Saturday, July 29, 2006

Asserting our Humanism, a talk by Melvin Lipman

The American Humanist Association is the largest and the oldest Humanist organization in the United States. We have 114 chapters and affiliates in 46 different states, plus Washington D.C. The purpose of the American Humanist Association is to promote the awareness of Humanism.

Why do we need to promote the awareness of Humanism? A recent study was published in March of this year by the University of Minnesota, which showed that Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics--we're all in the same boat--are the most despised minority in the United States. Most of the public feels that it's terrible to say that "I won't vote for" someone because it's a woman, because they're gay, because they're Black, but more than 50% of the population in this country feels it's very proper to say "I won't vote for an Atheist." We need to make the public aware that we're your next-door neighbors, that we don't have horns, (laughter) that we're not evil people. And that's one of the major functions of the American Humanist Association, to address that issue.

We advise our members through action alerts periodically--at least one every week, press releases, whenever any national news comes of interest to Humanists. We monitor the legislation that's taking place in Congress. We have our own Humanist Legal Center, where we would actually file suits or file briefs to support law suits that protect church-state issues that we're involved in.

That's just a general idea of who we are, and I'll be glad to talk to anybody and let you know how to join if you'd like to.

Today my talk was entitled Asserting Our Humanism. What does that mean? Well, comedian Paula Poundstone says "Being an Evangelical Atheist doesn't mean knocking on doors and yelling 'There is no Word!'" (laughter) So how do we assert our Humanism? Well, the first sentence in the Humanist Manifesto provides a succinct description of Humanism--it gives what we call an "elevator answer" to the question "What is Humanism?" Elevator answers are if you get in an elevator and somebody sees your pin and says 'What is it?' You say 'That's the Humanist symbol.' Well, what's a Humanist? And all you have is 14 floors down to explain what a Humanist is--where I could spend 7 hours and still not sufficiently explain it.

But the brief description would be that first sentence in our Humanist Manifesto. And what it says is "Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity."

Now that's a pretty big sentence. What it stresses is, first, the responsibility of every Humanist is to live a life of personal fulfillment. How do we get that fulfillment? Through our social responsibility, our lives aspire for the greater good of humanity. That's what Humanists are all about.

The key words that distinguishes us from other social-minded philosophies are the two words "without supernaturalism". And that's what keeps us apart from many other social-minded groups. Humanism does not rely on or accept any supernatural interpretation of reality.

So, what does that mean in our culture today? Well, we know we live in a supernatural culture--one in which "believing" has become more important than what you believe in. One in which clergy and parishioners alike claim personal knowledge of the unknown. The Humanist view questions and wonders how one can know the unknown. The Humanist view does not include revelations interpreted according to the aims and whims of a chosen few--an authoritarian clergy. A clergy that allow religious and political dogmas to trump science and reason, that makes it acceptable to allow our president to continue to deny effective stem cell research. That makes it acceptable for this country to refuse to distribute condoms to fight AIDS in Africa. That makes it acceptable for some Ohio School Board members to even consider changing teaching standards by labeling as controversial such scientific facts as evolution, as global warming, stem cell research.

Reason and science are not trumped by the Humanist view. In the Humanist view, reason would dominate the public square, science would be respected in national policy and debate.

When the 1990 National Survey of Religious Identification--and that's a survey conducted by City University of New York. They conducted a survey in 1990, and another one in 2001. And in comparing those surveys, we find that the number of adults who identify with no religion more than doubled between those two surveys. U.S. population increased by only 18%, but there was a 100% increase in the number of people who identify with no religion.

But when we say "no religion", that might mean they still believe in a supernatural supreme being, they just don't follow any particular religion. Further studies and further questions have indicated that the percentage of people in this country who don't believe in any supreme being, have ranged from 8 to as high as 20%. I like to use the figure 10%--generally a conservative figure of the number of Humanists, or Atheists, or Freethinkers, or whatever else they're called. So I would estimate, 10%, the population of the United States is 300 million, therefore there'd be about 30 million of us in this country.

Until about 20 years ago, it was sufficient just to keep our beliefs or our nonbelief to ourselves. It was nobody's business what we believed. But times have changed, and today we're in a position where it is essential that we assert our Humanist values.

Timothy LaHaye--anybody ever hear of Timothy LaHaye? (Some laughter) The author of the Christian fundamentalist Left Behind series, was on the Jerry Falwell show about six months ago, and he said, "We're in a religious war and we need to aggressively oppose secular humanism; these people are as religiously motivated as we are and they are filled with the devil."

Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist at a meeting of the theocratic Family Research Council in March of this year, spoke about the "war on secular society", and he said, "We need to find ways to win the war." And so, it's a war against us, and we need to fight back in this war.

Another Bush administration adviser Paul Weyrich said, "The real enemy is the secular humanist mindset, which seeks to destroy everything that is good in this society." It's nice to know that we're so powerful. (Laughter)

In 2003, speaking to the Christian Coalition, Alabama Governor Bob Riley, spoke about a "more important war than the war in Iraq". He said the war against secular humanists is "a war for the absolute soul of this country". He called for a "crusade" to restore the Christian character of America.

Well, friends, I think we should be prepared for a crusade. It's creeping up slowly. It's like the analogy of the frog in water, you've probably heard, that if you put a frog in lukewarm water, the frog will just sit there. And then you start turning up the heat little by little until it starts to boil, and it's too late. The frog is unconscious and can't jump out.

Changes are not made all at once. We're not going to have a government that takes away our rights not to believe all at once. But we've got to see the signs. We've got to see what is happening, and we have to be prepared to defend ourselves.

Last year, after a close Senate vote to approve her nomination to the Federal Court of Appeals, and she was approved, California Justice Janice Rogers Brown said that people of faith were in a war--they keep using that term *war*. She said they're in a war against secular humanists, who threaten to divorce America from its religious roots. Brown complained that America has moved away from the religious tradition on which it is founded, and to which we need to get back.

In June 2002, responding the the 9th Circuit's courageous decision concerning the Pledge of Allegiance, George Bush, the second, our president, said "I will only appoint judges who know their rights come from God." Now Article VI of the United States Constitution specifically prohibits the use of any religious test for any public office. But I guess *our* president can legitmately claim complete ignorance of the Constitution as an excuse. (Laughter).

Stay tuned for more...

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