Does humanism need a popular segment which includes everyone? The Pentecostal Churches seem to be growing large. One of the reasons for this is the very personal welcoming of any visitors making them feel known to the members. Maybe humanism needs such an organization to counter the warmth of these churches.
We were discussing a similar topic this morning at a local discussion group.
The question is why do people join organizations? There are those who are looking for community and those who are focused on the ideas that the group espouses. For example, I like many of the people at the nearby unitarian - UNIVERSALIST church, but I can’t stand the theism the new minister is spouting so I’ve stopped attending. When the minister was as strong an atheist as I was and had similar political views I felt quite comfortable there.
However, many people are rather limp about beliefs. They will join any church even if the ideas put forth are quite a bit different from their own as long as the people are warm and friendly.
I think most of the people who are interested in secular humanism are more focused on the ideas, however, an enjoyable welcoming group would certainly be nice. Unfortunately, there’s a tip point - there has to be some minimum population density before you can form a functioning group.
I would love to go to the Los Angeles CFI group, but it’s thirty miles away driving through the center of the city. The few times I gone there the group isn’t all that large, and most have come quite a distance.
If you have any ideas of how to form local groups with a strong positive social component I’d love to hear them, as probably, would the CFI administration.
Yes, welcome to the group, Greg. I have no great experience in these issues—probably people like Thomas and DJ would have much more useful things to say than I. But groups like CFI are sort of in a middle-ground here, on the one hand we clearly are trying to grow local groups and make people welcome. On the other hand, I know that I for one wouldn’t be in favor of recreating any sort of church-like group or atmosphere, with a creed and heirarchy, or with true-believing acolytes to greet you at the door with frozen smiles and cookies.
So there’s a sort of natural tension between wanting to form a community of like-minded individuals, and not wanting to form a cultish in-group.
The historical roots of groups like the CFI goes back to the enlightenment. And that was a movement that was intended to be universal; enlightenment projects, where they could be, were intended to be publicly focused, not isolated to any particular corner group of believers. So in that sense of course we want to include “everyone” as you suggest.
It’s a great idea to institute ways of making new members (and potentially interested visitors) feel welcome, and to create a sense of shared community. Perhaps people who’ve been to local CFI locations can help out with what might or might not work.
Tonight on HBO is a repeat of the “Friends of God” program. In one part there is the preacher Osteen (?) preaching in Houston to a audience of 35,000 hysterical people. There are a lot of voters in that crowd that help choose whether our elected officials appreciate reason or faith. This is in the age of science. This is what I am concerned about. How can reason take over?
I appreciate that many in the humanist organizations prefer to remain in tight small groups of intellectuals and certainly that is fine for them. But maybe there needs to be an additional arm that appeals to the social needs of many of the regular people who are not so involved in intellectual realm. They need some rituals and some moral lecturing and social support. Since there is none of the type I imagine, they are drawn to the evangelical. I am sure that there are charismatic humanists who could lead them.
[quote author=“gregandrews”] I am sure that there are charismatic humanists who could lead them.
You see, this is the very thing that worries me. Charismatic people tend to lead their flocks astray. It reminds me of the scene in Life of Brian where Brian says to the people outside his window “Look. You’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals!”
The tension in any proper humanist organization is that we don’t want to be “tight small groups of intellectuals” as you put it, but neither do we want to be big-tent meetings of acolytes under the thrall of some charismatic leader.
Now, maybe the example of Robert Ingersoll is a good one, in that he was charismatic but did not found any sort of church under his guidance. But there are very few Robert Ingersolls around, and at any rate I don’t know that he would quite fit the mold of what you are looking for.
If you read CFI publications and listen to Point of Inquiry (to take a couple of close examples) you will find some “moral lecturing” as well as indirect “social support”. I’m not so sure about the importance of rituals, but more needs to be done, of course.
One of the problems, Greg, is that many of the Secular Humanists are just as prejudiced against anything that seems to have any properties in common with churches. Possibly, this is because of early bad experiences, or because they have no experience with these and just assume they must be uniformly bad.
