Getting Acquainted

‘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

First Thoughts

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.

Religious Background

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.

Related Posts

Ingersoll’s Voice, Adler’s Vision: What’s This blog About?

Ingersoll’s Voice: A Persuasive ‘Evangelical’ Humanism

Adler’s Vision: Reimagining Values-Based Community for Godless People

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.

  • Laurence

    If you are interested in virtue epistemology and ethics, then you might want to check out Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View by Christine Swanton if you haven’t read it already. It’s an interesting take on virtue ethics. I’m not sure if I’m completely sold by her arguments, but I think she makes some really good points about things like objectivity.

    • James Croft

      Thanks much – I’ll certainly check it out! Virtue epistemology is somewhat new to me but I’m finding it extremely interesting – it seems like there’s a small field of philosophers really pushing that agenda now, which I like.

      • Laurence

        I’m taking a Graduate Seminar on Virtue Ethics here at Kent State. It’s been really interesting and rewarding. The only thing that sucks is that we have the volume of reading that we have doesn’t allow us to spend as much time on each book that we are reading.

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  • Kenneth Gould

    Welcome to Patheos! Looking forward to great things from you. :3

    • James Croft

      Thank you! Happy to be here!

  • TychaBrahe

    It offers me a small amount of relief to hear that someone raised in a non-religious household and who is now a voice for atheism likes religious music. I was raised a Jew, studied Wicca in Los Angeles, and my favorite musical has always been Godspell. It has always made me uncomfortable, despite my knowledge that the reason is the sublime craftsmanship of Steven Schwartz. (I love Wicked and Enchanted as well.)

    • James Croft

      I love Wicked too, and Beautiful City from Godspell is one of my FAVORITE songs. I take solace in the fact that, despite being sung by Jesus, it is in terms of its message completely Humanist.

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  • ImRike

    Welcome at Patheos – I just found your blog here (mentioned by Hemant). I’m an ex-catholic atheist and among my favorite music are Gregorian Chants. I am happy to find other atheists with “anti-atheist” musical habits!
    By reading some of your past posts, it looks like your blog might become one of my favorites. Welcome again!

    • James Croft

      Thanks so much ImRike – glad to have you reading here! I had a CD of Gregorian Chant I almost wore out as a kid playing it so much. It was an odd mix of traditional Chant and Gregorian Monks singing rocks songs. I loved that thing!

  • abb3w

    Welcome.

    You might need to rattle the management to get your shingle added to the Atheist Channel and the Blogs page here on Patheos; they seem a little slow about that, with new bloggers for any Channel.

    • James Croft

      Thank you! I noticed it wasn’t there yet – I’ll get on that.


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