This post is part of my ongoing dialog with James Croft about the idea of Humanist temples. Each of us, for part one of the series, is explaining the value that is most central to how we view the question. James’s post is here. This is mine.
I’ve been badly hurt in my life by group social norms. I’m obviously not alone in that, but for me, they have become a large part of what I think about, a large part of what I write about.
This blog doesn’t have a gender category or a race category or a class category. It has a “Difference” category. Posts on race, class, and gender go into that category, as do posts on sexual orientation, religious belief, and disability. In short, any time I’m talking about how the norms of a group function to excludes people who don’t meet those norms, that’s my category. It gets used a lot.
As I’ve written about this over time, one of the things that has most impressed me–and not in a good way–is how easy it is to develop these norms. It seems we will tie our group identity to anything. And then we use it to outlaw people who don’t fit that identity.
We will outlaw people for consensual sexual behavior. We’ll outlaw them based on clothing choices. We’ll outlaw them based on language use: syntax, vocabulary, and accent. We’ll outlaw them for something as irrelevant as lawn care.
Some degree of this is useful, of course. “We do not kill people” doesn’t recognize self-defense, but it may still generally be a functional distinction.
However, there are serious costs to being outlawed. It isn’t anything that should be done lightly, yet it seems to happen almost as naturally as breathing when we create group identities.
The idea of Humanist temples appears to be designed to use group identity for good. That’s often the case with particularly liberal church congregations, as well, but that doesn’t make those churches immune to the problem I’ve described. I don’t know that Humanist temples would provide benefits that would outweigh the problems a strong group identity creates, but I’m willing to consider the idea.
Given all that, my next question for James is “Why organized groups?”