Atheism, Humanism and the Neo-Humanist Statement

March 22, 2010

Paul Kurtz has drafted a new statement of humanist -- or as he prefers to call it, "Neo-Humanist" -- principles and values. (Hereafter, this will be referred to as "the Statement.") The Statement can be found on his web site.

One can see from his web site that a number of distinguished individuals have endorsed the Statement. Some of these individuals apparently contributed to the wording of the Statement. Paul Kurtz graciously sent the Statement to me Sunday evening, inviting me to endorse it (in my personal capacity). Unfortunately, I cannot -- not as the Statement is currently written.

I say this with hesitation and regret because Paul is a scholar and philosopher who is rightly esteemed for his past writings and his many contributions to humanism. Moreover, there is much merit in the Statement, and I agree with many of its assertions. But I believe the Statement has too many flaws.

One major problem is the Statement's aggressive criticism of atheism or the "new atheism." Looking at the abstract for the Statement, one finds the startling assertion that: "On the one end of the spectrum are traditional religious beliefs; on the other the ‘New Atheism.'" This equation of traditional religious belief with the new atheism is inappropriate and tendentious; it implies that the new atheism is as dogmatic and as pernicious to humanity as traditional religious belief. Granted, there could be some atheists who are dogmatic in their beliefs, who reject the possibility of God outright, without bothering to consider the evidence, but this is not a characteristic of the writers usually labeled as the new atheists or the individuals who identify themselves as supporters of the new atheism.

The Statement also sets up what I consider a false contrast between the "negative" characteristics of atheism and the "positive" contributions of humanism. I believe this contrast is largely based on semantics. Atheism can be described as positive. It seems to me that eliminating false hopes and helping ensure that a person's beliefs reflect reality is as positive an activity as anything else.

When I first read the Statement and its abstract I thought that perhaps I was hastily misreading it. But the Appendix, which I urge everyone to read, helps clarify the Statement's intent, and from the Appendix it becomes apparent that the Statement is intended to be harshly critical of atheism. The Appendix characterizes the new atheism as a "challenge" to secular humanism. In my view, the new atheism provides additional support for secular humanism to the extent it helps confirm the validity of the naturalistic outlook. I am not aware of any of the new atheists attacking humanism

The Appendix also tries to tar atheism with the brush of Communism and totalitarianism by asserting that "One should not overlook the fact that the old atheism had a strong impact in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, insofar as it was allied with Marxism, including its totalitarian versions." I was under the impression that it was the religious conservatives who strived to associate atheism with Communism -- but now humanists are supposed to adopt this smear tactic? Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot killed in the name of, and for the sake of, Communism, not atheism.

The Statement points out that some humanists are agnostics. True, but I'm not sure how relevant this is. Being a humanist does not imply one is an atheist, but it does imply one rejects the supernatural and it would seem to me that as humanists this is what we should emphasize -- as opposed to highlighting the often relatively minor differences between the nonreligious who prefer to self-identify as atheists and those who prefer to self-identify as humanists.

Another major problem with the Statement is that it is at times far too vague. What is entailed exactly by the commitment "to support a green economy"? Does this rule out nuclear power? If so, why? And if humanists are committed to "progressive positions on the economy" what precisely is excluded by this mandate? After all, not many people describe themselves as being in favor of regressive positions.

Vagueness is a common fault in manifestos and declarations; after all, one is trying to achieve a consensus. But in the Statement vagueness is combined with a call to action in at least two areas: first, humanists should become actively involved in politics qua humanists, and two, they should promote transnational institutions, including an eventual world parliament. What is the political platform of humanists, beyond church-state separation and support for basic human rights, such as free expression? (These are not unimportant, by the way, and if the Statement had limited itself to endorsing activism on issues such as these, it would be less problematic.) Some of the major political controversies today in the U.S. involve health care, economic stimulus, and immigration. If there is a specific, detailed humanist position on these issues, that's news to me -- and I would also be interested in how one can argue for the proposition that there is a specific humanist position on these issues from the general principles of humanism.

