Cynthia Todd Quam lived most of her life not realizing that she was in fact a Humanist. “A few years ago,” she explained, “I ran across the American Humanist Association (AHA) and understood: That was my philosophy. That was the way I was living. When I went to one of their national conferences, I had a feeling of coming home.”
“I’ve lived in Oak Park for about 20 years,” she said, “and thought this community would be fertile ground for a chapter.” She formed a humanist group in the area.
She put the word out and pulled together six people for an initial meeting at a restaurant in Forest Park in December, 2013. Assuming that most of the interest would come from Oak Park, she was thinking about naming the fledging organization something like the Oak Park Humanist Group. To her surprise, as many of those who showed interest in the first few months were from Forest Park as her home town, so they came up with End of the Line Humanists (ELH)—alluding to the terminuses of the Blue and Green Lines—as a playful name which would also serve as a geographical marker.
“I was attracted by the idea of forming a community,” said Bobbie (not a real name). “Humanist principles highlight actions that interest me—tolerance, service to others, making the world a kinder and gentler place. I like the idea of putting positive energy into the world because it just feels right not because I fear for my soul.”
Carla Vissers said she got involved for the same reason people go to church: “To be in community with people whose belief system is similar to mine.”
“As a newcomer to the area, I’ve appreciated the chance to make new friends through ELH,” she said.
Quam said a short description of Humanists is that they are “good without a god, nonbelievers committed to living ethical and compassionate lives.”
The American Humanist Association website said, “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”
Members of ELH express ambivalence regarding organized religion. On the one hand, both Carla and Bobbie acknowledged that many good things happen in institutional churches. “There are a lot of good characteristics of traditional religions,” said Bobbie, “youth groups that teach moral values, rituals to mark life events, pot lucks and other social events, a sense of being part of a group that has similar values. . . .”
On the other hand the Forest Park resident added, “I never felt the need to join a congregation as I was very turned off by the rules put forth by specific religions. I also have been appalled, both historically and currently, by the horrors committed in the name of God.”
Much of their disappointment is directed specifically at the religious right. Quam explained, “As the 80s and 90s rolled around and the religious right got more power and started meddling in politics, my live-and-let-live take on things had to be abandoned, because I felt that now people are trying to change laws to curtail the rights of other people.”
Quam was careful to draw a distinction between humanism and atheism. Atheism, she said, is defined by what people are not. “Humanists,” she said, “are not just saying what they aren’t but also saying that they are committed to living with a code of ethics. They don’t think they need a god to be moral.”
The ELH members interviewed seemed to lean more toward agnosticism than atheism. Bobbie said, “I do not believe in the supernatural but continue to feel that I just don’t have enough information to decide what ‘god’ (aka the creator) might be.”
Quam explained, “Humanists believe in getting our information through observation and experimentation. Our view of reality and our ethics come from people as tested by experience, not handed down by a deity.”
The group volunteered at the Oak Park Public Library and has hosted several informal dinners at Forest Park eateries. They also held a birthday party for Charles Darwin last year.
Members are excited about their inaugural book club meeting Sunday, Nov. 16 at the Oak Park Library starting at 2 p.m.
“Up until now our events have been mainly social or volunteer meetings,” said Quam. “At the book club meeting will be able to discuss ideas. We haven’t had a chance to do that yet on a formal basis.”
For more information, email email@example.com or go to www.ELHumanists.org.
This article has been updated to correct the date of the book discussion group. The correct date is Sunday, Nov. 16.