Blog / 2021 / What It Means to Be a Humanist Artist

November 5, 2021

[video transcript]

For me, being a humanist means acknowledging that people can and do contribute meaningfully to the lives of others, even without the threat of eternal suffering in an afterlife hanging over them. It means not believing in any god while also not wanting a negation—the lack of religious belief—to define you. Like my queer identity, my humanism shapes everything I do both in my life and in my art.

If you want to know more about Soulforce’s work, check out their site. I first mentioned this organization a few years back in a Pecha Kucha talk after Soulforce started using Crime Against Nature as part of the curriculum for their queer youth summer camps.

flying rainbow snake that is fierce and magical, a spiritual symbol for the queer and trans folx at Soulforce
Gwenn Seemel
Soulforce Serpentdove
acrylic on unstretched canvas
16 x 12 inches

I’ve been an atheist at least since I was eight. The first moment I remember rejecting religion, I was standing outside the magnificent St. Mary’s cathedral in San Francisco where my father liked to go to church. It was after the service and my dad was explaining to me the ritual gesture Catholics make when they’re about to hear a story about Jesus’ life.

As an adult, I kind of love the symbolism of it: drawing a cross on your forehead, on your lips, and over your heart as a promise to truly think, speak, and feel the wisdom you’re about to have laid on you. I like the idea of physically reminding oneself to be present. But, as a kid, all I could think was “why do you need to make these movements in order to prove you’re a Christian?” It felt showy and not at all sincere.

Over the years, my atheism has become more nuanced and more adamant. The Christian god is supposed to be all-powerful and all-knowing, but only male. All-everything as he was, he was still a “he” and absolutely not a “she” or—how could I even suggest it?—nonbinary, not constrained by the woman-man dichotomy. This idea is so transparently bigoted and also such an important tenet of Christianity that I can’t take anything about the religion seriously.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t have Christian friends. Though I don’t share their beliefs, I share their values. A deeply rooted sense of integrity and an enthusiasm for being thoughtful in how we listen to others and in how we contribute to the world, these are how we connect.

It’s why I made this serpentdove for Soulforce, a Christian organization whose goal is to dismantle Christian Supremacy, which is what happens when white supremacy and capitalism pervert the religion and use it to invade good people’s brains with poisonous ideas.

For Soulforce, the serpentdove is a spiritual symbol for queer folx, inspired by the Bible verse: “I’m sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents, innocent as doves.”

I may not want religion in my own life, and I may think that too few Christians and other religious people stand up to fundamentalism, but when I see people whose dedication to a more loving and more equitable world shine out like Soulforce’s does, our beliefs don’t matter. We’re on the same team, because we value human dignity in precisely the same way.

This video is made with love and microdonations from my community!

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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