Countdown to 30 – 2 Days to Go! – Humanist Activist

The sixth post in my “Countdown to 30″ series, looking forward to my 30th birthday and back to how I got here.

Humanist Activist

The past two years or so has been a whirlwind of Humanist activism. I launched this blog, Temple of the Future, to present a positive, powerful, passionate vision of Humanism that might reach a new generation, inspiring them to social action and away from the armchair intellectualism which too much modern Humanism represents (the title is inspired by a phrase both Robert Ingersoll and Felix Adler use to describe their vision for a better world). The blog was asked to join th Patheos network and launched here inn October. I began to write more frequently on Humanism, first as an editor and contributor for online magazine The New Humanism, then as a Contributing Scholar for interfaith blog State of Formation, and now in articles for The Humanist magazine, Free Inquiry, and elsewhere.

I have repeatedly engaged in interfaith discussions as a representative of Humanism, most notably as a participant in the ‘Faith and Leadership in a Fragmented World’ workshop at the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard, where I was a skeptical but respectful Humanist presence among emerging faith leaders from around the world, and also as a panelist and organizer for the ‘Congress on the Future of Faith at Harvard’ and a panelist at the annual Forum on Tolerance.

I have put my talents as a public speaker to work in service of the Humanist cause, speaking first as an invited guest of small groups in the Boston area (the Concord Area Humanists offered me one of my first gigs!), then as a panelist and speaker at conventions and groups around the country, and soon as a keynoter at a major regional conventions. In my speeches I tackle a wide range of topics, from the moral necessity of reason to the role of symbol, narrative and the arts in the Humanist movement. This speaking has led to me being invited on radio and television more than once to espouse the Humanist worldview: I’ve appeared three times on popular UK radio show ‘Unbelievable?’ (you can find these episodes here, here, and here), and was featured on AZ-TV to give a short introduction to Humanism.

But perhaps the most significant aspect of my Humanist activism has been the role I have played in the development of the Humanist Community Project. This project – an effort to bring together the collective wisdom of the Humanist movement in order to better understand how to develop moral communities for Humanists – has been a major endeavor for the Humanist Community at Harvard, and I was involved from the beginning. The purpose and impetus behind the project is explained in my recent talk at Skepticon 5, which made the  case for compassionate, engaged Humanist communities dedicated to promoting human flourishing in all areas of life.

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Most importantly, though, in my position as Research and Education Fellow at the HCH I have performed a huge amount of research into the development of moral communities, culling insights from the church growth and congregational development literature,  social psychology (including the work of Haidt), marketing (including works on church marketing), political messaging (Westen, Lakoff, Marcus), sociology (Putnam and Campbell), and philosophy in order to determine how best to develop vibrant, values-based communities for Humanists. It was through this research that I became thoroughly convinced that in order to make progressive social change in America, and defeat the forces of regression which seek to turn the clock back, it will be essential to develop intense moral communities for people without faith in God. And it was this research which led me to the most recent phase of my journey.

In all these Humanist pursuits – the ones I highlight here because they’re most relevant to this blog – and in my academic life, I am driven by the same passion: the idea that human beings are extraordinarily precious, and that we waste far too much human potential. I believe that while the waste of physical resources – food, water etc. – i a terrible thing, worse still is the waste of human mental and moral resources – the waste of our spiritual potential, if you will. Whether the limits on a person’s ability to realize their potential are due to material want, oppression, lack of social support or education, I want to burst those barriers asunder and help people live fully.  And so in my work as a speaker, an educator, and an activist I try to work toward a world in which more people have the opportunity to maximize the extraordinary power within them.

About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.


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