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Subject: Is the triumph of secular humanism all but inevitable? rss

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Andrew Gross
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There's something I'm curious about.

Thinking about it, most (maybe even all) of the atheist, socially liberal people that I know have this sort of tacit belief that our worldview is inexorably winning. For example, I don't know any of us that think that society is going to become less accepting of homosexuality; to the contrary, we believe that it's just a matter of how long it's going to take for it to become fully normalized. Or for another example, I think all of us believe that society is going to become less religious over the long haul, not more religious.

And this is sort of weird to me, because by nature I'm super cynical and pessimistic. I never really gave it any thought, but now that I do, it seems completely out of character for me to be so confident that something is "in the bag".

So, a question: barring some world-jarring event like a plague or nuclear war or whatever, how likely do you think that it is that society will move towards secular humanism over the long haul? And if you don't think that's the direction things are going, what is your prediction for where we're going to wind up in, say, 100 years?
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David desJardins
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The thing I can most confidently predict is that the aggressive atheists will keep getting even more obnoxious. In general, I would predict a victory for agnosticism, in the sense that the number of people who accept that the nature of reality is unclear and perhaps inherently beyond human knowledge, and are fed up with the insistent certainty of both the religionists and the anti-religionists, is likely to grow.

P.S. I would place both the aggressive atheists and the more cautious agnostics in the realm of "secular humanists", so, if you view them as a single movement, then sure, I would think they are "winning".
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Isn't this prophesied in the Bible? Of course it's going to happen, then.
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Overall, my opinion is that you believe what you believe because you live in a bubble that is populated by like-minded people. Any time someone dampens some sounds and enhances others they are effectively adjusting the mix to hear what pleases them.

Another point where I see you in error is that you seem to equate acceptance of homosexuality with secularism. That seems to be a personal bias you have, most likely against Christians. My perception of the Christian community, in it's entirety (as opposed to the smaller offshoots who ratchet up the noise) is that sexual preference is less an issue within Christianity than you believe. Now the Muslims? Another story altogether.

Finally, there are 7 billion people on this planet and well over half of them are not secular in their views on spirituality. Most adhere to some faith and some belief in a supreme being or beings. So if you believe that because your local atheists in Seattle and the online sources you prefer means your point of view is 'in the bag', then I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. Not only in 100 years, but in 200 or 300 years... and probably longer.

Of course, in order to experience that disappointment you'd have to believe in reincarnation. So I'll see you in a few centuries and we can check the stats then.

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I think the trend you're seeing of certain cultures becoming more liberal is just a product of increased access to information and social media through the internet. As more people are exposed to previously unknown people and ideas, they will become more likely to accept opposing viewpoints and lifestyles as valid, even if they don't personally agree with them.

I think humanism is definitely on the rise. Secularism is on the rise in a lot of ways. Religion is just continuing to evolve along with the rest of us, so I wouldn't say it's going away. Ideas change over time, religious or not.

So, though I would like to see religion die out, I don't think it will any time soon, if ever.

And in either case, it's definitely not guaranteed. A sufficiently nation- or world-changing event could drive things in a completely different direction, depending on circumstances.
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Andrew Gross
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DWTripp wrote:
Overall, my opinion is that you believe what you believe because you live in a bubble that is populated by like-minded people. Any time someone dampens some sounds and enhances others they are effectively adjusting the mix to hear what pleases them.


Yes, that's one of the hypotheses I have, which is one of the reasons I asked the question.

Quote:

Another point where I see you in error is that you seem to equate acceptance of homosexuality with secularism. That seems to be a personal bias you have, most likely against Christians. My perception of the Christian community, in it's entirety (as opposed to the smaller offshoots who ratchet up the noise) is that sexual preference is less an issue within Christianity than you believe. Now the Muslims? Another story altogether.


I know plenty of Christians who are accepting of homosexuality, so I didn't mean to imply that they were mutually exclusive. It's difficult to word my question in a completely accurate and unambiguous way, so I'm relying on people getting the gist of my question even if there's some fuzziness. In general, liberals are more accepting of homosexuality than conservatives, so this was more covered by the "humanist" part than the "secular" part.

Quote:
Finally, there are 7 billion people on this planet and well over half of them are not secular in their views on spirituality. Most adhere to some faith and some belief in a supreme being or beings. So if you believe that because your local atheists in Seattle and the online sources you prefer means your point of view is 'in the bag', then I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. Not only in 100 years, but in 200 or 300 years... and probably longer.


Again my fault for not specifying in the original question, but I think it was implied that I was talking about western-style 1st world democracies. At least, that was my intention.
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whatever supplants religions as a guiding moral code for humanity will most assuredly not be secular humanism....might look like it somewhat


barring apocalyptic type disasters that set the western world back technologically hundreds of years of course

reason and technology would have to utterly collapse and be blamed for whatever happened to us


and then we will live in an abandoned subway worshiping an atomic bomb

 
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My guess is that things will continue moving in that direction (though mostly in developed countries), particularly if churches continue to take positions that people come to believe are false (e.g. on homosexuality). (Even then, there's no guarantee that humanism will be more popular than some alternative.)

However, on the whole I don't think religions will be going away or even seriously diminished until/unless we figure out a reliable way to address the biases in the mind that spawned and perpetuate them.
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DWTripp wrote:
Another point where I see you in error is that you seem to equate acceptance of homosexuality with secularism.


Actually, he implied that acceptance of homosexuality (or, in general, of consensual acts between consenting adults) is implied the tenets of secular humanism, which is something quite different from just "secularism". I think that's correct, but it's the "humanism" aspect that's more important than the "secular" aspect.
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Drew1365 wrote:
The OP seems to be confusing "liberal" worldview with "secular humanist" worldview. Common mistake among people who never really consider what secular humanism looks like in full bloom.

Though I understand eugenics is making a comeback, so you're probably right about it being inevitable.


I think it is generally accepted that secular humanists generally hold beliefs that are much closer to the liberal end of the spectrum than the conservative end. Certainly, I was making that assumption when I asked my question. Again, as I said above, it's really hard to phrase a completely accurate and unambiguous version of the question I have. I thought secular humanism was both pithy and reasonably close; perhaps that's wrong.
 
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andrewgr wrote:

So, a question: barring some world-jarring event like a plague or nuclear war or whatever, how likely do you think that it is that society will move towards secular humanism over the long haul? And if you don't think that's the direction things are going, what is your prediction for where we're going to wind up in, say, 100 years?

More religion.
 
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I think predicting something as specific as secular humanism is unrealistic. What I do think will continue is a growing inclusiveness of groups that were once marginalized. I think this is an outgrowth of human empathy as the spread of information works in two ways. One, it's much easier for people with a shared trait to find each other and to form communities with critical mass necessary to speak out and, two, those not in that group are more likely to be exposed to it, triggering normal empathic reactions. The GLBT community is an obvious example of this -- in a generation our society has moved from where, "I don't know any gay people" would be a very normal thing for someone to say to where many states allow same-sex marriage and the President is openly supportive of gay families.

I don't think that religious faith is purely a matter of environment or upbringing. Many people feel a clear 'pull' (for lack of a better world) to spiritual experience and I don't see any reason to think this will change. Those of us that don't will probably be more accepted by those that do, but I don't see any reason to think that in a few centuries we'll be studying religion purely as a topic of history.
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I don't know any gay people, and even if I did, it probably wouldn't come up.
 
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Jythier wrote:
I don't know any gay people


I'd bet you're wrong.
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Jythier wrote:
I don't know any gay people, and even if I did, it probably wouldn't come up.


Statistically speaking, it's extremely likely that you do know some gay people. If you're confident that it wouldn't come up, you might ask yourself whether or not that's a good thing.
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Chad_Ellis wrote:

I don't think that religious faith is purely a matter of environment or upbringing. Many people feel a clear 'pull' (for lack of a better world) to spiritual experience and I don't see any reason to think this will change. Those of us that don't will probably be more accepted by those that do, but I don't see any reason to think that in a few centuries we'll be studying religion purely as a topic of history.


Sure, but as recently as a few years ago there were polls that showed Atheists as being the most hated group (out of the choices they gave) in America. The boy scouts are talking about accepting gay scouts but not talking about letting atheists and agnostics join. Do you still see that type of atmosphere in the future?
 
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Chad_Ellis wrote:
What I do think will continue is a growing inclusiveness of groups that were once marginalized.


