The more I read, and the more I write, the more the things I read become fodder for thinking about writing. This was definitely true of Hank Fox’s book, Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist. The most obvious thing about the book is that Hank puts his background and (relative) lack of education front and center, which may make this book especially appealing to readers of a similar background. It also confirms my belief that you don’t need a Ph.D. to think clearly about what’s wrong with religion. But that’s not what I’m going to focus on here. Instead, I want to talk about how Hank is brilliant at picking examples. Here are the opening sentences of one chapter, for example:
Why do beliefs matter?
“I didn’t think the gun was loaded.”
Need I say more?
The idea expressed here is not a new one. It’s one of the central themes of Sam Harris’ The End of Faith. And Harris did a pretty good job of explaining it. But I don’t think he ever hit on so perfect an example for getting the point across in three sentences. Hank’s book is full of examples that are just as brilliant. Like the chapter about how even though he doesn’t know how M&Ms are made, he can still be pretty confident that any number of crazy answers are wrong. Or the chapter about how even though he hasn’t searched the entire universe to make sure Batman isn’t hiding out somewhere in it, he can still know that Batman doesn’t exist. These are such great examples, I probably don’t even need to explain the connection to religion.
I wish I knew how to pick examples like that. Maybe Hank will show up in the comments here and explain his secret. Perhaps philosophy has given me a sort of anti-training in picking examples? Philosophers love exotic and smart-sounding examples, and while maybe those have their place, they tend not to hit people in their gut. More down to earth examples will do that, and can be just as logically relevant as the weird examples.
Anyway, great book and I think and hope it taught me something about how to write.