Interview with Annie Laurie Gaylor

Annie Laurie

Annie Laurie Gaylor is the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) as well as the editor of Freethought Today. She is also the author of several books, including Women Without Superstition: No Gods, No Masters, a collection of writings by women freethinkers.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation was founded in 1978 by Annie Laurie’s mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor. FFRF has over 8,000 members and has been growing faster of late, likely due to its numerous (successful)lawsuits, including a pending case against the White House’s office of faith-based initiatives.

Ok, the “Black Collar Crime Blotter” section (containing submissions of priests’ crimes from the past month) in Freethought Today probably brings in some fans, too… :)

FFRF also puts together a great podcast. Go listen to it.

Annie Laurie was nice enough to answer a few of my questions:

Hemant Mehta: Were you raised without religion?

Annie Laurie Gaylor: I’m a third-generation freethinker on my mother’s side of the family, so I was fortunate. Religion was not forced upon us and we grew up without indoctrination, but of course no one in our society today can truly be free of religion. I remember being frightened by some religious TV programs I happened to catch (geared toward small children) and very ill at ease in the handful of Sunday school classes I attended at the request of my father’s religious family. My mother bought me a bible when I was in the 4th grade and I still remember how confused and disappointed I was when I sat down to try to read it. I gave up at the “begats” after a couple of chapters of Genesis. I didn’t read it until I was in college, and my notes for a women’s studies honors paper turned into the book, “Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So.”

HM: If not, when did you realize you were an atheist?

ALG: Although all children are “born atheists” (without a knowledge or belief in theism), it does require more than just being raised without religion to become a thinking atheist or agnostic. I certainly understood the concepts very well by fifth grade, and was debating schoolfriends by sixth.

HM: Can you tell us about any hardships you’ve faced as a result of your atheism?

ALG: It’s an honor to work for a freethought group, so I mostly feel there are great and fascinating opportunities due to my atheist activism. Certainly like all atheists, I have been subjected to mundane snubs by unthinking people, the condescending “I’m praying for you” remarks, unwanted encounters with bibles in hotel rooms or even public hospital rooms, pushy religionists, etc. As a public atheist, I have received hateful, obscene, threatening mail and email inviting me to leave the country, and occasional death threats. When a printer refuses to print up an irreverent bumper sticker, for instance, that unexpected censorship and rudeness always stings, as do snide editorials against the Freedom From Religion Foundation. But overall I think even in the dummied-down America of today that the American public grants a level of respect to those who speak out sincerely for what they believe (or in our case, do not believe). The more people speak out in dissent of religion, the easier it becomes. But my views may be colored by living in Madison, Wis., still a “liberal oasis,” and the fact that in my job, I am paid to speak out for atheism!

HM: Can atheist groups work together with religious groups, and if yes, how so?

ALG: I think that atheist groups are considered so very notorious, controversial and radical that very few religious groups wish to be allied with them, if they have a common cause, for fear of being tarred by association. But as the number of nonreligious climbs in American culture, I think there will be greater acceptance. Certainly religious and nonreligious people can work together, and always have. I truly don’t care if my next-door neighbor is an Episcopalian and she does care that I’m an atheist. We talk about what we have in common and are friends. But then a conservative Roman Catholic actually moved from our block in part because she didn’t want to live close to [husband] Dan [Barker] and me! (That was fine by us – she was very hostile personally and wrote nasty letters to the editor always noting she was unfortunately our neighbor!)

HM: What would you like religious readers and leaders to know about atheists?

ALG: That we have an intellectually responsible position and should not be patronized, stereotyped or branded as immoral. All religious leaders and readers don’t necessarily do this, but if they let others do it routinely in print, in sermons, in private conversations and get away with it, without challenging and defending freethinkers, then they are part of the problem. It’s like the old days when someone would say they weren’t a racist because they didn’t tell racist jokes, but maybe they laughed or never spoke out against such derision. It’s time for religious leaders to turn off the bigotry and play nice.

HM: What type of work do you do as co-president of FFRF?

ALG: Overseeing state/church complaints, lawsuits, administrative details, outreach, educational activities and advertising, plus editing Freethought Today and co-hosting Freethought Radio. I am busy!

HM: What can we expect from FFRF in the future?

ALG: More and better! We are growing daily, added 200 members in the last 2 weeks of 2006.

Do you have any questions you’d like to ask Annie Laurie?

Feel free to post them in the comments and we’ll try to do a follow-up soon!


[tags]Annie Laurie Gaylor, Freedom From Religion Foundation, FFRF, Freethought Today, Women Without Superstition: No Gods, No Masters, freethinkers, atheist, atheism, Anne Nicol Gaylor, faith-based initiatives, White House, Black Collar Crime Blotter, religion, bible, Genesis, religionists, Madison, Wisconsin, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, Freethought Radio[/tags]

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    I’ve listened to every Freethought Radio podcast, which I obviously enjoy, so it was nice to hear someone interview Ms. Gaylor for a change.

  • txatheist

    I am a grateful member who joined FFRF 8 years ago and love their monthly paper, Freethought Today. I just wanted to say thanks to Ms. Gaylor.

