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Future of Humanism
Posted: 30 August 2010 12:07 PM   [ Ignore ]
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You all might find this interesting:

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/cfiers_join_leading_secularists_in_pondering_future_of_humanism/

CFIers Join Leading Secularists in Pondering the Future of Humanism

What is the future of humanism? How might we spread secular moral and ethical values? What is their importance and what would be their impact? These are just some of the questions weighed by secularist thinkers in a collection of essays released today on Patheos.com, a Web site devoted to dialogue and information on religion and spirituality.

The symposium on humanism is one part of a larger summerlong series at Patheos called the Future of Religion. The series has featured on a weekly basis essays from varied authors on the future of a different religion. The focus for the week starting Aug. 30 is the Future of Humanism (to be sure, many or even most secularists and humanists do not consider humanism a religion, but fear not: that is covered in several essays).

Contributors include two CFI representatives—CEO and President Ron Lindsay, and yours truly—along with Hemant Mehta, Greg Epstein, Ed Buckner, Taner Edis, David Silverman, Roy Speckhardt, and Chris Highland. Lindsay’s article is titled “The Prospect for Humanism: The Hope of a Secular Society.” In it, he discusses how traditional theism is slowly being replaced with belief in an attenuated, impersonal deity or complete rejection of the supernatural. My essay is titled “Humanism’s Future Hinges on Secular Discourse.” I posit that all beliefs that influence social or political affairs should be exposed to critical reasoning, and that reasons for those beliefs must be clear and understandable to all citizens.

As you can see, each author has his own approach. Given the diversity of opinions, and the importance of the topic, I think you will find all of the essays worth reading. Click here to access them on the Future of Humanism page:

http://www.patheos.com/Topics/Future-of-World-Religions/Humanism.html

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Posted: 30 August 2010 01:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Michael, I’m glad you’re doing this. Probably I should have opened your essay first but instead I opened Ron’s. He has been on my mind recently.

His essay begins with the following statement: “Properly understood, humanism is not a religion.”

Egads, where to begin?

In the first place, the assumption that there is a proper understanding of religion is presumptuous. This is all the sadder because Ron is not presumptuous. People decide for themselves what constitutes a religion. The term involves not merely a set of beliefs but also a set of practices, feelings and experiences. Some people insist that all religions are theistic. We know that’s not true: Buddhism, for example, is not theistic. Ethical Culture societies are not theistic either; in fact they are humanist religions. They call themselves that explicitly. What purpose is served by insisting that it ain’t so? None, I submit.

For me, Humanism is a religion because it is binds everything together into a coherent whole. If you look at all the religions, you see the natural and functional human longing to make sense of things at the core and foundation. For me and I believe for many others, Humanism fits that bill. I don’t mind that someone else doesn’t see it that way. I do mind that a fellow Humanist says this isn’t a proper way of looking at it.

We keep fighting over the definition of words like “religion,” forgetting that the term has several commonly accepted meanings. This results in talking past each other, even among ourselves.

That’s all I have time for today. I’m looking forward to reading your essay, Michael: this evening, I hope.

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Posted: 30 August 2010 01:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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PLaClair - 30 August 2010 01:29 PM

Michael, I’m glad you’re doing this. Probably I should have opened your essay first but instead I opened Ron’s. He has been on my mind recently.

His essay begins with the following statement: “Properly understood, humanism is not a religion.”

Egads, where to begin?

In the first place, the assumption that there is a proper understanding of religion is presumptuous. This is all the sadder because Ron is not presumptuous. People decide for themselves what constitutes a religion. The term involves not merely a set of beliefs but also a set of practices, feelings and experiences. Some people insist that all religions are theistic. We know that’s not true: Buddhism, for example, is not theistic. Ethical Culture societies are not theistic either; in fact they are humanist religions. They call themselves that explicitly. What purpose is served by insisting that it ain’t so? None, I submit.

For me, Humanism is a religion because it is binds everything together into a coherent whole. If you look at all the religions, you see the natural and functional human longing to make sense of things at the core and foundation. For me and I believe for many others, Humanism fits that bill. I don’t mind that someone else doesn’t see it that way. I do mind that a fellow Humanist says this isn’t a proper way of looking at it. I can’t help noticing the common element between this and the most recent subject of controversy.

We keep fighting over the definition of words like “religion,” forgetting that the term has several commonly accepted meanings. This results in talking past each other, even among ourselves.

