Ukrainian Refugee Assistance Project

Ukraine flag

HumanistsMN members are sponsoring a refugee family from Ukraine under the U.S. government’s Uniting for Ukraine (U4U) program. The sponsorship team set a goal to raise $15,000 to pay for airfare as well as housing, food, clothing and other living-related expenses over a two to three-month transition to self-sufficiency. Generous donors, members and friends of our humanist community, have stepped up and we’ve now exceeded that goal through direct donations and our Go-Fund-Me campaign.

Our sponsorship team made a commitment to a young couple with a 5-year old child living in Odessa. They have now arrived in the Twin Cities. and are getting acclimated. Temporary housing is being provided by their HumanistMN host family located in the north metro – see the September newsletter for further details.

U4U provides a legal pathway for Ukraine refugees to move to the United States to live and work for a period of two years. Beneficiary families must have a sponsor that agrees to provide them with financial support, find them temporary housing, and connect them with many other services during a two-to-three month period until they can become self-sufficient. 


Over the past year, the war in Ukraine has destroyed cities, separated families, and forced 25% of the population to leave their homes. 8 million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries, while 6 million are internally displaced. 

Many Ukraine refugees have lost everything: homes, possessions, livelihoods, and loved ones. When they resettle, they need assistance to get established with housing, employment, healthcare, education, etc. In many cases, as in this one, they may need to become proficient in English before they can be employed. Our HumanistsMN team will work with social service agencies to connect them to these essentials.

The HumanistsMN team is being advised by Alight, formerly the American Refugee Committee, as it undertakes this project. Alight has introduced the team to local social service agencies providing refugee services. The Ukrainian-American Community Center is deeply involved in supporting these services as well.

Donations will support the family. Any remaining funds will be used to support other displaced families in Ukraine, either through further sponsorships or contributions to partner with nonprofit organizations involved in Ukraine refugee resettlement. By helping a family fleeing the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, you can engage in some hands-on humanism and show some Minnesota hospitality!  Please donate what you can. 

To learn more about the project and how you can volunteer, contact LeeAnn Bera or Christine Retkwa at

Breaking News

  • Ukrainian Family Update: a Job and a New Apartment

    Ukrainian Family Update: a Job and a New Apartment

    There have been some significant changes in the lives of Anton, Olha, and Zlata. Coincidentally, on the day the November HumanistsMN newsletter was published with the article saying that Anton needed a job, he got one!  Is that fate – or him making his own luck by following through on contact leads? He was hired by…

  • Ukrainian Family Update: a Wedding, a Fully Owned Car, and English Classes

    Ukrainian Family Update: a Wedding, a Fully Owned Car, and English Classes

    The pictures with this article will give away the first piece of news about Anton, Olha, and Zlata: Olha and Anton were finally able to marry. They have long wanted to do so – but war delayed their plans. On one of the last warm days of October, one of our committee members, Ashley Allen,…

  • Ukrainian Family Update: a Car, Preschool, and Job Hunts

    By Christine Retkwa The Ukrainian Refugee Assistance Project, organized by HMN members, is sponsoring a Ukrainian family that arrived in Minnesota in August. Here is the latest update. First, some great news! Thanks to generous donors, Anton, Olha, and Zlata now have enough money to buy a car. They are trying to be patient ……

Notes from the AHA Conference: Cultivating a Nationwide Community

By Ellie Haylund

Earlier this month, I and several other HumanistsMN members descended on Denver for the American Humanist Association’s annual conference. This year’s theme was “Crossroads and Collective Futures.” I’d never attended the conference before and was eager to connect with other humanists from across the country.

The program sessions were wide-ranging. Topics included “The Human in Humanism: Finding a Home for Social Justice & Other Values that Help Instead of Harm,” “Dehumanization of the Black Male Form,” “What Do You Mean Science is Racist?,” and “Multifaith Engagement.” 

Dr. David Breeden, senior minister at First Unitarian Society, receiving an AHA award

I spoke on a panel about growing and sustaining a humanist presence in one’s community. There are so many ways to be a humanist and building a like-minded community strengthens our ability to have a positive impact in alignment with our values. It was valuable to hear about what other secular organizations are doing – from public policy to volunteering, social engagements to student scholarships. On behalf of HMN, I reported on last year’s successful member drive, our wildly popular billboard campaign, and our work with Minnesota legislators to create the Secular Government Caucus.

