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Old 10-15-2003, 01:20 PM   #1 (permalink)
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In the interest of understanding

I'd like to open a dialogue about religion and government in America that doesn't involve using a current event as an excuse to spout our existing opinions.

I think that a lot of the debate around religion and government in the U.S. is fueled by fear on both sides. I'd like for both secular humanists and conservative Christians to get a feel for where the other side is coming from, what is fueling their opinions, rather than just arguing with each other.

With that in mind, please answer the following questions:

1. would you identify yourself more as a conservative Christian or a secular humanist?

2a. If you are a conservative Christian, what are you afraid would happen to society if religion were completely removed from the sphere of government and public policy?

2b. If you are a secular humanist, what are you afraid would happen to society if religion were allowed to guide government and public policy?

3. What qualities do you think identify a "successful" society? (I think we probably have a lot in common here, we just disagree about the best way to achieve these aims.)

I'll post my own answers later but Ratbastid is bugging me to go to the gym with him so I have to run. Thanks for participating, and wherever possible please try to back up assertions with facts rather than with opinions.
"If ten million people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."

- Anatole France
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Old 10-15-2003, 01:24 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: In the interest of understanding

1) Secular Humanist
2b)I'd be scared of when the religious police would come knocking on my door.
3. A govt that does not sponsor religion, nor interfere with the practice of it. A govt where there is a clean seperation of church and state.
"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." - Darrel K Royal
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Old 10-15-2003, 01:50 PM   #3 (permalink)
What Is Secular Humanism?
Secular Humanism is a term which has come into use in the last thirty years to describe a world view with the following elements and principles:

A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith.
Commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
A primary concern with fulfillment, growth, and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
A conviction that with reason, an open marketplace of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.


How Do Secular Humanists View Religious and Supernatural Claims?
Secular humanists accept a world view or philosophy called naturalism, in which the physical laws of the universe are not superseded by non-material or supernatural entities such as demons, gods, or other "spiritual" beings outside the realm of the natural universe. Supernatural events such as miracles (in which physical laws are defied) and psi phenomena, such as ESP, telekinesis, etc., are not dismissed out of hand, but are viewed with a high degree of skepticism.


Are Secular Humanists Atheists?
Secular humanists typically describe themselves as atheist (without a belief in a god and very skeptical of the possibility) or agnostic (without a belief in a god and uncertain as to the possibility). Secular humanists hail from widely divergent philosophical and religious backgrounds, ranging from Christian fundamentalism to liberal belief systems to lifelong atheism. Some have achieved a comfortable secular humanist stance after a period of deism. Deists are those who express a vague or mystical feeling that a creative intelligence may be, or was at one time, connected to the universe or involved with its creation, but is now either nonexistent or no longer concerned with its operation.

Secular humanists do not rely upon gods or other supernatural forces to solve their problems or provide guidance for their conduct. They rely instead upon the application of reason, the lessons of history, and personal experience to form an ethical/moral foundation and to create meaning in life. Secular humanists look to the methodology of science as the most reliable source of information about what is factual or true about the universe we all share, acknowledging that new discoveries will always alter and expand our understanding of it and perhaps change our approach to ethical issues as well.


What Is The Origin of Secular Humanism?
Secular humanism as an organized philosophical system is relatively new, but its foundations can be found in the ideas of classical Greek philosophers such as the Stoics and Epicureans as well as in Chinese Confucianism. These philosophical views looked to human beings rather than gods to solve human problems.

During the Dark Ages of Western Europe, humanist philosophies were suppressed by the political power of the church. Those who dared to express views in opposition to the prevailing religious dogmas were banished, tortured or executed. Not until the Renaissance of the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries, with the flourishing of art, music, literature, philosophy and exploration, would consideration of the humanist alternative to a god-centered existence be permitted. During the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, with the development of science, philosophers finally began to openly criticize the authority of the church and engage in what became known as "free thought."

The nineteenth century Freethought movement of America and Western Europe finally made it possible for the common citizen to reject blind faith and superstition without the risk of persecution. The influence of science and technology, together with the challenges to religious orthodoxy by such celebrity freethinkers as Mark Twain and Robert G. Ingersoll brought elements of humanist philosophy even to mainline Christian churches, which became more concerned with this world, less with the next.

In the twentieth century scientists, philosophers, and progressive theologians began to organize in an effort to promote the humanist alternative to traditional faith-based world views. These early organizers classified humanism as a non-theistic religion which would fulfill the human need for an ordered ethical/philosophical system to guide one's life, a "spirituality" without the supernatural. In the last thirty years, those who reject supernaturalism as a viable philosophical outlook have adopted the term "secular humanism" to describe their non-religious life stance.

