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An Interview with Rick Raubenheimer and Jani Schoeman on Acquiring Superpowers and Superhero Origin Stories (Part One)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/06/15


Rick Raubenheimer is the President and Jani Schoeman is the Former President of the South African Secular Society. They discuss: origin story; transition from religion to non-religion; social and family reactions; and another superpower development.

Keywords: Jani Schoeman, Rick Raubenheimer, secularism, South African Secular Society.

An Interview with Rick Raubenheimer and Jani Schoeman on Acquiring Superpowers and Superhero Origin Stories: President and Former President, SASS (Part One)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Start from the top, like a superhero origin to the story. In brief, let’s provide some context. What was your background? Let’s start with the founder, Jani.

Jani Schoeman: How much do you want to know? I could tell you my whole childhood story, but I don’t think I’ll do that. I come from what you guys would perhaps call an evangelical Christian background. My dad is a minister. My mother is a Christian schoolteacher. I was religious up until the time I did my postgraduate degree, and then I fell off the bus.

After a few years of not knowing any other atheists or really anyone who’s non-religious, I, in 2014, started the South African Secular Society. At that time, it wasn’t what it was called. It was just the atheist Meetup group. I think in 2017, we got registered as a Nonprofit Organisation. Rick, is that correct?

Rick Raubenheimer: Yes. We only got our certificate in February 2018.

Schoeman: Yes. We applied in 2017. I don’t know how much more than that you want to know. Do you want to know about the organization or just my history?

2. Jacobsen: Both of your histories first, then that sets a context, so people know a little bit more where you’re coming from. The one thing, you stated it as ‘falling off the bus.’ What was that transition point from evangelical to not-so evangelical?

Schoeman: I think most people would answer in this way. It’s not really a moment where you like, “Oh, okay. It’s all made up.” It’s a slow transition. You lose a little bit. You get a little bit of doubt here, a little bit of doubt there.

I think the main thing that was the nail in the coffin for me was when I did my master’s degree, my thinking started to change in terms of getting a scientific mindset. I was in a scientific degree. I learned about how to test evidence, for example, how to find out if something is truth or a placebo effect, and just general stuff like that.

I don’t know how some people can get an education like that and still be religious. I think they really must compartmentalize, then. That’s not something I could do. If I learn something, your our brain gets rewired, I think. If you’re doing science in an honest way, then you kind of must. That’s where you’re going to end up, I think. That’s where I ended up.

3. Jacobsen: One last question on that note. Was there a difference in the way social and family life, as you made that transition?

Schoeman: Yes. I went to see a psychologist when I realized I had lost my faith because my parents are hectically religious. My entire family is very religious. I was okay with the whole fact of losing my religion and all of that, but the social implications for me was the thing that I really struggled with because I knew I was going to gravely disappoint my parents, and people were going to see me differently in the family, my extended family.

My mum’s parents were missionaries. It’s so much a part of them. They were missionaries in Africa. I grew up with all those missionary stories and things.

My grandparents, right now, I can’t really have a relationship with them anymore. Every time I see them, they’re like, “The Prodigal Son needs to return,” all this type of stuff. They’re really in my face about it. My husband really doesn’t appreciate it. I’m a bit more tolerable, but he really doesn’t like that. So, I don’t really see them that much anymore, unfortunately. They are old now, in their 80s.

My parents, on the other hand, I didn’t immediately tell them that I was no longer a Christian, but at a certain point, about maybe a year or so after I lost my faith. I told my mother, “I’m starting from scratch now. I don’t believe anything anymore. I’m going on a journey now to find truth.” Even saying that, she couldn’t really respond to that. I could see she was very upset.

A year or two later, there was an incident where my grandmother was visiting, and she made a comment at the dinner table about evolution not being true, “People think that humans actually came from fish.” I was like, “You know what?” Then, during that conversation, it came out that I was an atheist. There was a bit of a disagreement.

Then I didn’t speak to my family for about six months, which was very difficult for me. My parents live about 20 minutes away, 25 minutes away from my house, and we did see them quite often. After six months, I wrote them a letter and told them, “Let’s still be friends. I don’t think we have to break up over this.” We gradually got the relationship starting again.

This was maybe three or four years ago. Now, I think I have the best relationship I’ve ever had with my parents, and with my family because it’s honest. I don’t have to pretend anymore.

As a Christian, growing up, I didn’t get with it very well. I had major issues in my teenage years with my mother, and my parents. I ran away from home at a certain point. All that stuff. I was boiling on the inside, and I didn’t know why, but it was from all this Christian guilt that I was carrying around because living according to the Bible, especially the way my parents taught me, was an impossible way to live in a modern society. That really messed me up as a teenager, I think.

All that stuff is history, now. Now that I’m out, my parents don’t ask me to come to church anymore, which I’m so happy about. I have a good relationship now with my parents. My sister is also very religious. I have two brothers as well. They’re both agnostic, but hectically in the closet.

4. Jacobsen: Rick, how did you gain your superpowers?

Raubenheimer: My parents were both schoolteachers. My father was a school principal. They retired from teaching and brought a small holiday resort in the Magaliesberg, which is a mountain range in what was then the Transvaal – which is now Northwest Province.

My father was a free thinker from an Afrikaans background, which was quite unusual. He preferred to be in the English-speaking community, which he found more liberal. My mother was Jewish, and her marrying outside the faith caused quite a rift in the family. Her brothers didn’t speak to her for years, but they eventually reconciled.

