Humanism

At the University of Southern California, a Humanist Chaplain Takes the Lead…

 

From The Humanist

Vanessa Gomez Brake is the new associate dean of religious life at the University of Southern California. She is the first humanist chaplain to serve in this capacity at any American university.

I first met Vanessa Gomez Brake in the fall of 2014, as she began her position at the Office for Religious Life (ORL) at Stanford University. Similarly, I had just started my first term as the president of Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics (AHA!), Stanford’s non-theist student organization. Despite being busy acclimating to her new work, Vanessa took the time to reach out to me as a nontheist student leader. One might imagine that, on a campus teeming with secular students, I already had support from the incumbent religious life staff. I quickly discovered that this was not the case, and having an ally in Vanessa was indispensable.

Vanessa used her role, knowledge of conflict resolution, and connections through the Bay Area Humanist community to offer fresh ideas to our student organization and to support diversity within the group. For example, at the beginning of one school year, she suggested we consider offering humanist programming alongside the many monotheistic worship services during Stanford’s new student welcome week. What followed was a scenario with which many humanists and religious minorities may identify; our non-worship service was rejected on the grounds that it conflicted with other, more “legitimate” welcome week events. Nevermind the underlying assumptions of the hegemonic Abrahamic religions that had already structured our understanding of a “week” as one that sets aside Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays for religious observance. Of course there were no welcome week events that conflicted with the many monotheistic worship services—our university had already taken for granted that welcome week events ought to be planned around them! Vanessa helped to challenge these prevailing assumptions among religious life staff and won AHA! the opportunity to provide humanist programming on equal footing with the predominant religious groups on campus.

Furthermore, Vanessa helped design and implement a number of discussions between AHA! and other religious groups on campus. There are two reasons why I find this to be particularly important: first, humanist participation in interfaith activities helps to introduce more people to the humanist philosophy, as well as broaden their perceptions of what counts as a life worth living. Secondly, it forces theists to engage and contend with humanist ideas, which ultimately reveals that many of the same underlying values motivate our diverse perspectives.

So, imagine my excitement when I learned that Vanessa had been offered an associate deanship in the Office of Religious Life at the University of Southern California. Think of it, the first humanist dean of religious life at any major American university. Humanists should be very excited about this historic appointment, as the implications are considerable. From the perspective of a former student leader, you can rest assured that nontheistic organizations will be given equal consideration with theistic organizations for time and resources. From the perspective of a humanist student, consider how refreshing it will be not to have to justify your ideas as meaningful, thoughtful, and moral to a university that has enshrined a narrow conception of the good, the true, and the beautiful.

USC has made a profound choice in forging the future of its understanding of religious life to not just tolerate, but to include non-theistic perspectives. USC’s Dean of Religious Life, Varun Soni, said that “we are at a unique moment in American religious history as the fastest growing religious demographic are those who are unaffiliated with formal religion. More than one-third of our university students are not affiliated with formal religion, and that number gets bigger every year.” Other universities should take note. These students will continue to need a communal structure within which to forge their own identities, and deans of religious life such as Vanessa Gomez Brake are well positioned to meet that need.

Interview with Vanessa Gomez Brake

Why Losing God Hits Some of Us Harder…

 


From Neil Carter
Godless In Dixie

I wasn’t active in the skeptic movement long before I discovered how different my perspective on religion was from that of other atheists. In time I came to understand that people who have never been religious come to the subject as outsiders who cannot always sympathize with those who formerly were.

But I most definitely was religious. Except I never would have used that word to describe myself. In fact, I would have recoiled from that word as I had been thoroughly indoctrinated against accepting the label by years of hearing that I was “spiritual but not religious.” What I enjoyed was not a religion, you see, it was a relationship.

That’s utter nonsense, by the way. It most definitely is a religion. But Christian exceptionalism has always been a key component of the evangelical faith, and ironically I don’t think they are exceptional in that regard, either. I believe a majority of world faiths harbor the notion that they are uniquely authentic while all other faiths are dim reflections of the truths of which they themselves are the sole proprietary owners.

That said, my religion was absolutely relational. For me, the Christian faith was best summed up in that statement of Jesus in John 17:3 where he said:

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

That’s the lens through which I was taught to view my religion—I viewed it fundamentally as a relationship with a living person who was to be known and experienced in daily life just like any other person would be. Well, not exactly in the same way, I suppose, since this particular person was invisible—detectable only to those who believed in him. In this relationship, one must come with a sincere expectation that God is real and that he can indeed be known by those who want to know him. As another key verse, Hebrews 11:6 explains:

A Deconversion Story…

 

From Graceful Atheist

These kinds of messages have become cliché, but I find the need to write it anyway. Mostly this is an attempt to communicate to my friends and family as succinctly but thoroughly as possible the what and the why of my deconversion from Christianity. This is also for those of you readers who have had doubts and have struggled to keep them contained.

What I am

I am no longer a Christian. In the summer of 2015 after it became increasing more difficult to hold my beliefs against surmounting evidence to the contrary I admitted to myself I no longer believed. I was a Christian for approximately 27 years, until the Jenga tower of contradiction between belief and facts came crashing down. I could no longer sustain the mental effort it required to maintain belief against the overwhelming lack of evidence for that belief.

I am an atheist. Others, wiser than I, have pointed out that this does not tell you very much about me. To say that I am not something is not very descriptive. The list of things I am not is infinite. But I am not afraid of this moniker. I am not a theist. This means I do not believe in God or gods. I do not believe in the supernatural of any kind. The natural is more than sufficient.

I am a humanist. This means that I believe humanity is the most precious existence in the cosmos. It means that loving people trumps ideology. Julia Sweeny said it better than I can. In “Letting Go of God” after tentatively putting on the “Not believing in God glasses” she says:

And I thought wait a minute, wait a minute, what about all those people who are unjustifiably jailed? … There is no god hearing their pleas and I guess this goes for the really poor people too and really oppressed people who I had this vague idea that they had a god to comfort them and then an even vaguer idea that god had orchestrated their lives for some unknowable grand design. I walked around and thought oh, no one is minding the store! … And slowly I began to see the world differently.

There is no hell, Emily…

 

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No, Jesus…

 

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I Believe…

 


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Christianity preaches only servitude and dependence…

 


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Jesus?

 


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Muslims and Christians…

 


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