Humanist Voices is the official publication of International Humanist Ethical Youth Organization (IHEYO), bringing news and opinion from Humanists around the world.
IHEYO is the youth section and non-profit umbrella of International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) to which Humanist Alliance Philippines, International (HAPI) has been a member organization since 2015. It serves as the connecting link between Humanist organizations with young members of different countries.
Humanist Voices editor Scott Douglas Jacobsen recently sat down with Michael Sherman, AICP, HAPI Vice-Chairman and International Liaison Officer to know the Florida-based city planner’s story of transition to the secular Humanistic way of life. Michael Sherman is the up-and-coming face of godless but good leadership.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen:
When it comes to religion or irreligion, what was your family background in it?
I was raised a Roman Catholic in the American South. Mom was raised a Southern Baptist and dad was raised a Catholic. So, I actually had influences from both denominations; however, we attended Mass regularly and only went to the Baptist church when we visited friends who were Baptists. In college, I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints known as the Mormon Church.
How does personal background feed into this as well?
My journey to Humanism and Agnosticism took a number of years. So, as you will see by my answer to the first question I was involved in two cults, the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church.
My move toward Humanism was also influenced by a third cult that I was involved in. This cult was called Straight, Incorporated. It was a very controversial behavior modification program that touted itself as a drug rehabilitation program for kids and young adults that promised to “fix” your child from drug use and to change any adolescent behavior that parents did not like. Straight was actually a money-making organization that brought in over $100,000,000 paid for by parents and insurance companies during its 17-year history. The “therapy” offered was totally provided by children and former clients who were themselves still children. There were almost no medical professionals working in the organization. Think of ‘Lord of the Flies’. The treatment methods Straight used were modeled after North Korean thought reform and brainwashing techniques on American GI’s during the Korean War. This included housing us in large, metal buildings up to 350 kids sitting in chairs for up to 20 hours a day, depriving us of sleep, food, water, medical care, schooling and any actual human care. We were subjected to beatings, harassment, rape, group verbal attacks, endless group thought reform, constant singing and physical intimidation. Our minds were never or rarely left to think on our own. It is very difficult to explain how it was in the program unless a person actually witnessed or lived it. For the most part, the organization’s higher-ups were Christians of some sort, and while Christianity was not the main emphasis, we did sing Christian songs. This caused my first questioning of religion and Christianity. I remember thinking, “If these people were Christians, why are they treating us like this? I moved away from Mormonism and ultimately left the Church as I began to study and learn more about the Church, its leaders and its teachings. I am somewhat a liberal-progressive, and the Mormon Church definitely leans hard to the right and has strong authoritarian beliefs.
How has religion influenced you personally?
I went through the motions as a child, but I really can’t say that it influenced me for the good. My parents taught me how to be a Humanist by their examples; however, they did not call themselves Humanists. Both my parents are practicing Christians. As an adult, religion has influenced my attitudes and beliefs in a way that has made me want to have nothing to do with it. I see in the American Fundamentalist religions nothing that would want me to be a part of it, and I see nothing of the teachings of their Christ. Although I read ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and have been able to glean some good from it. Sadly, the passages in those sermons are not practiced by many Christians.
When did Humanism become a practical reality for you?
I think I have been a Humanist longer than I knew what defines a Humanist. By education and practice, I am a geographer and a city planner. This career choice has allowed me to practice Humanism daily. In the later parts of my career, much of my focus as a planner has been on the grassroots, bottoms-up planning efforts like the development of neighborhoods, development of community garden programs, and outreach to minority communities and underserved areas. So, Humanism became a practical reality for me in 1987 at the start of my career as a city planner, although I had no idea what Humanism was then.
How did you find the Humanist community?
I was officially introduced to Humanism by social networking and the Humanist Alliance Philippines, International.
What were some of your early involvements in the community?
My early involvement in the Humanist community as a Humanist took place in June 2016 when I attended the Asian Humanism Conference in Manila which was hosted by HAPI.
How do people tend to come to the Humanist community and become involved early on in their work?
Humanism fulfills a need for many people to do work for the betterment of humankind as well as for non-human animals. The Humanists who I know are all in for Humanism with a great passion. The members of HAPI and the groups and organizations that we align ourselves with are leading by example.
How does HAPI provide for the needs of the community in the Philippines?
Responding to that question could take all day as HAPI is the leading organization of Humanist efforts in the Philippines. Our programs focus on the betterment of all people in the Republic of the Philippines. We do this through our Kids NutriCamp (nutrition campaign), SHADE (Secular Humanist Advocacy Development & Education) program, ARK (Acts of Random Kindness) project, and the way our members live their daily lives. Some of the most amazing and selfless humans I have met are from HAPI.
What makes a good Humanist?
The first thought that comes to my mind is a person who practices humility and kindness in their daily affairs, a person who recognizes that it is possible to do good in this world without a belief or need for a god or book of rules (i.e. the Bible). I think the optimal word here is “practice”. Humanism is not only a belief system but also a way of acting and interacting with this world. Humanism is a belief system in action.
How can people become involved in Humanism?
Start with being the change that you want to see in this world. Practice kindness. Practice humility. Follow the Golden Rule: treat others as you would want to be treated. Again, my belief is that Humanism isn’t just a way of thinking; Humanism is a way of action, a way to live one’s life. Also, I would recommend that someone interested in Humanism find a group of like-minded people. Come visit our webpage, www.hapihumanist.org. We are always looking for new members who are interested in learning more about Humanism, and those who are confirmed Humanists and practice a Humanist lifestyle.
Action. Be the change you want this world to be. Humanism starts with individuals.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Michael.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen has interviewed many Humanists from HAPI, including its Founder and Chairperson Emeritus Marissa Torres-Langseth and other key officers and notable members.
See the original publication of this interview here.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
- Founder and Editor-in-Chief of In-Sight Journal
- Editor of Canadian Science
- Science and human rights supporter
“The greatest benefit is implied with all working together for communal change, in harmony.”