WHAT WOULD A HUMANIST DO | Thrilled about Fauci’s Humanism, Scared of Conservative Backlash

Dr. Fauci speaks at a White House briefing on March 16, 2020 (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

What Would a Humanist Do? offers multiple opinions on the same question. As with our long-running Humanist Dilemma column by Joan Reisman-Brill, readers often ask what qualifies as a humanist problem. Our answer: humanists are committed to being good without a God, but sometimes they need a little advice on how to pull it off.


Q: I was excited to learn from a 2015 C-SPAN interview that the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci, calls himself a humanist. But I’m also hesitant to make a big deal out of it, as I wouldn’t want to give any more reason for the president or his GOP lackeys to sideline or silence him. Can a humanist be proud and enthusiastic about her worldview while acknowledging that it can be warped into a liability for those in the public eye?

—What Would a Humanist Do?

A’s:

Like many on staff at the American Hum­anist Association, I was excited to hear Dr. Fauci identify as a humanist in a couple of interviews. It’s unfortunate we live in a time where one’s worldview could become such a major distraction to productive discourse to quell a public health emergency. Media can be unforgiving to an individual’s reputation, and the nature of our news cycle means many things become a liability just through media exposure. For example, Fauci has already had a false sexual assault allegation levied against him because he doesn’t play yes-man to the president.

So, while it would be great to celebrate Fauci as a bona fide humanist (I would love to as well), it might not be the best time. Once we get through the COVID-19 pandemic, we can loudly tout the humanist effort Fauci poured into his response to it.

And the terrific thing regarding humanism is that it’s a worldview to enact, not evangelize. Fauci is clearly driven by core tenets of science, reason, and compassionate consideration as he works to avert the worst impacts of the coronavirus pandemic here in the US. As nice as it would be to hear Fauci himself mention humanism when he addresses the media, I think we can agree it would be sorely out of place and would distract from the importance of his clear, concise communication during the public health emergency.

—Sam Gerard, communications associate

I suppose my question back to you is how you’d “make a big deal” of the fact that Dr. Fauci is a humanist. You can and should feel pride and solidarity knowing that a fellow humanist is using reason and science to make the world a better place—I know I am! Fauci’s level-headed guidance through this crisis has been keeping many of us from teetering over the edge, and I have no doubt that his worldview and roots in humanism are informing his thoughts and actions.

So, I say: tell anyone you want! Do you have an ultra-religious family member who you regularly speak to? I see no harm in sharing Fauci’s humanism with them. Frankly, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that someone who has dedicated their life to the advancement of medicine and science-based public policy isn’t religious.

Now, do I think it would be wise to pen a New York Times op-ed titled “Fauci Is Godless and That Is Fantastic”? No, I do not. You raise a valid point that those in power who are already rooting for Fauci to fail can and will use any leverage they have to sideline him. But short of poking the conservative bear, I think being as proud and enthusiastic as you want is warranted!

—Peter Bjork, web content manager, managing editor for TheHumanist.com

Humanists can always be proud and enthusiastic about their worldview. The more we publicize humanism, the more it will be accepted and appreciated in society. The more we discuss and act on our values, the more we will engage with others who share our compassion.

While some politicians who disagree with Dr. Fauci will try to discredit him, they can’t really attack him for having “faith in the goodness of mankind,” as Fauci has said. He still identifies as spiritual, appreciates his Jesuit school education, makes no comment on a deity, and emphasizes the principles religion teaches. Share your appreciation of Fauci’s dedication to protecting us all from deadly viruses and proudly labeling himself as a humanist. Maybe he’ll inspire more people to understand humanism and identify as humanists.

—Emily Newman, education coordinator


For humanist advice from multiple perspectives on all manner of situations, please send your question to wwhd@americanhumanist.com.

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