Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New York. Here we talk about God and the Governor of New York.
*Interview conducted on May 11, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: I want to touch on two points, as covered before. Prime Minister Trudeau, son of the late Pierre Trudeau, made statements on the coronavirus. His remarks were, more or less, on the idea of Canadian citizens deserving more than thoughts and prayers. He did not denigrate those who wish to use the language and have the sensibility. He was making the argument that the general population – religious and non-religious, in other words – need more than this in times of crisis, especially in a shooting. In New York, Cuomo impressed you, others, and me, stating God did not reduce the numbers of deaths and incidences of coronavirus, but people did. This is along the same line of thinking that we’re seeing more and more with Iceland under Katrín Jakobsdóttir. She speaks to mass testing. Same with South Korea. New Zealand under Jacinda Ardern, an agnostic. It is a foundational common element of non-religion’s general focus on science. It is an operationalism as foundational. So, with New York, what is more likely to make most of New York operationalistic, naturalistic about the world, scientific?
Jonathan Engel: I think, New York is a big state in terms of geography. About half of the population or more lives in New York City. When you include the suburban areas of New York and New York City, I went to college at the University of Buffalo. Obviously, Upstate is its own thing. But New York State is dominated by New York City. New York City is a cosmopolitan place. It is a place with a lot of different people from a lot of different places. We call ourselves a city of immigrants. We are! My father was an immigrant born in Canada. We are a city of immigrants. So, a lot of people come here. We are more like, in New York City, other Western countries than other states in the United States. Because the United States has a very heavy level of religiosity among the people more so than other Western countries, but New York City, in particular, and New York State as well. Andrew Cuomo is a child of New York City. His father was the Governor of New York too. He spent part of his time growing up in Albany, but a lot of time in Queens before Mario Cuomo became governor of New York.
So, he’s a New York City guy in a lot of ways too. He wouldn’t say this because he feels the need to represent New York State. He is a New York City guy. In New York City, there is less of that kind of religious influence, especially the extreme religious influence. There are pockets of it because there are pockets of Hasidic Jews, but they tend to be very insular. They don’t affect the rest of the culture as much as Evangelicals as somewhere in the Midwest. In, again, the city, it’s very cosmopolitan. It is more influenced as if by Europe. When people talk about socialism in parts of Europe, it is not something people in New York will be bothered by, as much as people in other parts of the country. This has helped us. The cosmopolitan aspect of the city is why it got hit so fast. So many people come into the city for business, for tourism with 40,000,000 tourists per year. We live – literally – on top of each other. It is not surprising that New York City was one of the first places to get hit so hard in the United States. Right now, if you look at the trends of coronavirus in America, the only place where it is going down is New York. Everywhere else is going up. Cuomo has been very good person to listen to, because he tells the truth, doesn’t sugar coat things. You get the real deal from him rather than listening to the Task Force from the federal government from Trump and Pence.
Who knows what you’re going to hear from these people? Partly, it seems like the nature of New York. We are not going to engage. You don’t have to convince that many people that if you have to social distance; that that’s going to be something to help solve the problem. Whereas, saying, “We have to get in a church and pray this away.” You have pockets of ultra-Orthodox Jews, but you don’t have the kind of religious fervour, as in other parts of the country. With people – literally – saying, “Jesus will save. I will hug my congregants. Jesus will protect them.” You have people with this form of magical thinking. But is not as prevalent in New York, again, I am a New Yorker [Laughing]…
Engel: …So, take that with a grain of salt. Some, they may want to go to church or synagogue for various reasons because that’s what they’ve always done. They love the community. They will turn around and say, “As long as we pray, the coronavirus will stay away from us,” which will obviously make it worse. It has not happened. We have 80,000 people dead, even so, and rising. Just as we’re talking about the magical thinking of religion, in the Trump White House, you have Trump saying, “I believe this is going to go down to zero. When it is April, and it gets warmer, it will go down.” ‘I believe…,’ ‘I think…,’ what do you mean? “That’s what I think.” That’s nothing. It is what you want, but what you want and what’s real aren’t the same thing. Again, Trump uses the language of religion, even while not religious. Even though, he panders about religion. In some ways, it is the same thing. What is its basis? With religious people, it is based on a book written thousands of years ago, who did not know the germ theory of disease. With Trump, it is just “I am smarter than everyone. So, what I say must have value, because, I am so much smarter than anyone else. I do not have to bother with research and learning.” A lot of people buy into it.
A lot of people in this country say, “You know, I like a guy who knows what he thinks and knows what he believes, and that’s that.” You get less of this in New York than other parts of the country. I am saying, “That’s what I believe,” right? You don’t see protests in churches saying, “We demand churches open up and get packed,” in New York City. So, I do know that for a fact. It has helped New York. In New York, the rate is going down. If you look at the country without New York, then the rate continues to climb, to go up.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Jon.
Engel: Okay, 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.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
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.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
About Canadian Atheist
Canadian Atheist is an independent blog with multiple contributors providing articles of interest to Canadian atheists, secularists, humanists, and freethinkers.
Canadian Atheist is not an organization – there is no membership and nothing to join – and we offer no professional services or products. It is a privately-owned publishing platform shared with our contributors, with a focus on topics relevant to Canadian atheists.
Canadian Atheist is not affiliated with any other organization or group. While our contributors may be individually be members of other organizations or groups, and may even speak in an official capacity for them, CA itself is independent.
For more information about Canadian Atheist, or to contact us for any other reason, see our contact page.
About Canadian Atheist Contributors
Canadian Atheist contributors are volunteers who provide content for CA. They receive no payment for their contributions from CA, though they may be sponsored by other means.
Our contributors are people who have both a passion for issues of interest to Canadian atheists, secularists, humanists, and freethinkers, and a demonstrated ability to communicate content and ideas of interest on those topics to our readers. Some are members of Canadian secularist, humanist, atheist, or freethought organizations, either at the national, provincial, regional, or local level. They come from all walks of life, and offer a diversity of perspectives and presentation styles.
CA merely provides our contributors with a platform with almost complete editorial freedom. Their opinions are their own, expressed as they see fit; they do not speak for Canadian Atheist, and Canadian Atheist does not speak for them.
For more information about Canadian Atheist’s contribors, or to get in contact with any of them, or if you are interested in becoming a contributor, see our contact page.