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Keeping Humanism at The Forefront of “The Cause”
Posted: 30 November 2007 06:39 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I have recently become a bit distracted in debating the existence of a deity with religious dogmatists.  I bring this up because I admit to having been successfully baited more than once by theists.  I easily fall victim because I genuinely care about individuals as I do about the whole of humanity.  Through the course of the usual discussions, which always go in the same directions, a couple of thoughts occurred to me.

Sam Harris was not only right about it being bad strategy to call ourselves atheists when dealing with theists, but his point goes even further in that it is bad strategy to play the part of the atheist in our discussions with theists.  Theists are comfortably irrational.  They are driven not by reason, but by feelings.  To even debate them is to play the part of the trouble maker, the rabble rouser, the negative bully who is intent on raining on the theist parade.  This is exactly what the theist wants.  It confirms their sense of self righteousness by positing them as positive and the non-believer as negative.  Theists should be told things, not argued with.

For the theist, debate itself is a form of confirmation bias.

I am not only non-religious but am also an anti-theist, in the sense that I want religion to end.  But I am not particularly interested in dispelling many of the more innocent fantasies associated with religion.  I am only interested in ending misguided contradictions to the sorts of good humanistic principles that are urgent to a harmonious global society.  What I am against is “ahumanism.”  I am against the against, not against the for.

That being said, I noticed that this forum has quite a few more posts in the “religion and secularism” category than it does in this “humanism” category.  I am no a saint, as I have also noticed that the majority of my posts here have more to do with religion & atheism than to do with humanism.  I do think that religious criticism is an important part of humanism, but I don’t think that it is the most important part.  In light of current events, I am in full support of the forward momentum of the “new atheist” movement.  But I would like to see humanists more on track with humanism, which I see as far more productive in the long run.  If the current humanist obsesion is, in fact, partly a response to 9/11, then it would seem that the religionists have gotten the better of humanists.

I would also like to see The Council for Secular Humanism become a more central part of CFI.  Also, I would like to see both CSH and CFI working more directly on human rights, civil liberties and secularism, as is done by humanist organizations in many other countries.  I certainly want to make an effort to focus my energies, more so, on these sorts of issues.

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Posted: 30 November 2007 08:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 30 November 2007 06:39 AM

That being said, I noticed that this forum has quite a few more posts in the “religion and secularism” category than it does in this “humanism” category.  I am no a saint, as I have also noticed that the majority of my posts here have more to do with religion & atheism than to do with humanism.  I do think that religious criticism is an important part of humanism, but I don’t think that it is the most important part.  In light of current events, I am in full support of the forward momentum of the “new atheist” movement.  But I would like to see humanists more on track with humanism, which I see as far more productive in the long run.  If the current humanist obsesion is, in fact, partly a response to 9/11, then it would seem that the religionists have gotten the better of humanists.

Right—if you are interested in humanist ideals in particular, certainly feel free to expand that forum with more posts.

erasmusinfinity - 30 November 2007 06:39 AM

I would also like to see The Council for Secular Humanism become a more central part of CFI.  Also, I would like to see both CSH and CFI working more directly on human rights, civil liberties and secularism, as is done by humanist organizations in many other countries.  I certainly want to make an effort to focus my energies, more so, on these sorts of issues.

Yes, CFI has just gotten started on a lot of this with their new office in Washington, DC, the legal department, the office of public policy, and the office at the United Nations. They’ve written amicus briefs for the court and engaged in a court case. (Click on these links for more).

As I say, this has all just gotten started in the last year or so; there’s a LOT to do.

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Posted: 30 November 2007 08:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 30 November 2007 06:39 AM

Sam Harris was not only right about it being bad strategy to call ourselves atheists when dealing with theists, but his point goes even further in that it is bad strategy to play the part of the atheist in our discussions with theists. Theists are comfortably irrational. They are driven not by reason, but by feelings. To even debate them is to play the part of the trouble maker, the rabble rouser, the negative bully who is intent on raining on the theist parade. This is exactly what the theist wants. It confirms their sense of self righteousness by positing them as positive and the non-believer as negative. Theists should be told things, not argued with.

For the theist, debate itself is a form of confirmation bias.

