Interview with Don Wharton – Head, Washington, D.C. Atheist MeetUp; Member, Washington Area Secular Humanists

by | July 25, 2019

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Don Wharton is the Head of the Washington, D.C. Atheist MeetUp & a Member of the Washington Area Secular Humanists.

Here we talk about his life, work, and views.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did the organization [Washington DC Area Coalition of Reason] start?

Don Wharton: There was a need to create a community within the more secular organizations in the DC region. I cannot say that on the whole, it has been hugely successful, but we’re now organized as a subset of the Secular Coalition for America. They lobby Congress a lot. They want to have secular lobbying groups in every state. There is a nationwide coalition of secular organizations that fund it. It is extremely effective at mobilizing secular organizations and people. So, I am proud that they were advancing in that area.

Jacobsen: In terms of your own personal background, how did you become involved with this, the formal secular community and activism?

Wharton: To some extent, because I wanted to have a social community of people for myself. I first got associated with the Washington Ethical Society of all things, which is a religious liberal group. It was founded by Felix Adler, an ex-Jewish atheist in New York.

It got to the point where I decided I couldn’t stay with WES. There would be people that would say, “Atheism is just another form of fundamentalism.” I moved over to our side once I found the Washington Area Secular Humanists. It is a much more secular organization where most of the people were explicitly and not ambiguously atheistic. Although, they had a strong preference for secular humanism in their name. I made friends with people there. It turns out that one of my friends happened to be on the board of directors. I got sucked into the board of directors of the Washington Area Secular Humanists. I never explicitly sought to be a leader, but it was hanging around people and the fact of the matter is if you care about the people that you are friends with; this is a type of thing that can happen.

In terms of the DC Secular Coalition of Reason, I was a techie. Shelly Mountjoy got selected to lead it and she wanted to have a webmaster. So, I became the webmaster for her. She was an extremely effective leader. She put a huge amount of time in the networking with people and adding organizations to the structure. I was pleased to update our web pages as she did all of these tasks. Mary Bellamy took over as Organizer after Shelly left. It was an accident that I became the leader of the overall thing when Mary left. Mary did not have anyone else that had any vision or leadership qualities to do anything with it. Frankly, I was more of a techie and I did little more than add some organizations to the web page as I got them to agree to be added.

Samantha McGuire is the current president of the Washington Area Secular Humanists. She engaged with the DC CoR organizations to create a regional conference of our organizations. Now, I am pleased with this effort to have a deeper feeling of connectedness with the people who are member organizations in this region.

Jacobsen: If you are looking at important allies working on your relatively coordinated goals in 2019, two things follow from that for me. One, what goals do you deem most important in the current administration for 2019? What allies are most salient for that?

Wharton: Oh, that is a big, big, big question. Now with secular lobbying, one of the major things is separation of church and state. There were so many efforts in place to take away the rights of nonbelievers, and to try to impose a theocratic spin on the nature of what governance should be. The God segment of the population and their organizing groups are the nasty edge of religion seeking to control sexuality.

Of course, feminist activists fight for choice. It is a major area where the bureaucrats wanted to take away the rights of people. We have major allies among feminist leaders that are trying to maintain the rights and respect for women.

The attempt to take away those rights is something almost all of us passionately disagree with. You certainly do not allocate reproductive rights to men who then approve or disapproved of reproductive choices for women irrespective of their desires.

Jacobsen: If you are looking at the cabinet appointments, if you are looking at Roe V Wade from 1973 in the United States, what are threats to those, given what you said?

Wharton: The methodology of the right wing has been largely to regulate centres that provide choice, especially for the impoverished women. That is where the issue becomes paramount. The relatively rich are always going to have choice. Others will have the choice pushed off the shelf if they get rid of Roe V Wade in this country and outlaw abortion. The rich will fly overseas and find a place where they can exercise choices as they wish. It is always going to be those who do not have that travel option, who do not have the resources. Planned Parenthood, one of our past presidents for the Washington Area Secular Humanists was the leader of Maryland Planned Parenthood. They decided secular groups were their ally in maintaining the reproductive choices for women. They were correct.

Of course, that is an alliance we care about. A major part of the battle entails dealing with absurd regulations such mandating the width of the hallways. Planned Parenthood provides abortion services. In terms of the actual number of medical services delivered it is an extremely tiny part of it. Things like cancer screenings and contraception services are the routine but necessary services provided. Things other than abortion are the vast majority of what they do. If you want to prevent abortions, one of the major things that you do is give people contraceptives. So, they can keep from having to abort undesired foetuses under inappropriate circumstances. There have been incredibly nasty fights in so many areas where the right-wing achieves a majority of the power.

Fortunately for Canada, you do not have anywhere near this social contention, visceral fight about who supports choice then being deemed to be a murderer. They see it as the murder of little babies, which is what they call it. It was one of the most appalling misstatements of facts. If you do not have cognition, you are not a participant in the society. There is no person there to have a preference one way or another about outcomes. It is only after you are born that you interact. There is social engagement. Only then is citizenship relevant and its rights validly considered at all. Is my passion of opinion on that point clear?

Jacobsen: Are there any other topic areas that you would like to cover that we haven’t so far?

Wharton: I presume there are probably tons of them. Religion saturates so much of society. One of the things I do in my discussion group is make time to support group members with their personal conflicts over religion. Many family networks have extreme bigotry against anyone who does not believe in the ghostly spirits described in some ‘holy book.’ If you do not have this belief it is deemed to be moral negligence. I have a friend who had to say to his mother, “I divorce you. I want nothing to do with you. I can’t see you. You are abusive to me.” It was required because she did not approve of who he was; because in large part, he became an atheist, and she remained religious.

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

Wharton: Yes! A real 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:

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 Ji Pak on Unsplash

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