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Humanism Is Great — But It’s Not Atheism Plus

I like humanism. I support humanism. I think humanism is important. I even call myself, among many other names, a humanist.

But Atheism Plus isn’t humanism.

Atheism plus logo As most readers here probably know by now, Jen McCreight recently proposed a new wave of atheism — an “atheism plus” wave that explicitly focuses, not just on atheism, but on the intersections between atheism and racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other social justice issues — externally in what issues we take on, and internally in how we deal with our own stuff.

This has generated a lot of conversation and debate. Some of it productive, some not so much. And one of the questions that keeps coming up is, “Why do you have to invent a new thing and a new name… when humanism already exists? Isn’t ‘Atheism plus social justice’ just another term for humanism?”

I don’t think it is. But I do think this question is worth addressing. I’ve been a little surprised at some of the nasty, spiteful ugliness that’s sometimes been accompanying the question (humanism — you’re doing it wrong!). But many people are asking it sincerely, and I want to try to answer.

Very important note: I’m not arguing here for why Atheism Plus is better than humanism. I’m not trying to argue any humanists into abandoning humanism and calling themselves Atheists Plus instead. I like humanism; I support humanism; I think humanism is important; I’m happy that there are humanists in the world; I even call myself, among many other names, a humanist. This isn’t about why you should be an Atheist Plus instead of a humanist. This is about why I, personally, see myself as an atheist — and as an Atheist Plus — more than I see myself as a humanist. There is a great deal of overlap between humanism and Atheism Plus… but I don’t think they’re the same. And I want to explain why.

christian-humanism bookFor one thing: “Humanist” doesn’t necessarily mean “godless.” There are religious humanists. So if I’m trying to define myself as “someone who doesn’t believe in God” — and if I’m trying to align myself with a community and a movement that is primarily organized around godlessness — humanism is not going to work for me. (CORRECTION/UPDATE AT END OF POST) Humanism is also more engaged with creating secular replacements for the rituals and structures of religious communities… and while many atheists are cool with this idea and are even engaged with it themselves, there are many other atheists who are profoundly turned off by it. And many humanists are actively hostile to the word “atheist.” It’s not just that they don’t choose to use the word themselves. They don’t want anyone else to use it, either. So that puts another damper on the whole “Atheism Plus is just humanism re-branded” thing.

These are important differences. But they’re not the only ones, and I’m not sure they’re the key ones. Because even if the strict, literal meanings of “humanism” and “atheism plus” were the same — which I don’t think they are — the reality is that the words “atheism” and “humanism” have come to imply substantially different things. They have different associations. Different vibes. As my middle school English teacher would say, the connotations have significant differences, even if the denotations are very similar.

Like it or not, atheism and humanism are perceived very differently — both within the broader godless/ secularist/ whatever you want to call it movement, and outside of it. Like it or not, the reality is that “atheism” is generally perceived as being more confrontational. More defiant. More in-your-face. More about visibility. More actively opposed to religion. More actively engaged in trying to persuade religious believers out of it.

Humanism, on the other hand, is generally perceived as more diplomatic. More easy-going. Less interested in debating differences, and more interested in finding common ground. More accepting of religion and religious believers, as long as they accept us. More interested in doing interfaith/ alliance work with believers.

All of these qualities are important and valuable. But they are not the same qualities. People who are inspired by the goals and methods and styles of atheism are not always going to be inspired by the goals and methods and styles of humanism… and vice versa. Atheism is a slap in the face that wakes people up. Humanism holds people’s hands. Holding people’s hands is a valuable thing to do, I respect and encourage people who want to do it, I even sometimes do it myself. But it is not how I see my primary role in this movement. My primary role in this movement is to slap people in the face — metaphorically, of course, not literally — and wake them up. So the primary name I give myself in this movement is “Atheist.”

And then there’s the matter of public perception, and public understanding. The word “atheism” is clear. It’s confrontational largely because it is so clear. People know what atheism means. They have myths and misconceptions about its implications — but they basically understand that it means “person who doesn’t believe in any gods.”

The word “humanism” isn’t nearly as well-understood. Lots of people don’t even know what it means.

Humanism SymbolThat doesn’t mean one word is automatically better than the other. It just means they’re different, and it doesn’t make sense to insist that they’re the same. If you identify primarily as a humanist, if that’s the term that most accurately defines you, then that’s the word you should use, and I support you in that — just as I want you to support me in using “atheist” and “atheist plus.” In fact, for some people, the ambiguity of the word “humanism” is actually a useful and positive thing. I think some people see it as a conversation starter, a door opener (“Humanist? What’s that?”) in a way that “atheist” often isn’t (“Atheist?” [freeze]). And for some people, the fact that it’s more ambiguous makes it safer to use publicly. As Jen McCreight wrote in Why Atheism+ and not Humanism?:

I used to use the label “secular humanist” a lot when I lived in Indiana and was too scared to out myself. No one had a clue what it meant and never wanted to appear stupid by asking me to explain. But now I want to keep using the word atheist until it becomes destigmatized.

godless atheists threaten christian civilization cartoonWhich brings me to another point. As many others have pointed out, there is tremendous bigotry and discrimination against atheists. In many parts of the U.S. and the world, atheists are rejected, abused, and reviled — and coming out as atheist, proudly claiming the word, is a way to stand with these people, to make things easier for them, to help create a snowball effect and make it easier for other atheists to come out. That’s somewhat true for the term “humanist” — especially for the term “secular humanist,” which had a very ugly notoriety in the Reagan years — but it’s less true now than it used to be, and it’s less true than it is for the term “atheist.” As Ashley F. Miller wrote in The difference between “atheism+” and humanism:

I guess it could be a small thing for some people, but it’s not for me, because where I am from, being an atheist is not really OK. People face serious discrimination, people in my local atheist groups fear for their jobs if they come out. The emails from the local atheist billboard campaign were truly horrific. And what many atheists face from their families, even families who aren’t extremely religious, it painful and can lead to lifelong rifts.

As a longtime participant in the gay rights movement, I have been taught that self-definition is incredibly important; it matters a great deal that you should be able to label yourself as gay or straight, male or female, somewhere in between, or to eschew labels altogether. When those labels automatically mean you are going to be treated badly, it becomes an important political act to stand up and insist that you are not undeserving of equal treatment just because you don’t identify with a different label. I am an atheist because I don’t believe in gods, but I call myself an atheist because being an atheist means I get treated like shit by some people and that is not OK.

And speaking of political acts:

The reality is that people — especially young people — have been rallying under the banner of “atheism,” in a way that they simply haven’t been under the banner of “humanism.” Atheism is getting lots of people excited, invigorated, mobilized, and motivated to take action. Humanism has been doing this, too — but not nearly as much.

And atheism has been getting visibility. Atheism is getting people talking: in news stories, in op-ed pieces, at water coolers, in online forums, at family dinner tables. Humanism has not been doing this nearly as much. The New York Times just did a story on Jerry DeWitt (Recovering from Religion, Clergy Project), headlined, “From Bible-Belt Pastor to Atheist Leader.” That grabs attention, gets people talking. Would “From Bible-Belt Pastor to Humanist Leader” have had the same impact? Would the story even have been written? I really don’t think so.

The atheist movement already exists. It is powerful. It is a name and an identity that many people feel strongly about. It is a name and an identity that many people have done extraordinary things done for. Many of us have grown to love it. We see value in it, and we don’t want to abandon it. We want to form a subset of it that makes it better: a subset that is specifically devoted to making atheism more welcoming to women, people of color, poor people, working class people, trans people, and other marginalized groups, and that is specifically devoted to doing work in the places where atheism and other social justice issues intersect. As Jason Thibeault wrote in What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually.:

And people can claim that we’re trying to rebrand atheism to make it more pleasant, but really we’re simply naming the part of the community we’ve already carved out for ourselves where mere disbelief in a god or gods isn’t our only unifying factor. We recognize that being an atheist is insufficient to determine that you’re a decent human being. We’ve defined all those things that we care about, and we’re signalling to others that this movement is about those things in concert. Atheism informs all other aspects of our philosophies, so it is at the core of the name. The plus signals simultaneously inclusiveness, the drive to bring repressed underclasses and unprivileged folks into the fold not only as tokens but to better ourselves and improve our philosophies of humanism and social justice.

And finally:

I would like to point out that humanism is hardly immune to the problems we’ve been talking about here — the problems that Atheism Plus is working to address.

Many humanist groups have a huge diversity problem. Many humanist groups are overwhelmingly made up of older, middle-class, college educated white men — and while the groups typically embrace the idea of diversity in theory, some individuals in them can be very resistant to the idea that maybe their lack of diversity is partly their responsibility, and that they should maybe consider changing the way they do things. And I can’t tell you how many humanists I’ve talked with who have been total douchebags about feminism: insisting that humanism is superior to and more important than feminism, that feminism is exclusionary and anti-male, that they “don’t see gender” and anyone who does is the real sexist, and that the best way to make sexism disappear is to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humanism in theory is on board with social justice — but the practice can be very different indeed. If every atheist who’s sick of sexism and misogyny in the atheist movement picked up their stakes and moved to humanism, it wouldn’t make these problems magically disappear.

There is a great deal of overlap between humanism and Atheism Plus. They are very similar ideas, very similar visions. There is great value in both. I suspect that many people will call themselves both, and I look forward to the two movements working in alliance for many years to come. But I don’t think they’re the same. And I think it’s reasonable for some people to identify primarily as one, and some primarily as the other.

CORRECTION/UPDATE: Several people who are more familiar with humanism than I am have informed me that Christian Humanism is not, in fact, humanism, and that a basic principle of humanism is non-theism. I stand corrected. (You have to admit that that’s pretty confusing.) The rest of my post still stands; but I apologize for the error.

Comments

  1. Hunt says

    At this point, I’m not sure whether A+ is going to go the way of “bright” or not, in other words, whether it’s going to go down in a ball of flames, though I understand the comparison isn’t very exact, since “bright” was purely a nomenclature shift to re-brand atheism, and A+ is creating a new brand entirely. I don’t know if you’ve read Richard Carrier’s rather militant version of the A+ definition, replete with Bushisms like “evil,” “with us or against us,” and “smoke ‘em out.” While his language does make me somewhat uncomfortable, I think he’s dead-on when he describes A+ as a new shibboleth, meant to create a new identity and purge those that do not or cannot adopt it. In other words, A+ amounts to a pledge of allegiance, which would seem to suggest that it will lead to a restricted following; however your argument that it will actually open doors to diversity and eventually lead to expansion is convincing. Anyway, reading both you and Carrier is interesting for comparison and contrast.

  2. says

    Hunt @ #1: I think Carrier’s vision of Atheism Plus and mine are actually pretty close. Creating a restricted following will open doors to diversity and eventually lead to expansion. Like I wrote in my original piece on this, Why Atheism Plus Is Good for Atheism:

    There is no way for an atheist movement to be inclusive of everyone.

    An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of atheist women… and also be inclusive of people who publicly call women ugly, fat, sluts, whores, cunts, and worse; who persistently harass them; who deliberately invade their privacy and make their personal information public; and/or who routinely threaten them with grisly violence, rape, and death.

    Getting vile, hateful people out of the movement — or rather, forming a subset of the movement that gives them no quarter — will make atheism more welcoming to people who currently don’t feel welcome in it.

  3. Michael says

    I love the idea of Atheism +

    I was a little worried that all the hard work that has been put behind the atheist label was going to go to waste due to this recent scurry but atheism + means they can keep the atheist label and we can still all come together for the common goals aka opposing religious ferver

    I think, I hope, I am pretty sure that at the heart of this movement, the bloggers, the organisations, the activists have always been atheist+

    anywhos thanks for the post, was a good read

  4. says

    Getting vile, hateful people out of the movement — or rather, forming a subset of the movement that gives them no quarter — will make atheism more welcoming to people who currently don’t feel welcome in it.

    I love the idea behind Atheism + and am happy to add it to my existing labels.

    But the anger, hostility, and name-calling I am witnessing to those who have yet to embrace the term with open arms is contrary to your statement above.

    If we’re trying to make atheism look friendlier, more welcoming, and compassionate… I fear we’ve already failed before getting out of the gate.

  5. says

    David Diskin … we were promised Deep Rifts(TM). It is good to see A+ living up to that.

    Once A+ has finished with Carrier’s project of expelling the Marxists, Anarchists and the retards, I’m certain this will result in a much more diverse and stronger movement.

  6. Simon says

    Greta, you make a lot of good points, but on this particular statement I’m going to have to disagree by repeating in a slightly modified form what I wrote on Jen’s blog and did not get a response. I agree with the goals, and if people want to call themselves A+, more power to them. However false assumptions should not be a part of it:

    Humanism is also more engaged with creating secular replacements for the rituals and structures of religious communities

    To clarify: Are you referring to secular humanism? If so, what organizations represent the “humanism” you are referring to?

