July 7, 2016

Saying Goodbye to Mississippi Atheists


I recently shut down Mississippi Atheists, a blog I had maintained for the last 8 years. In the end, it was an easy decision. Of course, that is only because I deliberated over it for more than a year. I had known it was time to shut it down for at least two years but couldn't quite bring myself to do it. It is difficult to describe why, but I suppose I felt compelled to keep it going by a strange mixture of obligation and guilt. I finally made it over that hurdle, and it is time to say a proper goodbye to Mississippi Atheists.

In some respects, I feel like what I did with that blog was make a long series of mistakes. These were mistakes from which I would learn a great deal about blogging and about myself, but they were mistakes nonetheless. The biggest mistake happened before I even wrote the first post and involved choosing the name Mississippi Atheists for something I never intended to be more than a blog focusing on issues relevant to atheists living in the state of Mississippi. Thanks to this poor decision, I would be inundated with requests by people wanting to join what they understandably thought was a state-wide atheist organization. I'm sorry, but there is no state-wide atheist organization here. This is just a blog. I would receive countless requests from news media outlets within the state seeking interviews. I'm sorry, but that's not going to happen. I need to keep my job, and I would prefer to avoid having my residence vandalized. I felt like I was disappointing everyone.

Another early mistake was that I tried to make Mississippi Atheists into a team blog without really understanding what a team blog was or how to pull one off. My vision was that Mississippi Atheists would feature diverse atheist voices from around the state. Aside from not ever being particularly diverse, this worked reasonably well for awhile; however, none of the contributors stuck around. It ended up being way too much of my voice, which was never the intent.

It would also become apparent rather quickly that the niche I had selected (i.e., atheism in a state which is both sparsely populated and the most religious state in the country) meant that there was next to no growth potential. No matter what I did, there would never be more than a handful of in-state readers supplemented by a curious few from outside the state. Google Analytics would confirm this repeatedly. Was there a point to writing a blog so few were reading? There might have been if I did not already have Atheist Revolution.

In the end, it was the mistake that took me far too long to recognize that would finally lead me to pull the plug. It was a mistake that had doomed me from the start without me realizing it. I am not from Mississippi, and I will never be of Mississippi. I've lived here for close to 20 years, but I am still a "carpetbagger" who is perceived by too many Mississippi natives as not having any business expressing opinions about the state. And you know what? I'm becoming okay with that.

The truth is that Mississippi still doesn't feel like home, and it probably never will. When I moved here, it was to be temporary. And no matter how long I have been here or how much I have come to appreciate certain things about the state, it still feels that way. Aside from a handful of people who I would miss if I left and a few quality-of-life issues I enjoy, I have no meaningful connections to the place. This makes me ill suited to serve as any sort of voice for atheism in Mississippi. As just another member of a team blog, this could be overlooked. Hell, my perspective as an outsider might have even be useful at times in such a context. But it never made any sense with me as the sole author.

Mistakes aside, there was an undeniable upside to my experience with Mississippi Atheists. I have learned things about atheism, about Mississippi, and about blogging I would not have otherwise known. I have had the opportunity to interact with some great people, and my eyes have been opened to what is is like to grow up in Mississippi without believing in gods. I've seen the heartache associated with being last in the nation on almost every positive indicator and having the sense that we are at least a couple decades behind most of the rest of the U.S. But I have also experienced the hope and inspiration associated with unanticipated change and the incredible courage of brave Mississippians willing to stand up for secular values.

While I have learned plenty from the experience of writing Mississippi Atheists, I am also ready for it to come to an end. I like the thought of being able to focus more of time and mental energy here at Atheist Revolution, although I have to confess that I'm even more excited by the thought of allocating it to various offline activities. I will probably post about Mississippi here once in awhile, which is something I have already been doing. I might even go through the archive of old posts at Mississippi Atheist and re-purpose those with wider applicability here. But mostly, I think I'll just be relieved to stop trying to find a voice I'm not sure I ever had.
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