After over 20 years of being involved with organized Humanism, the list of things I’ve seen that concern Humanists is long and complicated. What tends to upset us? What is it that Humanists are against? I aim to summarize based on typical concerns.
For example, alarm bells go off among Humanists when people are pushing creationism, denying global warming, or skipping vaccinations. Refusal to look at solid evidence and use careful reasoning does not sit well with us. Signs of discrimination and abuse whether racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or otherwise unfair and unnecessarily hurtful cause concern. The lack of compassion and unfairness associated with poverty, severe inequality, weakening of democracy, violence, and environmental destruction concern many Humanists. No list would be complete without mentioning the threat of religious authoritarianism. The threats of religious authoritarianism can be seen in demands that others subscribe to certain beliefs and practices and the accompanying failures in separation of church and state, loss of freedom of thought and speech, and even violence.
What do these problems have in common? Bigotry. By “bigotry,” I mean the failure to think carefully, to check the evidence, to care about others and the world around, to treat others fairly, and to support human rights. Bigotry involves the human failure to live wisely by putting reason and compassion into action. Bigotry covers a range of irrational, unfair, hateful, and inhumane things. Bigotry leads to unnecessary harm and shows in excuses given for harm.
Being against “bigotry” is a more useful way to describe Humanists than describing Humanists as being against religion. First, while Humanists are concerned about instances of bigotry within religion, so are many religious people. We can and do work with religious allies against the damages of bigotry. Next, criticizing a specific example of bigotry within religion would be easier to prove than a complaint against religion as a whole. The human creations we call “religion” are vast, complex, and varied and do not necessarily lead to harmful bigotry in all cases. Finally, bigotry exists outside of religion as well. Bigotry is a human failing. And human tendencies toward bigotry need to be guarded against no matter who is involved.
To combat bigotry, Humanists value careful thinking, checking the evidence, human rights, and “liberty and justice for all.” We look to investigation not revelation. We aim to check the facts, logic, and clarity of claims. We prefer ethical decisions bound by considering the facts, options, consequences, and feelings of people affected by issues. Finally, Humanists build communities to support people in the effort to live conscientious lives with careful thinking, courage, and compassion.