Minnesotans had a strong presence at the conference. In addition to HMN representatives, members of First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis and Rochester Area Freethinkers were present. Our friend Dr. David Breeden, senior minister at FUS, even received the 2023 Distinguished Service Award. As a chapter centralized in the Twin Cities, we have the benefit of a largely progressive environment. Not all humanists do. Speaking with attendees from states like Florida demonstrated how important it is to connect with those seeing the erosion of rights and threats to the First Amendment in their home states.

The more we can cultivate a nationwide community, the more we can promote and practice what is most important to us: ethical living, widespread human flourishing, and a healthy planet, with an emphasis on science, reason, and compassion.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference. Humanism is gaining visibility and resonating with more people every day. I’d love to see even more HMN members attend next year so we can learn together, foster relationships, and “think big” about what we can achieve.

Ellie Haylund is president of HumanistsMN.

Putting Humanist Values to Work to Defend Democracy

By Ellie Haylund

Hello, humanist friends!

In January, we kicked off 2024 with a phenomenal speaker at our Community Gathering – author, scholar, and podcast host Bradley Onishi. His presentation focused on white Christian nationalism and authoritarianism. It was compelling, informative, and motivating. 

Onishi ended with a call to action to the large crowd: find a way to get involved. As we begin a critical election year, he encouraged us not to get overwhelmed and feel defeated. There are seemingly endless threats to democracy, but we don’t need to do everything – we each can choose one thing.

When you are considering that “one thing,” remember that HumanistsMN can offer a vehicle for your advocacy. In recent years, we have stepped up our activities at the Legislature to champion separation of religion and government, including helping to form the new Secular Government Caucus. 

We are pleased that several HMN representatives attended the recent legislative hearing on the End-of-Life Options Act, supporting medical aid in dying. We have also been working with American Atheists, ACLU of Minnesota, and others to support legislation to ensure individuals who are mandated to receive addiction treatment through the criminal justice system have access to nonreligious options. And we’re already hard at work on our annual Day of Reason event at the Capitol in May. 

We’re proud to be establishing HMN as an impactful voice for the humanist values that we know are important to our members.

During the reception after Onishi’s presentation, we had a tremendous turnout at the volunteer tables, with many members and visitors asking how to get more involved. Thanks so much to all who signed up to help support our organization and our mission! It’s incredibly heartening to see people not only eager to get involved with HMN, but to also see hope in the face of daunting challenges. 

We will continue to find opportunities to put our humanism to work so we can all find our “one thing” to do to defend democracy together.

Ellie Haylund is president of HumanistsMN.

January 2024: The Threat of White Christian Nationalism

A record crowd of 130 people attended our January Community Gathering featuring Bradley Onishi, co-host of the podcast Straight White American Jesus and author of the book Preparing for War: the Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism — and What Comes Next. A “Humanists and Friends” reception and book signing followed.

Onishi warned about the rising authoritarianism of Christian nationalists, who are often white supremacists as well. He urged audience members to pledge to do one thing this year to stand up for a “multiracial, multi-ethnic, and pluralist democracy.” The 2024 election, he said, “will shape the U.S. for a generation or longer.”

See a video of the presentation below, starting at 10:12.

Photos by Sally Johnson

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Volunteer Spotlight: Sophie Phuong Le, Healthcare Humanist

By Sally Johnson

Sophie Phuong Le joined HumanistsMN about five years ago and has contributed to event hosting and thoughtful discussion ever since. A pediatric pharmacist, she was drawn to our group, as many of us are, seeking intellectual discussion and community.

“As much of a skeptic in human intention as I am (ahem, Thomas Hobbes), I am still alive today because the kindness of strangers exists,” she says. “I joined HumanistsMN a few months after arriving in Minnesota for grad school because the HMN community shares many values that are important to me.”

Since joining, Sophie has hosted a few TED Talk salons, an online humanist book club, and a popular dumpling-tasting event that highlighted common traditions across many cultures. “Who doesn’t love dumplings?” she says. “They’re like this universal language of comfort food. Hosting this event was more than just about eating good food. It was a chance to explore different cultures… We all enjoy gathering around a table to share a meal. It’s these simple, everyday things that connect us as humans.”

Sophie also now serves on HMN’s new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee. 

From Vietnam to the United States

While growing up in Vietnam, her family attended events at both Catholic churches and Buddhist temples, but they were also influenced by Confucianism, “meaning that females were limited to the roles of daughters, wives, and/or moms,” she says. “On the other hand, the promise of meritocracy, any form of political expression, and financial independence were effectively taken away from girls and women like me.”

Sophie moved to the United States in high school, and her adjustment was layered.  

In Vietnam, she had faced criticism from both parents and classmates — “for taking a classmate’s first-place spot in school, for being too overweight or too underweight, for being an introvert, and so on.”

