Daniel Mallett is the Secretary for the Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists Association (KASHA) located in British Columbia.
Here we talk about his background, work, and views.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you get a start in Edmonton? How did you transition into a more secular outlook over time?
Daniel Mallett: Yes, my family of origin is deeply Catholic and extremely devout in their Catholicism. I was raised as a creedal Catholic. My family of origin was very “true Catholic,” wouldn’t use birth control, would go every week to Mass if not every day, would attend all holy days of obligation, would pray the rosary every day – very, very devout.
Also, I believed in this traditional Catholic value, where, at least, one child should join the clergy as a priest or a nun. I was the designated one from my family [Laughing] to follow that “priest or nun” path.
Mallett: Maybe, because I took to it more seriously, I was naturally interested in religion and was a fervent believer. For whatever reason, I took to it [Laughing].
So, I had gone, as a teenager, to the Discernment Camps. Where you would go and discern a vocation as to whether or not you should become a priest, you sit and wait for the spirit to move you.
To be fair, they were not overly pushy to make someone become clergy, but they were happy if you were so inclined. I was steeped in religion. I very much believed in Catholicism.
Also, at the same time, I had my doubts and a lot of questions from a young age. I noticed the hypocrisy of the Catholic eligion. You would sit down and be reading in church about selling everything that you have, while people drove home in Cadillacs.
It was the hypocrisy of going to church. They would tell you how Jesus would want you to live life. The idea: if you really believe this stuff, it should be the most important thing in your life.
The ideas of God, religion, and belief in the supernatural realm, it was incredibly important. For the majority of people around me, church was something that they did once per week.
Essentially, they lived secular lives, except for the one hour of church per week. That always really bothered me. I always thought, “If I would become a believer, and really believed this, I would take this 100%.”
It was all or nothing. 16, 17, and 18 were when they went really heavy into it. The Eucharistic Adoration, the trying to go to church as much as possible. It was hard to do. It is part of such an untenable world.
If there was one thing that, eventually, led me out, it was a love of science. It is funny. My mom, who was probably the most deeply religious person known to me, who encouraged me to be religious, always taught me the value of science.
It is interesting. When I went to university, I went to the University of Alberta. To this day, they are still strange. You can take Catholic theology courses for university credit.
Jacobsen: Why is this the case? How is this weird?
Mallett: These are university courses indoctrinating you into the beliefs of one particular religion, using public tax dollars to do it, and being given privileged status on the campus by having their own facilities, buildings, funding, being put right in the curriculum.
So, besides my science courses and computer science courses, I have courses in Jesus and the Bible, the New Testament and the Old Testament, and the Catholic Catechism.
They are courses not based on any sort of rigorous academic worldviews or content. As far as I can tell, they are based on one sectarian religious worldview. If you want to take that stuff on your own dime, that’s fine.
But I don’t think this should be happening at a, supposedly, secular public university. It is weird how I took those credits for graduation with a bachelor’s degree in science [Laughing], but I did.
One of the interesting courses there was this religion and science course by Dennis Lamoureux. He is quite a character. He is a Catholic who supposedly became an atheist and came back to Catholic while going to church more as a Baptist.
He would teach this course on, basically, the classic evolution versus creation debate. ‘Are they in conflict?’ He would broaden the categories. I think he was trying to deal with the fact that so many college-age students lose their faith.
I think that is part of what this religious course was about there. To your question as to the transition from Catholicism to a secular worldview, it was the course including Richard Dawkins and atheism. My world was so sheltered at that time.
I couldn’t believe, at the time, that there was somebody who would be a Richard Dawkins who would openly and blatantly deny God. I thought, “Man, this guy must be insanely evil.”
Jacobsen: What was the feeling there?
Mallett: The feeling of hearing about him was a shock. It was hard to even fathom. Maybe, I had the notion that, “Sure, there would be people out there who are atheists.”
But the fact that people could be out there openly and blatantly writing and speaking about this in a public forum. It was shocking and even depressing a bit.
I thought, “I can’t believe there could be such evil in the world with people who would so openly deny the existence of God.”
Jacobsen: What was the conversation with people around you – of people of like mind in community?
Mallett: All over the map. I was very deeply a part of the Catholic community at the University of Alberta. There would be some people who took the religion as seriously as I did or even more so, to become a priest or a nun.
They didn’t seem to be having the same questions or the same sorts of concerns. There were other people that seemed to be able to balance their science and religious beliefs, to put them in separate spheres of influence and happily go forward believing in them to this day.
I still have friends from those days who I am still in touch with, such as Peter here. The guy who I did the YouTube videos with. I saw many rationalizations given a modern worldview.
I was interacting with a lot of Protestants at the time. She hung out with a lot of Protestant folks. I had a lot of interesting conversations with them.
Jacobsen: When you joined the Kelowna community, KASHA, those involved in formal communities of secularism, humanism, atheism, and so on.
What was the feeling of finding the community? What was the reason for entering into a semi-leadership role as the Secretary?
