Meet Eryn’s ‘adorable atheist activism’ by Eryn Johnson

By Eryn Johnson

A warm hello to all of y’all and welcome to a world of activism and atheism of the adorable sort. I’ve lived in this state for a good while, and I certainly hope you’ll enjoy your stay.

This isn’t Vegas. What happens here isn’t meant to stay here. It’s meant to spread like wildfire until all the lifeless wood is burned to ash and the forest is renewed.

I was raised atheist by a brilliant father in the great red state of South Carolina. The only time to my knowledge that this state was considered ahead of its time was when it marched to the front of the line and became the first state to secede from the Union in 1860. The Confederate battle flag continued to wave over the statehouse until this past July when news of the surrender apparently trickled in from Appomattox.

I’m 36 with a son nearing his 18th birthday, and I have a drawl that can melt butter. A Southern spitfire will do what she wants when she wants and just how she pleases, and so I became an adorable atheist activist. I don’t remember exactly when I began calling my particular brand of nonbelief “adorable atheism,” but once I did it stuck.

I’m a Floridian now and attended my first FreeFlo conference in November in Orlando, where I was lucky enough to meet a bucketful of skeptical folks far wiser and kinder than I’ll ever be. I chatted with Seth Andrews, played trivia with Matt Dillahunty, enjoyed a little concert with Dan Barker at the piano and shared ideas with my new favorite altruistic attorney, Andrew Seidel. Thanks to him, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to share in this space some of the many tenets and traditions of my style of atheism.

As the “war on Christmas” rages around us, I am continuing our Giving Season, because it’s important to embrace our holiday traditions. This year we had a traditional feast on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, with a mostly atheist crowd of new friends here. One of the main topics was our potential response to the county sheriff plastering “In God We Trust” stickers on all the patrol cars.

We were doing “Friendsgiving” at our house while I was in college back in 2000, a single mother working as a tutor to make ends meet. My favorite students were always the foreign exchange kids, the ones with stories I’d never heard before.

After spending countless hours trying to drag non-native English speakers through a 10-page research paper, you really have no choice but to develop deep and meaningful friendships with them. Before long, the tutoring lab was always full, whether people needed tutoring or not.

Before you could say “midterms,” fall break fell and many of my favorite scholars found they either had nowhere to go or no means to get there. Unacceptable!

I went home, talked to my daddy and made a plan. Did we have the home or the money to host a big feast? Not no, but HELL NO! A divorce had inverted daddy’s pockets, but we did it anyway.

We asked all the foreign exchange students (if they could afford/manage it) to bring a traditional dish from their home country to pass. We handled the great American tradition: turkey, stuffing, “mershed perderders,” etc.

We also asked everyone to bring folding chairs or be really comfortable with the idea of sitting on the floor with the dog. The first year we hosted, there was a Canadian, a handful of Japanese girls, a strapping Bosnian, two Indians, three Kosovar refugees and a half-dozen good old fat, lazy ‘Muricans. Although we still called it Thanksgiving at the time, our tradition of Friendsgiving was born and it has grown every year.

The Giving Season

My college comrades and I sat around eating, intellectualizing and batting back and forth strategies to build a liberal utopia. In 2000, my bouncing baby boy Tad was just 2 tender years old. I had a deep desire to show him that there was so much more to life than material wealth and that helping our fellow man, and woman, was far more rewarding than any toy or present could ever be.

We’d never decorated, strung lights or put up a tree. We really didn’t have any traditions other than cooking a big meal on or around the Christmas holiday, a veritable repeat of Friendsgiving, but it was time to give birth to something more. Thus, the Giving Season was born, and there were no virgins involved, save my tiny son.

I decided that I would drag Tad along to help me with various service projects from the day after Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. I wanted to teach him the importance of giving. Notice I did not say giving back; I said giving. The point was to instill altruism for its own sake.

We started small, volunteering to help neighbors and friends with small projects. When my brother was deployed to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne, we started sending massive soldier holiday CARE packages (which we still do). We progressed to unfolding newspapers and scrubbing poop out of cages at our local Humane Society.

It was there that I spearheaded a junior group for ages 11 to 17 where I taught the importance of proper animal care (nutrition, vaccination, spaying and neutering) and the dangers of animal cruelty and neglect. We did a boatload of fundraisers where I put my son in a cage with a puppy and told people we couldn’t let either of them out until they raised enough money to save a fur baby. Shameless, I know, but it worked.

In first grade, he had to write what he would do if he got a million dollars for Christmas. His response was give it away to people who really needed it because he already had everything he needed. (We were paddling against the current pretty vigorously ourselves at the time!)

His very Southern, very Christian teacher called me, concerned that I was making him grow up too fast. If you asked him again today, he’d probably buy himself a better car, ask his mama if she needed anything, pay off my house even when I said no and give the rest away.
So if I leave you with nothing else, I must profess the greatest tenet of adorable atheist activism is this: “People first. Stuff later.”

Happy Giving Season, y’all.

FFRF member Eryn Johnson’s Florida home is often referred to as the Johnson House for Wayward Boys as she has opened her doors not only to atheists shunned by their families, but more recently to a cancer patient without means to medical care and a homeless transgendered youth. She always seems to find room for “just one more” in need of a soft place to land. Her favorite party crasher is a newly rescued Cane Corso (aka Italian mastiff). She named him Spaghetti, because what else would you name him?

Freedom From Religion Foundation