Ridding atheism of its taboo

– Graeme Gordon, staff

Atheism and agnosticism have been growing trends in the developed world in recent times, yet, ironically, non-belief is still taboo.
The world renowned biologist and atheist, Richard Dawkins, explains this revulsion, or at the very least, misgivings people of faith have for atheists in his provocative book, The God Delusion. 

“Many people who know in their heart of hearts, that they are atheists, but dare not admit it to their families or even, in some cases themselves. Partly, this is because the very word ‘atheist’ has been assiduously built up as a terrible and frightening label” said Dawkins in his preface.
Dr. Shane Dixon, a part-time professor at WLU Brantford, despite the stigma some have towards atheism, was willing to speak out about his non-belief.

“For me, it was over a period of time, in my late teens, early twenties. I began thinking about it more and felt that there was no evidence that there was a God or a higher power,” said Dixon. “If your interests are in having some empirical data of any kind to make a case for something or to support an argument and that empirical data or evidence is not there, then you have to question whether to believe.”
Dixon grew up in a Catholic family and spent his youth being socialized within the church. “I made several of the sacraments of the Catholic Church; I received first communion, made a confirmation, I was blessed and things like that,” he explained.

His parents are open-minded to his non-belief and breaking away from the church, but are at the same time troubled.  Dixon is also, in turn, respectful of his parents’ beliefs and is against the attacking of someone’s faith.
Dawkins, an activist against all religions, describes Dixon’s experience as a child within religion as being a sort of indoctrination: “That is not a Muslim child, but a child of Muslim parents. That child is too young to know whether it is a Muslim or not. There is no such thing as a Muslim child. There is no such thing as a Christian child,” said Dawkins in his preface in The God Delusion. Dawkins’ abrasive words are meant to point out that the individual should be able to come to his or her own conclusions on what to believe.  Dawkins’ conviction is that a child should not have their mind made up for them while they are too young and impressionable to make a rational decision on the matter.
Fae Amiro, a third year Classics student at the Waterloo campus, is openly atheist and is part of the WLU Freethought Alliance. When asked about her involvement in the club, Amiro explained, “When I first moved to Ontario I was surprised that I didn’t meet any atheists, and I felt pretty alone, which is why I joined the club. I know people who have asked me why atheists need a club to sit around not believing in anything, and I think it’s important for people to realize that it’s just nice to have a place to talk to people who see the world in a similar way as you.” Some examples of events held by the WLU Freethought Alliance are the Atheist Comedy Night Redux and the party for Darwin’s birthday, both taking place this month.
The WLU Freethought Alliance’s very inception was full of controversy. In early 2008—shown in the archived article from the Brantford Expositor—the group was originally rejected official club status by WLUSU. After heated response by the atheist community, the international blogging world got involved, the founder was forced to make a revision to include all people, believers and nonbelievers alike, in order to gain club status.
The club is actually an extension of the growing secular institution, the Centre for Inquiry or CFI, which originated in America in 1987. CFI has since expanded nationally and internationally, branching into Canada in 2007, in Toronto, and now has ten offices within the country.
The Canadian National Executive Director of CFI, Michael Payton said the institution was formed to promote secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.  CFI, among being a nonprofit organization that promotes secular education, is also a lobbyist group for atheists and agnostics. An example Payton cites of CFI’s advocacy has to do with Gay-Straight Alliances in Ontario and the Catholic schools’ lack of acknowledgement of these groups.  Payton said “it’s vile and reprehensible” that the Catholic schools of Ontario do not approve of the program that the province has already made part of its policy.
Payton refers to the Ontario government’s recent study that found gay teens have a much higher risk of teen suicide than that of straight teens and that the Gay-Straight Alliances were found to help reduce this risk. Payton, and the CFI institution, believe not only that Catholic schools should not be government funded, but that the government should punish the schools for not following provincial policy.
Justin Trottier, a spokesperson for CFI, mentioned an important support group also funded by the institution. “Living Without Religion supports people, especially Muslims, who want to separate from their faith. We let the individual speak with others that have broken away from their faith and help them in what can be a very difficult process.  They may be ostracized by their family and community,” said Trottier.
“I think people should question everything. If you’re extremely religious I think you should ask deep and searching questions about your faith, not because I want people to become atheist, but because it’s a form of reflection,” said Dixon.
Dawkins goes further in The God Delusion, “I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been and will be invented.” He goes on to say, “[a monotheist] is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon, Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further.”
Dawkins, the Centre for Inquiry and other non-believers face difficulty when trying to debate religion with the faithful. Trottier said, “There is too much political correctness when we have tried to have debates. My view on respect is a thorough debate on religion…no moderator, so panelists can ask difficult and critical questions.”
Dawkins believes there is too much privileging of religion; he believes it should be fair game for debate just like any other issue.  “Whenever a controversy arises over sexual or reproductive morals, you can bet that religious leaders from several different faith groups will be prominently represented on influential committees, or on panel discussions on radio or television…why does our society beat a path to their door, as though they had some expertise comparable to say, a moral philosopher, a family lawyer or a doctor.”
Dawkins’ questioning of religions ethos is an important question that faces atheists, secularists and believers alike.  Religion plays an integral part in American politics, a country whose constitution stresses separation of church and state.  Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries are dealing with the same controversial issue on how much religion should be present in government as they attempt to form democracies. Muslims in the East are attempting to reconcile democracy with their faith as they form new governments in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.  Maybe atheist and secularist thought would be a better approach in a world where so much emphasis is placed on faith.

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