The following is adapted from the "Growing Up Humanist" panel held on Sunday, May 29, 2016, at the 75th Annual Conference of the American Humanist Association. The panel featured all four authors and was moderated by Humanist Editor in Chief Jennifer Bardi.
GROWING UP HUMANIST ISN'T EXACTLY EASY. In fact, it can be downright confusing. At a time of self-discovery and nearing the end of our adolescence, we're stuck with the added burden of defending our philosophies against our religiously conservative counterparts. Just when we think it would be easier to hide our true selves than to face the scrutiny of our peers, we remember that we're getting to grow up humanist. We've been given the rare opportunity to start out in this world learning and understanding what freethought really means--and to be provided with a strong set of morals and life lessons to guide us.
MODERATOR: George Bernard Shaw said, "Youth is wasted on the young." And, of course, that's a wise and jealous way of saying that young people fail to see how lucky they are with all their physical and intellectual energy, their optimism, passion, the absence of jadedness (and wrinkles), and the many decades of life they have stretching out before them in which they can realize their dreams and goals. However, I think another way to see this is actually courtesy of The Who's Pete Townsend--the kids are alright.
Now, as humanists we often bond over and never tire of stories about people's paths to humanism. Typically these involve a break from religion, whether it be a dramatic or sometimes painful split, or an evolution in thinking that culminates in enlightenment and a feeling of liberation from the constraints of one's previous religious life. But I think we often forget that not everyone has had such a dramatic experience and that some people who call themselves humanists have always done so.
This a special opportunity to hear from lifelong humanists, and even more exciting, from young humanists who embody all the energy and curiosity and sincerity of youth. They're in that stage of life that's optimal for learning, but I think they have a lot to teach as well. So let's meet them.
ANYA STEINBERG: I'm Anya. I'm sixteen, I go to Hopkins High School near Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I grew up humanist. It wasn't so much that humanism was a big part of my life--I just knew that I was a humanist. But my mom gave me a choice to explore other religions, and once I'd seen what other people did with their religions, I concluded that humanism was the best choice for me.
TAN I HALE: My name is Tani, and I've been attending American Humanist Association conferences since I was something like twelve months old. I've seen a lot of staff come and go, I've followed my mom [AHA President Rebecca Hale] and [AHA Director of Development and Communications] Maggie Ardiente around and played under the EvolveFISH table. My parents gave me a choice to be who I was, but they didn't give me a choice about coming to conferences, which have almost always fallen on my birthday. Looking back, I can see that I've had richer experiences than just pony-themed birthday parties.
It's been a huge part of my life even if people at my school don't know it's a huge part of my life. I will say I've gotten more comfortable talking about it after my mom told me to grow a backbone.
HALLEY NOON: I'm Halley Noon. I'm seventeen years old and, like Tani, I live in Colorado Springs. I attend Cheyenne Mountain High School, which isn't exactly open and accepting of different people, like humanists and whatnot. I've grown up not only playing with Tani under the EvolveFISH table and going to conferences, but also in a home of recovering Catholics. When my grandpa was in his forties, he revealed that he was sexually abused by someone in the church. That really impacted my family of hard Irish Catholics. In his career as a lawyer, he made efforts to make churches pay taxes and to expose sexual abuse in churches committed by people in power.
So I not only grew up wearing funny atheist t-shirts, I also grew up in a home where it was made clear that we didn't need a holy book to teach us good morals or show us how to do good things. My mother always made it a point to do good without the expectation of reward. And that has shaped who I am today, not only as a vegan but also as a humanist.
BEN NIOSE: My name is Ben Niose. I'm sixteen years old and I go to the Bancroft School in Massachusetts. It's a very liberal school, so I don't really face any discrimination for being nonreligious or humanist. I'd say the majority of kids there are nonreligious. I've been involved with the American Humanist Association for a while--my dad, David Niose, used to be president.
When I was really young, I went to church (I didn't like going). But sometime around fourth grade, I learned about humanism and I decided to accept it as my own [philosophy].