How Should Humanism Relate to the Non-Humanist World?



  •  Norm Allen, International Outreach Director, Institute for Science and Human Values
  • Michael Aus, Co-Founder, Houston “Oasis” Humanist Fellowship
  • Allen Callahn, Writer, Translator, Independent Scholar and Minister
  • Mattias Jung, Professor (philosophy seminar), Universitat Koblenz – Landau
  • Juergen Manemann, Director, Forschungsinstitut für Philosophie Hannover
  • Monica Miller, Assistant Professor of Religion Studies, Lehigh University
  • Andy Norman, Special Faculty, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Herb Silverman, President Emeritus,Secular Coalition for America; Professor of Mathematics, College of Charleston
  • Toni Van Pelt, Public Policy Director, Institute for Science and Human Values

Living Humanism: Material Culture and the Remaking of Religion



  •  Patricia O’Connell Killen, Professor of Religious Studies and Academic Vice President at Gonzaga University
  •  Monica R. Miller, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanistic Approaches to the Social Sciences at Lewis & Clark College
  • Cassie Trentaz, Assistant Professor of Theology, Ethics and Church History at Warner Pacific College
  • Diabolus Rex, Magus and High Priest of the Chaos Imperium
  • Susanna Morrill, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lewis & Clark College
  • Anthony Pinn, Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University
The American Atheists 2011 Convention

The American Atheists 2011 Convention


By Naima Cabelle

I tend to dislike conventions, large conferences, etc., as opposed to smaller groups where there’s a greater possibility for more individual interaction. Had I not understood that an unprecedented number of people of color and women were invited as convention speakers at the April 2011 American Atheists convention, there would have been no incentive for me to go. Even so, I had to justify my attendance after considering the expense and time commitment. I decided to go because I certainly wanted to be present as well as support other women and people of color. However, I also wanted to do more than just passively listen to the convention speakers or endlessly bump shoulders with hundreds of strangers. Since I’m a member of AA, I decided to distribute a statement [DC Atheist Advocate] expressing my concerns as well as expectations about the organization. I also added another paper [Ideas for Expanding the Secular Community]. Because I am also a member of the Washington Area Secular Humanists, I thought it would be good to let others know about our work by distributing back issues of WASH’s newsletter, the WASHLine as well. I also decided to meet as many people as I could, have a little conversation with them and tell them a little bit about WASH before finally asking if they’d like a copy of the newsletter. Generally, I’d rather stay in the background, and I was clearly stepping out of my comfort zone, but I needed to shun the easy route. I took over 50 copies of all of the materials with me, and after 2-1/2 days, I returned to DC with very light travel bag and laryngitis!

I tried to meet every African American present and I think there were approximately 15 in attendance. As I recall, they came from Lincoln, NE: Atlanta and Macon, GA; Sterling, VA; St. Louis, MO; Chapel Hill, NC, and Washington, DC. I also met several people from India as well as a few Hispanics. From what I could gather, there were approximately 30 people of color at the convention.

Approximately 5-7 people protested the presence of American Atheists outside of the hotel, including one person who was “hell-bent” on being confrontational. On Friday, the mayor of Des Moines was one of the speakers who offered opening remarks at the convention. He enthusiastically welcomed American Atheists to the city of Des Moines, let us know how much they appreciated our business, and asked that we try to see as much of the city as possible. He said he hoped that we would return as a group as well as individuals. For a very Christian city, 5-7 protesters represented a poor showing especially since the convention has received a considerable amount of advanced coverage in newspapers along with TV and radio coverage. Our presence wasn’t a secret however the god-fearing in Des Moines apparently realized that they had nothing to fear from the godless!MORE@

What Is Humanism, and Why Does It Matter?



