Should humanists provide the alternative to both atheism and religion?

November 1, 2009

Over at Religion Dispatches , Austin Dacey, who is on the editorial staff of Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer magazines, has a really thought-provoking piece about the so-called "Atheism 3.0," a group with which he is sometimes erroneously identified .

Should organized humanism try to replace religion by becoming itself quasi-religious? Is that the best alternative to the "new atheism" which causes the "old humanists" to wring their hands? (And I am curious if the new atheism really needs an alternative.)

From the article:

When you think about it, organized humanism is a hard sell. Do you like paying dues and making forced pleasantries over post-service coffee cake, but can’t stand beautiful architecture and professionally trained musicians? If so, organized humanism may be for you. Greg Epstein (the “humanist chaplain” at Harvard and the author of Good without God ) is a lovely person, but I’ve heard him sing, and I think I’ll stick to Bach, Arvo Pärt, and Kirk Franklin for my spiritual uplift. Do we really need an institution for people who find Reform Judaism and Unitarian Universalism too rigid? Yes. It’s called the weekend.

Austin is onto something here, I think. Read his original editorial, Decomposing Humanism: Why Replace Religion? , here .


#1 Melody Hensley on Sunday November 01, 2009 at 4:42pm

Secular humanism and atheism are not mutually exclusive so I’m quite certain humanism is not an “alternative” to atheism. Atheism says nothing about what we do believe. Atheism vs. secular humanism presents a false choice, therefore there can be no conflict.

This is evidenced by the fact that a plurality of CFI Friends self-identify as atheists.

As I’ve said elsewhere, some of us find humanist communities beneficial to our lives. They aren’t for everyone, but they don’t have to be.

#2 Reba Boyd Wooden on Sunday November 01, 2009 at 6:43pm

I agree with Melody.

#3 P. Fidalgo on Sunday November 01, 2009 at 8:08pm

I’m inclined to agree with Dacey. I tend to roll my eyes when atheists tell me that people “need” spirituality, even if only in a metaphorical sense. The implication is that, yes, take away traditional religion, but then there is a hole that must be filled. Maybe, but there’s nothing that says that this hole must be filled by another “tradition” or even an organization. If there is a hole at all (and I don’t assume there is), we have art, music, creativity, science, social interaction, philosophy, charity, public service, comedy, family…all the things that make *real* life worth living, that help us construct meaning within a meaningless universe.

But that *can* also be organized humanism. It just *needn’t* be.

And for some, I imagine, there’s no hole to be filled with the removal of religion, but merely a burden lifted.

#4 Reba Wooden (Guest) on Sunday November 01, 2009 at 8:25pm

I am not talking about spirituality.  I am talking about a community of like minded people with which to feel a part of.  I think we have developed a vibrant community here in Indiana and people really feel a home here. Of course there are plenty of other secular activities in which to be involved and get many of these same benefits and that is probably all some people want.  But I think a community of humanists is important to a lot of people also.

#5 P. Fidalgo on Sunday November 01, 2009 at 8:33pm

I don’t dispute that in the least. I dispute the notion that it is necessary to fill a religious void.

#6 Reba Wooden (Guest) on Sunday November 01, 2009 at 9:00pm

I think it is for some people and not for others but the choice should be there.

#7 P. Fidalgo on Sunday November 01, 2009 at 9:01pm

No argument there.

#8 Zachary Moore on Sunday November 01, 2009 at 9:28pm

Firstly, the North Texas Church of Freethought has been providing precisely a humanistic alternative to traditional religions for the past 15 years, long before Atheism 2.0 OR 3.0.

Secondly, it’s a mistake to talk about humanism ‘becoming’ religious, because the very issues humanism concerns itself with are religious anyway. Call them ‘religious’ or simply ‘metaphysical’, but all humans are interested in finding meaning, exploring ethics, and discovering purpose and community.

The section of Austin’s article that D.J.‘s quoted above belies either a scathing cynicism about his fellow humanists, or (I hope) simply a run of bad experiences. I certainly hope he stops by the NTCOF the next time he’s in Dallas- we’d love to show him a few dozen humanists who LOVE chatting over coffee cake, and who don’t mind if our musicians don’t have Wikipedia pages.

Best regards,

Zachary Moore, PhD
Executive Director
North Texas Church of Freethought

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