Hitchens’ last eloquent gasp »« I’m in good company

Secular Humanists are not and should not be religious

It is so revealing that James Croft is offended that some atheists have the impression that secular humanism is a religious idea.

In the ongoing discussions around Atheism+ and its relationship with Humanism one issue crops up again and again: the perception that Humanists – at least some Humanists – have an attitude toward religion which the atheists who are excited by Atheism+ do not share. This is often expressed as a reason why a given blogger does not identify as a Humanist, or why they prefer the Atheism+ label to Humanism.

He quotes me. My comments were specifically directed at the Harvard Humanists, not secular humanism — I identify as a secular humanist myself, and there ain’t one germ of religious feeling anywhere in my body. This is another thing that pisses me off about the Harvard Humanists: they no more represent the entirety of humanism than I do the entirety of atheism, but they so easily assume that they do.

For the record, I have no disagreement at all with way most humanists address religion; the major organizations, like the American Humanists and the British Humanist Association, are just fine and dandy, and just as godless as I am. But some do take an awfully admiring view of religion, and unfortunately, they’re the same ones who think they are the be-all and end-all of secular humanism.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m not leaping on the A+ bandwagon just yet; I’m still hearing too many echoes of the “Bright” fiasco in my ear.

    But I will state that the reason I haven’t had anything to do with Humanists is the exact same reason I haven’t had anything to do with Unitarians. Both groups are basically atheistic (at least in practice in the significant majority), and I’m closely aligned with both on matters of social issues.

    But I’m just not one for the church-style social scene and associated trappings. Not that I have anything against it; indeed, what experiences I’ve had have been pleasant enough. But I could say as much about bowling, and I haven’t set foot inside a bowling alley more than a few times in my life…so why should I somehow feel guilty about not being an Unitarian or an Humanist when I don’t feel guilty about joining the local bowling league?

    Cheers,

    b&

  2. says

    I would like to point out that, in every quote you presented, the comment is regarding perception. The Humanists are perceived in those ways. Seems to me that somewhere there is a breakdown of message if so many humanists (little h, of which I count myself one) have this perception.

    Also, i think it important to point out that the conflict between Atheism+ and Humanism was initially brought up by many many people telling us we can’t/shouldn’t support Atheism+ because the Humanists were already doing what we are trying to do. I, for one, am capable of being/supporting both. Apparently, some others are not.

    Just posted this over there. Awaiting moderation.

  3. says

    Yeah, I don’t think of Atheism+ as an exclusive club: being an atheist+ does not mean you can’t also be a humanist or a skeptic or a third-waver or a feminist. People who fail to see the possibility of some fluency in multiple labels are guilty of binary thinking.

  4. Randide, O che sciagὺra d'essere scenza coglioni! says

    People who fail to see the possibility of some fluency in multiple labels are guilty of binary thinking.

    Or are they possibly guilty of seeing that they might not be the One True Path To Salvation Enlightenment after all?

  5. Stevarious says

    James Croft puts me off whatever brand of atheism he’s selling before the page even finishes loading.

    “Temple of the Future.”

    I was raised in a highly religious family in a highly religious part of the country. To me, the word ‘temple’ is inextricably linked with it’s primary definition: ‘place of worship’. Always has, probably always will be.

    I’m sure, somewhere on that page, is a detailed explanation about how he’s really not using the word improperly and one of the lesser definitions is ‘gathering place where people have fellowship’ or whatever but I really just can’t get past it. Temples are where you go to worship. That’s what the word is for. Picking a name for your site where you’re already – from the first word – furiously defending yourself against charges of ‘atheism is just another religion’ and ‘what exactly are you worshiping here at this temple?’ does not strike me as a useful tactic. It doesn’t matter what YOU have decided ‘temple’ means – to nearly everyone else, the words ‘temple’ and ‘worship’ are strongly linked.

    Also, from the logo, it looks like they are worshiping the sun.

    Its fine if that’s what they want to do. More power to them. But I can’t see me attaching myself to an organization so seemingly blind to the connotations of the words and images that they use to describe themselves.

  6. F says

    Is everyone bored silly yet with all the stupid claims, misperceptions, and questions about atheism plus yet? By next week, I will have to consider anyone still going on about it intellectually dishonest.

    It seems like half of the issue is people reacting to what some anti-a+ person said, rather than the original material from Jen and others involved. The other half seems to be people making statements or asking questions which really make no sense at all. And I don’t mean just people on the troll spectrum. It’s downright baffling.

  7. F says

    Stevarious

    Why say atheism plus when humanism is already doing the same thing? → Why use term x when “temple already has it covered?

    There’s the argument for temple. (I didn’t say it was any good.)

  8. whheydt says

    When it comes to the Harvard group…. Remember light bulb jokes?

    Q: How many Harvard graduates does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    A: Only one. He holds the bulb up and the world revolves around him.

    –W. H. Heydt

  9. Loqi says

    @Stevarious
    I had the same reaction. I checked the link, saw the URL, and decided not to click it. Unfortunately, that means I haven’t read Croft’s piece and thus have to bow out of any further discussion.

  10. says

    Somethings it seems like… how do I put this politely? It seems like some people can’t relate to the world and other people unless it holds a specific shape and their place in it is firmly established, in Croft’s case preferably towards the top. I certainly feel like some people feel more comfortable standing behind a podium talking down to a quiet audience, rather than sitting at a table talking with people who talk back and disagree. And it is clear that there are other people who prefer to be quiet and be giving their marching orders from a person talking down to them from a higher position.

    It wouldn’t matter to me, someone’s preferences are rarely my concern, except that I feel like they keep trying to impose that framing on the rest of us. I’m not stupid enough to pretend that I’m being censored or DEEEEEP RIFTS! or whatever, but it IS a little annoying.

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    I hope the proposed Hahvahd Humanist Temple will be built in the form of a giant cupcake.

  12. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    But if my critics would just come to my temple and talk to our chaplains, then I am sure they would realize that we don’t have a problem with religious accommodationism.

  13. says

    Maybe we should move. Salon posted an article about the eight best countries in which to be an atheist.

    Partial list:

    Czech Republic: 21% religious, rates high on the U.N.’s Human Development Report.

    Sweden and Denmark:

    When non-belief or even outright atheism is widespread, atheists can go about their lives free from the fear that their lack of belief will cause people to mistrust, hate, or even discriminate against them. These two countries, in which only 17% and 18%, respectively, of the population consider religion important, have become icons of secularist values to the rest of the world…

    Austria:

    In an effort to satirize Austria’s allowance of religious headgear in driver’s license photos, Niko Alm applied for the right to be photographed with a pasta strainer on his head, which he claimed was the official headgear of the Pastafarian faith….

    France

    Norway

  14. Dick the Damned says

    I guess i’m just gonna have to start a new group: The Antitheists.

    Members will be permitted to call themselves Humanists, Brights, Secularists, Atheists, & Atheists+ as well. But they’ve really gotta despise religion in all its nefarious guises.

    (Maybe nefarious isn’t quite the right word, but you know what i mean.)

  15. jflcroft says

    Errrr, nothing you wrote addressed anything I posted. Do you intend to read my post at any time?

  16. jflcroft says

    I don’t think that is a fair characterization of my reply, and I refuse to release private email correspondence to demonstrate it. That’s a very shady tactic.

    To the other commenters: I don’t see a single response to the questions I pose in my post. One recurring characteristic at Pharyngula is that PZ will post a link to something one of the HCH staff has written, completely misrepresenting it. Others will then pile in without engaging with the actual post. And after a while a total fantasy has been created which bears no relationship to the truth. I’d like to think this is due to honest error, but the frequency with which it happens speaks to malice.

  17. Randide, O che sciagὺra d'essere scenza coglioni! says

    Mr. Croft,

    Do you think that giving Seth McFarlane the Harvard Humanist of the Year Award was sending the right message?

    Thank you for your time.

  18. chigau (違う) says

    One recurring characteristic at Pharyngula is that PZ will post a link to something one of the HCH staff has written, completely misrepresenting it.

    Huh.
    I’ve never noticed that.

  19. Sastra says

    I read James Croft’s article, and am a little confused. I don’t think he quite addressed the point, for one thing. The argument from the gnus/A+ side is that humanism, as an ideology and group, contains many people who, while sharing basic beliefs, are more accomodating to religion than the A+gnus. His response seems to be that hey, we share the basic beliefs — so what’s the difference?

    Well, it seems to me that the quotes did a pretty good job answering that very question.

    Also, Flynn in comments there made the point I was going to make: the term “humanism” is a very broad term and would in fact actually include a lot of explicitly religious people, as well as those folks who consider humanism a religion. Secular humanism would not, no – but some secular humanists are accomodationists and some are not. “Humanism” and even “secular humanism” are mega-terms.

    So that’s why Croft’s position here seems confusing. It’s a bit like asking Lutherans why they don’t consider themselves Christians, or Protestant Christians, and have to make a whole new and different category. A+gnuism (or whatever you call it) isn’t a new and different category: it’s a subset.

  20. jflcroft says

    Sastra:

    I think your cement is a useful clarification and exactly the sort of response I was hoping for. Do you think that the positions I’ve outlined represent a more accommodating view of religion to how you view A+? And if so, how?

  21. says

    I’m so tired of the way that PZ turns every discussion into a personal attack or a defensive response.

    James Croft wrote a thoughtful article that warrants discussion. Instead of dealing with the ideas and values addressed we get another typical PZ rant.

    “James Croft is offended that some atheists have the impression that secular humanism is a religious idea.”

    No where in his post does Croft sound “offended”. He presents some valuable ideas that warrant exploration regardless of where you stand on the atheism+/humanism spectrum.

    Do we have to do this again?

  22. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    He presents some valuable ideas that warrant exploration regardless of where you stand on the atheism+/humanism spectrum.

    Do we have to do this again?

    No, the first time was enough to dismiss Croft’s ideas. We don’t need a repeat, which they probably are. “Valuable” is in the eye of the beholder, relative, not absolute.

  23. infraredeyes says

    From the article:

    Humanists believe that people can derive experiences of real value from religious communities

    This statement is completely unqualified, too. I certainly consider myself a humanist, but I am much more uneasy about religion than this quote allows (to put it mildly).

    And really, “Temple of the Future”? Are you reinventing freemasonry here or what? A name like that suggests very strongly that an attempt is being made to line up alongside existing religions and say “Me too!” Now, there probably is a case to be made for the idea that humanism should aspire to the same level of moral authority as religion. I am too suspicious of the whole concept of moral authority to buy it, but that’s me. Still, I would take the Harvard Humanist enterprise more seriously if they just came right out and said it: “Religion without God”, “Faith with all the nasty bits removed”, something along those lines. Honestly, that’s how the article reads to me. It is accommodationist, and I think James Croft would be better off admitting that.

  24. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Like it or not, James, the HCH has a perception problem with a lot of people. I understand that it’s frustrating to repeat that you don’t mean “chaplain” and “temple” in “religious” ways only to have the perception stick. But that’s just how things are. You can’t will people into not associating these words with the concepts they denote in ordinary language. Being frustrated about it is pointless.

    And really, you all are having a very hard time demonstrating that some facets of your project are substantively different from their religious counterparts. Yes, we know you don’t believe in gods or the supernatural. Stipulated. You don’t need to repeat that. But that’s not enough for a lot of people.

    They object not only to the terminology but also to the content of things like a chaplaincy. Yes, some of it is just knee-jerk association that the objector really should get over. It’s like people screaming about how awful it is to “prosyletize” simply because they associate the activity with harmful religious content. The fact is we all “prosyletize” on one thing or another: Politics, art, etc.

    But it’s not all just reflexive objections to terminology. The concept of the humanist chaplaincy bothers some people because it seems less like a desire to be a counselor and more like a desire to be. . .well, the Expert Leader Man To Whom One Defers. That perception is further fueled by the conspicuously stuffy and self-important way HCH often presents itself. Example:

    “Imagine them led by gifted individuals who have been trained as experts in Humanist thought and best practices, using collaboratively developed how-to road maps for developing such centers.”

    I remarked on this back in May (trigger warning: snark):

    Humanist “experts” who know “best practices?” Puke-tastical. This is bog standard vanity as may be found in any circle of people devoted to elevating their image. Businesspeople, priests, academics—they all do it. We’re witnessing the birth of a New Professional Class self-consciously creating a culture of Learnedness and Expertise complete with its own twee lexicon and idiosyncratic capitalization.

    I don’t see any way to solve this unless the HCH either:

    a. Purges itself of the self-regard, narcissism, and corporate cargo cult bullshit and adopts a less preening stance

    b. Admits—instead of accusing people who notice it of being mean—that it does think very highly of itself, thank you very much, and ceases to be concerned about people who are turned off by that.

  25. says

    b. Admits—instead of accusing people who notice it of being mean—that it does think very highly of itself, thank you very much, and ceases to be concerned about people who are turned off by that.

    … I don’t have a problem with that. It has the benefit of being honest, for one thing. For another, it is something that most of us do anyways. I really get annoyed by the whole “we want to be all-inclusive” when they really mean “we’d like you all to change for that we’ll be comfortable having you around.”

  26. Erista (aka Eris) says

    I told my mother about how some people were trying to raise money for an “atheist temple” idea, and she (also an atheist) asked me what the heck one might DO in an “atheist temple.”

    After brainstorming for a while, we decided on a wonderful model for an “atheist temple” that atheists could raise money to build. It could be a place where people could go to read, relax, engage in quiet contemplation, and be assisted in navigating the “temple” by people who were trained in this endeavor. It might also have some rooms set aside for small group meetings and discussions. Events for both children and adults might also be arranged to benefit all. Any and all who wished to come and take part in these things.

    Some of you might already be familiar with this “temple” model: it is more commonly referred to as a “public library,” and I must admit that I prefer the second, more common name. Nevertheless, if a group of atheists came together to raise the money to build such a place, I would not spend too much time fussing about whatever they decided to name it.

  27. KG says

    I think the difference between Atheism+ and HCH-Humanism is quite clear: the former is anti-religious, the latter is not. This difference would issue in attitudes to collaborating with religious organizations, in willingness to call “holy books” what they are – fairy stories with a great deal of absolutely vile content, a willingness to call out “liberal” religious people (particularly leaders) for their enabling of the fundamentalists, etc.

  28. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Just so, Joe. It’s perfectly fine to be self-regarding and only interested in one’s own circle. No one has to like it but no one is forced to be a part of it.

    It’s the unending whining about awful it is that other people notice it that’s so irksome.

  29. jflcroft says

    I’m currently tabling for our graduate group but I am reading the comments and will respond when I have a moment. I actually have a lot of sympathy for some of the points made here: for instance it is very clear that the title of my blog is a major turnoff for some people. I’ll get back to you when I can!

  30. joed says

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_humanism

    The meaning of the phrase “secular humanism” has evolved over time. The phrase has been used since at least the 1930s,[4] and in 1943, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, was reported as warning that the “Christian tradition… was in danger of being undermined by a “Secular Humanism” which hoped to retain Christian values without Christian faith.”[5] During the 1960s and 1970s the term was embraced by some humanists who considered themselves anti-religious,[6] as well as those who, although not critical of religion in its various guises, preferred a non-religious approach.[7] The release in 1980 of A Secular Humanist Declaration by the newly formed Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism (CODESH, now the Council for Secular Humanism) gave secular humanism an organisational identity within the United States.

  31. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    The concept of the humanist chaplaincy bothers some people because it seems less like a desire to be a counselor and more like a desire to be. . .well, the Expert Leader Man To Whom One Defers. That perception is further fueled by the conspicuously stuffy and self-important way HCH often presents itself.

    Quoted For Fucking Truth.

  32. joed says

    http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/w_k_clifford/ethics_of_belief.html

    “To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”
    If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it–the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.

    If this judgment seems harsh when applied to those simple souls who have never known better, who have been brought up from the cradle with a horror of doubt, and taught that their eternal welfare depends on what they believe, then it leads to the very serious question, Who hath made Israel to sin?

  33. Ogvorbis: broken says

    The word chaplain is not restricted to theistic worldviews.

    So if I walked into a busy area this evening and asked the first 100 people I met, “What is a chaplain?” how many non- or omni-theist responses would I get? As we have seen again and again, the way a word is percieved by those hearing/reading it may not be what is meant. English is a huge language that is growing every day in its vocabulary. Surely we can find another term, one that does not hit the overwhelming majority with religious connotations?

  34. says

    Yeah Josh. Because I’m happy for Croft & Co. to create whatever clubs they want to create, however they want to create it. They need to understand that not everyone wants to be in their club, and that if their club leaves out people who don’t like their club, that’s actually no great fucking loss. We don’t have to misunderstand them to not want to be a part of them… and vice-versa!

    I like the whole A+ thing, but I’m just flabbergasted at the people who want no part in it but also can’t STFU about it. Why isn’t it enough to have your thing, without insisting that everyone else’s thing is invalid?

  35. says

    The only good atheist chaplain is a dead military atheist chaplain. At least when I was in the Marines, you could either talk to a chaplain or a mental health professional. To get to talk to a mental health professional you’d have to go through the medical aid personnel attached to your unit first and then get a referral, and have all that in your medical record. You could just slip a note to the chaplain and get all the discretion possible under the circumstances. An atheist chaplain gives you the same discretion without the potential sales pitch.

    So the idea isn’t completely bad, but I think the real practical uses are limited.

  36. says

    While it may not be the intention of PZ, I feel that his words act to divide A+ and Humanism into “Us” and “Them” groups. This may not be his intention, but I feel that this is the action that his words are performing.

  37. Randide, O che sciagὺra d'essere scenza coglioni! says

    The word chaplain is not restricted to theistic worldviews.

    Odd..

    And it’s important to know precisely what we mean by the word God, because the more a word can mean anything we want, the more it means absolutely nothing.*

    *Epstein was spot on here. Oddly enough, it works just as well for temple or chaplain

  38. Ogvorbis: broken says

    Okay, so should we hold the definition of atheism up to the “if I ask 100 random people on the street” test?

    Sure, if you want to. Right now, here in the US, you would get a whole shitload of negative views. No matter what athiesm actually is, the propaganda has created, in the mind of a vast majority of the public, an extremely negative perception. Just as the relentless association of chaplain with religion (and I am speaking of the US as that is my base of knowledge (yeah, typical ignorant American here)) has created, in the mind of a vast majority of the public, an extremely religious perception. Whether or not you view atheism as a positive or a negative does not really do a whole lot to change the view of the ‘person-in-the-street.’ To claim that, because the Dutch have secular chaplains, I can use the term chaplain and everyone will assume I am using the secular form strikes me as wishful thinking.

    Intent is not magic. I am an athiest and I intend to make the world a better place for my children and grandchildren and everyone else who will be here. That is my intent. The perception of a theist will probably be completely different.

  39. says

    While it may not be the intention of PZ, I feel that his words act to divide A+ and Humanism into “Us” and “Them” groups.

    Only if you equate “humanist” with “Harvard Humanists”.

    I don’t.

  40. KG says

    Yes, we know you don’t believe in gods or the supernatural. Stipulated. You don’t need to repeat that. But that’s not enough for a lot of people. – Josh, OSG

    It’s also worth noting that there are naturalist versions of Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity; also that guy we’ve had commenting here (name escapes me) who calls himself a “religious naturalist”.

  41. Waffler, of the Waffler Institute says

    Do you think that the positions I’ve outlined represent a more accommodating view of religion to how you view A+? And if so, how?

    Yes. This statement “Humanists believe that people can derive experiences of real value from religious communities” is too accommodating to religion. I would amend it as follows: “Humanists believe that people can derive experiences of real value from communities. If the community is organized around religion, that value is undermined, but *possibly* not completely eliminated.”

    Your construction implies that we ought to be looking at religious communities for inspiration on how to provide experiences from which people “derive value”. I don’t think we should, because we will wind up importing unnecessary practices that waste human effort, or harmful practices that perpetuate privilege and authoritarian behavior.

    Instead, we should look to sociology and psychology to understand how humans “derive value” from communities, and use that information to help improve our community.

  42. birdterrifier says

    Improbable Joe

    It seems like some people can’t relate to the world and other people unless it holds a specific shape and their place in it is firmly established, in Croft’s case preferably towards the top. I certainly feel like some people feel more comfortable standing behind a podium talking down to a quiet audience, rather than sitting at a table talking with people who talk back and disagree.

    If you’re going to ignore his post entirely and instead focus on his character then you should at least know something about the person. I met James Croft at a convention that he was going to speak at because we disagreed via twitter on the convention’s hashtag. Croft then joined our atheist group for lunch and everyone went back and forth with him disagreeing and agreeing on all different topics. And in case you were worried that he might use his stature back east to win us over, he never once delighted us with stories from Harvard so that we could be ever more enamored with his eminence.

    You all act like Croft shouldn’t have an opinion on the relationship between A+ and humanism but I would say that’s his job.

  43. 'Tis Himself says

    If you ask 100 random people for a definition of atheist I sincerely doubt you will get any references to “atheist chaplains.”

  44. says

    birdterrifier

    You all act like Croft shouldn’t have an opinion on the relationship between A+ and humanism but I would say that’s his job.

    Really? Because I didn’t vote for him, and your phrasing seems to imply that his “professional” opinion should carry some sort of special precious weight.

  45. 'Tis Himself says

    You all act like Croft shouldn’t have an opinion on the relationship between A+ and humanism but I would say that’s his job.

    I suspect Croft has a definite opinion on the relationship between Atheism+ and his particular sect of humanism. I firmly believe he thinks Atheism+ should be folded into Harvard Humanism™ with all of us marching in lockstep towards the Temple of the Future™ under the leadership of Chaplain Epstein and Deputy Chaplain Croft.

  46. consciousness razor says

    You all act like Croft shouldn’t have an opinion on the relationship between A+ and humanism but I would say that’s his job.

    At best it would be a hobby.

  47. says

    You know, again I don’t think anyone is calling Croft a terrible person.

    On the other hand, you know how sometimes you’ll have a pickup game of basketball and sometimes it is really loose and fun, and sometimes one player decides he’s the coach/captain of the team and starts bossing everyone? Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

  48. chigau (違う) says

    So this Harvard is a university somewhere in the US.
    Is there some reason that its Humanism is better than any other Humanism?

  49. Sastra says

    jflcroft #29 wrote:

    Do you think that the positions I’ve outlined represent a more accommodating view of religion to how you view A+? And if so, how?

    No, I don’t think any of the positions you outlined represent a more accommodating view of religion — I think they are very broad, general principles which could be used to describe A+, the gnus, accomodationism, Harvard Chaplaincy Humanism, and positions outside and in-between.

    As already mentioned, there’s a lot of room for interpretation — especially in the “Humanists believe that people can derive experiences of real value from religious communities ” section. I consider myself a humanist, a secular humanist, an atheist, a ‘gnu’ — and probably an A+, depending on exactly how it’s defined (I am at the very least in favor of A+.) And I would endorse pretty much everything you wrote.

    So, I suspect, would an accomodationist (ie Genie Scott or Chris Mooney.) The distinctions I think come down to where we draw the line, how we do it, when we do it — and when we don’t. The devil is in the details.

    And yeah, the “Temple of the Future” is a bit of a red flag waved in front of the gnu.

  50. says

    Only if you equate “humanist” with “Harvard Humanists”.

    I don’t.

    Like it or not, James and his ilk are representatives of both groups. Humanist is an Opt-In title with no requirement or authoritative body. There’s no bouncer on the title to keep people that you disagree with out, and honestly, there are other titles that better represent the A+ Flag, such as Liberal, Progressive, Feminist and Anti-Theist

    I don’t think there’s a reason to point at people like James and imply that they’re less than humanist or less than atheist because of how they represent their views. They Claim Athiesm, They Claim Humanism, and beyond the Social Zeitgeist, that’s all the title requires.

    Thank you for your response.

  51. infraredeyes says

    James Croft is fully entitled to call himself a humanist, and there’s nothing wrong with calling an organization “Harvard Humanists”. But I don’t think he gets to make sweeping statements about what (all, by implication) humanists believe. If he said “humanists like me believe…” or “the Harvard humanists believe…”, then I would have no quarrel with him. Well, apart from thinking that he’s wrong about a few things, but that wouldn’t matter.

  52. joed says

    chaplain (n.)
    mid-14c., from O.Fr. chapelein “clergyman” (Mod.Fr. chapelain), from M.L. cappellanus “clergyman,” originally “custodian of St. Martin’s cloak” (see chapel). Replaced O.E. capellane, from the same Medieval Latin source.
    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=chaplain&searchmode=none

    chap·lain (chpln)
    n. Abbr. Ch.
    1. A member of the clergy attached to a chapel.
    2.
    a. A member of the clergy who conducts religious services for an institution, such as a prison or hospital.
    b. A member of the clergy who is connected with a royal court or an aristocratic household.
    3. A member of the clergy attached to a branch of the armed forces.

  53. Stevarious says

    @ James Croft

    In in the interests of fairness I read your article and even several other pages on your site, explaining what you guys are about. (Your comment @ #18 was spot on, at least for me – I wrote 5 paragraphs and did not in the least address the actual substance of your remarks.)

    My only response can be pretty much the same thing PZ himself said in comment #50 – you seem to be equating the positions of the Harvard Humanists with ALL Humanists – which simply isn’t so.

    For instance, the Unitarian Universalists are Humanists, and I don’t think all UU’s would necessarily agree with two of your assertions:

    Humanists see religion as human-made

    Humanists see religion as a human-made phenomenon. Religious texts were written by human hands, religious ideas were generated by human minds, religious practices developed in human communities. There’s not a jot of divine revelation anywhere. We made this.

    Humanists reject all supernatural elements of religious beliefs

    Humanism is an explicitly naturalistic worldview which rejects all supernatural elements of religious beliefs. Prayers don’t do anything magic, faith healing doesn’t work, meditation doesn’t alter your consciousness in a wooish way, your spirit doesn’t have an aura, dancing cannot bring the rain.

    Now, pretty much all atheists would agree with these points. But this very fact seems to indicate a need for a term ‘Atheist+’ to describe atheists that are also Humanists. Secular Humanists won’t do – there’s been a lot of work invested in the effort to separate ‘Secularism’ and ‘Atheism’ and with good reason. So, what do we call them? Humanist Atheists? Atheist Humanists? Or maybe just ‘Atheism+’?

    Atheism+ put the emphasis on Atheism as a starting point. Which suits me just fine – I am a humanist because I am an atheist, not the other way around.

    And that’s what it’s for.

