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Reason, Compassion, and Hope in Community: A Response to Some Constructive Criticism for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard

Andrew Tripp, fellow commentator on LGBTQ community blog In Our Words (to which I’ve only contributed one post so far), has written a readable and interesting critique of some of my recent work at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard (HCH). Far be it from me that I should let this pass without comment! First, I’m excited that Tripp found the Boston Globe article about the new Humanist Community Project, and is asking questions about it: provoking a discussion in nonreligious circles about our aims and goals as a movement is part of our goal with our new initiative, and it’s exciting to see our ideas being discussed in various fora even (sometimes especially) when people don’t agree with us fully. We honestly welcome reasoned criticism like this (while being somewhat frustrated by the unreasoned criticism our work sometimes receives) – we could well be wrong in our approach, and if we are, we want to know it!

Before I respond directly to Tripp’s critique of our work, though, I want to note some interesting aspects of his post. First, he seems to claim that many of the major nonreligious movement organizations are either recently created or recently prominent, saying that 2004 could “arguably be called the beginning of the movement”. This reflects a common tendency among commentators on atheism to miss the long history of secular organizations in the USA, and the longer history of Humanism in general. The Center for Inquiry and the American Humanist Association (AHA) have been around for decades in some form or another, for instance, and the AHA was reasonably prominent in some parts of the cultural conversation a while back (certainly way before 2004). The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard itself has an almost 40 year history.

Moreover, when we talk about Humanism at HCH, we are thinking in terms of an extremely long tradition of rationalism and expanding moral concern that goes back, in some senses, to the Greeks. We claim people like Socrates, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Shakespeare, JS Mill, Robert Ingersoll, Ernestine Rose, and Mary Cady Stanton as our forebears. So we’re talking about a tradition of Humanism here that is as rich, significant and worthy of recognition and celebration as any religious tradition. This is an important recognition, because preserving and teaching the history of Humanism, as a rich tradition in its own right, is one of our primary goals at HCH. We do not see Humanism as an incredibly-recent offshoot of the New Atheism, but as the millennia-long march towards greater compassion and reason in human affairs. Our horizons are broad, and our goals far-sighted.

At the same time, I want to celebrate Tripp’s stance that freethinkers must become more active in lobbying for social change. When he says, in his post on activism, that “Secularism must stand for basic human rights, or be thrown by the wayside”, I want to cheer. This passage in particular describes precisely my own view:

Within the movement, there are precious few voices who talk about politics, or feminism, or LGBTQ issues, or all the other fucked up shit that is happening in the world right now, or if they do, it is without a call to action. It’s always “look how fucked up religion is,” not, “register to vote to throw these theocractic assholes out of office. As such, the movement — especially amongst the Four Equine luminaries of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett — seems increasingly out of touch with the wider world.

This is precisely the argument we at the Chaplaincy, and myself in particular, have been making for a long time, as evidenced here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. You’ll note the first post is from Oct 2009, and that in these posts I tackle every single concern Tripp raises in the paragraph: politics, feminism, LGBTQ issues, and fucked up shit in general, and give numerous calls to action, including explicitly political calls to action. You can even find videos of me speaking at rallies and protests from an explicitly Humanist perspective in some of those posts. I have form on these issues.

Indeed, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a more activist-oriented group of Humanists than those at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard. Our vision for Humanism is absolutely one of passionate engagement with the world in service of humanity, and our fervent hope is to get away from the “armchair philosophy” vision of Humanism that has been the norm for far too long. But, as Tripp astutely asks, “how does that happen?” How do we get freethinkers to get out of their armchairs and into the streets, more willing to act on what they say they believe in?

As Tripp notes, there are lots of answers to this question already. Groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, and the Secular Coalition for America offer examples of how major organizations have tried to galvanise freethinkers into becoming, as Tripp seems to want, a more active group, politically and socially speaking.

The problem is they don’t seem to work that well. In the many years these organizations have been about, we have not seen the development of a significantly engaged and activist block of freethinkers (although this is changing to some degree extremely recently with the energizing effect of “New Atheist” writing – one of many reasons I love and support the work of “New Atheists”). But still, it’s hardly as if there is a new “Moral Majority” of Humanists who shape the public debate and have a huge impact on public policy.

