Last week, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick officially declared that Sunday, December 8 would be “Humanist Community Day” in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
This was a historic moment for Humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the nonreligious—not just in Massachusetts, but across the United States. To my knowledge it is the only proclamation ever released by a governmental authority in the U.S. specifically acknowledging “Humanists, atheists, agnostics and the nonreligious.” (And, as others have noted since the proclamation was released, it is likely the only one that recognizes atheists and, amusingly, ends with the phrase “God Save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”)
The closing paragraph is among my favorite parts of the proclamation. (Though it truly is worth a full read.)
“[I] urge all the citizens of the Commonwealth to welcome the Humanist Hub into the mosaic of our broader community, acknowledging, in the spirit of friendship and respect, that its members can contribute positively to the Commonwealth’s proud tradition of pluralism.”
Friendship and respect were on full display on Sunday, as “Humanist Community Day” coincided with the opening of our brand new (though still a work in progress) community center in the heart of Harvard Square, the Humanist Hub. Humanists, atheists, agnostics—and, true to the pluralistic spirit of Gov. Patrick’s proclamation, many religious people as well—came together yesterday to celebrate the opening of this center, among the first of its kind in both size and mission.
After months of long days and late nights transforming this space into a community center—taking down walls, putting in new floors, building furniture, and much more—it was rewarding to see people fill just about every square foot the center. And, just when I thought there wasn’t room for any more, even more people arrived. Hundreds of nonreligious people and religious allies came out to see our new center and celebrate the significance of a physical space for Boston’s nonreligious community.
Speakers at yesterday’s launch event included bestselling authors Daniel Dennett, Deborah Feldman, and our own Greg Epstein, and between talks the Humanist Hub’s house band played songs while people ate food and interacted with friends old and new. Additionally, visitors had an opportunity to walk around the center and visit our offices. For those who were not already members of our community, this was an opportunity to learn about the many programs HCH offers. Vanessa Zoltan, Director of the Humanist Learning Lab (our “secular Sunday school”), told guests about this educational and inspirational program for children, as did Learning Lab teachers and existential counseling interns Anne van Gent and Lindsay van Dijk.
HCH’s Values in Action Fellow Zach Cole and I spoke with people about our active interfaith dialogue and community service programs—and later Zach took a moment to honor our Values in Action committee members, a diverse group of volunteers who work with Zach and I on planning HCH’s interfaith and community service programs, by giving them plants in thanks for how they have helped our community grow. Sarah Chandonnet, HCH’s Program Director, spoke with visitors about our upcoming public events and how they could get involved in our community, and Sonia David and Matt Lowe—student interns with our organization—helped visiting students learn more about how they can get involved and connect with the broader community in the new center. Greg Epstein and I, who serve as Harvard’s Humanist Chaplains, asked visitors how this community can best support their needs and shared information about counseling resources.
Jade Meshesha, who supports many of our organization’s administrative needs, was working nonstop to ensure the launch event ran smoothly—as were so many of our tireless staff and enthusiastic community members who served as volunteers. And that’s the biggest thing that I took away from yesterday: It was clear to me and so many others that this is a community that genuinely cares about one another and about ensuring that the nonreligious have resources like this.
It was a exhilarating day that left me feeling convinced that vibrant communities like this should exist all across the U.S. and around the world—that interested Humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the nonreligious should have spaces to gather, to reflect, and to act on their values. A place to join together in appreciating life’s joys and tackling its challenges. A place to be in community. An address.
As the day came to a close, my colleague Sarah and I kicked off a series of toasts. In mine, I thanked those present for shattering stereotypes. In a world that says that religious differences necessarily lead to conflict, and that atheists don’t need, or want—or deserve—community, this diverse and passionate group of atheists, agnostics, the nonreligious, and religious allies demonstrated that those things couldn’t be further from the truth.
The grand opening of the Humanist Hub filled me with hope for a time when communities of Humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the nonreligious all around the world have spaces of our own to gather, and to stand alongside our religious peers for the common good. That time is coming. Let’s get building!