Conversation with a Secular Humanist, Part One
April 13, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
On April 12, 2014, the novelist Anne Rice posted the following video on her Facebook fan page and asked for comments. I obliged her.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was raised a Catholic, like Rice was. She and I both left the church at eighteen, but I never looked back. I was an atheist until I met the Cardinal Ghost on November 6, 1987. That life-changing experience made me agnostic. Over the next twenty years I slowly morphed into a theist. However, I’m not religious. It’s not that I’m antagonistic toward religion; joining groups is simply not for me.
I also have contempt for evangelical atheists. They tend to be supercilious pricks who imagine themselves the smartest people in the room. The problem is that they have to distort what the religious believe in order to make their points. I was a fan of Christopher Hitchens’s work, but he wasn’t honest about religious motivations.
The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks he can instruct god how to put them right.
That’s easily one of the most superficial, vacuous views of prayer I’ve ever read. It was beneath Hitchens to write such a calumny. Hitchens was a lot like my father. After his diagnosis of esophageal cancer, Hitchens continued to smoke and drink, thus ensuring that all the effort made to save him went to waste. Prior to learning that he was terminally ill, he wrote gleefully about how his heavy smoking and drinking had damaged his health.
Watching Mom and Dad die convinced me that self-destructive behavior is simple denial. Angry, contemptuous atheists are people trying desperately to deny their own mortality.
So those are my biases. I could be dead wrong, of course.
And now the exchange I had with Anne Rice about the video Welcome to the World. I edited it somewhat to make it more conversational, moving parts around so that we didn’t keep having to quote each other. I also removed some really idiotic comments from people who can’t read or think.
My lines are in green italics.
Conversation With a Secular Humanist
Reductionism is destroying our culture. “The Thinking Atheist” who posted the video obviously knows nothing about the topic.
Catholicism teaches that all humans are made in the image of God and have within them the capacity for both good and evil. Catholicism explicitly denies that individuals inherited guilt from Adam and Eve. Church canon uses the concept of “original sin” as shorthand for humankind’s symbolic fall from grace.
Look around you. Anyone here think humans exist in a state of grace? The church is talking about humankind’s more base urges.
By the way, let’s take a peek at atheist societies. The Soviet Union, The Peoples’ Republic of China, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Kampuchea, the Republic of Cuba, the guillotine-happy French revolutionaries, the Mexican Constitutionalist Government, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. All those enlightened atheists butchered far more people than any Christians.
Why do those who oppose religion present a stupid caricature of religion instead of the reality? I’m not religious, but I can out-argue any atheist in defense of religion. So far I’ve never—in fifty-one years—met a thoughtful atheist. Even Carl Sagan was reduced to saying that religion was about believing in an old bearded man in the sky.
I spent all of 2013 dancing with death as my parents committed suicide. That experience taught me that atheists are terrified of death. They deny the existence of God in an attempt to deny their own mortality.
My unsolicited advice to all of you is to get this stuff straight in your head ASAP. We’re all headed for the same place, which is the grave. I got to watch two grown people die in terror, crying and trying to physically run from their deaths. By denying the possibility that they’d die, they saw no need to cooperate in their cancer treatments, so their deaths were horrible.
Instead of jabbering endlessly about what others believe, figure out what YOU believe and let everyone else live their lives as they see fit.
I think a lot of us have “this stuff straight,” but thank you for your obviously sincere and well intentioned post.
I’d respectfully disagree. Earlier you posted about your fear of the Christian hell, even though you said you don’t believe in it.
By having this stuff straight, I mean having a bedrock conviction about it. I’m not worried in the least about flames and eternal torture. I don’t care how many people tell me I’m bound for hell; I know it’s not going to happen.
I’ve spent decades pondering all this, and I’ve worked out a belief system that answers all my questions. There isn’t a thing another person could say that would shake my confidence in what I believe. When my time comes, I won’t be even slightly nervous.
For me, after 72 years of life amongst Christians and Catholics, I would say the film is right on. And it carries a beautiful message. I’m glad they made it and will be posting it again in the future.
With regard to the cultures you listed, I believe these were ideological cultures that essentially pursued their ideologies in religious fashion. One does not wake from the long past of religious tyranny over night. It isn’t surprising in retrospect that the fascists, communists, and marxists of the twentieth century pursued their ideologies with religious seal; the countries in which these ideologies flourished were steeped in religious thinking.
Well, but none of the East Asian cultures I mentioned were ever religious tyrannies. And European autocracies were only nominally religious, in the way that the American government is. When the president says, “God bless the United States of America,” nobody thinks he’s a religious fanatic.
A better measure of “atheism” is the West and its emphasis on secular humanism and its endless battle for the extension of full human rights to all persons. And it must be remembered that almost all of the ideological experiments you mention have been fully and successful repudiated by the West. I’m proud to be a secular humanist.
But again, thank you for your sincerity. I can’t thank you for your obvious intense emotionalism or your harshness, but I do thank you for your sincerity. And let’s keep in mind that since the ascendence of secular humanism in the West, Europe has not had a war in nearly 70 years.
The West is essentially at peace, and given the long bloody history of Christian Europe, its rabid anti-semitism, its horrific religious wars, and the horrific Christian genocide it brought to the New World, that is indeed a magnificent achievement. I’m proud to live in a country that has rejected religious tyranny since its beginnings.
Europe has had several wars in the past seventy years. The Greek Civil War, the Hungarian Revolution, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Chechen Wars, the Yugoslavian wars, the South Ossetian War…
Secular humanism didn’t play as big a part in keeping what peace there was as did the United States taking up the defense of Europe. Nuclear weapons also prevented major conflict.
The Christian genocide in the New World can’t compare to the absolute inhumanity of the indigenous people who were here before. In South America they practiced mass human sacrifice, including the mass murder of children. Entire cultures were enslaved or exterminated.
The most advanced Native American culture was the Anasazi, who were wiped out during a generational terror campaign that included cannibalism. The perpetrators were other Native Americans. The overwhelming majority of Native Americans who died after Europeans arrived died of disease, not a coordinated campaign of genocide.
If I sound harsh, it’s because I’m tired of seeing falsehoods repeated as though they’re the truth. The video you highlighted is factually incorrect on so many levels. I find dishonesty abhorrent.
Atheism is atheism. It’s the stated belief that there is no God. Muslim clerics tell us that Wahabbist terrorists aren’t “real” Muslims. Saying that the bloodthirsty atheist dictatorships of the twentieth century are not “real” atheists is pretty much the same argument.
If we’re going to lump all Christians into one group and say, “They do this,” then to be consistent we have to lump all atheists together as well. You yourself have never butchered anyone, but atheists have murdered hundreds of millions. In fact most wars in human history were fought for secular reasons, not religious. Most wars are fought for reasons of acquisition, racial animus, national prestige, or national security.
I think you’re wrong on all this. Many points have been raised here by you and I’m not able tonight to respond to all. But I would say that you are missing some very crucial elements regarding history. Atheists don’t kill in the name of atheism.
They absolutely do. The Soviet Union, the Peoples’ Republic of China, the French revolutionaries, the Mexican Constitutionalists, the Khmer Rouge, and the Vietnamese explicitly killed priests and their congregants in the name of atheism. They deliberately targeted the religious for death so as to stamp out religion and replace it with atheism.
They have no interest, as a group, or in groups, in doing so and they never have. The governments you cited were ideological. Ideology is close to religious thinking. Atheists are not necessarily ideological at all.
It’s exactly analogous to any religious group—Wahabbists, the Lord’s Army, the Inquisition—killing in the name of religion.
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