Scott Sharrad is the President of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, Inc. 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?
Scott Sharrad: I grew up in the suburbs of Adelaide, Australia and went to the local state primary and high schools. It was, at the time, quite an anglo area with at least 90% of the students being of an Anglo background.
Religion wasn’t part of my upbringing in my home; I often describe it as secular. My father had a strong interest in fossil collecting which manifested in me as an intense curiosity in science and how the world works.
I do remember my first experiences with religion. My primary school (Spence Primary School), shared grounds and facilities with three other schools: Hysen, another government school; Pilgrim, an Independent/Anglican School; and Nativity, a Catholic primary school.
I was in year 2 or 3 – I believe – when students from Nativity performed the Stations of the Cross and the entire Campus came out to support and watch them.
I was in the middle of my class with close to 900 other students from the other schools, standing on tiptoe to try and see and make sense of what was going on.
My second experience came when I joined “Kids Club,” a youth group on Thursday evenings with craft, games and food. I imagine I went along because I didn’t have many friends. However, this youth group, like so many was run by a church (Southern Hills Baptist Church).
I remember they would occasionally do a prayer; not every week though. One of the adults or the minister would lead the group and everyone would close their eyes and bow their heads. I remember looking around and wondering why this felt so alien and foreign.
Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?
Sharrad: I have a Bachelor of Music Education and am currently completing a Bachelor of Business (Accounting). I worked as a contract and relief teacher for a few years before moving on after burning out from long days of work both at school and then again when I got home.
During my entire life, however, I’ve been constantly reading, talking and learning from others whilst gaining experience volunteering.
Jacobsen: With the presidency of the Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc., what are some of the important tasks and responsibilities with the national leadership position?
Sharrad: The Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc. is fundamentally a democratic organisation where every member of the Committee of Management is equally responsible for the success of the Foundation.
I see my role as being a facilitator, helping others to achieve their goals, providing guidance and support, and helping others learn how to run an organisation. I consider this to be vital to ensure the longevity of the Foundation.
Jacobsen: Who have been the most vocal opponents of the Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc.? Obviously, the international attitudinal and legal data indicate a widespread, mass hatred or base antipathy to atheists – no matter the strength of our particular brand of coffee.
Sharrad: The Australian religious and political landscape is quite different to many other western countries. The general public attitude towards religion is that it is a private affair and “as long as you’re not pushing it on me, I don’t care what you believe” is the general sentiment.
This can be seen in the public reaction to two previous Prime Ministers: Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. Both were religious, Anglican and Catholic respectively; Rudd attended church every Sunday, often doing door stops on the church steps.
But the public reacted strongly against Abbott’s Catholicism because of his past history and his present actions. In particular, his attempt to ban the Morning After Pill while he was Health Minister leading to a parliamentary vote to override the decision.
Rudd practiced publicly but never tried to legislate his beliefs; Abbott practiced privately but actively tried to legislate in line with his beliefs. The Australian public did not like that. And so whilst there is an “Australian Christian Lobby,” a fundamental and evangelical organisation that tries to influence politics, its influence is waning.
Jacobsen: Following from the previous question, how has Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc. continued to fight these regressive forces?
Sharrad: The Foundation does its part by maintaining, as much as it can with its volunteer base, a public presence. However, to be honest, much of the progressive movement recently experienced in Australia has been the result of “single issue” campaigning: marriage equality being the most recent change.
The AFA supports all of these progressive campaigns as they arise, not wishing to detract from the people those issues directly affect and only taking an active lead when the issue is directly related to atheism or secularism.
Jacobsen: In terms of the important legal and sociocultural victories of the past 19 years for Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc. and atheism in Australia, what have those been in your opinion?
Sharrad: The 2011 and 2016 Census campaigns encouraging Australian’s to mark “no religion” are definitely high points. These campaigns were run by the Atheist Foundation of Australia in collaboration with a number of other Atheist and Humanist organisations, in particular Sydney Atheists and the Humanist Society of Victoria.
Our campaigns, combined with a change in the answer format of the question, led to a substantial increase resulting in more than 30% of Australians actively stating they have no religion.
Jacobsen: Could there be a mass mobilization of the various national and international secular organizations to work on unified goals through the UN, in entire regions, and so on?
For example, a mass mobilization for the removal of the blasphemy laws around the world with continuous, strong pressure from around the world Secular people comprises a significant number of the global population, in the hundreds of millions.
Sharrad: The Atheist Foundation of Australia is an affiliate member and supporter of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). The IHEU is an international NGO with: Special Consultative Status at the United Nations in Geneva, Vienna, and New York (including General Consultative Status at UNICEF); observer status at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul); General Consultative Status at the Council of Europe (Strasbourg), and a partner in human rights with UNESCO (Paris).
Jacobsen: What are some of the activities and social and community provisions through the Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc. to its membership?
Sharrad: Duo to the large geographic area and sparse population, The Foundation, in the first instance, provides online forums for people to connect through and in the second supports independent local, city based organisations who provide the in-person community support atheists desire.
Until recently, the AFA published a publication, The Australian Atheist, but that has been discontinued due to the lack of volunteer editors. The Foundation does plan on reviving its publishing mandate with a new site to be launched in the near future.
Jacobsen: How can people become involved through 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?
Sharrad: The most effectual way at this point in time to support organised atheism in Australia and to ensure that an atheist voice is heard in the public sphere and in the corridors of power is by volunteering your time. All membership organisation depend on volunteers for their success and the AFA is no different.
If someone would like to volunteer their time or skills they can reach the AFA via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. One can also become a financial member by visiting our website https://atheistfoundation.org.au or going directly to: https://bit.ly/2FSR1Ow.
With the launch of the new site, there will be more ways of providing ongoing financial support to the Foundation as well as many avenues to contribute original content and articles.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?
Sharrad: The situation in Australia for atheists is a mostly positive one. However, there are still pockets of discrimination which are harmful to the individuals experiencing it and by extension harmful to our society as a whole and so we must be vigilant to those.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Scott.
Sharrad: 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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Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.