When asked or prompted to state a title for my beliefs or disbelief’s, I like to refer to myself as a “truth-seeker”. This seems to be a rather positive description and maintains accuracy. This allows me to voice my dialogs with theist without them immediately becoming overly defensive. The word “atheist” shouldn’t really imply any negativity though either, as it’s state is 0. It is the default state. Theist hold a belief, and therefore have a value of +1, so because they know we are without this belief, instead of seeing us at the value of 0, they see us as - 1 in relation to their own value. Therefore, they apply negativity to “atheism.” Of course, this is flawed, but this contributes to their efforts of confirmation bias.

If we want to get through to them without them becoming immediately defensive, we must understand this, and give ourselves an equal value of +1. I do this by referring to myself as a “truth-seeker.” While in fact, I am an atheist by default and hold the value of 0, this allows me to converse with them with less immediate friction.

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Posted: 30 November 2007 08:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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[ Edited: 22 January 2008 08:09 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 30 November 2007 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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zarcus - 30 November 2007 08:44 AM

The best way to deal with “believers” is with “conversational intolerance” because there is NO getting through to them. As Bill Maher says: “religion is bullshit”.

And as Sam Harris says: “I think that “atheist” is a term that we do not need, in the same way that we don’t need a word for someone who rejects astrology. We simply do not call people “non-astrologers.” All we need are words like “reason” and “evidence” and “common sense” and “bullshit” to put astrologers in their place, and so it could be with religion.”

We need to put them in their place and tell them its bullshit, that they’re delusional. It’s working and now is not to time to stop. We have made more progress in the last year then decades of niceness. The belief in Santa Clause, Fairies, Leprechauns or God is the same but the god delusion is outrageously dangerous. “Religious moderates shelter religious extremism with their demands that faith itself be placed beyond criticism” - Sam Harris. We can use words like “bullshit” in public discourse because it works to stigmatize the faithful and lessen their grip on the masses.

I expect you are being ironic, since what you’re saying here so forcefully goes against what you’ve said so forcefully in the past.

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Posted: 30 November 2007 09:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Zarcus,

I enjoy a little good sarcasm once and a while, as a means of venting, myself.  The problem with sarcasm comes when your audience is unclear as to whether you are being sarcastic or serious.  I also expect that you are being ironic in some way, but I am having trouble figuring out if you are trying to make some sort of point with it.  Or are you just amusing yourself at our expense?

In the past you have suggested that you did not like the way that the “new atheists” were leading secular humanists.  While you have made strong statements in opposition to Harris in the past on this forum, which I have argued with you about, I had though that you would appreciate my point about a need for stressing humanism over criticism of religion.  Was I wrong?

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Posted: 30 November 2007 10:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Zarcus - We need to put them in their place and tell them its bullshit, that they’re delusional. It’s working and now is not to time to stop.

It is delusional to believe that one will convert the world away from religion by getting in the face of religious people and telling them what they believe is “bullshit”  :grin: .  That can only serve to widen the gap.  There is little difference to me in that approach, and the approach of religionists getting in the face of a non-believer and telling them they’ll go to hell because of what they don’t believe.  Same strategy.  Same non-result.

The root causes of Religion are ignorance and poverty.  The evidence for this is the continuing spread of Islam.  If the uneducated impoverished masses are taught to obey and this will lead to a better world, they will believe because they WANT to believe.  It gives them certainty.  “If I blow myself up and kill many infidels, I am told I will live for eternity in paradise.”  Once imbedded into the culture, it is difficult to eradicate (thus Christianity lasting from the Dark Ages to the present).

Religionists use their “holy books” and doctrine as their moral crutch.  It relieves them of the responsibility of thinking for themselves in order to decide right from wrong.  Because of their need for this crutch, they see all non-believers as immoral since they cannot imagine an understanding of “good” without a “Good Book” to guide them.

Religion can be “attacked” by attacking the root causes of ignorance and poverty, and by showing that seeking the common good for mankind does not depend upon stories and poems.  “Truth Seeking” attacks ignorance.  The poverty is the tougher nut to crack.  If Secular Humanism can be seen as a means to working for the common good of mankind (without the need of a “Good Book”) and one aspect of the common good of mankind is to reduce or eliminate poverty, there is hope that religion will fall by the wayside.

