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. 

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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 socialaction@humanistsmn.org.

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.

National Day of Reason Event Draws Biggest Crowd Yet

More than 90 people, including seven legislators, gathered at the State Capitol on May 1 for our annual breakfast to observe the National Day of Reason and stand up for secular government — the biggest crowd since we started the event in 2019.

Ron Millar, political coordinator for the Center for Freethought Equality, and Deepinder Singh Mayell, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota, spoke about the threat of Christian nationalism and the erosion of the constitutional principle of separation of religion and government.

HumanistsMN sponsored the breakfast, along with First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis and Or Emet – Minnesota Congregation for Humanistic Judaism.

Thanks to the legislators who spoke: Sens. Jim Carlson, Jen McEwen, and Liz Boldon and Reps. Steve Elkins, Sandra Feist, Frank Hornstein, and Mike Freiberg — all members of the Secular Government Caucus.

Thanks to Our Partners
The following groups had tables at the Capitol: ACLU of Minnesota, Christians Against Christian Nationalism Minnesota, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Gender Justice/UnRestrict Minnesota, Grand Rapids Area Freethinkers, Minnesota Atheists, Jews for a Secular Democracy, Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance, OutFront Minnesota, and SMART Recovery.

Thanks to Our Supporters
These additional organizations endorsed the Day of Reason event: American Humanist Association, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Central Minnesota Freethinkers, Compassion & Choices Minnesota, Pro-Choice Minnesota, Rochester Area FreeThinkers, Secular Student Alliance, World Without Genocide.

Photos by Craig Stilen

A New Phase for HMN: Paid Staff (And We Need Your Help)

By Ellie Haylund

Humanism as we know it is certainly not a new concept, but I’ve often felt that it lived in relative obscurity. Relatable, but requiring an explanation; simply not a household name. And while one might argue that it is still not a commonplace term among the general public, humanism has become increasingly applicable in society both with the rising numbers of the religiously unaffiliated as well as the palpable need for reason and compassion in our society.  

As an organization dedicated to humanist values and community, we know that HumanistsMN is on the right track. We have been growing steadily in the past decade and in leaps and bounds in the past couple of years. What we’re doing resonates with people as we offer an ever wider array of programming from social events to lifelong learning, personal growth and support groups, to service opportunities and advocacy work. 

Now at nearly 450 dues-paying members, we find ourselves in an unprecedented place. We have a handful of incredibly committed volunteers who plan and execute all the programming and tasks within HMN, and we are so grateful for them. Yet we must be realistic about the future. We cannot solely rely on the tireless efforts and long-term dedication of our volunteers to keep us chugging along.  It is not a sustainable model especially as we attempt to meet the needs of a larger membership and work toward our aspirations for a more visible and impactful organization.  

Hence, we are entering a new phase in our almost 40-year history as an organization. We are at the exciting but often challenging juncture in a nonprofit’s trajectory that of transitioning from an all-volunteer organization to one with paid staff. 

Over the last two years, the Board has been discussing the prospects of hiring a part-time staff person. We have explored various possibilities and concluded that a Director of Operations would be a good starting point. While HumanistsMN would still mainly function with a robust corps of volunteers, a dedicated staff person to track what we are doing and provide additional support to our volunteers will help maintain all that we have accomplished in recent years and position us for even greater things to come.

We see this as a necessary step for HumanistsMN. As more and more people leave religion and churches, there is a growing vacuum in society for independent institutions that offer opportunities for meaningful social connection, ethical reflection, personal support and growth, critical thinking, and service and advocacy initiatives. HumanistsMN is filling that void now for many people, but to sustain our efforts we need paid staff to help with the work. 

The Board will be exploring options for a fundraising campaign in the coming months for this purpose. When the time comes, we hope that HMN members and friends will contribute financially — as they are able — to help us meet this moment in our organization. Again, HumanistsMN aspires to be a champion for humanist values in a world in dire need of them and to provide a home for nonbelievers in our region who want to do good and be good together. We invite you to help us fulfill this vision.

We would love to get your feedback about this plan. Please come to our annual meeting at 3 p.m. on May 18 to hear more!

