Goodbye Patheos—Hank Fox Bows Out

I’m leaving Patheos in the near future. I’m working on a book and a separate large project (Senior Adventure Quest)—not to mention my full-time JOB—and though I have no shortage of ideas for posts, I’m having real trouble finding time to devote to blogging.

Many other bloggers have made the jump to blogging as a business, and can afford to do it. If you have enough posts—several a day—and you get enough reader hits, you can actually get paid for blogging. I don’t fault them for taking that path, but I have seen the clear effect of a commercial motivation, and it’s not for me.

There is a philosophy behind atheism, something … quite different and larger than anything we’re doing now, and we really need to winkle that out and explore it rather than writing the same >>OMG Police Dept. Bumper Stickers!!<< story.

Not saying that stuff isn’t important. It’s just that there’s this OTHER stuff that needs to be thought about and covered too. That has been one of my main goals in blogging. And, for me at least, figuring that stuff out is time consuming.

Thinking about those things, mulling over ideas and teasing out new conclusions, new viewpoints, new realizations, takes hours and days and month and years, but pays literally nothing. If I’ve made twenty dollars from atheist-blogging over the 15 or so years I’ve been doing it, I’d be surprised. It’s a labor of love, sure enough, and I DO get to explore and tease at these ideas. In addition, I have really loved the reactions of readers, telling me I got them to think, that I gave them new ideas and new arguments.

But sometimes, the money really matters. So I need to pull back a bit and refocus on some of this other stuff.

(Here’s yet another of my time-consuming activities that pays literally nothing. But I love doing it, so there’s that.)

I will be transferring the entirety of my blog over to a new site — A Citizen of Earth — in the near future, and posting when the mood and the time coincide, but probably not very often.

Also, for near-future reference, the book I’m working on is called (tentatively):

BrainDrops: The One & Only Ungodly Bathroom Reader—An Astounding Compendium of Wit, Wisdom and Complete Goddam Nonsense from a Complete Goddam Atheist (for Hellbound Mockers of Every Heinous Persuasion).

In case you didn’t know about it, my first book, Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About Reason, Gods & Faith, is still up on Amazon.

—And yes, you want to buy BOTH 😉

Somewhen—end of March, early April—you’ll see BrainDrops on Amazon, and wherever else I can manage to get it distributed.

There are a couple of other books in the works, Saying Goodbye to Dad: An Atheist Deals With Death, and a so-far unnamed book on Beta Culture.

Anyway, it’s been cool, being here. Thank you to the nice folks at Patheos for giving me this chance, as Ed Brayton at Freethought Blogs gave me a podium and a microphone before them. When I get the Beta Culture book written, expect to see me out there at atheist conferences, promoting the book and the ideas in a big way.

Until then …

Surprise! —Trump Supporter Dishonesty

I saw this on Facebook.

Hillary FBI meme

I replied to it:

1) Nobody is “rigging” an election. If that were possible, don’t you think the Democrats would CONTROL Congress? (Also, “the fix” is not in for the Clintons. If the fix was in, they never would have impeached Bill Clinton.)

2) The FBI is not “reopening an investigation into Clinton.” The messages were neither sent by nor received by Clinton, did not appear on any computers used by Clinton, did not involve Clinton, and contained no classified info

About every 3 days during this election cycle, a new “story” has appeared, trumpeting >>> THIS IS IT!!! THE SMOKING GUN THAT WILL BRING HILLARY CLINTON DOWN!!!! <<<

… and NOT ONE of those stories has turned out to be anything other than smears and innuendo. Hateful lies.

Listen carefully: The GOP hates Hillary Clinton with a blinding passion. During the 25 or so years they’ve been after her, they have controlled the Senate, the House, the White House or all three for some substantial portion of the time. She’s been accused of everything from murder to selling off American parks to the Russians.

IF IF IF there was anything they could have nailed her on — hell, jaywalking, a simple parking ticket — SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN INDICTED.

The fact that she hasn’t even been charged with anything in all those years, with all those breathless stories about her supposed crimes, is just about rock-solid proof that there have been precisely zero illegal acts.

