Brian Stack is the Organizer of Atheist Humanist Society of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Important to note, Stack has since moved. Here we talk about his life, work, and views.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like for you, e.g., geography, culture, language, religion or lack thereof, education, and family structure and dynamics?
Brian Stack: I was born and raised in North Carolina, in a large religious family, Southern Baptist for my immediate family but other protestant denominations for cousins, etc. I have cousins on my father’s side that are smart and educated but extremely religious.
It’s confusing that they are quite smart but believe things that are absurd (Noah’s ark, 6-day creation, etc.). I began to question religion early, around 12 or 14, by 16 I was basically an atheist.
When I went to college I studied physics, math, philosophy and logic, and took several classes about religion, and got more convinced that religion and god were ancient superstitions, and not worth believing any more.
In college I was reading Skeptic magazine and I saw the word atheist, that’s when I realized what to call myself. My parents pushed me to get baptized but I refused.
After I turned 18 I quit going to church, I never really told my parents that I was an atheist, but they figured it out. My sister is also an atheist, she’s 2 years older than me, she’s also gay so that also pushed her out of church.
Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?
Stack: I have degrees in physics (bachelor’s) and engineering (master’s) and took classes in logic and philosophy. All of these shaped my worldview. I’ve read many books about atheism, those have given me ammunition in my arguments against religion.
Jacobsen: Rhode Island Atheist Society was an organization or, rather, a community for you. What was the community like for you?
Stack: It was great to have a community where you can freely criticize religion and have open discussions. Even in New England (it’s not very religious) it’s still hard to say you’re an atheist.
Everyone in the group had a story about rude comments or being insulted because of being an atheist. We had monthly meetings and a few times a year a social gathering (movie, picnic, etc.).
Jacobsen: In terms of social activities, what have been some of the more heartwarming activities for you?
Stack: We donated blood once or twice, had a college scholarship, donated money to charities (this and another group I attended in Connecticut). We had a few hikes and tours (Salem, Massachusetts), a few movie nights at someone’s home.
Jacobsen: Looking into 2019, what do you consider some important activist work or efforts of the secular and the atheist communities in general in America?
Stack: The group I belong to now in North Carolina, we have several goals, one of which is to expose believers and churches to the fact that we’re good people, we’re just like them but without religion, that you can be good without god.
I think that’s a goal all secular/atheist groups should have. Also, the separation of church and state is big, in the south we get a lot of religion pushed in our faces, at school, work, local governments, etc.
Jacobsen: Who tend to be opposed to the mere existence of the Rhode Island Atheist Society community? You moved to North Carolina. Is there much difference in this community?
Stack: We had a website, a month after it went online we got threatening emails, but I’m not sure from whom.
I occasionally got religious pamphlets in the mail (I was the state representative for American Atheists, so my name and address were public), never with a return address. I know several people in New England that were fired or had their jobs threatened after being exposed as atheists.
The same is true here in the south. Here in the south the atheist groups seem larger, we need to stick together in this more religious area.
Jacobsen: Who have been important intellectual influences on you?
Stack: I love James Randi, Michael Shermer and Joe Nickell, debunkers of paranormal claims, they really got me moving into the skeptical mindset of questioning everything and being critical of extraordinary claims.
I took two college classes called logic and critical thinking and philosophy of religion, those were fantastic. I’m a physics nerd, so Einstein, Newton, Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson are some of my heroes. And Mr. Wizard from the TV show.
I also had some great teachers growing up, they got me excited to learn everything I could. Hitchens, Dawkins, Dan Barker and Doug Kreuger (he’s a philosophy professor) are also big influences.
Jacobsen: What are some of the more important areas of work for the secular community?
Stack: Charity and volunteering and making it known we are atheists, so people would see us doing good. My current group donated bags of supplies to the city’s homeless and we put our group name on the bags.
Also, being vocal about being non-believers. There are more of us than people realize, if you look at recent studies, over 20% of the US population is non-religious.
If we got together and campaigned or voted, we could really shake up the political landscape and the rest of the country would have to take us seriously.
Jacobsen: How can people become involved through the donation of time, the addition of membership, links to professional and personal networks, giving monetarily, exposure in interviews or writing articles, and so on?
Stack: Find a local atheist group (Facebook or meetup) and get involved. Organize a blood drive, adopt a street and pick up trash, donate money to a charity and make sure they know it’s from an atheist group. Write letters to the editor of your newspaper or speak up at a city council meeting.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?
Stack: We need to get organized and make our voices heard, join groups of non-believers, and let other know we’re good people, we don’t eat babies, we don’t worship Satan, we have morals. We’re good without god or religion.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Brian.
Stack: No problem, I’ve taken surveys and done interviews before, happy to help!
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.
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Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.