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.