Let me explain my background and history so we all have a better understanding of where this started.
I grew up in Chattanooga, TN in the 70s and 80s. I went to church at an early age but I never believed what the church taught. I thought everyone else was pretending to believe also. I found out I was mistaken. I quickly learned to stay quiet about my lack of belief. I tried to believe and be like everyone else but I just couldn’t do it. Looking back, I felt like an anthropologist sent to study this strange tribe of people who had this unusual belief.
In 1980 I started attending McCallie School. For those of you who don’t know, McCallie is a Christian school. Around the age of 13-14 I found a term for what I was: atheist. I knew that I didn’t believe in supernatural beings and that this was not the norm for behavior. Being in a Christian school didn’t make it any easier. I kept my beliefs to myself and just kept my head down.
After graduation I went to UT Knoxville. I reinvented myself but I did still keep my atheism mostly hidden. I had few discussions about it as most people were bothered by the idea that I didn’t believe as they did.
After college I went back to Chattanooga and started working. I never revealed my beliefs outside of close friends. For many years I stayed hidden in the closet and didn’t reveal myself. I felt I was the only atheist in Chattanooga.
Only within the last few years did I start speaking openly to friends and acquaintances about it. I first found out about the Chattanooga Freethought Association through a friend. After going to my first meeting I recognized quite a few people I had known over the years. It was definitely a relief to meet other people who I had things in common with.
Once I’d found a sense of community I heard the stories of other people in the CFA who were being harassed and distressed for their beliefs. I became more open about my beliefs outside the CFA. This was an effort on my part to counter the stereotypes that most people have about what atheists look and act like.
In late 2013, Tom Kunesh mentioned in a CFA post that he wanted to see about forming a group to meet more regularly. Richard Kephart and Jamie Watts also wanted to help form a non-denominational Sunday Assembly type of organization in town. I think it was me that came up with the name Chattanooga Humanist Assembly and we had our first meeting on February 9th, 2014. The group has been slowly picking up steam over the last two years and we continue to grow. A big thank you to everyone who has attended these meetings and an even bigger one to those who help us plan and organize these meetings.
I have switched my focus away from atheism specifically and focused more on Humanism. I do speak publicly (when asked) and will volunteer to speak at events. I want to make Chattanooga a safe place for all Humanists no matter what their beliefs.