Last week, Brittany talked about persuasive methods and how they relate to religion. This week, we’re going to dive into some “-ism” talk.

light the night

Also, a bit of news. I’m joining Brittany in walking in the Light the Night event here in central Ohio on October 12. I keep meaning to do a blog post about it and promote it on Facebook and Twitter and and and…well, here I am. So if you can spare some change to help me raise funds for cancer research, it has a bit of a special meaning for me on a lot of levels. One of them is that we are uniting in our “Atheist and Catholic” (maybe we’ll have t-shirts made?) club and walking to support a good cause.

You can see all the posts in the An Atheist and a Catholic series here.

atheist and catholic

Sarah: It sounds to me that what you advocate is actually relativism of a sort: what’s good for me is good for me, what’s good for you is good for you. I suspect, though, that there are shadings to it that I’m not quite getting: for example, we agree that poverty is an injustice and can also agree that it’s a luxury to have this internet connection to toss these philosophical questions back and forth.

Brittany: Hmm. I do think that there are things that most people can agree on. It’s no mistake that some form of the Golden Rule and reciprocity norms are pretty universal. The easiest way to get along with other people, like we’ve been doing as a species for centuries, is to treat them like you’d like to be treated.

There are also things that we would agree with in the abstract, but not in the concrete. For example, we both would say that you shouldn’t harm people, but we come down on different sides of the reproductive rights issue because of how we define “harm” and how we define “people.” But even there, we have some agreement about wanting there to be fewer abortions, even if our approaches to how to go about that differ.

Johnathan Haidt is a social psychologist who studies morality and has noted that everyone seems to value care/harm and fairness/cheating, but people with conservative ideologies also value respect to authority and tradition, loyalty to your group, and sanctity or purity. So there’s some evidence to support the idea that we can have similar abstract ideals, but our approaches might differ depending on what our other values are.

Sarah: Secular humanism vs. atheism. Tell me more about why you identify with one vs. the other. You alluded to that in our discussion last week; I’d like a clearer approach.

Brittany: Secular humanism is more of a social justice approach to atheism. It’s a prosocial conclusion to atheism: if  there’s no deities or afterlife, then it’s imperative that we do all that we can to make the world a better place. Atheism is just not believing in gods; there’s not necessarily other beliefs that go along with that. So I am an atheist, but a more important part of my identity is secular humanist.

I’ve been struck recently by how important of a distinction that is. There’s some negativity about interfaith work or saying that anything could possibly be good about religion among atheists.

Humanists tend to be more focused on actions and people rather than beliefs. So there’s a tendency (and this is a nonscientific observation) for more acceptance of interfaith and more charity among people who primarily identify as secular humanists.

Next week, I come right out and ask what it would take for Brittany to become a Christian. No, really. I do.