Drum Roll, Cymbal Clash, Fanfare of Vuvuzelas!

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Hey there! Say hello to another FreethoughtBlogs alumnus, moving over to further infiltrate Patheos with steely determination, pointed wit, and violent, wanton godlessness.

For those of you discovering Hank Fox (me) for the first time, an intro:

I’m the author of Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About Reason, Gods & Faith. I’ve blogged as the Blue Collar Atheist at Freethought Blogs and elsewhere for a couple of years, but I recently changed my blog banner to A Citizen of Earth to reflect some new conceptual territory I’m venturing into.

[ Shameless self-promotion: I have two other books upcoming – and hopefully even a third one I’ll mention later in this same post. The first should be out in late May, early June: “BrainDrops: The One and Only Ungodly Bathroom Reader – An Astounding Compendium of Wit, Wisdom & Complete Goddam Nonsense from a Complete Goddam Atheist.” The second, “Saying Goodbye To Dan: An Atheist Deals With Death,” should be out sometime in early 2014. ]

In case it escapes you, yes, I’m an atheist. More than that, I’m an antitheist. I started calling myself that way back in the last century, before I’d ever heard anyone else use the term. I still pronounce it in my own peculiar way: An-TITH-ee-ist, rather than the upstart modern an-tee-THEE-ist.  To me it means “Not only do I not believe in gods, I don’t think you should either.”

As the book title and former blog name indicate, I got into atheism from a slightly different direction than most: I grew up in Texas with rodeo cowboys and hard-core religious types, working as a truck driver, roofer, carpenter and a lot of other blue-collary and outdoorsy jobs. The cover of my book sports a picture of me riding a bull (my brief dalliance with rodeo included getting on – and coming off! – eight of them) but cowboying was also one of my formal professions: For years I worked with riding horses, draft horses and mules in the wilderness of California’s Eastern Sierra mountains.

Later I got to be a newspaper and magazine editor, but I have golden memories of my days in the saddle, and still think of myself as more blue-collar and red-neck than white-collar and citified.

Growing up in an East Texas home with a Southern Baptist mother, a Jehovah’s Witness father and later, a Born-Again Christian stepfather, I also had something of an unusual home life. From about the age of 13, I started having my doubts about gods and the supernatural, but after one slip with my stepfather that resulted in years of low-key torment, I kept it wholly to myself for years and years.

Completely on my own, I gradually became a full nonbeliever. Watching myself change, observing my own thoughts on the matter of gods and such, and eventually blogging about it, I realized there was an unfilled niche in the atheist library, a book that spoke not just to the Why of atheism, but the How. So I wrote Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist, a sort of handbook on how to think as an atheist – the kinds of things that do, or maybe should, go through one’s mind as you make the Atheist Journey.

As to the question of the logical defensibility of atheism, I am comfortably and absolutely certain there are no such things as supernatural superbeings – no gods or devils, no heavens or hells for them to inhabit – but also no ghosts, spirit mediums, telepaths, garden fairies, or zombies (although I’m still watching John McCain and Dick Cheney with interest, and would not be surprised to see shambling, lurching brain-tropism at any moment).

For me, the questions don’t even arise. Because I realized some time back that a great deal of each of our lives consists of thought experiments – the proffering of one concept or another as a guiding principle, and then living that idea to see what sort of fruit it bears.

The simple fact is the thought experiment of god-free reality and reason has, in the fields of science and technology, produced true miracles. I’m communicating with you, across an entire world, with a number of them right now. Computers, the Internet, lasers, fiber optics, satellites, microwaves, so many real things working together to produce this seamless technological feat of me writing this blog, and you reading it.

NONE of those things were possible through the thought experiment of religion. As to actual technology that arose from religious mindsets, it consists, unflatteringly, of torture devices that flourished during the Inquisition and the witch hunts of Colonial America. Speaking of Colonial America, even something so apparently primitive as the Native American birchbark canoe comes into being only through a technology undergirded by a mercilessly real-world mindset; faith plays no part in its invention or construction.

The thought experiment of reality and reason bears equally useful results in individual lives, and I’ll tell you some of my own experience of that as we blog along together.

My stock in trade is commentary on current events, ventures into amateur philosophy, and my own doofus-level survey of the state of the world. But it is also very much this new idea I have – that there’s a next step for the atheist community

That next step is probably already being taken without us being aware of it. Which means it is undirected, largely accidental, and probably hugely less effective than it could be.

One of our underlying atheist assumptions is that when you get religion out of your head and out of your life, reasonableness and goodness somehow flows in and fills the hole. But as I know from watching the atheist community, and those on the cusp of abandoning their home religion for something else, that process is never a given. One craziness can all too easily be replaced by another; witness the number of people who become uncomfortable with their sedate hometown church but who think the solution is to join a born-again evangelical megachurch.

I’ve even met a few atheists – not a lot, but some – who have seemed nutty as hell. And certainly the reasonableness we seem to think ourselves blessed with doesn’t make us unfailingly capable of calm communication, even with each other. I’ve seen people who self-identify as godless uber-rationals spit out ad hominem insults like a machine gun, and never notice.

But hey, we’re young. A young movement, a young community and, as I’ve realized, a young culture.

It’s that last I want to focus on in the coming years. I’m convinced that something special is happening right now, something never-before-seen on Earth, and something probably necessary to human survival.

It’s just this: Us. We atheists. Not as individuals, but as this community, and beyond it, this new culture. Something to fill the hole left by dying organized religion.

