Can we set aside intellectualizing and debating?

I’m going to disagree with Chris Stedman again. Let me preface my disagreement by saying he’s obviously a good guy, a better one than I am. There that’s out of the way; now let me shred him.

No but seriously. He’s a good guy but being a good guy isn’t enough. One has to learn that people have their own plans and projects and ways of doing things. Chris seems to have a missionary streak that prevents him from understanding that.

the last ten years have seen me change my philosophy in several dramatic ways — from born-again Christian to rejectionist atheist to my current work as a Secular Humanist and interfaith activist —

What’s a rejectionist atheist? It sounds nasty. Is it meant to sound nasty? Yes, I think so, a little. It probably means “an atheist who rejects theism” and is meant to contrast with the kinder, gentler, warmer sort of atheist who is an interfaith activist. And this is where the missionary note creeps in, already – this hint that rejecting atheism is not ok because the right thing to do is “interfaith activism.” Atheists who do interfaith activism are a rare breed, though, so I think Chris is being a little too stringent here.

As the Interfaith and Community Service Fellow for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, I had the opportunity to collaborate with the Humanist Graduate Community at Harvard to plan and lead a service trip to work at the CRYP last month.

And they did good things there, and that’s nice, but…

But it’s not the only way to make the world a better place, and it’s not something everyone wants to do, and the reasons for that are not just laziness or callousness or worldly ambition. I, for one, am uneasy about the noblesse oblige aspect. I don’t like it; it makes me feel squirmy. That’s just one angle on all this that Chris overlooks. He likes up close and personal stuff; good; but not everyone does, and more to the point, not everyone wants groups of Harvard students moving in.

Just a few days ago, I organized and ran a community service project for the American Humanist Association‘s (AHA) annual conference — the first time the AHA has featured one at its annual conference. After years of attending interfaith conferences and Humanist/atheist conferences but only encountering community service events at the former, I realized that if my community wants to be seen as equally ethical individuals, we will need to make good on our values. That we must actualize our commitments to justice and compassion — for our own sake, if not in respect to how we’re perceived by others.

But community service events aren’t the only way to do that, and maybe they’re not the best way. “Charity” isn’t the best way to deal with social problems. It may be more uplifting for the participants, but that’s a seriously crappy reason for thinking it’s the best way.

This is a call to Humanists and atheists everywhere: Can we set aside intellectualizing and debating, even just for a moment, and start putting our money where other people’s mouths are?

This is a reply from one atheist: Different people have different talents. Division of labor is a good thing. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t really want to be told to stop doing one thing and do another instead.

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