Anne Stanton 3/9/09
If you dont believe in God or a supernatural power, can you still live an ethical life?
Members of a relatively new group called the Grand Traverse Humanists think so.
Some people have the misconception that if you dont believe in a higher power, you dont have a moral compass. I dont have an experience of God or divinity, but I want to do the right thing. Im just not dependent on a supernatural power to tell me what is right or wrong, said Heather Kingham, a teacher who recently moved to Traverse City from Portland, Oregon.
Humanism holds humans responsible for the Earths destiny and our destiny. Were not waiting for God to make it better. Its up to us to make the world a better place, Kingham said.
Kingham was wearing a Humanist t-shirt to an interview in the basement of Horizon Books to talk about the new group and its philosophy, which asserts that humans have the ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanitywithout supernaturalism.
Along with Kingham were Bill Mudget, president of the group, and Joyce Braeuninger. All three say you dont need religion to live an honest, useful and compassionate lifewhich they strive to do.
Kingham grew up attending an Episcopalian church every Sunday and was confirmed at the age of 13. She was encouraged to believe, but religion never made sense to her.
Finally I decided to go with what did make sense to me, Kingham said.
After believing in her non-belief, she felt more at peace and found like-minded people in a Portland Humanist group. The Portland group is large and takes on a number of community projects, working for social justice issues, much like a church.
Mudget formed the Grand Traverse chapter with Fred Utting in December of 2007 under the auspices of the American Humanist Association, a national nonprofit. Their meetings are monthly and have mostly been educational. For example, one meeting demonstrated a mock non-religious wedding, performed by celebrant Jacquie Freeman.
And then we held a meeting at the Life Story funeral homea local place that celebrates a persons life. If you dont want religion involved, it wont be. They prepare a video and a booklet about your life. So many religious funeralsand weddingsare more about the religious service than actually celebrating the people who died or are getting married, Mudget said.
Mudget also grew up in a deeply religious family, but his belief changed after getting into college and delving into the librarys book collection of the history of religion.
After I looked at all of them, I couldnt pick out which religion was right. If one were right, that would mean all the others were wrong. Then it dawned on me that all the stories of God came from the same placesomeone made them up and wrote them down.
Mudget said it takes a certain amount of fearlessness to admit youre not a believer, especially in Northwest Michigan where the vast majority of people are Christians. He believes
the percentage of Christians is even higher here than the national statistics: about 82 percent
identified with a Christian religion, according to a 2007 Gallup poll.
Mudget said that in a country that is constitutionally based on freedom of religion, he has found barriers. He was intensely involved with the Boy Scout organization, for example, but withdrew because he was unwilling to affirm his belief in God, which the group requires.
As an elementary teacher, I had to lead the children saying the Pledge of Allegiance for 30 years. I was required to do that. Its the same kind of thing with so many organizations where you have to profess your belief in a higher power. And, therefore, many people dont join those organizations or they lie and do join them.
Anyone who comes out about his or her non-belief in God will find it very hard to get elected into public office.
Humanists want to avoid that kind of discrimination, which is why so many remain in the closet. And thats one reason this Humanist group exists, Braeuninger saidso people dont have to feel alone and afraid to say what they really feel. As more people become more honest about their beliefs, theyll also become more accepted in society, she predicted.
Mark Elliott, another member of the group, said he was glad to find like-minded people who believe in rational thought and morals that are not based on the edict of a supernatural power.
I got involved with the Humanists because, as a man of science, I was very concerned about religious fundamentalists teaching creationism in the public schools. Indeed, the biology textbooks here in Traverse City were censored by the school board, and had portions cut out which referred to contraception and abortion. We actually purchased a textbook for our own personal use, and when it arrived, I was appalled to find sections of pages missing, literally cut out with an Exacto knife, he said.
HOLDING HUMANS RESPONSIBLE
The group is smallabout 24 people attended the last meeting, but the future agenda is filled with speakers from all different organizations, ranging from the Inland Seas Association to Planned Parenthood. As more members join, the group wants to find useful ways to serve the community with compassion.
The speakers are in line with the Humanist idea that its up to people -- not a religious deity -- to make the world a better place.
If we screwed it up, weve gotta fix it, Mudget said. We humansnot some supernatural forcehave to take responsibility for what we do on this earth.
The Grand Traverse Humanists meet the second Monday of each month at the Traverse Area District Library at 6:45 p.m. To contact them, email firstname.lastname@example.org.