The Humanist Community Project – the idea which sparked the Boston Globe article Tripp takes issue with – is our response to this problem (as I explain in great detail here). It is our view (a view supported by social science research) that one of the challenges faced by the feethinking movement is that it lacks real local communities where people come together to share, develop, and act upon their values. As Putnam and Campbell assert in American Grace, a recent study of religion in America, people who attend religious communities more often tend to give more money to charity – both religious and secular charities – and volunteer more of their time to causes they consider worthwhile. They are more likely to be active in their community. They are more likely to vote.

But all of these effects, the authors note, can be explained by involvement in religious social networks – it’s not down to religious belief. Therefore, they suggest, “close, morally intense, but nonreligious social networks could have a similarly powerful effect”.

We want to help build such “close, morally intense, but nonreligious social networks”. That’s the basic underlying principle of our project, and it is one that is informed by one of the largest and most comprehensive studies of religious life in America ever conducted. It is therefore an eminently reasonable position, and it addresses precisely the concerns Tripp himself raises. So, you’d think he’d support it wholeheartedly.

Not so. He says, rather “I want to take issue with the nature of the HHC’s [sic] language”. Specifically, he takes issue with a quote of mine from the article (but does so without putting in the whole thing). What I said, and what Tripp seems to object to, was this:

“People get a lot of benefits from their religious communities including profound ways of filling existential needs, like commemorating significant events in their lives. Just because they leave behind their religious beliefs doesn’t mean they stop having those needs. But secular society has not yet come up with a way to give them moments of significance with the same level of beauty and care that goes into religious ceremonies. That is a big gap.’’

I make essentially a four-step argument here: 1) People get tangible benefits from religious communities. 2) Many of those benefits come in the form of helping people navigate life transitions, make meaning out of difficult events, tackling existential questions like “why am I here?” etc. 3) Nonreligious people still experience life transitions, questions of meaning and significance, and times of trouble in which they might need support from like-minded people who share their values. And 4) secular society does not have an equivalent space which is dedicated to helping people address those existential concerns and provide such support. I think this argument is indisputable, and certainly nothing Tripp says gives me reason to doubt it.

Rather, he asks whether I can be possibly referring to religious services, since some church services are boring and meaningless. He links, by way of illustrating his meaning, this delightful clip of Eddie Izzard making fun of the lameness of the Church of England by calling it “phenomenally dreary”. Therefore, he implies, all services must be equally lame. This is not a cogent argument. Within the clip itself, Izzard notes that gospel services are “joyous” and “fucking amazing”, for instance, which immediately undercuts the point Tripp is trying to make with it. Clearly, to the extent to which we want to borrow intelligently from religious communities (more on this below), we want our meetings to be “fucking amazing” and not Church-of-England-lame.

Further, in taking issue with my language, is Tripp suggesting that the quote he pulled out (the same quote PZ Myers pulled out before completely misinterpreting it) has some sort of “religious” quality? This seems to be the implication of the title, which accuses the HCH of “aping dogma”. What’s “religious” about the idea that life can be filled with beauty and significance, and that certain ways of responding to life, in a community, might make that manifest? As with PZ’s reaction, I’m not sure I really understand the point. Are we really going to accept the old religious canard that a life without religion can have no beauty and meaning, and that to seek to recognize beauty and create meaning in life, together with other atheists, is to immediately make that space “religious”? This is a very odd stance for someone like PZ to take.

Tripp goes on to say that he’s “interested in why the HHC is so desperate to align themselves with religious images.” But where does he get the impression we are “desperate to align ourselves with religious images”? Is it because we have a “Chaplain” (a designation which makes us fit into Harvard’s structure, which we wouldn’t necessarily choose for ourselves, but which has a reasonably long history of secular use)? Is it because we want to come together to discuss significant questions about human life? The characterization (similar to how PZ often responds to the HCH’s initiatives) seems not only unjustified but unfair, the result of knee-jerk thinking: “They call it a Chaplaincy, therefore it must be religious! Aaaaargh!”

