It’s well documented and very well understood that no species can remain biologically or socially successful if it goes extinct. This seems obvious, at least to me anyway; the only way an organism survives is if it can adapt and protect both itself and its ecological environment.
So here’s the thing and probably the core reason as to why I am a humanist. I see humanism as the ultimate acceptance of nature and reality. And because I see it as such, it equally informs my ability to have and lead a just and happy life.
I’ve kicked the tires of various religions and have found them wanting. I’ve read other spiritual philosophies, and because of my curiosity, still research competing views of how best to be in the world. However, as I look to the history and current actions of organized faith traditions and spiritual movements, I see so much lacking.
While I don’t want to paint with too wide a brush, acknowledging that no group is fully monolithic, I conclude that the current state of organized religion continues to be used as a litmus test for the permission to be violent and to create much suffering. It’s not like the bad ol’ days of religious persecution are behind us. In fact, for many true believers such as Christian white nationalists and evangelicals of every faith tradition, the best persecution of others is yet to come.
The normalizing of religious violence is everywhere, but it starts in the core texts of all holy scriptures. Read the Bible and most spiritual texts. You’ll find war, slavery, violence against women and children and non-believers, rape and incest and an apathy for the care of our planet. For Bible literalists these books are considered god’s infallible thoughts, words and actions. However, for biblical apologists and theologians, they are seen as divine allegory to be interpreted and thus used like reading tea leaves, having their meanings change and contorted to fit the times.
Regardless of how a believer comprehends the Bible, as divine cause or a set of stories and poetics, it is very clear that adherence to scripture has outlasted its relevance. Humanity has moved on since the Bronze Age when those that scribed the Bible and knew so very little about the world and cosmos. Certainly, we can find much better moral teachings other than faith traditions that advocate or collaborate to support misogyny, patriarchy, racism, empire building, and oppression.
Add in the idea of an apocalypse and the ongoing work of institutional blood cults, and we give believers the right to glorify destruction, deny humanity’s place in nature, and reject science and democracy.
All you need to do is see the handmade signs like “Jesus is my vaccine” which popped up frequently during the pandemic and you can view modern belief that perpetuates the ancient idea that this world doesn’t matter. Those signs and the people who made them demand we all believe that as long as you pray or repent to the right god to bring you into peace and salvation in the afterlife, then you certainly don’t have to care about your neighbor or the Earth in this life.
But thank the cosmos for each of us! According to the statistics, atheists, agnostics, and humanists as a group have the highest level of COVID-19 vaccine adoption. Somewhere north of 90 percent. Beating out EVERY other social, ethnic, racial, and religious group category. Perhaps this is why reason matters most and humanism serves as my (and our?) view of how best we should treat ourselves, as well as others and the planet. There are deep moral, social, and evolutionary consequences to our vaccine adoption.
Certainly, we’ve been doing bad things to each other in the name of faith since humans created these ancient beliefs and tribal identities. The modern iteration of such incivility and violence is the culmination of the worst-case scenario being played out right now through our modern legislative politics and its reliance on social intimidation. The pillars conforming the separation of church and state, as well as our secular democratic freedoms and norms, are indeed in danger of failure.
But contrary to the intimidation mentioned above, the core of the humanist point of view is the acknowledgment that we all have a “sell by” date. That neither we nor our planet will go on forever. That both science and history have shown when we cooperate, we are capable of great things. And this is, of course, how we counter the threats to secular democracy while remaining politically astute and on guard for any attempted breach of the separation of church and state.
Because of such empathetic acknowledgement of the frailty of the human lifespan, humans have learned to extend life through caring for each other, through science, and technological innovation and invention. Humanists see our place on the planet and cosmos aligned with such rational modernity. Science, secularism, and democracy are indeed intertwined. We humanists gratefully acknowledge that our success as a species depends on each other and how well we care for the planet.
The anthropologist Margaret Mead is quoted as saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, that humans gained their humanity when we began caring for the sick. An acknowledgment that each life has value and that we are better people when we help one another.
It makes sense that when we heal the wounds of the injured, we immediately create opportunities for enlivening culture as well as life itself. The golden rule needs no religious indoctrination. It is found deep within our genes and in our social attitudes. Humanists understand that reliance and resilience extend from our bodies to our community as equally as they encompass the conservancy of the planet. We take nothing consciously for granted.
Indeed, for life to continue successfully, it will mean that our conversations and actions will need to grow exponentially. Moving from just supporting the idea that mere existing is living, but shifting to the notion that living is about thriving rather than just getting by day to day. For me, it is almost exclusively in humanism that we get to put these progressive ideas into action.
Those best prepared to lead the expanding conversations are the same people in our diverse movement and community. The non-believers, humanists, and secularists who fight for reason and kindness both in the present and for generations to come.
It is exactly in these hands that I entrust the continuance of our ability to be humane, to move our species biologically forward, and to positively transform our culture well into the future.