Interview with Jacob Mounts – Assistant State Director, American Atheists Kentucky

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Jacob Mounts is the Assistant State Director of American Atheists Kentucky. Here we talk about some early life and work by him.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like for you? 

Jacob Mounts: I grew up in a typical American Midwest family with both parents and one younger sister. I grew up in a small town of less than 3000 people at the time. I went to a public school for my education from K-12.

I did all the typical things a young boy would do growing up. I played sports like baseball, basketball, football and track & field. I was in the Boy Scouts. I was involved with school groups like the art club, science club, foreign language club.

Despite all this, I wasn’t liked much by my peers and as I grew older I became more and more introverted with only a few select people that I would interact with regularly.

Undiagnosed depression would also be something that I would have to deal with for much of my life didn’t help with the social aspects of life during that time either. The introversion and depression would both be something that would stick with me through most my life until these last couple years. 

I played sports like baseball, basketball, football and track & field. I was in the Boy Scouts. I was involved with school groups like the art club, science club, foreign language club.

Despite all this, I wasn’t liked much by my peers and as I grew older I became more and more introverted with only a few select people that I would interact with regularly.

Undiagnosed depression would also be something that I would have to deal with for much of my life didn’t help with the social aspects of life during that time either. The introversion and depression would both be something that would stick with me through most my life until these last couple years. 

Jacobsen: How were religion and faith influential on you if at all? 

Mounts: Both sides of my family are/were religious. My father’s side is Methodist while my mother’s side is Catholic. My father worked a lot and his involvement with such things were few and far between.

To say that he wasn’t religious when I was growing up I would say would be a safe assumption as he rarely attended church services except for an occasional holiday whether it was at the Methodist church or Catholic church.

However, as for my sister and I, we would still attend the Methodist church functions such as vacation bible school and guild dinners fairly regularly along with the occasional church service with my father’s side of the family. These things were easier to attend as the church was located in the town in which I grew up.

Religion and faith was something my mother had much more influence with in this regard during my childhood. Despite the fact that none of the Catholic churches we would ever attend were in our town and were at least a 20min drive away from where we lived, we would regularly attend Catholic services.

Sunday school classes and the litany of necessary achievements to progress through the Catholic indoctrination process was something that would be completed as I grew up. We would help clean the church during the week and engage in other church functions whenever we could.

By the time I was in high school my level of involvement with the church was more extensive. Youth group had become more important and as one of the top “students” I was eventually invited to go on pilgrimage to the famed Medjugorie in what is now Croatia (formerly Yugoslavia back when I was there). 

It is one of the sites where the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to some local children. At the time this experience had a profound influence on me. Returning from the pilgrimage trip, I became extensively more religious to the point of seriously considering becoming a Franciscan monk if I could. I started becoming much more involved with religious activities in my daily life and seriously started looking into that becoming my primary purpose in life.

(It is interesting to note, however, that this increased knowledge and study into the history of the Church and religion as a whole would also be what initiated my 180-degree turnaround and leaving the church altogether a quick couple years later.)

Jacobsen: How does religion around the world, and in your locale in Kentucky, appear to receive special privileges in the upbringing and the filling of the minds of the young, whether punitive & rote or exploratory & curiosity-driven educational systems?

Mounts: Special privilege and influence is quite evident throughout the world with regards to religion. This is the case not only with the Abrahamic religions but with all those that I have looked at thus far today and throughout our history.

We are pattern seeking and look for reason and meaning for pretty much everything in our lives. When we don’t understand something then it is typical for humans to place our own interpretations on what happens in the world around us.

For a good portion of human history this lack of understand was related to a god of some sort. When negative things happened that we didn’t understand we tried to find ways to appease this “god” who had done these things to us or we had somehow brought upon ourselves.

These repeated rituals become religion and start to gain structure over time. When we are young we are highly influential and are trusting of our elders to educate and guide us to understanding of the world around us.

The unfortunate aspect of this is when as adults we fail to utilize our critical thinking abilities, try to learn the facts of the nature as to why things are the way they are and continue to place a supernatural cause and reason on that which we don’t understand.

This gets passed on to our children and can lead to detrimental effects on those potential exploratory and curiosity-driven educational systems be it formal or informal in nature.

In the state of Kentucky where I currently reside now, this unfortunate scenario continues to play out on a daily basis where religious thought, biases and even just the general thinking process/mindset regarding any number of things ends up having great influence. This has both positive and negative results in our society. Negative effects of religious thought are abundant and easily recognizable. 

Biases that come about as a result of religious teaching influence is evident with such things as legislation coming out of Frankfort, planned parenthood and related healthcare, organizations being able to discriminate based on personal religious belief especially towards the LGBTQ+ community, educators being able to utilize cherry-picked verses from the bible to further indoctrinate our school children into these biases, etc. 

Positive effects of religion…a sense of community and support when needed, but even this can become very tribalistic in its approach if circumstances allow for it.

Again, these effects become reinforcements for the young and influential. Community and social support systems are things that a secular society can bring as well without the need for religion; however, the current government systems allow privilege for religious organizations to maintain a majority for such programs in our otherwise secular lives.

Jacobsen: How did you find and become more deeply involved in the atheist community? How did this become an aspect of community through American Atheists Kentucky?

Mounts: My involvement in the atheist community has only become about as of the last couple years. While I have been atheist nearly all of my adult life, I have been a “closet atheist.”

The changes only started to come about after my father, whom you’ll remember wasn’t very religious growing up, became involved with some fundamentalists while seeking out his religious interests as he neared retirement.

