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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Humanitarian Humanism

I just read Human Rights and the Paradox of Humanism on the International Humanist and Ethical Union blog, as part of a CFI course on Humanism, Atheism, and Social Justice. It was a rich, scholarly piece by Rob Buitenweg that offered perspectives on humanism that I had not previously considered.

General Humanism

Although secular humanism is critical of obscurantism, general humanism is more inclusive. As Buitenweg points out, general humanism does not preclude religious humanism. 
So, within this perspective of inclusive humanism it makes perfectly sense to speak of humanist Christians, or humanist Muslims, or, conversely, of Christian humanists or Islamic humanists.

Existential Humanism

The Buitenweg article challenged one of my most basic assumptions about humanism: that humanitarianism necessarily follows from ideological humanism
The term existential humanism refers to human existence in general and not only to human relations in organised society.

Ideological Humanism

The article got me thinking about the humanism of the Cynics vs. the humanism of the Stoics, the activism of public intellectuals and the intellectual depth of social activists. 
Ideological humanism is rather easily to define by virtue of its organizations and explicit theories, although this humanism too will vary from person to person.

Public Humanism

Existential humanism can be morally sterile and public humanism can be intellectually shallow. The distinctions between the two are significant, but the fact that they coincide in certain individuals demonstrates that they are not mutually exclusive. 
The public humanism of human rights does not seek to give an answer to the question of the meaning of life. It does not want to get on existential grounds. 

Atheism Plus

The article also got me thinking about how Atheism+ supporters initially misrepresented humanism by looking alternately at ideological humanism and religious humanism, rather than seeing both as emerging from general humanism. The emergence of Atheism+ could be understood as as a call for more of  the public humanism described by Buitenweg.
Is it possible that the emphasis that humanists have put on autonomy and freedom have contributed to the importance that is attached to civil and political rights and to a neglect of economic, social and cultural rights?

Interfaith Activism

The article also suggests support for humanist participation in Interfaith dialogue. If humanists would have the religious renounce the idea that humanitarianism automatically follows from religion, perhaps we should concede that humanitarianism does not necessarily follow from existential humanism. 
True believers may be suspicious of public humanism and of human rights based on it, wrongly thinking that it follows from ideological humanism which as a life-stance may be in conflict with their own life-stance or religion. This may be a reason to avoid using the term humanism for the underlying morality of human rights and a reason to move to the word humanitarianism.

Before reading the Buitenweg article, I would have considered the expression "humanitarian humanist" to be redundant. We, as humanists, could renounce the presumption that humanitarianism naturally follows from existential humanism by calling ourselves "Humanitarian Humanists." In doing so, we might teach the religious by example to drop their claim to a monopoly on ethics. 

Religious obscurantism will always be at odds with truth, but if religion evolved from sacred cow to worthy alternative it would lose its power to inculcate self-loathing and disdain for material concerns. With the recognition of shared humanity independent of life-stance, the religious would be worthier allies in the struggle for human rights and--I dare say--we might as well.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Member Quote: Atheist Quotes Of The Day

"Anthropomorphic gods are narcissistic projections. 
Incorporeal gods are immaterial abstractions. 
Impersonal gods are obscurantist metaphors. 
Now imagine no religion."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Member Quote: Atheist Quotes Of The Day

"Religion is an allegiance to a convenient resolution without regard for truth. 
Atheism is a resolute allegiance to truth without regard for convenience."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

How Old Is This Meme?

I first began blogging soon after a colleague challenged me about atheist internet memes that I had been posting on Facebook with increasing frequency. She is had always taken her atheism for granted and did not see the point of political atheism. 

My colleague's challenge inspired me to to focus my intellectual energy through blogging. This post presents a wide range of perspectives represented in internet memes by tracing them to their philosophical antecedents.

Rationalism: Anthropomorphic gods are narcissistic projections; incorporeal gods are immaterial abstractions.

Skepticism: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Agnosticism: The supernatural is immaterial.


Empiricism: Discovery trumps faith.

Atheism: Determined faith is obstinate credulity.

Secularism: Civil law trumps religious law.

Cynicism: Sentience is corporeal; immortality is an empty promise.

Humanism: Morality trumps piety.

