Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Contra Secular Humanist "Communities"

2007 Apr. 10

Letters Editor
Free Inquiry
PO Box 664
Amherst NY 14226-0664

As the old joke goes, the Lone Ranger and Tonto are holed up in the rocks, encircled by screaming bloodthirsty Indians, and their ammo is running low, when the masked man says "Well, old friend, we may have reached the end of the line at last." To which Tonto replies "What you mean 'we', white man?"

In the April/May issue of Free Inquiry, Paul Kurtz asks "... whether we can create alternative [non-church] institutions that satisfy the hunger for meaning, that satisfy our ideals, that support sympathetic communities, that are able to provide comfort in times of stress." To which I reply, "What you mean 'we', philosopher?"

If by "we" you mean organized, self-avowed secular humanists, then I say "No way, José. Nuh-uh. Absolutely not. Not our job."

But if you mean free people in a free society, then I smile and rejoin "No worries, mate. Mission accomplished!"

Our country comprises the joiningest people in the history of the planet. In addition to family and workplace (which are almost universal), Americans are also active in local government, political parties, citizen committees, naborhood associations, parent-teacher organizations, graduating classes, sororities, fraternities, fraternal lodges, service clubs, charitable volunteers, sewing circles, kaffee klatsches, book-discussion groups, literary fandoms, gaming geekdoms, bowling leagues, and soccer teams -- so many different TYPES of community, in fact, that the above list doesn't repeat a single noun.

And they are overwhelmingly secular (not motivated by religion at all) and humanist (revolving around our mundane world and quotidian concerns and activities).

Even the groups with less or more religious flavoring (Boy Scouts, Habitat for Humanity, Masons) are dominantly engaged in secular activities.

And this is true not because they are irreligious or trying to make some kind of statement about separation between church and state but simply because religion isn't directly relevant to most aspects of life in a modern society.

Now consider the exceptions. Do you recognize these catchphrases? "Where were you?" "Who were you with?" "Don't you know how much I love you?" "We only need each other." These expressions of jealous possessiveness are the early danger signals of spousal abuse. Left to run their course, they often end in "Don't make me hurt you again." and "If I can't have you, no one will!" -- the churchly equivalent of which played out at Jonestown, Waco, and Heaven's Gate.

Fundamentalist and evangelical efforts to build community by being all things to "their" people are like the road to spousal abuse — equally creepy, emotionally stunting, and psychologically damaging. People need and crave variety in their lives, and a vibrant, diverse, open society is more than capable of providing it for them.

The churches are making a mistake and wasting their resources by trying to recreate, in miniature, pervasively sectarian fashion, all of the institutions of the greater society, out of mortal dread that their members will be seduced by exposure to non-religious "lovers".

We secular humanists need have no such fears. We should concentrate on simply advocating secular humanism and let our free people find (or, better, create!) their own communities.

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Richard S. Russell, a Bright (
2642 Kendall Av. #2, Madison WI 53705-3736
608+233-5640 *

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Sum homo, et nihil humanum a me alienum puto. [I am a man, and nothing that concerns a man is uninteresting to me.]
-- Terence, Roman poet


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