The whole thing is 30 minutes. My portion comes on after about 6 minutes and 15 seconds.
Alex Sanders, former president of the College of Charleston, just retired as a teacher there. Some of us were asked to take a couple of minutes to say a few words for a video about him. I mentioned two stories. One is what Sanders said in our local newspaper, the Post and Courier, about my atheism. The other is Sanders’ response to a letter he received saying that he should fire me as a math professor because I’m an atheist. Sanders told me that his religious beliefs are the same as mine, but in writing he pretends to be a believing Christian. You can watch the video here.
The whole thing is 30 minutes. My portion comes on after about 6 minutes and 15 seconds.
What is special about Jews wanting a secular democracy? I wish there were also organizations like “Christians for a Secular Democracy” and “Muslims for a Secular Democracy.” Or better yet, there should be no need for such organizations because all Americans should favor a secular democracy. The United States was founded as a secular democracy, and there should never be a need to defend that principle. Our framers established the first government in history to separate religion and government. They formed a secular nation whose authority rests with “We the People” (the first three words of the U.S. Constitution) and not with “Thou the Deity.” They created a Constitution in which our government acknowledges no gods, the better to ensure freedom of conscience. The only mentions of religion in the U.S. Constitution are exclusionary. The First Amendment prohibits Congress from making laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Article Six prohibits religious tests for public office. Article Six inspired me to become an activist in secular causes. When I discovered in 1990 that our South Carolina Constitution prohibited atheists from holding public office, I challenged that provision by running for governor as the “candidate without a prayer.” In 1997 I won a unanimous decision in the South Carolina Supreme Court, invalidating the unconstitutional provision and recognizing that atheists have the right to hold public office in South Carolina.
Why did The Post and Courier print the Jan. 3 article, “What’s in the stars for the new year?” The article gives “insights” from Charleston astrologers for this year, calling them “astrology experts.”
According to one expert astrologer, we’re having the current pandemic because the planet Mars is closer to Earth than usual. He also says that the influence of Mars is on the wane, so I guess the pandemic will be ending soon. More good news from astrologers is that democracy will likely survive because the dwarf planet Pluto will be back where it was in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Astronomy is science; astrology is not. I would just as soon take advice from a fortune cookie as from the paper’s daily astrology column. At least that column is on the page with the other comics.
Religious hate is protected speech. Everyone has the right to hate anyone, but not the right to commit crimes based on that hatred. Perhaps that’s why Bob Jones III, former president of Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist Christian institution in my home state of South Carolina, apologized in 2015 for his 1980 remark that we should follow the biblical injunction of stoning gays to death. So what about hate crime laws? I’m somewhat conflicted over this issue. I support laws that prohibit acts of discrimination, including threats and intimidation. But I tend to think it’s problematic to give longer criminal sentences for crimes motivated by religious hatred. I don’t want to hold the accused guilty of the free-speech right to have an opinion, however hateful it may be. I also doubt that some bigot would be dissuaded from taking an action because a few additional hate-crime years might be tacked on to a justifiably long sentence. A more serious problem in criminal cases, I think, is that the race, color, religion, or sexual orientation of the defendant may unfairly sway the jury. For example, an atheist who refuses to swear an oath with his hand on the Bible, asserting a legal right to simply affirm, would likely prejudice some on the jury.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Humanist Manifesto III (2003) provided a succinct manifestation of modern Humanism. In turn, this both represents a more well-understood philosophical stance and a more concise statement as to the core of the concept “Humanism.” In this interview, I want to cover some of the modern conceptualizations of modern Humanism, as an evolution from 1933 to 2003. What was the inspiration for this updated document?
Dr. Herb Silverman: The updated third document was expected, as was the updated second document, without knowing in advance what dates they would come. The first Manifesto was written in 1933, the second in 1973, and the third in 2003. Similarly, the founders who wrote the US Constitution understood that their document was not perfect and allowed for future amendments. As we learn more about the world and best practices for humans, we update manifestos. After all, these manifestos are written on paper by humans, not written on stone tablets by an alleged deity. There undoubtedly will be a fourth manifesto, but I can’t say when.
Jacobsen: What does “without supernaturalism” mean in the context of a “progressive philosophy of life”?
Silverman: “Without supernaturalism” means no belief in any gods. It also includes no belief in reincarnation or magic crystals, not fearing black cats crossing your path or dread of Friday the 13th or the number 666. A rabbit’s foot or knocking on wood does not bring good luck. In other words, no superstitious beliefs of any kind. So we need a philosophy of life without superstition. One can have such a philosophy without being a progressive, but the humanist philosophy incorporates progressivism. It is based on the idea of progress, incorporating advances in science and technology, and advocating for social reforms and social organizations, all vital to improve the human condition.
Jacobsen: How does negating consideration of the supernatural change thinking about “our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity”?
Silverman: Most people want to lead ethical lives, but folks disagree about how best to do it. Some rely on so-called “holy” books written during the Bronze Age by scientifically ignorant men. Their ideas of ethics might include discriminating against gays, beating disobedient children, not allowing women to have responsible positions, punishing blasphemers and heretics, and advocating for holy wars to capture land promised by “God.” Being free of the supernatural, we can use available evidence to help decide what actions might be for the greater good of humanity.
Jacobsen: Why are the core principles of Humanism reason, compassion, and experience? Why is non-dogmatism, as in “values and ideals… subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance,” a key distinction from most religious stances?
Silverman: As with most people, humanists appreciate the ability to reason. Part of what we want to do with our reason is learn how to help make the world a better place. This entails empathizing with others and showing compassion toward those less fortunate than ourselves. We learn from our mistakes and, hopefully, improve on how best to act. When tied to a never changing, dogmatic, religious book, principles become more difficult to change or improve.
I just re-discovered an old article about me in our local paper, from 1998.
I’d like to say that atheist activists deserve the credit for people leaving religion, but lately I think White Evangelical Protestants deserve lots of credit, too. Donald Trump has inadvertently exposed the hypocrisy of many White Evangelicals who voted for him and continue to support him despite his deplorable behavior in office, including his unapologetic sexual harassment, adultery, and overall dishonesty. Do they now suggest that a president’s religious beliefs might not matter? Many seem driven by Trump’s attacks on abortion, immigrants, African-Americans, women, gun control, science, climate change, and other social issues.
Some White Evangelicals recognize the dangers of climate change and welcome it as the biblically predicted Apocalypse. They believe that God is using climate change to enact his wrath on the world. They quote 2 Peter 3:10:
“The day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.”
Catholic League president Bill Donohue recently called Humanists for Biden anti-Catholic bigots. That sounds a bit strange, since Humanists for Biden are supporting a Catholic for president. Joe Biden’s opponent calls himself a Christian, but that seems unlikely, since I can’t picture Donald Trump believing in a power higher than himself. On the Catholic League website, Donohue claims Humanists for Biden believe in nothing and are religiously confused. Not true. Humanists believe in the worth and dignity of all human beings and follow scientific evidence. We are not religiously confused. Most of us rejected the religious beliefs in which we were raised because those beliefs were confusing and made no sense to us.