They seem to think such a close-knit community would have to have a creed that had to be followed, a heirarchy, and greeters with frozen smiles. Instead, they can offer humanistic principles for consideration, but without coercion, decisions can be made democratically, rather than by a heirarchy, and if there’s a positive welcoming atmosphere, visitors are greeted by anyone who happens to see them, and with genuine warmth.
Charisma is a characteristic of leadership. If the person starting such a group didn’t have leadership and charisma the group would never get off the ground. The misconception is that charisma is always connected with self-interest. A good leader with charisma can attract people, guide them to think for themselves (probably more than they’ve ever done before), and build a positive, caring community.
Once this occurs others are attracted and the group grows. Then the group can reach out to help the larger community and get known. This way, the religious propaganda against humanists and non-believers would be weakened.
What I am getting at is that, so to speak, we need to help make secularism safe in our society. (See the writing of Lauren Becker below which gives some incidencies of uneasiness with religious forces.) The ivory tower approach is okay for many of the more intellectual inclined people. But there needs to be some appeal to those who are not so. There may not be any good reason for there not to be a popular appeal. Many people during their lives, if not all, have at some time questioned the religion that they inherited. But the social pressures tend to make them go back to what they grew up with. And there is little social support to preserve that attitude.
Occam reports on the unconvenience in getting to the humanist meetings in LA. Convenience is a big thing. (After all, we can not promise them a heaven after death. )There is probably no place in the U.S. where one couldn’t conveniently find a Baptist church. I would invision that there could be many local humanists grassroot groups meeting in homes to begin with. Leaders of these groups could be compensated by voluntary donations from the members. Doug may object to this as an alterior motive and a bit of greed. But these people would then get something for their extra work and have motivation to grow their group. This is what works for the Baptists. These groups would be talking about naturalism and whatever is of interest to the members reinforcing their stance. And they would give the warmth of community that so many people find necessary and who are drawn to churches.
Message from Lauren Becker
Dear Campus Freethinker:
When I was a resident assistant at the University of Tennessee, there was a lot of evidence that February was the hardest month for students: there were more roommate disputes, more fights and breakups with boyfriends, and more drug and alcohol busts. Some people blamed the weather. Some said it was a doldrums period stuck between the excitement of winter break and promise of spring break. Whatever it was, everything always seemed broken in February.
February is still a difficult month, but every week we see evidence that something else is broken on campuses around the country and around the world: free inquiry and a respect for diverse ideas. College is supposed to be a time of new thoughts, challenges to what we thought we knew, and discoveries of things different, but, more and more, well-organized religious and political ideologues are arguing that universities should be a place to advance their version of truth, rather than a place where all ideas can be critically examined. Stories like these come to us from around the world:
Students and administrators at The College of William and Mary are taking sides in a fight to keep or remove an 18-inch cross from the historic Wren Chapel, a campus building used both for religious services and for secular events. Some people want the cross removed to make the room more inclusive of all students. (It can be returned by request for specific events.) Others want the cross permanently installed. With no hint of irony, they say the removal of the cross is a mistake because it reflects a view that religious symbols are “an obstacle for us to get along with one another.”
Conservative republican organizations are mobilizing “spies” (their word) to document, harass, and sue “liberal” professors they claim are discriminating against conservative students. At the same time, however, these same organizations are waging campaigns against school policies designed to protect the rights of minorities. The hypocrisy is clear: you’re not allowed to pick on us, but we should be allowed to pick on you.
Far more tragic, schools specifically designed as havens of free inquiry are falling victim to sectarian violence. Last week, four students were killed during riots at the American University in Beirut. The problem? A classical curriculum requiring the study of literature from outside the Islamic tradition.
Situations like these remind us why it is so important to defend and promote free inquiry and freethought on campus - wherever that campus may be - and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. This year we’ve already sent speakers to campuses in New Jersey, New York, California, Ontario, Quebec, Cameroon, and Kenya. We’re meeting with students and encouraging dialogue about the values of secular humanism, the importance of scientific and skeptical thinking, and the need for secular democracy.
