President Carrie Henson’s Comments at the July 18th, 2017 Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Meeting.
Since this body insists on subjecting me to a Christian prayer before these public meetings that represent all citizens and have even censored some citizens from being able to civic-ally invocate, in protest, I will continue to subject you to my beliefs until equality is restored by this Assembly.
You have heard me refer to myself as an Atheist but that tells you nothing about what I believe, that only tells you in what I do not believe. Calling myself an Atheist only refers to my lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. Atheism is one thing and one thing only: a lack of belief in gods. Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what I believe. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.
Atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion.
While there are some religions that are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion. To put it in a more humorous way: If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby. Despite the fact that atheism is not a religion, atheism is protected by many of the same Constitutional rights that protect religion. That, however, does not mean that atheism is itself a religion, only that our sincerely held (lack of) beliefs are protected in the same way as the religious beliefs of others. Similarly, many “interfaith” groups will include atheists. This, again, does not mean that atheism is a religious belief.
Some groups will use words like Agnostic, Humanist, Secular, Bright, Freethinker, or any number of other terms to self-identify. Those words are perfectly fine as a self-identifier, but I strongly advocate also using the word that people understand: Atheist. I don’t use those other terms to disguise my atheism or to shy away from a word that some think has a negative connotation. We should be using the terminology that is most accurate and that answers the question that is actually being asked. We should use the term that binds all of us together.
If I call myself a humanist, a freethinker, a bright, or even a “cultural Catholic” and lack belief in a god, I am an atheist. I don’t shy away from the term. I embrace it.
In recent surveys, the Pew Research Center has grouped atheists, agnostics, and the “unaffiliated” into one category. The so-called “Nones” are the fastest growing “religious” demographic in the United States. Pew separates out atheists from agnostics and the non-religious, but that is primarily a function of self-identification. Only about 5% of people call themselves atheists, but if you ask about belief in gods, 11% say they do not believe in gods. Those people are atheists, whether they choose to use the word or not.
I am an atheist because there is not sufficient evidence for me to subscribe to the belief in any God or gods. When I refer to myself as an atheist all you have found out about me is that I lack a belief in any gods.
When I refer to myself as an atheist you have learned what I do not believe, when I refer to myself as a Humanist, I am giving you a clue as to what I do believe.
I was raised a Humanist, though we didn’t use that term. I learned to be responsible, compassionate, and ethical. I was taught that my actions have consequences, that happiness can be found, and that ultimately what is important is our relationships with other people.
It wasn’t until about a decade ago that I first learned about Humanism and found that its philosophy was in lock step with my own personal world views. I decided to find out if there were other like-minded individuals in our community dedicated to making the world a better place and so I founded Last Frontier Freethinkers. Through LFF I have gotten to know some amazing people and have been able to explore my understanding of Humanism and how it can be applied to daily life.
Humanist consider rational thinking essential to good moral reasoning. Because rational thinking is so important, Humanists engage in a method of thinking called “Freethought” Freethinking is best thought of as an attempt to free your reasoning of self or society imposed limitations. It is hard to do because it requires a lot of discipline to realize when you are limiting your thinking and to actively consider alternatives.
Humanism is first and foremost a philosophy about morality. It is the study of what it means to be a good human being. For me, there are three traits I consider mandatory for a person to be good. These three traits are the true holy trinity. A good person is compassionate, ethical, and responsible.
The word ethical in this context, refers to a group of virtues. If someone is ethical, they are honest, principled, fair, and decent. An ethical person has a sense of justice, integrity and knows the difference between right and wrong. They do not like to see other people taken advantage of or treated unfairly.
Compassion is the most important attribute of this true holy trinity. It trumps the other two because it acts as a moral compass. To be compassionate you need to see other people as full human beings. Once you understand that all people feel love, pain, and sorrow, exactly like you do, you begin to understand how important it is for you to become responsible for the impact your behavior has on others.
For a compassionate person, good is defined as helping people, and bad is defined as hurting people. It is easy to know the difference between right and wrong because when you are doing right you are bringing about joy and happiness to others and when you are doing wrong you are contributing to others suffering.
Being responsible is part of the true holy trinity of goodness because it is not enough to be honest and fair. It is not enough to care and not wish to cause harm. Unless we take responsibility for our actions and the impact our actions have on others, we cannot hope to behave in a way that is good.
Understanding that each person in the world is a real person with real dreams, desires, and problems changes the way you view “other” people. This change is central to why the Humanist philosophy is called Humanism. Once you truly grasp the reality of other individuals, human rights are no longer a pithy slogan: they are a mandatory prerequisite for civilized living that must never be compromised.
This is what I do believe. I am an atheist by definition. I am a Humanist at heart.