Hello to all the humanists who are new to the site! I met so many awesome people at the New Humanism conference put on by the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy, and I hope they all managed to find their way here despite the fact that I ran out of business cards to hand out.
The conference itself was a mixed bag: the highs were very high, and the lows were painfully low. I won’t go into too much detail here, and instead offer in-depth feedback directly to the organization in the hopes that future conferences might go more smoothly and better accomplish the goal of strengthening the humanist movement. I love the idea of having a large conference of nonbelievers right in my backyard, and a lot could be accomplished at such an event.
Highlights included Salman Rushdie (of course), who read from his most recent book on Friday evening and on Saturday he discussed the concept of humanistic Islam. That was followed by a panel discussion with Mr. Rushdie and two other men who were experts in Christianity and Judaism. The latter was Rabbi Sherwin Wine of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, and he was, in a word, fabulous. One thing I love about these events is that there’s always at least one surprise speaker who blows you away, and Rabbi Wine was mine. He was hilarious, down to earth, engaging, and he made a ton of sense. There’s a very large number of humanistic Jews who find solace in the social aspects of their culture and wish to preserve that while also safeguarding their dignity by acknowledging their non-belief. Wine really helped me understand the use of humanism, while previously I was unsure that it was anything more than a dolled up, neutered term for atheist.
Saturday night I enjoyed the talk by Ned Lamont, the 2006 Democratic candidate for the Senate from Connecticut (he was beaten by Lieberman running as an Independent). He talked about his humanist uncle, and he was quite charming.
The panels were fun: The Future of Organized Humanism and the one I was on, The Next Generation of Humanism. I know the names are similar, as were the topics — I think the main difference was the age of the panelists. Following a bit of chatting amongst ourselves, the floor was opened to audience questions, and I swear to God (sic) third of the audience got up and rushed to the microphone. It was too bad that we didn’t have much time to either go into detail on the questions or to work our way through much of the line-up. Still fun, though.
So, this morning was a breakfast with E. O. Wilson followed by a session on “Humanist Education.” The aforementioned problems I had with the conference were serious enough that I just couldn’t work up the interest to go. Instead, I spent the morning outside in the 70-degree weather, playing flag football for two full hours and then riding my bike.
The only conference lowlight I’ll mention is one that may apply overall to the humanist movement, though I’m not sure: it was a disturbing trend of kowtowing to religion. As an example, there was a teleconference with a Southern Baptist convention, during which time Greg, the Humanist Chaplain of Harvard, referred to the planet Earth as “the Creation.” This was repeated in the conference pamphlet. The Creation? This came mere hours after one speaker criticized the way some people redefine “god” to mean “love” or “nature” — why use that language? It’s useless, and worse yet confusing. In addition, a number of the talks were sermons. I mean, they were really, really sermons just without the god. The syntax, the tone, and some of the message (such as pleas for money) made many in the audience noticeably uncomfortable. I sincerely hope that this was merely a one-time unintended effect, but I fear that it might be indicative of a more widespread trait in humanism.
I think that about covers it. I’d be interested to hear from other humanists about whether or not this sort of thing is the norm. Also, are there any nonbelievers out there who just don’t identify as a humanist? If so, why?