Sunday, December 30, 2012

After Newtown, where were the Humanists?



From the New York Times:

In a Crisis, Humanists Seem Absent
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? At a time when the percentage of Americans without religious affiliation is growing rapidly, why did the “nones,” as they are colloquially known, seem so absent? 
To raise these queries is not to play gotcha, or to be judgmental in a dire time. In fact, some leaders within the humanist movement — an umbrella term for those who call themselves atheists, agnostics, secularists and freethinkers, among other terms — are ruefully and self-critically saying the same thing themselves.

It's interesting to note that whenever public tragedies happen, Humanism takes a rain check. Humanists will moan that they have not been sufficiently organized, or funded, or oriented to grief counseling, etc.

Yet perhaps Humanists have reasons to be silent. What would Humanists say about kids and teachers in Newtown praying in their last moments? Were the last acts of the innocents in Sandy Hook Elementary School unconstitutional?

Humanists would never point out this necessary corollary of their creed, of course. Humanism publicly affirms gauzy creeds: human rights for all, non-violence, incessant benevolence, all of it.

Yet Humanists hold to a Darwinist understanding of human origins. If you believe that the deaths of other people's children give your offspring a leg up in life, you might find that grief counseling does not come naturally.

Humanist beliefs make moral responsibility difficult to ground. If there is no God, then there is no objective morality-- no real good or evil-- only moral opinions of individual men. If there is no afterlife, there is no ultimate accountability for good or evil.  All men are destined for annihilation. Good and evil, like man, are dust.

Humanist morality devolves to the opinions of individual men, and without God there is naught but opinion to separate the cacophony of human purposes. The only Humanist purpose for a man's life is the purpose he gives it.

Humanism wasn't absent in Newtown. It wore a utility vest, on a nihilistic binge of self-fulfillment. 

22 comments:

  1. No, no, no, no....

    What makes you think that you understand humanist philosophy? You're attacking your bizarre straw man conception of it.

    No... Humanists, or even 'Darwinists', don't believe that the death of someone else's offspring is an advantage to their own. A society that tolerates the massacre of innocents in Newtown as a necessary price for America's love affair with guns is sick.

    Humanists' ethics is objective. It's not made by the individual. It's made by society as a whole.

    It might be consoling that crimes will be punished in the afterlife. Atheists assert that there's no afterlife, and crimes have to be addressed now, not left for a mythical day of judgement.

    You're completely tasteless suggesting that 6 or 7 year olds were breaking the law, if they were praying, in their minutes of terror. But it's something I've got used to from you.

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    1. It's fine if the students were praying, but not the teachers. Also, the students had better have been praying silently, and to themselves.

      See how tolerant I am of other people's right to free exercise of religion?

      The Torch

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  2. Humanism wasn't absent in Newtown. It wore a utility vest, on a nihilistic binge of self-fulfillment.

    So you're saying the shooter was an atheist? Hmmmm, I heard he attended the Catholic St. Rose of Lima Church, together with his mother and eight of his victims. Doesn't mean he wasn't an atheist of course, but still...

    Interestingly, one of the priests at that church, a John Castaldo, was sent to jail for having sexually explicit internet chats with what he thought was a 14 year old boy. He was the shooter's priest when the shooter was between ages 6 and 8.

    Makes you wonder, doesn't it?


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    1. I figured you'd bring priest pedophilia into it eventually.

      My point was not that Lanza was personally a humanist. I don't know what he was. My point is that humanism has difficulty with atrocities like this because it denies objective moral law, ultimate accountability, etc.

      The humanist influence on our culture has very real negatives.

      Delete
    2. @troy:

      And if he were acting out because of abuse by a priest (zero evidence), why would he pick the one place where religion was banned?

      Delete
    3. I figured you'd bring priest pedophilia into it eventually.

      Did you? It doesn't seem entirely inappropriate, since Adam Lanza's former priest forced little boys to suck his penis, among other things. Who knows the magnitude of lasting damage done by this monster. Although I'm not aware of evidence that Lanza was one of his victims, it's not implausible. And of course the RC Church, that bulwark of objective morality, tried to cover up the priest's crimes.


      My point is that humanism has difficulty with atrocities like this because it denies objective moral law, ultimate accountability, etc.

      If you need an ancient book to look up whether atrocities like this qualify as bad, then you should have your head examined. Besides, according to the Bible, God had a bunch of youngsters killed by bears for making fun of a prophet. That doesn't sound like a source of morality I'd like to live by.


      And if he were acting out because of abuse by a priest (zero evidence), why would he pick the one place where religion was banned?

      Why "the one place"? Aren't there numerous places like that? I have no idea why he picked that place. I don't see how that particular choice contradicts the hypothesis that sexual abuse turned him into a madman.

      Delete
    4. @troy:

      Sexual assault is far more common in schools than in churches.

      Delete
    5. Thank goodness children spend more time in schools than in churches, or it might very well be the other way around.

      Delete
  3. I think you go overboard with the atheist-bashing, doctor. I think they were as shocked and hurt as anyone else.

    TRISH

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    1. TRISH:

      I don't doubt that atheists were shocked-- as shocked as anyone.

      My point is that the precepts of atheism leave it ill-equipped to deal with an atrocity such as this. And a fair case can be made that the nihilism that atheism necessarily entails may have played a role in the shooter's psyche, whether or not he was personally an atheist.

      The 'death of God' has consequences.

      Delete
    2. “The 'death of God' has consequences.”

      The delicious irony is that you and your mean-spirited brethren are the ones killing Him. It’s just too bad so many people have to suffer and die because of your policies to make the failure and flaws of Christians so apparent.

