Not Enough Marthas

Reba Boyd Wooden

In my years of attending church services, I heard the following story many times:

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42)

I always thought that Jesus had it backward. I identified more with Martha and thought she was doing the right thing by being the action person rather than just sitting around and listening.

I first discovered secular humanism about fifteen years ago. I attended some national events and learned that there were local groups in some communities but none in Indiana. So I started the Humanist Friendship Group (a secular humanist group affiliated with the Council for Secular Humanism), which has since evolved into the Center for Inquiry–Indiana.

Discussions about philosophy, religion, skepticism, books, magazines, blogs, national conferences, and billboards are important in order to define and promote our mission and our ideals. However, if we are going to promote science, reason, and freedom of inquiry to the general public—to the average voter, to those who elect our officials and shape the tone of our country’s public opinion—we must continue to develop local groups, communities, and centers. We must take the proactive approach and show the world that we have something positive to offer.

To this end, CFI–Indiana, like many other CFI branches, offers a full roster of programming for our diverse membership. One aspect on which I have worked hard over the past thirteen years is raising the profile of our group by networking with other local organizations that share specific goals. By joining coalitions and the boards of other organizations, I have been able to put a face on CFI–Indiana. We are recognized, known to the people in these organizations. We are involved in supporting each other, and we work together to achieve our public policy goals.

I was especially proud of the participation of other organizations in our first Indiana Civic Day at the Indiana State House in February of this year. CFI–Indiana organized this event, and we impressed those in other organizations by illustrating what we could achieve. We invited the local chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) to cosponsor with us. Barry Lynn, AU’s executive director, was one of the speakers. We also had presenters from Planned Parenthood of Indiana, Jewish Community Relations Council, Indiana Equality Action, and Coalition for Public Education.

We have worked with all these groups on issues for which we share a common goal, and we are now recognized by all of them as a major ally and supporter. The purpose of Indiana Civic Day was to educate our members and others about the public policy issues we face in Indiana and encourage them to be active in trying to influence the political climate in our state.

CFI–Indiana is a member of the Health Access and Privacy Alliance (HAPA), a coalition concerned principally with reproductive issues. Certain lawmakers introduce many bills every year that would curb the rights of women to make choices about their own health care. Members of CFI–Indiana and I have attended hearings on these bills and have written e-mails and letters expressing our point of view.

A proposed amendment to the Indiana Constitution would outlaw same-sex marriage in the state, even though an existing law already does so. Indiana has one of the most extensive school voucher laws in the country; predictably, most of the money goes to private religious schools. In addition, this year an Indiana senator introduced a bill to allow the teaching of “creation science” in public school classrooms.

I testified before the Senate Education Committee against the creation-science bill and before the House Education Committee against a bill that would extend the already problematic school-voucher program. CFI’s Public Policy Director Michael De Dora, CFI President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay, and I drafted a letter that was sent to the members of the Senate Education Committee opposing the creation science bill. Many of our CFI members also wrote letters and e-mails. Other organizations in Indiana, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, spoke out against it. One senator acknowledged that he had received a lot of e-mail opposing the bill and that he even received a letter from an “atheist organization.” The bill passed the Senate, but the speaker of the House, now aware of potential lawsuits that might be filed because of it, refused to hear it in the House.

I consider our Indiana Civic Day at the statehouse a high point, as was our work against the creation science bill. At the international level, the recent Reason Rally attended by twenty thousand people in Washington, D.C., in March was a real milestone. I think our time has come. People not affiliated with any religion are the fastest growing demographic according to pollsters. We need to be there for these people. This time has been hailed as the New Enlightenment. Only a few brave people have the courage to lead the charge, to be an active and vocal part of the minority. Soon there will be a critical mass; on that day, others who were not courageous enough to be in the minority will move our way, and we will become the majority.

All we need are more Marthas.

Reba Boyd Wooden

Reba Boyd Wooden is executive director of CFI–Indiana as well as the director of the Center for Inquiry’s Secular Celebrant Program. In 2005, she retired after thirty-seven years in public education, having taught mostly psychology and U.S. history in addition to serving thirteen years as a guidance counselor.

In my years of attending church services, I heard the following story many times: Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. …

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