Panayote Dimitras is the Co-Founder and Spokesperson of the Humanist Union of Greece, and a Board Member of the European Humanist Federation.
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?
Panayote Dimitras: I grew up in Athens in a devout Orthodox Christian family, which, though, was open to other religions: hence, when we went to Paris for three years, I attended as an intern the Catholic Ecole Pasteur in Neuilly, which included Catholic catechism and church-going.
Not so practicing in my late high school and undergraduate university years, I became very practicing in an Orthodox Christian church in Lexington, Massachusetts during my Harvard graduate years, including assistant chanter and assistant educator in catechism!
Subsequently, a Christian wedding and two Christian christenings of my children attended by bishops. Sometime around when REM wrote the “losing my religion,” I “lost” mine and became a “devout atheist” as this best helped explain the world and the emerging in me human rights culture.
The second marriage was civil. My name appears in a series of ECtHR judgments against Greece for the then-mandatory religious oath, since then abolished as a result.
Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?
Dimitras: Undergraduate in Athens School of Economics and Business with major in economics, master’s in Public Administration, and Ph.D. in Political Economy and Government at Harvard University – the latter included a seminar on Christian Marxism at the adjacent Weston School of Theology, while in my last year while in France for my theses research, I was immersed in Esprit the personalist review created by Mounier some decades ago, where I met several left Catholics.
Jacobsen: What is your role at Humanist Union of Greece? What tasks and responsibilities come with the position?
Dimitras: I am a co-founder and Spokesperson, and also a member of the board of the European Humanist Federation. HUG relies on volunteers; hence, we all do as much as we can in advocacy, publications, campaigning (e.g. against blasphemy laws to be abolished on 1 July 2019), meetings, etc.
Jacobsen: Who are prominent members of the Humanist Union of Greece community?
Dimitras: “We are all prominent.”
Jacobsen: What are some of the social and communal activities of the Humanist Union of Greece?
Dimitras: See above about our work – there is little room for social and communal activities.
Jacobsen: Any political activism in Greece through the Humanist Union of Greece? If so, what? Who are the traditional opposition to freethinkers, humanist, atheists, and the like, in Greece?
Dimitras: See above. We have often been treated as non-Greeks because we are atheists by media, bishops, politicians and found judges asking us why we do not want to take a religious oath
Jacobsen: Who are important authors, speakers and organizations fighting for humanistic and secular values in Greece?
Dimitras: Besides HUG, the Atheist Union of Greece.
Jacobsen: What are some important developments in the rest of 2019 ad into 2020 for HUG?
Dimitras: Having a bad experience with the abolition of religious oath which has been ignored and hence most courts and investigating officers still use it, we will intensify the monitoring and reporting of its implementation as well as the implementation of the abolition of blasphemy laws. We will continue to strive for the removal of religious symbols from all public institutions and schools.
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?
Dimitras: They have to contact us and explore how best they can contribute depending on availability of time and other resources.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?
Dimitras: I am grateful as you are the first one to ask such questions and thus offering me the opportunity to present all these things, most of which are unknown to most people.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Panayote.
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.