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Posted: 30 November 2007 03:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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The way I figure it, when the baby boomers die out, there will be a really big shift.  Right now, supposedly non-theism is growing, albeit slowly and Christianity has decreased some what.  Baby boomers decrease and probably will see a decrease in religious belief.  Islam is mainly growing due to birth rates.

That said, there is a flaw in that line of thinking… we’re all up next after our baby boomer parents die off.  EEEK!  14.gif

Seriously, the real flaw is that this does not take into account other religious beliefs- like paganism, which is also growing in this shuffle.  So regardless, of where the increases are, I think we will definitely see a decrease in Christianity in our lifetime.  Islam, I don’t know.  Depends if they stop oppressing their women and forcing them to be baby factories.  rolleyes

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Posted: 30 November 2007 03:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 30 November 2007 06:39 AM

That being said, I noticed that this forum has quite a few more posts in the “religion and secularism” category than it does in this “humanism” category.  I am no a saint, as I have also noticed that the majority of my posts here have more to do with religion & atheism than to do with humanism.  I do think that religious criticism is an important part of humanism, but I don’t think that it is the most important part.  In light of current events, I am in full support of the forward momentum of the “new atheist” movement.  But I would like to see humanists more on track with humanism, which I see as far more productive in the long run.  If the current humanist obsesion is, in fact, partly a response to 9/11, then it would seem that the religionists have gotten the better of humanists.

I would also like to see The Council for Secular Humanism become a more central part of CFI.  Also, I would like to see both CSH and CFI working more directly on human rights, civil liberties and secularism, as is done by humanist organizations in many other countries.  I certainly want to make an effort to focus my energies, more so, on these sorts of issues.

I recently reviewed each of the posts in the “Humanism” category to get a feel for what the dialogue has been to date.  And there have been other posts that I have found sprinkled in the other categories that delve into this topic as well.

I have noted that it does appear that people are more comfortable deconstructing a straw man, than they are building one (at least with any type of teamwork).  Perhaps it is the skeptics nature to work this way.  But to discuss Humanism requires that we examine topics that are more subjective.  And as such, they require more tolerance in order to make any real progress.  While it is true that people here represent many ways of thinking (thus the label we often tag ourselves with “free-thinkers”), there are certain things we can agree on at a basic level when it comes to the definition of Humanism and what it means to be a Secular Humanist.

A few manifesto’s have been written (“straw men”), and debated here and elsewhere.  These debates have revealed one common failure in my humble opinion.  When it comes time to define an actionable position, it routinely comes in the form of fighting against a theistic, or irrational policy or position.  While this may be a completely rational and reasonable effort to get behind, it does nothing to build momentum behind a movement that brings forward a positive policy or position originating from a Secular Humanist point of view.

When we go further to discuss material representations of Secular Humanism, in the form of community, we again run into the same type of behavior.  We unite against, some flaw we see in the design.  We offer no solutions, only criticism.  I fail to see this as a constructive undertaking under these conditions.  Certainly there are enough of us who are willing to work through the process, and rather than tear down an idea, work to build one up.  When I took some courses on critical thinking many moons ago, I remember working as a team in just such a way.  We naturally came across flaws in our arguments, and we worked through them together.  Even when debating with other teams that took contrary positions, the opposing groups came together eventually, after examining one another’s arguments in detail and working through the issues.

It is reason that provides us with the means to define positions that are less likely to be the victim of rational criticism.

It does appear that many here have a deep desire to be part of a Secular Humanist community of some sort.  And yet, when it comes right down to it, no one wants to be labeled by any definition that might mis-represent them in any way.  After all free-thinkers should be allowed to disagree.  And yet, Democrats, Libertarians and other political parties do not refrain from labeling themselves as such, in spite of the differences in opinion that arise out of debate of specific issues.  And these parties routinely generate mission statements that are intended to represent their party line.

I have been trying to figure this out myself.  And I am at a loss to understand why this is so difficult for us.  I would think we would be in a better position than any of these other organizations, since we agree to work through things rationally and with a dedication to reason. As a result, we would be in a much better position to define values we all share. And yet, we appear no more capable of it than any other group.

