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My name is Travis Morgan.

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Rockford Higher Criticism Examiner Interview

John F. Felix, the Rockford Higher Criticism Examiner at Examiner.com has interviewed me. The interview can be read here.

And the complete question/answer interview is below.

What is your family background? Do you come from a religious, freethinking, or atheist family?

My parents separated when I was an infant. Growing up, I bounced back and forth living between them. My mother went to Catholic school when she was a child, but she never spoke of religion or the idea of god to me as I grew up. When I lived with my father I went to church with him and my stepmother (she wanted to the whole family to go), but we rarely spoke of the subject at home. At the time, I was a bit skeptical of the whole thing, but trusted elders, so I didn’t attempt to question them.

Do you have siblings who think the same way as you do? Is there a family member that you admire, has had profound influence on you or that you consciously/unconsciously emulate?

I have a stepsister but we have lost contact over the years and I do not know her thoughts on the subject. I’ve been trying to locate her but have been unable to so far. There really isn’t a family member I can say I admire, but my mother’s alcoholism and my father’s perfectionism and temperament had a significant influence on me in the sense that I learned from their character flaws and mistakes in life. Instead of falling victim to these same things, I learned from them and avoided these errs.

In general, is your family opposed to you or supportive, or mixed?

My wife supports my right to disbelieve but prefers I not talk about it. Anytime I bring up a discussion about it and state my arguments against the claim that a god exist, she immediately misinterprets this as me simply being intolerant of others beliefs. My mother knows I’m an atheist and has not expressed an objection to it and has shown approval that it makes sense. I don’t know if my father even knows, I haven’t talked to him about it, and he has not questioned me. I suspect he knows if he has read my blog, but he has said nothing about it.

In the area of non-belief, is there anyone you most admire in the world-at-large or has been the greatest influence on you?

I came to atheism on my own without any significant public figure influencing me. In my late 20’s, I became especially passionate about seeking truth and “keeping it real.” Quickly, I learned the most accurate methods to arrive at truth and/or reality was through evidence, logic, and reason. I learned not to be fooled by my previous appeals to emotions. I studied and learned common logical fallacies and appeals. With this, I soon became a skeptic of things that I never gave much thought to before. This led to my atheism as well as skepticism, and objections to the concept of free-will. It wasn’t until after I had already come to disbelief that I started looking for other that were likeminded. About the same time, Richard Dawkins released his book, “The God Delusion” which eloquently supported many arguments I had already formulated on my own. I also have been fond of Gandhi, particularly his passion for the pursuit of truth. I am also partial to Christopher Hitchens. I especially like to watch him debate. I admire his wordsmithing skills.

Tell me about your hometown…what you think of it, how it relates to Rockford (i.e., do people frequent the “big city” when they get bored, or something), how often do you go there, and maybe some cool or little-known fact about Roscoe that makes you proud (or not) to live there.

Roscoe is a small town with little to do other then what ever you concoct yourself. My wife would laugh if we took a trip to “Rockford” and called it the “big city.” She still considers it country since she comes from living in the middle of Naha City, Okinawa, Japan. Having been in Naha myself I can see her point. I work in Rockford, so I go there all the time. The only thing I know about Roscoe that is special is that Danica Patrick, the female Indy car driver is from there. I’m not into racing much, but it’s something.

List your top 3-5 favorite artists and/or musicians/bands. Feel free to elaborate (or not) on why.

My favorite music artist is “Will Bevan,” who is more popular known as, “Burial.” His music is typically classified in the dubstep\grime genre. I tend to like dubstep because of the syncopated beats complimented by grimy bass and mysterious melodies. There is something about it, and Burials tracks specifically, that to me, reflect the seemingly chaotic yet orderly motion of our lives.

Other music artist I am also fond of are Bjork, Hifana, The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Massive Attack, and, Mary Anne Hobbs. Most of which are not dubstep, but reflect the same feeling to me as I noted above.

How long have you been a non-theist? Is it possible that you might change your views in the future? If yes, what would it take?

I have been an atheist for only about 5 years now. I didn’t even bother to challenge the idea until about then. I had never really given it much thought. I was never very religious nor did I think much of the idea of god, but when I started to have a deep passion for truth, reality, and “keeping it real,” the idea of a god existing was one of the first things I was skeptical of.

If evidence were to present itself in the future, yes, I would consider changing my view. My motto is to follow the evidence wherever it leads me. But for now, I have not been presented with any evidence that supports the claim that a god exist.

