There are many wonderful accomplishments and services that the secular movement has provided. From taking action on policy issues, raising awareness, and dispelling myths surrounding secular people, one the most important is the tremendous support that it has provided for other secularists. Throughout my involvement in the movement, I have met many people who were questioning or thinking about leaving their religions, but had no idea that there were others thinking the same thing they are. And they sure as hell didn’t know that there are organizations that provided them with a place for non-judgmental discussion and support. Some of these people have been cut off financially or even forced out of their homes, and their discovery of secular organizations have changed their lives.
There is a group, however, that require some extra attention: questioning and ex-Muslims. This group is a little different, given the nature of the religion that they have been brought up in. A friend of mine, Monica Harmsen, points out that Islam is very good at making itself seem like it’s the default religion. It’s also a religion that severely diminishes followers’ sense of influence over their actions in an almost predeterminist way. Islam is also a religion who’s higher power is very dictatorial and totalitarian, making departing from the religion emotionally difficult. Even worse, Muslim families, communities, and governments sometimes make it one of the most taboo and dangerous of deeds to denounce Islam. This is why questioning and ex-Muslims require extra support that show utmost acceptance and empowerment. And if there’s one thing that we have learned from successful movements such as the Gay Rights Movement, it’s that when more oppressed people come out of the closet, the more comfortable and acceptable it is for others to do the same.
This is becoming easier with the help of organizations like the Secular Student Alliance, Center for Inquiry, and many others who have shown tremendous support for those leaving their faiths. A newer, upcoming organization – Muslimish – is a promising one, who’s mission focuses on supporting questioning and ex-Muslims, in association with The Richard Dawkins Foundation and the Center for Inquiry.
Secular activists and organizations, being a major force of good in helping and supporting others should not forget to accommodate and fear to actively reach out to the Muslim community. Many questioning and ex-Muslims have secretly come up to me, relieved to know that there are other ex-Muslims out there that they can meet with and talk to safely. I hope to make that clear to any questioning and ex-Muslim afraid to talk about it, and to secular activists out there.
Please, feel free to contact me at Hassakelly@gmail.com or Wayne@Secularstudents.org. I can safely put you in contact with Muslimish or others feeling the same thing you are. You can also follow Muslimish on Twitter.
We atheists have been hated and bullied for a long time, and have finally stood up for ourselves in recent years. One of the main goals of this movement is to show the world that we are not immoral just because we are godless. For this reason, I understand the need for secular people to suck up to the rest of the world, and pin a good-guy badge to their lapels.
I, however, might be too big a Nietzsche fan to believe in a false dichotomy such as “good and evil”. For this reason, I tend to stay away from such primitive needs as flashing the good-guy badge whenever I come into contact with a religious person. Personally, I just cannot be completely inoffensive and be a suck up to those who’s beliefs are offensive to me in the first place. Everyone’s always going to find something bad to say about you. I’m a pretty honest and self-aware guy, and I know how much of an asshole I can be. I guess I just like pissing people off – it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. I’ve been known to say harsh truths, controversial things, and invite controversial speakers – and I have made many enemies and lost some SSA members as a result. I’m the kind of guy who’ll take being called a Devil as a compliment, and those who know me know that I have a coffin-turned bookcase, and wear lots of black. In my spare time, you’ll find me sitting in front of a fireplace wondering why in the hell I masochistically subject myself to putting up with things that I disagree with so much.
Point is: I don’t like pinning a good-guy badge and pretending to be your best friend all the time. If I hate you, I’d much rather tell you to go to hell. And If I like you, you’ll be surprised by how much of a nice person I can be, despite my asshole-ish tendencies. But let’s face it, I’m just not the happy face of secularism, and I kinda feel bad being a part of this movement as a group leader, knowing that I’m giving atheists a bad reputation.
- The idolization of bloggers and Youtubers
In the movement, there is this ugly inability for many to rid themselves of the tendencies of the idolization of religious figures. I fear that those so called secularists are people who are unable to wash off all of the annoying residue of religiosity. My general feeling is that many of them are just folk who want to feel naughty. It’s one thing to have respect for someone, but I have seen the Youtube videos and blogs of those whom many speak so highly of. Every time, I expect to see something amazing, only to be sorely disappointed. This is no exception to the idolization of the “four horsemen” whose books are unworthy of the praise they receive, as they are mostly repetitions of previous praise-worthy books. The best thing that I heard at the 2012 Secular Student Alliance conference is Jessica Alquist responding to a question calling her a celebrity by saying: “don’t call me the ‘C’ word, man.”
- We’re all Humanists and liberals
Just a quick tip to all atheists out there: not everyone who is godless believes that everyone is entitled to free health-care and hates the death penalty. I’m sorry to say (not really) that I’m probably more of a Libertarian than many of you might like to think. Although that political label, for me, is more of an icon that I use in small talk, it serves its purpose. People have likened me to grumpy old man, and I don’t disagree. I’m a misanthrope, as well as a staunch advocate of justice. I believe that a punishment should fit in kind and degree of the crime. So, if someone is a murderer, they deserve death. Hell with the chair, kill them in the same way they killed. I dislike “hippie” culture and I think people get away with way too much. I also believe that success should be based on merit. Too many liberals act like health care, education, and money in general is a “god-given” right to all human beings. It’s not. In my opinion, the only human right is freedom and equal opportunity. In that regard, I do not consider myself to be a “big H” Humanist. I’m willing to call myself a humanist insofar as much as I believe that humans should try to work together to maintain progress and “peace” as a society. However,I do NOT believe that all humans are required to feel responsible to others. If I don’t know you or care about you, then why are you entitled to my help and services? What if I don’t like you?
I often hear the secular movement refer to itself as a “community”. Although I respect that and know that it is important to have a community of people that stick together to fight for a common goal, I greatly dislike being a part of it. I don’t like being a part of communities and organizing group meetings that seem like AA meetings, like there’s something wrong with us. I don’t need someone to pat me on the back, telling me it’s all right. It just all seems like a big feel-good therapy session.
- What’s in it for me?
Sometimes I just want to quit because I don’t really see what I’m personally getting out of hosting debates and events. I’m a business major who hopes to start his own business. I haven’t even established my own future, and I’m devoting almost all of my time in helping others. I’m also a huge advocate of gay rights, but I’m not even gay. So what do I get out of it?
This last point brings me to the main reason as to why I’m still involved in the secular movement, despite hating it as much as I do. It’s because every time I decide to resign from the movement, I hear of a religious law passed, or a school prayer being imposed on it’s students, or a gay person being bullied to death – I feel like I’ve just been slapped in the face. And you bet I’m not going to just sit there and pretend that I don’t care. The more the religious right gains power and imposes their shitty morality on the rest of the population, the more they are degrading the integrity of the human race. I will not stand for that.
“We would like to see most of the human race killed off, because it is unworthy – it is unworthy of the gift of life.” – Nickolas Schreck
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Bishop Desmond Tutu
I don’t know how we did it, but we did – and it turned out to be the most successful event that we’ve ever done. In September, the Secular Student Alliance at Wayne State University was contacted by a Christian group to participate in an inter-faith discussion panel, which we later decided was going to take place in early November. By the time October came around, I somehow had the bizarre idea that the WSU SSA should host a “Separation of Church and State Week”, which would include the discussion panel as one of it’s events. It was bizarre because we realized that the time required to plan and finalize a whole week of events required a lot of effort and time, so much that we had to push the week back a week to November 14th. Had the group board not been committed and helpful enough during planning, this week would have fallen through and it would have been a disaster.
The week was packed full of exciting events and talks about the topic of separation of church and state. This wasn’t our first time hosting a week event series, but it was on a much grander scale than anything we’ve done before. We ran into some problems, but the outcome was rewarding – for a cost.
Lesson #1 when planning for events: make sure you check the weather if planning to do events outside. We had to cancel a planned “Pastafarian communion” because it was freezing outside. Even if you are planning events indoors, you still want to check the weather, because if it’s raining, for example, you know that everyone is going to be indoors and therefore you can plan the location of the event as well.
Not a lot of other problems occurred during the planning phase, except for the most important element for anyone planning events: delegation. It was a pain in the posterior for only two people to do everything alone at first. Here’s an almost specific account of what we had to do all alone: we contacted any professors and or speakers within our reach; make sure they were going to speak, that they knew exactly what we expected from them, and the exact date and time of when they were supposed to be speaking; booked a speaker’s flight, hotel, and security (due to the nature of the talk); tried to find three more panelists (Muslim, Christian, Jew) for the discussion panel, and let them know what they’re expected of, including questions they might be asked; changed a bunch of dates and times around a thousand times; filled out over 10 forms (and redid many of them due to changes); filled out a budget planning form which took days to complete (Note: have someone who knows money and numbers help with this!); advertised the events through email and Facebook; find someone to design and print the posters and flyers; thought of a last minute showcase idea, then quickly (but nicely) put it together; posted the flyers around campus and chalked every day for a week (for larger campuses, try to get as many volunteers as you can – it’s exhausting); reserved auditoriums, equipment (such as projectors, screens, microphones, speakers, camera, and tripod) for each event; found a last-minute photographer and videographer; made sure all panelists knew how to get to campus and auditorium; made sure the flown-in speaker got to the hotel safely and was dropped off at the university, and much more.
You can see how hard it would have been if only two people tried to do all of this, on top of classes and other stuff they might have going on.
So, lesson #2: if you see a fellow group member posting flyers or whatever, please offer to help out. For group leaders, having enough committed volunteers and making sure they know exactly what they are expected to do is crucial for the success of events. Both group members and leaders should not hesitate to ask.
All things considered, however, everything went smoothly, as we did find enough last minute volunteers.
As the day of the events rolled around, everything was set and planned, and as last minute changes were made, we could feel the excitement of the group growing stronger. We sent out a mass email a week before the events and Facebook reminders were posted before each event. Page likes and discussions on our Facebook increased. As November 14th arrived, we were running around from building to building, setting up for the events like ants building a colony. Here’s an account of each individual event throughout the week:
This event went great. Our idea was to have everyone dress up in costume, but that’s hard to do at a commuter school, where not everyone can go back to their dorms and change. So, it was more of a lunch, but it generated some talk and controversy – which is awesome. We still stuck to the Mediterranean theme by serving hummus and pita as lunch, but still served some pizza. The conversation was great and everyone enjoyed the food.
Tuesday: Is America Really a Christian Nation?
This talk was the first major event of the week. It was given by Michael Goldfield, a political science professor at our university. He has written several books, on race and labor, and is one of the faculty advisers for our group. I had taken an introductory political science course with the professor before, and as I mentioned in the introduction I gave before the talk, professor Goldfield was the primary catalyst for me starting the group. He was an avid proponent of separation of church and state, and frequently put questions on exams like “True or false: the constitution mention the word “God”. To which the correct answer would obviously be “False”. Before the event, I was personally nervous, as the professor had just gotten back from the airport, but he contacted right when the plane landed (which was a good move). So, Lesson #3: always make sure the you and the speaker have proper communication with each other, like having their telephone number aside from their email. That way if anything goes wrong, like if they are going to be late, or got lost on the way, or forgot the room number, you can let each other know right away.
Before the talk, we set up a table with our information on it, along with a sign up sheet. We also tied up balloons with our university colors to attract attention. Upon talking to some students that were lingering around our table, we learned that some students attended because a political science professor was giving his students extra credit for attending any or all of the talks that we were hosting. How neat was that! We had a great turn out. However, unintentionally competing with us were the Muslim Student Association, as they hosted an event in the same building that drew huge crowds. We thus placed a poster on an easel at the entrance of the building advertising our talk. The talk then began and it was great, though and through. Pictures and video were taken, although we couldn’t get a tripod, so we had to set the video camera on a trash can, which was fine as it served it’s purpose well. There was a very diverse audience and many thought provoking questions were asked during Q&A.
Wednesday: The Great Satan: How Satanism is the Most American Religion
The event we had been planning the most for was finally here. Prior to this day, we made sure that everything was in order and that the stay of the speaker was pleasant. We booked a hotel room, bought plane tickets, made sure he had proper transportation, and because of the nature of the talk, we provided security guards to guard the auditorium. On our end, we deployed a team that chalked all over campus like never before seen. We wanted to make sure the speaker’s efforts and travel were worth it. Everywhere I went on campus, I would hear people talk about this. A classroom even broke into conversion about this event and the SSA. Some students were offended, some interested, and some thought it was just plain stupid. As the time of the talk approached, we set up an information table just like before, tied up the balloons, set up the microphone, projector, and all that jazz. As I was organizing some brochures enters Kevin I. Slaughter, a man with an eccentric vibe and great charisma. “Ah, there he is!”, I hear from behind. His attire and look was reminiscent of the devil from the original Church of Satan COOP poster.
He had a great sense of style, a Nietzschean mustache with a devilish twist and a peculiar look on his face, as if he could see right through you – you could see his cynicism and skepticism in his eyes. His intelligence presented itself through his speech, and even though he looked like he was only in his mid-thirties, it seemed as if he’d seen and heard it all – he was a blunt and no bullshit kind of guy. Still, he was a nice guy, and with a very friendly smile he gave a me a hearty handshake. We exchanged kind words and started setting up. We had some trouble with the camera and projector, but the problems were quickly fixed (Lesson #4: always have someone who knows IT on hand when setting up equipment; something almost always goes wrong when it comes to technology). Security arrived, and the auditorium started to fill with SSA members and curious onlookers, many perplexed with the words “NO GOD? NO PROBLEM!” on our poster board outside. If you looked hard enough, you could see Mr. Slaughter sitting in the back corner of the auditorium, overlooking the audience and probably mentally preparing. I started to give an introductory speech, and then the stage was Mr. Slaughter’s. Immediately, the audiences’ reaction was that of amusement. They were taken back by his dominating and witty diction; I guess no one had ever thought that a Satanist could be so articulate. The first place winner of the 2010 “Ingersoll oratory contest” hosted by the Center for Inquiry definitely deserved it. The talk was to the point, well put, and poetic. Throughout the whole thing, I didn’t see one bored audience member as they were all intrigued by what the man from down under had to say. Most were intrigued by the fact that he was an atheist and an ultimate skeptic. Alas, they realized why we had invited this man to speak, and (hopefully) most realized that to a Satanist, Satan was nothing but a symbol or an archetype of individuality, rebellion from the status quo, skepticism, and a love for life in the here and now. One of my most favorite parts of the talk was when he said that instead of a prayer or supplication, a Satanic alternative would be a simple toast. He then proceeded to recite a turncated version of Giosuè Carducci’s “Hymn to Satan“. During Q&A , Mr. Slaughter entertained many questions.
After the talk, a handful of SSA members and I took Mr. Slaughter out to dinner in downtown Detroit to thank him. We had a wonderful time with food, lots of “Opa!”’s, and great conversation about political theory, secularism, philosophy, and his many projects. We got to see a different side of Mr. Slaughter; “I think we’re all starting to get too comfortable with each other here,” he joked. After a great conversation, we called it a night, and I dropped him off at his hotel.
You can read Mr. Slaughter’s blog post about these events here.
Thursday: Interfaith Discussion Panel
This event was one that drew lots of attention as well, as we’d expected, because of the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish panelists that most other students sympathized with. The turnout was also great (about as many as the previous day). Mr. Slaughter served as the atheist on the panel, as it was hard to find yet another speaker, and was already here. We had planned a lot for this event as well, because we wanted to make sure that the efforts of all four panelists were worth it. Before hand, we had emailed the panelists some sample questions of what they were to be asked, and allowed them to suggest some questions that they would like to see asked. Some of the religious panelists asked specifically that this event not be a debate, so there was very little discussion between the panelists. On his blog, Mr. Slaughter said “it was a rather frustrating experience because all the religious folks asked specifically that it not be a debate, so nobody would engage one another.”
The arrival of the panelists at the university was flawless, as they all found their way to the building, and I met with the Muslim and atheist panelists at a Barnes and Noble (Note: we had each other’s phone numbers).
Oh, and Lesson #5: provide water and a couple papers and pen for speakers or panelists – they will need it.
An MC from a Christian group and I introduced the the panelists, and began the questioning. The structure of the panel discussion went like this: Each panelist had five minutes to express what it is that they believed and why. After that, I would ask a question, and each of them took turns to answer it in two minutes (some questions were allowed four or five minutes). Then, a Q&A was open for the audience to ask all or a specific panelist a question. Again, many questions were asked. There was one heckler heckling the atheist, but he was told to stop sit down and wasn’t too much of a problem. As the discussion panel ended, I profusely thanked the panelists for taking the time to participate, as you should do to any speaker (or any volunteer, for that matter) (Lesson #6). After the panel, the Christian and atheist (Mr. Slaughter) continued to have a friendly discussion and they were even seen having a good time and laughing together.
This was the last day that Mr. Slaughter would be staying in Detroit, so an SSA member and I took him out for a quick dinner on campus and as always, the conversation was exceptional. It was sad to drop him back off at his hotel.
Monday: Being a Non-believer in Today’s America
During our planning for these events, we had to push this event until Monday the week after, due to the professor’s schedule. The talk was given by professor Ron Aronson, who is a professor in the History of Ideas at WSU. His background is in community organization and journal editing. He is the author of nine books, and gives lectures all over the country and at Center for Inquiry events on Secularism and Humanism. He has been Chair of the Sartre Society of North America and founding editor of the journal Sartre Studies International. He has also produced television debates and is the co-producer of two feature-length documentaries. He is also a faculty advisor for our group.
We had a fewer turnout than our previous events, but most of the audience were new faces, which was awesome. The professor gave a great talk and he entertained many questions during Q&A, though it became more of a discussion between the professor and the audience, which was new and refreshing.
I still can’t believe that we pulled all of these events off within such a short period of time, but they were a big success, we had a great time, and it was very rewarding. Our events were seen on TV screens and poster hanged in high traffic areas all around campus. However, some of us had to miss a class here and there, which is bad and why delegation of responsibilities is so important (we didn’t want to miss class, but I’ll be damned if I was going to leave the speaker at the airport without making sure he had a ride, for example). But because of the buzz that our events made around campus, we gained a lot of members and many have stepped forward to help out with running the group since then. Reflecting back on the week makes me want to organize more events!
*We have ran into trouble editing and uploading the videos of the talks, but you can check back at Facebook.com/WSUSSA, as we’ll have them up soon.
This is an excerpt of an Interview with Hassan A. Khalifeh, president of the chapter of the Secular Student Alliance at Wayne State University.
Start of Interview:
LW: Basically, I want to know about yourself. Who are you?
HK: I’m the president of the Secular Student Alliance at Wayne State University. I’m a Business Management major and a blogger. I grew up Muslim. My family is not religious, except for my mother. My father says he’s religious, but I’ve never seen him practice.
LW: Does your mother pray five times a day?
LW: Would you consider yourself atheist or agnostic?
HK: An Atheist.
LW: Straight up? (laughter)
HK: I don’t claim to know for sure, but it’s very unlikely that there is a God.
LW: What was your upbringing like? Did your mother ever force you to go to a mosque?
HK: I’ve never been forced. But it’s always during the religious holidays that we have to go to the mosques. I’ve never been religious all my life, but she would constantly say: “If you don’t pray you’re gonna go to hell.” So I’d just say “oh, fine” and I’d pray out of fear. But then I started getting into philosophy and science, and started reading more about religions and what it really says in the texts, and I realized that I’m not going to hell after all.
LW: So you were free to do that? Like your mother wasn’t apprehensive about it?
HK: Oh she is. She thinks I’m the devil.
LW: What?! (Laughter)
HK: She thinks I’m evil and immoral.
LW: Does your family know that you’re an Atheist?
HK: I don’t think I’ve come out and outright said it to my mother. I’m sure she has her ideas, but everyone else knows I’m an Atheist.
LW: I’ve talked to some Christians that think that Atheism is a religion. Do you think it is?
HK: No. Atheism is absolutely not a religion.
Secretary: Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color!
LW: I’m not necessarily an Atheist, I’m more of an Agnostic.
HK: Let’s put it on a scale of 1-10. A 10 would absolutely believe that there is a God. A zero would believe that there is no God. Agnostics are usually between a 4 and a 6. You will find some zeros, but I’d probably lean more toward a 0.5. You cannot be sure 100% there is no god. If you can’t prove Him, you cannot un-prove Him as well.
LW: Why is Atheism not a religion, period?
HK: Because the definition of Atheism is just “the lack of the belief in God.” And there is no set of rules, beliefs – nothing that you have to follow. Without a God, what you do with your life is up to you. You determine your own hierarchy of values. There is no one telling you how you should live your life. This is what religion does. Also, religion relies on faith to tell you how to think and what to do. Atheism relies on science to tell you how things really are not to take anything for face value.
LW: Why did you start the Secular Student Alliance?
HK: I started the WSU SSA chapter, because I wanted a group where like-minded individuals can come together to share ideas. Where a group of rational people can do good things just because we are human, not because some one tells us to…or else.
LW: How do you feel specifically about Christianity?
HK: I don’t have anything against Christianity. As long as Christians keep their beliefs to themselves, I’m fine with it. Of course, I think that free speech is allowed, but when people try to legislate their morality on others, it becomes a problem.
LW: What do you know about Christianity?
HK: More than Christians themselves know about Christianity. (Laughter) I’ve read the bible many times, I’ve read the Koran many times, I’ve read as much of the Jewish and Hindu canons as I could, as well as other important religious texts.
LW: What would you say are the origins of Christianity?
HK: There is no one origin of Christianity. It comes from many different past religions and superstitions. For example, the God “Horus” was also born of a virgin, he was crucified, he was brought gifts by three solar deities kind of like Jesus, and his mother was named “Meri.” And most Christian holidays are Pagan. There’s nothing original about Christianity, or Islam and Judaism for that matter.
LW: Do all Atheists have the same views when it comes to gay rights?
HK: Most Atheists accept that there is nothing inherently wrong about homosexuality. Actually, homosexual behavior has been found in over 1500 species. Are you trying to tell me that it’s unnatural and immoral for a fish to be homosexual?
LW: Are you Pro-life or Pro-Choice?
HK: Pro-Choice. But again, that’s just me.
LW: What is your partisan orientation. Any political affiliations?
HK: I tend to lean toward Libertarianism.
LW: Does your political affiliation result from you being an Atheist?
HK: My Atheism affects my political views. Libertarians are very pro-liberty. Our principles are that you can do whatever you want in your life, but once you start infringing on other people’s rights, that’s when it becomes a no-no.
LW: Would you say that Atheism is beneficial or better for society?
HK: I think secularism is better and beneficial for society. My personal goal is to know what is true about the world. It doesn’t matter if, for example, being religious makes me feel better. It doesn’t make it right or true.
LW: Do you feel that the politicians address the needs or concerns of Atheists, Secularists, Agnostics, etc?
HK: Sometimes they do cater to Atheists and Secularists in this country. We’ve actually got it good here in the northern states, where it’s much more secular than others. If you go down to southern states, you’ll see that they really do try to teach creationism in public schools, they’re trying to make recitation of prayers mandatory in schools, they’re trying to erect the Ten Commandments in city halls. In the military, you are considered “spiritually unfit” if you’re an Atheist.
LW: “Spiritually Unfit?”
HK: Yeah. It’s almost like Atheists are going through what gays went through, when homosexuality was considered a psychological illness.
LW: So, back to prayers in school. Do you think there should be open discussion about religion, and let children express themselves? Instead of there being a set rule of “were gonna say this prayer and read these commandments” and that type of thing?
HK: I don’t think that religion should take any part or have any place in schools whatsoever. You can express your beliefs, in that you can wear a cross, you can pray before a test… quietly. But nothing related to religion should have anything to do with public schools.
HK: Period. Exclamation mark.
LW: There’s this ongoing debate between Christians and Atheists about evolution. Do all Atheists believe in evolution? Do you believe in evolution?
HK: I don’t believe in evolution. I know that evolution is true. I don’t take a leap of faith and say “I hope that evolution is true.” It’s a scientific fact that you can try to make changes to, because science is ever changing. But evolution itself is a fact and anyone who tries to say otherwise is just deluded.
LW: Okay, what is evolution? Do you merely believe people evolved from monkeys? Or is there more to it?
HK: There’s definitely more to it, and we didn’t really evolve from monkeys. We had an earlier ancestor, and that lineage broke off into two species: humans and common apes. People have a hard time understanding evolution because its takes such a long time to happen.
LW: Would you say we’re still evolving now?
HK: Richard Dawkins was asked that question once. I do think we could still be evolving, but that’ll take millions of years and no one knows into what.
LW: What would you want to evolve into? Just for laughs, maybe a superpower?
HK: Well, we’d definitely have to evolve to adapt to the changes of our environment. But a superpower?…Maybe to be able to read people’s minds (Laughs).
LW: How do you feel about marriage and family structure, as an Atheist? In religion, the man is above women, and God is above man…
HK: Each couple should be able to determine how their marriage and family structure should be like. It doesn’t have to be the conventional approach, where the man brings home the bacon and the woman stays at home. Nowadays, many women go to work and the men are stay at home fathers. So, whatever works for each individual family is the approach they should take.
LW: Many Christians believe that you’re not fit to raise kids and you can’t teach them morals and values, because you don’t have a set of moral values. Because like you said before, you think that morality is subjective…so, you could think anything is right. What do you think?
HK: Good question. I think morality is subjective, but it doesn’t stop there. It’s actually inter-subjective, which means that you can believe or act however you want to (and this is where Libertarianism comes in), but once you start infringing on other’s rights and harming them (whatever the means may be), then it becomes wrong. It’s inter-subjective, because we still try to do what’s in our best interest and society’s best interest. It’s not in my best interest for me to go kill this girl over there. But even that’s subjective, because for example, Al-Qaeda sincerely believe that they are heros for flying the planes into the Twin Towers. On the other hand, we think they’re evil for doing that. So, it depends on who you ask. Actually, I’d say that when you have a view that’s widely accepted by literally everyone at a certain point in time, you only need one person to conjure up in his/her mind the slightest disagreement about this idea for it to become subjective – but this is still a completely ideal situation. In real life, we have never ever had a view that was widely accepted by literally every human.
Also, I’d like to turn this question around: how can you teach you’re children to be moral? If someone did follow exactly what the Bible, Quran, and Torah told them to do, they shouldn’t be allowed to be anywhere near a child, or any other human for that matter.
LW: Like, in the case of a child touching a hot stove – even if you tell them not to touch it, they will still touch it.
HK: And who’s fault is that? (Laughter) In this case, the child is learning not do do something by experience. You could guide you’re children. You could teach them that this is what you think is right, and this is what you think is wrong – but in the end, you should let them decide what’s best for them.
LW: Before this interview, some Christians asked me: do Atheists believe that bestiality is wrong? But you would think anyone with a brain can see that this is wrong.
HK: Maybe the only reason that they had to have such strict and objective moral rules is because they’re too scared to think on their own. Maybe if these rules were lifted from them, they’d be the ones going around doing horrible things and having sex with non-human animals. The way I see it, maybe these people should keep believing in a God. No one knows what they’d do without Him. Like, when some religions tell women to cover their bodies from head to toe, all I have to say is…the men in those days must’ve been pretty perverted and barbaric for women to have to do something that extreme.
LW: And I think the Bible says that if a girl has her menstrual cycle, a man can raper her and take her as her wife. So if someone rapes your little girl, would that be OK? I’ve seen God do worse things in the Bible than Satan does.
HK: In the Bible, Satan kills like, 10 people; and God kills I think, 2.3 million people…
LW: Is worshipping false Idols good or bad?
HK: I think the worship of anything is bad. You can use certain idols or symbols and archetypes as a guide to life, like Buddha, for example. But you have to recognize that he isn’t real.
LW: Suppose Christians didn’t believe in the Bible literally anymore.
HK: But they still believe in a God?
LW: I guess.
HK: Many Christians today don’t take the Bible literally. That’s a little better, but not good enough. My personal view is that many “good” and “loving” things that Jesus preached, like turning the other cheek, is cowardly. And loving your enemy is unnatural. I cannot love a rapist, for example. And I would not turn the other cheek and let him rape again. And loving everyone? What value does that place on love? In my world, you only love the select few that deserve your love – the ones that you really care about, you unabashedly hate your enemies, and you’re nice to everyone else.
LW: Define God.
HK: You could call the matter that exploded and caused our universe to exist that way it does now, God. To me, that’s more beautiful than any of the stories of the Gods described in any religion.
LW: How do you feel about the Occult? Have you heard of it?
HK: In the way that people use it nowadays, I think it’s all superstitious conspiracies. The real meaning of occult means “the hidden, or unknown,” so when we use it like that, I think everyone should get into the “occult.” Meaning, you should always try to learn things about the world that the general population might now know. And you should always look for and explore alternative means of doing things, because the status quo of doing things might not always be the best. Every one’s goal should to learn things beyond what they’re handed. I think it takes a brave man/woman to explore what is considered to be dangerous, or not supposed to be known by everyone – now they’re smart. But when people say that famous people, like Lady Gaga or George W. Bush are part of the Illuminati (which actually comes from the Latin “The Illuminated”) they’re being deluded. The Illuminati were a group of very influential men, and people fear that. So they labeled them as evil and Satanic. They were also very secretive, and that tends to scare people too, because people are always afraid of what they don’t know. The Illuminati doesn’t even exist anymore, anyway. And what’s wrong with being Illuminated?
LW: And they say that Masonry is Satanic and creepy. But it’s really not, when you do some reading. I must say it’s very symbolic…
HK: Christianity is always using symbolism. Look at how “Satanic” Christianity and Catholicism really is: they either symbolically or literally eat the flesh and drink the blood of a man! (Laughs) They point their fingers at Satanists of doing that (which they don’t), while they’re feasting on human flesh and blood, and have a symbol of torture around their necks!…who’s evil here?
LW: How do you feel about the New Age movement?
HK: They tend to be spiritual and believe in metaphysics. Like I said, anything dealing with the supernatural, for example, astrology, psychics, even wishing for something before blowing out your birthday candle, goes against reason and science, and is not to be trusted. Although I do want to add, that there are many things that occur that science cannot yet explain. But we should not call these things supernatural or spiritual occurrences. All we know is that they might be happening, and unless we can scientifically prove them to work and try to find out from where and why, we should not rely on them.
Earlier this summer, I attended the 2011 Center for Inquiry Leadership Conference in Amherst, NY. During this conference, the question arose of whether Atheists should participate in Interfaith events. Many people said yes, because we should put our differences aside and work towards a greater goal. Few said no, because, as CFI intern Cody Hashman said, “we need to preserve our own resources and focus on building our own architecture.” Is this a yes or no question, though? I think not.
That is a false dichotomy. Many people, when presented with a problem and a set of solutions think it’s one or the other.
Let’s look at the reasons Atheists should not participate in interfaith. For one, we don’t like the religious right and neither do they like us. They’ve caused us a lot of trouble throughout history and continue to do so. They often reject what anyone else has to say (and sometimes kill them) when tried to reason with. They want to impose their morality on us, and even though we give them every right to believe, but argue that it is in everyone’s interest to establish a secular society, they refuse. But let’s face it, the religious right continue to do many great things, such as humanitarian work, blood drives, helping the poor, etc. Is this an excuse to join forces and participate in these affairs? Don’t be fooled by how beautiful these things sound, it might not be to our advantage.
Maybe – just maybe, they’re so good at doing all these great things is that they themselves join forces with their own huge circle of friends. They’ve got a lot of resources, organizations, and people to back them up. They’re popular in contributing towards a better society. Here’s the problem: we’re not.
We don’t have as many resources, organizations, and people backing us up, and the more we continue on giving the religious right all we have, we’ll end up with the ability to do nothing. And who are we empowering? The same people who wish us dead, the same people who want to build churches on every corner of the street, and the same people who want to impose their morality on us. Rather, let us focus on growing our own resources, getting more people on our side, and build our own architecture. In the end, we won’t be seen as the evil-doers by society anymore, and finally receive some credit for all the work that the religious right take credit for, while they ironically continue to destroy humanity at the same time.
So, are there any benefits to participating in interfaith? I think so. Again, this isn’t a black or white issue. The best use of interfaith is discussion and dialogue. Discussion excites the mind, bring about solutions, understanding, and knowledge. Without discussion and engagement in thought provoking matters, viewing things from others’ perspectives and coming to the best conclusions, we would catch the dreaded disease of group-think. Group-think is when a group tries to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints. There would be no movement, no development, and stagnation of advancement would prevail. Quite contrary to the mission of the Atheist, Secularist, and especially for those who are still looking or confused about the answers (which what secular/Atheist organizations are perfect for).
So, what should we Atheists do, you ask? I say we look at each event, each cause, and each circumstance separately, with a keen eye for our objective. If our objective is to arouse discussion and knowledge, I say go for it. If the objective is something as simple as humanitarian relief, for example, I say let us stick to loading ammunition of our own resources to the cause or event. If it is for an urgent or necessary issue, such as recovering from an earthquake, I think it’s best to put aside our differences and work in harmony for our common good.