“Consider Humanism”

I’d always admired the British Humanist Association’s recent PR campaign — which famously put ads on buses that read “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” — and wondered if anything like that could ever take off here in the U.S.

The American Humanist Association steps up to the plate:

This and other videos will be aired on network and cable TV, along with print ads like the one below, to appear in newspapers and on billboards, trains, and buses across the nation:

Brilliant. Short, pithy messages contrasting fundamentalist positions with humanist thought, just to get people started thinking. Obviously much more could be said and written to elaborate on the different shadings of humanism and religion, but these ads can effectively serve as starting points for conversation, which is the important thing. At a time when fundamentalism is on the rise (or at least wielding a very loud and politically influential voice), I think it’s crucial to remind moderate Americans, of all faiths and of no faith, that they have a lot in common with humanist philosophy — and that those who are bound to their Iron Age rulebooks don’t have the final word on morality.

As executive director Roy Speckhardt explains in the AHA’s press release:

It’s important that people recognize that a literal reading of religious texts is completely out of touch with mainstream America. […] Although religious texts can teach good lessons, they also advocate fear, intolerance, hate and ignorance. It’s time for all moderate people to stand up against conservative religion’s claim on a moral monopoly.

Is it proselytizing? Perhaps — but if so, it’s a campaign based on reasonable persuasion, a simple laying out of differences for people to weigh and judge; no threat of hellfire or extravagant promises of paradise involved. And perhaps it isn’t proselytizing at all; it’s important to note the nuance in the message (and I wonder how many will miss it) that moderate believers aren’t asked to actually leave their faith, but merely to consider standing up for humanist values within their faith while rejecting its fundamentalist strains.

It’s interesting to me that these ads — along with the paean to science I’d posted earlier — will inevitably be accused of “strident” or “intolerant” atheism, but in fact leave the door open for a conception of the divine that’s larger than the constricted visions of ancient texts. Carl Sagan criticized the smallness of the tradition-bound religious mind as well, while holding out the possibility that a religious sensibility can embrace the implications of science and naturalism:

How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.

Time will tell if he’s right, I suppose. In any case, here’s hoping that more people do “consider humanism.” This world needs as much fresh, rational thinking as it can get.

Visit the ad campaign’s website for more.

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