In the U.S., “while I quickly transitioned to speaking English and did well at school, it took me years to find my place in a part of each new community in Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, and Minnesota, learn to live a little more authentically, and also learn to take myself a little less seriously at the right time.”

Scholarships and grants covered some of her tuition in college and grad school, but she juggled several campus jobs to cover most of her costs. “The most challenging job that I had wasn’t the physically intense one,” she says. “It was the socially embarrassing one: working at the dining hall where I served food to my classmates. I acted normal when someone was being unbelievably rude, then cleaned their tables afterward.”

Humanism in Medicine

Sophie’s exposure to humanism began with reading Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns after graduating from high school. “I was gripped by the stories and historical records describing involuntary and voluntary migration flows within the U.S. by African Americans,” she says. “And I could also draw similarities with the reasons behind these geographic movements among Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese immigrants.” 

During that time, she also went on a healthcare volunteer trip to three Vietnam provinces and helped set up nonprofit pharmacies. She describes “operating at full speed” and taking the pharmacies down the same day, several times over a month. “Those blistering, tiring, but rewarding summer days were the first time that I considered taking humanism a bit more seriously,” she says.

Sophie is a connector and a problem solver. In her professional life, she sees our healthcare system through the medical challenges of children and their parents.  

“As a pediatric pharmacist, my work is all about helping kids. I make sure they get the right medicines at the right dose, right when they need them. I also help families afford these medicines by working with insurance and charities,” she says. “Part of my job is also to help set up clinical trials. These trials are important – they’ve helped increase the survival rate for kids with cancer to 90 percent, a huge change from just a few decades ago.”

Sophie’s commitment to the progress of medicine fits into her appreciation of humanist values. When asked about how humanist thinkers have influenced her, she had notable examples from the medical field.

“William Osler, a founding professor of Johns Hopkins Medical School, emphasized the human side of medicine. His approach to medical education, focusing on bedside manner and direct interaction with patients, revolutionized how clinicians are trained,” she says. 

“His teachings have influenced me to prioritize empathy and compassion when I have a chance to speak to them or their parents about their health and medications. By seeing each child as a unique individual, beyond just their medical needs, I aim to provide care that respects their dignity and emotional well-being.”

She also cites a more current title that is applicable to all our lives, Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. “A profound exploration of life, death, and the human condition,” she says, “his work has encouraged me to contemplate the broader implications of illness and mortality, and to approach my role not just as a dispenser of medication, but as a supportive guide through the often-challenging journey of health and illness that my young patients and their families navigate.”

We so appreciate Sophie’s contribution to HMN and her unique perspective on what helps humans flourish!

HumanistsMN Supports End-of-Life Options Act


Jan. 22, 2024
Contact: Suzanne Perry
Board Member, HumanistsMN
301.335.0466 /

Medical Aid in Dying Is Compassionate and Humane

HumanistsMN wholeheartedly supports the Minnesota End-of-Life Options Act, which would allow terminally ill adults under some conditions to obtain and take medication to die peacefully.

As humanists, we believe in individual autonomy and the right for people to make decisions about their own lives as long as they are not harming others. This includes the right to determine they do not want to prolong their lives in the face of unbearable suffering.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good.

We do not share the belief of some opponents of medical aid in dying that only God can decide when to end a life. That is a religious argument that should not dictate public policy. In a diverse society like ours, people should be given the option to decide this issue based on their own values and beliefs.

HumanistsMN backs this legislation, which has been introduced in both the Minnesota House and Senate (HF 1930 and SF 1813), as a humane and compassionate approach for people who are in acute pain. We urge our state legislators to pass it this session and for Governor Walz to sign it.

We believe the End-of-Life Options Act is written in a way to ensure that medical aid in dying is not abused. It would apply only to people who have a prognosis of six months or less to live and are mentally capable of making an informed healthcare decision. It would require them to self-administer the medication and includes various other safeguards, while allowing individuals to maintain as much bodily autonomy as possible at the end of life.

For more information about the End-of-Life Options Act, see this Compassion & Choices page.

Winter Solstice Celebration 2023: Dinner, Follies, and Song

Humanists and friends gathered to celebrate the Winter Solstice with food and revelry at the Minnesota Humanities Center on Dec.16. Audrey Kingstrom emceed the Festivus Follies, a program of poetry, storytelling, songs, and readings contributed by HumanistsMN members.

Performers included Audrey; Suellen Carroll; Dave Guell; Karen, Kay, and John Hatlestad; Ellie Haylund; Sally Johnson; Erica Klein; and Christine Retkwa. Holly McKissick accompanied singers on piano for a few rounds of secular carols.

