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Interview with Terri Hope on Humanism


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/01/22


Terri Hope is the Founder and Leader of the Grey Bruce Humanists and a former Humanist Officiant. She discusses: personal background; family and community reactions to a non-belief in God; being on the board of Humanist Canada; women in community; equal representation; the main attraction for women humanists; things to keep in mind for the secular community; the veracity of traditional arguments for God; upcoming events; demographics; humanists as atheists; kinds of atheists; fun conversations; humanism and humanitarianism; humanism and feminism; gender gap in humanism; #MeToo; substantive forms of behavior; science and ethics in humanism; and final feelings and thoughts.

Keywords: Grey Bruce Humanists, Humanism, humanist officiant, Terri Hope.

Interview with Terri Hope on Humanism: Founder and Leader, Grey Bruce Humanists; Former Humanist Officiant[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*This is a relatively accurate transcription and edit of the text, but not completely.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is personal background?

Terri Hope: I grew up with some of the practices and important values of Judaism, like education and family, but not super religious. I went to Hebrew school. By the time I was in late high school, I did not get religion. I did not understand how that could work. Then I became more interested in other things.

I had a God belief still, for a while. But then, I had to accept that I do not believe in God.

2. Jacobsen: Did family or community react when you announced this lack of belief or the belief in the non-God?

Hope: In high school, I do not think that I announced this belief. I was not as passionate about those things. I did not do any of that stuff. Besides, I moved away, from New York to Canada at age 21. I was married then. My husband was not religious either.

He was not from a religious tradition. It was not until after a while that we became somewhat interested. I did not know that there was such a thing; that there were people who talked the way I did. Then later, my husband became interested too.

We were both involved with the Humanist Association of Toronto and then on the board of Humanist Canada. In Ontario, we started up here with humanism. I did not expect anyone here. Because it is a traditional town.

3. Jacobsen: When were you working on the board Humanist Canada and orienting towards leadership within the humanist community?

Hope: I wanted a place at the table when religious groups said one thing or another. I was not much of an activist. I had a young family. I did other things as well. I was doing it for participation and for some sense of community rather than activism work.

It was for the community. I do not know if younger people with families are interested in those things because of their other responsibilities. My children are grown and have lives of their own now.

4. Jacobsen: In some of the non-religious community and noted for a long time about the religious community, women tend to have less of a say, at the table where it counts. What was it like in the earlier years coming into the humanist community?

Hope: That is true. There were fewer women. It was more men who were very serious. We tried to offer a wider range of things to do. We had groups of people visiting others who could not come for one reason or another. We tried to have movie nights.

We tried to widen the range from serious discussion groups. Now, I do not think this is a problem. Right now, we have an equal number.

5. Jacobsen: Was this a conscious effort or not?

Hope: Interesting, at one point, we talked about it. How can we get more women involved? I think adding more options to what we did not, maybe, changing the subject a little bit. There was a conscious effort to attract more women.

Because the serious and heavy topics tended to attract more women. But now, maybe because of our age and what we were involved with before, we must involve more young people. But young people may not be as interested in joining something.

We do not have things for kids. We do not attract younger people, for sure.

6. Jacobsen: What do you find as the main attraction for different women humanists now?

Hope: Women want an opportunity to get out and talk about very interesting topics that women who are out of university are not talking about as often now. They want to share food and seeing the same people across time. They want to share and learn different and interesting things.

It is very much the affiliation and community sense. It is to learn new things. When you are no longer in university and no longer need to be available to children all the time, it is wonderful to be involved with people and talk about a variety of topics and to read books. It does attract women for those reasons.

7. Jacobsen: In a secular community, what are some of the things people must keep in mind?

Hope: Lots of things, building it up here, I started with people here. I was a non-religious officiant. I asked them if they wanted to participate in a group. We do not try to convert people or encourage membership.

When someone was here one time, people who were sitting around the living room and saying, “Sure, we can try. We can find people in the area and see if they want to give  it a try.” Over the years, between 10 and 30 people are coming out to meetings, other things to keep in mind.

