Category Archives: Saskatoon Freethinkers

Post-religious

One of the reasons why I’ve kept this blog running for as long as I have (11+ years!) is that it’s always served as a running artifact of my life since I’ve moved to Canada. In fact, if you dig enough in the archives, you’ll find chapters from all sorts of my life’s stages — from my changing political views, evolving cultural attitudes, and even different shades of belief and nonbelief.

And of course, there’s the infamous manifesto that Jerry and I wrote back in September 2007 when we outed ourselves as atheists to our friends and family. Maybe it’s time for me to revisit what I wrote in 2007 – because in some ways, I think I’ve moved past much of what it means to be an atheist.

Six years ago when we first identified ourselves as nonbelievers, there was a lot of issues for us to work through. There was some anger, some sadness, plus a whole lot of rejection from various friends and family members.

And then Jerry and I found ourselves an atheist community in town, and for a while, we were quite active in it. But after a few months it started to get tedious, arguing the same arguments and mocking the same religious foibles.  So we eventually left that group behind because it wasn’t filling what we needed in a community — I guess part of me felt like there’s got to be more to do than just mocking and arguing.

Which is one of the reasons why I started going to the local Unitarian congregation in Saskatoon. I had several friends who were already members, plus I wanted to find a community that would be a place for our family. I also wanted Emma to grow up in an intergenerational community where she could be exposed to lots of different people and ideas, apart from Jerry and I.

Emma, lighting the chalice in Children's Religious Education (RE)

Emma, looking fab while lighting the chalice in Children’s Religious Education (RE)

 

Today was a pretty important day for me in this community, because today I became a member of the Unitarian congregation.

Looking back on it, I think it’s funny how much I fought officially joining the Unitarian church. Granted, I’ve been volunteering with them for over 3 years now and am a pretty active part of the community, but initially there was something a bit scary in me taking that step to make my involvement official.

It helps to know that I’m a member of this particular congregation, and I’m not signing onto “Unitarianism” in general (hooray for congregationalist approaches!). And I think I’m ready for it now, especially since I’m starting to reconsider how I classify my “religious affiliation”.

These days I think I identify more as someone who’s post-religious. Sure, I’m still happy to claim the title of atheist, if only to challenge the misconceptions many religious believers have when they hear that label — but there’s a part of me who doesn’t like the term “atheist” as much, mainly because I don’t like to identify myself as being someone who’s in opposition to the religious. In part, identifying myself an atheist still inadvertently links me to religious belief, and really, I don’t want to be associated with it.

I first heard the term post-religous in an interview with the UK Sunday Assembly’s founders Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. Here’s a part of an interview where they describe the SA and use the term:

How does Sunday Assembly bring together like minded liberal Christians who no longer believe in the supernatural or worship a Father God but like church community with humanists/atheists in a quest to live an authentic life?

Jones: We’ve got some people who love the Sunday Assembly who fit that description. If you start talking about living this one life as fully as possible, you can suddenly open the door very wide. I’d like to make this as un-atheistic as possible. Atheism is boring. We’re both post-religious. 

Evans: We don’t check anyone’s beliefs at the door but seek out people who are just happy to be alive. [my emphasis]

I love the ideas behind the Sunday Assembly: Live Better. / Help Often. / Wonder More.

I think, in some ways, I’ve made the local Unitarian Centre our family’s Sunday Assembly.  While I’m not usually a fan of the Sunday morning services (you’ll find me hanging out with the youth group instead), I do love the community we’ve found.  Emma will grow up learning about the seven principles, and when she’s old enough, can decide for herself who she’ll be and what she’ll do with them (and I’ve already told her she can change her mind 100 times!).

But if you were to have asked me, 6 years ago, if I’d willingly sign-on as a member of a “church,” I would have probably laughed. Isn’t it funny how things have changed — but I don’t mind so much now.

And I don’t mind if others thing I’m crazy for being a part of the Unitarians, or think I’m hell-bound because I don’t believe in the particular tenets of their faith.

