“The atheistic critique of humanism has been all but forgotten”
Posted: 06 June 2011 02:58 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I don’t know enough about the literature to comment. Any suggestions?

The atheistic critique of humanism has been all but forgotten

The World Atheist Convention is currently under way in Dublin. Among those addressing the conference is Richard Green from Atheism UK. His is a new and small group seeking to establish itself in the marketplace of ideas where the most familiar voices are those of the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association. What is distinctive about Atheism UK, Green insists, is that it’s an atheist organisation for all atheists, including those not committed to humanism. “We cater for atheists who are not humanists,” he says.

These days, atheists who are not humanists are an unfamiliar breed. Most atheists, and in particular the new atheists, regard themselves as committed humanists. Indeed, they are new in name only for they appeal back to the atheistic humanism of the Enlightenment, with its optimism about human nature and strong belief in the power of human reason and the inevitability of progress. Here humanism and atheism formed an alliance against all that stands over and against human flourishing. God must be dead so that humanity can thrive. Once emancipated from religious tyranny and dogma, humanity will thrive. As Kant believed, humanity must be its own highest being and ultimate end.

Yet throughout the 20th century many atheists rejected this picture. The sunny optimism of the Enlightenment – not least its commitment to progress and a sense of the intrinsic goodness of human nature – was profoundly dented by the horrors of the first world war and the Nazi death camps. The Enlightenment hadn’t found another word for sin. And just as Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, a developing anti-humanism started to announce what, in less gender-conscious times, Foucault was to call “the death of man”. Indeed, Nietzsche himself insisted the belief in humanity was itself just a hangover from a belief in God and, once God was eradicated, the belief in human beings would follow the same way.

It was mostly Marxists who developed this idea and ran with it. Louis Althusser coined the term anti-humanism. Forget the significance of the human individual, he argued, it is historical processes that make the difference. There is no such thing as intrinsic humanity, we are all the product of external forces. Everything that cannot be analysed structurally is false consciousness. Humanism itself is false consciousness. Others made a parallel critique using Freudian psychoanalysis. Human beings are not little gods free to choose for themselves on the basis of reason alone. We are subject to forces outside the reach of rational scrutiny. And, broadly speaking, the intellectual left all rose in applause. As Emmanuel Levinas observed in 1957: “Contemporary thought holds out the surprise for us of an atheism that is not humanist.”

It is worth recounting a small part of this increasingly forgotten tale to lament what has become of a noble tradition. For it seems the atheistic critique of humanism has been all but forgotten. Richard Green’s “atheists who are not humanists” could meet in a phone box. Indeed, the new atheists simply duck the challenge made by atheistic anti-humanism, believing their expensive scientific toys can outflank the alleged conceptual weakness of their humanism. Thus they dismiss the significance of philosophy just as much as they have always done of theology – as if the two were fundamentally in cahoots. But this is nonsense. Nietzsche, Marx and Freud attacked Christianity with passionate ferocity.

Christian theology of the 20th century has spent much of its time wrestling with the consequences. Why won’t the new atheists do the same?

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Mark Plus, Advanced Atheist
"There was a time before reason and science when my ancestors believed in all manner of nonsense." Narim on Stargate SG-1.

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Posted: 06 June 2011 08:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s not something I’ve heard much about,you could look at it as proof that atheists come in all 57 varieties! As an atheist I’m fairly critical of humanism,but humanism means something different to every humanist it seems like confused

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Posted: 07 June 2011 03:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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What is the point of the critique? Or is its point that all is lost and there is no point to anything?

The writer assumes that Humanism necessarily includes the particular optimism of the Enlightenment. I see no reason why Humanism cannot take a cold, hard look at the human condition without devolving into an all-is-lost pessimism.

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I cannot in good conscience support CFI under the current leadership. I am here in dissent and in support of a Humanism that honors and respects everyone.

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Posted: 07 June 2011 07:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’m with PLaClair.  Often when I join a Christian forum, they seem to believe that ALL atheists have to be followers of Nietzche and Marx.  It’s usually an uphill battle trying to get them to see that the majority of atheists are Secular Humanists and have the very opposite attitude!

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Posted: 07 June 2011 07:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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PLaClair - 07 June 2011 03:22 AM

What is the point of the critique? Or is its point that all is lost and there is no point to anything?

The writer assumes that Humanism necessarily includes the particular optimism of the Enlightenment. I see no reason why Humanism cannot take a cold, hard look at the human condition without devolving into an all-is-lost pessimism.

The Enlightenment in fact had different schools of thought with conflicting views of human nature. Refer to Philipp Blom’s book A Wicked Company.

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Posted: 07 June 2011 07:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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advocatus - 07 June 2011 07:35 AM

I’m with PLaClair.  Often when I join a Christian forum, they seem to believe that ALL atheists have to be followers of Nietzche and Marx.  It’s usually an uphill battle trying to get them to see that the majority of atheists are Secular Humanists and have the very opposite attitude!

According to the social science literature, empirical atheists, as opposed to the fantasy atheists believed in by religionists, tend to hold distinctly different but benevolent moral beliefs from theists, especially from conservative theists. Phil Zuckerman notes:

Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and
Assumptions

http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/faculty/zuckerman/Zuckerman_on_Atheism.pdf

It is often assumed that someone who doesn’t believe in God doesn’t believe in anything,
or that a person who has no religion must have no values. These assumptions are simply
untrue. People can reject religion and still maintain strong beliefs. Being godless does not
mean being without values. Numerous studies reveal that atheists and secular people most
certainly maintain strong values, beliefs, and opinions. But more significantly, when we
actually compare the values and beliefs of atheists and secular people to those of religious
people, the former are markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less
racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian

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Posted: 07 June 2011 10:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Well I’m a cynic, a borderline misanthrope, an absurdist, and a humanist.  So I don’t think humanists have to be particularly optimistic.  About anything.  LOL

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Posted: 07 June 2011 02:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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AdvancedAtheist - 07 June 2011 07:55 AM
advocatus - 07 June 2011 07:35 AM

I’m with PLaClair.  Often when I join a Christian forum, they seem to believe that ALL atheists have to be followers of Nietzche and Marx.  It’s usually an uphill battle trying to get them to see that the majority of atheists are Secular Humanists and have the very opposite attitude!