Mallett: When I found the community, it was at the Imagine No Religion conference. A lot of us from Edmonton went to Kamloops to go to the conference.
I don’t know if we already planned to go to the Okanagan or not. It was heartwarming to meet people of similar minds and similar worldviews in the place that I was moving to.
I think part of the biggest reason that I wanted to be in the Board and a leadership role of the organization is having the organization continue to exist and be a place for those struggling to leave religion.
I know, for myself, leaving religion was very isolating. Being so steeped in a community and having that community, in many ways, turn their back on me…
Jacobsen: …in that pain, how did they start to turn their back on you? Ultimately, how did they turn their back on you?
Mallett: Mostly, they do not want to engage in the topics that you’re interested in. I would talk to people about my concerns, my questions, my doubts.
Sometimes, it would be downright hostile, as in “you’re being lead astray for believing those things. You shouldn’t believe those things.” Some people, very friendly, would say, “I don’t want to talk about that.”
They wouldn’t be hostile about it. They just weren’t interested in a relationship with you anymore. They made it quite clear. Obviously, you don’t feel welcome.
It is hard to be there. You do not want to be in a community, at least, on the surface about shared beliefs. When you do not believe those things any longer, you start to realize that the glue is shared beliefs.
It seems weird that humans need that glue for the community in shared beliefs. Somehow, it seems to work that way. So, if you do not share the beliefs, they were not interested in what I had to say.
People would become hostile or simply not want to talk about “these topics.” So, you get the impression these are people who you are not [Laughing] going to spend time with anymore, nor do you want to at some point.
If people who do not want to speak to you, say that, then they turn their backs on you. I feel that I did not do that to them. I do have friends from that time who I do appreciate from that time.
But you have to respect people’s choices at some point.
Jacobsen: Do you notice this glue in the freethought community too? A shared set of beliefs as a glue for them.
Mallett: Not as much, I wonder if this is part of the reason why the community struggles to feel as much as a community, and to be as bonded, close, and supportive as people like.
Because for a lot of nonbelievers, atheists, or skeptics, “Why would I need to get around and sit with people who shared beliefs?” We don’t need to get together and say that we believe in God.
I do believe that there is more glue for people who have left religious beliefs and left deeply religious families because there is so much struggle, pain, and continued problems that that encounters. There is a shared experience.
Jacobsen: Does this sound like shared trauma?
Mallett: Yes, I think so. It is shared trauma. But it is almost like strategy planning sessions. How do we deal with the situations that we are in, especially when it comes to family – grandparents or parents?
People who you are close to, but still want to be in relationship with. Those who are shunning you because you no longer share their beliefs. It is a hard thing to deal with.
Talking to other people, getting ideas, getting perspective on it, it is very helpful. As I said, it is a large reason why I like to support this group. There can be such a large void when people are left alone, by their own decision or by shunning of their former communities – as part of their religion.
Jacobsen: What topics do you see needing more broaching in religious communities and secular communities in Canada?
Mallett: That’s a good question. In a naïve idealistic world, I would love for the religious communities to focus more on freethinking and skepticism, and what constitutes valid evidence.
I do not think that’s going to happen [Laughing]. Maybe, a more realistic one would be understanding and supporting the separation of religion and government, and respecting everyone’s rights to believe or not believe.
In that, the government should treat us independently of our belief or lack of belief in any deities or religions. That would be one that I would love to see more and more religious people tackle. Some people do that.
Communities where women and minorities are persecuted by government. Whereas, the ones that have been in power, like the Catholics, tend to look at it that way.
In terms of the secular world, I think the same thing. It is always important to be reminded about what constitutes good evidence, about how to continue to be skeptical how to continue to analyze claims, and evaluate claims, reason decisions, and make even tentative decisions.
So, that epistemology. One of the favourite things that we do in the Kelowna group is trivia nights. We try to do Spot the B.S. nights.
Mallett: [Laughing] who can make up the craziest stories and things? It is exercising the skeptical muscles. I think it is always valuable and something worth continuing. I know that I have to always work on it.
I think where I see the secular world lacking. My religious buddies always poke me on it. The seeming lack of community and support of charitable organizations among secular groups.
Whether that is entirely true or not, I don’t know. I will have some secular friends as part of a fundraiser to support some homeless group or somebody who has lost a home, or somebody who has gone through some great period of suffering in their church.
is a lot of support. People will provide food, gifts, or energy. In the secular world, sometimes, I do not see that support or charitable giving. Maybe, it is a little more hidden from the rest of us. I don’t know.
However, that might be another topic in need of more broaching. It is something that we talk about more in our Kelowna group. It is doing more things, being giving, being more charitable, and supporting the community and the people in the group.
Jacobsen: What are some other social and communal activities of KASHA?
Mallett: It is interesting. The events that people seem to love are the pub nights. We are always trying to do new things outside of that. But then, people don’t show up as much.
So, we have a lot of pub nights. We have a lot of coffee times as well. We are trying to do more of these service/speaker topic events. We have a KASHA Forum. We’re working on this now.
