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What Is A Humanist, And What Do They Believe?

The Rev. David Felten and Rep. Athena Salman
(Photo courtesy of the Rev. David Felten)
The Rev. David Felten and Rep. Athena Salman following Felten’s nontheistic prayer in the Arizona House.

Last week, Rep. Athena Salman broke a rule in in the state House. The Democrat from Tempe read a prayer to open the House’s floor session, but she didn’t invoke God in it.

In response, her prayer was replaced by one invoking Jesus by House Republican Mark Finchem.

There is a rule in the Arizona House of Representatives that specifies that a prayer must invoke a higher power, one that was clarified last week by the House Majority Leader after Salman read her Humanist prayer.

But many secular and religious groups object to this rule, and they’re speaking out.

They staged a protest about it last week, and then the Rev. David Felten, a pastor at the Fountains United Methodist Church in Fountain Hills, was invited to also to read a prayer on the House floor.

His prayer, despite his religious affiliation, also didn’t invoke a higher power.

I got a hold of Felten to talk about why he did this. He says he thinks this House Rule that require a prayer to invoke a higher power is unconstitutional.

I also reached out to the House of Representative Leadership that implemented this rule that prayers must invoke a higher power. They declined to comment at this time.

So Salman is a Humanist, right? What exactly does that mean?

Humanism is a philosophy of life that is decidedly non-theistic. They believe in the responsibility to lead ethical lives, but they don’t believe in any kind of higher power.

There’s actually a Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix that brings together humanists, atheists, agnostics and non-theists of all kinds. And these non-believers are a growing demographic in our country. They’re called “Nones,” someone who identifies with no religion.

Dr. Tracy Fessenden is a professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at ASU. And she says this category of “Nones” started because it became a box you could check on surveys asking "what is your religious affiliation?" You know are you Jewish, Christian, Muslim or “None.”

But now it’s becoming, for some more than that. According to the Pew Research Center, Nones will number around 1.2 billion by 2060. So, who are the Nones, here in Arizona and elsewhere?

Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.