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On-going Discussion/Examination of Humanism

Adrian
KingHell
Group Organizer
London, GB
Post #: 891
If we are going to challenge the religious to defend their position on their beliefs we had better be on top of our own. Many of us are humanists and following on from Graham Bell's presentation and discussion on humanism here is a discussion thread which we can use on an ongoing basis.
Clive A.
user 48030052
London, GB
Post #: 124
Adrian

Atheism is not only the beginning, it's also the end. It's not on the way to anywhere else. It's not a label it's a description of an existing state of affairs. I'm not a humanist because I don't agree with everything it seems to stand for, although some of it I do. People often try to attach political labels as well and it's equally futile. I have views that are both on the left and on the right. It's an unhelpful pigeon holing which humans are so fond of doing. So, Clive, like it or not, I am not a humanist, and as Ginny says, no one much in the big wide world has even heard of humanism so saying you are one yourself won't mean much to most people either.
The 1000 character limit made it difficult to fit in everything I wanted to say in the original post.

When many people join the BHA, they do so saying "I was a humanist before joining the BHA". I am not saying you or anyone else is a member of the BHA or CLHG. People can be humanists in the same sense that you can be rational without being a member of the Rationalist Association, or you can be secular without being a member of the National Secular Society, or you can be skeptical without being a member of Skeptics in the Pub etc. Concepts such as humanism, rationalism, secularism and skepticism exist independently of organisations that choose to bear those names.

Many people say they are atheists and they still believe in e.g. a soul, so IMO the moment you decide you are an atheist may not be the end of the quest to align your thoughts with reality, it is just the starting point for some people. For some people the atheism conclusion may be the final piece of the jigsaw. I am sure you have also said the same sort of thing before. Why is it so remarkable when I say it?


Ginny
As Graham pointed out, outside of our groups, hardly anyone has heard of humanism. So when you say " If we get our morality partly from humans we are humanists. … we look to humanity, not divinity, for answers", - well if you are a non believer what POSSIBLE other thing could you get your morality from, if not humans? School of the bleedin’ obvious doesn't make it an identity that we must all take on board, Clive. And I know you don't mean it this way, nor have I taken offence, but your assertion that we are all humanists whether we like the label or not, can come across as condescending, and more worryingly, verging on the bullying/social pressure phenomena that I have come across fairly often by now by some who choose the humanist label.

I think this arrogance must come from the notion that the label confers 'ethics' to the wearer. It doesn't, it confers an inferiority complex, IMV. As in my reply to Gaya below, the actual phrase used by this person was "I've been told what we think". There is so much wrong with that!! ...and what you've said is the same soup. This character limit is annoying so I will start a discussion thread later to continue this topic as I think there are some important issues here that shouldn't be swept under the carpet.

Humanism is a concept. The concept is easy to understand and as you say it is bleedin obvious. There is nothing in the concept to disagree with. You may disagree with the BHA but I am talking about the concept, not the BHA. The concept does not belong to the BHA, anymore than rationality belongs to the Rationalist Association. I wonder if people would be as keen to say they are not rational just because they are not members of the Rationalist Association or they have some issues with aspects of how the RA is run? It is a matter of fact that we get our answers from humans. No bullying is involved in stating a fact, much less arrogance. I can't speak for anyone else, but nobody has ever told me what to think.
Adrian
KingHell
Group Organizer
London, GB
Post #: 899
Atheism is not a label is the point Clive. You don't choose whether you're called an atheist. If you don't believe in a god then like it or not you are one.

You do choose whether you're a humanist or not. I disagree with a lot of the humanist philosophy. For example the "good without god" bollocks that is neo-Puritanism, and the apologist stance on religion is unacceptable in my view. So therefore I'm not a humanist. Which bit of I don't agree with humanism don't you understand that you then wish to label me one, or imply that I'm so stupid I don't realise I am one, even though I don't agree with humanism as it exists!?

I don't think you understand the words yourself. And I told you that at the Al-Khalili meeting when you said 'atheism means different things to different people' and I said it can't because it only means one thing: you don't believe in a god. So it means the same to everyone.

I think you are interpreting these terms in a religious sense, which I can't do as I've never been religious. We don't need labels to replace ones we never had. Maybe the ex-religious feel we do.

