In a ‘Letter from the President’ in Secular World October 2014 (full version available to AAI members), Christine Shellska of Atheist Alliance International (AAI) talks about the multiple identities that atheists can have.
She identifies as an atheist, humanist and a secularist:
As atheists, we have an important role to play in advocating for social justice, human rights, and the pale blue dot we inhabit. But our identities as atheists merely mean that we reject a god or gods; unlike agnosticism, which addresses the problem of knowledge, atheism is a negative stance about what we believe. To begin to understand the beliefs and perspectives of an atheist, one must inquire about the other identities they hold as individuals, the values they embrace, and the positive claims they assert. I proudly identify as an atheist, but I also identify as a humanist and a secularist.
To paraphrase Shellska, she identifies as a humanist because Humanisms’ core values resonate with her, guides her notions of an afterlife and directs how she should behave to others:
“the humanist aspiration “live life well and fully… guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience” strongly resonates with her. As a humanist Christine Shellska rejects the notion of an afterlife and its accompanying rewards (or punishments), and believes we are accountable to one another in the here-and-now. As a humanist she rejects dogma and tradition when those fail to advance a healthy society that respects the rights of all of its members.
Humanism shapes her moral reasoning:
it encourages individual flourishing, while acknowledging their responsibilities within the broader context of society, the global community, and the environment. Her worldview is neither morally absolute nor relativist: morality is contextual, subject to change in the light of evidence, thoughtfully interpreted with reason, empathy, and compassion.
In her interpretation of Humanism, civilized societies are those that:
no longer punish those who suffer mental illnesses by confining and torturing them, or exorcising perceived demons from them; they no longer condone slavery; they no longer treat women and children as expendable property – witches to be burned to death or driven from society, abandoned to fend for themselves without family and resources; innocents used as human shields, or abducted and enslaved as spoils of war.
As a humanist, Christine Shellska believes all people should be free to exercise basic human rights:
as outlined in the United Nations’ International Declaration of Human Rights, without interference from others, insofar as those rights do not harm or encroach on the rights of others.
As a humanist, she believes in autonomy of conscience, as well as bodily autonomy:
the right for individuals to exercise their reproductive freedom; to decide how their lives will proceed; to enjoy stable, healthy relationships with the partners they choose; and to make informed choices about concluding their lives with dignity.
Shellska identifies with core secularist principles:
Secularism rests on the belief that religion and the state are best kept separate, and that individuals have a right to believe what they like without government interference. Thoughtful believers understand that secularism supports their right to religious freedom, and that freedom from religion guarantees their right to reject the multitude of religious claims that do not accord with their beliefs. Thoughtful believers recognise that, to quote Richard Dawkins, “we are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” That is why many atheists, including her, are quick to defend the rights of both believers and non-believers who are legitimately being persecuted … such as those threatened by ISIS jihadists to convert to Islam or face death.
Shellska takes seriously her moral obligation to openly challenge harmful religious dogma and superstition, to speak out when others cannot:
As a humanist, I want to support the principles of human rights and social justice worldwide, and to endorse reason and compassion as global virtues. As a secularist, I believe that the exclusion of harmful religious dogma and superstition from the public sphere is mandatory to accomplish these goals.
Shellska is an atheist activist:
I’m proud to participate, along with the members and organizations of AAI who can do so safely, in the global dialogue to advance reason, compassion, and secular values.
She recognises that atheists have multiple identities:
Although we share in common our identity as atheists, as individuals we inhabit other political and social identities that inform our core values and unite us as activists.
As AAI President Shellska is proud of worldwide AAI projects:
from partnering with our affiliates and associates to build and operate schools and libraries, and for the global outreach we are establishing via our UN special consultative status. Among other initiatives, our future plans include establishing a group to lobby the EU parliament, and an amnesty project to help atheists facing persecution access information and resources.
Christine Shellska asks other atheists to help with AAI projects:
If you have spare time, please consider becoming a volunteer, and if you know like-minded individuals, or local groups who are working to enact similar goals, please encourage them to become members of AAI. Together, we can create a secular world, says Christine Shellska.