"Most atheists, like most theists, feel compassion for those less fortunate and want to help. Most want to coexist with people who believe differently. Most think it is better to be actively involved in changing the world than to be passive or indifferent."
--Dale McGowan, interviewed in 2012 by Kimberly Winston for the Washington Post
Dale McGowan (born February 28, 1963) has a long history in music and academia. At the University of California, Berkeley, he double-majored in music and anthropology and went on to earn a master's in instrumental conducting from California State University, Northridge. At the University of Minnesota he received his PhD in composition while conducting the college orchestra and teaching music theory and history.
In 2006 McGowan made the transition from an expert in music to an expert in atheism. Intrigued by the fact that many of his once-atheist friends began taking their children to church as a way to instill community and compassion, McGowan, himself a father of three, set out to explore the world of parenting in a secular household. Unable to find much literature on the subject, he took matters into his own hands and published his first book, Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion. In it McGowan offers tips, guidance, and reflections from educators, psychologists, and philosophers about raising independent and curious children who have an empathetic sense for what's right and wrong--without religion.
Despite this avowal to atheism, McGowan began to feel as though there was something missing from his worldview as he sat at church, per his mother-in-law's request, and saw how committed church members were to volunteering at the congregation's homeless dinner and donating their money to the collection plate. He realized how much charity and generosity were linked to religious practice, and he felt that a culture of giving could apply to nontheistic communities as well. In 2009 McGowan created the Foundation Beyond Belief (FBB), an organization meant to act as a secular "tithing plate," with regular donations from the nontheistic community going to myriad causes ranging from public health and environmentalism to LGBTQ rights and refugee aid.
McGowan served as FBB's executive director from 2009 to 2015, during which time he launched a national network of humanist volunteer teams to aid with disaster recovery and international service programs. These teams have contributed over...