Are you open about your non-belief? Do you sometimes hide this fact? Do you advertise your lack of religious faith, or only when the subject comes up? Do you like to debate your worldview with others?

I am open about my non-belief. I do not hide it, but I also don’t advertise my absence of belief, I usually only talk about it when the subject comes up. Though I do love to debate my worldview with others, particularly, because I find such discussions to be healthy and intellectually enlightening. I often do so in public philosophy forums. I consider myself a philosopher of sorts in that I seek truth and find myself philosophizing all the time. In a debate, my aim is not necessarily to win the argument, but rather to come closer to the truth. Sometimes that means I must change my views, and other times the debate can lead to confirming views I already hold. I will change as necessary to take out the trash, and come closer to understanding reality.

What kind of people are your close friends? Do they share your views and interests, or are your dearest friends of a diverse background of beliefs and occupations? Are you social and out-going or introverted?

I tend to be introverted and spend most of my time tending my family. I am married with four kids, kids who spend a lot of time at soccer practices, games, Japanese school, American school, homework, and are busy with other extracurricular activities. I keep very busy and have little time to hang out with friends. I lost touch with most of my friends after I joined the Marines anyway, when I came back from the Marines I was married with a child. The free time I do have outside of these things, I spend on making music, art, websites, studying philosophy, and other artistic and creative endeavors. The friends I do keep in touch with are indeed of diverse backgrounds and beliefs. Typically, they are friends that my wife and I share, other Japanese and American couples with kids. The topic of belief and/or disbelief has only come a few times with them and usually ends short as they are not usually interested in the topic enough to discuss it in depth.

Are you currently married? If you are, do you share your beliefs with your partner, including raising of children? If not, in your romantic life, would you date non-theists, or ultimately marry one? If you think you will have or do have children, is raising them non-theist from the beginning essential? Do you have any advice for theistic parents of atheist children?

Yes, as I mentioned, I am married and have shared my beliefs and absence of beliefs with my partner. My wife has not been interested in putting much thought into the topic of theism or atheism and doesn’t care to even talk about it much. As far as our four children, I teach them how to think, not what to think. I teach them the importance of reason, logic, problem solving, evidence, etc… I typically form a type of Socratic dialog with them so that they can learn how to formulate their thoughts and come to a conclusion themselves. I believe with these skills, this will allow them to formulate their own opinions and ideas about their world and lives. I have not told my children that a god does not exist, I tell them that daddy doesn’t believe believers claim that a god exist, and when they asked why, I gave them my reasons. I also tell them that some people do believe. I give them the tools to make their own conclusions. We exchange healthy dialog and I encourage them to ask questions.

My advice to theistic parents with atheist children is to be open with your children and talk to them about the subject. Hear them out without bias. Be interested in why they came to the conclusion they have. If you can’t come to the same conclusion, you don’t have to, just accept your differences. Above all, be understanding.

What began your interest in producing art/music? Were you always art-focused, or are you creative in general, only later focusing your skills? Does art/music come easily or do you have to work hard to produce to your satisfaction?

I have always been naturally creative and artistic. I’ve had creative and artistic tendencies since I can remember. It wasn’t until after I got situated and organized in my life that I allowed myself to pursue art and music. I joined the Marines right out of high school with the understanding that since I was from Illinois, they would pay for college. While in the Marines, I was trained as a computer specialist in Quantico, VA and then was later stationed in Okinawa, Japan where I met my wife. I held the position of Computer Specialist my entire career in the Marines and was promoted to Sergeant before I was honorably discharged at the end of my term. While in the Marines, I did little to no artwork, I was engulfed by the military lifestyle. However, those computer skills served me well later for my career as well as for my artistic pursuits. Things change, and instead of going to college as I planned, I got married, had kids, and got a civilian job in Information Technology with a local company. With that, comes the daily family routines, and in-between these routines, and staying up late at night is when I found time to release my creative passions through the mediums of music , art, and poetry.

How would you describe how you feel:

  • While you create
  • After you’ve created something you are pleased with
  • When experiencing reactions of others to your works

It is a release for me to create. It releases the stress from the day, from the routines, from tending the family. For those moments, I feel free (which is interesting since I am a determinist), I feel I am letting it all out, my expressions, pains, passions, fears, sorrows, struggles, etc… are released and expressed in my creations. I feel satisfied when I have created something I am pleased with, I feel I have made progress, that I have made a difference in the world somehow. I am especially pleased when others are touched by my work, I feel I have made a positive difference in their lives, I feel valued and appreciated, and this motivates me to want to create even more.

