More Than Words: Humanists Should Stand for Secular Social Justice
Secular Social Justice, a conference sponsored by the American Humanist Association that will be organized around the cultural context and social reformation efforts of secular people of color and their allies, will be held on January 30, 2016, at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
While I am very excited to be a part of this event, I’m also a bit puzzled at how many people have questioned the necessity of holding this convention. It’s both frustrating and amusing that, for some, addressing specific social injustices is even remotely controversial, and yet those same naysayers attend any other atheist meeting without hesitation.
Much conflict related to human affairs stems from violations of universally understood social constructs. Part and parcel to justice and equality is the idea we term “human rights,” something that is habitually taken for granted. What lies at the core of this concept is the assumption of “human dignity,” an idea that’s existed since the early stages of human-recorded history and has been expressed in virtually all cultures and religions known to humankind.
The notions of human dignity and human rights are, for example, reflected in the Southern African humanist philosophy “Ubuntu.” It’s also seen in the often-cited “golden rule” that stipulates one should treat others as one would like to be treated oneself, an idea that far precedes its appropriation found in biblical text. The same is true for the fundamental beliefs of social justice, its intent built on identifying with the humanity of others and intertwined with the objective of human rights.
These basic components ignite within us a sense of kinship that allows us to treat each other with some level of appropriate decency. Nevertheless, the perpetuation of tribalism, negative stereotypes, and microaggressions that denigrate the value of socially marginalized groups are common. Despite wanting to be a nexus in humanity’s maturation process, this problem is conspicuously evident in atheist circles. The fact that this subculture mirrors disparities present within our nationwide ethos shouldn’t be surprising since no community exists within a vacuum.
Secular humanist author Dale McGowan once said, “Atheism is the first step. Humanism is the thousand steps that follow.” This isn’t me saying secular humanism is the ultimate answer, as what I’m discussing also applies to many who embrace the humanist label while also being committed to exclusionary thinking, whether purposely or unintentionally. Still, this statement eloquently summarizes the importance of development and implicitly cautions against stagnant complacency.
There are those within the atheist community who will appeal to a prescriptive definition of atheism when desires are voiced in favor of certain social matters that affect marginalized groups not usually featured in mainstream discourse. They’ll shout down or scoff at the concept of privilege. They’ll appeal to hasty generalizations or dismiss strawman constructs of social justice. They will do all of this while simultaneously objecting to Christian hegemony and campaigning for a narrow scope of social justice germane to a whitewashed secular agenda.
Why does this happen? How can so many recite declarations of “Good Without God” and ostensibly promote equality when their vision lacks the internalizing of a more inclusive mentality?