You’re letting people lie to you — over and over and OVER. Doesn’t that bother you?

Hillary Clinton is going to be our next president. She’s going to beat Donald Trump by a wide margin BECAUSE MORE AMERICANS ARE GOING TO VOTE FOR HER.

Including me. I will be so glad when this election is over and Hillary Clinton is president.

The replies were … typical. Here’s one, by the woman who posted the pic:

LOL was the only response I could muster knowing that when you’re that far gone, there’s no helping you anyway.. But I still find a bit of humor in it.

1. I think he’s a troll.

2. “he” might not even be a he.

3. Only a Hillary supporter has enough time in a working man’s day to write a big long essay like that… On Facebook… On someone’s Facebook who they don’t even know or are friends with. I guess he’s trying to get her in office so his welfare check doesn’t get cut off.

4. I’m not stating my political stance either way, and I’m not here for a debate. I simply found a bit of humor here and decided to share it..So, my most serious question… What kind of person takes a meme so.. seriously!

I wrote a reply:

First, regarding the “big long essay”: I’m a professional writer and editor, and this “big long essay” took very little time.

Second, regarding writing during a “working man’s day”: This was on a Saturday, my day off. I worked on my house, climbing under it and repairing some insulation. I also installed a towel rack in the bathroom and did laundry. Went out to eat. And still had time to write this “big long essay.”

Third, my “welfare check”: I’m 64 years old and have been working — often in blue collar jobs — since I was about 16. Still waiting on that big, sweet welfare check.

Next, that big long essay “on someone’s Facebook who they don’t even know or are friends with.” Besides the fact that it showed up on my own Facebook wall, making it fair game for a reply … lies are lies, and you have to fight them wherever you find them. Otherwise you and everybody you know will have to live in the world they create.

Finally, I don’t get the bit about me being a troll, or “he might not even be a he.” That’s some serious Way Out Of Left Field shit.

A bit later, I added,

Take note that my reply contained facts and solid political analysis, but that all the responses contained nothing but personal attacks. Not one of you made any attempt to refute my reply. Instead you went straight for the insults. Which sort of implies you’re not able to argue with any of it, right?

I came back later to see if there were any replies. My reply had been deleted. I wrote:

I notice you’ve learned to delete replies that embarrass you.

Came back later and that had been deleted too.

White Whine in the Sunset

I’m not liking the fact that the Trump candidacy has set off this sneering assault on White Men.

Yeah, I get it that there are a certain number of Trump supporters — “white” men — out there who are making some bad decisions this election cycle.

But there are a lot of OTHER white men — I suspect a majority — who are kind, decent, intelligent, diligent, respectful, generous and caring. I know a LOT of them. (This does not mean they will agree with you on every possible thing you believe, or support everything you support.)

There’s a thing that happens with every catastrophe, where one or more people leap instantly on stage and attempt to USE the tragedy to sell their own position.

Horrible deadly tornado? —Gays caused it.
Economic meltdown? —Tax and spend Democrats.
Deadly plague? —Atheists.
Sept. 11? —Squishy liberals who want to destroy this nation.

The Trump presidential campaign? —Oh, that’s because of racist, misogynist WHITE MEN.

This is the kind of thing someone with their own agenda — quite different from the central issue — would say.

I have yet to hear anybody say SOME white men, or CONSERVATIVE white men, or even THOSE PARTICULAR white men, the ones who actually support Donald Trump.

Oh no, this is WHITE MEN — ALL white men.

You know, the way ALL Muslims are terrorists.

So just watch where you fire those rhetorical bullets, okay? Some of us are standing out here in the target area.

