Ann L. Watzel is a member of the Humanist Forum of the UU Church of Bloomington, Indiana.
Here, we talk about her life, work, views, and some more.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, where are you at here? How did you move into atheism and humanism?
Ann. L. Watzel: The Humanist Forum is a prepared topic by one person with discussion and questions following it. That is how we work here with an alternation between two groups.
It seems, to me, that I have withdrawn from the church-y activities in our group. I still take part in the reading group. However, I have withdrawn from the church Sunday services. I only go there for this humanist group, which meets in the same place on Mondays.
At least, I can rub elbows with the same people in the congregation.
How I got to be more of a humanist person and atheist person, that’s because of the Hubble Telescope. Friends with physics degrees who I talk with, where the world got bigger, and bigger, and bigger around me. I became much more atheistic in my outlook.
Jacobsen: Have you noticed similar transitions in others who are in the UU community towards a more atheistic and humanistic lens, at times?
Watzel: In the UU community, I am not sure. I feel that our church has gotten more church-y and much less oriented towards humanistic topics. That just may be with our church. I do not know about the larger community.
I have withdrawn from the groupings that happen across districts and multiple states. Although, I can only speak to what I see here at Bloomington.
Jacobsen: When you’re in community for the humanist portion of, basically, the UU community there in Bloomington, what are some discussions had at a lay level – ordinary conversations among members important in daily lives and in their philosophy?
Watzel: If you looked at or opened any of our topics, you would see what we talk about over the years. It would be the best. Some of it is very personal. Here, someone speaking about something current in the church, right now.
Maybe, it is something about childhood education or something else local. A couple weeks later, we are talking about something unrelated to UUism, at all [Laughing].
Watzel: We are staying current with the world and looking at where the world is going, and where the human population is gaining new knowledge.
Jacobsen: I did look at all of the topics spoken of. The range is quite wide and the topics are quite varied.
Watzel: Yes, they are.
Jacobsen: Some of the more recent ones, I think, were around death and dying.
Watzel: Yes, we did have an interesting discussion on that. It was interesting to see some in the group never told the immediate family their views. They simply knew that their views were much different from an older, religious outlook.
I was curious at how in the world they would handle the decisions handled within a family, when the family doesn’t know the person has a totally different viewpoint, currently. That was a fascinating discussion after the initial presentation.
Jacobsen: How do the demographics of the UU community and the humanist community in Bloomington, Indiana community split up?
Watzel: We are [Laughing] right on the edge of Indiana University. So, a large portion of our population is university oriented. We have a number of ex-professors. We have a number of ex-ministers from other religions.
I don’t know if it is oriented to a particular age group. Certainly, they are focusing on the interested of the younger generations. But I don’t think they are focused on the younger populations. It is a range of people who we serve – younger people, older people, and everyone in between.
Jacobsen: How does this compare to Indiana in general in educational levels?
Watzel: Bloomington is an oasis in the middle of a big, red state. That includes some very old-timey religion. [Laughing] yes, Bloomington is an interesting town in the middle of Indiana. Even in the coffee shops, they are more cosmopolitan.
People stay around. We have all sorts of restaurants. It is very different than general Indiana community. That’s reflected in the UU church as well, in the humanist group. It is interesting. We have a variety of people in our humanist group.
We have happily attracted a couple of new young men who were very new in their careers. They are not university people, not university professors. We’re glad that we’re, at least, able to connect on that score.
Jacobsen: With the rise of some forms of very strong right-wing politics, how has this impacted some of the discussions and surrounding community dynamics for those who are in Bloomington and part of the humanist community, the UU community, and entangled in a larger state that is, as you noted, is largely red?
Watzel: We have had the issues some other communities have had in that regard. You could probably Google: “Farmer’s Market White Supremacy Bloomington.” You could see the confrontation in the community with it.
Antifas, protest groups, all involved and making national headlines [Laughing]. It is different. We do face those problems here in Bloomington like every place else.
Jacobsen: Do you see the Bloomington orientation of White Nationalism mixed up with religion as well?
Watzel: The woman most affected by this white supremacist situation in Bloomington was someone who identified herself as a naturalist. That was a new term to me. I didn’t quite understand what that meant. I don’t know how it connects religiously.
I really don’t have any idea on that one. But she has been part of the farmer’s market for years, and years, and years. Evidently, she was never proselytizing for a particular viewpoint. Someone found her views on social media.
That raised a big question for, at least, group of people, saying, “We don’t want the white supremacists here.” I am quite sure that they exist all around us.
Watzel: So, even though, she didn’t do anything within the social setting that we have here in Bloomington with the farmer’s market, didn’t do anything wrong. She was, evidently, “found out,” I guess, because of verbiage on social media.
So, that’s lead to questions about what kind of farmer’s market. There were divisions around it. People showing up in black masks and black t-shirts. It has been interesting to follow it.
Jacobsen: How does knowledge of extreme views on social media impact a person’s placement or position within a community, especially communities that are smaller and more quaint, like those including a farmer’s market?
How does the community find and discuss this information about preventative measures on negative behavioural consequences on such views enacted in public?
Watzel: I am not a Facebook user. A whole lot of people are talking about these things on Facebook. Within my Unitarian community, I know quite a lot of people are involved in a lot of active groups, where the purpose is to create Facebook meetings across these kinds of divides.
We hope to understand each other better, a little bit. It has worked for those who have been involved with the discussions with the proviso that some discussions will never have people on the same page. Or, they don’t accept me; and I don’t accept them.
That feeling between the two parties. I think there’s hopefulness because enough people are involved in those planned activities, where the idea is to, indeed, know someone better. There is hopefulness that that will continue.
We have a good group in the church, in the civil rights area, very supportive of the Black Lives Matter group. Both in town, in the community, and in the church. It is a lot of crossing from one idea to another. There is a good bit of cross-stimulation between the two.
At least, from my viewpoint, if that is true across the larger community, I don’t know.
Jacobsen: When it comes to Indiana proper, the state, who are prominent people in history or now? Those who advance notions of ways of life apart from traditional organized and fundamentalist religion.
Watzel: I can’t tell you that. I don’t really know. I think we’ve had some really good people in the state. However, I am not sure how that relates to Humanism or religion, or advocacy, in that regard. We’ve got some people who, I think, politically are very much oriented towards total civil dialogue coming from Indiana.
It is wonderful. I am thinking of Lugar who is still terribly well-respected and is a sensible human being [Laughing] with sensible ideas, and community back-and-forth. There are others who are in the same boat as that.
I don’t know about a broad range, whether writers, artists, or others. We have a few of those. However, I don’t think that any of them are out there advocating a particular way of living.
Jacobsen: Thank you very much for your time, by the way.
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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