Sunday, July 30, 2006

Melvin Lipman, Part 3

So, we've come out. What now? How can we be most effective? Well first, by supporting our national, nontheist organizations, so that we can speak with an organized voice. There are enough national organizations in this country to suit everyone's tastes. I proudly belong to every one of those national organizations. And the next step is to get our national organizations to cooperate with each other. The Christian Coalition did it, while each member organization maintained its own identity--why can't our organizations do the same thing?

Last year, five national organizations combined their efforts, and formed the Secular Coalition for America. Two other organizations have since joined the coalition. There are now seven organizations that make up the Secular Coalition. By combining our efforts, the Coalition now has the first lobbyist in Washington D.C. whose lobbying efforts are devoted exclusively to protecting the rights of secularists.

The American Humanist Association has provided office space for that lobbyist, and her staff of one. And in addition to her contacts with Congress, she's received national coverage by a feature story in U.S.A. Today, several major newspapers, appearances on Tucker Carlson's show and the O'Reilly Show, and numerous other appearances on radio, T.V., newspapers.

Each one of those appearances has resulted in individual humanists coming out and joining our fight, to prevent our country from becoming a theocracy. To start paying attention to the dangers to our planet, and to its people in this life, and not in some imaginary afterlife.

Turning to another issue, ask most people if they would vote for an Atheist. Again, the response would be a proud "No!" And the responder doesn't even think she is bigoted. But anyone would think it's bigoted if we said we wouldn't vote for somebody because he's a Muslim, or because he's gay, but very proudly they'll say "I would never vote for an Atheist."

I don't think in the near future we'll completely remove religion from our government, or even be able to elect an Atheist president, or even to Congress. Although there may be some elected officials who have not yet come out of the closet, I am unaware of any known Atheist who has been a successful candidate for any national public office in this country. We need more public exposure. We need to run for public office. And while not pushing our beliefs, we must not hide them if the question arises.

Al Smith's defeat for the United States presidency in 1928 because he was Catholic, paved the way for another Catholic, John F. Kennedy, to be successful 32 years later. We need an articulate, reasonable, national candidate to bring the issue of religious tolerance into the discussion. We need to stop debating among ourselves as to who's a "real Humanist", or Atheist, or Freethinker, or whatever.

We need to spend less time attacking religion generally, and devote our attention to those aspects of organized religion that impact negatively on us. I'm really not interested in convincing my neighbor that he's stupid for praying to an imaginary man in the sky, as long as my neighbor does not interfere with my right to my beliefs. As long as my neighbor does not insiston making me or my children listen to his or her prayers in school or in public meetings. That is where our concerns should be directed.

Let's devote our energies to eliminating the perception in this country that morality is related to supernatural beliefs, and that you can't have one without the other. Let's encourage our young people to be as proud of their beliefs as are the religionists.

This encouragement will not come from attacking religion, but from talking about our *own* philosophy of life. Let's talk more about the joy we have living a life free of superstition. A life where we can think for ourselves, where we know that bad things do not happen to us because we are bad, or because we are being punished. A life where we can accept and understand the concept, "Shit happens!" (Laughter) And yet go on living optimistically about the future.

As Humanists, we are not immoral, and we are not intellectual snobs. We are happy people living complete lives, and doing what we can to ensure the survival of our species. We are mature enough to accept our lives. We are mature enough to accept the reality of our existence without perpetuating imaginary childhood fantasies. We are grownups who no longer believe in Tooth Fairies, or Santa Claus, or imaginary friends, or imaginary gods.

But, we will never get religion to disappear. Religions will always exist, because it's the only way some people will choose to cope with life. But the degree of radical fundamentalism that we are seeing today *will* diminish as our society changes. And radical attacks on religion in general will only polarize and create more fundamentalism. I can coexist with liberal and even moderate religionists. It's the fundamentalists that concern me. Recognizing the existence of religion does not mean accepting irrational beliefs. It does not mean that we must refrain from ever being critical of irrationalism.

It's okay to attack political beliefs, economic beliefs, we have book critics, movie critics. While all beliefs can be criticized, it's still considered socially incorrect to criticize religious beliefs. It's ironic that we live in a Democratic society where ideas are constantly and vigorously discussed openly, yet we are afraid of offending others by discussing religion.

Being critical of others' beliefs should not be the defining characteristic of Humanism. Rather than being overly involved in attacking other beliefs, we should be more evangelical in spreading the word about the overwhelming joy and comfort that we can derive from our naturalistic life stance.

Every religion has its own assurance of reward, rewards either in this life or in some imaginary future life. Christianity promises eternal life in heaven, Buddhism offers the blissful state of nirvana, New Age religions promise inner peace and union with God as well as power over external events, Islam offers 72 virgins in the afterlife...every religion has its big, big promise. Humanists need to offer our own promises, rather than devoting most of our energies attacking the promises of other groups. Let's take the spotlight off the supernatural religions, and focus the spotlight on what Humanism has to offer.

Humanism is much more than the default condition that prevails when no brainwashing has occurred. The big promise of Humanism is the good life, here and now. Edwin H. Wilson summed it up when he wrote,

The Humanist lives as if this world were all and enough. He is not otherworldly. He holds that the time spent on the contemplation of a possible afterlife is time wasted. He fears no hell and seeks no heaven, save that which he and others created on earth. He willingly accepts the world that exists on this side of the grave as the place for moral struggle and creative living. He seeks the life abundant for his neighbour as for himself. He is content to live one world at a time and let the next life - if such there may be - take care of itself. He need not deny immortality; he simply is not interested. His interests are here.
While the religionists make claims that noone has ever proved, our claims are real. Our claims and our promises have been proven over and over and over.

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