A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of Americans who identify as atheist or agnostic has risen in the last seven years from 16 to 23 percent. And while a staggering 71 percent of Americans still describe themselves as Christians (insert joke about the “War on Christianity” here), the fact remains that the country is slowly becoming more and more secular.
Despite this trend, finding a group of fellow non-believers in the offline world can be difficult, especially in Milwaukee. Enter Mythicist Milwaukee, an organization dedicated to educating the “freethought community” on “the parallels between religion and mythology,” and “introducing the idea that many figures of antiquity—including pagan gods and major biblical characters—are myths.” Co-founded by Sean Fracek and Antonio Blandon in 2013, the group maintains an active blog, produces a weekly podcast, and “aims to create a community of educated freethinkers who support and share the mythicist position with the greater freethought and skeptic communities around the world.”
“In Milwaukee, there really isn’t a secular community,” Fracek says. “If you’re a secular person, there’s really nowhere for you to go and discuss these things. But based on what we’re seeing, a lot of people like to get together and be around likeminded people.”
In April 2015, Fracek and Blandon helped make that happen by organizing what Fracek calls “Milwaukee’s first secular conference,” the Mythinformation Conference. Now, less than six months later, Mythicist Milwaukee is prepping a follow-up to that conference. The Mythinformation Conference II will be held Sunday, September 27 at the Holiday Inn Milwaukee Riverfront. In tow will be a handful of national speakers, including Wu-Tang Clan associate Walter Reed—a.k.a. Killah Priest.
“We had a really nice turnout [at the first conference]. Over 120 people showed up,” Fracek says. “So we were like, ‘Okay, let’s take some time off.” But the thing ended up getting some big press, and we had various people in the secular world comment on it and talk with us. I was contacted by Killah Priest’s manager, and she loved our page, she loved everything we were doing, and she wanted to collaborate on something. And then the idea of Killah Priest coming to Milwaukee to lecture on this topic came up. And we were like, ‘Okay, now we have Killah Priest from the Wu-Tang Clan.’ This next event was supposed to be small, but since he came on we ended up going big with it.”
Priest’s lecture, “Heavy Mental: Religion’s Influence On Music” will cover “how religion has influenced his music and where it has taken the direction of his art.” (Heavy Mental is the title of Priest’s 1998 debut album.) He’ll be joined by Black Nonbelievers, Inc. president Mandisa Thomas, author David Fitzgerald (Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All), and mythologist Arthur George.
Though not necessarily a non-believer, Killah Priest, according to Fracek, is “a student of religions—all religions. You see it in his lyrics. He’s constantly talking about modern religions and citing the ancient religions. He’s more of a spiritual person.”
Fracek continues: “I don’t want to out him as an atheist, because we don’t know if that’s his stance. I guess we’ll know more when he comes to Milwaukee, but he definitely understands this is a secular conference and we’re going to have secular talks. He’s a fan of it and he’s supporting it. Just having that is great.”
Mythinformation Conference II—“Is Faith Rooted In Fiction?”—takes place Sunday, September 27 at the Holiday Inn Milwaukee Riverfront from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. A pre-party featuring all conference speakers will be held Saturday, September 26 at John Hawks Pub from 7-11 p.m. Advance tickets for each event are $35, or $70 for both.