Pluralism and Humanism

Apparently many non-religious people think that Humanist organizations are unnecessary because most culture and organizations are secular after all. 

 I think the point that we as Humanists are trying to make is that the vast majority of secular organizations or communities are pluralistic.  They include people with religious beliefs. 

 Accordingly, Humanist institutions would be the only place where the atheist’s basic worldview, one that lacks supernatural beings and animation, would be explicitly shared by all or nearly all the other members.  Some people need to spend part of their time in such a social, intellectual, and emotional space.

 I don’t think we can frame ourselves as a mere general social outlet for people who can’t join a traditional religious organization because they do not believe in gods.  Such a “generalist” could join a new-in-town group, and I believe Reform Judaism and Unitarian Universalist congregations are open to such people.

Nor can we frame Humanist community as a secular space for discussing existential issues.  Such a function could be performed by, for example, an “Existential Discussion Meetup.”  The problem with such a group is that it can include people talking about their relationship with God and still be considered secular because it lacks a religious focus.

 In the end, Humanist community and culture refers to the specific marginalization or exclusion of believers and their perspectives.  Why can’t we just say that?


13 Responses to “Pluralism and Humanism”

  1. November 25, 2009 at 12:31 pm


    I think our small group is kind of an “Existential Discussion Meetup” and I also think that there would be reason for us to meet even if we were not marginalized. We meet to discuss questions of how to lead one’s life in the absence of a holy book to tell us how to do it.

    While I do think Humanists should be of service to others, I don’t think that needs to be the focus of a Humanist group, because there are indeed secular groups where one can feed the homeless, protect the environment, etc. But I think there is a role for a group as a place where we can discuss how people find meaning and direction in the absence of religion.

  2. 2 Rekha Vemireddy
    November 26, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    So, your view is that we need overtly Humanist venues for discussing beliefs and attitudes, but pluralist is fine for service endeavors. I certainly agree with the first part, and have no qualms with the second assertion. Given that we have interfaith collaborations on service projects, it appears that a variety of religious views are compatible with at least certain charitable endeavors.

    What to do then with the fact that religious organizations field congregants to do service projects in their name and claim that such deployment means that religion makes people more caring or “more good”? Probably an issue for a separate post.

  3. November 27, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    We could do service projects as a group, or we could just encourage people to describe, on this blog and elsewhere, what service projects they have performed, and whether they would recommend others participate in such ventures.

  4. December 6, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    I’ve thought a lot about this – I think, as you say, there is a practical value in Humanist discussion groups excluding, at least some of the time, religious perspectives being discussed, since to open the debate up in that way would almost inevitably lead to arguments over differing metaphysical commitments, which is not how I want to spend every Sunday. On the other hand, I don’t think that stipulating that a discussion may not include discussion from a religious perspective is necessarily the same as the marginalization of believers themselves.

    I like to think of Habermas’ notion of the public sphere, here – by ruling out of court arguments based on revelation or religious doctrine, we are simply ensuring that real dialog can take place. Religious people are welcome to join the discussion, if they abide by the stipulations – and many have done in the past, right?

    • 5 Rekha Vemireddy
      December 10, 2009 at 4:06 am

      The specific approach we have taken with the Humanist Small Group at Harvard is to include religious people. Their participation typically focuses on what they have in common with Humanists. While they occasionally reference their commitment to God, they understand that their participation in the discussion should not create a combative situation in which all the Humanists gang up on the religious person’s perspective. I cannot, however, say what other Humanist groups should or typically do with respect to the participation of religious people.

  5. 6 David Kimball
    December 7, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Personally, I would be in favor of “meetings” for dialogue. However I would not want all (or even most) of the meetings to be centered on religion vs non-religions. Nor the sacredness of science. To me, I claim to be a Humanist because I believe that I have the ability and the responsibility to develop all that it means to be human both in myself and in others. Then it becomes a matter of answering the question “What does it mean to be human?” And there is where the fun part of Humanism begins. For it will include our rationality, our emotions, our culture, literature, poetry, art, music, social, all of the multiple intelligences that have been identified, etc. etc. One place to start is to define what it means to be human according to the Humanities subjects that one used to take when majoring in Humanities at college/universities.

    This, to me, is the positive aspect of Humanism and I would love to attend meetings which promoted dialogue in this area. By dialogue, I mean where people leave the table with more than they came to the table by practicing active listening and not coming to just give a presentation of their thoughts or opinions.

    I’d love it.

  6. December 9, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    As a Unitarian, I accept the United States as a nation in which citizens of all religions and of none are welcome to participate fully and freely in all of America’s social and political functions. But, I also have no problem asserting:

    The “Religious Right” is Wrong!

    Just in time for Christmas shopping, Kirkus Discoveries review says about
    The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer, by Gene Garman, M.Div.:

    “Garman does a great service by bringing together many primary source texts crucial to understanding the American debate … effectively argued … required reading … persuasive.”

    “It is the religion commandments in the Constitution which should be hung on every court room wall, posted and taught in every American public school, and monumentalized throughout America, not the Jewish commandments of Moses, or of any religion,” p. 19, The Religion Commandments in the Constitution, a textbook for understanding the three religion commandments in the Constitution for the United States of America.

    In my humble opinion, this book is the most scholarly statement ever written on the Constitution’s religion commandments ever written.

    Gene Garman, Baylor ’62

  7. 8 David Kimball
    December 10, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    What are these three Religion Commandments in the Constitution? Even a link would be welcome.

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