Speaking of Secular Humanism: A Reflection on Public Secularism

Speaking of Secular Humanism: A Reflection on Public Secularism June 22, 2010

mirandaToday’s guest post comes from Secular Humanist Alliance of Chicago (SHAC) member Miranda Hovemeyer. Miranda is a first year Master of Arts in Religion student at Meadville Lombard Theological School who is an improvisational comedian, vintage radio enthusiast, and works as a respite care provider for disabled children. Miranda, who is SHAC’s Special Events Coordinator, is a Community Ambassador for One Chicago, One Nation (OCON) an initiative of the Chicago Community Trust,One Nation, Link TV, the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), and the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN). This program, which I spoke to organizers Hind Makki and Erin Williams about a few months back, aims to facilitate religious pluralism. Below, Miranda discusses her role as a Community Ambassador and her experience of being asked to speak at the OCON launch.

This past Saturday I was honored to speak at the 2010 “Takin’ it to the Streets” festival. The festival began with the induction of the One Chicago, One Nation Community Ambassadors, of which I am a member. We are a group of people from various walks of life who are working together toward a common goal: making Chicago a more peaceful city. One Chicago, One Nation is under the direction of IFYC and IMAN. In attendance at the induction ceremony were Mayor of Chicago Richard M. Daley, Illinois state Senator Jackie Collins, IFYC Executive Director Dr. Eboo Patel, IMAN Executive Director Dr. Rami Nashashibi, along with many others.

I was personally invited to speak on behalf of the secular community, which I found to be a somewhat difficult task. My speech sought to address the ways in which the religious and secular worlds can and should work together toward common goals. Before I went up on stage I was told by some of my fellow Community Ambassadors that I was going to have an important message, but a tough crowd. This turned out to be all too true. Certain parts of my speech were similar to the scenes in popular movies when someone does or says something completely unexpected. When I mentioned how Secular Humanists don’t believe in god, all at once the DJ stopped the record with a scratch, someone spewed water out of their mouth in a style similar to Old Faithful, and all that could be heard was a perfectly tuned chorus of crickets chirping.

Takin' it to the StreetsOk, so maybe I am exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad, but I am a comedian so I always try to see the humor in everything. The truth is that my fellow Community Ambassadors warmly accepted my speech. The people who were most taken aback were the older crowd of devout religious individuals, who really weren’t sure what to make of me. Their confusion became clearer to me when I was congratulated by my fellow Ambassadors, but largely ignored by the older, more religious attendees. It didn’t bother me, however, because mine was a message that people may need some time to ponder.

Later on in the day, as the heat grew and music filled the air, I was confronted by an older Muslim woman who had been in attendance for my speech that morning. She caught me off guard when she told me how much she’d enjoyed my message, then asked whether or not I had any copies of my speech, which I gave her. She told me that my speech had incited a discussion between her and some of her friends about whether or not a person who believes in god can be good. My message, she claimed, had firmly changed her mind about the goodness of secular people, and she thanked me for sharing my story. So maybe my theory that people can be good with or without god, and can work together to improve their world, is one that will just take time to sink in, but with a little contemplation will someday be our reality.

Below is a copy of Miranda’s speech, which she has agreed to let me reproduce here:

I’d like to talk to you today about faith. I know you probably already have your own ideas about the word faith. Maybe what comes to mind is a faith in god, or a faith in your own religious tradition, but the faith I want to talk about today isn’t that kind of faith.

The faith I want to talk about is the faith between you and me. I have faith in every single one of you. I have faith that you can take what you’ve learned here as a community ambassador from IMAN and IFYC, and go out and heal the world. BUT, do you have faith in me?

Takin' it to the Streets

You see, I don’t believe in god. I’m what’s called a Secular Humanist. Many of you may not know what that means… and you’re not alone. Secular Humanism is a rich tradition founded upon the conviction that people can be good without god. We do our best to improve the lives of others in our world because we have faith in the goodness of humanity.

So we may not have faith in the same god — we may not have faith in any god — but we have firm faith in the power of humanity to do good and to make Chicago a more peaceful and loving place, and I have FAITH in the community ambassadors.

You might be wondering why I’m here — why I chose to get involved with the interfaith movement if I’m not religious. The answer is, I chose to get involved because the initiative is interFAITH, not interreligious, and I have FAITH.

I remember being at the first One Chicago, One Nation Community Ambassador meeting and one Muslim woman asked the question, “how do we attempt to work with people who don’t believe in god, or people who have no faith?” To which I responded, “even though some of us don’t believe in god, we DO share a common faith, and that’s faith in humanity.”

And we also share faith in the same goal, and that goal is getting out there and engaging with the community, both religious and secular, and working to improve Chicago, our amazing city.  If we can have faith in each other, then there is no one we can’t reach.

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