Monday, October 29, 2012

Building Humanist Communities in Baltimore

by Emil Volcheck, BES President, BaltimoreCOR coordinator

Three years ago this month, the Baltimore Coalition of Reason (Baltimore CoR) formed. What started with three groups has since grown to a coalition of nine humanist and atheist organizations. The CoR got off to a strong start – with a lecture by Greg Epstein speaking about his book Good Without Godthat drew an audience of nearly 200 at First Unitarian thanks to the electronic billboard advertisement at Ravens Stadium funded by the United Coalition of Reason.

Looking back over the past year, Baltimore CoR has kept a pace of events that has exceeded my expectations. The highlight of the year for many of us was attending the Reason Rally, which brought to the National Mall an estimated 20,000 humanists and atheists and employed several of us as volunteer VIP ushers. Since September 2011, the CoR has organized or co-sponsored a diverse range of events, including:
  • a “Parenting Beyond Belief” workshop by Dale McGowan;
  • a lecture on religious fundamentalism by Professor Bjorn Krondorfer;
  • a lecture by Sean Faircloth on his book Attack of the Theocrats;
  • the second annual celebration of HumanLight in Baltimore;
  • a lecture on LGBT rights in Uganda by Reverend Kiyimba;
  • two lectures marking Darwin Day;
  • a concert by singer and political satirist Roy Zimmerman;
  • a celebration of World Humanist Day that featured a documentary about the impact of religious millennialism on U.S. foreign policy, followed by a counterpoint Humanist view of the future provided by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson; and
  • Skepticamp DC 2012.
Catherine Blackwell, past president of the UMBC Secular Student Alliance, represented Baltimore CoR on the TV debate show “Square Off with Richard Sher.” Baltimore CoR also helped launch the LGBTQ Humanist Council of Baltimore, the newest chapter of the American Humanist Association in the city. The events of the CoR serve to build and strengthen a greater humanist community in Baltimore. For a young and loosely knit coalition, this is an impressive record of activity.

Last March, it was my privilege to address an audience of over seven hundred at Ignite Baltimore #10 on the theme of this essay. Baltimore CoR is a publicity coalition whose purpose is to raise public awareness that people can be good without believing in God. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have found a home in Ethical Culture (or any member of Baltimore CoR), this message might seem obvious, or a distraction from our primary focus. But we must not forget there are those less fortunate who suffer hardship as a result of their beliefs. Army Reserve Captain Ryan Jean was rated “spiritually deficient” by an Army psychological fitness test and berated by an Army chaplain who told him he should resign his commission if he did not believe in God. (Listen to the podcast of his platform address at Jessica Ahlquist, a high-school student in Cranston, Rhode Island, faced threats of bodily harm that required police to protect her at school. Ahlquist received a 2012 Humanist Pioneer Award from the American Humanist Association. Also receiving the Pioneer Award was Damon Fowler, a high school student in Louisiana who was disowned by his family and shunned by his classmates after he objected to a unconstitutional graduation prayer. Misunderstanding and discrimination can indirectly impact atheists and humanists causing them to self-censor their views. A member of our society revealed to me that when they recently began a search for a new job, they deleted a profile on a popular social networking website that listed them as atheist so that this fact would not be seen by potential employers.

I am proud that the Baltimore Ethical Society has played a vital role in supporting the Baltimore Coalition of Reason through the volunteer work of our members and the use of our facilities. The message of Ethical Culture – “Deed Before Creed” – means that we believe it is what we do that matters, not what religious beliefs we hold. We have an ethical duty to stand up against discrimination based on religious beliefs or nonbeliefs because this diminishes the dignity of our friends and family. Whether this discrimination affects employment opportunities – or marriage rights – it’s unethical, and the Baltimore Ethical Society stands against it.
I hope that you will help build the greater humanist community in Baltimore by supporting the message of Baltimore CoR and participating in some of the upcoming events of the coalition, including lecture and lunch with Herb Silverman on November 11th and HumanLight on December 23rd at BES. Please watch for the announcements of Darwin Day in February and World Humanist Day on June 21st.

(Baltimore Secular Humanists, the Baltimore chapter of WASH, was a founding member of the BaltimoreCOR, and cosponsored these events.  More past BSH events are listed here.)

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