NJHN’s 2023 Year in Review

HumanLight Celebration, December 17, 2023
Presented by Lisa Ridge, President

I’m going to tell you about NJHN’s year in 2023. Let’s see what you remember. We started this year still dealing with the challenges of Covid.

In January we started with a virtual program with secular moral philosophy educator Aaron Rabinowitz with a talk on “Luckpilling for Humanists” about the pivotal role of luck in both the history of humanism and our daily lives. Aaron said that fundamentally, humanism is about reducing the unnecessary suffering caused by bad luck and promoting the good luck we need to flourish. And that the more we can internalize that everything about ourselves and others is luck, all the way down, the better we will be at practicing compassionate humanism, both towards ourselves and others.

In February we held a Darwin Day Party at the Monroe Twp Public Library, celebrating the life and work of Charles Darwin. It was our first in-person library event in three years. We played Darwin and evolution trivia games (with prizes), and enjoyed a Darwin Day cake.

In March we had organized a Seal and Bird Eco-Cruise around Sandy Hook, but had to cancel last minute due to coastal flood and gale warnings. We’ll try this again next year. Later that month we hosted author and retired judge Mary Beth O’Connor to talk about her new book, From Junkie to Judge: One Woman’s Triumph Over Trauma and Addiction, for our first hybrid program, both in-person and via Zoom. Mary Beth forged her own path to recovery from trauma and addiction and developed a recovery plan, without a higher power, that has led her to nearly three decades of sobriety thus far. She is now a leader and speaker for secular recovery organizations.

In April we had organized a joint team with Red Bank Humanists for Clean Ocean Action’s Beach Sweep, but had to cancel last minute due to heavy rain, thunder and lightning. We’ll try this again next year.

In May we organized a visit to the New Jersey State Museum for a sky talk at the planetarium, followed by a trip to the Washington Crossing State Park Simpson Observatory for star observations with members of the Amateur Astronomy Association of Princeton. Later that month, we hosted a hybrid program with former Evangelical Christian minister and now atheist Dave Warnock, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2019. Dave now has a nonprofit organization called I Am Dying Out Loud, with a mission to protect and advocate for those suffering from a serious or terminal illness by removing unwanted religious influence from the process of healthcare, dying, and death, and to offer “bucket list” experiences to those diagnosed with ALS.

In June we held our hybrid Annual Membership Meeting, where we shared some of our ideas for future plans and heard from our members. We also elected new Board members for two years and officers for one year. Besides me, would our other Board members just stand for a moment to be recognized: Vice President Adriana Cordal, Treasurer Brenda LaDuke, Secretary Gary Brill, Tamar Kieval Brill, Sue Landry, Rhonda Marker, Rob Lovatt, Joe and Vincenzino. Board members not with us today are Michael Jacobsen, Michael Cluff, and Gwenn Seemel. We’ve had a very busy year, as I’m here to tell you, and these folks help make it all happen.

 June was a busy month, as we also had a table at the Jersey Pride Festival in Asbury Park, where we had a great experience talking to many people who had stories to tell, both proud and painful. We offered info about the many secular organizations that offer community, assistance and services for those who have been harmed or rejected in religious environments, or who are just looking for places where they can be themselves and feel at home. We talked to people who have dedicated their lives to helping people who have been marginalized by religious discrimination. Advocates who now hope that we can work together and strengthen our groups’ ties on common ground.

And then we organized a trip to the Rose Day Festival at Colonial Park Gardens to enjoy the lovely gardens and grounds.

For the third year, in July we hosted a Summer Art Show, back at the library, where our members shared their artistic talents and what inspires their happiness and creativity. We had paintings, quilting, photography, drumming, drawing, miniatures painting, and sculpture. This is an excellent way to learn more about each other and what we do with our precious free time.

In August, we held our summer picnic at Duke Island Park. The weather was excellent and it’s always a fun day with one of our largest groups.

