love each other deeply as members of the same family, and give life to such a warm and welcoming place as LambdaConf, then the answer should be completely obvious.

Yes, LambdaConf is for everyone who can make the pledge — amoral atheists and conservative Christians, alike!

Below is a copy of my answer to the question.

Thanks for writing, and I appreciate you taking our Pledge of Conduct seriously!

First off, I want to emphasize that LambdaConf does not discriminate on the basis of religion, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, language preference, or favorite flavor of ice cream!

Everyone is welcome at LambdaConf, and that explicitly includes devoutly religious Christians (as well as Muslims, Buddhists, etc.).

We are all different from each other and have different views about the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come together for a week, and focus on our shared passion for finding better ways to write software!

I myself am not a religious person, but my co-organizer, Courtney De Goes, is a very devout, conservative Christian, and has been so for her entire life. She has been instrumental in helping LambdaConf become a safe, welcoming environment for people from all backgrounds.

From my perspective, I understand that attendees may find some actions that other attendees engage in to be sinful or morally wrong. This is your right, which we fully respect, and this would not preclude you from attending or speaking at LambdaConf.

Indeed, if people specifically asked you a question, such as, “I lie all the time, do you think that’s OK?” you would be more than welcome to graciously but honestly share your views on the matter, e.g., “No, in my view, lying is sinful and not permitted by God.”

The issue comes when we go beyond honestly answering questions about our beliefs, and go out of our way to tell people (especially minority groups, who are already struggling to feel like a part of a community they are disenfranchised from!) that our religious or moral beliefs condemn their activities.

Most likely, every attendee at LambdaConf engages in sinful or morally depraved behavior, as judged by some other attendee. While there may be times and places for communicating openly and honestly about these judgements, a professional conference on functional programming is not one of them. Every attendee has come to learn and share about functional programming, not to discuss religion, politics, and other potentially divisive topics (unless they choose to do so, see above).

This means that we expect every attendee to treat every other attendee with respect, integrity, kindness, empathy, and graciousness, and not to initiate actions or dialogue that could make others feel belittled, stereotyped, harassed, or intimidated.

That does not mean every attendee must or will agree with the personal choices that other attendees make, nor does it mean people should lie about their views if asked. Quite the contrary! But it does mean that every attendee can attend LambdaConf, enjoy great talks, amazing workshops, incredible food, and the company of a passionate community of software developers — all without feeling judged by anyone else.