What is Atheism?

American Atheists states it best: 

'Atheism is usually defined incorrectly as a belief system. Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods. Older dictionaries define atheism as "a belief that there is no God." Some dictionaries even go so far as to define Atheism as "wickedness," "sinfulness," and other derogatory adjectives. Clearly, theistic influence taints dictionaries. People cannot trust these dictionaries to define atheism. The fact that dictionaries define Atheism as "there is no God" betrays the (mono)theistic influence. Without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read "there are no gods."

Atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion. While there are some religions that are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion. Two commonly used retorts to the nonsense that atheism is a religion are: 1) If atheism is a religion then bald is a hair color, and 2) If atheism is a religion then health is a disease. A new one introduced in 2012 by Bill Maher is, "If atheism is a religion, then abstinence is a sexual position."'

"We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further." — Richard Dawkins

What is Humanism?

'Humanism is a non-religious ethical philosophy, a way of life and a way of thinking, that involves adherence to strong ethics, an emphasis on human rights, and respect for the Earth and its creatures. A humanist works toward creating a more humane and responsible world, with a commitment to reason and compassion.' ~ Ontario Humanist Society

Humanism is a view of life that combines reason with compassion. It is for those people who base their interpretation of existence on the evidence of the natural world and its evolution, and not on belief in a supernatural power. In this, Humanism continues a tradition which has existed for over 2,500 years and which still flourishes today.

A Humanist believes that the happiness of individuals and of humankind depends on people, rather than on religion and dogma. We encourage open-minded inquiry into matters relevant to human co-existence and well-being and believe that people can and will continue to find solutions to the world’s problems so that quality of life can be improved for everyone. As Humanists we are committed to the application of reason and science, to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.

Both in personal and social terms we believe in common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness and responsibility. Moreover, our ethics are amenable to critical, rational guidance. It follows from such commitments and beliefs that we are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with the elimination of discrimination and intolerance. We support the axiom that a separation of Church and State will facilitate the achieving of a society that is open, tolerant and pluralist.

Humanist Principles, 1-5

  1. Humanism aims at the full development of every human being.
  2. Humanists uphold the broadest application of democratic principles in all human relationships.
  3. Humanists advocate the use of the scientific method, both as a guide to distinguish fact from fiction and to help develop beneficial and creative uses of science and technology.
  4. Humanists affirm the dignity of every person and the right of the individual to maximum possible freedom compatible with the rights of others.
  5. Humanists acknowledge human interdependence, the need for mutual respect and the kinship of all humanity.

Humanism is sometimes mistaken for a form of religion, or something which is very complex. In this video, some well known humanists explain what it means to them; the want to live ethical and happy lives, with the  freedom to think for themselves.

What is Secularism?

Secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. One manifestation of secularism is asserting the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, or, in a state declared to be neutral on matters of belief, from the imposition by government of religion or religious practices upon its people. Another manifestation of secularism is the view that public activities and decisions, especially political ones, should not be uninfluenced by religious beliefs and/or practices.

What is Freethought?

Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint which holds that positions regarding truth should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, or other dogmas. The cognitive application of freethought is known as "freethinking", and practitioners of freethought are known as "freethinkers".

Freethought holds that individuals should not accept ideas proposed as truth without recourse to knowledge and reason. Thus, freethinkers strive to build their opinions on the basis of facts, scientific inquiry, and logical principles, independent of any logical fallacies or the intellectually limiting effects of authority, confirmation bias, cognitive bias, conventional wisdom, popular culture, prejudice, sectarianism, tradition, urban legend, and all other dogmas. Regarding religion, freethinkers hold that there is insufficient evidence to support the existence of supernatural phenomena.

Who are the Irreligious in Canada?

Irreligion is common throughout all provinces and territories of Canada. Irreligious Canadians include atheists, agnostics, and humanists. The surveys may also include those who are deists, spiritual and pantheists. The 2011 Canadian census reported that 23.9% of Canadians declare no religious affiliation. According to Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, among those estimated 4.9 million Canadians of no religion, an estimated 1.9 million would specify atheist, 1.8 would specify agnostic, and 1.2 humanist.

What is the current state of religion in Canada?

Religion in Canada encompasses a wide range of groups and beliefs. The majority of Canadians are Christians, with the Roman Catholic Church being the biggest denomination of Canadian Christians. Christians, representing 67% of the population, are followed by people with no religion with 24% of the population. Islam is the second largest religion in Canada, practiced by 3.2% of the total population. Rates of religious adherence are steadily decreasing. The preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms refers to God and the monarch carries the title of "Defender of the Earth". However, Canada has no official religion, and support for religious pluralism and freedom of religion is an important part of Canada's political culture.

Is Canada Secular?

Yes and No.

The preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom is the introductory sentence to the Constitution of Canada's Charter of Rights and Constitution Act, 1982. In full, it reads,

“Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”

Writing in 1982, when the Charter came into force, constitutional scholar Peter Hogg noted that these words, being a preamble, could not really be applied by the courts but in theory could help to determine how other sections of the Charter should be read and applied. In this particular case, however, Hogg expressed doubt as to how much help this preamble could be, noting the term "rule of law" is "notoriously vague" and that the mention of the "supremacy of God" is contrary to section 2 of the Charter, which protects freedom of conscience, which Hogg felt would include a right to atheism.

After one version of the Charter drawn in June 1980 that lasted until September, which said in its preamble that Canadians "shall always be, with the help of God, a free and self-governing people," the Charter was not going to have a preamble. The current preamble only first appeared in the April 1981 draft, which came relatively late in the process. It was included despite the fact that there was no call for the Charter to have a preamble by the Special Joint Committee which was reviewing the Constitution, and that according to George Egerton, the prime minister of Canada at the time, Pierre Trudeau, called it "strange" that some of his colleagues wanted God referenced in the Charter. (Trudeau told his MPs, "I don't think God gives a damn whether he's in the constitution or not.") 

Also read, A Brief History of Secularism in Canada, here

As a Canadian, do I have a right to be free from religion?

'Canadian atheists are often confronted by misinformation about their right to freedom from religion. Usually, the perpetrators are religious people who claim that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not guarantee this. The most recent person of note to say this is the Honourable John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who happens to be responsible for the Office of Religious Freedoms.

The clauses at the centre of this misinformation are those dealing with Fundamental Freedoms:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.

Most central are 2a, including freedom of conscience and religion and 2b, including freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. Even a layperson's understanding of those terms would indicate that freedom of thought would include the right to think that there is no god. Freedom of opinion, and expression would logically reinforce that.'


Written by: Doug Thomas for Huffington Post

President, Society of Ontario Freethinkers (SoFREE), and Secular Connexion Seculaire, Canada's Humanist Rights Advocacy Group

What are the prospects of secularism in Canada and Quebec?

'Canada is not a secular country constitutionally, although secularism is a popular idea. The province of Quebec has moved further towards secularism than most of the rest of Canada, and popular support for secularism seems to be rising. Nevertheless, much work remains to be done even in Quebec, and the challenges are great. To understand those challenges, we must address the following aspects.

  • The colonial heritage: Canada’s history as part of the French empire, then as a set of British colonies, the British origins of the Canadian constitution, and the monarchy.
  • The influence of the American Religious Right: currently a major factor because of the Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
  • Multiculturalism: a form of ethnic essentialism masquerading as a corrective for racism. Closely related to religious accommodation.
  • English-French tensions: The “two solitudes” of Canada’s two founding language groups, with French-speakers concentrated (but not exclusively) in Quebec.