For him, this grew into religious zealotry and one day it came to a head between the two of us when I finally came out and admitted that I was an atheist. A heated argument between us ensued despite my attempts to reason and rationalize his thoughts. At the end he disowned me and we haven’t spoken since.

Since that day my level of activism and being an open atheist has grown considerably. At first I didn’t know where to start. I wasn’t aware of other such people in the area where I lived.

I didn’t know of any other secular or atheist group locally and so I started my own on Meetup. In just a little over 2 years I have been privileged to have met many people in this community not only in my local area but also from networking across the United States and around the world.

These numbers continue to grow as my involvement increases. Today, I work with several secular groups that help the homeless, elderly and LGBTQ+ communities. I support groups fighting inequality and human rights issues.

I continue to be active on the national level with American Atheists as an Assistant State Director here in Kentucky as well as supporting southwest Indiana. The last two years have been great and I look forward to what might be in store for 2019.

Jacobsen: Does an open voicing of non-religious opinions impact social and familial relationships for the individual in Kentucky?

Mounts: Being an open atheist in this area can be quite difficult sometimes. Yes, it does put a strain on relationships sometimes to the point of unfortunate termination as I previously mentioned.

Discussing secular issues when you have differing views can be hard to do whether it is with family, local politicians or just everyday people. The grasp of religious indoctrination and the biases that come with certain viewpoints is very tight in this area.

It is difficult to have an honest discourse with many people without people taking the questioning of long-held thoughts and ideas as a personal attack. Politicians are even less likely to budge as their constituents have great influence on whether or not they continue to hold public office.

Anyone who questions or might potentially threaten that is likely to be attacked or dismissed with prejudice.

Jacobsen: What books have been influential in personal philosophical life for you? What about films or documentaries?

Mounts: There have been a number of books from such well-known authors as Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris. Books that most people are already aware of like Hitchens’ God is not Great, Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation.

However, there are some others who might be a little lesser known like my friend Dr. William Zingrone’s book The Arrogance of Religious Thought: Information Kills Religion and John Loftus’ Unapologetic.

Of course reading up on historical philosophers such Socrates, Hume, Sartre, etc., have had influence as well though I don’t consider myself well-educated in that regard aside from a cursory study of them during my school years.

Jacobsen: If you reflect on some of the concerning developments in fundamentalist religions in the US, what trouble you? Who troubles you?

Mounts: Fundamentalist religion in the US troubles me greatly. One can see the effects and influence throughout the government sector especially. From top to bottom legislation is being pushed through that supports discrimination towards virtually anyone who isn’t a conservative Christian nationalist.

Attacks on the Johnson Amendment look to tear down the wall that separates church and state, medical doctors not keeping their Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm” while at the same time refusing medical treatment to those who don’t fit into their personal religious views, denial of social services to the LGBTQ+ community, abortion and planned parenthood is also at the forefront…all these things can be found to have roots in religious ideation and interpretation of the Bible.

To point the finger at any specific person that troubles me would be difficult. It is more of the groups of people, the money and political influence large corporations have in Washington. It is those who blindly follow these groups and support them thus increasing these powerful few that troubles me.

Jacobsen: How has religion been a force for good in history? How has it been a force for evil in history?

Mounts: Religion as a force for good? The only “good” that I can see coming out of religion is the sense of community and support where people come together to help each other in times of need.

We are social creatures and a sense of community and outreach is a necessary part of our psychological well-being. The downside of this is the “force of evil” that becomes inherent as a result of that sense of unchecked “community support.”

Tribalism, nationalistic pride, racial prejudice, sexism, classism…human history is filled with examples of this. The division of “us and them” creates much conflict in our lives when people don’t take the time to have proper discourse and come to an understanding of one another.

We become set in our ways. The uncertainties in life and with death create potential for this divisiveness. Religion as a foothold in this regard and have been used as at least a partial excuse for many of the “evils” in our history.

From today’s child abuse and sexual assault in the Church to Islamic extremism, from the Inquisition to the Crusades, wars of the Greeks/Romans/Turks…wherever there is a particular “god” to be appeased the potential for mankind to create atrocities is likely to be found.

Jacobsen: What are some of the provisions for the community through American Atheists Kentucky? How can folks become involved with the wider non-religious community, e.g., donations, volunteering time and skills, providing professional networks, and so on?

Mounts: There are lots of potential things a person can do to become involved. As mentioned, donating time/money/skills to groups that support the homeless community is a constant need, food banks need help in processing and handing out goods, being there to support initiatives that help the unfortunate as a result of catastrophe, community projects to clean up parks and wildlife areas…there are lots of opportunities out there.

The key thing is deciding to become involved in your local communities. Once you’ve found your interest in helping reach out to local organizations and/or check with your local atheist and secular humanist groups. Chances are there is a group nearby, and if not…start one.

This is how I started to become involved just two years ago. Today I support not only my local communities but also regionally with protests. I network nationally and internationally with other non-religious groups to gain ideas.

Social media like Facebook and Meetup is a great start for those who want to become involved. Even if you have to go through a religious organization as is often the case particularly with homelessness initiatives, chances are there are going to be secular and non-religious folks there helping out in some form.

Until such time that the privileges that come with religion are set aside and secular non-profit groups are able to gain a foothold in our society, we must find ways to work through them while starting our own initiatives to combat social issues.

Groups such as American Atheists and others are there to help point you in the right direction and can help get you in contact with the right folks. Feel free to contact us at American Atheists and look for us on social media.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Jacob.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

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