Sunday, September 08, 2013

Meeting with the Humanist Association of Ottawa

  The last visit of the 2012-2013 year of the "Getting to Know Our Neighbour's Faith" small group of the Ottawa Mennonite Church was with the Humanist Association of Ottawa. We met at Patty's Pub in June 2013. There were about 5 people from HAO and 6 people from the OMC. I tried to frame the discussion as an interview, trying to get to know their history and how they view religion overall. I was personally a bit afraid of what to expect from the conversation, mostly by people from our group. That is because, speaking generally, Christians are not very used to the idea of 'not defending their ideas' of G*d, and I didn't know how it would go. I don't want to write publicly about some details of their relationship with religion, but I want to say that I wish that, generally speaking, there were more gentle and more respectful relations between religious groups and atheists/humanists. More than that, I think that, in general, these "positions" have an opportunity to move beyond 'tolerance' or 'respect' and walk a path of embrace, arriving at some point at political cooperation. And then after (or in the meantime), to move to push the boundaries of philosophy. I should not have expectations that this should be the path of institutions, but it would be interesting to see local groups in such a process.
I learned that our humanist friends do have lots of assertions about who G*d is and who G*d is not. That looked like theology to me. It was also interesting to see how they use science to oppose ideas of G*d. I see these positions in the context of negative views by religious people of non-religious people. I know regrettable notions that judge non-religious or atheists as morally inferior than religious people. That is really unfortunate. And so, I noticed a certain 'spirit of counter-attack' by our atheist friends as they spoke about science exposing religion. They use science as a good tool to expose religion. There may be other tools too. I just think that there's the risk of "having too much faith in science". I don't think that science will help us in the search for meaning and solidarity in the future. There may be a philosophical debate about the intersection of science and ethics, but regardless of theism or atheism, we may need to carve new languages to talk about meaning and solidarity with the help of the Humanities and Social Sciences (ok, here we go, it's yet another science...). The other interesting thing to note was that "the question" was important to some of them. That is, even though they do not "believe in G*d", the "question of G*d" is still important to some of them. Why would this question follow them? In my mind, I thought of another position: that which would see "religion" as irrelevant. In that view, the "a" in "atheism" would be that of indifference towards "religion". And that's an interesting position that confronts a deeper question.
  I was also pleased to see how humanitarian solidarity moves them to help. They plan concrete and active political actions based on their principles. These are concrete and important actions not only at the city, but in different places of the world. And I admired that.

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