Raghen Lucy is the Assistant State Director of the Minnesota Atheists & National Leadership Council and Campus President, Secular Student Alliance (Minnesota State University, Mankato). Here we talk about her background, work, and views.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like for you? Did religion play a role in it?
Raghen Lucy: I was raised in small-town Williston, North Dakota, which is only a little over an hour from the Canadian border. Religion did play a role in my early life, but in a pretty unconventional way.
My mother is Methodist, and my father is a devout Catholic. While I attended the Methodist church for most of my early years, I did attend mass with my father here and there. However, through all these years of attendance, I never truly ‘bought’ what religious authority was telling me, and I was skeptical from an early age.
Jacobsen: If you reflect on pivotal people within the community relevant to personal philosophical development, who were they for you?
Lucy: Apathetic toward religion and spirituality for all of my early life, I was not exposed to ideas of atheism and non-religious philosophy until high school. When atheism clicked with me, I dove in head first. I had barely anyone to discuss atheism with in my hometown, so I turned to other means of developing my values — namely, the Internet. I watched lectures and read books by the Four Horsemen of atheism (Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, and, my personal favorite, Hitchens), and talked with my secular sister about science and religion. I was immediately viewed as an outcast by peers and family in my religious, conservative community for the unpopular views I was beginning to develop.
Jacobsen: What about literature and film, and other artistic and humanities productions, of influence on personal philosophical worldview?
Lucy: Ricky Gervais is hands-down my favorite atheist actor and comedian. I also regard the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate, Religulous, and Jesus Camp (which was actually filmed a couple
hours away from my hometown) as a few staples of influence for my atheistic worldview. In addition, I love listening to podcasts such as The Thinking Atheist, The Atheist Experience, and God Awful Movies.
Jacobsen: How did you come to find the wider borderless online world of non-religious people?
Lucy: When I started college in Mankato, Minnesota, I was pretty developed and settled as an outspoken atheist. However, I did not have an adequate platform to express my views or meet others who were like-minded. Surprised to find that there were 20+ religious student organizations, and no secular student organizations, I wanted to make a change on my campus.
After getting in touch with Seth Andrews, who told me about the Secular Student Alliance, I started an SSA chapter at MSU Mankato. This decision opened me up to an entire community of secularists from around the United States, many of whom I consider dear friends.
Jacobsen: How did this lead to American Atheists Minnesota?
Lucy: Less than a year after starting the SSA chapter, Jim Helton from American Atheists gave a lecture to my student group, and invited me to be a leader for the organization.
Jacobsen: Within the current position as the Assistant State Director for American Atheists Minnesota, what tasks and responsibilities come with the position?
Lucy: American Atheists protects the absolute separation of religion from government, raises the profile of atheists and atheism in our nation’s public and political discourse, and educates Americans about atheism. In addition, they work on social justice and secular issues across the country. Each director is encouraged to “pick an issue” to address, and I chose sexual education in public schools.
My tasks and responsibilities regarding this include, meeting with the school board, researching the current curriculum in place, and working to update the curriculum and change the school board’s policy on said curriculum. More generally, I educate my community about atheism and recruit members for both American Atheists and my Secular Student Alliance chapter.
Jacobsen: What are some of the provisions for the community there? How does this manifest in the online sphere as well?
Lucy: American Atheists provides plenty of resources for tackling social justice and secular issues in the United States. They provide money, support, and physical resources such as American Atheists merchandise and social activist supplies. I view the online community of members and leaders as an additional resource. The online community offers additional advice, support, and a much-needed sense of community for secular individuals.
Jacobsen: What unique issues for secularism face Minnesotan atheists? What specific inclusivity issues face atheists in Minnesota? In particular, how do some of these reflect the larger national issues?
Lucy:I can’t think of any issues in Minnesota that other states aren’t also dealing with. We all face an assault by Christian nationalist groups that wish to establish Christian theocracy or “dominion” in America. One of their latest attempts in Minnesota and elsewhere was to try to mandate that “In God We Trust” posters be placed in all public schools.
Other examples of issues we all face are attempts to put restrictions on, or eliminate, abortion rights, and attempts to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community.
It has been at least 28 years since Republicans have controlled the Minnesota state House, the Minnesota state Senate, and the governorship. Thus the Democrats have been able to block most bad religion-based legislation from Republicans.
Jacobsen: How can secular American citizens create an environment more conducive and welcoming to secular women, secular youth, secular people of color, secular poor people, and secular people with formal education less than or equal to – but not higher than – a high school education?
Lucy:I firmly believe that the secular community can embrace marginalized groups of people by employing the honorable principle of humanism. As such, secular individuals, and all other individuals who involve themselves with religion have the opportunity to be more welcoming and accepting to other members of the human race, regardless of their circumstances. When gender, color, and socioeconomic status are removed from the equation of inclusion, people are able to celebrate each other and the basic humanity they share.
Jacobsen: How can the secular community not only direct attention to ill-treatment of religious followers by fundamentalist religious leaders but also work to reduce and eventually eliminate the incidences of ill-treatment of some – in particular, the recent cases of women – within the secular community?
Lucy: Demanding honesty and transparency from fundamentalist religious leaders is paramount in the project of holding them accountable. Often times, religious institutions and leaders assume an undeservedly ‘convenient’ position that is insulated from the law, as they expect to hold some sort of ‘special’ place in society. Eradicating this illusion, ensuring that said institutions, leaders, and the general public are aware that this is not the case, will introduce justice to the wrongdoings we have seen recently. Being relentless in a pursuit of such justice is a passion of many secular individuals in the States, namely within the American Atheists community.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Raghen.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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