Ellie Haylund is president of HumanistsMN.

April 2024: Bringing About Broader Ecological Change

In an Earth Day presentation, Jason Lukasik, associate professor of education at Augsburg University, spoke about cultural changes and shifts needed to bring about broader ecological change.

We need to move beyond addressing specific issues — like water and air quality and recycling — and do more to change the dominant capitalist, consumerist, and colonialist culture, he said.

See a video of the presentation below, starting at 12:27.


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Ukrainian Refugee Family: Transitioning to Life in America

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 news.

It is time for an update on our friends Anton, Olha, and young Zlata.

The family moved into their new apartment in mid-December 2023. It was definitely a learning experience. It is not easy to communicate about the water not being hot or question noises overhead when one doesn’t speak English. So at times committee members communicated these concerns to the apartment management. 

There was an additional lack of understanding about the heat. Like many apartments in Minnesota, heating is paid for by the landlord and the renters have some control. Unfortunately, when Anton and Olha were told that they could set the heat as high as they wanted, they didn’t understand that just turning the heat up to 78 would not make them as comfortable as in a non-Minnesota winter. The weather here is much colder than they have been used to. With better comprehension of what was possible, getting home thermometers so they could measure the temp for themselves in a couple rooms, having their furnace kick in during a very cold spell in January, and acquiring some new warmer clothes, things settled into an acceptable situation. 

Anton and Olha experienced the American ritual of filing taxes with help from one of the free tax-prep events offered by Prepare and Prosper. Thankfully they were able to benefit from Minnesota’s child credit for lower-income families. 

Eventually the family made connections with a daycare center where Russian is spoken. And Olha started to train and then work there a couple days a week, so both she and Zlata began to get more interaction outside their home. Much more enriching than just being in the apartment with no transportation during the week! But transportation became an issue. Anton starts work at 6 a.m., so is not able to take them to the daycare center (he is able to pick them up at the end of the day). So they use a hired car for the morning trip. Time for Olha to study harder for her written driver’s test! 

While Olha did well with a translated test and never having driven, she was one answer short of passing the written test. Unfortunately, she has not been able to get a new appointment because she is working four days a week and appointments are hard to come by. So she has not been able to start her 90 days of road practice before being able to take the road test. Because we expect that she will pass before long – and certainly needs independent transport – the committee’s final financial activity (exhausting our project’s funds) was to buy the family a 2016 Chevy Cruze. 

This is likely the last installment of “HumanistsMN sponsors a Ukrainian family” series. Anton and Olha are managing their own activities, including shopping for their own cell phone service and insurance. So, as HumanistsMN’s engagement with this family comes to a close,  we all wish them the best, wherever that leads. 

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 them to transition to life in America. 

HumanistsMN Ukrainian Refugee Sponsorship Team

March 2024: Well-Being As Values Fulfillment

Valerie Tiberius, author and professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota, told our March Community Gathering about her research into the factors that contribute to well-being. Author of the recent What Do You Want out of Life?: A Philosophical Guide to Figuring Out What Matters, she discussed the importance of achieving goals based on your values.

See a video of the presentation below, starting at 10:02.


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Volunteer Spotlight: Nathan Curland, HMN Pillar

By Sally Johnson

Nathan and his son, Noah, who often joins Nathan at HMN events.

“A student of the Enlightenment,” Nathan Curland cares deeply about individual freedom, personal responsibility, and critical thinking. An avid reader, he discovered HumanistsMN through a listing of local humanist organizations in the back of Free Inquiry magazine more than 20 years ago, and has been an active member ever since.

Formerly active in the Massachusetts Libertarian Party, he found that humanists shared his interest in separation of church and state and the value of the individual.

Many HMN members know Nathan through his work organizing teams to pack food each month at The Food Group ‒ one of our most successful volunteer efforts. But his volunteerism stretches back to the early 2000s, when he jumped right into editing our newsletter and organizing our membership process. 