This is most evident, when we attempt to envision a future for Secular Humanism.  Some seem to think that we should just wait it out, and eventually reason will prevail.  But Humanist values (as I have read them) appear to promise more than reason alone would deliver.  Reason provides us with a sound basis for understanding our condition, but without a road map for an alternative to what our circumstances are today, we run the risk of having our fate decided by those who do not share those values.

This thread is a good representation of my observations.  See how quickly it eroded into a discussion of techniques in dealing with the irrational theist?  That was not the essence of your topic as I read it.

[ Edited: 30 November 2007 04:00 PM by Charles ]
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Posted: 30 November 2007 06:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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PaineMan - 30 November 2007 10:27 AM

Zarcus - We need to put them in their place and tell them its bullshit, that they’re delusional. It’s working and now is not to time to stop.

It is delusional to believe that one will convert the world away from religion by getting in the face of religious people and telling them what they believe is “bullshit”  :grin: . 

 

Good trenchant point, PaineMan… cool smirk

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Posted: 30 November 2007 06:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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BTW,

Each issue of Free Inquiry has “The Affirmations of Humanism a Statement of Principles” posted on the inside of the cover.

And in the last issue (Dec 2007/Jan 2008 Vol. 28 No. 1), Paul Kurtz makes a case for several tacts that can be taken in furthering the case for Naturalism.  He suggests that in one sense Naturalism has become synonymous with modernism and secular humanism.

“Naturalism is too narrowly construed if it is defined only by it’s opposition to supernaturalism.”

He goes on to describe three “normative principles” that provide promising opportunities for humankind.

- methodological naturalism
- scientific naturalism
- ethical naturalism

He makes a case for:
- a more easily consumed general outlines of our knowledge of the universe, following the lead of scientists such as Carl Sagan, we secular humanists need to do our part.

- transforming philosophy into eupraxsophy, his own term - describe nonreligious life stance or worldview emphasizing the importance of living an ethical and exuberant life, and relying on rational methods such as logic, observation and science (rather than faith, mysticism or revelation) toward that end.

“Naturalistic Secular Humanists need to advocate ethical positions in the agora of life as lived, and to intellectually and passionately propose and defend them.”

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Posted: 30 November 2007 08:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Charles,

I subscribe to Free Inquiry and have not yet received the Dec/Jan issue.  I look forward to recieving it and reading Paul’s editorial that you referenced.  I take your points as very much on the same page as where I was trying to go with this thread and appreciate your input.  I particularly like what you put here-

Charles - 30 November 2007 06:36 PM

“Naturalism is too narrowly construed if it is defined only by it’s opposition to supernaturalism.”

He goes on to describe three “normative principles” that provide promising opportunities for humankind.

- methodological naturalism
- scientific naturalism
- ethical naturalism

He makes a case for:
- a more easily consumed general outlines of our knowledge of the universe, following the lead of scientists such as Carl Sagan, we secular humanists need to do our part.

- transforming philosophy into eupraxsophy, his own term - describe nonreligious life stance or worldview emphasizing the importance of living an ethical and exuberant life, and relying on rational methods such as logic, observation and science (rather than faith, mysticism or revelation) toward that end.

“Naturalistic Secular Humanists need to advocate ethical positions in the agora of life as lived, and to intellectually and passionately propose and defend them.”

I think that the defining of naturalism (and/or secular humanism) by its opposition to supernaturalism is part of the theistic ploy to snub naturalism as just another “heathen” or “atheistic” negative view.  And, once again, I think that many of us often fall into the trap of allowing them to do this by agreeing to the “god” debate as the central issue to the dialog.

Paul has such a remarkable way of addressing inquiries that I come up with in that magazine just after they have popped into my mind.  I would wonder if there was some sort of telepathy going on, but I wouldn’t want to get CSICOP on my trail.  LOL

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Posted: 30 November 2007 08:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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PaineMan - 30 November 2007 10:27 AM

“Truth Seeking” attacks ignorance.

Truth Seeking doesn’t attack anyone except for those whom perhaps have intentions to deceive, or bullshitters. Neither are necessarily ignorant.

