Interview with Barrie Webster – President, Victoria Secular Humanist Association

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Barrie Webster is president of the Victoria Secular Humanist Association (VSHA) and the Memorial Society of BC. Here we talk about the VSHA community.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What are the events and services provided for members of the Victoria Secular Humanist Association within the community?

Barrie Webster: We are an incorporated society under the BC Societies Act and have an active program:

  1. During the September to early December and January to early May periods, we have our Sunday Speakers Program, 10:00 to 11:30 am every other Sunday at the Cedar Hill Rec Centre.
  2. On the first and third Wednesday evenings of the month, we have the Humanist Cafe, 7:00 to 8:30 pm at the James Bay New Horizons. Topics are generally taken from current events.
  3. On the second and fourth Wednesday evenings of the month, we have an affiliated function, the Philosophy Salon, 7:00 to 8:30 pm at the Bent Mast Pub in James Bay.
  4. Each Sunday morning, those who get up early meet for breakfast, 8:00 to 9:30 am at J J Morgan’s restaurant in the University Heights Shopping Centre.
  5. We celebrate the solstices with parties, in particular, the winter solstice, since it is a unifying (and secular) astronomical event that affects all on our planet. Our summer solstice party often coincides with the Canada Day holiday weekend.
  6. We have a late summer party to get revved up for the fall season.
  7. From time to time, we have field trips to various natural, historical, industrial, and museum sites to advance our scientific knowledge.
  8. We maintain a website that is still under construction but is much more up to date than it was a couple of years ago. One of our newer members is looking after the VSHA website.

Jacobsen: How can individuals become involved in the Victoria Secular Humanist Association?

Barrie Webster: We advertise our events through email to our mailing list, our website, and MeetUp. Events are generally open to the public.

Jacobsen: Humanism emphasizes reason, compassion, and science. Why? How does this work within a secular community including the Victoria Secular Humanist Association?

Webster: Humanism is non-theistic but has a set of principles to live by. There are various versions of these principles; perhaps the most complete are the ones in the Amsterdam Declaration (2002) published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

If you look on the Web, you will find various sets of principles for Humanists, but the Amsterdam Declaration is one of the best. VSHA has its own set, too. There is, however, no Humanist dogma.

https://iheu.org/about/humanism/the-amsterdam-declaration/

Jacobsen: What are some of the positive expectations for 2019 for the Victoria Secular Humanist Association?

Webster: Our attempts over the past five years have been to make VSHA attractive to newcomers. Not only does this mean that we have to have attractive activities, we also have to be welcoming and, to the extent possible, respectful of the beliefs of others.

Many people who come to check us out are wavering between a religious community that they have become somewhat disillusioned with and our organization. If we tell them that religion is bunkum and that people who are religious are stupid, they are likely to run in the other direction.

On the other hand, if we demonstrate that we have a set of principles, that we are respectful of diversity, and show that our principles coincide almost entirely with their own, then we are likely to have them join us and take out a membership.

Jacobsen: In the management of community and the work to provide for the needs of the members of it, what are the pluses and minuses, positives and negatives, of the work there?

Webster: Views that are seen as being extreme usually turn people off. Positive efforts to do good things in and for the community are much more likely to make friends for VSHA. We are working on increasing this aspect of our organization.

Jacobsen: What are the general demographics of the Victoria Secular Humanist Association? How does this differ from the general surrounding culture of the area?

Webster: VSHA has had an aging membership for many years. We have been taking steps (slow but positive) to attract younger members and are succeeding slowly. Our oldest member is in failing health and is in his mid-90s but we have a number who are still intellectually active in their 80s.

Most are younger, but few are younger than 40. We did have a new young couple and their 17-month-old daughter come to our winter solstice party, though. They found us through our website.

Jacobsen: How can people become involved with donations, becoming a member, or showcasing the Victoria Secular Humanist Association community?

Webster: VSHA is a registered charity. We take up a collection at most of our events (other than field trips, parties, and breakfasts).

We have work to do to showcase VSHA more, but have booths set up at various civic events. We also donate to three charities each year – a scholarship for a local college, one for the refugee centre in Victoria, and one for a Humanist school in Africa.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Barrie.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Photo by Maya Witt on Unsplash

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