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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Advancing a Humanist Response to Issues Facing Communities of Color

One thing that has become evident to me in my discussions with members of the secular community is that there seems to be a strong desire to increase ethnic and cultural diversity within the humanist movement. However, for the most part everyone I’ve encountered seems to have little awareness of the socioeconomic barriers to achieving this aim, much less how to address these barriers. It is my assertion that advancing humanism within communities of color can not be obtained without a humanist response to the social realities facing these communities.

Institutional racism and xenophobia have given religious institutions an avenue to capture the minds of divergent communities by providing a social safety net. However, the ideologies these institutions promote often create a cyclical dependence by their followers leading to a stagnation of these communities’ development.

Most programs looking to address the lack of diversity within the humanist movement are quite limited in their scope, often focusing solely on the low income African American community, ignoring all other communities of color (and economic strata within these communities) and rarely addressing the practical aspects of what feeds religiosity amongst the members of these communities.

The cultural integration of religion into every aspect of the African American community is one that can be all consuming and lead to extreme isolation of African American atheist/humanist. For a divergent community to exclude its already marginalized members can be psychologically and emotionally overwhelming for that member and needs to be counteracted by developing a structured support system.

On Sunday, I was fortunate to attend the African American Humanist Conference at the Center for Inquiry Washington, DC branch. The aim of the program was to promote diversity with our movement by allowing those within the African American community to know they are not an anomaly and that there are indeed others like themselves who not only share their philosophical world view but also their cultural heritage, a heritage that is valid and in no way deserves to be discarded to fulfill the aims of humanism.

The speakers chosen were excellent, all stressing the need for practical applications of humanist ideologies to the lives of African Americans. This echoed my sentiments and reinforced my previous assertions that the only way to ensure that diversity becomes a reality within this movement is to spend less time engaging in endless intellectual masturbation and use our collective intellectual capital to tackle real world challenges and make real change in the lives of others.


  1. Diane,

    Humanism is not the answer to the world's theological, psychological, or intellectual challenges which oppress peoples. It is one voice among many; your desire to raise the voice of humanism though commendable will not succeed if destroying Christianity or religion is a secondary aim.

    Or in the words of a great poet, "To each his [her] own."

  2. Humanism, by definition, is the solution to all problems that plague humanity to include the theological, psychological, or intellectual because these are all human constructs (this is true even if no solution exists). These problems exist because we exist to perceive them as challenges to be dealt with in the first place. To me, it follows that we, as a society of human beings, would be able to find solutions to any of the problems we are responsible for bringing into our collective conscious awareness. This is all taken in the absence of any objective or demonstrable evidence that there is a higher power, deity, or god that is capable of working solutions to anything that befalls the human condition or any other problem in our vast universe given that there is another intelligent life form capable of perceiving something as a problem.

    Furthermore, it seems that Christianity, since it was raised specifically, hasn't been interested in solving real problems for people while they are alive. Yes, there are many Christian outreach programs that offer necessary social services to the poor and destitute, but these serve as bandaids as the Christian belief system calls for people to look beyond life for true happiness and peace. The afterlife is the only existence where it is imagined that one can truly flourish. The belief system itself places limitations on the power of human creativity and potential based on untested assertions. This taken altogether appears to be more of an improbable gamble rather than a solution that a person can strive for while they are alive.

  3. I never said that humanism was "the" answer. I, unlike religious people, would never be so arrogant as to say that I know "the" answer. However, I believe the world view of humanism to be our "best" hope for intellectual liberation from teachings that uphold illogical, impossible, and irrelevant myths to be a factual basis to navigate reality.

    "To each his [her] own" has no relevance to many humanist because our world view is not narcissistic, as are most imperialistic religious doctrines (such as Christianity). We are not merely concerned with saving our eternal souls, and thus, can not so sit and watch while the world in which we live continues to be consumed by hate, hunger, war, and disease perpetuated by antiquated religious dogmas that have no relevance in a civilized world.

    As humanist, we have a moral imperative to accentuate all that is positive in our world and uplift the oneness of humanity. We recognize that everything that has lead to the betterment of the human condition has come from scientific inquiry. To allow others to fabricate junk science and distort historical and archeological artifacts to "prove" their fallacious religious teachings does all a disservice.

    It is not a matter of tolerance but a matter of what is necessary to ensure that future generations can liberate themselves from dangerous and divisive teachings that only perpetuate a chaotic world. As a humanist I believe that is vital that fact, not fiction in the form of mythology, be the basis for how we as human beings define our world and our place in it. And yes, propelling this concept is where my mission lies!

