Without any universally agreed-upon holy writ or central dogma, the humanist approach to associating with other organized worldviews has been understandably variable, ranging from feigned religiosity to disinterest to outright hostility. Historically, you’ll probably agree it’s mostly been the latter two. You may be further aware, however, that the former is making a massive push for greater representation of late, largely in reaction to frankly-stated and immensely sellable books by rationalists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. To what degree will this movement succeed in “winning converts”? Is it even desirable for Humanists to “win converts” if there is no Hell from which we are saving them?
One obvious response is that life is simply easier when you’re accepted. You’re likely aware that distrust of atheists is still astoundingly high in the United States (ranked below even Muslims where, when Islam is mentioned, many still think immediately of 9/11). What you might not be aware of is this may be largely true even for Canada. This bears a bit of a chicken-egg question: are humanists soured on broader integration by this apparent bigotry, or is this distrust a consequence of our historical aloofness? The easy—and most likely correct—answer is that it’s a combination of both, but I believe it’s more the latter. We are not cats: the cold, only occasionally friendly attitude atheists have taken towards the religious is not endearing, so they can be forgiven a certain wariness. Perhaps, then, atheists should not begrudge the suggestion that we take some initial steps of our own toward reconciliation.
Should we wish to rally more to our cause, there is, to be sure, much we can learn from the world’s churches. Atheistic art, be it visual, architectural or musical, might keep the stuffy, academic stereotype at bay. “Church” services would dispel chilly individuality with the warmth of community. But how far should this be taken? Should Humanism offer that which it cannot provide? There are many for whom a sense of consequence in the grand scheme of things is essential; they cannot abide a universe that is all but blind to us. Unless we fundamentally alter the meaning of Humanism, it provides no consolation in this regard. To others, it is a universal law maker that offers moral stability to an otherwise immoral group of creatures. Such a law maker is absent in atheism and Humanism.
It is, I’ll grant, easier to destroy than create, and what the Alain de Bottons of the world want to create is, in many ways, admirable. There are, however, many essential strengths of Humanism which should not be lost in overzealous attempts to conform. Striking a balance will be key if “Atheism 2.0″ is to flourish.