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archive: secular humanism and its discontents

July 9th, 2017 · No Comments

Secular humanism and its discontents
January 1st, 2017 ·

A smarmy NYT article about atheism and humanism « Why Evolution Is True


Secular humanism in its current brands in the US, associated with the New Atheists, is a strangely crippled and almost cultic formation, one that reacts against theology only to enter a confused version of atheism.

I am not a theist in any conventional sense but I do think that there is ‘spiritual’ domain (which is part of the purely material domain in a complex relationship). It is hard to evade this conclusion for the simple reason that ‘reality’ is a mix of facts and values and the latter show how a non-material set of abstractions embed within or else are a superset of the ‘material’ aspect. That leaves us equivocating the various forms of materialism and idealism, the brand of Kant/Schopenhauer being one of the most cogent.
Whatever the case the humanist perspective is far too limited as a humanism to really serve those leaving religion, and they are leaving.

The humanist viewpoint is also muddled by the views of the darwinists and the hopeless muddle of Richard Dawkins. The question of scientism has come to haunt the ‘secular humanists’ and the phenomenon is very similar to what happened to early marxism in the nineteenth century as the anti-Hegelian movement intersected with the onset of positivism.
The question of god is indeed a chronic confusion and the basic first steps of modern atheism rightly challenge the curious ideology/idolatry of a ‘personal god’. But the larger question of god by another name no doubt is no so easy to solve. But let us grant the rightness, or at least the appropriateness, of an atheist stance. That stance is not in conflict with religion, as the evidence of buddhism might suggest. The question of ‘god’ is really a Kantian quagmire and once ‘atheism’ has freed one from atrocious ‘god thinking’ the fact remains that most ‘atheisms’ are as incoherent as their rival ‘theisms’. Be that as it may the question of ‘god’ suddenly becomes irrelevant: a more pressing need is for a robust humanism that has a more intelligent take on science, evolution, psychology and the so-called spiritual questions of mind, soul, will, etc…The latter are as well taken as material as spiritual and the aspiration to a true humanism that can be the secular equivalent of religion done better remains.
The question of religion is hopelessly confused by most secular humanists. We can’t just blanket the whole subject as evil, even as we begin to see the dark side of many aspects of religion. The impulse of humanists is the abandonment of the Reformation for a modernity without religion of any kind. That is an option to be sure, and the religions of antiquity are derelicts in many ways. But we need at least to see their historical significance and effect in something better than the crude scientism of atheist fanatics like Dawkins.

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