Interview with Mark Brandt – Co-Facilitator, Unitarian Universalist Humanists of Clearwater

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Mark Brandt is the Co-Facilitator of the Unitarian Universalist Humanists of Clearwater. Here we talk about his life, work, and views.

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?

Mark Brandt: I was born in Iowa in 1946 and moved to Florida at age 11 in Feb 1958. The nuclear family consisted of my parents and older brother. Mom and dad were married for 69 years.

They both died in in 2009. We had a plain vanilla family life. There was never any violence or abuse. I would describe home life as midwestern stoic. My older brother died at age 43 in 1986. Church was required for me by my parents until I was age 15.

They didn’t come but I was required to go until that age. Culture, language etc were all midwestern protestant. Education included a BA from Florida State University, the sophomore year of which was spent in Florence, Italy. Post graduate study culminated in a law degree (JD) from the University of Virginia.

Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?

Brandt: Formal education is noted above, although my scholarship in law school was spectacularly mediocre. The last 30 years or so have been devoted to trying to learn more about the world.

The first major undertaking was to read the bible from cover to cover, skipping only the parts about the cubits of the ark and some of the genealogies. That really set me on my secular/atheist path. I have been a modest autodidact since then reading most of the atheist authors.

I have joined 4 secular humanist and atheist organizations, to wit: AHA, CFI, FFRF, and AA. Articles in their publications have been read and digested. Several years ago a group of secular friends engaged with 5 Baptists.

We would get together once a month for discussions on subjects such as evolution, suffering etc. After 8 or 9 sessions, we were starting to repeat our arguments and decided to disband the discussions.

It was a good learning experience and helped to refine my worldview and arguments for atheism/humanism.

Jacobsen: You are a Co-Facilitator for the Unitarian Universalist Humanists of Clearwater with Bill Norsworthy. How does the work as a co-facilitator differ from other service or gathering leaders of more traditional religions?

What is the typical layout of the gathering, of which you facilitate? Is there a formal schedule? What is the general content?

Brandt: As to co-facilitating the UU Humanist group, Mark and I try to have a speaker once a month. Meetings are held from 12:30 to 1:30 on Sundays after the UU services.

After our meetings, usually a bunch of us adjourn to a local restaurant for further conversation. Usually in Feb, our group, along with other Tampa bay free thought organizations sponsors a Darwin Day Celebration.

In the past, we have hosted Daniel Dennett of Tufts University and Frans de Waal of Emory as our featured speakers. Richard Dawkins and the former head of American Atheists have also spoken at our UU campus.

Our meetings are secular. There are no songs or rituals. They are just an opportunity for like minded folks to gather. It’s an informal gathering. We have also hosted a summer social at a restaurant and a winter solstice potluck dinner.

Jacobsen: In terms of the primary and secondary beliefs of Unitarian Universalism, how does the humanistic flavor of Unitarian Universalism differ from the non-humanistic one?

Brandt: UU’s do not subscribe to a formal creed so you’ll find an eclectic mix of beliefs. Secular humanism is one of the main worldviews among UU’s.

Our UU congregation has been quite accepting of differing views. Those who have some nebulous spiritual views seem to accommodate us humanists quite easily and vice versa.

Jacobsen: What are the main activist efforts of the Unitarian Universalist Humanists of Clearwater?

Brandt: Our activities are listed above. We try to not be overly active (this may be a rationalization for being lazy) so as to not be considered a rogue group within the congregation.

Our members are active within the larger congregation in social action issues and other congregational activities.

Jacobsen: What have been the important social outreach efforts of the Unitarian Universalist Humanists of Clearwater?

Brandt: Our congregation has been quite active with migrant workers, refugees, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups. 

Jacobsen: What do you see the potential threats to the community and social life of the Unitarian Universalist Humanists of Clearwater as we move further into 2019?

What might be proactive efforts to combat some of these, potentially, regressive forces in alliance with other organizations?

Brandt: I don’t see any direct threat to what the UU Humanists are doing. There is a battle on the national level with the religious right trying to turn back the clock against the forces of modernity which humanists have embraced.

There is the possibility of violence fomented by the right, but no threats have been received by our humanist group. We have not been actively engaged in trying to promote secularism other than our normal activities.

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?

Brandt: Our group is listed on the UU Clearwater website. We do receive inquiries from time to time. Visitors to UUC also find out about our group and ask to be included on our email list.

We will continue to gently push for a more rational, evidence and fact based world eschew the mythological world of deities and gods.

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

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.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

Photo by Jim Witkowski on Unsplash

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