Please welcome the newest addition to the American Humanist Association staff, Projects Associate Deborah Goemans! Learn more about her support for humanism below.
What is your educational and professional background?
I was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, and have lived in four countries on three continents. As a result, my life has been filled with adventure and a lifetime of learning. I have a BA in dance, exercise, and fitness from SUNY-Empire State College and I’ve taught dance, fitness, and yoga to both children and adults (including adults in drug and alcohol rehab programs). I taught basic computer skills to disadvantaged students in South Africa and worked in publishing for many years—both on the editorial side and in sales and marketing.
How did you first learn about humanism?
In 2007 I bought a book called Spirituality for the Skeptic by Robert C. Solomon. It just sounded interesting. When I got home from the bookshop, I decided to Google the author and I discovered that he had died about a week previously. I somehow felt duty-bound to read his book with care and attention. After that I just kept searching for a philosophical approach that matched my idea of working to create a better world for my descendants, and I found it in humanism.
Did you grow up with religion? If so, what religious tradition did you follow?
My paternal grandparents were Dutch. My grandmother was a devout Catholic who had sixteen children (and some miscarriages in between) and went to church every day. I often wonder if she was praying her husband would just leave her alone. My maternal grandpa, on the other hand, was an atheist Jew who married a French Catholic. The Catholic won that round and my mother and her siblings were raised with Catholicism. My parents weren’t very religious though—I’d call them superstitious Catholics rather than believers but my family might disagree with that. My siblings and I were never forced to go to church but we did get baptized and did the whole First Holy Communion and confirmation thing (just in case we ever wanted to get married in church, my mother said).
What interested you most about working at the American Humanist Association?
I want to use my experiences as a wife, mother, and world citizen to help further the mission of the AHA and help others feel comfortable about the ability to live a good life without believing in God.
Do you have a favorite humanist/atheist?
My friend Heather Arnold Henderson who is a board member of the newly formed Central New York Humanist Association introduced me to the music/poetry of Tim Minchin. He’s definitely my favorite at the moment.
Have you read any good books lately? What’s your favorite book?
I can’t sleep without reading first but I’ve been editing a lot lately and so I’ve been enjoying lighter books like Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella—a Bridget Jones’s Diary type of book. It puts me to sleep really well. After reading it for months, I think I’m still on the third chapter. But Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin is my favorite book. Actually, I love all her books. And I also love Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love—well, not the book so much as the Notebooks of Lazarus Long, a collection of aphorisms written by a character therein that are filled with perfect wisdom like:
Of all the strange crimes that human beings have legislated out of nothing, “blasphemy” is the most amazing—with “obscenity” and “indecent exposure” fighting it out for second and third place.
If you could have dinner with any three people (living or dead), who would they be and why?
It’s an interesting philosophical question because my thoughts immediately go to having dinner with my parents (because they are dead and I miss them) and Nelson Mandela (because I love him and I always wanted to meet him). I say it’s a “philosophical question” because, really, the most important people in my life are my husband and two daughters and yet I take having dinner with them for granted.