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Positive, Proactive Humanism vs Atheism/Theism
Posted: 17 May 2008 08:14 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Do you agree that Humanism is about to shed its identification with atheism and instead become associated with humanists and Humanity?

I ask that because in my estimation the term “secular humanism” has been so damning over the years that one must wonder if we can ever lose the association people have for us as eternal combatants in the atheism/theism wars.

Since the ascendancy of the religious right within Bush’s presidencies, theism has become visible front and center and, while Humanism has had some moderate exposure on the coat-tails of the skeptics, who have been drawn into raging debates with fundamentalists, this has come at an awful price - our ranks are awash with simple atheists who fancy themselves freethinkers. Is there any prospect of us shedding these social climbers to become known for ideas about humans rather than denigrators of the god heads?

Gerald LaRue wrote an excellent essay on this issue called “Positive Humanism” http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gerald_larue/positive.html in 1978 in which he anticipated that Humanism had to become known for its own projects, beyond the trivial mantle of atheism.

My concept of Humanism is that it represent our species, first of all, then the planet and finally the individual. The beliefs of Humanists outside these realms are not material, thus a Christian can be a (lower case) humanist if they perform good works among their fellows. Humanity has a severe need for responsible representation and governance overseeing the long-range prospects of our own kind.

Homo Sapiens is a lonely figure, suffering from an inability to control a cancerous weapons culture, while expanding its numbers like rats eating up the planet’s scarce resources. Nobody is calling down the militarists, who build atomic bombs and every manner of machine designed only to maim and murder our own kind, wasting our wealth and talent. Humanists must introduce the concept of “anti-human” activity and criminalize it. The military must be identified and outlawed as terrorist institutions.

In the end, all devices designed to injure any animal must be banned as cultural hygiene.

We have seen “political correctness”, despite its excesses bring benefits as it became fashionable, helping to unburden minorities and the disadvantaged. “Global warming” has aroused sympathy for the planet and our pollution problems.

Now we need to get to the root of the matter, through proactive Humanism, to address our impoverishment through arms races, our neglect of the UN, the rampant corruption and nationalism/jingoism that are all anti-human phenomena that Humanists can step forward to preclude and replace with an efficient order.

I ask you then, is there any hope that Humanists can get past haggling with theists and leave them in the middle ages where they and those arguments belong, the better to champion who we are and might become?

[ Edited: 17 May 2008 03:42 PM by Martinus ]
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Posted: 17 May 2008 08:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Well stated.
I think the organizational momentum of very dangerous religious beliefs is a large enough danger that we cannot just “leave them in the middle ages” - as nice as that would be!

CFI is involved in much more than fighting religious zealots. The latest POI podcast explains much of the scope.

It is good to bring up the fact however, that there is soooo much more to humanism than asking a christian anything. Of course, there are some genies that we cannot likely put back in the bottle (e.g., nuclear weapons).

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Posted: 17 May 2008 03:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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As I pointed out in the Humanism/Speceisism thread, I think you’re trying to pick just that aspect of humanist thought that seems most important to you and limit the whole concept to the political and social issues you are concerned about. HUmanism is a collection of ideas and approaches, not a political movement or lobby, and as such it has areas which are concerned with epistemology and the naturalsim vs supernaturalism debates which are just a legitimate as the areas that focus on human welfare.

HERE is a brief discussion of What is Humanism? From the AHA website which looks at how multifaceted a philosophy it is. I don’t consider this a bad thing, or something you can choose to define away. It is true that a diversity of agendas collected under the same label is a disadvantage from the point of view of a political movement or lobby, but when the label fits then it fits, and if you wish to focus more narrowly on a subset of humanist concerns then you need to find a subsidiary label that works for that aspect of the community. While I’m not a big fan of aggresive and narrowly focused atheist activism, I do think that supernaturalism is the root of many of the ills you feel humanism should be combating, and that supernaturalists, while they may share some aspects of humanist thought, tend to eschew some critical elemnts of it in favor of traditional dogmas. So the struggle to diminish the improtance of supernaturalism in public life, especially in the U.S., is a legitimate and key one for humanists to be involved in in order to promote humanism generally, not simply in the narrow way you choose to define it.

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Posted: 17 May 2008 04:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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You touch on a lot of issues here Dwight.  I share your interests in promoting positive humanism and agree that people who are not religious ought to emphasize the many things that they do believe rather than the few things that they do not believe.  I also enthusiastically welcome you to suggest some specific positive things that “we” ought to be doing.  And of course, humanism is not exactly the same thing as atheism and never has been.  There are religious humanists just as there are secular (or atheistic) humanists.  Similarly there are many non-theistic people (or atheists) who are not humanists.  In fact, I would bet that most of the people in the world who consider themselves to be “atheists” have never even heard of humanism.  I would love to help promote humanistic ideas in the world.

That being said I do not think that the negative view that religious persons have of persons who are not religious (atheists) has much at all to do with the behavior of people who are not religious.  Atheism is not a word that was created by theists.  While etymologically it simply means one who is “not theistic” a theist who calls someone else an atheist says much more than just that.  There is also an implication that is reminiscent of words like heathen or infidel.  To the theist, the point of calling someone an atheist is to say that they are not “one of us.”  Thus, to call oneself an atheist implicitly suggests that one has a chip on ones shoulder.  It retorts, “Yeah, that’s right.  I’m not one of you!”  This response may seem provocative.  But again, can you really blame someone who has been branded as something negative from the outside without having done anything (or in other words, unjustly persecuted) for not always possessing the mental strength to be the better man?

Beside the simple fact that religious persons are wrong about what they believe cosmologically, religion also involves certain core beliefs that are both dogmatic and ahumanistic.  It provides a moral compass that is not particularly moral and in many cases it is a direct causal factor to immoral and amoral behavior.

I think this point presents a special problem to the vision of providing a philosophy that, as you put it, seeks to “represent our species, first of all, then the planet and finally the individual.”  Most members of our species live by provincial/tribal philosophies that are socially exclusive and would therefore regard a humanistic philosophy, such as the one that you are suggesting, as an imposition that does not represent them.  Religious dogma is uncompromising in its insistance that the rest of the world submit to a narrow and falsely contrived worldview.

It is worth recognizing that a vast array of philosophical views need to be abandoned, or at least radically reformed, in order for the vision that you have in mind of a shared global philosophy to take place.

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Posted: 17 May 2008 04:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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mckenzievmd - 17 May 2008 03:50 PM

As I pointed out in the Humanism/Speceisism thread, I think you’re trying to pick just that aspect of humanist thought that seems most important to you and limit the whole concept to the political and social issues you are concerned about. HUmanism is a collection of ideas and approaches, not a political movement or lobby, and as such it has areas which are concerned with epistemology and the naturalsim vs supernaturalism debates which are just a legitimate as the areas that focus on human welfare.

Humanism is a movable feast that will always come back over center, namely its concern for Humanity. Imagine if you were a Humanist in a tribe 5000 years ago. You might be an elder cautioning young males about their ill-treatment of women, passing on wisdom from one generation to another. That’s Humanism. Yet by your analysis, you’d want to see if they believed in the supernatural first. Would you report them all to an agnostic instead??

HERE is a brief discussion of What is Humanism? From the AHA website which looks at how multifaceted a philosophy it is. I don’t consider this a bad thing, or something you can choose to define away. .

Personally I prefer the original on this, its 75th birthday. And it decribes Humanism as a religion. Do *you* choose to define that away? I have a deep reverence for life and our Universe and have no trouble considering it my personal religion.

It is true that a diversity of agendas collected under the same label is a disadvantage from the point of view of a political movement or lobby, but when the label fits then it fits, and if you wish to focus more narrowly on a subset of humanist concerns then you need to find a subsidiary label that works for that aspect of the community..

Indeed you do, which is why if you “focus more narrowly” as atheists or agnostics, then call yourselves that, period, why hide in Humanist ranks? We know what atheists think, as Humanists it would be nice to come from the shadows a little more, under our own recognizable flag and colors.

While I’m not a big fan of aggresive and narrowly focused atheist activism, I do think that supernaturalism is the root of many of the ills you feel humanism should be combating, and that supernaturalists, while they may share some aspects of humanist thought, tend to eschew some critical elemnts of it in favor of traditional dogmas. So the struggle to diminish the improtance of supernaturalism in public life, especially in the U.S., is a legitimate and key one for humanists to be involved in in order to promote humanism generally, not simply in the narrow way you choose to define it.

In the US you have very serious problems - weapons culture atomic and personal, crass fundamentalism, racism, obesity, that really could use a fresh approach and strong leadership. As a Canadian I fear that Americans may not know enough about their own civil war..

And yes, I suppose US Humanists can be forgiven if the theists look like priority #1. Feel free to give them a smack-down! But first pick out the kind ones and ask them to repent. grin

The world knows that there are a hundred million decent Americans waiting in the shadows, very soon your/our day is coming. May we all hope for Obama’s safe passage.

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Posted: 17 May 2008 05:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 17 May 2008 04:32 PM

You touch on a lot of issues here Dwight.  I share your interests in promoting positive humanism and agree that people who are not religious ought to emphasize the many things that they do believe rather than the few things that they do not believe.  I also enthusiastically welcome you to suggest some specific positive things that “we” ought to be doing.  And of course, humanism is not exactly the same thing as atheism and never has been.  There are religious humanists just as there are secular (or atheistic) humanists.  Similarly there are many non-theistic people (or atheists) who are not humanists.  In fact, I would bet that most of the people in the world who consider themselves to be “atheists” have never even heard of humanism.  I would love to help promote humanistic ideas in the world.

We are well in accord on that, Ras.

That being said I do not think that the negative view that religious persons have of persons who are not religious (atheists) has much at all to do with the behavior of people who are not religious.  Atheism is not a word that was created by theists.  While etymologically it simply means one who is “not theistic” a theist who calls someone else an atheist says much more than just that.  There is also an implication that is reminiscent of words like heathen or infidel.  To the theist, the point of calling someone an atheist is to say that they are not “one of us.”  Thus, to call oneself an atheist implicitly suggests that one has a chip on ones shoulder.  It retorts, “Yeah, that’s right.  I’m not one of you!”  This response may seem provocative.  But again, can you really blame someone who has been branded as something negative from the outside without having done anything (or in other words, unjustly persecuted) for not always possessing the mental strength to be the better man?

Percisely. Humanism is like fine whiskey, and if you look closely, atheists are the water.

Beside the simple fact that religious persons are wrong about what they believe cosmologically, religion also involves certain core beliefs that are both dogmatic and ahumanistic.

“ahumanistic” - what a wonderful word. Can I add it to the New Humanist Lexicon? Alongside “anti-human”, but with a delicious barren-ness to it. Someday it may come to mean ah*le to Humanists! wink

It provides a moral compass that is not particularly moral and in many cases it is a direct causal factor to immoral and amoral behavior.

I think this point presents a special problem to the vision of providing a philosophy that, as you put it, seeks to “represent our species, first of all, then the planet and finally the individual.”  Most members of our species live by provincial/tribal philosophies that are socially exclusive and would therefore regard a humanistic philosophy, such as the one that you are suggesting, as an imposition that does not represent them.  Religious dogma is uncompromising in its insistance that the rest of the world submit to a narrow and falsely contrived worldview.

It is worth recognizing that a vast array of philosophical views need to be abandoned, or at least radically reformed, in order for the vision that you have in mind of a shared global philosophy to take place.

When I was taking my philosophy degree in the 60’s, I was totally non-plussed by the flunked out Oxbridge types who had colonized our Philosophy depts and devoted themselves to sherry and recorder parties ostensibly to discuss Wittgenstein (The British Analytic Tradition, or Linguistic Analysis) which was and is fatuous and nothing but an out-and-out racket. I swear they wasted a billion dollars in Philosophy budgets across the world for many decades - and largely account for the unseen place Humanism finds itself in today.

Anyway, in my deepest despair that they absolutely would not discuss German philosophers, Alan Watts, etc. I came across a book on them, a confession, that began by asserting that you can lay siege to these castles almost interminably, to no avail. But then one day you approach and find that they have been abandoned.

It will be thus when Humanism takes hold on its own terms.

My thanks for yours and Brennen’s comments.

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Posted: 17 May 2008 05:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Dwight Jones - 17 May 2008 05:11 PM

When I was taking my philosophy degree in the 60’s, I was totally non-plussed by the flunked out Oxbridge types who had colonized our Philosophy depts and devoted themselves to sherry and recorder parties ostensibly to discuss Wittgenstein (The British Analytic Tradition, or Linguistic Analysis) which was and is fatuous and nothing but an out-and-out racket. I swear they wasted a billion dollars in Philosophy budgets across the world for many decades - and largely account for the unseen place Humanism finds itself in today.

Those sherry and recorder parties sound quite nice to me.
And I don’t think that anyone goes into philosophy for the money.  LOL

Dwight Jones - 17 May 2008 05:11 PM

I came across a book on them, a confession, that began by asserting that you can lay siege to these castles almost interminably, to no avail. But then one day you approach and find that they have been abandoned.

It will be thus when Humanism takes hold on its own terms.

I share in your dream.  But, as part of it, I somehow just can’t help but to “imagine no religion.”  cool hmm

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Posted: 17 May 2008 05:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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NO, I don’t see humanism as a religion. We’ve had debates here before about what a “religion really is, but I think belief in the supernatural is implicit in the word as it has been and is currently used by almost everyone, so I don’t think it makes sense to attach it to Humanism. I particularly find that call Humanism a religion is a tactic of theists to make it seem just another variety of their way of thinking, whether we acknowledge it or not. I happen to think religion is, if not necessarily incompatible with humanism, generally incompatible with most of humanisms core principles, at least as the dominant religion, Christianity, is practiced in the U.S.

Anyway, I think our core disagreement is whether a lack of belief in the supernatural is the natural result of a humanist way of thinking, and whether acknowledgng this is good or bad for humanism. I don’t think atheism or agnosticism should be the only issue of humanists, but I think it’s an important one, not a distraction or sideshow.

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Posted: 17 May 2008 05:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I agree that humanism is not a religion.  I even think that it is not a belief system, but rather a milieu.  There were impressionistic, expressionist and neoclassical artists.  There were existentialists and there are humanists.  One need not subscribe to anything to call oneself a humanist.  One must do little more than identify with humanistic ideas.

*EDIT- I also must add that I agree that religious criticism is an essential component of the humanist cause.  Indeed, it is a humanistic endeavor.

[ Edited: 17 May 2008 06:17 PM by erasmusinfinity ]
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Posted: 17 May 2008 08:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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mckenzievmd - 17 May 2008 05:43 PM

Anyway, I think our core disagreement is whether a lack of belief in the supernatural is the natural result of a humanist way of thinking, and whether acknowledgng this is good or bad for humanism. I don’t think atheism or agnosticism should be the only issue of humanists, but I think it’s an important one, not a distraction or sideshow.

Granted, by all means. And I don’t view H as a religion either, but can sympathize with Manifesto I for that characterization. It was possibly a scarecrow to keep them from accusations of being heathens, as Ras mentioned and I suspect, in the face of attacks on them. After all the Scopes Monkey trial was just a few years previous.

I concur of course that atheists/agnostics shouldn’t be our only identification, but it really is overdue for some supplementation.

When you reiterate that I should call the brand of activist Humanism I am recommending something else, please note that I do. It’s termed Pro-Humanism to denote its pro-active components, modeled after Gerald Larue’s Positive Humanism, and I am starting a separate site/forum for it at http://www.man.org for those interested in that particular bent. One provision is that we are not interested in any further anti-supernatural haggling, the atheists/agnostics position is more than covered elsewhere, I feel. and we certainly don’t wan’t to attract theists per se.

I welcome any and all Humanists of any ancillary belief to discuss there what we can do to be species critics, as it were, and to find ways such as public polls and campaigns of our mutual devising to inform people that Humanists can be a conscience and advisors for the species itself.

If we can introduce concepts such as ahuman or anti-human activity into the lexicon, then Humanism might become as widely adopted policy-wise as political correctness was. Per global warming, it could gain momentum and make its own friends, like a good beer.

Speaking of which… wink

[ Edited: 18 May 2008 08:01 AM by Martinus ]
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Posted: 18 May 2008 07:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I’ll definitely give it a look Dwight.

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Posted: 22 May 2008 05:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Humanists are atheists by default; however, atheists choose to concentrate on religions (e.i. trying to disprove god), while humanists concentrate on human factor.
I think good analogy would be, working for the same company in different departments. We’re all share a common trait, trait that is central to our lifestyles - disbelief.

I’m an atheist because I don’t believe in God and choose to help other people see the reality.
I’m a humanist because I believe that human is the creator and the creation, I strongly believe
that our ethics and morals have no base in religious texts.
I’m a secularist because I hate the idea of religious influence in the government.
I’m a rationalist because I use science and reason to explain everything.

There are too many labels listed already, and I bet there are more. But all I am, is a human with
a head on his shoulders.

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Posted: 22 May 2008 07:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I find it a shame that Humanism isn’t the philosophy of even more people.  It certainly is more for and about the human than most religions.  However, I think religious criticism is important in order to point out the falacies so many people believe.  I don’t know how else we can educate the religious about their superstitions without being critical of their beliefs and pointing out the myths of the religious texts.

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Posted: 22 May 2008 08:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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V1ktor - 22 May 2008 05:56 PM

Humanists are atheists by default; however, atheists choose to concentrate on religions (e.i. trying to disprove god), while humanists concentrate on human factor.
I think good analogy would be, working for the same company in different departments. We’re all share a common trait, trait that is central to our lifestyles - disbelief.

There are too many labels listed already, and I bet there are more. But all I am, is a human with
a head on his shoulders.
v1ktor

Looking at Mriana’s comment as well, that Humanism as a philosophy deserves better exposure - that is certainly my main concern.

As you say above V1c, if we work in different departments, it’s all the same job. That’s also my perspective on theistic/agnostic humanists now as well, and I changed over from a Church of Man exclusive ideology for H to being more inclusive. I simply view them as small-h humanists the same way a priest may have viewed me as an unbaptized christian. You still shake their hand after services and work with them painting the hall.

The over-riding wild card is what are we going to do that is constructive to rescue Humanism? And I do mean rescue because our stewardship may be a closing window.

I am much taken with the work of Gerald Larue and his Positive Humanism, and want to make it the centerline of my man.org website. I’ve learned that it’s still a lonely parapet in the Humanist community, that secular-humanism is still everyone’s idea of H per se, and I want to see the Humanist movement come to fruition and build out beyond that.

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Posted: 23 May 2008 02:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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You got very interesting website Dwight. Utopian journalism and fabrication of the future, I like that idea.

v1ktor

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Posted: 23 May 2008 02:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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V1ktor - 23 May 2008 02:17 PM

You got very interesting website Dwight. Utopian journalism and fabrication of the future, I like that idea.

v1ktor

Thank you, what I’m trying to do is present ideas as faits accomplis, so that people get a different perspective on them. I’d like to build it out so that we had writers in every community describing the good things that could happen there, if only Humanism in a properous and healthy species got some traction.

I’m not interested in dystopian concepts, because it’s much easier to strike a match than to put up a house.

It’s fun too, e.g. the Diabetes Association added one story to their site saying Kellogg’s was going to remove all sugars from their cereals by 2009. Haha.

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