Our September program was a Games Day at the library. We played Cards Against Humanity as a group, and then broke into two smaller groups to play other games.

Our hybrid October program speaker was Dr. Juhem Navarro-Rivera on the topic of The Latinx Secular Revolution. Juhem is a political scientist, writer, and research consultant, a leading expert in the demographics and politics of non-religious Americans. He shared details of recent surveys that confirm a significant shift away from Catholicism as the dominant religion among Latinxs, and number of nonreligious Latinxs now account for the second-largest cohort after Catholicism, surpassing Protestants, and nearly half of Latinxs under age 30 identify as nonreligious.

And in November, our speaker via Zoom was Ron Flannery, who spoke about The Nature of Religious Experience, whether such experiences are real, where they come from, are they a good thing, and should we pursue religious experiences.

And here we are today, closing out our year with a celebration of our Humanist community and our values.

Throughout the year, we continued our monthly Book Club, where we read a variety of 10 nonfiction books to strengthen our understanding of human challenges and achievements, our history and future. We’ll end this month with a memoir on the experiences of a 9-year-old undocumented immigrant as he traveled alone from El Salvador to California and the dangers he faced and the help he found along the way.

We continued our Exploring Humanism online program this year. Once a month we’ve discussed a variety of issues and how they affect our humanist lifestance. Issues including religion and spirituality, philosophy, religious and positive Humanism, and starting on the Ten Commitments created by the American Humanist Association, starting with Critical Thinking, Ethical Development, and continuing next year with Peace & Social Justice in January and then Service & Participation in February.

We’ve been meeting for our Monthly Dinner at the Omega Diner in North Brunswick. In October we visited a Dominican restaurant for Hispanic Heritage Month. We’ve been meeting at Omega for so long that they know who I am by my phone number when I call to make the reservation. And we have our own server whose name is Mo.

We will do our very best to create opportunities for more fun, social gatherings in the coming year, if the weather would cooperate.

We’ve shared information about many virtual programs, conferences and celebrations from national, regional and international organizations, and the release of reports of critical importance here and around the world.

Last year we became a chapter of the American Humanist Association, and this year we were awarded our first AHA grant to purchase some new tabling materials as we will try to expand our outreach into new and more diverse areas of the state!

And this year we successfully established our annual Secular Student Scholarship, with our first $1,000 recipient Tinashe Muzambi here with us today, and early next year we’ll start fundraising for our 2024 scholarship. We may have the opportunity to start reaching out to high school and college students to assist with establishing Secular Student Alliance chapters and reaching out to possible faculty advisors.

We welcomed 23 new members in 2023 (compared to 10 in 2022). We’ve been progressing with our Community Cares program for our members, to show that our community wants to support you in times of joy and sadness, to celebrate your successes, to offer our support in difficult times, our condolences when you experience loss. To keep in touch with you when these life events happen. We hope you’ll share these experiences with us in the future. You can communicate with us by email at [email protected].

Finally, I’d like to thank all of those who donated items for our Silent Auction and to those who bid on those items over the last week. I don’t know the final numbers yet, but I’m hoping we’ve been able to raise at least $400 for some of today’s expenses and for our programs and speakers for next year.

We continue to encounter unprecedented challenges to the principles of Humanism that we hold most dear, and that will continue in the new year. We face real conflicts, here and around the world. There is good news: the demographics of nonbelief and no particular belief continue to grow, especially in the younger generations. We’ll continue to find and stand together with the helpers in the ways that each of us can.

Thank you all for coming today and sharing some of your holiday time with us. I’d like to propose a toast for all of us for 2024: good health and success, happy times with family, friends and pets, time to relax and travel, good food and drink, good books and music, and all the rest that fulfills you. The resolution of conflicts around the world and world leaders seeking peaceful solutions. And better days ahead, as we continue to celebrate our Humanist values of Reason, Compassion, and Hope for a better future! Happy Holidays, Happy HumanLight, and Happy New Year, to all of you!


Published 1/1/24