The other day, I stumbled upon this video about a young woman who was kicked out of the Westboro Baptist Church and her family for asking too many questions. Very heartbreaking. (The WBC is probably familiar to most of you. Its members protest soldiers’ funerals and preach that “God hates fags” and, well, everyone else who doesn’t belong to their church.)
Attention secular humanists: Criticizing religion and other dogmas is important, but at the base of any humanistic philosophy are human beings. And as I write this, hundreds of millions of people are afflicted by and dying from hunger and disease. This can change, though.
The video was inspired by the work of moral philosopher Peter Singer, and particularly by his most recent book The Life You Can Save. At the book’s website, you can take a pledge (as urged in the video) to help end global poverty. If you call yourself a humanist, I hope you take the pledge.
The sorry fact is that many of us won’t actually bother to donate. I may be among the hypocrites, we’ll see. But others’ inaction is no excuse for our own.
This is a tragic loss for CFI and its affiliated groups (like SHAFT). Kurtz, who is 84, has been a prominent figure in the skeptic/atheist community for decades. He has even been called—and I think deservedly—”the father of secular humanism.”
Kurtz’s resignation stems from both managerial and philosophical disagreements with the direction of CFI. In 2008, CFI’s board of directors elected Dr. Ronald A. Lindsay president and CEO of CFI, and demoted Kurtz to “chairman emeritus.” The board expressed concern over Kurtz’s “day-to-day management of the organization” (I suspect due to his age).
I haven’t meant for this to be a forum for political discussion, so I’ve resisted the urge to post about health care reform. But not today.
The fact is that I can’t divorce my politics from my secular humanism. The latter indelibly informs the former. As a humanist, I’m outraged that we live in a country where millions are without access to affordable health care.
And such outrage is fundamental to any kind of humanism—religious or secular. If you care about human welfare and you’re not outraged about the state of the world (not just health care), you’re not paying attention.
Natural disasters like the recent Haiti earthquake make God’s apparent absence all the more conspicuous. Where was God? Why would a loving God allow such immense suffering?
Today, on the Christian Broadcasting Network, televangelist Pat Robertson volunteered an answer. He claims that Haiti has long since been under a curse, having sworn a “pact to the Devil” in return for independence from French colonial rule. The earthquake, then, is just the latest visitation of that curse upon Haiti.
I think these statements are disgusting and callous—a total slap in the face to the victims of said tragedies. I wonder, though, how many Americans are sympathetic to Robertson’s explanations. Those who believe in the Bible and/or the Book of Mormon literally certainly couldn’t deny that God has at times manifest his wrath in natural disasters. Untold millions are killed by the God of these books through global floods, earthquakes, plagues, etc. It was once even a popular Mormon belief that people in disaster-prone areas did something in their pre-mortal life to merit the disasters. Consider this brief excerpt from Apostle Mark E. Petersen’s 1954 address at Brigham Young University:
Can we account in any other way for the birth of some of the children of God in darkest Africa, or in flood-ridden China, or among the starving hordes of India, while some of the rest of us are born here in the United States? We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Latter-day Saints. There are rewards and punishments, fully in harmony with His established policy in dealing with sinners and saints, rewarding all according to their deeds…
A question to the theist readers of this blog: What role does God play in natural disasters, if any? And if God doesn’t cause these disasters, why doesn’t he at least prevent them?
I’m curious how believers reconcile the suffering in the world with their notions of God. The problem of suffering ought to be the source of many sleepless nights for theists, in my opinion.
But while your theodices will be of interest to me, the people of Haiti need something more right now. To anyone reading this, please make a donation to any (or all) of the following organizations:
Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/
Partners in Health: http://www.pih.org/home.html
Doctors Without Borders: http://doctorswithoutborders.org/
The International Rescue Committee: https://www.theirc.org/
LDS Humanitarian Services: give.lds.org/emergencyresponse
Catholic Relief Services: http://www.catholicrelief.org/
Skeptics and Humanist Aid and Relief Effort (SHARE): https://secure.ga1.org/05/share_earthquake_in_haiti
Or do what I did—donate $10 automatically via text message to the Red Cross by texting “HAITI” to 90999. Texters will then be billed for the donation on their next cell phone bill.
If you know of other organizations that I should include in my list, please let me know.
Every group likes to play the victim. Religions are quite adept at playing the victim. Atheists, however, are not. Even when atheists are persecuted, they are often unconvincing in their role as the victim. Consider the faces of the “new atheism”: Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett. They’re all privileged white males!
And too often when atheists do cry foul, they are over relatively petty things like “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. I think the phrase’s 1954 inclusion into the Pledge was brazenly unconstitutional, but that issue still ranks near the bottom of my concerns.
But yesterday, I was reminded that atheists in America do have legitimate grievances. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC reported that atheists are banned from public office in seven state constitutions:
During Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, there was much discussion about political prejudice against Mormons. One Gallup poll found that nearly a quarter of Americans refused to vote for Romney because of his religion. What received less attention, however, is that this same poll also found that over half wouldn’t vote for an otherwise qualified atheist candidate. Another recent survey reported that atheists are America’s “most distrusted minority”–behind Muslims, gays, recent immigrants, and other minority groups. These anti-atheist sentiments are particularly disconcerting to me, as someone considering a career in government.
So how do we reverse these negative sentiments? I argued earlier that atheists are bad at playing the victim card. For that card to even be effective, people must first be sympathetic to your plight. And frankly, Americans aren’t.
What atheism needs is positive representation. And for good or ill, we are that representation–for our campus, and (individually) for our friends and family. What we do and how we comport ourselves matters.
Professor Kleiner, who frequents our SHAFT meetings and this blog, has challenged us to put greater emphasis on our humanist values–to articulate a secular ethic and act accordingly. I want to meet that challenge next semester. As important as our presentations and events have been, we have thus far neglected things like service. We floated several service opportunities, but never developed and executed them. That’s largely my fault.
So let’s commit to doing a couple service projects next semester. A visible service project would go far in dispelling misconceptions about atheists as angry and immoral.
Don’t wait until next semester to do service, though. There’s no better time to give than this holiday season.
*Sorry for the disjointed nature of this post. This was more a stream of consciousness–just a jumble of thoughts I had today that I wanted to (but failed to) synthesize into a coherent whole.