    As someone who organizes CFI events for atheists, humanists, skeptics, etc. both in DC and nationally I beg to differ. The two largest secular humanist organizations in the country are the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH-part of CFI) and the American Humanist Association (AHA). I am more familiar with the CSH personally and I have never met a more anti church person than Tom Flynn the Executive Director. Note that CSH publishes Free Inquiry magazine-again you won’t find much sympathy for religion there. I’ve also not seen any indication from AHA that “creating secular replacements for the rituals and structures of religious communities” is even on their agenda.

    The only humanist group I am aware of that might once have maybe fit this bill are the Harvard Humanists. I am not as familiar with them, however I have noticed that in recent months their website uses the name “Humanist Community Project at Harvard” and very few references to chaplaincies. I haven’t attended their events, but nothing I’ve heard from people that spoke there indicates that it is very “church-like”. In addition, James Croft from HH has specifically denied this.

  7. coelsblog says

    I think Carrier’s vision of Atheism Plus and mine are actually pretty close. [...] Getting vile, hateful people out of the movement …

    You’re entirely right, you don’t want to and shouldn’t have to associate with the “vile, hateful people” who (despite being atheists) have indulged in quite appalling behaviour towards feminists.

    But presumably you would be happy to associate with those who are respectful towards women and who want women to be fully equal in society, yet — for example — might disagree with Richard Carrier on whether some point is or is not a logical fallacy, or who might make a good-faith assessment of the evidence on some issue that differs from somebody else’s good-faith assessment of the same evidence.

    Carrier’s somewhat puritanical version suggests that if someone is “shown” to be fallacious on anything, and doesn’t immediately accept it, then they are acting in bad faith and should “GTFO”. Yet who then does the “showing”? And can one argue with the “show”er, or is that automatically a sign of bad faith? There needs to be room for honest dissent and disagreement.

    When anyone say something similar to what I’ve just said, the usual response is that A+ wants to kick out the vile, hateful people, and yes it should. But sometimes FTB comment threads can give the impression that anyone who disagrees on anything at all is then lumped in with such people, even when they might be vastly nearer your position than that of the haters.

    Yes you want to kick out the vile haters, that’s a given. But the important question is then how restrictive do you want the definition of A+ to be beyond that?

  8. piegasm says

    @coelsblog:

    You’re not reading very closely if you think anyone is actually advocating marginalizing everyone who disagrees on any point.

  9. GodlessForeigner says

    @piegasm
    “You’re not reading very closely if you think anyone is actually advocating marginalizing everyone who disagrees on any point.”

    Then it seems there are at least 2 of us who are getting the wrong message because that is exactly the sentiment I got from Carriers post too.

  10. piegasm says

    @GodlessForeigner

    That’s nice. I didn’t. I got the sentiment that honest discussion is fine, as long as you’re willing to concede when you’ve been shown to be wrong or arguing fallaciously. That’s not an unreasonable expectation.

  11. coelsblog says

    I got the sentiment that honest discussion is fine, as long as you’re willing to concede when you’ve been shown to be wrong or arguing fallaciously.

    But this is the whole point! *Who* gets to be the one who gets to declare “you’ve been shown to be wrong” or “you are arguing fallaciously”?

    The point is that reasonable people of good faith can disagree about these things. Humans are not perfectly rational and perfectly objective machines that, when the handle is turned in good faith, always arrive at the correct answer. Humans have different backgrounds, different biases, their brains are different, it is no surprise that humans can arrive at differing conclusions, even when all parties are in good faith.

    For example, science is usually conducted in good faith, yet there are many long-lasting scientific disputes.

    As someone who is a long-term reader of FTB-bloggers and who is mostly pretty much in agreement with a lot that FTB stands for, I see on FTB way too much readiness to leap from “I think you are wrong because of X, Y, and Z” to “you have now been *shown* to be wrong”, and from there to “you are now acting in bad faith”.

    (And, no, that is not an argument that you must include the vile haters!)

  12. coelsblog says

    piegasm:

    You’re not reading very closely if you think anyone is actually advocating marginalizing everyone who disagrees on any point.

    First, Greta, I apologise to you if you consider that the below is posted on the wrong blog, but since this matter has been raised here:

    Richard Carrier’s statement was:

    anyone who makes a fallacious argument and, when shown that they have, does not admit it, is not one of us, and is to be marginalized and kicked out, as not part of our movement, and not anyone we any longer wish to deal with. [...] I do not think it is in our interests any longer to cooperate in silence with irrational people … Anyone who disagrees with that is simply not someone we can work with.

    I’m irrational, at least to some extent. So are ALL humans! Why would we need double-blind medical trials if people were perfectly rational? Can we show enough self-awareness to realise that all of us have our biases and irrationalities, and that we need to accept a degree of human foible?

    A commenter (not me) said to Richard:

    “the impression I am getting is that this is like the First Council of Nicaea. [...] a splinter group with a set of dogmatic rules just doesn’t sound right to me.”

    Richard replied:

    First of all, it’s not dogma if it’s open to discussion and evidence-based revision. So: fallacy of false analogy. Own it, correct it, or GTFO.

    Hmmm. Is it not dogma? Well, pursuing the above analogy with the Christian Church, their dogma is indeed open to discussion and revision (for example, that’s what multiple versions of “confessions of faith” are about, that’s what the First and Second Vatican Conferences were about). Second, the ideals for A+ that Richard expounded are more about *values* than statements of fact, and thus the reference to “evidence-based” revision doesn’t destroy the analogy.

    So, in my opinion, the above analogy was not false, but is sufficiently valid (no analogy is ever perfect). So, since I am now holding a position that has been declared fallacious (by no less an authority than Dr Carrier!), does this mean I am to be “marginalized and kicked out, as not part of our movement, and not anyone we any longer wish to deal with”, someone who should “GTFO” as unwelcome?

    That’s an entirely serious question by the way. Or rather, I don’t currently identify with A+ and am wondering whether I should (or whether I’d be welcome, perhaps not). I would wholeheartly sign up to the statement that all humans should be treated with respect and as fully equal members of society (and in accordance with the Golden Rule).

    But I’m not signing up to the idea that I must always agree with Richard Carrier (or any other self-appointed spokesman for A+) on what is or is not a logical fallacy or what has or has not been “shown”. Sorry to be cocky, but surely freethought and skepticism give me a right to make my own good faith assessment of what evidence shows or what is or is not fallacious.

  13. croquetplayer says

    I find myself drifting away from atheism. No I’m not becoming “spiritual”. I’m getting bored. I was told, as a child, that “only boring people are bored”, and I submit that there may be some truth to this, as it bespeaks a lack of curiosity, but I was told this by boring people so it’s hard to tell. The recent kerfuffles in the community – is there sexism at the conventions? Yes, of course there is. It’s rampant, like everywhere else I go outside of my apartment. Duh. Glad we got that sorted out. I can’t believe it took this long, and so much virtual ink. Boring. Atheism plus. I sort of can’t believe we’re even discussing this. Is water wet? Is concrete hard? Yes. They are. Atheism plus is obviously sensible, and clearly the way forward. I don’t need to see another letter of the English language devoted to it. At the risk of sounding boring myself, I propose we get back to original principles – attacking religion in the gut. I want to slay religious/magical thinking at every turn. I want to wake up in the morning and find that my east coast brethren have been at gnawing away at something for three hours already, and I’d like to finish the job for them by the time they get back from lunch. I want to dismantle the Christian right in my country in every newspaper, every day. I want to see their guts on the floor. And when any other religion becomes a factor in my political life as an American, I want to see their pink guts spilled all over the floor too. I want a battle, and not an internecine one. I want to armor up. I want smoke in my eyes and blood on my hands. I want to fight.

  14. says

    My comment on just that part of Carrier’s dictum (the “marginizalize the irrational”, the “GTFO” part) is in moderation. I read it much as coelsblog and GodlessForeigner did: anyone with irrational thoughts deserved to be ostracized, excluded, and treated as a dangerous hostiles not worthy of interaction with the “good” atheists. If he did not mean it that way, I hope he clarifies.

  15. Frank says

    Greta, I like most of what you said here, and most of what you say generally, but you have the terminology for the different types of humanism absolutely wrong. Religious humanism is not humanism with belief in god. It is humanism with religious identity. It is organizations like the American Ethical Union and the Society for Humanistic Judaism. It is people who when asked if they believe in god say no but when asked if they are religious say yes. Christian humanism is NOT a form of humanism at all. At least not in the sense that anyone in our movement, or really anyone outside a seminary, uses the term humanism. All of the humanist manifestos explicitly reject any meaningful notion of a god. So do humanist organizations. Some humanist organizations just claim to be religious anyway.

  16. says

    My group, the Humanists of Rhode Island, could not be more actively confrontational, defiant, in-your-face or visible. We have the victories and the battle scars to prove it. We are in no way weakened by our Humanism.

    I am all for the goals of Atheism+ and consider myself a member of this nascent movement, but this ridiculous idea that Atheism is STRONG and Humanism is *weak* smacks of a patriarchal value system to me. Atheism under this understanding is the strict, hard, strong father and Humanism is the diplomatic, soft, comforting mother.

    Another analogy for the geeks in the audience: Atheism is Captain Kirk, Humanism is Captain Picard. What this analogy forgets is that both Kirk and Picard are Humanists, and both are capable of being strong and/or diplomatic given the right set of circumstances.

    I understand that Atheism+ want to be its own thing. Every generation thinks that their pop music is the best. Then you get a little older and you realize that you really do kind of like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and Chuck Berry.

  17. Pteryxx says

    Humans have different backgrounds, different biases, their brains are different, it is no surprise that humans can arrive at differing conclusions, even when all parties are in good faith.

    (and similar sentiments)

    And people can say bigoted and hurtful things, do damage, contribute to persistent myths and stereotypes, and silence others and drive them away, while thinking they’re acting in good faith. That’s what bias IS – thinking you’re being reasonable and fair when you’re not. At some point indulging this presumption of good faith costs too much in silencing the very people whose right to full consideration is being bandied about in arguments. This constant 101-level remedial education is toxic to discourse and toxic to the participation of the victims of such innocent bigotry. It’s entirely reasonable to foster open discourse and diversity of voices by weeding out the crabgrass. Feel free to do hyperskeptical splash damage somewhere else.

  18. Azrael Seraphin says

    Brian Carnell said:
    “Once A+ has finished with Carrier’s project of expelling the Marxists, Anarchists and the retards, I’m certain this will result in a much more diverse and stronger movement.”

    Really? Once you exclude everyone who doesn’t think like you then you will have MORE diversity? The double-think just keeps coming with this movement.

  19. says

    Once you exclude everyone who doesn’t think like you then you will have MORE diversity? The double-think just keeps coming with this movement.

    You haven’t been paying attention, have you? We get more inclusive toward women in general (a large, diverse group) by throwing out the misogynists (a smaller group). We get more inclusive toward LGBT people (a large, diverse group) by throwing out the homophobes (a smaller group). We get more inclusive towards minority races (a large, diverse group) by throwing out the racists (a smaller group).

    Besides, why should we want to be associated with the misogynists, homophobes, and racists? What positive contribution would keeping them bring us that would outweigh the negatives?

  20. says

    “And I can’t tell you how many humanists I’ve talked with who have been total douchebags about feminism: insisting that humanism is superior to and more important than feminism, that feminism is exclusionary and anti-male, that they “don’t see gender” and anyone who does is the real sexist, and that the best way to make sexism disappear is to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist.”

    Yeah, if you can’t accept that they are right and you are wrong, don’t offer a good counter-argument. Just call them douchebags. That always works as an effective debating tactic.

    http://redcelt.net/blog/?p=161 Feminism vs Humanism – part 1
    http://redcelt.net/blog/?p=394 Feminism vs Humanism – part 2

  21. coelsblog says

    Pteryxx:

    And people can say bigoted and hurtful things, …

    Sure, and I’m not suggesting that you accept that, or refrain from calling it out, or accept people who persist in such in your movement.

    That’s what bias IS – thinking you’re being reasonable and fair when you’re not.

    Exactly. And everyone should bear that in mind, while accepting that every human ever has been biased (and this does include oneself!).

    And all I’m suggesting is that you don’t build into A+ the doctrine that A+ers are free from bias, and thus that anyone who disagrees with A+ers has therefore been “shown” to be wrong, and thus that anyone who persists in any disagreement with a A+er is thus acting in bad faith.

  22. Pteryxx says

    And all I’m suggesting is that you don’t build into A+ the doctrine that A+ers are free from bias, and thus that anyone who disagrees with A+ers has therefore been “shown” to be wrong, and thus that anyone who persists in any disagreement with a A+er is thus acting in bad faith.

    Good thing nobody is actually advocating that. *brushes off straw*

  23. Orion3T says

    Since it came up, I’d like to add that I also have similar concerns to those of Hunt, coelsblog and Becky, regarding Carrier’s post.

    I’m still not sure how I feel about it overall but I certainly think your concerns are valid, and as a Carrier fan I really hope he does clarify his position somewhat in this regard when he gets back.

  24. coelsblog says

    Pteryxx:

    Good thing nobody is actually advocating that. *brushes off straw*

    Aren’t they? Well, piegasm above stated (and Carrier stated the same thing much more harshly):

    honest discussion is fine, as long as you’re willing to concede when you’ve been shown to be wrong or arguing fallaciously. That’s not an unreasonable expectation.

    The above carries the implication that what has been “shown” (on possibly controversial issues) can be established clearly and without bias.

    Perhaps you can answer my above question: *who* gets to pronounce on what has been “shown”? Is it a majority consensus (which would preclude anyone holding to a minority opinion on that issue)? If not, then who?

  25. says

    I’m looking forward to a ‘manifesto’ set down in writing. There are all kinds of posts and comments about what Atheism Plus is or isn’t, but it’s hard to get behind it when it seems that it’s still in the discussion stages.

  26. Azrael Seraphin says

    Bronze Dog said:
    “We get more inclusive toward LGBT people (a large, diverse group) by throwing out the homophobes (a smaller group).”

    By that logic, if there were more homophobes than LGBT people then we should chuck out the LGBT people to embrace the homophobes, in the interest of being inclusive. Not a sentiment I agree with.

    The problem is, it is all very well to say you are going to chuck out the homophobes and racists but how are you going to identify them? Have a checkbox on the conference form asking “Are you a homophobe?” That seems foolproof.

    I’d rather exclude the behaviour but not the people, that seems more inclusive to me. Tell people that they are welcome but that behaviour isn’t. That is how you change the world for the better, not by excommunicating people.

    What is being suggested by many people – a manifesto of values, a group-think mentality, persecution of heretics, exclusion of the non-believers – sounds dangerously cult-like.

  27. jamessweet says

    Humanism in theory is on board with social justice — but the practice can be very different indeed.

    Yeah, I’ve been thinking about doing a blog post on this… Certainly, an important prerequisite to being a humanist is a commitment to social justice, but Atheism+ goes one step further, in insisting that one apply skepticism and critical thinking to the problems of social justice.

  28. jamessweet says

    The problem is, it is all very well to say you are going to chuck out the homophobes and racists but how are you going to identify them?

    I think this is sort of a silly question. Obviously, someone could be homophobic and still be all like, “Yay, I am an Atheist-Plus!” At least in theory. By the same token, a committed Christian could they are an atheist, today. The point is that presumably they wouldn’t like it much around these parts.

    You seem to be envisioning that there is going to be some test for admission. No no no. The idea is, once Atheism+ is defined, a lot of people will naturally say, “Ew, I want no part of that.” And the A+-ers will say “Good riddance.”

  29. says

    I’m very happy that some find the Atheism+ label to be a powerful way to convey their positive political and ethical values, and if it gets more atheists into social justice activism I’m very glad to see it happen!

    At the same time some if the repeated misconceptions about Humanism are frustrating. Humanism is by definition non theistic – this is made clear in every Humanist Manifesto. The fact that there is a historical movement called “Christian Humanism” no more makes Humanism theistic than the fact that there is a historical movement called “Christian Atheism” makes atheism Christian.

    The fact that some Humanists dislike the term “atheist” should be no barrier either. Lots of atheists, it has been shown, are sexist and hate women. Is that a reason to ditch the term “Atheist”? I think not. One can recognize that the fact that a few people who self identify as an X do not get to define what it means to be an X. As a matter of clear historical fact Humanism has been and continues to be supportive of atheists and atheism.

    So the argument here comes down to this: “the words “atheism” and “humanism” have come to imply substantially different things.” Indeed. And this is what is called “rebranding” – you use different words to describe a product or idea in order to convey different connotations.

    Again, people should choose a label that most accurately represents their deepest values and concerns. Many Humanists I know are excited that the atheist movement seems now to be addressing and focussing on the issues which Atheism+ brings to the fore. But please do not misrepresent Humanism as you do so.

  30. baal says

    Azreal, I read brian carnel’s comment as sarcasm.

    ~~~

    So far as A+ demands adherence to feminist orthodoxy, I’m not going to sign-up. This doesn’t mean I’m about to join a MRA org or start using gender slurs to refer to my co-workers nor that I’ll stop working to change structures and institutions that have biased outcomes.

    “This constant 101-level remedial education is toxic…”
    I generally love your posts Pteryx but this quote is a big part of why I’m not going to adopt “A+” at this initial launch (I may later but it depends on how it goes). Most of FTB is a general audience blog, as such constant-101ing is part of the price for carrying out the mission. When the contrary assertion is made, you’re being dogmatic.

    I find the general statements of feminism vital and beyond obvious – women should be CEOs, feel free to dress how they will, should have body autonomy etc, this list could go on for pages and still not be into minutia. I cannot willing wear the “feminist” label, however. Too many who do are dogmatic, negative, bitter and ‘all-about-the-penis’. I don’t want to be associated with people who are like that. Should more folks come out as feminist who are not dogmatic (diluting the connotations of that label), I may be willing in the future to join the ‘feminist’ label later.

  31. Azrael Seraphin says

    jamessweet said:
    “The idea is, once Atheism+ is defined, a lot of people will naturally say, “Ew, I want no part of that.” And the A+-ers will say “Good riddance.” ”

    Here’s the problem – the values as I’ve seen them I agree with. I think you’ll find almost all atheists will agree with them because they are generic obvious things that anybody who has made the journey to atheism will most likely agree with.

    However, the aggressive, hate-filled, exclusionist way it is being delivered, as exemplified by Richard Carrier’s post here http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/2207/ – that’s the bit where I go “Ew, I want no part of that”. You might well say “Good riddance” but you might find you are actually saying good riddance to the majority of the atheist community. And you might be fine with that.

    I just think we should still be concentrating on the fight against religion instead of turning on each other.

  32. Pteryxx says

    The problem is, it is all very well to say you are going to chuck out the homophobes and racists but how are you going to identify them?

    Perhaps you can answer my above question: *who* gets to pronounce on what has been “shown”?

    All this has already been asked and answered. Espousing harmful, disproven myths about underprivileged groups is de facto bigotry. Eliding, misrepresenting, or refusal to address evidence are signs of bad faith in the service of bigotry. And repeatedly pressing arguments that have already been countered long since is indicative of attempting to derail, rather than promote, open discourse. Someone engaging in a pattern of such behavior probably isn’t worth giving the credit of honest engagement.

    You’re atheists, you should already be intimately familiar with all these tactics when used by creationists and apologists for religion. If you have any confidence in rational discourse AT ALL then you have no reason to expect social justice discourse to be somehow untrustworthy compared to atheist discourse.

  33. says

    Azrael,

    I hadn’t read Richard Carrier’s post until you mentioned that framing the movement as he does might drive people away simply because of the way it is framed.

    I finished the first paragraph and stopped reading. I’ll wait to see an ‘official’ description of what Atheism+ and reserve judgement until that time. If it’s like Richard’s post, I’ll politely show myself out.

  34. says

    @Azrael: I was explaining how excluding bigots would lead to greater diversity, rather than less, since you seemed to find it counter-intuitive. I wasn’t arguing that our morality should be determined by popular appeal. I thought that was obvious from the context.

  35. jamessweet says

    You might well say “Good riddance” but you might find you are actually saying good riddance to the majority of the atheist community.

    Except that’s pretty much exactly not what’s been happening.

    I will grant that I didn’t care one bit for the tone of Richard Carrier’s post, however. I think I agree with what he was trying to say, but it just came across so much like, “Time for a Stalinist purge!”, it was pretty yuck.

  36. says

    Very yuck.

    Indeed, this part sounds steeped in the way religion is described. There’s only one way to salvation, and it’s our way. Well, Richard’s way, in this case. I didn’t realize he was the high priest.

    So either you endorse the values and aims I have laid out, or you do not. If you do, just join the cause and stop fretting over being part of a culture whose values you embrace. But if you don’t endorse these values, then you are our enemy, in one fashion or another–because you will be endorsing, supporting (even if only through apathy and inaction), values that will ultimately destroy or undermine the human good.

  37. Pteryxx says

    baal:

    Most of FTB is a general audience blog, as such constant-101ing is part of the price for carrying out the mission. When the contrary assertion is made, you’re being dogmatic.

    First off, you’re conflating FTB with *proposed* A+ specific discussion spaces. As far as I know, there has been no discussion nor decision on whether FTB or specific blogs ought to enact any guidelines. There *has* been discussion of starting a completely separate forum; and some individual bloggers, such as Greta here and PZ in Policies, have started taking splash damage into account in their handling of comments.

    Second, I stand by the assertion that *constant* 101-level education is in fact toxic to open discourse, in the same way that harassment and micro-aggressions demonstrably contribute to chilly climate effects, and that Gish galloping is toxic to efforts to debunk creationism. It’s obvious from research, and also from simple observation of years of discussion derailing right here in these blogs. I’m one of the most willing-to-educate commenters from Pharyngula, but I’m fine with taking that to an area where the latest person repeating the same old myths over and over isn’t intimidating the targets of those myths, whose voices have every bit as much right to be heard as mine. I’m not willing to trample their expressed wish for a supportive space by my actions.

  38. Azrael Seraphin says

    James, take a look at the #atheismplus hashtag on Twitter – you’ll find most comments are derisive rather than supportive. Even in these comments you have a number of people who are wary of it just because of the delivery.

    I have been described as aggressively atheist by atheist friends and even I find this approach off-putting. By all means correct individual behaviour but as a blanket approach other atheists should not be regarded as the enemy.

  39. coelsblog says

    Pteryxx:

    Perhaps you can answer my above question: *who* gets to pronounce on what has been “shown”?

    All this has already been asked and answered.

    I’m sorry, Pteryxx, but my question above (posed in the context of Richard Carrier’s article, including the specific example that I gave), has not been answered and you did not answer it.

    You’re atheists, you should already be intimately familiar with all these tactics when used by creationists and apologists for religion.

    Yes, I am indeed very familiar with it. And my straight-up and honest opinion is that I see a lot of it from the commentariat at Pharyngula. And can I again quote you:

    That’s what bias IS – thinking you’re being reasonable and fair when you’re not.

  40. Miguel Picanco says

    You’re confused as to what Religious Humanism means… it’s not about believing in god, but believing that there is merit and valuable tradition in ancient scripture, church communities, etc. All humanists reject the notion that there is a god that intervenes in human affairs.

    I’ve long sort of described humanism as atheist plus, but even still shy away from that because I don’t want to make cultural christians fear that they have to give up their family and community to also call themselves religious humanists. Of course, there’s a difference between hateful, selfish atheists and those that care about others. There’s MORE to most atheists than simply their lack of belief in a god.

    The terms are all very fuzzy and at times seem contradictory, but it’s important to not get all hung up about the labels themselves. Use the term if it suits you… but to pretend that Humanism doesn’t cover it is to essentially misunderstand and confuse people away from those that have worked to educate people to the contrary of your points.

    If you’re going to throw humanism under the bus just because you want to start a new movement with a new label, don’t be surprised when so many people decide to toss you under as well.

  41. says

    Once A+ has finished with Carrier’s project of expelling the Marxists, Anarchists and the retards, I’m certain this will result in a much more diverse and stronger movement.

    Brian Carnell @ #5: Please to not use words like “retards” in this blog. They are demeaning.

    As for the actual argument you’re making: I’ve addressed it, here: Why Atheism Plus Is Good for Atheism. The tl;dr: There is no way a movement can be inclusive of everyone. To give just one example: It cannot be inclusive of both women, and of misogynists. Over the last years, women have been made incredibly unwelcome by atheism. Forming a subset of atheism that explicitly excludes misogynists means forming a subset that will be more welcoming to women. If you don’t care about that, you don’t have to participate. The rest of us are moving on.

  42. says

    Humanism is also more engaged with creating secular replacements for the rituals and structures of religious communities

    To clarify: Are you referring to secular humanism? If so, what organizations represent the “humanism” you are referring to?

    Simon @ #6: I’m thinking of the assorted humanist celebrant programs, which seek to provide humanist alternatives for religious weddings, funerals, baby naming ceremonies, coming of age ceremonies. Which several humanist organizations are involved in, including AHA.

  43. says

    But sometimes FTB comment threads can give the impression that anyone who disagrees on anything at all is then lumped in with such people, even when they might be vastly nearer your position than that of the haters.

    coelsblog @ #7, and others who have made similar points: Please do not ask me to take personal responsibility for other FTB blogs. And definitely don’t ask me to take personal responsibility for the tone of the comments in other FTB blogs.

    Which brings me to another point: Can the discussion of Richard Carrier’s post on Atheism Plus please be taken to, you know, Richard Carrier’s blog? His post on Atheism+ is here. I disagree with many of the points being made about his post (anger does not egual hate), agree with some others. But I have enough on my plate explaining my own vision of Atheism+, without being asked to defend someone else’s. Thanks.

  44. Greta Christina says

    Several people who are more familiar with humanism than I am have informed me that Christian Humanism is not, in fact, humanism, and that a basic principle of humanism is non-theism. I stand corrected. (You have to admit that that’s pretty confusing.) The rest of my post still stands; but I apologize for the error. I have made this update/ correction in the main body of the post.

  45. says

    Let’s not fall into the trap of trying to be overly fair, as many of us are wont to do. We then fall back into the pattern of the status quo, as in, the first bullies are the only ones allowed to bully, and must be tolerated in the name of tolerance. That’s just another way of saying “let’s keep everything the way it is.”

