Sunday, February 20, 2005

Why do theists like to have it both ways?

I wonder if other people have noticed how theists like to play funny-buggers with how to classify the naturalist, humanist world view? When humanists claim that being a humanist is different from being religious in any sense, theists tend to claim that humanism is just another religion, just like their Christianity or some such. So, they claim, by being a humanist one isn’t giving up on religion but merely accepting one rather than another. Strangely enough, the implicit suggestion seems to be that, if one could give up on religion by being a humanist, this would be an improvement, thus necessitating that humanism be brought down to the same level.

Of course, this is all only the case if the atheist is claiming to be different. When the atheist claims that their beliefs should have the same protections and rights as those of other, theistic, people then the tune changes. No longer is humanism a religion, it becomes something like the outline left behind on a dusty mantelpiece when an ornament is taken off or, perhaps, the lighter spot on the wall where the crucifix used to hang. It becomes a nothingness that has no rights, no reality. So religious beliefs can be protected but atheist beliefs need not. In a very clear example of this, it is possible in some countries to be taken to court for offending someone else’s religious beliefs but not for offending someone’s humanist beliefs.

So, on the one hand, being a humanist means belonging to a religious sect of sorts while, on the other, having no beliefs at all.

The distinction between religion and atheism finds a curious reflection in language. My spell-checker insists that Christianity, Buddhism or even Manichaeism be spelled with a capital letter while accepting humanism, rationalism, naturalism, etc. This is, of course, because these are also the names of philosophical traditions but that does nothing to undermine the point.


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