      -KW

      Delete
  4. I find it surprising that Troy is such a bigot. After all, it was just the other day that I cited an excerpt from the California press about a primary public school teacher spoon-feeding semen to his little charges, and how the leftists in CA sprang to his defense.

    But the venom, hatred, and bigotry directed toward the Catholic Church is interesting to me on yet another level. For I have no doubt that great universities have nurtured and graduated many murderers, psychopaths, and pedophiles. But are they who we think of when we think of Harvard, or Oxford, or Heidelberg? No. We think of their greatest, their finest, their most influential.

    And I do not recall vicious attacks on the NCAA and intercollegiate athletics as a result of the disgusting behavior of the coaching staff and university administration at Pennsylvania State University. No, we recall the great coaches and players; the best, the finest, the most talented.

    Then why is it, I wonder, when people think of the Catholic Church they fail to think of Augustine, Aquinas, and the fathers of the Western canon? Or Francis Bacon, William of Ockham, Gregor Mendel, and Georges Lemaitre in the sciences? Why is it that they must be dragged through the mud?

    So the sick attacks on the Church as a result of some tiny minority of priests accused of disgusting sexual behavior is obviously bigotry at its worst. In fact, bigotry against the Catholic Church in particular and Christianity in general is the modern equivalent of the vicious racism of Charles Darwin as expressed in The Descent of Man.

    Darwin's racism was acceptable parlour bigotry in his day, Hitler's Jew-hatred was welcome in the salons of 20th Century Europe, as is the hatred and venomous attacks on Christianity today in the faculty lounges and the upper East Side of Manhattan. And that's exactly the sort of "acceptable" bigotry that creates an atmosphere conducive to lynchings and crematoriums. An atmosphere wherein people can avert their eyes and perhaps, at most, utter a penitential "tut-tut" or two.

    But, truthfully, it's been my experience that when you scratch a leftist, you'll find a bigot. It's not a perfect correlation, but it accounts for a hell of a lot of the variance.

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  5. George Boggs: But, truthfully, it's been my experience that when you scratch a leftist, you'll find a bigot. It's not a perfect correlation, but it accounts for a hell of a lot of the variance.

    Dr. Boggs,

    That is the best example of self-referential bigotry I have ever encountered! I shall frame it and hang on a wall in my office.

    With proper attribution, of course. Would you mind autographing it?

    Hoo

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    1. In keeping with the intellectual level of your comment, Herr Doktor Professor, I simply say:

      I know you are, but what am I? Nyah, nyah, nyah.

      Delete
  6. But the venom, hatred, and bigotry directed toward the Catholic Church is interesting to me on yet another level. For I have no doubt that great universities have nurtured and graduated many murderers, psychopaths, and pedophiles. But are they who we think of when we think of Harvard, or Oxford, or Heidelberg? No. We think of their greatest, their finest, their most influential.

    Yes, what did the RCC ever do to deserve that?

    Interesting point about great universities, though. Indeed, I don't usually associate them with the bad behavior of some of their alumni. Come to think of it, in case of Harvard, George W Bush springs to mind. Oxford and Cambridge were well known breeding grounds for homosexual spies and dons that prey on their pupils. But in contrast to the RCC, it seems to me that in those places the good far outweighs the bad.

    But that's just my opinion. Ask an average conservative Christian how they feel about those great places of learning, and I doubt you will get very positive answers.

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    1. @troy:

      "But in contrast to the RCC, it seems to me that in those places the good far outweighs the bad."

      The irony. Oxford and Cambridge were the creations of the RCC. The educational system of the West is the creation of the Christian-- Catholic and Protestant-- church.

      The secular West is living on Christian fumes. It will degenerate utterly when the Christian influence dies.

      Delete
    2. No. Neither Oxford, nor Cambridge, was founded by the RCC.

      Hoo

      Delete
  7. Here's what it looks like when a "humanist" thinks he has something to say about Newtown:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.jp/2012/12/in-godless-universe-sandy-hook.html

    I think we can see why most of them have the bare minimum intelligence required to keep their traps shut at times like these.

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    1. Mr. Deuce,

      The writer expressed his reaction to a speech by Dr. William Lane Craig on the occasion of the Newtown massacre. In which Dr. Craig says, more or less, that the Newtown murders serve to remind us that Christmas is not just about joy, happiness, and gift exchanges. He compares these murders to the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem at the time of Christ's birth. Somehow he manages to translate all of this into a message of hope, presumably because Christ delivers us from the evil in the world, etc., etc.

      Dr. Craig's "explanation" of the senseless murders as acts of evil is no more explanatory than saying "shit happens" (as the blog author would say).

      Dr. Craig addresses the recent event not as a pastor but as an academic. His objective is not to provide solace to the people affected by the massacre but to analyze the event in light of his favorite subject: theodicy. As a result, he comes across as tone-deaf, using the horrific massacre as a prop for a theological discussion. Hence the negative reaction of the people who watched the clip. I watched it, too, and I found Dr. Craig's ruminations neither persuasive, nor soothing. (I suppose he was preaching to the choir.)

      Perhaps this would explain the blog author's reaction. Or maybe not.

      Hoo

      Delete
  8. The flaw in reasoning here is to assume that "nones" must necessarily be organized and respond in groups.

    Boo

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    1. Atheists are among the most organized people on earth.

      [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTqazhBfLhU]

      They just don't organize to help people.

      Delete
    2. Right, they act through other groups or individually. Atheist organizations don't exist for the same reasons churches do.

      Where was the Catholic League in the wake of Newton? Or did the Catholic League not have a special resposibility to be in Newton making a big splash about comforting people because that's not what they do?

      Boo

      Delete