Whedon receives Humanism Lifetime Achievement Award at Harvard

Our own AngelDiva, Maria, recently attended the award presentation at Harvard, in which Joss Whedon was honored with a Lifetime Achievement in Cultural Humanism by the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy and the Secular Society. She reports here on the event, along with the small gathering afterwards, in which she got a most unusual autograph.

The first time I met Joss Whedon was in July 2005 at the Angel Booster Bash in Los Angeles. He was a surprise guest of Alexis Denisof who was scheduled to appear. When Joss entered the room there no sound beyond the sighs, then followed by applause. I had described it as, “Going to Sunday Mass and god casually walks in.”

This time I actually went to a church to see Joss– the Memorial Church in Harvard Yard.

Joss was here to receive the 2009 Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism Award, sponsored by Harvard’s Humanist Chaplaincy and the Secular Society.

What is Humanism? The Continuum of Humanist Education (COHE) offers this simple definition: “Humanism is a godless philosophy based on reason and compassion.

The award is given to those who lead ethical lives aspiring to the greater good of mankind without the use of supernaturalism i.e. generally people who see themselves as atheists or agnostics.

Past recipients include author Salman Rushdie and Greg Graffin, noted biologist and singer for the punk band New Religion. Whedon has been vocal about his beliefs, often referring to god as “the bully in the sky.”

The irony that an award for an atheist was presented to him in a church on Good Friday was not lost on anyone.

The audience consisted of young and old fans alike. There was a smattering of Jayne hats throughout the crowd.

Joss’s speech referenced scenes from Buffy and Firefly which illustrated his views on religion. One scene, taken from Firefly was Simon having to save River from a mob that wanted to burn her at the stake for being a witch. Another was Anya’s scene from “The Body”, in which she wanted to know what was supposed to happen to Joyce.

The audience asked many poignant questions about Joss’ ideas and how they reflect in his writing. One of the biggest question was asked by a young woman who wanted to know, “Who would win in a fight. Buffy or River?” After a minute of boisterous laughter, Joss weighed the question, then chose River.

I spoke with several of the organizers for the event and it was clear that Joss was a shoe-in for this award. Many of them first became fans of Joss while watching Firefly. This made me feel a little old since I became a fan watching Buffy when I was in college.

After Joss’s acceptance speech, I attended a thank you party held by the Humanist Society. Here, Joss was presented with a decorative cake and just hung out. He talked about the time he was deputized in order to perform the wedding for a gay couple that friends of his. He signed autographs for the members and posed for photos. Since I didn’t bring anything to sign I asked Joss if he would be averse to signing my tattoo. He graciously said yes.

Video coverage of the event can be found on YouTube.

I’d like to thank the members of the Humanism group, especially Greg Epstein.


Maria Santos

Virgo and vegan making the world safe for democracy.
Freelance photographer.

Maria Santos

Virgo and vegan making the world safe for democracy. Freelance photographer.

Comments are closed.