Stoicism: Knowledge trumps revelation.

Universalism: Sectarian religions are mutually contradictory and internally inconsistent.

Humanism: Personal gods are nepotism fantasies; impersonal gods are obscurantist metaphors.

Antitheism: If there are gods, they are sadistic, indifferent or capricious.

Freethought: Worthy ideas do not need sacred status.

This post presents a wide range philosophical perspectives embedded in internet memes. I welcome comments from readers who find older antecedents. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mendacity of Spirit

The religious have done a remarkable job of convincing themselves of their generosity of spirit. Try as I may to give my rhetorical adversaries the benefit of the doubt, I see all forms of supernatural religion as suspect on this count. Anthropomorphic gods are narcissistic projections. Incorporeal gods are immaterial abstractions. Impersonal gods are obscurantist metaphors. Religion is characterized by that unconditional allegiance to custom that we accuse the doctrinaire of imitating when we make analogies between religion and non-supernatural dogma. Religious mendacity of spirit extends to the intellectual (LOGOS), emotional (PATHOS) and moral (ETHOS) spheres of human experience.

Naturalism, unlike religion, is based on what we can observe. Some religious--and even post-modernists--would have us view naturalism as a dogma on par with religion. The problem is that science and religion are irreconcilable and cannot be embraced on equal terms without inviting cognitive dissonance. We know, for example, that sentience is a function of evolved biological complexity. This fact is incompatible with the notion of an eternal, incorporeal consciousness. The intellectual mendacity of religion insists on a narcissistic understanding of a universe created for us in which our consciousness is eternal.

It has been said by innumerable sages that faith is a form of willful self-deception. Faith is only invoked in defense of an untenable proposition. The siege mentality of the religious betrays their underlying sense of entitlement. Before accusing atheists of excessive stridency, it would be sensible to consider the fact that the customary religious exemption from scrutiny is culturally conditioned. It is a vestige of religious privilege that has been used to persecute heretics since time immemorial. Blasphemy is a victimless crime, yet it is punishable by death in certain parts of the world and by marginalization in others. 

Religious mendacity of spirit also takes the form of emotional dependence. This emotional dependence is especially pronounced in monotheistic religions, but it is also observed in non-theistic religions with some form of karmic enforcement of religious pronouncements. Even personal superstitious rituals or seemingly innocuous statements such as "everything happens for a reason" suggest a determination to reject the disconcerting notion that we live in an indifferent cosmos. Belief in divine intervention is analogous to low-grade Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Emotional dependence induced by religion reflects a mendacity of spirit to the extent that it represents humans as fundamentally unworthy of divine favor and ungrateful in lamenting adversity. To hold oneself to such a standard without judging others by it is to invite cognitive dissonance. It is a fundamentally intolerant doctrine. It is a short distance between judging non-believers unworthy of divine favor and reveling in their misfortunes. Religious conformity often reads as calm resignation, but it can be rallied for righteous indignation at a moment's notice.

The ethical mendacity of religion can be observed in the insistence on attributing morality to religion. Even religious moderates who choose their religious observances cafeteria style will attribute their virtue to their religious heritage. Biblical authority is a notoriously unreliable source of compassionate moral precepts, yet the doctrine of diving revelation remains intact. What is missing is the acknowledgement that empathy is hard-wired into human nature. Persons deemed pathologically lacking in empathy are the exceptions that prove the rule. Those who take orders from invisible beings are considered either prophets or psychotics, depending on the context.

The religious who claim to base their personal morality on religion yet insist that they do not judge non-believers are making a disingenuous claim. It is psychologically impossible to understand religion as inherently virtuous without judging the non-believer as somehow deficient. To minimize cognitive dissonance, believers will have to acknowledge their empathy as an inherent human quality nurtured by opportunities to engage in moral reasoning. These opportunities may be provided by religious culture but could be nurtured in a secular context if religion did not crowd out other opportunities.

Religion inculcates a mendacity of spirit in the intellectual, emotional and moral spheres of human experience. This is not to say that the religious cannot obtain generosity of spirit, but they do so in spite of supernatural belief, not because of it. Intellectual curiosity, emotional autonomy and moral reasoning are the benchmarks of adulthood and the casualties of religion.