Bill Norsworthy 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?
Bill Norsworthy: I was born and raised in Louisiana. My parents both graduated from college. My mother was a language major and father was a journalist.
They were both devoted Episcopalians, so I was, too. By high school, I had my doubts, having discovered Thoreau, Emerson and the Transcendentalists.
While in graduate school I was introduced by a friend to Unitarian Universalism. A couple of years later I joined the UU Congregation in Atlanta. Since then I have been an active UU in several congregations.
I have two sisters, one in Louisiana and one in California. I have two adult children, both of whom live in the Tampa Bay area and six grandchildren. I have been in partnership with Marie Chapman for 15 years.
As for the dynamics of my formative years, I would say that my parents were very helpful in allowing me to think about the world and to express my thoughts without being too judgmental.. It wasn’t always a smooth one, but my journey as a Freethinker has been quite fulfilling.
Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?
Norsworthy: I graduated from Louisiana State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance. I also have an MBA from the University of Massachusetts.
Informally, I have always enjoyed reading and discussing ideas with friends and colleagues. Most of my reading is in non-fiction and focuses on history, biography, science and religion.
Jacobsen: You are a Co-Facilitator for the Unitarian Universalist Humanists of Clearwater with Mark Brandt. How does the work as a co-facilitator differ from other service or gathering leaders of more traditional religions?
Norsworthy: One of the best aspects of Unitarian Universalism is its non-theistic philosophy.
This allows our Humanist Group to explore a wide range of topics and issues in our monthly meetings. While it is not a requirement of membership, the great majority of our Humanist group members are atheists or agnostics.
This group offers opportunity to connect with like-minded people and to support the search for better understanding of the cosmos and the roles we have in it.
Jacobsen: What is the typical layout of the gathering, of which you facilitate? Is there a formal schedule? What is the general content?
Norsworthy: We generally meet once a month from September through May. Our meetings are held on Sunday afternoon and are followed by lunch at a nearby restaurant.
We usually have a single guest speaker and we always have a Q&A session after the talk. Sometimes we have a musical presentation, as well.
One of our meetings each year is to celebrate Darwin Day. It is hosted by our group plus several other freethought groups in the Tampa Bay area: CFI, Atheists of Florida, Suncoast Humanists.
These meetings, held on Saturday at UUs of Clearwater, usually have three speakers on science topics and the program lasts about three hours.
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?
Norsworthy: UUs generally have a very liberal attitude toward religion. Our focus is on the life we have and not on one that might exist after this one.
Some UUs do have a belief in something, which they choose to call God, but very few would define God in an anthropomorphic or personal way.
Jacobsen: What are the main activist efforts of the Unitarian Universalist Humanists of Clearwater?
Norsworthy: Since we are part of the UUs of Clearwater, the Humanist Group doesn’t have an independent activist program. Our members do participate in various social justice activities.
Our group does work with the other freethought groups in the area to promote science, freethought, atheism and humanism.
Jacobsen: What have been the important social outreach efforts of the Unitarian Universalist Humanists of Clearwater?
Norsworthy: As indicated above, the UUs of Clearwater has a very active social justice program that supports racial equality, refugees, immigrants, farm workers, prison reform and those in poverty.
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?
Norsworthy: As throughout the world, there are regressive forces locally that would like to create a theocracy.
In this area, these forces are empowered by conservatives who are in firm control of the government of the State of Florida.
We have not experienced any direct persecution but the potential is always there. The Tampa Bay area is not too extreme (not to say that there aren’t extreme people here), but political affiliation is about one-third each for Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
Our Humanist Group is affiliated with the Tampa Bay Coalition of Reason and with the American Humanist Association. In addition, I am a member of the Board of the Secular Coalition for America, a coalition of 19 national freethought groups.
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?
Norsworthy: We encourage our members to be involved in community organizations and political parties and to represent our worldview that secularism is the best way to deal with the challenges of the modern world.
We do accept donations to defray the cost of our speaker program. We haven’t engaged in writing articles…yet, but that is an excellent idea. Thanks.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?
Norsworthy: The freethought/secular movement has been gaining strength for the last 300+ years. While this has not been a straight line of growth, it has experienced a significant increase in the last generation.
The future of Secular Humanism will likely be even better, as the ideas of the Enlightenment continue to inspire creativity and problem solving that will improve life on this “pale blue dot,” as Carl Sagan so eloquently described our fragile planet. We are committed to furthering that cause.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Bill.
Norsworthy: Thank you, Scott. Your inquiry is much appreciated. Please let us know if we can answer any other questions.
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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Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.