Tuesday, 24 November 2009

On Friendliness and Humanism

I am very self-conscious. When I read an atheist talking about "accommodationists" (for example, here), I get the feeling they would include me in that group, because I'm the Friendly Humanist - that is, I make some effort to get along with folks whose worldview diverges from my own. And when I read a theist talking about atheist dogmatism (for example, here), I feel that they're attacking my position, because I'm an atheist too.

Of course, most such passages are written by people who have never heard of me personally, so I know it's not personal. And it's possible that if the authors read my blog they would assert that I clearly don't fall into the category of weak-willed accommodationist on the one hand and dogmatic atheist on the other. Nevertheless, I often feel a bit like a mule - neither horses nor donkeys feel that I'm quite one of them. Ah well, I can live with that.

I brand myself as the Friendly Humanist for several reasons. It's an effort to counterbalance a tendency among some humanists to take cheap potshots at easy targets, often with no good purpose in mind and with very counterproductive effects. It's a reminder to myself not to use this blog simply as a platform for rants.

And it's an olive branch to those who are often placed in opposition to humanists: committed believers in a god or gods, or in some undefined "other" beyond the physical world, or in non-scientific, "alternative" medicine. I want to tell them, through the blog name and also through my writing, that I will listen to them and try to understand their position.

But the blog is called the Friendly Humanist, and so I also strive to uphold humanist values in my writing. I do not shy away from criticizing harmful actions - whether they are motivated by harmful intent or not, and whether they are based in religious belief or not. There is often a right answer and a wrong answer to questions about how the world is, and finding the right answer is a valuable endeavour.

I don't think these two goals - being friendly and being a humanist - are incompatible. But there are times when, in order to act with integrity, I must risk being perceived as unfriendly.

I suspect that my recent series on John Blanchard's book Does God Believe in Atheists? (beginning here) was such a case (on the basis of the only comment anyone posted to it). I stand by my review, but I invite anyone's thoughts if they think there's a way I could have put the case without being as dismissive of Blanchard.

There have been other times, and I'm sure there will be more in the future.

I am curious: do you, faithful readers, feel that I live up to my self-chosen title? Am I really all that friendly? Am I true to the principles of Humanism?


  1. From what I have seen so far, you seem friendly enough to me. :) But I admit I have been following your blog for only a few months now, and have not had time to read any of your posts written prior to my arrival.

  2. If you ever meet someone like Pat Condell, please don't shake hands! If you do, we can blame the devastating result on Mr Manhattan.

  3. I think I meant Dr. Manhattan, but it may be that I was caught in a space-time vortex anomaly, that briefly intersected a parallel universe, when I posted that comment.

    BTW, I don't see how one could be a member of a UU congregation if they weren't a friendlier type of humanist.

  4. You can be friendly, even when you disagree with people. You can dismiss an argument, without being dismissive.

    You can also come to understand a position, without agreeing with it! :-)

    Speak up, set out your arguments firmly, be robust, just carry on not being nasty. The faithful can take it!


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