‘We are laying the foundations of the grand temple of the future–not the temple of all the gods, but of all the people–wherein, with appropriate rites, will be celebrated the religion of Humanity. We are doing what little we can to hasten the coming of the day when society shall cease producing millionaires and mendicants – gorged indolence and famished industry – truth in rags, and superstition robed and crowned. We are looking for the time when the useful shall be the honorable; and when REASON, throned upon the world’s brain, shall be the Kind of Kings, and God of Gods.’
- Robert G. Ingersoll
It’s a strange thing to join a new blog network. On the one hand, I’m somewhere totally new, surrounded (digitally speaking) by accomplished colleagues and fresh opportunities or dialogue here on the Atheist Channel. On the other hand, for most current readers my move will make little difference – the URL changes, but the fundamental experience does not. Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist) and I have known each other, through atheist conventions, for years. I’ve spoken with Dan Finke of Camels With Hammers before – at length! I’ve already danced with Chris Hallquist (The Uncredible Hallq) and crossed swords with JT Eberhard (What Would JT Do?). And, of course, Greg Epstein (Good Without God) is my friend and colleague at the Humanist Community at Harvard. New digs, old friends. I trust our dialogue will continue and be further enriched by our sharing Patheos as a home, and that current readers will continue to find my writing valuable.
What I’m really excited about are all the brand new connections I’ll be making, particularly the religious writers here, and any new readers who find me through Patheos (perhaps you’re one of them – welcome!). For you, an introduction seems in order: who am I, and what’s this blog about?
Who Am I?
Philosopher and Teacher
I’m James Croft, born and bred in London, UK (and always a Londoner at heart), now living in Boston MA while I finish a Doctorate in Human Development and Education at Harvard. After high school I studied Education, Drama and English at Cambridge (a degree which sadly is no more) before teaching Drama and English at a high school in London on the Teach First program – the UK equivalent of Teach for America. That took me to Harvard for a Masters in Arts Education, then it was onto the Doctoral program – I’m now in my fifth year (!).
Academically speaking, I’m primarily a philosopher. I explore questions regarding the purpose and goals of education, and my thesis examines the nature, value and development of free thinking or intellectual autonomy. I like to ask big questions like “why do we educate people at all?” and “what does it mean to be well-educated?” I am broadly in favor of what has been called a “liberal education”, with rigorous training in traditional subject disciplines, and I’m critical of educational ideal which prioritize preparation for the workplace or the development of nebulous “21st Century Skills”. For the other philosophers out there, I’m inspired by Pragmatists like Dewey, James, and Peirce, by virtue epistemology a la Aristotle, and by analytical philosophers like Nelson Goodman. However, as a student of education writ large, I’m trained in the methods and traditions of sociology, psychology and cognitive science, and have published papers in an odd range of journals, including pieces on neuroscience and performance theory. I can never think of just one thing at once – I’m a classic example of what Isaiah Berlin would call a fox rather than a hedgehog!
The Humanist Community at Harvard
I try to use my skills as an educator and scholar in my work as Research and Education Fellow at the Humanist Community at Harvard (HCH), a nonreligious community in Cambridge, MA for Harvard students, alumni, and Boston residents. We provide weekly meetings for students, regular big-name speakers, educational offerings (like our new Sunday school, the Humanist Learning Lab), interfaith dialogue and service events.
My work at HCH is focused on the Humanist Community Project, an initiative designed to help Humanist communities around America expand their efforts and grow. Through a curated community blog we offer resources like discussion guides, marketing suggestions, web design tips, assistance with activism and lobbying, and more. I’m currently working on a set of educational resources for the Project, including an introductory course in Humanism modeled on the popular Christian Alpha course.
Chorister, Speaker, and Activist
I’m not just a student and teacher. Like so many of the other bloggers here I have a million other passions. Theatre and song have always been a big part of my life, for instance. I was a chorister at school, a choral scholar at Cambridge, and continue to sing with choruses in Boston. I spent much of my time in college on the stage: I worked out once that I’d done about 27 productions in three years which, if not a record, is still pretty intense!
Now, though, I get most of my performance kicks from public speaking. I’m a member of the speakers bureaus of the American Humanist Association, the Center for Inquiry, and the Secular Student Alliance, and I travel around the USA talking about Humanism and other related topics. I adore trying to convey Humanist ideals with emotional intensity and passion, and I’ll make sure to post videos and recordings of my speaking engagements when they’re available.
More personally, I’m gay (I came out quite late at 27 – a story in itself!) and obsessed with politics- I began working as an activist in my teens and haven’t stopped since. So no surprise that I’m a gay rights campaigner, working towards full equality for all queer people as a board member of Join the Impact MA. We march, rally, protest and generally cause trouble to drive the equality agenda forward.
Religiously speaking, I was raised in a happy nonreligious household, and I’ve never believed in God. I’m an atheist and a Humanist through and through, and proud of it. I’ve read my Hitchens and my Dawkins and I happy to strongly criticize religion and the religious when it threatens human happiness. I believe religious beliefs should be treated like any other sort of belief, open to criticism, reformation and ridicule like anything else. I like to say I was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek.
However, as a chorister I’ve sung through mountains of religious services, and I’m often very comfortable in religious spaces. I love singing the psalms (Stanford’s setting of Psalm 150 is a favorite), the Mass (Duruflé over Faure!), even traditional hymns (“Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”). Old English carols bring me instantly back home to a cold winter’s night in London, and to a childhood spend touring the city’s great hotels caroling for Christmas parties. So, while I reject the supernatural underpinnings of all religions I respect some of the artistic output religion has inspired, and I am powerfully aware of the importance of aesthetics in bringing people to religion.
Moreover, like Cass Seltzer (the “atheist with a soul”) in Rebecca Goldstein’s amazing novel “36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction“, I am open to what many would call “spiritual experiences”. As a teenager I flirted with belief in god purely because of a series of remarkable experiences of joy, wellness, and expansive consciousness which were sometimes overwhelming. Luckily, while exploring the work of religious mystics I came across the psychological writing of William James and Abraham Maslow, and their work gave me a naturalistic framework for understanding the intense experiences I was having (and occasionally still have). This has led to a desire to reclaim religious aesthetics and experience for naturalists, and I hope my love of some aspects of religious culture and experience adds complexity and tension to my writing.
So that’s me! I’d love to meet some of the regulars here and hear about your experiences so please feel free to say “hi” in the comments. In my next post I’ll outline the main ideas and purposes of my blog.