Who Would Have Thought?

Bullrider

Bullride Photo (c) by Hank Fox

Reason makes strange bedfellows, so to speak. Sharp thinkers aren’t limited to blue states or big cities. Those who “get it,” those who think rationally rather than having mindless faith in the impossible, are everywhere.

I got to know one of these sharp thinkers, Hank Fox, through his book Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About Reason, Gods & Faith. He also blogs as “A Citizen of Earth” at Patheos.com.

Born and raised in Texas, with parents who didn’t finish high-school, no relatives who went to college, and himself a college drop-out (he had to work), he likes to think of himself as no more than a common cowboy (that’s him at the left in an old photo) who learned to think for himself. And it took a long time to arrive at his atheist conclusions.

Fox writes with a refreshing voice about his previous life, including the range of jobs he held when he was young: carpenter, dump truck driver, foreman of a roofing company, hay- and sleigh-ride driver, bull rider, and many other outdoor occupations. While he worked, he tells us, he “tried to figure out how things fit together in the real world.” By the age of 13, he had doubts about religion. He says it took him 20 years to consider it all, from the beliefs of his Southern Baptist mother and his Jehovah’s Witness father, to those of his born-again fundamentalist Christian stepfather.

His goal in writing the book, Fox says, was to relate not why to be an atheist—there are lots of books on that already—but to describe how to be an atheist, how to think as an atheist regarding religion, morality, and everyday life.

Here are a few examples of Fox’s down-home approach:

My experience has been that people who are receptive to questioning the family religion have already pretty much figured out that stuff on their own, and are more interested in hearing a friendly voice to help them decide where to go next.

The idea of gods is, at base, a bit of groundless mystical nonsense, but we live in a society so permeated by goddiness that the idea that there might not be a God or gods seems perversely even more mystical.

Some of what you will figure out will go against the grain of your upbringing. But it seems to me that you have to give your deepest allegiance to your own independent mind.

In the same conversational tone, Fox explores why being a good person doesn’t require faith, how religious organizations waste a huge amount of resources accomplishing nothing of import, and, in a delightfully wry section, he explores the concept of freedom from government coercion using the analogy of Freedom of Pants. He also tells us how he came to conclude the whole church/religion business was a con.

Most atheists, writes Fox, don’t go around thinking about the fact that there is no god every moment of the day. Most of us, in fact, hardly think about it at all. But, he points out, there are those people who think atheists are threatening their way of life, and

Fundamentalism is a mob in slow motion. And unless someone—you?—helps head them off, they just might someday turn up in a school board, city council, county board, state capital, or even White House, near you.

His paragraphs are short, nothing like academic-ese, and his conclusions are sometimes pleasantly original. I heartily recommend book Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist for a bracingly imaginative take on the value of reason and the potential harm of faith. I, for one, will be looking out for his next two atheist-themed books, due out sometime this year.

  • Buy a signed copy from the author by contacting him at hankfox1 [@] gmail [dot] com.

Copyright (2014) by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

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