Interview — Rev. Dr. Paul Knupp, Jr on Humanist Activism
Original publication in Conatus News
Rev. Dr. Paul Knupp, Jr. is the Co-Founder & President of the Humanist Society of Iowa. He is a Chaplain for the American Humanist Association and trained in theology and psychological dynamics. Here we discuss some of his work and background and thinking. The interview was conducted by Scott Jacobsen of Conatus News
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Is there a family involvement that led you to becoming a member of humanist groups in general, and more involved in humanistic judaism? When did this become a philosophical life stance, for you?
Rev. Knupp: No prior family involvement. It became a more ethical and practical stance for me six years ago, when I became a Chaplain for the American Humanist Association.
Jacobsen: You acquired professional training at Drake University, Princeton Seminary, Roberts Wesleyan College, and the University of Iowa. What was the purpose and content of this training?
Rev. Knupp: My training was in ministry, educational psychology, education, and psychology of religion. But this training later greatly helped with humanist work. Theological and psychological dynamics are inherent in all Humanism work.
Jacobsen: What is the general treatment and perspective of humanists in America? For example, some countries’ populations don’t care because they’re integrated in their acceptance of them. Others express open vitriol and prejudice. Others simply don’t know what those terms mean, so don’t know who those fellow citizens in their respective general populations.
Rev. Knupp: All of the reactions you cite here, we have experienced. However, since Gallup polls religious “nones” now at 25% of the population, our acceptance grows daily.
Jacobsen: You are the co-founder and president of the Humanist Society of Iowa. What tasks and responsibilities come with this station? What inspired its founding? Who was the other founder?
Rev. Knupp: A Humanist chapter must have five AHA members sign to form a local body. I garnered this support and we submitted it to headquarters in DC. We formed a set of bylaws and submitted to the state. We originally formed a chapter at the Iowa State Penitentiary. I thought it too ironic to not have our own local chapter, so I helped institute one. I wanted to call it the Lyle Simpson Humanist Chapter, after the 12th AHA president and one of our members, but he would not hear of it.
Jacobsen: What are the demographics of the society? Who is the most likely demographic to be a humanist?
Rev. Knupp: Our ages run from twenties to eighties. We are equally mixed between sexes. We have numerous LGBTQ members. We have some members of colour. We have many atheists and freethinkers.
Jacobsen: How does the Humanist Society of Iowa, if at all, advocate and promote humanism in the public sphere?
Rev. Knupp: We participate in public events, e.g., The Women’s March, The Gay Parade, the March for Science, Darwin Day, the National Day of Reason; we advocate legislatively for our ideals and concerns.
Jacobsen: As a chapter of the American Humanist Association, an affiliate of the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers, of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, and a member of the Central Iowa Coalition of Reason, what benefits come with the memberships?
Rev. Knupp: We increase our numbers for direct social action, as well as our knowledge and information base.
Jacobsen: How do these assist in the coordination of local, states and national efforts for societal and cultural acceptance of humanism, knowledge of humanism, and inculcation of humanist values?
Rev. Knupp: We share national days of protest and direct action, as well as accurate information of national concerns.
Jacobsen: Can you tell us a bit more about your work with prisoners and detainees? How do you feel called to service in this way?
Rev. Knupp: I have written for The Humanist on humanists “behind bars.” The Humanist Society of Iowa is in regular correspondence with the Humanist Community of the Iowa State Penitentiary. I am a monthly external chaplain and sponsor there as well as an attendee with the Humanists at Fort Dodge Correctional Facility. WSome of the most marginalised in our society are those behind bars. They wrote to Mr. Lyle Simpson, and asked to start an AHA chapter. Mr. Simpson sent me to assist them. We formed a chapter at the state penitentiary almost six years ago. One of the members transferred to Ft. Dodge and asked for a chapter there. Mr. Tom Harvey, AHA Celebrant, has assisted me in this work. In terms of priority, those marginalised deserve foremost my time and efforts.
Jacobsen: What are some of the more touching stories for you? How can humanists become involved with the prison population?
Rev. Knupp: The men, offenders, report that Humanism has aided their lives immensely. Every person in the age range of 30+ at the state penitentiary exemplifies a life better lived due to Humanism. The same is true for the Ft. Dodge offenders who are in their twenties. In all cases, the men report a happier and more fruitful existence due to Humanism.
Jacobsen: What are the valuable lessons in life that gathered from this experience and public service?
Rev. Knupp: Never count anyone out, no matter what horrendous deed that has been committed. We all have an embedded potential waiting for self-actualisation. We are born good, for good.
Jacobsen: What have been some of the main campaigns, initiatives of the Humanist Society of Iowa?
Rev. Knupp: Our new president, Gwen Harvey, initiated a training of lobbying for legislative action. She keeps our eyes on important legislative events and rallies our input.
Jacobsen: Who are some of the most unexpected allies for the advancement of humanists in the US?
Rev. Knupp: My own church, in which I was originally ordained, the United Church of Christ, is a surprise supporter.
Jacobsen: In general, what are the perennial threats to the practice of humanism in the US?
Rev. Knupp: Religious dogmatism is a perennial threat. In the US case, right wing fundamental versions of christianity, and evangelical christianity are perhaps most important to be wary of. Other prominent members of the AHA have spoken more about this.
Jacobsen: How can people get involved with the Humanist Society of Iowa, even donate to it?
Rev. Knupp: Go to our Meetup page.
Jacobsen: Any closing thoughts or feelings based on the discussion today?
Rev. Knupp: Thank you and it will take us all to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Paul.