It is interesting that the University of Miami has just accepted a gift of $2.2 million to establish a chair for the study of atheism, humanism and secular ethics, a chair established by the founder and former chairman of the modeling school, Barbizon International.
Establishing such a chair raises intriguing questions. The percentage of Americans with no religious affiliation has shot up from 16% to 23% in less than a decade. These are worrying statistics, but I am not certain that checking “no religious affiliation” on a questionnaire automatically means that one is an atheist.
A fair number of the unaffiliated are that simply because they have drifted away from their religious roots and have not found a substitute. They do not really affirm the tenets of atheism. That is a serious affirmation, not something one just slides into.
Many questions remain since the head of the new department and its professors have yet to be named. There is also no outline of the curriculum. The years of dialogue that have led to this moment acknowledge the complexity of the undertaking, which is why secularism and ethics were added to widen its scope.
I can only say that it will be interesting to see who will occupy the chair and how many serious students are willing to grapple with the complex ideas of pure atheism. These will not be courses for the bored or the idly curious seeking an easy A.
Internationally known atheists such as Richard Dawkins are delighted even as their opponents are warily disturbed by this further step in seemingly denying what so many find to be a vital part of their lives. To them it appears to give academic recognition to what is evil. This could be a moment for fascinating dialogue between believers and the unaffiliated.
Life is not dull, is it?