Should we refrain from sharing our beliefs because our beliefs might frighten or insult our listeners? We don't think so. We believe freedom of speech is an essential right in a free, democratic society. When one hears something they don't agree with are they victimized? We don't think so. However, we are aware of places in the world where blasphemy is punishable by death. We're also aware that many a feud and duel was motivated by mere words. Even in the 21st century there are places where honor killings are still taking place. When we talk with our Christian brothers and sisters they are happy to point out that their church would never do something like that. In some Christian communities, the worst thing that can happen to someone violating their beliefs is shunning. In other, more fanatical communities bombing an abortion clinic might be condoned.
Subtle differences in beliefs can have major impacts on communities. When it comes to matters of religious doctrine and beliefs we feel it's often very difficult to tease apart all the nuances in dogma, moral tone and social practices grounded in a particular denomination.
We seek to understand the true beliefs of our faithful friends in our community. We feel it's important if we are going to build bridges of trust and focus attention on the many important issues of today that are affecting everyone. Regardless of one's faith it's important to work together to maintain a healthy society and a healthy ecosystem.
We understand that if we joined a bible study group and wanted to discuss geology, history, biblical criticism, Christian apologetics, evolution, the big bang, archeology, philosophy, culture, mythology, current events or other topics not directly related to the "good book" we might be considered quite rude. It's a bible study group after all.
Now, what if we bring up such subjects with our faithful friends outside in the context of everyday life? Most of our faithful friends are not insulted when we bring up the theory of evolution. However, we have encountered on many occasions friends of faith who are frightened and even passionately opposed to any kind of "scientistic" point of view. We have been told that ideas such as evolution through the process of natural selection is the devil's work.
We are not making generalizations here, we're simply sharing some observations. We know all Christians are not science deniers. It just seems to us that too many of our faithful brothers and sisters have spent so much time with their bibles that they have neglected important domains of knowledge vital to our species in the 21st century. We feel our friends of faith might be better citizens of the world if they embraced hard-won scientific knowledge.
The paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Steven J. Gould talked about non-overlapping magisteria. This concept is controversial and deserves a good look as it points out some very real conflicts between the secular scientific community and religious groups who would like to muzzle questions of science and shape them to more easily conform to their particular religious beliefs. We have found these differences to be hard to reconcile, but we still feel it's important to attempt to develop better understanding between different groups whatever their traditions.
Below is a classic discussion with Steven J. Gould we hope you will enjoy. Sadly he left us too soon.
We don't want to threaten the faith of our friends. That's not what we're about. We're simply curious people who enjoy learning about our world, nature, and the universe. We value stories, myths and cultures from around the world. We also value the many scientific discoveries that have so profoundly changed our way of life and contributed to our understanding of Nature and how Nature works.
We value our rich mythological heritage. We value our scientific heritage. We're thankful that throughout human history there have always been thinkers, inventors, storytellers, leaders, and designers; creative people who poured their energy into their thoughts, ideas, and inventions, and stubbornly worked, sometimes at great risk, to bring something amazing into our world. Most of us lack the energy, intelligence, creativity, or the will to work that hard for so many years, often in isolation, and usually for little reward, simply because we need to know. We outsource our thinking to other people all the time. We trust others to do the work for us. We are comfortable having a job as a means to earn enough money to take care of ourselves and our family. We respect common people. And we love the genius that walks among us. We owe a great debt to the people who do the vast majority of thinking for all the rest of us. The fruits of their thought and hard work produces a bounty of labor saving, transformative technologies and products that make our lives so much healthier and give us more freedom and opportunity to enjoy life.
Their ideas have helped establish more equal and just societies. The hard work and sacrifice of countless people have allowed human culture in some parts of the world to transcend evils like slavery. We have done great things and made great progress in recent times.
As these great ideas, technologies and tools become more complex, we will need to know more and more if we are to control our destiny. Living in a world full of "black box" solutions that no one truly understands has its own dangers. The many natural systems that support life on earth are extremely complex. As the complexities of human invention collide with the complexities inherent in nature we will encounter new sets of risks and dangerous unintended consequences that may have the potential of ending human culture as we know it. Back to the Stone Age scenarios are not beyond the realm of possibility.
It's easy to be fatalistic. We have heard people say that there is nothing anyone can do to influence the direction of humankind. We strongly disagree with this sentiment. We cannot wait idly to find out what will happen to us if we remain blind.
We understand that things are never perfect. And yet we feel that through thoughtful engagement with the real world as it is we're able to continue to improve our circumstances and evolve.
We are, quite simply, in awe of nature. And people who revere something often want to care for what they love, to share what they love.
We try to engage our Christian friends in Hong Kong, but they are reluctant and sometimes defensive when we bring up certain subjects. We wonder if they are worried that if they think too much about certain things it might shake their faith. We've heard them express those very fears on more than one occasion. In the popular media, we've noticed that Christians, especially in America, seem to feel oppressed, attacked from all sides by vile, secular humanists who want to tear down their religion and turn everyone into faithless, angry Atheists. We feel these fears are false and dishonest. We are a minority, optimistic by nature; productive and deeply concerned with human progress. The kind of progress that's sustainable and makes things incrementally better for life on earth.
Our aim is not to destroy faith. We respect your right to believe in whatever you wish to believe in, even if we don't respect what you believe. We want everyone to be free to believe what they want to believe. If the bible is your most revered book we want you to be able to spend as much time with its frayed pages as you wish. We just hope that from time to time you'll crack open some other books and enjoy them too. The magic book may be your most important book, but we maintain that there are many great books in the world today, many great thinkers; great men and women who are contributing marvelous things to humanity all the time. They are taxed with solving some of our most pressing and dangerous problems. Real world problems; problems that affect life on earth.
Since we are not religious ourselves and because we want to delve more deeply into these subjects, Mr. Christian, tell us, in detail, what you believe.
We're in China as you know and we find it interesting that a fellow by the name of Hong Xiuquan, a mystic and Christian convert who thought he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ and declared himself the Messiah led a revolt against the Qing Dynasty that lasted from 1851 to 1864 and cost the lives of 20 million people. This was indeed an upheaval of biblical proportions. It's a very sensitive subject over here.
The Taiping Rebellion began just a few years after another Messiah, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church died in 1844. It's amazing to us just how many people profess to speak for God. In fact, it's hard for us to imagine the confidence one must have in oneself to claim to know the intentions of the creator of the universe. Many a bench scientist has labored quietly for little monetary compensation for decades before figuring out something useful or coming up with a scientific theory that others can critique and elaborate on: And then they have to deal with rigorous peer review. Religious leaders, it seems, simply have a private revelation and declare that they know what God wants. It's amazing, and we feel it's even more amazing that people will believe them. You see, we're always a bit skeptical of stories and blind assertions. It's just the way we are, a default mode of critical thinking and skepticism that motivates us to ask difficult questions and demand good evidence.
Perhaps a skeptical stance can be a bit off-putting to your average person of faith. I think I can speak for many of us when I say that we are not trying to annoy you, we're simply trying to develop greater understanding with you through our own, however unskilled, form of Socratic questioning.
I can almost hear you saying. "But the arrogance of being skeptical and questioning!"
What can we say except that we ask because we clearly want to know what you believe and why you believe it. We want to know if you are interested in Nature the same way we are. Perhaps your attempt to enlighten us here as to the necessity of your particular faith will humble us a little. Actually we think a little humility is good for everyone. So please do your best to tell us, in detail, what it is you believe.
We hope this preamble has helped establish some trust, Mr. Christian.
Below are two of the many possible responses to a simple question:
What do you believe Mr. Christian?
“I'm thrilled that God loves me, that God thinks that I am a really great guy. I belong to a great tradition responsible for most of the good in the world. I’m blessed to have a very special, personal relationship with the creator of the universe and with my Church. I need that relationship. I need to be loved by GOD. I need the love and companionship of my fellow parishioners. It makes me feel safe and secure. I’m comforted in the knowledge that when I die, I’ll go to heaven and live forever with my loved ones. And, I’m comforted in my knowledge that even if I’m bad, even if I’m really bad, God will forgive me if I accept His will and have faith in Him. God loves me so much that he sent his only son a couple of thousand years ago to die for my sins. Almost everything of importance that I need to know regarding what it means to be a good human being, and how to live in this world, is in the Old Testament and the New Testament – in the bible. There’s really nothing more important than the bible – the word of God.”
What do you believe Mr. Atheist?
“I'm comfortable just being human. I believe life evolved on our planet over millions of years. Although I'm familiar with several scientific theories about how the Universe came to be, I still don't know exactly how the Universe started and I'm ok with that. There were agnostics thousands of years ago, people who knew they didn't know everything. I come from that ancient tradition I suppose. I’m aware that empirical and scientific inquiry continues to bring ever more evidence to light about how Nature works. Through scientific inquiry, we've learned about many things and because of that knowledge, and the technology that has sprung from it, we have created many amazing things. Not all of them good, but one could argue that life for humans has gotten a bit better since the Age of Enlightenment. I love nuance and I'm not afraid of complexity. It’s exciting to learn about things we can actually know. It’s a rigorous process learning about nature and how nature works. And despite all we know, human life and the universe remains wonderfully mysterious. I believe we can learn a lot more if we want to. I believe in human progress. Odds are humanity will become extinct at some time the future. That’s just natural. I'm hopeful that that won't happen anytime soon. I'm not superstitious. I’m not afraid of reality. I’m happy that I have some friends who love me. I'm pretty healthy so I love myself enough too I guess. When I die I cease to be and that’s OK, hopefully, others will come after me and live a good life too.”
Before we move on here is one person you may have heard of who believes we're in an ideological war of horrific consequence.
Sarah Palin "...sees a battlefield littered with corpses – all of them Christian. They are causalities in a war against faith in America."
“We need to protect the heart of Christmas and not let angry atheists armed with an attorney – a scrooge – tell us that we can't celebrate traditional faith in America.”
Now let’s go a little deeper; if that's OK?
Which kind of Christian are you Mr. Christian? We promise to tell you what kind of Atheist we are below. We acknowledge that there are many kinds of Atheists and Christians. We hope you would agree.
Some Christians are scientists, philanthropists, productive businessmen, creative geniuses and all around nice people.
One could also say, some Christians and some Atheists are murderers, rapists, thieves, liars, and adulterers.
There are a lot of different kinds of people in the world indeed, some are good and some are bad, some are stupid and some are smart. Some wander our communities with bad intent, some reach out in saintly acts of kindness to heal our hearts.
What confuses us is not the variety of Christian people, or the variety of faiths in the world, but the sheer number of Christian denominations there are. We wonder if it's not difficult for Christians to agree on core principles when their books and traditions are so wide open to interpretation.
Take a look at the advice from one faithful preacher below as an example.
Excerpt from Net Bible Study: http://www.netbiblestudy.net/denominations/
“Below are brief descriptions giving where and when each of the denominations listed began and who started them. Also given are some of their basic beliefs especially what they falsely teach and practice that one must do to be saved. Anything that is more than, less than, or different from what the Bible teaches is false doctrine (Revelation 22:18-19). It is a strange thing that the denominations claim to believe the Bible to be God's word, but at the same time they take their man-made denominational creeds over what the Bible says. Satan has many false doctrines which are designed to cause people to be eternally lost. Satan uses people to teach his false doctrines. Quotations from the Bible are in red. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 says, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder; for Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness.” Also near the bottom of this page is a list of these false doctrines with a link to a page giving the Bible’s answer to each one. I do not know of any of the more than 600 different kinds of denominational churches that teach and practice what God says in the Bible that one must do in order to be saved and go to Heaven. Most of them reject, condemn, and even laugh at what God says in the Bible that we must do to be saved so we can go to Heaven. God's word warns, "If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:9). One cannot go to Heaven and continue to be a member of a denomination, but sadly he will end up in the eternal torments of Hell.
Denominations are man-made organizations which were started by men and not by Christ. There are more than 600 different denominational churches, all with different and conflicting doctrines, beliefs, and teachings. They all wear different names, practice different forms of worship, have different plans of salvation, and each has its own earthly headquarters. None of this is authorized by the Lord in the New Testament. How could anyone conclude that scripture authorizes any of this present confusion or that God is at all pleased by the wholesale abandonment of His plan as found in the Bible? “For God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33), but man is. Denominationalism is making a joke of Christianity. Satan uses the many denominational churches, which are all counterfeits of the Lord's one true church, to fool people and cause them to be eternally lost in Hell.”
So which denomination should we choose? What a conundrum!
According to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there exist roughly 43,000 Christian denominations worldwide in 2012. That is up from 500 in 1800 and 39,000 in 2008 and this number is expected to grow to 55,000 by 2025.
Currently, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimates that a new Christian denomination is formed every 10.5 hours, or 2.3 denominations a day.
Wikipedia does a great job listing the largest denominations. Religion Facts compares the major denominations. And the Hartford Institute for Religion Research has links to hundreds of official denominational websites.
Here's a list of major Christian denominations with an emphasis on Protestantism:
Catholicism - (1,200,000,000 adherents) Click for beliefs.
Roman Catholic Church (1,187,000,000) Click for beliefs.
Protestantism – (792,000,000 adherents) beliefs.
Pentecostalism/Charismatic (612,000,000) beliefs.
Baptist (100,000,000) beliefs.
Southern Baptist Convention (16,000,000) beliefs.
Lutheranism (87,000,000) beliefs.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (5,000,000) beliefs.
Methodism (75,000,000) beliefs.
Reformed Churches (75,000,000) beliefs.
Non-Denominational Evangelicalism (40,000,000) beliefs.
Restorationism (20,000,000) beliefs.
Anabaptism (4,500,000) beliefs.
Eastern Orthodoxy – (230,000,000 adherents) beliefs.
Oriental Orthodox Church – (82,000,000 adherents) beliefs.
Anglicanism – (85,000,000 adherents) Click for beliefs.
Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. (2,400,000) beliefs.
Nontrinitarianism – (36,000,000 adherents) beliefs.
Jehovah’s Witnesses (7,700,000) beliefs.
Mormonism (14,700,000) beliefs.
Nestorianism – (600,000 adherents) beliefs.
Obviously, there are significant theological differences between the main branches of Christianity: Catholicism, Protestantism, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Church, Anglicanism, Nontrinitarianism, and Nestorianism. Many might argue that some denominations are not Christianity at all.
Keep in mind; there are also significant dogmatic differences among churches within each denomination. For example, there are Charismatic Catholics, and Charismatic churches that act like Baptists. There is a great deal of diversity in the United Methodist Church. And Presbyterians have been divided on homosexuality issues. The list of contentions could go on and on.
There is also a new brand of Christian we've identified who is more socially liberal than some and less hemmed in by traditional dogma. They seem to with to avoid labels and want to think of themselves as simply Christians. They also seem uncomfortable with the small but growing minority of secular humanists who are willing to express themselves on all kinds of subjects.
For members of these churches, asking, "What denomination are you?" seems irrelevant. These groups own their own special DNA.
It's also interesting to note the numbers above. The numbers are significant. With numbers like those these religious "kingdoms" could have their own exciting game of thrones. If the doomsayers in America get their civil war one wonders if sectarian religious war might also follow. For us, it's a scary thought.
There's a whole lot of Christians believing in all kinds of Christian doctrines. Despite all these different kinds of Christians and all of these denominations, our world still has a long list of problems and sins to deal with.
Now perhaps, Mr. Christian, we've been disrespectful because we haven't mentioned all the other religious in the world.
There are a lot of religions in the world. Why is that? There’s a whole library of books dedicated to the question across many domains of inquiry. Why do we believe? Why are we so credulous? All these authors and experts whatever creed or culture they come from have been working hard across many centuries to shed light on the mysteries of culture and belief. Some, like Carl Sagan, would characterize science and reason as a candle in the dark. Perhaps you would entreat us to search for the light within. We're OK with that.
We can't resist sharing this with you.
Did people in India create and develop Hinduism as an artifact of culture, or did GOD divinely reveal Hinduism to particular Hindu prophets and mystics? It's an interesting subject.
If one is an Atheist does one have to be a POLYATHEIST because there are so many religions in the world? Wouldn’t it be disrespectful if one only disbelieved in the Christian concept of God? How unfair. With so many Gods in our world what is it about the Christian God that is particularly unbelievable.
What questions do we have to ask to find out what a particular religious believer really believes?
Do believers of any ink really have a good idea about what it is they believe in? We're assuming they must. When one goes to denominational websites, is one able to get a clear picture of what the particular denomination believes? For us, it's kind of hard to tell.
We have noticed that the founders of various sects of Christianity received their wisdom through divine personal revelation. Then the founder tells his friends his story and the people who believe him help him develop his new religion. It's amazing the amount of trust a charismatic religious zealot can engender. "Nice story, I believe you."
We've also noticed that many of our faithful friends dislike looking into their faith with a historical perspective. It seems they think this takes some of the magic out of their belief.
And, of course, even in secular domains we hear a lot about belief. How many times have we heard Americans say, "I believe in the Constitution of the United States of America." How many people making that statement have even read the constitution we wonder. Apparently, President Obama is a constitutional scholar which is probably why his statements concerning the constitution are nuanced. And yet many people think he's got everything all wrong. People who know nothing about a given subject still insist they know everything about it. People seem to need to believe they know better than the experts. What a conundrum!
Who's the judge?
How should one study the bible in order to understand what the bible truly means? Is it merely subjective? Do we need guidance to understand the magic words correctly? Who’s going to be the judge of our understanding of the bible? It's all so fantastic.
The Pope has his encyclical meant to guide his flock. But, some Catholics don't like this Pope much because they don’t like his socioeconomic views. Is the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church sullied by politics? Can any Pope remain above it all, pure and untouched by earthly matters. His flock are simple humans and he is the Vicor of Christ. Christ supposedly walked among the common people.
One can imagine that some people would like Donald Trump’s or Joel Osteen's interpretation of what Jesus wants for us a lot more than the Pope’s. "You see, Jesus wants you to win the lottery! Jesus wants you to be rich! Jesus wants you to be a winner!" Is this a version of the prosperity gospel? Pastor John elaborates passionately about what he thinks is wrong with the prosperity gospel. Jesus said, "________________." Jesus wants you to be, "______________________."
It's certainly true that Pastor John loves this story. He can find meaning his faith and elaborate on it in many ways. He knows God is being dishonored by the false teachings of the prosperity gospel preachers. We must say we've watched them preach and it frightens us like the theory of evolution frightens some of our Christian friends. We think it's easier to use religion to make money than it is to use the theory of evolution to make money. We don't know of any scientists with a private jet.
Should we update the constitution in light of all the changes we've experienced in the last 200 years? Or is the U.S. Constitution like the bible, never meant to evolve, and only meant to be believed and interpreted in one way or another.
Should we reinterpret the bible to make it more contemporary, or will we go to hell for that? There are a lot of versions of the Bible aren't there. Which one do you use? Who are we going to trust? It seems to us that people are merely told what to read and what to believe and that's good enough for them.
If a guy walks on water tomorrow is he God or a fraud? Which church leader is the right one to tell us?
Revelation vs. Empirical Evidence: what a conundrum! Trust in God vs. Peer Review. Our two cultures do seem rather far apart.
It seems that for many people, one's faith is as simple as this:
John: "Hey, are you a believer?"
Robert: "Well, ya, I am."
Why do you believe? The best answer we've heard so far was simply:
"I believe what I was taught growing up. My grandfather was a baptist, my father was a baptist and I'm a baptist. My kids are baptists and most of my friends are baptist."
This makes more sense to us than, "You know it when you know it" or "I feel it in my heart."
So may we ask you Mr. Christian, what kind of Christian are you and what are your views:
on the trinity
on the devil
on talking to god
on holy war
on Adam and Eve
on Noah's Ark
on sectarian conflict
on evidence that the Jesus as characterized in the New Testament existed
on life after death
can you tell us what form of goop, energy, force or form God has?
on the origins of the biblical canon
on Christ's come back? When? In what form?
on the rapture
on the apocalypse
on other religions
We have noticed that many Christians say that you just feel it. We're sure your emotion is real and we know it's valuable to you, but we just don't have any reason to believe so the emotion of faith is diminished for us. Perhaps we don't have the God gene?
We know it's a challenge to explain to people exactly what one believes. We don't mean to put you on the spot, but we still feel it's important for us to know. We are particularly worried about people of faith who might wish us harm simply because we don't believe what they believe. Like Sarah Palin's bodies everywhere thing, you know, the middle east right now. It is a real concern after all.
We're also concerned about tolerance, liberty, freedom of speech, education, the separation of church and state and other issues.
So if you don't mind, just give us the "My Kind of Christianity for Dummies". That should do.
Issued In 1980 By The Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism
(now the Council for Secular Humanism)
Secular humanism is a vital force in the contemporary world. It is now under unwarranted and intemperate attack from various quarters. This declaration defends only that form of secular humanism which is explicitly committed to democracy. It is opposed to all varieties of belief that seek supernatural sanction for their values or espouse rule by dictatorship. Democratic secular humanism has been a powerful force in world culture. Its ideals can be traced to the philosophers, scientists, and poets of classical Greece and Rome, to ancient Chinese Confucian society, to the Carvaka movement of India, and to other distinguished intellectual and moral traditions. Secularism and humanism were eclipsed in Europe during the Dark Ages, when religious piety eroded humankind's confidence in its own powers to solve human problems. They reappeared in force during the Renaissance with the reassertion of secular and humanist values in literature and the arts, again in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the development of modern science and a naturalistic view of the universe, and their influence can be found in the eighteenth century in the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment.
Democratic secular humanism has creatively flowered in modern times with the growth of freedom and democracy. Countless millions of thoughtful persons have espoused secular humanist ideals, have lived significant lives, and have contributed to the building of a more humane and democratic world. The modern secular humanist outlook has led to the application of science and technology to the improvement of the human condition. This has had a positive effect on reducing poverty, suffering, and disease in various parts of the world, in extending longevity, on improving transportation and communication, and in making the good life possible for more and more people. It has led to the emancipation of hundreds of millions of people from the exercise of blind faith and fears of superstition and has contributed to their education and the enrichment of their lives.
Secular humanism has provided an impetus for humans to solve their problems with intelligence and perseverance, to conquer geographic and social frontiers, and to extend the range of human exploration and adventure. Regrettably, we are today faced with a variety of anti secularist trends: the reappearance of dogmatic authoritarian religions; fundamentalist, literalist, and doctrinaire Christianity; a rapidly growing and uncompromising Moslem clericalism in the Middle East and Asia; the reassertion of orthodox authority by the Roman Catholic papal hierarchy; nationalistic religious Judaism; and the reversion to obscurantist religions in Asia.
New cults of unreason as well as bizarre paranormal and occult beliefs, such as belief in astrology, reincarnation, and the mysterious power of alleged psychics, are growing in many Western societies. These disturbing developments follow in the wake of the emergence in the earlier part of the twentieth century of intolerant messianic and totalitarian quasi religious movements, such as fascism and communism. These religious activists not only are responsible for much of the terror and violence in the world today but stand in the way of solutions to the world's most serious problems.
