Friday, December 7, 2012

Anti-Humanism: Susan Stamper Brown weighs in

Susan Stamper Brown
Anti-humanism is the belief that we humans, living on this tiny planet in a remote corner of the Milky Way in a vast, cold and unsympathetic universe, can only rely on God to make our lives meaningful. Anti-Humanists care more about appeasing God than they do about helping their fellow man. In the Islamo-Judeo-Christian tradition, here is the story of Abraham, who is instructed to offer his son up as a sacrifice to God. Abraham can decide to either please God by slicing his sons throat on an altar, or see to the care and well-being of his son by disobeying God. 

Humanists will choose the child, anti-Humanists choose God.

Conservative columnist Susan Stamper Brown wrote a piece entitled Secular humanists Bid All 'A Merry un-Christmas' in which she went after Humanists for propagating the tired and mythical "War on Christmas" by trotting out a couple of recent legal losses by atheist and Humanist groups contesting religion in the public square. Notably, she leaves out the victories, but she's writing for a particular audience: one that does not take well to things like nuance an facts.

The piece is woefully philosophically naive. She claims that it impossible to be "good without God" without any acknowledgement of the problems with that stand. As Plato pointed out over two millennia ago in Euthyphro.
The dilemma Euthyphro faced is this: Is a thing good simply because the gods say it is? Or do the gods say a thing is good because of some other quality it has? If so, what is that quality? The problem stumped Euthyphro. 
This is basic undergraduate philosophy, and has occupied the minds of theologians since it was first stated. Stamper Brown displays profound ignorance here. Most Christians theologians will concede that people can be good without God. What they will dismiss is claims that one can be saved (in the religious sense) without Jesus. In this sense, Jews are as damned as atheists. But Stamper Brown is married to some sort of revisionist, Judeo-Christian origin myth for America, and can't make that case without alienating religious allies.

She ends her ignorant screed with an idea that I have found weird ever since I first heard Bill O'Reilly float it past Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee recently:
Besides, Christianity is not a religion. Never was. Never will be. It's a relationship. A way of life. A choice.
As a lifelong student of philosophy and religion, this new idea strikes me as weird. What could be the tactical advantage of denying that Christianity is a religion? I have some ideas on this, but I'm still working them out. Opinions would be appreciated.

4 comments:

  1. "What could be the tactical advantage of denying that Christianity is a religion?"

    It makes Christianity seem like a better justification for supporting certain sides of the political spectrum. Most of us justify our political positions at least somewhat with our philosophical ones. As a humanist I support many positions considered to be socially left, and I have no problem declaring my overall humanist philosophy as a reason for that support. However, I get frustrated when someone uses their religion as the justification for a position, as I suspect many of us reading this do.

    Christianity is a religion with all the philosophical implications that come with most religions. It is philosophical, but it's certainly not just a philosophy.

    Christianity The Philosophy would be "Jesus was a great teacher and I live my life according to his lessons about loving all people universally, supporting the poor and turning the other cheek."

    Christianity The Religion may or may not include much of an emphasis on this, which it presents alongside a large number of stories about the creation of the universe, supernatural intervention and magical dead guys.

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  2. "Most Christians theologians will concede that people can be good without God."

    Just one quibble with this line: most Christian theologians will concede that people can be good without believing in God. They still think we derive our morality from some sense that God built into us.

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    1. Good point, Mike, and now that I think about it, Christianity posits that we are all born basically corrupt, tainted by original sin. So it might be impossible to be "good."

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    2. Good point, Mike, and now that I think about it, Christianity posits that we are all born basically corrupt, tainted by original sin. So it might be impossible to be "good."

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