Yes, where were the humanists?

Charles Cowling


We’ve held this over awhile, but the question it asks remains topical. The article is about the aftermath of the Newtown shootings: 

The funerals and burials over the past two weeks have taken place in Catholic, Congregational, Mormon and United Methodist houses of worship, among others. They have been held in Protestant megachurches and in a Jewish cemetery. A black Christian youth group traveled from Alabama to perform “Amazing Grace” at several of the services.

This illustration of religious belief in action, of faith expressed in extremis, an example at once so heart-rending and so affirming, has left behind one prickly question: Where were the humanists?

Well worth reading the whole piece in the New York Times here

6 thoughts on “Yes, where were the humanists?

  1. Charles Cowling
    X Piry

    Fascinating article.
    I agree with the good folks above. Even where there are local or national humanist groups, there isn’t the “community” feel that other organisations (particularly religious groups) have. Maybe there will be, in time (most of the religions have had a few more centuries to get organised), or maybe not.

    Perhaps part of the problem is the definition in terms of a negative? The article describes a lot of people (atheist, agnostic, etc) as humanist. Some may be, others might not be. From experience there are far more “non-religious” people than there are humanist. This may be a reluctance to label oneself, or it may be that people are coming from different directions.

    For example, I assume that all Christians believe in God and that Christ died for their sins. (Yes, there are probably a few exceptions, but I don’t think it’s an unreasonable assumption).

    But what about the people who don’t believe if any god? Some think this way for scientific reasons (no evidence, as they see it). Others previously had a faith but “if there is a god, how could he let this happen” makes them change their mind and various other shades of non-belief.

    And even among the “non-religious” an awful lot of people still believe that their dearly departed is sitting on a fluffy cloud plucking a harp (presumably having been allocated their cloud by St Peter?)

    Sorry – I’m rambling now, but until we define what a humanist is, and gather a group of them together, there’s never going to be that community to help out in times of crisis.

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling

    Coincidentally I happened upon these articles at the weekend, the bbc one above and this one below. I was thinking about when parents lose their child they almost all choose a religious funeral, maybe the need to feel that there will be a reunion, or the need to provide some future, some ongoing life, care and hope for their child is overwhelming. ‘Reason’ is slaughtered in the face of this unfathomable torture.

    ‘Alain de Botton puts faith in temples for atheists’ ( but not really)

    Trying to address the community, ‘gathering, sharing, supporting’ needs of the human heart/soul – (I’m avoiding words like joint worship, praise and/or wonder) I loved this quote from de Botton article . ‘Would people pray in the temple? “No, no. People would probably behave as they would in a museum.”’
    Sounded just like a visit to Winchester Cathedral!

    At times of terrible tragedy, the ‘enjoy yourself’ banner appears pathetically thin and selfish, empty like the balloons. ‘People of reason’ doesn’t quite cut it when trying to deal with the aftermath of insanity. People need a place to gather, to hug one another, to share their bewilderment, to find something or someone to lean on and rail against. As you said Richard the church has that, certainly historically, physically, spiritually – if not quite ………..hmmm, I don’t know what the word is that I need here! Something about being contemporary, in it, amongst it, touching modern life and people? We need a ‘church’ for our time…

    The NY Times article is headed ‘In a crisis Humanists seem absent’ Accusative? Derogatory? Expectant? Hopeful?
    Should they ‘be there’, should there be a more recognisable compassionate archbishop of humanism? (Dawkins isn’t quite the voice of compassion)
    I could often say the same things about ‘Christians’ who seem absent from society – it’s the compassion that people seek, it’s knowing where to go to find it that is the intriguing question. Maybe the article suggests that it should somehow come to them?

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling

    Atheists don’t have many reasons to congregate — as atheists, that is. Back in the day they tried it and failed (I’ve forgotten who and where, dammit). The idea has been recently revived –

    Flocks need pastors, don’t they, and humanists are probably not up for herding (or flocking) or doctrinal alignment.

    But doesn’t the writer make a very good point about reason not being the end-product?

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling

    PS Is that Dawkins in the picture advising us how to ‘enjoy our life’?

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling

    It’s about finding a balance between individuality and community. Whether a member of a faith group or a humanist, we all congregate sometimes in an individual faculty and sometimes as part of a collective. Faith groups, with their shared rituals and social infrastructure, are more advanced in the latter than humanists.

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling

    Interesting conclusion to the article: – compassion is the key…

    “A lot of humanist rhetoric of previous generations revolved around reason,” he said. “We’d say, ‘We’re people of reason rather than people of faith.’ But I’ve always been uncomfortable with that as the banner under which we march. We need to think of reason in the service of compassion — caring, being cared-about, a life of meaningful connection. Reason itself is the tool. When we see it as the end-product we miss the point.”

    Charles Cowling

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