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Posted: 01 December 2007 12:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 30 November 2007 08:31 PM

Charles,

I subscribe to Free Inquiry and have not yet received the Dec/Jan issue.  I look forward to recieving it and reading Paul’s editorial that you referenced. 

Paul has such a remarkable way of addressing inquiries that I come up with in that magazine just after they have popped into my mind.  I would wonder if there was some sort of telepathy going on, but I wouldn’t want to get CSICOP on my trail.  LOL

The issue was at our Barnes&Noble; today.

I enjoy reading Free Inquiry, I think it has a lot of well-thought out articles.

I do disagree with some of the emphasis of the Council on Secular Humanism:
a. I think there should be more emphasis on people thinking for themselves and doing what they think is right based on rational thought rather than superstition, demogaugery, or dogma.
b. I think “humanist dogma” like the principles on the inside cover of Free Inquiry or the never-ending list of Humanist Manifestos are, well, odd.  It reminds me of the Hebrews not knowing that it was bad to lie, steal or murder until Moses came back with the Commandments :ohoh: .  Which principles here are the clever ones and which are common sense?

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Posted: 01 December 2007 08:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Jackson - 01 December 2007 12:01 PM

I do disagree with some of the emphasis of the Council on Secular Humanism:
a. I think there should be more emphasis on people thinking for themselves and doing what they think is right based on rational thought rather than superstition, demogaugery, or dogma.

I understand where your coming from, I too have tasted the thrill of victory when arguing the merits of a rational, reasoned perspective over the metaphysical views often put forth by others.

However, it kind of reminds me of the Monty Python skit depicting the guy who wants to buy an argument.  “There, I have run rings around you logically!”

I see that debate as a kind of Don Quixote battle with a windmill, for a ll the good it does in shifting opinion.  That is why I think it is necessary to present the alternatives in concrete suggestions or plans of action, based on well reasoned Secular Humanist values, rather than rhetoric aimed at debunking the commonplace fallacies.

Obvious? Common sense? Ok fine, but clearly, our detractors don’t always think so.

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Posted: 02 December 2007 05:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I have been battling some of these issues out in public in the entertaining pages of the Capital District Humanists monthly.
Where is there a home for pessimistic humanism? Unlike Paula Kirby, who in the pages of “Free Inquiry” argues that we as individuals are the architects of our own destiny, I believe that we are all enmeshed in what I have formulated as “the supersystem,” which is the invisible, mutually supporting, nearly immovable arrangement of myths, traditions, practices within all of our institutions. I mean nothing supernatural about this, but if I look rationally at my world, I see a society beset by inherited and augmented sociological failure: the courts reinforce the politics, which reinforce the corporations, and the reverse, all of which are governed by historical and contemporary forces that admit much deception about individual “freedom,” that include terrible advantages for irrational religion (see Pope Benedict’s astounding claim that we humans should only look to “God” for earthly justice), and that are deeply responsible for an unjust, militaristic society of massive economic inequality.
So how can I talk to someone like Paul Kurtz, who sees uplift and progress as one of the core tenets of humansim? Unlike others on our side, who posit a “science” against the dark forces of religion, I don’t place a “faith” in science. Scientists such as engineers,  certainly flourished in Nazi Germany, are well-paid now to devise “tactical” nuclear weapons,  are often horrible, beastly people, though gifted as mono-focused researchers. Against religion we need not the ethically neutral “science,” which can devise ever-more intricate technological marvels while leaving billions to suffer on less than two dollars a day, but social science, which can tackle humanity’s greatest failing, its sociology. Where is the acknowledgment that we are prospering while others are dying? Can’t secular humanism face its own futility in the face of the errant supersystem? Lastly, no one should be writing on and on, prattling on and on - we want response, and given Harris’ and Dawkins’ recent dismal failure to own up to the righteousness of the very term “atheist,” I think there has to be, must be, room for a vigorous debate from below. The shock from last year’s atheist earthquake is fading, and if there is a great danger that there will now be a general milling-about with no improvements in the scene. That said, I know that even if viewed, this post will disappear into the great Internet void, irritating to some, pedantic to others, unremarkable, fated to be just another park-bench sermon… Have a nice day.

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