Creating Change through Humanism

Sep 1, 2015

By Herb Silverman

Humanist leaders look for media opportunities to explain our positions to the general public, and are usually countered by decidedly non-humanist opponents. In his new book, Creating Change through Humanism, American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt describes one such exchange:

When the AHA ran the “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake” bus advertisements in 2008, I was called to appear on CNN Headline News opposite the demagogue Catholic League President Bill Donohue. Donohue had the audacity to call our open-ended question “hate speech” while simultaneously comparing humanists to Jeffrey Dahmer and Adolf Hitler. He said that it was impossible to be good for goodness’ sake and that our ad was a personal attack on his faith.

Fittingly, that exchange appears in a chapter titled, “Prejudice Humanists Face.” I view the conversation be-tween Donohue and Speckhardt as a humanist version of “the good news.” The author’s gentle demeanor and rational arguments made humanists proud and earned respect even from many Christians who are continually embarrassed by Donohue’s victimhood rants.


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13 comments on “Creating Change through Humanism

  • From the article:

    He doesn’t provide us with a Ten Commandments by which to live our lives mindlessly, but he does provide us with “Ten Commitments” by which to live our lives mindfully.

    I’d like to read what these “Ten Commitments” are exactly. I’m wary of this presentation of guidelines. A while back we were asked on this website to rewrite the ten commandments and I got the heeby-geebies just reading through that thread. I thought it was a terrible idea to even attempt to morph that crappy paradigm into something acceptable to atheists. All that fake biblical language (THOU SHALT NOT!!!) Ugh. Absolutely cringeworthy.

    Well, hopefully the ten commitments that are included in this book by Speckhardt are written in an non-confrontational style (of course they will be) and I’m trying to lower my guard and find the positive in this list thing in general and not jump to the feeling that these are the ten rules of the club that we have to follow or else we’re not good humanists or some sort of loser-humanists.

    On the positive side, I do want the religious grumblers, the fence-sitters and agnostics to know that humanism exists and that it’s not just another bunch of wierdo, spiritual, new age wackos who are trying to convert them out of monotheism and into a cult. I don’t think they could get the gist of humanism without an explanation of some sort of structure and guidelines that it follows. So I’m really trying to overlook my worries about lists of guidelines that prompt imagery of burning bushes, angry prophets, angry God, stone tablets and idol worshipping.



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  • I was hoping to read at least the preface by Rebecca Goldstein on the book’s Amazon page but there’s neither a quickie reading of the beginning of the book nor a sample straight to kindle offered there. Darn it!



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  • bonnie,

    Interesting. None of those lists really pleases me but on the other hand, I do refer to the ten ethical obligations in a pinch.

    Justice: The double barreled obligation a) negatively, not to commit injustice and b) positively, to prevent future injustices and rectify existing ones.

    Non-injury: The obligation to avoid harming others

    Fidelity: The obligation to keep promises

    Veracity: The obligation to avoid lying (veracity and fidelity constitute kinds of fidelity understood as keeping faith – both 3 and 4 are faithfulness to our word)

    Reparation: the obligation to make amends for wrong-doing

    Beneficence: The obligation to do good deeds for others, especially to contribute to their virtue (goodness of character), knowledge, or pleasure.

    Self-Improvement: The obligation to better oneself.

    Gratitude: The obligation to express appreciation for good deeds towards us.

    Liberty: The obligation to preserve and enhance human freedom.

    Respectfulness: The category of obligations of manner (roughly, of respectfulness).

    Ethics recognizes that in many situations, there will be conflicts between some of these obligations. It’s up to the individual to decide which obligation carries more weight than the other if there is such a conflict. The way I see it, it’s a recognition that there is gray area in this life and a dismissal of a black and white way of looking at things. This works for me because I hate the whole “written in stone” approach to some of these lists. False dichotomies also put me into a sputtering rage too like categorizing people as good or bad across the board. Who’s all good or all bad? I feel like ethics recognizes that there won’t always be necessarily a perfect solution but that we should do the best we can when the going gets rough. I don’t want to present a list of commandments or commitments that are unrealistic and then the poor slob ends up feeling like an inadequate loser. Can we aim for improvement and not perfection?

    I’m just now thinking that I don’t even like the word “obligation”. How about we call these the ten tools for ethical action. That’s more like how I use them. When I’m presented with a tough situation or some sort of action that I can’t decide if it’s right or wrong, I run it through this list and try to process it with this framework.

    Here’s a real life example: my friend was telling me about a program she participated in that was sponsored by her UU church. They get a group together and talk about the homelessness problem here in Boston. Then they go around for some weeks getting to know some of those homeless people and helping by giving them food and coats and basic necessities. Then she told me that they never give them cash because the homeless might use that to buy booze. My friend continued on about the program but I didn’t hear the rest because I was stuck on the booze thing and the cash and I was a little disturbed by this. I ran it through this list to see if I couldn’t resolve my uneasiness with that statement. I also drew on my knowledge of addiction and to this day I’m still trying to come to terms with her statement. But this is how that list is useful to me in many tough situations.