Random Stuff I’ve Learned

COE Square•  Dogs like icewater in the summer, just like people do.
•  The burger you get at the counter has no resemblance to the picture of the burger on the poster.
•  If they tell you it’s “for your own good” or “to serve you better” … it isn’t.
•  Once you lose half your hair, the pressure’s off.
•  Everything mouse-sized and bigger has feelings.
•  The death of a loved one makes everything else small change.
•  Most everybody else is too busy dancing to watch how good or bad your dancing is. But you probably do suck at it. On the the other hand, the point of dancing isn’t to impress others.
•  Charity is cheaper if you do it directly.
•  You can’t wait for real life to start at some nebulous future date. Life has to be enjoyed every day. Get on with it.
•  I can overlook a lot of your peccadilloes as long as you’re self-supporting.
•  Never lie to a child or a dog for any reason.
•  The thing is, nobody really knows how things are supposed to be. As long as you don’t hurt anybody, including yourself, do the stuff that makes you happy.
•  In playing with your dog, let him win. Every time.
•  Little people think the way to be big is to hurt or control other people. Big people want power FOR people, rather than OVER them.
•  One of the nicest things about children is that they give adults an excuse to blow bubbles again.
•  Someday you’re going to be dead. Might as well make the best of the situation while you wait.
•  In court, bigger and better and higher-priced liars almost always win out over simple honesty and good faith.
•  Not all beliefs and cultures deserve respect. If you believe in treating women as property, your culture is an inferior pile of doodoo. I don’t need to respect you. You need to change.
•  Talk to children as if they were adults. Expect adults to sometimes act like children.
•  The brains of die-hard smokers are incapable of imagining cigarette butts and litter can be the same thing.
•  Human beings often go to war over their differences, despite being 99.99 percent the same.
•  Nobody outside Texas knows what real barbecue is.
•  Cats look a lot smarter than they really are.
•  Pretty much everybody is a well-meaning doofus. Including you and me.
•  Step in and put your hands on. Every person should know how to build things, how to create things, how to fix things. No sitting back playing helpless.
•  Some large fraction of what passes as acceptable business practice is purely predatory on the customer-victims.
•  No animal on earth smells worse than an unwashed human. Whatever else is happening in your life, if you’re not showering regularly, I’m not sitting next to you.
•  If you ask for a favor in a way that assumes I can’t say no, I’m saying no. If it’s obligatory, it’s not a favor.
•  Not only are you not the boss of me, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even hire you as a consultant.
•  Fame is a cheat, because it depends more on what other people think of you than on what you think of yourself.
•  Not every member of a downtrodden social class is an innocent fluffy bunny. Some of the people cops shoot actually deserve it.
•  There is no place you can get to in life, however low and helpless, that there isn’t somebody who’s figured out a way to suck just a teeny bit more life out of you. Sometimes that method is called “state lottery.”
•  If you turn your car stereo up to 10 and then go into a store with it blasting, it’s not about your love of music.
•  There are artists and there are people who say they’re artists. If you tell them you don’t understand their work and they retort that there must be something wrong with YOU, they’re probably the second type.
•  If you’re going to have a pet, don’t complain about a little fur on the furniture.
•  If they “deserve” it, you can do anything to them, including torturing and killing, and sleep well at night. Now you just have to figure out how to make it look like they deserve it.
•  There are creatures who walk around upright, wearing human clothes and speaking human language, but who are no more human than sharks. Many of them seem to do well.
•  Money can’t buy happiness, but if you’re going to be miserable anyway, you might as well take the money.
•  If they’re selling religion, just close the door.
•  Listen to someone closely and he’ll think you’re the brightest person he’s ever met.
•  Every discussion is about learning something, or reaching agreement. Every argument is about winning. There are people who CANNOT have a discussion.
•  The War on Drugs is like trying to put out a forest fire by doing away with Bic lighters. It’s the wrong solution. But then again, it keeps alive the richly profitable prison, lawyer and cops-and-courts industries. And hey, destroying people is a small price to pay for that, right?
•  Sports fanatics are idiots. But they seem to have more friends.
•  Skin color is a stupid way to divide people up. But there are people of every color who think it is.
• “Feminist” doesn’t automatically mean “right.” But don’t dare try to tell them that.
•  People who deliberately breed small, stubby-legged, brainless dogs are not really animal lovers.
•  The shrieking modern rejection of the occasional physical punishment administered to children is probably misguided. Civilization was built by people who had their butts whupped.
•  Everybody farts. But when the Pope does it, nobody notices.
•  Some people have never had an original thought in their lives. Fortunately, they never notice.
•  Give people compliments. If you think something good about somebody, tell them instantly.
•  It’s okay to be wrong.
•  Nobody gets enough hugs.
•  Your parents probably didn’t mean to do it to you. They were stumbling through life just like you are. But that doesn’t mean everything is forgivable.
•  Nobody ever thinks it’s their own fault.
•  If two young people take up living together, they will both immediately assume the other one is doing the housekeeping.
•  Used to be, if you were overweight, you were just overweight. Now you can be a victim of horrible oppression. Every. Goddam. Time. Someone brings up the subject of fitness.
•  Cities are not the natural environment of humans. You can never feel so alive, so free, so centered, as when you’re in the wilderness. But well over 90 percent of us will never know this.
•  European tourists dress funny. If they’re French, that goes double.

