Rick Heller of the Humanist Hub, In Conversation

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Humanist Hub was founded on January 1, 1974. What have been some of the main developments in its growth and outreach to, and activities for, the humanist community?

Rick Heller: The Humanist Hub was founded as the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard. The founding chaplain, Tom Ferrick focused on serving the needs on nonreligious Harvard students. Greg Epstein has been the Humanist Chaplain since 2005, and expanded the mission of the organization to serve the needs of the nonreligious in the Boston area regardless of academic affiliation. He also raised funds to add staff, which currently stands at four, both full and part-time. We have also leased a space in Harvard square where we hold community gatherings on Sunday afternoons, which we livestream on Facebook.

Jacobsen: As the current operations manager at Humanist Hub, 1) any previous positions within the humanist community? If so, what? Also, what tasks and responsibilities come with the position of operations manager at Humanist Hub?

Heller: This is my first position within the humanist community. My only programmatic role is that I lead weekly mindfulness meditations. Other than that, I handle bookkeeping, purchase supplies, and schedule meetings and events.

Jacobsen: When Humanist Hub talks about being a place to connect with others, make the world better, and for evolving as a human being, what do these mean to you, in an abstract description? Also, what are some on-the-ground examples of the Humanist Hub providing these services?

Heller: Our motto is “connect, act, and evolve.” The word “connect” refers to our aspiration to be a true community. Our main activity is our Sunday afternoon gatherings, which beside a talk includes time for people to gather into small groups to discuss the program. It is through discussion that people often get to know one another and “connect.” With regard to “act,” we have  a “values in action” committee which aims to be of service to the larger Boston community, and has most recently collaborated with One Warm Coat to collect winter coats to be distributed to those in need. Evolve refers to programs that contribute to personal growth, including our mindfulness program and those of our Sunday programs that touch on topics of mental health.

Jacobsen: You wrote the book entitled Secular Meditation: 32 Practices for Cultivating Inner Peace, Compassion, and Joy. Why write it? What was the inspiration for the content – and its title?

Heller: We have been holding secular meditations since 2009. Most of the meditations are drawn from Buddhist practice, but in some cases we have modified the instructions to use language that is clearly secular. Many humanists are put off by any language that smacks of the metaphysical. I’ve found meditation and mindfulness to be personally valuable to me, and I’m happy to share it in our group and through a book to a larger audience.

Jacobsen: What are the upcoming events for the Humanist Hub? What are your hopes for the next few years of the humanist community? How can people donate and become involved in the Humanist Hub?

Heller: We have some exciting speakers lined up for the spring season, but we are not yet ready to make a public announcement. Last semester, we had exciting talks by speakers such as E.O. Wilson, Dan Dennett and Ann Druyan.

Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?

Heller: One of our goals at the Humanist Hub is to be a model for nonreligious communities that we’d like to see spring up in other metropolitan areas. We don’t believe that atheists have a “god-shaped hole” that needs to be filled, but everyone has a need for human connection, and in-person communities for the nonreligious can go some way toward meeting that need.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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