PS an addendum following Ginny's subsequent post: she quotes you: "there is nothing in the concept to disagree with". Well that's not true as my post shows, there is plenty to disagree with! I don't much care for the socialist connection either.
Georgi L.
Guffaw
London, GB
Post #: 2,147
Humanism is a concept. The concept is easy to understand and as you say it is bleedin obvious. There is nothing in the concept to disagree with.
Clive,

The Non religious i.e morality from humans = humanists?
The Religious i.e. - morality from supposed divinity ... why is there no "divinitist" label?

Not a rhetorical question btw - I really would like to know what you think.

The part of the humanist concept that says non religious humans get their morality from humans is the bleedin' obvious part - therefore is not required! In the same way that 'divinitist label isn't required!

The other part is the jelly part - the so called 'ethics' of the humanists concept in practice. It "means whatever you want it to mean" i.e. it has no real meaning or use, other than to give the wearers of the label a cosy feeling that they're "good". It serves to proclaim to the world that you're "good without god". (YUK btw!). Why do you need to proclaim that? That's why I say it is now manifesting as a vanity, an arrogance - but of course these things are really indicative of an inferiority complex. It's a need to tell the world that even if you're not religious, you're still a good person. I was lucky enough not to have had religion forced onto me so have never needed the crutch of something to replace it with. But if someone comes from a very religious background and need it as a stepping stone on the way to becoming confident enough not to need such validation, fair enough. Other than that it had a purpose when no one could conceive that it was even valid to exist without religion. In communities where that is the case, it is still a pragmatically useful concept. But here and now, it's a vanity lable that is as meaningless as it is unnecessary, at best. If that were all, I wouldn't use it but I wouldn't have an issue with it as such. However since in practice it has some rather counterproductive and conformist tendencies which I do not agree with, I actively reject the label for myself and question it's 'ethics' on certain aspects. I dislike that it presumes to claim ethics, in the same way that religion claims morality. That said, no doubt humanists mean well and of course we are all on the same side i.e. I am talking about the idea of humanism, rather than about humanists. The same distinction we make when talking about religious ideas rather than religious people. Some humanists in our audience didn't seem to understand that and took it personally! And this is also indicative of some people using humanism as an identity rather than an idea. It's dangerous when it's religion, and dangerous when it's humanism if we can't separate ourselves from a concept.
Angela D.
user 71491512
London, GB
Post #: 162
So far... I'm not a Humanist. I am, or try to be, a humanitarian, <honestly, not that good at it>.
I have a better understanding of Humanism, since being a member.
In the POT of atheism there are some who believe in a soul and some who believe in the paranormal.
The paranormal is in parallel with the supernatural I think. Likewise the soul is supernatural too, I think/ believe.
So what I'm saying is that some atheist do believe in the supernatural but minus God....
And to cloud the issue there are people in the world who believe in evil spirits but not God.
Georgi L.
Guffaw
London, GB
Post #: 2,148

Humanism is a concept. The concept is easy to understand and as you say it is bleedin obvious. There is nothing in the concept to disagree with. You may disagree with the BHA but I am talking about the concept, not the BHA. The concept does not belong to the BHA, anymore than rationality belongs to the Rationalist Association. I wonder if people would be as keen to say they are not rational just because they are not members of the Rationalist Association or they have some issues with aspects of how the RA is run? It is a matter of fact that we get our answers from humans. No bullying is involved in stating a fact, much less arrogance. I can't speak for anyone else, but nobody has ever told me what to think.
Rationalism is not a lump of jelly. It isn't just a pointless vanity label but does actually have a purpose, nor does it "mean whatever you want it to mean". Therefore your comparison is invalid.

As for the bullying part - well you've strayed on it yourself by declaring that we're all humanists. It's similar to Xtians saying certain values are Xtian values.

