© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

Best Picture: The New Humanism

Parenting Beyond Belief was published four years ago this week. Since then, I’ve had hundreds of requests for advice of one kind or another. When I’m not qualified to answer the question, I either decline entirely or lateral to someone who is qualified.

In the process of those laterals, I’ve developed a pretty good sense of our strengths and weaknesses as a community — the areas we have plenty well covered, and the ones that are still cobwebbed corners. I’ve also developed a few favorite resources, and I’d like to give a shout to one of them.

This morning I got a request from Melissa, a recently-graduated RN who is currently in orientation as an Obstetrics nurse. The orientation group discussed cultural competency and the importance of providing patient-centered care. All of the usual cultures, ethnicities, and religions were covered, she said, but no mention was made of the nonreligious.

To her great credit, she spoke up.

“I politely informed my colleagues and our orienting nurse about the growing demographic of people who identified themselves as non-religious freethinkers whose goal was to live ethical, fulfilling lives, and use science and logic to make decisions about our beliefs, values, and lives,” she said. “The orienting nurse was shocked to learn about us and was not aware of the needs of the non-religious.”

The orienting nurse was entirely supportive of her self-disclosure, she said, and was interested in learning more about the nonreligious community. Melissa asked if I could recommend websites, articles, and other resources to help introduce this person to the community.

What a fantastic moment.

Now imagine yourself in the same position. Someone unfamiliar with humanism or atheism is interested in learning more — not so they can explore their own views, but to better serve the growing number who are in that demographic. There are currently more self-identified nonreligious Americans than African-Americans, after all — think of that — and five times as many nonreligious Americans as Jewish Americans. As more people discover that, this kind of request will become more common.

So where would you send someone for the best picture of our community?

My current favorite in that category is The New Humanism, an online magazine founded in late 2009 by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard. A good 95 percent of websites with a freethought identity are defined primarily by their opposition to, or difference from, religion. Nothing wrong with that, of course — there’s a lot of ground to be plowed there — but it’s good to see a growing desire to also flesh out humanism itself, to explore our own values and issues, and (something we too rarely do) to challenge our own assumptions.

In the past 18 months, TNH has featured such topics as building secular communities, the place of emotions in humanism, humanist rituals, the difficulty of giving up the illusion of immortality, the double-challenge black humanists face, secular meditation, two articles reflecting on the common ground between humanism and Buddhism, whether humanists should join in interfaith work, a personal appeal for genuine inclusiveness, and a refreshingly honest recent article that attempts to shake the nonreligious community out of its obsessive focus on the intellectual, urging greater attention to the kind of comfort, care, and need that religion provides.

Here’s a passage from that last piece that ends with a simple, incisive question, completely reframing the conversation:

A friend of mine told me recently that she thought organized religion was for “weak and uneducated people.” Though I was a bit offended, my response was simply, “Well, what is the secular world doing for weak and uneducated people?”

Sift that provocative question through your head a bit, then read the article.

TNH even has an engaging article written from the perspective of a humanist nurse — something I was glad to be able to show to my correspondent.

I have a dozen favorite voices, but it’s hard to think of a source of humanist thought that quite matches The New Humanism’s blend of depth, clarity, and originality. The writing is both brilliant and accessible — a damn hard thing to pull off once, much less again and again. And (as you can see above) it raises questions that, for all their simplicity and power, are rarely or never raised anywhere else in our community.

Like anything worthwhile, TNH is not without its detractors. Many have rightly noted that these topics alienate hard core nontheists. This just in: Not everything we do has to be aimed at the hard core. They already have lots of nifty toys. The fact that 99.5% of those who share our worldview are not associated with us in any way should get our attention. How about giving them a place to stand, a way to be humanists? In my humble, TNH offers an opportunity to do just that.

So there’s my vote. Where would YOU have sent Melissa for the best picture of humanism?

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This was written on Thursday, 14. April 2011 at 11:27 and was filed under nonbelief and nonbelievers, reviews, values. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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Comments »

  1. Great idea to provide more resources like this, thanks.

    Me, I’d probably have started with something over at Ebon Musings, like this one:


    Comment: Theo – 14. April 2011 @ 4:27 pm

  2. YES, Ebonmuse is another of my favorites. And I hadn’t seen that extraordinary piece, thanks Theo.

    Comment: Dale – 14. April 2011 @ 4:50 pm

  3. Excellent articles–thanks for posting such a valuable resource! (@Theo–I love that essay by Ebonmuse, too. One of the best statements out there:-))

    Comment: yokohamamama – 14. April 2011 @ 9:11 pm

  4. When I find myself pointing someone to a good entry point on who “we” are, I tell them about your books, Dale. 🙂

    Comment: Clare – 14. April 2011 @ 9:23 pm

  5. There are a lot of great resources online for understanding humanism, freethought, naturalism, etc, including:




    Comment: Ash Bowie – 14. April 2011 @ 11:20 pm

  6. I like the new Humanist already…

    I would also send folks to Jennifer Hancock’s site.
    and definitely recommend her book, especially for young people.

    Comment: blotzphoto – 16. April 2011 @ 8:11 am

  7. What an excellent magazine. Compelling and a great way to introduce others to humanism. Very accessible and very worthwhile at the same time. Thanks for linking it!

    I agree with so much of the hard-core sentiment, but it’s so very useful to have nice, non-shouty options; that is, if we’re trying to communicate with people who don’t already share our views. Just the presence of your book on my desk, without any pushiness, got my husband (raised a devout evangelical) thinking. I think that’s an awesome first step, as frustrating as a gradual pace may be. It’s more fun to debunk and satirize. Way more fun. But it’s not always productive.

    Comment: Kimberly Hosey - Arizona Writer – 19. April 2011 @ 3:19 pm

  8. I started a web ring for Humanist writers – people who actually write about the positive aspects of Humanism and aren’t just rehashing the religion debate – http://www.webring.org/hub/humanistring

    Comment: Sumogirl – 21. April 2011 @ 9:35 am

  9. I very much appreciated your lateral reference, but was a little embarrassed to post before I’d caught up on your blog, which I now have. Looking forward to Good Thunder!! But I’ll have to reread Bernadette first.

    Comment: Karen – 12. September 2011 @ 2:13 am

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