Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What makes a good humanist?
A good human! In all seriousness, I believe a good humanist is someone that cares for and helps people, and seeks to better the world we live in as a whole.
Where do you most differ from mainstream humanism in its definition, aims, and activism, if at all?
I am not sure of what the “mainstream” definition of humanism is, so I am not sure if I line up with it or not. I do subscribe to the American Humanist Association’s “official” definition of Humanism – “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfilment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” Doing good is its own reward. I believe I align pretty closely to the activist goals of the American Humanist Association, as well.
What was your experience of becoming, of living, as a humanist?
Looking back, I have always attempted to live a “humanist” type life, seeking to do no harm and assist others with no thought of any supernatural deity, reward or punishment. However, I really did not become aware of actual “humanism”, per se, until just a few years ago.
What are the main reasons that, within Mississippi and your experience, people become humanists? For example, arguments from logic and philosophy, evidence from mainstream science, or experience within traditional religious structures?
I hesitate to speak or generalise for others. However, Mississippi is a very religious state, and some people, upon leaving their religion, may find humanism appealing. It encourages a positive outlook towards oneself and others, and seeks to do good for others just as a matter of course, not because of any supernatural threat or promise.
What is the best reason you have ever come across for humanism?
For myself, the fact that humanism is geared toward a positive view of humans building a better life together, and the fact that humanism is rooted in tangible fact, evidence and experience, not in faith, is the best reason for humanism.
Is it more probable for humanism to be accepted among the younger sub-population than the older sub-population?
I do believe the “younger” population in America is more open to and accepting of humanism/humanists. I certainly hope so, as that acceptance by the young is the future of humanism.
You are the president of Mississippi Humanist Association, becoming president on February 12, 2017. What are your hopes for the organisation?
My hopes for the Mississippi Humanist Association (MHA) include sustained membership growth, and the development of a strong secular community here in Mississippi, so we may support one another and help others in our communities. I also hope that we can educate the general public about humanism, as humanism is generally unknown or misunderstood in Mississippi.
What are the expected tasks and responsibilities that will come, and simply come, with being the president?
At this early stage, I can only really say what I believe to be my responsibilities are with regard to the position of President. I believe a primary responsibility of the President to visible, advocating for the organisation and our values. I believe it is my responsibility to represent the members of this organisation in a way that they feel is appropriate and reflects positively upon us as an organisation, as well as work with my fellow board members to continue and improve our current activities and serve our members and community.
Before becoming president, you were part of the board of directors (communications & vice president) since 2015. Given that you’re moving into your third official year, you are, in essence, one of the founding members. How did those roles prepare you to be president?
I am a charter member of the Mississippi Humanist Association. In 2014, we started laying the foundation for the official organisation, by developing bylaws, incorporating as a charity and becoming a chapter of the American Humanist Association. In serving in the roles of Board Member, Vice-President and Communications since the beginning, I believe those roles helped me to understand how important clear and consistent communication is to our organisation’s continued growth and success. Communication with our current members, prospective members, and with the general public is a large part of our activity and drives any continued support we may enjoy.
What have been the major developments and transitions for the organisation?
Well, at this early stage, our continued existence and growth in Mississippi is a major development! I believe we are still “finding our footing” as an organisation, and we hope to continue to transition into a solid statewide secular group in Mississippi, by building a strong secular community, educating the public about humanism and contributing to the common good.
What are the popular community activities provided by Mississippi Humanist Association?
As stated before, Mississippi is a VERY religious place, and we believe it is important to offer humanists in Mississippi opportunities to get together and socialise. Humanists in Mississippi are at a great disadvantage when it comes to meeting other humanists, as humanists don’t have a church on every corner. We sponsor a brunch and a happy hour monthly in the Jackson, MS area, so our members and prospective new members can get together and enjoy some like-minded secular company. Many humanists in Mississippi unfortunately still feel it is necessary to keep their humanist/atheist beliefs secret or “closeted”, because of the very real fear of retaliation on the job, or some possible backlash from their friends and/or family members. Because of this, we also sponsor a “secret” local Meetup group for atheists and humanists so they may get together and discuss topics important to them without fear of any judgement or retaliation. The MHA also holds food drives, book drives and school supply drives for charities in our community. We hope to expand these activities state wide eventually.
What are some of the demographics of Mississippi Humanist Association? Who is most likely to join Mississippi Humanist Association? (Age, sex, sexual orientation, and so on.)
I believe our oldest member is 75 years old, we have college age members, and all ages in between. We have some members from other countries, however, we demographically skew to the somewhat more “older, whiter” side, and we hope to do more effective outreach to other demographic groups here in Mississippi.
What have been the largest activist and educational initiatives provided by Mississippi Humanist Association? Out of these, what have been honest failures and successes?
So far, our activist and educational opportunities have been limited, we still have a bit of learning to do on that front. We are working on finding appropriate opportunities and taking advantage of them. One could say that just our existence here in Mississippi is an activist initiative, given the extremely conservative political and religious climates here. We have had a table at a local monthly public festival where we would introduce the general public to humanism, as humanism is usually unknown or misunderstood in Mississippi, and it went well. We are bringing a fairly well known atheist speaker to the area in May, so we are looking forward to that.
Who/what are the main threats to humanism as a movement?
I believe human nature is the greatest threat to whatever humanist “movement” there may be. Overcoming, or at least policing some of our human traits that lead to political infighting, tribalism, fear of the humanist as “other” – these are challenges to be acknowledged and addressed.
How can people get involved with Mississippi Humanist Association, even donate to it?
If you are in the Jackson, MS area, join us at one of our monthly events. The best way to support our efforts is to become a member, or donate online. For more information, please visit us at our website, where you can join or donate. Also, check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and Meetup for more information. All donations are greatly appreciated and are always used to further the cause of humanism in Mississippi, and to help us to build a strong secular community throughout Mississippi.
Thank you for your time, Kim.
Scott, thank you for your time and interest!
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.