I’d like to begin by stating that I’m in full agreement with Jen McCreight’s general sentiment in her recent essay: “We can criticize religion and irrational thinking just as unabashedly and just as publicly, but we need to stop exempting ourselves from that criticism.” 100% agreement, no reservations.
While the so-called New Atheists (or Gnu Atheists, or whatever) have brought great public attention to religious issues in the the bastion of Christianity that is the US, they have been, in my opinion, largely a step back when it comes to… Well, things that matter.
Now before you leap down to the comment section, bear with me a second. Let me elaborate.
The New Atheists made it socially acceptable to stand up and shout down the religious, to rant about religion publically, and to question the grounds of privilege of religion. And this is all good. But atheism is, at best, nothing more than a critique of a religious position. Jen makes the comment that “The “first wave” of atheism were the traditional philosophers, freethinkers, and academics. Then came the second wave of “New Atheists” like Dawkins and Hitchens, whose trademark was their unabashed public criticism of religion.” And while this certainly seems to be the case, it’s really not an accurate view. At all. The philosophers, freethinkers and academics who are passed over so quickly criticised religion. Publically. And unabashedly. Have you read Nietzsche? How about Bertrand Russell? Or Hume? As guarded as Hume was, his assault on religion is uncompromising, and the “New Atheists” owe more to Hume than they ever credit. And Hume was guarded in his criticisms: at his particular time, people were put to death for
merely owning a copy of the bible in English blasphemy, nevermind atheism.
I think the Availability Heuristic looms large here, and we need to be careful lest we dismiss all that has gone before. The existence of television, youtube, and lack-of-murder (relatively speaking) makes it seem as if none of this has happened before, as if the New Atheists were somehow doing something new: they weren’t. They simply had access to mass-media in a way that was never before available. Russell is, unfortunately, no longer available for interview (what with him being dead), but here’s a man on par with Hitchens for eloquence, if not passion. Anyone heard of Simone de Beauvoir?
Those philosophers, freethinkers, and academics were all on the same page with Jen (caveat: they were also predominantly men, and men of their time, which means they were most certainly not on the same page with regards to feminism, in particular, but they were certainly more egalitarian than their contemporaries) with regards to ethics, humanism, and secularism. I wholeheartedly support Jen’s call to Atheism Plus, while wholeheartedly hoping that this means a return to the philosophers, freethinkers, and academics that Dawkins and Harris (oh, Sam Harris, you make me so sad and mad…) have basically just ignored.
Let’s absolutely get be ethically informed. Let’s absolutely have an interest in social justice (for any and all groups). Let’s absolutely hold our own views and practices up to scrutiny. Let’s absolutely stop pretending that Skepticism started in the US in the 1950s, and only applies to bigfoot, flying saucers and homeopathy (not that I’m advocating Phyrric Skepticism, but skepticism does go back 2500 years…).
I have never, I have to admit, been comfortable self-labeling as an atheist. I am, of course, an atheist. But I’m not An Atheist in the way I see it bandied about by the “Atheist Community”. Philosophers (one of which I am not, but aspire to be) are generally atheists, but are not Atheists, because it’s not seen as a worthwhile label. And sure, a chunk of that is the privilege of being nested within the safe, tall walls of academia. But Russell was an exemplar of a philosopher, a man who got arrested for pacifism, and was kicked out of his job as professor in the Univeristy of the City of New York even before he started. And for him, it was confusing as to why people kept asking him about atheism.
Because atheism is a conclusion, not a premise. I have not provided any stories for Crommunist’s “Because I am an atheist” as the rest of the story would be “and nothing follows from that”. Both trite, and something of a kick in the teeth for people for whom Atheism is a significant part of their self-identity. The sniping about ‘what atheism is’ is something that bothers me, I have to admit. There’s the group that wants to insist that ‘atheism is simply the lack of belief in gods’ and the other that asserts that ‘atheism is the belief/knowledge that there are no gods’, and each of them criticises the other for A) using the label wrong and B) merely antagonising people within “the movement”. Atheism, as part of an evolving English, covers both groups to the exclusion of neither, they differ by degree of certainty (in essence, the former is an agnostic atheist, the latter is a gnostic atheist (and I don’t mean that in the New Agey way)), not kind of belief. For myself, being an atheist (of any stripe) is a consequence of my rejection of Dualism, combined with a commitment to a certain level of warrant being required for a negative belief: if I am justified in believing that there is no beer in my fridge (and last I checked, there wasn’t), then I am justified in believing that there are no gods, as there is roughly the same evidence in favour of the existence of a god as there is for there being beer in my fridge. (“Beer” also has the advantage of not being a self-contradictory concept, and referring to an actual, real, concrete ‘thing’)
Back on topic
I think Jen is off to a fantastic start. And I largely agree with Temple of the Future that she’s doing Humanism (or, if you prefer, Temple of the Future was doing Atheism Plus before it was cool), and the label is only relevant insofar as it affects membership. (TofF makes some excellent points about how this raises the question: why are people who are in favour of Atheism Plus not in favour of Humanism? I.e. What could Humanism be doing better?)
Unlike atheism, many things follow from a commitment to social justice. And they are all pretty damn awesome.