One of them is the non-proselytization. I like to keep it totally open. Anyone is welcome. However, if they are coming to convert us or to present their personal religious view, that really does not work because our purpose is to have people talking comfortably with one another and to not worry that they will step on someone’s toes.

What I do, if I know someone has religious beliefs, because I have no interest in converting them if they have found what works for them, I speak with them about what our meetings are about. If they want to see come, great! If they want to see what we are about, then stay on the list and see what we are up to.

If they want to continue, fabulous, it is those kinds of things that we need to be sure that our members are comfortable, because it is a place where you can be an agnostic or an atheist, or say something that is not favorable about religion and then not have to feel as if you’re insulting or not demeaning some else who finds that important or as something positive in their life.

That is important to me. There are humanists who are very stalwart about it. Religion is idiocy. We need to let people know it. I am not that. But then there are others who are questioning, “I am not too sure.” Then there is this whole spiritual thing, “I am spiritual but not religion.” I do not know what it means. It could mean crystals or some vague sense.

But they can come. Those people do not come to think God is directing everything. Do I know whether there is a God or not? Of course not, I am assuming because I have not had any experience. Science says, “The things we don’t know, we don’t know.” That is okay.

8. Jacobsen: What do you think of these traditional arguments in religions for the veracity of some intervening God?

Hope: I would probably say, “I am happy for you. That you have found that experience of a reality of a God. But that has never happened to me.” That is probably what I would say. If they say, “God cured her cancer.” I would say, ‘I would rather trust doctors and scientists than faith.” Usually, I say, “That’s good for you.”

I am probably only different with children. When you teach your child and do not allow science into the classroom, and if you teach the faith in the church as though it were fact, that, I have a problem with.

9. Jacobsen: Since you are coming into your 12th/13th year for Grey Bruce Humanists, what are some events upcoming that we can look forward to? That come humanist or secular groups could replicate where they are at.

Hope: We have those three types of programs. We have a lot of volunteers and diverse programs. We have our roster of speakers coming up through the year. Anything from elder abuse to Gretta Vosper and being an atheist minister.

We have environmental ethics or medical ethics. We have different topics throughout the year with speakers. They can come to the library on the first Wednesday of every month. The third thing that we offer, every third month or so, is a community get together. We go to a restaurant and then have a get-together, a social. It is purely social.

We donate books or magazines to the library. We make donations. It is mostly local organizations rather than Doctors Without Borders. People, at this point, can look forward to a program. We have a lot to work with here.

10. Jacobsen: In terms of the demographics for Grey Bruce Humanists, does this population tends towards the more educated and progressive?

Hope: Yes, it tends towards the educated. People who love discussing things and ethics, and politics. I think there are some who may not have a lot of formal education. But most of them do, though. They look forward to an opportunity to discuss stuff.

We do not have many people without formal education. It is an older population as well. Those who are not consumed with kids or school as parents. Our demographics do manage Grey Bruce as Grey Bruce is an older population.

We have no programs to recruit people. We really do not want to do it. Considering, it is not a city We do not need to get bigger and bigger. We are happy to have the members that find out about us. We are happy for people who find out about us through the Facebook page. We get some members through that.

But we do not work hard to get members.

11. Jacobsen: Do most humanists identify as atheists?

Hope: We have never discussed it. But I would say, “Yes.” Atheism, the word has such a bad rap. It does mean no god. It is saying, “I know there’s no god.” Fine! A lot of people are comfortable with that. I would rather say, “Yes, I am an atheist, because there is no god in my life.”

But if I were to learn later in my life that there was some overpowering force, then, maybe, I would change. I would tend to say, “No, that would not happen. It is mythology.” I can say, “I am an atheist,” but I do not go around to other people and say, “I am an atheist. I am a nonbeliever.”

I fear that it turns people off immediately when I say, “I am atheist.” I do not want to destroy the conversation before we get into it. So, that is just me, though. Other people say, “I am an agnostic,” which makes sense. That I do not know. Most humanists identify as atheists, probably.

