On Friendliness and Humanism

I am very self-conscious. When I read an atheist talking about “accommodationists” (for example, here), I get the feeling they would include me in that group, because I’m the Friendly Humanist – that is, I make some effort to get along with folks whose worldview diverges from my own. And when I read a theist talking about atheist dogmatism (for example, here), I feel that they’re attacking my position, because I’m an atheist too.

Of course, most such passages are written by people who have never heard of me personally, so I know it’s not personal. And it’s possible that if the authors read my blog they would assert that I clearly don’t fall into the category of weak-willed accommodationist on the one hand and dogmatic atheist on the other. Nevertheless, I often feel a bit like a mule – neither horses nor donkeys feel that I’m quite one of them. Ah well, I can live with that.

I brand myself as the Friendly Humanist for several reasons. It’s an effort to counterbalance a tendency among some humanists to take cheap potshots at easy targets, often with no good purpose in mind and with very counterproductive effects. It’s a reminder to myself not to use this blog simply as a platform for rants.

And it’s an olive branch to those who are often placed in opposition to humanists: committed believers in a god or gods, or in some undefined “other” beyond the physical world, or in non-scientific, “alternative” medicine. I want to tell them, through the blog name and also through my writing, that I will listen to them and try to understand their position.

But the blog is called the Friendly Humanist, and so I also strive to uphold humanist values in my writing. I do not shy away from criticizing harmful actions – whether they are motivated by harmful intent or not, and whether they are based in religious belief or not. There is often a right answer and a wrong answer to questions about how the world is, and finding the right answer is a valuable endeavour.

I don’t think these two goals – being friendly and being a humanist – are incompatible. But there are times when, in order to act with integrity, I must risk being perceived as unfriendly.

I suspect that my recent series on John Blanchard’s book Does God Believe in Atheists? (beginning here) was such a case (on the basis of the only comment anyone posted to it). I stand by my review, but I invite anyone’s thoughts if they think there’s a way I could have put the case without being as dismissive of Blanchard.

There have been other times, and I’m sure there will be more in the future.

I am curious: do you, faithful readers, feel that I live up to my self-chosen title? Am I really all that friendly? Am I true to the principles of Humanism?

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4 Responses to “On Friendliness and Humanism”

  1. The Humāinist Says:

    From what I have seen so far, you seem friendly enough to me. 🙂 But I admit I have been following your blog for only a few months now, and have not had time to read any of your posts written prior to my arrival.

  2. Steelman Says:

    If you ever meet someone like Pat Condell, please don't shake hands! If you do, we can blame the devastating result on Mr Manhattan.

  3. Steelman Says:

    I think I meant Dr. Manhattan, but it may be that I was caught in a space-time vortex anomaly, that briefly intersected a parallel universe, when I posted that comment.BTW, I don't see how one could be a member of a UU congregation if they weren't a friendlier type of humanist.

  4. cath Says:

    You can be friendly, even when you disagree with people. You can dismiss an argument, without being dismissive.You can also come to understand a position, without agreeing with it! 🙂 Speak up, set out your arguments firmly, be robust, just carry on not being nasty. The faithful can take it!

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