    I have no problem in supporting an exclusionary group. Exclusionism in itself is not the problem. Bigotry is the problem. It’s like when the boys made a club and froze some of us out, we got together and made our own club where everyone was invited, like the kid in the wheelchair, and the kid who was always being bullied, and all the girls. And we made a rule against assholes. Then some of us started wringing our hands and worrying that we were “just as bad” as the kids who kept us out in the first place. Their only solution was to let the original creeps back in, who immediately took over, treated us like shit and froze us out again.

    So let’s not do it the same way again.

  46. Steven LOWE says

    Greta,
    I was struck by your statement:
    Humanist” doesn’t necessarily mean “godless.” There are religious humanists. Then you link the phrase “religious Humanists” to an entry in Wikipedia called Christian Humanism(different) instead of the entry for Religious Humanism. Why?
    Also your sentence implies that religious humanists are not godless. I think they are. I think all humanists, religious or even christian humanist are indeed atheists. As sthe entry for Religious Humanism states it : “rejected revealed knowledge, theism-based morality and the supernatural.” even though it may have “religious rituals”.. rituals that are not theistic. There are many non-theistic religions in the world – they are religions without gods. So, to say the word Humanist does not impy atheism is incorrect. IMHO.

  47. Greta Christina says

    I’d rather exclude the behaviour but not the people, that seems more inclusive to me. Tell people that they are welcome but that behaviour isn’t. That is how you change the world for the better, not by excommunicating people.

    Azrael Seraphin @ #28: And when people don’t stop the behavior… what do you do then? When people persist in the behavior, repeatedly, for months? When they clearly understand that the behavior is not welcome, and persist in it anyway? When they take active glee in repeating the behavior? What do you do then?

    If you’re a blogger or a forum moderator, you start banning people. If you’re a community group, you start telling people that they can’t come to your meetings any more. If you’re an organization, you fire people. If you don’t, the people that the trolls are deliberately driving off are going to be, you know, driven off, and all you’ll have left are the trolls.

    Which leads me to this:

    Most of FTB is a general audience blog, as such constant-101ing is part of the price for carrying out the mission.

    baal @ #32: There is a degree to which this is true. And I am willing to do Social Justice 101 with people who are genuinely interested in learning it — just as I’m willing to do Atheism 101 with people who are genuinely interested in learning it.

    But (a): I reserve the right, as moderator of this blog, to specify when the 101 conversation is over, and to direct the people having the 101 conversation to another place. We need places to have the 201 conversations — and when they keep being derailed back into 101 conversations, it’s very frustrating, and people leave. (I am hoping that, assuming that a semi-official Atheism Plus website gets set up, it includes a moderated forum for people to have the 201 conversations.)

    And (b): I am not willing to do Social Justice 101 with people who are sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming, “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” I am not willing to do Social Justice 101 with people who have clearly been hearing it for a year, and have decided that they are adamantly opposed to it. And I’m definitely not willing to do Social Justice 101 with people who respond by spewing toxic venom at me. It’s a waste of my time and energy. And it’s been wearing me down. It’s been wearing a lot of people down. The idea that, “Hey, I don’t have to work with these people any more! I can choose to work with people who share my basic values! I can choose to work with people who don’t tell me that they want to kick me in the cunt!” — this has been a shot in the arm for me, and for a lot of people, who have been wondering how the hell we’re going to stay in this movement.

  48. says

    “Brian Carnell @ #5: Please to not use words like “retards” in this blog. They are demeaning.”

    ROTFLMAO. I was parodying Richard Carrier of whom you say, “I think Carrier’s vision of Atheism Plus and mine are actually pretty close.”

    You might want to actually *read* what Carrier’s saying over at his blog before making such a blanket endorsement of his views.

  49. Greta Christina says

    Brian Carnell @ #52: I say yet again: Please do not use words like “retards” in this blog. They are demeaning. If you are directly quoting someone, it is acceptable — but if you are parodying someone, and they did not use that word, do not use it yourself. Period. Thank you.

  50. says

    Greta Christina wrote:

    “As for the actual argument you’re making: I’ve addressed it, here: Why Atheism Plus Is Good for Atheism. ”

    So you agree with Richard that an anarchist or Marxist atheist should be excluded along with misogynists and neonazis? Because that’s the claim he’s making on the post of which you said, “Carrier’s vision of Atheism Plus and mine are actually pretty close.”

  51. Hunt says

    Not only does he use the word “retard” repeatedly, he mounts a rather elaborate defense for himself in his reply to commend 85 over there. Out of consideration for you, I won’t say anything else about Carrier’s post. It’s not fair to you, but the reasons for it are that 1. people are concerned about his approach, and 2. Carrier moderates every single comment, and very sporadically, making any kind of effective discussion over there nearly impossible.

  52. coelsblog says

    Please do not ask me to take personal responsibility for other FTB blogs. And definitely don’t ask me to take personal responsibility for the tone of the comments in other FTB blogs. Which brings me to another point: Can the discussion of Richard Carrier’s post on Atheism Plus please be taken to, you know, Richard Carrier’s blog?

    Dear Greta, I apologise for the inappropriateness. I certainly don’t hold you responsible or criticise you for other FTB blogs; I was simply discussing the topic and A+ in general. One reason for not discussing this on Carrier’s blog is that, being busy, his comments (all moderated) tend to be updated only every one or two days, making any real discussion hard. However, as you request, I won’t pursue the matter further here.

  53. says

    The problem as Greta points out is it seems that many Atheists don’t really know what Humanism is really about and that it is confusing.

    I just find it hard to accept an argument that Atheismplus is different than Humanism from people who don’t even know what it is being compared to.

    I agree that it isn’t necessary to be mean and nasty about it but that seems to happen when you throw family members under the bus without all the facts. And people like Jen and Greta should know how that feels

  54. says

    Atheism+ is the first time that I’ve ever believed that anyone on top of the atheist food chain is really going to fight hard for people like me.
    Every day for the past 4 years I’ve been an atheist has been messages that I should sacrifice my (trans)gender rights, my accessibility rights and that of my friends, the racial rights of my friends etc. on the alter of someone else’s ideology. I’m a “bad atheist” if my life doesn’t serve their agenda.
    Now, finally, I hear people saying “you’re home, you belong here, you’re one of us”. Atheism+ equals HOPE to me.

  55. Michael Werner says

    Dear Greta,

    I am amazed sometimes at your lack of knowledge about what Humanism is or isn’t. Too many things to comment on, but your notions are very simplistic and I think your emphasis on being bold and confrontive, while admirable, has shaded your view and devotion to the word Atheism. The early humanists were not only interested in atheism, but how shall we live, what inspires us, where do we gain meaning and purpose. Far deeper and richer thought than just,”Your religion sucks.” You are missing something important in the formation of secular thought and culture. All the great non-theist social battles for human dignity, justice and rights are intelectually grounded only in an integrated whole world view of humanism. I know as I have fought in almost all of them. I urge you explore a bit more our rich history and philosophical underpinnings and see that this is where the long term battle is to be fought even amongst we atheists.

  56. says

    Totally down with the ideals of Atheism+. Absolutely. An atheist misogynist is every bit as much my enemy as a firmly feminist Christian, possibly more so, depending on the circumstances.

    Half of the response to criticism of Atheism+ is “Atheism+ is not the same as Humanism, not all humanists are atheists.” I agree, but I can still be an atheist and a humanist. I agree that the terms are separate and distinct; I’d almost consider that a point in favor of just making a point to emphasize that you are both an atheist and a humanist when identifying yourself. Not sure we need another label for the two being combined, is all.

    It’s been said, in comments above (here, comments #6, 16, 31, and 42); the other half of the response, though, is that Humanism is just too mild and non-confrontational for our tastes.

    “Like it or not, the reality is that “atheism” is generally perceived as being more confrontational.”

    Yes, and I think that avoiding calling your plainly Humanist values what they are, because of this exact argument, perpetuates that stereotype.

    Yes, there are many humanists that are hostile to the words “atheist” and/or “feminist,” those are the people that I’d say are doing Humanism wrong.

    What would we say to a person who absolutely didn’t believe in any gods, but who shied away from using the “atheist” label because they didn’t want to so confrontational and offensive? I don’t think it makes any more sense to shy away from a plainly accurate “humanist” label because we’ve stereotyped it as not confrontational enough.

  57. says

    Michael Werner,

    Great comment, and I couldn’t say it better. How can one reasonably say that Atheism+ is different from Humanism without understanding Humanism? In my life and work here with the Humanists of Rhode Island, where we have made definitive strides in promoting church/state separation, women’s rights issues and even steps towards marriage equality, my group has been informed by our Humanist, not simply atheist values. To maintain that Humanists are somehow weaker or less confrontational than atheists is just not true. Anyone who knows anything about the conditions on the ground here in the culture war in Rhode Island knows that.

  58. says

    Flimsyman:

    Any “humanist” who does not consider themselves a feminist is not a Humanist. Whereas not all feminists are Humanists, all Humanists are feminists.

    This is a very important point. Humanism has a set of values that one espouses. It is self selecting. There are no gatekeepers. If someone who dos not value human life and human rights claims to be a Humanist, they are grossly misinformed or lying.

    Similarly, Humanism is non-theistic and anti-supernatural. Atheism is non-theistic, but there’s nothing that says an atheist can’t believe in the supernatural. Just ask a Buddhist, who denies the existence of God but still believes in souls and reincarnation.

    Reason is built into the core values of Humanism, but where is there such a value in atheism? Hence the idea of Atheism+, which wants to add social justice and compassion to atheism. I’m all for it, but there’s no need to disparage Humanism or to pretend that Humanism is too weak to do the job.

    That’s bullshit, as my group proves every day.

  59. says

    I identify primarily as an atheist…and definitely like the “Atheist Plus” direction. I am also a humanist. When I moved to the Northwest about a year ago from SoCal, where I was a member of a growing atheist group, I joined several secular organizations, including both humanist and atheist groups. There is definitely and overlap of members…though, as you pointed out in your piece, some of the humanists dislike the atheist label. I see value in belonging to both types of groups…and again, the humanist group here is on the older side, though it is quite balanced in terms of gender. The atheist group and its sub-groups have more age diversity and also a balance of genders. I am fortunate to live in a very progressive city where coming out as an atheist is not exactly shocking. Our city is considered one of the least religious (okay the LEAST religious) in the country by one survey!!
    http://www.reverbnation.com/gaylemyrna

  60. baal says

    I’m not going to resolve my fence sitting anytime soon. Greta, I’ve rarely seen you use dogmatic language and don’t include your writing in my explanation of why A+ seems fought to me.

    When I read posts or engage in a number of other non-FTB places, I don’t see well minded reasonable folks getting push back. I don’t see this respect for regular variability of expression when the issues relate to feminism – there I see specific phraseology requirements and adherence to formal dogma*. If A+ falls into the feminist model of requiring adherence to ideology and rules first reason second, I won’t join in. If A+ follows most other places (including much of the gay community, sex positive community etc) then I will. The comments in the other A+ threads on FTB suggest (and parts of the OP posts) a bright line rule. Be with us (and raise the right signifiers) or gtfo. I’m not asking to include trolls or engage in lengthy 101, I’m saying the enthusiastic first joiners present dichotomous worldviews. That makes me nervous.

    My prior comment wasn’t in light of a proposed other website, I had no idea one is in the works.

    *cites to mnpq-101 are shorthand arguments or framing; I’m eagerly awaiting Camels w/Hammers finishing his responses to objections on his comments policy since he’s hitting other examples of what I’m labeling feminist dogma.

  61. Greta Christina says

    Steve Ahlquist: Where did I disparage humanism? Where did I say it was weak?

    I didn’t. I went out of my way to praise it. I just don’t think it’s the same as atheism, or even as atheism plus. It has subtly different definitions, and it has not-so-subtly different perceptions — both among the godless, and outside it.

    I totally applaud what your group is doing. But what I’m hearing is, “If you want to be an atheist and also support social justice, and you want those things combined, you should call yourself a humanist.” Don’t I get to self-identify? And if a lot of people are excited and energized by a self-identity whose values and goals overlap significantly with your own, why do you have a problem with that?

  62. 'Tis Himself says

    I’m fascinated by all the humanists who claim that humanism is non-theistic. I’m sure that will come as a surprise to the Christians and Jews who claim to be “humanists.” Sorry, folks, but humanism includes goddists and you just can’t wish them away. Secular humanism is non-religious but, as Greta points out in the OP, there are significant differences between humanism and Atheism+. Among other things, we don’t have your fascination with rituals.

  63. says

    “People know what atheism means. They have myths and misconceptions about its implications — but they basically understand that it means ‘person who doesn’t believe in any gods.'”

    This has not been true in my experience. People basically understand “atheist” to mean “a person who who chooses to believe, with absolute certainty, on the basis of faith, that there is no Christian God so that he or she can live without morals.”

    Atheists who come from a Christian families like me will know what I’m talking about. There isn’t even a basic understanding of what atheism actually means. That’s why I personally try to avoid labels altogether and instead focus on the reasoning behind those labels.