  • Devika Keral

    A question for Ms. Gaylor:

    When you mentioned your religious side of your family in your interview with Mr. Mehta, I couldn’t help but reflect on one my own conundrums. My family is staunch Catholic and although I don’t live with them, I often have to interact with their social circle, which includes a great number of priests, nuns, etc.

    I have no issue with addressing nuns as “sister”, but I really am bothered by the idea of calling the priests “father”. I think I am insulted by the whole notion that priests are a “middleman” to a god. Do you know of any reason-based writing about this topic? As a humanist, I don’t feel I should have to acknowledge religious titles, but I also wonder if I’m just being petulant and immature about this. Any thoughts on this?

    cheers,
    Devika

  • txatheist

    Devika,
    I wrestle with that too and if it’s just an introduction I use it but if we are conversing I ask for their first name and let them know they can call me by my first name.

  • Postman

    I just wanted to make a comment. It really boggles my mind how intolerant christians are of anybody different of them. Aren’t they supposed to be all about loving thy neighbor? I used to attend church a long time ago. When they told me I was going to hell for listening to Ozzy Osbourne, that was it for me. I knew then that they are crazy intolerable people, that have to have everything their way or else your going to hell. I really wish they would lighten up some and enjoy life…

  • Pingback: Friendly Atheist » Interview with Annie Laurie Gaylor Follow-up

  • Bob

    I was brought up as a strict catholic in NE Wisconsin, fortunately I was able to escape from there at the age of 18. I rarely return to the place I was born and raised, mainly just to attend my parents funerals when they died. And then I had to pretend I was still a catholic and hated every minute of it.

    On a different note; I grew up living next to a neighbor who was not at all religious. The guy even use to tease me growing up, that I had to go to church and he didn’t have to. He was a strange kid sometimes, his mother sometimes beat him up. He exposed himself to me once, and a couple other nasty disgusting things I rather not mention, this all happened in the 1960′s and ’70′s. Last year, 2006, he became a catholic priest of all things at the age of 49. I tracked down his email address and sent him an email, I never heard back from him. My Aunt attended his father’s funeral last year and personally handed him my email address, still never heard from him. He works as a priest in the Green Bay, Wisconsin area.

  • Bob

    If you hate Christianity so much, I guess you are in the wrong country, seeing as we were founded upon having free religious thought. I don’t hear you bashing other religions and their religious symbols. God still loves you.

  • Siamang

    Bob,

    Um… who are you talking to/about?

    “Hate Christianity so much”? What a broad attack that is… some of the posters here are Christian, and one of the bloggers here is a minister… There’s a broad range of beliefs of people posting here.

    Why not engage us in conversation?

    You also wrote:

    ” seeing as we were founded upon having free religious thought.”

    I agree America was founded upon free religious thought. I think everyone posting on this website is dedicated to your freedom to worship, speak, assemble and believe as you choose. Similarly we demand the same respect from you about our freedoms.

    ” I don’t hear you bashing other religions and their religious symbols.”

    I think that no idea should be held above inquiry and questioning. But I see noone “bashing” religions or religious symbols in this thread, christian or otherwise.

    Do you have something in mind, or is this a more general complaint about atheists?

    God still loves you.

    I know you mean well. But save your preaching. Talk to us, don’t preach at us. Believe me, we’ve heard all the preaching you could ever do.

  • daniel

    I always wonder why is it easier to be an atheist in Europe (even in my part) than in America, the “lighthouse of freedom”…

    daniel

  • http://www.SecularDignity.net Secular Dignity

    Bob said,

    If you hate Christianity so much, I guess you are in the wrong country, seeing as we were founded upon having free religious thought. I don’t hear you bashing other religions and their religious symbols. God still loves you.

    1. If this country was founded upon having free religious thought as you say, then what is wrong with someone hating Christianity? I am not saying that Annie Laurie Gaylor or anybody else here does; I just think it is odd that Christians go on and on about how this is a free country, yet they get upset when someone disagrees with them.

    2. Atheists in the USA tend to be more critical of Christianity than other religions since that is the most common one in the USA. Yes, there are a lot of Islamic extremists in the world as well. But I think that asking an American atheist why they aren’t getting all upset about religion in other countries is sort of like asking someone in Kansas why they aren’t preparing for a hurricane. You deal with what you have to deal with.

  • nancy miller

    If you do not like religion and church, don’t go. Do not go around nit picking about a nativity scene that is out of your way. The overwhelming majority like religion. Annie Gaylor you are disgusting as you are the one forcing your beliefs on others and trying to rid us of traditions that the majority value and want.

  • John Schaefer

    Atheist compainling about Nativity scenes, God in Schools, etc…. is the biggest problem with our nation. We started taking God out of schools and everywhere else and look at all the problems that we have now. There is such a small percent of Non-believers (Atheist) and all they seem to want to do is complain about God. We (christians) do not tell atheist to add God so what right do you have to tell us to remove God? It even gets worse, someone from a whole different state is telling a courthouse what to do. Find something constructive to do. Put god back into schools and everything and people will have more respect and morals for each other.Annie, you need to mind your own business on things that don’t concern you.

  • Terrynance91

    i will read carl sagans cosmos,and pale blue dot,science is the new wave,


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