Saying Goodbye to the 100-Year-Old Man

Today I went to the funeral of a friend, someone I’ve only known for about 5 years, but who was one of those quality people who brightens the life of everyone he comes into contact with.

Ed lived just shy of 100 years. He saw 100 Christmases, 100 Halloweens, 100 summers and winters and falls. And up until a couple of weeks before his death, he was still driving his own car, still — IN INK — working crossword puzzles. A mere three days before he died, he was traveling country roads with a friend, riding and enjoying the warm springlike day, laughing and making bad puns.

After the lengthy opening by a priest, his two sons stood up to speak, and one of the stories they told tickled me greatly, as it was both funny and warmly, completely ED:

In his early years as a math professor, Ed had a math-faculty friend who didn’t have a car. Ed readily volunteered to help out, giving him rides to and from work, day after day. One day as Ed and his wife Barbara were having dinner in a local diner, the guy happened in and saw them. “Ed! I just got a new car! I can start paying you back for how kind you’ve been over the past year. You have to let me give the two of you a ride home!” Ed and Barbara happily accepted the ride home, thanking the man warmly as he deposited them on their doorstep, waving as he drove out of sight.

After which, the two of them walked the mile or so back to the diner to pick up their own car.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a religious memorial, and I had forgotten how utterly odd they are. It may be the ritualistic ceremony really does give comfort and peace to the friends and family of the departed, but they’re still, to an atheist, distinctly strange.

The opening I mentioned consisted of a retired priest / friend of the family welcoming everyone and asking all to be seated. He waved a program (there’s some more devout name for it, but it’s not coming to me at the moment), making sure everybody had one so they could follow the ceremony. The program is 15 pages long, and it consists of long sections to be read by the priest, but also included call-and-response sections where the priest reads one line and the celebrants read a line back to him, with lots of Glory to Thee-ing and Amen-ing and bowing-and-praying along the way.

It is 12 pages before the name of the deceased gets mentioned, which in this case was some 32 minutes into the ceremony. To my atheist ears, the entire show up until that time seemed to be an extended arm-twisting, moment-of-grief commercial for God.

Again, if it gives people comfort, I can’t knock it TOO much. And if that’s what Ed would have wanted, I’m entirely at peace with it.

But … when I did the memorial ceremony for my Cowboy Dad, the entire thing was about the man. Not only did I read his entirely non-religious eulogy, everybody at the event was invited to share stories and memories of him. There was a single Bible verse — “To everything there is a season” — read by one of his cowboy friends near the end, but most of the ceremony was meant to focus on the life and happy effects this tough, good man had had on all of us. The purpose of the event was to celebrate a man’s life, not to send a tidal wave of religiosity over the attendees.

I often wonder why African-Americans and Native Americans can be Christians, as the religion was so obviously used to bludgeon them into line, but I can appreciate that if you grow up with it and never examine any broader context, it feels good and right to you.

Looking around me at this funeral, I could see that THIS ceremony felt good and right to the people there with me. But it still put me in mind of, oh, a tiny little sandwich in the middle of a heaping platter of garnish, or that friend who does you a 5-minute favor, and then spends ten times as long telling you what a nice guy he is for doing you the favor. It was a lot of goddy STUFF and only a little of Ed, and I would much rather have heard more about Ed.


