Interview with Members of the Santa Fe Freethinkers Forum

by | August 12, 2019

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Here we talk with members of the Sante Fe Freethinkers Forum about their community.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s start with some background, either family or personal, what are some important details and stories?

Gonzales: I was born into a Catholic Hispanic family and baptized. When I was 10, my parents got divorced and my mother remarried; she was no longer welcome in the Catholic Church, so we became Presbyterians. I began to doubt the existence of god when I was in high school in the sixties; but did not discover Unitarianism until the 1990s..

Chapman: I come from a rabidly fundamentalist family, was isolated from other children to protect me from wickedness, and only allowed to read the Bible, Encyclopedia, and a few science books. Hell was the core of the belief system. My love of science helped me escape (I still say that Einstein saved me from hell.) For years I hated all religion. But travel introduced me to eastern thought; reading led me to humanism, and in 1990, I discovered UU.

Brumley: After years of questioning fundamental religious teachings, the lights finally came on during my sophomore year at Baylor University.  For the next forty years I shunned religious gatherings.  In the late 90’s, a friend invited me to check out a Unitarian/Universalist Congregation with no creeds to adhere to and that is where I have remained

Austin: I was brought up in a conventionally (and not very actively) mainline Protestant family.  My sister and I were sent to mainline Sunday schools, and in my high school years I became active in Presbyterian youth groups.  I formed the notion of becoming a Presbyterian minister, and enrolled in divinity school. It became apparent before long that my “calling” was to academe, not parish ministry. I completed a Ph. religious studies, with an emphasis on theology and philosophy of religion.  I ended up teaching philosophy in nonsectarian universities for 43 years.

Jacobsen: How did you become intrigued and involved in secular issues?

Gonzales: The longer I live and the more I see, less logical is the existence of an omnipotent, loving “god”. And I began to wonder: how can I know what happens after death? What I know is that I have this Life, right here, right now; and I am part of a large system of humanity to which I have responsibilities and which I can see. I know this is a chance to make a difference, and I’m trying not to blow it. I also know that there is lots I don’t know and understand.

Chapman: At 12, I realized that the link between time and motion precluded combustion without time, freeing me from the fear of a timeless burning Hell. Literature and philosophy encouraged me to think and reflect. Music, art, theatre and nature’s beauty provide transcendent awe. I love reading the myths of various cultures, but the religions around them have done a lot of social harm. So I’m dedicated to learning, social justice, awe, and celebrating the joy of a secular life.

Austin:  In the course of my academic life, I “evolved” toward secularity (no sudden break). One major impetus was a longstanding interest in science-and-religion issues, beginning with the time when I was about 13 and heard a church elder thunder “The trouble with evolution is that it takes away the credit from Almighty God.”  Even then I thought something was askew there. A second impetus came in my early college years when I discovered utilitarian ethics, which immediately made much more sense to me than an oppressive morality of “thou shalt nots.” 

Jacobsen: How did the Santa Fe Freethinkers Forum start?

Santa Fe Freethinkers Forum: Four members of the UU Congregation of Santa Fe – Mary Ellen Gonzales, Roger Brumley, Mim Chapman, and Bill Austin – met over coffee and shared our desires for a stronger humanist presence in our congregation. We decided to create a space and time devoted to discussing important topics and stimulating our thinking regarding political, philosophical, ethical and social issues. We knew many people in our UU community would be interested. The four of us also had connections in the wider community, and believed that, in addition to members of our congregation, others might be interested in a Humanist group. So Ms. Gonzales agreed to approach the administration of our UU Congregation to ask about meeting space and time. She also agreed to post notices of our meetings in local papers. The others personally invited their friends and connections to meetings. All of us discussed and researched topics, and we were off and running.

Jacobsen: What are the demographics of the community now? 

Santa Fe Freethinkers Forum: The Freethinkers generally attract from 15 to 22 folks each third Sunday. Attendees are usually evenly divided by gender.  Some members of the Unitarian/Universalist Congregation of Santa Fe (UUSF) attend. We meet on the third Sunday of each month from 8:30 – 10:00 am, ending shortly before the main service begins at 10:30A. Starting in Sept, we are going to experiment with extending the conversation over a brown bag lunch after the morning service,

Jacobsen: What are your tasks and responsibilities in the Santa Fe Freethinkers Forum?

Gonzales: I have two major jobs. One is interface with our local UU church, and the other is to get notices of our meetings and their topics in the local papers. Of course, I also help plan our activities and topics and sometimes lead our discussions.

Chapman: I maintain our Meetup site, posting each month’s topics, welcoming new members, sending email reminders. I also submitted our Freethinker Friendly Congregation application to UU Humanists and am our connection to AHA, of which we are an affiliate chapter.

Brumley: Generally, the task of managing the Freethinkers programs is shared among the four original organizers.  This includes recruiting presenters, moderating the meeting, collecting donations, distributing Humanist/Freethinkers information, posting notices of meetings times and topics on local media, etc.

Austin: I participate in planning sessions of the “Gang of Four,” and sometimes lead Forum discussions.

Jacobsen: What have been important social and political activities of the Santa Fe Freethinkers Forum?

Santa Fe Freethinkers Forum: Important social and political activities are usually related to the subject matter being presented.  During a recent restorative justice program, a local District judge came and contributed his experiences in the judicial system. The Freethinkers developed a welcoming statement that appears on the UUSF website. Our congregation has met all the requirements to be officially designated as a Freethinker Friendly Congregation, and last spring the Sunday service was totally devoted to a description of humanism, followed by a congregation-wide celebration of our Freethinker Friendly status.  Third Sunday meetings are advertised on several local media outlets.

Jacobsen: What are some new projects for the Santa Fe Freethinkers Forum?

Santa Fe Freethinkers Forum: We are considering applying for a Humanist Chapter grant to enable us to expand our visibility and influence and to reach out more effectively to other parts of our community, such as our colleges, local atheist and skeptic groups, and other liberal organizations

Jacobsen: Who is an important person for secular work in your locale?

Gonzales:  Marcela Diaz.

Brumley: The UUSF Minister, Gail Marriner is a public face for the Freethinkers, along the four organizers.

Jacobsen: What are other important organizations in the area?

Santa Fe Freethinkers Forum: Santa Fe, NM is the capitol for State government but has a long history of being a liberal, progressive community. There are numerous organizations that offer assistance for progressive causes. The City also offers many different healing organizations promoting holistic therapy.

There are a number of other non-theistic groups in New Mexico, including an atheist group and several non-theistic discussion groups.

Jacobsen: How can people become involved with the Santa Fe Freethinkers Forum?

Santa Fe Freethinkers Forum: People from the UU congregation see the notices of our meetings on their email log, and the larger community finds us through our postings in the calendars of several newspapers. We also have a Meetup site, so people can find us online.

Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts in conclusion?

Santa Fe Freethinkers Forum: We’d love it if you shared with the Santa Fe Freethinkers information about how you are helping the atheist/Humanist/Freethinkers cause in Canada! Thanks.

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

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 Dallin Holding on Unsplash

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