  •  Sharon Welch, Provost and Professor of Religion and Society at Meadville Lombard Theological School
  • Peter Derkx, Professor of Humanism and Worldviews at the University of Humanistics in Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • Monica R. Miller, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanistic Approaches to the Social Sciences at Lewis & Clark College
  • Sebastian Velez, Evolutionary Biologist and Ph.D. candidate, Harvard University
  • Sikivu Hutchinson, Editor of
  • Anthony Pinn, Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University
Report from the Field: Humanist Charities and Children of the Border

Report from the Field: Humanist Charities and Children of the Border

by Sebastian Velez

Last December, Children of the Border, a non-governmental organization, asked members of the American Humanist Association and Humanist Charities for their support. Children of the Border works to provide pre- and post-natal health care of Haitian women working as sharecroppers in the Dominican Republic, and our core principles are well grounded in humanism. The women and their children we serve live in the most appalling poverty seen in the Western hemisphere, with entire families living from less than two dollars a day.

AHA’s membership donated over $7,000, which will be matched by a very generous anonymous donor, and will bring over $14,000 in services to Haitians and Dominicans living along the border between the two countries! We received the news from AHA development director Maggie Ardiente while we were in Haiti doing field work, and it brought a jubilant cheer from everyone.

We returned from the field just a couple of weeks ago, and here is a brief report of what these new funds will continue to support:

Contraception: On random visits to homes, every woman we interviewed said that she was either on the pill, taking the injection, or had her husband using condoms. When one of our male staff members had a motorcycle accident and missed checking in with women for a few months, we were surprised to see so many men in the community requesting condoms. Also, our collaboration with the ministry of health provides oral contraceptives and Pap smear supplies. The humanist clinic now concentrates on maternal health, the 3-month injection pill, and condoms. We are planning to distribute our stock of oral contraceptives to a town near the border on the Haitian side.

Health Services: Dozens of women line up every Thursday for our doctor to do health checks, perform Pap smears, give contraceptive injections, and check children and dispense the nutritional food packets. We’re now able to increase the amount of ultrasounds to three during each woman’s pregnancy.

One of our staff, a woman who three years ago was illiterate and living in a thatch hut with her eight children, is now the doctor’s assistant. She is learning how to read and write, gives talks about contraception, and manages the logistics of the clinic.

Our preventive programs have worked so well, that we might be closing our boarding house in town, Casa de Salud—opened when emergencies where common—and use the resources for the clinic in the village of Las Mercedes.

Sustainability and Entrepreneurship: In the field, all of the problems we try to solve are because people cannot make a living out of two dollars a day. In the United States, we are inundated with ideas from people who want to volunteer, many of whom bring a project idea. These ideas range from water collection systems, solar power generation, to new ways of producing cooking fuel, ideas for schools and curricula, and reforestation projects. The problem with bringing these two together—the communities in need and the energetic volunteers wanting to do something—has always been one of logistics.

This year we are developing an idea by a Harvard undergraduate, Annie Ryu, to use the enthusiasm and energy of U.S. volunteers, together with their ideas, into an integrated program ( that centers on their ideas and experience. The community will benefit with direct employment brought by the implementation of projects, from services to the volunteers (food, lodging, etc.), and of course from the projects the volunteers will implement.

We still have many problems to solve. The community water pump we installed is working, but houses are so far from each other that people can carry only just enough water to drink, but not to keep minimum sanitary conditions. Most people still need latrines, an urgent matter since contact between feces and drinking water is the main threat to a cholera outbreak. We’ve barely touched the issue of adult education. Children are still given away, many ending in prostitution or child slavery, but we have no way of accepting them. Our clinic, while well managed by our doctor and one of our employers, still needs a lot of work with patient data collecting and management. This data problem is compounded by a population where people have no documentation, don’t know their birth date, and where many women can’t recall how many children they’ve had, much less their medical history. Our clinic still has no electricity, and of course no phone and no Internet.

From all of us that work on this project, we want to give our most heartfelt thank you from the people we serve, to you, our donors. It is always a delight to explain to community members that the people paying for all of this do it out of love and concern, not because they believe in God. Unrestricted donations also allow us to operate with great freedom. We opened our clinic in the forest when our collaboration with a group of nuns broke down. They used to provide the space, some medicines, and part of the doctor’s salary, while we paid for the other half of the doctor’s salary, his expenses, and medicines. When the nuns said they would not accept contraceptives there (the doctor, nonreligious himself, was not happy for other reasons), we just opened our own clinic, hired the doctor in full, and stocked the clinic with medicines and contraceptives. This freedom is a privilege granted by our generous donors. Thank you!

