René Hartmann is the Chairman, Internationaler Bund der Konfessionslosen und Atheisten. Here we talk about his life, work, and views.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like for you, e.g., geography, culture, language, religion or lack thereof, education, and family structure and dynamics?
René Hartmann: I live in the area of Frankfurt, Germany. I was brought up in a Lutheran family, although my parents were not very religious. Going to church was not important for them, but the Lutheran confession was nonetheless part of their identity.
I gradually became very skeptic of Christian religion and religions in general. I came to the conclusion in Germany religion is financed and promoted by the state to an extent that cannot be justified.
Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?
Hartmann: I have a university degree in Informatics, and I am interested in natural sciences, but also in history, politics etc.
I used to read books about these topics (which I still do to some degree), and, of course, I use the internet to expand my knowledge. In my view, it is important to have a solid foundation in order not to fall for pseudo-science.
Jacobsen: What is death with dignity? How does this phrasing differ but also relate to the right to die, euthanasia, and medical assistance in dying?
Hartmann: The primary thing is self-determination. With respect to dying this means that one has to right decide when to die. The well-considered decision for one’s own death has to be respected. This also applies if someone needs the help of another person for her/his own death.
Jacobsen: As the Chairman of the Internationaler Bund der Konfessionslosen und Atheisten, what tasks and responsibilities come with this position?
Hartmann: As chairman and member of the executive committee I oversee the activities of IBKA. My responsibilities are media and international contacts. I am also the newsletter editor and in charge of the website and social media.
Jacobsen: What are the core goals of Internationaler Bund der Konfessionslosen und Atheisten? How are these going to be articulated and worked on in 2019?
Hartmann: Our primary goal is to promote Human Rights, in particular, the freedom of thought and religion and the separation of church and state. We advocate for individual self-determination, promote rational thinking and inform about the social role of religion.
Our activities include media (press releases as well as online media), but also political lobbying and events.
Jacobsen: Most movements and organization work in spite of counter-movements and counter-organizations. Who tends to be opposed to the existence and operations of Internationaler Bund der Konfessionslosen und Atheisten?
Hartmann: In Germany, the churches enjoy many privileges. If you dare to say that these privileges are not justified, that makes you an outsider.
The problem is not so much certain organizations or movements that are against us (although these surely exist) but the fact that there is a lot of ignorance regarding church-state separation and related issues.
Jacobsen: In the title of atheist, this seems more straightforward. Non-religious tends to have a more nuanced interpretation depending on the context.
What is the definition of non-religious for Internationaler Bund der Konfessionslosen und Atheisten? How does this impact its scope of operations?
Hartmann: We accept people as members who are not member of any religious organization, so that’s the central criteria for us.
However, we pursue goals many of which (like state-church separation) could also be pursued by moderately religious people. We pursue them from a non-religious standpoint.
The term atheists and atheism are not essential for us, but we don’t avoid them either (as many organisations do, which prefer to call themselves humanist)
Jacobsen: What have been some historic successes and honest failures in the work for the advancement of scientific freedom, secularism, rationalism, human rights, and euthanasia? How can other organizations learn from you?
Hartmann: I would mention our conferences, from the first post-war atheist conference in Germany 1990 in Fulda, to our international conferences 2012 and 2015.
I consider it important that we focus on working for political and social change. To us, this is more important than establishing atheism as a sort of anti-religion.
Criticism of religion has its place in our organization, but it’s only one of several things we are doing. I would say this approach worked well for us.
Jacobsen: How can people become involved with donation of time, addition of membership, links to professional and personal networks, giving monetarily, exposure in interviews or writing articles, and so on?
Hartmann: We are an association, so the standard way of being involved is to become a member. However, our focus is on the German-speaking countries. People who want to join and take some position are always welcome.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?
Hartmann: Secularism is not an easy area of work, and one can easily get frustrated about the low speed of progress. I want to encourage anyone working in this field to keep up the work as it’s really important.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, René.
Hartmann: Thank you.
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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