Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New York. Here we talk about cult-infused politics.
*Interview conducted March 1, 2021.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, Trump came out. He’s given his first speech since his second impeachment, failing to win at the election, and the inauguration of the Biden-Harris administration. What are some thoughts on that speech? And how does this impact the secular community, especially around New York, where he’s a native?
Jonathan Engel: He’s a native of New York, but he’s really not one of our own. New York City voted overwhelmingly twice against him. So, we don’t really like him. He moved out of New York State. Technically, now, he’s a resident of Florida, which, of course, they can have him. But the nature of the speech is very interesting. It’s putting the Republican Party in an interesting position, which they all deserve, by the way. But this has become a Trump party. It is more of a cult at this point than it is a political party. You can see that at CPAC. You can see the cold nature of it. I’m not even getting into the golden statue, which is a little bit frightening, actually. But there’s not a single person who could get up on that stage without risking their life potentially and say, “Look, Joe Biden won this election, the 2020 election.”
He just did. Now, the dogma that was required to seemingly to stay in the Republican Party is that Trump really won. They have lots of people going, “Well, Trump wasn’t the only one who got up there and said, “I won.” When he lost, and lost quite decisively, one of the interesting things about the Republican Party is that they did something highly unusual this year that got some attention, but not as much as I think it should have, which is that they never bothered to put out a party platform. They never bother, which is something that political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, do every year at their conventions. They put out a platform. This is sort of like, “Well, this is, basically, what we believe.” There are different segments of a party that some would want this and some would want that.
And there’s usually some fighting over the platform. Of course, it’s not a binding document or anything. It’s more of a statement of principles. But this year, the Republican Party did not put out a platform. They just had, basically, Donald Trump, and that is a cult. That is what we’re talking about here. People who are simply away from any kind of reality and the entire party is about worshipping one person. Like all cults, people are immune who are in a cult, or frequently immune, from any kind of rational discussion about issues or truth or anything like that. That is very frightening. But as for what it means for not just people in New York, but for this country, etc., and for what it means for, especially for a secular humanist like, me, it is very disconcerting because as a secular humanist: I believe in facts.
I believe in using the scientific method to come to our beliefs. If you’re in a cult, if whatever the great leader says, “We love him, and will bow down to him,” thenou’re going to be immune from that type of thing. So, I think it’s the eve of Trump’s speech. Again, it’s interesting he attacked more Republicans than he did Democrats in that speech because it’s all about following him. There’s no independent thought allowed and independent thought is the heartbeat of Secular Humanism of deciding for yourself, but not following the dogma, not following any particular set of beliefs. But rather thinking for yourself, using science, using evidence and coming to your own conclusions, that’s so much at the heart of Secular Humanism, what we saw at CPAC was a repudiation of that.
We saw the idea of “facts and evidence don’t matter.” The big lies are coming faster and faster. We saw the big lie. Of course, the big, big lie is that Trump actually won the election. But there are other lies that are coming to the fore as well. That are pushed at a place like CPAC and the requirement is that you believe it, whether it’s true or not; it doesn’t matter. You were required to believe it. I think that does not bode well for the country going forward.
Jacobsen: Is the individual Freethought stance more or less the New York stance, the ‘fuck you’ stance?
Engel: It’s an interesting question. Yes, I think so. I think New Yorkers are known for being brash and opinionated and feel we can say what we want. I think that is a kind of very much a New York City thing. I don’t know about New York State, but that’s a New York City thing. There are religious fanatics in New York City, but not a lot of them. That is a New York City attitude that, “I’m going to say whatever the hell I want.” There are very few sacred cows to people in New York City. It’s like if you want to call the president a jerk, call him a jerk. That’s sort of our ethos here. So, I think what went on at CPAC, which is basically the Republican Party at this point; if there’s anybody in the Republican Party who opposes these people, they’re few and far between.
And they see what happens to people who oppose Trump and his cult. So, I think that what we’re seeing here, again, from people in a New York City standpoint and a Freethought standpoint, which are, as you mentioned, similar with free speech and saying whatever the hell we want. That’s just part of it. We’re very opinionated. We tend to be a little bit on the brash side and a little bit on the brisk side. But you say what you feel and you say what you want. that we have a party that is opposed not only to get a free inquiry and where it will go, but it’s opposed to science, is opposed to facts in general, that it certainly is an anti-Freethought attitude. I would want to consider it an anti-New York City attitude. That facts don’t matter; this is all we have. It’s like, “Facts do matter. They matter and when they stop mattering”; that’s when you really get into a totalitarian mindset. It’s not the type of thing that people in New York City are going to accept.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time today, Jon.
Engel: Speak to you next week, Scott.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight Publishing and Editor-in-Chief of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal (ISSN 2369-6885). Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and the advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
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 Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
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