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Interview with Chris Johnson, Author of A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy and Meaning in a World Without God

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Humanist Network News is pleased to support a new book project created by New York photographer and filmmaker Chris Johnson. A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy and Meaning in a World Without God will be a printed photography book of atheists across the United States. Each portrait will be paired with a short message from the subject about some aspect of joy, meaning or passion in life. It could focus on the love of a beautiful relationship, the joy of a rewarding career, the pleasure of a treasured pastime, or any other topics. Chris is currently raising funds on Kickstarter in order to help make the book a reality.

The goal of the book, according to Chris, is to dispel the common misconception that the lives of nonbelievers are somehow emptier or less meaningful. Chris hopes this book will serve as an inspiration for those who are afraid to “come out” as an atheist.

Chris Johnson’s photography has been seen in The New York Times, and he’s the recipient of the Kodak Award for Excellence in Filmmaking. He received his undergraduate degree in film production (along with a minor in religious studies) from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec.

HNN was pleased to interview Chris about his book project:

HNN: How did the idea for your book come about?

Chris: I was on a road trip this past summer with my brother, and he suggested that I put together a book of my photography. We had spent much of that trip visiting various national parks in the United States and Canada, and we had been struck with awe at the natural beauty surrounding us. In light of these experiences, we began to reflect on our view of the world and on how we, as atheists, derive so much joy and inspiration from spending time in the outdoors, admiring the wonders of the earth. Sadly, these sorts of experiences are not understood by the majority of Americans. I do not mean to say that most people aren’t inspired by the natural world but that most people can’t understand how atheists can draw so much joy and meaning from the beauty of a world without God. They believe that atheists can have no meaning or joy in their lives, that somehow they cannot love, or that they cannot appreciate the wonders of the world without thinking they were created by God. I conceive of my book as an artistic response to these views that will invite people to open minds to the possibilities of joy and meaning in a world without God.

HNN: How long have you worked on the book so far?

 Chris: I've been working on the book sporadically since July, but full-time for the past three months.  It's completely taken over my life, but it is the most exciting and important project I’ve ever been a part of.

HNN: What's the most interesting thing you've learned about atheists in general? Can you share a particularly surprising story about someone you have interviewed already?

Chris: Since I am still in the fundraising phase, the part of the project that involves interviews has not yet begun. Nevertheless, I have learned at this stage that atheists are drawn to the opportunity to share their stories and the diverse ways in which their lives have meaning. Really, I've been very excited to hear the positive reactions I've gotten so far for this project. Julia Sweeney, for example, sent me a very enthusiastic email in response to my request that she appear in the book.  It's a wonderful feeling to combine several areas of interest for me in a single project as well as speak with people in the community whom I respect and admire.

HNN:  Were you raised in a particular religion? When did you decide to become an atheist?

Chris: Having been raised in a very liberal environment in Seattle, I grew up in secular surroundings. My father is an agnostic-theist and my mother an atheist, so I did not experience a religious upbringing. In some sense, I have always been an atheist. I can't remember a moment when I “became” a non-believer. Always a skeptic of course, I once read a children’s bible version of Genesis and asked my father, "What about the dinosaurs?" I have always been very interested in religion, and ended up minoring in religious studies at Concordia University, which has a great religion department.

HNN: What do you want this book to achieve?

Chris: In response to the view that atheists’ lives are necessarily empty and as a reply to the vilification of atheists by politicians, pundits, religious leaders, and celebrities, I am creating this book of photography to show that joy and meaning can indeed be found in the lives of non-believers, not in spite of their atheism but because of it. I want to capture beauty in the lives of atheist men and women because I believe that we can be people whose love for this life opens onto extraordinary levels of joy and meaning.

 

Readers of HNN and supporters of Chris Johnson’s book project are encouraged to donate to see this project become a reality. Chris has started a fundraiser on Kickstarter, the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. There are four ways to help spread the word:

  1. Email your friends asking them to visit Chris’ Kickstarter page or www.theatheistbook.com
  2. Share the Kickstarter page on Facebook or Twitter
  3. “Like” Chris’ book project on Facebook at www.facebookcom/theatheistbook
  4. Share and repost the promotional videos on his site

We also encourage you to pledge a gift---Chris has already raised over $7,000 for the project! A donation of $50 includes a hardcover copy of the book.

Chris is available for any questions or comments at chris@theatheistbook.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @theatheistbook

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