Atheism’s First Article in “Secular World” Magazine
Atheism goes international (updated article)
Atheism, under its international name of AtheismUK, has had its first article published in “Secular World” – the magazine of the Atheist Alliance International (AAI), the international umbrella group of democratic atheist organizations.
The article, “A conversation with the President” is hopefully the first of many that we wish to contribute in the coming issues.
To subscribe to the magazine (and read our interview, and many other, interesting articles) you will need to sign up to individual membership of the AAI which is available here.
However, we have reproduced the text of the interview here for you to read:
AtheismUK: “A conversation with the President”
Following their recent affiliation to the Atheist Alliance International, Richard Honess had a chat with Mark Embleton the President of AtheismUK to find out more about the United Kingdom’s first and (currently) only AAI affiliate.
RH: I’m here with Mark Embleton the president of AtheismUK, the UK’s only distinctly atheist membership organization. Mark, so tell me how it came about.
ME: Like many ideas, AtheismUK initially came about through a chance meeting of like-minded people. We happened to be newish members of the London Atheists Meetup Group and a few of us were having a drink in the pub after an event. I mentioned that it had occurred to me that there wasn’t a dedicated organization for atheists in the UK and I’d been working on my own ideas for a web site. Others mentioned ideas for campaigns on issues that weren’t already being addressed and it grew from there.
Within a few months we’d set up AtheismUK as a registered company and had a core committee of volunteers – the rest was just a lot of hard work!
RH: So that’s how it began, but tell me a little bit about the organization itself.
ME: Well, as you’ve already mentioned, AtheismUK is the UK’s only dedicated atheist organization. Our main focus is on campaigning against the false and pernicious claims of religions specifically the claim that faith, by which I mean knowing or believing that something is true without or in spite of the evidence, is an acceptable or valid position. Also how misguided religious views are forced on the rest of society, but importantly, achieving our goals through grass-roots activism and member involvement. We are the first membership organization to do this from a purely atheist perspective.
RH So why did you want to affiliate to Atheist Alliance International?
ME: Although AtheismUK operates and takes it membership mainly from within the United Kingdom, the advancement of atheism is not (obviously) purely a national issue. I have heard nightmare stories from across the world, especially in places like the USA, Africa and the Middle East; we want to be part of the solution to those problems. The only way to do this is part of an international confederation of atheistic societies, hence the AAI. We want to contribute and share ideas with our fellow affiliates from across the world and get involved with the debate on an international level; we have a lot to say. Also as a relatively new organization I believe that we can learn from our more well-established colleagues, which will improve the way we operate back home in the UK. As a result, I am very pleased that we have been accepted as the first ever affiliate to the AAI from the UK. I hope more follow, and if there are any other groups who also wish to affiliate we would encourage them to do so.
RH: The United Kingdom is, in practice, a relatively secular nation and with non-theistic organizations such as The National Secular Society, British Humanist Association, Centre for Inquiry and others, why is this organization required?
ME: I don’t think this organization is just required – I think it’s absolutely essential.
You are correct that the UK is a relatively secular nation, but I’d put it more strongly than that and say that the majority of the population have no interest in religion at all and are sick of so called religious leaders trying to force their views on society.
AtheismUK was created to fill the gap that is not fully covered by other key organizations – we will be openly challenging faith and religion, particularly their malign effects and perpetuation. Our key objective is the advancement of atheism, but particularly to unite the huge community of atheists out there who want to have their voices heard. I want a society where people can and should feel proud to be freethinking atheists.
RH: So what sort of activities will AtheismUK be undertaking?
ME: Essentially, we are a campaigning organization, but our focus is on member involvement. That means we develop new campaigns with the help of our members who flag up valid atheist issues that need addressing and also from the research we do at committee level.
Our main activity is the programme of campaigns we run on an ongoing basis and we’ll add to these as required. Current campaigns include:
Atheology – a series of texts and leaflets, which give arguments from an atheist perspective. Leaflet titles include ‘Evolution is true’, ‘Creationism is wrong’ and of course, ‘God does not exist’. One of most important of these is “Faith: the Invalid Argument” where we take the “argument from faith” and debunk it. The reason why this is so important as a topic is that it is one that we have found that some people, even sceptics and atheists don’t touch. When it’s presented to them they often just shrug their shoulders and say, “We’ll I can’t argue rationally against that!” We think that we can and in fact we must. It is faith that is the problem, and we need to give those in the sceptical and atheist community the courage and ammunition to fight it.