So I’m left wondering, what in what the Chaplaincy actually does does Tripp disagree with? What about helping respond to existential needs in community is “dogmatic”? What about building communities which might serve as a base for the sort of activism Tripp seems to desire is “irrational”? Does the criticism really come down to the use of the word “Chaplain” and the fact we are willing to look carefully and critically to religious models, where appropriate, for inspiration? Surely the discomfort must have a more rational basis than that.

I think the primary fallacy here, also evident in PZ’s response (I cannot tell him so any longer – I have been banned from his blog as Socrates was banished from Athens – he doesn’t much like disagreement or, you know, free thinking), is when Tripp and PZ assume that because we at the Humanist Chaplaincy want to build a community that will provide nonreligious people with some of the same benefits religious people get from their religious communities, we also want the following:

A) To replicate the worst aspects of religious communities, like dogma.

B) The lame parts of religion, like Anglican churches in which no one sings the hymns with passion.

C) The dangerous parts of religious communities, such as appeals to illegitimate authority figures and reinforcement of group-think.

Only an extremely uncharitable reading of our writing about our intentions could possibly lead to such a perverse conclusion. To put it bluntly, how stupid do Tripp and PZ think we are? Do they honestly believe we haven’t considered the potential problems with this approach, and are just heading blindly toward creating a cult of Greg Epstein? Have they even read the voluminous responses we have previously made to these and other critiques, complete with the evidence to support our claims?

It seems the answer to that last must be “No”. What we’re doing is a highly reasonable, highly intelligent thing. We recognize the real benefits people get from their religious communities. We realize that many nonreligious people would like the same benefits but currently can’t get them without sacrificing their intellectual integrity. We want, as Tripp wants, to see freethinkers more engaged with the critical issues of our day, like social justice, equality, and other political concerns. We are therefore trying to build a community space where people who are Humanists can come together to affirm shared values, do the activism Tripp wants us to do (because almost all successful activism is rooted in community), and get mutual support when they need it – following the evidence which suggests this will be a successful approach.

In building such communities, we are not dogmatically taking a religious model, complete with all its flaws. Nor are we dogmatically avoiding all religious models simply because they are religious (which would be completely irrational, and which seems to be PZ’s approach). After all, religions have millennia of experience building communities based around shared values, and it seems hugely unlikely to me that they haven’t learned something of value about the process which might be useful to others who wish to do so (indeed, I’ve already written one post on what we can learn from religious communities, and many more are coming). We are seeking to untangle the good elements of religious community from the bad elements, changing and reforming things as necessary. That’s why, incidentally, our community looks (as Tripp notices in his post) not a lot like many religious communities.

So, in conclusion, we welcome the critique. But these are issues we’ve addressed at length in our planning process and in numerous other articles on the subject. I would love to have a proper discussion about the role and nature of congregational (Aaaaah! A “religious” word – flee!) Humanist communities with those who think that such communities would be a bad idea. But that discussion must be based on a fair reading of our aims and an appreciation of the depth of thought that has gone into our project. It is simply not enough to say, as PZ essentially has said, and as Tripp seems to be saying, “Ewww – religious language!” Our commitment to rationalism deserves a higher level of thought and discussion than that.

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.

  • John Morales

    Is it because we have a “Chaplain” (a designation which makes us fit into Harvard’s structure, which we wouldn’t necessarily choose for ourselves, but which has a reasonably long history of secular use)?

    The word ‘Chaplain’ has a specific meaning, and it’s a religious one.

    Are you seriously trying to imply that there’s some history of non-religious use of the term ‘Chaplain’?

    If so, can you adduce any evidence for that claim?

    • TempleoftheFuture

      From Wikipedia:

      “Traditionally, a chaplain is a minister in a specialized setting such as a priest, pastor, rabbi, or imam or lay representative of a religion attached to a secular institution such as a hospital, prison, military unit, police department, university, or private chapel.

      Though originally the word “chaplain” referred to representatives of the Christian faith, it is now applied to men and women of other religions or philosophical traditions–such as in the case of the humanist chaplains serving with military forces in the Netherlands and Belgium.”

      From Dictionary.com (second meaning):

      “a person who says the prayer, invocation, etc., for an organization or at an assembly.”

