A few months ago I decided to try and make a set of “atheist flashcards” to help other atheists increase their general knowledge of religion and better prepare for any debate encounters they might have. In that project I focused on memorizing common bible verses, common arguments for the existence of god, and just general religious trivia.
My first attempt was a disaster. I made the flashcards to be printed out on paper and then attempted to piggy back my templates onto a third party flashcard application for smart phones. The user experience was abysmal. After getting some helpful input from people who bought my flash cards, I decided to try and make a stand alone smart-phone application. I spent the next month to two months of my life focused on writing this application. I had no coding experience and no idea about writing apps. I stumbled upon PhoneGap, a site that lets you drag and drop items in a graphical interface to build an application. This application could then be ported onto any smart phone. The downside (that I realized only after spending a month on this app) was that PhoneGap doesn’t create a finished stand alone program. It creates a “web app”. It looks and acts like a stand alone app for a smart-phone, but it’s not. It’s actually a cleverly disguised webpage. As such, you need a constant internet connection to use it. I got as far as having a working app on my phone, but the disappointment of not having a stand alone app after all that work (and the daunting task of trying to learn to program) combined with life events to kind of side-tracked me after that point.
It was while working on that phone app that my project began to change. It was no longer about just creating a smart-phone version of debate flashcards. I realized that what I was working on had the potential to be something much more. There was also just so much information that I was having trouble fitting into a flash card format. Furthermore, the flashcards seemed kind of arbitrary given that they weren’t tied to anything. Usually when one creates flashcards it’s because they’ve read or studied something and are making the flashcards based off of what they’ve studied. Well without something to study, there was no way anyone could get the flashcards right the first time through. The only way to begin to get the flashcards right would be to get them wrong over and over again.
Well fast forward a few months till now and I’ve started thinking about picking up the project again. I started watching more courses on how to program specifically for smart-phones and pulled some more books out of the library. It was at this time that my girlfriend suggested that perhaps an ebook would be a better format for the information I was trying to convey. I could always follow up with flashcards if I really wanted to. This got me really excited. I could do an ebook. I could get all my information across much more easily that way, and I wouldn’t necessarily have to learn to program an app.
The biggest problem I’m having right at the moment is that I don’t know what the focus of the book should be. I’m not entirely clear on what I’m trying to accomplish, and what the scope should be. I’m also not entirely sure of my target audience.
Originally I thought I would focus on orienting “new” atheists (or anyone for that matter) to the atheist community/movement/whatever. Whenever anyone becomes interested in something for which there is a community, there’s always this difficult period of orienting one’s self and discovering who’s who, what’s what, and what the current issues are and where the community is headed. At the time I felt really connected to and current with the atheist community and figured I could use this in my project. However, it was a few months after I started this project that I decided to stop listening to the news and politics because I was just in a constant state of rage. Incidentally, I stopped really listening to atheist podcasts too since many of them talk about infuriating news reports relating to atheism. I kind of dropped out of the community then. I hadn’t done anything since the Reason Rally, and I stopped going to my local atheist meetups. I feel like I’m really out of touch with what’s going on in the community at the moment, and that kind of scares me when trying to write this book. So maybe orienting people in the community shouldn’t be my main focus.
Instead I think I’m going to try and orient them to religion and atheism in general. Sure I’ll point them to community things, but my main focus is going to be closer to the original intent of the debate flashcards, education.
I would like to direct my book at people who either just left a faith, or who have always been non-religious, but never took an interest until now. I would like to give them a good foundation of things they should know to in order to be a well rounded person when it comes to religion. I’m going to expand on the topics in my debate flashcards and cover things like general religious terminology, the well reasoned argument, logical fallacies and argumentation structure, the scientific method, a general overview of philosophy and the various fields, comparative religions including how the religions are structured, core tenets and beliefs, sacred texts and their history/characters/themes, and religion in a modern governmental/societal context. (Just to name a few)
The biggest issue I’ve run into so far is trying to keep the right scope. There are volumes and volumes of books written about everything I just mentioned. I’ve really got to fight the researcher in me that wants to write 20-30 page term papers on each subject. I’d never get my book done that way. I need to force myself to be general. This book is meant to orient people, to make them aware of things they might not be aware of, and to point them in the right direction if something in particular interests them. At the same time I’m worried about making it too general. I want to make something of value, something I won’t feel wrong asking people to pay for.