    That being said, the purpose of this post was to let the secular community know that diversity and humanism are not mutually exclusive terms. To reinforce that the beauty of our collective human community comes from the richness of the divergent communities within it. And to stress to secularist to remember that as humanist we have a moral obligation to insure that the specific needs of the members of those communities are not ignored.

    Your response to my post is an example of why our community can not ignore the cultural, familial, pressures people of color face when they turn to reason rather than religion. They face isolation or dismissive attitudes, continually being told "I'll pray for you!". I am so happy to have found a community where I can function as a rational logical being....where I do not have to denounce the very essence of my humanity in some attempt to serve an imaginary master....where I can live my life to the fullest not saddled with self-loathing for my being born into sin....where I can raise my child without fear for spare the rod has no place in our home....where I can love without abuse because I do not have to follow the dictates of a faith that teaches me to serve my husband as I would the Lord. I could go on an on but for now I think I've had my say. Hopefully others will see this and decide to join the discourse.

  4. Dr. Griffin,

    Please educate yourself on the meaning of a quote, its origin, and the history of its usage before utilizing it.

    Thank You,

    "To each his own"

  5. How do I approach Dr. Griffin's ill-formed objections? I also have my own take on humanism, which I don't regard as a complete social philosophy, but which historically has been imbued by progressive political attitudes, though ambiguously and not always honestly so. (However, I am now re-reading Julian Huxley and am reminded that humanist intellectuals of yesteryear were probably more all-round progressive than today's media stars, even though the new social movements of the '60s raised new issues in new ways.)

    How one views humanism as "the" answer or not depends upon examination of the concept's history and meaning. One must start out with a triangulation:

    total world-view & social philosophy <---> humanism <---> atheism.

    Is humanism more than irreligion and does it comprise a total world view? "Humanism" implies more of a value system that does "atheism". Humanism at least is an abstract statement of abstractly defined values, constituting a minimal basis for collective life in the modern world. Those principles can be found in the various humanist manifestoes, mission statements of organizations, and mastheads of periodicals.

    Note that both the world view of humanism and its socio-political precepts are quite abstract, and there's many a gap between abstract general notions, the specific content associated with them, and their application. As with any other doctrine so abstract, its adherents can come to radically different conclusions about the implementation of its principles, and bitterly oppose on another, both philosophically and politically. (To be continued?)

  6. Re., "Humanism is not the answer to the world's theological, psychological, or intellectual challenges which oppress peoples. It is one voice among many; your desire to raise the voice of humanism though commendable will not succeed if destroying Christianity or religion is a secondary aim."

    Thanks Diane and the previous posters for the nuanced defense of humanism. As the previous posters already argued, humanism is not intent on "destroying" religion, but rather redressing the regime of hierarchy, bigotry and inequity that some of the world's religions insist on imposing on those who do not subscribe to their verities and dogmas. Humanism is a platform for social justice and equity that does not seek dominion through erecting false binaries that confer power, privilege and moral certitude on believers versus infidels.

    As for diversifying the atheist movement and the issue of white supremacy see my article

  7. I would like to add only one simple quote to some of the great responses already here.

    "Without doubt the greatest injury was done by basing morals on myth, for sooner or later myth is recognized for what it is, and disappears. Then morality loses the foundation on which it has been built." Herbert Samuel

  8. Having done a lot of civil rights work in my time, and having sat through lots of discussions and seminars on various things. One in particular has always struck me as significant, though I have never known what to do with the thoughts I came away with. We were discussing power brokers in communities as a way to do outreach and get buy in for communities to join in a project. Well, in poor black communities, the power brokers are almost always the clergy. Now this might not seem strange to folks in those communities, but it did signal a problem to me. Because as power brokers, these same clergy who claim to be looking out for the interests of their congregation, also have a vested interest in making sure things don't change! If people are no longer poor, hungry or oppressed, then the clergy speaking for that group is no longer their sole protector and voice and they therefore have a lot to loose if things change.

    This obviously wasn't the point of the session I was in. But what I walked away with was, if we ever want an a truly integrated society where one's skin color is as irrelevant as your eye color is, then we need to figure out how to free people from the clergy who talk a good talk, but who are actually keeping people down. The clergy are often a big part of the problem.

    Just a thought.

  9. Christianity is killing Black people! Good post.