    (There also seems to be a very strong undercurrent in Atheism+ proponents to reject the religious terms and concepts that the Harvard Humanists seem to embrace. I realize, from reading your site, that my original guess was correct: You want to use terms like ‘temple’ and ‘chaplain’ divested of their religious connotations. This is not a tack I could use – with my religious upbringing it is very difficult for me to mentally disassociate those terms from their religious origins, and I’m an atheist. I imagine for people who are actually religious, this disassociation would be much more difficult, and I don’t see myself embracing a movement that has so much confusion of terminology built into it at such a fundamental level. I am not saying that you cannot. By all means, continue with your work – there is nothing in Atheism+ that insists that the Harvard Humanists must close their doors. There isn’t even anything that says Harvard Humanists cannot identify as A+ as well – and nothing in your post suggests that the goals are incompatible. But the way your group is doing what you are doing is not for me. Atheism+, however, seems to be for me, and I will support it as long as it continues in this direction.)

  54. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    James Croft,

    Errrr, nothing you wrote addressed anything I posted. Do you intend to read my post at any time?

    Errrr, your points are condescending and have been sufficiently addressed in the very comments that you quote in your piece. Do you intend to read your own post at any time?

    Alright, I will wade through your smug, condesplaining post about how we should all just get along, and how everyone who doesn’t love all of Humanism, including HCH, must just be mistaken about what Humanism is.

    I don’t want to post 10 screens worth of crap, so I’ll separate it into a few parts.

    So, prepare for Part I: why you are being a condescending douche to those you quoted as disagreeing with parts of humanism, and why you are wrong to think you for a diverse group of people.

  55. says

    Stevarious,

    I think you stumbled across one of the most important points of the whole A+ situation, right here:

    there’s been a lot of work invested in the effort to separate ‘Secularism’ and ‘Atheism’ and with good reason.

    The same is true for skepticism: JREF has made a point of separating atheism from skepticism, and atheists and skeptics have been trying to divide social justice from both movements. The problem is that all those groups want our numbers and money, but don’t necessarily want our input when it conflicts with theists/sexists/racists who they value much more greatly than they care about us. Then as soon as we say “fine, if you don’t want us and don’t value us, we’ll do our own thing” they feel the need to attack what we are doing and say that the divisions they created are OUR fault.

  56. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Part I
    James Croft, after thoroughly quoting from various gnu atheist bloggers who discuss their reasons for disagreeing with parts of Humanism* and/or the views of some humanists,

    But what is the relationship of Humanism with religion, and are these critics (most of whom are expressing their personal perceptions of the term “Humanism”, to which they are perfectly entitled) giving Humanism a fair shot?

    This:
    1) Condescendingly implies that these writers are ignorant about Humanism, and that their reasons for wanting to do activism under the banner of atheism, rather than Humanism, have not been well thought out.
    2) Mistakenly talks about “Humanism” as if it is a singular entity. There are a wide range of views held by humanists. When it comes to religious accommodationism specifically, some Humanist groups, and humanists, are anti-theistic (as PZ mentioned in the OP, he identifies as a secular humanist), others are way too nicey-nice for the gnu atheists. There are also theistic humanists. They all claim the label and not everyone wants to sit under a tent so broad. Especially not now that there is this sniny new tent over here that has AC and beer.

    Is it really true that there is a signifiant [sic] difference in view between Atheism+ people and Humanists in this regard?

    Many gnu atheists are telling you that there is. I would say that, in itself, shows that there is a significant difference in view between the two. GnuAtheistPlusers** are telling you they disagree with some parts of humanism, they have told you why, and yet you appear to want to gloss over their criticisms and instead try to emphasize the vaguely-phrased views that everyone agrees on. This comes across as dismissive of their specific criticisms, and this segues nicely into,

    Part II: why you whining that that your detractors have not “read your post” is asinine.

    *I’ll just go with your capitalized “H” Humanism, for shits and giggles for the sake of consistency for the reader.
    ** Thought I’d throw in a few CAPS letters too.

  57. says

    James Croft,
    What is your problem with A+, exactly? Seriously? This whole kerfuffle was started by Humanists that jumped onto the threads and started accusing A+ers of all sorts of things. Why do you care if some people gather under a different banner?

  58. Ichthyic says

    Oh, except for the part where I don’t have the money to move, nor a job, nor a financial structure in place when I get there.

    yes.

    let me confirm that for you:

    moving to an entirely new country, even one as progressive as New Zealand, is TOUGH.

    immigration is always politicized everywhere any more, and here is no exception.

    …and while you wait YEARS for immigration to approve your resident status (and toss innumerable irrational roadblocks in your way) no employer worth working for will take you seriously until you do have residency status.

    conclusion:

    don’t move to another country unless:

    - you already either have a support network in place there

    - or-

    - you have been invited to work there and have a contract in hand

    -or-

    - you are independently wealthy and have no problems supporting yourself indefinitely

    -or-

    - you just consider yourself adaptable and lucky, and want to take a crapshoot.

    I fell into the last category, though I have to say I WAS invited here… by companies and organizations that dissolved like sugar in water soon after the financial bomb hit in 2008.

    I would also add that I have met a lot of ex-pat yanks who have managed to succeed here, despite also not having their residency status yet.

    so, it’s not doom and gloom, but one SHOULD have a realistic idea of what moving to another country is really like.

  59. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Part II:
    This comment of yours, James, strikes me as pretty ironic:

    Errrr, nothing you wrote addressed anything I posted. Do you intend to read my post at any time?

    Considering that you yourself didn’t actually address the points of those you quoted in your piece, this is quite rich.

    Instead of writing responses to each quote you included, offering specific rebuttals to their points, you offer a series of generalized statements about Humanism, and ask us where we disagree.

    First of all, as has been mentioned upthread already, you do not speak for all humanists. Many humanists would disagree with some of your claims, such as:
    Humanists see religion as human-made
    Humanists reject all supernatural elements of religious beliefs
    Humanists believe that many religious beliefs and practices are harmful
    Humanists believe in secular government
    Humanists believe that people can derive experiences of real value from religious communities

    Your self-selected list is not exhaustive of all of the varying views held by humanists. Different humanists have their personal list of what their humanism entails. I am not convinced I would agree with their list as much as I agree with your carefully-chosen statements.

    Your list of statements on the nature of Humanism is pointless because it is not actually representative of the whole of humanism (just your specific, HCH brand of it), and because it is so generally and benignly-phrased that it seeks to avoid the topics where is gnus do disagree with HCH Humanism. I’m sure if you wanted to, James, you could list certain HCH ideals that you omitted in your piece, framed specifically, that you would know would certainly get pushback from the gnus.

    It is nice that there is a large overlap of the goals/ concepts inherent in both GnuAtheismPlus and the Harvard Humanists. But, reiterating those points of agreement ad nauseum will do nothing to reconcile the points of disagreement.

    Back to the point. It is silly of you to exclaim that your points have not been addressed when your entire post is you side-stepping answering the specific claims, made about some of humanism, by the gnus.

    In order to try to answer this question I’m going to attempt to make a series of statements regarding Humanism and religion, and I invite self-identified Atheism+ people to come give their views on the same points.

    How about instead of pretending to speak for all humanists, and throwing up a list of statements that you wrote that are not representative of all of Humanism and are vague and dubiously-selected to boot, you specifically respond to the quotes from Greta and Jen and Dan and Alex and PZ.

    I invite you to do it.

  60. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Part III a snark-filled conclusion wherein I replace the term “Humanism” in James Croft’s piece with the West Boro Baptist Church

    James Croft (alterations made),

    Is it really true that there is a signifiant difference in view between Atheism+ people and Humanists the West Boro Baptist Church in this regard? In order to try to answer this question I’m going to attempt to make a series of statements regarding Humanism WBC and religion, and I invite self-identified Atheism+ people to come give their views on the same points. Perhaps there is a real difference if view here, but perhaps the differences are overstated.

    HumanistsThe West Boro Baptist Church believes that many religious beliefs and practices are harmful
    Humanists The West Boro Baptist Church recognizes that there are forms of oppression and sources of harm which are not religious
    Humanists The West Boro Baptist Church believes that peaceful, lawful protests can help achieve more justice in the world.
    Humanists The West Boro Baptist Church believes in speaking out against Catholicism, Protestantism, Eastern-Orthodoxy, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism
    Humanists The West Boro Baptist Church believes that people can derive experiences of real value from religious communities
    Humanists The West Boro Baptist Church disapproves of racism and the use of physical violence by groups such as neo-Nazis*, and according to Mr. Phelps, “don’t believe in physical violence of any kind”

    So – now about it, A+ people? Are there any real differences in values here? I’m happy to respond to comments and to update this post with issues that might arise.

    *from wikipedia.

  61. jflcroft says

    Woo_Monster:

    I’m preparing a reply now, but would you explain the point behind Part III? It’s lost on me. And you mention that you think there are real areas of disagreement that my post avoids. Could you explain what some of them are?

  62. Stevarious says

    Part III a snark-filled conclusion wherein I replace the term “Humanism” in James Croft’s piece with the West Boro Baptist Church

    That was beautiful and demonstrated the point perfectly.

  63. Stevarious says

    I’m preparing a reply now, but would you explain the point behind Part III? It’s lost on me.

    Or maybe it didn’t. *sigh*

  64. jfigdor says

    FWIW, I actually like the idea of A+. One of my personal gripes with Humanism is the occasional discomfort with/hostility to the word “atheist.” In my view, Humanists have done well responding to gender issues (the Harvard group I used to work with was close to 50-50 male female) and social justice issues, but they haven’t done that well at helping to remove the stigma on the word atheist. This isn’t a leadership problem, as much of the leadership is perfectly comfortable describing themselves as Atheists as well as Humanists, but instead, an attitude I encounter sometimes at Humanist groups, particularly among an older demographic.

    A+ sounds to me like picking up the Humanist mantle and adding additional focus on the important issues of gender and sexuality, and hopefully race as well. In addition, A+ seems particularly interested in rehabilitating the word “Atheist,” which is something I can really get behind. And at the end of the day, we all win from more diversity so that people who want to focus on bigfoot and homeopathy can do so, and people who want to focus on rehabilitating the word “Atheist” or social justice issues can do so as well.

  65. John Morales says

    [meta]

    bethzucker:

    I’m so tired of the way that PZ turns every discussion into a personal attack or a defensive response.

    Yet your comment is a personal attack and a defensive response.

    (Go figure)

  66. says

    Chaplain not only means a religious person, it also usually means specifically *Christian* clergy. There’s no such thing as a Hindu chaplain or a Jewish chaplain – except in the military, where they chose to deal with religious diversity by expanding a pre-existing role instead of creating a new job title. Reasonable from a bureaucratic perspective, certainly, but not a model for anything outside a large and tightly structured organisation.

    The push for humanist and atheists “chaplains” in the US military is very recent. I’m not even sure if they actually even have any of them yet – a quick google found me lots of campaigns to get them, but no actual person in such a role.

    It’s also been a huge problem in Australia recently, where school “chaplains” were funded by the previous more right-wing government. Not only are they religious, but also most of them are Christian fundy evangelists, taking advantage of the wedge into schools.

  67. John Morales says

    andrewlovley:

    The word chaplain is not restricted to theistic worldviews.

    But it connotes religiosity nonetheless.

  68. jfigdor says

    The battle over chaplains is effectively over, unfortunately. The idea of religious chaplains is overwhelmingly popular among the religious, so we can’t expect legislative action in our favour on this issue. Furthermore, even worse, the Supreme Court doesn’t consider chaplains unconstitutional (despite the obvious state subsidy this provides to religious institutions), so we can’t expect a judicial solution until the court’s composition changes substantially.

    So we are left with this, given that there will be religious chaplains, do you think it is reasonable to provide secular soldiers and secular students with non-religious (Atheist) Humanist Chaplains? Or should only religious students enjoy the benefits of having a full-time Chaplain to help organize events, lend an ear to students in their time of need, and advocating for their perspective?

  69. jfigdor says

    “Chaplain not only means a religious person, it also usually means specifically *Christian* clergy. There’s no such thing as a Hindu chaplain or a Jewish chaplain – except in the military, where they chose to deal with religious diversity by expanding a pre-existing role instead of creating a new job title.”

    False. Harvard has a Hindu chaplain, so does Stanford, as well as MANY other schools. Indeed, most colleges have several Christian chaplains, a few Jewish chaplains, Roman Catholic center, Mormon Chaplains, etc. etc. etc.

  70. jfigdor says

    Sorry, I forgot to include Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists, and Muslim Chaplains.

  71. John Morales says

    jfigdor:

    So we are left with this, given that there will be religious chaplains, do you think it is reasonable to provide secular soldiers and secular students with non-religious (Atheist) Humanist Chaplains?

    I think it’s insulting; what non-religious people need is the secular equivalent: counsellors.

    (Paging Deanna Troi! :) )

  72. birdterrifier says

    Stevarious

    For instance, the Unitarian Universalists are Humanists, and I don’t think all UU’s would necessarily agree with two of your assertions

    I’m saddened that no one has set you straight. Unitarian Universalists are in fact Unitarian Universalists. I have no doubt that some secular humanists attend UU services and are active in those congregations (as I have encountered many atheists at my local UU church) but they are not humanists. Here’s their web page outlining their beliefs: http://www.uua.org/beliefs/ versus http://www.humanism.org.uk/humanism

  73. consciousness razor says

    Or should only religious students enjoy the benefits of having a full-time Chaplain to help organize events, lend an ear to students in their time of need, and advocating for their perspective?

