Meet a Member: Joan Reisman

Name: Joan Reisman.

Where I live: New York, N.Y.

Where and when I was born: Morristown, N.J., when role models were Ozzie (Nelson, not Osbourne), The Beaver and the original Mouseketeers, and when father knew best.

Education: I started as a religion major at Smith College but transferred after my freshman year to a school that didn’t offer a major in religion. I ended up with a B.A. in English literature from the University of Chicago, an M.A. in English lit from the University of Michigan and an M.B.A. in marketing and management from New York University.

Occupation: Former editor, science writer and pharmaceutical public relations/marketing consultant. One of my assignments was the press kit for Viagra, which helped make erectile dysfunction a household phrase.

I now focus on helping my family (my husband and two “tweens”) and myself decide what we want to be when we grow up.

How I got where I am today: Where I am today is putting together this “Meet a Member” piece, which I assure you is not as easy as it looks! This came about because a couple of years ago, I saw something about FFRF’s billboard and bus sign campaign, went to the website, joined, started reading Freethought Today and receiving Freethought of the Day and news updates. I found myself immersed in a brave new world of kindred souls and goals.

Where I’m headed: Finding my path to demonstrate that people can be good without god, whether it’s producing two terrific kids who think for themselves, cultivating parks and gardens around New York City or writing funny essays about serious topics.

Person in history I admire: People throughout the ages who have stood up for what’s real and just, especially those who discovered new truths and championed unpopular ones, despite personal risk. Right now my heroes include Julia Sweeney, Ricky Gervais, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who are shining light on uninformed insanity with well-informed comedy.

Quotations I like: In my high school yearbook, my favorite quote was “I think, therefore I am” (Descartes). Since then it’s been “No matter where you go, there you are” (first encountered in the movie “Buckaroo Bonzai” and then “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”).

It turns out my brother (who also rejected our religion) also favors that quote, but he got it from yet another movie source. It is also attributed to Confucius. The fact that both of us coincidentally latched onto the same line could be genetic, or it could have something to do with our upbringing. Lately, I’ve been admiring “It’s nice to be nice,” attributed to my grandmother by my mother.

These are a few of my favorite things: Humor, honesty and balance. Dealing with shades of gray, even when you desperately crave black or white. The idea that everything evolves (even religions). The Internet for making facts and ideas universally accessible. Reproductive choice through medical science, whether it be preventing unwanted children or fostering desired ones. Extraordinary human accomplishments, whether they’re up for Oscars or Grammys or Tonys or Nobels or Pulitzers (but not sainthood). And random acts of kindness.

These are not: People who simultaneously advocate both the Golden Rule and wiping out whole chunks of humankind. People who value faith over fact. People who lie and people who promote lies, especially those who know they are lying and those who don’t bother to reflect on what they believe. Arguments for the present and future that are stuck on the past, such as who was there first or who dealt the first blow thousands of years ago, or what was written in some ancient document.

My doubts about religion started: When my nominally Jewish family had no interest in the stuff I was being forced to learn in Sunday school. When I noticed that every version of the Ten Commandments was different, that some of the ten weren’t commandments at all, and that “Thou shalt not kill” seemed to carry as much weight as “Honor the Sabbath,” even though hardly anyone I knew actually did. When I was required to read Hebrew words but not understand them. When the more I learned about religions, the less I admired. When people pushed me to embrace religion, propelling me to push back until I soared into an entirely different orbit.

Why I’m a freethinker: Because I’m a thinker. What I don’t understand is why everyone isn’t a freethinker, especially in America, where we have so much information and freedom to be rational.

Ways I promote freethought: Trite as it sounds, I’m trying to figure out what truly constitutes a good person and then be one. Whenever it seems constructive, I let people know where I stand on religion. I actively support FFRF and other efforts to defend and nurture secular, reasonable society. And I religiously practice irreverence.

Freedom From Religion Foundation