If you didn't catch last weeks Time Magazine cover story (because seriously, who even reads this bric-a-brac) allow me to fill you in. 

Joe Klein wrote an article on an organization called Team Rubicon. Team Rubicon is a program that helps veterans acclimate back to civilian life, deal with PTSD, TBIs, and other issues. From the article it seems like Team Rubicon is an great program addressing very serious issues affecting our returning veterans. I spent some time doing group therapy for veterans with PTSD at the New Orleans VA and clearly see the value in programs like Team Rubicon. 

The inclination of using the military, both active and nonactive, to respond to and assist with disaster relief work is not new. Many other countries dictate responsibility to their military for their entire emergency management system. The United States has had a speckled relationship with the utilization of military personnel during disasters and other large scale events. Regardless of the side you stand on the work Team Rubicon has done is undeniably mutually beneficial. Service women and men heal themselves while working to help heal others. Klein's write-up of the organization took him to the recently terrorized neighborhoods of Oklahoma where 20 people were killed and many others injured by an EF 5 tornado early this June. Klein worked alongside Rubicon volunteers, and other organizations and groups, clearing debris. Reading the article as an American citizen, avid article reader, former VA intern, fellow cleaner upper of natural disasters, and an individual in the field of emergency management I thought it was well written and for all intensive purposes reflected what Klein had experienced in the field. That was until I got to the following sentence arbitrarily thrown into the last page of the article:

"... there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon."

At this point, my head did a full 360. It was one of those moments were I furrowed my brow, squinted
my eyes, and said out loud, "What planet is this guy living on!?!?". I then looked around for someone, anyone to answer my not so rhetorical inquiry. My fellow coffeeshop patrons were unsuspecting and unresponsive.

What does secular humanism have to do with veterans doing disaster relief?? I'm not sure what secular humanist pissed Klein off when he was younger but I would like to take a few bullet points to challenge his evidence-less based declaration. 

  • Definitions: I'm a big fan of Merriam-Webster. Let's start by defining a few things so we're all on the same page. 
    • Secular - not overtly or specifically religious
    • Humanists - a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially: a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses and individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason
  • As an often unacknowledged discriminated group the secularhumanistatheistfreethinkers STILL made significant contributions to the religious heartland of Oklahoma. In addition it was the Moore tornado that brought us Rebecca Vitsmun and her awkwardly charming admission to an ever assumptive Wolf Blitzer that she was an Atheist. Perhaps this is where some of my shock came from. Following disasters all around the world there is the constant drone of publicly thanking and sometimes questioning of the role of a god or other supreme being in the event. This was the first time time in recent memory that an individual had so publicly announced their secularism while literally still standing amongst the debris. As a result a myriad of Atheist and other secular organizations sprang into action to help Vitsmun particularly but also others in the community (See: Atheists Unite). For Klein to choose this particular event as the moment to criticizes secularists seems peculiar, in the least. Especially because what he said simply is not true. 
And this is JUST for ONE event

  • On more of a technical note it is also worth pointing out that secularhumanistatheistfreethinker groups don't necessarily qualify for the same tax-exempt status as faith based organizations, leaving less money for matching T-shirts and banners. Atheists don't wear a cross around their neck to serve as an identifier. Maybe secularhumanistatheistfreethinkers should all get a matching tattoo of satan across their face so they can be easily identified (that was a sarcastic joke). 
  • Businesses: If Hobby Lobby gets to legally be considered a religious individual than all the businesses with no religious affiliation get to be considered secular and if they work towards helping humanity then they get to be considered humanists. Some of the country's largest businesses give millions and donate thousands of hours to disaster relief. For example CVS, Tide Loads of Hope, and Target are just three major business that have specific disaster relief programs and meet the criteria of "secular humanists".  
  • Number Game: We're living on a planet where religion (albeit many different religions) have dominated for the past 30,000 + years would you mind giving secularhumanistatheistfreethinkers a hot second to catch up? The term Atheist has only even existed since 1551! You know, maybe we're all overreacting. Maybe Klein just didn't KNOW there were all these secularhumanistatheistfreethinking groups there helping. Maybe they aren't as visible... Maybe that's because there are simply LESS "unaffiliated" people in the US than "affiliated" people. This poll from 2007 shows 83.1% affiliated compared to only 16.1 unaffiliated. Just because the unaffiliated don't dominate the relief sector doesn't mean they haven't shown up to play the game.

Sarcastic Meme
So, why am I harping on this? As someone in the field of emergency management WHY do I care so much about a half of a sentence written in one article in one magazine? Well, because it represents a major issue in the US system of disaster recovery. As I've explain in previous blogposts America's recovery system is a limited intervention model meaning RECOVERY IS HEAVILY DEPENDENT ON INDIVIDUALS AND NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS. As much as I would like to believe that an event that causes so much damage would lead to a coordinated and communal effort among Faith Based Organizations and Non Faith Based Organizations I fear that it may not. Maybe it has in the past but moving forward will that tradition continue? Not when snide remarks like these are made. 

Stewart nails it when she writes: 

As the nation faces the fact that there is a threat of more frequent and more severe events it will soon be common debate, if it isn't already, that realistic plans for recovery are imperative. Instead of diminishing the role that other groups play during recovery, regardless of the amount or type of relief, we need a culture that praises and supports those who participate. Encouragement and cooperation among FBOs and across to nonreligious organizations is imperative as the need increases. Religious organizations can't do all of it just like nonsecular groups can't do all of it. And above all there needs to be respect - from both sides. There has been, what seems to be weird and unnecessary, debate going on lately over which religion or nonreligion gives or helps others the most. Objectively I find this an interesting debate and admitedly have found myself as a willing participant in many debates on this issue. Oh, where have all the humble people gone? Is the time to battle out fundamental beliefs while you're standing in the remnants of someone's living room? 

Regardless - Mr. Klein, don't be fooled by the notoriety of The Red Cross and Salvation Army... "Secular Humanists" are contributing to disaster relief and they're organizing to do a whole lot of it. Next time - cite your source.