Two recipients of HMN’s Paul Heffron Scholarships for Secular Students, Kazi Ahmed Habib and Alex Boltz,gave updates on their activities. Brittney Riedinger of The Bridge for Youth thanked HMN members for their annual gifts to the organization.

A New Year’s Resolution for HMN: a Plan to Grow and Thrive

By Ellie Haylund

Happy New Year, HumanistsMN members and friends!

I’ve never been big on resolutions. I tend to set personal goals for myself arbitrarily throughout the year to varying degrees of success. But I appreciate the benefit of structured goals — whether that means a distinct timeline with a beginning and an end, or something collaborative with accountability.

For a rapidly growing nonprofit, goals and planning are increasingly important. We seek to continuously sustain and thrive as an organization. We are accountable to our members and fellow humanists, but also to our community and humankind.

HumanistsMN is at a tipping point. Our membership has spiked in the past year, partly because of the media attention we got last spring for our billboard proclaiming “Reject Christian Nationalism: Keep Religion Out of Government.” We now have 424 members — up more than 45 percent from a year ago!

Our finances have grown as well and we hold more than $50,000 in reserves. In other words, we are in a good position. But how can we best tap our money and our people to secure HumanistsMN’s future? And to expand the influence of humanism in the world and fulfill our mission of promoting widespread human flourishing?

In recent years, the HMN Board has begun to focus on strategic planning. Through workshops and thoughtful discussions, we have identified short- and long-term goals, as well as actionable plans to achieve these objectives. While at face value organizational goals can seem obvious, it is essential to name and analyze them to make progress. 

Of course a membership group wants to both retain and recruit. But how do we prioritize, balance, and succeed? Of course a group like ours wants to use our funds carefully in alignment with our values. But how do we best approach this when looking at budgeting into the future?

We are fortunate to have committed, critical thinkers within our leadership working toward answering these questions. Several efforts are already underway, such as our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative and a more formal process to welcome and engage new members. 

We are planning strategies to continue our work promoting separation of church and state. And we are seriously looking at creating a part-time paid staff position for HMN. We are poised to make a big leap but we cannot continue to rely solely on our hard-working volunteers. 

We will be presenting some ideas to the membership at the May annual meeting. Please let us know if you have any thoughts about this matter.

Growth is fantastic and always something to celebrate. At the same time, it comes with a great responsibility to effectively channel the myriad results of that growth. I am so grateful to be a part of HumanistsMN and be surrounded by so many dedicated and kind people. I see our future as one big, perpetual New Year’s resolution. Cheers!

Ellie Haylund is HumanistsMN president.

Ukrainian Family Update: a Job and a New Apartment

By Christine Retkwa

The Ukrainian Refugee Assistance Project, organized by HMN members, is sponsoring a Ukrainian family that arrived in Minnesota in August. Here is the latest update.

There have been some significant changes in the lives of Anton, Olha, and Zlata. 

Coincidentally, on the day the November HumanistsMN newsletter was published with the article saying that Anton needed a job, he got one!  Is that fate – or him making his own luck by following through on contact leads? He was hired by a construction company to install drywall, where he is at a job site for a few days before moving to the next one. 

Many others at the company speak Russian or Ukrainian so he is readily able to communicate and understand the assigned tasks. Yay! There is that little downside of having to be at work at 6 a.m. each day. Such is the life of an employee. He has had a chance to visit new places like Edina and Minnetonka, quite far from the family’s original residence in Circle Pines.

In other news, the family has left Circle Pines and since mid-December has lived in an apartment in the southern part of Brooklyn Park. Finding this unit has been quite a journey and an education for all of us. With Anton earning $19 an hour, we aimed for a maximum rent of $1,000 for a one-bedroom unit. However, most management companies/landlords will not rent one-bedrooms to more than two people, even when one is a small child. 

There’s also that little thing called adequate credit rating, which most places require. Anton and Olha have no credit rating and it takes about six months to build one, so the options are to have a cosigner or find the rare place that doesn’t use credit rating as a determining factor. One such developer/management company is Aeon, the company that owns their apartment complex.

We focused at first on the two center cities or first-ring suburbs so public transit would be available for Olha and Zlata given that Anton now has the car during the day. But the couple finally decided to look farther out. First, their dollars would go further toward a place in better condition. Second, it was easier to find a unit with free, off-street parking. Many closer-in apartments had little parking or charged up to $150 for a space.

