Tag Archives: religious humanism

Unitarians Throw Atheists And Humanists Under The Bus

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logo for the Unitarian Universalist AssociationLate last week, I got what could only be described as a gut punch when I learned that the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the group that governs all the Unitarian Universalist churches in the country, had signed a new affiliation agreement with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). The UUA had broken with the BSA over its policy of excluding atheists and LGBT scouts and leaders. The agreement is just more proof that the so-called non-creedal religion really dislikes atheists.
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Humanists throwing tissues for believers AGAIN….

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Someone on the Human_ism list I subscribe to posted a link to an article on Huffington Post by Chris Stedman, who is on the staff at The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard. He complains about the recent billboard campaign by American Atheists that was called “You Know it’s a Myth..” and “You KNOW it’s a scam..” Over my 15 years in the Humanist movement, I’ve gotten sick and tired of Humanists tossing tissues at believers when they get their feelings hurt.
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Humanism should not be “religious”

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An old argument came up the other day with another Humanist. It was related to some of my earlier posts here. It was the debate between religious and secular humanists. The debate was about Humanism and religion.

I’m not religious. I have no use for religion of any form, but I don’t have anything against religious people or religious humanists – unless they disparage atheists.

It got me thinking. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there is something religious about Humanism that I hadn’t considered before, so I decided to review my thoughts on the issue and what has been told to me by people I have debated.

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Atheism a trap for Humanism – Update

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Humanist Network News published my letter to the editor based on reaction to the essay published last week titled “Humanists and the Trap of Atheism”

Here is my letter. Which is the text of my post on this issue.

At the end of the letters responding to that essay was this editor’s note:

Editor’s Note: Acclaimed skeptic Michael Shermer tackled the topic of “aggressive atheism” in “An open letter to Messrs. Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens” just published in the September edition of Scientific American.

Setting aside the unnecessary fighting word “aggressive atheism” the editor used lets look at what Shermer says:

Unlike Narain’s essay Shermer at least tries to express something positive and makes a few points that could apply to anyone. He just doesn’t say “atheism bad humanism good”.

Although I will point out I disagree with his first point as it applies it to atheism.

1. Anti-something movements by themselves will fail. Atheists cannot simply define themselves by what they do not believe. As Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises warned his anti-Communist colleagues in the 1950s: “An anti-something movement displays a purely negative attitude. It has no chance whatever to succeed. Its passionate diatribes virtually advertise the program they attack. People must fight for something that they want to achieve, not simply reject an evil, however bad it may be.”

Rational Atheism: An open letter to Messrs. Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens

Atheism isn’t “anti” anything and giving rational reasoned arguments opposed to some conventional thinking – like theism or religious belief – is not being “anti” anything either. Just because I can express some arguments against a flat earth doesn’t make me “anti-flat earth”. If it did then that would give validity to a wrong view of the earth that it didn’t deserve.

Atheists are fighting for something that we want to achieve – a rational non-theistic world. We might fail but not because we are “anti” anything but because we have to try and undo 2000 years of indoctrination and religious brainwashing.

Shermer ends his essay with:

As King, in addition, noted: “The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”

Rational atheism values the truths of science and the power of reason, but the principle of freedom stands above both science and religion.

Of course no atheist that I know is advocating taking any person’s freedom away nor do we distrust all religious people. Unlike most believers and the general public, atheists are able to separate the beliefs from the people who hold them and oppose the beliefs and actions that result.

Just a Humanist

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By Jennifer Hancock

I am a Humanist. I am proud of that fact and I do not hesitate to label myself as a Humanist. Over the past few years I have met a lot of people who share my values as a Humanist, but who had just never encountered anyone who is willing to talk to them about Humanist values before.

Perhaps the main reason people have never come across the term “Humanist” before is because most Humanists don’t like to call themselves Humanists, preferring any number of other terms instead. And this isn’t just a problem we have in public, it is the basis of an ongoing debate in our movement regarding how best to conduct our outreach and of course, what we should call ourselves.

Personally, I think this internal debate is a waste of time. People are going to call themselves whatever they want regardless. Despite personally finding this debate rather silly, I recognize that it has negatively impacted our ability to share our philosophy with others. If we aren’t proud enough of our philosophy to call ourselves Humanists, we shouldn’t be surprised that the public’s knowledge about our philosophy is utterly lacking.

There are various reasons why Humanists shy away from using the word “Humanist” to describe themselves. First, we often treat words such as “atheist,” freethinker,” and Humanist” as interchangeable even though they aren’t. This co-mingling of meanings only causes confusion and leaves us, as individuals, to wonder which word will have a positive impact on our listeners? In my experience, one of the main reasons Humanists might choose to use another word, like “freethinker” instead of Humanist, is because they incorrectly think that “Humanist” carries negative connotations. And finally, there is the problem of confusing adjectives. Many Humanists are simply unaware that you can just be a Humanist, without the adjectives.

I think Humanism is a truly wonderful philosophy and I am hoping I can help others find peace with the word “Humanist.” After all, if we can’t convince our fellow Humanists to call themselves Humanists, then how can we hope to entice others to join our movement?

Our perception that the public at large regards Humanism negatively is simply untrue. Very few people I have met have heard the term before. And when people do hear the word “Humanist” for the first time, they will do what most people do when encountering an unfamiliar word, they guess at its meaning. You may be surprised to know that when people guess at the meaning of the word “Humanist” they almost always give it a positive connotation. After all, they are humans, so how bad could “Humanism” be.

