The Humanist Community Project’s Perspective on Service
Posts on Service can be found here.
The Humanist Community Project, in keeping with the third Humanist Manifesto, “affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” This affirmation is the foundation of our strong ethic of service, and we strive to support members of our community in engaging in various types of service.
Service to Self | When people think of service, they usually think of service to others; however, it is difficult to serve others effectively without first taking care of oneself. In order to make the most of this one short life, it is important to be good stewards of our bodies and our minds. Health, in the fullest sense of the word, is thus an important value for many Humanists. Eating right, sleeping well, and exercising regularly are all ways in which Humanists can practice their values by nurturing their own well-being. Some Humanists also integrate contemplative practices, such as meditation or yoga, into their self-care routines. The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard includes optional yoga and meditation sessions (without the supernaturalism sometimes associated with such practices) in our Sunday programming. We encourage groups elsewhere to consider similar or equivalent programs.
Service to Family and Friends | Humanists (like all humans) find meaning in relationships, and nurturing the important relationships in our lives is a central Humanist value. The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard seeks to support these relationships by offering a space where its members can discuss their most deeply held beliefs, meet other people who share their values, and deepen their existing relationships. We also provide childcare during some of our Sunday programs, in an effort to allow families to participate together, and to introduce children to some of the ideas and values of Humanism. We hope to encourage more such practices locally and nationally in the months and years to come.
Service to the HCH Community and the Humanist / Secular Movement | Our community derives its strength from its members; the more we all participate in and contribute to our community, the more vibrant and enriching it will be for us. There are many ways to get involved, both as a participant and a volunteer leader. Of course, the Humanist Community Project also needs financial support—we are funded entirely by donations from people who value our work. If you value participating in our community, please consider giving what you can. In addition, we encourage members of our community to support the broader Humanist and Secular Movements, including organizations like the Secular Coalition for America.
Service to the Local Community | Community service is a priority for many Humanists who are inspired by their beliefs to serve others. Since we believe that there is no afterlife and no God to fix our problems for us, we feel compelled to do everything we can to make this life as fulfilling as it can be for ourselves and our fellow humans. Many members of our community do service work on their own, but serving alongside others who share your values can be a doubly rewarding experience. To this end, the Humanist Community Project organizes monthly service projects which members are encouraged to attend. We strongly encourage other local groups to explore similar programming, perhaps by working with our partners, Volunteers Beyond Belief.
Service to Humanity | Many Humanists also feel compelled to serve the world beyond their local communities. Some do this by donating money to causes they believe in. Some Humanists are uncomfortable donating to religiously affiliated charities; fortunately, there are very many secular charities that would make excellent use of your gift. The Humanist Community Project encourages its members and supporters to consider donating to Foundation Beyond Belief, an excellent organization dedicated to finding secular charities working on a variety of challenges in the world, from human rights and poverty to environmentalism and animal welfare, and more. Others are able to travel to do hands-on work in communities around the world, and we support these efforts as well. Our Harvard Humanist Graduate Community student group goes on an annual service trip to somewhere that needs our help. We also recognize one student member of our community for outstanding charitable work each year with the Service to Humanity Award. We consider political activism to be service to humanity.
Values in Action (VIA) at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard (HCH)
Values in Action, or VIA, is the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard’s interfaith and community service initiative. VIA began as a pilot program in November of 2010 with the creation of HCH’s inaugural Interfaith and Community Service Fellow position. In less than one year, the first ever program dedicated to interfaith and community service at a Humanist or atheist organization has already yielded significant and unusual results. As just one example: In September of 2011, HCH led an interfaith event in which nearly 200 people of diverse religious and nonreligious identities wrote hundreds of letters urging legislators to support famine relief and packaged over 10,000 meals for food-insecure children. The event was covered in print, television, and online media both locally and around the United States, showcasing the importance of this work to people in our community and beyond.
But we’ve only just begun. On the momentum of a successful year, we are ready to take this program to the next level with the launch of VIA.
According to Merriam-Webster, the word via means “by way of; through.” This definition gets at the heart of VIA’s three-fold goal—to better the conditions of life for others through service to humanity, build alliances between religious and nonreligious individuals and communities, and combat the misconception that the nonreligious do not contribute to society—in that via nods to the idea that we do not engage in service merely to benefit others, but because it also accomplishes many different kinds of social good when done in thoughtful ways.
We recognize the importance of social action in the here and now, and that it is a good in and of itself. By rooting this collaborative action to benefit others in shared values across lines of difference, we also aspire to achieve mutual understanding and tolerance between those with different—and often opposing—metaphysical convictions. In addition, by providing opportunities for Humanists to act upon their values, both as a community of Humanists and in cooperation with people of faith—we demonstrate that the stereotype of nontheists as immoral is false.
This program works in tandem with the Humanist Community Project because it has the potential to model to other Humanist communities why interfaith and philanthropic action has value, and ways of initiating it.
We are currently engaged in one large scale community service event a month—focusing on environmental sustainability, hunger, and homeless LGBT youth—along with other opportunities for philanthropic work and interfaith dialogue (including a week-long spring break service trip for students to work with homeless LGBT youth in Los Angeles), and we are looking to continue to sustain the rapid growth of this program and other programs like it.