I'm sure no one thinks they're bullying when they're being so 'religious' about humanism that social pressure is applied to tell people what fits into the 'ethics' of humanism and what doesn't. What I am referring to is fairly common in humanism - at the PB meetup it was said that the method takes away the "comfort" of religious people and therefore isn't compatible with the 'ethics' of humanism. Whilst I think none of us would argue that trying to talk someone out of their faith on their deathbed might not be kind, or even the elderly, but in all other cases I think it actually IS kind to "be the bad guy" but try and help people live their life without wasting it on religious claptrap. How much time, effort, guilt will they save? And maybe the next generation will be saved from the virus, thus breaking the cycle of vertical infection

Yet whilst humanism is happy to play the good guy when it's easy PR - soup kitchens and what not, it won't speak up and challenge faith itself. Yes the BHA do some good work challenging bishops , faith schools etc - but they never speak up about faith itself being an invalid position. And it seems to be perfectly acceptable within humanism to say "who are we to say?". Well if you're lucky enough to have had the genetics and the lifestyle conditions to have escaped from faith, then don't you owe it to those who are still being forced into it to try and and help them escape? How is it ethical to ignore that? Shouldn't it be " who are we to stay silent?"

For those that say well if we challenge faith we can't talk to religious people and bring about change, well I understand what you mean but is it really true? I agree with trying to work with religious groups etc, but one doesn't have to lose one's principles in doing so. One can still say " we're happy to work together on x because we respect you as people, but to us, faith is an invalid position and we don't respect that idea. We're happy to discuss it with you". But what humanism seems to stand for is co-existence. That's just not good enough - shall we just ignore the billions of children being infected in the meantime? As Dod pointed out at the meetup, other civil movements such as abolitionism or feminism didn't tolerate the other position being equally valid - they didn't say, "well of course you have every right to continue slavery or denying women the vote , but please, would you deign to let us coexist, because we're "good without slavery"?!
Jason
SweynTUV
London, GB
Post #: 358
How about a quick recap? What criticisms have been levelled at Humanists/Humanism and are they fair/reasonable? Here’s what I have heard and my personal perspective. This is going to be a bit long. Sorry.

Humanists are just atheists who won’t criticise religion.

Unfair. Some (%?) won’t on principle and that’s a problem I grant you, but plenty will and do. We need to recognise that organised Humanism (BHA, AHA, IHEU etc.) is trying to influence policymakers so an element of diplomacy is called for to get things done. There is a legitimate debate to be had about where the line should be drawn to be most effective, but that’s just politics. Putting aside the dyed-in-the-wool accommodationists, I think everyone wants to see an end to religious privilege and excess. It is just business as usual that there should be different views about how pragmatically we should try to make that happen. I don’t think that means that we need tar all individual Humanists (or Humanism in principle) with the same accommodationist brush.

Humanism is an unnecessary/empty label to hang around anyone’s neck.

Since it’s not mandatory what’s the problem? Many people bumble along for years as atheists with a social conscience thinking they are alone. One day they discover that there are like-minded people, there have been for a couple of hundred years and they have built up a bit of a tradition. Those people happen to call themselves Humanists. The glove fits so they wear it. That’s all there is to it and no harm done, as far as I can see.

Humanism’s claim to being ethical or “good without god” is empty and/or smug

Humanism carries the baggage of its past when it had to stand up against the majority view that atheism=amorality but Humanist and atheist ethics come from exactly the same place, i.e. innate/evolved human empathy augmented by reason. When Humanists claim to be “ethical” they are not claiming to have absolute morals/ethics or that their tradition is somehow superior to those of other non-Humanist atheists. They are just saying that ethical concerns are important to them and as the name implies, those ethics derive from the Human sphere rather than the divine. Most atheists may be ethical but some certainly aren’t, as evidenced by some on both sides of the Atheism+ wars. Some among the anti-A-plussers though take an explicitly “moraility is BS” line. IMHO having a social conscience is nothing to be ashamed of so I don’t see why anyone should have go at Humanists for this. Give me a Humanist over some Ayn Rand spouting libertarian-objectivist atheist any day of the week.

Humanism cannot define its own ethics

How does anyone do this when those ethics are not handed down from on high? Humanist ethics aren’t absolute (since all ethical standards change over time) but they are objective, in the sense that we can all discuss them objectively. Humanist ethical principles are those core beliefs that would find being held by Humanists at any one time and objectively we can say what these are: respect for autonomy of the individual, freedom of thought and expression, equality under the law etc. These are surely principles that LAAGers share. We feel and we reason that the more widely these principles are upheld the “better” things will be, in terms of individual human happiness and our collective wellbeing. We shouldn’t expect the average Humanist to be any more articulate in the spotlight than the average atheist and Humanist organisations listing broad principles rather than specific commandments is just fine with me.