We do live in a global community nowadays, at least economically, and there is general consensus that a person's rights should not depend on her/his nationality, nor should a person suffer increased burdens because of her/his nationality. The Statement recognizes this welcome reality, and further appropriately observes that cooperation across the world is necessary to resolve certain issues. But the Statement urges an overly ambitious, if not utopian, solution to the lack of cooperation in certain areas, namely new transnational institutions, with a world legislature that can enact laws that apply worldwide. Idealism can be inspiring, but humanists take justifiable pride in being in touch with reality -- and this section of the Statement hovers some distance apart from solid ground. How are we to bring about these institutions -- especially in light of the all too evident shortcomings of the United Nations? Are the peoples of the world to rise up as one and tear down frontiers? Or will the nations that now show reluctance to cooperate on a limited basis suddenly decide to relinquish their sovereignty? And how is representation to be determined in the world legislature? Based on population? So 1.3 billion Chinese who will "vote" in an authoritarian system with fixed elections can outvote all the democracies in Europe and North America? Also, if indeed representation is to be based on population (and on what else could it be based if national borders count for nothing?) then the Statement's call to limit population growth will be unavailing. If the number of bodies determine control of the world parliament, there will be a great incentive to produce more bodies.

And why focus on such lofty and unrealizable goals when there is much more immediate work to be done at the ground level? If and when the international community can succeed in bringing about an Iran or North Korea that recognizes basic human rights, or a China that allows free expression, perhaps we can begin to think about significantly greater unity among nations. Until then, calls for new transnational institutions may unintentionally serve as a distraction from goals that are challenging but still have some realistic chance of being achieved.

I offer these comments in response to Paul Kurtz's own request for discussion and dialogue about the Statement. I think I have said enough to indicate why I cannot endorse the Statement as written. Perhaps a later version will attract my support. In any event, the Statement certainly merits review. Please look at Paul Kurtz's website and make up your own mind about the Statement.

Comments:

#1 Daniel Schealler on Monday March 22, 2010 at 8:15pm

Thankyou Ronald

I’m still going over the appendix myself, but I think you’ve pre-empted my reaction somewhat - and on a much more temperate note than I probably would have used myself on the spur of the moment.

I do have to offer up a tired sigh at seeing the allegedly ‘new’ atheism misrepresented yet again. From the appendix:

A new challenge has emerged today to confront secular humanism; for several secular authors have advocated “the new atheism.” These include Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Victor Stenger. They insist that there is sufficient evidence for atheism and urge that secular humanists aggressively advocate the view that “God does not exist,” that the classical religions are false, that people who believe in them are deceived, and that their ethical values are also false.

Actually, no.

The ethical values of believers aren’t necessarily false. Ultimately, people are people, and a sound moral system isn’t that hard to work out. We should expect that many believers have sound moral values.

What the ‘new’ atheists do say is that the claim that a moral value is only correct because it is asserted by a divine or otherwise supernatural authority is false… And I think that this is not entirely at odds with humanism, as I understand the term.

Additionally, I think the ‘new’ atheists are fully aware that secular and atheist don’t and shouldn’t mean the same thing. The above passage is misleading, in that it implies that the ‘new’ atheists mentioned are trying to urge secularists to all be assertive atheists. This is true in the sense that the ‘new’ atheists are urging everyone to become assertive atheists - but it is false in the sense that it implies that the ‘new’ atheists think that secularism should be an exclusively atheistic stance.

Thanks Paul, but we know full well it shouldn’t. Secularism should protect both the right to participate in religion as well as the right not to participate in religion equally - so it follows that secularism itself cannot be atheistic. It should be neutral, and set apart from both religion and assertive atheism. I think you’d find it difficult to locate a prominent contributor to assertive atheism who disagrees with me.

I’m still skimming my way through the document, and I’ll engage with it more deeply when I have the time… But it is already dissapointing to see the ‘new’ atheists misrepresented once again by someone who is, as Ronald says, a justly esteemed scholar and philosopher… And as I say, from a justly esteemed scholar and philosopher who should therefore be held to a higher standard of accuracy, and should know better.

And it is doubly dissapointing as well, as there is much else in the statement that I would otherwise agree with.

#2 ckoproske on Monday March 22, 2010 at 9:35pm

Thanks for this Ron.  Because of its mischaracterization of “New Atheism,” its eagerness to bring even liberal believers into the fold, and its vague, yet persistent emphasis on political activism, I join you in disappointment with this statement.

I fear that Kurtz and others have become overly preoccupied with creating a sort of substantive rival to the all-encompassing religious traditions it seeks to replace.  It’s as if they believe that absent religion, humans would have no ethical, political, social, or artistic guidelines.  They’re trying to fill in a gap that simply isn’t there.

While I consider myself to be a secular humanist of sorts, I don’t think that what the world needs most is more card-carrying humanists.  What we need is to be free of ancient (and modern) dogma and superstition.  Then we can read good books, think great thoughts, and fight worthy fights, and we won’t need some catch-all communal banner with which to do it.

