Humanists Attacking, Being, Off and Running

Humanists Attacking, Being, Off and Running

One of my most enjoyable pursuits over the past couple of years has been participating in a new humanist organization and working on the podcast we call When Humanists Attack!! These projects have reached some benchmarks that are worth reporting in this space.

My old pals Vincent Downing and Chris West recruited me for the project in the early weeks of the pandemic. Back in my younger days in Brooklyn, the three of us spearheaded a community-building project that targeted countercultural young folks like ourselves. For several years we organized seasonal gatherings, including rituals celebrating the eight annual festivals of the neo-pagan calendar. These home-cooked ceremonies, seasoned with a proper balance of reverence and irreverence, came as close to resembling a spiritual or religious practice as anything ever has in the life of this non-religious Brooklyn Jew. They put something in my life that had been missing, and they attracted dozens of friends and fellow travelers who felt roughly the same way.

Over a Zoom call, Vinny and Chris said this was the time to get the band back together. Their aspirations hadn’t changed a great deal. You could say after a few decades of taking care of life business–careers, marriages, children–we’re picking up where we left off, trying to change the world while having fun in the idealistic tradition of pranksters like the Yippies. Only the terminology has changed a little: the new framework to situate our efforts and our point of view is humanism.

As the legendary performance artist Reverend Billy put it: “We believe in the god that people who don’t believe in god believe in.” What the Christian right calls “secular humanism” actually represents the fastest-growing segment of what the pollsters call “religion or belief” in U.S. culture. We sometimes call it the none-of-the-above religion. Preaching to the nones!

The problem with addressing such a group is that humanists aren’t a group in any cohesive sense, even in the nebulous way that co-religionists may think of those who share their faith. And virtually nobody is celebrating, promoting, or propagandizing for the virtues of a secular stance: virtues like critical thinking, science, humility, peace and social justice, and an ethics of life on Earth to which deities and their commandments are simply irrelevant.

As I listened to Chris lay out this argument, it struck me that there’s a need for humanists to go on the offensive, in what the other side is very comfortable depicting as the culture wars. And here you have the origin story for When Humanists Attack!!

The podcast has just started its third season and is now accessible over the Spotify, Stitcher, RSS, Apple, Amazon, and Google podcast platforms. You can catch our prior seasons there, as well as on YouTube. We’ve interviewed humanist leaders such as the founder of Recovering From Religion, the director of Black Nonbelievers, and fellow podcaster David Oliverio, AKA “The Preaching Humanist.” I’ve also had very scintillating conversations with folks such as democracy scholar John Gastil; peace and disarmament organizer Jonathan Granoff; Talena Lachelle Queen, poet laureate of Paterson, New Jersey; comic genius Eric Kaplan, Emmy-winning writer for The Big Bang Theory; and Reverend Billy himself, charismatic hero of the Church of Stop Shopping. Over time we intend to host more salon-style discussions, debates across ideological and religious differences, comedy and agit-prop.

We’ve also incorporated as a non-profit, under the name The Humanist Being, and we’ve just launched a website for the group. Chris has started organizing a humanist flock up around Burlington, Vermont, and has plans to create a brick-and-mortar humanist center there. Vincent has published years worth of his “Metathink Manual” and is chronicling the birth of a Polyamory Education Project springing out of his gay men’s playgroup in NYC.

All in all a fulfilling passion project, rife with possibilities. Let me know what you think!