Ric Glowienka “joined Humanist Canada in 2016, became a Humanist Officiant in 2017 and joined the Humanist Canada board in 2019. The son of refugees, Ric came to Canada in 1957. A fascination with computing, Ric has spent 40 years working with organizations around the world, implementing leading-edge systems that prepare them for the information age we live in today. Ric has assisted companies such as Ford, Intel, and NASA and cities like New York, Boston, and Baltimore in leveraging technology to improve their efficiencies and meet evolving customer needs. Ric is a believer in life-long learning. His goal is to refocus Humanist Canada’s message and mission so more Canadian Humanists following their values will be compelled to join the organization. He lives in Ottawa and enjoys travel, music, art and architecture, and cycling the bike paths of the nation’s capital.”
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You are on the Board of Humanist Canada, which is the national representation of humanism. I am on the Board with you to be completely transparent and open for the duration of the interview. What are some moments when a humanistic orientation and life stance took root?
Ric Glowienka: That’s a good question. My roots of my humanism are basically in the Enlightenment philosophy, although I don’t know if I knew it as that at 14 or so – I had a scientific and mathematical orientation from early life.
I remember back in primary school doing a project in science class on statistical probability. I realized that the world was not a supernatural place. The world worked with some degree of rules. I was fortunate enough to have access to a set of Encyclopedia Britannica to be able to read about the physical world in which we lived.
As I went from that age to high school, I found that I was less and less inclined to give any credence to any supernatural effect or any phenomena. I really looked for scientific or other physical reasons for things happening.
That was the awakening of my skepticism. I think that’s where it all began.
Jacobsen: Do you think Canada has a different flavour of humanism than American or Western Europe?
Glowienka: I think different than Western Europe. I think Western Europe has codified, more than us in North America, a humanist response to social issues. In the United States, they are still much more likely to bend to a supernatural orientation.
I think Canada is in the middle. I have encountered people who say, “I am spiritual but not religious.” I think, “Are you hedging your bets?” I think that is our approach to governance in Canada; Canadians try hard not to offend.
A truly rational person would say, “Sure, believe what you want, but the matter of the fact is that we will legislate in accordance with reason and rationalism.” We are a weird mix between most Americans and the more humanist values seen in Europe.
Jacobsen: Do you think this influences our political and social outlook as well? Do you think it influences our relation to other countries in the world?
Glowienka: I think our approach to other countries is more humanistic than the United States. I think there’s more of a social justice to our work in international relations than our neighbours. I think that is deliberate and a healthy thing. I, personally, like the fact that Canada approaches things with an understanding of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its work with the world.
It is not business as usual. It is business unusual. We try, with moral persuasion, to say, “You have to get rid of some of these impediments to the conversations and the enactment of the UDHR.” Canada is one of those countries.
Good international relations start from a bedrock understanding of rights. That’s straightforward with Canada and its approach to the world stage.
Jacobsen: What do you think about Canada and the scientific literacy of its citizens?
Glowienka: I would like to say, “It’s stunning.”
Jacobsen: How does it look from Ottawa?
Glowienka: As Canadians, we are literate as to the operation of the environment around us. The way that we use science to improve our lives.
Let’s say it more specifically, we have relied as a nation on technology to survive. Canada has not been geographically challenged where food stuffs naturally grow. We’ve used science to improve the yields of what will grow, and what we can grow.
We are challenged in building shelter for our people given the extreme climate. I think all of those have led to impressive innovation in Canada. I think, as a country, we have a scientific orientation.
As bad as oil is for the climate, the fact is that a lot of brave people in Canada have done the hard job of extracting oil from oil sludge, from a product that is unusable. In terms of a scientific and cultural orientation, I think we’re in good shape.
I think a lot of people would defend that. We have lot of travelers or passengers in the Canadian environment taking advantage of a lot of technology without acknowledging the criticality of it, in our existence as a country.
In a long way around, we probably could do a better job in our educational system to get kids into STEM. My feeling is that we need to get more kids into STEM. We need to do a better job of getting more youth involved, so that they can take advantage of it and be the next generation of innovators.
Are we the world leader in it? You could say, “Canada is one of the major countries in the world.” Could we be doing a better job? Yes, I think we could be doing an even better job.
Jacobsen: Where do the arts and the humanities fit into the humanist worldview?
Glowienka: That’s a good one. I get pleasure out of solving logic problems. I get pleasure out of a rock song or seeing a fine piece of architecture.
We are not pleasure seekers but seekers of better experiences – let’s say that. The good and bad can be different for everybody. It could be a crossword puzzle. It could be a good rock concert.
What makes you happy? I think that depends on a person’s worldview and how they grew up. I think that kids were lucky if they grew up in a family that enjoyed music and art.
I believe it could virtually anything from writing a computer program to a drawing of a cathedral or something. That’s the long answer. The short answer is, “There are a wide variety of things that trigger happiness in human beings.”
All the arts. All the elements that make up a society are valid contributors to happiness.
Jacobsen: Have humanists made mistakes in their work in Canada? How so if so?
Glowienka: I think Humanism is an unknown concept to many Canadians.
Are humanists not as communal as people who belong to organized religion? Humans benefit from a sense of communal involvement, and we are competing with organizations that have – literally – thousands of years of communal structure.
Whereas, humanism as an organized community is under a century old. How do you create a culture of humanist community with deep history? We are seeing the beginnings of a humanist communal culture. We are all feeling it.