    Does every student group at Harvard have a “chaplain,” or only the religious ones (plus the humanists)?

  74. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I love Greg, but if Deanna Troi came around I’d be severely torn! =)

    Gee, not the proper atheist nerd. Dr. Crusher caught my eye for some reason…

  75. chigau (違う) says

    What are the qualifications for “chaplain” as opposed to “counsellor”?

  76. jfigdor says

    Counselors are not the equivalent of Chaplains. Chaplains build the community, host dinners for students, take students to events like the Atheist Film Festival, or to lectures from prominent Atheist and Humanists, run conferences, and write advocating for the Humanist perspective. Counselors, in my experience, do not do this. That said, I would welcome people from a counseling background getting more involved with Humanist chaplaincies.

  77. jflcroft says

    Look – I’m going to be totally honest here: I’m exhausted after a very long day. This thread has been derailed a little by the chaplain discussion (which I’m honestly sick of), and I’m not convinced that any reply I might give would make a difference to some of the critics here. So be honest with me – does anyone give a shit what I have to say on this topic, or am I wasting my time?

  78. jfigdor says

    Only “religious” and “non-religious/non-theistic” student groups have chaplains. This includes Buddhists, Quakers, Humanists, and many UUs.

  79. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Chaplains build the community, host dinners for students, take students to events like the Atheist Film Festival, or to lectures from prominent Atheist and Humanists, run conferences, and write advocating for the Humanist perspective.

    No, Chaplains preach. Something with another non-religious title like say “facilitator” does what you describe. All religious terminology needs to be removed before it is humanistic/atheist. What part of the last sentence are you having trouble with, so we can explain it to fuckwits in words of one syllable or less, with the clue by four…

  80. John Morales says

    [meta]

    jfigdor,

    So be honest with me – does anyone give a shit what I have to say on this topic, or am I wasting my time?

    For the lurkers, man — for the lurkers.

    (And maybe even for the record)

  81. jfigdor says

    @Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    With all due respect, who do you think knows better what Chaplains do, me, someone who works as a Chaplain and has extensive experience in the field, or you.

    And as for removing all “religious terminology” to be acceptable to you, we’ve had this discussion so many times that it isn’t worth pursuing again. I’m sorry you find Humanist Communities like the one at Harvard so offensive, but I hope you can respect the fact that they’re doing basically the same project that the A+ movement aspires in a different mode. Also, one more correction, most of the Chaplains at Harvard didn’t preach, and I’ll surmise it is the same situation at Stanford.

  82. chigau (違う) says

    jfigdor
    To be blunt:
    Does a god-botherer gets to be a “chaplain” simply by being a god-botherer or does it need to learn how to council people?
    Do secular councilors need to have some other qualifications?

  83. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    who do you think knows better what Chaplains do, me, someone who works as a Chaplain and has extensive experience in the field, or you.

    Who the fuck are you with a title not fitting your duties? No atheist is called a chaplain, which is a RELIGIOUS TITLE. Prove otherwise with solid evidence that atheists are religious….

  84. jfigdor says

    I don’t know what secular counselors do. Humanist chaplains need to study Humanism in a divinity school, and will take coursework in community building and counseling (many courses in counseling are taught by secular people).

    I don’t know what all god-botherers do, but to be a Chaplain at a place like Harvard or Stanford, you need an ordaining body to sponsor you (such as the LDS church or RCC, etc.).

  85. jfigdor says

    I am an Atheist who is a Humanist Chaplain. I never claimed that atheists are religious.

  86. Sastra says

    jflcroft #92 wrote:

    So be honest with me – does anyone give a shit what I have to say on this topic, or am I wasting my time?

    I think even the people who disagree with you the most ‘give a shit’ over what you have to say on this topic — maybe they give the most shit when they give you the most shit.

    But yes, I enjoy reading your perspective, and appreciate that you yourself give enough shit (and have enough curiosity) to throw yourself into the hoard and ask questions.

    Plus, as John Morales points out at #95, this is a large blog: readership is no doubt like an iceberg.

  87. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I am an Atheist who is a Humanist Chaplain. I never claimed that atheists are religious.

    Then you must perforce change your title to that of a non-religious person. Chaplain is considered religious by all dictionaries, and who the fuck gave you permission to decide otherwise. What a mother fucking loser who shouldn’t be listened to at all if you don’t understand basic logic like that.

  88. jfigdor says

    Also, I don’t understand the hostility you show to me and other Humanist Chaplains. We agree with you on Church-State separation, agree with you that the word Atheist shouldn’t be a dirty word, agree with you that religions are man made constructs with serious structural and logical problems, and agree with you, ostensibly, that social justice should be a major tentpole of modern Atheism. So why do you have such a negative view of us? How can you make allies if you’re so willing to cast people aside for a relatively minor issue (using the word Chaplain). Clearly the idea of Humanist chaplains is a pretty popular one, thus the growth of Humanist Chaplaincies in recent years (in the last two years we’ve had Humanist Chaplaincies established at Rutgers, Columbia, Stanford, and American University in Washington DC).

    Can’t we all get along, Gnu Atheists, A+, Humanists, etc.?

  89. jfigdor says

    @Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I guess we’re just going to have to agree to disagree. I am trying to understand you though. If you were a college aged student at a University with a Humanist Chaplain, would you explicitly avoid any association with that Chaplain and the student group affiliated with him or her? If you say yes, then I guess that the A+ movement should make getting secular counselors into Universities a priority. I would support this wholeheartedly.

  90. Wowbagger, Antipodean Dervish says

    jflcroft wrote:

    So be honest with me – does anyone give a shit what I have to say on this topic, or am I wasting my time?

    I think it this point you’ve probably said everything you can say on this topic; it seems fairly clear that you have one opinion on what humanism is and a lot of other people have other opinions, and they aren’t likely to change anytime soon.

    Were I you I’d just focus on trying to work out where your organisation’s interests and A+’s interests overlap, and in the meantime keep doing what you do.

  91. chigau (違う) says

    jfigdor

    …I don’t know what secular counselors do. Humanist chaplains need to study Humanism in a divinity school…

    OK.
    I’m out for the night.
    Apparently, I don’t know what any of those words mean.

  92. Amphiox says

    Why call it Humanist “Chaplain”, though?

    What cause to appropriate the religious terminology, if not to draw a parallel to the religious use?

    And why draw such parallels at all?

    What’s wrong with “Humanist Counselor”?

  93. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I guess we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.

    No, you are going to have to be a fuckwitted fool, and I will be a rational person who understands basic definitions, and doesn’t listen to fuckwitted fools who don’t understand basic logic. Your loss. And you are turning off many other atheists with your illogical title…

  94. consciousness razor says

    Only “religious” and “non-religious/non-theistic” student groups have chaplains. This includes Buddhists, Quakers, Humanists, and many UUs.

    So contrary to what you implied, it’s not the case that if humanist groups don’t have someone called a “chaplain,” they can’t do all the things you and James have cited in support of it.

    Clearly the idea of Humanist chaplains is a pretty popular one, thus the growth of Humanist Chaplaincies in recent years (in the last two years we’ve had Humanist Chaplaincies established at Rutgers, Columbia, Stanford, and American University in Washington DC).

    So if it’s pretty popular, we should do it? And if there are humanist chaplains at five upper-crust schools on the East coast, that means it’s pretty popular?

  95. says

    I think it this point you’ve probably said everything you can say on this topic; it seems fairly clear that you have one opinion on what humanism is and a lot of other people have other opinions, and they aren’t likely to change anytime soon.

    Were I you I’d just focus on trying to work out where your organisation’s interests and A+’s interests overlap, and in the meantime keep doing what you do.

    Well said!

  96. says

    What is your problem with A+, exactly? Seriously? This whole kerfuffle was started by Humanists that jumped onto the threads and started accusing A+ers of all sorts of things. Why do you care if some people gather under a different banner?

    Le sigh.

  97. John Morales says

    Regarding the ‘chaplain’ issue: I briefly discussed it with James back when here: Reason, Compassion, and Hope in Community: A Response to Some Constructive Criticism for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard.

    I might disagree, but it’s worth checking out original sources, no?

    (In passing, elsewhere the ‘chaplain’ term was justified on the basis that it was an institutional requirement rather than a chosen one; without it, their humanist appointees could not operate — but I can’t at the moment recall where it was said and thus no link)

  98. Stevarious says

    @birdterrifier

    I’m saddened that no one has set you straight. Unitarian Universalists are in fact Unitarian Universalists.

    I accept the correction, in that it would have been much more clear if I had said that many UU’s are humanists (according to this they are one of the largest identity groups within UU) and that UU draws heavily from Humanism. When I said that I was thinking of groups like this who identify equally as both Humanists and UU’s.

    The point that I was trying to get across was that humanism is not explicitly atheistic, even though James Croft had described it as such, which is a problem for theists and deists who wish to identify as humanists and humanists who wish to identify as explicitly atheist.

    I identify as both a humanist and an atheist, but I choose Atheist+ for three reasons – one, I’m a humanist BECAUSE I am an atheist, and not the other way around. Two, I wish to focus more on social justice issues (which is turning out to be the primary focus of Atheism+) and less on the spirituality mumbo jumbo that drenches websites on humanism and UU. And three, I despise the term ‘secular humanist’ because it blurs the very important difference between ‘secular’ and ‘atheist’.

  99. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    (In passing, elsewhere the ‘chaplain’ term was justified on the basis that it was an institutional requirement rather than a chosen one; without it, their humanist appointees could not operate — but I can’t at the moment recall where it was said and thus no link

    There is the title they must us on their business cards supplied by Harvard. Then there is what they call themselves when online and dealing with atheists. I’m a senior scientist on my business card, but a chemist in conversation/online unless I’m trying to make a point. Chaplain should not be used in communications to atheists unless the official title is absolutely called for. Otherwise, there is a severe and terminal PR problem…

  100. John Morales says

    Stevarious:

    The point that I was trying to get across was that humanism is not explicitly atheistic, even though James Croft had described it as such, which is a problem for theists and deists who wish to identify as humanists and humanists who wish to identify as explicitly atheist.

    Sorta right: humanism explicitly rejects supernatural and religious ideas as a basis of morality and decision-making, but doesn’t entail that its practicioners be theistic.

    (Secularism, likewise, is not only the province of atheists)

  101. Waffler, of the Waffler Institute says

    Humanist chaplains need to study Humanism in a divinity school, and will take coursework in community building and counseling (many courses in counseling are taught by secular people). [emphasis mine]

    Why? Divinity implies supernaturalism (just as chaplain implies religion). Why ape religion? What does “divinity school” teach that imparts anything useful to a person in counseling others?

    If you say yes, then I guess that the A+ movement should make getting secular counselors into Universities a priority. I would support this wholeheartedly.

    Don’t most (secular) Universities already have these? Different counselors for different things, surely, but counselors nonetheless.

    … we’ve had Humanist Chaplaincies established at Rutgers, Columbia, Stanford, and American University in Washington DC).

    So if it’s pretty popular, we should do it? And if there are humanist chaplains at five upper-crust schools on the East coast, that means it’s pretty popular?

    Stanford.

  102. consciousness razor says

    In passing, elsewhere the ‘chaplain’ term was justified on the basis that it was an institutional requirement

    It’s not an institutional requirement for any other non-religious student group. So why aren’t humanists treated the same way? If it’s because they want to operate as a student group of Harvard Divinity School, rather than as a run-of-the-mill student group at Harvard, why not just say that and explain what they’re getting out of it? Why make all these spurious claims that “chaplains” aren’t necessarily religious, imply that only they can organize events, that it’s a becoming popular trend for humanists, etc.?

  103. jfigdor says

    “So contrary to what you implied, it’s not the case that if humanist groups don’t have someone called a “chaplain,” they can’t do all the things you and James have cited in support of it.”

    Can you explain this comment further? I don’t see what you’re saying.

    For the record, here are a few good reasons for the term Humanist chaplain:

    1. This is how you get accepted in schools and universities in the role that secular students want. Counselors aren’t given the resources and don’t have the community building training or the training in Humanist/secular philosophy.
    2. Many religious students who are questioning their faith will seek out a Humanist chaplain and won’t go to a counselor.
    3. There is no stigma attached to talking to chaplains, whereas many people perceive a stigma against visiting psychologists or other counselors.
    4. Chaplains are available free, regardless of your medical insurance or your association with the college/University.

  104. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    What do you mean I can’t be a Harvard Atheist Priest™?… I don’t care if “Priest” is a religious term…By our narrow definition, which almost no one else uses that aren’t at Harvard*, a “Priest” just means “councilor**”…No, I won’t use the word “councilor”, “Priest” works just fine, fuck public perception and accuracy.

    *And who gives a shit about what a bunch of troglodyte non-Harvardians think anyways?

    **Or, if not councilor, whatever the fuck you want to call what the chaplains do.

  105. jfigdor says

    Chaplains are not quite the equivalent of Priests since we don’t pray, lead prayers, preach, or keep vows of chastity. We are not the equivalent of counselors because counselors don’t plan conferences, don’t visit you in the hospital when you’re sick, and might actually cost you money if you’re not a student or have great health insurance.

