The fourth post in my “Countdown to 30″ series, looking forward to my 30th birthday and back to how I got here.
Developing Humanism – A Home for my Values
My commitment to Humanism truly blossomed when I arrived in America. I remember one particular conversation with a fellow Harvard graduate student. We were sitting in the canteen of the dorm we shared when the discussion turned to God and, more particularly, my atheism. I remember my fellow Harvard graduate student prodding and poking at my beliefs as if I was some strange, exotic curio, asking “If you don’t believe in God, where do your morals come from?”, and “ Isn’t your life meaningless without an Ultimate Purpose?” (the capitals were clearly indicated by the portentous way in which the words “ultimate” and “purpose” were intoned). If I were someone inclined to take offense, it strikes me that these could be seen as extremely offensive questions, implying as they do that the only route to a moral life is through God, and that my Humanist worldview must therefore be ethically deficient and devoid of meaning.
I was shocked to encounter such sentiments then, in my first months at Harvard. After five years living in the States I am no longer. Instead, horrifyingly, I am sometimes relieved if the worst someone has to say to me about my worldview is that it must lead to an amoral and meaningless existence. Why? Because, since then, I have come face to face with many more egregious and insidious examples of prejudice against Humanists, atheists agnostics, skeptics. I have heard televangelists shriek that people who are not traditionally religious are responsible for social breakdown, crime, and natural disasters. I have heard news reporters casually describe nonreligious people as de-facto supporters of Stalinism and Nazism. I have noted how it seems impossible for a nonbeliever to be elected to high office in this country, and how public declarations of religious faith are required by those aiming highest. The idea of a non-religious President seems absurd in America – a nation which prides itself on promoting freedom of religious expression.
These experiences, and I use this term conscious of its ironies, radicalized me in my Humanism. They drew me to the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard (now the Humanist Community at Harvard), where I began to work alongside Greg Epstein in the development of the Humanist Community Project, and started me on the path to becoming a speaker and activist in the Humanist movement – the path which led to my starting this very blog, back in the days before it was here on Patheos.