Name & Location
Patrick Inniss, downtown Seattle
How long have you considered yourself an Atheist?
If you count my years as an “agnostic,” I’d have to say since about 1970, give or take. I remember telling a girlfriend in 1973 that I was an atheist, so I know I had transitioned to that term by then, a little “a” atheist, at least.
How do you prefer to describe your non-belief?
Atheism is such a simple, natural perspective for me that it almost needs no description. At least that’s the way it feels. When talking to other atheists, there really isn’t much to say about your non-belief. I actually prefer to term myself a transhumanist. Transhumanism generally implies atheism, or at least a disbelief in a spiritual afterlife, and, in contrast to “atheist,” it says a lot about what you do “believe in,” which would be the central role of science and technology in providing answers to many of the issues formerly addressed by religion.
Can you describe a personal event or discovery that had a major influence on your non-beliefs?
I can’t really point to a eureka moment, but I can certainly say that the cumulative effect of my experiences as a Catholic school boy, and especially an altar boy, disabused me of any notion that the so called “sacred” was anything to do with some sort of actual transcendency. It was truly a case of familiarity breeding contempt. And being a black person in a Eurocentric church was especially useful in catching the illogic and hypocrisy of the institution and its underlying philosophy in an inescapable crossfire of critical thinking.
Why did you join Seattle Atheists?
That’s kind of a trick question since I helped found the organization. But I keep joining because I think that freethought groups have a great deal to contribute to society. It is essential that our perspective be presented. We have a lot to contribute to dialog on a wide range of issues, and organized groups can be essential in that process.
What do you consider to be a common misconception about atheists?
Incredibly, some people confuse us with Satanists. That’s about the dumbest. But one of the most common and annoying is that we know nothing about religion and if we were just exposed to a little skillful preaching, some kind of holy light bulb would go off and we’d be “saved.” But then, sometimes I catch myself thinking that the same process in reverse would work on believers. It just ain’t that easy, I’m afraid.
What is the meaning of life?
To know the meaning of life, on a cosmic level (I avoid use of the term “spiritual” at all costs), you’d really need to understand the universe and our place in it, which is still under some considerable debate. The satisfaction that we had for decades with the “big bang theory” and the reasonably comprehensible resolution it provided the questions of where we came from now seem to be dissolving into yet more layers of uncertainty and speculation. This is not to say that even when we thought we were closing in on knowing how the universe started that it really provided any profound insights regarding meaning, aside from its disappointing absence in anything we learned. At the other end of the scale, we are also still far away from knowing how the brain really works and understanding the rudiments of some of our most basic perceptions and behaviors. In view of our continued ignorance about how we got here and what makes us tick, I don’t feel too bad not being able to answer the question why we are here, or what it all means. So whenever anyone says they know a general “meaning of life,” my bullshit detector starts bouncing off the pegs. But that doesn’t make me a nihilist. On a more day-to-day level, which, after all, is where we really operate, there are many meaningful things in life, things that are important to our happiness and welfare.
What are 1 or 2 of your favorite atheist-related websites?
I’m a big fan of irreverent, blasphemous humor, so I’d have to say the Landover Baptist site (www.landover.org) and the associated Betty Bowers site. But in terms of a resource site for freethinkers, I like a site maintained by a guy in Portland, www.positiveatheism.org. And of course www.infidels.org has become pretty much the gold standard for freethought content.
If you could have a serious discussion or debate with one living person in the world, who would it be?
I’d have to say George Bush. It’s highly doubtful that he ever gets an earful from anyone with such a divergent perspective. And I probably would not go out of my way to bend his ear about religion, but I’m sure it would come up in the process of me haranguing him on his Mideast policy. It’s almost certain that I’d fail to open his mind at all, but if I had the opportunity I’d have to take a shot. Not to just pick on Bush, though — heck, it’s hard to think of any world leader who is really a person of vision. At this point in history we need futurists, but instead we are largely stuck with a bunch of people preoccupied with the past. Of course, I attribute a lot of that to religion. But then I attribute religion to the way the human brain is wired. “But,” you ask, “if that is the case, why are there atheists?” Mutants!!!
Share a favorite quote.
One of my long-time favorites has been this one from H. L. Menken (and yes, I know the guy was kind of an ass):
“The cosmos is a gigantic fly wheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him the ride.”
But let me give you another:
“Ferengi Rule of Acquisition # 104: Faith moves mountains . . . of inventory” — Quark