With Anton employed, the family is trying to be financially independent and has purchased many of their new housewares on their own at their favorite lower-cost stores. The committee has funded a bed from IKEA. LeeAnn Bera and Eoghan Henderson felt that their living room needed some decluttering, so they provided a sofa and coffee table. And Ann L. contributed a kitchen table and chair set, so the family no longer has to eat over their coffee table. Given that our finances were in good shape and that the laptop the family brought from Ukraine is no longer functional, we bought a new one for them as a New Year’s gift (a traditional gift-giving occasion in Ukraine).

Because of lack of transport and moving, the family hasn’t pursued language classes in person (Olha has continued to practice with online training). They have made some new acquaintances and had guests over on a couple of occasions. Good for them!

One issue that is still a challenge is finding healthcare providers and getting appointments. When you are on Medical Assistance, providers often have very few appointments available per month, so you’d better call on the first of the month. And for some, you’d better have a credit card on file in case the insurance doesn’t cover the services. But now that Anton has a card in his name (though with a very low limit), that is less of a problem.

The status on finances: so far, we have spent about $23,400 of the money raised for this effort, with about $8,700 remaining. We decided to hold this money for approximately nine months. This is partly to ensure the family has what they need to be independent, but mostly to see what else might be needed at that point. Olha has expressed interest in taking courses for a certification (such as in cosmetology). But due to Zlata’s close attachment to her, this will probably not occur until autumn 2024, when Zlata will start kindergarten. At that point, money for an additional car may be needed to help them further establish their life – or to pay tuition costs.

If it turns out it is not needed, HumanistsMN will find another outlet for the money that honors donors’ desire to help Ukrainian immigrants or refugees.

This is the last update that we will provide until that decision is made. Anton, Olha, and Zlata, the HumanistsMN Ukrainian Refugee Sponsorship team, and HumanistsMN’s Board thank all who have contributed financially or with tangible items to enable this family to transition to their new home!

–HumanistsMN Ukrainian Refugee Sponsorship Team

Note: The Sponsorship Team that has hosted, escorted, transported, supported, befriended, married, and translated and researched for our Ukrainian friends includes: LeeAnn B., Esther A., Ashley A., Bob A., Christine R., David G., Estelle B., Holly M., Joyce E., Moira W., Nancy R., and Uriah B.  We are pleased to have come together as a true team, to aid fellow humans in their efforts to find a safe new home where they can thrive.

First-Person Humanism: My Journey Away From Indoctrination and Threats

By John Drews

I’m embarrassed. I was a Jehovah’s Witness for over 40 years. Not only that, but as an appointed elder of that church I taught lies that the average adult could easily point out as false.

Having said that, I’d like to let myself off the hook by explaining how I became so thoroughly convinced that I was teaching truth.

Excuse #1: Indoctrination

I was raised in the cult from the age of 3 or 4. JWs teach their members to be “in the truth.”

I heard the phrases “Is Bill still in the truth?” or “Sadly, Jill left the truth.” The “truth” meant everything involved with JW culture: personal bible study, church services three days a week, weekly door-to door preaching, assemblies and conventions, and much more.

Listen to this. Anyone who did not actively participate in these activities was considered “weak in the truth.” Anyone outside of “the truth” was considered “worldly” and was thought to be actively supporting Satan the Devil. Perhaps you can imagine how at a very young age this built in me the importance of embedding myself in the “us” group to clearly distance myself from “them” – the enemy.

Excuse #2: Bonds

I believe organizations like JWs design the perfect Goliath-shaped straw man. We were to maintain faith in a wicked world. This wickedness couldn’t be conquered alone. It was only possible with the help of God. When the members unite, they can feel a sort of hero’s welcome. The bonds that are built in this environment are abnormally strong. This can be especially difficult to leave behind.

Excuse #3: Threats

The fear of losing every person I cared about certainly further embedded myself in the cult. As I reached my late teens, I started having doubts about my faith. As a 6’6” giant of a man, I desperately wanted to participate in sports at school. This was considered sinful for many reasons. I was extremely frustrated, so I wanted out of the religion. The problem is, if you leave, you are guaranteed to be shunned by your most loved friends and family members. This is cruel for sure, but it keeps members in line.

So why did I leave?


When dealing with some painful medical issues in my 20s it became difficult for me to reconcile the JW explanation about how a “loving, all powerful creator” could stand by and allow his human children to suffer.

L: A younger John playing guitar after a Jehovah’s Witnesses church service. R: John graduating from a school of full-time ministers in 1995.

JWs teach that God created humans, an angel turned bad and challenged God’s way of ruling. God’s sense of justice moves him to allow the angel to rule humans to prove that the challenger is wrong. It made sense to me at the time, but it only makes sense in concept. When you suffer, or worse, when you actually watch a loved one suffer, the concept doesn’t hold up.

