Dean Smith is the Founder of the Society of the Midlands. Here we talk about him and some of the work of the society (FSM).
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is the family background? How is this important for understanding the context of family life?
Dean Smith: I was raised Pentecostal, spoke in tongues and everything. I didn’t become an atheist until I was in my mid-thirties.
Jacobsen: When was the Freethought Society of the Midlands founded? What were some of the guiding principles?
Smith: The FSM was founded as a Meetup in 2003 under the name Agnostics, Atheists, and Freethinkers of the Midlands. The idea was that it would be a way for like-minded Freethinkers to meet and socialize.
Jacobsen: What is the difference between the Drinking Skeptically and the more topical meetings?
Smith: Drinking Skeptically is in a restaurant that serves alcohol, though most of us don’t drink much. There’s no topic, agenda, or business; just socializing. I heard of a similar event when I attended the Amazing Meeting several years ago and we copied it.
Jacobsen: What have been some coordinated political and social actions with the surrounding communities and organizations of the Midlands?
Smith: Some of our members participate in Atheists Helping the Homeless and /or make donations to that local cause. Occasionally we will collect donations for other local charities like Sister Care. Our primary purpose is to provide a community for Freethinkers.
Jacobsen: What makes a freethinkers group, potentially, more able to play with a wider range of ideas than others?
Smith: Because we’re almost purely a social group, we connect with all kinds of people, and entertain seriously all kinds of ideas. If something is supported by evidence and reason, the principles of free thought require us to take it seriously. Nothing is automatically wrong just because it doesn’t fit whatever worldviews we may have in place.
Jacobsen: What is Atheists Helping the Homeless?
Smith: AHH is a cause championed by our member and founder of Palmetto Atheists, Steve Weston. The purpose of the group is to assist homeless people with necessary sundries while also kind of pointing out that atheists help people too. It’s a nationwide charity that Palmetto Atheists and FSM support.
Jacobsen: What is the FSM Kiva Team?
Smith: Kiva offers a conduit to provide small loans to disadvantaged persons and groups so they can improve their lives, such as by helping buy seed for crops or equipment for a business. FSM has a Kiva Team and members have made dozens of loans over the years through the team.
Jacobsen: What have been the important developments of the community over time?
Smith: FSM has been around for 16 years, and in that time has grown from a small group meeting once a month in a coffee/dessert bar to having over 50 active members who attend at least one of our several monthly meetings. We have become moRe gender diverse and have more family involvement than the sort of ‘boys club’ we were in our first few years.
Jacobsen: How does the work of the Freethought Society of the Midlands make the news if at all? If so, why? If not, why not?
Smith: I think we may have made a human interest story once or twice, but I don’t remember any details. We haven’t sought publicity, we have members who don’t feel they can afford the consequences of being outed as atheists, usually professionally or at home, so we don’t do much to raise our profile.
Jacobsen: Any recommended authors, organizations, or writers?
Smith: I personally would recommend The Case Against God by George Smith (no relation).
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?
Smith: When I started the group, I had read that atheists on average didn’t live as long as theists. A little more reading showed that wasn’t true in Western Europe. At the time I was 42 and had knowingly met only two other atheists my whole life. I thought that might be part of the reason for the difference in lifespans, that in America it was harder for atheists to connect with like-minded people and that lack wasn’t good for them. But with tools like Meetup and Facebook, there was a new way to reach out and arrange to meet IRL, even in religiosly conservative state like South Carolina.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dean.
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.
Canadian Atheist 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, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists,American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.