Non Arrogant Humanism

the Latest Humanist Network News, there is a link to an article by Roy Speckhardt entitled “An End to Arrogant Atheism” which was originally published in the Huffington Post, Religion section dated January 23, 2014.  Roy is the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association.  It is an excellent article about how we Humanists, atheists, or whatever do not do ourselves any favors by denigrating people who believe in their faith.  He quotes Richard Dawkins as saying “religion is an organized license to be acceptably stupid” and Dawkins also said that the combined number of Nobel winners won by Muslims was smaller than all the winners in one English university. 

Speckhardt went on to say that when we make statements like these, we come across as elitists and tend to turn off the people we should be trying to influence.  He says, “The problem with arrogant atheism is that it scares away those who would otherwise self-identify as atheists, and it prevents us from building the alliances we need in order to achieve our aims.”  Speckhardt pushes the point that we can respectfully disagree, but we cannot respectfully ridicule.  And when we disagree, we should do it in a way that opens minds rather than closes them.

I wrote a Comment underneath his article which I will copy here.

“I agree mostly. However, when the author says, "While Dawkins certainly has a valid point regarding mainstream religion's frequent opposition to critical thinking and empiricism...", he is in error. Mainstream religion, like most Methodists, Lutherans, Congregationalists, etc. are not the culprits of this behavior as much as the Fundamentalists are. Although the non-critical thinking Fundamentalists make the most noise, we err when we label that as "religion" or "mainstream religion". 

And yes, we should collaborate with all the religions rather than view them as competition. We should be joining with Muslims and Jews not to have Nativity Scenes and passages from the New Testament. We should be working collaboratively with all the religions to insure a secular government - a government which does not try to accommodate to any specific religion. Pluralism has shown that it cannot work. And the only way we will "evolve" to secularism is through the coordinated efforts of all (or at least many/most) religions. So any attempt to create an "us versus them" scenario, as Dawkins and other arrogant atheists do, is in error and counter-productive.

David Kimball


About David

David's picture
Having been raised as a Fundamentalist Evangelical, I was driven rather than attracted to Humanism. Having been retired (unceremoniously by Raytheon) I am now finding time to be more active in my beliefs as well as my passions.


I agree with your mild criticism that "religion" is not a monolithic entity that can be accused of "frequent opposition to critical thinking and empiricism". I know Roy does not mean to suggest that all religions suffer from this (I suspect he would give us UUs a pass) but I happen to agree with him that the religious impulse toward faith is, overall, in opposition to the respect for free inquiry and the "way of knowing" that requires evidence. Asking people to question anything that does not have a demonstrable, objective reality is considered "cold", "rational" and nerdy by many religionists, UUs very much included. The emotional and intuitive is considered a superior way of "knowing" and forming beliefs that then get acted on in society. When the emotional and intuitive involves radical inclusion and love, then the results are great (again, a plug for Unitarian Universalism). When the emtional and intuitive involves respect for "traditional values" that get acted on as denigration of women, gays and those of different faiths, then the results are bad and must be resisted. But, I repeat that I think the underlying problem is encouraging people to value gut feelings and emotion rather than objective reality backed up by evidence. Emotions, especially love and compassion, are just as important as reason (actually, I'd say more important) but they must remain in balance with reason.

But, on the subject of Roy's call for less arrogant Humanism, I couldn't agree more! I've been concerned lately that we are elitist. Not everyone has an ivy league education and that is a good thing. We need to talk more about how to make CAH, and Humanism as an identity, more welcoming to everyone regardless of "class". As an alternate "hero" to Richard Dawkins, my choice would be Garrett Lisi. There is a brilliant mind that has a humble, balanced perspective on life.

Maria, Thanks for your comment. And I agree that the key is balance without one of the rational or the emotions taking precedence. Or perhaps it should be that we discern when one should be more important than the other which requires reflection rather than automatic reaction. And thanks for the link to Garrett Lisi. That was an interesting read. Another person I admire with balance is Dewey. I gave a PowerPoint presentation to another Humanism group on "Dewey: A Humanist for All Reasons" and as a Renaissance Man and his Five Points (superimposed on Da Vinci's Renaissance Man) of Philosophy, Psychology, Aesthetics, Education, and Society.

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