Humanist Charities is continuing to accept donations on behalf of Sebastian Velez’s Children of the Border project. Learn more or make a donation now.

Sebastian Velez is the director of Children of the Border and evolutionary biologist at Harvard University. He received the 2010 Humanist Distinguished Service Award from the American Humanist Association for his work in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

(reposted from Humanist Network News

Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars

Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars


The ideological complexity of African American communities and the connections in that community between secular belief and social justice are rich.  Sadly, there is still a fair amount of ignorance and bigotry toward black non-believers in African American communities due to the stereotype that atheists are immoral, rudderless, and not authentically black. This belief is especially insidious for black women. Mainstream African American culture places a high premium on black female caregiving, piety, and sacrifice. The patriarchal traditions of the Black Church, with their emphasis on charismatic black male leadership and biblical literalism, play a key role in socializing black women to be subservient and self-sacrificing.

Black female churchgoing and religious belief are the highest in the nation — making African American communities the most unwaveringly religious in the U.S. At the same time, African American communities are among the most economically and racially disenfranchised; in the U.S., African Americans are still disproportionately poor, under-educated and over-incarcerated. Black incarceration rates and black homelessness parallel each other. And for all of the sound and fury of black religiosity, black women experience the highest rates of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and HIV/AIDS contraction.

So the book tries to make sense of these relationships vis-à-vis the paradox of black downward mobility in the so-called post-racial post-affirmative action era. It also attempts to show the immense benefits of radical/progressive humanism for African American women given the religious underpinnings of patriarchy and sexism. Finally, the book makes practical connections between racial justice, gender justice, humanism and the myriad health and educational challenges that African Americans face.

Read the rest of this interview here.

Noah and the Tax Incentives

Noah and the Tax Incentives


by Sarah Ameigh

From Humanist Network News February 2, 2011

The recent announcement of plans for a Biblical-oriented theme park in northern Kentucky has brought the church-state separation question to the job creation front. In a struggling economy fraught with dwindling profits and rampant unemployment, how far can constitutionality be pushed in favor of economic growth?

Last December Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear announced projected plans for the Arc Adventure, a Biblical theme park depicting Noah’s Arc, touting it as one of Kentucky’s most promising and profitable endeavors. The park, which is being privately funded by Arc Encounter L.L.C., a for-profit organization of which ministry Answers in Genesis is a member, will cost an estimated $150 million dollars and create roughly 900 jobs when it’s scheduled to open in 2014. The projected “economic impact” for the first year alone, Beshear said, is over $200 million dollars.

The park’s proponents argue that for a state suffering staggering unemployment rates, the endeavor is well worth the funds. The question, however, is how much tax incentive the park will receive. Gov. Beshear came out in support of any possible tax incentives, which the Lexington Herald-Leader reported are an estimated $37 million or more.

“The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion,” said Beshear at a news conference in December. “They elected me governor to create jobs.”

CNN reporter Anderson Cooper addressed the controversy on Anderson Cooper 360 last week, featuring Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham and Americans United for Separation of Church and State Founder Rev. Barry Lynn. While Ham maintained that Answers in Genesis is a ministry that is a member of a for-profit organization funding the “biblical history” theme park, Rev. Lynn responded that the park itself was a ministry, in light of which, any form government subsidization would be unacceptable.

“Answers in Genesis … believes the earth is 6,000 years old, believes the dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time–only true in the Flinstones—and also believes that there were really unicorns,” said Lynn. “I don’t think that the heft, that the weight of the state of Kentucky, should be asking anyone, directly or indirectly, to subsidize these ideas. Mr. Ham can have these ideas, this is America. Please don’t ask everybody to help you pay for them.”

Jeffrey Toobin, CNN correspondent, commented that the courts have not been clear on the issue thus far.

“What the courts have said is the government can’t sponsor something if the primary purpose is to advance religion,” said Toobin. “Well, what is the primary purpose of this amusement park? Is it just like Disney World, which is essentially secular, or is it more like a church? And this is some sort of hybrid, and I don’t know how the courts would look at it. In recent years, the courts have generally been more accommodating of government sponsorship of religion – of parochial schools, of soup kitchens – so my sense is the courts will probably uphold it, but whether it’s a good idea or not, separate issue.”

