Humanists, Where Were They?

From Samuel G. Freedman, at the NYTimes:

The funerals and burials over the past two weeks have taken place in Catholic, Congregational, Mormon and United Methodist houses of worship, among others. They have been held in Protestant megachurches and in a Jewish cemetery. A black Christian youth group traveled from Alabama to perform “Amazing Grace” at several of the services.

This illustration of religious belief in action, of faith expressed in extremis, an example at once so heart-rending and so affirming, has left behind one prickly question: Where were the humanists? At a time when the percentage of Americans without religious affiliation is growing rapidly, why did the “nones,” as they are colloquially known, seem so absent?

To raise these queries is not to play gotcha, or to be judgmental in a dire time. In fact, some leaders within the humanist movement — an umbrella term for those who call themselves atheists, agnostics, secularists and freethinkers, among other terms — are ruefully and self-critically saying the same thing themselves.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Wyatt Roberts
  • AHH

    Given the long tradition of “Christian humanism”, not to mention the fact that hard-core atheism doesn’t mesh very well with classical principles of “humanism”, Freedman needs to come up with another label for the people he is talking about.

  • http://www.kansasbob.com/ Kansas Bob

    Seems like the article answer the question of where they were.

  • BryanJensen

    Agreed, AHH. While I’ve considered myself humanist longer than I have been Christian, I, like Petrarch, comfortably pair both terms together for my outlook now. But I don’t tend to proclaim it much. Not sure who is more narrow table: Christians (not) welcoming their own who have a humanist outlook, or Humanists (not) welcoming their own who have a Christian outlook.

  • Matt Edwards

    This reminds me of evangelicalism’s critics of ten years ago–that we weren’t getting out enough to serve the community. Things have changed and there is hope that they can continue to change.

  • Jerry

    Matt (#5) — not sure what churches you are talking about? Churches (including evangelicals) have always done these sorts of things.

  • http://www.simicovenant.org mark almlie

    Erasmus would take issue with the term “humanist” not being Christian :)

  • Kim Hampton

    A lot of the chaplaincy services that happened (and is still happening) in Newtown were done , and is being coordinated, by humanist organizations. It just went under the radar.

  • Norman

    Let me throw some anecdotal gasoline on the fire. While spending over 10 years working as a volunteer Prison Chaplin in the Texas Prison system I can’t say I encountered very many people who were not people of faith volunteering their services to mentor Prisoners in order to change their lives. There may have been a few (humanists?) that I missed but essentially volunteers to help “free the prisoners” were from the various faith communities. I might add that I encountered hundreds of prison volunteers if not thousands.

    As an evolutionist I could view humanity through a physical and material construct and consider that Prisons were nature’s way of purifying humanity. That may be the reason that we don’t get many rationalist into this kind of work because they do not see a return on investment; at least not for their own personal expediency.

    However as a Theistic Evolutionist with a faith in Christ; I see transcendence beyond the physicality that a spiritual dimension puts into play among humans. I’m sure atheist, agnostics and humanist can be caring and loving to those around them: I know they can because I interface with them. I know many who are very concerned with humanities conditions such as the environment ect., but I just don’t run into many who want to take a chance and invest time and effort into the attempts to redeem the so called unredeemable. It just doesn’t seem to be their bag.

    Remember this is an anecdotal observation and I’m not saying that there aren’t many exceptions but if the Prison Volunteer system depended upon that segment of society to do the heavy lifting of Prison mentoring then we aren’t going to have much effort going on. I’m sure they would praise the good work of Prison volunteer work but I just haven’t seen them go much beyond giving lip service.

    Perhaps someone can explain the disconnect going on there as it may be related to the perception of this article.

  • Daniel O

    Agreed AHH…

  • Russ

    Maybe it’s because they had nothing to say that would make any kind of a difference! Ultimate questions of life and death are matters of faith, and faith has a substance of it’s own!


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