Interview with Jim Hudlow – President, Inland Northwest Freethought Society

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Jim Hudlow is the President of the Inland Northwest Freethought Society. 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?

Jim Hudlow: I was raised on a small farm north of Spokane, Washington in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Our family was unable to make ends meet with just the farm income so both my parents worked over the winter as well.

Growing up on the farm was very rewarding, it couraged independence and creativity in terms of play activities and learning the importance of work (not prayer) to achieve desired outcomes.

My parents did not go to church and only sent us kids to ‘bible school’ to get some adult alone time on Sunday. When I was 8 or 9, I was disinvited from church for asking too many questions.

The Sunday school teacher was my Grandma! The preacher came over to the house and got my parents to let him take me out in his car so he could try and scare the hell into me. It was July…and 95 degrees…so it felt like Hell in that car. The preacher took an hour trying to bring me into the cult.

However, he could not sufficiently answer even the basic questions of an 8-year-old. (Why did god make hell? Why doesn’t god just tell everyone exactly what he wants? Why do little kids get sick and die?) I entered the car an ambivalent agnostic and exited a sweaty little atheist and have remained so to this day.

My Dad and Brother were both atheists but never talked about it. The topic did not go over well in the community and they did not want to make waves. My Mom was not religious until the end of her life when she was slowly dying of cancer.

She was understandably afraid as she had little to do all day but contemplate her fate and turned to religion as a distraction. I, on the other hand, was always outspoken and I did not hesitate to express a contrary point of view. Stirring the pot was great fun.

However, I did not become really active in atheism until around 10 years ago when I became aware of the actual harm that can be suffered when religious dogma is inflicted on the unaware, the helpless and the unwilling. I lived in Gladstone, or for 11 years and was just minutes away from a church that did not believe in going to the doctor (though the adults would sneak off and get attention).

In their private cemetery they had babies and young children buried there at a mortality rate 26 times the national average. I was horrified and became an antitheist regarding certain harmful beliefs and activities in the name of religion, especially regarding children. 

Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?

Hudlow: As far as education my Dad did not finish high school until he got his GED at age 52. My Mom graduated high school.

I have degrees in Philosophy and English…taught school for 2 years and then went to work for an airline for 25 years. I have made it a point to educate myself. I have read more books in the last 8 years than in the 60 before that. Among those books was the bible.

That was quite a slog, but you cannot talk about it if you don’t know what is in it. I would recommend The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible by Steve Wells. His annotations are helpful and entertaining. The bible is the King James Version. 

I also read history, science (all branches) and some math related books to inform my point of view. I have read some Josh McDowell, Steven Prothero and so on as a good skeptic should consider all sides of an issue.

The arguments supporting religious dogma of any stripe get tedious pretty quickly as they all require belief without testable evidence in the end and I see no way to determine what is likely to be true using faith as a ‘methodology’. 

Jacobsen: As the President of the Inland Northwest Freethought Society, what tasks and responsibilities come with the position?

Hudlow: There are the mundane things like arranging for monthly meetings, securing a venue for that meeting, sending out notices and reminders for the meeting.

I take donations and do the banking for the group. I try and pull together any suggestions for speakers or activities that we might enjoy as well. I send in a yearly report to FFRF on our activities, current FFRF membership and give an accounting of donations and how we spend our money.

While I often speak for the organization, I always ask the opinion of other long-term members what they think should be emphasized or discussed. Being President is more of a figure head for several contributing members. We have been interviewed on the radio and briefly a couple times on TV.

Jacobsen: For the locals of Inland Northwesterners, what are the concerns for the freethought community there?

Hudlow: When you have a group where the only common thread is a lack of belief in any deities that means in many other areas our individual members have widely varying points of view. Some are liberal.

Some are conservative. Some are pro choice and some pro life. Some have various thoughts on climate change and the validity the current evidence on either side. So, with this in mind finding common ground on what we want to participate in can be a lot of work.

Right now, my main concern is effecting a change in leadership. We need to transition to younger leadership more in tune with the younger generation that is leaving organized religion in droves.

The trouble with atheists is they tend not to be ‘joiners’ and are hard to organize…like herding cats as folks say. So, I would say my biggest concern is insuring the group continues to flourish by finding enthusiastic younger leadership. 

Other than that, I want to make sure our group provides a safe haven for atheists and agnostics who are isolated and looking for likeminded people to talk to and gain confidence from.

Jacobsen: What are some of the salient social and communal activities of the Inland Northwest Freethought Society?

Hudlow: Over the years our group has gone on camping trips and day trips to various natural areas to have lunch and explore. I am a birder and it is fun to imagine the dinosaur in each little bird I see.

