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The Minneapolis Star Tribune contacted me a few weeks back to see if I’d mind being featured in their “Believer” profile, a weekly sidebar in the Faith & Values section. Why not. They sent a few questions and gave me a 200-word limit. Here’s the result:

Dale McGowan, 44, Robbinsdale

Occupation: Writer.

Identifies as: Secular humanist.

Favorite work of music
Piano Concerto in G Major, Maurice Ravel. The whole bittersweet human comedy is in that one amazing piece.

What do you believe in?
This natural universe is all there is. We are all made of the same material as the stars, but unlike most of the stuff in the universe, we have the astonishing good fortune to be conscious for a short while. We should never stop dancing and singing in the face of that magnificent luck. We are cosmically insignificant, inconceivably unimportant — except to each other, to whom we should therefore be unspeakably precious.

Describe something your values have helped you navigate.
I’ve spent 30 years reflecting on my father’s death. Now that I’ve reached his final age, a naturalistic understanding of death has led me to fear it less. I’ll never experience death, since my death, by definition, will be the absence of me. I won’t be there — so what’s to fear? Our identities spring entirely from a constantly recomposed electrochemical symphony playing in our heads. Asking where my “self” goes when that electrochemical symphony ends is like asking where the music goes when an orchestra stops playing. We are living music. How wonderful is that?

Only two Baptists called to save me, followed by weeks of silence. I thought I was out of the woods — until today, when I received this letter:

Dear Dale,

I’m sending these booklets to you so that you know God loves you. When you die, you don’t die like a dog. You will go on forever!

I’m 74, & received Christ into my life at age 11. I’ve never regretted it for a minute.

Love, & Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus,
Virginia H—

Enclosed were two signs of God’s burning love for me: a Jack Chick tract, including this panel:


…and a second pamphlet:


She sent them, she said, so I could know God loves me.

If that’s God’s idea of love, Virginia…well, he can frankly go love himself.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.