HMN used to produce a local cable television talk show program, “Humanist Views,” with interviews and occasional debates, and Nathan was involved in both the direction of these episodes and as an occasional guest. You can watch these episodes on the HumanistsMN channel on YouTube

Nathan still works hard to keep our membership running smoothly as we continue to grow dramatically. This involves maintaining a database of all members, managing renewal notices, keeping track of donations, and making the lanyards that we members all wear so proudly.

A Refugee Family

Nathan was born to a Jewish family in Soviet Uzbekistan at the end of WWII. His father, a savvy and hardworking entrepreneur, managed to find a way to make a living and also navigate the precarious political circumstances of the time. Before Nathan was born, the family had been living in Poland when the Nazis invaded, and his immediate relatives fled to the Soviet Union. They continued moving around in an attempt to escape political upheaval and antisemitism, including a stint in a Siberian labor camp when his father refused to relinquish his Polish citizenship. 

By the end of the war, almost all of their extended family had perished in the Holocaust. After Nathan was born, his family moved to Germany and lived quietly, concealing their Jewish identity, known only as Polish refugees. His family was able to immigrate to the United States when Nathan was six years old. Like many European Jewish refugees of that time, they settled in the Bronx in New York City. Nathan’s father initially worked in a “Minsk” sports cap factory until he, along with two other refugees, had the means to start their own business designing and manufacturing women’s handbags for the mass market.

As a kid growing up in the Bronx, Nathan made enough trouble at the local public school that by fifth grade his parents moved him to a Yeshiva. In this more strict learning environment, he discovered an aptitude for mathematics and mentors who insisted he work hard, which eventually prepared him for admission to the Bronx High School of Science, a public math and science magnet school. 

A Love of Math

This redirection of his education “was really the turning point in my life,” he says. “I got so involved in the love of mathematics.” His high school mentors encouraged him to apply to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and he was accepted.

At MIT he furthered his knowledge of math and science and centered his social life on a Jewish fraternity with mostly secular-minded students, which marked his first real departure from his parents’ orthodox Jewish household. After college he followed a mentor to the University of Minnesota, where was able to earn his PhD in electrical engineering while also employed by a company interested in the results of his dissertation. “All this adds up to being in the right place at the right time,” he says.  

After earning his PhD, Nathan worked back in Massachusetts and elsewhere for a technology startup, got married, and started a family. In 1983, he landed again in Minnesota working as chief engineer at another tech startup. By this time his continued intellectual pursuit had removed any remaining ideas of religious faith from his mindset. He eventually ended up working at Seagate Technology, where he spent most of his career. 

Now retired, Nathan has four grown children and remains engaged with HMN. Still an ardent reader who values critical thinking, he often reviews books of note on our humanistsmn.org website

In addition to his service with HMN, several nights a week Nathan tutors adults working to obtain a General Educational Diploma (GED), a necessary step for many people who are seeking to improve their lives through further education and better employment. Many of those he tutors are more recent immigrants to the United States, facing many of the challenges Nathan’s parents faced when they first arrived in this country. 

You can often find Nathan at HMN social events and it is not hard to get him talking about this meaningful work.

Like many of us, he remains concerned about separation of church and state and our ongoing efforts to resist Christian nationalism and the risks it poses to our legislation and political leadership. 

We are so fortunate to have Nathan’s diligent work supporting HMN’s growth and endeavors!

Lessons in Color: How Tribalism and Racism Can Be Taught

By Harlan Garbell

“If you wear a mask long enough, eventually the mask becomes who you are.”
— David Brooks

When I was in college in the 1960s I worked every summer as a counselor at an overnight boys camp near Eagle River, Wis. Without a doubt this was the best job I ever had. The work was easy and the camp was located on a beautiful lake in the north woods. Moreover, because the camp catered to rich kids from the northern suburbs of Chicago, the facilities were top notch and the food was terrific. For the most part, every year both campers and counselors had a lot of fun, as well as warm memories.

Among other things, the camp experience was designed to help young boys with the necessary socialization skills that would enable them to successfully cooperate with other boys in close quarters for eight weeks. And part of my job was to help facilitate this. Sounds like an admirable mission statement, right?

