Small Humanist groups are popping up and organizing around the US, some as independent groups, some as interest groups within larger Unitarian Universalist congregations. This movement has drawn some interesting reactions . . .
I know these reactions well, because one of the oddities about my position as a minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis is that many people I meet know up front that I’m a Humanist. Often I get asked to speak various places because I’m a Humanist, but sometimes I meet up with a hostility that surprises me. I’ve even had people say out of the blue, “I KNOW there’s a God!” To which I don’t have much of a response . . . “That’s nice for you”? Or should I take the time to explain that Humanism isn’t really much about that question?
There seems to be a fear that Humanism is a corrosive force that must be contained, a genie in a lamp that must be kept bottled up at all costs. Now, sure, I know that there are those in the freethought community, especially among newly-converted atheists, who do wield reason like a sharp razor. But I’m not one of those, and most Humanists aren’t.
The power of humanist ideas is that we know that we don’t know a whole lot of things, and we’re good with that.
Admittedly I do grow weary of hearing how the Enlightenment screwed everything up. The fact that we all have the right to say what we think . . . or feel . . . is a product of the Enlightenment. So is medicine that actually works.
Oh, and then there’s that head/heart thing. Sometimes I do get snippy about that. Yes, most people know that the whole body contributes to thought. Once upon a time that fact was explained by the head and heart thing; then there was much talk contrasting thoughts occurring in the amygdala and the frontal cortex. Now it appears that different thoughts have different circuits but that all of the brain is involved, all the time. And the rest of the body.
OK, I understand that the head/heart thing is about trusting subjectivity. Sure—I may say “to-may-to” and you say “to-ma-toe.” But, as Radiohead reminds us, “Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there.” Subjectivity makes for an interesting subject of discussion, but it doesn’t guarantee truth claims that are true for everyone.
Such a conviction doesn’t make me—or Humanism—a corrosive force to be contained, or a straight razor to be feared. We aren’t Mack the Knife out to ambush anybody’s Sunday morning. We’re merely part of that diversity thing . . . a good Enlightenment ideal.