Sarah Ameigh is the communications assistant for the American Humanist Association.

The Color of Humanism



Adapted from the blog Black Female Skeptics Network

For Humanist Network News

It was another Easter and my family had all descended upon my grandmother’s tiny North Carolina house for our annual gathering. As we all sat together on the cramped floor, participating in our ritual of watching “The Ten Commandments,” I looked around at my family and asked, “Really, is this what we really believe?”

This doesn’t make any sense. Why would Rameses not shudder from seeing the ocean open up before him? Why would he be so foolish as to send his soldiers after the Israelites? Didn’t he think that they might be drowned by God?

I was about 12 and always full of questions. I didn’t know anything about Rameses at this time, other than what I had learned in church, but I just couldn’t imagine a Pharaoh being so dumb. My grandmother said it was not that he was dumb, but that he was prideful and that “pride goeth before the fall.” I knew not to push too much because I had been taught that the word of God was sacred and not to be questioned, but in my head the questions remained, and as time went by, doubt crept in more and more.

As a teenager I often suffered from bouts of depression — partly due to my inability to cope with my father being in and out of my life, partly due to my feelings of being an ugly duckling, partly due to issues surrounding my ethnic identity … You see, I was the only the one in my tiny hometown with a Latina mother and was often made to feel like I was “not quite Black enough.”

Eventually things started to turn around for me. While I was in college I met people with diverse backgrounds with various belief systems. The one thing that struck me most about them all was that they seemed equally convinced that their way was the right way, each one knew with complete certainty that they were on the right spiritual path.

This piqued my curiosity and I decided to register for comparative religion. This course started me down a path that would eventually lead me to Buddhism, to Baha’ism, to being “spiritual,” to Deism, and finally to Agnosticism and Atheism and now Humanism. After spending so much time learning about ancient cultures and beliefs systems, reading various religious texts, and studying the impact the world’s religions have had on humanity throughout history, I eventually said to myself, “You know what, none of this stuff makes any sense, so why am I torturing myself?”

Mind you, the key phrase here is that I said it to myself not out loud and not to anyone else.

Why would I keep something as fundamental as a major shift in my understanding of myself, my place in the world, and the very nature of my existence to myself? Fear of being an outcast. For me, the acceptance that there was no God was a life saver. For the first time I was able to remove the shackles of depression that had held me prisoner for so long. It freed me of guilt and allowed me to freely express the fullness of my being without shame and with the threat of eternal damnation — and yet I could not share this with anyone. Well, at least not anyone who looked like me!

But as I started to express my ideals with people in different parts of the world and from different cultures, it became clear to me that I was not alone in my thinking. This was especially evident to me while I lived in rural China. For the first time, I was living in a community where no one, as far as I could see, believed in any god, yet they were kind, peaceful and happy! This experience left me empowered with a sense of purpose. I wanted for others to know that they too could let go of the teachings of false prophets and that they could let go of the worship of a god that didn’t exist, with all his misogynistic, homophobic and petty ways.

However, in dealing with my own people, this would prove to be an overwhelming challenge.

I asked myself, why were people so hell-bent on worshipping a god that justified their enslavement? In worshipping a god that justified the stealing of their land and the displacement of their people? Why could so many I encountered not even conceive of a morality not based on religion? Racism affects the very reality upon which one values him or herself within the given societal paradigm. Living in America, it is easy to become consumed with self-hate and defeat. So many black and brown people give up on their lives before they really ever begin! Because of this, the promise of life ever-lasting can be extremely appealing, and religion continues as a most effective mechanism for perpetual bondage, keeping the masses intellectually and emotionally enslaved.

Culture can be broken down into three main concepts. The cultural seed, which is the determinative and explanatory aspect of a culture that puts into perspective the cultural manifestations of a people in reference to their historical and cultural evolution; the way a people must think in order to manifest its cultural seed; and the will of the culture, purpose, and collective behavior of a people.

I believe humanism can be the new cultural seed, upon which we build a stronger sense of our humanity, a deeper understanding of our connection to each other and to the world in which we live. The more I learned and the more I observed, it became obvious that the very seed from which African American culture had been shaped was fertilized by Christianity. And as is always the problem with toxic fertilizers, it cannot simply be washed away because it now a part of the fruit itself. Black life and church life have become synonymous, and the only way to adjust for this is by planting a new cultural seed, one fertilized with concepts of freethought!

We need to lay the foundation for a cultural purpose that is reflective and supportive of all people. Our purpose has to be redefined to be one that seeks to redeem the human condition. To be one that frees us from racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophia and all of the ideological triggers of suffering. We must develop a collective consciousness that seeks to uplift every individual — where it is no longer acceptable for wives to be burned, daughters to be stoned, families torn apart because of unfair and racist Immigration policies, women denied the right to control their own reproduction, prisoners to be used as slave labor, babies to die of starvation, and soldiers to be denied freedom of conscience, among others.

Changing the cultural paradigm requires an understanding that our morality comes from us, meaning that the similarities in moral codes across cultures are a requirement for human societies to function. Morality is not a gift from a divine creator, but is a combination of innate sensibilities and ever-changing combinations of value systems that enable human life. With advancements in scientific research, particularly in the areas of psychology, sociology and neuroscience, we are learning more and more about the complexity of our moral systems and it is through these human endeavors we seek to explain and understand, without religious assertion, what makes us who we are.

I recognize that humanism is not the answer to all of humanity’s ills. However, I do believe that the world view embedded in the philosophy of humanism is currently our best hope for intellectual liberation — liberation from teachings that uphold illogical, impossible and irrelevant myths to be a factual basis to navigate reality.

As a leader within the freethought movement, I seek to create awareness within the secular community that diversity and humanism are not mutually exclusive terms, to reinforce that the beauty of our collective human community comes from the richness of the divergent communities within it. And to stress that as humanists we have a moral obligation to ensure that the specific needs of the members of those communities are not ignored.

It is a fact that the cultural and familial pressures people of color face when they turn to reason rather than religion is uniquely troubling because of the central role religion plays in their communities. Descendants of those victimized by slavery and colonization in African, Latin America, Asia and the U.S. are reared in communities that have developed a social safety net wrapped in religiosity, a safety net that for many is their only source of information, skill training and celebratory space. It is the place where they go to seek leadership opportunities, where they go to seek access to higher education, where they go to calm hungry bellies, where they go to network and seek employment opportunities, where they go to gain access to all the resources denied them by the society at large.

To walk away from the only support system they have ever known, even when it comes with the price of intellectual stagnation and repressive life options is not an easy one. For a divergent community to exclude its already marginalized members can be psychologically and emotionally overwhelming for those members, and needs to be counteracted by developing a structured support system. The isolation or dismissive attitudes, followed by continually being told “I’ll pray for you!” can be very painful and there needs to be a safe space for people of color to integrate themselves into the humanist community.

This safe space can only be accomplished by acknowledging the uniqueness of each individual’s experience on the path to humanism and by ensuring that all members of the humanist community have a voice.

Diane Griffin is the managing director of the Institute for Humanist Studies.

Advancing a Humanist Response to Issues Facing Communities of Color

Advancing a Humanist Response to Issues Facing Communities of Color



May 19, 2010

One thing that has become evident to me in my discussions with members of the secular community is that there seems to be a strong desire to increase ethnic and cultural diversity within the humanist movement. However, for the most part, everyone I’ve encountered seems to have little awareness of the socioeconomic barriers to achieving this aim, much less knowing how to address these barriers. It is my assertion that advancing humanism within communities of color cannot be obtained without a humanist response to the social realities facing these communities.

Sikivu Hutchinson, Ph.D.

Institutional racism and xenophobia have given religious institutions an avenue to capture the minds of divergent communities by providing a social safety net. However, the ideologies these institutions promote often create a cyclical dependence by their followers, leading to a stagnation of these communities’ development.

Most programs looking to address the lack of diversity within the humanist movement are quite limited in their scope, often focusing solely on the low-income African American community, ignoring all other communities of color (and economic strata within these communities) and rarely addressing the practical aspects of what feeds religiosity amongst the members of these communities.

