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Secular Humanist Thoughts: A Letter to the Brainerd Daily Dispatch

On June 7 of 2001, Humanists of Minnesota’s own intrepid secular
humanist, Rod Sheffer had a letter to the editor published in the Brainerd
Daily Dispatch, defending secular humanism.’ On June 17, a reader
from Deerwood, MN, responded with some outrageous attacks on secular humanism,
including the charge that it sponsors or sanctions genocide. Sally Morem,
President of the Humanists of Minnesota, wrote a reply, which was published
in the same paper. It is reproduced here wth permission.

Reader Ralph Kant (6/17/01) drops a
bundle of hot potatoes dealing with human meaning and morality at our feet–almost
as much as a noted philosopher used to ponder, the philosopher with whom
he shares a surname.
Unfortunately Kant lacks his predecessor’s
finesse with problems of logic such as making the correct inference based
on sufficient data and accurately classifying like with like.’ He
also has problems sorting out the proper relationship between purported
causes and effects.
For instance, he claims that the source
of totalitarian thought and action in the 20th century to be secular humanism–a
rather chancy assertion considering that secular humanism was a philosophical
and social movement that responded to the perceived shortcomings in theology
in Great Britain and America just after the First World War. If humanism
had inspired Hitler and Stalin with lustful thoughts of oppression and
conquest, it would have had to do so quickly.’ Systems of thought
generally take generations or centuries to germinate as full-fledged political
Also considering the fact that secular
humanists have always been adamant about upholding democracy as humanity’s
supreme historical achievement and challenge for future betterment, I doubt
if the thought of becoming charter members of their local secular humanist
club would have ever entered those tyrants’ minds.
As far as mandatory atheism under Communism
is concerned, I’ve always considered that to be one among a very large
number of grotesque errors of that deservedly discredited ideology.’
If you think you can command millions of your fellow humans to hold a certain
metaphysical belief in order to achieve some sort of paradise on Earth,
well, just call yourself what you are–a theocrat.’ Go ahead. You
might as well join the Taliban.
For those still worried about humanism,
consider this: a secular humanist society would look a lot like our very
own turn-of-the millennium American society–only with less religion.’
But this more secular, more worldly, if you will, America, this secular
humanist society which I believe we’re already well on the way to achieving,
will develop wholly without coercion.
As a libertarian secular humanist I
could never countenance, let alone cooperate with, anything else but the
gradual and wholly voluntary individual by individual abandonment of religious
dogma.’ Ever.
A young person might, as part of this
process, say, “Religious claims about the nature of the world make no sense
to me.’ I guess that makes me a secular humanist.”‘ Period.’
No political mandate.’ No command from on high.’ No physical
or mental coercion.’ Nothing but freethought freely acted upon.’
And certainly, Mr. Kant, no genocide.
Kant clearly has no notion of the nature
or origin of morality.’ Morality is not a list of commandments nor
is it legal code.’ These are merely codified morals.’ Morality
is the gut sense of the rightness or wrongness that we feel in response
to any given action.
The fact that human life grew in complexity,
intelligence, and power through millions of years of naturalistic evolutionary
processes does not mean we can do anything we want without thought or consequence.’
To the contrary, the harsh demands of life lived in small, intimate hunter-gatherer
bands of humans put a premium on the development and preservation of such
characteristics as truth-telling, helpfulness, bravery, and fellow-feeling
among hundreds of thousands of generations of our successful ancestors.’
They were the survivors.’ And we are their biological and cultural
heirs.’ As a result, we cannot be amoral (although we may try).’
Moral thoughts and acts are bred into our limbic systems and our brains.’
So deeply has our moral sense sunk in that it may very well be preserved
within the human genome itself.
It certainly is preserved in human
language with reams of synonyms for good and evil, right and wrong, righteous
and unrighteous.’ There may be a few secular humanists who have mistakenly
come to believe that humanity has evolved beyond morality.’ If so,
they haven’t skimmed a copy of Webster’s dictionary or Roget’s thesaurus
And finally, the fact that secular
humanists deny theological assertions that a powerful deity slapped metaphorical
price stickers on our foreheads and called us His creatures does not mean
that humanists believe our lives are without value.’ WE value our
lives.’ WE give them value. Appreciating existence is inherently a
do-it-yourself job.’ No one else can do it for you, not your priest,
your rabbi, your minister, or your god.’ If you do not value your
life, it is not valued.
This at its core is the message secular
humanism offers to an increasingly secular age: We humans are at once responsible
for our own happiness and achievements and the beneficiaries of our own
well chosen actions.’ We will make mistakes–sometimes big ones.’
But on the whole, we’re good at inventing, creating, and living.’
Even after accounting for all the unintended consequences of our actions
(the unavoidable detritus of the endless experiments and explorations of
finite, mortal beings) we accept as a given that our lives are not the
playthings of supernatural beings.’ Our future is up to us.’
All of it.
” Sally Morem

” President

” Humanists of Minnesota