      It’s critical to avoid the etymological fallacy. Granted, the word has been specifically religious for an awfully long time, but that has been changing in recent decades, as these entries show. The Humanist Chaplaincy itself has been around for decades, as I point out in the article. Another example of the secular form are secular Jewish chaplains (who can also be rabbis), such as Greg Epstein.

      Did you also note that I said we wouldn’t necessarily choose the term if we had a free choice?

      And what do you think about the rest of the article?

      • John Morales

        Thanks for the response.

        Re the rest of the article, I think you’ve made a clear explanation of your position.

        IMO, it seems just like religion, minus the supernatural component, and I suspect only a minority of people actually seek that.

        Still, time will tell, no? :)

        • TempleoftheFuture

          That may be true – we’ll see! But it’s interesting you should say “it seems just like religion, minus the supernatural component”. We’re constantly being told by PZ, Greta Christina and others that the supernatural component is THE defining characteristic of religion, and that sociological understandings of religion are simply evasive ways to protect religion from criticism. When we suggest excising the supernatural component and keeping some of the rest, though, suddenly the value of the sociological view becomes apparent, and we’re trying to “make atheism into a religion”! There is no way we can win, it seems =P

          • John Morales

            When we suggest excising the supernatural component and keeping some of the rest, though, suddenly the value of the sociological view becomes apparent, and we’re trying to “make atheism into a religion”!

            Are you not advocating a communal, participatory belief system (humanism) that provides moral values and assuages the supposed ‘spiritual’ and ceremonial needs of its participants, “where people come together to share, develop, and act upon their values” under the guidance of Chaplains?

            (You say it’s not a religion, though the accidentseems the same — it’s the substance that is different)

          • John Morales

            Ack! (The markup fails)

            First paragraph is supposed to be a blockquote, and ‘accident’ is a hyperlink.

          • TempleoftheFuture

            We are precisely advocating what you describe. But what is seen as “accidental” to religion is often disputed. I do not believe what we are doing is currently best described as creating a “religion”. I think there are political and educational reasons to eschew that term. At the same time I recognize that the nearest equivalent, Ethical Culture, does describe itself as a “religion”.

            In the end, I care more about fulfilling human needs than about what we call the structure which fulfills them. I’ll let other people debate that question.

  • http://www.illiniSSA.com Edward Clint

    I have some critical remarks of my own James, if you will indulge me. Let’s start with part 1 of your 4-part argument.

    “1) People get tangible benefits from religious communities”

    Except when they don’t. The places where we see the greatest sense of community and social responsibility are all places where religion is dead or mostly so- like northern Europe. Further, these tangible benefits might be the direct reward for morally disgusting methods we know churches employ (institutional abduction, coercion). Your social science research highlighting correlations does not show that only positive aspects of religion have lead to positive rewards.

    It isn’t clear the positives are actually positive, either. The same person who is charitable because the reverend said Jesus wants them to be, is the same person who will vote against stem cells and gay rights for the same reason. Now you claim you can get the good without the bad, but I see no compelling evidence this is possible. Worse- we might already have acquaintance with a “success” story such as you plan. A “close, morally intense, but nonreligious social network” network? Reminds me more than a little of the PZ Myers & Pals internet fan club. You learned first-hand what comes of dissenting against the moral dogma there.

    We should consider that religion in the US, in spite of all of its great purported benefits, is failing badly. The organized church-y ones that supposedly give those benefits the most are the ones falling the fastest. Again, you think the good can be detangled from the bad (showing that the churches from whom you steal the ideas are not as smart as you are) but they just seem like drug dealers and bullies to me. That you’ve stolen (not earned) authority sufficient to garner “community center” status, that you’ve had special privilege to monopolize charity for centuries, that you force helpless children to learn to need you… does not make you the apotheosis of social harmony everyone should emulate.

    • TempleoftheFuture

      You are always welcome to offer critical remarks, Ed! I appreciate you’re tackling my argument in a direct way, because I think this is actually he hub of the matter (and not the mostly silly discussions about particular words).

