Meet a member: Atheism became professor’s philosophy

Tom Shipka

Name: Tom Shipka.

Where I live: Youngstown, Ohio.

Family: Katie Kane Shipka, spouse; Anne Louise White, daughter; Andrew Shipka, son.

Education: A.B. in philosophy from John Carroll University; Ph.D. in philosophy from Boston College.

Occupation: Emeritus professor of philosophy and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Youngstown State University.

How I got where I am today: I was raised in a Roman Catholic family and even spent two years in a seminary with the intent to become a priest. The change in plans was triggered during college largely by the exposure to philosophy courses, where the distinction between faith-based beliefs and reason-based beliefs took hold. This led to graduate work in philosophy, a doctoral dissertation which featured two atheists — Sartre and Dewey — and a 49-year career of teaching, researching, and publishing philosophy. 

Where I’m headed: During my retirement, I continue reading a lot, serving as president of my condo association, backing political candidates who support a strong social safety net, and, with FFRF, supporting the separation of government and religion and opposing Christian Nationalism.

Person in history I admire and why: Thomas Jefferson for his invaluable role in the founding of our nation.

A quotation I like: “Science is the answer to our prayers.” — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a television interview about the coronavirus pandemic, March 31, 2020.

Things I like: Teaching, motorcycling, reading, eating out, eating sweets, exercising, talking over coffee with friends, doing commentaries on the local NPR affiliate, attending YSU football and basketball games.

Things I smite: The role of wealth and religious extremism in undermining our government and the separation of government and religion.

My doubts about religion started:  Thanks to philosophy courses in college.

Before I die:  I hope to continue doing what I do now as long as my health permits.  As my will and other legal documents provide, I will not acquiesce in an extended disability, especially a mental one.

Ways I promote freethought: During 10 years of commentaries on the local NPR affiliate, I often highlighted our Founders (especially James Madison and Jefferson), prominent atheists, and the roots of terrorism, violence, and intolerance in religious scriptures, including the “Good Book.” Also, I am a member of all the major national organizations which promote secularism and the separation of government and religion.

What cultural changes worry you a lot today? The decline in reading books, newspapers, and magazines across all age groups in the United States due initially to the spread of television and more recently the global spread of cellphones and social media