Too many bridges impede the flow

Once again Chris Stedman is at the Huffington Post (home of woo and worse, home of Jenny McCarthy in deep denial about the exposure of Andrew Wakefield’s fraud) saying how great it is when atheists Reach Out to peopleoffaith.

He had a good time at Christmas. He went home and hung out with his family. Excellent; lovely; I have not a word to say in dissent. But he drew a moral from it, which seems to be that atheists are grumpy therefore it is urgent for humanists to Reach Out.

The trouble with that is that not all atheists are grumpy and that, especially, even atheists who are grumpy are not necessarily grumpy all the time. Things aren’t as stark as that.

We cannot promote Humanist values when we expend our energy lobbing simplistic critiques at the religious, or demand that people stop participating in practices they enjoy simply because they’re associated with religion.

Yes we can. We can do the one, and then the other.

All right, I know; he means we give Humanism a bad name by doing the things he accuses us of doing. But I think that oversimplifies the matter. Maybe some vocal atheists give some branches of humanism a bad name by doing foolish or trivial things – but that’s life in the big city. I’m not convinced that vocal atheists need to shape what they say and do according to what might possibly give Humanism a bad name.

As the Interfaith and Community Service Fellow for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, I am working on the ground to build up positive Humanist community…To build, literally and metaphorically, a Humanist community that is healthy and sustainable, we must get over this sense that provocation should be our number one goal, and that positive engagement with others is unimportant.

What sense? I have no such sense. I don’t have some settled view that “positive engagement with others is unimportant.” I don’t put it in those terms, because I’m not enamored of managementspeak, but I certainly think it’s fine to get along and sometimes collaborate with other people. Of course I do! Stedman’s version is sheer strawman. What I don’t think, however, is that I have some affirmative duty to Reach Out to Faith Communities as such, any more than I have some affirmative duty to Reach Out to Republican Communities as such, or Banker Communities as such, or Realtor Communities as such. Stedman, on the other hand, does think he has such an affirmative duty. He seems to think that he has to Reach Out to People of Faith precisely because they are in some sense opposites. I don’t have that. To me, disagreement is disagreement. It’s not a motivation for Reaching Out. I disagree with “faith” as a way of thinking, so I’m not going to Reach Out to it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to pounce on anyone I happen to encounter who has it, it just means I’m not going to open a diplomatic mission to it.

I believe that ethics and engagement are central to what it means to live in the world as a Humanist, and that Humanist community and identity require an affirmative foundation, not one structured in contrast to ideologies we disagree with.

But you can have both. You can be affirmative and still go on disagreeing with ideologies you disagree with. The one does not interfere with the other. Stedman really wants to persuade people that it does (so he’s not being affirmative toward atheists, wouldn’t you say?), but it doesn’t.

17 Responses to “Too many bridges impede the flow”