Welcome to the Big Tent of Secularism …

22 Mar

Welcome to the Big Tent of Secularism:  Humanism already Encompasses the Humane and a-theistic traditions of the Past


So atheists, we’re told, are dumb.  The only trouble is they seem to know more about religion than the religious do.  So how “dumb” is that? …

This brings me to what I’m going to talk about today in this post.  It has to do with Secularism and Reason.  Here’s what Mike has to say about the matter on Inspirational Freethought.

Atheists are not angry for the sake of it. We’re angry because we care deeply about this world, and all the inhabitants in it. “We aren’t angry because there’s something wrong with us. We’re angry because there’s something right with us.”

We’re angry because the untestability, unverifiability of religion is what makes it uniquely capable of grotesque immorality and unbelievable disconnect from reality. It’s what makes religion unlikely to promote open, liberal societies. It’s been 2000+ years, for heavens sake. We are sick of watching this world go by like this. We don’t want to see people suffer and wallow in delusion anymore. We want to see this end.

And yes, we want to be respected, too. Rather than being criticized all the time for being angry or confrontational, we want society to actually listen to our arguments and criticisms about why religion is wrong. We want people to consider that maybe, just maybe, atheists have things to be legitimately angry about. We want people to consider that maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t with atheism or atheists, but with religion.

Of course, we want the same rights and treatment as religious people in this society. Whether that means opposing faith-based initiatives or taxing churches, standing up for people like Jessica Ahlquist or fighting to improve our status as the most distrusted minority in America, we will work hard to be respectful members of society. We will condemn hate and bigotry, but we will never ever compromise the truth.

We will walk hand-in-hand with our brothers and sisters to make this world a better place. We want to continue to fully and unconditionally support the goals of the LGBTQ and feminist community. Atheists want to organize in ways never done before, whether that means supporting closeted atheist clergy members, volunteering as a group at a homeless shelter, or raising millions of dollars for Doctors Without Border or for the fight against cancer. Instead of being bullied, threatened, or discriminated against, we want to be integral parts of YOUR community.

And yes, we want to be able to spread our values. We want to organize events like Reason Rally as a celebration of what we’ve accomplished so far. We want politicians to come to these events to acknowledge that we are citizens too, that the separation of church and state actually means something, and that we don’t just have a voice, but a vote. We want to feel and be empowered to navigate this world in loving and supportive communities, to know that we belong and that there are a lot more of us than the religious would like to acknowledge.

My defense of atheism is not about epistemology or science. That argument has gone and passed. It’s over. And it’s been over for a long time. My defense of atheism is about our collective humanist values. We love this world too.  And sometimes, just sometimes, and maybe, just maybe, we do a better job than most people give us credit for.

I’m in total agreement with this.  And, yet, we always fall into this trap of having our secularism and atheism be defined “away” from us by the religionists and other proponents of a more classically-based metaphysical worldview. As John Landon points out on Darwiniana.


This Reason Rally is based on a fallacy: that only atheism represents secularism. As we have pointed out here many times, the religious and the secular are intertwined, and the attempt to monopolize the term ‘secular’ by the new atheists is destructive.

You know, I’m awfully tired of us always getting boxed up into these quandaries. Here’s my solution.  Let’s scrap some of these ideas – RELIGION, ATHEISM, SECULARISM – totally scrap them in terms of the dichotomies we usually draw when it comes to these concepts.  Then, at least, we might have a chance at coming up with better categories to explain these issues and variations in human experience.


RELIGION: So a soft or minor form of religion emerged in historical tandem with secular traditions throughout history? …  Alright. So call it a cultural tradition or a therapeutic philosophy. But keep that distinguished from the metaphysical aspects of religion from which all too many of our problems in human history have arisen.

Furthermore, make sure to make it absolutely clear you aren’t denigrating people’s social experiences or heritages but only the superstition that cuts them off from truly embracing their humanity and cultural traditions as human persons.  That’s all.  There’s no need to make Western cultural modernity a prerequisite for nonbelief or atheism. And, here, I think, humanists and secularists have already done that. We’re not Eurocentric or solely modernistic; so we can move on from that issue.

ATHEISM: What kind? … Buddhist?  Stoic?  Ancient or contemporary?  Western or non-Western … Old or “New” Atheism?  … Here the onus is on critics of atheism to define what they mean when they talk about Neo-Atheism versus a-theistic- cultural systems of the past.  Here’s a hint:  these past traditions were tricky.  They weren’t always overtly religionistic, and some even embraced a quietist philosophy per contra metaphysics (Lao Tse’s Taoism). And, yet, many of them could still be called mystical or gnostic. In that sense, they’re most certainly to be differentiated from Modern Atheism.  They, therefore, require a critiquing in a modern, Atheistic sense.

But, you don’t need to unilaterally toss out the one to take up the other.  Just remember, the humanistic heritage of Atheism already incorporates these lower-case -atheisms of history; all it does differently is sets aside their homages to the definitiveness of an ethereal realm beyond this one.  We’re already Buddhist, Taoist, et al, -atheists by virtue of our being humanist atheists of the modern day 21st century.

SECULARISM: Another bugaboo of a concept.  Are we talking about “secularism” in an irreligious context or “secular” from a this-worldly, the-worldly context?  Weird way to say it! … However, the trouble is in the older senses of the word ‘secular’, defined largely from religious and philosophical discourses in the past.  What “World” or “worlds” are we talking about?  … Ultimately, there is only one WORLD or  universe or reality in which things happen, whether or not we subscribe to the religious point of view. The metaphysicians, though, seem to think it contains ethereal principles as well.  So, we get caught again in a debate over whether they are ‘fairies dancing on the lawn’ and similar debates over what our reality consists of. …

But, here, a third option is actually open to us mitigating and reconfiguring our sense of the SECULAR.  We don’t need to accept a world of gods and spirits to embrace the idea that our universe is both mysterious and amazing.  Science has already shown us we live in a fantastic cosmos of natural principles (i.e. quantum mechanics, Einsteinian relativity, and the rest). Being secular doesn’t need to mean we clasp at only the ‘ordinary’ or ‘mundane’ of the world.  We don’t need to embrace what I’d call ordinary-ism to be secularist.  All it means is we reject the notion of gods/spirits hopping about all over creation, and because of that rejection we bring a very skeptical and even cynical eye to the idea that spiritualist principles make the world turn.  Apart from that, the world is still a place of wonder.  Secularism is a worldview that can both encompass the secularisms of the past & critically study them … while not throwing the baby of ‘wonder’ out with the bathwater of ‘metaphysics’.


Hope this doesn’t sound accomodationist to people.  That’s not my intent.  Instead, recognize the syncretism of humanism and history already encompasses the totality of human experience without fudging on atheism or secularist principles.  There are in fact ways we can ‘have our cake and eat it too.”  In that sense, then, we say to Buddhists, Taoists, and others: ‘Welcome to the big tent of Secularism. In the universal spirit of humanism, we’re glad to have you on board!’


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