‘Does everyone here really believe this stuff?’ By Tom Cara

Name: Tom Cara.

Where I live: Niles, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

Where and when I was born: Oak Park, Ill., in 1958.

Family: I have been married for 36 years to a wonderful and extremely patient woman. We also have two grown children.

Education: I received a B.S. degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and then a master’s degree in marketing communications from Roosevelt University in Chicago. My early years in college were spent in confusion, not knowing what I really wanted to do after realizing my first chosen major in the natural sciences was not within my academic capabilities. I then settled on a degree in sociology with a concentration in criminal justice, with the intention of becoming a police officer. Upon returning home, I concluded that law enforcement was perhaps not my cup of tea. Enter another state of confusion in my life regarding a career path. My father, who had been in the advertising business, suggested I give that a try. Because I had always enjoyed working with numbers and statistics, I was attracted to the demographic analysis component of the media planning side of the business. This compelled me to enter the marketing communications program at Roosevelt University.

Occupation: I am retired from a 30-year career in the advertising profession. I worked as a media planner/buyer, responsible for performing quantitative and qualitative research in making recommendations to clients on where they should place their advertising. Upon receiving my master’s degree, I was offered a position in the media departments of the Chicago offices of advertising firms J. Walter Thompson and Foote, Cone & Belding, where I worked on such accounts as the Quaker Oats Company, Gerber Foods, Northern Telecom Communications, S.C. Johnson, and Godfather’s Pizza. And yes, I did get to meet then Godfather’s President Herman Cain, long before he became a presidential candidate (although, as Mr. Cain would say so eloquently, “I don’t have facts to back this up!”).

After many years of working in the large corporate environment, I decided I wanted something a little more slow-paced, so I began working at smaller advertising/marketing shops in the suburbs.

When our children were young, I made the decision to become a private contractor, which allowed me to work out of our home and take care of our kids. I was self-employed for 17 years and retired at the end of 2013, although I still have a client or two who like to pull me out of retirement on occasion to do work for them.

I met with FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in the spring of 2012 to begin formation of the FFRF Metropolitan Chicago Chapter. I have served as president of this local chapter since its inception. Our group, with all its wonderful members, will be celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. Though I have enjoyed every minute of the challenge, even the operation of a small nonprofit can seem almost like a full-time job.

Person in history I admire and why: I’m not actually someone who likes to cast too much admiration on a single person. But if I were compelled to give a name, it would have to be Jonas Salk. The selfless gift he gave to humanity with his polio vaccine, and then sharing it with the world without any thought of personal gain, was the kind of humanistic act we need a lot more of in this world. His example of altruism is something all school children should be taught at the earliest age possible.

A quotation I like: “The pursuit of truth will set you free, even if you never catch up with it.” — Clarence Darrow. I can’t imagine this statement being more important than it is today.

Another quote I am fond of is by physicist Steven Weinberg: “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil. But for good people to do evil — that takes religion.”

These are a few of my favorite things: The Rocky Mountains; dogs; taking early evening walks with my wife; bicycling; model railroading (I have replicas of two FFRF billboards on my layout!); classical music (but not opera!).

I also very much enjoy having intellectual, rational, yet non-confrontational discussions about religious faith with believers. I get such a lift out of asking the faithful direct questions about why they believe what they believe.

These are not: People of religious faith who just automatically presume that everyone else shares a belief in their god; rude drivers; politicians who put party before country and personal ideology before the Constitution.

My doubts about religion started: While I was technically raised a Christian (Lutheran to be exact), religion was never high on the priority list in my family. My mother forced me to go to confirmation class during my two years of junior high, but we never went to church, or prayed at meals (except on an occasional Thanksgiving), or even bothered to mention Jesus at all during Christmas or Easter.

But my religious skepticism began taking hold during high school while taking a language arts elective called “Rhetoric and Logic.” For the class, we had to read the play “Inherit the Wind,” which, of course, is based on the Scopes “Monkey” trial. This was my first exposure to any questioning of the bible. It was then I started to realize how nonsensical it was to believe in our creation as the work of a biblical god. Once my mother began to suspect my growing skepticism, we had one serious discussion on the subject. She asked me how I thought everything came to be if not for God. So, I responded by asking her where God came from. She could not provide me with a satisfactory answer, and we never talked religion again.

For many years into my adulthood, I was what one would consider an “uneducated skeptic” who didn’t place much importance on my nonbelief. But interestingly, what truly drove me from religion was when our children were young and my wife began taking them to church and Sunday school. It was then I decided to finally give religion a try to see if I was missing something. It was my 10 years or so in the church that truly educated me as to the foolishness of these beliefs and rituals. As time went on, I would sit in the pew, looking around, asking myself, “Does everyone here really believe this stuff?” I also began to realize there was no substance behind what the minister was preaching — only words of comfort encouraging reliance on something that most likely doesn’t even exist.

And I also began to find it curious why all the less desirable passages in the bible were so conveniently ignored.

So, actually, it was my time spent in the church that compelled me to learn more about the origins of the major religions, which then led me to read Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. And the rest, as they say, is history! So, my journey from Christian identity to atheism was not as difficult as perhaps for most. It was not a painful breakup to leave Christ, since the guy was never a part of my life to begin with. I now proudly identify as an atheist to friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, or whomever, should they choose to inject their religion into my face. There is nothing today that generates more guilt within me than staying silent and allowing people to think I share their irrational beliefs.

Before I die: My goal before I return to oblivion is to finish writing the book I’ve been working on for the past four years, which is a personal deliberation on the irrationalism of religion. The purpose of the book is to encourage critical thinking among those of moderately religious faith, and those who are “on the fence” between faith and atheism. I also have an idea running through my head for a second book, which would be a fictional story with an atheist theme and protagonist.

Ways I promote freethought: Starting the FFRF Metropolitan Chicago Chapter has provided me with the greatest outlet to promote freethought. I am very proud of the accomplishments of the chapter, with our annual public forum displays in both winter and spring countering religious imagery and promoting nontheism, and also, the “Out of the Closet” billboard campaign we generated with the help of FFRF. I receive a great deal of inspiration from the incredible members of our chapter, who are some of the most honest, generous, helpful and rational people I have ever met, and make me proud to be a freethinker!

Freedom From Religion Foundation