Chat with Zachary R.W. Johnson on Atheism and British Columbia

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is the state of atheism in British Columbia?

Zachary R.W. Johnson: In BC atheism and agnosticism seem to be quite healthy. A large segment of the province’s population is already Atheist and, in fact, I understand it to be the majority of citizens. This trend only seems to be continuing as the number of self proclaimed Atheists is indeed rising. Which I find as a good course for our society to be on.

Jacobsen: What is bigger threat to equality for atheists?

Johnson: As I see it the biggest threat to equality is between Atheists of differing political views more so than between the religious and irreligious. At the moment, an increase in political dogma is occurring across North America and on both sides of the political spectrum. Atheists, generally being skeptics about religion, shouldn’t lose their skepticism within the realm of politics. As dogma comes in more forms than just religion, atheists should be as questioning about their political views and the views of others as they are about religion. Atheists must avoid being in a position where a claim of belief in political ideology can be made against them in a similar way an Atheist can make such a claim against the devout. It is equally as bad for one ideological side to attempt to silence another as it is for the religious to silence the irreligious.

Jacobsen: Do BC political parties support equality for the irreligious across the board, or are there some who do not support equality for them – in policy or principle, even practice?

Johnson: If asked I’m certain that the various provincial political parties would say they support the irreligious to hold their beliefs. Of course, what’s implemented in practice is much more important than rhetoric. But I’m unaware of any genuine favoritism toward the religious in BC. This certainly is a different situation on the federal level, specifically regarding the Conservative Party of Canada. The CPC very much plays to a religious base which exists as a fundamental part of Conservative Party support. As it is so integral to their membership and Party structure, Atheists should be leery towards the Conservative Party if they are to form government again in future elections. This to ensure a Conservative government doesn’t act in favor of religious citizens.

Jacobsen: Do atheists tend to lean younger and more to the ‘Left’ socially and politically? If so, why is this the case in BC?

Johnson: I don’t think this is necessarily the case in British Columbia. The BC Liberal Party, being the more ‘right-wing’ party, had formed government for 16 years straight. BC’s population being majority irreligious, I find it difficult to think that their support is rooted with religious citizens. I think our province has largely moved past the notion of the faithful being more right-wing and Atheist being more left-wing. Although this does seem to be the case on a federal level. Similarly with youth, I think BC has been majority Atheist for long enough to where older generations share those views. Although by my estimation much of the older generations haven’t particularly focused on the idea itself. Instead, it seems specifically questioning religion wasn’t particularly necessary as an area of interest. Unlike the younger generation today, who seem to target religious ideas as subject for criticism.

Jacobsen: What are some ways religion influences politics? Are these healthy, neutral, or unhealthy for the political discourse?

 

Johnson: In BC, there seems to be little influence of religion on politics and the general political discourse. This is presumably because of the large number of Atheists who make up the provinces majority in religious belief. Unlike in the United States, it is generally unpopular for politicians to discuss one’s religious faith in Canada, especially in BC. We saw this with Premier Clark during the 2013 election when she seemed to second guess speaking with Christian groups about her Anglican faith. This is ultimately positive as religion should always be separated from politics, and in the most permanent way possible.

Jacobsen: How can the irreligious, broadly speaking, move the dual to – not superiority or tacit chauvinism as is the reverse case with the “Supremacy of God” in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – equality?

Johnson: Although the Charter does acknowledge the “supremacy of God”, it still applies to the irreligious and indeed all demographic of citizen. The removal or replacement of that statement, while a victory for Atheist equality, would be small and ultimately symbolic. As well, with the mention of God within the national anthem. Atheists can achieve a greater degree of equality through maintaining a healthy skepticism in all areas of thought. Questioning religious dogma is merely the lowest hanging fruit when being skeptical. As its claims of divine knowledge and moral contradictions are obvious. A way to progress social equality is for Atheists to be generally known as citizens who have well thought out perspectives. People who are seen to benefit public discourse and whose identity doesn’t necessarily rely on their lack of religious views. In terms of government policy, a public conversation of taxing religious institutions is likely the most important step to take when discussing legislative equality.

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