Skip to content

An Interview with the Society of Edmonton Atheists


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/07/15

An interview with the Society of Edmonton Atheists.  They discuss: the general perspective of the irreligious by the religious; main forms of bias, bigotry, discrimination, and prejudice experienced by atheists in Edmonton; allies within the community for the nonbelieving community; premier events provided by the Edmonton Society of Atheists; main attraction for atheists in the area to come to the events of the Society of Edmonton Atheists; consistent messages from atheist thought leaders; central reasons for people to become atheists; examples of prejudice; and some of the future goals of the social group in terms of outreach, growth, and providing more for the social group, present and future. 

Keywords: atheists, Edmonton, Society of Edmonton Atheists.

An Interview with the Society of Edmonton Atheists

*Footnotes in & after the interview, & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.*

The Society of Edmonton Atheists is a community of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and skeptics. It is purposed for constructive activism, open discussion, and non-believing education and philanthropy. It was a Meetup group, became a non-profit in 2008, and focuses on the building of an atheist community, public awareness of atheism, and volunteer activities. I reached out to the Edmonton Society of Atheists to learn about the situation for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and skeptics in Edmonton, and the broader Alberta culture. The current president, Karen Lumley Kerr, agreed with the idea of an educational series on building a nonbelieving community, especially looking at the national and international communities’ ways of potentially helping grow provincial and local atheist communities. Here is the result of our conversations.

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: With the framework set for this educational series, we know about 70-80% of the Canadian population adheres to some faith or spiritual tradition. In Alberta, and especially Edmonton, the stereotype is a, not necessarily the most religious by numbers but, a hyper-religious set of congregations across the religious spectrum, especially the Christian denominations. To start, what is the general perspective of the irreligious on the part of the religious in Edmonton, in Alberta?

Society of Edmonton Atheists: Generally speaking we are welcome in the bigger cities like Edmonton and Calgary, where the demographic of nonbelievers is higher, and diversity bigger. Interfaith dialogue and discussions happen often in the bigger cities. Atheists in Alberta are more at risk of discrimination in smaller rural towns.

2. Jacobsen: What are the main forms of bias, bigotry, discrimination, and prejudice experienced by atheists in Edmonton, as reported by members of the Edmonton Society for Atheists?

Edmonton Atheists: When we attend interfaith events some people have told us that they felt compelled to avoid our group, I’ve watched people walk past and around our booths at various events before.

The worst cases are when we are trying to remove The Lord’s Prayer (which is protected here) in public schools /before council meetings etc and when members of our group fought for a public school board in Morinville a number of years ago.  Many of those families were ostracized and moved out of the town because of the attitudes of others.

3. Jacobsen: Who tend to be allies within the community for the nonbelieving community? Those able to provide support, community, conversation, and so on.

Edmonton Atheists: In the past, the Unitarian church and sometimes the United churches have shared speakers and events with us. We are going to be embarking on a secular refugee sponsorship with a United Church in the next few weeks (still waiting on government paperwork).

We also belong to the Edmonton Interfaith Center for Education and have spoken at events hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslims.

There are secular religious people who work alongside atheists in groups such as Alberta Pro-choice or APUPIL (Albertan Parents for Unbiased Public Inclusive Learning).  These alliances are more one to one individual type of relationships rather than community groups.

4. Jacobsen: What are some of the premier events provided by the Edmonton Society of Atheists at the moment?

Edmonton Atheists: We hold a variety of events each month, from coffee nights, roundtable discussions, book club, breakfasts and pub nights, to counter-apologetics evenings.  There is usually something for everyone.  Two of our larger events coming up soon are marching in Pride Parade (June 10th) and a potluck bbq for Summer Solstice (June 17th).

We try to have big name speakers a few times a year.  We’ve hosted speakers such as Aron Ra, Richard Carrier, Justin Scheiber, and David Silverman in the past.  Through the AB Secular Conference, which we are founding sponsors of, have brought Ali Rizvi, Matt Dillahunty, Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist (just to name a few), to our province.

5. Jacobsen: As the Society of Edmonton Atheists, as a local social group, what is the main attraction for atheists in the area to come to the events of the Society of Edmonton Atheists?

Edmonton Atheists: Generally we find that people have recently left their church or religious group and are looking for like-minded friends.  Others join in order to get involved in some of our secular activism.

6. Jacobsen: With bringing some of the prominent names in the atheist community including Ali Rizvi, Matt Dillahunty, Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, Aron Ra, Richard Carrier, Justin Scheiber, David Silverman, and so on, what have been the consistent messages from them, from their presentations?

Edmonton Atheists: That we have the freedom to speak up, so we shouldn’t take that for granted.  There are atheists around the world who can’t speak up without fear of repercussions, jail time or even death.

7. Jacobsen: In an interaction with the small community of atheists in Edmonton, what have been the central reasons for people to become atheists? Noting, of course, the largest single group, regarding religion, in the city of Edmonton are those without religious affiliation. 

Edmonton Atheists: Most lose their faith over a few years, very few can pinpoint exactly when they became an atheist.  The story is generally the same, asking questions that were not answered by their religious leaders and then researching on their own.   Logically the stories they were taught start to crumble, and they lose their faith little by little.

We also have some members who were raised secularly, so didn’t have to untangle from religion at all.  These types usually come to us more to be active in our outreach and activism.

8. Jacobsen: Even though those in other countries can have their fundamental belief in – ahem – non-belief have them executed, imprisoned, or considered even terrorists as in Saudi Arabia, there are more subtle forms of prejudice and discrimination against irreligious people in Edmonton, in Alberta, and in Canada. You touched on some aspects of having a booth be avoided, or controversy surrounding the Lord’s Prayer, which amounts to forms of tacit social privileges for the faithful, especially the Christian (Catholic and Protestant, mostly, in this country). What about stories or narratives from members of the social group? How does this discrimination play out in their lives? Any stark examples?

Edmonton Atheists: I think the main examples were those that the families in Mornville faced after trying to get a secular school set up there (there was only a Catholic option up until that point). I know a lot of those families had to leave the city due to being ostracized.

9. Jacobsen: Any books popular within the group? Why those texts?

Edmonton Atheists: I don’t think there are any specific books that are more popular than others. We do run a book club each month and try to rotate through various themes, different sciences, even apologetics books. We’ve also added in the odd fiction book now and again if it’s somehow related, we read A Handmaid’s Tale at the beginning of the year for example.

10. Jacobsen: What are some of the future goals of the social group in terms of outreach, growth, and providing more for the social group, present and future?

Edmonton Atheists: We are pretty busy in so much as we have an event on every week, but I’d really like to get more outreach going. Ideas that have been tossed around are speaking at churches to try to squash some of the stereotypes, holding Atheism 101 events every now and again that are open to the public, and I am also now involved with the Edmonton Interfaith group, so want to start nurturing that relationship. I’ll be speaking in September at a conference that includes non-theists, progressive Christians, and humanists, alongside Minister Gretta Vosper, so I’m very much looking forward to that:


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


© 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.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: