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Humanist Feelings

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Re: Roger Scruton's The New Humanism

Flattered as I am that Roger Scruton mentioned New Humanist, the magazine I edit, in his piece on the New Humanism -- any publicity... --- I feel I should correct his misapprehension regarding the new humanist movement he claims to describe. He describes New Humanist as being part of a novel, self-conscious movement -- analogous to Blair's New Labour -- with our own 'sages' and campaigns and a perspective on humanism which diverges from the worthy 'old' humanism of his own parents. Perhaps it would be good if this were the case, if we were a movement as new, unified and well organised as Scruton implies, but it is not. The fact is New Humanist is a journal that has been published continually, in one form or another, for 120 years. It started life as Watt's Literary Guide -- a catalogue of the secular books published by one free-thinking Fleet Street publisher, and then morphed into Watt's Literary Guide and Rational Review, the in mid 20th century it was renamed The Humanist, and in the sixties the 'new' was added. Though I might flatter myself that in recent years we have achieved a degree of prominence which might lead some to think that we really are new on the scene we were actually around before Roger's folks discovered their humanism. What is new is the re-emergence of particularly virulent forms of religious fundamentalism and intolerance in recent years -- from creationism retooled as Intelligent Design, to Jihadi violence, to state-enforced religious intolerance from Iran to Nigeria and Russia -- which has convinced secularists that we need to have a stronger voice in the public sphere, and diversify our tactics somewhat so as to meet the challenge laid down by so many shrill dogmatists. That Scruton has mistaken this vigorous response for a new movement is, I suppose, a measure of our success. But lumping the various organisations and many different people speaking up for secularism and the humanist world view has some clear disadvantages too.

Scruton uses the example of one particular ad campaign on a bus, to paint us all as trivial hedonists who are uninterested in "man as an ideal," faith, hope, charity, belief or how to improve the world. He is absolutely right that we can be light-hearted (the bus campaign was successful precisely because the message was so simple and uplifting) and scathing -- our God Trumps parody card game mines religious beliefs for laughs -- but we also devote a lot of space in New Humanist to serious critical analysis of ideas (those of our 'sages' like Richard Dawkins as well as of believers), exploration of scientific and artistic endeavour, and discussions of what makes a sound secular basis for moral judgements and the good life (Our wide range of contributors include many of the world's leading thinkers on these subjects like Stephen Lukes, Amartya Sen, Paul Heelas, AC Grayling and Conor Gearty). During my tenure as editor I have published articles on all these issues as well as appreciations of, for example, Goethe, Mozart, Francis Bacon as well as photographers, film makers and musicians who cast light on the human condition provide stirring examples of human achievement. In addition to supporting this wide-ranging human-centred content readers of New Humanist have recently raised over £25,000 to support a secular school in rural Uganda -- proving, I would argue, that we are not the hedonist, nihilists Scruton paints us. It is true that we are all wary of dogma, that it is harder for us to articulate what we collectively believe in than what we are not prepared to believe (we are after all advocates of free thinking), but trying to define that difficult bit -- the shared values that underpin our common inheritance and destiny -- is part of the fun, and what New Humanist seeks in its small way to do.
-- Caspar Melville
Editor, New Humanist magazine
London, United Kingdom

Roger Scruton says:

"Like so many modern ideologies, the new humanism seeks to define itself through what it is against rather than what it is for. It is for nothing, or at any rate for nothing in particular."

The new humanism "seems to have no consciousness of what is clearly announced between the lines of the text [on the atheist buses], namely that there are no ideals higher than pleasure."

He adds that the BHA's "publications imply that there is only one thing that stands between man and his happiness, and that is the belief in God."

Bit of "straw man" going on here? I know many humanists but I am not sure I know of any that believe (i) "there are no ideals higher than pleasure" and (ii) "only one thing stands between man and his happiness, and that is the belief in God." I don't believe either.
...(continue reading)



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