This.

It's very much the way things are moving in Europe - the decisions of the CJEU are saying "tolerate everything except intolerance" and I think gradually the idea of inclusiveness will expand as a result.

You can no longer say, here, that your religion trumps someone else's freedom of sexual orientation; likewise your freedom of SO doesn't let you discriminate on religious grounds. A Good Thing, imo.
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Chad_Ellis wrote:
Jythier wrote:
I don't know any gay people, and even if I did, it probably wouldn't come up.


Statistically speaking, it's extremely likely that you do know some gay people. If you're confident that it wouldn't come up, you might ask yourself whether or not that's a good thing.


Is it still accepted that the base rate of homosexuality is somewhere around 2% ?
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Chad_Ellis wrote:
Jythier wrote:
I don't know any gay people, and even if I did, it probably wouldn't come up.


Statistically speaking, it's extremely likely that you do know some gay people. If you're confident that it wouldn't come up, you might ask yourself whether or not that's a good thing.


Oh, I forgot about that gay Jewish guy I know. Never mind.
 
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andrewgr wrote:
Sure, but as recently as a few years ago there were polls that showed Atheists as being the most hated group (out of the choices they gave) in America.


It's not surprising. Hell, I'm an atheist, and they still drive me nuts.
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Drew1365 wrote:

People often err by believing that secular humanism is some fluffy-bunny Gene Roddenberry worldview. It's not. It's a blood-soaked philosophy that should be opposed every time it rears its head.

I don't know if this is humour or terminal stupidity.
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HavocIsHere wrote:
Drew1365 wrote:

People often err by believing that secular humanism is some fluffy-bunny Gene Roddenberry worldview. It's not. It's a blood-soaked philosophy that should be opposed every time it rears its head.

I don't know if this is humour or terminal stupidity.


Why can't it be never-ending stupidity?
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DaviddesJ wrote:
HavocIsHere wrote:
Drew1365 wrote:

People often err by believing that secular humanism is some fluffy-bunny Gene Roddenberry worldview. It's not. It's a blood-soaked philosophy that should be opposed every time it rears its head.

I don't know if this is humour or terminal stupidity.


Why can't it be never-ending stupidity?

Can it be worse??
 
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What the secular humanists need to remember is we are only one solid epidemic (real, not omg bird flu) or full-scale war away from a religious revival at any moment.
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andrewgr wrote:
Chad_Ellis wrote:

I don't think that religious faith is purely a matter of environment or upbringing. Many people feel a clear 'pull' (for lack of a better world) to spiritual experience and I don't see any reason to think this will change. Those of us that don't will probably be more accepted by those that do, but I don't see any reason to think that in a few centuries we'll be studying religion purely as a topic of history.


Sure, but as recently as a few years ago there were polls that showed Atheists as being the most hated group (out of the choices they gave) in America. The boy scouts are talking about accepting gay scouts but not talking about letting atheists and agnostics join. Do you still see that type of atmosphere in the future?


No. That's what I meant by "those of us that don't will probably be more accepted by those that do." I think atheists are sort of like gays who have only started the coming-out process. For the GLBT community the first people who came out visibly (to the world at large) were often angry, in-your-face and rejecting of mainstream culture. Many GLBT people felt that they were doing us no favor because they seemed to reinforce negative stereotypes and were often insulting of the whole heterosexual world. Regardless of what one thinks of that, they were followed by an increasing number of normal, boring people who wanted very much to live in the culture but as gay people -- the only real change they wanted to make was for the culture to include them.

Today I often hear theists think only of people like Dawkins and Hitchens when they think of atheists. They see people who have no respect for their worldview and who, indeed, hope to replace it. They see anti-theists rather than atheists. More than once I've had a religious friend react with shock to hearing that I'm an atheist because I don't fit that mold -- much the same reaction I used to get ten or twenty years ago when I told someone I wasn't heterosexual.

Ten or twenty years from now, I think the great majority of religious people will have several (known) atheists among their friends and co-workers, and they'll realize that these are people who simply don't believe in God and that that's no big deal -- at least in this life. Of course, the parallels aren't perfect. A tight-knit religious community might not have any resident atheists since non-believers wouldn't choose to live there. But I think the general trend is probably going to be fairly similar.
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