I would point readers to Austin Dacey’s terrific article on these points:

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/religionandtheology/1963/decomposing_humanism:_why_replace_religion/#at

#3 Spinozaist _4 (Guest) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 at 7:19am

Kurtz’s comments about “the new atheism” in the appendix quoted by Ron Lindsay should be considered along with the important qualifications that immediately follow them. Kurtz, it seems, is NOT offering up a wholesale rejection of the new atheism. Rather, he appears to be expressing his objection to atheism itself becoming the dominate or overriding focus in certain quarters of the humanist movement. Nothing new about this. Kurtz has always maintained that secular humanism and atheism are not identical. Anyone who has read his voluminous articles in Free Inquiry over the years—or the founding documents of the Council for Secular Humanism for that matter – would know this.

From the appendix:

“(the new atheist)…position is mistaken, for it has distorted both secular humanism and humanism in general. We reaffirm that secular humanists are (a) skeptical of supernatural claims, (b) no not think that there is sufficient evidence for God’s existence, and (c) do not believe the historical claims of revelation in the Bible or the Koran are evidential. (d) Ethics should be independent of theological foundations; nor do we think (e) that we should lampoon or ridicule religious believers per se. (f) We should indeed critically examine the many claims of religious traditions with a skeptical eye, and (g) and we should be willing to engage in constructive dialogue and debate with those within the religious communities. (h) Although we may profoundly disagree with our religious colleagues and/or adversaries, we should be tolerant, respectful, and dignified. (i) Even though we may disagree about fundamental doctrinal, philosophical, or theological issues, our discourse should be civilized.
    With this in mind, we have proposed a new form of humanism that is not antireligious per se, nor avowedly atheist. We submit that there is an urgent need for a new humanism in the world today; hence Neo-Humanism…  It is especially important that humanists appeal to a wider base of support. Some 16 percent of the American population is not affiliated with any church, temple, or mosque—approximately 50 million Americans—whereas only 2 to 3 percent are estimated to be out-and-out atheists. Hence, Neo-Humanism wishes to address its message to a broader public who we believe should be sympathetic.
    The new atheists surely have played an important role in contemporary society, for they have been willing to question the foundations of theism, a topic often considered verboten until now. One should not overlook the fact that the old atheism had a strong impact in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, insofar as it was allied with Marxism, including its totalitarian versions. Indeed the communists at first attempted to eradicate religious institutions from the societies in which they ruled, and this led to extensive persecution of believers.
    There are varieties of unbelief…It is too narrow to identify humanism with atheism or even agnosticism, for one can reject the lure of religious salvation on other grounds. The main point of Neo-Humanism is its recommendation that we adopt a positive humanist agenda. This is the position of the scientific naturalist who begins with nature and life, as viewed from the perspective of reason and science, without the baggage of ancient religions. Contemporary civilization has progressed beyond that. “

#4 Ophelia Benson on Tuesday March 23, 2010 at 9:40am

Oh, hell. Is there a glitch with this thing? I just did a long comment and it’s gone. That happened a couple of days ago, too, but it was a short comment so I just shrugged it off. But this one was long…dammit.

#5 Ophelia Benson on Tuesday March 23, 2010 at 10:00am

Part of the problem with signing this statement is that it’s so long and detailed. It’s not possible to agree with everything in such a long substantive manifesto, and it’s not necessarily desirable to sign something you don’t entirely agree with.

I know this from experience. A few years ago I signed the Euston Manifesto, even though there were parts of it I didn’t agree with, largely because I did strongly agree with some of the key items. But of course (I should have foreseen this) ever since I’ve been pinned with ideas I don’t agree with, because after all I did sign the Euston Manifesto.


(That’s a reconstruction of only a small bit of what I lost. Some of it is gone for good, because I don’t remember what I said next. I remember the gist of the last couple of paragraphs, but they’ll have to wait.)

#6 Daniel Schealler on Tuesday March 23, 2010 at 1:00pm

@Ophelia

I lost a long comment the other day too, so it’s not just you. Still not sure why.

#7 Ophelia Benson on Tuesday March 23, 2010 at 3:15pm

God, Daniel, isn’t it maddening?

Must remember always to write it in Word and then paste it in here. Well, long ones anyway.

#8 darshialoo (Guest) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 at 5:39pm

Dr. Lindsay usually hits the nail on the head.

His comments can always be trusted.

