Fostering Inclusive Humanism at FREEFLO

Last weekend I took part in FREEFLO, a freethought conference organized by the Florida Humanist Association (a chapter of the American Humanist Association). Hundreds of people who identity as humanists, atheists, and skeptics attended the three day event that featured a wide range of informative lectures.

The Secular Coalition for America’s executive director, Larry Decker, and SCA Senior Legislative Representative Sarah Levin led a great discussion on galvanizing a secular values voting bloc to create significant political waves in 2018 and beyond. After their presentation I caught up with Levin, who stated:

The secular community has an opportunity to leverage our demographic advantages to coalesce and mobilize a voting bloc that will be taken seriously. The data we have about the nonreligious shows that we are more united on the issues than the evangelicals are, but they are beating us 2-1 at the polls. It’s time that we get on the political map as a constituency. We’re talking about voter registration drives, direct engagement with the political parties, and taking ownership of the public discourse around “religious freedom” in this country by educating politicians and the public about our secular values.

Another presentation of note was given by American Atheists President David Silverman. Silverman delivered a very educational lecture titled, “Activism in the Trump Era.” In it, Silverman highlighted various ways the political disenfranchisement of nonbelievers is becoming more intensified, and he explained the potentially devastating impact repealing the Johnson Amendment would have. Concerns surrounding the weakening of the Johnson Amendment are priorities for the AHA as well (see here, here, and here).

On the last day of the conference, I presented “What Does A More Inclusive Humanism Look Like?” In my talk I emphasized that humanism is premised on human reason (ingenuity, scientific inquiry, evidence-based analysis); human accountability (it’s up to humans to create positive change in the world); and social responsibility (it’s our duty to create positive change in the world). I then addressed how these aspirations provide an ethical framework for acknowledging the ways some groups of people are valued more than others, stressing that those who consider themselves humanists should work to diminish and ultimately solve the social ills related to these inconsistencies.

I’ve given plenty of talks like this before, but this was the first time I went out of my way to fully illustrate how there are those who identify as humanists who think and say things that are wholly antithetical to what living humanist values entail. I did this by delivering a PowerPoint presentation filled with screenshots and quotes from “humanists” sharing vile and cruel comments in response to various social media posts by AHA that support recognition and just treatment of marginalized groups.

I continued by unpacking the need for humanist communities to name, address, challenge, and actively dismantle white supremacy, misogyny, heterosexism, and a host of other oppressive systems woven into the fabric of our society’s culture—dehumanizing (and thus, anti-humanist) values, attitudes, and systems that a considerable chunk of the humanist community displays either an unwillingness to confront, unwitting compliance with, or active participation in.

That isn’t to necessarily say, “Well, these people aren’t really humanists,” but when it comes to folks who tacitly accept or enthusiastically support oppressive (read: anti-humanist) ideas and yet call themselves humanists, my mind shifts to an apt James Baldwin quote: “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

After my presentation concluded, I was greeted with a standing ovation. My hope is that the love and appreciation shown for this message of a more inclusive humanism translates into a concerted effort to live a life that demonstrates an understanding that humanism and social justice are inseparable, that concern for human welfare and social progress require human intervention, and that fighting for a just distribution of privileges, wealth, and opportunities for all people (or “social justice”) is an integral aspect of being a humanist.