An Interview with Valérie Dubé — Board Member, Humanist Association of Ottawa
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Was there a family background in humanism?
Valérie Dubé: Not really. My parents were raised by Catholics in rural Quebec. My mom has a high school degree, she is religious and believes in angels, heaven, etc. My dad has a higher level of education (university degree, formerly “normal school”) and, as far as I can tell, never believed in the supernatural — despite reluctantly following some religious rituals, sometimes. My parents raised me as Catholic. I don’t remember when I stopped believing, it happened gradually. I always loved science (my dad encouraged it) and it made more sense to me than religion. I have been non-religious for over two decades. I learned about humanism a couple years ago and I now identify as a secular humanist.
Jacobsen: What is the Ottawa culture regarding religion? Why is the case?
Dubé: Ottawa is a multicultural city, with people from all around the world and all walks of life, a highly educated workforce and a low crime rate. There are many worship centres/buildings of different faiths throughout the city. The predominant religious affiliation would be Christianism. The percentage of residents with no religious affiliation is significant (somewhere between 20–25% if I’m not mistaken). The residents seem very accepting of diversity, and are inclusive and tolerant. But I’m saying that with the bias of being an atheist Caucasian.
Jacobsen: As a board member for the Humanist Association of Ottawa, what tasks and responsibilities come with a member at large position? Why pursue this volunteering?
Dubé: As a board member at large for the HAO, I attend monthly meetings and help organize a few events throughout the year. I am in charge of keeping an eye on our Facebook page and I recently took the initiative to translate in French our brochure and some of our website pages (not yet online). My interest in volunteering for the HAO is to help promote and support human rights, tolerance, inclusiveness, a secular rule of law and secular education for everyone, and a healthy planet.
Jacobsen: What is the importance of humanist public service, especially with so few of them?
Dubé: I think it is important to raise awareness about and promote humanism. It is not a well-known, widely-recognized movement/concept yet. Many of my atheist friends did not know about humanism until very recently when I started talking about it. There are many religious lobbying groups everywhere, and few humanists or atheists lobbyist groups in comparison. I think that promoting humanism is important to gathering a critical mass and raising a stronger voice to push for the respect of human rights and secular institutions informed by science for everyone, everywhere.
Jacobsen: What seems like, in interaction with others, the international issues for humanists?
Dubé: The main international issue, in my opinion, is human rights abuses in parts of the world. There are numerous issues for humanists worldwide, they vary by country/region and are too numerous to list them all, but I think human rights is our priority internationally.
Jacobsen: What are the core values, and virtues, even vices, of humanism?
Dubé: As humanists, we value reason, compassion, critical thinking, science, justice, integrity, equality, and tolerance, and we strive to promote education, understanding and development of ethical principles, practices and culture associated with these values. We understand that it is up to us to choose the lives we want to live and the kind of society we want to live in, and that the only justice available is that which we make for ourselves by defining and defending human rights. One vice that I think some of us may have is a superiority complex, thinking that humanism is better than other world views.
Jacobsen: Does Canada seem to tacitly endorse humanist values across even the religious spectrum of the population, which is most of the population?
Dubé: I think so. The fact that our laws and jurisprudence are mostly secular (section 296 and paragraph 319(3)(b) of the Criminal Code have not been repelled yet) demonstrates that endorsement.
Jacobsen: What are some issues and concerns around religious influence in political and law, and social life? How can we solve them? Why is this important to tackle right away?
Dubé: One obvious issue around religious influence in politics and law can be found in section 296 and paragraph 319(3)(b) of the Criminal Code pertaining respectively to blasphemous libel and defending wilful promotion of hatred based on belief in a religious text. An important issue in social life is discrimination and intolerance towards certain groups of people, such as LGBTQ2, aboriginals, blacks and middle-eastern communities.
Jacobsen: What are the future initiatives planned for the Humanists Association of Ottawa?
Dubé: One initiative we want to undertake this year is reach out to humanist celebrants in the Ottawa area and discuss how we can work together to promote secular ceremonies and increase awareness about humanism. We also will focus our lobbying to the cause “one school system” in Ontario.
Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the discussion today?
Dubé: I think that humanism has very solid grounding as a source of optimism that positive social change is possible with human collaboration and also a motivation for action, by acknowledging that it is up to us humans to improve the condition of ourselves and our environment. I’m optimistic that humanism will spread and drive political and societal changes that will benefit the entire world. It makes me happy and I find it very encouraging that the IHEU provides a humanist voice and promotes humanist values on the international scene; the world needs a secular humanist influence on international laws and treaties. Thank you!
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Valérie.