Should the President of a Humanist Organization Be More Aggressive?

Jim Al-Khalili was just named the new President of the British Humanist Association and, in an interview with The Independent‘s Tom Peck, he explains why he’s content to just let sleeping faiths lie:

Jim Al-Khalili

Mr Khalili’s mother is still a devout, church-going Christian but, next week, her 40-year-old son will become the next president of the British Humanist Association, the ever-expanding organisation for, in its own words, “people who seek to live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs”.

“Yes. Cuddly. I am a cuddly atheist. Someone who doesn’t feel the need to tell you that what you believe in is stupid. Take my mother, I will tell her: ‘I’m happy for you, because I know your religious faith fills a hole in your life.’ I can see how important it is to her to have this faith. What right do I have to destroy it?

“I’d like to see her one day say: ‘You know, I don’t think God exists,’ but I’m not going to be arguing and pushing that she is wrong.

“I am against creationism being taught in schools because there is empirical evidence that it is a silly notion, but I don’t put religious faith in that bracket. I have no evidence to prove there is no God. The burden of proof is on them, yes, but I don’t force it upon them to prove it. If they want to have a religious faith that is up to them. I won’t dictate to them.

That’s not a bad approach for a lot of us to take. Hell, I do it myself. I don’t really care to argue with you if you believe in God unless your beliefs are harming people in some obvious way or you try to proselytize. If praying gets you through rough times, fine. Especially with family members, debating religion is something I try to avoid because no one’s going to “win” the argument.

But I still think theists are misguided and I still want people to lose their faith. I don’t see how you can think any other way if you really care about the truth.

I’m actually surprised Al-Khalili doesn’t think religious belief is a “silly notion.”

Al-Khalili says later in the interview that he will go after religion-based abuses and pseudoscience, which is great, but shouldn’t the leader of one of the largest Humanist organizations in the world be a little more blunt about the fact that religious beliefs are inherently fictional?

Strategically speaking, we can always “agree to disagree” in order to achieve our common goals. But when it comes down to it, either one of us is right or we’re all wrong. To suggest that others can believe whatever they want — even when they’re wrong — and you’re not even going to try and dissuade them of those notions is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing. You don’t have to be a jerk about it. You don’t have to call religious people “stupid,” to use Al-Khalili’s word. But should we really remain on the sidelines during the entire game? We’ve been silent for way too long as is; if atheists have made any strides over the past decade, it’s because we finally began speaking up about why we’re not religious and speaking out against nonsense in general.

I understand PR. I understand Al-Khalili’s trying to reach out to as many people as possible. I understand that not everyone should be trying to “pick a fight” with religious people during every interaction. I understand he’s not (nor should he be) another Dave Silverman. Indeed, if you read the comments on The Independent‘s website, people are loving this guy.

But as someone who’s relatively non-confrontational when it comes to religion, even I thought this interview made Al-Khalili seem too soft.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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