Non-Sequitur: Dog Friends vs. Dog Owners

chihuahuaSomeone once walked into my office with a basket of Chihuahua puppies. “Here, you want to hold one?” “Eww, no.” “What, you don’t like dogs?” “No, I LOVE dogs!” I threw up my hands and walked away. There was no way I was going to be able to explain why “loving dogs” and “feeling creeped out by Chihuahua puppies” could coexist in one person.

I’ve realized that most people, even supposed dog lovers, don’t really have a feel for the fact that there’s somebody THERE in a dog’s head, a being with feelings, a sense of self, and this other thing: a sort of life-agenda that has nothing to do with humans.

We command and demand so much from them, and mostly never let them be dogs. Which means … we never really KNOW them. We know only the fantasy-images of them we build up in our own heads. We ignore most or all of what they are.

They have no choice but to quickly adapt to whatever conditions we impose but, fairly often, it must be immensely frustrating for them.

This bears on the main reason I don’t like the tiny dogs. They’ve been interfered with so much they’re no longer capable of being DOGS. They’re more like toys with four legs — almost wholly the creations of the dimwits who made them that way.

News flash: The natural environment of the dog is not tucked into a purse. Or even cloistered away inside a house. Yet if these helpless little bundles of fur ever did get outside on their own, they’d still never have a chance of being a dog. Left to their own devices, they’d simply die.

In my mind, turning a dog into a little speck of “cute” is a betrayal of the bargain we have with them — the bargain of >>MUTUAL<< love and respect.

With Tito the Mighty Hunter, my big malamute-black lab mutt, I discovered I could find out who he was, what he wanted, what he might do, only if I made room in my life for an independent Tito, a Tito not of my making but of HIS.

I never expected him to do tricks, or be be “good” for my benefit or the benefit of others. My house was his house, my yard was his yard. If he wanted to dig a hole in the yard, that was fine with me. If he wanted to stop and gnaw on a deer carcass alongside the trail, I’d wait.

And oh boy, we took hikes, sometimes two a day. As a result, Tito was smarter, more relaxed, more aware, and friendlier than any dog I’ve ever known. He could annoy the hell out of me by occasionally going off and having his own adventures, but he was in all other ways a SPECTACULAR friend. Someone who taught ME things about life.

There are so many dangers in the human world that you can never let dogs be completely themselves, but you can let them be SOME of who and what they are.

When you do, they’ll surprise and amaze and delight — and yes, annoy — you. You’ll discover that dogs are not what you thought they were, and you’ll be a true Dog Friend rather than merely a Dog Owner.

Beta Culture: The Healthy Dog Registry

COE 235Pug dogs are an abomination. There, I said it. Someone had to.

But seriously …

A few years back, I was taking pictures of people’s dogs for the fun (and sometimes money) of it, and a lady called me asking if I would take pics of her little black pug. We met to discuss the project, exactly what she wanted and expected, and I got to meet her little dog.

The entire time we talked, the dog in her arms made a growling noise. I baby-talked to him “Yes, you’re scaring me! You’re scaring me bad, you dangerous animal!” The lady said “Oh, he’s not growling. That’s just how he breathes.”

Whoa. Here’s this dog that’s been bred to have a face that’s so compressed, with nasal passages so deviated, that the poor little guy has to struggle for every breath! I’m instantly both disgusted and horrified at that, but I keep it to myself and, a few days later, take the pictures.

With vivid memories in my head of seeing my own big healthy dogs run, play, swim, dig, chase rabbits, fetch tennis balls, roll in the grass, trot happily along mountain trails, I compare this pudgy little cripple and I feel distinctly sorry for him, for the entire breed.

I’m also angry at the people who create them. Nowhere along the way can you find anyone (breeders? owners? dog clubs?) to really BLAME for bringing about this physical form that tragically limits the individual animal and sometimes even promotes suffering, but in my view it is nevertheless a moral crime.

I’ve expressed this opinion more than once in public, and the typical response is “Oh, but they’re really happy little dogs! There’s nothing wrong with them!” I can never seem to get across to those people that breeding a perfectly healthy creature down to where it is defenseless and even debilitated — for reasons of human amusement or style — is wrong.

