Interfaith dialogue serves community, especially non-believers

What value is there for interfaith dialogue between religious believers and non-believers? What can non-believers, secular humanists do to create positive impact in our community?

Chelsee Bente, Associate Director of Student Conduct, at California State Channel Islands asked for The Humanist Community of Ventura County (HCoVC) support by participating in a day of dialogue event around student and community activism on April 21, 2017.

This post is interview with HCoVC, co-founder, Paul Schmeer, several days after Mr. Schmeer spoke at interfaith panel on behalf of HCoVC.

Tell us about your experience as a guest speaker on the Interfaith Panel?

“HCoVC is a ‘non-prophet’” I said introducing our organization to the CSUCI audience, who might not be familiar with humanism or us.

HCoVC is for anybody who is not part of a traditional religious congregation.” I said, “Our humanist community is for anyone interested in connecting and serving around secular humanist ideals (which I will tell you what we believe and don’t believe in a minute).

We have common interests with the faith-based community and HCoVC has worked together on community service projects. We directly serve our local communities in various ways”.

[Editor: See the HCoVC Activities page for list of many community service projects and social events open to the public.]

Humanists, do not believe in a supernatural savior, and do believe that humanity is responsible for sustaining the world for us now and for future generations. No savior will bail us out. We are all in this together so “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

Humanist take their cues from the Age of Enlightenment and  we emphasize evidence based reasoning, critical thinking and holding our leaders accountable to the people (not the other way around).  The motto of that age was Sapere aude, the Latin phrase meaning “Dare to know”; and also is loosely translated as “Dare to be wise”, or even more loosely as “Dare to think for yourself!”.

I mentioned to the audience the recent changes in U.S. federal law with the International Religious Freedom Act and the Department of Defense acknowledging non-believers, specifically Humanists, for the first time in our nation’s history.


Tell us which religious groups and leaders attended the panel and how you felt they accepted or rejected HCoVC presence in the discussion?

I could tell it was a diplomatic chore for a couple of the panelists to have me included but it also added a dimension to the discussions that was thought provoking and long overdue. A couple staff said afterwards that they were very glad to have the Humanist perspective.

The panelists were:

Dr. Janice Daurio (panel moderator), Philosophy Professor, St. Joseph’s Seminary Camarillo

Rabbi Michael Lotker, Community Rabbi for the Jewish Federation of Ventura County

Reverend Alyssa De Wolf, First Congregational Church Santa Barbara

Tim Helton, Director of the Ventura County Interfaith Network

Betty Stapleford, Universalist Unitarian of Santa Paula

Paul Schmeer (myself), Humanist Community of Ventura County (HCoVC)

All panelists were courteous and diplomatic.

Did the speakers on the panel (or anyone in the audience) acknowledge the value of a secular group and of humanist activism in our local community?

There was little, if any, feedback or questions from the audience for any of the panel speakers. I don’t think the audience had the opportunity to ask questions because of time constraints for the panel discussion portion of the day.

Tell us how much value you feel there is in secular humanists or HCoVC participating in interfaith events. On a scale of 1-10. 10 being high, 1 low, what rating would you give these kinds of interfaith events for secular humanists?

In my opinion, participation in interfaith events is an eight. Secular organizations do a disservice when they avoid diplomatically interacting with clergy who are often seen as leaders within the community and religious congregations.

How else will secular humanists demonstrate openly that we are approachable, kind, and reasonable? Maybe even good partners and allies for many of the same aims we share? How else will we help others see that it’s Ok to vote for non-religious candidates in public elections? We need to show, in person, by example, that we have much in common with religious congregations in that we too are people who are moral, just, and seek the common good of community.

By interacting with local religious congregations the HCoVC has gained allies and shared resources, such to serve our community. In the process we have positively impressed and influenced many people within our community who have religious worldviews.

Thank you, Paul, for participating in the Interfaith Panel at CSUCI on behalf of secular humanists and HCoVC.

Question for readers: What value is there for interfaith dialogue between religious believers and non-believers?

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