September the 6th to the 15th will see the second Humanist Week in Akershus.
For non-Norwegians reading this, a little geography lesson might be in order to put things into context. Norway is divided into 19 fylker (counties), which are then further divided into 430 kommuner (municipalities). Oslo is both a fylke and a commune. Although I live in Lørenskog, which is in Akershus, HEF’s local administration is located in Oslo, which also happens to be the national HQ. Each fylke has its own local steering group, which is responsible for the running of events and the organisation of important HEF activities such as weddings and confirmations.
I’m learning very quickly that the cultures, customs (and the thing I struggle with the most, the dialects) can be very different in each region, and Norwegians are very keen on devolving responsibility (political representation and how schools are run are the two I’m most familiar with) to each fylke and kommune.
For HEF and for Humanist Week, this means that each fylke is responsible for driving local activity based on local needs and interests. The first HEF Humanist Week was run in the Oppland kommune in 2010 and included a dinner for all the local members followed by a talk on “How the cosmos has controlled the evolution of Earth and its life forms, a Philosophy Café which catered for a more general audience, a lecture on the works of Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss, and a performance by local hip-hip duo Jaa9 & OnkelP.
Building on the success of the week in Oppland, last year HEF organised a similar event in Akershus, which had ladies in wedding dresses in a mall promoting HEF’s wedding ceremony services, bowling for younger folk interested in getting to know more about humanism and lecture/seminar with Lars Gule , who talked about the lessons to be learned from the tragic events of July 22nd.
Planning for this year’s event is now underway and I invited myself along to the first organisational meeting last week, where we sat down to brainstorm ideas and potential activities. I went along largely just to get an idea of how HEF works both in terms of the wider national organisation and the local activities, but I was keen to contribute ideas where I could.
We started by trying to deciding what the actual week is for; at a basic level, a week of humanist themed events serves the dual purpose of creating greater awareness of HEF as an organisation, but more importantly about the humanist life-stance. Unpacking this simple objective, however, led to some very interesting discussions, not least the worry that HEF over-emphasises ceremonies over other activities. In terms of themes, the simple idea of ‘what is humanism’ was proposed with the idea of combatting misconceptions of humanism and giving people the opportunity to learn more about the variety of humanist thought and activity. With this came the point that it is important to keep in mind that humanism is presented as a positive life-stance in and of itself.
Whilst it might, and very often does, involve fighting illogical religious anti-secular ideals and policies, humanism is not just about being anti-religious and ragging on the Church; humanists are advocates of rights, freedoms and autonomy of thought for all, not just anti those who deny others these things.
At the same time avoiding crossed the line into proselytizing is something that we’re all keen to avoid. I have often found myself mulling this over when thinking about my own approach to talking about humanism – just when does enthusiasm become preachy? The line is thin and wavy.
I suggested that morality might be a good theme as it’s something that everyone has an opinion on and can be framed in the positive, not just anti-theist way. There is lots of scope for discussion different types of events and it would be a great way to learn more about what the public think. One of my small ideas is to have ‘suggestion-boxes’ where ever we have a stand or event, where people can suggest what they think morals are and what gives us our sense of morality, be it god or our collective sense of humanity. I have ideas about how to make this interactive, using Prezi and Twitter but at the moment they’re little more than that as I have no idea how feasible they are. I am really keen to try and implement this idea at any events that might be held for younger folk and children as that’s where I suspect the really interesting ideas will come from.
One of the things that surprised me, and I think is one of the elephants in the room for HEF as a whole, is that whilst we talked about what kinds of events we could put on for young people and even children, there weren’t any young folk actively involved in the planning of the event; I was the youngest person there by a good few years (no disrespect to those that were at the meeting, of course). Last year’s bowling event was a success and something to build on but there is a noticeable impasse between senior HEF folk who complain that they put on events and the young people aren’t bothered, and the youth who don’t always find the activities offered relevant or interesting enough to pull them away from other things. This year’s humanist week can be another step to resolving this problem and one of my long-term aims is to get HEF and Humanistisk Ungdom working together a little more closely, but that’s for another blogpost altogether.
I’m meeting one of the HEFs chief organizers later this week to talk about some of my ideas in full. Many of them come from learning about what does and doesn’t work from my time running the Aston Humanist Society and events like Fresher’s Fair, advertising talks, etc. I got tied up in work and preparing for my move to Norway so I couldn’t help University of Birmingham Atheist Secular and Humanist Society organise or attend their
as I had planned, but they did a fantastic job putting together an excellent series of events that HEF would do well to model. I’ll also be using the The National Federationof Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies’ excellent collection of resources.
Nothing concrete had been decided by the end of the initial meeting but we generally agreed that philosophy cafés, lecture/seminars and stands in shopping centres around Akershus were a shoo-in. There were lots of other ideas presented that the local kommne steering-community leaders had to go away and work on before the next meeting. I’m wondering whether we couldn’t also build on the success of the fundraising concert for HAMU and put on something similar again for Humanist Week, but I know that's easier said than done.
It’s once the general events are decided the real nitty-gritty fun starts. The next three months are going to involve a lot of creativity, hard work and planning but I’m really looking forward to being involved in putting on a great showcase for humanist thought.