July 17, 2007

Secular Humanism Involves Compassion Too

English: Happy human, a secular humanist logo ...
Happy human, a secular humanist logo made in blender quick. Some edges could be cleaner.. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There was an interesting letter to the editor in The Times Herald-Record (New York) that I cannot let slide without responding. The letter, "My View: Being a believer means caring about and for others," by Kim Dixon contained one of the most common and harmful misconceptions about nonbelievers so prevalent among Christians.

I believe that it is important that we counter such misconceptions when they appear in the news media. I'll address my response to Ms. Dixon even though I realize that the odds of her reading this post are minimal.

Ms. Dixon, you identify yourself a "devout Roman Catholic." As a member of the only true Christian church, your comments deserve to be taken seriously.
Being a believer means I have faith, hope and love. It means I try to take care of myself and those entrusted to me and those I don't even know. It means I donate time and money to my church community and to my town community. It means I raise my children to follow my example.
Everything you describe here except "faith" and "church community" apply equally well to virtually every nonbeliever out there. I see nothing else in this statement that is not fully captured by secular humanism.

As a secular humanist, I have hope in the future and love for humanity. I too try to take care of myself and others, including those I have never and will never meet face-to-face. I too donate time and money, not to a church community, but to a town community, and indeed a global community. I do not have children, but if I did, I would certainly attempt to model sound ethical behavior and the values of compassion, tolerance, and scientific skepticism.

Further demonstrating how little you understand about nonbelievers, you go on to say:
Giving is our nature because it's God's nature. It means I will hold the door for you — male or female, hands empty or full, no matter what color, race or religion you are. It means I will smile at you if I pass you on the street or say "good morning." It means I know I am not perfect but can own up to and accept my mistakes and make amends when necessary. It means I am not afraid to accept responsibility for my actions.
It is sad that you must attribute your generosity to supernatural beings. I give because it is the right thing to do. I do my best to treat others how I wish to be treated. I need to promises of heavenly rewards or threats of hell. I recognize that I would like to be treated with kindness and respect, and I strive to treat others in the same manner.

You reference some of the more controversial findings of the Barna Group without seeming to realize that there is a considerable social stigma around atheism, likely to prevent some of the largest donors who are likely atheists (e.g., Bill Gates, etc.) from "coming out." But nevertheless, what you call "disengagement" is probably better described as alienation. It is not easy to be fully engaged in a culture which actively condemns us on the basis of belief in supernatural entities and acceptance of many claims about the natural world which have been shown to be false by science.

You assert, "Believers do not reject science." Are you familiar with fundamentalism and biblical literalism? Many, but certainly not all, believers do in fact reject science. Sadly, many of those who do now control our government. Oh, and since you brought it up, what exactly happened to Copernicus, Galileo, and others throughout history who have contradicted the doctrine of your church?

Finally, Ms. Dixon, I am curious about the role of hell in your system of morality. Seems like a bit of a problem to me.