This summer the American Humanist Association (AHA) is proud to publish a new book by Wayne Laufert, Behaving Decently: Kurt Vonnegut’s Humanism, which celebrates and explores the writer who was the AHA’s honorary president for fifteen years, from 1992 until his death. It is available for order at online bookstores and through Humanist Press.
Much of this issue is devoted to the book, including a review by Fred Edwords, who knew Vonnegut, and who some of you will recognize as the former editor and executive director of the AHA.
I was introduced to Vonnegut’s work in college when I read his novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and came to love his writing for its deep understanding of the absurdity and contradictions of the human experience coupled with a deep affection for flawed humanity. As Laufert writes, one of Vonnegut’s most famous lines is, “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” The full quote is from that book I read in college, a kind of secular blessing for newborns:
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. [At least it is if, like Vonnegut, you spent most of your life in the Midwest and Northeast United States.] It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’
At the time I first read that passage, I didn’t know about humanism. But now, it strikes me that the passage is a pretty good encapsulation of humanist philosophy
The other featured article in this issue is a different kind of exploration of humanism. Kavin Senapathy is a humanist and journalist, covering science and health from an evidence-driven, context-aware, justice-focused lens. Her critique of skeptic and scientific spaces reminds us that humanist communities aren’t fully living up our values. If we are to embody Vonnegut’s entreaty that we’ve “got to be kind”—or, in other familiar words, if we’re truly “good without a god”—that means creating space for everyone in our communities and leadership. Senapathy asks readers to take a hard look at the culture of our community and examine why our white-dominated spaces aren’t more welcoming to people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ folks. Her essay serves as an evidence-based pep talk for the humanist and skeptic movements to reach deep and do the right thing by embarking on the hard work of dismantling the racism and misogyny in our ranks.