That’s all I have time for today. I’m looking forward to reading your essay, Michael: this evening, I hope.

[ Edited: 30 August 2010 05:50 PM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 30 August 2010 06:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Michael, I’ve read your essay. Here are my points of disagreement. Quotations from your essay are italicized.

“Secular humanism (or humanism, as I will call it for reader ease) is a philosophy that rejects the supernatural and faith as sources of reliable knowledge and instead asks us to rely on science, reason, and the naturalistic outlook. Humanism holds that we can apply critical reasoning to all claims. It focuses us on how we can have a good life now, and how we can make life good for other conscious, sentient creatures on Earth. It asks that we foster a world based on ideas like wisdom, justice, equality, empathy, compassion, individuality, collective sacrifice, and happiness.”

We can apply critical reasoning to all fact claims but we can’t live strictly through reason. The inclusion of empathy, compassion and happiness in your list of values makes that clear.
There is more than one kind of faith. Theistic faith in a supernatural creator is faith as belief. In The Dynamics of Faith, Paul Tillich argued, compellingly I think that this is a perversion of creative Faith. [http://www.amazon.com/Dynamics-Faith-Perennial-Classic-Tillich/dp/0060937130/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1283216604&sr=1-1 ] None of us can live without Faith: the act of moving forward in the face of doubt. Without this kind of Faith, there would be no science, art or invention of any kind, for nearly creative act occurs in the midst of doubt.

“. . . humanism is not a religion, as religion is commonly understood. It is not a replacement for one religion or another, but rather an alternative to religion.”

Per the United States Supreme Court, Ethical Culture is a humanistic religion. I don’t see the value in excluding Humanism as a matter of necessity from the category of religion. People in Ethical Culture will tell you that it is their religion. I don’t see any purpose in telling them they’re wrong. Can you explain what purpose this serves?

What is the difference between a replacement and an alternative? I can’t think of one. By definition, when you replace one thing with another, isn’t the replacement your alternative? Again, what’s the point? Religion isn’t like a tank of helium, which can easily be identified by its atomic composition. “Religion” is a function of how people see things, and each person gets to decide for himself. Perhaps you’re right about what people would say if we took a vote: maybe most people would agree with you, but then again, so what? I get the sense that many secularists feel compelled to categorize things as either religion or not religion. It’s what Dennett would call bad reductionism: there’s no “there” there (no objective grounds for making any universal statement), and besides, there’s no point to it. Where does it get us? In my observation, it costs us considerable understanding because when people get wrapped up in their categories they seem to lose sight of details and nuances.

“Religious morality must be countered, and people must realize their potential to be good without dependence on or reference to religion. But for me, the future of humanism depends very much on the secular quality of our discussions on morality. Morality is an enormously important topic. It is at the core of both religion and nontheistic philosophies, and informs both social and political decisions.”

How are you defining “religion?” If you want to pare something against nontheism, why not use the word “theism?”

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Posted: 10 September 2010 03:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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PLaClair - 30 August 2010 01:29 PM


......
In the first place, the assumption that there is a proper understanding of religion is presumptuous. .....

 

Do you really mean the assumption that there is a single, simple definition of religion that covers the diversity of human experience is presumptuous….

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Posted: 10 September 2010 04:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Jackson - 10 September 2010 03:04 AM
PLaClair - 30 August 2010 01:29 PM


......
In the first place, the assumption that there is a proper understanding of religion is presumptuous. .....

Do you really mean the assumption that there is a single, simple definition of religion that covers the diversity of human experience is presumptuous….

In my view, all religions can be identified by common elements but they are not necessarily the ones people use to define religion formally. People tend to focus on characteristics that they consider salient, such as a belief in a god or gods. However, when you look deeper at the scope of religion throughout history, you see that a belief in a god or gods is not necessarily a feature of religion. The common element, I believe, is the human attempt to pull everything together as best one can, make sense of it (as best one can) and live accordingly. The fact that many religions end up making very little sense in important ways does not negate the fact that making sense out of everything is what they set out to do.

Another way of looking at it is that religion addresses life’s central concerns. That, too, is a common element that some people try to address by believing in a god. The mere fact that we think they’re going about it in an unproductive way does not mean that they aren’t trying to address their central concerns. Quite aside from being presumptuous, insisting in effect that Humanism does not address life’s central concerns is just plain foolish. Many of us see it that way and it doesn’t compromise our scientific naturalism by a speck. Can someone tell me why we see this insistence on rejecting each and every element of religion coming from within our ranks?

