For the last year, I've been a contributing columnist to the Kansas City Star newspaper's "FaithWalk" column. I first got involved about two years ago when the first go-around of the column was started, and I sent an email to the Faith editor complaining about the lack of diverse views and beliefs (all of the contributors to the first year's columnists were Christian and consistently bland). After a few emails back and forth, the conversation stopped until the next year's group was being recruited.
I volunteered to join in the group as the "token atheist". I've tried to be consistent, courteous and respectful of the masses -- while maintaining my lack of faith, adherence to skepticism and rationality, and humanistic perspective. I'm going to re-post here in the next couple days the 4 columns I've gotten published so far, along with some of the comments and responses I got along the way.
All in all, it was an interesting and enriching experience. Because of the limits of the column length, I was forced to distill down to the essence of my views on each topic I wrote about, to the point where I had to review and revise nearly every sentence (several times) to get exactly the right emotion and expression I wanted in the column. I'd like to think I succeeded, although in each column there was always a few words/phrases that I might have changed after seeing it in the paper. Oh, well -- c'est la vie!
I tried to focus on the everyday aspects of my life and views, but to try and also keep the focus on where I derive those views and beliefs. The first two columns were on how I look at the world and the interactions, and that while I still feel an amazing awe and fascination with life and the universe, I don't need or require any gods to bow down to.
I followed those up with a short explanation for why I reject revealed religion and "holy texts" as divine. It was mostly focused on the fact that humans wrote all of them, and because we are finite and falliable, there is no way to reconcile or trust them with the truth.
The fourth column was a little more polemic, focusing on the "National Day of Prayer" and how I -- as a rationalist and atheist -- could effectively and humanely counter the superstition and ineffectiveness of prayer through a selfless act of blood donation.
In my final column (coming out in about two weeks), I focus on the emotional and painful trauma of a loved one dying. I posted a preliminary version of that just prior to this blog posting, so if you're interested, you can get a preview of what's coming up -- I'm sure it will generate a HUGE response, given the emotional topic and my contention that souls don't exist.
I've mostly been surprised that I haven't received any threats, personal attacks or overt discrimination because of the column. Most responders have been polite (if contrary) and curious. Although I've had a few that definitely don't agree with me, for the most part even the theists have been nice. I've even struck up a few good conversations with some of them (at least one to the point of considering it an acquaintance, if not outright friendship). The experience has made me better appreciate the humanity and caring that we all share, and I've learned that I don't need to be concerned with being an extreme minority in a country dominated by those who are different from me.