Saturday, September 8, 2012

More on Atheism+ and Secular Humanism

Having just read Greta's post about Atheism+, I have some responses and comments on the issue.  Yes, my previous post basically stated that I didn't see any difference between Atheism+ and Secular Humanism, but now that I've read Greta's clear statement of her view of the differences, I think I'm seeing things a little differently.

Let me first address definitions.  Right up front, she says:
Several people who are more familiar with humanism than I am have informed me that Christian Humanism is not, in fact, humanism, and that a basic principle of humanism is non-theism. I stand corrected.
Well, I think she's listening to several uninformed people.  Let me try to set things straight.  "Humanism" simply means a focus on what is best for humans, here and now.  Anyone can be "Humanist" and still have some other-worldly "religious" views as well.  Thus, there are "Christian Humanists".  There are definitely "Jewish Humanists" (but that gets into the whole issue of how Jews view God a little differently from everyone else - a fascinating topic, but not one for now).  Any religion can have a "focus on humans" aspect and thus have a "Humanism" version.  "Secular Humanism" is a focus on humans in a totally secular (i.e., non-religious) fashion, thus it's the one which Atheism+ is most like.  It's true that the term, "Humanist," has come to mean the same as "Secular Humanism," so anyone who says they are "Humanist" is usually also declaring a non-belief in God.  It's true, also, that some religious forms of "Humanism" seem rather strange.  "Christian Humanism" seems odd because Christianity is all about a focus on Christ, God, and the after-life, so how can it also be focused on humans here and now?  Just doesn't make a lot of sense without modifying the idea of Christianity, at least a little.  So, going forward I think we can assume that when we say "Humanist," we mean "Secular Humanism," and thus are declaring a world view without God.  For convenience, I think we can also agree that "Humanism" refers to the same thing, at least in this post.

Next, Greta states the primary differences between "Humanism" and "Atheism+".

"Humanism, on the other hand, is generally perceived as more diplomatic. More easy-going."
"The word “atheism” is clear. ...  The word “humanism” isn’t nearly as well-understood. Lots of people don’t even know what it means."
"And then there’s the matter of public perception, and public understanding."

And this is actually one of my major points.  "Humanism" isn't clear.  That's true and it's a very convenient truth.  Because "Humanism" isn't clear to people, and "Secular Humanism" as well, it means that people can't bring any preconceived notions to the discussion.  The time you say, "Atheism+", many (most?) people can immediately think they have a good idea what that is (Some type of super-Atheism which tries to convert people?  Atheism along with other evil ideas which I really don't want to know about?  Atheism on steroids!)  At this point, they don't feel the need to investigate or question.  They think they know, thus they do know, in their mind.

"Secular Humanism," on the other hand pushes people off center.  They're confronted with something they absolutely don't understand.  They can't possibly have preconceived notions, because they have to admit to themself that they really have no idea!  Just a few weeks ago, I responded to a friend's Facebook post saying, "You sound as though you may be a Secular Humanist."  Their response was, "Really?  I don't know what that is.  I'll have to investigate it."  I then followed up with pointers to the American Humanist Association web site, which led to my pointing her toward the Humanist Manifesto, something with which a lot people agree without even knowing it.  (I say I'm "Atheist" when I'm being visited by Jehovah's Witnesses, at which point they immediately say, "Ok, have a good day," and leave!  It has worked every time so far without fail.  I think they've been taught to just leave if they encounter "Atheists" because there's no hope for such people!)

I'll mention here that Greta's next comment re. Humanist organizations was totally "on the money":
"Many humanist groups are overwhelmingly made up of older, middle-class, college educated white men"
This is so totally true of the local Humanist organization here in Santa Barbara, that they do not seem interested in reaching out to younger people at all!  I'm forced to choose between an organization run by people who could be my parents (and who didn't even know who Mr Deity was, even though they had invited him to talk!), or an organization at my local college which is quite active, "in your face," and fun, however I could be their parent!  "Secular Humanism" seems to be the Atheism of older people and "Atheism+" is the "Secular Humanism" of the younger generation.

So, I think the biggest difference between "Atheism+" and "Secular Humanism" is really mostly a matter of focus.  In the same way that a scene can appear quite different depending upon the source of the light and the position of the camera, "Secular Humanism" and "Atheism+" are different views of the same scene, each bring into focus different aspects while glossing over, or leaving in shadows, other aspects.  Each has their advantages and disadvantages.  "Atheism+" is good for being "in your face," current news, active in the world, and generally trying to make things happen.  "Secular Humanism" is good for being a more gentle approach with which many people already agree, however they just don't know it.  Each has their place.  When talking to a more progressive, younger, person, who may feel as though they're searching for a way to "make their mark on the world," the term "Atheism+" is definitely the way to go.  When talking to a more conservative, older person, who is somewhat secure in their social situation but feels as though religion really isn't helping them, "Secular Humanism" would be more appropriate.

I'll take them both and I'll use them each in their appropriate place.  There isn't any one way toward freedom from religion.  Each person has to come to an understanding in their own way and in their own time.  The best we, as Atheists, can do is to make sure we're there to help when they're ready for some answers.  "Atheism+" is definitely a good movement and I'm totally behind it.  Just recognize that "Atheism+" and "Secular Humanism" are two different views of the same larger scene of learning to live life, in the world, with others, and realizing that ultimately all of the rules must come from us, not God.