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Oct 26 2012

Going to have to burn my new Secular Humanism T-Shirt by Lilandra

WTH?! I followed a link from a blog comment linking the Tea Party to Fascist government to a secular humanist site.  You know you have to be ever vigilant against fascism. Right?  But then what is up with this site’s banner…

What are they trying to say?

Why make a point to everyone that visits the site that you are “Beyond Atheism” and “Beyond Agnosticism”?  Are they trying to say they are better than atheists and agnostics?

Normally I wholeheartedly endorse human efforts to make the world a better place, because just praying for it isn’t going to make it happen.   I spent 25 dollars on that t-shirt, but I can’t endorse Secular Humanism as presented in this motto.   I sure as hell wouldn’t wear a motto that proclaimed I was beyond atheism and agnosticism.

40 comments

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  1. 1
    Stacy

    I think they mean that humanism is another step, beyond atheism or agnosticism.

    Atheism (dictionary version) is simply not believing in something. Humanism encompasses a set of values.

    1. 1.1
      lilandra

      But then their philosophy can be summed up as being beyond atheism and agnosticism as their motto?

      1. billhaines

        A formal Secular Humanist (usually abbreviated as just ‘Humanist’ with the capitalized ‘H’ to distinguish from other forms of humanism in history, the arts, etc.) by definition is both an atheist (lacking belief in deity) and an agnostic (lacking certainty of truth claims regarding deity) and a believer in thinking critically as opposed to magically, skepticism of supernaturalistic and pseudoscientific claims, empathy in general and love of family and friends in particular, romance and sexuality between consenting adults, creativity and artistry, scientific method and education, responsible stewardship of the environment, tolerance for the tolerant, liberty with justice, democracy with diversity, civil rights and duties, working with optimism and good humor toward a better future for all humanity. We’re about reason, compassion and hope.

        So “beyond” atheism and agnosticism in the sense that we believe in a lot of other things too, but not in any sense critical of atheism or agnosticism, because we -are- atheists and agnostics. ;) That banner is intended to attract intellectually honest atheists looking for some more comprehensive worldview, and likely also theists wondering what’s the deal with this Secular Humanism thing. But while the Council is a worthy organization and there’s much of interest on its site, it’s not the primary Humanist group in the US, and you’ll get a more accurate understanding of American Humanists if you also visit this site: http://www.americanhumanist.org

        Hope this helps. :)

        1. lilandra

          Aron and I are actually members of AHA. Also, I genuinely bought a secular humanist t-shirt a few weeks ago. I am supportive of Humanist efforts to protect the separation of church and state.

          AHA’s motto isn’t at all off putting. However at the AHA conference some humanists stopped by the American Atheist table to say that atheists were ruining the movement and Cenk Ungar was introduced as having graduated from atheist to humanist.

          To clarify, while I understand that humanists want to say they stand for more than simply atheism, it can be said in a way that doesn’t sound negative to atheism.

          For example, I am a biracial Eurasian. People often label me as Asian because of physical characteristics. I can point out to people that there is more to my identity than Asian in a way that doesn’t negate my Asian heritage.

          1. billhaines

            I’m sorry that happened, and wondering if those people were older, or had some negative experience with AA members. As Stacy pointed out Paul Kurtz advocated a less adversarial approach to religion and many older Humanists still do, but the majority today favor civil confrontation, though we do sometimes disgree with other atheists on how best to go about it.

            Many of us who arrived at Humanism after realizing we’re atheists, especially if there was a long interval, do view it as a progression. But that doesn’t mean we think the way we’ve gone is the only way forward, nor that we’re better people than atheists who haven’t embraced formal Humanism, so that was an unfortunate word choice when introducing Uygur.

            I use all three of the usual labels; I help organize a local Skeptics group, am a member of both AHA and the Humanist group closest to me, and also an occasional mod on the Atheism+ forums. I’m not an AA or FFRF member, because I do disagree with some tactics their members use, but never to the extent that I’d insult any of them or burn a t-shirt over it. :/

          2. lilandra

            I don’t believe I have insulted any humanist. The remark about burning the t-shirt is a non-literal idiom. I think “tactics” is what the distancing from each other is about. I agree with criticizing religion, and not giving it a pass. Sometimes, it has to be strongly opposed where it trespasses on the rights of others. The good that it does is greatly outweighed by the harm that a good theist is supporting. Much less the harm that a lot of good decent people do to themselves rejecting science etc. So I agree with speaking out strongly against it.