We have a dinner. We present on a topic. It has been successful. People really enjoy it. I was not there for it. However, we had a booth at the Pride Parade.
A large number of people went to the Pride Parade under the KASHA banner. From what I heard, it was a very positive event. We got our name out there to people who did not know an atheist, humanist, and skeptic group was in town.
So, that was, from all reports, very positive. It is, mostly, in person things. We do not have a ton of online things going now. We don’t have a ton of online things going, which is something I’ve wanted to work on.
It hasn’t gotten very far, e.g., recording talks, lectures, and having them on YouTube, or having an online community where people can support one another. We do not tend to have a lot of that.
It tends to be a lot of in-person stuff over a coffee, over a bear, type of events. The on that we have done, which has been pretty interesting is an Ask An Atheist series.
We haven’t done this for a few years. We did one at a Baptist church. We reached out to the pastor of the church. He invited anyone in the congregation to ask atheists anything that he wanted to.
It was a really enjoyable, really interesting experience. For this side of our group, I think that we do quite a bit, actually.
Jacobsen: What should skeptics, humanists, and atheists remain continuously vigilant about in British Columbia?
Mallett: For me, it is always the separation of religion and government topics. For example, the one that we were talking about at the Pride Parade. It was the BCHA campaign around the petitioning of the BC Legislature for Humanist marriages.
Right now, if you are a religion in BC, you are given special privileges to officiate marriages. We’re basically supporting BCHA in the cause of allowing humanists and non-religious individuals to have the same right as religious individuals.
I might have taken a different approach. It shouldn’t matter. You should have the same rights to be an officiant at religious ceremonies. Right now, that is not the case here.
It is an excellent example of the kinds of government and religious issues needing vigilance.
Jacobsen: What are some mistakes or missteps of the secular communities in Canada?
Mallett: That’s a tough question. I am not sure. In what I’ve seen, I always feel like there’s a lot more opportunity to promote our presence and to let others know that we even exist now.
I wouldn’t call this a mistake. It is a struggle to try to get yourself out there and to promote yourself. That’s one. I don’t know if any of the other groups do this.
I think more and more are doing this. When we started KASHA, we tried really hard to have some clear policies and guidelines for the membership and the group. I don’t know if other groups do that or not. It is important to us. It is a tough question.
Jacobsen: Any recommended authors, organizations, or speakers in Canada, or even internationally?
Mallett: Canada is tough. I know that we have struggled with that. We always want to see if we can bring a speaker in. I do note that we do get quite a bit of support from the University of British Columbia-Okanagan campus.
We have professor members there. It is a local connection there to the local academics. It has been a good source of speakers and for individuals to come and speak on topics to our group and the wider community too.
We have had events with university professors that attract larger crowds than our little group. In terms of authors or speakers across Canada, I don’t have a lot of names that jump out at me.
The controversial one that everyone talks about is Jordan Peterson, but he is not necessarily a [Laughing] secular speaker. He is definitely someone who touches upon a lot of the boundaries of the sorts of concerns humanists, atheists, and skeptics have.
Internationally, I was always a bit of a history and biology geek. There was a fellow by the name of Robert Price. He has a theology degree. So, I think he is Dr. Robert M. Price. He was teaching in South Carolina or something.
He has a podcast called The Bible Geek. He is an atheist who studies the Bible in depth. He takes questions on it. He was somebody who was instrumental in my leaving of religion because of his skeptical, historical analysis of Christianity and religion in general. He is always someone who I recommend to people.
He has a great sense of humor too.
Jacobsen: What about in history? Someone who is dead.
Mallett: I was a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens. When he passed, it was not that long after I had left religion. I was quite steeped in a lot of his writings, lectures, and YouTube videos.
I was shaken by his passing. I remember the group in Edmonton. He had a debate in Toronto with Tony Blair. We had an event, where everyone watched that together. It was interesting. That’s recent history.
Robert Ingersoll is an amazing freethinker and skeptic. They call him The Great Agnostic. He has one called Mistakes of Moses. I loved his writing.
Again, it more along the lines of the geeky, Bible sort of stuff, where he is being quite critical of the Bible and the Old Testament. I feel bad. I do not know any Canadian freethinkers to mention to you. I will have to do some homework on it.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?
Mallett: A couple things that pop out to me. I do not know if you have much of a religious audience who read your articles. I always think, “From the religious side, if you are somebody steeped in a religion, I wonder why some people seem afraid to examine the claims of those that are skeptical of religion.”
I could reference back to my own experience, in how I was upset in how a Richard Dawkins could exist – just anger, emotional. From the atheist side, it is difficult to maintain the communities, but it is rewarding.
That’s why I give my time and effort to it. It is important for those on the secular side to understand how important it is for those who are leaving religion to give them a soft landing and help them cope, move on, and grow, and become happy, healthy human beings into the future.
I am really thankful that these groups have existed and helped me, in this regard. That’s why I try to support our little KASHA group and keep it strong, and growing, into the future. I think there are good signs that this will happen to us.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Daniel.
Mallett: Yes, that was great.
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.
Canadian Atheist 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, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
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