I hate mission statements.
As a corporate writer in my day job, most company mission statements I see leave me with flu-like symptoms. They are almost invariably constructed of 50-word sentences and empty marketing speak, like “mission-critical,” “value-added,” “best-in-class” (what’s with the hyphens, mission statements?).
But if I had to write a mission statement for The Humanist Journal (as the guy next to me with the gun to my head says I must), I suppose it would be: To advance the Humanist position by educating people on the culture and beliefs of nonbelievers.
There, I did it. As mission statements go, I have to say it’s not half bad—a single concise, declarative sentence. But enough about what a great writer I am.
The purpose of this first post is to define some specific goals for this blog–not as a means to constrain myself to certain topics, but simply to give me an “angle” from which to approach massive subjects like religion, atheism and humanism. With the goal stated above, I am still free to tackle a variety of topics in this realm, but I will always have that principle to guide me when I pick a topic to write about, such as “living a meaningful life in the absence of god,” “Humanist morality,” or “what is Secular Humanism?”.
Notice that none of those topics signal any attack on religion. That is no accident. The intent of this venue is not to tear down religion, but to promote humanism or secularism in its many forms. Inevitably, a certain amount of print will be devoted to attacking various perversions of religion: religious bias, attacks on science, fundamentalist intolerance. Religious faith is an unfortunate delusion, but I don’t believe that faith itself is inherently dangerous to our society. Therefore, it is not my main target here. What I am really interested in is shedding light on who nonbelievers are, what they think and how we can all advance the humanist movement.
I anticipate three separate audiences for this publication.
Open-minded Believers – I hope at least some the readers who find this blog are open-minded believers looking to learn a little about atheism or humanism. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to convert anyone here. Rather, my goal it to educate believers on what atheists really believe in (e.g. we’re not amoral, debased, libertines who are lost in the cosmos without God).
Established Atheists – A major goal in starting this blog is to give atheists and humanists of all stripes a “place” to gather and share their thoughts with like-minded humans.
The Undecided – Approximately 14 percent of Americans classify themselves as “without religion.” Yet less than one percent of Americans call themselves Atheists or agnostics, according to the 2001American Religous Identification Survey (yeah, I know it’s old but still interesting). This isn’t really a problem in itself, people don’t necessarily have to identify themselves with certain labels. It’s okay to be a “religious independent.” But what concerns me in these numbers is that I suspect millions of these people do not believe in god, don’t subscribe to any religion, but won’t label themselves with the ‘A-word’ out of fear of discrimination or persecution at the hands of the religious majority.
I’m also convinced that there are a lot of people out there who don’t know what they are. They don’t know what humanism is, or secularism, and I’ve already covered the negative perception of atheists. All they know is they don’t like church and don’t necessarily believe in a supreme creator. I would compare this phenomenon to gay people who’ve yet to come out of the closet, but it’s more than that. It’s tantamount to gay people who’ve yet to even admit it to themselves, let alone others.
I cannot stress enough that this is the most important audience this blog can reach, because they are persuadable. People on either side are solidified in their beliefs and you’re not going to budge them. But I think some of the people in the middle could find this blog and read about humanism and say “hey, that sounds like what I believe in. I just never knew what to call it.”
I want to make it clear that I do not claim to be an expert. I’m not a professor, a historian, scientist or theologian. If you want authorities on this subject, there are some great ones out there—Richard Dawkins, Paul Kurtz, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris are some of my favorites. These great thinkers have been at the forefront of a recent secular resurgence in mainstream thought.
But I think there is also a problem inherent in these men being the ‘face’ of atheism. Religious people have come to conceptualize atheists as elitist scientists and professors in places like Cambridge and Oxford. The average believer who rarely, if ever, encounters atheists in his daily life is able to convince himself that they are nothing like him. The are the “other”, the elitists in liberal universities and laboratories. Certainly they don’t live in my neighborhood. But the fact is we’re everywhere; they just don’t know it becasue, to this point, we’ve been very, very quiet.
This is my attempt to introduce atheism’s “middle class” to mainstream America. If we want to stem the tide of religious discrimination and the marginalization of atheist, rational belief, we need to “come out of the closet,” so to speak. There’s 29 million of us out there somewhere. It’s time our voice was heard, too.