I just wanted to echo Greg’s notion that belonging to a community is a common human desire, and that successful expansion of the humanist/secularist viewpoint would probably be served by providing, in some way, a community experience. In a sense, that’s how I see this forum. I’ve spent most of my life as an outsider ideologically, representing uncommon and often unpopular ideas as, if not a lone voice, at least one of very few voices in my geographic community. In another of her commentaries, Lauren Becker talked movingly about why the “herding cats” notion of secularists/atheists/humanists as contankerous individualists uninterested in community participation may be, at least partly, a reaction to this outsider experience rather than an intrinsic part of our character. I was very pleased that CFI is opening a new community here in the SF Bay Area, largely because it promises to be an opportunity to share ideas about the world with a somewhat more sympathetic group of people than the general population. I’m not sure the community church model is the right one, but certainly some organized bringing together of people in an environment that welcomes free thought and inquiry but isn’t strictly made up of overthinking loquacious intellectuals (like, uh, well like me would be helpful in promoting both the growth of individuals socially and intellectually and the growth of humanism.
I think Brennen has hit the nail on the head here about the forum. This is intended to be a “community experience” for a world-community of generally like-minded individuals, being as inclusive as possible.
The enlightenment was in many ways fostered in the coffee houses of Europe, where people of all social standings could come together to discuss and debate the important matters of the day. The far-flung nature of our mission makes this sort of gathering difficult and expensive for most of us. The presence of an internet forum is intended to alleviate some of the problem.
The other answer is to build local communities, buy real estate, etc. The CFI is doing this about as fast as it can; however, that is an extremely expensive and long-term goal. It must be done carefully given the amount of money involved, and the care which must go into the formation of each local center.
Brennen McKenzie mentions the herding of cats being a hurdle for humanist groups. Yes, humanists have a wide range of views on just about everything and, sometimes, very strong ones. The many groups that I envision would be diverse in what they like. Now with only one humanist organization in some large cities the problem of getting those cats into one room confortably can be difficult. Comparing again to the Baptists. People can shop around in the many different Baptist (or other demoninations) until they find where they are confortable. The same should be available for humanists. Much would depend on “leaders” as to what activities are enhasized in meetings.
The current campus groups seem to be a great effort to encourage humanism. But there needs to be something available to these young people which will keep them interested and giving them a sense of community wherever they go after their education experience.
I appreciate your expression of the isolation in being able to express ideas which are not the majority which I guess all of us have felt from time to time. And that is why humanism needs to reach greater numbers of people and this should include all levels of intelligence by providing something for all. (Not just us, overthinking loquacious intellectuals ) The strength of religion is not just its intellectual foundations but the inclusion of the average person and the using of their time and talents. Participating humanism should be able to inspire all people to do better and enjoy and be confortable in their lives.
And, Doug, I agree that this forum and the internet are great for sharing ideas that many had no place or atmosphere for expressing before. Interesting point about the coffee houses and the enlightenment. Property is expensive, but I guess people’s homes are public rooms would be the locations for the new little groups.
I think an interim answer, prior to buying real estate, is to find people willing to have small discussion groups meet in their homes, or to find a local library or other free or low cost public meeting room. It takes a core of about a half dozen people willing to find the space, get publicity by newspapers, local market bulletin boards, word of mouth, etc., choose topics, handle the set up and maintenance of the meeting, and follow-up.
Occam:I think an interim answer, prior to buying real estate, is to find people willing to have small discussion groups meet in their homes, or to find a local library or other free or low cost public meeting room. It takes a core of about a half dozen people willing to find the space, get publicity by newspapers, local market bulletin boards, word of mouth, etc., choose topics, handle the set up and maintenance of the meeting, and follow-up.
Right. This would be helped by a national organization CFI starting a listing of people who might be interested as hosts, leaders, and willing participants.
[quote author=“gregandrews”]This would be helped by a national organization CFI starting a listing of people who might be interested as hosts, leaders, and willing participants.
That’s true, but first we have to convince the national organization that the concept is both worthwhile and feasible. From the response I got a few years ago, this kind of thing didn’t seem high on their priority list.
[quote author=“Occam”]That’s true, but first we have to convince the national organization that the concept is both worthwhile and feasible. From the response I got a few years ago, this kind of thing didn’t seem high on their priority list.
I dunno, but might be logistically difficult for one reason or another. Still and all, no harm in bringing it up again for discussion.