So what?

We are all atheists and while some are also comfortable as Humanists, some aren’t. It should be no skin off anyone’s nose to let other atheists call themselves what they want. What matters is the influence of religion and how it should best be curtailed. There is a genuine debate to be had about how best to do this so debates like the one we had the other night are a good thing. Pretending differences don't exist isn't helpful. We need to understand each other’s point of view and face up to those differences, but always keeping in mind that we want the same ends, even as we may have strongly held and sometimes opposing views about how best to achieve them.
Clive A.
user 48030052
London, GB
Post #: 128
Adrian you make a lot of good points but I will deal with only one at this time.

You do choose whether you're a humanist or not.
I disagree with a lot of the humanist philosophy. For example the "good without god" bollocks
that is neo-Puritanism, and the apologist stance on religion is unacceptable in my view. So
therefore I'm not a humanist. Which bit of I don't agree with humanism don't you understand
that you then wish to label me one, or imply that I'm so stupid I don't realise I am one, even
though I don't agree with humanism as it exists!?

Here is the Dictionary.com definition of humanism
http://dictionary.ref...­

I have copied it below.


humanism

1. any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity
predominate.
2. devotion to or study of the humanities.
3. ( sometimes initial capital letter ) the studies, principles, or culture of the humanists.
4. Philosophy . a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific
inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief
in God.


My post is only about humanism with a small "h" (as in the dictionary definition), you have chosen
to argue about Humanism with a capital "H" (e.g. the British Humanist Association). The two
are not the same thing. You can be a humanist without being a member of the BHA, just as you
can be;
- conservative, without being a member of the Conservative party
- secular without being a member of the National Secular Society


Again my post is about the definition of humanism as stated above, (not membership of or
agreement with anything said by, the BHA), so I am keen to know what, if anything, you disagree with in the definition.

I regard this as a debate. We should all work against our common enemy, religion, not each other.
Clive A.
user 48030052
London, GB
Post #: 129
Ginny
I agree with a lot of what you say. I am glad that we are at least attempting to talk about
the concept of humanism, but I feel that people too easily jump to the conclusion that the concept is the same thing as the statements put out by the BHA.

To be honest I support the BHA because they campaign against e.g. faith schools, the 26 bishops sitting in the House of Lords etc. I could not care less if they use the slogans such as "Good without God". Slogans like that are wasted if directed towards those who are 6.9 on the Dawkins scale. Much of the world's population still believes in gods. I could be wrong but I presume that such simplistic slogans are directed at them. For example I was speaking to a young muslim the other day who said that if it wasn't for his belief in god he could not possibly be a good person. A slogan like that may be the first time he has ever confronted the idea of not believing in god. It may just sow a seed that could lead him in future towards a 5, 6 or 7 on the Dawkins scale.

I also agree with you that it is not possible to claim to be ethical simply by being a Humanist. But again I would not claim this for myself and I would reject anyone claiming it for me merely because I was a member of BHA. If all BHA members are deemed to be ethical in the way you say it is claimed, then clearly the wording needs to be changed. The claim is false.

Above all as you said, we are on the same side. Let's give religion, a kicking, not each other.


Georgi L.
Guffaw
London, GB
Post #: 2,167
Clive,

Thanks for your response. We could talk endlessly about this - and perhaps that's because humanism doesn't seem to have been discussed openly and critically, as far as I can gather anyway. For people that aspire towards critical thinking, perhaps one should start with one's own thinking/identity labels/sacred cows.

As for the last line - well yes, goes without saying of course :-) I do get what you mean but saying "Let's give religion, a kicking, not each other" seems to indicate that discussing concepts is somehow giving each other a kicking, in some shape or form. So a bit of a counterproductive statement -hope you don't mind me saying.

If WE can't separate discussion of ideas as being distinct from personal affronts to our (chosen!) identities then we are falling into the same trap that we so often find with the religious when we challenge them about ideas of ("their" i.e. inherited, chosen by someone else) faith/religion.

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