According to the social science literature, empirical atheists, as opposed to the fantasy atheists believed in by religionists, tend to hold distinctly different but benevolent moral beliefs from theists, especially from conservative theists. Phil Zuckerman notes:

Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and
Assumptions

http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/faculty/zuckerman/Zuckerman_on_Atheism.pdf

It is often assumed that someone who doesn’t believe in God doesn’t believe in anything,
or that a person who has no religion must have no values. These assumptions are simply
untrue. People can reject religion and still maintain strong beliefs. Being godless does not
mean being without values. Numerous studies reveal that atheists and secular people most
certainly maintain strong values, beliefs, and opinions. But more significantly, when we
actually compare the values and beliefs of atheists and secular people to those of religious
people, the former are markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less
racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian

Oh sure,trying to make atheists look better than everyone else excaim These studies show the same things over and over again,and they are barely believable.

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Posted: 07 June 2011 02:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Dead Monky - 07 June 2011 10:27 AM

Well I’m a cynic, a borderline misanthrope, an absurdist, and a humanist.  So I don’t think humanists have to be particularly optimistic.  About anything.  LOL

But what are you most question  excaim

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Posted: 07 June 2011 02:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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mid atlantic - 07 June 2011 02:31 PM

But what are you most question  excaim

Hmm.  Don’t know.  Cynic, probably.

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Posted: 07 June 2011 03:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Dead Monky - 07 June 2011 02:43 PM
mid atlantic - 07 June 2011 02:31 PM

But what are you most question  excaim

Hmm.  Don’t know.  Cynic, probably.

I’ve noticed that humanists are offended by cynics,on humanist forums they commonly talk about “ending cynicism” as if that’s possible LOL It’s not that bad being a cynic IMO.Absurdists and misanthropes are probably not too high on the humanist roster either.

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Posted: 08 June 2011 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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mid atlantic - 07 June 2011 03:07 PM

I’ve noticed that humanists are offended by cynics,on humanist forums they commonly talk about “ending cynicism” as if that’s possible LOL It’s not that bad being a cynic IMO.Absurdists and misanthropes are probably not too high on the humanist roster either.

I’m an odd one. LOL

But yeah, cynics aren’t popular with a lot of people.  Probably because we have no qualms with telling them things they don’t want to hear or with nitpicking their precious optimism and ideals.  And we’re always so friendly about it too. LOL

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Posted: 09 June 2011 05:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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This critique has probably been forgotten because it is based on such shoddy foundations. Althusser? Freud? Please.

It also attacks a fairytale version of Humanism which is googly-eyed over science and foolishly optimistic. Few sophisticated modern Humanists take such a view,

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Posted: 25 June 2011 01:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Dead Monky - 08 June 2011 11:02 AM

But yeah, cynics aren’t popular with a lot of people.  Probably because we have no qualms with telling them things they don’t want to hear or with nitpicking their precious optimism and ideals.  And we’re always so friendly about it too. :lol:


`
I think people are mainly critical of those who are just ‘cynics’.  A thinking, intelligent person can’t live in the world today and not be cynical to some extent ~ most of us admit a healthy strain of it in ourselves…....

But if the main or only thing a person has to offer is cynicism, what good are they to anyone?  Let’s not kid ourselves here, poo-pooing everything is the easiest thing there is ~ it’s coming up with productive responses to our cynicism that’s the hard/admirable part.

`

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Posted: 25 June 2011 02:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Axegrrl - 25 June 2011 01:29 AM
Dead Monky - 08 June 2011 11:02 AM

But yeah, cynics aren’t popular with a lot of people.  Probably because we have no qualms with telling them things they don’t want to hear or with nitpicking their precious optimism and ideals.  And we’re always so friendly about it too. LOL


`
I think people are mainly critical of those who are just ‘cynics’.  A thinking, intelligent person can’t live in the world today and not be cynical to some extent ~ most of us admit a healthy strain of it in ourselves…....

But if the main or only thing a person has to offer is cynicism, what good are they to anyone?  Let’s not kid ourselves here, poo-pooing everything is the easiest thing there is ~ it’s coming up with productive responses to our cynicism that’s the hard/admirable part.

`

Very true,a cynic should try to be a sucess at something.

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Posted: 30 June 2011 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Axegrrl - 25 June 2011 01:29 AM

I think people are mainly critical of those who are just ‘cynics’.  A thinking, intelligent person can’t live in the world today and not be cynical to some extent ~ most of us admit a healthy strain of it in ourselves…....

Or in any other time.  The world has, and always will be, crappy and screwed up.

But if the main or only thing a person has to offer is cynicism, what good are they to anyone?  Let’s not kid ourselves here, poo-pooing everything is the easiest thing there is ~ it’s coming up with productive responses to our cynicism that’s the hard/admirable part.

What good are they?  Oh I don’t know…..  They get point out the flaws in a position, get people considering it’s unwanted ramifications, help prevent echo chambers, encourage honesty, and so on.  And sure, one can present alternatives.  But who’s to say the cynic hasn’t simply torn apart his own alternative immediately after formulating it and thus sees no reason to present it?

wink

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