In the statement you quoted above, I was commenting on Ron’s statement: “Properly understood, humanism is not a religion.” None of us is in a position to speak for everyone on the proper definition of a religion. Therefore, doing so is presumptuous. People in Ethical Culture say it is a Humanist religion. I call myself a born-again Humanist. I don’t see the point in insisting that Humanism isn’t a religion for anyone and, furthermore, it is a point that cannot be defended intellectually or empirically. It may fire up some of the troops but that is no sounder intellectually than believing in a god because it makes you feel better. In fact, it’s the same thing in the theological mirror; the irony of that is that some people who call themselves Humanists end up identifying themselves based on their theological position. For people who say we don’t believe in God, we sure do spend a lot of time talking about it.

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Posted: 10 September 2010 06:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I think you’re confusing religion with ideology, Paul.

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Posted: 10 September 2010 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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George - 10 September 2010 06:44 AM

I think you’re confusing religion with ideology, Paul.

I don’t think so, George. An ideology addresses social and political concerns. Religion encompasses those but also addresses life’s individual concerns.

I’ve noticed that you exhibit a visceral aversion to anything you think is religious. That is how I explain your comment.

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Posted: 10 September 2010 12:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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PLaClair - 10 September 2010 11:24 AM
George - 10 September 2010 06:44 AM

I think you’re confusing religion with ideology, Paul.

I don’t think so, George. An ideology addresses social and political concerns. Religion encompasses those but also addresses life’s individual concerns.

Yes, religion unfortunately does that. But so did Communism or Nazism.

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Posted: 10 September 2010 01:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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George - 10 September 2010 12:01 PM
PLaClair - 10 September 2010 11:24 AM
George - 10 September 2010 06:44 AM

I think you’re confusing religion with ideology, Paul.

I don’t think so, George. An ideology addresses social and political concerns. Religion encompasses those but also addresses life’s individual concerns.

Yes, religion unfortunately does that. But so did Communism or Nazism.

How do you propose people should live except by addressing their central concerns?

George - 10 September 2010 12:01 PM

But so did Communism or Nazism.

1. Hitler had two legs and so do you. Surely you’re not saying that a shared characteristic implies sameness on all points - are you? If you’re trying to make a different point, what is it?

2. Are you suggesting that Communism and Nazism were religions? By what criteria? Is Humanism a religion? By what criteria?

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Posted: 10 September 2010 01:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Trying to figure out how people should live doesn’t in reality differ much from wanting to figure out how planets should move. I am sorry to drag free will into this, but either we have a soul that knows better independently of of the rest of the universe or we are simply imagining that that power exists within us. How people should live doesn’t concern me much.

Communism and Nazism were not religions, because they didn’t believe in a deity. They were ideologies, based largely on faith: Communists believed in “nurture,” the Nazis in “nature.” In reality, humanism doesn’t really sound that different from the ideas of the communists. Admirable, but completely unachievable.

Have to catch a train…

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Posted: 11 September 2010 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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George - 10 September 2010 01:54 PM

Trying to figure out how people should live doesn’t in reality differ much from wanting to figure out how planets should move. I am sorry to drag free will into this, but either we have a soul that knows better independently of of the rest of the universe or we are simply imagining that that power exists within us. How people should live doesn’t concern me much.

Communism and Nazism were not religions, because they didn’t believe in a deity. They were ideologies, based largely on faith: Communists believed in “nurture,” the Nazis in “nature.” In reality, humanism doesn’t really sound that different from the ideas of the communists. Admirable, but completely unachievable.

Have to catch a train…

Really, George, you don’t see the absurdity in saying all that and then saying “Have to catch a train. . .”?

Even if you’re right and choice is just an illusion, it’s a meaningful illusion, and that’s stretching the point as far it can be stretched in deference to your argument. Human beings behave as though our behavior matters, and even we’re just playing out a game, we still have to participate in order for it to play out . . .

. . . just like you had to run and catch your train.

And there isn’t any more basis for saying “either there’s a soul or choice is just an illusion” than there is for saying that either there’s a god or there are no ethics. In fact, it’s the same argument. Hell, George, you’re making the standard theistic argument.

And by all appearances, we do get to choose. I didn’t respond to your post yesterday, even though I saw it. Today I chose to respond. How do you support your argument when by all appearances I am making a choice?