That would be a good meeting and conversation. It would be very interesting. Thanks! [Laughing]

12. Jacobsen: It also raises a question, “What kind of atheist, to what extent?”

Hope: That would be the question. Are you an atheist that says, “There is no god”? Or do you say, “I have no evidence of there being a God?” I guess [Laughing]. It would be interesting to ask people where they are coming from. Most of us, the vast majority, have come from or grown up in a religion.

I know in Toronto. There were people who had atheist parents. But most of us have not.

13. Jacobsen: If we look at the history of science, every generation harbors a set of findings and theories to fit those findings together. But, at some point, those findings and theories with the evidence hit a certain scope or level of fidelity, based on the framework or the level of evidence.

It is those edges and level of fidelity that we find the fun conversations. Where do you see the fun conversations?

Hope: Oh yes, absolutely, I would love to dig into that. I do not know. I maybe do not know enough science to get deeply into that subject. I tend to say, “I don’t know,” and then live with the “I don’t know.” Or I would choose to find a scientist on that subject that I respect and who has spent many years studying the subject and then go with them on it, rather than make a statement on my own.

My husband may have some different things to say about it. There are some interesting questions about science.

14. Jacobsen: Do humanists tend to be more interested in humanitarian efforts?

Hope: I would say, “Yes.” Remember, not all members identify as humanists, I do. Are they interested in compassion, giving, and sharing? I would say, “Yes.” Most of them tend to be more left of center or interested in the legislation guarding poor people, immigrants, refugees. We do have a few conservative new members.

You will find some of the conservative new members are atheists and not humanists. Rob Buckman was part of a “Can you be good without God?” presentation. It was with pastors, priests, and rabbis, and Bob was a humanist.

Someone from the Evangelical Right said, “Stalin was an atheist.” But Rob Buckman said, “But he was not a humanist” [Laughing].

Jacobsen: Most Germans in the 1940s were Christian, the vast majority.

Hope: Oh sure!

Jacobsen: It amounts to saying, “There is no true German Christian,” or no true Scotsman. It amounts to a logical fallacy in the assertion.

Hope: It is interesting how we define ourselves in so many ways. How we mesh politically, because of how we define humanism, we are interested in animal rights. But our vegan members would say, “We are not interested enough as we eat meat.” So, you have a lot of acceptable ways to be a humanist.

15. Jacobsen: Given the present politics with a sprinkling or a peppering of conservatives, do most humanists ally with feminist viewpoints, policy recommendations, and so on?

Hope: We have several members who would not call themselves feminists and who become annoyed with some of the MeToo stuff. The majority, particularly the women, are aware of those issues and would identify with it.

We are talking about caring. We are talking about compassion. We are talking about equity. We are talking about kindness. So, how do you treat a woman or a refugee, anyone struggling? If you are a humanist, you care about those things.

If you do not care about those things, you may be an atheist, but you may not be a humanist.

16. Jacobsen: What is the explanatory gap or filter for the gender-based split between humanism and feminism? Men are far less likely to be than women.

Hope: Yes, I think experience or the typically privileged groups have not experienced what it feels like to be a female in our culture. Some have gone to fabulous heights and others are trapped in male domination. More women are thinking about these issues.

If women come together and talk about what happened to them, and feeling about them, they can talk about things. They can say, “I can’t believe that we actually put up with that.” Men have not experienced that. Tonight, we will be having a meeting talking about the “Baby it’s cold outside” phenomenon or the Christmas card of the man with the tape over the family member’s mouths. He is saying how peaceful Christmas comes from this.

So many things that are “ha, ha, ha,” funny are not now. We are talking more about it. We are not accepting being treated as a lesser being. It is talking about it. Those of us who are older are. What accounts for the gap between men and women, and they are older, they are probably used to a world of comfort and not having been used to not walking around in a position of power.

They do not see their endemic privilege. Of course, white people have the same issue. I am a white person. Do we recognize our privilege as white people? We should! Because that is a very big issue. Any black person can talk to you about what it means to walk the streets as a black person, and how different that is.

If we have not experienced something, then the more likely we are to hold onto our privilege. It may go unrecognized.