However, starting in the sixth week of every summer, the camp had an interesting tradition. It arbitrarily divided all campers from each age group into one of two teams — the Greens and the Whites. Then the camp held a comprehensive competition for one week between the two teams in various activities — archery, swimming, softball, tennis, tennis, etc. Campers were given green and white t-shirts to identify themselves during the week of this intense camp-wide battle.

Over time, this annual tradition devolved into competition on steroids. Each team developed its own cheers and songs glorifying Green (or White) and denigrating the athletic abilities of the other team. Disturbingly, kids who were once close cabin mates now became fierce rivals and winning seemed to become more important than cooperation and camaraderie with the kids of the “wrong” color.  

One of the curiosities of this tradition was that any camper who returned the following year had a 50/50 chance of being arbitrarily put on the other team during the Green/White competition. Ironically, this would not dampen in the least the enthusiasm of the camper for his new team, or his derision of his old team. A kid who last year may have been a fanatic Green-team member would now become a fanatic White-team member, and vice versa.

Camp management robustly supported the super competitiveness displayed during this period. I suspect they were working under the assumption that this competition prepared the boys for “real life.” That is to say, it was valuable to instill a competitive spirit in boys so that as they got older they would be primed to get into the best schools, get the best jobs, attract the best mates, etc.  And perhaps catering to the implied wishes of many parents, this competition would help make their “boys into men,” at least the mid-1960s projection of what a man should be. (Or, perversely, perhaps camp management were fans of William Golding’s 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies.)

Of course, as a child and teenager I also participated in sports and games with other children and teenagers. But this exposure as a young adult to this manufactured form of hypercompetition was new to me. As a college student at the time, what I learned from this experience was how dramatically children can change their attitudes and behaviors just by arbitrarily assigning them to a team, or a side. It was only later in life that I realized that what I was witnessing was what social scientists refer to as “tribalism.” And that attachment to a color could serve as one of its defining features. 

Coincidentally, in the ’60s, although I didn’t know it at the time, a now famous experiment was conducted involving third graders in rural Iowa. On April 5, 1968 (the day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King), and with the consent of her students, a teacher named Jane Elliott developed a classroom exercise that has now become known as the “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Experiment.” Its design was simple. Elliott separated the blue-eyed children in the classroom from the brown-eyed children. The blue-eyed students were then told they were the superior group and were given extra privileges such as being seated at the front of the class and being allowed more playtime at recess. They were also told to only play with other blue-eyed children and to ignore the brown-eyed ones. 

The brown-eyed children sitting in the back of the room were also made to wear distinctive collars to identify them as a minority group. Moreover, when they made mistakes, or broke a classroom rule, Elliott reprimanded them. However, Elliott didn’t reprimand the blue-eyed children when they made a similar mistake or broke a rule. Perhaps not surprisingly, she became aware that during this experiment the blue-eyed students became arrogant towards their brown-eyed classmates. Elliott also noted that the brown-eyed students started to do more poorly on class assignments compared to the blue-eyed students. 

The following week, Elliott completely reversed the exercise and made the blue-eyed students sit in the back of the room to make them feel inferior to the brown-eyed children, similar to the way brown-eyed students were treated the previous week. The results were remarkably similar: the academic performance of the blue-eyed students suffered.

As my personal camp experience in the ’60s was an example of intentional, manipulative tribalism, Elliott’s experiment was an example of an intentional, manipulative form of racism. Although both of these “experiments” in children’s behavior were very different, they were similar in that color was a common denominator and motivating factor for that behavior.

Unfortunately, in 2024, political and social strife resulting from tribalism and racism is still all too common. However, what if tribalism and racism, as concepts, were truly examined more critically by people utilizing their innate analytical powers? Perhaps we could then see more clearly, based on the sources of these concepts, how unnecessarily contrived and divisive they are. And what if these powers were also accompanied by the power of compassion humans often display to the other “team” in the face of injustice? 

If so, perhaps we as a species could significantly weaken and diminish the power that tribalism and racism hold on us. That people could really see how colors, as symbols, can be manipulated to divide us for social, psychological, and political purposes. That we could then see colors for what they truly are — just colors. 

