Paul Kurtz, the founder of the Center for Inquiry and Prometheus Books and overall “godfather” of the Secular Humanist movement, has drafted “The Neo-Humanist Statement of Secular Principles and Values.”
Neo-Humanist? Do we really need another label in our community?
It’s a term Kurtz coined to encapsulate the following traits:
- aspire to be more inclusive by appealing to both non-religious and religious humanists and to religious believers who share common goals;
- are critical of theism;
- are best defined by what they are for, not what they are against;
- wish to use critical thinking, evidence, and reason to evaluate claims to knowledge;
- apply similar considerations to ethics and values;
- are committed to a key set of values: happiness, creative actualization, reason in harmony with emotion, quality, and excellence;
- emphasize moral growth (particularly for children), empathy, and responsibility;
- advocate the right to privacy;
- support the democratic way of life, tolerance, and fairness;
- recognize the importance of personal morality, good will, and a positive attitude toward life;
- accept responsibility for the well-being of society, guaranteeing various rights, including those of women, racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities; and supporting education, health care, gainful employment, and other social benefits;
- support a green economy;
- advocate population restraint, environmental protection, and the protection of other species;
- recognize the need for Neo-Humanists to engage actively in politics;
- take progressive positions on the economy; and
- hold that humanity needs to move beyond ego-centric individualism and chauvinistic nationalism to develop transnational planetary institutions to cope with global problems—such efforts include a strengthened World Court, an eventual World Parliament, and a Planetary Environmental Monitoring Agency that would set standards for controlling global warming and ecology.
I’m sure a lot of us agree with many of those ideas, but does it mean we should adopt the neologism and statement?
Ron Lindsay, who occupies Kurtz’s former post at CFI, isn’t signing onto this statement (in his capacity as a private individual) for a few reasons, the foremost of which is the attack on atheism coming from someone on our own side:
One major problem is the Statement’s aggressive criticism of atheism or the “new atheism.” Looking at the abstract for the Statement, one finds the startling assertion that: “On the one end of the spectrum are traditional religious beliefs; on the other the ‘New Atheism.'” This equation of traditional religious belief with the new atheism is inappropriate and tendentious; it implies that the new atheism is as dogmatic and as pernicious to humanity as traditional religious belief.
The appendix to Kurtz’s statement is indeed very harsh about “new atheism”:
A new challenge has emerged today to confront secular humanism; for several secular authors have advocated “the new atheism.” These include Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Victor Stenger. They insist that there is sufficient evidence for atheism and urge that secular humanists aggressively advocate the view that “God does not exist,” that the classical religions are false, that people who believe in them are deceived, and that their ethical values are also false.
That last bit is just not true. Religious people can hold ethical values. The “new atheists” argue that those values are not ethical because they come from a god, but they may be ethical for other reasons.
Lindsay raises a few other issues, too, like vagueness on some issues (i.e. “green economy”) and impracticality on others (i.e. “World Parliament”).
Those of you who read it thoroughly can help us out by highlighting some of the more important parts of it as well as any major problems you come across.
Personally, this type of thing is possibly interesting to philosophers but completely irrelevant to me. It’s not like my views about the world are now happily codified or that I’m going to start calling myself a Neo-Humanist. It also doesn’t change what I think.
So why bother with it?
Hell, is there anything new in the statement that justifies there even being a “statement”?
The preamble to it ends this way:
… this Neo-Humanist Statement of Secular Principles and Values is offered as a constructive contribution to the planetary community.
While the sentiment is honorable, I just don’t know who would be affected by this. Nor do I think the “planetary community” cares.
Then again, I’m also not someone who cared much about any of the Humanist Manifestos, so maybe I’m not the right person to ask about this.
What do you think about Kurtz’s statement?