Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My response to the question: What is a Humanist version of "Know that God Loves you?”

Ophelia has posted about a question asked by faitheist James Croft in a public Facebook post:
Interesting question which came up at this Clergy Care Summit: what is a Humanist version of “Know that God Loves you?”
I’m quite glad he asked this, because it’s highly relevant to what I’m writing about at the moment, including the post I was writing when I read Ophelia’s, which is the first in a series about the best books I read last year. This one focuses on works in psychology and psychiatry, specifically Karen Horney’s New Ways in Psychoanalysis, Alice Miller’s Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, and Samuel P. and Pearl M. Oliners’ The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. They’re three very different books, but they share an emphasis on childhood experience, one that reveals how very tragic the Clergy Care Summit’s question is.

What lies beneath the question is a culture so distorted by theism that it’s produced people who find such a query intelligible. This is true in two senses. First, it’s a culture of alienation. Once Christianity has substituted an unreal and narcissistic relationship with an imaginary, abstract, all-loving being for our genuine, deep, wonderfully complicated connections to one another and the rest of the natural world, including our fellow animals, there’s nothing left when this being is revealed as a hoax. The felt need for such a being rests on a false understanding of reality, one to which some humanistic atheists and scientists have unfortunately contributed.

Second, as the works mentioned above discuss (as do those of Erich Fromm which I’ve analyzed in some depth), the question rests on a fundamentally tragic experience of the world. A key feature of good psychoanalytic work is its recognition that an essential element of a child’s development is her or his sense of ontological security. This involves helping children to develop a basic trust in the world and the sense that they’re a worthwhile, respected, and effective part of it. So many elements of parenting and culture not only fail to encourage this sort of security but are actively destructive to its formation, particularly for those who are oppressed in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, class, and species. Among those negative influences are some forms of Christian culture, which not only contribute to the sense of fundamental alienation described above but often encourage forms of parenting that interfere with the experience of ontological security in children and adults.

So my response as an anarchist-atheist-(antispeciesist) humanist to the question isn’t an empty slogan or phrase, but to encourage opposition to those conceptions of the cosmos that claim our alienation as well as those aspects of society and parenting* that deny ontological security to the young. In a context in which everything conspires to tell the young (and the old), not just at a conscious but an unconscious level, that they’re not worthwhile or safe and that their role is to serve the social order rather than the reverse, no platitude is the answer. It’s this environment that makes us cling to such specious claims, and this environment that has to radically change.

* Parenting here should not be understood to mean only biological parents, much less solely mothers, but all who play a role in the development of our fellow beings and all of us to the extent which we (can) influence and change the economic, political, and cultural contexts in which we all develop.

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