  2. 2
    Cuttlefish

    I am decidedly not a humanist. I’m far too shellfish.

    1. 2.1
      elipson

      Whale that makes sense!

      1. wholething

        I bet he doesn’t have a shellfish bone in his body.

  3. 3
    Argle Bargle

    I read the motto as rejecting atheism and agnosticism. Many humanists, even of the secular variety, are theists. It is entirely possible to be a secularist while believing in gods. Separation of church and state is a secularist goal but does not require disbelief in gods.

    1. 3.1
      lilandra

      If you what you are saying is actually what secular humanism is mostly theists against theistic government who reject atheists, then there isn’t really a place for us at the table.

    2. 3.2
      Argle Bargle

      I don’t know if secular humanism is mostly theists. I do know there are theists who are secular humanists. I was once driven out of a secular humanist group because my atheism was held to be disrespectful to theist members of the group.

      1. lilandra

        What’s weird is there is a Humanist Film Festival ad on the FTB front page. It claims to be critical of religion. The 2 different stands really makes them sound like a self-hating group of theists and non-theists.

    3. 3.3
      Stacy

      Well, part of the rift with Paul Kurtz was that Kurtz thought the New Atheists were too strident and he didn’t want CFI to be known primarily as an atheist organization. But the faction that prevailed disagreed.

      CFI/CSH is actually pretty darn atheist. I think they mean something like A+ –this is more than atheism by itself. It’s adding to, not rejecting.

      1. lilandra

        It doesn’t make sense for a predominately atheist organization to present themselves as beyond atheist. Perhaps atheist plus values or some other short summary of their organization would work better and be less off putting to other atheists.

        1. Stacy

          You’re right, they should be clearer. I’m interpreting them generously because I’ve volunteered for CFI-LA for years and trust the organization. But obviously they need to be reaching out to those who don’t already know them!

    4. 3.4
      billhaines

      “Many humanists, even of the secular variety, are theists.”

      You’re mistaken. There’s a difference between a formal group of people, an institution especially a government, being ‘secular’ and an individual person being ‘secular.’ Secular Humanists are ‘secular’ in the personal sense, we don’t believe in any world other than the physical one we all know and love. ;)

  4. 4
    marksheffield

    Lilandra:
    I think they are talking about the fact that atheism lacks any moral code. Beyond simply “lacking a belief” (atheism), humanism also talks about our role in the world, how to live well.

    For years, secular humanism was code for “atheist”, but it does carry the kind of social justice ideas that Atheism+ also seems to have championed. In fact, it might be a challenge to differentiate Atheism+ and Secular Humanism.

    C.

  5. 5
    xmaseveeve

    The word ‘beyond’ is the problem, because it’s exclusive and not even accurate anyway.

  6. 6
    Kilian Hekhuis

    Beyond Atheism – A+ !

    1. 6.1
      Arancaytar

      Good analogy. The (incorrect) accusation that A+ alienates plain atheism as “insufficient” seems identical to the criticism that “Humanism: beyond atheism” does the same.

      My worldview is informed by atheism, but doesn’t form its basis. Much like I do not base my moral compass on not collecting stamps, I do not primarily evaluate my moral choices by the standard of atheism alone. Ayn Rand, as is often pointed out, was an atheist.

      That’s why I consider myself aligned with A+, and it’s why I identify as a humanist. If I said my worldview goes beyond the conviction that 1+1=2, or that the Earth is a sphere orbiting the sun, or that life on it has a common origin billions of years old, nobody would construe that as being “better” than people who know basic math, physics or biology. I’m still an atheist; that’s just not all I am, and it’s not all that any atheist is.

  7. 7
    Tony Sidaway

    Could somebody try to explain what the problem is here? Most of us are something more than the label “atheist” or “agnostic.” Most us call ourselves humanists in that context. This is not new, the Council for Secular Humanism has been around for decades.

    So what’s up? Aren’t most of us humanists?

  8. 8
    Bronze Dog

    It’s like they went for the most ambiguity they could think up. Overall, I see it in the negative.

    Atheism is a position on a matter of fact, whether or not gods exist. Looking at it that way, going “beyond” atheism implies that there’s some better, more accurate position on the matter.