Paradoxically, some of the critics of secular humanism maintain that it is a dangerous philosophy. Some assert that it is "morally corrupting" because it is committed to individual freedom, others that it condones "injustice" because it defends democratic due process. We who support democratic secular humanism deny such charges, which are based upon misunderstanding and misinterpretation, and we seek to outline a set of principles that most of us share.
Secular humanism is not a dogma or a creed. There are wide differences of opinion among secular humanists on many issues. Nevertheless, there is a loose consensus with respect to several propositions. We are apprehensive that modern civilization is threatened by forces antithetical to reason, democracy, and freedom. Many religious believers will no doubt share with us a belief in many secular humanist and democratic values, and we welcome their joining with us in the defense of these ideals.
The first principle of democratic secular humanism is its commitment to free inquiry. We oppose any tyranny over the mind of man, any efforts by ecclesiastical, political, ideological, or social institutions to shackle free thought. In the past, such tyrannies have been directed by churches and states attempting to enforce the edicts of religious bigots. In the long struggle in the history of ideas, established institutions, both public and private, have attempted to censor inquiry, to impose orthodoxy on beliefs and values, and to excommunicate heretics and extirpate unbelievers. Today, the struggle for free inquiry has assumed new forms. Sectarian ideologies have become the new theologies that use political parties and governments in their mission to crush dissident opinion. Free inquiry entails recognition of civil liberties as integral to its pursuit, that is, a free press, freedom of communication, the right to organize opposition parties and to join voluntary associations, and freedom to cultivate and publish the fruits of scientific, philosophical, artistic, literary, moral and religious freedom. Free inquiry requires that we tolerate diversity of opinion and that we respect the right of individuals to express their beliefs, however unpopular they may be, without social or legal prohibition or fear of sanctions. Though we may tolerate contrasting points of view, this does not mean that they are immune to critical scrutiny. The guiding premise of those who believe in free inquiry is that truth is more likely to be discovered if the opportunity exists for the free exchange of opposing opinions; the process of interchange is frequently as important as the result. This applies not only to science and to everyday life, but to politics, economics, morality, and religion.
Separation Of Church And State
Because of their commitment to freedom, secular humanists believe in the principle of the separation of church and state. The lessons of history are clear: wherever one religion or ideology is established and given a dominant position in the state, minority opinions are in jeopardy. 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. Clerical authorities should not be permitted to legislate their own parochial views - whether moral, philosophical, political, educational, or social - for the rest of society. Nor should tax revenues be exacted for the benefit or support of sectarian religious institutions. Individuals and voluntary associations should be free to accept or not to accept any belief and to support these convictions with whatever resources they may have, without being compelled by taxation to contribute to those religious faiths with which they do not agree. Similarly, church properties should share in the burden of public revenues and should not be exempt from taxation. Compulsory religious oaths and prayers in public institutions (political or educational) are also a violation of the separation principle. Today, nontheistic as well as theistic religions compete for attention. Regrettably, in communist countries, the power of the state is being used to impose an ideological doctrine on the society, without tolerating the expression of dissenting or heretical views. Here we see a modern secular version of the violation of the separation principle.
The Ideal Of Freedom
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. We are for the defense of basic human rights, including the right to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In our view, a free society should also encourage some measure of economic freedom, subject only to such restrictions as are necessary in the public interest. This means that individuals and groups should be able to compete in the marketplace, organize free trade unions, and carry on their occupations and careers without undue interference by centralized political control. The right to private property is a human right without which other rights are nugatory. Where it is necessary to limit any of these rights in a democracy, the limitation should be justified in terms of its consequences in strengthening the entire structure of human rights.
Ethics Based On Critical Intelligence
The moral views of secular humanism have been subjected to criticism by religious fundamentalist theists. The secular humanist recognizes the central role of morality in human life; indeed, ethics was developed as a branch of human knowledge long before religionists proclaimed their moral systems based upon divine authority. The field of ethics has had a distinguished list of thinkers contributing to its development: from Socrates, Democritus, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Epictetus, to Spinoza, Erasmus, Hume, Voltaire, Kant, Bentham, Mill, G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, and others. There is an influential philosophical tradition that maintains that ethics is an autonomous field of inquiry, that ethical judgments can be formulated independently of revealed religion, and that human beings can cultivate practical reason and wisdom and, by its application, achieve lives of virtue and excellence. Moreover, philosophers have emphasized the need to cultivate an appreciation for the requirements of social justice and for an individual's obligations and responsibilities toward others. Thus, secularists deny that morality needs to be deduced from religious belief or that those who do not espouse a religious doctrine are immoral. For secular humanists, ethical conduct is, or should be, judged by critical reason, and their goal is to develop autonomous and responsible individuals, capable of making their own choices in life based upon an understanding of human behavior.
Morality that is not God-based need not be antisocial, subjective, or promiscuous, nor need it lead to the breakdown of moral standards. Although we believe in tolerating diverse lifestyles and social manners, we do not think they are immune to criticism. Nor do we believe that any one church should impose its views of moral virtue and sin, sexual conduct, marriage, divorce, birth control, or abortion, or legislate them for the rest of society. As secular humanists we believe in the central importance of the value of human happiness here and now. We are opposed to absolutist morality, yet we maintain that objective standards emerge, and ethical values and principles may be discovered, in the course of ethical deliberation. Secular humanist ethics maintains that it is possible for human beings to lead meaningful and wholesome lives for themselves and in service to their fellow human beings without the need of religious commandments or the benefit of clergy. There have been any number of distinguished secularists and humanists who have demonstrated moral principles in their personal lives and works: Protagoras, Lucretius, Epicurus, Spinoza, Hume, Thomas Paine, Diderot, Mark Twain, George Eliot, John Stuart Mill, Ernest Renan, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Clarence Darrow, Robert Ingersoll, Gilbert Murray, Albert Schweitzer, Albert Einstein, Max Born, Margaret Sanger, and Bertrand Russell, among others.