Religious Education in schools – is a major campaign. We are conducting a root and branch examination of faith schools in the UK. Their history, legal standpoint, how the curricula are written, how they are implemented and what safeguards are in place to prevent it from being used by the religious to indoctrinate school children.
Our “Don’t Believe It? Don’t Tick It!” campaign refers to the 2011 National Census, which will soon be upon us and one of the questions in it will be “What is Your Religion?” We are encouraging people to tick the “No Religion” box. There has been a tradition of non-believers in this county ticking the “Christian” box because they were once baptised or because as they live in a country with an established church it’s simply “what you do”. We are encouraging people who don’t believe to say so to prevent the number of Christians in this country from being inflated, which they use to try and get underserved favours from the government and wider authorities.
RH: How can people join the organization and get involved?
ME: The easiest way the find out is to look at the ‘Join Us’ page on our web site. In a nutshell, anyone can get involved at a basic level as you can comment on the articles or blogs on our web site and also sign up for free updates on news. You can join as a “Supporter” of AtheismUK for free and we invite people to so.
However, what we really need is for atheists to subscribe to our full membership option to help provide vital funds for our work. Full membership allows members to be involved at the committee level and apply for election to positions on our Council or other committees.
We will be working closely with our members as they will be an essential part of the network of active atheists we are creating.
RH: And finally, a question that interests me and many other people, what was your own personal journey, in other words how did you become an atheist?
ME: I like this question as many people have found my answer surprising, but that just shows how the whole religion thing is embedded in our history and culture without realising it.
My point is that I didn’t become an atheist – I’ve always been an atheist and I’ve never believed in a god or gods, or any religion.
I was born an atheist as that is the default position for every human that has ever lived. We are not born with any religious beliefs; these are forced upon us by parents and/or society.
However, I had to suffer like anyone else! I was christened in a Methodist church – I don’t recall being asked if this is what I wanted – but that’s what most people did then and still do now without thinking about it, whether or not they are religious.
I remember going to church as a child and hearing Bible stories and the parables in class at infant and junior school, but to me they were just stories – no different to “Winnie the Pooh” or “Gulliver’s Travels”.
I think the first sign that I wasn’t interested in religion, other than as just a story, was when I was expelled from Sunday School when I was aged 7. I won’t go into detail as to why, but let’s just say they didn’t like my attitude!
As soon as I started grammar school, aged 11, I got my parents to write to the headmaster and get me excused from Religious Education classes. There was no question or argument about this from the school in 1969, but it seems to be more difficult to do this nowadays in schools – that’s progress for you and an indication of how the religious lobby is increasing its influence on education.
As far as I was aware, I was the only person in the whole school to be excused RE and I just sat in the corner of the classroom with my classmates and did my homework, while they were all learning about the Bible. Mind you, the RE master did insist on calling it “Heathen’s corner”, but that was fine by me and what teenager doesn’t want to be different?
So overall, I had a good start to an atheist career, if I can put it that way – I half-jokingly say I’m a PA when people ask what I do, as in Professional Atheist. However, probably the most important thing, apart from my own attitude, was that my parents never really talked to me about religion and never told me that I should believe in any particular religion, they just left me to make my own mind up. This is how it should be for every child.
Like a lot of atheists, I was content to ignore religion and get on with life – if they didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t bother them. However, during my time with the Metropolitan Police in London, I had to go to give evidence in court many times. I remember the first time I did it and had a Bible thrust at me to swear on as if this was the only option. When I said I wanted to take the affirmation rather than swear on a Bible, you could have heard a pin drop, as if I’d just announced that I was the anti-Christ! That’s when I started to rethink my whole attitude to religion in society.
Since then, I’ve taken the time to study about various religions and as an atheist I probably know more about religion than most religious people, which is probably an essential job requirement for anyone who is the President of AtheismUK!
We don’t need religion, but as longs as it persists, we definitely need atheism.
Mark Embleton is a Chartered Psychologist and a Chartered Scientist with interests in evolution, and how optical illusions work. In previous careers, he served in CO19, the Metropolitan Police’s Tactical Firearms Unit, and before that with the London Fire Service. He loves cooking and used to give talks on the psycho-active effects of chilli peppers. Mark is currently learning to play the acoustic and electric guitar, and also the bass guitar, and owns five ukuleles.
Richard Honess is a former primary school teacher. When not travelling to conventions he spends his time working, performing in amateur musical theatre and long distance running.