We copied bits of the following bio for JT Eberhard from his personal website: JT Eberhard is the author of the popular blog What Would JT Do?, a contributing author for AtheismResource.com and the co-founder of the Skepticon annual conference. And, most importantly, JT is also self-proclaimed to be humanity’s best chance in a zombie apocalypse.
As a part of our “Many Voices” Q&A series, we had the fortunate opportunity to ask JT Eberhard a few questions:
Progress Planet: What do you do for a living? (if, that is, you’re not making your living from blogging!)
JT Eberhard: I am making a living from blogging. I also get paid as a speaker.
PP: How long have you been blogging?
WWJTD: About a decade now. I embarrassingly admit that I started on xanga, where I stayed for most of my blogging life. Last year, a friend set up wwjtd.net (for What Would JT Do?). That picked up a bit and that October I was invited to join Freethoughtblogs which, in my opinion, stands unchallenged as the highest quality network for atheist blogging. Just this month I left them for Patheos. I had quit my job and wanted to keep working in a way that contributes to the atheist movement and, frankly, Patheos paid more. I still have tremendous loyalty and gratitude to Freethoughtblogs.
PP: Why did you start blogging? Why do you continue to do it?
WWJTD: I was in an opera during college and some of the cast had xanga blogs. They nagged me until I begrudgingly got one. I named it after my character in that show because I never anticipated using it. Talk about being wrong…
I continue to blog because I’m like a little kid. If I have an idea or find something I think is awesome I just want to go running to everybody I can find saying “holy crap look at this!”
A few years ago, a mental illness of mine became much more severe. I struggled with it privately for a while and grew to understand how hellish problems like mine were when trying to fight through them on your own. By that time I had a decent following on my blog, so I decided to come out as an anorexic with major depression and to talk openly about how I was getting past it. Not only has that been a source of comfort for others, but it has turned out to be a remarkable source of comfort for me. Sure, there are people who don’t like what I have to say about their religion who use this potential weakness to try and attack me, but they are dwarfed by the supporters. So I guess I blog on mental illness because, like a little kid, I want comfort from my friends.
Lastly, I blog because I think ideas are important. I think the phrase “it’s just my opinion” when spoken of things like god or policy is one of the most irresponsible sentences ever conceived. I think beliefs determine our actions, and so we need to treat beliefs like their accuracy is extremely important. I like being pressed to do this with my own ideas and I like giving other people challenges to re-examine theirs.
PP: Why did you choose the name of your blog?
WWJTD: It’s a play on What Would Jesus Do? I think blasphemy is hilarious.
PP: What are your personal goals for your blog? What do you hope to achieve with it?
WWJTD: Honestly, I just want to write. I don’t like to constrain myself by saying that my blog is going to be about x, y, or z. I just want to be able to write freely about whatever is on my mind. If people like it, cool. If people don’t like it, also cool.
As my blog has become more popular, I’ve realized the utility of using it to motivate people and to pursue the type of changes I want to see in the world. In that vein, I use it to raise money for charities I support, to support burgeoning activists, and to hopefully inspire people to work towards change.
PP: What is one of the greatest things that’s happened to you as a result of being a blogger?
WWJTD: The mental illness thing. Bar none. Everywhere I speak now, I always have a few people come up to me to tell me that the mental illness writing and my honesty with it changed their life. It’s flattering and I’m still not sure how to react to the idea that I’ve had even a small influence on someone’s life, let alone a significant influence to so many people. The mental illness posts are undoubtedly the most difficult for me to write, but stuff like that reminds me that they’re among the most worthwhile things I’m doing with my life.
PP: What are some other blogs/websites you love to read for general interest and/or inspiration?
WWJTD: I always read Pharyngula and the Friendly Atheist (doesn’t every atheist on the internet?). I will also never miss a post on Dispatches from the Culture Wars (Ed Brayton), Blag Hag (Jen McCreight), Greta Christina’s Blog (Greta Christina), Richard Carrier’s Blog (Richard Carrier), Daylight Atheism (Adam Lee), and Almost Diamonds (Stephanie Zvan). Other blogs I really like, and will read when I can, are Crommunist Manifesto (Ian Cromwell, who is about the wittiest person alive), En Tequila es Verdad (Dana Hunter), and Ashley Miller’s Blog (Ashley Miller and Kate Donovan).
The people I tend to follow in blogs tend to not only be good writers but also good people. If someone’s a great writer but a terrible human being, I don’t read them.
PP: In your opinion, what stands in the way of peace in the world?
WWJTD: Irrationality and bad ideas. Most people want to do good, but many don’t. Unreason, in my eyes, is the culprit.
The example I often use is that of Madeline Neumann, who died of a completely treatable disease while her family and friends prayed. Never in the two weeks while Madeline’s condition declined did they summon an ambulance. The truth is inescapable: those parents murdered their child through neglect.
But they were not so much different from you or I in many key ways. They loved their daughter dearly, as much as you or I would love a child. They wanted their daughter to get well as much as you or I would want our own child to recover. Their problem wasn’t with intent, the problem was that they held a very bad idea about how the world worked that twisted their good intentions into horror.
Most people care about other people and want the best for humanity, but refining our beliefs and putting in the effort to ensure that they align as closely with reality as possible is a lot of work. It’s much easier to insist that you’re right. I think it is irrationality in politics, charity, and a host of other disciplines that keep us at war and keep us from working with one another, even as we all want what is best. But because we can’t agree on the facts, we have a hard time agreeing with what is best.
I think the primary foe of our effort to be better is religion. Of all the institutions in the world, the ones telling us that faith is noble, that we can believe things without evidence (or even contra to the evidence) and we would not be morally remiss for doing so, are the only ones who seem to be spreading the idea that it’s acceptable to be irrational (or that it’s even a good thing). To my eye, they are allowing for the corruption of the one thing with the capability of uniting humanity: our shared good intentions.
I guess that’s a large part of why I do what I do.
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