There seems to be some bizarre pushback, objecting to the observation that Atheism+ is a rebranding of Humanism. Quoting JT Eberhard:
Are all humanists atheists? No? Then how is **ATHEISM** plus a rebranding of humanism? *boggle*
Humanism is atheistic in its approach. Yes, absolutely, there are religious people who also self-label as Humanists. I’m not sure what this has to do with refuting that Humanism is atheistic.
JT Eberhard’s argument seems to be (and I’m paraphrasing):
1. Humanism is atheistic if and only if all humanists are atheists.
2. Not all humanists are atheistic.
C. It is not the case that Humanism is atheistic.
This is a valid argument, but the first premise isn’t sound. A quick substitution:
1. Catholicism is bad if and only if all Catholics are bad.
2. Not all Catholics are bad.
C. It is not the case that Catholicism is bad.
You need to seperate out the thrust of the -ism from the particular beliefs and actions of the -ists. Humanism is atheistic. Sure, some groups are religious in their outlook. It’s a shame they have been doing Humanism wrong. (and no, I’m not arguing that “they’re not Humanists”, thus setting myself up for the No True Scotsman Fallacy, but I’m arguing that they are not exemplars of Humanism)
I nitpick: Eberhard, Catholicism. [Fixed, with thanks for the sharp eyes – Crommunist]
“Humanism is atheistic in its approach”. To clarify — do you mean “Humanism approaches ‘what we ought to do’ as if supernatural things were not a factor”?
Please, definitely nitpick! Thank you for pointing out the errors.
And yes. While this approach is often called ‘secular’, there’s no functional difference from calling it ‘atheistic’, as both approaches rule out religion-based reasoning (though not, strictly speaking, supernaturalistic reasoning).
Humanism is *secular* in its approach, not atheistic. It makes no truth claims.
That’s a distinction without a difference.
Religion-based reasoning is excluded from secular dialogues, as it is from atheistic dialogues. There is no functional difference between reasoning in a secular fashion and reasoning in an atheistic fashion. They both mean ‘reasoning without religious premises’.
No, it’s not. The conclusion may be the same but the motive can be vastly different.
Seperation of church and state is good because the other religion may oppress my religion vs seperation of church and state is good because they’re all fecking morons.
I’m glad that we are in agreement that they are functionally the same.
I care about behaviour, and so long as that behaviour is in accord, then I care very little about the allegedly different motive.
You don’t care about motives?
Would you join an environmental group if the reason for their activism is “God made us the shepherds of Earth”?
If not, why would you join a secular humanist group over an atheism+ group?
While I’m on board with impact-based/effect-based analyses, I disagree that something being secular and something being atheist (like a government) are functionally the same. A state ban on religious exercise, for example, would be atheist but not secular. The functional religious pluralism that results from a strict separation of church and state is secular but not atheist.
The only good aspect of all of the Atheism+ talk is that the discussion itself is a tacit admission that atheism entails no political agenda what-so-ever (not unlike the previous change from talking about sexism in atheism to talking about socially conscious atheism) — Since this is something the fundamentalist feminist crowd has been rejecting with hysteria and bullying for a long time this has to be counted as a win for the rational feminists vs the hysterical ones. It makes you wonder what their next goal post move will be in order to save what little is left of their integrity.
Nobody likes you, and you smell funny.
I feel bad, but that was snort-worthy. Have an Internet.
You sound testerical. You should probably calm down and start communicating in a rational way. Don’t worry your pretty little head, xtog – we can handle the thinking and talking for you.
Cue the whining: “I posted a totally trollish comment and the FTBullies didn’t sacrifice their intelligence on the altar of my stupidity! By refusing to take my assholery seriously, they demonstrate a violation of what I assume the principles of freethought to be!”
Took me a minute to realize “teterical” was a) correctly spelled and b) a word I ought to be familiar with 😉 Duly added to the vocabulary.
I’m glad to see that someone still thinks the old “classical” atheists are worth reading, and I suspect we are talking about more than one wave to cover them all if we really want to do them justice. I also think the absence of attention to some of these guys goes hand-in-hand with some of the things about the “New Atheism” that make me uncomfortable. In particular, I think the faith in science and rationalism that I see particularly in online discussion borders on the kind of bad faith Sartre used to talk about. And I wonder if a few people haven’t been just a little too quick to credit devotion to reason and rejection of faith with powers bordering on the miraculous.
False equivalence. JT’s syllogism is not about a value judgement, but a definition.
1. Religion is theistic if and only if all religious adherents are theists.
2. Not all religious adherents are theistic.
C. It is not the case that religion is theistic.
You could put a “necessarily” in there and change the first “is” to “can be defined as” to make it more clear.
Thanks for the better example. 2am is not the best time to be making up syllogisms.
Given that there are non-theistic religious adherents out there, your argument is a perfect analogy. 🙂
I find this to be a valid argument for the claim that not all religion is theistic (are you thinking about Buddhists and Unitarian Universalists?), which means that either JT is right or the analogy doesn’t hold after all.
If you’re going to argue that Humanism is atheistic, you must conclude that religious groups that identify as Humanist are not Humanist. That’s where the difference between Atheism+ and Humanism lies: even if you allow that such groups are Humanist, they’re definitely not Atheistic+.