While speaking in Ottawa at Eschaton in November, 2011, I was on a panel that was asked if we were optimists or pessimists about the future. All the other panelists said they were optimists. In my own answer (which I worded badly, and still flinch when I recall it) I tried to express that the question necessitates a more nuanced answer. Optimism can be misused, I said, because … well, because bad things happen all by themselves, but to have good things happen, you have to MAKE them happen.

Which means a negative future may well be a greased-chute certainty in a very few years, whereas a positive future demands a shit-ton of very hard work and some damned difficult decisions. The optimistic idea that “something good is going to happen” – whether we lay it at the feet of miracle-working Jesus or of miracle-working Science – can be poison to the understanding that we have to put on our big-boy boots and DO things.

I started exploring the idea of an atheistic culture back in 2010. I’ve blogged about it briefly and infrequently, but I’ve done a LOT of conceptual work on it. I have something like 500 pages of notes I want to turn into blog posts, public talks and eventually – after I get input from a great number of people – a book.

More than that, I want to see progress toward that culture. As I say in my first book:

There is a saner, more reasonable future awaiting us, a time and place where a majority of people aspire to see things for what they are and then choose to deal with them realistically. It will replace what we have now, where too many of us can’t get over believing that some eternity-spanning fantasy makes our own lives cosmically important and everything else – distant stars, a broad universe, and even the civil rights of our neighbors – totally insignificant.

More than anything, I’d like to live in that sane future. Failing that, I’d like to think I can help make it happen.

Anyway, here I am. If you’re new to me, welcome, and I hope you’ll enjoy my writing and my ideas. If you’re a reader following me over from FTB, double welcome.

And away we go.

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  • MNb

    “get religion out of your head and out of your life, reasonableness and goodness somehow flows in and fills the hole.”
    Yep. My experience as well. Though I never have been formally religious I grew up in a country with strong christian roots, The Netherlands. So I have been busy for years to investigate and question christian doctrines everybody always took for granted – sometimes so much that hardly anybody realizes they could and should be questioned.

    “something never-before-seen on Earth”
    Uh no. You forget that quite a few European countries have secularized (30% non-believers in The Netherlands). Besides The Netherlands there are the Scandinavian countries.

    • Hank Fox

      Re: Something never before seen on Earth. There’s more to what I’m thinking than just a secular society. I’m imagining a consciously-designed, crowd-sourced, entirely new CULTURE. As I describe it more fully in coming months, I’m hoping you’ll agree that what I have in mind is something new.
      .
      .
      .
      Besides, if you join early, you get a Big Funny Hat. All the best clubs – Shriners, the Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox, the Amish, the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes (Fred Flintstone’s lodge) etc. – have Big Funny Hats for the important insiders.

      There’s a lot of work to be done on Beta Culture, not least of which is designing the BFH. By my estimation, that alone – you know, considering the importance of getting it RIGHT – should take a couple of years. Probably require regular monthly meetings of numerous Beta Culture Big Funny Hat Committees – possibly including liberal amounts of alcohol and food – to work out the details.

      When the time comes, I hope I can count on you to uphold the Netherlands’ sterling reputation for creativity and hard work by devoting yourself fully to this sacred quest.

      • Mieke

        I see a business opportunity here and will get back to you with a wonderful collection of up-to-date, 100% secular funny hats. Guaranteed no slave labor, no child labor!

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  • Renshia

    Hi Hank,
    Well I have just scanned a bit of your blog so far, but I think I am going to enjoy checking out your stuff.
    I want a hat.
    The one thing that had the greatest impact on my life as a christian was when I realized how everyones life in church was a lie. The all came to church and praised god and gushed how great he was, but when you got them home their lives were no different than anyone else. They had the same struggles, the same pain, the same failures and the same alone-ness as me, and everyone else that I had observed. Everyone was faking Sunday morning. That was the beginning of my questioning, and it all went down hill from there. I am glad I am an atheist. My life is much better now that I understand there are no gods to intercede on my behalf or to dictate the rules I need to live by. It is amazing how the temptations of the world don’t tempt you near as much, when you abstain from things because you want to, instead of because you are told you have too.

    Well, I have some stuff to do, but I am looking forward to reading your blog and some good discussions.
    Kindest Regards,
    Richard P

  • Mike W. Laing

    Can I be an anti-cardinal? They have the best big funny hats.
    Cool to see you here, Hank Fox. I love the play on words, Mr. Antitheeist

  • Gentlefish

    Hi Hank,

    Gosh, I remember the first time that PZ’s dulcet tones led me from Pharyngula to the full FTB rave. Your blog was one of the first that I read and it is still one of my favourites. It’s good to see you joining the frontlines along with Hemant, Libby Anne, JT and the gang though. Are you able to send me a Big Funny Hat in the UK? I’d love to follow that gurning wally Nigel Farage around and pop up in the background of every photoshoot wearing it.
    Looking forward to your next books!

  • c2t2

    Why hello! Fancy seeing you here of all places… I’ve got nothing productive to say beyond “Hi again! I bet you hoped you’d gotten rid of me,” so I’ll ramble about something useless instead:

    I pronounce it AN-tai-thee-ist, main emphasis on “an” and secondary emphasis on “ti”, which I pronounce the same as “tie”. I find that pronunciation the most aggressive with the least likelihood of people mishearing or failing to understand. ANTI-theist. I figure if I’m in a situation that calls for discretion, I wouldn’t be using the word to begin with. Although I do like your version, which much sound a lot like “antithesis,” which is a damn fine word.

    Best of luck, and I’ll be seein’ ya!


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