Kevin Smith can’t remember a time when he believed in god. Describing his boyhood self as “a curious kid, always questioning things,” the 50-year-old commercial photographer dutifully attended Sunday school at his family’s United Church in Etobicoke but was never sold on the idea of god.
“I thought the Bible stories were ridiculous. I couldn’t take them seriously. They seemed like extensions of the fairy tales we were being read, only ones that grown-ups believed too.”
Smith admits that, as religious indoctrinations go, his experiences in the United Church were fairly mild.
“It certainly wasn’t fire and brimstone,” he says, but he tired of its hypocrisy. “I just found it all so fake,” he sighs. “People would be all full of love on Sunday but then pricks on Monday.”
While his own coming-out process was free from dogma, he says, “I know a lot of gay people who are religious but feel hated by their church.”
“I just can’t believe the stupidity of it all,” Smith says, though he resists the common label of “the angry atheist.” “I wouldn’t call it angry. It’s more — ” he pauses, “frustrated.”
Dressed in jeans and a sweater, Smith cuts an unassuming figure. His voice is soft but clear, his shaggy haircut and a single, silver circular barbell earring the only nods to any punk sensibility.
Still, he says, “I’d get angry when I’d see religion infringing on people and would complain bitterly to family and friends about it.”
Inspired by the recent wave of pro-atheist books by authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, Smith realized that instead of sitting on the sidelines, he should do something.
He laughs at how his partner of 20 years is “kind of apathetic about religion but, in our first month of dating, he said, ‘You’re not an atheist, are you?’”
Despite the awkward moment, they’ve made it work.
An ad in The Globe and Mail for the humanist Centre For Inquiry led him to the group’s office on Beverly Street. Now a registered charity, CFI Canada has chapters across the country.
Executive director Justin Trottier says Smith seems like the ideal person to run their Living Without Religion support group.
“He’s very personable, and we wanted someone very down-to-earth who could make people feel at ease,” says Trottier, who, at 26, is a young ED — intellectual and a bit manic. “Frankly, I don’t have that quality but Kevin does. It’s worked out very well.”
Smith says the meetings are a lively mix of refugees from various faiths.
“We have some Catholics, right-wing Pentecostals, Muslims, children of ministers. One woman was half an hour late because she stood outside, too scared to come into a roomful of non-believers. I guess she’d been told we were Satanists or baby-eaters or something!” he laughs.
“There are some really interesting stories here. One of our members is a staunch atheist but her fiancé is a staunch Muslim. They seem to be working it out — they tease each other.”
Despite his views, Smith says, he’s come to terms with one religious leader.
“I really admire Brent Hawkes. He’s an icon and he’s done a lot of great work for the gay community and the people who need that belief. I do question how many of them are true believers though.”
Smith says that many of Hawke’s MCC attendees do not go for the religious teachings but for the sense of community, something that CFI strives to provide as well.
“We’re not trying to convert anyone. You can be religious, deist, agnostic, whatever, and still attend our meetings. We’re just creating a space to discuss these things.”
Now, with his volunteer work and photography career, he’s pretty busy. But he was able to find the time to build a log cabin next to a river up north.
“It’s sort of like my church,” he says. “A sanctuary to get away to and chill out and meditate. I look at the stars. They’re incredible up north, but I don’t attribute them to god. The universe is amazing enough as it is, and when I sit amongst the trees by the river, I feel connected to everything. We are all connected, aren’t we?”
The Centre For Inquiry’s Living Without Religion group is listed on torontomeetup.com.