Print Edition: January 8, 2014
Faith is not a virtue for Dr. Peter Boghossian. Nor is faith a virtue for the Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanist collective (ASH) who have invited Boghossian to speak at UFV on January 18.
ASH is one of many groups of non-believers that has begun to form as church attendance has dropped in Canada. They describe themselves as “A varied collection of like-minded individuals who are engaged in thoughtful conversation and community in the Fraser Valley.”
One thing that ASH has in common with their ideological opposition — the believers — is a sense of communal responsibility.
“I don’t label myself an atheist as much as I label myself a humanist” said ASH organizer Jeff Gruban. “The best way for a society with a diverse group of people and cultures to coexist peace-fully is in a secular environment. I think many of us would agree this is the path to getting along.”
Nancy Weisz-Gallagher, another ASH member and organizer of the upcoming lecture event, said with warm conviction, “We’re about promoting critical thinking. [Our members] are alike in principle but free thinkers in practice.”
Weisz-Gallagher and Gruban are inviting Boghossian, author of the recent book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, to represent the secular side of dialogue in the community. They are eager to bring the faith debate to the academic heart of the Fraser Valley.
Both Weisz-Gallagher and Gruban admit the book title is a little divisive.
“Dr. Boghossian is a professional philosopher. The original title was about the epistemology of philosophy. I think the publisher pushed to have it changed,” Weisz-Gallagher said.
Gruban echoed the comment.
“If you watch his lectures on YouTube or read his work, you’ll see that he’s a professional academic, a great speaker.”
Despite the valley being the buckle of BC’s bible belt, ASH is a part of the dynamic exchange of dialogue that happens in the community.
“We actually have an open and publicly advertised meeting every Sunday at Legal Grounds Coffee House and are treated very well. There are several religious groups that meet there regularly as well. We all get along great,” Gruban said. “We have supported several initiatives for the home-less including dinners [and] shelter programs, and are working on a permanent housing solution in conjunction with several other community groups.”
When non-believer organizations start to grow they tend to be less cohesive in comparison to faith-based groups. Among ASH there is no dogma, doctrine, symbols, holy books, or hierarchical leader.
“Organizing atheists is like herding cats. Most of us are independent thinkers, skeptics: not ones to take things on authority,” Gruban said.
Back in September 2012, Chilliwack hosted a special public panel of Christian scholars called “Beyond Secularism.” Theologians spoke about the relationship between secular thought and the state. The panel concluded that secularism is a beneficial for both believers and non-believers, but they also felt there are “good” and “bad” forms of religion.
In contrast, Boghossian will be delivering a far more bleak analysis of faith. His “Faith Is Not a Virtue” lecture is an opportunity for the secular community to rally in the public square. For Gruban and Weisz-Gallagher, the value of critical thinking — logic and reason — is what holds command over the symbolic dialectics of faith.