As I voiced this to my parents, the congregation elders, and my now ex-wife, I was told I was impatient and lacking faith. I decided to keep it to myself and to wait on God. When the world shut down because of the pandemic, I was given time to look at these issues. I happened upon a YouTube video titled “Sam Harris demolishes Christianity.” My faith was shattered.

When I discovered that Jehovah’s Witnesses actively protect members who engage in child sex abuse, and actively cover up this practice, I knew I had to leave. I also knew that there would be consequences for leaving.

In October 2021, I stopped attending JW meetings and found a therapist to help me through this process. In March 2022, I sent a letter of disassociation to the church. To them, I am mentally diseased. I’m now the enemy, an apostate.

It hurts to be shunned, especially by my family. Up until now, my disgust for the practices of the cult has been stronger than the loneliness I feel at times. I have no desire to go back. The crater left from losing my entire community and way of life keeps me active in finding new charitable outlets and meaningful friendships and community.

I have investigated churches that aren’t centered on dogma or doctrine, but on humanism and genuine concern for my fellow neighbors. It’s been a difficult road, but I am forever optimistic, perhaps to a fault. I believe that there is good in everyone. I believe we can benefit from a little bit of vulnerability and a willingness to listen. Recently I have participated in a variety of activities in Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul and with the HumanistsMN community (I became a member in November) and I have high hopes.

I told you how embarrassed I am to have been in that group. I am very proud that I am no longer trying to convince an invisible entity that I’m worthy of its care. I’m proud to identify as a humanist.

November 2023: Ending the Cycle of Police Violence

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who led the prosecution of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, spoke to our November Community Gathering about the trial and about what we can do to stop the pattern of police brutality against Black people. He urged us to model our behavior on the multiracial group of bystanders of all ages who tried to help Floyd while he was dying, even though they didn’t know him. “They did not have time to judge him,” he said, “they only had time to save him.”

Ellison read from, and signed copies of, his book about the trial, Break the Wheel: Ending the Cycle of Police Violence.

See a video of the presentation below, starting at 11:28.

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A Humanist Mom Models Honesty for her Children in New Book of Essays

By Sally Johnson

Ten years ago, I began writing a book of essays to my children. They were in grade school at the time and I hoped to craft a collection of simple life lessons. It’s an arrogance particular to parenthood that if only we could come up with the right things to say to our kids, then they would listen, make better choices, and avoid the painful mistakes we have made. Even acknowledging this delusion, I thought if I put my thoughts and stories in a bound volume, my kids might at least read them one day.  

Continue reading

Worried About Resource Scarcity? Human Invention Might Save the Day

By Nathan Curland

One might look at the title of this book Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet and wonder: “What are these people talking about? Superabundance? Infinitely Bountiful Planet? What about overpopulation? World poverty? Climate change? Don’t we have a finite planet? Aren’t we facing increasing resource scarcity?” 

It was exactly this question that Marian Tupy and Gale Pooley wanted to study: Does rapid human population growth lead to scarcity? In fact, how much scarcity do we really have? How do we measure it, and is it the right measure? 

While the book has a libertarian tinge, it is not overtly political. It has stamps of approval from the prominent humanists Steven Pinker and Michael Shermer (among many others) and an uplifting humanistic tone to it with references to the Enlightenment and human flourishing. 

After an interesting preview and discussion of their basic thesis in Part One,  Tupy and Pooley in Part Two present their analysis of hundreds of commodities, goods, and services from different time periods to the present (the present being defined as 2018). 

But what is the correct measure for making the comparisons? Prices of goods and services themselves are inadequate due to inflation and currency differences around the world. Even trying to adjust for these differences results in errors due to inherent biases in how these rates are determined. 

The authors chose a rational alternative, something they call “time prices,” which represent the length of time a person would need to work to buy something. They created a series of tables  covering four periods (1980-2018, 1960-2018, 1900-2018, 1850-2018) based on known wages (blue-collar, unskilled, or white-collar workers) and prices of various commodities and services from countries across the world for the beginning and end of each time period. 

In all cases, regardless of the time period or country, workers can buy nearly any good or service today with fewer work hours than at the start of the period. That is to say, the resource abundance increased faster than the rising population – a relationship the authors call “superabundance.” 

How is this surprising result possible? That is the topic of the second half of the book. Tupy and Pooley take us through the history of humankind from hunter gatherers to the Industrial Revolution. It was the latter, combined with the freedoms of the European Enlightenment, that resulted in the Age of Innovation and the Great Enrichment. 