We believe that moral development should be cultivated in children and young adults. We do not believe that any particular sect can claim important values as their exclusive property; hence it is the duty of public education to deal with these values. Accordingly, we support moral education in the schools that is designed to develop an appreciation for moral virtues, intelligence, and the building of character. We wish to encourage wherever possible the growth of moral awareness and the capacity for free choice and an understanding of the consequences thereof. We do not think it is moral to baptize infants, to confirm adolescents, or to impose a religious creed on young people before they are able to consent. Although children should learn about the history of religious moral practices, these young minds should not be indoctrinated in a faith before they are mature enough to evaluate the merits for themselves. It should be noted that secular humanism is not so much a specific morality as it is a method for the explanation and discovery of rational moral principles.
As secular humanists, we are generally skeptical about supernatural claims. We recognize the importance of religious experience: that experience that redirects and gives meaning to the lives of human beings. We deny, however, that such experiences have anything to do with the supernatural. We are doubtful of traditional views of God and divinity. Symbolic and mythological interpretations of religion often serve as rationalizations for a sophisticated minority, leaving the bulk of mankind to flounder in theological confusion. We consider the universe to be a dynamic scene of natural forces that are most effectively understood by scientific inquiry. We are always open to the discovery of new possibilities and phenomena in nature. However. we find that traditional views of the existence of God either are meaningless, have not yet been demonstrated to be true, or are tyrannically exploitative. Secular humanists may be agnostics, atheists, rationalists, or skeptics, but they find insufficient evidence for the claim that some divine purpose exists for the universe. They reject the idea that God has intervened miraculously in history or revealed himself to a chosen few or that he can save or redeem sinners. They believe that men and women are free and are responsible for their own destinies and that they cannot look toward some transcendent Being for salvation. We reject the divinity of Jesus, the divine mission of Moses, Mohammed, and other latter day prophets and saints of the various sects and denominations.
We do not accept as true the literal interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, the Koran, or other allegedly sacred religious documents, however important they may be as literature. Religions are pervasive sociological phenomena, and religious myths have long persisted in human history. In spite of the fact that human beings have found religions to be uplifting and a source of solace, we do not find their theological claims to be true. Religions have made negative as well as positive contributions toward the development of human civilization. Although they have helped to build hospitals and schools and, at their best, have encouraged the spirit of love and charity, many have also caused human suffering by being intolerant of those who did not accept their dogmas or creeds. Some religions have been fanatical and repressive, narrowing human hopes, limiting aspirations, and precipitating religious wars and violence. While religions have no doubt offered comfort to the bereaved and dying by holding forth the promise of an immortal life, they have also aroused morbid fear and dread. We have found no convincing evidence that there is a separable "soul" or that it exists before birth or survives death. We must therefore conclude that the ethical life can be lived without the illusions of immortality or reincarnation. Human beings can develop the self confidence necessary to ameliorate the human condition and to lead meaningful, productive lives.
We view with concern the current attack by nonsecularists on reason and science. We are committed to the use of the rational methods of inquiry, logic, and evidence in developing knowledge and testing claims to truth. Since human beings are prone to err, we are open to the modification of all principles, including those governing inquiry, believing that they may be in need of constant correction. Although not so naive as to believe that reason and science can easily solve all human problems, we nonetheless contend that they can make a major contribution to human knowledge and can be of benefit to humankind. We know of no better substitute for the cultivation of human intelligence.
Science And Technology
We believe the scientific method, though imperfect, is still the most reliable way of understanding the world. Hence, we look to the natural, biological, social, and behavioral sciences for knowledge of the universe and man's place within it. Modern astronomy and physics have opened up exciting new dimensions of the universe: they have enabled humankind to explore the universe by means of space travel. Biology and the social and behavioral sciences have expanded our understanding of human behavior. We are thus opposed in principle to any efforts to censor or limit scientific research without an overriding reason to do so. While we are aware of, and oppose, the abuses of misapplied technology and its possible harmful consequences for the natural ecology of the human environment, we urge resistance to unthinking efforts to limit technological or scientific advances. We appreciate the great benefits that science and technology (especially basic and applied research) can bring to humankind, but we also recognize the need to balance scientific and technological advances with cultural explorations in art, music, and literature.
Today the theory of evolution is again under heavy attack by religious fundamentalists. Although the theory of evolution cannot be said to have reached its final formulation, or to be an infallible principle of science, it is nonetheless supported impressively by the findings of many sciences. There may be some significant differences among scientists concerning the mechanics of evolution; yet the evolution of the species is supported so strongly by the weight of evidence that it is difficult to reject it. Accordingly, we deplore the efforts by fundamentalists (especially in the United States) to invade the science classrooms, requiring that creationist theory be taught to students and requiring that it be included in biology textbooks. This is a serious threat both to academic freedom and to the integrity of the educational process. We believe that creationists surely should have the freedom to express their viewpoint in society. Moreover, we do not deny the value of examining theories of creation in educational courses on religion and the history of ideas; but it is a sham to mask an article of religious faith as a scientific truth and to inflict that doctrine on the scientific curriculum. If successful, creationists may seriously undermine the credibility of science itself.
In our view, education should be the essential method of building humane, free, and democratic societies. The aims of education are many: the transmission of knowledge; training for occupations, careers, and democratic citizenship; and the encouragement of moral growth. Among its vital purposes should also be an attempt to develop the capacity for critical intelligence in both the individual and the community. Unfortunately, the schools are today being increasingly replaced by the mass media as the primary institutions of public information and education. Although the electronic media provide unparalleled opportunities for extending cultural enrichment and enjoyment, and powerful learning opportunities, there has been a serious misdirection of their purposes. In totalitarian societies, the media serve as the vehicle of propaganda and indoctrination. In democratic societies television, radio, films, and mass publishing too often cater to the lowest common denominator and have become banal wastelands. There is a pressing need to elevate standards of taste and appreciation. Of special concern to secularists is the fact that the media (particularly in the United States) are inordinately dominated by a pro religious bias. The views of preachers, faith healers, and religious hucksters go largely unchallenged, and the secular outlook is not given an opportunity for a fair hearing. We believe that television directors and producers have an obligation to redress the balance and revise their programming. Indeed, there is a broader task that all those who believe in democratic secular humanist values will recognize, namely, the need to embark upon a long term program of public education and enlightenment concerning the relevance of the secular outlook to the human condition.
