Why Humanists Serve Others

So I would argue that concerns about secular proselytizing are misplaced. In one sense, FBB is mirroring Francis of Assisi, who told his followers that they should always be witnesses for Christ and that sometimes they should even use words. Our goal is not to turn the people we help into atheists or humanists, but it is done in the hope that those we help will be moved, and have the ability, to pay it forward and help others to whatever extent they can.

We do not do what we do in order to be told how wonderful we are or to convince people to reject religion or become atheists. We do it because it’s the right thing to do, because no one else is going to do it. And because a world with less starvation and disease, more education and more concern for human rights, justice and fairness is a better world for all of us to live in.

There’s a sense in which this is progress. A few weeks ago, Joe Klein and Time magazine were telling the world that atheists and humanists don’t do anything to help others at all. Hallowell recognizes that we do good and has even helped promote those efforts, for which we thank him. But we hope that in the future he will do that without questioning our motives and goals in the process.

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18 comments on this post.
  1. Randomfactor:

    “…it’s a cookbook!”

  2. richardelguru:

    Bad Random!



    (I was gonna make that joke)

  3. machintelligence:

    Along the same lines: Vegetarians eat vegetables, so what do humanitarians eat?

  4. Ed Brayton:

    Maybe I’m being dense, but I have no idea what the cookbook thing is a reference to.

  5. richardelguru:

    “To Serve Man” From the old Twilight Zone

  6. frankb:

    This is what the Quakers would say. “That which is in each person that seeks to do good is what we respond to and is what connects us all. It doesn’t matter what you call it.”

  7. DonDueed:

    “To Serve Man” From the old Twilight Zone

    And long before that, CS Lewis used the same idea in one of the Narnia books (The Silver Chair). The Gentle Giants of Harfang also loved to serve man… marsh-wiggle, not so much.

  8. Sastra:

    We do not do what we do in order to be told how wonderful we are or to convince people to reject religion or become atheists. We do it because it’s the right thing to do, because no one else is going to do it.

    Technically, though, if there was no other agenda than to do the “right” thing, then humanists would gladly have participated in religious charities groups which would have them, joined preexisting secular groups, or formed a new charity organization which made no mention of humanism and paid no attention to the religious beliefs or non-beliefs of its members. The very fact that FBB explicitly references humanism and freethought does tie it to an agenda roughly similar to that of religious groups in that there is philosophical motivation and desire to get others to adopt it.

    So what? Not all agendas are bad by definition. I’m getting tired of the fear that trying to change people’s minds about an important factual matter — by example or by argument — is automatically tantamount to the kind of slimy and sloppy emotional blackmail techniques of faith -recruitment. It’s not. “Form of secular proselytizing” equals what, in their minds? “Good without God.” The horrors.

  9. jefferylanam:

    DonDueed, Damon Knight wrote the short story “To Serve Man” in 1950. The Narnia books were written between 1949 and 1954, but only the first one appeared in 1950. That’s not to say that Lewis got the idea from Knight, but certainly Knight didn’t get the idea from Lewis.

  10. josephstricklin:

    I told myself not to read the comments…then I read the comments…the ignorance and hate infuriates me…fuck you blaze.com…fuck you.

  11. fyreflye:


  12. martinc:

    A thoughtful piece of writing. Thanks, Ed.

  13. Randomfactor:

    I have a religious reason as well. To atheists, THIS is heaven. Or as close to it as I’ll ever get. Why wouldn’t I try to make it as good a place as I can, for as many as I can?

  14. John Phillips, FCD:

    Randomfactor #13, QFT

  15. andrewryan:

    Why did I take a look at the comments underneath on that link?
    One guy says, sarcastically, “Because nothing says compassion like secular humanism.” Meanwhile, several of the compassionate Christians leave posts to the effect of: “Yes, they should go, so they can get attacked and killed by the natives, ha ha”.

  16. kalkin:

    I thought I was jerk for thinking of cookbooks, cannibalism and The Outer Limits upon reading the title of this article. Then I read the comments….. ;-)

  17. matty1:

    While I agree the focus should not be on ‘proselytism’ I do think there are some areas where the FBB might be particularly qualified to help such as providing resources to local groups fighting discrimination against non-theists or campaigning for education to be separate from religious indoctrination.

  18. Karen Locke:

    I got turned into a humanist by a bunch of subversive nuns in Catholic high school, who were very, very big on social justice and community service. Later I ditched the religious part of the education, but the humanism stuck.

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