“What’s the difference between a Humanist and a New Atheist?”
That question came up in class the other day. I suggested the opening line of the Humanist Manifesto, as a beginning:
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.
Here’s another good source: Greg Epstein’s Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. Epstein mentions an impressive roster of Humanists including Thomas Jefferson, John Lennon, Churchill, Sartre, Voltaire, Hume, Rushdie, Confucius, Vonnegut, Twain, Bil Gates, Warren Buffett, Darwin, & Einstein. Humanism is the fourth largest “lifestance” in the world today, nestling just behind Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism… and without really trying. Epstein writes:
We humanists take one look at a world in which the lives of thousands of innocent children are ripped away every year by hurricanes, earthquakes, and other “acts of God,” not to mention the thousand other fundamental injustices of life, and we conclude that if the universe we live in does not have competent moral management, then so be it: we must become the superintendents of our own lives. Humanism means taking charge of the often lousy world around us and working to shape it into a better place…
Humanists believe in life before death.
Amen. Most so-called New Atheists believe all that too, they just don’t say it enough. They should spend at least as much time and energy articulating their affinities as their aversions, and should be as clear about their own good intentions.
Anthony Grayling has taken a stab at that with his new Good Book: A Humanist Bible, “a powerful secular alternative to the Bible.”
The Good Book consciously takes its design and presentation from the Bible, in its beauty of language and arrangement into short chapters and verses for ease of reading and quotability, offering to the non-religious seeker all the wisdom, insight, solace, inspiration, and perspective of secular humanist traditions that are older, far richer and more various than Christianity. Organized in 12 main sections—-Genesis, Histories, Widsom, The Sages, Parables, Consolations, Lamentations, Proverbs, Songs, Epistles, Acts, and the Good—-The Good Book opens with meditations on the origin and progress of the world and human life in it, then devotes attention to the question of how life should be lived, how we relate to one another, and how vicissitudes are to be faced and joys appreciated. Incorporating the writing of Herodotus and Lucretius, Confucius and Mencius, Seneca and Cicero, Montaigne, Bacon…
And so the next rendition of my Atheism class begins to resolve itself. Last time the theme was “Atheism and Spirituality.” Next, it’ll be “Atheism and Ethics.” Stay tuned.
And happy Earth Day!