“Mom, Dad: I’m an Atheist,” says Dillahunty
Last night Matt Dillahunty, host of the TV show “The Atheist Experience,” spoke about his role in the New Atheism movement. Born and raised a fundamentalist Christian of the Southern Baptist variety, Dillahunty is now president of the Atheist Community of Austin (ACA).
While studying to become a minister, his extensive study of the Bible had him asking himself one question over and over: do I know why I believe what I believe? The answer was no, and the more questions he asked of himself, the more clear it became: the religion he had been raised with was “a crock of shit.”
On “The Atheist Experience,” Dillahunty invites viewers to call in or come to the show to debate with him and ask questions. The goal is not to “unconvert” people, but rather to clear up misconceptions about atheism. Although, Dillahunty conceded, it is nice when it happens.
One way he tries to engage viewers is by offering the “Steak Dinner Challenge,” in which he encourages anyone to name him a benefit of religion that cannot be experienced by an atheist; if someone is successful, he promises to buy them a steak dinner… the table’s still waiting. While Dillahunty assured the audience that he makes every effort to be polite and respectful, “there’s no nice way to say ‘I think you’ve got an imaginary friend.’” In fact, one member of the audience who was familiar with the show commented that he “isn’t even that mean. You’re actually very relatively polite; look at Anne fucking Coulter.”
As president of the ACA, Dillahunty leads many exciting activities, which range from voter education sessions to solstice parties to the infamous “Godless Bar Crawl.”
One thing he hopes to achieve through the ACA and organizations like it is to provide a place for atheists to come together, especially in places where they may be rejected by their family and friends for their beliefs. Dillahunty even compared some atheists’ experiences to those of gay men or women that have to come out to their families. His own parents were deeply disturbed by his beliefs, though he describes his mother as “relieved” to finally figure out what had always seemed off about him.
The important message Dillahunty delivered was that being a true atheist can be like pursuing any philosophy; you have to be open and willing to be proved wrong. Says Dillahunty, “If I’m wrong, of course I want to know.”
So how about it—who thinks they can win a steak dinner?