Telling people I am Humanist has led to many wonderful conversations with complete strangers about all the positive attributes of our philosophy. I have had these conversations in supermarkets, fast food restaurants, bars, and children’s play groups. I have never experienced a negative response to the word Humanist; although mentioning Humanism does then obligate me to answer many follow up questions about the philosophy and what we value. Since most people have never heard the term before they normally just want to know more. For the few people who have heard the term, they are usually just confused about what exactly the philosophy is.

My personal experience with “Humanist” has been so positive that I would definitely recommend to other Humanists that they make it their word of choice when describing their personal views.

When it comes to adding an adjective I advise against it. The various adjectives people use to describe their humanism take the focus off of Humanist values and onto the connotations of the adjective itself. As far as I am concerned, if what is important is Humanism then we should simple talk about Humanism.

The other reason not to add an adjective in front of the word “Humanist” is because they are often confusing and in some cases, scary. “Secular Humanist” is a case in point. I personally think that “secular” is a wonderful word. Unfortunately, while “Secular Humanist” is one of the most popular adjective pairings, it is in reality, one of the worst words you can pair with “Humanist” in terms of its affect on your listener.

I once did some field testing of some phrases for an outreach piece I was working on and I was surprised to find out that not only do most people not know what the word “secular” means, their guesses at its meaning would frighten any Humanist. The people I talked to thought that “secular” is related to “sect.” And when paired with an “ist’ or “ism,” they assume it has to do with some sort of cult. Obviously, cults are not something any rational person wants to be involved with. This mass misinterpretation of the term, “secular Humanism” also explains how the religious right has so easily turned “secular Humanists” into their all purpose bogeyman.

Since most people think “secular” means sect, it is best to avoid it entirely. We certainly don’t want our Humanist movement paired in people’s mind with some sort of cult. For this reason I advocate against using the terms “secular humanism” or “secular humanist” to describe our philosophy or ourselves. Not only will the simpler “Humanist” suffice; it has the added benefits of eliciting very positive connotations for our audience.

We have enough hurdles to overcome without putting self-imposed obstacles in our way. If we really want to talk to others about Humanism we must start talking about Humanist values and not just about “Freethought, or “Atheism” or “secularism.” Humanism is worth talking about in its own. Further, if we are to grow our movement, we need to start talking about what really matters, and that is our ethics and our values as Humanists.

If we are to succeed, we must conduct our outreach in a way that gets people interested in what we are talking about while trying not to scare them or confuse them. Only labeling us as Humanists, plain and simple can accomplish this. Everything else is distracting and potential harmful to our cause. I am a Humanist. How about you?

Jennifer Hancock is a writer and Humanist activist. Her website, http://www.sumogirl.com/ contains the thoughts, opinions and creative pursuits of Jennifer Hancock, Gentlewoman. Included on the site are her Humanist counter to the advice given by televangelist Billy Graham and a weekly podcast “Humanist thought of the Week.”

Atheism a trap for Humanism?

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Vir Narain, chairman of the Indian Humanist Union and editor of its quarterly journal, The Humanist Outlook, had a column published this week in the e-mail newsletter HumanistNetworkNews.org which is published by the Institute for Humanist Studies. The title made me whince. It was called Humanists and the Trap of Atheism. I knew from the start that I would not be happy with the article and I was right.

Here is what set me off:

Although it is perhaps true that a large proportion of humanists would describe themselves as atheists, the humanist movement has never considered atheism (construed as a rejection of all concepts of God) as a necessary part of the humanist outlook. According to the Minimum Statement adopted by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, “Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives…. It is not theistic. It does not accept a supernatural view of reality.”

The sentence “It is not theistic” needs elaboration, and it has been suggested that it should be recast, “It is not theistic, in the sense that it ignores the various claims about the existence of God as having no relevance to the practical conduct of human affairs, except that it categorically rejects the idea of a rewarding and punishing God who intervenes in human affairs.”

In other words, the humanist movement rejects the God of the moralists while ignoring the God of the philosophers as having no relevance to the conduct of human affairs.

The so-called “strong atheist” movement proposes, “I do not know, or care, what your concept of God is, I hold it to be false.” This smacks of a dogmatism quite alien to the humanist ethos. It can perhaps best be described as aggressive atheism.

Humanists and the Trap of Atheism

I was extremely disappointed with the essay. For someone who claims to be a member of a Humanist organization, Narain makes several factual errors and broad assumptions.

The whole “New Humanism” vs “New Atheism” tripe is itself a strawman argument and counterproductive. It’s disappointing to continually read articles from Humanists who promote such divisiveness as an advert for “positive” Humanism. It’s absurd to complain about dogmatism and “aggressive atheism” while using negative and provocative language and claiming it is better.

“New Atheism” is a nonexistent boogeyman. The current media focus on atheism shines a light on the same ideas about atheism that has existed for years. The only part that is new is that common people are paying attention for once.

Nontheism has one meaning and it rejects theistic belief in a personal god, and any belief in a personal or impersonal god. Humanism *IS* a nontheistic life stance and has been at least since the first manifesto in 1933. It said in the sixth point: “We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of “new thought”.” All the redefining Narain wants to do with the term doesn’t change what nontheism is really about.

Atheism isn’t a trap for Humanism. The trap is the anti-intellectual, irrational, anti-science, homophobic, neo-con Troglodyte and if we continue to waste our limited time and resources fighting with each other that is the trap we will be caught in and we will all lose.

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