“Humanism [hyoo-muh-niz-uhm] (noun)- philosophy. a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God.”- Dictionary.com
To put it simply, Humanism embraces human reason and values as the basis of morality and decision making. Secular Humanism is a form that it is not affiliated with a supreme being. As a head of the Groton Humanism Group, my aim is to be as informative and clarifying as possible in this article. There is much confusion and misunderstanding concerning the presence, purpose, and goals of our group. It was recently brought to my attention that, when discussing the Groton Humanism Group, a new third former was under the impression that it was a joke. (It’s not.)
On a cold winter night in 2011, a handful of Third Formers gathered in Gammons. We were summoned by Bruce Ramphal ‘15. We discussed our beliefs only to discover that we all had experienced instances of oppression or discomfort due to our atheistic or agnostic opinions. We realized that we had no way to express our spiritual views here. We met a few more times and thus, the Groton Humanism Group was born.
Almost two years later, our group has expanded to include everybody who wants to come, regardless of faith (or lack thereof). As most returning students know, the Groton Humanism Group meets on Friday nights in the Admissions Office and there is always food. The meetings are usually discussion-based and follow a prompt previously chosen by one of the heads of the group or suggested by any member. We discuss our backgrounds, experiences, and current events in relation to our beliefs. It’s a casual setting where students and faculty alike are welcome. Fellow Humanism head Bruce Ramphal put it: “In our weekly meetings, we discuss our backgrounds and experiences pertaining to these [beliefs]. These are essential to the substance of our meetings because we would rather focus on each person as an individual rather than the fundamentally didactic nature of some other spiritual gatherings. By allowing everyone the chance to tell their stories we not only learn new things about one another but also can use these tales as a source of contemplation– a means of introspection. Also key to our observation of humanism is our affinity for discussing modern problems our world faces, for we believe that we, as human beings, are the solutions to our own problems. However, most indispensable to the group is our value of individual thought. Everyone is free to believe as they please and express these beliefs. We provide a safe environment, free of bigotry, where individuals can assert their beliefs to a crowd with open and tolerant ears.”
This year we intend to expand the Groton Humanism Group past discussion based meetings. Our plans include doing community service as a group, inviting speakers to talk about atheism, agnosticism, or anything else relevant, and planning to host a “star party” where a non-profit organization from Boston will come to Groton, set up a telescope, and teach us how to use it.
Earlier this year, Reverend Humphrey drove a few members of the group to the Unitarian Church in the town of Groton to attend the 10 am Sunday service to try something new. For those who do not know, Unitarianism or Unitarian Universalism is a liberal faith system that does not share a common creed; it is characterized by a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning,” which is the fourth of the seven principles of Unitarianism according to the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. We enjoyed our visit and agreed with many of the ideas and principles of the church, but we, as a group, prefer to speak among ourselves rather than being spoken at. Nevertheless, the Groton Humanism Group plans on attending the Unitarian Church a few more times later this year.
Perhaps most integral to the history of our group is the widely known fact that ever since our inception as a group almost two years ago, we have wanted to be a religious alternative at Groton. Last year we sent out a survey to Student Conferences which was completed by 155 students. 113 of the participants attend Sunday Chapel, the default religious service, but 53 identified as atheist/agnostic/humanist and 8 identified as undecided/confused/irreligious. We would love for these people to attend Humanism, but we understand that most Groton students don’t want to waste an hour on a Friday night if they have to spend an hour in Chapel on Sunday anyway. We are not bashing Sunday Chapel or other religious commitments. We are merely saying that we feel uncomfortable there. And we know we’re not alone.