An Interview with René Hartmann — Chairman of the International League of the Non-Religious and Atheists
[Previously published in Conatus News]
How did you become involved in atheism or irreligiosity in general? Was there a family background?
I used to be a member of the Lutheran Church of Germany — as were my parents, but my family was not very religious. I left the church when I was at the university.
You are the chairman for the International League of the Non-Religious and Atheists. What tasks and responsibilities come with being the chairman for the International League of the Non-Religious and Atheists?
My main responsibilities are political communication, which includes press releases, the website, social media, and international contacts.
Based on the membership of the International League of the Non-Religious and Atheists and from personal experience, who is most likely to be non-religious/an atheist?
It is hard to give a simple answer to this question, as our membership is very diverse. There are people who had a religious family background, and sometimes even suffered from their religious education. There are also people who never had much to do with religion, but at some time discovered how strongly the churches also affect the life of non-religious people, and decided to do something about it.
What are some of the main campaigns and initiatives of the International League of the Non-Religious and Atheists?
Beyond advocating the separation of state and church in general, we especially campaign for a religious-neutral school. Together with other organisations, we also oppose making assisted suicide unlawful.
In the Political Guide, there is an important note that over one billion members of the global community does not belong to any church or religion with 150 explicit atheists. That’s a lot of people; still a minority compared to the global population, but a significant number of people rejecting the supernaturalist claims in gods or God. What is the scope and scale of the International League of the Non-Religious and Atheists? Who are some of its most unexpected allies?
Our activities focus mainly on Germany and the German-speaking countries of Europe. Globally, our most important ally is the Atheist Alliance International (AAI) and with other atheist/secularist organisations.
Not all churches or religious organisations want to be privileged by the state, and some take a similar stance on church-state separation as we do, but I would not go so far as to call them allies.
What is the best argument you’ve ever come across for atheism?
I think on of the most compelling arguments is summarised by the following quote for which I unfortunately cannot give a source: If God has spoken, why is the universe not convinced?
As well, churches have privileges in law. That amounts, by implication, to religious bias in law against the secular; religious privilege equates to irreligious inequality with the religious. What is the most egregious legal privilege for the religious over the irreligious?
The most egregious privilege is probably the enormous amount of taxpayers’ money that flows into the activities of the churches, especially religious education, but also the salary of bishops. Also unacceptable is that the churches are the only exception to the rule that only insulting people is punishable, not institutions or convictions.
In general, what are the perennial threats to the practice of atheism globally?
First, I want to stress that we don’t ‘practice’ atheism in the same way religious people practise religion. The biggest threat for atheists and non-religious people in general is religious intolerance, not only people who are openly fundamentalist, but also by people who actually don’t practice religion very intensively, but take it for granted that the state has to support religion.
What have been the largest activist and educational initiatives provided by International League of the Non-Religious and Atheists? Out of these, what have been honest failures and successes?
We are trying to promote our aims using the media, the internet and social networks. There is also a prize that we award every two years. This year It will go to Ateizm Dernegi, a Turkish atheist group. The event will take place June 3 in Cologne.
Although we were not yet able to influence the law-making process significantly, we already had representatives participate in hearings of state parliaments. And recently non-religious groups got a joint seat in the body that oversees the public radio and TV corporation of North-Rhine Westphalia.
How can people get involved with the International League of the Non-Religious and Atheists, even donate to it?
On our website www.ibka.org one can find information on how to become a member and how to donate.
If you are living outside Europe, you may consider becoming a member of Atheist Alliance International.
Thank you for your time, René.