How to Be a Humanist

This is a guest post by Carly Jane Casper. She is a junior at Indiana University and a member of Secular Alliance at Indiana University (SAIU).

As a child, let people push you around for being more interested in stars and plants than boys and Beanie Babies. Try to explain yourself when your classmates throw basketballs at you in gym class, try to tell them that you just want to be friends. Cry when they call you a freak, but don’t let them bother you too much. You need experiences like these to understand empathy.

Take advantage of the fact that you have to stay at the library every day after school until your mom can pick you up, because you didn’t fit in at day care. Read plenty of books and try not to worry. Also, take this opportunity to read the Bible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

In middle school, when you tell your mom that you disagree with the Bible and that you don’t want to go to church because you think it’s silly, don’t take it back when she cries. Just let her get over it. It won’t take long, and very soon she will stop waking you up for 7am mass on Sundays. Once this happens, spend your extra time reading books, not AOL chat rooms. This way, you’ll be able to argue with your science teacher in 8th grade when she tells you that the Earth was brought into existence by “God” — and not by physics, like the Discovery Channel told you.

In high school, read newspapers. Edit Wikipedia. Argue with your teachers about politics and economics. Stop caring about these things and become a very angry feminist to counter your teachers’ sexism. Stop being angry and volunteer at the Humane Society. Start being angry again and become a vegan. Don’t let it bother you when people laugh at your burlap skirt.

One day something big will hit you, and when it does, you will cry because of your fierce and well-formed sense of justice. You’ll realize that there is definitely not anything out there resembling a God, or ghosts, or hell. When you’re alone, there’s no one else looking at you. Realize you’ve wasted a lot of time being worried about these things. This will probably happen in the Honolulu International Airport while you’re browsing Hudson Books. Go sit down (get used to this position, you’re going to spend a lot of time blogging and arguing with people on social networks and blogs and definitely in the comments of Huffington Post articles. You may want to do some finger exercises or something. How many words can you type per minute? Well, nevermind that for now. You’ll get the hang of it eventually).

Once you’re seated, repeat after me, under your breath: “there is no God.” Say the words out loud and let them reverberate through the terminal. Listen not for their physical echoes, but for the shock waves of thier stark and affecting power. Feel them bounce off the floor and the plants and the people. Realize that all of the things in front of you are the same, the living and the not, that they are all made of the same atoms arranged in different patterns. Realize that there is no help coming for you from “out there.” Say the words again if you need to. If the words don’t feel powerful to you, then think again. Think about what religion has done to the world, the country, your family and friends. Think how these words nullify a great deal of the problems you see. Decide to do something about it.

Put feminism and veganism on the back burner for a while. Start telling people that you want to save the world when you grow up, but don’t realize that you’ve already started.

Watch videos on YouTube. Read philosophy books and browse Christopher Hitchens quotes on the Internet. Start reading blogs, grow acquainted with all of the issues that atheists are supposed to care about. Start your own blog and write about your outrage over crosses in front of city halls and prayers in schools. Plead for the children. Become firm in the belief that religion is truly a poison in the world and it’s the most important thing of all things that you stop it. Write a blog post about your firm belief, but don’t realize the irony of believing that.

Don’t tell your mother.

Get bored of blogs. They’re just people saying things, who cares? Why are they special? What have they done that’s made a difference? Realize you’re talking about yourself, mostly. Decommission your blog, but save the archives. Claim that you did it to “get back to what’s important,” i.e., taking part in “real-world” service and intellectual activism.

Eventually, you will graduate high school. Don’t go out with a fizzle. Don’t let the school get away with not picturing you in the yearbook because you used 1 Timothy 2:12 as your senior quote. Don’t let your anger and passion fade into a deterministic misinterpretation of the hit Broadway musical RENT. Don’t spend your time after graduation watching all of the movies A-C in the public library. Read more books instead.

When you get to college, you will be lonely for a while. You will feel like an isolated rationalist in a mob of corn-fed Christians. Take a course on religion, and another course on evolution, and another on persuasion and argumentation. Meet other atheists and start feeling like maybe you’re not alone in noticing the religion-backed injustice and suffering happening all over.

Realize that “real world” work goes largely unappreciated. Feel ineffectual. Feel small. Become a nihilist. Dig out your old telescope and ponder chaos and the stars. Have some tea and stop being a nihilist. Feel better. Resolve to go to a secular group meeting, which was billed to you as “therapy for people who like truth a little too much.”

Go to a meeting; eat cookies and talk about moral relativism. Spend a Sunday doing service with them and discussing the feminist interpretation of Lady Gaga. Realize that you’ve found your place. Read more. Eventually you will stumble upon The Pale Blue Dot; you’ll be tremendously inspired by its message to ‘preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known’ and to thus ‘deal more kindly with one another.’ Realize you’re a humanist. You will feel like you’ve suddenly discovered a limb on your body that had always been there but that you’d never before noticed.

Learn everything you can about humanism. Read manifestos about the existential value of humans, and the morality of skepticism. Disagree and think things our for yourself. Write about your conclusions. Start blogging again, even though you know there are bigger fish to fry. Start arguing with people on HuffPost again. Argue with people everywhere. Find yourself happier and more impassioned than you’ve ever been. Fall in love with everything.

Search relentlessly for truth and for answers to the biggest problems facing the world. Write volumes of letters to your congressmen. Demand universal health care and an end to war. Call out corruption. Fight for freedom. Don’t get upset when people would rather talk about “little” things like a crosses in front of city halls and prayers in schools. Don’t forget that there are no small battles. Don’t get angry at atheists who aren’t fighting to eradicate religion; we all have our battles. Feel fulfilled in fighting yours and leave it at that.

Most importantly, remember to be kind. Especially to yourself.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Irvine/506893850 Andrew Irvine

    Empathy is good word to use.

  • Guest

    “Have some tea and stop being a nihilist.”

    Lol…great advice. 

  • https://justinmckean.wordpress.com Justin McKean

    I can dig it. Let’s go skating.

  • Cpeace

    This is the best thing I have ever seen.

  • Elle Dee

    All that and then “…graduate high school.”  You rock.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=729529250 Devin W. Leaman

    Absolutely love this post.  It’s so powerful to be honest..  Keep up the great work.

  • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

    “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” – Kurt Vonnegut

  • http://twitter.com/jonathanfigdor Jonathan Figdor

    Great piece, but take it from me, you can learn just as much from an important film as you can from an important book or piece of music. They’re all different ways of expressing human(ist) creativity.

  • http://twitter.com/jonathanfigdor Jonathan Figdor

    Great piece, but take it from me, you can learn just as much from an important film as you can from an important book or piece of music. They’re all different ways of expressing human(ist) creativity.

  • Anonymous

    I’m thrilled to hear your story, but everyone’s story is different – and that’s ok! It’s what makes us a wonderful, (working towards) inclusive community.

    I think the main point to take away here is the push towards activism. Blogs are wonderful things and were instrumental in my journey towards atheism, but atheism alone does not make for a better planet. We need to do better than the Christians who go to church and pray every Sunday that the world will magically become a better place; we need to inspire young members to get their hands dirty, and not just by arguing with people on HuffPost.

    The world won’t change because of blog posts. The world is gonna change if people decide to change it.

  • Karen

    I LOVE the post and I LOVE the type of person you are!
    Keep writing and posting and thinking and learning.
    It DOES make a difference!

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    So wise for someone so young.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    This is a wonderful post. Thank you for your unrelenting honesty and amazing courage.  When I read “Fall in love with everything,” I burst into tears. Please let us hear more as your journey unfolds.  I have much to learn from you.

  • Halley

    This was wonderful, thank you.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Adam Lee

    Thank you, Carly Jane, this blew me away. This is one of the best essays about atheism and humanism I’ve ever read. If this is what the next generation looks like, the world is in very good hands!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for you honesty and your insight.  I would only ask one question…

    Now that you have reached a realization of your place in the world, how can encourage others to come to the side or kindness, reason, logic, equality, friendship, and engaged benevolence?

    I do not seem to have the answer yet, but people like you, me, and everyone else who enjoyed this journey to enlightenment need to have this discussion or we risk losing the fight for world.

  • hmm

    love everything… including religion. :)

  • Tia Thomas

    Thank you so much. I never thought that I’d have hope again.


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