I wasn’t brought up with any religion. I encountered religion at school, first, which was in the form of [with accent] Christian National Education. Jani will recognize the accent.


Jacobsen: I got the accent.

Raubenheimer: Where the schoolteacher, and I say the schoolteacher because it was a very small farm school, which had exactly two members of staff: a teacher, and a principal. The teacher took what was then Grade 1 and Grade 2, Standard 1, Standard 2; and the principal took Standard 3, Standard 4, and Standard 5; and that was where the school got to. That would have taken one to about 12, 13 of age.

When the teacher heard that we didn’t pray at home, she was quite taken aback, and she taught me to pray, which I tried out at home one evening, I think possibly to the consternation of my mother, but she hid it quite well, and spoke to me afterward. I forget what she said, but I didn’t actually pray again. Presumably, she pointed out to me that it didn’t work, or wasn’t necessary, or that we didn’t believe that sort of stuff, or something.

My father then died when I was eight. My mother decided that it would be a good thing if I was brought up Jewish. I, somewhat belatedly, started what was called Haida lessons. That was the equivalent of a Jewish catechism. I had a bar mitzvah at age 13. For a while, I was nominally Jewish.

After school, in matric, we had conscription, so I was taken up into the army, where I was nominally Reform Jewish, which was terribly useful because I was posted to Pretoria. Jani will know Voortrekker Hoogte, as it was called in those days.

We lived in Johannesburg, which is about 50 kilometers away. I would go in from camp on the Friday night bus to attend synagogue. I would then go absent without leave and hitch-hike home to Joburg. I would then hitch-hike back on the Sunday and come in on the bus from church with the Christians. That all worked out very nicely.

I then went to university at Wits University, University of the Witwatersrand where I studied civil engineering. There I encountered Transcendental Meditation which I took up and practiced for seven years, which got me into various advanced techniques. At that stage, they were developing a thing called the Siddhis, which is Sanskrit for “perfections,” which was supposed to be things like “knowing things at a distance”, “walking through solid objects”.

I forget what they all were. I learned the first four of them, which didn’t appear to be terribly successful. The ultimate one was the “flying Siddhi”, as they called it, which was levitation. We went on various retreats for weekends, and weeks sometimes, at a time, and spent a lot of money on the Maharshis organization.

I became disillusioned with it after I had sneaked into one of the advanced ones where they had the people flying, and the flying turned out to be essentially sitting on a foam rubber mattress and hopping up and down. They actually produced photographs of people supposedly flying, and they were at a distance above the surface they were on, but if one looked very carefully, one could see that they were in motion because the hair was flying, or their clothes were flying, and so on.

I moved on from there, and I went into other forms of meditation. I had meditation from a chap called Gururaj Ananda Yogi and found that to be too Hindu orientated for my liking.

Somewhere along the lines, I went into a derivative of est, Erhard Seminars Training. Probably doesn’t exist anymore because this was in the 1980s. This one was called the I am training, run by a fellow called Pat Grove, using high-pressure psychological techniques to get people to change their lives.

I was involved in that for quite a long time. I met my wife there. The movement fell apart and schismed into about three different factions, at which point I stopped being actively involved, but I think I got quite a lot of benefit out of that.

Then, Judith and I moved into the New Age movement, and we did things like rebirthing, which was a breathing technique intended to recapture and release the birth trauma. We had groups at our house where we would have fire ceremonies, sitting around a bonfire at night.

Schoeman: I did not know any of this, Rick. I’m just saying. This is so interesting to me now [Laughing].

Raubenheimer: Yes, you missed the meetup where we did our spiritual background. I’ve still got a video of it, which I must still post. I’ve just got a backlog on the videos.

We would have these fire ceremonies. We had a healer called Hilda Light- or so she called herself. That wasn’t her real surname – who did the rebirthing, and talked to us, and brought messages from gurus and things, and told us about supposed prophecies of what was supposed to happen. I’d always regarded this with a degree of skepticism, and gradually became more skeptical about it, and started questioning it more.

Somewhere along the line, I read a book by Dave Mills called “Atheist Universe.” This crystallized for me what I believed, that I preferred reason and science. I went on from there to read most of Richard Dawkins’s work, and Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.

Schoeman: Can I interrupt you?

Raubenheimer: Yes.

Schoeman: When was this, Rick?

Raubenheimer: This was around 2008.

Schoeman: Okay.

Raubenheimer: About age 55 or so. About 10 years ago, or thereabouts. I got involved in online atheist groups. Because I was posting a lot, without being asked at all, I was made an admin of South African Atheist Movement, which is a Facebook group. That’s the public Facebook group, probably the most prominent one, of atheists in South Africa.

There is another one called South African Atheist, which is a closed group, or private group, a secret group. People there discuss more fractious things, and so on, whereas SAAM tends to be more of the public face of atheism. I delete posts that are deliberately provocative and tend to provoke people. I’m still an admin there. 

I think it was through a Meetup that I got to know about Jani wanting to have an atheist Meetup at Zoo Lake and went along to that. Then, from that, we grew that into the South African Secular Society. I think that’s it.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Rick Raubenheimer, President, SASS; Jani Schoeman, Former President, SASS;

[2] Individual Publication Date: June 15, 2019:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019:


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


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