  106. Sastra says

    I think using the term “chaplain” is unfortunate, but I can understand the pragmatic reasons behind it. I’m less enamored with the claim/hope that the term can be secularized — I think its history is too deeply embedded into supernatural religions and using it will lead to misunderstanding (and maybe even some woo creep.) In a perfect world, there’d be another term.

    But the world isn’t perfect and, as an atheist who celebrates a secular Christmas, I see some parallel. I don’t like it, no … but will grudgingly cut some slack. You may all live. For now.

    Stevarious #113 wrote:

    I despise the term ‘secular humanist’ because it blurs the very important difference between ‘secular’ and ‘atheist’.

    No it doesn’t. Not when used in that way.

    When people say “secularist” and mean “atheist” or conflate atheism with secularism, then you’re right. Secular means (roughly) “of this world” and is often used to denote a political position on church & state separation. “Secularism” (like humanism) is a broad position. We don’t want to imply that only atheists want (or ought to want) to keep God out of government.

    But because it only means “of this world” I think it’s fine as an adjective or modifier for humanism. Worldly humanism; no other “worlds” or realms. It’s useful, and contrasts humanists who are explicit naturalists who reject supernatural religion with humanists who either do not reject supernatural religion or humanists who want to cleanse religious terminology of the supernaturalism. From what I can tell, “secular humanism” doesn’t lead to the same sort of confusion you’re rightly worried about.

  107. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Chaplain may need to be used in official correspondence with letterhead. In other communications, and especially on-line, it should be ignored unless somebody asks your official title. Never deliberately lie, but you need to not tell the full truth unless asked. Not a hard concept except for an egotist who needs to hide behind the title rather than what they bring to the blog.

  108. Waffler, of the Waffler Institute says

    Chaplains are not quite the equivalent of Priests since we don’t pray, lead prayers, preach, or keep vows of chastity.

    Pretty much all non-Humanist chaplains pray, lead prayers, and preach. And not all priests have vows of chastity to keep (and those that do don’t necessarily do so, but that’s another issue). So the equivalence is fairly apt.

  109. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    For goodness’ sake. The capitalization inflation in this thread is out of control.

    PROTIP: If it’s not a proper noun, it doesn’t get capitalized. There’s no such thing as “a Chaplain” or “a Priest.”

    Yes, it’s nit-picky, but it’s a tell. It makes one look like they’re striving to be seen as Capital P Professionals. Silly.

  110. Stevarious says

    I despise the term ‘secular humanist’ because it blurs the very important difference between ‘secular’ and ‘atheist’.

    No it doesn’t. Not when used in that way.

    Secular doesn’t mean atheist, unless it’s secular humanist, in which case it means a humanist who is an atheist. My problem isn’t what it actually means, my problem is the perception of that meaning. It’s a perfect setup for confusion as to what secular actually means, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve had the argument about America being a secular nation and had the ignorant christian point to the secular humanists as ‘proof’ that secular means atheist.

    I realize that people can’t help what ignorant people think but it’s just so tiresome.

  111. consciousness razor says

    Can you explain this comment further? I don’t see what you’re saying.

    You mentioned things like this:

    Chaplain to help organize events, lend an ear to students in their time of need, and advocating for their perspective?

    Chaplains build the community, host dinners for students, take students to events like the Atheist Film Festival, or to lectures from prominent Atheist and Humanists, run conferences, and write advocating for the Humanist perspective.

    You can do all of that without using a religiously-loaded title like “chaplain.”

    This is how you get accepted in schools and universities in the role that secular students want.

    There are many secular/atheist/humanist student groups around the country (and probably worldwide) which do what secular students want and which aren’t chaplaincies.

    Counselors aren’t given the resources and don’t have the community building training or the training in Humanist/secular philosophy.

    I don’t care if you get a degree with Harvard Divinity School or otherwise get training in community building (or “training” in philosophy, whatever that means). If that’s coursework and training you want to do, which you think is worthwhile, okay, that’s perfectly fine with me. That doesn’t mean your group needs a chaplain. If Harvard Divinity School insists that you are a chaplain because you’ve gotten or are getting a degree there, you can simply reject that label rather than become an apologist for it.

    Many religious students who are questioning their faith will seek out a Humanist chaplain and won’t go to a counselor.

    Many atheists students will do the opposite. Is this a group primarily for atheists or the religious?

    There is no stigma attached to talking to chaplains, whereas many people perceive a stigma against visiting psychologists or other counselors.

    I would go to a psychologist or counselor before a chaplain (and in fact I have in the past), so this lack of “stigma” isn’t as clear-cut as you make it out to be. The stigma against visiting psychologists and counselors shouldn’t be perpetuated anyway. And part of the stigma is that psychologists and counselors are considered quacks — your solution is to offer people who are less qualified than they are and less able to give people the help they need?

    Chaplains are available free, regardless of your medical insurance or your association with the college/University.

    I was in a number of groups in college. The presidents and other leadership could all be consulted for free (believe it or not!), yet they were not chaplains or counselors — not that those are equivalent anyway, as I said above.

  112. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    If one is doing serious counseling, I would hope they have a PhD. in psychology, or an MD in psychiatry. Laymen shouldn’t be in that role.

  113. Stevarious says

    For goodness’ sake. The capitalization inflation in this thread is out of control.

    WhAt’s tHe mAtTeR, bRo? yOu cAn’t hAnDlE A LiTtLe bOnUs cApS?

  114. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    James Croft,

    Woo_Monster:

    I’m preparing a reply now, but would you explain the point behind Part III? It’s lost on me.

    I thought it was clear considering Part II, was it really that incomprehensible? My point was that anyone can construct a non-exhaustive list of views that represent even a very extreme organization, select only views that your audience will likely agree with, and then pretend your audience actually isn’t all that dissimilar from the group in question.

    To make my facetious argument for the similarities of WBC and A+ more similar to your argument back at your Temple, I should have used a group that encompasses a much wider range of thought than WBC does, and then acted as if I spoke for all of its members. I would, of course, have included views on my list that the members of this more diverse community would not agree on, but more importantly, the list would be agreeable to the A+ audience that I was writing for.

    And you mention that you think there are real areas of disagreement that my post avoids. Could you explain what some of them are?

    Fuck me. The real areas of disagreement are right there in your post, right under “some examples:”. Alright, not all of those criticisms were about HCH specifically*, but PZ’s speaks directly to your question,
    PZ,

    there is the influence of the Harvard Humanists [on how Humanism is perceived in the USA], who infuriate a lot of us atheists: there is the perception that they want to shape humanism to ape religion. Most of us atheists are post-religionists, and we want nothing to do with a movement that borrows so heavily from religious traditions…look at the Harvard Humanists, or Alain de Botton, if you want to see a religious mentality.

    You made no mention on your list of HCH’s views on using religious terminology and titles. Or your propensity to constantly look to religion when making decisions ranging from website design** to the structure of the organization (Chaplains trained at divinity school?). Or the Harvard Humanist’s tendency to act as if they speak for all humanists, and to speak down to the people who decide some brands (or even all, gasp!) of humanism are not for them, essentially saying that they must not understand True Humanism™, as if there was such a thing..

    Do you disagree that if you tried, both in your selection and framing, you could have included a few elements that people would have disagreement over?

    Regardless, even if your list represented the entire scope of HH, and I found myself nodding along while reading them, HH does not represent all of humanism. I feel like a broken record saying this, but just for good measure. You, James Croft, need to be more clear that YOU DO NOT SPEAK FOR ALL OF HUMANISM. You cannot dismiss criticisms of religious and accommodationalist aspects within some parts of humanism by sticking your fingers in your ears. Telling us what, selectively, what HCH Humanism is all about is a non-sequiter.

    *Though much of what the other bloggers said could be applied to HCH.

    **Seriously, website design? Rather than consult a website designer you go with, lets go check out and ape religious websites?

  115. says

    Jewish chaplains at a university??? FFS, those poor rabbis! OK, I stand corrected. But I’ll note that it’s still a few large institutions with a pre-existing Xian position, shoe-horning other religions into using the same job title whether they like it or no. So yeah, it happens in big institutions with a Christian history. Still doesn’t make it right, nor applicable in broader use.

  116. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    James Croft,

    So be honest with me – does anyone give a shit what I have to say on this topic, or am I wasting my time?

    I surely give a shit. I wouldn’t have spent multiple hours composing responses if I didn’t give a shit. I don’t speak for everyone* though.

    I certainly wouldn’t like to think that I was wasting my time in reading your post and responses, thinking about them, and expressing where I thought you are off-base.

    I agree partly with Sastra,

    But yes, I enjoy reading your perspective, and appreciate that you yourself give enough shit (and have enough curiosity) to throw yourself into the hoard and ask questions.

    I don’t always enjoy reading your perspective (you asked for honesty), as it sometimes results in a headache caused by too many blows delivered by my palm. But I a do appreciate that you do seem to give a shit about engaging people who rhetorically throw shit at you. Though you could be more through in addressing the specific criticisms made, especially when you are accusing others of not properly addressing what you posted.

    *on this note I’d also like to make clear that I recognize that many A+ers probably have no quibbles with humanism, or the Harvard Humanists specifically, and my complaints are not shared by them.

  117. jfigdor says

    Against the argument that you can do everything that I do as a Humanist chaplain as a non-Chaplain, I must disagree. Interfaith is another one of those areas where being a chaplain comes in handy. I know that you folks don’t like interfaith, but a significant population of Humanists/Atheists think that it is important and have offered many explanations for why we do interfaith.

    When you say that club leaders are available to talk to you about personal problems, those people generally don’t have training in counseling, so that is a concern. And Humanist Chaplains don’t work in exclusion, we generally recommend that when someone is facing a significant problem that they also seek help from a psychologist, and indeed, we even provide references.

  118. consciousness razor says

    Interfaith is another one of those areas where being a chaplain comes in handy.

    Why is it handy? If you called yourself something else, they wouldn’t let you participate, assuming you even should?

    But yes, in addition to “chaplain,” there is also a problem with “interfaith.” You mention this as if it somehow made the situation better. An odd strategy, if you ask me.

    When you say that club leaders are available to talk to you about personal problems, those people generally don’t have training in counseling, so that is a concern.

    Chaplains aren’t counselors. Remember? You should be concerned about getting them the help they need from actual counselors.

  119. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I must disagree. Interfaith is another one of those areas where being a chaplain comes in handy.

    Why do you insist on lying and bullshitting. Your title is irrelevant to what you do. And chaplain to the theist means you are one of them. Conflict of interest, and bad faith on your part. Quit lying to yourself. Then, and only then, can you quit lying to us. Find another title for us outside of where it is absolutely required by your employer. Then you stop being a liar and bullshitter.

    Your OPINION is meaningless if you don’t listen to what we are saying. And you have stopped listening, and are preaching. As I say to the MRAs, shut the fuck up and listen. Only then can you learn.

  120. John Morales says

    [meta]

    jfigdorL Etymologically, ‘interfaith’ literally means ‘within faith’.

    (What’s the ineluctable implication, and how do you imagine the faithless feel about that terminology?)

  121. John Morales says

    [addendum]

    ‘interfaith’ can also be transliterated into ‘mutual faith’ or ‘between faithrs’.

  122. says

    Well, I admit that I had a fairly good opinion about humanist chaplains. The idea wasn’t really my bag, but meh, to each their own as long as their helping. Now, after all of the helpful clarifications, my opinion is not so positive. I’m still quite positive about humanism in general, but some groups within that umbrella…not so much.

  123. jfigdor says

    @ Nerd, we aren’t failing to listen to you when you say we need to abandon any affiliation or connection to religion/religious institutions. We just disagree. You find our reasons to be bullshit, but you still have no answer to the problem of how we would be accepted by schools (there is no program to invite non-religious counselors who want to organize lectures by Dawkins or Watson or Myers on college campuses – if there was a good way to do this, then we would have followed it), no answer to the fact that many students transitioning out of religion would look specifically to a Chaplain, instead of to a counselor, no answer for people who aren’t students and can’t afford to pay for counseling.

    I don’t see why you can’t take a more charitable attitude towards me and the other Humanist chaplains. I could come out and denounce the way that you do Atheism by arguing that you are unlikely to convince any borderline non-religious folks with the way that you attack people who differ slightly from you, but instead, I respect the differences and acknowledge that we’re working on similar projects through different means. I hope that we can work together, Humanists, A+, Atheists, Skeptics, etc. to advance the causes we believe in and focus less on the titles we use to advance those causes. For me, Atheism is about social justice, equal rights/treatment for women and the LGBTQ community, and promoting a reason-based lifestyle.

  124. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    . You find our reasons to be bullshit, but you still have no answer to the problem of how we would be accepted by schools

    There is no problem with being atheists. Unless they are schools of divinity you are accommodating to. Keep on lying to yourself. I refuse to accept your accommodationist lies as they are nothing but bullshit. Your OPINIONS are bullshit. We don’t need to accommodate religions, or get along with them.

    I don’t see why you can’t take a more charitable attitude towards me and the other Humanist chaplains.

    Because it all starts with the fuckwitted religious title. Lose the title and come up with a more secular one. Stop trying to pretend your movement is a religion, or has anything it can learn from religion. Toss all religion and religious ritual into the dumpster and start afresh. New secular terminologies. If you don’t get that your ego is in the way.

  125. Anri says

    (Godwin alert)

    The word chaplain is not restricted to theistic worldviews.

