CFI’s corrective statement and its introductory paragraph do not do enough to induce me to change my mind about formally distancing myself from CFI. I write to do that now, though not to the extent I expressed yesterday.
The new CFI statement is excellent. Had it been issued first, we would not be having this discussion.
Unfortunately, in the introductory paragraph, CFI’s leaders have done the politicians’ shuffle and failed to take responsibility for a grotesque, though unintentional, misrepresentation of most secular Humanists’ views.
The statement that created this controversy declares that “it would be inappropriate to build any new house of worship in the area immediately around Ground Zero, not just mosques.” While the specific meaning of “inappropriate” is subject to interpretation, the general meaning is clear: it implies, whether as a matter of law, a matter of ethics or a matter of judgment, that those theists should not build their churches. That is what it says and that is how it will be received. Reconstructing this with a statement of regret that the original statement “was interpreted by some as calling for a prohibition on the placement of mosques or other houses of worship near Ground Zero or otherwise speaking out against freedom of religion” dodges the clear meaning of CFI’s words, especially the word “inappropriate.” Addressing only the worst of three unfavorable interpretations leaves most of the ground uncovered. Many people will not see the distinction between the legal, ethical and judgment-oriented interpretations, even with the explanation.
Any misinterpretation of the authors’ intent is solely the fault of the authors. No one forced them to use those words; they chose to use them, and they are 100% responsible for the foreseeable consequences. Phrased as it is, the original statement inevitably will be interpreted not just by a few but by many as a call for a prohibition of all churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and the like. Even though CFI has now walked that back, the bell cannot be un-rung. People will think we believe it no matter how much we disclaim and deny: they held that view of us before August 27 and they certainly will hold it now. The original press release reinforces a negative prejudice against us.
People who cannot see that well in advance should not be issuing statements on our behalf. To the extent that the first statement attracts any attention – the essential purpose of a press release – it will harm every one of us in our efforts to promote and champion our causes. Instead of acknowledging this, CFI’s “corrective” statement shows that the leadership is unwilling either to face or to admit what it has done, and to accept responsibility for the consequences of its actions. Instead, it now asks all of us to bear the burden, which we surely will do even if we distance ourselves from CFI. This suggests either a lack of humility or a state of denial.
In addition, the August 27th press release remains on CFI’s website. I have been told that there are concerns about censorship and trying to rewrite history if the press was removed. Censorship does not apply to one’s own writings. And if one agrees that the press release should never have been issued, then a simple notice on the site that it has been removed on further reflection would suffice. To do less is to continue to publish it as a reflection of CFI’s views. A disclaimer on another page will not prevent future damage, and even a disclaimer on the same page would not plug the hole in the dike.
High on my list of reasons for being a Humanist is my commitment to being firmly grounded in reality and acting responsibly according to the facts. In reacting defensively instead of accepting responsibility, leadership has failed to act on that shared commitment.
If a person who likes his whiskey is seen hanging around the whiskey cabinet, his protestations will not believed, even if they are true. We secularists already face the public prejudice on the part of many, not only the most radical fundamentalists, that we would ban religion if we could. We should not adopt a perpetually defensive posture so that we can avoid offending anyone but neither can we afford to be unmindful of how our words will be received.
The new press release does not allay my fears that CFI’s ill-considered words will be used against all of us. I will not have my name associated with a statement that the building of a church is inappropriate. This is the position in which CFI’s leadership has placed any of us who is fortunate enough to obtain a public hearing for our issues. Even now, they have not renounced the use of that word. Therefore, I am formally announcing that for reasons of conscience I can no longer support CFI as an organization under the current leadership.
I wish to remain as a participant on these discussion forums. My intention is to continue to discuss matters of common concern with fellow Humanists and to call, when appropriate, for a change in CFI’s leadership. There are no bad people in the leadership. Matthew tells me that they are good and talented people, so I know it is true, but that does not salvage their abysmal handling of this issue.
In the great American film “Terms of Endearment,” a young mother-of-three who is dying of cancer must face a decision about the continued upbringing of her children. Their father, her husband, holds a responsible position but lacks important elements of moral character. The young mother, who has endured his infidelity with quiet dignity, finds decency in others when most of us would not. From her hospital bed, with remarkable tenderness, she tells him simply, “Honey, I don’t think you should raise them.”
My statements on this subject are not meant as an attack. I presume the best of intentions by all concerned. All our leaders have made valuable contributions to our causes and no doubt will make many more. Like all of us, they have invested the emotional equivalent of their blood in our issues. But CFI’s current leadership is politically tone-deaf. I have no confidence that they will not make similar mistakes in the future, because the August 27th statement is such a stinker that it could not have been authored by anyone with much political sense. If they care about CFI and secularism, they should recognize that and step down for the good of CFI and the cause of secularism.
I urge CFI to rebuild its leadership from scratch, keeping in mind that those who were responsible for the August 27 statement should not make any further decisions about press releases or otherwise speak for the rest of us. I urge others to join me in calling for a change in CFI’s leadership.