Dr. Herb Silverman is the Founder of the Secular Coalition for America, the Founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, and the Founder of the Atheist/Humanist Alliance student group at the College of Charleston. He authored Complex variables (1975), Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt (2012) and An Atheist Stranger in a Strange Religious Land: Selected Writings from the Bible Belt (2017). He co-authored The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America (2003) with Kimberley Blaker and Edward S. Buckner, Complex Variables with Applications (2007) with Saminathan Ponnusamy, and Short Reflections on Secularism (2019), and Short Reflections on American Secularism’s History and Philosophy (2020).
Here we talk about the love of our lives in life.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Serendipity can make a pit stop. Luck may drop by you. Love can fall into your arms. All three at once, count your blessings — thank heaven! What is the importance of mindfulness and conscientiousness for long-term life satisfaction? What is the importance of the same stuff of character, virtues, for utilizing serendipities, luck, and love in life?
Dr. Herb Silverman: It’s never too late to fall in love. For me love came late in life, started with serendipity, and flourished beyond my wildest expectations. You can find Mr. or Ms. Right in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times. I even have a friend who, at 90, fell in love in an assisted living home.
If you haven’t yet found a life partner, and may never, you can still have a happy life. There are many couples who are miserable together, but stay in unhappy marriages. If you find that special someone, I suggest you live together for a while until you feel certain about the relationship. Only then, consider marriage. Better to eventually split than to go through a messy divorce.
I can certainly count my blessings, though no deity is involved. Love came to me in an unusual way, by running for governor of South Carolina in 1990. I ran to challenge the provision in the state constitution that prohibited atheists from holding public office. During my campaign, I received my one and only invitation to speak at a church — the Unitarian Church in Charleston. After my talk, Sharon Fratepietro came up to me and offered to help in my campaign.
At first, we spoke only about the campaign, but gradually conversations became personal. Our relationship quickly grew beyond friendship. Sharon became my one and only groupie during my campaign. In an irrational moment, she said, “I hope you won’t be too disappointed if you lose the election.” I laughed, and said, “I’ll only be disappointed if our relationship doesn’t last a lot longer than my candidacy.” We were having a great time campaigning, and beginning to think of staying together forever. I had never thought about anyone that way before. When I lost the election, I told Sharon that I blamed her because she had become my campaign manager (this sounds like something Donald Trump would say, except he would expect people to believe him).
It took eight years for me to overturn the unconstitutional provision in the South Carolina Constitution, climaxed by a state Supreme Court victory. By far the best outcome of my eight-year political saga was finding Sharon. My cultural and social life had previously been wrapped up around the insulated world of academe. My meeting Sharon was serendipity. I met her at just the right time with just the right cause. I had been looking for something else to do with my life and Sharon became the catalyst.
After living together for ten years, Sharon felt we were getting too old to be boyfriend (58) and girlfriend (62), and suggested that we get married. I gave her my best arguments against marriage: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; marriage is a religious tradition, and I enjoy telling people that we’re living in sin; we should boycott heterosexual marriage until gays can marry.
Since Sharon wanted us to get married more than I didn’t, I agreed to go ahead and do it. While I never expected to get married, I wouldn’t have thought it possible that I would meet my future bride in church. We got married in our home, with a friend (a notary public) presiding, at one minute after midnight on January 1, 2000. Sharon wanted me to dress more formally for the occasion, so she got me a tuxedo T-shirt. Each of us spoke unrehearsed words at the ceremony. I thanked God for his nonexistence, without which I never would have met Sharon.
My first-year anniversary present to Sharon was to tell her, “You know, being married isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.” She laughed and said, “That’s the most romantic thing you ever said to me.” And it probably was. I also enjoy referring to Sharon as my starter wife.
Before I met Sharon, I could have made the same claim as Woody Allen’s character in the movie Manhattan, that I hadn’t had a relationship with a woman that lasted longer than the one between Adolph Hitler and Eva Broun. Though I don’t believe in souls, I’m comfortable saying Sharon has been my soul mate (and my first love) for the past thirty years.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Silverman.