Wednesday, 8 September 2010

History against Humanism

I reckon that I'm opposed to humanism as a historian rather than as a Christian. Taking our own country especially, with the oldest and proudest history in the world, according to David Cameron, there are some evidently nasty things about human nature. Just read about the 16th-17th Centuries.

But some observations about folks in general:

-There are many people who inwardly find it hard to believe that something can't be their business
-Whenever the state has told people that something is their business when by any ethical standard it isn't, it never lacks its fair share of informants, nosey parkers and spies
-There are many people who like to think they share in other people's achievements, purely by believing/ not believing in something
-There are many people who like to think they are smarter than they are. And no organisation has ever lacked fanatical adherents after telling people that they are pretty sharp cookies by default.
-There are many very stupid people who like to think that they are cleverer than they are because they believe/don't believe in something.
-There are many lonely people who are looking for belonging, and they will owe strong allegiance to a group where they feel they belong.
-There are many selfish people who want to feel good purely by not believing/believing in something
-There are many people who will want to feel self-righteous anger at people who've never met them, wouldn't want to meet them and would have no interest in meeting them. Religion and irreligion can both fulfill this need.

For this reason I find this website really disturbing. Just look at its title 'rationalist association'. Sounds cool, how do I become a member of the rationalist association? An IQ test, or summin? What? Oh, just not believe in God. That's cool, but I was led here by this man. And Hari isn't the only atheist I've seen praising Melanie Phillips, who also stands for everything negative about religious culture. Then there's this cartoon:

Get it, the Pope is oppressing poor, stupid people in the third wor- oh, did I say 'stupid', I meant 'poor helpless victims', or does that sound patronising? Who cares, it's right isn't it. Especially what with him getting them to have kids.

Then there's these cards; clever white atheists and agnostics are beset by stupid darkies apparently. Such is the state of modern Britain. I suppose though, it is good to know that atheists are more exasperated than angry. Hopefully exasperation at the inferiority of other people won't lead to massacre of the faithful like what happened in Mexico, China, the USSR, Communist Poland, Nazi Poland, Viet Nam, Cambodia etc. And so great to know that the group that includes Hitler, Lysenko, Mao, Stalin etc. is so perfectly rational (and obviously I'm not saying that these people are typical atheists but that surely they should stop people from letting their egos expand purely because they don't believe in God; I mean even my benchmark for feeling good about myself is slightly higher).

Perhaps I wouldn't find these things quite so disturbing if I actually genuinely believed Britain to have a robust rationalist movement. I don't. The very success of Johann Hari's illogical, historically illiterate drivel* is evidence of this. And whilst the atheists like to patronise Britain as a land of rationalism due to low church attendance it is also a country that consumes vast amounts of drugs, alcohol, sedatives, depressants, anti-depressants, stimulants, sweeteners, TV, electronic gadgets, and which has a very low regard for reading or education.

Britain is also a country with a largely disenfranchised majority, vast differences of wealth, high unemployment and a high proportion who work in jobs they are overqualified for and immense anger and hatred. To me it seems a country full of people who are desperate for a sense of meaning, and if the economic crisis leads to a depression, then the bread and circuses might come to an end. I don't think Britain will be a pretty country when that happens.

It seems to me that 'humanism' offers an ideal religion for this outcome. It has a strong (though I think very superficial) sense of fellowship, an unembarrassed attitude towards narcissistic self-praise, a belief that rationality can be reduced to a few axioms, a moral code that is seen as equally axiomatic, a surprising degree of compatibility with racist views of Western superiority and (perhaps most of all) a common enemy which provides the cement between dissimilar people.

Of course, some would say that the same thing applies to many religions, and I would entirely agree. However, to say that because religious societies can have some flaws does not mean to say that the same primates in an irreligious society cannot have the same flaws. Surely to say so would be profoundly irrational?

*Hari wrote:
'The smart, questioning and instinctively moral Muslims – the majority – learn to be silent, or are shunned (at best). What would Christianity be like today if George Eliot, Mark Twain and Bertrand Russell had all been pulped? Take the most revolting rural Alabama church, and metastasise it.'

Presumably he means if writing by these authors was pulped, but if it wasn't for Anglo-Saxon writers then churches in non-Anglophone countries would all be in the (as it were) dark ages? Also gotta love Hari's idea that 'smart' and 'moral' Muslims 'learn to be silent'; in terms of being clumsy and patronising he pretty much outdoes Chris Morris's 'who says AIDS guys are puny'


  1. Awesome post, Gregor. I can't add much except to agree with the observation that militant atheists, for all their talk about just following facts to their logical conclusions, are often shockingly ignorant of history. Witness the attempts to brand Nazism as a Christian movement or the various brands of tyrannical Communism as religious movements. At this point, the term “religion” doesn't have much meaning, as it would cover pretty much every strongly-held belief or philosophy in human history. This way, religion can be blamed for every bad thing that has ever happened, ever.

    The odd thing is that by resting morality on individual rationality, I think secular humanism can easily lead to all kinds of immoral positions especially in societies where health, wealth, and pleasure end up being the most important values. It is not surprising that so many secular humanists speak negatively of the poor or people in Third World countries.

    When you pull down the statue of the Deity from the temple, something will replace it, and it seems like we have replaced Deity with the nastiest, meanest human beings imaginable. It all ends in worshiping power and this probably explains why secular humanists are so bad at radically critiquing modern societies. Instead, we just have endless snarkiness and self-congratulation.

  2. hank you for your comment John, I'd agree a lot with this:
    'It all ends in worshiping power and this probably explains why secular humanists are so bad at radically critiquing modern societies. Instead, we just have endless snarkiness and self-congratulation.'

    Makes me think of how Christopher Hitchens is always desperate to be on the winning side. After calling Obama a 'pussy' (presumably meaning someone who doesn't have the heroism to get other people to fight and die abroad) he voted for him when it was obvious Obama was going to win. He also likes to imply that he was on the winning side with Thatcherism even though he was a strong opponent at the time.

    And so it seems with empty churches. Whilst there has been little primary research concerning low church attendence, the new atheists can only draw a correlation between their attacks on religion (which the vast majority of Brits will never have read) and empty churches and between empty churches and atheism. In fact consumerism and Tv have probably done the most to stop people going to church, and the vast majority of Brits are agnostics, who contrary to their card of an agnostic, tend often to be very credulous. Derek Acorah seems to have done pretty well for himself in our Olympus of rationality.

  3. Gregor wrote:

    "In fact consumerism and Tv have probably done the most to stop people going to church, and the vast majority of Brits are agnostics, who contrary to their card of an agnostic, tend often to be very credulous."

    Absolutely. I agree completely. In the United States, we have higher church attendance and higher rates of religious identification than in most other industrial nations, but I would still say most people are practical atheists or agnostics, meaning they don't take their faith seriously in any meaningful way. Consumerism is the real American religion.