#9 Timothy Travis on Saturday March 27, 2010 at 1:07pm

I agree with Ron Lindsay’s concerning Paul Kurtz’s Neo-Humanist statement.
1. I see no need for the terms Neo-Humanist and New Atheists.
2. Does anyone see a difference between humanism and atheism? I see no conflict at all. And for me, secular humanist is redundant.
3. Having experienced first hand, thru years of association with Unitarians, the intellectual vacuum that is religious humanism, I want no part of it.
4. Further, Paul Kurtz’s statement loses focus, impact, and clarity by being over written. It is too long by a factor of four or more.

#10 David Galiel (Guest) on Saturday March 27, 2010 at 7:21pm

Thank you, Ron, for a thoughtful and incisive critique of Kurtz’s well-intended but deeply flawed neo-Manifesto - and, for refusing to jump on an (understandably) sentimental bandwagon.

Humanism is based on the thoughtful conclusion that morality, purpose and value, along with an understanding of the universe we live in, do not require the god hypothesis.  That being the case, humanism does not require adopting NOMA, nor pretending that what one believes has no consequence, because it wouldn’t be polite to contradict a true believer.

Yes, “we are all in this together,” but the way out requires reason and a grounding in reality. If we pretend that it doesn’t matter what others believe, that beliefs have no consequences, that there is no conflict between a rational and a supernatural worldview, we end up, rather than moving closer to the peaceful utopia Kurtz envisions, perpetuating the conditions that brought our world to its current crises.

The Hippocratic Oath doesn’t read, “first, do not offend”.

#11 Martin (Guest) on Monday March 29, 2010 at 4:27pm

I think this response from Mr. Lindsay was measured and correct in its details against the Paul Kurtz-led “Neo-Humanist” manifesto. If anything, the rejoinder is too mild, given the tenor of the offensive accusations hurled by Mr. Kurtz and R. Joseph Hoffmann. As with religious types, there is a problem in writing a response to people who are so fundamentally disrespectful to your side. However, in its anti-atheism and relentless vacuity of “positive” bromides, this “manifesto” helps clear up for me that I am not and will never be a humanist. A proper sociology of religion sees its terrible destructions and inordinate social power, in my view, and only atheism seems to see that. Thanks for writing this piece, but I’d let go of folks who seem to be upset that tougher-minded people stole their soapbox.

#12 Russell Blackford (Guest) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 2:56am

Yes, I copped a lot of flak not long ago for declining to sign a manifesto that I could not entirely agree with. But I stand by my decision. Ophelia is right that signing statements about which you have reservations is dangerous.

I certainly could not agree with the entirety of this “Neo-Humanist” statement. Indeed, it seems too much like a sop to some of our opponents. I can’t imagine why anyone supporting freedom and reason would want to sign off on a statement that seeks to undermine the important efforts of the so-called New Atheists. We don’t have to agree with them on every particular (I’m currently disagreeing, at least to an extent, with the latest stuff from Sam Harris), but that’s a reason to engage in useful discussion with them, not to white-ant them.

Incidentally, much specifically religious morality really is unfounded, miserable, and destructive. I don’t see why we should hesitate to say so.

#13 Martinus on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 7:34am

If you read down the list of posts (by Ron Lindsay)you will note that every one is concerned with religion.

Paul Kurtz maintains that this is not a Humanist perspective, it is exclusively atheist. Why invoke a noble philosophy like Humanism alongside it?

If you can disclaim any support for neo-Humanism, please drop any affectation of Humanism in any guise as well. Allow people with a legitimate sensibility for our species, planet and lives some space and oxygen outside of religious acrimony.

There is real work to be done and it won’t be led by obverse missionaries spreading ‘the truth’ - religion is a personal matter and the first responsibility of a Humanist is to understand and respect that concept.

#14 Ophelia Benson on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 12:32pm

please drop any affectation of Humanism in any guise as well. Allow people with a legitimate sensibility for our species, planet and lives some space and oxygen outside of religious acrimony.

Who is affecting such an affectation? This blog is concerned with free thinking and free inquiry, isn’t it? I don’t see anything that says it purports to be humanist. And who is witholding your oxygen?

religion is a personal matter and the first responsibility of a Humanist is to understand and respect that concept.

Ah but that’s not true. It could be true, but in practice it isn’t. Religion is very public indeed, and that is why some atheists are motivated to argue with it.

#15 Martinus on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 12:55pm

Ophelia sed:
>Who is affecting such an affectation? This blog is concerned with free thinking and free inquiry, isn’t it? I don’t see anything that says it purports to be humanist. And who is witholding your oxygen?<

I guess you’d have to ask Ron. Most atheists are intellectual social climbers, and prefer the grander garments of Humanism when they return from a day’s work at the graveyards of religious strife.

#16 Daniel Schealler on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 1:30pm

@Martinus

Ah. Most atheists are intellectual social climbers?

Does your use of the term ‘intellectual social climber’ refer to someone who beats people over the head with their atheism in social situations just to prove what a clever dick they are?

I should hope that this is obviously not the case. In social settings, I’m not particularly confrontational with my atheism. I certainly don’t hide it, but I don’t promote it either. If someone else raises the subject, I’ll talk about it. But otherwise I’m too busy socializing to get into debates with my mates. In my experience, that’s the norm amongst other atheists that I’ve met.

So can you clarify what you mean by ‘intellectual social climbers’? Because I think I’ve misunderstood what you actually meant.

#17 Martinus on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 2:01pm

Daniel sed:
>So can you clarify what you mean by ‘intellectual social climbers’? Because I think I’ve misunderstood what you actually meant.

It is clear that people running the AHA and the BHA are far more interested in atheism than Humanism. Granted?

Then why mention Humanism, if it isn’t to hijack something dressier than bareballs atheism? Sometimes I wonder if the American Auto Association came down on their acronym, see, and….

But seriously, I define Humanism as “an inclusive sensibility for our species, planet and lives.” the goal is human harmony, not acrimony. Kurtz mentions the Parliamentary Assembly, e.g. - when was the last time you discussed that at a social function? It may be the most important intellectual issue of all in our time.

I have found a, yes! spiritual home in Kurtz’ Neo-Humanism, and I urge those of a balanced persuasion to consider its tenets; for their deep wisdom born of a lifetime of consideration.

If we must respect our elders, he’s a great place to begin. He has righted a great ship.

#18 Martin (Guest) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 2:52pm

Martinus, you in no way explained that nonsensical castigation of atheists as “intellectual social climbers.” In what world are they making millions and gaining fame simply by slinging the term around? What is so “humanistic” about such a preposterous statement?
  “Neo-Humanism,” again, is pie-in-the-sky, and will go precisely nowhere. The elders of humanism were run over by the Dawkins/Eller (okay, put in the other three horsemen if you want) atheist onslaught, and it is a much, much better intellectual world where the role of religion in delivering strife and obtuseness can be called out properly and widely. Good luck on that world parliament angle.

#19 Martinus on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 4:07pm

Martinus to Martin re:

>Martinus, you in no way explained that nonsensical castigation of atheists as “intellectual social climbers.” In what world are they making millions and gaining fame simply by slinging the term around?<

Uh, Dawkins, Dennett et al..

>What is so “humanistic” about such a preposterous statement?<

I glad to see that it bothers you. It’s a Humanistic trait (more than an atheist one, BTW, we go beyond one dimension) to tell it like it is.

It’s really quite simple - a beleaguered atheist, when asked what he “is” - replies Humanist, while splashing himself with cologne.

>“Neo-Humanism,” again, is pie-in-the-sky, and will go precisely nowhere. The elders of humanism were run over by the Dawkins/Eller (okay, put in the other three horsemen if you want) atheist onslaught, and it is a much, much better intellectual world where the role of religion in delivering strife and obtuseness can be called out properly and widely.<

Good to see that you believe the Humanists were run over. Why then wear roadkill shirts?

>Good luck on that world parliament angle.<

Look up the acronym UNPA and nota bene. If you want to discuss this further see http://www.humanistwriters.com

Vince. E. Remos

#20 Martin (Guest) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 5:03pm

1. “Dawkins, Dennet” are “intellectual social climbers?”
That’s just a bizarre statement - they wrote books. They did so with honesty, and research, and did not expect to get a baronage in return.
2. I’ll be happy to have atheists give up the term “humanist” as I have. Other humanists set me straight on the compatibility between humanistic thought and religious practice, so it’s out for me, and should be for others, but that’s their choice. 
3. Who’s wearing “roadkill shirts”? Atheism is but one step, yet it’s a mighty one, and there are so few other expression of rational opposition. I just don’t know what you mean by that. Humanists may have done strong cultural work in the past, but contemporary humanists risk accusations of pure jealousy if they pen jeremiads against the “new atheists.”

#21 Martinus on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 6:07pm

>1. “Dawkins, Dennet” are “intellectual social climbers?”
That’s just a bizarre statement - they wrote books. They did so with honesty, and research, and did not expect to get a baronage in return.

“They read books, repeat quotations.” - Dylan
All they had to do was call themselves atheists, but no- Dawkins is VP of the BHA. Sorry, he needed a suit, I guess.

>2. I’ll be happy to have atheists give up the term “humanist” as I have. Other humanists set me straight on the compatibility between humanistic thought and religious practice, so it’s out for me, and should be for others, but that’s their choice.

Very good, that’s all a Humanist would ask of an atheist - to stop mentioning the H word..
>3. Who’s wearing “roadkill shirts”?

Humanists were ‘run over’, but atheists still use the H word.

>Atheism is but one step, yet it’s a mighty one, and there are so few other expression of rational opposition. I just don’t know what you mean by that.

Religious acrimony is toxic to our species. And you are being one of the reagents if you can’t grasp that. Sorry.

>Humanists may have done strong cultural work in the past, but contemporary humanists risk accusations of pure jealousy if they pen jeremiads against the “new atheists.”

We’ll have to see. I think your jihad, I mean jeremiad will fall from fashion soon, Harris and even Dawkins himself acknowledge atheism’s excesses.

They are embarrassed at having exploited a junior philosophical market for personal gain. They ain’t scientists, y’know, and atheism sells. What’s Humanism?

#22 Timothy Travis on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 8:00pm

There is negativity in some of the comments about humanism which I have not heard before. Would those commentators explain the conflict they see between humanism and atheism. I am not being argumentative and am open to the answers.
Is the problem, perhaps, more with humanist organizations? That I do understand as they are a huge frustration for me also, particularly the AHA.
By-the-way, James Haught’s cover article, Fading Faith, in the current issue of Free Inquiry is a contender for the best ever in that magazine; well researched and beautifully written, timely, and appropriate.

#23 Martinus on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 8:07pm

Timothy sed:
>There is negativity in some of the comments about humanism which I have not heard before. Would those commentators explain the conflict they see between humanism and atheism. I am not being argumentative and am open to the answers.<

Paul Kurtz does exactly that with his Neo-Humanism Statement (what this thread is about). PaulKurtz.net

#24 Daniel Schealler on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 9:13pm

@Timothy

Hi Tim

Perhaps I shouldn’t be the one to respond, as I don’t think I’ve said anything particularly negative about humanism… At least not here, and not yet.

As I see it, secular humanism and atheism are near enemies. They’re not the same thing, but they have a similar smell, and this leads a lot of people to be confused.

One of the things in Kurtz statement that I do agree with very strongly is that he drew a powerful distinction between secular humanism and atheism. It is possible that someone may be both a secular humanist and also an atheist. It is also possible that someone may be a secular humanist and also one of the many varieties of theist. The two categories should be unrelated. And secular humanism is all the stronger and more effective if the two categories remain seperate.

The problem from Kurtz’s perspective - I invite Paul to correct me if he reads this comment and disagrees with me - is that many people who are confrontational atheists are also openly secular humanists. As a result, the secular humanist brand is taking on the flavor of confrontational atheism. I would agree that this is a bad thing for secular humanism, and Kurtz was right to draw a line of separation between the two in an attempt to protect secular humanism from this insidious cross-branding.

I don’t consider myself a humanist for various reasons, ranging from an abstract philosophical objections to anthropomorphism though to disagreement over tactics to just plain ol’ personal inclination - my personal talents and passions are a very, very poor fit to the general ethos and pathos of secular humanism.

But with that aside, I’m all for the secular part, and on balance I think humanism has a hell of a lot more going for it than against it. I do value and respect the broad brush strokes of secular humanism. I wouldn’t wish the term or the movement to disappear, and I would like it to be all the stronger.

I just wish that secular humanists wouldn’t resort to the same kinds of misrepresentations of my lot as our religious opponents. Arguably, secular humanists aren’t usually all that bad, although Michael De Dora’s recent tut-tutting and name-calling seriously grated on my nerves. But in the context of Paul’s statement, the only reason I objected to his fairly mild misrepresentation of us was because I sincerely do hold him in high regard, and therefore to a higher standard of accuracy. I’m not being rhetorically coy when I say that, either. I really mean it.

By all means, put some distance between the terms ‘secular humanist’ and ‘atheist’. I concur that this is both useful and accurate.

But it bugs me when secular humanists twist us into the same sraw-filled bogey-men that frequent the arguments of our religious opponents. We don’t expect many of our religious opponents to know better, but we do hold secular humanists to a higher standard.

And it really annoys me when a secular humanist takes something a confrontational atheist has said or written and writes it off as ‘ridiculous’ or some other term simply because the humanist disagrees with it or sees it as hazardous to their goals as a humanist - and yes, I’m looking at you again Mr. De Dora

By all means, critique us wherever you disagree. Critique is good. But please, critique our positions as they actually are. And if you dismiss us unfairly, don’t be surprised when we speak up for ourselves. Whatever way you slice it,  speaking up for ourselves seems to be the very thing that defines us as ‘new’ atheists in the first place. If we don’t stop speaking up for the tender souls of the pious, we’re not about to stop for the more robust framework of humanism. You’re all grown ups. We presumes you don’t need us to don the kid’s gloves. ^_^

And finally, it annoys me when humanists talk down to us about tactics as if we’re naughty, misbehaving children that haven’t thought about the consequences of our actions. For the most part, we damn well have. It’s just that some of our desired consequences are different to those of secular humanism - not necessarily opposed, but different (perhaps even complimentary?) - so we’re employing different tactics in order to achieve them. Please grant us enough respect to consider, at least for a moment, that we may in fact know exactly what we’re doing and simultaneously have sound reasons for why we’re doing it.

I’m interested to see Ophelia’s response to all this. Also Paul’s, on the off chance he’s lurking around the comments. ^_^

#25 Daniel Schealler on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 9:17pm

* Anthropomorphism should be anthropocentrism.
* sraw-filled should be straw-filled.

Bloody typos.

#26 Daniel Schealler on Tuesday March 30, 2010 at 9:26pm

Bugger. I also inserted a smiley face to soften the tone of the quips I directed at Michael, but they were stripped out of the post.

#27 Martin (Guest) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 at 3:02am

I have been informed, with a high degree of certainty by some authority in some Humanist organization, that humanism is open, tolerant, and accessible to religion, religious practices, and religious people. Atheism, on the other hand, is not a religion, has no religious practices, and sees pernicious effects of enfranchised religion in human history, though, of course, there’s been some nice architecture and canoe outings for the lonely.
There’s more that emanates from this fundamental distinction (milquetoast banality vs. rational materialism)- but as to who has the better organizations, I would leave that to the veterans and the joiners here - I’m an outlier, if that matters.

#28 Mriana on Thursday April 01, 2010 at 8:36pm

I’m still reading the statement and the appendix, but I do see what everyone is saying.  Paul Kurtz tries to keep a positive outlook on things, but I’m not too sure about this time.  I’m not even sure we needed another one just yet.  Neo-Humanism sounds like a whole new form of humanism and I’m not so sure there was anything wrong with the old at this point and time.

I agree with both the Humanist Manifesto 2000 and the Humanist Manifesto III (AHA), which I think are still good 10/7 years later.  However, since I have not finished reading this statement, I am trying to reserve judgment on it until I have.  At the same time, I agree where it appears to be flawed.

#29 Timothy Travis on Thursday April 01, 2010 at 9:01pm

Mriana wrote, “I agree with both the Humanist Manifesto 2000 and the Humanist Manifesto III (AHA), which I think are still good 10/7 years later.” I agree with them too like I am for motherhood and apple pie. The problem was they did not say anything and the press took no notice. For instance, anyone who had their eyes open know the RRC was/is a sick mess but including that would not have been PC. So they said nothing. And even now they will only say what most everyone one else is saying.
If your prime directive is to be PC, your “manifesto” is in name only.

#30 Jen Hancock (Guest) on Monday April 05, 2010 at 5:31pm

I have to agree with Martinus. There are A LOT of Humanists who want to talk about Humanism and we get attacked by Atheists as being traitors to the freethought cause whenever we try.  There are Atheist groups to talk about Atheism - and as an Atheist - I support that.  But I am also a Humanist and want to discuss the philosophy of Humanism in its entirety.  I understand some people don’t.  They only want to focus on the secular aspect of the philosophy and that is fine too.

But to pretend that that is all there is to Humanism is to define Humanism in a very distorted and narrow way.  Humanism is a value system and a way of looking at the world.  People like Martinus and I want the space to be able to acknowledge a full bodied Humanism without being told by the atheists that we aren’t being true to Humanism.

And that is the exact problem I saw Paul trying to address. (I didn’t like the document for entirely different reasons having to do with his long time trashing of Humanism in favor of secular humanism, and his trashing of new humanism which is why he is calling his philosophy neo-humanism.)  Anyway - Humanism has a problem.  Unless Humanists start talking about Humanism including those aspects of Humanism that are in conflict with aspects of the atheist agenda, we aren’t fullfulling our objectives as a movement.  We have to talk about Humanism and that means, not talking about Atheism all the time.  Yes - lots of overlap, but the reason a New Humanist movement was started was to address this deficit in focus.

