What Humanism ISN’T, and why the F-Word is needed

Note: I wrote this Friday, March 23 but wasn’t able to post until today so while much has changed in the Trayvon Martin story, the key pieces remain still shocking and upsetting. 

Some days you get double slapped with awful human behavior, the wonder that is the internet keeps a steady stream of information flying across the various screens in our lives. Well within moments I saw two stories in my Facebook Newsfeed that were shocking, rage-inducing, and dumbfounding all at once.

I’ve often been asked about definitions of what Humanism is; had discussions about why someone would be a moral or ethical person without a belief in any god(s); or even about what drives someone to do good work if there isn’t a supernatural force guiding them to do so. All good questions, but today I’m struck simultaneously by examples of what Humanism ISN’T and proof that the F-Word is still a part of my vocabulary after years of fighting to never use it again.

First there was the Belvedere Vodka Rape Ad:

And no, it isn’t a meme or something like the Onion, it is actually an ad to sell expensive vodka: http://jezebel.com/5895931/the-rapey-belvedere-vodka-ad-that-just-got-pulled

Followed closely by “journalist”-extraordinaire Geraldo saying that the way Trayvon Martin was dressed had just as much to do with his being murdered as George Zimmerman. What?!

I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.

— Geraldo Rivera on Fox News

See the clip here: http://gawker.com/5895867/minorities-who-wear-hoodies-just-asking-to-be-shot-says-geraldo-rivera

So what do these examples of awfulness have to do with Humanism? Nothing and everything. So often Humanists, Atheists, and Secular folks get labelled as immoral or are questioned on why someone would do anything good in the world if they lacked faith. Well I feel that examples like these highlight something important. When a core part of how you view the world is: human beings are capable of doing good without any supernatural being intervening, and then you see examples of how awful people are to each other you actually need to use the F-Word. Faith of course.

I go out into the world each day and interact with my fellow humans believing that there is no special creator looking out for me or there to help me in a time of crisis. If I need help or assistance I need to turn inward to myself or outward to other people but there is no referee in the sky to help me. People make thousands of choices each day some of them are helpful or creative others are harmful or destructive. Yet at the end of the day I believe that the human mind has — through a stroke of evolutionary luck — developed the ability to aspire toward ideals. That is something pretty close to unique and why I feel people, though flawed and capable of horrendous acts and stupendous statements, are still worthy of faith. Given this belief my forehead may hurt from self-inflicted face palms from time to time. And now to reference my favorite Humanist quote:

Faith in god means believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers.

— Joss Whedon (source: http://bit.ly/GJNoEK)

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Why I <3 Daniel Radcliffe

NOTE: This is a post was originally posted February 23, 2012 on the Humanist Community Project —HarvardHumanist.org

No, I’m not a crazed Harry Potter fan. In fact I’ve only made it through one and a half of the books (I got bored honestly). I do plan on going back at some point because I’ve heard bits and pieces of some of the material that didn’t make it into the movies and I find some of the class politics of the magical world interesting. The movies were really fun fantasy epics that I appreciate and that is as far as my Potter-fandom goes.

My Radcliffe-fandom however has only increased since the last movie wrapped.

Over the past year or so, articles have been flying about the interwebs about quotes and interviews where Radcliffe has been open about his atheism, this has been especially useful when I speak to people about humanism and can now add to my famous non-theists a younger person who almost everyone can recognize. Sorry to the many great intellectuals and famous folks that are non-theists, but while Sam Harris is quite dashing, people don’t look at his photo and recognize him as one of their favorite characters of their childhood (or adulthood for the older fans).

So Radcliff is an atheist and that is neat (and useful for talks) but what REALLY has me using less-than-three emoticons around his name is his charity work, specifically the Trevor Project but the broader story here is that atheists, humanists, and non-theists do good work. We are motivated to help those in need not based on heavenly reward but from an deep impulse to help fellow human beings, or as I like to say, we are motivated not from without, but from within.

 

And if you ❤ Daniel as much as I do, you will probably ❤ ❤ ❤ the Humanist Graduate Community at Harvard (HGCH), which, for its third annual Spring Break Service Trip, will travel to LA to work with the Trevor Project (http://www.thetrevorproject.org/) and other groups that support LGBT youth in crisis.