Yeah, I don’t agree with your characterization of JT’s argument. You are missing the point, which is that he was arguing that atheism+ is not a *rebranding* of humanism.
That was his conclusion, his conclusion in your paraphrasing was that humanism is not atheistic.
These are two different claims. For atheism+ to be just a rebranding of humanism, it must maintain the structural elements that characterize humanize, and not introduce new ones (it must only rename, that is, not alter/replace/add). But since a theist cannot, definitionally, be an atheist+, while a theist can (empirically proven) be a humanist, atheism+ is quite clearly adding additional structures.
Therefore it is not simply a rebranding.
Sure they can. And they’ll be doing Atheism+ badly.
Tell you what: why don’t you go ask Jen (et al) that if a religious person said that they wanted to join, would they be turned away?
My money says that the answer would be no.
So, do you think a theist can be an atheist?
Because in the original posts and discussions around atheism+, the general consensus was:
So if a theist cannot be an atheist, a theist cannot be an atheist + other things.
Obviously, a theist could work with atheists+, potentially even be a member of atheist+ communities, but my point was that definitionally a theist cannot say, “I am an atheist plus I [xyz]”
Thank you for your writing and thinking. I know it’s not your full time job, but it’s so interesting and intellectually stimulating and great. Lots of us love and support you!
– Chana, on behalf of the Juggernaut of Secular Awesome Anti-Trolling Day
Great for atheism and the people involved.
Horrible for social justice (and people not involved). That’s my take on this.
There was an article on this blog a bit ago about gender skepticism as being a big part of feminism…I entirely agree with that. That’s why I’m a feminist. I think that overt social hierarchies and boxes such as the patriarchy are damaging to society as a whole. I also felt like that sort of feminism is slipping away and it’s being abandoned, or at least the image of it, and that this was a really bad thing.
I’m feeling doubly that right now.
It’s not the premise of a split itself. That doesn’t bother me, and I even agree with it as being necessary. I think it’s a good thing. I’m not sure it needs a new mantle, and I think it would be better off with a friendly new convention circuit and give THAT a new mantle, but that’s neither here nor there. That really is splitting hairs.
There’s a very real danger with this type of movement movement (don’t know a better way to say it), that you end up creating an echo chamber, that can in the end become destructive to people both inside and outside the movement.
It feels to me that people want their echo chamber.
You cannot have intersectionality inside the echo chamber. If we cannot grasp that sometimes things we don’t like are not just a matter of people to be shamed but as well societies to be changed (and often by our actions and sacrifice as well), and that we might actually disagree on this..well…
Whatever. Eventually it’ll eat it’s own. That’s what they always do.
But feminism, especially, will be sunk that much more into the mud, and real people will suffer because of that. I don’t like that.
At what point, though, is it reasonable to just throw up your hands and say, ‘I can’t take this anymore’?
Really, given the way that people like Jen and Rebecca Watson have been treated by the atheist community – with seemingly little support from those who are now claiming they already have (and have always had) A+ values – I cannot blame them for wanting to publicly and unequivocally distance themselves.
I suspect it was either schism or give up activism entirely, and they’ve chosen the former.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree entirely with what you’re saying, and I try to make sure I emphasize that I think that schism to some degree is necessary. I think Jen and (especially) Rebecca take a LOT of completely and totally unfair abuse. Both in terms of gendered slurs and insults (which shouldn’t be done to anybody) and criticism that is wildly off the mark.
But, to be honest, I see a social formation growing that very well could turn on them as well. I don’t think they deserve that.
I’m a political junkie. This isn’t really the first time I’ve seen this. It’s actually pretty common. I think I’ve seen it 4-5 times over the last decade or so? Which is actually a lot, I think. And I could be insulting people here (and I don’t really care), but a lot of what I’m seeing strikes me as what in the moderate/progressive movement would call firebaggery. It’s a focus on absolutes at all costs. It’s generally harmful to the movements that it wants to support. It’s not that much different than what you see from the Tea Partiers as well. Same war/purity mindset, really.
So yeah. That’s my experience. That’s why I’m concerned. I really do hope that I’m entirely off-base and things turn out all nice and happy. I just don’t see too much to make me think that right now (and in reality I see things that make my internal alarm bells go off).
Help me out here:
How is more people being interested in social justice and feminism “horrible for social justice”?
Get used to this trope. It appears, in all its unsupported glory, in just about every thread regarding A+.
It’s mostly just feminism, actually. Racism, gay rights, the other top ones, these things are generally fine. But it’s mostly feminism.
In short, feminism has a major PR problem, and if you don’t realize that, quite frankly you need to expand your worldview.
There’s a group, BARNA, who a few years ago did a study on youth reactions to religion. They did a book about it, called Unchristian. Kind of ignore the blurbs if you go to the page, they make it strictly political, when the meat of the problem are the judgementalism and the hypocrisy and the tribalism.
Outside of this little circle, feminism is not doing well, especially among young people, for the same reasons. Why do you think you see so many people making a direct comparison of feminism to religion?
Now, I don’t think that these things are inherent to feminism. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that they’re anti-feminist. But there are, in this world, a small number of assholes who do call themselves feminists and generally use it to go around picking righteous fights with people.