    And swastikas aren’t restricted to Nazi iconography. But if you use one, you’ll spend so much time and effort explaining to everyone you’re not actually a Nazi, you’ll never be able to get around to your point.

    Is this fair? No.
    Is it the real world? Yes.

    Chaplain means a very specific thing in the minds of almost everyone, educated or not, that encounters it. If you insist on using a personal, obscure, alternate meaning for the term, you will be misunderstood, and that’s entirely your own fault.
    Once you have been informed of this fact, continuing to use it can only be extreme hubris or a desire to be misunderstood.

  126. infraredeyes says

    I think the Harvard Humanist view is afflicted with tunnel vision. Entirely missed is the fact that the trappings of religion–the “temple”, the services, the chaplain as an authority figure–are among the aspects of religion that some humanists and most atheists want to leave behind. You seem to be saying that religion is just fine, so long as we purge it of the supernatural and avoid unacceptable social policies. The atheist critique of religion is much more radical than that, at least as I understand it. It’s not just “No Gods”, it’s “No Gods, No Masters”, which is to say “No Chaplains”.

  127. Waffler, of the Waffler Institute says

    If one is doing serious counseling, I would hope they have a PhD. in psychology, or an MD in psychiatry. Laymen shouldn’t be in that role.

    It depends on what you mean by ‘serious’ counseling. I believe (and I could dig up references, if I were at home) that the efficacy of ‘talk therapy’ for example is not strongly correlated to whether the someone doing the counseling is a PhD. clinical psychologist or MD.

    This is not to imply that someone with a serious mental illness should not be under the care of a physician.

  128. jflcroft says

    Hey everybody!

    I decided to take last night off and to respond to these comments today. There are quite a lot to get through, so bear with me if this is a long post. I take time to reply to these comments because, generally, I enjoy the discussion and frequently learn something valuable from it. Also because I prefer misconceptions not to fester and poison the discourse, because I believe we can progress further together if we understand each other better. So, to begin, I want to address some misconceptions about my position which seem to have stemmed from PZ’s initial framing of my post.

    PZ’s Initial Post

    To be frank, PZ shafted me this time (and not in the good way). His initial post is a very inaccurate portrayal of the article I actually wrote, and the inaccuracies in his initial post have predictably colored many of the comments.

    I was not and am not “offended that some atheists have the impression that secular humanism is a religious idea.” First, I am not offended at all – I am very supportive of A+, and I wrote in my first post on the topic:

    http://www.templeofthefuture.net/dialogue/atheism-is-humanism-rebranded-and-thats-ok

    A key quote to make this clear:

    if other people want to organize under a different banner toward similar goals I’m happy to march beside them. I just want to ensure we share resources, don’t compete unnecessarily, and learn from what has already been accomplished.

    I have joined the A+ forums and posted some resources there and expressed my admiration to Jen individually as well. I’m not “annoyed”, and nowhere in the post PZ is responding to do I express annoyance.

    Further, my post is not about the fact that “some atheists have the impression that secular humanism is a religious idea.” I do not address that question in the post at all. Indeed, in my previous post on Humanism, I am quite clear that some Humanists themselves consider Humanism to be a religion, and that, while I don’t share that view, neither does it really bother me:

    http://www.templeofthefuture.net/dialogue/what-humanism-is-and-isnt

    So his opening sentence really sets things off with a couple of complete inaccuracies.

    The title is no better: “Secular Humanists are not and should not be religious”. In making this the title of a post dedicated to responding to my post, and by stating, inaccurately, that I’m “offended that some atheists have the impression that secular humanism is a religious idea” the suggestion seems to be that, while PZ recognizes that Secular Humanists are not and should not be religious, I somehow disagree. I do not disagree, and nothing I wrote could give him the impression otherwise.

    PZ goes on to say “My comments were specifically directed at the Harvard Humanists, not secular humanism”. This seems to suggest that I did not recognize that in the post. In fact I did: I make it very clear that he is referring specifically to the Harvard Humanists, by including that in the quote I gave:

    there is the influence of the Harvard Humanists [on how Humanism is perceived in the USA], who infuriate a lot of us atheists: there is the perception that they want to shape humanism to ape religion. Most of us atheists are post-religionists, and we want nothing to do with a movement that borrows so heavily from religious traditions…look at the Harvard Humanists, or Alain de Botton, if you want to see a religious mentality.

    I am quite clear who his target was, and it was to make clear that I understood him that I included the target in the quote.

    So PZ begins this thing by completely missing the point of my post and by misrepresenting some of its content (bethzucker notes this in #30). People introduced to the post through PZ’s mangled idea of it then jump in, using his misconceptions as a frame through which to view what I wrote, and a lot of misunderstandings arise.

    Some of those misunderstandings include:

    1. That I was intending to speak for all Humanists (too many times to cite each one).

    2. That I am not supportive of A+, or think it is somehow in competition with Humanism (Ye Olde Blacksmit[h seems to suggest this in #2, #5, and right out says it in #70; Improbable Joe suggests this in #44; ‘Tis Himself says this in #58;

    3. That I am unaware that part of the problem for many with the term Humanism is one of perception, and not necessarily one of core values (Sastra says this in #28; Woo_Monster seems to think this in some of their posts)

    4. That there is some idea called “Harvard Humanism” which I seek to promote or endorse (chigau (違う) says this in #61; others refer to something called “Harvard Humanism” throughout).

    To clear these up:

    1. It was not my intention to seem as if I was speaking for all Humanists. I have added the following edit to the top of my post to make this clearer:

    Edit: Some of the responses to this article have taken the view that I was here attempting to speak for all Humanists in the descriptive passages toward the end of the post. This was not my intention. I decided a long time ago to assume my readers would be clear that writing on my personal blog reflects my personal judgment. Therefore, when I use a phrase like “Humanists believe” it should not be read as “All Humanists believe” – if I ever mean to say that I will write that. Rather, it is shorthand for “In my judgment, the mainstream of Humanist thought on this topic is as follows”. No one speaks for all Humanists. To make it clear I’m speaking for myself, I’m going to replace “Humanists believe” in this post with “I believe”.

    2. As I have already demonstrated I was on record quickly as supportive of the goals of A+, as was Greg Epstein. This was recognized by Jen in her recent post:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/08/responding-to-common-misconceptions-about-atheism/

    3. I am crystal clear that a lot of the problem some are articulating with the term Humanism are problems of perception. That is the entire reason I wrote the post which PZ responds to here: I wanted to tease out whether it is only a perception problem (and the fundamental values are the same), or whether there is an actual difference in core values between A+ people and people who are more happy to identify as Humanists. If there really is a difference in values, then I suspect (from the sorts of comments I quoted) that the difference might be something to do with how we should relate to religion, or even how religion is understood. This is why I wanted to write the post – to see if there might be a difference in core values regarding religion between myself and people who are more skeptical of the Humanist label.

    4. There is no such thing as a special brand of Humanism called “Harvard Humanism”. The only people who use that term are our detractors.

  129. jflcroft says

    Now to address the main substantive criticisms of my post from various commenters here:

    #2 Ye Olde Blacksmith – Spocktopus cuddler:

    I would like to point out that, in every quote you presented, the comment is regarding perception. The Humanists are perceived in those ways. Seems to me that somewhere there is a breakdown of message if so many humanists (little h, of which I count myself one) have this perception.

    Also, i think it important to point out that the conflict between Atheism+ and Humanism was initially brought up by many many people telling us we can’t/shouldn’t support Atheism+ because the Humanists were already doing what we are trying to do. I, for one, am capable of being/supporting both. Apparently, some others are not.

    I am aware that these are matters of perception. My question was whether there are also more fundamental differences in values. I myself have noted in previous posts that there seems to have been poor communication of Humanists values by Humanists f these perceptions persist, so no disagreement there. As I’ve noted in my other reply, I have never made the argument that anyone “can’t/shouldn’t support Atheism+ because the Humanists were already doing what we are trying to do”. I am very happy with people identifying as they wish, including with using multiple identifiers. That’s why I’m posting on the A+ forums already, offering what assistance I can.

    #11 Improbable Joe:

    I feel like they keep trying to impose that framing on the rest of us.

    This is not what I was attempting to do.

    #28 Sastra:

    I read James Croft’s article, and am a little confused. I don’t think he quite addressed the point, for one thing. The argument from the gnus/A+ side is that humanism, as an ideology and group, contains many people who, while sharing basic beliefs, are more accomodating to religion than the A+gnus. His response seems to be that hey, we share the basic beliefs — so what’s the difference?

    Almost, but not quite: my response is more do we share the same basic beliefs, or are there actually some differences? I ask this question because sometimes I don’t know what precisely gnus/A+ people actually believe, in a basic sense, about religion – about what it is and how to respond to it. It’s been a consistent problem for me when I try to discuss ideas on these forums, for instance, because we seem to use the term “religion” quite differently and with different underlying assumptions, and this causes misunderstandings. So what I wanted to do was get out what I consider to be uncontroversial Humanists viewpoints about religion and see if gnus/A+ people actually agreed with them or not.

    #32 infraredeyes:

    [quoting me] “Humanists believe that people can derive experiences of real value from religious communities”

    This statement is completely unqualified, too. I certainly consider myself a humanist, but I am much more uneasy about religion than this quote allows (to put it mildly).

    What do you mean? Do you mean that you do not believe that people can derive experiences of real value from religious communities?

    #33 Josh, Official SpokesGay:

    Like it or not, James, the HCH has a perception problem with a lot of people. I understand that it’s frustrating to repeat that you don’t mean “chaplain” and “temple” in “religious” ways only to have the perception stick. But that’s just how things are. You can’t will people into not associating these words with the concepts they denote in ordinary language. Being frustrated about it is pointless.

    Actually this particular problem doesn’t bother me that much. I was very aware when taking the name of my blog, for instance, that some people would take the name to have religious connotations. What does frustrate me is the continued spreading of flat-out falsehoods about HCH, which is all too common. People don’t have to like what we do, but I do think they should try to be basically honest with their criticism.

    The concept of the humanist chaplaincy bothers some people because it seems less like a desire to be a counselor and more like a desire to be. . .well, the Expert Leader Man To Whom One Defers. That perception is further fueled by the conspicuously stuffy and self-important way HCH often presents itself.

    I think there’s a legitimate point here: we could certainly get better at explaining what we imagine “leadership” in Humanist communities might look like, and giving a case as to why we think it might be valuable. We may well disagree here, but I do in fact believe that there is potential value in professional leadership for Humanist community centers. I think that having paid staff opens up possibilities that part-time volunteers would find it very difficult to achieve. I think it’s clear that the SSA, for instance, and CfI groups, really benefit from professional staff. I don’t see why it should be different for the sorts of community center we are building at Harvard. But currently we haven’t made that case very effectively to the FTB community. And if one accept’s the value of leaders per se, then it isn’t a huge step to then suggest that these leaders should be really good. But perhaps there’s a real disagreement between us here – it’s just not quite relevant to this post.

    #36 KG:

    I think the difference between Atheism+ and HCH-Humanism is quite clear: the former is anti-religious, the latter is not. This difference would issue in attitudes to collaborating with religious organizations, in willingness to call “holy books” what they are – fairy stories with a great deal of absolutely vile content, a willingness to call out “liberal” religious people (particularly leaders) for their enabling of the fundamentalists, etc.

    This is an interesting point – can you be more explicit as to what being “anti-religious” means to you? I don’t think I’d describe myself as “anti-religious”, but I certainly support doing all the things you mention here.

    #44 Improbable Joe:

    I’m happy for Croft & Co. to create whatever clubs they want to create, however they want to create it. They need to understand that not everyone wants to be in their club, and that if their club leaves out people who don’t like their club, that’s actually no great fucking loss. We don’t have to misunderstand them to not want to be a part of them… and vice-versa!

    I like the whole A+ thing, but I’m just flabbergasted at the people who want no part in it but also can’t STFU about it. Why isn’t it enough to have your thing, without insisting that everyone else’s thing is invalid?

    I am quite clear that not everyone wants to be involved with our community at HCH (they make it very clear!). Indeed, I have in the past been criticized for saying just that! I certainly haven’t anywhere insisted that “everyone else’s thing is invalid”. Where do you see me saying that, specifically?

    #52 Waffler, of the Waffler Institute:

    This statement “Humanists believe that people can derive experiences of real value from religious communities” is too accommodating to religion. I would amend it as follows: “Humanists believe that people can derive experiences of real value from communities. If the community is organized around religion, that value is undermined, but *possibly* not completely eliminated.”

    Your restatement of my quote seems to be merely a difference in emphasis rather than a difference in values or belief – it cashes out as agreement with the original statement, since it implies that, yes, people can derive experiences of real value from religious communities. But why do you say that “If the community is organized around religion, that value is undermined”? Why is it necessarily so? Could you give an example?

    Your construction implies that we ought to be looking at religious communities for inspiration on how to provide experiences from which people “derive value”. I don’t think we should, because we will wind up importing unnecessary practices that waste human effort, or harmful practices that perpetuate privilege and authoritarian behavior.

    Instead, we should look to sociology and psychology to understand how humans “derive value” from communities, and use that information to help improve our community.

