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Would You Be My Neighbour? 1: Door’s Open


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2022/01/15


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), Short Reflections on American Secularism’s History and Philosophy (2020), and Short Reflections on Age and Youth (2020). He discusses: the series; future directions as the perspective; who would have been great guests, who are dead; the ordinariness of a secular humanist philosophy; and a statement or enticement for others to join us.

Keywords: blue collar, Christopher Hitchens, ethics, Fred Rogers, Herb Silverman, Humanism, morality, no collar, Secular Humanism, Thomas Paine, white collar.

Would You Be My Neighbour? 1: Door’s Open

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

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: “Would You Be My Neighbour?” is named in honour of an advocate of kindness, fairness, and compassion in the United States: Fred Rogers. I posed this as a collaborative series while kept with core conversations between you and me. In short, we have discussions, invite guests, and publish the results. The focus would be less about theory and philosophy of Secular Humanism, and more about the daily life of Secular Humanism. There’s a lot of science fiction discussions about Transhumanism, post-Humanism, neo-Humanism, or tired talk about church and state separation, and the like, though intriguing on the former and important politically and socially on the latter. I work at a stable. I work with horses 7 days per week sunrise to sunset. I consider this one of the biggest blind spots in the enactment of the ethic. People can go online, debate, argue, tweet, TikTok, chat on Facebook, take part in WhatsApp encrypted secular groups all over the world, and take part in academic philosophical discussions, or make declarations (or renewals thereof), so on and so forth. But that’s not really the main deal and never has been with Secular Humanism, for me. The ‘blue collar’ is ignored for the ‘white collar’ academicism of secular humanist thought; the human rights activism can triumph in attention due to its grand intents over daily acts of magnanimity.  The more visceral world: You lose your hair and grow hair in weird(er) places, get pimples (again) and ingrown hairs, acquire stretch marks and deep seated wrinkles and fine lines, start wearing glasses, lose sharpness of mind and physique, add a few pounds here and there, decline in height and muscle mass and bone density, lose teeth and get more stained teeth, care less about fashion trends, get a decline in virility… you know, aging. The world of the everyday, the ordinary, where, in fact, the reality of our greatest sphere of humanist influence could possibly exist. So, blah blah blah, what is the hope or expectation in this collaborative endeavour for the ongoing work together in this series for you?

Dr. Herb Silverman[1],[2]: I guess I’m considered a “white collar” rather than a “blue collar” person because I am an academician who enjoys philosophical discussions about secular humanism. In truth, I’m a “no collar” person, since I mostly wear T-shirts that I got from running in races, or T-shirts that I wear to promote secular humanism. I agree with you that we need to expand our base and find ways to reach the “common man” and “common woman,” many of whom are humanists who have never heard about humanism. A limited way I engage with such people is through common interests in other areas, including concerns about the environment, civil rights, education, health, and charity work. I often try to bring humanism into the conversation, showing why it is consistent with the issues they care about. My expectation in this collaborative effort is to hear how others are reaching out to potential humanists and then try to follow their lead.

Jacobsen: If we take the perspective of future directions, we can explore some of the more high-falutin’ material within secular humanist philosophy, while grounding this in the item of most import to me: The banalizing of it, making it everyday, humdrum, ordinary, normative. What are some topics of interest to you? Those with which every secular humanist must become acquainted to protect the way of life, the lifestance. 

Silverman: What every secular humanist needs to know is that our U.S. Constitution grants us freedom of religion, which must include freedom from religion. When religion is discussed in public, it’s okay to say we have no god beliefs. We should not belittle the religious beliefs of others. That is not the way to make friends and influence people. Better to be a role model based on what we do, rather than what we say.

Jacobsen: Who is dead, but would have made a great guest? Why them?

Silverman: Christopher Hitchens, whom I had the pleasure of knowing, would have made a great guest. He was a member of the Advisory Board of the Secular Coalition for America. He  could discuss and give good arguments on just about any subject. His book, god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, deservedly became a best seller. A lesser known but terrific book of his is The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Hitchens was a true contrarian, with a sharp wit, who could easily get to the heart of the matter. One of his best known quotes, referred to as “Hitchens’s razor” is, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” I hope Hitchens wasn’t thinking of my autobiography, published in 2007, when he said in 1997: “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” In 1992, long before Donald Trump decided to run for president, Hitchens commented about Trump, “Nobody is more covetous and greedy than those who have far too much.” Richard Dawkins said of Hitchens, “He was a polymath, a wit, immensely knowledgeable, and a valiant fighter against all tyrants, including imaginary supernatural ones.”

Thomas Paine, from a much earlier era, would have been a very good guest. Paine has a claim to the title “The Father of the American Revolution,” due to his inspiring pamphlets, especially Common Sense. In 1776 it was the all-time best-selling American title and aroused the demand for American independence from Great Britain. Many phrase in Common Sense became part of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. In The Age of Reason and other writings, Paine argued against institutionalized religions in general and the Christian doctrine in particular. He thought that Deism should replace all revelation-based religion. At the time, as well as now, such words were rather unpopular among Christians and politicians. I visited the Tom Paine Printing Press in England, and purchased a framed quote of his that now hangs on my condo wall: “My country is the world. My religion is to do good.” If I could talk to Paine today, I would ask if he would have switched from Deism to atheism in light of what we now know about evolution and the Big Bang, showing that no creator was necessary.

Jacobsen: Who might embody the ordinariness of a secular humanist philosophy to you?

Silverman: The many “nones,” people who are religiously unaffiliated. They are the fastest growing “religious” demographic in the U.S. They are not all secular humanists, but a significant percentage are and many others are secular humanists without knowing it. A lot of “nones” have examined the available evidence and stopped believing in any gods.

Jacobsen: For those who might be interested in this new educational collaborative discussion series, what would be your statement or enticement for them to join us?

Silverman: I think it is a good idea for us to collaborate and pick up new ideas and ways of explaining things about secular humanism. It is always beneficial to communicate with other secular humanists. We inspire one another in our work to improve society.

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

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder, Secular Coalition for America; Founder, Secular Humanists of the Low Country; Founder, Atheist/Humanist Alliance, College of Charleston.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 15, 2022:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2022:


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