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The Human Factor

by Deidre Conn


The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 14, Number 3.


Hello and welcome once more to the column written by our readers. In this issue we will continue exploring your many responses to the suggestion of how to build bridges among secular humanists. Many of you not only discussed this in your answers, but also the problems associated with being an isolated freethinker in a religious environmnent.

Eric Stone of Chatauqua N.Y., wrote in with a practical response involving local groups: "We secularists are in every city throughout the world. Why not have a local member of the humanist society greet visiting atheists. Whenever we go to a new city, country, etc., you call the local humanist society and check in as a way of networking."

His letter raises an interesting question: many secular societies already exist in larger cities, making the ability to contact visitors and newcomers quite easy, but what about people in small towns? How do they make connections? And what about cities with no organized groups? Depending on the area, accomplishing this can be quite difficult.

That makes the need for local groups to be able to reach out and connect with secular humanists in their areas very important, because even in areas with local groups there are people who feel alone and afraid until they "discover" secular humanism. For example, F. Allen of Ft. Lauderdale. Fl., wrote: "For years, I lived a lie and kept my mouth shut for fear of being ostracized by friends and family. My husband and I rarely discussed my true beliefs or his. After all, he converted to Judaism to marry me although I told him it was not necessary and I didn't care one way or another. However, I finally discovered that he was as ambiguous about religion as I, and we both 'came out of the closet' about our atheism."

Allen goes on: "Fortunately we discovered secular humanism from the Council for Secular Humanism and learned that we are not alone in this world of irrational religionists. Also, we are very grateful for Prometheus Books for offering many fine books as a resource for teaching our children a broader view of the world and humanity." It is wonderful to note that humanists are able to build bridges never considered through the simple act of reading; indeed, it is through this basic communication that so many of us come to embrace humanism.

She goes on explain a happy result of her family's honesty with others about their beliefs: "This year I actually sent out a `Holiday Letter' that included some humanist philosophies that were gleaned from Free Inquiry and we were surprised to receive many positive responses by friends we never expected to hear from again." Sometimes the bridges you build with other freethinkers can also connect you more strongly to people you did not think of as humanists.

Others find connections, and strength, through music. Another reader, a truck driver, wrote to tell us: "In nearly every community I have been involved in during the last 30 or so years, I have met many closet secular humanists. ... When pursued, almost without exception, the excuse given for not expressing their secular beliefs is that 'you must go along to get along'. ... To deal with this or any other social situation demands strength of character and a conviction that you are right and a willingness to stand up for what you believe."

He continues: "The other night I had just read your article and a song came on the radio that made me think about the implications of your question. Aaron Tippen's song, 'You've Got To Stand For Something or You Will Fall For Anything.' Most of the Country and Western fans I know would never believe it was written for the secular humanist community. ... I am convinced, however, that it was written and performed explicitly for us.

"The message in the song is that if you go along to get along, you ultimately lose. You lose your identity, your character, your ethical values. Tippen sings about a father who refused to go along to get along. He sings of his admiration for a man who could have made things a lot better for his family if he had just gone along. He sings of being sure of yourself and your place and not making concessions for convenience."

The important theme of all of these responses is that secular humanists must make the effort to build bridges between themselves and others. You have many different methods of connecting yourselves to other secular humanists, either through community groups, reading humanist-centered material, or even listening to music. All of these can give you courage and comfort, and let you know you aren't alone in this world.

Our next question for readers was inspired by Lois Porter, a founder of Washington Area Secular Humanists. Lois sent us a letter quoting Babu, Executive Director of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), on the importance of building humanist institutions. What about the American scene? Is it more important to criticize religious ideas and practices, publicize humanist perspectives on issues of the day, engage in activism or focus on community-building? Opinions on what the Council for Secular Humanism and local groups ought to do, or activities you personally enjoy, are equally welcome. Please write to The Human Factor, Council for Secular Humanism, Box 664, Buffalo, NY, or send email to humanfactor@aol.com by September 5. Be sure to tell us whether we may use your name, city and state.


Deidre Conn is Secretary of the Campus Freethought Alliance, Contributing Editor to SHB, and a summer intern at the Center for Inquiry. Regular Human Factor editor Molleen Matsumura will return for the next issue.


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