[This issue, we sit down with Mitchell Roshannon. Founder and editor of The Ethicist, Roshannon here discusses his work with that journal, his interfaith work, and his upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: I understand that you follow a Humanist path. How do you define that tradition? What does it mean to you?
Mitchell Roshannon: I personally define Secular Humanism as being a belief system which doesn’t accept the notion of a higher being while still highlighting our ability and inherent responsibility to live lives that are ethically and morally sound. In less fancy words, we are responsible for leaving the world better than we found it, and less importantly, there is no God.
To me, it means having a sense of community outside of the Christian faith I was raised in. It meant having a set of writings to look back on to help lead me forward when times were tough. There is, for me anyway, more stability in Humanism than I ever found in Atheism, though I know that there are many happy with their lack of belief or not knowing.
ev0ke: What role does your tradition play in the larger world? That is, do you engage in social activism, political activism, research and writing, et cetera?
MR: Humanists make up a pretty small portion of the population; around 4-5 million people, yet I’ve personally noticed what I believe is a much higher involvement in social and political activism amongst Humanists when ratioed to our population.
I think this is likely because of the clear statements that have been made by both Humanist groups and the Humanist Manifestos (there’s three of them) against hate, intolerance, and the damage it causes. One such section reads: “Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.” A true page-turner, I know! Despite the somewhat dull, scientific nature of the writing, the manifesto is clear, and seems well followed by the peers I’ve run across: human life is valuable and no way of identifying what is humane and respectful of others is worth changing our opinions on someone. In fact, we must fight for that person’s right to identify as such since it leads to their own happiness.
ev0ke: Why do you consider interfaith work important? What do you consider to be some good examples of effective interfaith work?
MR: It’s the same reason that I consider climate change important: we only have one world. All over the globe there are people with hundreds if not thousands of different beliefs that affect the way they live their lives. This isn’t going to change overnight. In fact, it likely never will. Yet, we have only one world, and we have to share it. Part of being able to do that is understanding that we are capable of getting along and working towards common goals despite our differences. In many cases, our differences end up helping us understand ourselves better than ever before. It was my interfaith work that helped anchor me as a Humanist. Similarly, Christians I worked with said that working with me helped bring them closer to God. When working with others we learn more about ourselves and get to explore areas of our minds and faiths we never did before.
Good interfaith work looks like many things. It can be as simple as asking someone about their faith tradition, respectfully of course, or asking/accepting an invitation to partake in a ceremony or religious event of some sort. It can be talking to your dearest friends about where they are spiritually and sharing those struggles. It can look like Muslims, Christians, and Atheists standing in front of a Synagogue after the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting so the Jewish community members within feel safe while they pray. It can be signing petitions, writing letters, and participating in community groups. I, for one, just started participating in a group in my current town of Bloomsburg called the Cultural and Religious Alliance; an interfaith group that holds events and learning opportunities throughout the year. There are so, so many ways to be involved in interfaith work; just look for something that catches your fancy and you’re comfortable with.
ev0ke: What resources can you recommend to those interested in Humanism? E.g., books, journals, websites, et cetera.
MR: I’d recommend first and foremost reading the Humanist Manifesto I, II, and III. You’ll likely find them on AmericanHumanist.org which is run by the American Humanist Association. They put out a variety of writing about humanism, including a bi-monthly magazine. That’s where I’d start.
ev0ke: You recently launched The Ethicist. First, congratulations! Second, what prompted you to start this ezine?
MR: I studied creative writing in college and have always had an interest in writing. Surprisingly to me, I also found an interest in interfaith work after a conversation with the university chaplain. I attended the Interfaith Leadership Institute put on by the Interfaith Youth Core and was hooked, so when they put out news that they’d be offering a couple osmall grants for alumni of their program to use to continue their interfaith work, I knew I wanted to make a website that focused on publishing interfaith stories and stories about belief/tradition.
ev0ke: What is The Ethicist looking for in terms of submissions? Essays? Fiction? Poetry? Any particular tradition, every tradition, no tradition?
MR: Yes. To all of it. The Ethicist will consider writing in any genre or form written by people of any religious tradition or none. Buddhist, Hindu, Humanist, Pagan, Protestant, Jain …. It goes on and on. Basically, if you are a human and you’ve spent some time reflecting on what it is you believe, you likely can write something for us.
ev0ke: The Ethicist is also looking for volunteers and interns. What sort of people are you seeking, and what would their responsibilities be?
MR: The website is fairly new, so there’s some open-endedness to that question. First, we’d love help with our current blog, the Bi-Weekly Rec (more info in the next question). It’s only the Bi-Weekly Rec instead of the Weekly Rec because of my schedule. With more help, I’d love to expand that. We could also use help with reading submissions, deciding what gets published, and making website design decisions. I’ve even considered a communications or social media internship for someone to try and grow our current following.
ev0ke: What is the Bi-Weekly Rec?
MR: Every other week, I pick out something in the interfaith sphere that I think people would be interested in who enjoy The Ethicist. I say “Rec” so that we can cover multiple things: recommendation, recognition, and reconsideration. Every other week, I recommend something, recognize the work of someone else, or reconsider an idea I (the blogger) have been thinking about for a while. If anyone is interested, I’d love to have help making this blog something more than it is currently; perhaps even rebranding it, if not just making some longer posts. I would, of course, do what I can to pay whoever helps out as well as internship credit. In general, any work done for The Ethicist is paid, just pretty small amounts since funding at this point consists of my own wallet.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
MR: That’s my favorite question because I’m a project guy. I like picking up things here and there. For The Ethicist, I’m always thinking about profitability. Can I build up a following that we can offer a service to or sell something to in order to make it sustainable? I also want to expand into publishing longer-form content if we build up a following; anthologies of interfaith writing, novels or memoirs, like a real publishing house! That’s the dream in a sense.
Myself personally, I’m always up to something. Right now, with the pandemic, I’m focusing more on just surviving. I think it’s taken a toll on everyone to live in this doomsday timeline. For me, it’s hit my mental health and finances so I have to spend a little more time on both of those at the moment. Outside of The Ethicist, I do still write. Besides interfaith stuff, I write short stories, essays, and the occasional poem, mostly literary stuff, horror, and politics.
For anyone interested in seeing more of me, I highly suggest following both The Ethicist page and my personal writing page on Facebook, The Ethicist and myself on Twitter, depending on what platform you use more.