Are any of the states above “spiritual” or do you have a different explanation of the affect of art and music on human beings (purely subjective or in someway objectively important)?

These “spiritual” feelings that people have I believe are completely naturalistic and I feel are felt in moments of temporary enlightenment, of “awe,” of being in touch with something. I feel these moments are caused by how close we feel to an experience, how it touches us, by how well we understand it. Our brains are great at recognizing patterns, and when we see a piece of art or hear a piece of music, our brains immediately attempt to find meaning in them, and how it relates to our previous experiences. The longer one has been around, the more experiences they have, the easier it is for the brain to make connections to something. And when our brains do make a connection with a piece of music or art, the feelings it causes us are subjective in that it will cause different people different feelings relative to those persons past and current experiences up to that point.

Do have any opinion on the following views:

Pantheism

I tend to agree with pantheism that there is only nature, and/or the universe, (and that nature and the universe are one and the same) but I don’t like applying the label of “god” to that. The term, “god” has already been hijacked by the theist to mean a deity, so I think to call nature, “god” only causes more confusion. I don’t care to reclaim the term “god” to refer to nature, It’s not needed. I’d rather call nature, “nature” and disbelieve in the existence of a “god,” when it is defined as a deity.

secular humanism

I am totally pro secular humanism as a guide for humanity . My only concern is that the focus is only on humans. I am also concerned about the well-being of other species as well, not only humans. After all, we depend on other life to support our own species.

theistic evolution

I believe this applies to theist who admit to evolution but still don’t want to let go of their theistic beliefs. It reminds of the person who admits to causality, but doesn’t want to let go of their idea of free-will. Both types of people claim the two are compatible, but when you examine the details, there are an abundance of contradictions.

separation of church/state

Necessary to limit church and religious influence and bias in government affairs and laws.

Are religious tendencies biologically “hardwired” or serve any naturalistic/evolutionary function? If yes, how determined are humans by biology? sociology/ideologies? economics? national culture?

I am a determinist. I believe we are conditioned and ultimately determined by our environment. I do not believe we have free-will. I think that we are completely determined by causality, by our environment, and the things you listed – sociology, ideologies, economics, and national culture. I think most people who are religious these days were raised and conditioned to be religious. I think the religious meme has lasted as long as it has because it proposes comfortable answers for what otherwise would be uncomfortable unknowns. It also proposes some objective meaning to peoples lives, it gives them an objective purpose, something to drive towards to. Many religions also sell living beyond death, and since many people fear death, as it is the greatest unknown, and unknowns scare people, buying into a religion that sells life after death comforts them. Man’s basic instinct is to survive. So religions product of beating death even appears to take advantage of this primal instinct. There are many conditions, causes, and determinants that drive people’s religious tendencies. Biological, I’m not sure, environmental, absolutely.

A good example of how we are conditioned by our environment is as easy as recognizing how different we would be had we of been born in and grew up in a different country, and country that sponsored different beliefs and culture. We would be shaped by that society and believe in the things it conditioned us to believe just as passionately as we believe the things we do now.

Do atheists have “moral” obligations, e.g., to support universal healthcare? Why or why not?

I don’t believe atheists have no more or no less obligation than anyone else to support universal healthcare. Health care solutions should be everyone’s concern, not only atheists.

Is freedom of religion the same or different from freedom from religion?

Technically, I think that “freedom of religion” could be interpreted to include “freedom from religion” or not. However, in the context it was written in, I do think that its meaning was intended to include “freedom from religion.” The religious often strangely argue this point as though they’d rather you be any religion even if it opposes their own as long as you don’t choose no religion. But I think the point of “freedom of religion” is on giving the person the rights and freedom to choose for themselves, even if that means not choosing a religion.

What are your political views?

I tend to stay out of politics. It seems it would only give me a headache. The current state of politics seems terribly corrupt and dishonest. I feel I would be tarnished by it if I were to get into it.

Do you belong to any atheists groups? If so, what are the character of these groups: friendly social get-togethers? issue and protest orientated? Do you support any local or national groups financially?

