Last summer, Rocky Hill attorney Daniel S. Blinn spoke on Connecticut public radio station WNPR with news that surprised some people: He doesn't believe in God.
Blinn, who is a religious humanist, was part of the public radio station's discussion of the rise of non-believers in America and how their particular movements are gaining wider acceptance across the country. This wasn't a new revelation for Blinn, though. He has held his beliefs for his adult life and has been active with humanist groups for many years.
Humanism, in general, is a belief that people are responsible for living ethical lives dedicated to helping others and are accountable to mankind. Some famous humanists include Albert Einstein, Confucius and Sigmund Freud. Humanists do not believe in any deity, but religious humanists adopt rituals such as religious gatherings.
"People who know me well already knew [about his belief in humanism]," Blinn said.
His law practice focuses on consumer protection cases involving a variety of matters such as auto dealer fraud, creditor and debt collector harassment, product warranty disputes and more. Before launching the Consumer Law Group in 1997, Blinn practiced complex business litigation for the Hartford firm formerly known as Pepe & Hazard.
Though his humanist beliefs weren't the primary reason for creating a consumer protection law firm, Blinn said there's an undeniable connection between the two. "I started to handle consumer protection work because I wanted to find something where I could use my legal skills to make the world a better place," Blinn said. "I started doing this type of law for the same reasons I believe in humanism."
And why make his beliefs public now? "I thought I was in a position in my career to come out and be identified this way and take that hit for the betterment of the movement," Blinn said.
The "hit" is the negative reaction he and other non-believers are met with when they start discussing their beliefs with Christians and people who identify with other religions that worship God. He said "there's greater prejudice against secularists than any other minority group in the U.S."
He cited a 2012 Gallup poll that indicated while 54 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist presidential candidate, that percentage was smaller than any other polled category, including Muslims (58 percent) and gays and lesbians (68 percent).
"The way to address this prejudice is for [humanists and other non-believers] to come out and identify themselves," Blinn said.
As the managing attorney of Consumer Law Group, Blinn said he can help change attitudes about non-believers through his personal interactions with people. That means steering clear of any confrontational discussions about religion and humanism.
"Many times I can tell people are thinking, 'You are going to roast in hell,'" Blinn said. "When someone can see that I do good things and am respectful, they may start to question some of their own assumptions about non-believers. In order to get respect, I have to give respect."
Some of those attitudes already are changing. Last year, the Pew Research Center found that 20 percent of Americans are unaffiliated with a particular religion, and a Pew poll from this summer indicated that more than 30 percent do not believe in God.
"These are people who are potentially interested in this life stance" of humanism, Blinn said.
He's been busy spreading the word as the current president of the Hartford Area Humanists, a group he created earlier this year. Blinn also is the co-chair of the Connecticut Coalition for Reason, which combines humanist, atheist and free-thinker groups to "provide organizations ways to get involved in public advocacy with secular issues," he said.
Blinn has been an active speaker on humanism, too. He gave his first sermon this summer before a crowd of about 150 people at the Unitarian Universalist Society in Manchester, and he is delivering the opening remarks next month at the Secular Assembly for the North East hosted by the University of New Haven. These local groups share many of the same beliefs as umbrella organizations such as the American Humanist Association, which is supporting a Massachusetts humanist family in their lawsuit over schools requiring students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with its "one nation under God" phrase. The case was heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court earlier this month.
A month ago, Blinn earned his certification as a humanist celebrant, which is the equivalent of a clergy position in a church, from the Humanist Society. He is the only certified celebrant in the state, and he is able to perform weddings and officiate funerals from the humanist perspective. He hasn't performed any ceremonies yet, but he believes the growing popularity of humanism will provide opportunities in the future.
"There have been new groups formed in the past six months at Yale, in Fairfield County and with our new group in Hartford," Blinn said. "It's growing in Connecticut." •