The kicker of the story is that the lady called me only a month or so later, asking if I’d take pictures of her new dog. The first one had died mysteriously in its sleep. (Yeah, wonder why?)

I went to meet her. She’d gotten another black pug.


All of this is an intro to a single idea — the Healthy Dog Registry.

Because I’ve seen too much of that same sort of thing. Dogs with bad hips, eye conditions, cancer, so, so much more. All of it the result of DELIBERATE human action, actions — and results — which the breed registries and show dog supporters fiercely defend.

I wish there was such a thing as the HDR (and I wish it had started in 1820), an organization that followed dog lineages for many generations, with the aim of building health, longevity and intelligence into the dogs, FOR THE DOGS, but also to guarantee lasting companionship for the dog owners. Rather than breeding for, say, “cuteness” or good looks for dog shows. If it resulted in a single muttsky-looking breed called the Big Healthy Dog, I could certainly live with that.

A group of people who had the will to carry out such a project over generations — oh, call them Beta Culture — a project of reason and compassion to fix a problem that results from short-term focus on features profitable but unhealthy for the beautiful victims, I’d definitely want to be a part of that.

Random Tidbits

COE 235Telling Your Own Story

I have this very strong feeling that each person must “tell his own story,” and that others around him should honor that. For instance, if a friend tells me “I really like that little Jewish girl down the street,” or “I sure don’t like that lemon strawberry cake that Aunt Nita makes. I wish I could tell her but I don’t want to hurt her feelings,” in each case that’s HIS story, and not mine. If he wants to tell his story to others, he will, but it’s not my place to spread around that story. I might WANT to – maybe go to Aunt Nita and say “Nita, I’m not sure Bobby likes that cake. He seems to choke it down each time, but I don’t think he likes it.” Or tell the Jewish man down the street, “Ha! Bobby Summers told me he wants to bang your daughter!”

Or I might tell people “Hey, did you know Bobby Summers has an IQ of 80? I saw the test scores on the teacher’s desk! I thought that guy was just quiet, but it’s because he’s so stupid he can’t keep up with the conversation!”

Or I might whisper “Bobby Summers told me he’s gay! Did you know that? I can’t believe it! Oh, man, wait’ll I tell the others!”

In every case, what I say will change the relationship between Bobby and others – not because of something Bobby might want, but just as a side effect of something >>I<< have done. In each case, I’ve taken the choice out of his hands by telling HIS story. I’ve stolen away some of his freedom.

This is not about saying good things or bad things about people, it’s about who has the right to tell the good things or bad things.

In the cases above, it’s better for me to keep my mouth shut. I might tell people “I like that Bobby Summers. He’s a damned hard worker and a true friend.” Or “Seems to  me Bobby Summers can drive a car better than anybody I ever met. I think he should be a professional driver!” Or “That lame-ass bastard Summers was late to work today, forcing me to work overtime.” That’s me sharing stuff that includes Bobby, but I’m  telling MY story, a part in which Bobby plays a role.

But in all the personal stuff, the things in which Bobby should be free to make his own choices, it’s better to let Bobby tell the thing, or not tell it, and have each situation and relationship go on as HE chooses for it to go on.

Tell YOUR story. Let others tell THEIR story.


The Tribes of Man and Woman

Speculation: In every time and place, there’s a Guy Culture and a Gal Culture, with different mandates in each. Guys have some say over Guy Culture, women have some say over Gal Culture, but ordinarily neither has any say over the other.

For a girl to be fully accepted in Gal Culture, she has to do and say and think the Gal things. For a boy to be fully accepted in Guy Culture, he has to do and say and think the Guy things. There’s an intersection culture in which both boys and girls fit, but there are also these distinct side cultures.

I suspect there’s a certain evolutionary necessity that creates and maintains these two cultures, that being a part of Guy Culture is a vital part of a boy’s growing up to be a man, and ditto for Gal Culture and girls.

