In June 2009, I took my abandoned personal blog and, with the help of an old friend from college who had recently deconverted and become enthused about my writing, I relaunched it as Camels With Hammers, determined to make it a well-read blog.
Although the very first post, curiously, doesn’t even mention atheism (or anything else religion related), I went and scoured the internet for atheist blogs to start reading. But for one random Greta Christina post on one of my friends’ walls, I had never read an atheist blog before. But in the last 8 days of June I dove in head first, immersing myself in atheist blogs and writing over 96 posts before July started. And close to 5 years later, the atheist blogosphere has changed my life as, through it, participation in the atheist movement has become my central preoccupation and the context in which I do my writing and now am building my own online teaching business.
And back in the summer of 2009 there were 7 atheist blogs that loomed large in my mind as the blogs I wanted to join at the top of the perceived heap. Pharyngula, Friendly Atheist, Greta Christina Blog, Why Evolution is True, Butterflies and Wheels, Daylight Atheism, and Unreasonable Faith.
And of all those blogs, Daniel Florien’s Unreasonable Faith was the one I identified with most. His blog was only a year old and yet a huge success, with big traffic and a thriving community of smart commenters. The other major blogs were older and had had more time to establish themselves and get so far out of reach. Or in the case of Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True blog there was a major book driving the blog’s traffic. But Unreasonable Faith threw down the gauntlet to me.
Daniel Florien seemed completely in control of what he was doing. There was an enviable professional savvy about the presentation, from the content to visual layout that I pored over, and when I redesigned my site I paid special attention to it as a guide. And at the time I was really green to all the memes and videos in the community and so I was constantly reblogging all the stuff I was the seeing for the first time over at Unreasonable Faith. Unreasonable Faith was the big brother’s shoulder I grabbed onto to lift myself to my feet as a blogger.
And I would spend a lot of time in their comments section shamelessly hawking Camels With Hammers posts to an extent that flouted their expressed limits on self-promotion in the comments. I always appreciated the latitude they gave me. Eventually I was tickled when Vorjack (the other regular blogger, who would eventually become the main blogger as Florien faded to the background) would even start throwing occasional shout outs to me. I was so proud in September 2009 when he called me a fire hose of atheist philosophy. I wanted to rename the blog The Atheist Philosophy Fire Hose after that! It’s always been one of the special things people have said about me that rattle around in my head.
It was in their comments section that I met some great people and probably picked up some of my oldest and most loyal readers. Most notably it was there that I met Clergy Guy and started a discussion with him one day that would spill into our own respective blogs. He’s still a friend whose writing edifies me repeatedly. I also love seeing Elemenope regularly in my comments section, remembering his days commenting and blogging at Unreasonable Faith. Mike the Monolith, Mike Speir, and Lydia were also great people I associate with Unreasonable Faith as much as at my own spaces.
And since Vorjack began to out write Florien, pretty early on, I’ve loved reading his blogging. He has consistently been a rich source of sober thinking, fresh angles on stories, and historical information and perspective. For five years, Vorjack’s been the atheist blogosphere’s church historian.
And Vorjack has continued to throw me shout outs, promote my endeavors, and have my back when it’s counted. And being mentioned on Unreasonable Faith never got old for me. It was also great to be able to join the Patheos network with them here and to be welcomed here by Vorjack calling this blog “Fincketastic”.
So, now that Vorjack and Daniel Florien (who turns out not to really be “Daniel Florien” and who has been cheating on us all with an enormously successful secret alternate blog and writing career all under his real name) are packing it in, I’m flashing back 5 years and am racked with pangs of nostalgia for those early days. And I’m reminded that all good things come to an end. And I think about how some day there might be an “After Camels With Hammers” phase of my own life, and how it’s a choice I keep making to do this, and how I’d better make the most out of each phase of my life while it lasts. Because one day it’ll be gone and I’ll miss it.
I recommend you go over to Unreasonable Faith to say goodbye properly and that you take the chance to raid the archives whenever you’re curious about the church history that interested a major atheist blogger. But just for posterity’s sake, I am going to go back to my roots and completely steal my content from Unreasonable Faith. Here are their goodbye messages:
First Vorjack’s good bye from April 14:
It’s been a smidge over five years since I first posted at Unreasonable Faith. It starked as a lark. I’m not sure how it stretched on for half a decade.
In those five years I completed a masters degree and generally scrounged for work in the public history field. I’ve worked as a contractor for several museums now, and just recently I’ve found myself serving multiple institutions at once. I’m sure the drain on me has been observed in my writings.
All that is starting to pay off for my career, but it comes at an increasing price on my time and energy. I had hoped and hung on because I believed things would simplify, but they insist on getting more complicated. I’m now taking on new levels of responsibility and more hours. All good for my career, but not so good for hobbies like blogging.
So I’m going to have to bring the cycle to a close. It’s been an enriching five years but it’s time to move on. I’d like to thank all the wonderful commenters who have helped shape my writing over the years. This blog has helped me improve as a writer and a thinker, and I am grateful to everyone who contributed along the way.
2008 was a difficult year. My wife and I lived in a trailer on my parent’s property because we couldn’t sell our out-of-state house. I lost a lot of money in the real estate & stock market crash. My wife was severely depressed because she couldn’t get pregnant. I lost my faith in Christianity and God and was learning what it meant to be a “non-believer” and “apostate.”
Did I mention I lived in a trailer? When it rained, brown water leaked on everything. All my possessions moved when you took a step. The toilet and shower didn’t work, so we had to use my parents’.
At least I had a job. I worked at a Christian ministry… but I was an atheist. I couldn’t talk about my change of heart because I’d be fired if they learned I joined the dark side.
But I needed to work through my unbelief. For me, that meant discussing things with friends, writing things down, and debating. How could I do that if I couldn’t tell anyone?
That’s when I came up with the idea of a pseudonymous blog. In April 2008, I bought a domain, went to WordPress.com, named it “Unreasonable Faith” and started blogging.
Apr 20, 2008 (from my journal): “Today I skipped church and started a new blog called ‘Unreasonable Faith.’ It took me a while to come up with a decent name, as usual. It’s a riff off of William Lane Craig’s ‘Reasonable Faith’ but I like the sound of it. I still have yet to come up with a good pen name, though. Harder than I thought.”
The first month I picked up some readers, but it was pretty quiet in the comments.
Everything changed on May 29, 2008. I wrote an article called “A Guide to Christian Clichés and Phrases.” I emailed it to Hemant Mehta & PZ Myers and both posted it to their blogs. The traffic rushed in. I was ecstatic.
Over a hundred thousand people came and the site gathered a core audience of smart, vocal followers — Vorjack, LRA, Elemenope, Ty, Custador, McBloggenstein, Teleprompter (and many others… please forgive me). It was incredibly rewarding and enjoyable, especially participating in the discussion posts created.
It wasn’t until the beginning of June that I chose a pen name: Daniel Florien. I had a friend draw up an illustration and my identity was set.
The success of that article, and then others, brought success to the blog. In its best month, UF had 1 million views. 20/20 asked me to be a guest. Conference speaking invitations came. Publishers wondered if I was interested in writing books. But most of these required me to reveal my identity — or do those weird black-out things that make you seem like a serial killer. So I graciously turned down their requests.
It’s weird when your pseudonym is more popular than yourself. My closest friends knew about Dan but it’s not something I could talk about openly. Dan is a fictional character and I felt a freedom to explore things from his perspective and it wasn’t something I wanted associated with my more real, professional life. But I’ll be honest — it sort of bugged me that a fiction of mine was more popular than me. So I reduced my UF posting and began publishing under my own name elsewhere.
During this time, a friend and I built up another blog to over 10 million views a month. I started a personal blog and in a couple months had over a million views. I published some essays. I started and sold a couple businesses… and then I went through a divorce.
The divorce pulled me down like an anchor. I was unprepared for the anxiety and depression it would bring. I was already neglecting UF, but when that happened, I stopped posting completely. I had thousands of unread emails in my UF inbox. Readers complained about my neglect, but writing an article seemed an unimaginable amount of effort. And anyway, I was far too busy eating doritos and drinking. To try and quell the anxiety, I stopped checking my UF email and stopped visiting the site completely.
Through all this Vorjack (which is also a pseudonym… obviously) posted and kept the blog going, and for that I am very thankful. Vorjack, you are amazing. Thank you. And good luck in all your future ventures. And through the history of the site, moderators like Custador, Elemenope, and Ty kept the forums running and spam-free. Thanks for all those hours making the site a better and more friendly place.
It’s been a few years now since I’ve regularly contributed to UF, but now that Vorjack is saying goodbye I thought it would be good for me to say a formal goodbye, too.
This blog changed my life. It taught me how to build something without previous connections. It taught me the value of community. Writing through my deconversion was therapeutic and helped solidify a new understanding of the world. I learned the unfortunate reality that a five minute image post usually produces more traffic than an essay you spent three hours writing. I received death threats and hate mail. Hundreds of emails tried to convert me. It taught me how to beg for links and be a traffic whore. I learned you had to ban trolls. It challenged and refined my thinking.
But above all, the best part of the blog was the readers. I am so thankful for all of you that gave me and Vorjack a few minutes of your day. Thank you.
My life is continues to change. One of my companies is now VC-funded and has Fortune 500 customers. I have a girlfriend whom I love, and we’re starting a life together. Atheism and skepticism are now just a part of me, not things I feel compelled to specifically write about often. I’m working on some fiction pieces and I’ve published some essays.
Above all, I’m happy.
I have lots of exciting plans for the future, but unfortunately UF isn’t a part of them. It was an important part of my life, but eventually all things come to an end.
So long, and thanks for all the memories.