Evangelists for Humanity – Join Us!

I love to argue. I’m rarely happier than when I’m amidst the cut and thrust of debate, unleashing my best points in a flurry, while parrying and dodging the flailing weapons of my enemies. I revel in the dance of ideas, whirling like a madman as I seek to position myself for the perfect attack. I relish searching for the openings in my opponents’ defenses, judging the moment and then,  with a flourish and a joyful YAWP, leaping in to eviscerate them, their rhetorical bowels slopping onto the arena floor.

I admit it – when I’m discussing with others, I want to win. But I don’t just want to defeat my opponents. I want to convince them. I yearn to persuade. And that passion, that fire, is no stronger than when I’m talking about Humanism. So it’s no surprise that a friend approached me recently after a panel I had spoken on, and told me “James, you know what? You’re an evangelical. An evangelical Humanist.”

My friend was right. I am evangelical when it comes to my Humanism. For me, it isn’t enough simply to be a Humanist. I want to share the good news with everyone I meet! I believe the world would be a better place if more people lived according to Humanist values, and I want to play my part in bringing that about.

Strangely, though, I sometimes feel like I’m in a minority among my own community. Despite the passionate convictions of my fellow Humanists, many seem reticent when it comes to spreading our values. Humanists seem to feel there is something unseemly about encouraging others to join us, as if there is something inherently manipulative about encouraging others to consider Humanism.

Perhaps this unease is the result of too many encounters with religious zealots knocking on doors and standing on sidewalks, bearing signs with ugly slogans, hate-spewing megaphones in hand. Perhaps it is our commitment to freedom of thought, burning so brightly that it eclipses any attempt to influence another’s mind.

Whatever the cause of our reluctance to proselytize, we must remember that, as members of a proud ethical tradition competing for members and attention in the public square, we are constantly engaged in cultural combat. Those who seek to dehumanize others, placing god or some other idol above human flourishing, will not refrain from promoting their beliefs, and if we refuse to do so we will be pushed defeated from the arena of ideas, as we have been before.

Remember that persuasion need not mean manipulation. We need not sow fear, distrust and hatred to influence the thinking of others. Rather, we can articulate our vision of a better world – a world guided by reason, motivated by love for our fellow human person – in terms so compelling that others can’t help but join us. If we truly believe that our values are the finest, that our worldview is the most secure, then we should be unabashed in shouting Humanism from the rooftops!

This has been the dream of freethinking evangelists through the ages – evangelists for humanity – who call us to be our best selves and live up to our highest ideals. Gene Roddenberry, when creating my beloved Star Trek, used his stories of humankind’s future beyond the stars as a vehicle for spreading Humanist values. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, when she wrote her seminal analysis of scripture The Woman’s Bible, wanted to persuade her audience of the righteousness of her cause, seeking to end the biblical bigotry which has held women down for centuries, and which continues to do so. And John Lennon, well…

We know John Lennon’s vision:

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Humanists must not be afraid of asking others to imagine a better world. We must not hold back from sharing our values, and seeking to persuade others that, if we don’t have final answers to the great questions of life, we do have the best answers going – and they’re getting better all the time! We must reach out to the religious “nones”, to liberal Christians, Muslims, Jews and Jains, to all whom we might persuade. Not just to know each other more deeply. Not simply to find “common ground”. But to declare, in proud, ringing tones, “I hope someday you’ll join us!”

Yes. Let us evangelize for Humanity.

About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.

  • Jonathan P. Figdor

    Love the sentiment, but Lennon’s version is better than the Patti Labelle cover.

  • http://independent.academia.edu/JimFarmelant Jim Farmelant

    As long as we are referring to John Lennon’s song, we might wish to recall that it also includes the following as well:

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world

    So the question to my mind is, does your evangelical humanism encompass socialism as was apparently the case with John Lennon and many other humanists over the years (i.e.obviously Karl Marx, but also many other figures within humanism such as Bertrand Russell, Corliss Lamont, Erich Fromm, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn)? If not, why not?