I frequent the RichardDawkins.net forums as well as centerforinquiry.net forums. I listen to Point of Inquiry podcasts as well as the Philosophy bites Podcast. I am a member of atheistnexus.org and designed their website for them. Some of those are more secular oriented then atheist oriented. I am not a member of any local atheist groups, pretty much because I can’t find any local groups. I have not supported any of these groups financially (Married with four kids on one income leaves little left), but I have offered my design services to them complimentary.

What ultimately would be more important to you, art or music? Which came first? What work are you the most proud of, or are all your creations equal to you?

Well, music is art, the art of sound, but I know what you mean. First I started designing websites, then I moved on to graphic design, and then onto music, and I even started writing poetry in there somewhere. But I wouldn’t consider any one more important than the other. They were building blocks that just led from one to the other all equal in value. Different mediums that allow me to express my creativity in different ways. All my creations are equal to me. They are all parts of me, or footprints if you will. Though some of my creations have proved to be more popular than others to the public. My track, “Café Connection” was a hit that has been shared around the net and featured in 20+ videos. Eddie Bauer contacted me to purchase one of my graphic designs, and other reputable organizations and individuals have taken advantage of my creative abilities.

What artistic medium do you believe has more or the most impact on others’ beliefs, perceptions, emotions, etc.? Do you work mainly or strictly with digital mediums, or do you prefer another medium?

I believe my atheistic graphic designs and poetry probably touch a nerve in people’s beliefs more so than my music. But I think my music has caused a wider variety of emotions in people more so than my artwork. I really haven’t advertised my work probably as much as I should, so the audience is relatively small right now. Though I hear from sources that I have quite a few silent admirers.

Would you consider yourself a commercially successful artist, or is that a future goal, or a goal at all? Have you exhibited your works in any form other than the Internet? Galleries? Private exhibitions? Commercial (logos, Web designs, t-shirts, etc.)?

Commercially successful? No. I would love to design and create art (including music) for a living, but I haven’t found the right opportunity yet where I could do that and still be able to pay the bills and support the family. I have not advertised my work enough yet, I have made several designs that were on t-shirts. I created the t-shirt design for Camp Quest UK 09, which I hear went very well. I have also designed several logos for companies and organizations. I recently designed Secular Netherlands organization logo.

Is art/music a sideline, or your life-path? Are you still in school, or graduated, and do you have a “conventional” focus in life, other than art/music?

Currently, art and music is a sideline, though it is meaningful and contributes greatly to releasing my creative energy. I am working as a Sr. Computer Specialist for a local company which pays the bills and supports the family but leaves little time for my creative passion. I know I can do anything I set my mind to, and there is so much I want to do, I just need to be more aggressive and go do it.

Do you have “hobbies” that are not related to art/music? Do you read on subjects such as science, religion, philosophy, culture/entertainment, etc.? How do you spend the majority of your waking life time?

I really like philosophy and debate. I spend a lot of time reading, studying, and debating online on philosophical topics. I often find myself in debates arguing against free-will, against hedonism, against theism, for atheism, for determinism, about knowledge, etc… I’m also interested in science and keep up to date on new scientific discoveries and advancements. I have several RSS feeds setup from various sources that keep me up to date on these topics. I have also been interested in Japanese culture for some time, my wife happens to be from Okinawa, Japan. When I was younger, I was especially interested in eastern culture, religion, and philosophy. That happened to be the roots of my pursuit for truth. At the time, I started to read eastern literature as I found it particularly intellectually enlightening. It answered many of the questions I had about the world around me that nobody else cared to question or talk about. It gave me a better understanding of the world, and with this understanding, I felt more comfortable, and able to cope living with my difficult father.

How much do you write? Blog? Twitter? Other? Do you participate in social networks such as Facebook, Linkedin or MySpace? Do any of these media have real value or worth? Are you glad you joined atheistnexus.org and has it been a good, bad or neutral experience? What is the main way you connect with your current social network (friends, family, others)? phone? email? other?

I maintain a blog which I post all of my art, music, poetry, and thoughts on philosophical subjects on at www.travisjmorgan.com. I have a twitter account but rarely to never use it. I have a Facebook account that I frequent every once in a while. I also have a Linkedin account which I network with other professionals. While these services function like they are suppose to, I wouldn’t consider that they have significantly changed my life. Being a member of Atheist Nexus has been a neutral experience pretty much. It’s good to know I am not alone in disbelief, and the people I have met there seem to be good honest people, however, I find little benefit in preaching to the choir, which often happens in such groups. I typically contact people in my respective social network via the network they mostly frequent. Otherwise, I just email them. I find Facebooks built-in chat feature to be convenient as well.

