Progressive secularism

[Photo of Ian Bushfield.]
Ian Bushfield

By Ian Bushfield

This past weekend while we enjoyed sunny blue skies in Vancouver, 20,000 atheists, humanists, and freethinkers gathered in Washington, DC for a rainy Reason Rally. The speaker’s list was a veritable who’s who of the New Atheist movement, with Richard Dawkins, Tim Minchin, and Adam Savage taking the stage.

But what interests me isn’t so much how successful the Rally itself was, but how we build off the success of this event and translate that momentum.

So I was more than interested to read American Humanist Association president Dave Niose’s latest piece in Psychology Today about the need to keep humanism at the front of the secular movement.

As I looked out at all the young people cheering for Richard Dawkins and Tim Minchin, however, I also realized how important it is that humanism, and not just atheism, be part of this revolution. Indeed, for humanists, the success of the secular movement is only half the battle. After all, humanism is not just an arm of secularism, but a hybrid of the secular movement and the progressive movement.

Niose reminds us that while Karl Rove and Ayn Rand were atheists, their ideologies were distinctly anti-humanist. They pushed greed, selfishness, and regressive policies instead of supporting a compassionate, evidence-based society.

This article further provided me with what may be my new go-to definition for humanism: progressive secularism.

The AHA has long defined humanism as “a progressive worldview”, where progressives generally believe we can make the future better through rational and compassionate policy decisions. By combining this future outlook with a support for secularism, the disentangling of religious and faith based propositions from government, we arrive at humanism. Humanists hope to make the world a better place by reducing the role of religion and increasing the reliance on evidence, reason, and compassion.

Niose finally discusses his disappointment that the early humanists, like philosopher John Dewey, failed to properly rally for secularism while being fairly successful at promoting progressive causes. For example, while we enjoy liberties of gay marriage, access to abortion, and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, we still don’t have any notable atheists elected to public office.

Looking forward, Niose gives his advice to our movement:

This is why humanism, not just atheism, must be an important part of the emerging secular movement. If yesterday’s humanists erred by ignoring secularism to emphasize progressivism, today’s had better also learn the importance of keeping both oars in the water.

Perhaps this is why the concept of atheist political parties (versus ones that also emphasize reason and evidence) has never really excited me. I somewhat fear that electing the token atheist may be as damaging to the goals of humanism as electing a Sarah Palin would be to feminism.

On the About Us page: “The British Columbia Humanist Association has been providing a community and voice for Humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the non-religious of Metro Vancouver and British Columbia since 1982. We support the growth of Humanist communities across BC, provide Humanist ceremonies, and campaign for progressive and secular values.

We are a registered charitable organization. Our mission is:

  • to promote the ideas and philosophy of secular humanism by all available means of education and communication;
  • to serve the educational needs of its members and others of humanistic, scientific and naturalistic outlook, in a democratic, non-dogmatic manner free from authoritarian doctrine;
  • to provide opportunities for fellowship, study and service at all levels of humanistic endeavour, and to advance the values and welfare of humanity in dedication to the continuing enhancement of human life through human effort and understanding;
  • to offer and provide meaningful ceremonies to members and non-members at significant times such as marriage and death; and
  • to elaborate and to express publicly Humanist positions on issues of concern to people, including values, morality and ethics.

Find out more about Humanism or the issues we support.

We are run by a democratically-elected volunteer Board of Directors and a small staff. We are funded entirely by donations from individuals who share our vision for a world based on reason and compassion.”

Originally published on the British Columbia Humanist Association website on March 29, 2012.

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican Atheists,American Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Image Credit: Ian Bushfield/Devan Scott.

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