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If Youth Knew, If Age Could 4 — Bridges are the Rainbows


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/01/21

Dr. Herb Silverman is the Founder of the Secular Coalition for America, the Founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, and the Founder of the Atheist/Humanist Alliance student group at the College of Charleston. He authored Complex variables (1975), Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt (2012) and An Atheist Stranger in a Strange Religious Land: Selected Writings from the Bible Belt (2017). He co-authored The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America (2003) with Kimberley Blaker and Edward S. Buckner, Complex Variables with Applications (2007) with Saminathan Ponnusamy, and Short Reflections on Secularism (2019), and Short Reflections on American Secularism’s History and Philosophy (2020).

Here we talk about technology, religion, natural philosophy, and the future.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: The foundation of the Secular Coalition for America remains a landmark apart from the smaller organizations, including the student groups, in the freethought organizational landscape. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanists International, and a few others maintain a large coalition. They have members. They have the followings. Member organizations pay membership fees. These fees get funnelled back into staff and campaigns for further work to improve the situation on the front of secular equality, freedom of thought, and freedom from religion. These are the bridges, the rainbows, to the lucky gold. The untrained enthusiasm of youth can be good in its vigour. It can be bad in its poor directionality towards a singular target for efficacy. Any lessons on channelling the energy of youth? Any notes on the importance of developing the discipline to become effective? Any commentary on going out and doing something — something concrete, specific, and reasonable — rather than wishing-it-were-so, e.g., not praying, not meditating on a wanted targeted objective, not daydreaming (as much), or passing the buck?

Dr. Herb Silverman: All 20 national member organizations of the Secular Coalition for America try to attract young people to join their organizations. Two organizations in particular focus on this: The Secular Student Alliance (SSA) and Camp Quest. SSA is dedicated to atheist, humanist, and other nontheistic students. Its goal is to empower secular students to proudly express their identity, build welcoming communities, promote secular values, and set a course for lifelong activism. Over 300 student organizations belong to the SSA, with more than 1,600 programs in schools that impact over 28,000 students. Camp Quest provides an educational summer adventure that features science, natural wonders, and humanist values. A network of Camp Quest summer camps for children and teens encourages critical thinking, skepticism and fun. Aimed at campers from the atheist, agnostic, and other secular families, Camp Quest is open to campers from all worldview backgrounds.

The Secular Coalition for America advocates for religious freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and works to bring visibility and respect for people without religious beliefs. The Secular Coalition represents its national member organizations and their hundreds of local secular groups. It joins with allies in faith communities, combining the power of grassroots activism with professional lobbying to make an impact on the laws and policies that govern the separation of religion and government. Please consider signing up with the Secular Coalition for action alerts on pending legislation. You can find all the national nontheistic member organizations of the Secular Coalition for America at

Young people are encouraged to become active within the Secular Coalition for America, as well as in local, national, and international freethought organizations. Some organizations with paid staff bring in young people as unpaid interns, giving them an opportunity to learn from the inside how an organization works. Such valuable experience can help young people become more active in their local community, and sometimes leads to future paid employment in the secular movement.

I am optimistic about the future because national surveys show that there are more young people without religion than ever before. The secular movement is growing, both formally through secular organizations and informally through “nones,” those who don’t subscribe to any faith. The “nones” are the fastest-growing demographic related to “religion,” especially among young people. According to a recent American Family survey, 35 percent of Americans said they are atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” That number grows to 44 percent for people age 18–29. I hope that those of us who identify as atheists or humanists will not only join secular organizations, but also try to give “nones” who we know a reason to join. A lot of them favour separation of religion and government and would like to help counter the influence of religion in government.

While respecting the work and value of membership organizations and coalitions, many young people are interested in making a difference by doing something good, and not just joining a non-religious group. I’ve seen this at my own own local secular humanist organization, where some younger members are not interested in our monthly lectures or book club. They show up only for charitable projects. Recent events have included picking up trash for an “Adopt a Highway” program, contributing food for a community lunch to help homeless people, volunteering at a local food bank, and assisting at a Youth Development Center. Helping others is the very essence of being a humanist. This also includes atheists and humanists who give time and money for charitable work. I hope to see all secular organizations have a charitable component.

One member organization of the Secular Coalition for America devotes itself exclusively to charitable work. The Foundation Beyond Belief is a humanist charity that promotes secular volunteering and responsible financial donations. Guided by the principles of secular humanism, the mission of Foundation Beyond Belief is to unite the humanist community in charitable efforts and advocate for compassionate action throughout the world. It is currently supporting humanist disaster recovery by raising funds for the victims of the Puerto Rico earthquakes. People of all ages may wish to contribute time or money to this worthwhile organization.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Silverman.

Previous sessions:

If Youth Knew, If Age Could 1 — Freethought for the 21st Century

If Youth Knew, If Age Could 2 — Freethought for a Multipolar World

If Youth Knew, If Age Could 3 — Coming of Age in an Ever, Ever-Irrational World


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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