      You say: “The places where we see the greatest sense of community and social responsibility are all places where religion is dead or mostly so- like northern Europe.” Perhaps. But just because religion is dead does not mean close social networks are dead. Northern Europe is also the place where there are the most impressive Humanist networks (Scandanavia’s Humanism is remarkably robust in comparison to the situation in the USA). If you look to the UK, where religion is also mostly dead (especially in terms of church services), you see wide-ranging social effects of the breakdown of the social fabric too, as epitomized by the recent riots.

      My diagnosis of this (and obviously this is a very long discussion, but the outline is basically this) is that religion started to die, and the secular world did not do enough to take up the slack and present community spaces which foster a sense of connection between people. When they left their religious communities, people didn’t go into comparable secular communities, but absconded almost entirely from community life itself – with sometimes disastrous social consequences. I see the same possibility in the USA.

      You go on to say that “It isn’t clear the positives are actually positive, either. The same person who is charitable because the reverend said Jesus wants them to be, is the same person who will vote against stem cells and gay rights for the same reason.” I think you’re right. I made the same point in my review of Putnam and Campbell’s book, actually (http://thehumanist.org/may-june-2011/american-grace-how-religion-divides-and-unites-us/ – look at the fourth paragraph from the bottom).

      But let’s not forget counter-examples: the close networks which led activists to risk their lives for civil rights and gay rights, for example, or the networks now, in liberal churches, which are agitating for social justice and a fairer economy. Or Ethical Culture in its heyday.

      The choice, in my view, is a three-way one (this is a crude summation of my view): the Dark Side(intense communities dedicated to the wrong values like conservative evangelical churches), the Light Side (intense communities dedicated to the right values, like Ethical Culture societies, and Humanist Communities), or no Force at all (no intense communities).

      If we want to go for the third option, because of the potential for Light Side force-users to turn to the Dark Side, then we have to find some way to deal with the fact that Dark Jedi already exist and are already agitating against values we hold dear.

      I rather think that we will lose, and end up living in the Empire.

      The last paragraph is intriguing. Yes, many people are now identifying as nonreligious. But we’ve predicted the end of religion before, and have been wrong before. Further, if I’m right about the real human needs religious communities sometimes satisfy, then there will always be a space for it. The question then becomes “will we provide the space, or let clerics do it?”

      As for whether authority is earned or stolen, and whether it becomes a drug or a nourishing meal, I think that depends on 1) one’s assumptions about human nature and 2) how well we do our job. If it is true, as I suggest, that religions are responding to deeply felt human needs (and not creating them), then I think that we can respond to those needs too, and we won’t be forcing anything down anyone’s throat…

      • http://www.illiniSSA.com Edward Clint

        I can’t believe you went all Star Wars on me, you huge nerd.

        I have to defer to your opinion on the state of the UK. I just have a very hard time seeing secularized society as infirmed (sans psuedo-religious uh.. support) because of my experience of living in Germany from 2006 to 2009. None of the germans I knew or spent any time with were religious at all, nor were they like me, loud and proud atheists. They just all seemed not to give a shit. They were wonderful people, by and large. The only community they seemed to need was their actual community- friends, family, neighbors. There was no steeple-shaped hole in their psyche leading to unrest. Indeed, the very suggestion is absurd to me as I remember my old friends. This, not church-y unitarianistic religion methadone, seems the antidote.

        Perhaps we should just stop inviting a needless comparison. God fans lay a preposterous claim to the deed to morality, marriage, and of course, fancy hats. We accept none of this, nor do we frame our ethical perspective as “my secularized pseudo-religious deontology” or the like. I agree with you when you say “[it] depends on 1) one’s assumptions about human nature and 2) how well we do our job.” you continue “that religions are responding to deeply felt human needs.” This, too, I agree with especially because of the assertion that the need in question is a basic human need and not a religious need humans have.

        Churches have used and abused all imaginable avenues toward successfully adding heads or influence- money, laws, marriage, sexuality, etc.., and there’s nothing inherently wrong or religious about any of those things. If that’s so, if you just want to sensibly respond to a human need (or a method of successful activism, which is a separate issue), why not just say that? Loads of nonbelievers still have fresh wounds courtesy of theism. Implying they need something from their abuser, even if true, is still going to make them very uncomfortable with your plan. Your words can also be (sometimes deliberately) misconstrued as supporting church as a generally good thing. I know that you are not, but still, these are two costs you are paying. Are you getting a return on your approach that exceeds these costs? (and by approach, I mean how you frame and discuss the HCP- not the HCP itself, which is perfectly fine).

