August 28, 2019

Humanists Condemn Violence

people

The American Humanist Association recently tweeted the following from their Twitter account (@americnhumanist):

Humanists condemn violence against people on the basis of or in the name of religion or belief.
This seems reasonable to me, but it does raise a number of questions. When they say "humanists," are they referring to their organization or to all humanists? If they are referring to all humanists, would this mean that someone who identifies as a humanist but does not condemn this sort of violence was not really a humanist? And what about someone who claims to be a humanist but actually advocates violence against others in the name of religion or some other belief?

I suppose it all boils down to how we define humanism and our appetite for trying to determine who should be permitted to refer to oneself as a humanist. This tweet is certainly consistent with most of the definitions of humanism I've seen and with how I understand it. And while I can't say that I find attempting to police who gets to use the label terribly appealing, I'd be comfortable saying that someone who advocates violence against others in the name of religion or some other belief is not a humanist. In fact, I think I'd be comfortable going well beyond that to say that many of those "humanists" treating others poorly on social media are humanists. Of course, that isn't up to me.

If you have been using social media for long enough, you've probably encountered at least one "atheist" who says that he or she believes in a god of some sort. I have run into a few, and I don't think they were all trolls. Some were probably just very confused. While I have a hard time understanding why anyone who doesn't understand the meaning of atheism would apply the atheist label to themselves, I cannot deny that it happens. Humanism is far more complicated than atheism, so that may have something to do with why we see so many "humanists" treating others poorly.

Some will understandably object that this is starting to sound a bit too much like the "no real Christian" claims we hear so often, but I'm not sure that's the case. Words have to have meaning if we are going to be able to use them to communicate, and I can think of at least one example where the not a real Christian thing makes good sense. I would have a hard time concluding that someone who identified as Christian but denied the existence of a historical Jesus was a "real Christian." A Christian who doesn't believe in Jesus makes about as much sense as an atheist who believes in gods.

Maybe I'm not being fair to the "humanist" who advocates violence or routinely treats others badly. Maybe there is some way I'm not seeing that these things can be reconciled. And maybe it doesn't really matter. Either way, I am not inclined to take someone's claim of humanism seriously when I see them being cruel to others who do not share their views on religion or politics.