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An Interview with Jason Droboth — President, The Secular Humanists of MRU

2022-12-12

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/10/26

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is family background — geography, culture, language, religion/irreligion, and education?

Jason Droboth: Assuming you’re asking me about ‘my’ family background, I come from a devout Jehovah’s Witness family. My parents allowed the Jehovah’s Witness organization, known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, to shape everything about them from their personal religious beliefs to the way they dressed. They were likewise heavily influenced by the organization in their parenting methods and perspectives. So it’s fair to say, that the Watchtower organization and my experiences as a Jehovah’s Witness in my formative years up until my early 20s were by far the most consequential in my development and current perspectives. Everything I am today is because of, and now in spite of, that organization.

Jacobsen: What is the personal background in secularism for you? What were some seminal developmental events and realizations in personal life regarding it?

Droboth: Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain a very literal interpretation of the Bible and are quick to boil things down to absolutes. God is ONLY good, Satan is ONLY evil, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the ONLY true religion, all other ideologies other than theirs are ONLY false, Genesis is a literal account of historical events, etc. This was my belief structure built on such absolutes and certainties, structured as a so-called house of cards that could only stand if no outside influences were introduced. The funny thing is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are required to approach people in the streets and at their front doors in a recruiting effort, which means that people with different beliefs are given the chance to challenge your belief system. This is what happened to me. I remember preaching to people trying to convince them that, among other things, the biblical story of Noah’s flood was a historical fact and there was evidence to prove such. But I could not present that evidence and each person who challenged my claims continued to inflict irreversible damage to my belief system. This continued happening for a few years when finally I accepted, to my horror, that there was no evidence to even mildly support the literal interpretation of the account of Noah. This was really the first card that fell and within a couple months the entire house of cards collapsed. I no longer believed that Jehovah’s Witnesses posses “The Truth”, that the Bible was inspired by God, or that the God of Israel even existed. I sought some sort of validation that I was not evil nor crazy because of my newfound atheism. So I borrowed ‘The God Delusion’ from the library, replaced the dust jacket with something less blasphemous, and just to be sure I would not get caught, I would sneak away to isolated parks and urban forests to read it. This book obviously changed my life and sparked an insatiable curiosity for knowledge. It’s been around 6 years since I last sought comfort and knowledge through prayer. Secularism has really dominated my life ever since.

Jacobsen: You are the president of The Secular Humanists of Mount Royal University. What tasks and responsibilities come with the presidential position? Why do you pursue this line of volunteering?

Droboth: As president I try to focus on fostering a positive culture and space for people to explore their beliefs as they relate to secularism. I am responsible for our leadership team, our membership, and our representation to the public.

Jacobsen: What personal fulfillment comes from it?

Droboth: I actually created this club for myself because I needed a space to explore and develop my beliefs. I really lost my entire community once I renounced my faith and needed a new community to form new bonds. Now that I have my own communities and friendships I try to focus on giving others the chance to develop their beliefs and find a community. I really love supporting people when they are dealing with the challenges that come with transitioning beliefs.

Jacobsen: What are some of the more valuable tips for campus secularist activism? Also, you have unique things on campus. Those being, the difficulties in finding good leadership and the development of a succession plan. How are you managing those issues? What should others learn from you?

Droboth: Time is very limited! Students may have a real desire to be a part of your club either in a leadership position or not, but their other commitments are going to begin consuming more and more of their time as the semester progresses. This means that support for the club may diminish causing you to become disheartened or worse, you’ll take on too much responsibility and see your grades and/or mental health decline. This is what happened to me, as others became more preoccupied with other commitments I took on too much and began resenting the time I spent on developing the club. Now we’re regrouping and bringing it back to basics, no longer focusing on hosting 300 person events and the like, but on having small weekly meet ups where people can just chat and explore ideas.

Jacobsen: What have been some historic violations of the principles behind secularism on campus? What have been some successes to combat these violations?

Droboth: Our club has not concerned itself much with bringing to light any violations of the principals of secularism on campus probably because there have not been any gross examples that we are aware of in recent memory. We merely try to provide a community for students to explore secular ideals and principals. If we existed in another place, like the Southern U.S., I’m sure we would have different priorities.

Jacobsen: What are the main areas of need regarding secularists on campus?

Droboth: I’ve noticed that many religious groups on campus foster close knit communities where members feel a real sense of belonging. This may result from a uniform belief system, the more uniform their beliefs, the more they get along. Non-academic clubs like those based on a sport or hobby, often do not concern themselves with discussing controversial or sensitive topics and thus have fewer heated disagreements. Secularists, however, find themselves in a different boat. Secularists are usually independent thinkers, tend to embrace topics that are controversial, and are not quick to just accept something without thoroughly directing it. This means that disagreements on sensitive topics are an inevitable reality which can tend to hinder personal bonds from developing amongst secularists. Its thus highly important for secularists to continue discussing sensitive topics and challenging or disagreeing with each other, but at the same time learning how to form healthy constructive bonds with those same people.

Jacobsen: What is your main concern for secularism on campus moving forward for the next few months, even years?

Droboth: As with other clubs I’m sure, we are concerned that our group will cease to exist once our core group of founders are gone. I don’t mind if the group dissolves, as long as something else pops up to replace it. I want to see new students come in and create a secular community for themselves and their fellow students on their own terms to address the issues and concerns that are relevant for their time.

Jacobsen: What are the current biggest threats to secularism on campus?

Droboth: Secularism is not comfortable or easy. It begs the hard questions, demands the hard evidence, and searches for answers that are often hard to hear. I hope that students continue to see the value in and search out the uncomfortable feelings that come with secularism.

I’m also concerned that secularism may push some to dismiss the genuine personal spiritual experiences or beliefs of those who call themselves religious. It’s important that secularism holds all claims to the same standards of evidence and that secularists not allow tactics of intimidation and accusations of bigotry stop them from questioning claims. However, I hope that secular communities continue nurturing their empathy for those of faith and try to understand why it is that people hold these beliefs and what it means for them personally.

Jacobsen: What are the main social and political activist, and educational, initiatives on campus for secularists?

Droboth: Every year we try to focus on slightly different causes and methods. This coming year we will be focusing on the experience of changing beliefs and the challenges that result. We will be focusing on more intimate meet ups geared towards those who are in the process of the major ideological shift from faith to secularism. Hopefully we can help to lessen the sacrifices and/or fears that come with such a shift.

Jacobsen: How can people become involved and maintain the secular student alliance ties on campus?

Droboth: Students can search our club name online to find our contact information. They can also look out for our advertising on campus or contact the student’s association club coordinator for more information. If anyone is ever interested in a leadership position they should contact us and let us know as we would love some more help!

Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?

Droboth: Creating and leading this club was one of the most memorable and beneficial things I have ever done during my degree. I encourage all students to not just join a secular club, but to create one, shape one, take one into your own hands and experience how it feels to introduce people to new ideas and ways of thinking. You can’t even begin to imagine how much you will learn and what vast positive experiences you may create for your fellow students!

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Jason.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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