    I do look to sociology and psychology, but I’m not averse to also looking to existing community models, including religious ones (although, technically speaking, you are wrong to say that my construction “implies” that we should do so). I do not agree that by looking intelligently and critically at religious modes of community building “we will wind up importing unnecessary practices that waste human effort, or harmful practices that perpetuate privilege and authoritarian behavior.” In fact I think it is more likely we will wind up importing those things if we don’t study religious communities. Part of the value of studying how religious communities are organized is so that we can learn what not to do, and how to avoid harm. The process has to be a critical one informed by basic Humanist values regarding autonomy, privilege etc. To refuse to look at religious forms of community seems to me the most dangerous course.

    #62 Sastra:

    No, I don’t think any of the positions you outlined represent a more accommodating view of religion — I think they are very broad, general principles which could be used to describe A+, the gnus, accomodationism, Harvard Chaplaincy Humanism, and positions outside and in-between.

    As already mentioned, there’s a lot of room for interpretation — especially in the “Humanists believe that people can derive experiences of real value from religious communities ” section. I consider myself a humanist, a secular humanist, an atheist, a ‘gnu’ — and probably an A+, depending on exactly how it’s defined (I am at the very least in favor of A+.) And I would endorse pretty much everything you wrote.

    So, I suspect, would an accomodationist (ie Genie Scott or Chris Mooney.) The distinctions I think come down to where we draw the line, how we do it, when we do it — and when we don’t. The devil is in the details.

    Indeed – the point of my post was to elicit some of those details. If it’s the case we can agree on the basics, then the question is “what do we do about that?” and “how does this play out?”. I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written here.

    #66 Stevarious:

    Unitarian Universalists are Humanists, and I don’t think all UU’s would necessarily agree with two of your assertions

    Others have already noted this, but not all UUs are Humanists, and the Humanist ones would certainly, generally, accept the two descriptions I gave. It is partly those two beliefs which separates UU Humanists from non-Humanist UUs!

    Now, pretty much all atheists would agree with these points. But this very fact seems to indicate a need for a term ‘Atheist+’ to describe atheists that are also Humanists.

    Modern Humanists are, in terms of the most widely accepted definitions, atheists in the modern sense of the word. I address that here:

    http://www.templeofthefuture.net/dialogue/what-humanism-is-and-isnt

    I have to run out – more later!

  130. Waffler, of the Waffler Institute says

    But why do you say that “If the community is organized around religion, that value is undermined”? Why is it necessarily so? Could you give an example?

    It’s my personal impression that these are the positive things people derive from communities, in general:

    - friendship / companionship
    - sharing of knowledge
    - mutual support
    - entertainment
    - other things I’m not able to think of right now

    None of these positive things are unique to religious communities (especially the other things I’m not able to think of right now ;)), but in religious communities these benefits are at risk, for various reasons, but significantly because they are subservient to the religious ideals of the community.

    For example, take the example of companionship. Though not all religious communities frown on same-sex marriage, many do, thus undermining the value that can be derived from that companionship. And regardless of whether the religious community frowns on same-sex marriage, most, possibly all, believe that the ‘divinely’ derived religious values of the community are relevant to the same-sex marriage, rather than the utility of that marriage to the individuals involved, which is a subtle form of undermining.

    ————–

    Here’s another analogous statement you might make:

    “Humanists believe that people can derive real value from kosher food.”

    While this is literally true, the inclusion of the word ‘kosher’ is pointless: people can derive real value from food, full stop. Nothing about it being kosher distinguishes it in terms of the value people can derive. By including ‘kosher’, the implication is that there is something of additional value that people are deriving, because it is kosher. Likewise, by including the word “religious” in “religious communities” you are implying that there is something about the religious nature of the communities that affects (positively) the value people derive from it. Which I believe is mistaken.

  131. edwardclint says

    Hey Jon Figdor, remember when we met a few SSA cons ago and you were there to talk about this brand new atheist chaplaincy thing. I gave you some shit about it, because I had just come out of the military, where chaplain == proselytizing fundy douchebag. Also, we were drinking a lot.

    Just wanted to say sorry about that. Theory about what “should” be is one thing, reality is another. The HCH kicks a lot of ass.

    You win, but only if evidence matters.

  132. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Yawn, piles of teal deer, no cited evidence, just OPINION in sight. Typical of religious, not scientific arguments. Which is why the HCH bullshit is and will be going nowhere.

  133. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    James Croft,

    I am aware that these are matters of perception. My question was whether there are also more fundamental differences in values

    And again you imply that all of us gnus who perceive parts of humanism are godsoaked and/or too accommodating are all ignorant about the values of humanism (this is especially grating considering that many of those gnus are also humanists themselves).

    I myself have noted in previous posts that there seems to have been poor communication of Humanists values by Humanists if these perceptions persist, so no disagreement there.

    Sure, poor communication skills are one possibility. Another is that the perception is accurate, and that you, the HCH, and other humanist groups and people are being judged by your/their actions.

  134. jflcroft says

    I have another round of responses coming, but I just wanted to catch:

    #152 Woo-Monster:

    again you imply that all of us gnus who perceive parts of humanism are godsoaked and/or too accommodating are all ignorant about the values of humanism

    I have never implied this, neither once nor repeatedly. Nothing I said implies that I think anyone is ignorant of anything. I have asked a simple question – do you agree with me on these values re: religion or not? Posing that question makes no assumptions regarding the knowledge of the person or people to whom the question is posed.

    poor communication skills are one possibility. Another is that the perception is accurate, and that you, the HCH, and other humanist groups and people are being judged by your/their actions.

    Precisely – this is why I posed the question. I want to tease out whether there is a legitimate difference in values or whether it is a matter of perception only. Again, we don’t disagree. You are stretching hard to find disagreement when there really isn’t any that I can see.

  135. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    You are stretching hard to find disagreement when there really isn’t any that I can see.

    That is your entire thesis, is it not?

    What is it like to assume that the people who disagree with you are all just deceiving themselves and do not perceive you accurately?

  136. consciousness razor says

    Precisely – this is why I posed the question. I want to tease out whether there is a legitimate difference in values or whether it is a matter of perception only. Again, we don’t disagree. You are stretching hard to find disagreement when there really isn’t any that I can see.

    Sure, whatever you like, James. If one thing is clear from reading this thread (and hundreds like it in the past), no one here substantially differs in values from you. We just have false perceptions about your positions. And those all have to do with things that are “off-topic” anyway, because of course you’re the one who gets to say what the conversation is about, when trying to tease out what we think.

  137. jflcroft says

    #156 consciousness razor:

    If one thing is clear from reading this thread (and hundreds like it in the past), no one here substantially differs in values from you. We just have false perceptions about your positions.

    I am quite happy to accept that there are real differences in values here (I actually expect that there are some, otherwise these discussions would be a lot easier), but they have to be articulated clearly so that I can understand them. Otherwise, yes, it reads to me as if there are a lot of misperceptions around which distort the conversation. I note, for instance, that in this thread you haven’t articulated any responses to the values I posted at all – so how am I supposed to know that you disagree?

  138. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    James Croft,

    I have asked a simple question – do you agree with me on these values re: religion or not? Posing that question makes no assumptions regarding the knowledge of the person or people to whom the question is posed.

    I do agree with most of the values you listed. But, like Sastra said at #62, they are broadly and generally phrased, so I imagine that people that I strenuous disagree with would also agree with most of those values.

    Regardless, posing the question of whether I agree with those values you selected is pointless. It means jack-shit, as I explained above in my comments above,

    Your self-selected list is not exhaustive of all of the varying views held by humanists. Different humanists have their personal list of what their humanism entails. I am not convinced I would agree with their list as much as I agree with your carefully-chosen statements.

    Your list of statements on the nature of Humanism is pointless because it is not actually representative of the whole of humanism (just your specific, HCH brand of it), and because it is so generally and benignly-phrased that it seeks to avoid the topics where is gnus do disagree with HCH Humanism. I’m sure if you wanted to, James, you could list certain HCH ideals that you omitted in your piece, framed specifically, that you would know would certainly get pushback from the gnus*.

    It is nice that there is a large overlap of the goals/ concepts inherent in both GnuAtheismPlus and the Harvard Humanists. But, reiterating those points of agreement ad nauseum will do nothing to reconcile the points of disagreement.

    James,

    Again, we don’t disagree.

    Bleh, stop telling me what I think. I can judge for myself if I agree with someone.

    *You objected to this statement, and asked for specifics. I offered a few in #131,

    You made no mention on your list of HCH’s views on using religious terminology and titles. Or your propensity to constantly look to religion when making decisions ranging from website design** to the structure of the organization (Chaplains trained at divinity school?)…

  139. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    I am quite happy to accept that there are real differences in values here (I actually expect that there are some

    What values, specifically?

    Why aren’t they on your list? (or are they? Which ones do you consider the contentious ones?)

  140. jflcroft says

    I haven’t got round to responding to your comments yet Woo_Monster! I’ll get to them ASAP. As for this business about disagreeing, I was saying that I agreed with the section of what you had written that I quoted. Presumably that means we do not disagree?

  141. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Alright, sorry James, I will wait for your response. Just to clarify though, when I said,

    poor communication skills are one possibility. Another is that the perception is accurate, and that you, the HCH, and other humanist groups and people are being judged by your/their actions.

    I should have explicitly said that I think the later possibility is more likely. I thought this would be clear considering my earlier posts, but I just want to avoid misinterpretation due to ambiguity.

  142. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    So no, we don’t disagree that it is possible that miscommunication is the reason for the criticisms being levied. I think we do disagree about how likely that possibility is though.

  143. consciousness razor says

    I note, for instance, that in this thread you haven’t articulated any responses to the values I posted at all – so how am I supposed to know that you disagree?

    First, as I just said, disagreeing with what you posted doesn’t exhaust all “legitimate difference in values,” leaving only mistaken perceptions of your values. Is that clear? Go read the comment on Westboro Baptist Church again. Would your agreement with that precise wording of those specific values* mean there are no other legitimate differences between your positions and those of Westboro? Of course not. The problem is often with what isn’t there, not with what is.

    *Because although you seem to need no excuse for it, if we weren’t precise, you could accuse us of strawmanning and reading things into your positions that aren’t there explicitly.

    This conversation has to work both ways: you shouldn’t control it by making everything about your words in your blog post and the way you interpret your statements about your values. Because that’s not going to be sufficient to delineate what all of our disagreements are (or may be). You can always claim we perceive you or your perspective incorrectly, because we’re not you and never will be, which is why this is such a bullshit move. You should know better.

    Anyway, in addition to it being insufficient, I thought it was unnecessary to say much about your article, because others have already expressed most of my concerns with it, especially this section:

    I believe that people can derive experiences of real value from religious communities

    So what else do you want me to say? Here’s one bit:

    Humanists recognize that some religious communities can provide valuable and life-enhancing experiences for their congregants, even though those experiences are surrounded by a metaphysical framework we consider to be inaccurate. Since religion is human-created it is not surprising that some aspects of religious practice respond effectively to real human needs. These needs do not necessary [sic] disappear once people give up the religious beliefs which grew up around them.

    Since they are surrounded by a metaphysical (and epistemological and ethical and political and aesthetic) framework which is inaccurate, many religious practices don’t respond effectively to real human needs, despite what those people themselves may think about them. That people merely believe something is a need does not make it a need.

  144. infraredeyes says

    Do you mean that you do not believe that people can derive experiences of real value from religious communities?

    consciousness razor @163 gives a a good answer to this in the last paragraph, and I can’t really improve on it. I think what we disagree about is the relative importance of operating within a coherent mental or ideological (I’m trying not to say “theological”) framework. It troubles me that you seem to be advocating for humanists to adopt many of the trappings of religion. I disagree because I think those trappings are a more or less direct reflection of the underlying ideology.

    To the extent that religion is a human construct–which is 100% in my view–its structure reflects human societal structure. In fact, I think most if not all religion is an outgrowth of human tribalism. And, coming from a family with deep roots in Northern Ireland, I am so absolutely hostile to the concept of religiously coloured tribalism that I can’t put it into words. Picture me shaking my fist and howling incoherently. So it disturbs me to see a humanist organization appearing to copy the structures of religion. I think the danger of perpetuating some crucial dysfunctions of religion is too great.

  145. Hurin, Midnight DJ on the Backwards Music Station says

    jflcroft

    Do you mean that you do not believe that people can derive experiences of real value from religious communities?

    Depending on how strict your definition of “real value” is, I think people can derive real value from almost any community. To use a couple extreme examples (ones that aren’t comparable to mainstream religion) one might be able to derive lessons about the destructiveness of hatred from being part of a skinhead group, or an understanding of how mind control works by being in the Manson family.

    That doesn’t mean that all communities furnish equal amounts of value. I tend to think that the value provided by religious communities is depreciated by its association with religion. The amount of depreciation will vary by religion; it may be negligible in the case of UUs and Friends (Quakers) and very significant in the case of the WBC or Manson family.

    That leads me to consider attempting to learn from religious communities or provide something comparable to what they offer to be a counterproductive approach. I think taking that approach is more likely to devalue the community than to improve it.

    I also stopped participating in religion in part because I came to despise religion on a personal level. Not just for the unverifiable beliefs, but also for the way the whole thing is organized around the centralized authority of a couple (usually men) with toilet paper degrees in bullshit and patriarchy. If you were to set up a community that was reminiscent of that (and I don’t mean to imply that this is the HCH, because I’ve never been to your meetings, and don’t know how you operate) even with well educated leaders and interesting people, I would probably still be repulsed by it on a gut level, and never walk through the doors. Irrespective of whether the organizational system was actually detracting from the value of the community.

