In his Easter Sunday New York Times column, Ross Douthat wrote: “For the sake of their country, their culture, and their very selves, liberal post-Protestants should find a mainline congregation and starting [sic] attending every week.” I will dispose of my disbelief that the Times copy editors didn’t change “starting” to “start” to focus on a much greater sin: Douthat’s claim that liberalism without Christianity “struggles to find a non-transactional organizing principle, a persuasive language of the common good.”
In staking that claim Douthat completely disregards the existence of the humanist philosophy and the humanist movement. “If pressed, most of you aren’t hardcore atheists,” he tells his readers (and he knows this how?), basically telling them to suck it up and sit down in a pew. To those who do emphatically deny the existence of a divine supernatural creator and eschew all things having to do with organized religion, Douthat sarcastically chides:
Sure, all that beauty and ecstasy and astonishing mathematical order is because we’re part of a multiverse or a simulation or something; that’s the ticket. Sure, consciousness and free will are illusions, but human rights and gender identities are totally real. Sure, your flying spaghetti monster joke makes you a lot smarter than Aquinas, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King. Sure. Just go to church, guys.
No, Mr. Douthat, I don’t think a fair number of us will do that. We might instead go to a meeting of an American Humanist Association chapter and go plant some trees afterward or put together care packages for the homeless. We might enlist a few friends to help an elderly neighbor clear the weeds out of his garden. We might put in a little work on a social justice project we’re organizing. We might just get together with people we care about (and who we help out when they need help and vice versa) to eat a shared meal and discuss world affairs instead of the Bible. We may discuss the concept of free will and the need to embrace the illusion in order to compel humanitarian action. This may turn into a lively discussion about free will because some of us contend differently, but we keep engaging each other.
Believe it or not, Mr. Douthat, humanists and other nonbelievers do spend time with each other! Humanists do all kinds of things for the common good and we don’t need to be sitting in a church pew (or reading your column) to be inspired to do them.