This segment of the atheism movement already has a really hard time dealing with these assholes. People think it’s equivocating (it’s not). The reality is that generally speaking, you’ve probably heard the phrase “intent isn’t magic”? There’s often projection in there.
And my experience is that this type of movement movement makes this tougher. It tends to empower the assholes. And the big problem is that it will be unable to reverse the PR problem that feminism has, and it’s very likely to make it worse.
The “smaller” problem that I see is that over time the good people are going to get slammed out of the movement for their lack of purity..again..that’s what usually happens in these things. It’s a smaller problem in that it only really affects the individuals…but at the same time it’s horrible for them.
So yeah. There’s why I think this is a horrible thing for feminism. If you disagree, fine. But quite frankly, I think if you do disagree then you probably need more experience in these matters.
I see we’ve started with ‘I’m right, and that’s that’. No links, no way to evaluate your claim, just an assertion, followed by “and I’m right, the end”.
Yeah, I’m totally going to take you seriously.
Why do you think you see so many people making a direct comparison of atheism to religion?
Let’s say, for the sake off the argument, that I take this claim seriously. It’s probably true that there exists a very small number of people who have self-declared themselves feminists, who have no idea what feminism is about, and use the label to brow-beat people.
Y’know, that factless trope that keeps being brought up, with no evidence to support it.
Sure, I’ll accept it, tentatively.
Oh, you’re talking about people who actually exist?
Cool! That means I can evaluate them for myself: who are you talking about?
These sentences connect neither with each other, nor with the previous sentence. I have no idea what you are talking about.
Yes, yes, the “PR problem” that you asserted feminism has.
So… You’re going to just wave the Conspiracy Theory Wand here? And you expect me to just… nod along? For real?
1. You haven’t expressed yourself in a way that allows me to agree or disagree. You have basically mixed a load of assertions with some conspiracy nonsense, and some non sequitars.
2. But if I disagree, that’s cool.
3. But if I disagree, then I’m wrong. The end. No discussion, no explanation. Just: I’m wrong.
I require two things to take you seriously:
1. Coherence. This is non-negeotiable. Make sure your sentences actually make sense.
2. Provide evidence/links for your vast, sweeping claims. Stop talking in non-specifics, stop generalising. Who are you talking about? If I can’t evaluate your claims, if you are insisting that I simply accept your opinion as fact (and you seem to be doing so), then there’s no way I’m going to take you seriously.
When I was reading your comment here, I had an image come to mind of a guy holding his hand up over my head and saying “You must be THIS nice to me before I will consider you to be a human being.”
The “PR problem” you think feminism has is nothing new or noteworthy. Ever since feminism became a movement, people who knew nothing about it have described it as man-hating in one form or another – by people who are actively anti-feminist to feminists in name only.
I have no idea why you think Atheism + would be bad for social justice and intersectionality, since that is directly contrary to this brand-spanking-new movement’s stated goals. You want to give it a fair chance before you declare it dead in the water, maybe?
Yay. Way to play the hyperskeptic card and entirely dismiss my experience. This sort of thing is SO comforting to my concerns *sarcasm*
I don’t name names because I think it’s a generally rude thing to do. As well, because we might all have different opinions on what behavior is acceptable and what behavior is not. It also makes individuals defensive, which is not conductive to good conversation. Finally, I’m not looking to have individuals drummed out of the movement, but a little bit of self-reflection MIGHT be a good thing. Just maybe. Maybe that’s too much to ask.
If you think that everything is peachy keen and there’s no image problem with feminism, then I guess everything I say is gibberish. But I really have no bloody clue how anybody can think that during all this. Well. You could think that one side is all perfect and rainbows and sunshine and the other side is just all horrible awful evil monsters…that threads the needle.
But that’s hardly skeptical or rational…or even feminist.
And re: potential community issues, the most recent one is the going-ons over at the Slacktiverse. But again, not the first time I’ve seen this and it won’t be the last.
Hyperskeptic response: I refuse to accept what you say, ever.
My response: please present some evidence for your assertions.
This is not hyperskeptic. Namecalling doesn’t shift the burden of proof.
You didn’t discuss any personal experiences at all, you simply gave an evaluation of a movement and told everyone to accept it, period.
Attempting to use the legitimate language of a victim in a non-victim context is unacceptable.
Do you understand that just making things up about people does not incline those people to take you seriously?
Go take a breath, stop pretending that this is all about you, and then actually respond to the criticisms.
You made some fact-free assertions about feminism (and skepticism). Back it up, or go away.
Sorry to nitpick, but are you sure that during Hume’s time one could be put to death for owning a Bible in English? One could be put to death for blasphemy, I don’t doubt, but I thought Bibles in the vernacular were rather common in Hume’s day (at least in Protestant countries).
You are quite correct, and I should have checked prior to putting that in.
I was thinking of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Aikenhead
David Hume was born in 1711. The King James Bible was published exactly a hundred years earlier in 1611. I have no doubt that Hume owned at least one Bible in English and didn’t keep it hidden.
You are absolutely right, and I apologise for just going off of memory rather than checking.
I was thinking of someone being hung for blasphemy, and I have corrected my post above.