#31 Mriana on Monday April 05, 2010 at 5:53pm

Yes, I’ve noticed that too.  There is more to humanism besides Secular humanism and I agree that it all should be discussed, not just one side of humanism.

#32 Martinus on Monday April 05, 2010 at 6:32pm

I suspect that there is one seed issue- world federalism - that will make or break Humanism. I prefer to call it the world parliamentary movement.

Kurtz mentions the UNPA in his N-H Statement, and for good reason. If we are ever to coalesce as a species we must give true democracy a wider footprint than today’s chauvinistic nationalism that he notably cites. I trust Kurtz as a plain dealer.

As a can-opener toward that process, I expect that the legitimacy of polling, then referenda will emerge as a contested political process. The pols and the established networks, and the print gatekeepers will not want to defer to the Net, but they must and shall.

Therein lies our franchise, to waive or defend.

#33 Ronald A. Lindsay on Friday April 09, 2010 at 11:36am

This is a belated response to some of the comments that came in around March 30. (I had cataract surgery that day and thereafter limited my reading for 3 days. Please: no jokes about how my intellectual vision still needs correcting.)

Martinus makes a few statements that warrant a response. First, I will give him credit for some wit. He states that “a beleaguered atheist, when asked what he ‘is’ - replies Humanist, while splashing himself with cologne.” This is an amusing remark. Totally unfair, but amusing.

But to substance. Martinus claims that: “If you read down the list of posts (by Ron Lindsay) you will note that every one is concerned with religion.” Actually, this is incorrect. And the interesting thing is that the only other time someone bothered to tabulate the topics of my posts was when someone suspected I was too concerned with gay rights. See the comments to: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/show/therapy_to_support_your_faith_and_suppress_yourself/

Admittedly, many of my blog posts do address religious beliefs and practices, but I would think it’s perfectly appropriate for a humanist to expend a significant amount of time critiquing religious beliefs and practices. Persons associated with the Center for Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, or the American Humanist Association have engaged in this worthwhile exercise for decades. Certainly, if one reads Paul Kurtz’s editorials in Free Inquiry from 1980 until 2008, one will find many, if not most, of them contain some criticism of religion. I fail to see how my blog posts are in any way inconsistent with secular humanism as it’s usually understood.

But Martinus has a peculiar understanding of humanism, which he defines as “an inclusive sensibility for our species, planet and lives.” Sorry, but not only is this definition extraordinarily vague, but it also fails to distinguish humanism from anything else. No doubt some believers would describe Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and so forth as “an inclusive sensibility for our species, planet and lives.”

Martinus also suggests I drop “any affectation of Humanism in any guise” because of my failure to endorse the Neo-Humanist Statement. I was not aware that failure to do so would mean I could not identify myself as a humanist. I did not think secular humanism consisted of a body of sacred doctrine expressed by a prophet that one must unquestioningly accept. That Martinus appears to have another viewpoint perhaps explains his insistence on capitalizing “humanism,” which I consider a philosophy or system of thought, not a religion.

Martinus does pose a fair question, which is why I describe myself as a humanist as well as an atheist. Humanism is not synonymous with atheism. I will try to explain why I identify myself as a secular humanist in a forthcoming blog post.

#34 Martinus on Friday April 09, 2010 at 1:11pm

Ron commented:
>...Martinus has a peculiar understanding of humanism, which he defines as “an inclusive sensibility for our species, planet and lives.” Sorry, but not only is this definition extraordinarily vague, but it also fails to distinguish humanism from anything else.”

Yes, it does, I suspect that you are the one who is over-extending its nature. H doesn’t deal with the supernatural, e.g. at any level.

Atheists have some dadaist relationship with theism and feel the need to do a lot of pounding on that. In H it’s built in. It’s much more compact and defined than major religions,if only for what it ignores.


Examine the definition and let’s parse it.

“Inclusive sensibility” tells us we are accepting and tolerant, like universal Dutch people, and also exhibit a simple but genuine “sensibility”, which attitude lays no trips on anyone. That’s different.

“...for our species, planet and lives.” The ranking is intended, as we take the root “human” seriously and insist that we are a brotherhood.

We’re becoming different again here, because being centered in our species and naming the planet as our priority sloughs off theism et al rather cleanly. there are no bus campaigns, and introduces a Gaian vision of our biosphere - not a big topic in orthodox religions.

Finally “lives”; the plural. The implied vision of Humanists is that we are masters of our own destinies, which may lead us to the stars.

Of course I’m not about to start arguing with fundies about whether my afterlives will outpimp theirs. Wait till they see the bling the Transhumanists are cooking up..

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