Positive Atheism

Jun 29, 2016

By Herb Silverman

I’m honored to be giving the Wolfson lecture, especially after learning about the accomplishments of Dr. Irving Wolfson and Annabel Wolfson. The Wolfsons and I have a minor connection. I taught at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, in the late 1960s and early ’70s and like them, was active in civil rights and Vietnam War protests (though not nearly as involved as the Wolfsons, who were real heroes). In 1970 I was arrested along with other protestors for blocking a draft board. I spent a brief time in jail, where I shared a cell with one of my students. He asked me for math help, and we were let out just about the time he finished his homework. So for me, going to jail was a lot like holding office hours. Unfortunately, our actions did not stop the war.

I did, however, make one very specific civil rights contribution in Worcester. When a PhD student of mine passed her qualifying exams, I took her to a local bar to celebrate. But the bartender informed me that the place was for males only and that we would have to leave. So the next day, I brought another woman to that same bar who was African American. The bartender was more uncomfortable being viewed as a racist than a sexist, so he conferred with his manager and they served us. On the third day, I brought back my female graduate student, and this time we were served. And from then on that bar allowed women.

Not only does Worcester bring back fond memories, so does being in a Unitarian Church. Something extraordinary happened the first time I attended a Unitarian Church. It was 1990 and the church was in Charleston, South Carolina. I won’t call it a miracle, but it was definitely a life-changing experience. After becoming a gubernatorial candidate (the purpose of which was to challenge the anti-atheist clause in the South Carolina Constitution), my first speaking invitation came from the Unitarian Church. After my talk, a woman volunteered to help on my campaign. Sharon became my one and only groupie, and we’ve been together ever since.

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2 comments on “Positive Atheism

  • 1
    Cairsley says:

    Nothing controversial here, but it is nice from time to time, and this is one of those times, to read an article/speech that is laced with wisdom and encourages all one’s better inclinations of mind. Prof. Silverman sets us a good example.

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