special to Digital Journal:
In Canada there are quite a few people who say they are persons of no religion. Atheist beliefs have risen lately. Who takes care of their spiritual needs? In Canada there are two Atheist ministers.
In Canada in 2001 there were over 4.9 million people that have no religious affiliation. Of those 18,605 said that they are Atheist. Most atheists have studied religious material thoroughly and have concluded that for them there is no true evidence of the existence of gods or goddesses. The universe, Earth and life came about from a natural process not by the hand of a superior being. Because many Atheists say that they are Humanists, Free thinkers, Unitarian Universalists, Ethical Culturalists, persons of no religion, etc. when questioned by census takers the true number that reside in Canada is not clear.
Canadian atheists have an online magazine, loads of web sites and everything else that other Canadians may have. Heck The Canadian Atheist is even sending a rep to the Center for Inquiry World Congress 2009 later this month.
The one thing they don’t have many of is a minister who can perform ceremonies like marriages and funeral services.
That is changing with a Toronto journalist named Mike Krachan (aka “Phree”). Mr. Krachan recently was granted documents, letter of good standing, and I.D naming him as a minister.
Mike is well known in his circles as being Atheist. He’s rather public and proud of that. Curious about why Mike would want to take on the role of minister I interviewed him via email.
KM: Why would a Atheist want a minister considering the religious implications of the term?
MK: “I often tell my friends that I became ordained for just the parking privileges! Although the term is associated with religion by the majority of people, there are actually many different meanings to the word. Basically, a Minister is just someone who has been authorized to “administer” a service, such as an oath or pledge, or a duty. This could be a Minister of a particular religion, or a person appointed into a high government office, such as the Minister of Transportation, or the Prime Minister of Canada. Those legally ordained by the First Church of Atheism, as a “Minister of Ceremonies”, are able to perform many services including weddings, funerals, or “commitment” ceremonies. Of course, we can also charge a fee for these services. The FCA believes it is every Atheists right to perform these functions, and to have them available for those who desire them.”
KM: Exactly how did you obtain your minister status?
MK: By signing up and becoming a member of The First Church of Atheism, you are ordained automatically, free of charge. In order to perform ceremonies, or open a church, you need to obtain some documentation and Ministers identification card.
KJ: Where did you get your number of Canadians who are Atheist? Do you believe that number is correct as in past censuses those who say they are Atheist can also use different wording such as Humanists, Free thinkers, Unitarian Universalists, Ethical Culturalists, persons of no religion, etc.
MK: A recent Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey showed that 23% of Canadians have indicated that they do not believe in a god or gods.–(I also covered this on DJ)–Although these numbers are higher then ever before, and similar polls in the United States also indicate a rise in Atheism, I do believe that the actual numbers are much higher when we account the other non-believers. the problem lies with the definition I think. Some- erroneously in my opinion- like to define Atheism as a “belief that god does not exist”, whereas its proper definition “no belief, or a lack of belief in a god or gods” should be used to avoid this misconception of Atheists. By the latter definition, Agnostics, Humanists, Free thinkers,(some) persons of no religion,and yes even babies, all fall under the Atheists umbrella. When we compare our beliefs with other religions, all of us are Atheists to hundreds of gods that we don’t believe in…if you want to get really technical. If we decide to be even more technical and define Atheism as simply “without god”, then we are all Atheists period, as we are all certainly without god, by way of his physical absence in the universe.
KM: Do you believe those with a different religious world view should still be treated with respect? How as a minister would you guide others in dealing with those who believe?
MK: Yes and no. It really depends on if they’re an asshole or not! My personal opinion is that religious believers are more like victims that need to be helped, loved and forgiven for their mistakes, not scolded, but educated. I think the best approach for an Atheist Minister, is to teach other Atheists to forget about debunking religion so much, and lead by example. It is more important to show others that even an Atheist church can raise money for charity, feed the hungry, and shelter the poor. Leave the debunking for the pro’s, and start doing something good to set an example.
KM: What was your motivation to become an Atheist minister?
MK: Well I wasn’t motivated actually. I was in the middle of a debate and someone posted the link to the FCA, whilst trying to prove his point that Atheism was a so-called religion. Once I read about the special parking privileges, I was hooked!
KM: How do plan on using this new title? Are you planning on forming your own church?
MK: I plan on using my title as a Minister to its full effect. Whether it is parking privileges, tax breaks, or making a few bucks, I aim to take full advantage. I would like to form a church where Science is taught on Sundays, and where reason and logic is used with passion, and where music, art, and fun are encouraged at all times.
As I started to search for Atheist ministers I found only two in Canada. Mike Krachan and Rev. Lydia Holden of Saskatoon, SK.
2 Canada.com gives a definition of Atheism.
“Arguments for atheism can be divided into two main categories: those that dispute the existence of god, and those that demonstrate the ill effects of religion. It might be better if I broadened this somewhat, and said those that dispute the existence of an intervening god. Religion is, after all, more than the belief in a supreme being. It is the cult of that supreme being and the belief that his or her wishes have been made known or can be determined.”–Christopher Hitchens, in his introduction to The Portable Atheist.
Reg Bibby, an University of Lethbridge sociologist who has been studying Canadian religions and societal trend for thirty years conducted a national survey in 2005. He found that seven per cent of those who responded to his questions were atheists, a figure that was comparable to a 1975 study. His survey shows Canadians who personally don’t believe in God are not necessarily antagonistic toward organized religion.
Bibby says 46 per cent of atheist respondents agreed with the statement that, “religious groups still have a role to play in Canadian lives” while 19 per cent say they’d be open to greater involvement in religious groups. “If they could find it worthwhile for themselves or their families.” He believes that the responses are typical for most Canadians.
“You may be a non-believer but that doesn’t mean you’re going to trash your grandma’s long-held beliefs when you get together for a family reunion,” Bibby says.
The First Church of Atheism, where Mike Kranchan got his minister papers only requires members to click on an “Ordain Me” link. Within 24 hours a confirmation email is sent. To remain ordained a new minister only has to visit the site from time to time.
They claim to have ordained 724 ministers world-wide. Only one Canadian minister is listed on their site at this time.
According to their FAQ those ordained are legally ordained ministers. They are able to perform every task any other clergy member is allowed.
To prove that they are ordained one simply purchases an Ordainment Certificate and receives a free ID card with that purchase. The certificate costs $14.95 and a Letter of Good Standing costs $5.95. Other items available are parking placards, marriage certificates and commitment certificates. It does cost money though to be listed as a minister on their web page so other ordained Canadian ministers may exist.
The church itself is located in Levittown, Pennsylvania.