Take me or leave me, this is where I’m at today. I may be in a different spot tomorrow, a year from now, or 5 years later – and I’m okay with that.

a part | apart

A funny thing happened tonight while typing out an email to my little sister — I meant to write the words “a part” but instead my fingers missed the space bar and I typed the word: “apart.”  It’s funny, because that one careless typo holds all kinds of symbolism and pretty much describes my last few months…

This summer hasn’t been an easy one for me, interpersonally-speaking.  In early June, I resigned from my position as Community Services Coordinator for the Saskatoon Freethinkers, a move that wasn’t easy — but was necessary (arguably, for both parties).*

For nearly the last year-and-a-half, the Saskatoon Freethinkers have been in the forefront of most of my extra time.  I knew from the first meeting we attended (in February 2009), that I wanted to be a part of the group’s leadership team, because it was JUST what I was looking for in Saskatoon.  By this point, Jerry and I were still pretty much new in our outspoken atheist life, and we were so hungry for like-minded friendships and conversations.

And, it worked out!  I immediately started volunteering for the group, leading talks, and soon enough, I was right there with the movers and shakers.  I loved it.  I loved being a part of the movement.  I loved the responsibility, I loved the interactions, and I even loved helping with the administrative functions of the group (if only because I knew we were setting up something significant).

I was so proud to be on discussion panels, be interviewed for news articles, and even challenge good ol’ John Gormley in defense of our group.  So much of my experience was great fun!

But, like in most relationships, there’s the ups and the downs.  Pretty soon, there were some conflicts and disagreements that never really got resolved, but just got pushed aside or buried.

Before I knew it, my world started getting bigger than just the Freethinkers group, as I helped start up the side-groups of Saskatoon Secular Family Network and Café Apostate.   Pretty soon I found myself volunteering to be a parent education assistant with the Foundation Beyond Belief organization, a US-based charity for atheists and humanists started by Dale McGowan, one of my heroes of secular parenting.  [I’ve only recently realized that our secular parenting group is one of the only active ones in Canada — and this weekend we’re hosting a Freethinker Family Camp that’s gotten notice all over the country!]

And — last week I started my journey toward becoming a secular celebrant, and was officially accepted into the Celebrant Foundation and Institute‘s 2010-11 academic program.   Plus, this week I was invited to be a part of the writing team for a nation-wide blog for Canadian Atheists, representing Saskatoon. (So, I’ve been busy.)

This June, as I was in the thick of all the interpersonal drama with the group, I remember feeling very hurt and confused by what was going on — while also feeling misunderstood and undervalued.  But now that I’ve had some time to think/stew/dwell on everything that’s happened, I can find some actual GOOD that came from the whole experience:

  1. I now recognize that my path in the atheist/freethinking/secular/skeptic movement isn’t necessarily in line with the Freethinkers’ group mandate — and that’s okay.  While I value the need for rationalism and critique, I think I see myself more in the humanist vein of the movement.
  2. I need to feel like I’m in a place where my personality and contributions are viewed as assets, and not liabilities.  From the start, I don’t think I was a right fit for the leadership team.  And that’s okay.  It’s important for me to be self-aware enough to recognize where and when I’m needed, and to know when to back away when I’m not.
  3. I was pretty devastated when I first left the leadership team — it felt as if I were betraying the larger movement by backing away from my role on the Council — but now I can see that’s a bit melodramatic (even for me).   The fact is, while this group has a role to play, it’s just one facet of the whole.  So it’s okay that I didn’t necessarily “fit” here, because there are many more opportunities for me to serve elsewhere.
  4. I’m surprised at how liberating it is to just be a “member” of the group — don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be a part of it, but now I have the freedom to be selective in the activities I participate in.  So, when our interests align, I’ll be there.  When not, I don’t have to be.  No more trying to fit my round head into a square hole! (ouch)
  5. Free time!  Not that I have all that much to begin with, but now I can really focus my interests into my areas of passion — secular parenting, Celebrant training, and Apostate-ing. [don’t tell Jerry, but I’m hoping to also volunteer for the parents’ council at Emma’s new school, and maybe volunteer for next year’s Children’s Festival.]

As cheesy as it may sound, I feel like I’m finally in a place of peace about the whole situation.  Part of me thinks that it took something as shattering as this separation to really wake me up to prioritize my efforts as to what I want to do for the humanist side of the atheist movement.  Some lessons are harder than others to learn (I know, again with the cliches) — but in this case, I’m really glad to see that there’s positives I can take from something that felt so painful to experience.

So, that’s my journey of how I went from being

a part of the Saskatoon Freethinkers

to feeling apart from it

and finally returning to be a part of the group, but in an entirely different place.

And that’s okay.


*[disclaimer: I know that some of the current leadership team may read my blog (or my Facebook notes), so let me state that this post isn’t meant to be a passive-aggressive slam on the group or the current team leading the Freethinkers.  This post is just meant to be me, reflecting on my experience, on my personal blog.  Feel free to comment, email, or call me if you’ve got questions or comments about what I write here.]

How reasonable…

Today Jerry and I participated in the local Freethinkers’ group blood drive, as a part of the international day of reason, a day meant to respond to the US government-mandated National Day of Prayer (which was recently found to be unconstitutional).

From the Saskatoon Freethinkers website:

The National Day of Reason is used to inject reason and rational thought into actions and behaviors. It was started as a response to the National Day of Prayer in the US. Rather than praying (which has been shown to have no effect in all properly designed studies i.e. double blind placebo studies), we will do something that has a measurably positive effect: saving lives.

Emma was visibly concerned that Jerry and I came home with “boo-boos”, so she put a sticker on her forearm, so she could “match” mama and daddy:

Day of Reason celebration

I guess it’s up to you to determine which is more helpful for humanity: praying or donating blood?  I’m always up for hearing a case for the former, though I’m yet to be persuaded.

What he said:

Earlier this week in the Star Phoenix there was a letter to the Editor where the author attempted to condone (or at least badly explain) the pedophilic priest epidemic by blaming the “sexual pollution” of our day and age.

Today, the paper published this letter of response, which I just love.  Here’s the letter’s forceful conclusion:

The only sexual pollution society needs to be rid of are the pedophiles who use the confessional as a torture chamber and those who support them, financially and otherwise.

Both letters are worth the read!  Here’s hoping the author of the latter will join ranks with us Freethinkers in town.

Hope Race for Recovery

This afternoon we braved the Saskatchewan elements to participate in the Hope Race for Recovery event — and by elements, I mean SNOW.

We walked with a group of people from the Saskatoon Freethinkers, and it was our second year we participated in the event.  One element I really like about this walk/race is the ability to be able to participate in honor of, or in memory of someone you know who has fought cancer.  This year, Jerry walked in honor of his father, a cancer survivor, and I walked in memory of my grandmother (my dad’s mom), who died of cancer before I was born.

Despite the unfriendly elements, it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon!  Our friend Allen captured the finish line of our 2k walk on video, so here it is, for your enjoyment:

Sunday’s Meetup: Altruism and Atheism

This Sunday at 11:30am, I’ll be co-leading the following Saskatoon Freethinkers Meetup — c’mon out and join us!

When it comes to helping others, are we atheists more motivated by The Selfish Gene or the Golden Rule? Too often believers have accused atheists of being selfish and uncharitable:
Let’s see, we have scores of Baptist Hospitals, Methodist Hospitals, Jewish Hospitals, Catholic Hospitals, etc., etc.. Each of these have ‘outreach’ programs both here and in the most dismal places on earth, staffed with dedicated medical doctors and nurses. Where oh where are the Atheist’s hospitals, or soup kitchens? [link]

Is this accusation fair? This month we’ll talk about what it means to be godless and support charities/humanitarian causes.

On May 6th, our group will be participating in the National Day of Reason by donating blood. The National Day of Reason began in the US, as a response to Congressionally-mandated National Day of Prayer. Even though this may have originally been a US-sponsored event, here in Saskatoon we have recently witnessed the Mayor’s office affiliating itself with a prayer breakfast.

The National Day of Prayer states that its purpose is “mobilizing the Christian community to intercede” on behalf of the country — but how much is accomplished through prayer? The National Day of Reason recognizes that there are PRODUCTIVE ways to help fellow human beings, so on May 6th, secular humanists and atheists across North America will be donating blood in order to realistically help people, rather than just talking to themselves.

For April’s Meetup, we’re having a speaker from the Canadian Blood Services come talk to us on how much it means to be a recipient of donated blood. We’ll also talk about other ways our group can make a difference in our community.

Some links to check out:

More on our Meetup site.

Building up that wall (of separation)

More press for the Saskatoon Freethinkers, re: last weekend’s “Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.”