  64. says

    Humanism has NOTHING to do with atheism, which is one-dimensional non-religion. Humanism is derived from classical Greece, Confucius, the Renaissance. Stop affecting some connection, and lamenting your parting.

    Atheists hijacked humanism for its classic lines, its noble history – everything atheism lacks – but you’ve been driving a stolen car.

    Please get back on your Harley and leave us in peace. We have a species to harmonize with this planet. [email protected]

  65. says

    “Atheism is a slap in the face that wakes people up. Humanism holds people’s hands.”

    Well put. And we need both approaches, because some people will respond to one approach but not the other. The main thing is to distance ourselves from the haters. Maybe the anti-feminists, Ayn Rand followers, and certain former Freethought bloggers can do us all a favor and start using the term “Atheism-minus.”

  66. Tanya2 says

    Atheism Plus…

    Plus Communism

    Plus Objectivism

    Plus Gulags

    Come on Greta, believers know what the atheists would like to do with the Christians if they could.

    Come on, admit it.

    It’d make you good to make them pay wouldn’t it?

    One Problem though…if Richard Carrier is going to be your intellectal artillary you have already lost. He can’t even get an academic job.

  67. says

    There are so many gross misconceptions about Humanism in this article, I hardly know where to start.

    But I’ll hightlight a few points:

    – Humanism as a movement is strongly supportive of feminism. Like every other majority male group, there are some individuals who don’t support feminism, but the reality is that the AHA has a feminist caucus and a clear trajectory toward electing more women to their board of directors. If you’re looking for secularists who immediately jumped to the wrong side of Elevatorgate, there were relatively few Humanists among them.

    – I know hundreds of Humanists and have never met one that was “actively hostile to the word atheist.” I know some that prefer to self-identify as humanist to the public (for various reasons), but I know of none that deny they are atheists in a meeting or a Humanist social gathering.

    – The term “secular humanist” has not lost much, if any, toxicity since the Reagan administration. There are still thousands of fundagelical preachers blaming secular humanism for all the problems facing the US, even right here in relatively secular New Jersey. Here’s an example:

    I sing in a local chorus. By the nature of these things, they draw a large portion of their membership from people who sing in local church choirs. One of the tenors in my section asked for my business card, and I gave it to him – the one that points out my office in New Jersey Humanist Network. He absolutely blanched when he read it, and told me that in his church, humanism is a “swear word.”

    – Humanist groups do a lot more than you think to advance the secular movement. We may not be as visible on a national level, but we have more local groups, more people meeting in person, than atheists. And we’re doing more on college campuses. The AHA has seen how successful the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy has been in organizing students, are supporting the Humanist Chaplaincy at Rutgers (sponsored by New Jersey Humanist Network) and are planning to roll out more chaplaincies led by young people currently training at the existing ones.

    The atheist groups at Rutgers lack direction and focus. They spend their time arguing over what to talk about or playing as pirates. The HCRU, on the other hand, brings in big name speakers and challenges their students to think and act.

    So yeah, Atheist Plus is essentially secular humanism – for atheists who would rather use a different term because they aren’t familiar with what humanism actually is.

  68. TheTruePooka says

    Curious. Ever since I became an atheist I’ve had this inexplicable urge to learn how to knit.

    Thank you for reminding me of it. I’ll get right on learning how to knit.

    Oh, my wife learned how to knit after she became an atheist. Her mum tried to teach her beforehand but she couldn’t get the knack of it.

    We suspect her previous theism got in the way.

  69. says

    I know hundreds of Humanists and have never met one that was “actively hostile to the word atheist.”

    timridge @ #75: Look at comment # 72 from dwightjones. Three comments above your own.

    The term “secular humanist” has not lost much, if any, toxicity since the Reagan administration.

    I didn’t say there wasn’t toxicity against secular humanism. I said I thought there was more against atheism. Not sure how to resolve that particular disagreement, though, so I’ll let it go for now.

    Humanist groups do a lot more than you think to advance the secular movement.

    I think humanist groups are doing a lot to advance the secular movement. I just think they’re doing somewhat different things that atheist groups. With lots of overlap, of course. Which you yourself acknowledge, when you say:

    We may not be as visible on a national level, but we have more local groups, more people meeting in person, than atheists.

    Those are all valuable things. But they are not the same things. Some people are inspired by one, some by the other.

    And we’re doing more on college campuses.

    Now there, I’m going to have to disagree with you. I do a lot of work with the student secularist moveent, I do a lot of traveling and speaking at student groups around the country — and the ones that are primarily atheist-identified are (a) numerous and (b) doing excellent work.

    The atheist groups at Rutgers lack direction and focus. They spend their time arguing over what to talk about or playing as pirates. The HCRU, on the other hand, brings in big name speakers and challenges their students to think and act.

    I think it’s great that the humanist group at Rutgers is doing good things. And I think it’s too bad if the atheist group isn’t — although you’ll have to forgive me if, given your attitude, I don’t just take your word for that. But I hope you don’t intend to generalize from two data points.

    So yeah, Atheist Plus is essentially secular humanism – for atheists who would rather use a different term because they aren’t familiar with what humanism actually is.

    No. Atheism Plus is very similar to secular humanism, for atheists who are familiar enough with humanism to know that, while they think it’s great, it isn’t quite right for them.

    And as I said above @ #67: Why are you so hostile to that? What I’m hearing, from you and others, is, “If you want to be an atheist and also support social justice, and you want those things combined, you should call yourself a humanist.” Don’t I get to self-identify? And if a lot of people are excited and energized by a self-identity whose values and goals overlap significantly with your own, why do you have a problem with that?

  70. says

    So yeah, Atheist Plus is essentially secular humanism – for atheists who would rather use a different term because they aren’t familiar with what humanism actually is.

    Or they are familiar but want a different style, focus, and/or approach. The secular humanism movement is great. I support it. I self identify as Humanist when context appropriate. However, the Secular Humanist Movement (not to be confused with secular humanism the world view) simply does not appeal to me. Atheism+ does thus far.

    Also, who says you can’t be both?

  71. says

    I’m going to start off by addressing the last part of your message to me, the part where I’m asked, “Don’t I get to self-identify? And if a lot of people are excited and energized by a self-identity whose values and goals overlap significantly with your own, why do you have a problem with that?”

    Nothing I have said should be construed as saying that people don’t have the right to self-identify. And I have said in my comments regarding Atheism+, “I am all for it,” and “I am all for the goals of Atheism+ and consider myself a member of this nascent movement.” So to ask me why I have a problem with things I plainly do not have a problem with and have never maintained in the first place is not something I can answer.

    My comments are meant as a defense of Humanism, which I maintain is not a form of weak atheism. You say you did not disparage atheism or maintain that it is weak, and I am willing to accept that, but I will explain that my confusion comes from this part of your original post:

    “Like it or not, the reality is that “atheism” is generally perceived as being more confrontational. More defiant. More in-your-face. More about visibility. More actively opposed to religion. More actively engaged in trying to persuade religious believers out of it.

    Humanism, on the other hand, is generally perceived as more diplomatic. More easy-going. Less interested in debating differences, and more interested in finding common ground. More accepting of religion and religious believers, as long as they accept us. More interested in doing interfaith/ alliance work with believers.”

    The idea that atheism is “more” defiant, confrontational, and in-your-face than Humanism makes the point that atheism is stronger in these areas and that Humanism is weaker. Maybe you didn’t use the word “weak” but the implication is clear from the scale, in my opinion. Humanism is “less interested in debating differences” again implies that atheism is more interested, and this again implies strong atheism and weaker humanism.

    I am not interested in putting down Atheists or Atheism+. The line you made up for me, “If you want to be an atheist and also support social justice, and you want those things combined, you should call yourself a humanist.” Is not actually my opinion. There is much more to Humanism than being an atheist with a strong social justice component. I would say that atheism and social justice are necessary but not sufficient values of humanism.

    My reason for writing a comment at all, something I rarely do, is because I feel that Humanism is being portrayed unfairly in this debate about Atheism+. The characterizations I’m seeing of Humanism and Humanists in this post and in the comments demand a response from a Humanist who is very active in separation of church and state, social justice, volunteerism and visibility.

    Humanism is not weak atheism. Humanists are non-theists, non-supernaturalists and value reason, compassion and optimism. There is a lot to celebrate in the idea of Atheism+ but that celebration does not have to come at the expense of Humanism.

  72. Sophia says

    Isn’t Humanism at its core just about general secular morality? It isn’t explicitly dedicated to issues such as feminism, diversity, etc. It can be, but it’s not in the definition.

    Atheism+ IS explicitly dedicated to those subjects. That’s a pretty huge difference.

  73. 'Tis Himself says

    My reason for writing a comment at all, something I rarely do, is because I feel that Humanism is being portrayed unfairly in this debate about Atheism+.

    You humanists can do your thing. Nobody is saying humanism is bad. What we are saying is it isn’t for us and giving reasons for our disenchantment with it. We’re not spitting on humanism. You guys do good things and we’re grateful for whatever it is you actually do.

  74. baal says

    we’re grateful for whatever it is you actually do.

    Your nearest neighbors express pain about how they are characterized and you damn them with faint praise in response? That’s why I think A+ is getting negative push back (or isn’t being as welcomed as it could have been).

  75. Simon says

    For the most part Steve Ahlquist is saying many of the same things I would also be saying, however there is one smaller point I’d like to address re:rituals:

    Greta #44:

    Humanism is also more engaged with creating secular replacements for the rituals and structures of religious communities


    Simon @ #6: I’m thinking of the assorted humanist celebrant programs, which seek to provide humanist alternatives for religious weddings, funerals, baby naming ceremonies, coming of age ceremonies. Which several humanist organizations are involved in, including AHA.

    ‘Tis Himself #69:

    Among other things, we don’t have your fascination with rituals.

    Yes there are humanist celebrants. Because atheists want to enter into a legal contract called “marriage” that is recognized by the government (the most common request for a celebrant). If someone were to use a JOP would we be accusing the government of trying to “replace the structure of religious communities”? I would hope not. FYI this is actually an overlooked area of atheist civil rights that CFI is on the front lines of with a lawsuit in Indiana. Why? Because most states require (unconstitutionally many would contend) that marriages be performed by either a government or religious representative. The “easy” way around this -that CFI refuses to do- is for celebrants to get licensed by a religious organization.

    All that being said, if you were to look at the totality of organized humanist activities and literature, I submit to you that this would comprise at most maybe 1%. I know many humanist celebrants including Margaret Downey and my wife and almost nobody can make a profession out of it-with the exception of the assorted humanist rabbi. I will concede that “coming of age” and “baby-naming” ceremonies do kind of creep me out as well but I suspect that (especially the former) is a jewish humanist thing, though that goes beyond my realm of knowledge and again, a very limited scope.

    So to call this a “fascination” as ‘Tis Himself did or to imply that this is somehow an important part of organized humanism is to distort reality.

  76. says

    @sophia:
    Humanism as I understand it is about secular ethics aimed at maximizing human flourishing/potential achievement. As such, feminism, equality, etc, are intrinsically concerns if one is thinking clearly; if a particular subset of people have more impediments to their happiness and flourishing then others, clearly greater effort and resources must be employed to remove those impediments. From where I sit, A+ and humanism are basically two names for the same thing, so if someone wants to identify as one or the other or both, I”m not bothered by it. Use the terminology that’s most effective and appropriate for the circumstances.

  77. Russell's Teapot says

    I’m glad you’ve corrected the unintentional misrepresentation of Humanism, but I hope you will now be able to see why some of us share the values you wish to add to atheism but won’t identify as A+.

    Both A+ and Secular Humanists are atheistic.
    Both A+ and Secular Humanists support social justice.

    The difference is that for A+, atheism is more important than social justice, and for Secular Humanists social justice is more important than atheism. As much as atheism is important to me, it will never trump SJ. I wish you guys every success, but you should work to stamp out the “you are either A+ or you are against social justice” attitude prevalent in FTB at the moment.

  78. Erik says

    I think you were right to begin with, Greta: “Humanism” has never *entailed* “atheism”. In fact, the original “Renaissance humanists”–like Erasmus of Rotterdam–literally could not be out atheists, and it’s unclear exactly how skeptical many of them were about religion per se.

  79. coelsblog says

    89 Erik:

    I think you were right to begin with, Greta: “Humanism” has never *entailed* “atheism”. In fact, the original “Renaissance humanists”–like Erasmus of Rotterdam–literally could not be out atheists

    According to Mr Wiki, humanism with a capital H does entail atheism whereas humanism with a lower-case h does not. So, not at all confusing!

  80. Greta Christina says

    Steve Ahlquist @ #79: You obviously feel that I was dissing humanism. That was not at all my intention: if my writing failed to convey that, I apologize. I thought I made it clear — I went out of my way to praise humanism and talk about what I saw as its strengths — but that seems to have not come across, and that may well be a failure on my part as a writer.

    I do not see humanism as “weak atheism.” I don’t think that, I didn’t say that, and I don’t mean it. What I think is that atheism and humanism are not identical. And that atheism plus and humanism are not identical. And as not identical, they have different strengths, and different weaknesses. And as non-identical identities with different strengths and weaknesses, it is entirely reasonable for people to prefer one over the other, and to find one or the other more inspiring and a more accurate reflection of who they are.