The cultural integration of religion into every aspect of the African American community is one that can be all-consuming and lead to extreme isolation of African American atheists/humanists. For a divergent community to exclude its already marginalized members can be psychologically and emotionally overwhelming for those members, and needs to be counteracted by developing a structured support system.

GroupOn Sunday, I was fortunate to attend the African AmericanHumanistConference at the Center for Inquiry’s Washington, DC branch. The aim of the program was to promote diversity in our movement by allowing those within the African American community to know they are not an anomaly and that there are indeed others like them who not only share their philosophical worldview, but also their cultural heritage–a heritage that is valid and in no way deserves to be discarded to fulfill the aims of humanism.

The speakers chosen were excellent, all stressing the need for practical applications of humanist ideologies to the lives of African Americans. This echoed my sentiments and reinforced my previous assertion that the only way to ensure that diversity becomes a reality within this movement is to spend less time engaging in endless intellectual posturing and use our collective intellectual capital to tackle real-world challenges and make real change in the lives of others.

This column first appeared in Ms. Griffin’s blog, Unscripted .

Diane Griffin is the director of the Institute for Humanist Studies .

Our New Age of Reason

Our New Age of Reason


The Institute for Humanist Studies Brings the Humanist Perspective to Washington, DC


Mar. 17, 2010

At its core, humanism is the appreciation of the oneness of humanity. It’s the acceptance of the ties that bind us as human beings and a rejection of the ideologies that divide us. The Institute for Humanist Studies–a new think tank based in Washington, DC that will research and advise on public policy, and of which I am the managing director–will seek to infuse our national policy debates with this appreciation. We seek to bring the focus back to the human element and eradicate discourse based on fundamentalist agendas.

Some argue that the United States is a Judeo-Christian nation and our public policy should be based in that tradition (and unfortunately have done a good job convincing many in power of as much). But the IHS rejects that assertion as false. In fact, the founders of this nation purposefully drafted the Constitution with the direct intent to have a clear and total separation of church and state. In addition, it does not serve the needs of our society to make decisions based in beliefs that do not benefit the needs of all. The Institute for Humanist Studies takes the position that scientific understanding is the only practical basis for making policy decisions that impact us all–and this is especially true in a pluralistic society, such as the United States, where people come from many varied faiths and ideological persuasions.

LOGOOf course, we realize that individuals have the right to believe as they desire and make decisions that affect their personal lives accordingly. But that should never translate into the arena of public policy. A same-sex couple’s ability to marry, a woman’s right to control her reproduction, a child’s ability to receive health care and a soldier’s ability to have freedom of conscience are all things that cannot be left to the whims of ever-evolving religious doctrines. These decisions, amongst many others, must be made through critical inquiry based in logic and reason.

That is what the Institute for Humanist Studies represents. We are that voice of logic and reason. By bringing together top minds within the academic and scientific communities, we serve the unique role of providing policymakers with the information they need to make sound decisions, focusing on what we know serves our interest as human beings and removing the justification to make policy decisions based on personal belief systems. We also will promote greater public awareness, understanding and support for humanism, and will provide accessible and authoritative information about humanism and nontheists to the media, academia and the general public.

One of the people leading this charge is Anthony B. Pinn. Anthony is the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and professor of Religious Studies at Rice University. He is the author of numerous scholarly works, and his professional commitments involve his role as the executive director of the Society for the Study of Black Religion and as co-chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Black Theology Group. In addition to all his other responsibilities, he is serving the Institute as its research director. Known for his insight into the complexities of the sociopolitical realm–especially its intersection with theology–Anthony sets the bar for academic excellence at the Institute.

We are in the early phases of our organizational development, but we are poised to make a huge impact in the political discourse of our nation. The conservative fundamentalism that took us into two wars, pushed abstinence based sex-education, upheld Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and introduced the Defense Against Marriage Act was powered by think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. It is time that the secular community levels the playing field by offering another voice: a voice of reason, a voice of inquiry. This is why the Institute for Humanist Studies exists.

If you would like more information about us, please visit us online at

Diane Griffin is the managing director of the Institute for Humanist Studies.