In communities fortunate enough to have a Humanist chapter or other freethought organization, some Humanists decline to join or otherwise become involved. Perhaps this is due to the strong independent streak that characterizes many Humanists.
But there are important reasons for Humanists to affiliate with a local freethought group. And if they don’t have a local group, the same reasons justify starting one.
The first reason is social support for members and friends of the group. In the U.S., which has a high percentage of believers in the supernatural, it’s common for Humanists to feel alone with their naturalistic views of the universe. This is especially true at times of religious celebration, such as Christmas and Easter.
Aloneness is a cause for concern. Studies show that people who are socially isolated tend to have more health problems and die at younger ages than those having social support. Moreover, psychologist Jean Twenge notes: “Research has shown us that relationships are the single greatest source of happiness.”
By providing Humanists with an opportunity to interact with like-minded and supportive friends, a local group helps them avert the adverse physical and emotional effects of social isolation. Humanist social gatherings can include regular and special meetings of the group, and life-cycle ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.
Second, local Humanist groups are more effective than individuals in educating the public about the Humanist alternative to religious philosophies – which sometimes impede progress and cause other harm. Bertrand Russell said: “My own view of religion is that of Lucretious. I regard it as a disease born of fear and a source of untold misery to the human race.”
Where persons are suffering because of religious beliefs, or are in danger of being harmed by theological doctrines, Humanists have a moral obligation to let them know about Humanism. It’s a philosophy that can prevent and alleviate religiously induced misery. And it can often be promoted more effectively by teamwork than by individual action.
This educational process will at times require pointing out certain problems with religions – such as ways in which they are inconsistent with reality. As the nineteenth-century historian Henry T. Buckle said: “The only remedy for superstition is knowledge. . . . Nothing else can wipe out that plague-spot of the human mind.”
Third, Humanist chapters help members grow in their understanding and appreciation of Humanism. As a result, they are able to more effectively and joyfully put the Humanist philosophy into practice in their daily lives.
Corliss Lamont described Humanism as “a philosophy of joyous service for the greater good of all humanity in this natural world and advocating the methods of reason, science, and democracy.” By means of speeches, discussions, educational outings, and other methods of learning what science reveals about the world, Humanists enhance their ability to live their philosophy and help others do the same.
Fourth, a local Humanist group can work with other organizations – including religious ones – in areas where they have common concerns. Humanists are interested in all aspects of the human condition. They know that some problems are not religious in origin and affect freethinkers and religionists alike.
When the problems can be addressed more effectively by collective action, Felix Adler’s statement about “diversity in creed, unanimity in the deed” should apply.
There are several benefits of joining with other groups to work on common problems. These include: a greater likelihood that the Humanist methods of reason and compassion will be used to full effect in addressing the problems, a more united and better coordinated approach to the problems, and a chance to introduce more people to the Humanist philosophy.
This activism also offers an opportunity to show people that, contrary to what many fundamentalists say, Humanists are concerned about helping others and improving society.
In attempting to carry out the purposes of a Humanist chapter, there will inevitably be both successes and failures along the way. But far fewer successes will occur if Humanists refuse to make the effort to reach these goals.
Isaac Asimov, the prolific writer and late president of the American Humanist Association, knew the importance of supporting Humanism. He said: “Why are we trying? Because it would be disgraceful if we didn’t. We owe it to ourselves as respectable human beings to do what we can to make humanity rational. And having done this – or having tried to do this – we can respect ourselves.”
Asimov knew that it’s noble, admirable, and gratifying to try to reach important goals, regardless of whether complete success is ever achieved. Humanists should always keep trying in their local communities.