Meet the Intern: Spencer Grady-Pawl

Please welcome our new communications intern, Spencer Grady-Pawl! What is your educational and work background?

I just graduated from Davidson College, a private liberal arts school in Davidson, North Carolina, where I majored in political science and honed my napping skills. Over the past three summers, I have interned for a congressman, an advertising agency, and a think tank. Working in the congressman’s St. Louis office (that’s where I’m from), I got a good look at the way local and electoral politics works. The think tank gave me an interesting perspective on the close, perhaps unhealthy, relationship between government agencies and influence groups. I enjoyed my work at the advertising agency, and though it doesn’t immediately seem like a political field, the sort of strategic communications and influence campaigns involved are exactly what members of, lobbyists, and political action committees do every day. How did you first learn about humanism?

Growing up I always thought about my lack of religion as just that—an absence of something. It never occurred to me that it could in fact be seen as the presence of certain values—compassion, empathy, and confidence in the ability of people to improve the world through their own actions. It was sometime in college that I first heard of humanism, and when I saw the opportunity to do communications for the American Humanist Association, I knew it would be great to work with an organization that so closely mirrors my own beliefs. Did you grow up in a traditional religious faith? How did it impact you?

I grew up in a family that was not religious. I have talked with my dad and my grandfather about their experiences leaving religion, which has prompted me to think about my own belief— or lack thereof. I think if there’s one problem with atheism, it’s that it’s so often equated with superiority—or rather, public perception of atheists is that they think they’re intellectually superior to theists. Having been raised without religion, I can’t feel superior to anyone—in a way, I’m not religious in the same way that believers are religious. I think the difference is that atheism, humanism, and science give theists plenty of reason to question their beliefs, whereas I have never encountered convincing arguments in favor of religion. If they were out there, I guess I’d have to listen, right? That’s what good critical thinkers do. What interested you most about interning for the American Humanist Association?

I’m very interested in political communications and how public perception can be influenced. I think the AHA is a great example of an organization where this kind of strategic interaction with the public is absolutely vital. Humanism has a great message, both important and attractive, and I think that given the historical dominance of theistic beliefs, it’s only through effective public engagement that nontheistic alternatives can gain a foothold with the public. What book has influenced you the most?

There’s a series of twenty novels set in the Napoleonic Wars written by an author named Patrick O’Brian, and I’ve read each of them at least four times. They’re ostensibly historical fiction, but what they really focus on is human nature, emotions, interpersonal dynamics, and the like, which make them very thought-provoking. In addition, O’Brian is a beautiful writer—I think that those books had more of an influence on my writing style than even my parents (who are both English professors). If you could have dinner with any three people in the world (living or dead), who would they be and why?

Thomas Sankara was an anti-imperialist, socialist, feminist revolutionary leader who became president of Burkina Faso in the 1980’s. If he hadn’t been assassinated, I think he would be a towering figure in history, but even as it is, I would love to listen to all of his ideas. Rick Rubin is a record producer who has made music for everyone from Jay Z to AC/DC—half of the songs you hear on the radio probably involved him in some way or another, and I’d love to hear his thoughts on how culture and taste evolve and are influenced. Sonia Sotomayor gave a talk at my school once and she seems incredibly laid back for a Supreme Court justice and also full of interesting stories and opinions.