Monday, September 10, 2012

An Interview with the Friendly Atheist

The following is an interview with Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist.

You do a great job posting interesting takes of religion and atheism themed news items. What are the criteria you use to find stories worth writing about?

If it's interesting to me or I think it's worth talking about, I'll try to post it!  I tend not to talk too much about philosophy because it bores me.  I love stories about atheists taking action.

As a prominent voice of atheism, are you ever concerned that your readers will start to regurgitate your ideas and opinions instead of forming their own? Are there ways you promote critical thinking to help prevent this?

I doubt it. Most of the comment threads challenge everything I say -- It's not like it's ever 100 people saying, "I agree!" :)  But when the facts aren't clear or the conclusion isn't obvious, I try to present the different sides and offer, up front, any worthy criticisms of my own opinions.

It’s clear from your book I Sold My Soul on eBay that you have had a lot of experience with theists and worship services. How have you been received as an outsider at church?

I think churches like it when I'm talking at a service or having a public dialogue with the pastors.  Many Christians like having someone challenge the orthodoxy and they don't always feel they can do it themselves.  It's only a bad thing when they see me as a target for conversion, and not a chance to get educated about the "other side," but that thankfully doesn't happen very often.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being part of the online atheist community?

(Being able to provide a forum for stories about atheists, especially young ones, who are fighting lawsuits or trying to promote atheism in their community.  It's great to meet some of the people I write about too, at conferences or when I travel.  What a wonderful community we have.)

What do you see as the most harmful aspect of religion?

Ignoring any instances of physical abuse, I think it's the notion that you should trust God with everything.  It suggests that you don't have total control of your life.  More importantly, it teaches people not to question faith or the unknown because God has all the answers.  I don't want people to just be satisfied like that.  I want them to doubt and question and discover.

If you could incorporate any aspect of religion into your life or the life of others without the mythology, what would it be and why? (bonus, how would you incorporate it?)

I wish atheists had better, larger, tighter-knit communities.  It's nice to have support online, but it wouldn't be a bad thing to meet with atheists on a regular basis, to know they have your back when things aren't going well, to know you have a built-in group of friends wherever you go, to know you have many things in common with people you just met because of your beliefs.  There are some atheist communities like that in some cities, but not many.  I know a lot of atheists like to dismiss that -- "we don't need that" -- but I've seen what church groups can do for peoples' lives and it'd be nice to have some semblance of that without having to accept the nonsense that comes along with it.

Who is your favorite atheist activist?

Oh boy... I've met so many amazing ones.  I think I'm constantly inspired by August Brunsman, who helped start and now runs the Secular Student Alliance and also volunteers at Camp Quest.  He has dedicated his life to helping young atheists and really guided me down the right path when I began to get involved in the movement.

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