I’d like to expound on the idea that humanism is atheistic in its approach.
I see the distinction as being atheism is “Gods don’t exist” and humanism as being “Gods either don’t exist or might as well not exist”. While different statements, the practical conclusions of the two premises are pretty much identical all else being equal. Especially as, in the last century with the decline of the Deists, humanism as practiced has become nearly synonymous with outright atheism.
Yes, some (increasingly rare) humanists may be religious, but they’re not going to be any different in how they behave besides possible arguments about the word ‘atheism’ and relatively minor nitpicking on the philosophy of belief itself. They are for all intents and purposes (at least to a behavioural psychologist) the same kind of people as atheists.
As an aside, according to sociologists, self-identifying humanists are also curiously similar to another group in how they behave and act in society: university professors.
I can’t find an electronic copy, but here’s where I got this from:
I was about to add it to my cart when I spotted that.
I am in complete agreement with you. 🙂
A big difference I understood between the AtheismPlus/A+ and Humanism was that, generally speaking, the humanist spokespeople and groups I hear about are not very outspoken about the atheism and anti-theism. There’s been a good bit of accusations tossed back and forth about accomodationism and gnus being too brash or dickish.
And it seemed to me this AtheismPlus thing meant still being outspokenly critical of religion and theists as well as outspoken on the social equity stuff.
I think you’ve hit on exactly what the difference is, although humanism does not equal accomodationism: far from it.
Before New Atheism existed, there were popular cries, supported by evidence, that it was time to promote a new aggressive atheism, since accomodation all the time was not working to combat anti-atheist prejudice, and concerns were being ignored.
Because accomodationists and hawks in the movement both (mostly) saw the use in the other approach, even though there were arguments it was not something humanists wanted to split over. Since there are large amounts of both groups in most humanist organizations, it was more expedient for both internal and external politics to put on a public face and elect representatives that tended to be more accomodationist. As a result, more public complaining and grumbling was done that someone ought to be more aggressive, and individuals were given licence, and sometimes encouraged, to let loose, but as individuals rather than representatives. As a group, we were paralyzed on this issue because we were just too reasonable. It is still like this, even for groups where the new atheists outnumber the accomodationists.
As a result, it is expected that humanist organizations from the outside will seem very accomodating of religion, to the point where it might seem as if you’d have to be accomodating to participate. This is definitely not the case. Most humanists, accomodating or not, are very glad for the New Atheists and the effect they are having on society, although the groups cannot really take a 100% supporting stand behind it.
A side effect, though something that is not exploited nearly enough, is that humanist groups and organizations are full of new atheists that understand and support accomodationists and accomodationists that support and understand new atheists. If you want to have an idea of what actions might be going too far in either direction, and escape the echo chamber of either side, you’d be wise to listen to the chatter on the subject within and between humanist groups.
Another important difference between Atheism+ and Humanism is that people who identify with the latter tend to be far more interested in ritual, communal gatherings, etc.; while people (like myself) who are more interested in this knew A+ concept tend to eschew that stuff.
Nobody is going to propose Atheist+ hymns, and yet that’s exactly what James Croft proposes in regards to humanism.
That strikes me as a profoundly unimportant difference, actually. Or are we really now going to exclude people from a movement because they’d like to sing about their values, even if their values are exactly the same? That’s a seriously concerning penchant for sectarianism right there.
It’s nice that you think that a difference in opinion over rituals-or-not behaviour is unimportant. It really is.
I assume, because you’re starting a Humanist temple, you’ve never been harmed by ritual. That the concept of a social circle having a leader who is more powerful than other members of that circle has never bit you on the arse. That’s so incredibly nice for you.
Some of us, though, have been attacked by such leaders. Socially, emotionally, physically, or some combination of. Not so nice for us. Nor is it nice to have the desire to be free of people wanting such leadership in the one arena it’s most possible to have such accusations as sectarianism flung around. No, people singing hymns aren’t going to be excluded from A+ purely on the hymn singing. But if you’re going to pretend that no-one has ever been harmed by such, you’re doing Humanism wrong, never mind A+.
Your assumptions are all wrong, I’m afraid.
Then your dismissal is all the more out of tune with your professed Humanism. If you’ve been through the attacks that clergy can muster, you can imagine those attacks being worse, and you can imagine the idea that your brand of Humanism is harmful to others. Trying to smarm about being first with the social justice angle when you’re casting around splash damage at your supposed allies is… odd. To say the least.
Which is not to say that you can’t sing hymns. Just that there are people out there who will refuse the label of Humanist while people like you are making it an Humanist spaces unsafe for us by definition, but will accept the label of Atheist+ because of such “unimportant” differences.
Maybe your experience is different, but the approach to ritual I’ve seen in Humanist groups is very dividing. People in humanist groups I’ve seen (although only a handful) support each other, but would largely not associate with those whose appetite for ritual is very much stronger (or weaker) than theirs. A lot of people in our local group left the Unitarians because they could not stand the ritual and loose spiritual talk, and likewise were turned off by some of the symbolism and ritual at the Harvard conference a few years back. The amount of ritual (and some of us like none!) and community participation IS a dividing point, and from my experience seems to be the largest one among humanists (people really do seem to change groups over this issue more than any other).