    I’m glad you’ve corrected the unintentional misrepresentation of Humanism, but I hope you will now be able to see why some of us share the values you wish to add to atheism but won’t identify as A+.

    Both A+ and Secular Humanists are atheistic.
    Both A+ and Secular Humanists support social justice.

    The difference is that for A+, atheism is more important than social justice, and for Secular Humanists social justice is more important than atheism. As much as atheism is important to me, it will never trump SJ. I wish you guys every success, but you should work to stamp out the “you are either A+ or you are against social justice” attitude prevalent in FTB at the moment.

    Russell’s Teapot @ #87: I’m a little puzzled by the “now” of that first sentence. I thought I made it pretty clear that I understand why people would see themselves primarily as secular humanists, and support them in doing so, and want to work in alliance with them. Quote: “I think it’s reasonable for some people to identify primarily as one, and some primarily as the other.”

    As for the “you are either A+ or you are against social justice” attitude you’re talking about: I don’t agree that it’s “prevalent.” But I have seen it, and I’ve argued against it, and will continue to do so. And Jen McCreight, the instigator of this whole thing, has spoken against it in the FAQ she’s written about it.

  81. Michael Werner says

    I am appalled by the ignorance concerning the history and evolution of the whole secular movement. Like many youth today it seems some think all secular thought only began in the last ten years or so. The word Humanist has evoloved over the centuries. Early on it meant those interested in the newly found classics in the Rennasiance. Later it was those who focussed on human life rather than the supernatural, what we call being humanistic today. The modern term and movement began in the early mTweintieth century when John Dietrich who was preaching a totally nonsupernatural lifestance and it grew rapidly in the Unitarian association. It explores and encompasses all secular thought of what is true, how we should act, what are our meanigns and purposes. A poll in the AHA showed not one person believing in God. Humanism is naturalistic meaning it rejects not only God, but ghosts, devils, angels etc. AA started out of the AHA by Madelyn because she was a domnatinating asshole who couldn’t work with others.I alwsys state in speeches that I am an atheist, but that is not all, I am a humanist because it defines my whole integrated world view that is constantly evolving. I urge those who are ignorant and mischarachterizing Humanism do thier homework. Social action on feminism is only one part of our ethical life and requires the ethical framework of the inherent worth and dignity of all people to undergird it.

  82. coelsblog says

    Simon:

    If we’re going to source something, how about we skip the crappy wikipedia article and instead look at what the Council for Secular Humanism says:

    “Secular humanism” is not “humanism”. While “*secular* humanism” and “Humanism” (capital H) do indeed entail atheism, it is also a fact that the term “humanism” (small h) has been used in ways that do not entail atheism.

    As the “crappy wikipedia article” says: “The term “humanism” can be ambiguous, and there has been a persistent confusion between the several, related uses of the term because different intellectual movements have identified with it over time”.

    (By the way, I consider myself a secular humanist, I am not trying to diss secular humanism.)

  83. Sophia says

    @Dalillama
    “Humanism as I understand it is about secular ethics aimed at maximizing human flourishing/potential achievement. As such, feminism, equality, etc, are intrinsically concerns if one is thinking clearly”

    But “maximizing human flourishing/potential achievement” is very vague. There are plenty of people who agree that we should maximize human happiness. There are less people who recognize what privilege is.

    With Humanism, you have to hope that the person has done enough homework to understand why, say, diversity is important. But a humanist might be one of those people who say things like, “Why are we putting so much emphasis on race/sex/whatever? Let’s be color blind! Be a humanist, not a feminist!”

    Atheist+ is a label created mostly because of issues with sexism in the atheist community. Someone who identifies with that label is not going to deny the existence of patriarchy or privilege.

  84. A Canning says

    By using the name of the original “movement” , and then adding a “+”; You aren’t implying that your take on Atheism is just different, you’re stating that it’s more evolved.
    It’s fairly basic marketing.I’m suggesting that how you brand something matters, a lot.
    It seems that you are trying to create a space where “good works” can be discussed rationally and dogma free.
    That seems like a really good idea.
    However, naming your new thing Atheism + ,makes it seem like you are trying to high-jack the heat that the militant anti-theists have built up.
    I don’t think this is such a great idea.
    We still need the warriors that will speak truth to power and publicly expose the clearly foolish.
    Those warriors need a clear and unambiguous rally point.
    The atheist “movement” is not at a point where it needs re-branding to offer a more inclusive version.
    Any context that you employ in your next generation of secular humanism will be made possible by these fierce people.

    If the goal is to minimize , or eliminate, faith based thinking in areas of life where it is clearly harmful, this diluting of the core message doesn’t seem helpful.

  85. Tom Russel, Norfolk VA says

    Greta –

    I found myself nodding in recognition when you mentioned using the term “secular humanist” as protective coloration. I did that for a while, and was for a few years a “Secular Humanist Celebrant” after ending several years as an Adjunct Hospital Chaplain and Police Chaplain. But I found myself unable to really explain “humanism” even to my own satisfaction, and I began to have second thoughts about the power-relationship implications of such a title. Now, I’m “just plain Tom, your friendly neighborhood atheist” sitting on the sidelines trying to figure it all out.

    What you and Jen have pointed out, albeit indirectly, to me is that if I’m not part of the solution, I’m part of the problem.

    I hope I can learn to help.

  86. Londa Sabacthani says

    At the risk of being pedantic, let me quote from The Council for Secular Humanism (link kindly provided by Simon@93). I realize that this is only one short essay (and there are two) on the website of one organization. But it does directly address the question, at least as regards secular humanists. I apologize for quoting so fully, but it seems only fair.

    Are Secular Humanists Atheists?

    Secular humanists are generally nontheists. They typically describe themselves as nonreligious. They hail from widely divergent philosophical and religious backgrounds.

    Thus, secular humanists do not rely upon gods or other supernatural forces to solve their problems or provide guidance for their conduct. They rely instead upon the application of reason, the lessons of history, and personal experience to form an ethical/moral foundation and to create meaning in life. Secular humanists look to the methodology of science as the most reliable source of information about what is factual or true about the universe we all share, acknowledging that new discoveries will always alter and expand our understanding of it and perhaps change our approach to ethical issues as well. In any case their cosmic outlook draws primarily from human experiences and scientific knowledge.

    This answer agrees quite well with my previous understanding of Secular Humanism. And every word of that answer includes me at my best. But I will take the liberty of answering the same question for Atheism+:

    Are “A+” Atheists Atheists?

    Yes.

    I think the difference between those answers neatly highlights the intended difference between Secular Humanism and Atheism+.

  87. Tony •King of the Hellmouth• says

    Steve @79:

    Humanism, on the other hand, is generally perceived as more diplomatic. More easy-going. Less interested in debating differences, and more interested in finding common ground. More accepting of religion and religious believers, as long as they accept us. More interested in doing interfaith/ alliance work with believers.”

    The idea that atheism is “more” defiant, confrontational, and in-your-face than Humanism makes the point that atheism is stronger in these areas and that Humanism is weaker.

    The key thing here is that Greta used the word perceived. The general *perception* of humanism is that it’s more diplomatic. The general *perception* of atheism is that it’s more in your face. The perception being that of the average Jill or John on the street.

    ****

    Russel’s Teapot @87:

    The difference is that for A+, atheism is more important than social justice, and for Secular Humanists social justice is more important than atheism.

    With the caveat that I haven’t read Richard Carrier’s post-where are you getting this notion from?

    A: The movement is still in fetal stage. I don’t know that anything concrete has been established about where the main focus will be on.
    B: From the comments of various bloggers, as well as the reception from so many commenters, it seems like shared atheism is what has brought a lot of people together. The ‘Plus’ is the glue that binds them. So I don’t think Social Justice will take a backseat to Atheism. Nor do I think vice versa. I think attacking both will be done by A+’ers to varying degrees.

  88. Tony •King of the Hellmouth• says

    A Canning:

    However, naming your new thing Atheism + ,makes it seem like you are trying to high-jack the heat that the militant anti-theists have built up.
    I don’t think this is such a great idea.
    We still need the warriors that will speak truth to power and publicly expose the clearly foolish.
    Those warriors need a clear and unambiguous rally point.

    No hi-jacking at all.
    Remember, atheists like Greta and Jen have been doing this for years already. They’re established in the movement. They didn’t come along and decide to steal atheism from the Gnu Atheists.
    Also, it’s not as if people in A+ will remain silent on issues of religious privilege. They’re still likely to stand up and shout down religion whenever it hits their radar. A+ just means that religion isn’t the *only* thing they’re going to shout down.
    Those warriors can still rally behind anyone who speaks up against the ‘clearly foolish’.
    A+ represents an opportunity for those interested in social justice *and* atheism to have their own little corner in the atheist movement. This corner has-among what I believe will be many functions-the benefit of being an atheist safe space from the hostility seen in the last year+.
    A+ wouldn’t have been necessary if there wasn’t so much pushback against ideas like “Guys, don’t do that.”

  89. Sheesh says

    Hey Steve, others,

    Here’s an example of the perception issue that is being overlooked to see a diss where none was intended.

    A conversation at work (I live in north Florida):

    “Oh you’re a Humanist? Do you volunteer? Our interfaith committee sometimes works with ya’ll.”*

    A conversation not had at work (I live in north Florida):

    “Oh you’re an Atheist? You’re fired.”

    It’s pretty straight forward! It’s pretty cool that so many of you can be out and proud and not pseudonymous on the internet. Enjoy it.

    * [Presumably at her church; no idea if local Humanists do or don't actually work with her church. I've also claimed Buddhism as cover for not attending church. See it's sort of a problem that I need cover. Oh well. Claiming Humanism is honest though, so I'm glad I can get away with it and no one knows enough to associate it with "morality free, godless heathen deserving to be drummed out by whatever means" as atheist frequently is.]

  90. says

    @Sheesh 101

    I am going to start by saying that I am a full supporter of Atheism+, and will continue to do whatever I can to further the goals of atheist visibility and social justice.

    That said,

    Here in Rhode Island, when my group, the Humanists of Rhode Island was still very young, my niece became involved in the Cranston High School West prayer banner case, and suddenly the local press and right-wing radio was screaming about the indignity of an atheist telling good Catholics when, where and how they should pray. After the death and rape threats came her way, I spoke up in the press, and became known on talk radio as “Uncle Atheist.”

    When I did interviews in the media I identified as a member of and later as President of the Humanists of Rhode Island. I never denied my atheism, and never downplayed it, but when pressed, I would always say that atheism described what I don’t believe in, whereas Humanism described what I do believe in.

    Earlier this year the FFRF challenged a cross dedicated to WWI and WWII soldiers on public land in Woonsocket. The predominantly Catholic community went predictably monkeyshit and anger was directed at the group from Wisconsin that thought it had the right to tell the good people of Woonsocket where they could place their religious symbols.

    My group and my family had nothing to do with this issue. The FFRF was responding to a complaint from a Woonsocket resident, the identity of whom is still not public knowledge. That did not prevent death threats from people on the internet (on both Craigslist and the Providence Journal comments board) and in my Gmail inbox. For too many in this state the two cases were intertwined in their heads, and it was assumed that my family was looking to stir up more trouble.

    At a press conference held by the mayor of Woonsocket to respond to the FFRF’s complaint, an older man stood up and began to complain in a way I was very used to from my time in Cranston during the raucous school board meetings held to discuss the prayer banner. The difference is that this man didn’t complain about the “goddamned atheists”: He complained about the “goddamned Humanists”.

    I know that northern Florida is not a good place to be an atheist. I know what it is like to read unbelievably vile things about your loved ones on the internet, and to fear for their safety. I know what it is like to walk into a room of over 250 people knowing that the four police officers there have been assigned to protect you, your niece and four other supporters.

    At no point did calling myself a Humanist buy me any cover, and at no point did I expect it to.

    Claiming the title “Humanist” to avoid being censured will not cut it for very much longer. Here in Rhode Island, in the minds of our opponents, atheist and Humanist are different words for the same thing. In fact, the very nature of the confrontational work we do as a group here in Rhode Island makes some people have to hide their affiliation with our group, because they fear being harassed or passed over for promotions, or becoming the victim of some other kind of prejudice.

    The distinction between atheism and humanism so popular on freethought comment boards here on the internet doesn’t apply out here in the real world of atheist/Humanist/skeptical activism. Part of the idea of these movements is to educate the population about who and what we are, and with that education the ability to hide behind technical nomenclature will vanish. Two years ago that man in Woonsocket complaining about Humanists had never heard of people like us. At least now he knows enough to hate us.

  91. Greta Christina says

    Steve Ahlquist @ #104: I don’t think anyone is claiming that using the term “humanist” instead of “atheist” always provides cover. We’re saying that it sometimes provides cover. Whether it does or not, and how much it does when it does, is going to vary, depending on region and other factors.

    It may well be that as time goes on and both humanism and atheism become more visible, “humanist” will provide less cover than it does now. Part of me fears that, as some people are finding the cover useful: part of me welcomes it, as it will mean humanism will have become more visible. As it deserves to.

