secular humanism

On secular humanism

In my continued reflections on the debate I’m having with my e-friends (ok, so they’re friends in real life – but the tyranny of distance means I see them maybe once a year) I find myself increasingly frustrated with the “secular humanism” movement. It’s really a quasi-religion set up to give atheists a framework to debate from. Secular humanists see their beliefs as the default “logical position”. 

The definition of humanism from Wikipedia:
“Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.”

My problems are as follows:
1. Humanism describes itself as optimistic on the human race’s ability to save itself. Human nature is seen as inherently good – but slightly selfish. This is how they reconcile survival of the fittest with external factors like our social “herd” instincts (best epitomised by Facebook), good and charitable acts without external motivation (which is how they dismiss the good and social acts of religious adherents), and the chaos obviously occurring between humans (Russia v Georgia is the latest example).
2. Humanism holds itself on a pedestal – and humanists look down on those who need the “crutch of religion” or the “imaginary sky friend” to get them through day to day life.
3. Humanists, in relying on reason, dismiss the notion of the supernatural – and will not debate on the possibility of anything supernatural existing without first seeing the evidence. This makes even approaching a discussion on religion almost futile.
4. Humanists rely on faulty evidence when dismissing Christianity – eg inaccuracy of scriptural translations.
5. Humanists are sold on postmodern thinking – which is yesterday’s news – rather than the modernist view of truth as verifiable, actual and objective.
6. Humanists are generally pretty smart – and generally blinkered by confidence in their own ability to reason. Human intelligence has limits. Humanists, in relying on their own prowess and dismissing the opinions of others as “subjective” and influenced by wants, desires and needs – are limited to their own capabilities. Some of the world’s most revered scientists – perhaps by nature of their positions as revered scientists are secular humanists – eg Einstein.
7. Further, humanism fails to recognise the limits of human capabilities – what if one day God is scientifically demonstrable? What happens to the current humanists? Human knowledge and understanding is in a constant state of flux – to pin a philosophy down to “what we currently think we know” or “what we can currently test” is dangerous.
8. Ethical living is not a natural response to atheism – nor is it the common response. Because secular humanists have realised the shortcomings of their position (slippery slope of morality) they seek to massage their philosophy to include this concept of “ethics based decision making.” Anarchy and hedonism are more logically consistent results of atheism.

Some key highlights from Wikipedia:

“In certain areas of the world, secular humanism finds itself in conflict with religious fundamentalism, especially over the issue of the separation of church and state. A faction of secular humanists may judge religions as superstitious, regressive, and/or closed-minded, while the majority of religious fundamentalists see secular humanism as a threat to the values they say are set out in religious texts, such as the Bible and the Qur’an.”

“Some criticize the philosophy of secular humanism because it offers no eternal truths nor a relationship with the divine. Critics allege that a philosophy bereft of these beliefs leaves humanity adrift in a foggy sea of postmodern cynicism and anomie. Some argue that this philosophy has always been antireligious and it is often used in connection with atheism.Humanists respond that such criticisms reflect a failure to look at the actual content of humanist philosophy, which far from being cynical and postmodern, is rooted in optimistic, idealistic attitudes about the future of human society that trace back to the Enlightenment, or further, back to Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers and Chinese Confucianism.

“Secular humanism describes a world view with the following elements and principles:

  • Need to test beliefs – A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith.
  • Reason, evidence, scientific method – A commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
  • Fulfillment, growth, creativity – A primary concern with fulfillment, growth and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
  • Search for truth – A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
  • This life – A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
  • Ethics – A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
  • Building a better world – A conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.”

You can’t really argue with someone holding these beliefs that a supernatural being exists – it runs counter to the tenets of their “faith.”

Let them eat cake…

While this title refers vaguely to the fact that I had cake to celebrate my birthday at work today (complete with tiara). It’s more to do with the original misquotation of Mary Antoinette.

“Let them eat cake” has been quoted throughout time as fundamental evidence that the elite ruling class is out of touch with the masses. Mary Antoinette was supposedly confronted with the news that her people had no bread to eat – and she infamously replied “qu’ils mangent de la brioche” – wikipedia claims that this quote is in fact a misrepresentation as she was only 10 and living in her native Austria at the time it was documented and was not born when the incident was said to have occurred. Although the quote is not accurate – it represents the disparity between the ruling class of France and its people – a disparity that eventually led to her execution during the French Revolution.

Australia’s politicians and intellectual elite are at the cusp of creating a similar chasm between themselves and those they rule (or us plebs). Fortunately John Howard is the ultimate bridge builder (according to Kevin Rudd he’s built a bridge too far…). I recently subscribed to Crikey – the elite’s trashy gossip magazine. In fact founder Stephen Mayne was at the centre of the Walkley controversy a couple of weeks ago when News Ltd’s political editor Glenn Milne drunkenly attacked him, pushing him off the stage. Through Crikey I’ve discovered a number of blogs where Australia’s “intellectual types” hang out and discuss why the country is going down hill. Left-wing secular humanists (and I think the left wing is tautological at that point) are the most annoying breed of snobs I’ve ever come across. I wish they would die. Or at least stop trying to inflict the rest of the world with their skewed view of logic and reason. Rudd has been simultaneously hailed as an intellectual hero while being shouted down as a man who dares to suggest religion should have some bearing on politics. They can’t have their cake and eat it too.