I like what you’re doing, and most of what you post, but I think you are doing humanism a disservice when you write that people shouldn’t care about ritual. They do care, especially in person, and saying they shouldn’t really does turn people away.
I can imagine that it might be, but I don’t accept that it is. To be frank, I don’t know precisely what you are criticizing in my work. If your argument is that any for of communal singing is necessarily harmful to people I think your case is completely ridiculous. If your argument is that not everyone should have to participate in something they do not enjoy or value, then I agree (and therefore you have no case against me). If your argument is that having some Humanist communities which sing together harms other Humanists who don’t do so then, again, I think it is a fantasy. So what precisely are you saying? Be specific, please – quote my writing or refer to something I have done which substantiates the claim.
What “damage” are you talking about? And who said anything about being “first”? What does this have to do with anything I have written on this or any other topic?
It actually sounds very much like “you cannot sing hymns”. If I was going round trying to get every Humanist community to do the sorts of things I like to do, you might have a point. But at the moment what you seem to be saying is the following: “Because you identify as a Humanist, and you like singing with people, that means I cannot identify as a Humanist. And because you speak and write about liking singing you are harming people”. That’s absurd and authoritarian. It’s completely ridiculous.
What point are you actually trying to make?
I didn’t say any such thing. It’s very clear to me that the topic of ritual is a touchy one, and that there are lots of different opinions about it. What I AM saying is that you can happily be a Humanist and enjoy communal expressions of your Humanism, or be a Humanism and not enjoy such expression – no big deal. But saying “Atheism+ is a different thing to Humanism because it excludes those people who like to sing hymns” seems to me needlessly sectarian and totally absurd.
James Croft, I think you have seriously misread jamessweet.
All jamessweet said is that the people in the Atheism+ group are unlikely to like to sing. That’s it. The “exclusion” stuff is all your own inference.
This doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, nor does it seem sectarian in any way, shape or form.
I meant “exclude from the definition”, which can be the only force of the statement meant. I was more trying to say that I consider that to be a very unimportant difference, when it was presented as an “important difference”. And I don’t agree that it is important at all at the level of values.
James, I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but it comes across as a very uncharitable interpretation of jamessweet’s statement.
To interpret ‘no-one will voluntarily do x’ as ‘we have chosen to exclude people who could/would voluntarily do x’ really doesn’t seem to fit the typical usage of this sentence.
As much as I tend to burn bridges than build them, I’d like suggest that you read jamessweet’s statement as ‘I consider it unlikely that the people who are voicing interest in Atheism+ over Humanism would be interested in hymns, because they are like me and I have no interest in singing hymns’.
This is along the same lines as me stating “none of my friends would commit murder!” I have not intentionally excluded people who could/would commit murder (as that’s quite the impossibility, given the variability of people), but I would be startled and surprised to learn that a friend committed murder tomorrow.
Likewise, I’m sure that jamessweet would be startled and surprised if Jen McCreight (as a random example) voiced an interest in singing hymns.
You’re welcome to continue to disagree on this, but I’m going to stop beating this particular horse.
Fair enough – if I have misinterpreted jamessweet I offer my apologies. I am sometimes too quick to find disagreements on these blogs because of previous interactions.
I’m not criticizing anything in your work. What I’m critizing is your attitude. Namely that you call yourself Humanist and then spout remarks like this:
Clearly the people who would be harmed by your version of Humanism aren’t going to knowingly attend your temple, only to have a hand in being harmed by your services. Doesn’t mean that there are no people who would be harmed by attending. Doesn’t mean that the difference they have with you is unimportant. Calling it unimportant is you doing Humanism wrong.
You. Quoth the tweets:
Or, paraphrased: “Oh, how cute. You’re just getting to what I got to ages ago. <insert emoticon to seem friendly so that smarm is less obvious>”
I’m not sure I can make it much clearer, James. Pretending like your services would harm no-one were they in attendance is a shitty way to be a Humanist. The saving grace, and the reason that I have no problem with your work is that people can ignore you and your work. Mostly. You know, when you’re not telling people like me that our experiences are unimportant differences.
Now this is what I don’t get: you’ve had people tell you they’re disturbed by you singing hymns. Your response was effectively “so what” with an implied “so don’t attend”. That this point has been expressed to you in a milder form than “if you started singing hymns in a gathering I was at, I’d have a panic attack” means that you could extrapolate to that point easily. Why, then, do you not understand that you, doing what you do now, have the capacity to cause harm?
There are still some deep misconceptions about what I am and am not advocating which make this discussion difficult to engage in. First, there is not and will be no “temples”. I can see why people get this idea, but the title of my blog is taken from metaphorical statements made by Robert Ingersoll and Felix Adler, and does not represent a desire to actually build “temples”. Likewise, if I ever talk about building “the kingdom of heaven on earth”, please do not assume that I actually want to build a kingdom and be the king! I use language metaphorically a lot in my blogs and speeches and, while I am aware of the potential to confuse, I do try at least to be clear about my philosophy of language use:
What I am seeking to have a hand in building are nonreligious communities which are quite different in structure and practices to most religious spaces. So please be clea that what we are discussing are spaces already quite different to any religious space I’ve encountered.