And even if I accepted your argument, what good would it do me? No one can live like that. Why bother posting on this forum if you believe that? Do you really think you’re programmed to be here, and that you have no choice in the matter? What evidence can you offer to support such a claim?

And you’re still assuming that theology is the sum total of all religion. You don’t argue the point and you don’t advance the argument. All you do is repeat the assumption, characteristic of unreasoning theism. And that observation isn’t of the quality of “Hitler also had two eyes and a nose.” It’s salient because it goes to the quality of thought.

Or is purposeful thought just an illusion, too?

[ Edited: 11 September 2010 08:47 AM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 12 September 2010 03:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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PLaClair - 10 September 2010 04:15 AM

......

In the statement you quoted above, I was commenting on Ron’s statement: “Properly understood, humanism is not a religion.” None of us is in a position to speak for everyone on the proper definition of a religion.

Humanism is not a religion in the way that people commonly use the term—that’s the way I would have started Ron Lindsay’s essay—that wording gets across the same point, and doesn’t somehow start the essay arguing with the individual reader.  If you the reader think humanism is a religion that’s okay—but it’s not a religion in the way that most people mean the word.

I think you would also agree that even if you consider humanism is a religion, it is different from other religions.  Lindsay would agree with you if you worded YOUR statement along those lines—and he could have started his essay that way if he had wanted to.

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Posted: 12 September 2010 05:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Jackson - 12 September 2010 03:57 AM
PLaClair - 10 September 2010 04:15 AM

......

In the statement you quoted above, I was commenting on Ron’s statement: “Properly understood, humanism is not a religion.” None of us is in a position to speak for everyone on the proper definition of a religion.

Humanism is not a religion in the way that people commonly use the term—that’s the way I would have started Ron Lindsay’s essay—that wording gets across the same point, and doesn’t somehow start the essay arguing with the individual reader.  If you the reader think humanism is a religion that’s okay—but it’s not a religion in the way that most people mean the word.

I think you would also agree that even if you consider humanism is a religion, it is different from other religions.  Lindsay would agree with you if you worded YOUR statement along those lines—and he could have started his essay that way if he had wanted to.

That doesn’t justify Lindsay’s remark. Many people don’t see it that way, and this subject matter isn’t like physics or math where there are demonstrably right and wrong answers - except to the extent that an understanding reflects the broad sweep of human experience, or not. Lindsay’s does not, and that’s what’s wrong with it. He wasn’t just speaking for himself; he was presuming to speak for everyone.

Some Humanists and others see religion as the human attempt to bring all things together into a coherent whole, make sense of it all and live accordingly. That’s a sounder definition academically because it doesn’t imply that religion necessarily means a belief in a god or gods. Pre-eminent religious scholars make essentially this point, such as Ninian Smart (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninian_Smart#Dimensions_of_religion). A.N. Whitehead held that “Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness.” Matthew Arnold said that “Religion is ethics heightened, enkindled, lit up by feeling.” See also http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/hrj/iss16/gunn.shtml. As the definitions from Whitehead and Arnold remind us, a person’s religion is personal: it is what he sees and experiences it to be. So the broader definition is a thoroughly proper and correct understanding, whereas a narrower one is not - not improper in the sense that one cannot see religion more narrowly but in the sense that one cannot dictate to others how they will see it.

To your point about how most people think of religion: This is not an election or a popularity contest. When we Humanists decide how we are going to approach religion, the majority does not rule. We get to decide what our vision is. I understand that some among us, including Ron I believe, would dispense with religion altogether. I believe that is a mistake, and that the more thoughtful approach, also more likely to succeed, is to look beyond the obvious to what is really going on when people believe in, practice and otherwise adhere to a religion. Look at it historically. People have always tried to answer great questions but they have not always believed in gods. Monotheism is of relatively recent invention, yet it has come to dominate religion in the West. I refuse to capitulate. I do not accept that this is the permanent human condition. I seek to change it. That is why I came to CFI: to be a part of that.

No doubt, some people don’t see religion as an individual matter. Probably that is the majority view among authoritarian religions. Why the hell - pardon me but hearing this from our own ranks makes me crazy - are we promoting the authoritarian view? It’s as though we want religion to be the worst possible thing imaginable, so we can criticize it.

We Humanists offer a different vision, don’t we? You bet Humanism is different from other religions: that’s my point. So how can anyone object that we offer a different vision of religion, as long as it is historically and intellectually sound? To accept Ron’s approach is to resign ourselves to permanent minority and outsider status. I refuse to do that, and frankly am appalled that this is what has become of our leadership. A leadership that sees us permanently in the minority, detached from the rest of society, cannot lead us anywhere. 

