Clarifying Humanism through the Haze of Equivocation

In the aftermath of another tragedy fueled by bigoted ideology, a faction of so-called “humanists” on social media show their true selves. The usual day-to-day misogynistic, anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ empty arguments have become commonplace on social media platforms of the American Humanist Association. Though frustrating and unwelcome, they are the opinions of a small, very specific group of people, usually white men, who often mistake their uninformed views for freethought.

What happened in Charlottesville, VA, at the protest over the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue was a disturbing look at both the past and the future. We white folks faced ugly images of the unresolved racism in our own people, and individuals of color were aggressively confronted with the discrimination and bigotry that still stirs under the surface of our society. As a progressive organization, the AHA followed the Charlottesville story closely over the weekend, and by Monday had posted a few reactions and statements on behalf of the AHA across its social media channels.

The responses we received threatened to push me to my limit. As I read comment after comment expressing the “true” cause of the American Civil War, the denial of racism, the preservation of US history, and the blaming of Black Lives Matter, I thought, how can they have so little self-awareness? How can so-called freethinkers blatantly deny history and disregard reason?

Below are a few (taken from hundreds) of the ridiculous responses we received to our posts addressing the Charlottesville events.

The “Erasing History” Argument:

(White, female commenter)

(White, female commenter)

Perhaps it’s not a solution per se, but dismantling these monuments of tyranny and hate is a step in the right direction. It’s a bit absurd to think we will forget the Civil War because we removed monuments that idolize Confederate leaders. We will remember slavery; we will remember that the South lost. We don’t need a statue of a bigot to remind us. There is also no rational connection between keeping Confederate monuments and ending racism. Removing monuments of Confederate figures will not erase racism; we know this. We also hold that white supremacists should not have their idols erected throughout the country, and black people should not have to see statues of their oppressors glorified by their government. These statues were not erected to shame the South, they were erected to idolize the Confederacy. Get real.

The “Alternative History” Viewpoint:

These are examples of why hateful rhetoric is so dangerous. When we have history teachers telling one side of a story or our administrations glorifying whiteness and Southern values, we end up with altered histories that reflect those biases. Most historical accounts, until recently, were written by white men. White America has not traditionally liked being held accountable for the plight of black people in this country, even today as we uncover previously unread oral histories, diaries, and stories of the slave experience. Perhaps those who believe that the Civil War was not about slavery have altered history to make themselves feel better. Because the rest of the world knows that they are incorrect about the motives that fueled the American Civil War.

The post above states that slavery wasn’t the cause of the war because poor southerners didn’t own slaves. But those poor southerners did aspire to be wealthy, which meant becoming a slave owner. Owning slaves was the ultimate status symbol in the Southern states; it was a big step closer to the American dream. The Civil war began as a way to preserve the Union, which was falling apart due to hostilities between Northern and Southern states that stemmed from the question of slavery. If you need more information, take a glance at the Declarations of Succession from the seceding states.

Even the groups fighting to protect these monuments refer to the figures depicted as Confederate heroes. The violence at Charlottesville wasn’t about preserving history; it was about Confederate pride. Confederate symbols are symbols of racism and white pride, fueled by a longing for a time when white supremacy was unchallenged.

The “White Supremacists = Black Lives Matter” View:

The white supremacist/neo-Nazi/neo-Confederate movements are not the same as the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Lives Matter was formed to combat the deadly racism and oppression the black community faces in this country and around the world. White supremacists are white people who believe white people are better than any other race and should control society. Neo-Nazis believe in reviving the ideologies of the Nazi party and are unapologetically racist, ablest, xenophobic, homophobic, and anti-Semitic. Black Lives Matter celebrates diversity. White supremacist groups do not. Black Lives Matter does not peddle the notion of a master race. White supremacist groups do. Hatemongering is not demanding equality. Hatemongering is violent discrimination. Don’t confuse anger and self-defense with extremism. Black Lives Matter activists don’t show up with torches and assault rifles, white supremacists do.

The “I have no idea what this person is talking about” Comment:

(White, male commenter)

Absolutely, 100% no. The way this person thinks northerners view southerners is in no way equivalent to the way whites viewed black people in the past or today. And a definite no to the term “southerner” being equivalent to the “N-word.” A self-inflicted feeling of inferiority is not equivalent to being a discriminated against member of a minority.

Having a set of principles does not make the American Humanist Association equivalent to a church or a religious group. We are a non-profit organization complete with a mission statement and core values. We define humanism as: a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity. Furthermore:

  • We acknowledge that inequality exists in the United States of America for black people, indigenous communities, Asians, Muslims, Hispanic or Latino people, women, LGBTQIA, disabled people, immigrants, homeless people, and ex-convicts.
  • We believe in progress.
  • We believe humanism should have key values and a moral basis that go well beyond rejecting a supernatural creator.

If you don’t agree with those points you’re going to have a hell of a time convincing humanists you’re one of them. Over the past few years, the secular community has increased efforts to become more present and supportive when it comes to racial inequality. AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt addressed this in 2015 when he called on humanists to “do better” in combatting bigotry. Mandisa L. Thomas, president of Black Nonbelievers, Inc., told Speckhardt, “While the efforts to increase diversity within the secular community show improvement, there’s still more action that needs to be taken in order to yield true progress.” This remains true today.

Obviously, not all commenters on AHA’s social media pages are humanists. Some are straight-up white supremacists who are so emboldened by President Trump and the newly popular alt-right they’re even posting to AHA social media as if they’re somehow part of our community. They want to claim the ground of organizations and movements working against racism in order to shield themselves from attack.

Others (whose names I have come to recognize) share our secular values for church-state separation but fail to understand the intersectionality of it all. They fail to understand how the same constitutional rights they struggle for as atheists, agnostics, and non-believers have been denied to many other human beings for hundreds of years. They fail to see that the same religiously influenced, corrupt institutions that stymie freethinkers from holding public office, force children to recite the pledge, encourage prayer in school, and favor Christianity are also the ones perpetuating racism, preserving slavery via the prison system, denying voting rights, reproductive rights, healthcare, and equal opportunities, and are encouraging systems of oppression across our nation.

Humanism is good without a god. Humanism is doing good without a god. Humanism means the progression of society, of humanity, and of people as individuals. The selfish ideology of “whataboutism” and blaming are not a part of humanist thought. The idea that freethinkers are not to blame for the atrocities of our country is absurd. We are all participants in this society. Sitting by comfortably while others get trampled is not a humanist value. And to those who continue to rationalize racist arguments because of shared political beliefs with bigots, I’m sure they have social media pages too. Please go there.

Tags: ,