We have taken trips to other cities to get together with other secular groups such as The Missoula Secular Society to exchange ideas and just have fun. We do the occasional picnic in the park as well.

We do what we can to support getting people out to vote by signing new voters up. When there is a day long ‘fair’ in some part of town we will set up a booth so folks can come and talk with an atheist.

These ‘fairs’ always have a heavy religious presence we need to counter. It also makes people realize the secular voice is growing louder and stronger and it is socially acceptable to add your voice to our ranks. Our meetings are open to anyone who is curious.

Jacobsen: Why was this particular freethought society originally formulated? What are some important ways in which the Inland Northwest Freethought Society has provided a safe haven for the freethinkers of the area?

Hudlow: This group was formulated in 1992 by folks that wanted to make the secular point of view more widely known and to provide a safe place to identify yourself and discuss issues that were hard to talk about with religious family and friends.

One of the original leaders was Ray Ideus, a preacher for decades that became an atheist later in life. Ray was very involved with The Clergy Project which allowed priests who had become atheists and could not continue to lie to their congregations just for a paycheck.

Ray has since passed and replacing him has been hard though we have had some good people carrying on his legacy. Ray is the person who began our fair booth activity as well.

Jacobsen: Have there been any relevant and important freethought activist efforts of the Inland Northwest Freethought Society? If so, what? Why were those the specifically targeted objectives?

Hudlow: Over the years we have tried to grow awareness of the atheist and agnostic presence in the Pacific Northwest.

We had billboards for a couple of months showing our members and their families with one-line statements like “Good without God” or “I believe in Good!” . We have also run some similar large bus picture ads promoting our organization and the absolute separation of church and state.

We also had booths at both the Spokane Interstate and Idaho county fairs for an 8-year stretch. We displayed our colorful 4 foot by 8-foot banner that says “Atheism: A personal relationship with reality” (pic attached) which gets a lot of attention.

At the booth we had 3 goals: 1. Promote our secular groups in the Spokane and North Idaho area 2. Promote absolute separation of church and state and explain how that benefits the religious and secular alike 3.

Let people come up and talk to an actual atheist and ask them questions. However, we would not debate their dogma with them nor would we be drawn in by typical religious questions like “what happens when you die?”

We would just explain to them that some things are unknown at this time, but we are continuing to investigate. However, we will not jump to supernatural conclusions just to arrive at a quick “answer” as religion often does.

Also, I will mention one member of our group whose name is James Downard. He has studied creationism and the creationist culture extensively over the years.

He wrote a great book dealing with every major creationist author and every creationist claim under the sun. His book is titled Evolution Slam Dunk and is a very elucidating and enjoyable read…except for creationists!

Jim also has a web site http://www.tortucan.com/where he addresses many of the creationist’s claims. James also has a YouTube channel where he does live chats on all kinds of creationist topics. (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRdnABwU9uUJw1k40LGYcQA)

Jacobsen: What are the current goals and activism for 2019? Also, who have been important allies in the work to advance freethought values within your locale?

Hudlow: Our current goals are to keep finding new ways to put our atheist voice out into the public domain. We will keep having booths at the day fairs around Spokane, marching in science and secular related marches, participating in voter drives, celebrating Darwin Day with a booth and taking advantage of volunteer opportunities as we find them.

We work with or coordinate with several groups. Most important is the Freedom From Religion Foundation which has helped us fund some of our more expensive endeavors.

Regional groups we interact with are The North Idaho Secular Society, Spokane Secular Society, Eastern Wash. Univ. Atheists and Humanists of the Palouse (who have a great Darwin Day festival with excellent speakers with archives on the web).

In March Dan Barker (co President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation) will speak to our group at that month’s meeting. That will be a great way to start off the Spring!

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?

Hudlow: People can go to our web site www.infreethought.org and email us for dates and times of meetings or ask us other questions.

The Inland Northwest Freethought Society and North Idaho Secular Society both have Face Book pages people can join. They are private so you need to ask permission, but that process is easy. Our meetings and such are posted there as well.

Also, some good conversations and posts are available there as well. Donations to our group (INFS only) are tax deductible. We can accept donations at meetings of course or through the mail. For mailing options or other questions please contact us at info@infreethought.org .

Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?

Hudlow: In writing this I can tell you it is not easy finding effective ways of communicating our secular point of view to those outside our ‘bubble’. I hope what I have said has been at least a little informative for those who follow the secular path.

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

Hudlow: You are certainly welcome Scott. I hope this provided info you can use.

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.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

Photo by 五玄土 ORIENTO on Unsplash

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