February 2024: Schools and the Culture Wars

Three education experts at our February Community Gathering discussed challenges facing public schools as they grapple with the rise of groups waging culture wars in areas like critical race theory, transgender rights, and social-emotional learning.

The panel included teacher and Minneapolis School Board Chair Collin Beachy, former Anoka-Hennepin School Board member Nicole Hayes, and Education Minnesota Press Secretary Chris Williams and was moderated by HMN member Lisa Goddard.

See a video of the presentation below, starting at 16:32.


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Music for Humanists: Connecting with Art That Reflects Your Values

By Ellie Haylund

No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious & charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.

― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

How much does music orchestrate your life? Do you create it? Do you attentively listen to it to self-reflect and work through emotions? Is it your soundtrack to otherwise uninteresting tasks? Music plays a role in most people’s lives – an often significant one. The musician you listened to with your dad in the car as a child, the song playing as you walked down the aisle, the album that changed how you look at the world.

Heavy instrumentation with strained vocals can be cathartic. Powerful, emotional singing can give you goosebumps. A quick tempo emphasizing electronics over singing can instill joy and an ideal backdrop for dancing. And for some, the content and themes are of the utmost importance.

Christian music is ubiquitous. It has its own radio stations and takes many forms – traditional, contemporary, and even of the punk and metal persuasions. Many of us have seen videos from evangelical services with a rock band on stage celebrating their faith, complete with visceral crowd reactions, singalongs, and tears. But for nonreligious music fans, do we have some equivalent that highlights (or underscores) our lack of belief? Sure, it’s safe to say that most music is secular, but what about music that speaks specifically from an atheist, agnostic, or humanist perspective?

Last year, I began a series on our Instagram account called “Humanist Song of the Week” (follow us there if you don’t already!). I keep it broad – songs with themes surrounding leaving religion, grappling with the unknown as well as touching on humanist values like equal rights and climate change. It’s been quite an investigative journey and although a bit challenging, it’s been illuminating how much relevant music there is and how much people clearly want to create and to hear these stories.

Baby, baby, baby, you learn so fast
You seem to carry a special gift
Maybe you’ve been given to this world to make a difference
Such delusions we all struggle with
But the beautiful truth of it is
This is all we are, we simply exist
You’re not the chosen one, I’m not the chosen one
But we don’t need anyone
Let’s not choose anyone
“Opening the Hymnal / Babies” ― Cursive

Indie rock band Cursive’s 2006 album “Happy Hollow” explores religious fundamentalism in a suburban town. Across the 14 songs referred to as “hymns for the heathen,” there are mentions of the Big Bang, abortion, and homosexuality. It’s a concept album in that it has a central narrative woven throughout, making it compelling to listen to beginning to end. Its critical nature doesn’t make for easy listening, but instead delivers a complex and incisive story.

It’s time to put god away
I put god away
This is the end of faith
No more must I strive
To find my peace
To find my peace in a lie
“Faith/Void” ― Bill Callahan

Prolific singer-songwriter Bill Callahan’s song “Faith/Void” closes out his 2009 album “Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle.” The above quote is actually a departure from the poetic symbolism typically found in his music – no need to interpret what he’s telling us here. I admire artists who, in the face of stigma, put these thoughts and experiences out into the world.

Indeed, some songs that challenge the typical religious narrative do achieve mainstream success, with or without backlash. John Lennon’s “Imagine” is a sneakily subversive humanist anthem. “Dear God” by XTC criticizes a neglectful god. Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” was written out of frustration with the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church.

I’m often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of music in the world. As with books, it’s a bittersweet feeling that one will never be able to experience it all, regardless of voracious exploration and consumption. I don’t exclusively need music to depict my personal experiences and beliefs. But there is something remarkable about connecting with art that closely aligns with you. 

It may not give us a holy experience, but it can certainly help us feel that we’re not alone.

Share your song ideas for us to feature on Instagram in the comments below! And check out this Humanist Song of the Week Spotify Playlist.

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

PRESS RELEASE

Jan. 22, 2024
Contact: Suzanne Perry
Board Member, HumanistsMN
301.335.0466 / suzanneper@msn.com

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.