I am a private person. You might say guarded. Sure, I can be chatty and friendly when needed, but I avoid discussing politics or religion with people who I fear would disagree with me because it just isn’t polite. My passions are hidden from public view, yet they run deep. I suppose this is because my feelings are easily bruised. Truth be told, I’m rather average and my life is pretty unremarkable. Some people have wondered if I am the Anne Crumpacker who lives in Portland, Oregon and makes bamboo art. No. She seems interesting. Sadly, that is not me.
But I’ve had an amazing few months thanks to my daughter Mason’s chance encounter with Christopher Hitchens at the Texas Freethought Convention.
Since October, I have been riding on the backs of giants. Turns out that Jerry Coyne is a New York Times bestselling author and not just some grad student with a blog as I initially thought. He wrote today on Why Evolution is True that Mason Crumpacker and the Christopher Hitchens Reading List was his favorite post of 2011. It is both thrilling and humbling. But that’s not all, in November the actress Martha Plimpton, an icon of my generation, tweeted, “Mason Crumpacker is my hero” to 35,000 followers. Just last week Michael Shermer tweeted my new word “hitchling” to 22,000 skeptical inquirers.
Yet, I also have my detractors. I’ve been called alternately a “flaming atheist” and a “religious accommodationist.” I’m called out as “an attention whore” on the Daily Hitchens. However, my all time favorite critic is a hapless English YouTuber broadcasting from his flat. This poor fellow is passionate about his religion, but can’t seem to find an audience for his ideas unless he attacks Mason and me, and then all hell breaks loose. He’s accused me of brainwashing my daughter and grooming other people’s children for my “militant atheist cause.” In his mind the launch of SocraticMama is a “defining moment in American intellectual history. “ Well, monkeys, he must be feeling lonely because two days ago he released another video on the “scandal” of the Christopher Hitchens reading list. Now, he’s a straw man and I’m not a mean person, but he does ask a question that caught my attention. “What kind of mother takes her eight year old daughter to a highbrow intellectual meeting by Christopher Hitchens?” Perhaps I may be interesting after all…
I am not an ivory tower intellectual, nor am I an avant-garde personage. I’m just a regular mom. But, the hand-that-rocks-the-cradle-rules-the-world and that makes me dangerous.
So, I’ve been thinking… If I have anything useful to contribute to the “atheist cause” it may, indeed, be my sheer averageness.
If atheism is to gain a larger foothold in America it must appeal to people like me. I pay my taxes, I work hard, I care about my country’s future, and I am sick and tired of the religious right attacking our personal freedoms. When I was little, going to church was what nice people did every Sunday. I was raised a Christian because my parents weren’t communists. It was at church, my parents believed, I would learn about morality and civic duty. But times have changed and I have been dragged out of the Kingdom of God kicking a screaming against my will by logic and compassion. I am proof that you can, sometimes, be reasoned out of what you weren’t reasoned into.
Sam Harris convinced me that after 9/11 I could no longer be complacent. Either I believed or I didn’t. There was no room for spiritual metaphor. To be politely Christian was to give respectability to superstition and fanaticism. I can no longer tolerate the homophobia of Rick Perry, the self-righteousness of the American Family Association, or the scientific sabotage of the Discovery Institute, and I refuse to sit idly by while they dissimulate the truth and trample the Constitution.
Today Jerry Coyne said, “Our greatest weapon against religion, and especially against theologians, is this question: What evidence do you have for your assertions? Theology will wither, and with it religion, if we just keep asking that question.”
According to Coyne, Susan Jacoby in the Washington Post says the two important tasks for atheists now are:
- “If secularists are to succeed in making any inroads on the default position of religion, they must reclaim the original definition of religious liberty, as exemplified by those who passed Virginia’s 1786 law.” I’ve put that law below, and we should all read it for the New Year.
- Get passionate like Hitchens did!
After a bit of New Year’s Day “soul searching” I am ready to get passionate! I am going to Occupy Reason!
My resolution for 2012 is to be passionate and genuine about my opinions. This is really going to be a challenge because I don’t even like starting a sentence with “I,” but that has to change. If reason is going to take its rightful place in public discourse then policy makers need to hear from more “average atheists” like me (and you). I suspect that the number of people like us is really very high, but many may be reluctant to speak out. So I’m issuing a challenge. If you have a friend whom you suspect is a “fence-sitting skeptic” then forward them this post. We need to show that there are many, many, really average people who just don’t believe anymore.
I’m about as different from Christopher Hitchens as you can get. He was outspoken, brash, witty, and encyclopedic in knowledge. I’m not. At least not yet. My personal mantra for 2012 is going to be from Hitchens at his best:
“My own opinion is enough for me and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get on line, and kiss my ass.”
I politely suggest you do the same.