Rudd is an interesting character. It’s two working weeks since he took the reigns of the Labor party. The opinion polls spiked – as they always do with a new leader (in an interesting aside – it seems a political takeover sends value up, while a when a company takeover occurs the buyer’s share price often drops…), but most political scholars (with bias towards the government) suggest this will stabilise and Rudd will need to do more to actually win the election. The battlegrounds for the next election are in the process of being drawn – Labor will use IR and the environment as their trumps while the government will stick to the flashpoint issues of defining “Australian” and promoting their economic strength. Fortunately for Labor Rudd is a very smart man. Just like Kim Beazley. Unfortunately for Labor, early indications are that Rudd’s intelligence rubs the electorate the wrong way. Rudd has used his first fortnight in the job to position the party philosophically without revealing any major political differences to the previous leadership.

The key to success in Australian politics is engaging the fairly large, educated, middle class with political philosophy that they don’t necessarily care about. Labor needs to pick “wedge” issues that will polarise the populace giving them a majority chunk of voters. The Howard Government has perfected this method. IR and the environment have the potential to do this – but the Howard Government’s issues may be the biggest ace in the pack. Immigration, Australian history, racism and tolerance – they’re all big, divisive issues. To have any chance of winning the next election, and for Rudd to keep his head (in a less literal way than the French royals), Labor and the left needs to realise that a lot of their political postulating isn’t hitting home with the electorate at all. They’re stuck in a philosophical battle while the Liberals are scoring points by applying things where it matters most to the modern Aussie – their sense of “self” and their wallets.

Re: RE

Mmm, minimalism is the new black. I was tossing up using the word antidisestablishmentarianism in today’s heading – and it would have been in context too.

I noticed Dan posted some stuff on the RE debate the other day. Matt spends his time posting on Sweden’s dominance of the Ice Hockey world and his lack of success with getting attractive girls to talk to (or marry) him. What’s wrong with all the attractive girls out there?

There’s been a lot of stuff in the newspapers lately talking about a proposal to open up Religious Education in schools to any group who wish to be involved. The move is being driven by a group of secular humanists with heavily chipped shoulders. First of all, before I rant about why it’s such a stupid argument to be having, I’d like to ask the humanists why they don’t care about the opinions and emotional security of all the Christians they attack with their tolerant and open stance? Then I’d like to ask them what hurt they’ve experienced at the hands of genuine Christians. If you’re smart enough to kick up a stink like they are – you’re smart enough to do some research into the teachings of Christianity – any problems they have are more likely to be with the religious institution than with Christianity itself. They took another step in their battle to strike Christianity with the recent moves to remove Gideons bibles from hospitals because they might carry diseases or something. I think that pretty much sums up their position – they believe Christianity is a disease of the mind.

Now. My rant about why Christian education should be taught in schools begins here. Constitutionally Australia has no official religion (I think it’s article 16, but I’m pulling that out of nowhere so chances are I’m actually wrong – I could look it up but I can’t be bothered). The Westminster political system is built on the philosophy of the separation of powers (the people who make laws shouldn’t be the ones to enforce them because this would invariably lead to corruption). So our government is divided into the legislative, the judicial and the executive arms (the parliament, the court, the Queen (Governer General)). Because the under riding theory is that power ultimately corrupts the more separations we can create the better – so we have the upper and lower houses and federal, state, and local governments. Historically the church played a major, some would say overbearing, role in politics. This caused problems where one church group would try to kill another church group (like the Crusades or inquisitions or the protestant reformation or the current feud between the Bappos and Pressies). Political movers and shakers decided the church should be stripped of its influential position within the decision making process. In a democracy this makes sense – one interest group or belief system can’t philosophically force their will on another (unless they’re the majority). I’m all for the separation of powers and I’m all for the separation of church and state. What I’m not for is the rewriting of Australia’s history on a postmodern whim. If their argument was simply that public schools shouldn’t be using public funding to turn children into Christians that might have some merit. But it’s not. It’s stupid. Christianity, regardless of its veracity, plays a huge role in shaping our culture. It deserves a place in the educational spectrum (or curriculum) on that basis alone. One of the first things you’re taught when you study law – and I know this because I listened in first year – is that our legal system is based on a Judea-Christian model. Both our major political parties have historical ties to the church. Christian men and women played a huge part in bringing our society to the point its at today and these secular humanists want to spit on that legacy. The only reason they can legitimately take the stance they are today is because of the system they operate in – because it was created by Christians. Try going to a system based on Sharia law and see how far your secular humanism gets you. Some people are stupid.

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