17. Jacobsen: If we look to the earlier portion of that response, the #MeToo phenomenon starting from Tarana Burke in 2006. The statistics are only 8%, which is relatively high even in the other ranges given in terms of false claims [ed. False rape claims at 8%]. There, yes, may be the Rolling Stone case.

Hope: I do not think there is any question about there being false claims. But there are far more women who have never made claims about what has happened to them than ones who have made claims and are making false claims.

The ones who are out for some money and to get some guy back. I am sure that they happen. But just as women claim who have been sexually abused, I am sure there is a false memory. But is that the highest percentage? No, I do not think so.

Jacobsen: I would go back to two basic sources. One is the FBI with only 12.5 to 1 being false claims. Then the World Health Organization having 1/3 women having sexual or physical violence in their lifetime.

Hope: Oh, my heavens, it goes so much further than that. In my own case, a friend’s father; in my own case, a man got into my car and starts fondled my legs. Neither of them really hurts me, but they did scare the living daylights out of me.

They never really hurt me. I never went after them. If this happened today, I would be at the police station. My mother would never. I would say millions of women. When women get together, they talk about those things. They never report it.

Not trivial things too, because they did not damage us for life, but they did affect us. [Laughing] There is a feeling of entitlement. We have not studied male sexuality to really understand male sexuality and, particularly, young men. [Laughing] Well, no we have plenty of examples of them too.

But we do not want to do that. Because we do not want to pretend, we are them. Because we are not! My husband and I have been married for 50 years. [Laughing] So, it is not like I am anti-male. But they have their bit. The endless, endless examples of male privilege and feeling of privilege as an entitlement. Yes, absolutely!

Do all men acknowledge it, I do not think so? Not all, some do.

18. Jacobsen: Does the acknowledgment come in the more substantive form of behavior or only in the signifiers of words?

Hope: It would be saying, “You know, we’re not all bad. He went overboard.” I do not know. In the humanist group, it will be different. On Fox News, it will be different. I thought that when I saw Donald Trump make his statement about grabbing women that that would be it. I thought he would be finished.

When he made fun of the person with Cerebral Palsy, I thought, “He’s finished.” But he was not. What is the evidence? In our groups, the evidence of that would be a little more speaking out, “Come one, you’re going too far with that.”

Some strong women would say, “You can say that. But this is what happened to me.”

19. Jacobsen: Given the linkage of science and evidence with ethics in humanism, how can this new wave of information that may be novel to many, many men of women’s experiences in general with men in their lives create or inform new ethic and behavior question in humanist groups?

Hope: You start introducing this in elementary school. Being kind to people, being considerate of people and not just girls and women, all people should be treated respectfully and fairly. You start that in elementary school.

Boys start growing up understanding their own proclivities. I can say. Males are programmed to spread the seed from the time that they are 16. They will be looking for opportunities. Girls need to understand that. Boys need to understand that and need to fulfill those needs that are not assaulting girls.

That is a really, big question. I think it has a lot to do with education, teachers, and parents. Parents sometimes do not know as they do not have a glimpse of that. It is going to be a generational thing to start, right now, with little kids. It is to treat all people well.

I mean, the same technique used with teaching kids about handling people who are different than you: the other. Gay people who are very often teased in school. That should never be tolerated. No teacher should tolerate it if he or she hears it. But it was.

So, it is all part, to me, of learning to be a decent human being.

20. Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?

Hope: I wish there was more of it. If there were more discussions like this in the mainstream, if we had a place at the table in the media more and could help people understand where we are coming from, it is not to destroy their history of Christianity and whatever traditions.

It is not to destroy their whole way of life, but to introduce and to induce a more compassionate future. But it does not sell.

Jacobsen: People want magic in the same way they want easy answers, ethically, scientifically, and otherwise.

Hope: Yeah, I guess you are right. I can see how fun it would be to believe in magic. But somehow, I do not have that gene. I think 7% of us are like this. It should start very early. It is harder. You lose out on certain things. But I do not believe for any of that stuff and do not see any evidence for it.

So, what can I do about that?

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

Hope: [Laughing] You’re very welcome.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder and Leader, Grey Bruce Humanists; Former Humanist Officiant.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 22, 2019:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2019:


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


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