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Interview With Jo Ann Mooney

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

Jo Ann Mooney is the Council for Secular Humanism's new Director of Humanist Community Development, and executive director of the Alliance of Secular Humanist Societies (ASHS). Here she is interviewed by Matt Cherry.

Secular Humanist Bulletin: Please tell me about your background?

Jo Ann Mooney: I was born in Kansas City and raised as a Jew. However, even from a very early age, I never bought into the God idea. At the age of 13, I started studying other religions and soon came to the conclusion that each believed they had a unique foothold on explaining the world and that none of those explanations satisfied me.

My agnosticism was enhanced when I took a course on Classical Mythology as an undergraduate. It was enlightening to see that ancient religious beliefs are now called myths and I began to view current religions from that same perspective.

I actually "came out" as an atheist while working towards my doctorate in Social Psychology at the University of Kansas (after receiving a MA in Psychology and a BS in Business). But religion was not really an issue for me until I moved to Greenville, South Carolina, where I took a teaching position at Furman University.

SHB: It must have been quite an experience for an atheist to live in South Carolina.

Mooney: Yes, literally the first question people would ask upon being introduced to me was "What church do you go to?" It was very difficult to answer "I don't go to church." I could see them discounting me from their personal lives.

Fortunately, I soon came across a group called the Upstate South Carolina Secular Humanists. I had actually never heard the term secular humanist until I ran across this group. I thought it sounded like what I believed in and, yes, indeed these people shared a world view in sync with mine. I felt I had found family! This community is filled with the most wonderful people and best friends I could ever hope to find.

SHB: How did you come to be the Director of Humanist Community Development?

Mooney: While teaching at Furman, I was very active in the Greenville group and loved every minute of it. In the year that I was President, by-laws were adopted, membership increased by 30%, and we began to gain recognition in the community. I initiated new programs, wrote op-ed pieces for the local newspaper, held protests and sit-ins against prayer at Anderson's County Council, spoke as an invited guest on a radio call-in show, staffed booths at local events, walked in civil and gay rights' marches, and escorted at an abortion clinic.

When I realized how I was spending my free time, I thought I'd try to make it my career. I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the Council's staff.

SHB: Perhaps you can tell us what the Council for Secular Humanism is already doing for local groups.

Mooney: Actually, the Council provides the groups with a lot already! We have just developed an excellent manual for running a secular humanist group that is filled with information and brilliant ideas. It will be useful for the beginning group as well as the firmly established organization. The manual includes samples of by-laws, group pamphlets and membership surveys, guidelines for conducting meetings, examples of press releases and letters to the editor, and much, much more.

The Council has a wide range of promotional literature that local groups can use. We can give groups introductory brochures and books about secular humanism and related issues. There are a couple of other nice perks we can provide to ASHS groups. Local groups can now piggy-back on CSH's tax-exempt status. And we support a large and informative web-site. Templates will be provided to groups who'd like to have their own web pages.

SHB: What will you be doing in your new job as Director of Humanist Community Development?

Mooney: I have a lot of plans that I hope secular humanists will find exciting. I'll be developing programs that should be of interest to people of all ages, particularly women. Especially, important, I believe, is to develop a moral education program for children. Additionally, I'll have direct contact with the ASHS groups helping them to flourish.

My main focus will be on making humanism more accessible and positive. For humanism to grow, we need to have a sense of community; to be responsible for taking care of each other. We should start providing social functions as well as educational meetings, and focusing on being kinder and more empathic. Local groups should take care of members' needs' for example remembering birthdays, celebrating special occasions, visiting the sick.

Nonreligious people are often isolated and discriminated against, so I think it is very important that we support one another. For many people, "coming out" is very traumatic, and I'd like to implement a support network. We also need to work on making groups more proactive and involved in church-state and other humanist issues. I'll be providing ideas on how to be active in your community. Finally, we need to make humanism fun! Hopefully, many of the program ideas I'll be suggesting will be entertaining as well as enlightening.

Jo Ann welcomes ideas and suggestions from SHB readers. Write to Jo Ann Mooney, PO Box 664, Amherst, NY 14226-0664. Or e-mail: joannmooney@earthlink.net.

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This page was last updated 12/04/2003

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