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Humanism on the rise

New local group creates community for the nonreligious

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December 24th, 2013
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Humanism is on the rise in the United States.

According to a 2012 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public—and a third of adults under 30—are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.”

Until recently, many nonbelievers have felt ostracized due to their, well, non-beliefs. But that is changing, even among the smallest group of unaffiliated Americans. 

A new group at Seabrook, Erickson Living’s community in Tinton Falls, N.J., gives nonbelievers an opportunity to express their feelings and values, and to gather in a group setting. 

Balanced community

The Pew study contributes the growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans to generational replacement, “the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones.” The study found that 32% of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation, compared with just 9% of those 65 and older.

At Seabrook, the statistics sway closer to 7% of the population declaring no religious affiliation, or 98 people, according to Pastoral Ministries Manager David Bowman. That number includes residents whose religious affiliation is unknown.

“While we have very strong Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faith communities, we also have a population of nonreligious residents,” Bowman says. “The Humanist Club provides the opportunity for those who aren’t affiliated to be involved in service to one another and to support each other in a way one would find in another faith community.”

For the greater good

“The Humanist Club was essentially started by two people whose philosophy is that of secular humanism,” says club member Pat Driscoll. “It’s a place for those people who are not part of the Christian or Jewish communities to gather.”

According to the American Humanist Association (AHA), “Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity.”

At Seabrook, “not all members are atheist, though most are nonreligious,” says Pat. “But that’s not a motivating factor for most. Our approach is not to be missionaries but to help people. I’m interested in this group because we help people.”

Arthur agrees: “We’re not interested at all in dissuading people from believing in God or their beliefs. But we do know there are a lot of people who aren’t affiliated with a faith group.”

Cofounder Herb Gissen says the group, although relatively new, works to help those in the Seabrook community as well as those in the broader community. “We try to act in a compassionate way to those less fortunate,” he says. 

So far, they have conducted a survey on Seabrook residents’ views on gun control and sent the results to New Jersey Senators Jeffrey Chiesa and Bob Menendez. They have also organized group members to visit people in the community’s continuing care neighborhood to offer friendship, socialization, and even music. 

“Part of what we’re doing is carrying out ethical activities,” says Arthur. “We are in the process of thinking of activities that are directly related to people here at Seabrook.”

Room to grow

Started in October 2012, the Humanist Club meets monthly, and, according to Herb, “membership is growing bit by bit.” 

Aside from the Humanist Club, most members are involved in other activities around Seabrook. Herb and Arthur participate with the Seabrook Performers, which puts on musicals a few times a year. And Pat, a former Resident Advisory Council member and president, hosts a TV show on the in-house TV station in addition to participating with Great Decisions, a foreign affairs discussion group. 

“While we aren’t lacking for social opportunities here at Seabrook,” says Arthur, “the Humanist Club provides a social opportunity for those of us with similar beliefs and values.”

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