Christopher Smith is Member of the Triangle 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?
Christopher Smith: I was born in Charleston, SC, but moved to Charlotte when I was two, so it is the only home I remember. Charlotte is a big city, so though I have lived in the South forever; I was always in a larger city, so it was not until I was an adult that I experienced what most might associate with the south when I got a job in rural NC.
My family was fairly WASPy, with both my parents having gone to college and working full time. We were not wealthy, but we were quite comfortable.
My parents are Baptist, and we went to church kind-of often. I was in youth group and church choir, but no one ever mentioned religion at home, or family functions, so it was not a huge part of my life.
I was baptized as a child, and we were Christian, and believers, so it was not just cultural Christianity, but reading the Bible at home was not something our family did.
My father is an engineer, and he has always been fairly rational. I saw this in him, and I would like to think I myself try to be rational as a human being.
I drifted away from religion as a teenager when too much of it warranted more proof than it presented. As religion was never a huge part of my life, this journey was relatively painless, and I did not suffer from much of the same trauma that many have.
My family life has been a bit different since my parents asked me about my faith as an adult. My father’s father was a preacher, and his last words to my father were “make sure Christopher goes to church.”
Needless to say, this has affected my father substantially, and my atheism continues to be a weight around his neck. It pains me that my father suffers in this way, but we do not talk about the issue, and so I see no resolution in sight.
Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?
Smith: I went to UNC Chapel Hill and received BAs in Classics and History and received my NC teaching license from UNC Asheville. Informally I have done a lot of historical reading, as I tend to enjoy it a lot more than fiction.
I am currently listening to the History of Byzantium podcast, having finally finished The History of Rome, and the last book I read was “The Storm Before the Storm” by Mike Duncan (host of the History of Rome podcast).
I have also done a lot of reading on religion as my major of ancient history focused on Rome, and the rise of the Christian church is a big part of the empire’s history.
Becoming familiar with history is one of the things that drove me away from religion, as I found out that some Biblical events simply did not happen.
There was never a census by Augustus that required people to travel to their “familial homeland,” for instance. We have no record of it happening, and the disruption to commerce would have been astronomical.
Jacobsen: As a member of the Triangle Freethought Society, what seems like the more important social and community-building activities?
Smith: I feel like the social and service aspects of our community are the most important. It is important for those without faith, in the ocean of believers that we live in, to know that others around them feel the same way, that they are not alone, and that we are here to laugh, cry, and talk with them should they need.
We also try and participate in community service, visibly, to let everyone know that it is not only possible to be “good without gods” but that religion holds no preeminent position of authority on religion. We are all in this together, and I think that the secular community has just as much to offer as those of faith.
Jacobsen: If you hand to rank-order the principles or values behind freethought, what would these be to you?
Smith: While I do not know that I can rank them specifically, I would include justice, kindness, forethought, and curiosity.
Jacobsen: We have a variety of public intellectuals. Who have been the most influential on personal intellectual and philosophical development?
Smith: I have enjoyed the writings of Sam Harris, Dan Finke, and Christopher Hitchens immensely over the last few years in regard to freethought, philosophy, and morality. In regard to history, I think Richard Carrier has put forward quite a few of well-reasoned arguments for the possible non-existence of Jesus, and Mike Duncan has helped keep my love of Rome alive.
Jacobsen: Who have been important allies for the Triangle Freethought Society?
Smith: We are a chapter of FFRF, and our parent organization has been fantastic in not only advocating for issues we believe in, but also getting involved more locally in church/state legal cases. Local NARAL chapters and Durham Pride have also been local allies in hosting events that we feel advance a freer and happier future.
Jacobsen: As we transition more and more into 2019, what seems like the important activist activities now?
Smith: The religious right has seen a resurgence in the last few decades, and it is encroaching upon all of our lives. Secular voters make up a huge voting bloc, and we need to be more visible and vocal as we contact officials and let them know what we want. Many issues are at risk with administration officials like Mike Pence and many of the recently appointed Trump judges, including LGBT rights, refugee/asylum issues, and of course, the separation of church/state.
Jacobsen: Who have been the central opposition to the Freethought Triangle Society? I ask because, typically, this has been the case in most other secular or non-religious organizations. They develop and then a group directly opposes them locally.
Smith: I cannot say that we have any.
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?
Smith: We are an organization of several hundred and would LOVE to have more come join us. If anyone has the time or money to donate, or just wants to be a part of a community that advocates for everyone to be able to live free from myths, then please go to www.trianglefreethought.org, visit us on twitter at @freethoughtsoc, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?
Smith: Thank you for reaching out, and for advocating for our cause up in Canada. If you are ever in NC, be sure to come visit!
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Christopher.
Smith: It was a pleasure.
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.