If we are serious about our humanist values, we should look for all those who share them, and work with them.

Richard Norman argues in New Humanist magazine that new wave atheism is aggressively antagonistic to religion but it’s more fruitful to find common ground. He writes:

Humanism is more than atheism, it is about putting humanist beliefs and values into practice and trying to make the world a better place. And that is impossible unless we’re prepared to cooperate with others who share those values, including those for whom the values are inseparable from a religious commitment.

…If we are serious about our humanist values, we should look for all those who share them, and work with them. If, according to Hitchens, that means that such people are really humanists after all, then call them that if you wish, but accept that they may also be committed Christians or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or whatever. The labels don’t matter. If Christians are happy to defend science against the idiocies of creationism, let’s work with them…After the most recent attempted suicide bombings in Britain, national newspapers carried a full-page advertisement by Muslim organisations condemning the bombings and dissociating themselves from them. What are we supposed to say? “You’re just as bad”? That would be madness. They need our encouragement, and we need their help.

We have problems enough in the world. The threats of climate change, global poverty, war and repression and intolerance can never be countered unless we are prepared to work together on the basis of a shared humanity. Simplistic generalisations about religion don’t help. In Dawkins’s terminology, that means working with the “moderates” to counter the “extremists”, but it’s actually more complicated than that. Some of our allies against creationism may be deeply prejudiced against gays. Some of the best people working to combat global poverty may be Catholic anti-abortionists. Some of the Muslim allies we need to counter Islamist violence may have deeply sexist attitudes to women. It all demonstrates what a deeply contradictory phenomenon religion is. But we know that. And if religion is so contradictory, that’s probably because human beings are a deeply contradictory species.


One response to “If we are serious about our humanist values, we should look for all those who share them, and work with them.

  1. I agree with you 110%, although people of all stripes may well disagree on how to define or implement humanist values, particularly on religious grounds. It all comes down to an individual’s conception of the human person.

    For instance, a Christian will no doubt identify pro-life as a humanist stance since life begins at conception, and I can even see “a-theist” humanist arguments can be marshalled for the same position or arguments against physician assisted suicide. Then I’m reminded of the dissident Catholic theologian Hans Kung’s formulation of christianity as “radical humanism” and his liberal stances on contraception and even abortion.

    Nonetheless, I agree with your broader point that we would be foolish to not cooperate when we do agree on an important human issue simply because we disagree as to a philosophical question.

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