        • TempleoftheFuture

          On Germany Vs. the UK, remember that the welfare state and other communitarian initiatives are much more full-blown in Germany than they are in either the USA or the UK, and more in the UK than the USA. I do think what we’re trying to do has particular relevance in the US context because so much of the social fabric is made up by voluntary institutions.

          As for whether the comparison is needless, I’m not so sure. You have to remember our audience isn’t just people who currently identify as atheist activists (who often are the ones who have the strongest aversion to any mention of religious communities). We want to reach out to the vast swathe of nones (the ENORMOUS majority) who do NOT identify as “atheists” and who may even be vaguely deistic. They generally aren’t so worried about the comparison.

          It’s when you say “if you just want to sensibly respond to a human need (or a method of successful activism, which is a separate issue), why not just say that?” that I lose you. That’s precisely what we ARE saying. We are just pointing out that we needn’t grope in the dark about this – there happen to have been institutions fulfilling this need to a better or worse degree for centuries – why not learn what we can from them?

          My suspicion is (and this may sound harsh, but I think it’s fair) that if someone is so angry at religion in general that they cannot abide the idea that we might learn something valuable from religious communities (which I can understand), they are unlikely to want to visit us anyway. For them, there are already lots of spaces (atheist meetup groups etc.). For people who are not so freshly-wounded, there isn’t a lot on offer. That’s the gap we want to fill

          • http://www.illiniSSA.com Edward Clint

            I’ll take your point re: Germany, and indeed I was implying that economic reforms would be required in the “be like Germany” sentiment.

            I’m glad you’ve considered and delineated your target demo so carefully. I expect you will be sacrificing much of the activist contingent, but yeah they have good alternatives already.

            So then I have just one more question, need a hand? This looks terrific to me and I’d like to help any way I can.

  • http://2ndsunphoto.com Craig Volpe

    As far as activism, my personal tendency is to think of religion and politics as separate areas in my life, similarly to how I don’t usually discuss video games, cooking, or photography when I go to secular meetings. While there is sometimes overlap with those topics (I could see a discussion on ethics leading to any of those 5 subjects), part of me feels like there is potential to break apart secular groups with the more political stances a group adopts. For example, I think it’s possible for humanists to rationally argue either for or against abortion. If the group decided to support abortion, I’m sure most members would agree with the stance, but there might be some members that it would alienate, as well as make the group much less appealing to those who recently left a pro-life church but currently maintain their stances on moral issues. I do think encouraging voting is a good idea, but part of me wonders if the lower voter turnout has less to do with religious community and more with correlation between apathy and some other factor that correlates with non-belief. Intelligence perhaps? I really ought to read that social science research you linked to.

    If I have one criticism of this article, it sounded a little unfair when you concluded PZ Meyers “doesn’t much like disagreement or, you know, free thinking” from his banning you. I rarely read his site, I have zero details surrounding the banning or your interactions with him, and I would agree disagreement is an important part of free thinking; but from what I have read from him I think it would be difficult to say he is against the concept of free thinking. Could there perhaps be other reasons for his banning you? Maybe he supports free thinking, but thinks disagreement in blogs is an unconstructive place for it as it often devolves to slurs? Like I said, I don’t know any of the details of the situation, but maybe he had another reason for banning you other than to prevent disagreement or because he’s against free thinking.

    • TempleoftheFuture

      Craig, I think your concerns regarding the potential fragmentation of secular groups over certain issues are very well expressed. This is something I think about a lot. I tend to think that there should be issues which are uncontroversial for Humanists which they can all rally around: full civil equality for gay and transgender people, fro example. But other issues, perhaps like abortion, might be harder (although no Humanist could possibly support the person-hood amendment, I think). The challenge would be to have core values that are non-negotiable at the center of the community, and then a debate within the community about how to actualize those values.