As for the question of singing, you again misunderstand me if you think I don’t consider actual people’s reactions to something like communal singing to be unimportant – I didn’t say that and I don’t believe that. In fact I have engaged in a number of long discussions on the topic of singing and ritual with various bloggers including Crommunist and Tom Flynn at the CfI:
And on ritual in general:
These replies address directly some of the concerns you have raised, including some of the potential dangers of including such things in our meetings, and are based, in my view, on the best evidence and reasons available. So I would appreciate if you have criticisms of my stance on these issues, and you haven’t before read and considered those pieces, take a look and see what you think!
Now for your specific criticism. As far as I can tell (and it’s clearer now – thank you) your concern is that someone might attend a session without knowing that there is going to be singing involved, and then will suffer harm from it if it happens.
Well, I accept the possibility. But your response to that possibility seems to me to be extreme and unacceptable: the only meaning I can take from your argument here is that you think that because some people might potentially be triggered by group singing then no Humanist group should do it at all. That I consider to be inhumane – one group of individuals shutting off a life-affirming experience for another because they do not prefer it and find it harmful.
This is not to say I am indifferent to the concern – far from it. It concerns me deeply that there are some people who are so troubled by something like a song sung as a group that they would be harmed by being in the same room. But I do not think that every Humanist community that exists should organize all its meetings around such individuals. Rather I suggest that communities 1) be as clear as possible beforehand about what goes on in different meetings so people can be maximally informed and 2) offer a range of options so that people can still participate in the community without engaging in something like singing. Does this make sense?
On the “being first” issue, the tweet you quoted does not claim that “I was first with this idea”. What it points out is that there is a tradition which, in my mind, is functionally identical to the recent idea. I was not the first Humanist, and modern Humanism was not the first philosophy to posit ethics without God either. So I still plead not-guilty.
You then return to the previous point, making it crystal clear that ““if [we] started singing hymns in a gathering I was at, [you’d] have a panic attack”. And I’m clear in my mind that that would be a terrible experience and one that I would be deeply concerned about.
What I’m still unclear about is what you would like us to do to respond to that possibility. Do you think it is reasonable to say to a whole community “You cannot sing during meetings, even as a planned part of a session, because it greatly disturbs me?” And if so, does that mean that Humanists when gathered in community should never sing?
I’d genuinely like to know the answers to those questions, because I think it might reveal if there’s a disagreement here.
While it’s true that I would be disturbed to hear of someone attending your sessions and being hurt by them, I had assumed that it was an unlikely occurrence owing to the way you advertise the sessions and mark out your space. What I was trying to express is that saying that the difference stated by James Sweet as “profoundly unimportant” doesn’t mesh with your stated position that “It concerns me deeply that there are some people who are so troubled by something like a song sung as a group that they would be harmed by being in the same room.” If it concerns you, then it is not unimportant. If it is unimportant, it should concern no-one.
As I said, though, it’s mostly possible for people who would be harmed by your actions with the Harvard Humanists to ignore the existence of the group and thus eliminate the harm. I don’t want to control your actions with HH, I don’t want you to stop singing. I want you to bring your stated positions in line with your stated beliefs. Given that your stated beliefs are secular humanist, I want you to, in line with that, understand that dismissing a difference that is important to some as unimportant is dismissing others’ experiences. Dismissing others’ experiences is doing Humanism wrong.
Essentially, I think that the singing hymns business has become a red herring in this discussion. You’re, understandably, very focused on the particulars of your social life. From how distracting this is to you, I assume you’ve been attacked on the idea of Humanists singing hymns a lot, and get defensive relatively quickly. So let’s move this out of your social life with a little analogy. Imagine a house, with two cotenants. One, Lee, has a perfectionistic streak and the other, Alex, is a little more prone to chaos. Because of this, Lee has trouble dealing with furniture being “out of place”. Alex tends to leave chairs out from the kitchen table, which stresses Lee. From Alex’s point of view, there’s no real difference. Lee’s bursting forehead blood vessels for no reason. It’s unimportant whether the chair makes it another few centimetres in under the table, surely. Lee, however, is still stressed by the chairs being left out. It’s not unimportant to Lee. That said, Lee doesn’t really care what happens at Alex’s friends houses. That’s not Lee’s issue. Similarly, were we sharing a space and you started singing a hymn expecting me to join in, I’d be stressed by that. What you do in your space is not my issue. What is my issue is your use of the word “unimportant” to dismiss my stress, even if that’s not what you intend.
Sorry. Replace “first” with “before you”. It actually makes it sound more personal and smarmy if you do. I’m not sure that’s the direction you wanted to go. And it’s more than a little related to what’s important or not, as above.
Ah – then this discussion is simply due to a misunderstanding of what I meant by “profoundly unimportant”. What I meant was not “it is profoundly unimportant whether someone takes a different view to mine or has a different experience to mine”. What I was trying to suggest is that whether someone likes to engage in certain communal practices or not in order to explore or express their Humanism has little bearing on whether they ARE a Humanist. I am trying to be inclusive in my definition such that both those who do and those who do not want to do those things can be included under the “Humanist” umbrella.