Does your art/music have a single message, varied messages or no message at all? Do you sometimes create just to please yourself, or do you focus on what meanings may be imparted to others? Is your art/music, or arts in general, important to in any way improving or transforming society?

My art and music have varied messages and intentions. Sometimes I design and compose for myself, but most of my work is designed with the audience in mind. I want to benefit society, my nation, the world. I want to move them, inspire them, make them think. Both my art and music often have philosophical influences with the intention of relaying a valuable message or at least with the intention to get people thinking.

End of Review.

John was also kind enough to compile a good variety of my art and music together into a slide-show type video production to showcase my work.

7 Comments

  1. Padma

    ‘A good example of how we are conditioned by our environment is as easy as recognizing how different we would be had we of been born in and grew up in a different country, and country that sponsored different beliefs and culture. We would be shaped by that society and believe in the things it conditioned us to believe just as passionately as we believe the things we do now.’

    I grew up in a different country with a plethora of beliefs and gods, and believe me I too am an atheist. So I don’t really subscribe to your observation above. One’s beliefs could be driven by biological conditions too! I belong to a strongly patriachal Christian family of 10 children. Two of us are atheists/agnostics (my children too, not my husband). Others are kind of lukewarm Catholics. Couple of them have very strong beliefs. By the way, I am a closet atheist.

  2. Travis Morgan (Author)

    Hi Padma, I think you still did subscribe to my observation, your enviroment still conditioned you. That you grew up in a country with a plethora of beliefs and gods, and that your family were strong patriachal Christians may be the very conditions that contributed to determining you to be an atheist. Had you of turned out to be a muslim or a buddhist or something like that in your environment, now that would be something. Yes, I agree that there are also biological conditions that drive us too. Thanks for speaking out despite being a closet atheist.

  3. I can appreciate your story. It is one of pain and confusion in terms of what you believe and why. It appears that you are crying out, but uncertain to look above for your answer.

    I think you may think one thing, yet your heart and soul are feeling another idea altogether.

    I believe the Holy Spirit will teach you. God will speak to your heart and give you the love that life has not. It will come to you in your dreams. God will, and can save you from despair, pain, and put a new spirit in your heart. The light is good. My prayer is, you will see the light, and more importantly walk in it as well.

    God Bless You.
    .-= Dr. James A. Lee´s last blog ..Reaching Out for Jesus, True Thanksgiving =-.

  4. Padma

    Hi Mr. Lee,

    I don’t know whether you are speaking to me. Well I am not confused at all. I happen to think rationally too! When the missionaries came to our country along with the conquistadors, they did have a hidden agenda, along with the inquisition they imposed on our ancestors!!

    I have realized that most often altruism is practiced not for its own sake, but to accumulate virtue in heaven! They also do have a fear of hell! So finally it is selfishness which drives them to good deeds. One of my relatives has donated a considerable portion of his property to the priests to build a seminary, but he has also got his name inscribed in front. I do realize that being a nonbeliever, I belong to a minority here! It does get very lonely here in your box…and very scary too. In my country, the non Christians are generally praying for more wealth in their coffers. The Christians are taught to care for their neighbors. In the rat race here, Christians are generally at the lowest rung of the ladder. The Sermon on the Mount has taught them to be docile, show the other cheek and generally be less competitive in life!

    Of course I also say live and let live! I appreciate the contributions the clergy and religious (not all) have made towards education and alleviation of suffering in the form of hospitals and orphanages. I do accompany my husband to church just to maintain peace in the house or else he would haul me over the coals! For him life and religion are two water tight compartments! My children rebelled, once they became independent, and don’t subscribe to any beliefs, although they are extremely compassionate individuals.

    The present world has become so toxic to live in…..nobody is spared!! Christians just live in their cocoons and think that because of their beliefs, the Lord will reward them on the Day of Judgment. It is also one of the conditions for salvation that they get as many followers as possible! I find this all so tedious…whenever I listen to the homily given by the priest at the pulpit who talks about the widow’s mite…I want to scream at him “Get real!” I wish somebody could love me not because Jesus told him to do so, but because he feels compassion for me and because love is the only thing which will save us from this MESS we are in!!!

  5. Cory

    To think when you die that is the end, so sad. Thank God there is a better place than this world we live in.

  6. You have created some great work as I can see in your site.

    Best of Luck!

    Khanin (India)

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