Accumulated Wisdom 2007.12.21

Posted By Stefan Monsaureus

Once again, it is time to clear out a backlog of miscellany of possible interest – my own carnival banal.

For those seeking a secular alternative to the Pagan-influenced holiday called Christmas, or who think the winter solstice comes just a few days too early, or who are looking for an alternative to Saturnalia without all of that Greco-Roman mythological baggage, there is Human Light, celebrated on (or, apparently, about) 23 December.

In Western societies, late December is a season of good cheer and a time for gatherings of friends and families. During the winter holiday season, where the word “holiday” has taken on a more secular meaning, many events are observed. This tradition of celebrations, however, is grounded in supernatural religious beliefs that many people in modern society cannot accept. HumanLight presents an alternative reason to celebrate: a Humanist’s vision of a good future. It is a future in which all people can identify with each other, behave with the highest moral standards, and work together toward a happy, just and peaceful world.

Seneca the Younger could not have said it better (although taking “a better supper and throwing off the toga” is an invitation more enticing than any I’ve received to a humanist or atheist event).

In its Atoms and Eden section, Salon has published The Atheist Delusion, in which the theologian John Haught plumbs the depths of his ignorance to explain why science and God are not at odds and why Richard Dawkins and the “new atheists” lead lives bereft of meaning and hope, naively shun a fool’s paradise and fail to appreciate the value of maintaining faith in imaginary deities. This article is laid waste at Black Sun Journal in a post entitled “John Haught’s Cliche-ridden Caricature of Atheism.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Theology cannot survive without attacking science. Theology cannot survive without fabrication, equivocation, and appealing to a fundamentally sentimental anthropomorphization of God and the universe. How it would (the thought is delicious!) terrify Haught if he were to realize that his God exists not only in the form of man, but is also a product of him.

Yet another debate rages between those in the freethought movement who favor either tolerance or resistance. In this case, the discussion centers on the softer, tolerant approach taken by Hemant Mehta and a group of his commenters at Friendly Atheist and the more direct, actively resistant approach promoted by Brian Sapient at Rational Response Squad here and here). As I mentioned in a previous post on this subject:

Balancing resistance and tolerance is not easy. Too much tolerance – to the point of being softheaded – endangers important civil liberties. Too much resistance – to the point of militancy – places a wedge between nontheists and liberal religious observers, deists, and others who are sympathetic to the humanist worldview but shun the label, and foments attacks by those who most fervently disagree with, or are most threatened by, a secular, rational outlook. A proper balance between resistance and tolerance will foster a robust defense against the intrusion of religious ideology into our society.

While tending to err on the side of tolerance, I must admit that Sapient is on target when he discusses the relative failure of the humanist movement, which holds tenaciously to its model of inoffensive, positive engagement, and has yet to find an effective voice or any substantial traction in the new media.

For a comparison as to how “passive atheism” doesn’t attract people like “aggressive atheism” does look towards the Humanist Vision challenge. A project that we were happy to support and put an equal amount of effort in to as compared to our Blasphemy Challenge. A project that I’d consider a failure in comparison and I know the reasons why, do you? Humanist vision: 6 responses . Blasphemy Challenge 1,444 responses, and there were about another 700 that have been removed for a multitude of reasons that are not relevant to the current discussion.

The limits of our tolerance of religious intrusion into all spheres of public life are nicely discussed at Atheist Revolution.

Given the massive influence religion has on politics and the degree to which it repeatedly leads politicians to make horribly destructive decisions (e.g., denying global warming, preventing stem cell research, launching preemptive wars to fulfill end-times prophecy, etc.), I simply do not have the luxury of ignoring it. Given the frequent intrusions by believers into my personal domain, I have little opportunity to ignore it. Instead, I must work to defend reason and oppose religious extremism.

In his typically eloquent yet acerbic fashion, Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate, makes the useful distinction between unconstitutional religious tests as a prerequisite for holding public office and consideration of a candidate’s religious views.

Isn’t it amazing how self-pitying and self-aggrandizing the religious freaks in this country are? It’s not enough that they can make straight-faced professions of “faith” at election times and impose their language on everything from the Pledge of Allegiance to the currency. It’s not enough that they can claim tax exemption and even subsidy for anything “faith-based.” It’s that when they are even slightly criticized for their absurd opinions, they can squeal as if being martyred and act as if they are truly being persecuted.

At Framing Science, Matthew Nisbet has posted a Call for Scientists to Join with Religious Leaders in working productively to address global climate change.

Following the lead of older avant-garde communicators such as Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson and EO Wilson, Donner is one of many among a new generation of scientists who recognize that a paradigm shift is needed for engaging the public. Part of this new paradigm involves collaboration with religious leaders in framing shared common values rather than engaging in a campaign of attacks and insults.

Clearly, nontheists must be willing to build coalitions with religious groups on issues of common concern. This has been done in the past, to positive effect, in such areas as civil rights, reproductive freedom, and even in supporting the separation of religion and government. If we are to foster progressive change, freethinkers can’t afford to act like a single-interest group; we must place greater emphasis on results than on doctrinal purity.

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21 December 2007

2 Comments to 'Accumulated Wisdom 2007.12.21'

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  1. I think that part of the problem with gaining Humanist traction is that members know what humanist values are, but the general population hears the term “humanist” and go “What?” Hated or love, there is no ambiguity to the word “Atheist.”

    While I share the humanist values of making the world a better place without magical thinking; I am not shy to be upfront about being an atheist.

    As to what Matthew Nisbet is saying, well, of course as atheists we can work with the stewardship Christians on environmental atheists. I disagree with him that atheists shouldn’t talk so much about being atheists for fear of offending him. I think that his attempts to frame it this way are more patronizing than accommodating. They are grownups, they can handle it.

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