      As for PZ, perhaps I am being unfair. I’m sure in his own mind he is a champion of freethought. However, if there was a good reason for banning me, it certainly wasn’t because he’s worried about disagreement degenerating into slurs: he and his supporters throw around more slurs than almost anyone I’ve ever read online!

    • http://www.illiniSSA.com Edward Clint

      Hello Craig,

      re: PZ Myers

      I’ve yet to be banned, but I do get the impression that PZ has extremely little room for respectful disagreement. This impression is based on how he responds to fellow secularists who diverge from his view, even in minor ways. He has a long history of castigating people with extreme prejudice over small quibbles. I wrote about one example of this if you’d care to read it.. prepare to be amazed. http://www.illinissa.com/2010/04/is-pz-myers-crank.html

      • TempleoftheFuture

        If only I were amazed. I’m only surprised that in this instance he was so measured!

  • http://2ndsunphoto.com Craig Volpe

    Bravo James! I normally don’t like reading posts this long, but I was glued the whole time. I read Tripp’s article before reading this (thanks for putting a link at the very beginning) and formulated in my head my own response. It was short and disjointed. Then I read your response. I’m always impressed reading your arguments. Always well reasoned, clear, with great flow!

    Even though religious type communities don’t personally appeal to me, I think establishing them in the secular sphere is a great idea. There are some undeniable positive aspects to religion and it would be in nonbelievers best interest to come to terms with this. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve talked to atheists that only recognize and focus on the negative aspects of religion, and vice-versa when talking to believers about atheism. Not only is it close minded to have this kind of one-sided view of something, but I believe conversations with believers are generally more constructive when non-believers include both good and bad aspects when discussing religion.

    • TempleoftheFuture

      Thanks Craig – I appreciate your comment!

  • http://2ndsunphoto.com Craig Volpe

    Oops, those two responses were supposed to be posted in the opposite order. Any way to edit or delete a post once you’ve left one?

    • TempleoftheFuture

      I’ll see if I can reorder them!

  • Pingback: Togetherness in Secular Society: My Response to the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard « In Our Words

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com Nathan DST

    I do find the “Chaplaincy” to be a distasteful label. I don’t think the secular uses of it you mention are so mainstream that you can expect someone to see that and not immediately think of religious connotations (kind of like when I watched Equilibrium with Christian Bale recently; every time his character was called “Cleric,” I kept think of the religious parts of that word– that, and D&D/Pathfinder). If I was at Harvard, and saw a mention of the Humanist Chaplaincy for the first time, I think I’d be leery of checking it out. But, I will take your point about it being necessary to fit into Harvard’s structure. I suspect that’s a similar reason to why it’s used in the military.

    The following analogy may be useful in talking to a certain, um, type of person (geeks) when discussing what it is you’re trying to do with the Community Project. When I was at Winona State University, I was part of the campus roleplaying group. That’s where I learned how to play Dungeons and Dragons, and other tabletop RPG’s. When I moved to Rochester, I was no longer able to make it Winona very often in order to join the gaming. I lost a valuable part of my life. No longer could I discuss the relative merits wizards vs sorcerers, the minutiae of character building, ways to break the game by exploiting loopholes in rules, the stories we developed, etc. I miss that. There was a community with a common interest, one that I could discuss things with and do things with that I simply couldn’t do with other people. I have not yet found a similar group in this area. In a similar fashion, someone leaving a religious background may feel an urge for a like-minded community to fit their new outlook. Sometimes meetups and such will work. Sometimes not. It depends on the person, and what they feel as psychological needs (in the gamer analogy, some want D&D, some want Star Wars, some want LARP, some want high fantasy, and some want grim ‘n’ gritty noir).

    I’m not sure how useful that analogy is, but I think it could help with some people.

    • TempleoftheFuture

      I take your point re: the Chaplaincy title. It’s something we’re considering deeply right now. I wonder, though, if it’s truly that bad that people might think of religious connotations when confronted with that word. Since some of the functions we seek to fulfill are similar to those fulfilled by religious communities it isn’t necessarily inappropriate that those connotations might come to mind. Whether you find them distasteful or not will probably depend on your background experience with religion.

      I love your analogy, as a HUGE geek myself ;)


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