Their thesis is that human invention and innovation are responsible for this superabundance. The greatest resource, they argue, is not the physical resources of earth, but the human ability to generate new ideas and the freedom to try them out, i.e., a free market in ideas as well as in goods and services.  

Furthermore, the more people you have in this environment, the more ideas will be created about how best to use physical resources — how to find them, recombine them to make new products, and develop new processes to make manufacturing more efficient. A (relatively) free market will ultimately weed out the bad ideas and result in the most productive and desirable ideas succeeding and, via competition, being most cost effective. Furthermore, due to human ingenuity, this process will go on indefinitely (hence the “Infinitely Bountiful Planet” in the subtitle). 

If this sounds a bit utopian, it probably is. Certainly there is no denying a correlation between population growth and innovation, but is correlation causation? There is no ethical way in the real world to do an experiment on whether increased innovation is caused by population growth combined with free markets and will result in endlessly increasing innovation and human flourishing.  

However, the authors  give compelling arguments and examples in our recent history of how population growth was curtailed at the expense of innovation (e.g. China and India before they instituted economic reforms). But there certainly could have been other factors that played into the correlation (say,  the repressive actions of despotic regimes independent of population control). In addition, there is no guarantee that human ingenuity will overcome the serious broad existential problems humanity faces today quickly enough to avoid catastrophe.  

In the final chapter Tupy andPooley do discuss obstacles to this utopian future: namely socialistic or autocratic societies that squelch human freedoms and hence prevent innovation; and extreme environmentalism that preaches lower population growth, less use of natural resources, and a return to nature. However, in the end, the authors believe we can overcome these roadblocks and they remain optimistic that human innovation will carry us through the problems even if there is some backsliding along the way. 

So what conclusion can the reader come to? 

If you are an optimist, you will love this narrative. The front of the book carries statements of praise  from nearly 20 well known authors, scientists, and philosophers, in addition to Pinker and Sherman including Nobel prize winners Angus Deaton and Paul Romer.  All are optimistic about humanity’s future. 

If you are a pessimist, you will question whether all the ingredients the authors say is required for a successful future can really be brought together quickly enough given the rise of autocracy, nationalism, and the strife caused by increasing population migrations. Nevertheless, reading this book will make you think and perhaps give you some hope! 

Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet, by Marian L. Tupy & Gale L. Pooley (Cato Institute, Washington D.C. 2022) 

HMN Commits to Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

By Ellie Haylund and Audrey Kingstrom

As HumanistsMN continues to grow and thrive, we want to ensure that we welcome and support all people, including those who are underrepresented or marginalized.

Toward that aim, the HMN Board has adopted a Statement of Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and voted to set up an advisory committee to explore ways we can be more inclusive in our programs, messaging, interpersonal relationships, volunteer activities, and community engagement.

Historically, HMN has not successfully engaged with people from marginalized populations in any meaningful way. We have heard that some people who attend our events do not feel valued, supported, or represented and hence they do not stay. This does not measure up to our humanist values and it’s vital that we address this shortcoming.

Though discussions around DEI have been happening within our organization for many years, some visitors and members have told us we need to strive more actively to provide a safe, equitable, and inclusive space.

Stating our values is only a start: they must be woven into programs and policies and demonstrated by our actions to be constructive. The DEI Committee will explore specific actions we can take to create a more inclusive community.  It will review and recommend policies to the HMN Board that integrate DEI values into the basic functioning of our association. It will plan programming that gives our members opportunities to understand and explore their role in anti-racism, equity, and inclusion work.

The committee will also seek to connect with individuals from under-represented groups to learn about their experiences and how we can work together to advance humanist goals.

We believe this effort will strengthen our association and humanism itself, furthering our mission of promoting human flourishing. We owe it to our members, our community, and ourselves to ensure that HMN is a home for humanists of all identities.

If you would like to be a part of this initiative or have thoughts about how HMN can be more inclusive, please contact Audrey Kingstrom at

Ellie Haylund is president and Audrey Kingstrom program coordinator of HumanistsMN.

Ukrainian Family Update: a Wedding, a Fully Owned Car, and English Classes

By Christine Retkwa

The Ukrainian Refugee Assistance Project, organized by HMN members, is sponsoring a Ukrainian family that arrived in Minnesota in August. Here is the latest update.

The pictures with this article will give away the first piece of news about Anton, Olha, and Zlata: Olha and Anton were finally able to marry. They have long wanted to do so – but war delayed their plans. On one of the last warm days of October, one of our committee members, Ashley Allen, performed the wedding outdoors at the home of another committee member, Esther Alder. It was a lovely ceremony (with documents translated into Ukrainian).

