Jackson Doughart: Atheism should be considered an ethnicity in Canada
I recently cited Doughart for suggesting (rather tongue in cheek I think) we drop all the words of our national anthem rather than remove sexist and religious language.
Now he seems to be suggesting that we consider atheists to be a minority ethnic group in Canada, like Jews or Muslims. And I'm sort of halfway on this. Part of me is okay with it and the other is not.
In other words, I don't know what to think.
The story starts out with a discussion of the wording in the National Census when it comes to your religious affiliation. Apparently, the current question requests that respondents select the denomination of their family, which is probably one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard. No doubt this is meant to bolster fading religious sentiment across the country.
The CSA would, very sensibly, are asking that the question of religious affiliation refer to one's own religious sentiments and beliefs:
The Canadian Secular Alliance, an organization promoting church/state separation, has suggested that the instructions be amended so that participants would select their actual beliefs instead of those inherited from previous generations. If this were done, they predict, it would reflect a much lower rate of religiosity than presently shown. (The 2011 census places non-believers at 24% of the population.)Right, like actually make the census useful when it comes to religion. Why is the government interested in what my mom and dad believe? Why not ask us all?
Doughart goes on to explain why the CSA just doesn't understand the intent behind the present instructions. Apparently, the goal is to identify ethnicity. This points to intergenerational tradition, which is evidently important to someone.
This is all fine and interesting in an academic light, I suppose, but isn't the current belief (or non belief) of everyone important for the here and now? Why not have it both ways and put the CSA question on as well?
Many people are justifiably attached to a particular faith regardless of the non-belief in their “heart of hearts”. For others, however, non-belief represents a mark of group identity that could be described ethnic in character.
Isn't it a shame we won't know what's in their heart of hearts? Okay, okay, I'll let go now.
He then proceeds to talk about what constitutes an ethnic group. It need not be skin tone or creed. It could be language or shared history. So you can have religious and non-religious Jews, for example.
Some may object that atheism is not itself a religion, so it cannot therefore be a religious ethnic affiliation. In purely philosophical terms this is correct, since atheism in theory has no actual content; it is merely the rejection of religion. But in practice this is far from the case. A person who has been raised in a secular household will unfailingly absorb certain beliefs that relate to their parents’ atheism — especially attitudes imparting falsity and superfluity to faith and worship.
This is sort of interesting. One could take a look at the Atheist Movement, for instance and perhaps see a sort of community - but ethnicity? Really? I mean, isn't atheism itself more similar to one's political beliefs than an actual ethnic identifier? I don't know, but I'd be interested in hearing what you think.
Doughart ends the article with something that sort of leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Consequently, viewing atheists as an ethnic group would bring some much-needed perspective to the question of religion in public life. People often affiliate themselves with belief and non-belief not because of careful consideration, but because of inheritance. This has political implications that extend beyond the rightness or wrongness of the ideas themselves. The mere fact that they are held by groups of some size means that their followers are owed a place in the democratic space. And given the size of Canada’s growing atheist community, there is reason to consider non-belief an ethnic identity alongside many others.You see, I don't really get parts of this and I think this is the whole end goal - the reason he's keen on defining atheism as an ethnicity. Let me break it down and tell you what I mean.
I don't see why seeing atheists as an ethnic group should bring any much-needed perspective to the question of religion in public life. When it comes to rights or privileges, I think it is the individual who should be considered above all. As an atheist, I do not expect to get any special rights above my fellow countrymen. I expect to get human rights like my fellow humans. People have rights, ideas do not - no matter how many people think they're true.
And I agree that people often affiliate themselves with religious belief because of where they grew up and to whom they were born. I suppose this is also sometimes the case with non-religious people. But realistically, I think it's obvious that most atheists, around today at least, did not blindly inherit their disbelief. To lump both groups together 50/50 is a mistake - if that's what Doughart is getting at.
Finally, everyone is owed an equal place in the democratic space regardless of any insane ideas they hold true. This is the very foundation of democracy! Big groups of people should not get any special deference.
Okay, I suppose that's where I don't get it.