Democratic secular humanism is too important for human civilization to abandon. Reasonable persons will surely recognize its profound contributions to human welfare. We are nevertheless surrounded by doomsday prophets of disaster, always wishing to turn the clock back - they are anti science, anti freedom, anti human. In contrast, the secular humanistic outlook is basically melioristic, looking forward with hope rather than backward with despair. We are committed to extending the ideals of reason, freedom, individual and collective opportunity, and democracy throughout the world community. The problems that humankind will face in the future, as in the past, will no doubt be complex and difficult. However, if it is to prevail, it can only do so by enlisting resourcefulness and courage. Secular humanism places trust in human intelligence rather than in divine guidance. Skeptical of theories of redemption, damnation, and reincarnation, secular humanists attempt to approach the human situation in realistic terms: human beings are responsible for their own destinies. We believe that it is possible to bring about a more humane world, one based upon the methods of reason and the principles of tolerance, compromise, and the negotiations of difference. We recognize the need for intellectual modesty and the willingness to revise beliefs in the light of criticism. Thus consensus is sometimes attainable. While emotions are important, we need not resort to the panaceas of salvation, to escape through illusion, or to some desperate leap toward passion and violence. We deplore the growth of intolerant sectarian creeds that foster hatred. In a world engulfed by obscurantism and irrationalism it is vital that the ideals of the secular city not be lost.
A Secular Humanist Declaration was drafted by Paul Kurtz, Editor, Free Inquiry.
A Secular Humanist Declaration has been endorsed by the following individuals:
(Although we who endorse this declaration may not agree with all its specific provisions, we nevertheless support its general purposes and direction and believe that it is important that they be enunciated and implemented. We call upon all men and women of good will who agree with us to join in helping to keep alive the commitment to the principles of free inquiry and the secular humanist outlook. We submit that the decline of these values could have ominous implications for the future of civilization on this planet.)
United States Of America
George Abell (professor of astronomy, UCLA)
John Anton (professor of philosophy, Emory University)
Khoren Arisian (minister, First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis)
Isaac Asimov (science fiction author)
Paul Beattie (minister, All Souls Unitarian Church; president, Fellowship of Religious Humanism)
H. James Birx (professor of anthropology and sociology, Canisius College)
Brand Blanshard (professor emeritus of philosophy, Yale)
Joseph L. Blau (Profelsor Emeritus of Religion, Columbia)
Francis Crick (Nobel Prize Laureate, Salk Institute)
Arthur Danto (professor of philosophy, Columbia University)
Albert Ellis (executive director, Institute for Rational Emotive Therapy)
Roy Fairfield (former professor of social science, Antioch)
Herbert Feigl (professor emeritus of philosophy, University of Minnesota)
Joseph Fletcher (theologian, University of Virginia Medical School)
Sidney Hook (professor emeritus of philosophy, NYU, fellow at Hoover Institute)
George Hourani (professor of philosophy, State University of New York at Buffalo)
Walter Kaufmann (professor of philosophy, Princeton)
Marvin Kohl (professor of philosophy, medical ethics, State University of New York at Fredonia)
Richard Kostelanetz (writer, artist, critic)
Paul Kurtz (Professor of Philosophy, State University of New York at Buffalo)
Joseph Margolis (professor of philosophy, Temple University)
Floyd Matson (professor of American Studies, University of Hawaii)
Ernest Nagel (professor emeritus of philosophy, Columbia)
Lee Nisbet (associate professor of philosophy, Medaille)
George Olincy (lawyer)
W. V. Quine (professor of philosophy, Harvard University)
Robert Rimmer (novelist)
Herbert Schapiro (Freedom from Religion Foundation)
Herbert Schneider (professor emeritus of philosophy, Claremont College)
B. F. Skinner (professor emeritus of psychology, Harvard)
Gordon Stein (editor, The American Rationalist)
George Tomashevich (professor of anthropology, Buffalo State University College)
Valentin Turchin (Russian dissident; computer scientist, City College, City University of New York)
Sherwin Wine (rabbi, Birmingham Temple, founder, Society for Humanistic Judaism)
Marvin Zimmerman (professor of philosophy, State University of New York at Buffalo)
Henry Morgentaler (physician, Montreal)
Kai Nielsen (professor of philosophy, University of Calgary)
Yves Galifret (executive director, Union Rationaliste)
Jean Claude Pecker (professor of astrophysics, College de France, Academie des Sciences)
Sir A.J. Ayer (professor of philosophy, Oxford University)
H.J. Blackham (former chairman, Social Morality Council and British Humanist Association)
Bernard Crick (professor of politics, Birkbeck College, London University)
Sir Raymond Firth (professor emeritus of anthropology, University of London)
James Herrick (editor, The Free Thinker)
Zheres A. Medvedev (Russian dissident; Medical Research Council)
Dora Russell (Mrs. Bertrand Russell) (author)
Lord Ritchie Calder (president, Rationalist Press Association)
Harry Stopes-Roe (senior lecturer in science studies, University of Birmingham; chairman, British Humanist Association)
Nicholas Walter (editor, New Humanist)
Baroness Barbara Wootton (Deputy Speaker, House of Lords)
B. Shah (president, Indian Secular Society; director, Institute for the Study of Indian Traditions)
V. M. Tarkunde (Supreme Court Judge, chairman, Indian Radical Humanist Association)
Shulamit Aloni (lawyer, member of Knesset, head of Citizens Rights Movement)
Alastair Hannay (professor of philosophy, University of Trondheim)
Milovan Djilas (author, former vice president of Yugoslavia)
M. Markovic (professor of philosophy, Serbian Academy of Sciences & Arts and University of Belgrade)
Svet. Stojanovic (professor of philosophy, University of Belgrade)
Mr. Christian, we have to ask, does The Secular Humanist Declaration really sound that scary? Do we seem like people you have to be worried about? If you are strong in your faith we should be able to get along, talk about anything, without being a threat to each other.
