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Last week I posted a snarky bit about Eternal Earthbound Pets, an atheist-owned business that promises (for a reasonable fee) to care for your pets should they be left behind if/when you are raptured. The whole thing struck me as funny on multiple levels, from the potential for human clients to hope their atheist future pet-minders don’t get saved, to the atheist business owners accepting money for a service they don’t believe they’ll ever have to provide.
But I was also intrigued, because the guy behind the business seemed friendly, was a self-published author, and commented on my blog post. His first name is Bart, he’s known by the psuedonym Dromedary Hump, and he’s perfectly nice and not an evil godless communist or anything! (Except for, well, the “godless” part.) So I got in touch with Bart and asked him if I could interview him about his business and his beliefs, or lack thereof. Thought it would be really interesting.
I’m going to post the interview in two parts, just because our email discussion ranged longer than a typical blog post should. Enjoy.
JB: Tell me a little about yourself. Your blog states that you’re retired. What are you retired from?
Dromedary Hump: Senior VP of Internet & Catalog Sales Operations for the country’s largest upscale department store chain. Retired at 55. Vietnam vet. “Atheist in a foxhole.”
Wait. I thought there were “no atheists in foxholes.” Are you claiming that famous aphorism to be inaccurate? There has been at least one atheist in a foxhole?
Yes, and there are many more of us. In fact, Google “atheist in a foxhole” and you’ll find groups of veterans who fall under that category. President George H.W. Bush’s characterization of atheists as “not patriotic and probably not American” was a slap in the face to every non-believer who ever served his country. I was tempted by that statement to send in my Bronze Star, Army Commendation medal, and Combat Infantryman’s Badge when he said that…but I was too proud of my service to let a mindless comment from a religious fanatic permit me to overreact.
Religious people often have a testimony, which explains how they came to faith. Do you have a story behind your atheism? Were you raised a non-believer?
My folks were non-practicing Jews. Perhaps “Jewish Lite” would be a better description. I dismissed Santa Claus and God, etc., at a very early age, but didn’t realize the name of it was “atheism” until I was 19.
What misconceptions have you found Christians or other believers have about atheists?
That we are immoral or unethical because of not believing in myth and superstition that has no basis in reality; that we are not bound by the morality and behaviors that have evolved to produce our society that started way before the Judeo-Christian ethic.
Of course, as a Christian, I disdain these things, too. Lots of Christians, including me, struggle with the violence and weird stories/laws of the Old Testament. And I personally can’t think of anyone I know who thinks killing abortion doctors is anything but evil, or who considers homosexuals to be second-class citizens. That’s a classic straw man argument. (I could easily base all atheists on the immorality or inhumanity of Stalin and Hitler, and say “see where atheism leads?” but you’d never let me do that.) So I’m guessing there’s more to your repudiation of religion than immoral Christians or problems with the Bible. Can you elaborate further? For instance, what led to your childhood dismissal of both Santa Claus AND God?
Jason, you’re right. There is a tendency, when atheists decry the “unChristian” like acts of some, to lump all Christians together. It’s patently wrong. I don’t mean for my perspective to come across that way. Most people I know are believers. They have nothing but my respect and admiration and love for who and what they are as people. They live their faith and like Jesus said…pray in private, don’t make a show of their faith, nor force it on others.
Reverend Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, is a Christian. He happens also to be my hero. I value what he has done to protect the rights and freedoms of all Americans, believers and non-believers, even more so than I respect the “icons” of atheism like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, et al.
Sorry to say I have no breakthrough moment that made me a realist/atheist. I know how much Christians love to attribute being an atheist to something like: “If a Christian hurt you at some time, I’m sorry.” Or my other favorite Christian platitude: “Why are you angry at God?” Nope, sorry. No Christians hurt me, nor am I any
more angry at God than I am at Moby Dick or any other character of fiction.
I was always an avid reader. I guess my Jewish heritage — which places great value on learning and education — rubbed off on me, although I reject the absurd laws and rituals and the necessary supernaturalism inherent with Judaism. I always read a lot about history, science, ancient myths, philosophy, comparative religion. With reading comes questioning, knowledge, understanding…and reason.
Martin Luther summed it all up when he said: “Reason is the enemy of faith.” I’ve accepted reason over faith as the only reality since I was in my teens.
Tell me about your book, The Atheist Camel Chronicles.
I’m proud that in just two months my book has gone viral on the net, and been touted on major freethinker websites, and roundly received positive reviews on Amazon, and from bloggers internationally. It’s been in the top 10 to 40 atheist-themed books on Amazon since its publication in late June (out of 70,000 such books).
It looks like you used Amazon’s BookSurge as a publishing partner on the book. I get a lot of questions asking my opinion on self-publishing or going the agent/publisher route. Why did you make the decision to self-publish? Have you been pleased with BookSurge?
Well, I’m a first time author…totally unknown except to my blog followers. I hardly expected publishing houses to come rushing to an unknown and make an investment in me, especially for a niche market kind of book. My wife reminded me that John Grisham, and Beatrix Potter (of Peter Rabbit fame) — among other famous writers — had their first books self-published. It encouraged me to make the small investment. It’s paid off very well. I’d do it again and would encourage any first-time writer who has some confidence in the value of what they have to say to self-publish. My next book, which I’m planning for 2011, will likely be picked up by a publishing house based on the success of The Atheist Camel Chronicles.
BookSurge was great. Excellent team. They held my hand all the way through and met every time frame and commitment they made.
Your personal blog mentions that your “saintly and much put-upon wife of 39 years” is an Episcopalian. After 39 years, I’m guessing you two have a pretty solid marriage. How does that relationship work? Are there aspects of living with a believer that you find difficult? Or is it more challenging for her to live with a non-believer? How do you deal with those significant differences?
Actually, it’s never been an issue. Naturally, my outspoken views sometimes drive her crazy…but its not limited to religion. I’m outspoken on everything. She knows when to turn me off, and how to shut me up. After 39 years and having raised two grown sons together, I doubt we’ve discussed religion as it relates to our union more than ten times. While she was raised Episcopal, and calls herself that, she’s non-practicing. She’d probably classify herself as “Episcopal-agnostic,” truth be told.
Let’s stop here. Come back tomorrow for part 2 of the interview, in which we discuss Bart’s Eternal Earthbound Pets business, we debate the legitimacy of the service he offers, and he gives his opinion on what Christians are doing right.
A note about comments. Feel free to comment on anything the two of us discuss in this post (and tomorrow’s as well) but please keep it civil. I want this to be a friendly, honest discussion. Disagreement with either me or Bart is fine, but don’t be a jerk about it. Meanness will not be tolerated.