What’s your name? And tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Scot Haire. I’m a self-described atheist, secularist, and skeptic. I grew up in the Dallas / Ft Worth area in North Texas as a practicing born-again, evangelical, Southern Baptist Christian and remained such until pursuing my Ph.D at Stanford University. Having spent my life up to that point surrounded by believers, I had never really had to give a defense of my faith. The diversity of culture and religious practices among my colleagues at Stanford compelled me to ensure that I had a credible defense for my faith. I read the Bible thoroughly with a skeptical perspective and became more educated about other religions. The more I learned about my faith and other faiths, the more I realized that there simply was no defense for any religious belief or doctrine. As an atheist, secularist, and skeptic, I continue to educate myself about why I embraced religion, and why the majority of people in the world today still do.
How did you find the ACSJ?
Well, I’m one of the founders of the organization, so I found it by creating it. Inspired by the Atheist Community of Austin, Brian Broome and I started the Atheist Community of San Jose in Apr 2013 to be an organization that provides community for atheists and like-minded non-believers in the San Jose and Bay Area region.
Why do you think the ACSJ is important?
A quote from American Atheist President David Silverman sums it up best: “We’re not creating atheists, we’re creating a home for them.”
Do you think the ACSJ has/can change the way people perceive atheists?
Absolutely – I do. When we first started the ACSJ, the membership had a bit of a dual personality. There were those who wanted the ACSJ to be a safe place of community for atheists. Then, there were those who wanted the ACSJ to be a command center for atheist activism. Still, there were others who were ambivalent about the two positions; they were not sure which they preferred, and preferrrd one or the other on any given day. Initially, I was among the ambivalent. Then a failed attempt to rally at a Ken Hamm appearance in San Jose, coupled with the resulting fallout from Christian activists, convinced us that a safe place of community for atheists was the preferable choice. We concentrated not only on bringing atheists together in community, but also on interacting with the local civic community in a positive way through philanthropy events, community event booths, and so on. It became readily apparent that giving people a favorable perception of atheists through positive interactions in the local community was far more productive than any activism we might have mustered. Hence, since then, the ACSJ has been active in the local civic community making friends and partners.
When did you publicly come out as an atheist?
Interestingly, I have a very vivid memory of the first time I associated with atheism publicly. I was driving home from work one afternoon in the summer of 2004 when my brother … my very religious, deacon in the church, brother … called me and asked, in a very direct manner, “So, hey, are you still a Christian?” Though I had walked away from Christianity, and religion altogether, about 5-6 years prior to this phone call, I hadn’t come out to my very religious family out of concern that I might be prohibited from interacting with my 4 nieces and nephews (aged 8-12). Also, I hadn’t to this point applied the “atheist” label to myself. But, my brother, clearly sensing something peculiar in the email discussions we had been having over the previous several months, decided to find out conclusively where I stood. I had to admit to him right there over the phone that I was no longer a Christian. He asked, “So, what are you then, an atheist?” again, drawing insights from our previous email threads. I equivocated, saying “Well, I don’t like the baggage associated with the term ‘atheist’, but I don’t believe in god anymore and consider myself agnostic.” You can imagine how the rest of that conversation went. After the phone call, I had to admit to myself that I was, indeed, an atheist regardless of the attempt to soften my position for my brother. Henceforth, I openly identified as an atheist.
Is atheism important to you?
No, atheism is really not important to me. What is important to me is truth. To borrow a quote from Matt Dillahunty: “I want to believe as many true things as possible, and as few false things as possible.” Since no claims regarding theism have ever been demonstrated to be true, my default position is atheism.
How has being an atheist affected your life?
On the positive side, being free from the shackles of religious indoctrination has made me a happier, more well-adjusted individual. Conversely, though, it has further alienated me from some members of my family. I’ve always been sort of the black sheep of my family, not subscribing to many of the same values, political positions, social positions, etc as them. My atheism became just one more brick in the wall between myself and them. Oh, we still interact and enjoy family gatherings, but those are tainted for me by the knowledge that they are praying for me to see the light, that they are convinced the devil has a hold on me, that atheism is just phase I’m going through. It seems, now, that into every conversation they feel compelled to insert some tidbit about how god is working in their life or how god has answered their prayer, as if the more they can demonstrate to me how god is real and active their lives the more probable it is that I’ll abandon this folly of atheism and rejoin the fold of the believing.
Do you have meaningful debates/discussions with theists?
In my personal experience, it is difficult to have meaningful discussions with most theists, primarily for two reasons. First, many are so invested in their belief system that even the most innocuous question smelling of the slightest incredulity tends to provoke their defense mechanisms. Once those are triggered, no meaningful conversation is possible. Many are simply unwilling or unable to consider the possibility that they are wrong in their belief … the thought is just inconceivable to them. Second, many don’t understand their own beliefs well enough to defend them. This reality can be further complicated by the fact that they don’t understand what evidence or burden of proof is. They don’t recognize logical fallacies. Of course, this doesn’t describe all theists but, in my experience, it describes more of them than not; it certainly was an accurate description of me when I was a believer. Lastly, if I’m completely honest, I will admit that I do have a tendency to be, at times, a bit adversarial when frustrated. That tends to hasten the defensive triggers in most. So, maybe there are three primary reasons. 🙂
Do you celebrate Christmas or other religious holidays?
I don’t celebrate any religious holidays. I do celebrate Christmas, which many contend is a religious holiday. However, a review of history shows that Winter Solstice celebrations existed long before the Christians. Christianity has attempted to rewrite history by conscripting those celebrations into a uniquely divine celebration of their god. As it is practiced today, family and fairy tales largely dominate Christmas.
Do you believe that there is a right time/way to help a child explore religion?
In Biology, vaccines work by exposing the body to various viruses in a controlled manner, which allows the body to build immunities against the viruses. Thus, the next time the body is exposed, it will have the appropriate defense already in place. I believe a similar approach works just as well with regard to ideologies such as religion. By exposing a person to various religious doctrines and practices (such as might be done in a religious survey course) and by interacting with people of different religious cultures and traditions, one quickly discovers the similarities between the various different religious ideologies: the ultimate reliance on faith, the devisive in-group/out-group mentality, and the lack of supporting evidence for any of the various religious claims, etc. This is precisely why religious communities seek to insulate children from exposure to different religious traditions with parochial schools, home schooling, religious madrasas, and the like; this ensures that they receive instruction in only the one ideology, with the added reinforcement that all other ideologies are wrong, bad, evil, etc. Exposing one’s child to different religious ideologies in a controlled manner provides the best opportunity for the child to become inoculated against the baseless religious claims that normally attract the vulnerable and the unwitting.
What’s the oddest religious belief you ever heard?
Being on this side of the ideological fence, all faith-based beliefs seem pretty odd to me now. But I will say that, even as a Christian, I had great difficulty appreciating the crucifix and even the cross. To me, it just looked like a perverse depiction of torture. Even when the so-called act of redemption was meaningful to me, the depiction of it in the crucifix was abhorrent to me, and is even more so today. I’ve always wondered if the story of Jesus involved his death by hanging, if people today would have little Jesus figurines hanging from their ceiling and consider them sacred? What if the story of Jesus had him put to death by the rack? Would people have a broken and bloody Jesus stretched out on a wooden rack hanging from their car mirror? As grotesque as this sounds, I think even those who hold the crucifix as sacred would still recoil at the sight of a torture device displayed larger-than-life behind the pulpit, and regard as a perverse cult any so-called religion that displayed their religious icon skewered on a pike with blood pouring from the wounds. The most amazing thing about it is that they simply don’t see the dissonance. It baffles the mind.