  146. Hurin, Midnight DJ on the Backwards Music Station says

    Also, before I am misunderstood, when I say you might ‘derive real value’ from being a part of a terrible organization, I do not mean that being a part of that organization is necessarily a net positive for you. I only mean that membership might not be a uniformly negative experience.

  147. consciousness razor says

    I would probably still be repulsed by it on a gut level, and never walk through the doors. Irrespective of whether the organizational system was actually detracting from the value of the community.

    Well, you don’t need to be so humble. That would detract from it, because it would mean you’re not a part of it. You, along with many other people, are a valuable part of what would make it a community in the first place.

  148. jflcroft says

    I’m still at work but I can see there are some very useful and intelligent responses here and I promise to get to them.

  149. jflcroft says

    Hi folks. I promised to get to the rest of the comments, so here are some responses to them. The thrust of the responses is “Yes, and?” – a number of commenters have made points against a position I do not hold and which my post does not commit me to, to which I can only reply, essentially, “I agree”.

    The most substantial replies remaining to be responded to are Woo_Monster’s, beginning with

    #69, where he says my post:

    1) Condescendingly implies that these writers are ignorant about Humanism, and that their reasons for wanting to do activism under the banner of atheism, rather than Humanism, have not been well thought out.

    It implies nothing of the sort. I neither said nor suggested any such thing. I asked a question of people who prefer the term A+ in order to hear their views. Many responded to that question without any sense that the post was in any way condescending. This is an inaccurate reading.

    Mistakenly talks about “Humanism” as if it is a singular entity. There are a wide range of views held by humanists. When it comes to religious accommodationism specifically, some Humanist groups, and humanists, are anti-theistic (as PZ mentioned in the OP, he identifies as a secular humanist), others are way too nicey-nice for the gnu atheists. There are also theistic humanists. They all claim the label and not everyone wants to sit under a tent so broad.

    I have clarified this in an edit to the text, but to say “Humanists believe X” is not equivalent to saying “All Humanists believe X”. I was using readily available documents from Humanist writers and activists to provide a broad characterization of Humanist positions. That is one reason why the points are not particularly detailed – I wanted to encompass a wide range of Humanist positions with them. The whole point of the post was to ask people to clarify by expressing areas of agreement or disagreement, or by offering other areas where they think might be disagreement.

    Many gnu atheists are telling you that there is. I would say that, in itself, shows that there is a significant difference in view between the two.

    No so. Many people are calling the difference a “matter of perception” or a “matter of emphasis” rather than a “difference in view”. It is possible that A+ people believe fundamentally the same things about religion as do Humanists, but prioritize various of those beliefs differently, or that they believe fundamentally the same things but perceive Humanists not to believe those same things (while in general they actually do).

    Now to #72:

    Considering that you yourself didn’t actually address the points of those you quoted in your piece, this is quite rich.

    Instead of writing responses to each quote you included, offering specific rebuttals to their points, you offer a series of generalized statements about Humanism, and ask us where we disagree.

    You have clearly seriously misunderstood the purpose of the post, and have not yourself understood the authors I was quoting. The points the authors were making were mainly points of how they perceived Humanism. Greta says, for instance, that “atheism and humanism are perceived very differently”; Alex Gabriel states at the top of his post that his list is made up of his perceptions of Humanism: ” This is about my feelings toward a ‘brand’, and that means everything I associate with the word ‘humanist’ – whether those associations are justified or not.”; PZ, talking about HCH, says “there is the perception that they want to shape humanism to ape religion”.

    My post asks the simple question “Given that these are their perceptions, which I do not doubt, are those perceptions an accurate representation of real differences of belief between A+ people and Humanists?” Going through and rebutting each perception would be pointless because, although I know what their perceptions about Humanism are, I don’t know what they themselves believe at root about the questions of religion to which their perceptions pertain. And hence I have to ask: “What do you actually think about these stances towards religion, which I believe characterize the mainstream of Humanist thought, and do you disagree with them?”

    You go on to make the point that the list of stances toward religion I offer is “self selected” and “not exhaustive of all of the varying views held by humanists.” Of course it is – what else could it be? It would be completely impossible to provide an exhaustive list of mainstream Humanist thought on every issue relating to religion. I made a series of statements which I believe encompasses most of the main, significantly important basic views toward religion which mainstream Humanist philosophy takes. If you want to offer things I’ve missed, go ahead. Or if you want to show how the things I’ve listed don’t derive from definitional Humanist principles, go ahead. But to say the list isn’t exhaustive, and that it was selected by me, is no criticism at all.

    Particularly, if you think that the statements is representative only of my take on Humanism, and that it “seeks to avoid the topics where is gnus do disagree”, then say where you disagree! Offer the topics where real disagreement exists (you’ll note I don’t use the term “HCH Humanism” because, as I’ve stressed above, it doesn’t exist. We are just run of the mill Humanists). You say that “reiterating those points of agreement ad nauseum will do nothing to reconcile the points of disagreement.” Maybe so. But not presenting any points of disagreement (and you do not present any at all) will not resolve the issue either.

    #73:

    You ask “So – now [sic]]] about it, A+ people? Are there any real differences in values here [between A+ people and the "West Boro Baptist Church [sic]]?”

    Your analogy is weird, because if I were asked that question as an A+ person I’d say: “Yes. For one, they believe in God. Second, they are rabidly homophobic. Third…” and so on. This is precisely what you didn’t do in response to my post – you didn’t present any single disagreement with the points I raised, nor a suggestion of a centrally important point that I hadn’t raised.

    You seem to have taken my post as an attempt at a “gotcha”, whereby I was not intending anyone to raise any issues other than the ones I had raised myself, hoping that A+ people would read my points and then say “Gosh, I must be a Humanist!” That is a completely weird reading, as the post was explicitly couched as an invitation to dialogue in which I solicit the views of the reader. I wanted people to engage with the points and offer their own, not to imagine that the points I offered were the limitations on the discussion. That’s why I said, (which you must have read because you quoted it) “I’m happy to respond to comments and to update this post with issues that might arise.” I.e. I was inviting you to offer more points not on the list! So your argumentative approach here completely misses the point. That’s why this post so confused me, because it is so far off base.

    Now to #131:

    Here you actually do offer some points which might be added to the list. The problem is they are all about HCH. And I wasn’t talking about HCH. I was talking about fundamental positions in the mainstream of Humanist thought which are not specific to HCH. But even the points you offer here are very confused and inaccurate.

    For instance:

    HCH’s views on using religious terminology and titles.

    There is no “HCH” view on this matter. Different members of staff have different points of view, none of which can rightly be said to be common to most Humanists or unique to HCH.

    your propensity to constantly look to religion when making decisions ranging from website design** to the structure of the organization (Chaplains trained at divinity school?)

    This point depends on how you understand the term “propensity”. As I’ve made clear elsewhere, we look at all sorts of institutions for inspiration for how to build our community. This includes, but does not only include, religious models. And the post on web design explicitly recommends using a professional designer, and gives quite a clear explanation as to why it might be useful to look at religious community’s websites. Why would you not?

    the Harvard Humanist’s tendency to act as if they speak for all humanists, and to speak down to the people who decide some brands (or even all, gasp!) of humanism are not for them, essentially saying that they must not understand True Humanism™

    I’ve already dealt with this misconception.

    So that’s my response to those long posts by Woo_Monster. I think they are mostly motivated by a very ungenerous and inaccurate reading of the intention of my post, and that when the post is actually engaged as it was intended (as an invitation to discuss values regarding religion) the points offered are rather weak.

  150. jflcroft says

    Final responses, then I have to move on:

    I realize I wanted to comment further on #33 Josh, Official SpokesGay:

    Like it or not, James, the HCH has a perception problem with a lot of people. I understand that it’s frustrating to repeat that you don’t mean “chaplain” and “temple” in “religious” ways only to have the perception stick. But that’s just how things are. You can’t will people into not associating these words with the concepts they denote in ordinary language. Being frustrated about it is pointless.

    This is a good point. There is clearly a big problem in perception regarding HCH on these forums. It does not exist anywhere else in the movement that I know of – for instance I never really encounter it at conferences, when I visit student groups, or on many other blogs. It seems to be particularly an FTB phenomenon (if not exclusively).

    I’ve given some thought to why this is. Clearly some of it is our fault: there were some earlier issues about that stupid press release regarding a conference, and probably a lack of engagement with this part of the movement. The language of “Chaplaincies” clearly doesn’t help (something we’re changing, so bear with us on that).

    But I also think there had been a genuinely unpleasant series of posts on this blog which have given a very unfavorable impression of HCH without good reason. The post falsely alleging Chris Stedman was trying to cause trouble for JT – when there was never any evidence of it – was particularly bad (especially since PZ initially refused to edit it even after he was told by JT himself that it was false); the repeated posts making fun of Greg Epstein which completely misrepresent his views (which, as it is now apparent since their podcast debate, aren’t actually that different from each other); posts like this which totally mischaracterize our staff’s writing, causing people to come away with utterly the wrong impression. This is a pattern of seriously irresponsible writing which helps create the “perception problem” you’re talking about, and which I feel is vindictive and irresponsible given the fact that on almost every substantive issue we should be working together.

    #149 Waffler, of the Waffler Institute says:

    It’s my personal impression that these are the positive things people derive from communities, in general:

    - friendship / companionship
    - sharing of knowledge
    - mutual support
    - entertainment
    - other things I’m not able to think of right now

    None of these positive things are unique to religious communities (especially the other things I’m not able to think of right now ;)), but in religious communities these benefits are at risk, for various reasons, but significantly because they are subservient to the religious ideals of the community.

    Thank you, first, for addressing the actual post as it was intended. I agree with the points you made here. Clearly, religious communities do not provide the values they provide in the most optimal form (if I believed that I would not be working so hard to build nonreligious communities!). Often, I agree, the metaphysics of a religious community does undermine the value it offers its congregants. But that is still to accept that there is value there, rather than no value at all.

    Your analogy to kosher food, and the suggestion that “by including the word “religious” in “religious communities” you are implying that there is something about the religious nature of the communities that affects (positively) the value people derive from it”, is inaccurate. To say that people can, as a matter of fact, derive value from religious communities does not commit me to the position that it is something particularly about the religious nature of those communities which is the source of that value. Indeed, I do not believe this to be the case (or, again, why would I be working to build nonreligious communities?). Rather, it commits me to understanding that there are reasons why people do attend religious communities, some of which include the fact that they derive real value from them. I.e. all my position requires me to reject is the idea, which is sometimes expressed, that religious communities can offer nothing of real value at all.

    #163 consciousness razor:

    as I just said, disagreeing with what you posted doesn’t exhaust all “legitimate difference in values,” leaving only mistaken perceptions of your values. Is that clear?

    Absolutely. I never claimed otherwise. In fact I explicitly invite people to raise new points in the post itself. Where did you get the idea I thought any differently?

    Since they are surrounded by a metaphysical (and epistemological and ethical and political and aesthetic) framework which is inaccurate, many religious practices don’t respond effectively to real human needs, despite what those people themselves may think about them. That people merely believe something is a need does not make it a need.

    Agreed. This does not respond to the point, though: is this true of all the experiences people derive from religious communities which they consider valuable, or just some? Can we identify which represent real needs and which represent needs which are crafted by the religious institution to create dependence? I think we can.

    #164 infraredeyes:

    It troubles me that you seem to be advocating for humanists to adopt many of the trappings of religion.I disagree because I think those trappings are a more or less direct reflection of the underlying ideology.

    Can you say where I’m advocating that, and give an example of something, for which I’m advocating, which reflects an underlying theology?

    #165 Hurin:

    Depending on how strict your definition of “real value” is, I think people can derive real value from almost any community. To use a couple extreme examples (ones that aren’t comparable to mainstream religion) one might be able to derive lessons about the destructiveness of hatred from being part of a skinhead group, or an understanding of how mind control works by being in the Manson family.

    That doesn’t mean that all communities furnish equal amounts of value. I tend to think that the value provided by religious communities is depreciated by its association with religion. The amount of depreciation will vary by religion; it may be negligible in the case of UUs and Friends (Quakers) and very significant in the case of the WBC or Manson family.

    I agree with all of this. This is in fact pretty much a very clear description of my own analysis, which I’ve posted on my blog and elsewhere.

    That leads me to consider attempting to learn from religious communities or provide something comparable to what they offer to be a counterproductive approach. I think taking that approach is more likely to devalue the community than to improve it.

    This is a non-sequitur. Just because we recognize that what we might call the “peculiarly supernatural” elements of religious community might devalue the experience from a potentially greater level of value it might otherwise have this does not commit us to importing those peculiar elements into our own communities. Rather, it commits us to looking for community models which do not have the flaws we’ve recognized in religion. We study the problematic model in order to avoid the same mistakes.

    The challenge comes when there are few models which sufficiently resemble what you might want to build. So, with values-based communities (which is sort of a catch-all term I use for religious and non religious groups based around a set of beliefs or principles) the vast majority of the big successful ones are religious. And there aren’t that many obvious secular models to look to. So, in my view, you kind of have to hold your nose, get into the religious ones, and see what you might cut away to make them better.

    I think that’s pretty much all I can manage on this topic for the moment. I’d appreciate any further questions be directed to the post we are actually discussing, on my blog. It makes it easier for me to respond.