    Humanism, as I see it, is about values, not statements of fact, though they are informed by facts. It’s essentially on a different axis and effectively independent from atheism, since there are theist humanists. The positive spin would be that they’re just enriching the field by paying attention to that axis. The negative spin is that they’re implying atheists don’t care about the values axis, or that only atheists within their group care.

    Given what I’ve been seeing in the atheist community and how reviled we are by various groups who want to be all-inclusive, we’re used to seeing efforts at being “inclusive” in the form of tone trolling atheists for daring to honestly express atheist philosophical arguments. This will allegedly scare away all the delicate secular/humanist theists, who are implied to be completely unable to disagree on one issue while still working toward common goals. So they distance themselves from passionate atheists.

    The raw content of the motto is ambiguous. The context, however, is a big factor in how it’s interpreted. I see it as potential bigotry because it can be used to deliver a message against “competing” atheist groups, and if it’s called out, an anti-atheist bigot can plead ignorance on the context and hide behind the ambiguity of the raw text.

  9. 9
    mikmik

    Why don’t you ask them. Once I get my head out of my ass, it makes perfect sense. Just like with A+, who cares what they call themselves? Only insecure types feel threatened by this type of shit.
    They do go beyond the tenets of just removing religion from society, which is even stretching the definition of atheism to mean, and actively promote humanitarianism and equality separate from religious influence and/or inclusion.

    Secularism is used in a restricted sense today, but it retains a philosophical aspect in political and social situations. Secularism has always carried a strong connotation of the desire to establish an autonomous political and social sphere which is naturalistic and materialistic, as opposed to a religious realm where the supernatural and faith take precedence.

    We all know that atheism and agnosticism have nothing to do with anything but a lack of belief in god, period. That is basically what secularism is founded upon, but secular humanism is more like an ideology.

    Are you sure you’re not just blogging this to create controversy? ;)

    1. 9.1
      lilandra

      I just might go ask them.

  10. 10
    Patricia, OM

    I was confused too, so I went to their website. Looks like they are very much A+ in a nutshell.
    But I agree Lilandra, their motto could be a hell of a lot better.

  11. 11
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    You know, if they included “beyond religion” or “beyond theism” too in their motto, then it would sound a lot better. Instead, the only sensible way I can read it is as an attack of some kind on mere non-believers as “insufficient” or “not good enough” or “incomplete”, which in some certain contexts may be true. But that they do not include “theism” in their motto renders that reading questionable. I’m with lilandra, and this is bullshit.

  12. 12
    John-Henry Beck

    Sounds to me like part of the problem is simply the connotations coming along with “beyond”, as well as some defensiveness amongst us more outspoken/passionate atheist types for what might appear to be ‘tone trolling’.

    From what I know I’m pretty sure that Stacy is correct on the intended message. I think they’re just intending to come up with a short motto about them being for something, and not just against religion. Personally I think we can afford to be generous with the interpretation rather than leap to conclusions – CFI has said a lot of good stuff, I think.

  13. 13
    Adam

    AronRa is gonna make his own Humanist website! With blackjack… and hookers… In fact, forget the Humanist website.

  14. 14
    Leafhuntress

    Why burn it? That’s wastefull.

    You can sell it & make a few bucks or hell, send it to me! (make sure Aron signs it first please = more bucks ;-)

    1. 14.1
      lilandra

      I would sell it and donate the money to AHA’s legal fund. I really won’t wear it. However, who would buy it?

  15. 15
    lilandra

    I look at Humanist efforts like challenging “Under God” in the Supreme Court and I am glad there is a group out there pushing back. Then you look at this motto and it is like why ingratitiate yourselves with theists by distancing yourselves from atheists and agnostics your strongest supporters? Are we just supposed to understand how the game is played ?They could emphasize values in their motto without belittling us.

  16. 16
    M. A. Melby

    When I read that a long time ago, I think I understood it the way it was intended…

    …to attract atheists and agnostics.

    It seemed more of an, “I’m an atheist, now what?” Since I’m aware that most Secular Humanists are either agnostic atheists, gnostic atheists, agnostic theists, or deists.

    I’m sure there are some groups that are considerably theistic, but that’s not the norm in my experience.

    1. 16.1
      billhaines

      I’ve never encountered people claiming to be both Humanist and theist; if you do I hope you’ll point out to them as politely as possible that Humanism excludes theism, and point them here and here.

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