We're interested in many things. We just don't see any good reason to believe in God. We feel that the story of Jesus is probably just a myth or maybe just one of many stories about the many prophets who roamed far and wide thousands of years ago.
We love mythology, literature, music, culture and philosophy. We've learned much from THE POWER OF MYTH. And some of our best friends are faithful people from many different cultures. We don't dislike believers just because they believe. We respect you personally, but we might not respect your beliefs. We can't revere something we don't believe is true. We hope you understand.
We're not dogmatic in our disbelief, or in our enthusiasm for reality, reason, logic, science and critical thinking. We're amazed and enthralled by the wonders of life just like you are.
Before we go we have one more thing we'd like to know. Are you excited about the end of the world? Because we're certainly not. We'd like to see humanity survive for generations to come and explore the universe. We're concerned about the sixth extinction, and biodiversity. We revere life on earth. We know we have to be the saviors and protectors of life on earth. We accept this responsibility. We're not prepared to wait for divine intervention. We may have broken the system and we're going to have to fix it by evolving our culture and living in more sustainable ways. To do this we need to understand more about the complex systems all around us.
We'd hate to think that you thought something like this:
"The apocalypse is going to happen soon, and when it does, damn it, everyone's going to believe exactly what I believe! There won't be any non-believers left that's for sure."
Revelation can be a scary thing. St. John of the Apocalypse said his piece long ago. Have we been waiting for the ultimate disaster since then? We hope you're not inspired by fear. We hate fear mongering. We prefer rational and scientific risk management.
We don't want to put words in your mouth. You know what you believe. Tell us.
We've heard believers say:
“When (x)% of the world’s population professes to be (any brand of Christian) or (this particular brand of Christian) Jesus will come again and everything will get sorted.”
Is it some kind of bandwagon argument?
How Many People Lived on the Earth? How many souls were born during the whole history of Homo Sapiens? We don’t think this NPR article did the math based on 6,000 years of history though. Have a look; it’s interesting, you might want to try to calculate how many souls are in heaven.
So at what point since year 1 AD did the ideal number of Christians as a percentage of the number of people on Earth equal (x), or has it never equaled (x)? Will Chinese converts tip the balance?
Current World Total of Christians: 2,184,060,000
Nearly two-thirds of Christians in the Americas (65%) are Catholic.
So how’s your bandwagon looking? If you are Catholic pretty good I guess.
The current world population is 7 billion or so. What’s the percentage needed before Jesus comes back to save us: 40% 50% 75%? When, does God announce - it’s time! Is there a preacher alive today who knows the answer? We suppose there are many, and we're guessing none of their prognostications match.
We're just asking.
The expectation that there will be another world war by 2050 is more common among younger and less educated Americans than among those in other groups. Fully 68% of those younger than 30 predict another world war; that compares with 56% of those ages 30 and older. And while 69% of those with no more than a high school education say another world war is at least probable, that view is shared by just 48% of those with a college education.
At the same time, young people are a bit less likely than older Americans to predict that the United States will face a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons. Those under 30 are the only age group in which fewer than half (46%) say such an attack is at least probable. As with expectations about another world war, those with a high school education or less are more likely than college graduates to predict a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States (57% vs. 46%).
Jesus Christ’s Return
As expected, predictions about whether Jesus Christ will return to earth in the next 40 years divide along religious lines. Fully 58% of white evangelical Christians say Jesus Christ will definitely or probably return to earth in this period, by far the highest percentage in any religious group. Only about a third of Catholics (32%), and even fewer white mainline Protestants (27%) and the religiously unaffiliated (20%) predict Jesus Christ’s return to earth.
In addition, those with no college experience (59%) are much more likely than those with some college experience (35%) and college graduates (19%) to expect Jesus Christ’s return. By region, those in the South (52%) are the most likely to predict a Second Coming by 2050.
On a related subject, 65% of Americans say that religion in the United States will be about as important as it is now in 40 years; 30% say religion will become less important. Majorities across all religious groups, including the unaffiliated, see religion continuing to be about as important as it is now in the coming decades.
So what is going to trigger the event? World War? Sin? Drugs? Abortions? Hell, haven't we already had plenty of that in the last 2000 years?
So what do you think will trigger the event? Is that why it’s so important for some sects to convert people? Is it because they really care about people? Is this a kind of no one left behind ethos? And if so, how can people live in a world where many of the people they know and love will be condemned? We wonder.
Is the membership of the 700 Club enough to tip the scales? What do your parishioners say?
We suppose we had to wait for the middle of the 20th Century so we could have a proper Israel that would fit the signs. Well, it's the 21st Century now so are we almost there? Or is climate change the mysterious way God works through men to bring the end?
We still don't have a one-world ruler yet, but we have lots and lots of false prophets – those damn Buddhists and Muslims for example.
What do your parishioners believe? Define your brand. Send us your declaration. We're trying to understand what you believe. Help us make sense of it all.
There are so many faithful people in the world. We're still in the minority. How can we hurt you? It seems people evolved with a need to believe. If you can find it in your heart, let us talk with you about what we are passionate about. We know we can't compete with your concept of God. We're going to need lots of very smart, creative and passionate people to solve the problems of our time. Perhaps we can suggest that we all pray privately and work publicly to make things better. No one group has a monopoly on goodness.
Thanks for your time Mr. Christian. Go in peace.
P.S. And remember, Atheists are loving people too.