William Flynn is the Founder of the Camden County Humanists. Here we talk about his life, views, and work.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like for you, e.g., geography, culture, language, religion or lack thereof, education, and family structure and dynamics?
William Flynn: I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey. My family moved around a lot during the ’80s and ’90s but always around South Jersey. There was this generic feel to every place
I ever resided at. My Mom and Dad were raised Catholic which meant that I was raised Catholic. I went to a Catholic elementary school. We were a typical American family with typical family problems.
My Father was a lapsed Catholic but told me I had to go to church. My Mom grew up in a strict religious environment. The first time I decided not to go to church, my mom went ballistic.
When you’re a kid, the last thing you want to do on Sunday is put on uncomfortable clothes and kneel in a depressing looking building. Religion in our family was never on the frontlines, it just existed.
I believe that rebellious part of me is what pushed me away from the church and the notion of god. I was an Atheist before I even knew what an Atheist was. I found out where I stood when it came to believing in a god when I was around 11 years old.
For me, it was simple logic that helped me reached my conclusion. Everything I was being taught about religion wasn’t adding up. I began to see how religion hurt more than it helped.
I started asking questions but only received bottom line answers such as “There is a God. There just is”. I think the best comparison when explaining to people how I came to be an atheist, is the Santa Lie.
After a certain age, you start to put the pieces together and you realize that is was being made up as it was going along. God was the Santa lie, the bedtime story, and the coping mechanism.
For critical thinkers, the bedtime stories were over and Santa wasn’t real. Logic and Reason replaced Fantasy and Make Believe.
Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?
Flynn: After elementary school, I attended a Catholic Highschool. It was a disaster to say the least. Kids can be cruel, what can I say. The high school experience didn’t last very long.
I was homeschooled for the remaining year. I attended community college while working part-time. I believe this is what lead me to enjoy the field of Sociology so much. The topic of human nature and conduct was very intriguing and philosophical to me and it still is to this day.
I had many outside influences that formed who I am today. I was 12 years old when I started watching George Carlin. My dad was a big fan of his. I really connected with everything Carlin said about religion.
George hit the nail on the head every time. Even though Carlin was a comedian, he did speak his mind and I could relate to every word.
When the internet came along and brought us Youtube, I was able to discover incredible people such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. I’ve read every book Hitch had written.
I would tell people about Dawkins and Harris. I would recommend articles to those who were on the fence about religion or needed to be re-educated on how much damage religion has caused since the beginning of civilization.
I studied Darwin and Huxley’s work at great length. I would spend a large amount of time watching many debates about the existence of God and the nature of morality.
I made sure that if I was going to be on the frontlines defending science and rejecting religious dogma, I better know more than the person debating me.
Being the one pushing back the theocratic encroachment in today’s society, it’s best to have the knowledge and know-how in order to have a voice and to make a difference.
Since then, I have kept up with the ongoing work from some of the most prestigious and incredible organizations in the world including The Freedom From Religion Foundation, The American Atheists, The American Humanists, and The International Humanist and Ethical Union as well as the British Humanists to name a few.
Jacobsen: Why was Camden County Humanists originally formed? What was its original purpose?
Flynn: When I founded The Camden County Humanists back in early 2013, my purpose was to create an Atheist/Humanist presence where there wasn’t one. Most of the Humanist groups were located in Northern New Jersey.
At the time CCH came along, there were only two groups, one of which was slightly inactive. There was this void that needed to be filled. CCH represented everything that the American Humanists did.
We created a family of like-minded individuals who came together to make the community a better place one good deed at a time. We raised money for different charities, fed the homeless, adopted a highway. We became a part of the community that we enjoyed helping so much.
Jacobsen: Of those community-building activities, what are those provided by the Camden County Humanists? How do these activities give a solid foundation to maintain membership and communal sensibilities – that everyone belongs together?
Flynn: To better clarify, we are very accepting of those who are “still searching”. We don’t judge but we do hope they end up joining. We offer such a wide variety of events that tackle so many topics, some that are a passionate cause to our members.
We have dinner once a month as a “get to know/how ya been” type event. The casual atmosphere gives people a chance to open up, tell us about themselves or simply listen to the conversation.
Many who attend are people who can’t talk about atheism around their family or friends. The dinner gives them a sense of freedom and sanctuary. Over time, people who joined as strangers now participate as friends.
Jacobsen: What tasks and responsibilities come with the leadership role for Camden County Humanists?
Flynn: Being a leader means knowing how to plan events, having an open line of communication with all members and letting people know that they have a voice because they are a part of this group.
Leadership requires commitment and dedication. This means bringing ideas to the group, planning events and following through with them. The more passionate a leader is about what they are trying to accomplish, the more people will believe in them and want to help.
Jacobsen: If you look at local activism for the secular, what are some laudable efforts for the advancement of humanistic efforts?
Flynn: The way things are today, it difficult to live through the age of unenlightenment. The Trump agenda to make this a theocracy on a state and federal level is sad to witness in this day and age.
The best we can do is remind people about the details they seem to forget when it comes to the constitution. Church and State must be separate – no excuses. Secular organizations take on these cases because someone has to uphold the establishment clause of the 1st amendment.
In the end, it comes who down equality. No one should be treated any different because of race, belief, lack of belief or who they love and what gender they identify as.
Sometimes change doesn’t happen as fast as it should but it still happens. This is why we keep fighting the good fight because we believe in equality for all.
Jacobsen: Some or even many secular communities undergo vilification and abuse from other local religious communities. Has this been the case for the Camden County Humanists?
If so, how? Or if not, and if other communities are going through it, what would be a good collective code of conduct to deal with these issues?
Flynn: The one thing that stood out when we approached people or businesses about our group was the fact that they didn’t know what Humanism was.
Once we explained the Philosophy behind it, people didn’t seem to mind. I assumed people couldn’t find conflict with us if they didn’t know much about Humanism. We would always put emphasis on the good that we were doing as a group.
We never ran into any conflict. Our county wasn’t filled with religious extremists or prominent hate groups that you might find in other parts of the country. It was very low key.
I always told members of my group that the best way to deal with conflict was to take the high road. Fundamentalists have a knack for infecting any joyous occasion with hate.
It’s easy to get sucked into that vortex of a shouting match. I’ve seen it happen often at various gay pride festivals. Always be the better person and display a level of tolerance that the religious bible thumpers can never achieve.
Jacobsen: What is the single most important factor in the foundation, growth, and maintenance of the humanist community? Why? How does this play out in concrete terms?
Flynn: The most important factor for any humanist group is being able to stay active. Every group should always get involved in community projects, outreach programs and other events that gain public exposure.
It’s important to know that as a group there is a responsibility to uphold certain values that the American Humanists stand for. We believe in good. We believe in the advancement of science and technology We believe in logic and reason.
Our goal is for the greater good, to better humanity for generations to come and to constantly evolve into a more informed, more tolerant, more compassionate society. To accomplish these goals, it’s important to always stay active and to always be involved.
Jacobsen: How can people become involved with the donation of time, the addition of membership, links to professional and personal networks, giving monetarily, exposure in interviews or writing articles, and so on?
Flynn: When people would join The Camden County Humanists for the first time, I would tell them about the benefits of joining the American Humanists Association.
This meant that they could be more aware of what’s going on in the Humanist community on a national level. Some groups have membership fees in order to fund their group.
This is always optional depending on the size of the group and whether or not it was a chapter of the AHA. Every year, the AHA would give out grants to groups looking to build on what they started.
Members are encouraged to write or call their local representatives, sign petitions, volunteer and even write letters to the editor of the local newspaper. All of these things help people better understand what Humanism is all about.
Donating time towards the group activities is not always easy. It depends on the size of the group, the average age of the total number of members and if group time conflicts with work schedules. I don’t demand people dedicate their lives to the group but I do encourage them to help out when or if they can.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?
Flynn: I think this was a very informative Q & A. I hope that people who read this can relate to what I’ve said and can gain some perspective on what it means to lead a Humanist group.
We still have a long ways to go and progress will take time but if we have strength in numbers, we can accomplish anything. The tides are turning – a new generation of young adults are living their lives with no religious affiliation.
The number of atheists in this country slowly rises. I only hope that 50 years from now, society has become more tolerant, more logical and more compassionate.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, William.
Flynn: You are very welcome, Mr. Jacobsen. It was my pleasure.
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.
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