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The Human Factor

by Molleen Matsumura

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 14, Number 2.

Welcome again to the column written by its readers! The question in our last issue that particularly intrigued readers was the request for suggestions of how to build bridges among individual secular humanists. There were so many thoughtful, constructive responses that we will be sharing them in this issue and the next.

The most direct approach was taken by Howard Q. Adams of Gadsden, AL, who wrote: "I would like to have an option to publish my name, address, and phone number in the bulletin. I would be glad to pay. I will build bridges!" His letter raises some intriguing possibilities. Advertising has never been part of the Secular Humanist Bulletin. We're here to serve CSH members, not bombard them with commercialism. But possibly paid "personal ads" would both serve our members and help fund useful programs. We can't promise such a service - it might not be practical - but we would like to know if it is wanted.

Mary Ellen Sikes, one of the founders of Central Virginia Secular Humanists (CVSH), emphasized the importance of visibility. "Through Free Inquiry, the Campus Freethought Association, and many other activities, CSH has already created the structures for people to work together," she wrote. "What's needed is for secular humanists to speak out - in letters to the editor, at meetings, in every way possible - so we can find each other." Ms. Sikes speaks from experience: Her co-founder was someone whose letters to the editor she had long admired. When they met through the internet email list "sechum-l", CVSH was launched.

Free Inquiry senior editor Jim Haught wrote provocatively:

The struggle to unite freethinkers and give them a focused voice in the world has been waged mightily by ... the many branches of the Council for Secular Humanism. Also, the spirit of teamwork that exists between CSH and other agnostic groups is heartening.

I can think of only one further way to build bridges among secular humanists - namely, to revive their identity among the 200,000 members ... of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

When I joined UU many years ago, it was the denomination of scientific-minded, agnostic-minded thinkers. It contained multitudes of physicists, philosophers, historians, ... and other intellectuals. But mysticism ... crept in - to the point that it's no longer polite ... to challenge supernaturalism.

Most UU members still are secular humanists, but they're somewhat silenced.... I'm trying to fan the embers of UU agnosticism and make them blaze again.... I tell kindred members: Don't let the denomination slide into la-la land without putting up some resistance. After all, a continent-wide federation of 1,000 congregations is a powerful machine, and it would be a shame to lose its potential as a major voice of reason.

Haught's suggestion contains echoes of countless arguments over whether it is better to reform institutions or to abandon them. It also contains an important reminder: secular humanists can find each other, and work together, in many contexts. You might be planning a gala dinner for an abortion rights group, when another volunteer comments, "I don't see why we need to begin with an invocation." Or you might see a neighbor at the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffet, when most of your other neighbors are at Sunday worship. Other parents at your child's school may join you in supporting a completely secular drug-education program.

Another clue that you've met a kindred spirit may be a touch of irreverent humor. In response to last issue's request for colorful phrases to replace religious metaphors, one reader wrote, "My husband and I say, 'Dog sniff you,' when one of us sneezes."

People who share your views on issues like church-state separation, or laugh at a bit of irreverent humor, may have still more in common with you. The first step to building bridges is finding out where to build them ... it's as simple as keeping your eyes open and, as Mary Sikes advises, reaching out yourself.

Next: More on building bridges, and a new question about secular humanism in everyday life.

Write to:

The Human Factor
Secular Humanist Bulletin
P.O. Box 664
Amherst, NY 14226-0664

Molleen Matsumura is founder and past president of Secular Humanists of the East Bay, a Contributing Editor of Secular Humanist Bulletin, and the Associate Editor of Free Inquiry.

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