Speakers advocate for humanist movement
The Humanist Chaplaincy held their first meeting Monday night at the Student Activities Center on the College Avenue campus, featuring speeches by two distinguished leaders of the American Humanist Association.
AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt and Director of Development Maggie Ardiente discussed future plans for the growing demographic of atheists, agnostics and humanists — who focus on human values and concerns — in the country in their presentation titled "2020 Humanism: Achieving a Vision that Matches Our Aspirations."
The two presenters said this demographic calls for unity, community and increased assertion among its members in order to create a powerful and legitimate movement.
"Humanists and other free thinkers can learn a great deal from the successes of other movements," Speckhardt said.
By referencing the gay rights movement of the 1970s, Speckhardt said he hopes one day there will be tolerance of their non-theistic perspective.
"We must all come out as humanists, saying ‘We do not need a higher power to govern our lives,'" he said.
Speckhardt and Ardiente discussed other issues the AHA hopes to tackle in the coming decade, including the advancement of gay rights, scientific research and community involvement outside the influence of the church.
Though their movement has not yet reached national prominence, the AHA has not gone unnoticed.
The group, described by Ardiente as a "national free-thought movement," has been fairly active in the past.
He said the AHA most notably produced a holiday campaign contradictory to Christian-inspired advertisements at Christmas time, which read "No God? No problem. Be good for goodness sake," beside a picture of Santa Claus.
Speckhardt defended his beliefs on public forums such as CNN and "The O'Reilly Factor," meeting a mix of both tolerance and hostility.
But seeing the tension directed toward them from the religious right has not inhibited Speckhardt, Ardiente or other non-theistic thinkers from their cause.
"We're one of the largest minorities in the United States, but you'd never know it," Speckhardt said.
"We're trying to reach out to like-minded humanists, but of course the religious right sees us as a threat to Christianity," Ardiente said. "We're working so that every atheist and humanist can proclaim their non-belief."
There were not only humanist groups from the University and national levels at the meeting, but also officers from the Red Bank Humanists — based in Monmouth County — and the Somerville-based New Jersey Humanist Network.
Speckhardt and Ardiente said the presence of such various secular humanist communities at the meeting affirms the hopes they have for the future of the humanist movement.
Speckhardt and Ardiente said the AHA is already working with the gay and lesbian community, establishing a council for those humanists who belong to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
By doing so, they can organize the growing number of LGBT humanists within their cause and lend reciprocal support to the gay rights movement, whose support both say comes naturally in the AHA.
Working at the university level, the University Chaplaincy hopes to address similar issues this year, which the AHA is working toward both nationally and internationally.
"[Humanists] look at this lifetime and at this world as a source of information and an idea of who we are," University Humanist Chaplain Barry Klassel said.
In the future, the group hopes to provide outlets in which atheist, agnostic and humanist thinkers could assemble similarly to those of religious groups, such as Sunday schools.
"There is strength in numbers," Ardiente said. "So with more people standing with us, we have a greater voice in Congress and the media."