Farmington man helps atheists find a voiceIt’s not always easy being a nonbeliever. In a society where personal faith is still important to many, people who identify themselves as atheists often worry how they’ll be perceived if friends, family or employers find out they don’t believe in God.
By: Nathan Hansen, The Farmington Independent
It’s not always easy being a nonbeliever.
In a society where personal faith is still important to many, people who identify themselves as atheists often worry how they’ll be perceived if friends, family or employers find out they don’t believe in God.
Bill Lehto knows what that’s like. He’s been active in the Minnesota atheist community for the past three years, but there are still members of his family he wouldn’t want to know about his lack of faith. The Farmington resident describes the act of announcing your atheism as coming out, and he knows many people who have been disowned by their families when they have announced their nonbelief.
Now, Lehto is turning to his background in the publishing industry to help atheists get their message out. Last year he founded a publishing company, Freethought House, specifically to publish a collection of essays by Minnesota atheists. Money from sales of the book, called Atheist Voices of Minnesota, will benefit the group Minnesota Atheists.
“I’ve gotten a lot out of this community,” said Lehto, who got involved with local atheists through a group on networking website meetup.com. “This is kind of a way for me to do something for the community that uses my skills and knowledge. I don’t think there’s been anything done like this.”
Lehto has worked for the past eight years as operations manager for a small publishing company that puts out about 12 books a year. He brought the idea for Atheist Voices of Minnesota to Minnesota Atheists in January of 2011 and put out a call for submissions in May. He founded Freethought House last summer.
Lehto received 55 submissions for the book and ended up using 35. He started out expecting to publish a handful of long essays, but ended up with more, shorter stories.
The submissions cover topics including losing faith, coming out as an atheist and life as an atheist. All 35 are personal stories from the authors’ lives.
The idea was not to be anti-religion, but to let the authors explain why they believe what they believe.
“I think we have a nice collection,” Lehto said.
For Lehto, this book might be just the beginning. He hasn’t decided yet if he will continue to publish books through Freethought House, but he’s already had some interest. He has had 10 submissions from authors since he founded the company last year. He hasn’t signed any additional authors yet. He’s waiting for the right kind of project, and he figures interest will pick up when his first book comes out in August. He is looking for something interesting and something that has a big enough market to make it worth publishing.
With authors like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins gaining popularity, there are more outlets than there once were for atheist thought. But Lehto believes there is room for more.
It’s one more voice to add to the conversation.