The irony is that we Humanists should want the community to think more broadly about religion than is presently the case. Theism has taken over religion in the minds of many people. I can understand the Baptists thinking like that; I can’t understand my fellow Humanists buying into it.

If Ron Lindsay meant that Humanism is not a religion as most people mean that word, then he should have said that. If he meant what you think he meant, he could have expressed it as clearly as you just did. If he had, I wouldn’t have jumped on him. But he made a thoroughly presumptuous and politically foolish statement and I called him on it because it is not defensible. He is out there speaking for us as our leader. If he can’t express himself clearly, then he shouldn’t be in that position. I’ve told him that personally, and I mean it. I’m not trying to be mean. This is the essence of leadership. If the leader cannot do it, then he should not be in that position.

And with all due respect, Jackson, what Ron actually wrote is not the same point as yours. What most people believe is not necessarily “the proper understanding.” If that’s not our point, then what is our point?

[ Edited: 12 September 2010 05:48 AM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 12 September 2010 08:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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PLaClair - 10 September 2010 04:15 AM

The common element, I believe, is the human attempt to pull everything together as best one can, make sense of it (as best one can) and live accordingly. The fact that many religions end up making very little sense in important ways does not negate the fact that making sense out of everything is what they set out to do.

Another way of looking at it is that religion addresses life’s central concerns.

I more or less agree with Paul here. Seen from a sociological view, i.e. seeing what the function of humanism is in society it is just another religion: it is a world view that gives answer to questions about the place of humans in the universe, relations to each other and to other creatures, it is a basis for morality. Of course there differences between humanism and other forms of religion, but there are also differences between Islam and Christianity, between Buddhism and Hinduism, etc.

Still I would like to flesh out an important difference: the role of science. I think humanism is outstanding in the sense that it accepts established outcomes of science. In this respect it should not be seen as ideology: if something turns out as fact, then it will be accepted. Some ultimate truth, just given by a book (new or old) or a ‘master’ is always open to correction. If this openness is lacking it will go the same way as traditional religions.

But I think this is also a weak spot for humanism as replacement of other forms of religion: it can never give the absolute security that so many people long for. To exaggerate a little: every truth people believe in, can be corrected under the light of new discoveries. And it has also another part missing: a rigorous connection between its (meta)physics and moral guidelines. An ‘ought’ never follows from an ‘is’. We might be able to show that other religions are wrong in supposing that this connection exists, but again this goes against man’s longing for security, for preferring the simple answer above a correct one.

So is ‘religion’ a correct label for humanism? It is surely from a political point of view: if humanist organisations play the same kind of role as other religions do, they should be accepted in the same way as religions. On the other side, as you see in this forum, a lot of people react allergic to the word ‘religion’. For them it takes a lot of negative associations with it. I think in the end if you call it a religion or not is very much dependent on what you are trying to reach. Those millions in search of meaning but who do not like traditional religions? I am afraid we will lose these again when they see they do not get the sure answers they would like to have. Or humanism will turn in the same kind of structures as traditional religions. Look what has happened with Buddhism. Originally a kind of humanism, it turned into just another worshiping of the founder, even if he said that he himself was not important, it was his teaching that should be studied, not even just followed.

As for ideology, of course every kind of religion is a also kind of ideology. But in this sense even George is not free of ideology. Not forcing it to others is not enough not to be an ideology. His ethics does not follow from his factual (scientific) world view, actions cannot be based on facts only, but has always also to do with personal and cultural values. You are correct: there is no scientific reason to catch that train… It was his free will. There is also no scientific reason to do something against global warming. If we die out, well, it is a natural process, just another species dying out… Possibly George’s children (or grand children) inclusive. But still, there are people here on the forum who care, and have a scientific world view as well. What does humanism have to say about such kind of questions?

GdB

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GdB

“The light is on, but there is nobody at home”

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Posted: 12 September 2010 03:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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PLaClair - 12 September 2010 05:27 AM

.....
No doubt, some people don’t see religion as an individual matter. Probably that is the majority view among authoritarian religions. Why the hell - pardon me but hearing this from our own ranks makes me crazy - are we promoting the authoritarian view?
...

Just because there is a Humanist Manifesto doesn’t mean its a religion…

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