Meet a Member: Pushing for freethought equality

Name: Joseph Richardson.

Where I live: Winter Garden, Fla.

Where and when I was born: I was born in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1963, but grew up in the Orlando area.

Family: Married for 26 years with three sons (23, 21 and 18 years old). And four cats.

Education: I graduated from Oak Ridge High School in Orlando, then started college at Renselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. I finished my B.S. in computer science/physics at SUNY Albany in 1986. That was followed up with an M.S. in computer science from SUNY Albany in 1988. Started, but never finished, a Ph.D., also at SUNY Albany.

Occupation: Software engineer working on a transaction processing system for college students.

How I got where I am today: A lot of the reason I’m where I am today is luck or being a white male in the United States. I’m not much of a planner. School, jobs, living situations, etc., often fell in my lap. Certainly I’ve worked for some things. But the older I get, the more I realize the advantages I’ve had that I did not earn.

Where I’m headed: I’d like to think I’m headed in a direction that, in some small way, reduces suffering, increases fairness, and makes the world a slightly better place. I’d be very happy if it ends up being a direction that other people look at and say, “I’d like to go that way, too.”

Person in history I admire and why: Richard Feynman. How can you not admire someone who wanted to decline a Nobel Prize?

A quotation I like: The one that motivates me is this: “Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity . . . the grave will supply plenty of time for silence.” — Christopher Hitchens.

These are a few of my favorite things: There are so many things I enjoy. Last year, I went on vacation with my wife and we spent two whole weeks hiking, bike riding, whitewater rafting, zip-lining and more. That was a very good time. But I also love movies, books, cats, science and wordplay.

These are not: Time zones (and don’t get me started on Daylight Saving Time). Also, anytime someone uses an argument from ignorance to justify their position.

My doubts about religion started: I grew up in the Assemblies of God. I remember having doubts when I was very young. Later, I switched to the Episcopal Church and managed to rationalize or liberalize or ignore those doubts until I was 49 years old. Then the doctrine of hell became dramatically more important when I found out someone close to me was an atheist. In the process of trying to rationalize, liberalize or ignore hell, I started learning some additional things . . . things about the bible, theology, philosophy, evolution, morality, etc. Over the course of five VERY difficult and painful months, I shed one doctrine after another. One day, I realized that I did not believe in anything supernatural anymore. And further, that I was no longer able to believe.

Before I die: I’d like to see an aurora borealis.

Ways I promote freethought: I serve on the board of the Central Florida Freethought Community. I write letters, speak before state and local meetings, maintain the CFFC website and social media sites, and help in many other ways. I also give talks in local churches explaining my views on freethought, atheism and the separation of state and church. And I give atheist/humanist invocations for local government meetings. I have been fighting with my city, Winter Garden, for almost four years now (starting within a week of Greece v. Galloway being handed down) to do an invocation at our City Commission meeting. I’ve spoken at more than two dozen meetings asking it to change its invocation policy, which allows it simply to pass over anyone it doesn’t like. At the moment, that means me. An unplanned part of this fight was getting kicked out of one Winter Garden City Commission meeting for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. It generated a ton of local press and some national attention, as well. I suppose that counts as promoting freethought.

Joseph Richardson