What Does Secular Humanism Have to Say about the Hate in Charlottesville?

For Immediate Release: August 14, 2017
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

Like so many others, we at the Center for Inquiry were horrified and outraged by the blind hatred, bigotry, and violence brought about by the white supremacists’ demonstrations in Charlottesville over the weekend. We were also deeply disappointed by the President of the United States’ inability or unwillingness to name the racists and neo-Nazis responsible for the chaos and fear, instead defaulting to an absurd “both sides” admonishment.

Rather than simply express our anger and despair, shaking our fists amid a sea of shaking fists, we believe this is a good time to explore what secular humanism, the philosophy that drives the work of the Center for Inquiry, has to say about this recent surge in white supremacist public activity. It’s not enough to make the conversation simply about the religious or spiritual beliefs of these regressive blights on our society, for while many indeed consider themselves to be deeply religious, many other white supremacists claim no religious belief, and cynically couch their racism and xenophobia in scientific-sounding jargon.

In 1973, Center for Inquiry founder Paul Kurtz and Unitarian leader Edwin H. Wilson drafted Humanist Manifesto II, a set of common principles to “serve as a basis for united action” in order to realize “a vision of hope, a direction for satisfying survival.”

The first manifesto came about before the Second World War and the Third Reich. So the opening paragraph of the second manifesto illustrates that the ideologies behind the recent white supremacist convulsions are one of the key motivating factors for this second manifesto. “Nazism has shown the depths of brutality of which humanity is capable,” write Kurtz and Wilson, also explaining that several destructive phenomena including “the continuance of unyielding racism” present major challenges for humanism to address and overcome. “In various societies,” they write, “the demands of women and minority groups for equal rights effectively challenge our generation.”

Humanist Manifesto II accepts this challenge in order to bring about a better world for all of humanity. Humanist philosophy, without the need for any deity or holy scripture for instruction, looks to foster a society in which all human beings, regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, or religion, are treated equally and able realize their fullest creative and intellectual potential.

From the manifesto’s Eleventh Principle, on democratic society [emphasis added]:

The principle of moral equality must be furthered through elimination of all discrimination based upon race, religion, sex, age, or national origin. This means equality of opportunity and recognition of talent and merit. Individuals should be encouraged to contribute to their own betterment. … We deplore racial, religious, ethnic, or class antagonisms. Although we believe in cultural diversity and encourage racial and ethnic pride, we reject separations which promote alienation and set people and groups against each other; we envision an integrated community where people have a maximum opportunity for free and voluntary association.

In the manifesto’s closing paragraphs, the authors conclude:

At the present juncture of history, commitment to all humankind is the highest commitment of which we are capable; it transcends the narrow allegiances of church, state, party, class, or race in moving toward a wider vision of human potentiality. What more daring a goal for humankind than for each person to become, in ideal as well as practice, a citizen of a world community.

A purported goal of the white supremacists of today is the promotion of a racist nationalism, in which a fortress-America either drives out or grinds down all non-white persons, in the pursuit of some illusory and isolationist state. This is anathema to the principles of humanism, which, as we see, consider humanity as a global people, living, working, and improving together as a species.

Taking things a step further, in 1980 Paul Kurtz foreshadowed the current moment with the founding document of CFI’s Council for Secular Humanism, A Secular Humanist Declaration:

A pluralistic, open democratic society allows all points of view to be heard. Any effort to impose an exclusive conception of Truth, Piety, Virtue, or Justice upon the whole of society is a violation of free inquiry.

Note how there is little distinction made between tyranny and bigotry, as humanism considers the thoughtless intolerance to be a key component of authoritarianism:

There are many forms of totalitarianism in the modern world — secular and nonsecular — all of which we vigorously oppose. As democratic secularists, we consistently defend the ideal of freedom, not only freedom of conscience and belief from those ecclesiastical, political, and economic interests that seek to repress them, but genuine political liberty, democratic decision making based upon majority rule, and respect for minority rights and the rule of law. We stand not only for freedom from religious control but for freedom from jingoistic government control as well.

Several times a year, Free Inquiry magazine, the journal of the Council for Secular Humanism, reprints Kurtz’s “Affirmations of Humanism,” a concise distillation of these principles. These selected principles are of particular relevance to current events:

  • We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
  • We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.
  • We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.

And perhaps most importantly, its final principle:

  • We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.

More than a rejection of religious dogma or pseudoscience, secular humanism is an affirmative lifestance, one that deplores racism and bigotry in its very foundational documents. It considers the beliefs of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and white nationalists to be cancers on human civilization, holding our entire species back from fulfilling its noblest ambitions, both as individuals and as a global civilization.

The Center for Inquiry stands proudly with those who advance the causes of equality, peace, and diversity. We stand in unreserved and total opposition to the evils espoused by white nationalism, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and their repulsive ilk. And we do so guided by the simple and yet revolutionary principles of secular humanism.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.