Even though he grew up in the small Texas town of Everman, the son of a single Christian mother, David Smalley was never forced to attend church. He was eventually baptized and ironically credits that event with the search that led him to atheism.
“The formality of the moment made me realize that I had just agreed to something that I didn’t understand,” he says. “I started my own mission of learning as much as I could about the faith so that I could convert others. My goal was to get as close to God as possible, and I got so close I saw that there wasn’t one.”
Like many atheists of his generation, David Smalley’s first connection with the wider world of freethought happened online. He happened on the transcript of a debate between Frank Zindler, editor of American Atheist magazine, and John Morris, a Christian geologist. The topic was Noah’s flood. “I spent hours combing through it,” David recalls, “feeling like a boy raised by wolves must feel upon seeing his first human. I contacted Frank and began writing for American Atheist.”
Eventually he became the graphic designer for AA magazine, then editor-in-chief. “That sparked my activism and the writing of my own book, as well as the beginning of the Dogma Debate blog and forum, which later became Dogma Debate Radio.”
Dogma Debate exploded in growth and reach shortly after its 2012 launch. The show now has over 150,000 downloads per month and more than 16,000 weekly subscribers.
While David and his co-hosts pull no punches in going after religious and political conservatives, David has an equal passion for growing compassionate humanism in the movement. “True diplomacy drives me,” he says. “I honestly believe the most conservative right wing Christian politician has the ability to change. I think the Taliban could become atheists and secular humanists with the right amount of time and respectful conversation. No one is off limits. I love working with other groups on charitable causes, even those who disagree with my worldview or methods. I don’t want to constantly live ‘a life against’ something. I want to be FOR something, like humanity, charity, education, and ending hunger.”
When he discovered Foundation Beyond Belief, David knew he had found a unique piece of the movement, one that he could support. “FBB is the first organization that comes to mind when believers challenge me with having no morality,” he says. “I point to FBB as an example of how nonbelievers do amazing things for each other, and for believers.”
On July 19, David will bring his energy and passion to the stage of FBB’s Humanism at Work Conference in Chicago. “I’ll be talking about the recent fundraising we’ve been able to do within the atheist community, working with religious organizations, and specifically, how we’ve been able to encourage hundreds of people to give a little, rather than depending on a handful of people to give a lot,” he says. “I will tell success stories, and provide a road map for others to use to increase their success.”
In addition to hearing his talk on the main stage, conference-goers can take part in a special Dogma Debate podcast in the Hilton ballroom Saturday night.