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  • 9
    fadeordraw says:

    When I read Hitchins’ critic on the 10 commends, I rejoiced. These ones didn’t work nor did they make sense. Do we other that do unto others?



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  • I just received an email from the Center For Inquiry that says Rebecca Goldstein has won this award:

    Rebecca Goldstein to Receive National Humanities Medal from President Obama

    The Center for Inquiry extends its heartfelt congratulations to Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, who will be given the National Humanities Award by President Obama for her lifetime of inspiring and enlightening work in philosophy, literature, and the history of science. Dr. Goldstein is an honorary member of the Board of Directors of CFI, an organization that promotes science, reason, and humanist values, and this summer delivered the keynote address at CFI’s international Reason for Change conference.

    The White House announced today that the ten winners of the 2014 National Humanities Award, including Dr. Goldstein, will be given their medals by President Obama on September 10 in the East Room. The award is intended to honor those who have demonstrated the power and impact of the humanities on American life.

    Excellent! I love her books.



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  • Some Humanists are again trying to change the law to end needless suffering, but while about 80% of the UK population support the right to die, the leaders of the god-deluded are trotting out their usual woo-brained opposition to this parliamentary legislation.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34166605

    Assisted dying: Archbishop Welby urges MPs to reject bill

    The UK will cross a “legal and ethical Rubicon” if the law on assisted suicide in England and Wales is changed, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

    MPs are due to debate the Assisted Dying Bill, which would allow doctors to help terminally ill patients to die in some circumstances, on Friday.

    But Justin Welby said the bill would mean suicide was “actively supported” instead of being viewed as a tragedy.

    He and other faith leaders have issued a joint letter urging MPs to reject it.

    Writing in the Observer, the archbishop said he and the heads of other Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh groups believed the bill went beyond “merely legitimising suicide to actively supporting it”.

    He said asking doctors to aid suicide would be “a change of monumental proportions both in the law and in the role of doctors”.

    So with the usual faith-head double talk about “compassion” …

    “I agree that the law should take a considered and compassionate approach to caring relatives who are asked by those closest to them to help bring their lives to an end.

    “To change the law, however, to give individuals access to medically prescribed lethal drugs risks replacing the type of personal compassion that is forged in a life-time relationship for a ‘process’ marked by clinical and judicial detachment.”

    Yeah! Bringing objective science based judgement in, in place of faith-dogmas! OOOoooh! – That upsets the god-delusions!

    The private members’ bill set to be debated on Friday was put forward by Rob Marris, the Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West.

    It is almost identical to a bill presented by former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, which passed its initial legislative stages in the House of Lords last year before running out of parliamentary time.

    Hopefully the MPs will recognise the informed public view on this, and reject the woo-heads’ dogmas.



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  • It seems disregarding a consensus of majority pro-humanist opinion, the faith-head lobby has blocked yet another right to die bill.
    This is an absolute disgrace, as clearly this is an imposition on those who are suffering with terminal illness.

    Nobody is forcing the faith-deluded to choose to end THEIR lives, but it seems the minority of the deluded in the population, feel entitled to use their delusion to impose unnecessary suffering on others.

    http://patient.info/press-releases/opinion-poll-reveals-81-percent-uk-public-support-change-in-right-to-die-law
    Opinion poll reveals 81% UK public support change in ‘right-to-die’ law
    12 June 2015

    An online opinion poll released today by the UK’s leading independent health information website, Patient, suggests that 81% of the UK public are in favour of a change in the current UK right-to-die law.

    In comparison just 19% of those surveyed would opt for the current law to remain in place.



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  • It looks like those in the UK who can afford it, and wish to avoid unnecessary suffering, will still have to go to Dignitas in Switzerland if they want to die with dignity, at a time of their own choosing, when enough is enough!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-34208624
    MPs have rejected plans for a right to die in England and Wales in their first vote on the issue in almost 20 years.

    In a free vote in the Commons, 118 MPs were in favour and 330 against plans to allow terminally ill adults to end their lives with medical supervision.

    In a passionate debate some argued the plans allowed a “dignified and peaceful death” while others said they were “totally unacceptable”.

    Under the proposals, people with fewer than six months to live could have been prescribed a lethal dose of drugs, which they had to be able to take themselves. Two doctors and a High Court judge would have needed to approve each case.

    Opening the debate, he said the current law did not meet the needs of the terminally ill, families or the medical profession.

    He said there were too many “amateur suicides, and people going to Dignitas” and it was time for parliament to debate the issue because “social attitudes have changed”.

    Mr Marris added: “The law in England and Wales has not got the balance right.

    “This Bill would provide more protection for the living and more choice for the dying.”

    Meanwhile, faith-heads, who have no understanding of the nature of “life”, continue to babble their deluded “pro-life” nonsense that only their god-delusions can decide on matters of life and death!



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