Interview with Dorothy Hays – President, Atheists, Skeptics, Humanists Association (ASHA)

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Dorothy Hays is the President of the Atheists, Skeptics, Humanists Association (ASHA). Here we talk about her 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?

Dorothy Hays: I grew up in Toronto (born 1937) in a rather unconventional English-speaking home with a single mom who somehow kept her teaching position even though female teachers, at that time in Toronto, were not to be married, let alone be a mother.

We were Anglican and my mother married a teacher when I was 12 and then we started moving around the province of Ontario. Their marriage lasted 5 years. When I was 21, I married an atheist. I had been given advice to work on this husband and turn him into a Christian.

After dragging him to church for a year I finally began to see his point as to how foolish it was, so I slowly began to think and question everything.

Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?

Hays: I have a BA in Sociology/Psychology, a B.Ed. and a HBSW (Honours in Social Work). I self-educated myself re evolution, skepticism, etc and today refer to myself as an atheist or more correctly as an anti-theist.

I also learned from being Vice President of Humanist Canada for a few years and then, by default, President for a short period, not running for that position.

I have also been on the Board of CFIC (Centre For Inquiry Canada) and have been running ASHA (Atheists, Skeptics, Humanists Association) for over 10 years. (The name of our group has changed a couple of times over the years.)

I also feel that I have not only self-educated myself but have paid it forward to my children who are also atheists. My second husband and I, who is also an atheist, took our grandchildren to Camp Quest, in Kitchener-Waterloo, about 18 years ago, the first atheist summer camp for children in Canada.

Jacobsen: As the President or leader of Atheists, Skeptics, Humanists Association (ASHA), what tasks and responsibilities come with the position?

Hays: It is mostly an informal group, although we have gone through periods of having elections, etc. but whenever a change in the executive comes up, the members claim to be satisfied with the incumbents.

So now we just go along as a friendly bunch of people, currently 18 members but we have been as high as 40. We prefer a smaller group as it garners more conversation.

We meet monthly at Lakehead University and have in between meetings at coffee houses and in members’ homes. There is also a social aspect where we get together with no agenda; atheists don’t really need a topic to get a conversation going.:)

We no longer charge a membership fee but have continued to have a “charity pot,” that we try to arrive at a certain amount and then donate to a local charity.

The scheduling and organization of all these activities are shared by several members including the secretary-treasurer and myself.

Jacobsen: What was your working relationship with Doug Thomas? How did this collaborative work with Thomas and others set the stage for the 2010s of Canadian humanism?

Hays: When I was on the HAC Board with Doug Thomas I found him to be an inspiration and fair, level-headed and rational.

I really do not go along with his dislike of Xmas carols, etc, although I have changed my mind on this several times. But I do believe that we should not have a reference to God in our National Anthem.

Jacobsen: Who have been the main opposition to humanistic efforts within Canadian society?

Hays: I would have to say the Conservative Party who seemingly bring their religiosity into government, re science, climate change, immigration, etc. Also most churches who view atheism as something evil or at least something to be avoided.

Jacobsen: Internal to the humanist community within Canada, what have been the difficulties of community, e.g., inclusion, ideological conflicts, and so on?

Hays: When I was on the board of Humanist Canada there were some internal personality conflicts that lead to a few months of actually focusing on a couple of misunderstandings rather than working to better the organization.

At one point there was even a threat of a lawsuit. It finally fizzled out and HAC continued on as usual.

I left the Board of CFIC because of their treatment of one of the founding members of that organization ( in Canada); although, I gave a rather politically-correct reason regarding time constraints, etc.

Even in our present group, there are sometimes instances whereby our idea of being able to speak freely are squashed by a few members who take the wrong meaning of something being said; e.g. negative remarks about Islam should not be taken as negative remarks about Muslims, etc.

It is something that we need to work on. Also, seeing that being an “atheist” only means one thing, that a person does not believe in God; sometimes the idea of being rational and having a scientific outlook does not necessarily go along with being an atheist; e.g. belief in alternative medicine, paranormal, the occult.

After all, atheism has no dogma, no rules so atheists should not be judged to be all the same. That is the reason we added skepticism and humanism to our title.

Jacobsen: Who are your favorite writers, thinkers, poets, novelists, scientists, and philosophers who fall within the humanist tradition?

Hays: Well, it was Bertrand Russell who first helped me think rationally and then later, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Michael Shermer, Carl Sagan, and Lawrence Krauss. Novelists, Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley.

As far as poetry, Walt Whitman comes to mind, especially his lament: “I think I could turn and live with animals, they’re so placid and self-contain’d,…They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,… They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,… Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,” etc.

Jacobsen: What is provided to the humanist community through Atheists/Skeptics/Humanists Association (ASHA)?

Hays: It is hopefully a safe place for like-minded people to meet and feel free to discuss any subject and to vent or give their opinion on any topic without having to worry about being overly politically correct. It is a place for people to see if another world view might be for them.

Jacobsen: How can people become involved with the donation of time, the addition of membership, links to professional and personal networks, giving monetarily, exposure in interviews or writing articles, and so on?

Hays: We are not formally attached to any other Humanist groups but we are open to ideas. We do have a card that stipulates our mandate: ASHA: A fellowship of like-minded secular people who share a worldview based on science and rational thinking.

Skepticism is the process whereby we apply reason and critical thinking to enhance and inform our worldview.” Contact info is on the card.

We hand these out, not so much to garner more members. but to let people who may be interested know that there is a place for them to come if they so wish.

We have a chat site and keep in touch that way. I remind people of upcoming meetings, time, place, room etc. People also use the chat site to post interesting topics and very often on-line “conversation” ensue from this.

About every second meeting we have a member present a topic. We have had topics such as Nuclear Energy, Naturopathy (outside speaker) and one time via teleconference, Justin Trottier re his Men’s Group, and many more topics have been discussed over the years.

We have from time to time marched in the Thunder Bay Gay Pride parade to show support and annually donate our charity pot to local charities, such as The Shelter House and also The Underground Gym, a place for disadvantaged children.

We advocated to keep the Thunder Bay blood donation sites open. We advocated to block the Gideons from pushing their religion on elementary school children in Thunder Bay. Our presentation to the Thunder Bay and District School Board was a significant factor in disallowing the Gideons from distributing their bibles.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dorothy.

Hays: Scott, thank you for this opportunity to participate. 

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.

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

Photo by Milica Spasojevic on Unsplash

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