The Internet flattens things out gender-culturally, so that jokes that might usually be told exclusively in Guy company, or thoughts that might formerly be expressed exclusively in Gal surroundings, are now – if they are shared online, that is – opened out in front of everybody. Which brings some interesting pressures to bear on both.

As of now, the side cultures haven’t disappeared. For instance, there are jokes and thoughts and observations I tell only my close male friends – things I deliberately do NOT say online – and I know there are things women say to each other that men don’t get to hear.

But it would be cool to jump ahead a thousand years or so and see what the two cultures look like, or even if they’ve survived, to see what social or personal pressures the situation brings to men and women of the time.

Dawkins and Dennett in Boston

Dawkins ExplainsI got to see noted scientist, atheist and author Richard Dawkins and philosopher/author Daniel Dennett in Boston this past Thursday, June 11. I first saw Dawkins at the Reason Rally in Washington DC, so this was my second eyes-on viewing of him, but it was my first time seeing Dennett in person. I traveled down with three members of the Capital Region Atheists & Agnostics — Lizz Lloyd, Jim Piren and Ken Spencer. (A big thank-you to them for the company and the wheels.)

The format of the event, held in Boston’s Chevalier Theatre and the third of a 3-city tour featuring Dawkins and different co-speakers, was a fireside chat — a rambling, amiable hourlong talk between Dennett and Dawkins, followed by an hour of Q&A, then a book signing in the lobby.

The thoughtful talk covered mostly science-related issues, only dipping into atheism and freethought near its end.

Dennett spoke at length about The Clergy Project. He and fellow researcher Linda LaScola interviewed numerous clergymen who no longer believed, yet were still working in their field – mostly because they were unemployable anywhere else – and produced a study published as Caught in The Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind. Though the two researchers were careful to maintain the anonymity of respondents, some of the clergy members interviewed found each other and founded The Clergy Project, which now, Dennett said, has more than 600 core members – working clergy who are nevertheless atheists.

One questioner asked Dennett about plans for including some sort of safe house for women attempting to escape fundamentalist groups and families. Dennett admitted that The Clergy Project contained nothing of the sort at present, but he thought it a good idea.

Dawkins at one point during the Q&A said something surprising. The question was “Should atheists work with moderate Christians and churches to oppose fundamentalists?” The main part of his answer was that a team-up with moderate Christians could certainly be useful in certain circumstances, but he wasn’t in favor of it as a main strategy. He followed up by saying his primary concern at present is Islam, and added he had a quiet worry that “dismantling Christianity” might eliminate a powerful ally in opposing Islam.

A couple of beefs on my part:

First, the sound system in the theatre was subpar. Ear-piercing feedback squealed out into the auditorium for many minutes – and randomly throughout the talk – visibly annoying both Dawkins and Dennett, who soldiered on as well as possible. Dawkins even got out of his chair more than once to tinker with an on-stage speaker box. I have to wonder how it’s even possible to have such amazingly bad sound in an old, established auditorium.

Second, the ladies handing around the mikes during the audience Q&A session ignored me. I waved my hand in the air a LOT during the Q&A hour, and I watched the nearest mike-carrier’s eyes slide away from me several times. True, I was there wearing my cowboy hat, and I suspect she thought I was there to cause a scene, and didn’t want to give me the chance. (I DID consider making a joke by saying in my Deep South accent “If human bein’s came from monkeys …” before asking my real question. Ah well.)

With close to a thousand people attending, a LONG line developed for the book signings at the end. Dawkin’s final comment after the Q&A was to ask the people at the beginning of the line to be generous with the time of those at the end, and suggested no selfies, to general laughter.

Dawkins and Dennett sat approachably at a small table, and signed book after book, hundreds of them. This time I did get to make a joke, by first handing Dawkins The God Delusion to sign, then giving him a copy of Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist, explaining quickly that it was my own book, and that the bull rider on the cover was me. I’m pretty sure nothing like that had ever happened to him – he looked momentarily baffled as he examined it, then smiled big and graciously thanked me.

In the end, I got to personally thank both Dawkins and Dennett: “Thank you for existing! And for all you do.”





Boston Scenes: