There seems to be a lot of conflating of the two press releases. I think we should make clear distinctions.
They should do the well considered thinking before they make a press release, instead of what appeared to be a knee-jerk reaction to current affairs. Knee jerk reactions almost always come off badly… better to come in later with a well thought out position, than to rush to judgment and spend precious time backpedaling while pulling your foot out of your mouth and other orifices.
In a sense they reacted but it would be more accurate, I think, to say that they don’t see the problem. Telling other people that their churches are inappropriate crosses an important social line. If open Michael DeDora’s topic “Future of Humanism” on the religion forum, you’ll see an essay by Ron that begins with this statement: “Properly understood, humanism is not a religion.”
It’s the same problem. Each person understands religion for herself. Telling people that their houses of worship aren’t appropriate and that their religion isn’t a religion is presumptuous. I suspect the Membership Committee discussed the release before it went out. So there was a content problem. What troubles me is that they all did it, apparently. It concerns me that they’re all politically tone deaf, apparently, and oblivious to this specific problem.
So how does this myopia affect Humanism? Obviously it sets us up for unnecessary and unproductive conflicts with the people who already don’t agree with us, which is most of the country. That’s OK when we’re standing up for an important value or principle. But what is behind the sense of urgency in calling someone’s beliefs and practices “inappropriate,” as opposed to saying that we think centers based on reason are more beneficial to society; or in pontificating on the “proper” understanding of religion? It’s as though some among us are being driven by a primal need to categorize: fit it into the box to make the world simpler so we can deal with it. Well, then, what’s the point in being a Humanist? We have no credibility in our claim to reason and objectivity if we’re going to overcategorize and generalize like that. So it also sets up internal conflicts with people inside Humanism who see the problem.
And now that I read CFI’s second press release, it’s still stinko - not as bad as before, but bad enough. They write: “All religions share a fundamental flaw: they reflect a mistaken understanding of reality. On balance, CFI does not consider houses of worship to be beneficial to humanity, whether they are built at Ground Zero or elsewhere.”
That’s not true. Ethical Culture does not share that fundamental flaw. In addition, it opens us to criticism when people see how we treat each other within our ranks, and can then rejoin that they’re getting along better than we are, so who are we to preach? As the great philosopher the widow Paroo said in “The Music Man,” “But darlin’, when a woman has a husband and you have none, why should she take advice from you, even if you can quote Balzac and Shakespeare and all them other high-falutin’ Greeks?” A statement like that reflects a strain of tunnel vision within our ranks: reason isn’t the only means of seeing reality. There are elements of intelligence that come from emotion and experience. A statement like that makes us look foolish.
I also think the statement that houses of worship are not beneficial to humanity is factually indefensible and politically suicidal. This statement is almost as bad as the first. Why was it so important to pass a categorical judgment on houses of worship? Why not just say that one element is disadvantageous to the human condition: the departure from reality and reason reflected by theistic narrative? If I’m ever fortunate enough to get a public forum to promote Humanism and I’m asked about CFI’s official statement, I can’t defend it. Quite aside from being disrespectful to most of humanity, the Membership Committee has put us all in an untenable position, potentially. A statement about the problems with theistic belief would not have been disrespectful but a categorical statement that the churches, synagogues, mosques and temples are doing more harm than good is; and it’s arrogant, especially considering that those institutions probably are doing more to help others than we are.
I spoke far too soon in calling the new press release excellent. It’s another stinker, as anyone who is ever pressed to defend it publicly will find out.