Critics often try to classify secular humanism as a religion. Yet secular humanism lacks essential characteristics of a religion, including belief in a deity and an accompanying transcendent order. Secular humanists contend that issues concerning ethics, appropriate social and legal conduct, and the methodologies of science are philosophical and are not part of the domain of religion, which deals with the supernatural, mystical and transcendent.


Secular humanism, then, is a philosophy and world view which centers upon human concerns and employs rational and scientific methods to address the wide range of issues important to us all. While secular humanism is at odds with faith-based religious systems on many issues, it is dedicated to the fulfillment of the individual and humankind in general. To accomplish this end, secular humanism encourages a commitment to a set of principles which promote the development of tolerance and compassion and an understanding of the methods of science, critical analysis, and philosophical reflection.

Seeing how I don't fit into the conservitive Christian or the Secular Humanism category I'll sit this one out. I posted from the Council on Secular Humanism for those that might wonder who they are and what they are about.
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Old 10-15-2003, 01:56 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Location: In the land of ice and snow.
1. Secular humanist

2b. Religious values aren't always rooted in any kind of rational thought. I want my government to use adapting, current, rational scientific logic mixed with secular morals as a justification for laws and policy. I don't think you can govern effectively in an ever changing world when your fundamental rules are by nature unchallengable and thousands of years old.

I also want a goverment that understands that its power is derived from the people it governs, not from some untouchable holy deity. God is by definition absolutely right all of the time and by extension those who proclaim themselves to be god's representatives here on earth act as if they are absolutely right all of the time. If there is on true way, god's way, why even bother with the illusion of democracy?

3. A successful society makes sure all of its members are getting at the very least the essentials of what they need to survive.
It should be democratic.
It should encourage the cultivation of knowledge and compassion rather than excess and selfishness.
The greedy would be recognized for the immature children that they are and would be treated as such.
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Old 10-15-2003, 03:44 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Location: USA
I am a conservative humanist.

that seems the best choice to me - so I chose it at some point.
I don't need religion in my life.
I acknowledge other people's desire for it.
It's important to balance opposite tendencies in this world.

I wonder why more people don't understand that it is fine to espouse paradoxical ideas. As far as I can tell, we embody contradictions and the notion of choosing up one pole of a polarized situation doesn't seem like a solution to anything.

I will say more about this as this thread goes on.
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Old 10-15-2003, 04:25 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Location: east of the sun and west of the moon
Originally posted by ARTelevision
As far as I can tell, we embody contradictions and the notion of choosing up one pole of a polarized situation doesn't seem like a solution to anything.
I agree - however, we do seem to gravitate to those poles. I was hoping that dialogue between the "poles" on this issue would help to create some understanding of and appreciation for each others' positions and values, but perhaps framing it this way has limited things.

Could you suggest a more productive way to look at this?

Maybe rather than stating your "affiliation," perhaps just think about your opinions on "religion in politics" and, if you find something there that you think is fear-motivated, share it as above? (What are you afraid of if whatever you oppose should come to pass, and what do you think are the markers of a successful society?) Would that work better?
"If ten million people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."

- Anatole France
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Old 10-15-2003, 04:33 PM   #7 (permalink)
1. I am one who thinks. I am constantly changing. So in essence, quite inconsistent according to any standards that organizes things into catagory that doesn't have one labelled "Eratic".
2. Too many contradictions for me to effectively answer, so basically, I fear human error being infused with what is implemented too greatly.
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Old 10-15-2003, 04:55 PM   #8 (permalink)
Location: College
1. Secular humanist
2. Although it is possible to manipulate reason to make a government do something for you at the expense of others, it is much easier to manipulate religion to do this. Hence, I fear that religious influence in government can only increase corruption. I also fear religious influence because I think that many people use religion as a way to justify their irrational beliefs rather than challenge them. Sometimes it's not even that they follow religious dogma in doing so, but rather their own peculiar, subjective, and often hateful religious paradigms. I don't think that governmental decisions should be based in such irrational and sometimes dangerous beliefs.

3. I think that a successful society is one in which personal initiative is rewarded, and where attempts to prosper at the expense of others fail. I think that if people cannot love their fellow citizens, that they should at least tolerate things that don't impact their own lives directly. I think that power should be diffuse, and that corruption should be taken seriously both by the system and the people. I think all people are responsible for doing what is within their means to support themselves and society as a whole.
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Old 10-15-2003, 04:58 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Location: USA
Well, I don't see too many problems in the systems of government that have evolved in the West. It looks like we have developed degrees of balance between religious traditions and secular legal systems.

Governments in the East, such as Japan and Russia (which straddles the East and West), have religious populations governed in a secular context.

China has the communism problem, of course. That is also a leftover issue in the West and it isn't religion. It's a secular-ideology-as-state-religion problem, to put it awkwardly.

In the Middle East, of course, religion as politics is a problem, isn't it?

Basically, as I see it, the small distinctions we create here and polarize ourselves with are not really very big issues at all - when you look at the global progress of civilization.

