Monday, November 15, 2010

Disappointed in Humanists

A new advertising campaign by the American Humanist Association has just begun - just in time for the holidays. It is called “Consider Humanism.” You can find out about it on their website: Consider Humanism.

The campaign includes a recent spot on NBC Dateline and print ads in major newspapers like USA Today, the Seattle Times, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the San Francisco Chronicle. AHA director Roy Speckhardt said the campaign hopes to recruit people to join his organization instead of a church.

I have been greatly enjoying reading Humanist and New Atheist writings in recent months. They have challenged me to discard old religious idols. As Greg Epstein, the Humanist chaplain at Harvard, would say, “Thank God for atheists.”

So when I first heard about this campaign I was looking forward to some intelligent public discourse on important philosophical issues. What I got was trash talk reminiscent of the dirty political ads that ran during the recent midterm elections.

This Humanist campaign is not worthy of the authors I have been reading. It takes the worst passages from the Bible and the Quran concerning topics like women, slavery and genocide - quotes that promote violence and intolerance - and juxtapose them with the best of Humanist quotations. (See examples on their website.)

Sorry, that is not fair. I could do the same thing on the other side. I could find terrible, hateful quotes by atheists and contrast them with wonderful passages about love and tolerance in the Bible. I could quote Marquis de Sade on women and Nietzsche on race, and contrast them with progressive Christian theologians.

It is not hard to find passages that make atheists look like a bunch of bigots. But what would that accomplish? Such prooftexting – whether Christian or Humanist – proves nothing.

Come on, Humanists! You don’t want to play the same type of propaganda campaign that the so many fundamentalist apologists play. You can do better. I know you can. I have been reading some good stuff by you guys - books by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Greg Epstein. Why retreat to philosophical mudslinging?

Take the best of religious quotes from the Bible and the best of Humanist thought. Compare apples to apples. Fight fair, and then see who wins.

I love hearing intelligent atheists do battle with intelligent Christians. This Humanist campaign is meant only to stir emotion and attract the ignorant. If you Humanists want the hatemongers in your organization, please take them. But you will be sorry. Anti-religious bigotry can easily degenerate into violence against holy places and persecution against religious people. Just look at Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, and Communist North Korea.

Forget the potshots. Pull the ads. Let’s have some respectful dialogue. That would be more worthy of Humanism.

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