Midwest Humanist Conference Recap

“Why would we gather in the basement of a hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska on a hot summer Sunday?” asked D.J. Grothe, the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation.

The answer was clear: Humanism is alive and well in the Midwest.

The second annual Midwest Humanist Conference, once again coordinated and hosted by me, brought together speakers and guests from around the region — Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Last year when I was asked to speak to the Lincoln Secular Humanists, I made a few calls, got some friends together and worked with the local groups to host a spectacular event on a rainy Nebraska Saturday. The first Midwest Humanist Conference helped boost the attendance of several of the local groups and resulted in heightened optimism at a better future through humanist values.

This year saw some familiar faces, but also a lot of new ones. The 10-hour event was held at the Country Inn & Suites in Lincoln Nebraska, a medium-sized hotel with a decent ballroom. Around 80 people (including speakers) attended. The theme was borrowed from an American Humanist Association holiday bus campaign: “No God, No Problem.” There were two after-party events, including a social outing of the LGBT Humanist Council to a local gay and lesbian nightclub (The Q), where we had a private VIP room to sip our highly affordable spirits (the drinks really are cheaper in the Midwest).

August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists, opened the speaker’s roster with his talk on the “Humanity of Atheism.” Berkshire spoke about the need for humanism in the atheist community; how atheism was the “medicine,” and humanism its bedside manner; and that we would do ourselves a favor by not capitalizing the “a” in “Atheist.” Berkshire also proudly displayed his “ATHEIST” Minnesota license plate. (A joyful heckler proclaimed that the “a” was capitalized, to which Berkshire replied that all of the letters were capitalized.) After Berkshire’s speech, American Atheists Missouri Director Greg Lammers took the microphone, followed by a rousing lunch-time speech by D.J. Grothe on the necessity of humanism in the skeptic movement.

Candidate for the American Humanist Association Board of Directors and co-founder of the Iowa Atheist and Freethinkers, Amanda Knief, opened the afternoon with a biting look into the workplace rights of nontheists in “Atheism in the Workplace.” A local Lincoln-ite, Dale Hildebrandt, then provided 15 minutes of mentalism, explaining how 900-number tele-psychics scam their callers. In “Religion, the Sexually-Transmitted Disease,” Darrel Ray (a practicing doctor of psychology) spoke about how religion adversely affects human-psycho-sexual health.

The evening was opened with my speech on “Homosexuality & Humanism,” and closed out with an incredible separation of church and state speech by the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Dan Barker: “American Doesn’t Have a Prayer.”

Midwest Humanist Conference III will be held in Omaha, Neb. in mid-August.