Whether the story involves Kim Davis or ISIS, Humanists often find situations where bigotry leads to unnecessary harm and violations of human rights. Many of us feel the urge to criticize. But how could we criticize effectively? For decades, Amnesty International has been among the leading human rights organizations. By seeing what Amnesty International does while critiquing abuses, we can discover strategies for effective criticism and for supporting human rights.
History shows that many human rights have been recognized after stories spread about people suffering abuses. For example, stories like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the horrors of the holocaust encouraged the end of slavery and the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Stories give people a chance to understand and be moved. Another thing that stories can do is to provide specific facts that are harder to refute or dismiss than broad or vague accusations. Amnesty International spreads stories of human rights abuses, cites agreed upon international human rights standards as authority, and gives contact information for specific people who could make a difference in a situation.
The Amnesty International strategies could apply to difficulties Humanists find related to religion. A good critique begins with a specific claim or action by an individual or a clear consistency by a clearly identifiable group. Once an unconvincing claim or hurtful action has been identified, related evidence and reasons are easier to provide. Subjects like “religion,” “Christianity,” and “Islam” are extremely broad and full of inconsistencies. Some people who claim to be “criticizing religion” confuse part of religion with the whole providing evidence and reasons only for a partial critique. Worse yet some fight straw man versions of “religion.” To fight a straw man would be irrational, counter-factual, disrespectful, and unfair. Also, misrepresenting someone’s ideas can create prejudices about the people associated with those ideas. If the difficulties are not yet clear, consider how ineffective the Mothers Against Drunk Driving would have been if they had come out against all forms of transportation or in favor of prohibition rather than against the specific issue of drunk driving. Directing criticisms to specific areas makes a clearer path for change, makes proving the case easier, and makes more opportunities to enlist allies.
As Humanists, we value facts, careful thinking, human well-being, and human rights. In calling attention to issues, we have a chance to demonstrate our values in what we say and do, and setting an example adds to our strength.
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