Thursday, November 8, 2012

So we're all cool with anti-faith activism, then: Response #3 to James Croft

James Croft has responded to my most recent post in the comments. Since I hate trying to have a discussion in the comments here, I'm going to answer in a post.

Not sure where to go from here. You have completely and utterly misunderstood me, taking precisely the opposite meaning from my post to that which I intended to convey.

To be clear: It was a response to your post, but I was also referencing past statements and behavior from you and your colleagues.

You say:

"the basic thrust of your that anti-faith activism is not positive, constructive, loving, or oriented toward social justice."

No, no, and THRICE NO!

And that’s false. As I said before, if you really saw our anti-faith activism in these terms, you wouldn’t have referred (more than once) to our “infusing” our atheism with positive values. That’s clear evidence that you see our atheist activism as not inherently guided by and expressive of these values.

You wouldn’t have suggested (more than once) that gnu/A+ represented a new adoption of a social justice agenda. That’s clear evidence that you see what we’ve been doing as atheists as something separate from constructive social justice activism.

Stedman would not have spent the past two years defining your group in opposition to us, including an entire book in which he argues that our anti-faith efforts are “toxic.” He wouldn’t host guest posts saying things like the following from Andrew Lovley (“A Newer Atheism: The Case for Affirmation and Accommodation”):

…Let us lead by example by acting on humanist principles, and give those who deride our motives and actions no factual grounds upon which to base their biting criticisms. Angry and bitter atheist activists serve only to enflame the negative stereotypes we are plagued by. Atheist activists, who rhetorically exacerbate our differences and vilify theists in general, only encourage those theists to do the same and ultimately foster greater alienation of atheists….

If atheist activists care about progress and the betterment of the human condition, perhaps the ‘deconversion’ of theists should not be prioritized, but instead the promotion of humanistic values. Our socio-political agenda should not include or be premised on the universalization of our atheistic world-view. If the movement is more than apologetics and includes prejudice and proselytization, it is more destructive than worthwhile. Theists can be and often are humanists too, and society is better off for it. Atheist (or secular) humanists and theist humanists each find extremist ideology repulsive and dangerous, and should be willing to work together in stifling its spread.

...Atheist activists should reconsider their priorities and reevaluate their efforts. A sign of maturity for any group is a focus on what they are for rather than what they are not. It often seems as though atheist activists direct more of their attention to religious people rather than to fellow atheists. We are doing ourselves a disservice when we are preoccupied with critiquing religion instead of engaging in dialogue about how atheists can lead positive, fulfilling lives and contribute to a better world.

or this nonsense from Karla McLaren. That’s clear evidence that he regards our anti-faith efforts as negative, destructive, hurtful, harmful, and hostile to humanistic values.

My point is that Humanism has ALWAYS been committed to anti-faith activism AS PART of its broader commitment to social justice

It’s quite true that many humanists, by no means all, have been (and many people and groups that don’t identify as humanist have been similarly committed). I hope they didn’t have to put up with other humanists yammering about how toxic this was. But the person to whom you should be explaining this is Stedman. I mean, I don’t really care if my actions are consistent with your vision of humanism, but he does. If his attacks on anti-faith activists are actually attacks on an integral part of the humanist tradition,…

and to claim that it has not been (as some bloggers, to whom I was responding, had done) is WRONG.

If you define “humanism” extremely broadly and don’t talk about concrete priorities or the forms activism takes in practice, you can regard anti-faith activism as falling under the humanist umbrella. You could say the same thing about probably any movement of the left – feminism, anti-racism, anticolonialism, psych rights,…, even animal rights. But surely you can see the problem with suggesting that because many humanist thinkers and activists have been feminists or anti-racists, people who call themselves feminists or anti-racists should just acknowledge that they’re “really” doing humanism.

Aside from the distorting simplification involved, this ignores the fact that many humanists have promoted sexism and racism, and have viewed this not only as consistent with their humanism but as an expression of it. The same is true of anti-faith activism: many humanists and strains of humanism (ahem) have looked favorably on religion, been at best ambivalent about faith, or just not seen faith as a priority, humanistic or otherwise. This was certainly true of Fromm. Furthermore, humanists have had a variety of philosophies and priorities unrelated to faith that we might regard as incompatible with their own. These movements just don’t reduce to humanism in any meaningful way.

Hell, anti-faith and feminist work is even more in keeping with my anarchism. Both have always played a major role in anarchism (although there have been religious and faith-friendly anarchists, too). But to ask “How does that differ from simple anarchism? Why don’t you just call it all anarchism?” is totally useless. It’s consistent with my anarchism and grows from the same basic values, so when I call myself a feminist or gnu atheist I’m not opposing these to anarchism, but subsuming it all under anarchism provides no new information, loses the focus of my actions and the traditions of these specific movements, and carries with it the mistaken implication that all anarchists support and prioritize anti-faith and feminist activism.

Is that sufficiently clear?

Is the above?

Oh - and before you respond "I was addressing the HCH not Humanism in general", two things:

I wouldn’t respond that way, because I’ve said explicitly that there’s no point in talking about “Humanism in general” in this context. It’s not possible to do without the loss of any useful meaning, as I discussed above and in my previous post.

HCH explicitly endorses Humanist values, such that there is no difference in fundamental values between Humanism as a lifestance and HCH as an organization. We exist to promote Humanism and to provide a community of Humanists. We plan our community and our events around those core values.

No, you don’t get to do this. You’re one group that considers itself humanistic and promotes humanism as it interprets that tradition. But it’s a diverse tradition, and no person or group can declare itself the true heir or representative of the movement.

That includes what you call "anti-faith" activism as part of a suite of things that we do.

You’re kidding, right? Even if that’s true, any anti-faith activism would be utterly swamped by the faithy interfaith faitheism at the heart of your activities and identity, and counteracted by Stedman’s constant stream of criticism of the most vocal anti-faith activists. But I’d love to hear more about this anti-faith activism of yours (and that doesn’t mean science promotion or secular activities). Seems strange to be engaging in efforts you spend so much time condemning, but OK. Swell.

At this point, I’m liking the argument as you're stating it now, which seems to be that our anti-faith efforts are in keeping with humanistic values and in fact part of the humanistic tradition. This, which doesn’t mean that our efforts can simply be subsumed under the humanist label, is correct. But it seems to me like the people with whom you should be taking issue, if this is your view, are your colleagues at HCH.

…Oh – one more thing. Is it the case that no one there will give any information about the sources of your funding? Not even whether it comes all from small donations or there are one or a few larger donations that make up the bulk? Or whether it comes from individuals or other organizations or foundations?

1 comment:

  1. I think in order to continue this discussion you will have to go back to what I've written on all these topics, read it again, and then respond to me and what I've written and not to whoever you are responding to in these posts. You have repeatedly and consistently written long replies to somebody who is not in the room, splitting the minutest of hairs to find "disagreements" which are really just "differently-stated values".

    How about we discuss this on a podcast or Google hangout or something? I have a feeling it would be more productive than my endlessly responding saying "no, wrong again, that's not what I believe".

    And what is the question of funding about? Who have you asked and who has refused to answer? And what is the insinuation, precisely?