Twice a month, humanists gather at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa.
They meet to discuss philosophy and the human condition. Topics range from empathy and equality to child rearing and the death of privacy in the United States.
Humanism presents an alternative to mainstream organized religions. Within the Unitarian Universalist tradition, it opens a window for spiritual and intellectual exploration. Founded in 1962, the UU Humanist Association promotes naturalism, free-thinking, scientific knowledge and human rights. Themes of morality, love and compassion exist without the backing of specific dogma.
At the Tampa UU, humanists such as Jay Hall, 78, meet to share ideas with like minds. Hall, a retired information technology manager, says intellectual conversation flows freely within the group. After almost a decade attending the UU, he and his wife continue to learn from fellow members.
I asked Hall about his humanist journey.
I was brought up Roman Catholic. The interesting thing is (within the Unitarian Universalist Church) I run into a lot of ex-Catholic types. In my mid 30s or so, I frankly got a little overwhelmed with the Catholic guilt trip and I started looking for something different. I was on the West Coast then and I ended up tapping into a lot of the eastern religions. That led me to Unitarian Universalism.
I believe I was a humanist for quite some time. I just didn't have a hat to put it on. I think that's typical of most Unitarians. A large percentage of us are humanists. At a certain age, we sort of look around and say, "What's going on here?" We begin to see through a lot of the mysticism of religion. That's why you'll probably find a lot of humanists tend to be older.
Describe humanism in your own words.
Humanism is a philosophy that doesn't include any need for an extreme force or deity and recognizes the dignity of all. Out of that grows a lot of ethical philosophies of life.
Describe a typical UU Tampa Humanist meet up.
Attendance varies from half a dozen to 20 people depending on the topic of discussion. Each meeting we have a specific topic that generally comes out of something one of the members might find interesting, like an article. The article is distributed ahead of time. Then we meet and talk about it.
Within American society, are more people leaning toward humanism than in years passed?
The Pew Study on Religion asks people what religion they associate with, and in the last study the largest growing group said none. I think that reflects that people are moving away from organized religion. I think within that type people have a strong tendency to be drawn to humanism. I think in general people are becoming more aware and more educated. I think they are looking for something that is more strongly based in scientific principles. I think as people become more educated they frankly get fed up with the hocus pocus.
Sarah Whitman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.