    And in case I haven’t already said this: Thank you for the work you’re doing. It’s greatly appreciated.

  92. Sheesh says

    Part of the idea of these movements is to educate the population about who and what we are, and with that education the ability to hide behind technical nomenclature will vanish. Two years ago that man in Woonsocket complaining about Humanists had never heard of people like us. At least now he knows enough to hate us.

    I both love this and fear it. I love that your activism has been effective. I love that in some of these cases the fight has come to us and we have prevailed. In that sense I thank you for your service.

    I’m afraid that people that have power over my livelihood and residence might be similarly educated before their privilege can be defanged.

    And, yes, as Greta says I’m not saying my experience is universal, only that humanism doesn’t carry the baby-eating stigma that atheis does in my not above average region.

    Thanks for the responses.

  93. Jason G says

    You can’t kick the vile people out of the human race but you are still a human and can be a good one with a meaningful life. Atheist doesn’t mean one is moral and one should not expect someone to be so simply because they are. The same as someone shouldn’t expect a vegetarian to not eat meat due to ethical concerns…they could not like the taste but otherwise have no issue with killing animals. Atheist by definition is the lack of belief in a god and does not denote moral beliefs (positive or negative) so it doesn’t come to reason that one should ascribe moral beliefs to a word that by definition and by its roots have nothing to do with morals. Atheists don’t have to be moral…by definition, they just have to not believe in deities. There is already another word to describe secular progressive moral beliefs….(secular) humanism.

    It was mentioned that people don’t know what humanism is and it comes off softer than atheism. This may be but it doesn’t stop someone from being an atheist and a secular humanist (keeping your “strong” anti-theist title). Atheist + is more unknown than secular humanism so why start with something more unknown if being known was your original motive? Also, even if A+ is established, you will still be an ‘atheist’ by definition. So now you will have to explain to the public that yes, you are both an atheist and an atheist+ and hope that they will retain the difference or they may just remember the key work…atheist. I also find it peculiar that the big name atheists embracing atheist+ speak of a lack of public understanding in regards to humanism but I don’t recall a big push from those big name people for public education about it….maybe my memory fails me. Most television appearances and debates consist of defending atheism, saying atheists can be good people, and pointing to absurdities in religion. I don’t recall a concerted effort to define and explain that atheism simply means “that one does not believe in a god(s) and that it does not define ones moral beliefs but that humanism does define a general outline of beliefs and this is what humanism is…”

    Also, I fear people, not wanting to be associated with ‘atheist’, leaving the word to defend itself or giving it a bad stigma themselves from the non-theistic side will further encourage theists that they were right in their assumption that ‘atheist’ is something negative or associated with negative behaviors. I contend that we must still rally around the word ‘atheist’ regardless if some of those who benefit from that are misogynists, etc just as we humanists fight for equal social and civic rights of all people from all religions though we may not agree with their religions. Those atheists whose actions are not aligned with humanism will be irrelevant to defacing the word ‘atheist’ if everyone gets on the same page in a concerted effort to explain that atheism doesn’t define moral beliefs/behaviors any more than a person not believing that the Easter Bunny is real would define someone’s moral beliefs/behaviors.

    The atheist logo doesn’t have to go. When someone asks you if you believe in a god then you say you are an atheist. When they ask you about your morals then you can say that you’re a humanist (or secular humanist but it is implied if you’ve already stated that you’re an atheist). I’m not saying they have to use the label of humanist, I’m just saying that there is already a word for what I believe they say they believe in (I have not heard them say that they disagree with any of the principles of humanism nor define principles not already encompassed in it). Social justice, diversity, women’s rights, and evidence based reasoning are all encompassed in the Humanist Manifesto III. Also, the comments about “Humanism is also more engaged with creating secular replacements for the rituals and structures of religious communities” seems to describe Unitarians more so than any humanist community that I’ve encountered. Yes, humanists groups put on speakers, community service events, potlucks, etc for local secularists and humanists but there are no rituals of recitation/incantation as one would assume from the aforementioned description. These groups help to encourage and strengthen atheists and others who feel isolated in their communities amongst many other things and contribute very positively to the atheist movement. If an atheist is so anti-established/organized anything that they do not wish to attend or believe in the purpose for secular community building, then they don’t have to go. They can still be an atheist and still be a humanist as their is no rule requiring one to attend (not church)….but it’s peculiar gathering online and specialized meetings for A+ is somehow ok or different than local humanist gatherings.

    It is still early in the development of A+ but it will be interesting to see how they define, if they try, their social beliefs differently than secular humanism and if it is worthwhile to expend resources to this movement instead of cleaning up and re-organizing marketing/public education for the existing movements which has been done well for the non-believers but not so much for the general public in understanding the terminology.

  94. Michael Werner says

    I totally agree with Jason G. Personally I find the lack of knowledge concerning Humanism amongst many new to the movement appaling with ideas that Humanists aren’t atheists as well, or that Humanists are soft on religion. Worst is the idea you can be an atheist and spout ideas about morality and not have any idea about coming up with the foundations of a secular morality which is what Humanism has worked through for over one hundred years. Like most things today, people think they invented everything in the last 3 years. Sophmoric ideas entering our movement are undermining what many have built over many decades. Superficial atheism, atheism plus, or any other marketing model conjoined with individuals personal agenda make our movement less able to answer the big quesitons in life, how shall we live, what do we know, what is our grounding. There are deep questions that are now handled flipantly – just like the fundamentalists.

  95. 'Tis Himself says

    I’d join the secular humanists except for a few problems I have with them. I’m an atheist, an gnu atheist to be precise. Many secular humanists go out of their way to announce how they are NOT ATHEISTS. A good number of the atheistic secular humanists are accommodationists, sucking up to various theists. Many secular humanists indulge in various rituals and ceremonies which look exactly like religious ceremonies with all mention of gods carefully excised. If I wanted that I’d be a Universalist Unitarian. I won’t embarrass the Harvard Humanists by mentioning any names, but there are certain secular humanists who are trying to establish godless churches, complete with chaplains and temples.

    If the secular humanists dumped the atheist hating, stopped aping theist rituals, and didn’t try to take over the atheist/agnostic movement, then I’d consider becoming one. But since that’s about as likely to happen as ThunderfOOt apologizing for his misogyny, I think I’ll join the Atheism+ movement, where I don’t have to put up with the various parts of secular humanism I don’t care for.

  96. Michael Werner says

    Great misunderstandings. Humanists are atheists. All of us to a greater or lesser degree have rituals. Think of birthdays, fourth of July, weddings. The word accomodationist is the slur used to justify personal narrowness of secularism. Here is an article I wrote in the Humanist magazine.
    It seems we non theists go by many names such as Atheist, Secularist, Freethinker, Humanist, Secular Humanist, Rationalist, Agnostic, and so on as if these differences actually mean something. I have heard some imply that there is some sort of ideological difference between these as if a label automatically locks one into a specific category. I find this rather curious as labeling any human activity into a single label box is rather at odds with the inherent randomness of human behavior. I suspect these names are sometimes used as a marketing tool rather than as having any real inherent meaning.
    Still, these names do point toward certain proclivities such as Agnostics who tend to temper their surety, Rationalists tend to focus on rational foundations for living, Freethinkers tend to focus on the pernicious aspects of religion and Humanists tend to focus on the whole life stance that a naturalistic life demands.
    The genius of Humanism is that it is a blend of the best of both the Enlightenment and the Romantic movements creating a lifestance of both heart and mind, reason and compassion. It seeks to use all the human tools we have available for creating a secular life. I tend to call myself a Humanist without any adjectives although I will and have in certain contexts call myself any of the aforementioned names. Generally though, I want to be known not by what I don’t believe, but what I do believe. I don’t want to be measured by someone else’s criteria, but by the positive Humanist philosophy I aspire to and the life I lead.
    We come to a non-theistic life stance in many ways. Many find Humanism by observing the rational incoherence in religion. Many of us find the horrible historical results of religion to be unacceptable. Many of us are motivated by a youthful rebellion. Many Black Humanists and Feminists say they found Humanism as a result of their search for answers to oppression. Experientialists found the aesthetics of nature and our place in it as their motivating force. Many “come-outers” bring an early anger against religion that generally, but not always matures to primarily dealing with how to live their lives as Humanists. Some of us were never religious.
    The way I see it we all exhibit all of the proclivities we see in the non-theistic movement at one time or another. We all have moments where we are more rational, and others where we are more emotional, moments where we are angry to religion and others where we are more tolerant, moments where we desire to be solitary and moments where want to be nurtured by our communities, moments where we like the ritual of celebrations, and moments were we are more skeptical. We are both/and creatures and while having certain proclivities, we are constantly changing which is why labels of any sort are inherently misleading. We are universes in ourselves.
    Regardless, our orientations do matter and people and our chapters tend to emphasize one aspect or another. Some of us concentrate on building intentional Humanist communities and others on stomping out religions intrusion into church and state. Some of us are drawn to creating a more rational society, while others on building a more caring society. I don’t consider any of the tendencies we carry as ideologies, but more like styles. It’s sort of like when we wake up in the morning and we decide if today we dress casually in jeans or we dress up or even change later in the day. In the end it really means nothing, as we all ground ourselves in a Naturalism that says this world is all and enough. The rest is just style.
    I like to see myself as a rather balanced Humanist who rejects extremes in our movement, but when I am honest with myself I know that I can flip between being a raving “Village Atheist” or the incurable romantic. I now think we need all the extremes in our movement as well as a moderate center that grounds us. We need the ardent Rationalist to keep society from descending into the never world of pseudoscientific nonsense and we need the artist and healers to illuminate how to live our humanism. We need those that confront religious abuses directly and those that show us how to heal our relationships with the communities at large. We need those who study the intellectual underpinnings of a secular life, and those who show us by example what a lived humanism looks like. We all have work to do.
    We need all the styles of humanism and individually we should not be afraid to wear different style “clothes” some of which initially may not fit us well, but may lead to a more encompassing, more tolerant, more generous and, more important, a more enlightened humanism so that we can indeed be an evolving tradition that evokes the best in us. There are indeed some bad ways to do Humanism, but is no one “right way” to do Humanism.

  97. Simon says

    ‘Tis Himself 117 you are repeating multiple things that are demonstrably factually inaccurate. I know you comment elsewhere on FTB so I find it hard to believe you wouldn’t have seen the fact that they have been shown to be false. I would really urge Greta to be very careful in allowing comments from you at least on this topic:

    Many secular humanists go out of their way to announce how they are NOT ATHEISTS.

    And what if these unnamed individuals have? It has been explained over and over again in this thread and elsewhere that atheism is part of humanism.

    A good number of the atheistic secular humanists are accommodationists, sucking up to various theists.

    Again, unnamed individuals, but also beside the point. There are atheists who like religion. And?

    Many secular humanists indulge in various rituals and ceremonies which look exactly like religious ceremonies with all mention of gods carefully excised. If I wanted that I’d be a Universalist Unitarian.

    Which American humanist organization indulges in this behavior? The two national ones are Council for Secular Humanism (CSH) and American Humanist Association (AHA) and I am especially familiar with the former. What you are saying is a complete departure from reality.

    I won’t embarrass the Harvard Humanists by mentioning any names, but there are certain secular humanists who are trying to establish godless churches, complete with chaplains and temples.

    Ah, now were are getting somewhere. Only this is a complete falsehood as well. Something James Croft from Harvard Humanists has repeatedly denied both on his blog as well as Pharyngula and everywhere else that he’s had to deal with persistent falsehoods being repeated regarding humanism and his own organization.

    If the secular humanists dumped the atheist hating, stopped aping theist rituals, and didn’t try to take over the atheist/agnostic movement, then I’d consider becoming one.

    Again, examples? Does the fact that both CFI (umbrella group for CSH) and AHA sponsored (ie donated significant resources) to this years Reason Rally constitute “atheist hating”? How does the fact that Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens wrote for CSH’s magazine Free Inquiry fit in to this false narrative?

  98. 'Tis Himself says

    Simon #119

    ‘Tis Himself 117 you are repeating multiple things that are demonstrably factually inaccurate.

    Unfortunately for your pretense, I’m reporting on things I have personally seen and heard. Your particular vision of secular humanism may be free of the defects I’ve personally seen and heard, but not all of secular humanism is as pure as yours. Sorry if reality doesn’t match your wishful thinking.

    Perhaps you missed my qualified comments, things like “many secular humanists”, “a good number”, “certain secular humanists”. These sorts of qualifications mean that not all secular humanists indulge in the behaviors I dislike. However, enough secular humanists do play silly games that I don’t want to join your club. I’ll be part of Atheism+ which doesn’t suffer from the faults I’ve personally seen and heard in regards to secular humanism.

    I want to comment specifically on one thing:

    Only this is a complete falsehood as well. Something James Croft from Harvard Humanists has repeatedly denied both on his blog as well as Pharyngula and everywhere else that he’s had to deal with persistent falsehoods being repeated regarding humanism and his own organization.