I am a member of Humanist Canada. I also joined the Humanist Association of Ottawa. They have things on offer to get people together. I do not take advantage of them. I feel this is the way for others.
What does this mean to the average humanist? We do not have a BBQ every September. We do not celebrate Isaac Newton’s birthday or anything like that as a capital “H” humanist. I see a whole series of humanist atoms that haven’t coalesced into anything more complex yet.
But I think the arrow of human nature and human behaviour points to more and more humanist structures, which would, in some sense, be analogous to religion without dogma. It is building a coherent humanist message in Canada, perhaps.
Jacobsen: Do you notice anything in the newest generations of young people?
Glowienka: I spent seven years mentoring college students for Nipissing University. I did a class in Information Technology Management. I spent a lot of time observing people in their 20s to 30s and how they approach life.
Their lives, in general, are far more open to experimentation without judgment than I recall in my teens and 20s. We have allowed youth to be more experimental in their approach to life, with fewer rushes to judgement.
We are not as judgmental about alternative ways of living as our parents were. I think a lot of kids take advantage of that. That’s cool. Again, we are still a nation of immigrants. We can see this in my classes and others as well.
In the 20 to 30 years an experimental lifestyle is no longer looked at with a stigma. There is a looking at other ways of thinking. We have a longer way to go. I think both of those things are positive.
Now, my daughter, on the other hand, is a spiritual child, which is fine by me. She must find her own way. I think in their teens and 20s, kids are looking for more direction. They are saying that there was, perhaps, a little too much freedom and openness.
Over the next few years, we may see a backlash to more ordered, structured, and regimented behaviours. My own view is that the long arrow of progress is towards wisely approaching opportunities and wisely approaching new things in a non-judgmental manner.
Again, long story short, in terms of what I see in society from youth, it is a more liberal view towards social norms.
Jacobsen: Americans like to speculate about if they ever had an atheist president in their history. Do you think Canadians have ever had a humanist prime minister?
Glowienka: William Lyon Mackenzie King was talking to his dead mom. So, that’s probably not a good example. If I had to pick an icon of humanism in Canada, I think that I might choose Lester Pearson. He was the son of a Methodist minister, but I don’t think that adversely impacted his governing style.
He seemed to be more of what I consider myself: a globalist or humanist of the world. I think Pearson did a good job of that. Prior to the Second World War, I think there was a heavy emphasis on religious activities and on religion.
In WWII, you get into, “The world is not made better by us slaughtering each other. So, let’s make it a better place.” Pearson was a role model of saying, “Let’s make this a better place or planet.”
Are there any others since then? I haven’t seen a real commitment to that sort of type of behaviour. I am Liberal by political orientation. So, I tend to see our liberal leaders with a bit of rose-coloured classes, and our conservative leaders with a more cynical bent.
If you had to ask me, “Do you feel any of the post-Pearsons are more humanist?” I would say, “From my perspective, I think they have all done their best to not let their own personal religious beliefs really colour their governing style to a detrimental effect.”
Even if it is a deeply held religious belief today, does this mean that they will lead the nation upon those beliefs? My gut feeling is “No.” I think that even if they have strong religious beliefs; I think that the Canadian scene over the last 50 or 60 years has been a lot more based on governing through a – let’s call it – humanist manner.
Jacobsen: What do you think are some of the more exciting initiatives of Humanist Canada now?
Glowienka: I think Humanist Canada could be more of a national organization. It is good for getting people like me to be wedding officiants. I like the idea that Humanist Canada is trying to be more countrywide. I am participating in the committee that is going to try to change perceptions of humanist officiants across Canada.
I think that is laudable. I think people who want a non-religious service should be allowed to have it. I believe in freedom of choice. I believe they should be able to marry whenever they want and to whoever they want.
I think we have a way to go in terms of spreading the goals of humanism as a life stance for more Canadians. Right now, we are still very low national leadership. We need to make the value of being a member of Humanist Canada have some serious value and some serious meaning. We should speak for the more than 25% of Canadians who have no religious affiliation.
So far, I have enjoyed the conversations that I have had with some of you. It is something that I was not doing up until 2 or 3 years ago.
Jacobsen: What about Humanist Association of Ottawa?
Glowienka: I haven’t had much to do with them. They have been more of a communal organization. I have been putting it off. I have a full-time job, so I try to preserve some time for myself. Then again, I think that I am missing out on something when I am not taking advantage of them and their community.
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion based on the conversation today?
Glowienka: It is refreshing. I grew up in an Eastern European family. It was a Polish family, very Roman Catholic. We did grow up in that environment. I am sure that it is the same for many other cultures.
I am sure other cultures are even more rigid. The one thing that I am finding or learning, being a humanist that represents Humanism now; there can also be the same depth of culture to humanism.
I think a lot of people in North America still do not understand. They assume that humanism represents anti-theism. There is a cultural grounding to it. I say to people to learn about humanism. Maybe, that will make it easier to say, “I am a humanist. Here’s why…”
My wish for the years that I will be involved in Humanist Canada will be to help people understand the philosophical and cultural, or historical, underlying tenets of humanists. How we exist? Why we exist? How society benefits from our existence?
We want to say, “This is a positive. It is not anti- anything. It is a pro-human movement.”
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Ric.
Glowienka: Thanks, Scott! I hope that I have given you something useful and worthwhile.
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.
Canadian Atheist 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, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists,American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
Image Credit: Ric Glowienka/Humanist Canada.