Nice article, Brian!
Best one I’ve read so far on FtB on the topic of Atheism Plus, to my way of thinking at least.
Thanks for the shout-out Brian (I’m Temple of the Future 😉 ). I think I agree with your analysis.
Disagree: those aren’t “excellent points”; they’re not even “points”. Self-identifying/being identified as “Atheist(+)” and “Humanist” are not mutually exclusive. I’m willing to bet most of the people on board with A+ already also identify as humanists – people in favor of Atheism+ ARE ALREADY in favor of Humanism. The point of adopting the A+ label is to flip the finger at e.g. the MRA crowd, letting them know we’re not going to simply let them have Atheism, we’re going to morph the label and relegate them to an appropriately marginal position. Why we need it at all is because language choice impacts discourse; it’s an intentional attempt at discursive engineering. Some of the specific differences have already been cataloged.
I think if you read my post you would see that my point is a little different to how you seem to have taken it. My point is more that Humanist activists like myself have been making the same case for quite some time – that atheists need to explicitly endorse a set of progressive positive values and that atheism alone is not enough. That message was getting through only to a minority of individuals, frankly (although in my experience it was well received among younger student groups).
Now essentially the same concept is being promoted through the “Atheism+” label and people seem to think it’s fantastic and a new idea to boot. My point is simply that the basic concept is not new, and it’s interesting that some of the same individuals who have strongly criticized Humanist activists in the past for making similar points are now enthusiastically endorsing A+. And I find that interesting to ponder.
There are at least two differences between Humanism and Atheism+:
1. Atheism+ doesn’t have Humanism’s fascination with ritual and ceremony.
2. Humanism, even secular humanism, isn’t atheist. There are lots of theistic humanists, including secular humanists.
There’s some overlap between the two movements, but there are differences as well. Otherwise, atheists like Greta Christina wouldn’t be writing Humanism Is Great — But it’s Not Atheism:
There seems to be a common trend here conflating Croft’s Humanism with Humanism in general.
Humanism does not have a fascination with ritual or ceremony.
Some Humanist groups do have a fascination with ritual and/or ceremony.
That some humanist groups have this fascination does not imply that it’s integral to humanism itself. I object to this conflation. (as, I’m sure, do the Humanists who have an interest in neither ritual nor ceremony)
For all practical purposes, it is.
Humanism has been around for a very long time, and for the bulk of that time it (like ‘freethinker’) was a shibboleth for ‘atheist’.
The interest in ritual/ceremony seems to me to be A) modern and B) predominantly American.
Brian offers a good response. All the Humanist Manifestos explicitly reject theism, so the second point is simply inaccurate.
The first is really interesting, because it does seem that a few of the commenters on this site, when they think of “Humanism”, automatically think of some of my writing on ritual. It’s kind of flattering but a little odd because, first, I am a minority within the Humanist community itself with my interest in ritual and, second, my writing about ritual is a tiny part of my work! Minute! And even I’m skeptical about it!
There must be a name for the fallacy of assuming that those elements of a topic which rise to your attention are the whole picture of that topic – Brian? Because that’s what I see going on here.
I do want to make it clear that a lot of my interest in ritual is because I am a philosopher who does a lot of aesthetics. It is part of my job! I have to be interested in this stuff. A lot of my blogging explore my academic interests and relates them to Humanism, but this doesn’t mean those are my main concerns when it comes to Humanism.
Anyway, rant over =)
It’s a combination of the Availability Heuristic (i.e. that which is easily recalled is presumed to be common, and/or commonly known), and Confirmation Bias (so when people google for humanist rituals, they get a bunch of humanist groups interested in humanist rituals).
Sartre, I’m sure, would be delighted to hear that he is 1) not anti-theism and 2) interested in rituals/ceremonies. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.htm
I’m a huge fan of Sartre’s work myself – Existentialism is a Humanism is one of the first works I read on Humanism as an undergraduate – but I doubt a thorough appreciation of Sartre is behind the association of Humansim with ritual on this site. I could be wrong, though… =)
When it comes to feminism, I am perfectly happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with any christian (or muslim, or hindhu…) if they share my views that men and women should be treated equally.
When it comes to racism, I am perfectly happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with any christian (or muslim, or hindhu…) if they share my views that all races should be treated equally.
When it comes to sexuality, I am perfectly happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with any christian (or muslim, or hindhu…) if they share my views that people of all sexual orientation should be treated equally.
When it comes to church/state separation, I am perfectly happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with any christian (or muslim, or hindhu…) if they share my views that people of any religion or none should given any preference by the state.
See a pattern?
There are also atheists who don’t share my views on these things and I am perfectly happy to discuss with them our differences of opinion.
I am perfectly happy if humanism is not entirely atheistic. There is noting about atheism that necessarily leads to any particular political viewpoint. There is also nothing about humanism that means it has to be entirely atheistic.
But that’s fine. I fight each issue on it’s own merits. Creating specific clubs that exactly match my viewpoint is not something I want to be part of. In fact, the opposite is true. I want to be challenged on my views.
I thought, perhaps naively, that when I started to meet other atheists and skeptics that having my views challenged would be the norm. In fact I was rather excited by it. I still hope that is the case.