    • TempleoftheFuture

      This is a very complex and interesting question which I myself am still pondering. I am considering writing a series of posts on the relationship of Humanism to various political ideologies.

      My feeling at the moment is that we should support whichever economic system best promotes human welfare, and that this is ultimately an empirical question. If it turns out that socialistic systems benefit people more in the long run, we should support them. If more free market systems tend to do so, then we should support them instead. If cultural differences affect which system is most beneficial then we should be open to multiple systems of economic and political organization to maximize human flourishing.

      The challenge for that point of view, as I understand it, is to articulate whether inequalities in society should be considered immoral in themselves. It might be the case that societies which adopt very open markets will develop high levels of inequality but still provide the poorest in society with the best possible outcomes when compared with other systems. This would produce a real moral quandary.

      On of the challenges for me in taking a position on this issue is that, frankly, I don’t know enough economics, and the arguments I have read in favor of different economic systems often seem convincing to me even though they contradict each other! I would appreciate intelligent input on this point.

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com/ LucienBlack

    Sorry, despite digging around, I’m still unclear on precisely what “socialism” entails, and why it’s used as an insult. I guess I need some intelligent input as well.

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com/ LucienBlack

    By the way, the picture. . . is cool. It sorta reminds me of David Tennant’s Doctor at moments when he’s about to get pissed with some aggressive alien. Perhaps not what you were going for with the tenor of the post, but that’s what I’m seeing.

  • http://biowizardry.blogspot.com Isabel

    First paragraph makes me giggle maniacally and roll on the floor in empathetic glee. You psychotic barstud, I knew I liked you for a reason.

    I like your evangelism. I deeply distrust missionism, because it puts handcuffs on intellectual integrity and common civility. I’m relieved to see you distinguish between the two, so explicitly. Therefore, I’m happy for you! Rock on!

    I grew up in an environment soaked in international and comparative economics, and the realpolitik of it has always interested me. I still have close relatives who pursue it for fun /quizzical look/ and profit. I’ll go into that topic at a more reasonable hour, if you like; very much from the empirical standpoint, since that’s my bias in pretty much everything. I’ll just remark in passing that I sure wish we had a free market system; I wonder what that would look like? Very different, anyway.

  • http://biowizardry.blogspot.com Isabel

    Query explicity for this post:
    Do Humanist values specifically preclude spiritual experiences and beliefs? Mostly, I think not, but every now and then I run into a “gotcha” that makes me think it does. I’m not sure if this is due to rhetoric gone wild or if the general consensus is that atheism (or at least agnosticism) is a prerequisite to Humanism. Which doesn’t make sense to me.

    I’m down for anything that potentiates human health, effort and capacity and that fosters the greatest good for the greatest number over the greatest period of time, but does _not_ tell me that the unifying aspect of my feral life and complex inner structure is nonexistent, trivial, or wrong. Thus, I’d say I’m certainly a humanist, but it would be insane to imagine I’m an atheist.

    Is that a logical fallacy?

    • http://nathandst.blogspot.com/ LucienBlack

      “the unifying aspect of my feral life and complex inner structure is nonexistent, trivial, or wrong”

      I’m not sure what you mean by this?

      There is such a thing as religious humanism however.

    • TempleoftheFuture

      As for spiritual experiences, certainly not! I have definitely had experiences I would consider “spiritual”, although I myself wouldn’t use the word. And there’s a long tradition of secularists and the nonreligious seeking powerful states of mind that are normally associated with religious practice. I think this is an interesting project – Sam Harris writes a lot about this.

      As for spiritual beliefs, I’m not sure what those are. And the amount to which atheism is a “required” component for Humanism is in dispute. For MY Humanism the atheistic / naturalistic component is very important – I see it as the bedrock of the rest. But other people don’t feel the same way.

      “I’m down for anything that potentiates human health, effort and capacity and that fosters the greatest good for the greatest number over the greatest period of time, but does _not_ tell me that the unifying aspect of my feral life and complex inner structure is nonexistent, trivial, or wrong”

      I like this.

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