    I’ve read Croft’s claims. I’ve even read his attempt to handwave away his boss’s title “Humanist Chaplain” at his blog Temple of the Future. Please don’t try to bullshit past “Chaplain” and “Temple” by pretending those aren’t religious. I haven’t insulted your intelligence, please don’t insult mine.

  99. Michael Werner says

    The test of a “real” atheist is not what words they use to describe themself. It isn’t whether they use language that has been used in religious settings. It isn’t whether they want to build an intentional community of nonbelievers. It isn’t whether they use the word chaplain to describe what they do in community service to seculars. If someone chooses to use language I am not comfortable with,that is their issue. If someones “style” is not to your liking, that is your issue with irrational close mindedness. We need to get over our own narrowness of style. In our group we have fully tatooed experiential “punks” who get along great with our 80 year old prim an proper Englishman rationalists. Our most hardened atheists are the ones who got into a Humanist revivel meeting we had – all tongue in cheek of course. We all need each other and I urge you to be a little more open minded in accepting others. Yours isn’t the only way to live the good secular life. Madelyn Murry Ohare isn’t the only role model to follow. We can all learn from each other.

  100. Simon says

    Your particular vision of secular humanism may be free of the defects I’ve personally seen and heard, but not all of secular humanism is as pure as yours.

    I have plenty of real life experience. I organize events both locally and nationally for atheists, skeptics, humanists, etc. I have a member of my group who refers to himself as a ‘Christian Atheist’. Joe Nickell by his own admission is a ‘religious non-believer’. Does not mean religiosity is a part of atheism.

    re: silly games, every group has its characters. I’ve read about a decent sized atheist group in a big city that has kicked out multiple members for “not being atheist enough”.

    All that said I’ll call myself an atheist because I agree with the underlying concept.

    I’ve read Croft’s claims. I’ve even read his attempt to handwave away his boss’s title “Humanist Chaplain” at his blog Temple of the Future. Please don’t try to bullshit past “Chaplain” and “Temple” by pretending those aren’t religious. I haven’t insulted your intelligence, please don’t insult mine.

    ‘Temple of the Future’ is from Robert Ingersoll, who was no friend of religion to say the least. As for ‘chaplaincy’, my understanding is they no longer use the term anywhere on their site (except facebook since renaming a page is not possible after a certain point) and have even filed paperwork for a legal name change of their 501(c)(3) to Harvard Humanist Community.

  101. says

    So, the choice to use the name atheism as part of your name feels like co-opting an existing movement to achieve a particular and largely unrelated set of goals. In theory I agree with most of your goals (I am not a feminist, because I feel that, like you apparently do with atheism, that term has acquired a great deal of baggage, not because I don’t believe in women’s equality).

    At this point I would have trouble identifying with your movement because of this. Had you chosen a different, and less confusing, name for it I might have been willing to join in – I am a secular humanist, opposed to transphobia, misogyny, misandry (yes, it’s a thing… I have a lot of life experience and statistical data to back that up), homophobia, and really any other set of values that exclude people. You however chose a name that has an associated meaning included in it. You really set up a situation where a bunch of controversy was inevitable, and you did it in such a way that it will conflate your movement with another movement with pretty much 100% certainty. Kind of a jerk move really.

  102. john ingerast says

    I believe antitheist is a better word in this case. Not believing there exist any gods does not automatically make anyone anti religion. To believe so is wrong, and to act accordingly is to try and redefine what atheism is.

    So the term humanist does not sufficiently exclude religion or sufficiently exclude coexistence. Neither do atheist.

    Atheism does not include anti religion! Atheism just mean “don’t believe”. Many dogs like to fetch sticks, but fetching sticks is not included in the definition of dog. It is possible to be a dog and also be against fetching sticks. Some atheists are pro religion. Yes they are a minority, but that does not make them any less atheist.

    Antitheism on the other hand is anti religion.

    If Atheism+ is neutral to religion then the name is right. Otherwise it’s not only humanism they’ve misunderstood.

  103. Michael Werner says

    If you are an antithiest the question then arises about what you are for? If you are an atheist + what grounds your beliefs? Humanism is a whole integrated naturalistic world view that gives grounding for our values, how we gain knowledge, how to live our lives. It gives grounding on why we should all be not just Feminists, but concerned about the inhernet worth and dignity of all people. All of it has to work together in a whole life stance in what the philosopher W.V.O. Quine calls a web of belief.

  104. john ingerast says

    An antitheist is for a world without religion.

    An atheist is neither for or against anything.

  105. Joseph Mitchell says

    Christian Humanism is humanism. It is humanism that does not leave God out of the curriculam. This is sort of the idea behind these small private liberal arts Christian schools. Both Secular and Christian Humanism extend from Classical Humanism from the Ancient Greco-Roman world, which saw a revival during the Rennaissonce. Classical Humanism is what it is, what it is about, where it came from. I am now a Secular Humanist, but it is rooted in Classical Humanism, that is where it came from. Christian Humanists are also grounded in that, they just filter it and Christianize it.

  106. Michael Werner says

    If: “An antitheist is for a world without religion.

    An atheist is neither for or against anything.”

    Do you not see how illogical that statement is?

  107. john ingerast says

    @Werner

    Why and in what way is this illogical?

    I’d like to remind you that whether you’re an antitheist, atheist, theist or what ever, that is only one of many sides of you. Like for example, the definition of democrat does not say anything about if you’re pro religion or not.

    If you do not believe that pink unicorns exist, that does not make you for or against anything. It’s even possible for someone who doesn’t believe that pink unicorns exist to be pro the belief that pink unicorns exist.

    To not believe “one thing” means just that and nothing more. From not believing this “one thing” “other” thoughts, feelings and actions may come, but the “one thing” that leads to an “other” is still the “one thing” and only that. And the “other thing” is still the “other thing” and nothing more.

    So to conclude: We are many things and the one thing is not the other thing and the other thing is note the one thing.

  108. says

    I have quite a few comments about this post, having thought a lot about it and read others’ posts on the same topic. I wrote my own blog entry with my responses:

    To sum up here, I think “Atheism+” and “Secular Humanism” are different views of the same basic world view. Each has their advantages and disadvantages, and each is useful in particular situations and not useful in others. The wisdom is knowing when to use one term over the other. Some people would respond positively to one and negatively to the other. It does no one any benefit to use a term which conveys unfavorable meaning to listener.

  109. Johnnis says

    “Like it or not, the reality is that “atheism” is generally perceived as being more confrontational. More defiant. More in-your-face. More about visibility. More actively opposed to religion. More actively engaged in trying to persuade religious believers out of it.”

    Greta Christina acknowledges that the reality and the truth about atheism is currently dissonant, and this dissonant atheism is something she wishes to capitalize on. Greta Christina want “Atheism+” to be in-your-face. She wants to take advantage of peoples prejudice in order to have “Atheism+” to be perceived as being in-your-face, she wants to be visible, she wants to be seen. In her own words: “That grabs attention, gets people talking.”

    “As many others have pointed out, there is tremendous bigotry and discrimination against atheists. In many parts of the U.S. and the world, atheists are rejected, abused, and reviled — and coming out as atheist, proudly claiming the word, is a way to stand with these people, to make things easier for them, to help create a snowball effect and make it easier for other atheists to come out.”

    Greta Christina’s intentions are good. The harm she does is not intentionally done, in fact, quite ironic, her goal is the opposite of the result of her work.

    But how is it that she don’t see that spreading misinformation is harming those she want to help, those who happen to not believe in any god? I dare to say that the main reason atheists are rejected, abused, and reviled is because of the prejudice people have.

    Many people are ill informed about what an atheist are, there many misconceptions people have. One of them is that being an atheist makes you against “G”od and religion, that being an atheist makes you a confrontational defiant in-your-face antitheist. And this prejudice is something Greta Christina wishes to nourish.

  110. Michael Werner says

    I think we need all styles of secular life, but I am concerned that the role model for many is Madelyn Murry OHare, and that is a really bad one. She was a total asshole to everyone from all reports. One can be confrontational without being a total jerk. Many in our movement rationalize thier poor behavior with here as a role model. I’ll send an essay tht appeared in the Humanist magazine.

  111. Michael Werner says

    HUMANISM 101

    Tending the Humanist Garden
    by Michael Werner

    When I stopped believing in God, like so many “come-outer” atheists who feel confident and even smug in their reasoning, I was ready to do battle with anyone on matters of religion. Even so, after these debates I always felt a little dirty knowing that my arrogance in trying to humiliate others wasn’t right. More important, I knew that I hadn’t won any hearts with my rude methods. People judge your philosophy in a matter of seconds, not by rational arguments, but by your character. I still struggle to embace Emerson’s observation, “Who you are speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say”.

    Something else concerned me. While I criticized religion’s grounding on a man-made book, authoritarian control, or personal revelatory faith, I began to see that I myself had little grounding for the big questions in life. I arrogantly thought that knowing one truth, that there is no God, was all I needed.

    Embarrassment over my own hypocrisy drove me to a life-long search for what is true and how we should conduct ourselves. It hasn’t been easy to get beyond some of the shallow answers, such as “knowledge is based on the evidence” or “just be good.” It’s even more difficult to find that our foundational answers that we know now are layered, nuanced, interactive, and strikingly ambiguous at times (and too long to discuss in this column). I eventually found satisfactory answers to most of my questions in humanism.

    Humanism speaks to my whole secular lifestance and worldview seeking the good life and good society.

    Many people coming out of religion go through the angry “come-outer” stage and, like me, move on to a more reflective, encompassing humanism. But many do not. It’s certainly understandable that as a marginalized, oppressed segment of society, we will attract those whose frustrations boil over. This is a problem when personal emotional wounds, not even related to our nontheism, can result in attracting toxic personalities that can paralyze any activist organization. I’ve seen them destroy the functioning of boards and chapters where the vast majority are sound personalities . Some call it the “angry old white man” syndrome and an indiscriminate toleration can allow it to fester.

    As with all things in life, nurturing a community of humanists is a balancing act. We want to love and support people in their quest and passions in promoting a secular life, but we can’t let a few emotionally crippled individuals destroy our efforts as each group has a “carrying capacity.” Studies have shown that the groups that succeed best are those where there is mutual trust among members. Our interpersonal skills, our skills at building supportive intelligence, as well as critical intelligence must be developed and encouraged if humanists are to flourish as a movement and community.

    A deep humanism digs down below the surface of our nontheism into the soil of our philosophy. It asks, as Socrates suggested, the big questions of life such as what is truth, how shall we live, and what do we hope for and is never satisfied with simplistic answers. It looks inward as well as outward asking if we have our own house in order before marching off to do battle with the religious right. It asks if our own hearts are true and our own lives exemplary before asking others to join us.

    The early founders of humanism placed a lot more emphasis on individual character than we do today. They knew that self righteously proclaiming errors in the Bible, the irrationality of belief in God, and railing against church-state entanglements are only part of our duties. We must also define what the good secular life entails. The American Humanist Association has rightly moved to be more activist in recent years, but I hope we never forget to hold the mirror up to our lives, our own meanings, and our own actions, and reflect who we aspire to be.

  112. says

    You say, “The plus signals simultaneously inclusiveness” – in what way is this true? In other posts, you are focused clearly on all those who should NOT be included in your “atheist movement”. Choosing different people to include (even if they are less popular) while still excluding many others is not inclusive, it is just a different kind of exclusivity. You want to pick and choose the “good” people for your movement just as religions do. Those that accept your premises are the “good” people and the rest are not allowed into your club. If you change the name of this new religion of yours I will support it. But, as long as you try to drag the name “Atheism” into the muck of politics and social issues, trying to define right and wrong for others, I will fight it. Much of what you stand for, I agree with, but it has nothing to with atheism. It is hard enough to be an atheist without this extraneous politicization making it even harder. Call yourself, “Nice Amiable Godless Simians (NAGS) or Rationalists with a Moral Agenda, or ANYTHING but atheists – please!

  113. brekerr says

    I must say I am greatly disturbed by the fact that despite fact that people are aware of the inaccuracies about what is beng said about humanism by the Atheism+ community (one element of which is recognised in this article). These errors are still being repeated and the error corrected in this article is still not correct on the official Atheism+ FAQ. It seems a little disingenuous.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Greta Christina argues that atheism+ is a better term to use than humanism because “atheist” and “atheism” are better known terms and invoke more energy in supporters. This is not a great defense for why people should be labeled one thing instead of another. [...]

  2. [...] Greta Christina says: Humanism is also more engaged with creating secular replacements for the rituals and structures of religious communities… and while many atheists are cool with this idea and are even engaged with it themselves, there are many other atheists who are profoundly turned off by it… [...]

  3. [...] “The atheist movement already exists. It is powerful. It is a name and an identity that many people feel strongly about. It is a name and an identity that many people have done extraordinary things done for. Many of us have grown to love it. We see value in it, and we don’t want to abandon it. We want to form a subset of it that makes it better: a subset that is specifically devoted to making atheism more welcoming to women, people of color, poor people, working class people, trans people, and other marginalized groups, and that is specifically devoted to doing work in the places where atheism and other social justice issues intersect.” Humanism Is Great – But It’s Not Atheism Plus – Greta Christina’s Blog [...]

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