There were a couple of glitches: the recording for friends and family in Ukraine was unfortunately not successful (though a Zoom worked) – and one of the wedding rings was misplaced (but luckily quickly found). In addition to the family and officiant, eight others were present for this special event. A wonderful day!

And more good news!  At long last Anton and Olha have taken possession of a 2016 Nissan Rouge, following all the paperwork involved in getting the lien released, obtaining insurance, and transferring the title.

The family now has much more independence. Anton and Olha can go to English class three to four days a week and drop Zlata off at preschool on their own.  Our team provided  a number of emergency supplies: jumper cables, gas container, shovel, and gravel. Good thing, since Anton said the last time it snowed an inch or so in Odessa was in 2015, so they probably wouldn’t have realized they needed some of these items.

Their new in-person English class is a great improvement over the prior online course and is helping them learn more.  

The next huge step is Anton finding a job to support himself and his family. Refugees face many hurdles in finding that first position in America. One of the most significant is a lack of English proficiency, meaning the first job is often a low-paid entry-level one without employee benefits.

Anton is skilled in the building trades (commercial painting and wallpapering), but will consider a full-time opportunity in the construction or manufacturing industries (or, frankly, any position where he could learn and advance in the company). While independent contractor positions in the construction world are available, those require a level of recordkeeping and taking on of risk that would be challenging for a new arrival in the country.

If you are aware of a company that could use Anton’s skills in a full-time position with employee benefits and could navigate his limited (though improving) English proficiency, please contact Christine Retkwa at

Olha isn’t certain what type of work she would like, but expects to work on weekends to be available for Zlata during the week. The family also isn’t sure where they will choose to live, but likely somewhere in the central part of the metro to have access to public transportation.

An update on finances: This effort has raised $32,150 and expenses have been about $19,719 so far. The next large set of costs will be getting the family set up in their own home after Anton finds a job.

We are glad the family is beginning to get more established and ready for their life in Minnesota. Thank you to all HMN members and allies for their interest and engagement so far in helping our new Ukrainian friends! 

– HumanistsMN Ukrainian Refugee Sponsorship Team

October 2023: Why Atheists Need to Speak Up

Kate Cohen, Washington Post contributing columnist and author of We of Little Faith: Why I Stopped Pretending to Believe (and Maybe You Should Too), spoke to and signed books at our October Community Gathering. Her topic was: “Are You an Atheist? Then America Needs You to Say So.” 

This article in describes her presentation.

See a video of the presentation below, starting at 13:21.

YouTube player

Volunteer Spotlight: Craig Stilen, Photographer Extraordinaire

By Sally Johnson

Craig Stilen has been a member of HumanistsMN for nearly a decade. He can often be found at  our events behind the long lens of a Nikon camera. 

Craig was first drawn to secular humanism through his reading of nonfiction and science works by Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, and others. “I came to realize the negative influence religion has on the science content of school textbooks, and society in general,” he says. “I needed to join like-minded people and support causes that embrace science. Explaining the hard stuff in the natural world by way of an ‘outside agency’ just doesn’t cut it.”

A longtime photography enthusiast, Craig generously shares his talents by documenting many of our events with his quality images, as he did for our recent Day of Reason at the Capitol. “My favorite subjects to capture are interactions with people in event photography – the random moments and sheer serendipity of getting (hopefully) great pictures is the payoff,” he says. He was first drawn to photography in high school while processing reprints at a film lab. As digital technology has taken over the medium, Craig has continued to hone his ability to capture the moment. He has also done event photography for the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, another group he’s involved with. 

While he enjoys shooting events, he also appreciates those times when he can leave his camera at home and enjoy the wide variety of programs HMN offers. “I’m always impressed by the consistency of active members who do a lot of the work organizing activities,” he says. “I have to admit my participation wanes when work and life get busy, but I always look forward to the date in the calendar when I can jump back into HMN events.” His favorite events include the HUBRIS bike rides led by Jerry Smith in the warmer months, guest speakers, book discussions, and of course the happy hours.  

“It’s great to have a community of like-minded people, imbued with common ideals, without those ideals being religious or overtly spiritual,” he says. Craig’s perspective reminds us how meaningful a secular community can be and how lucky we are to have members who bring such wonderful talents to our group.

Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, Craig followed his wife, Sue, to Minneapolis in the early 1990s. While furthering his photography skills, he has had a long career in IT, most recently as a database administrator for the State of Minnesota. His IT skills come in handy for finding the best methods for storing lots of digital photos. 

We so appreciate all that Craig does for HMN!