In the third and final installation of the Humanist Manifesto blog posts, humanists returned in 2003 to once again re-establish a humanist lifestance for the twenty-first century. The previous iteration included prohibitions on nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons of mass destruction. The former manifesto curiously called for the establishment of a world court that would arbitrate crimes against humanity; the International Criminal Court in the Hague was established in 2002 as just such a global tribunal to address war crimes.
The twenty-first century witnessed the rise of a disturbing new malevolent force on the planet that would be particularly challenging for the humanism; the emergence of suicide bombers and the global war on terror. Perhaps most disturbingly to humanists were the tactics used by some to wreak havoc on as wide of a scale as possible. Suicide bombers represent a grotesque use of the teachings of Islam, and a violent departure from how religion supposedly serves to further morality. Motivated by an idiosyncratic view of the Koran, radical sects of Islam direct their followers to kill themselves in the service of Allah, with the expectation that they will be rewarded for psychopathic behavior in the afterlife promised in their scripture. While as a whole Muslims are not responsible for the lives lost in a terrorist act, the community has not done enough to decry the acts of terror carried out in the name of their religion, nor have other people, of faith or without, done enough to drive home the distinction between those who worship peacefully and those who use religion as a weapon. A truncated manifesto serves us no good against jihadists if it cannot even identify who the bad guys are. While previous manifestos did little to halt the rise of fascism or the decline of the environment, this most recent manifesto was especially toothless.
Indeed, Maddy Erken admits in a speech given for the AHA, “We don’t believe that our new manifesto will sway (the unsympathetic) our way…We also seek to live in harmony with those who disagree with us, accepting them as fellow citizens and being accepted by them in return.” But this notion is patently absurd. In a world where a very vocal minority decidedly do not want to tolerate the tenets of humanism, nonetheless respect the rights of humanists to pursue their own views, this manifesto downplays the reality of the situation. In accommodating “differing yet humane views”, without elaborating on the definition of humane, the AHA runs the risk of tolerating intolerance. By allowing these radical sects of Islam to hide behind the shield of religious tolerance through the freedom of religion, it serves to only exacerbate the problem by implying that faiths are morally indistinguishable and functionally equivalent. They are not. We must attack faiths that do not affirm the intrinsic worth of human beings. Belief systems that demand their followers to be nothing more than bomb delivery systems or relegated to a sub-human status on the basis of their sex must be targeted and decried for what they are; disgusting throwbacks from an ancient world and unacceptable, unconscionable in our modern era. As Sam Harris wrote, “…Those who object to any attack upon the religion of Islam as “racist” or as a symptom of “Islamophobia” display a nauseating insensitivity to the subjugation of women throughout the Muslim world…” There needs to be a distinction made between any attack on Islam and culturally insensitive attacks.
As long as one practices their faith in a peaceful, law-abiding way, no one should fear persecution from their government for what they believe. And while I may not agree with Muslims on most tenets of their faith, I can recognize that their freedom of religion should be respected. Also, I must make it clear that while I disagree with those who follow Islam on matters of epistomology, I do not hold that Islam is inferior to other faiths. I believe that an intense rivalry exists between all faiths precisely because it is impossible to evaluate the claims of any religion without evidence to support their scriptural claims. Hence there are so many faiths in the world and they are all perfectly competitive with one another. It makes no difference to me how someone chooses to worship their God, as long as they respect the separation of church and state in society to allow for a neutral ground on with which all people are free to pray or not, if they so choose to. But derogatory terms like Islamist bandied about by media outlets paint too broad of a brush on a diverse religion with over a billion-and-a-half followers. Islamist has been morphed from a term that means someone who believes the state is best organized along the teachings in the Koran into a term for just about any Muslim who criticizes the U.S. This labeling is unproductive and racist to boot; a critique of mainstream Islam should focus on ideas, not people. Ideas must be challenged critically from time to time because the nature of reality can change and we must make sure that our assumptions are still valid. Also, ideas are important because they inform our behaviors. Just as we must challenge the egregious tenets of Islam that are not based on reason, we must challenge those who discriminate against Muslims solely on the basis of where they’re from or from the preconceived notions about what those people believe.
And I think that this is where humanists stand on even ground with Muslims; both groups face an unfair share of hostility and suspicion from other groups in America. While these groups may sharply disagree on theological discussions of Islam, perhaps they share criticisms of Christianity. The potential for this relationship depends on whether both parties can offer reasoned and respectful criticism as well as accept constructive criticism from the other party.The American Humanist Association isn’t the only organization that set out to frame humanism in a positive light, though. Other organizations are encouraged to emulate their Manifestos and to formulate their own ideas about what it means to be a humanist. And while the AHA fell short of asserting a stance against those who preach dogmas that subjugate others, other organizations have assumed a more hard-line approach against fanaticism and expounded on the function of humanism as the vanguard against religious extremism in the twenty-first century. Namely, the Council for Secular Humanism has explicitly addressed the issue of universal human rights in their 2000 manifesto and has called for a a Planetary Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, which embodies a commitment to the well-being of humanity as a whole. And Paul Kurtz of the International Academy of Humanism affirms in the Humanist Manifesto 2000: A Call for a New Planetary Humanism,”the need to respect the dignity and worth of all persons in the world community.” These are the manifestos that we need to extol.