Meet the New AHA Staff Member: Amy Couch

Meet the AHA’s new Communications Manager, Amy Couch! What is your educational and work background?

I graduated from the University of Tulsa with a BA in philosophy and a minor certificate in classics. After serving for a year as the assistant for former Tulsa Mayor M. Susan Savage, I entered graduate school and completed my MA in political science and philosophy at Fordham University in New York. Although I intended to complete my PhD at Fordham as well, life has a way of throwing unexpected curve balls, which for me manifested in giving birth to a child with severe intellectual disabilities. I put graduate school on hold and embraced the full-time role of a special needs mom. When I reentered the workforce several years later, I transitioned easily into the world of special education advocacy and program development. First working for the Montgomery County Infants and Toddlers Program as a family support coordinator and then for Ivymount Outreach as the director of programs, I spent ten years creating new supports and educational programs for individuals with special needs and their families. How did you first learn about humanism?

The first time I heard the word “humanist” was in church as a child growing up in southern Arkansas. Humanist was a scary term describing malevolent agents of the secular world whose sole goal was to erode my faith and, correspondingly, send me to hell. I learned what humanism really meant much later from a man named Frank Grimley, my sponsor during my high school year abroad (how I convinced my parents to let me go is a whole other story). Going abroad and meeting Frank opened the previously locked doors of rational thought and free expression. Frank was the first person I met who was not afraid to say he didn’t believe in the virgin birth of Christ or that Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale. He, with his wife Pat, helped me safely explore my own religious doubts and navigate the resulting confusion regarding how I could be both a moral human being and also an atheist. Did you grow up in a traditional religious faith? How did it impact you?

Yes, my family is very religious and deeply rooted in the evangelical, fundamentalist camp. To them, every word in the Bible is “the true and inspired word of God.” My brother is a pastor of outreach and assimilation (yes, that’s actually his job title), and my parents are fervent supporters of the religious right’s agenda. Growing up, I was forbidden to read secular books or listen to music containing the “evil beat.” They even confiscated my Barry Manilow eight-track because his songs were too suggestive and also grounded me for sneaking out to see The Last Temptation of Christ. Years later I was estranged from my entire family for publicly supporting LBGTQ rights.

Although I began questioning my family’s belief system at a young age, I struggled for many years to reconcile the fire and brimstone brainwashing with what I observed to be true in the world around me. I was well into adulthood before I could accept myself as an atheist and humanist without feeling the symptomatic twinges of what my sister and I humorously coin PTRD (post-traumatic religion disorder). Because I follow the humanist philosophy of leading an ethical life informed by science and motivated by compassion, I am an oxymoron to my family. I continue to hope, however, that through careful observation of my humanist life, they may eventually come to a new hypothesis regarding why people should and do live good and meaningful lives. What interested you most about working for the American Humanist Association?

Although my degrees are in philosophy and political science, my career to this point has been in special education. I am proud of what I have built and accomplished in the special needs community, but I am now ready to do meaningful work that is in line with my political and philosophical background of study. My desire to support social justice issues and organizations like the AHA became acute with the election of our current administration. When I read the mission statement of AHA, I actually said out loud, “Yes! That is me!” What book has influenced you the most?

This is a hard question; there are so many to choose from! If I have to narrow it down to one— I’ll go with an author rather than a book and say Nietzsche. I first studied Nietzsche’s critique of moral values, such as in On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic, and Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality during my introductory existentialism class in college.

Nietzsche’s work had a huge impact on me. The power of his narrative style and the boldness of his critique of Christianity were simply intoxicating to my evolving philosophic mind. I remember exactly where I was in the library when I first read the following passage from Daybreak:

Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature — is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned. If you could have dinner with any three people in the world (living or dead), who would they be and why?

Sappho, Lili Elbe, and Elizabeth Warren. As a student of Ancient Greek, I would love to read poetry and wax philosophically with one of the few known women writers of that time. Lili Elbe was a famous Danish artist, a writer, and one of the first identifiable recipients of gender reassignment surgery. And Elizabeth Warren is just fabulous! Sappho, Lili, Elizabeth, and I would have cocktails, trade makeup tips, and share our very personal stories of womanhood, our individual struggles for freedom, and the importance of rebirth.