Atheists, humanists begin conference

Ryan Dionne

The University’s Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists group organized a four-day humanist conference that started Thursday.

The conference began Thursday with a cookie-and-pop social followed by a speech by Tony Hileman, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

Humanism has a lot to offer people, Hileman said, “particularly in today’s world.”

In addition to speeches, organizers have scheduled a debate and a panel discussion for this weekend.

It is important to have a dialogue between religious and nonreligious groups, said Jacob Larson, Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists activities planning co-chairman.

The debate and panel discussion are meant “to understand why people believe what they believe, not argue over who’s right and wrong,” he said.

Rob Boston, one of the participants in today’s debate over the separation of church and state, will also give a related speech Saturday. Boston is the assistant communications director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“If we don’t work on new generations to take over the fight, it could die out,” Boston said.

One of the conference’s goals is to educate people about the differences and similarities between religion and secular humanism, he said.

The two ideologies have similar ideas as to what are good and bad, he said, but the main difference revolves around whether there is a God.

Hileman summed up humanism as trying to behave decently without worrying about an afterlife.

Jenny Werness, Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists publicity coordinator and co-chairwoman, said she agreed with Hileman.

“It’s part of everyday life for most people that consider themselves humanists,” she said.

But many people don’t understand what atheism and humanism are, Werness said.

The term “atheist” refers to people who don’t believe there is a God, Werness said.

Similarly, secular humanists don’t believe there is a God, but most people who consider themselves humanists put mankind at the center of their philosophy, she said.

Larson said the focus is to treat people kindly and put humanity above all else.

“It’s ‘the greater good’ sort of thing,” he said.

Larson said he thinks being a humanitarian is the biggest part of being a humanist.

But many people think secular humanists don’t have morals, he said, because they don’t believe in God.

“We don’t need religion or God to be good people,” Larson said.

His beliefs are in the “middle of the spectrum,” he said.

He joined the group this year, because he wanted to help other people, but he’s still struggling with what role humanism plays in his life, Larson said.

He said he thinks people need to expose themselves to a wide variety of ideologies before they know what they really believe.

“How do we know what we think is right, is actually right?” he said.