Those are my initial responses, lurkette.

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Old 10-15-2003, 05:04 PM   #10 (permalink)
We tried to set a speed record getting to an undefined goal so we bobbed around a bit and ended up becoming like the rest, only bigger, bigger positive attributes with unproportional growth of the negative attributes.
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Old 10-15-2003, 05:32 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Location: Perpetual wind and sorrow
Re: In the interest of understanding

Originally posted by lurkette

With that in mind, please answer the following questions:

1. would you identify yourself more as a conservative Christian or a secular humanist?

2a. If you are a conservative Christian, what are you afraid would happen to society if religion were completely removed from the sphere of government and public policy?

2b. If you are a secular humanist, what are you afraid would happen to society if religion were allowed to guide government and public policy?

3. What qualities do you think identify a "successful" society? (I think we probably have a lot in common here, we just disagree about the best way to achieve these aims.)

1. I am a Roman Catholic, and I would like to think of myself as not overly conservative. Hell I might even be considered a Liberal because I am not opposed to gay rights.

2a. I am afraid of the moral decay that is prevelent in society. Things like Abortion and Eugenics (is that the right word). I am afraid of the moral vacuum that has sucked this country up since God (I don't care if its Jesus Allah or Buddah) has been removed. I'm not saying America's problems are due to its Godlessness, but it definently has played a role.

3. All members are treated equal, all people are entitled to their own beliefs. All people are properly represented. We need to get away from the "it's not my problem" mentality. fuck I just seriously want people to be more respectful and less apathetic (again is this the word I am thinking of?).
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Old 10-15-2003, 09:46 PM   #12 (permalink)
Location: Sydney, Australia
1. I am a secular humanist. I have relatives who are religious. Some are nuns. Their faith is the right thing for them.

2a. Trying to speak outside myself; religion has been integral to human society for much of human history. You can kind of think of religious texts as being the very first law books. While science is useful to us, it does not provide definitive answers to the precise origin of life or the authority of one human over another. The humanist's society is seen as a cutthroat and uncaring place where authority is based on strength alone. The (mis)application of Darwinian theory to social philosophy is seen as one of the worst legacies of secularism and scientific thought. Because of this, secularism is seen as amoral at best.

When authority comes from a higher power, people are supposedly on an even plane. One contradiction in this is people who usurp God's authority as their own. How do humans apply the higher power's authority to shape their society without corrupting that authority? In addition, there are some disturbing (even terrifying) questions about <a href="http://www.tfproject.org/tfp/showthread.php?s=&threadid=26617">the continuity of consciousness</a> that can be addressed by appealing to the concept of the soul.

2b. The consent of the Government to allow en masse displays of religosity in facilities like public schools is seen as the threat the group poses to the individual. While religionists see the lack of prayer in schools as usurping their right to assemble, secularists see it as aggressive; the tyranny of the majority. If a class full of students are reciting the pledge and one student fails to say "under God"; that student may fear social retribution. Sometimes that fear is well founded.

Imagine yourself in the late 1950s as an Atheist or Buddhist in a school full of Christians. Do you refrain from "under God and risk a whole school thinking you a Communist spy? Do you speak against your beliefs out of fear of the people around you? Why did the Government create this social dilemma for you? If everyone like you spoke against their belief out of fear of the majority, the rights of the individual would be meaningless.

I think maybe this is a tension between the "democratic" and "republic" part of "democratic republic. The will or historical legacy of the majority is not the only thing there is.

Imagine if we could find scientific explanations for morality (compassion, altruism, empathy, etc), perhaps in Darwinism or some other theory. Would this understanding allow a rational society to be "more moral"?

Secular humanists learn sort of instinctive morality in childhood and then work to understand the scientific and philosophical basis of that morality. For us, morality is perhaps more a journey of scientific discovery rather than an set destination.

3. Recognising common aspirations and faults. Look at the previous paragraph. A secularist discovering the origin of their morality might fall into a crippling trap of total moral relativism.
Likewise a Christian might question their faith and why their Bible or Church leaders have made moral injuntions against certain things (ie, gay rights). If they're honest, religionists and secularists have the contradiction and ambiguity of their belief in common. Hey, it's not much; but it's a start. Let's find out whether maybe we have other stuff in common.
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Old 10-15-2003, 10:23 PM   #13 (permalink)
Location: St. Paul, MN

I'm religious, Christian in fact. But i am not conservative. I like a lot of what humanism has to say. But i'm not secular.

I don't like to mix God and politics overtly. I think there is a danger to let people think that this nation is blessed or ordained. My religious convictions play in to how i vote-i firmly believe that as a nation we ought to care for the least among us, and seek justice in our social order.

I'm working towards an ideal, perhaps summed up best by Micah 6:8, that i wish to "love tenderly, act justly, and walk humbly with [my] God." And i think there is a lot of social policy that plays in to that...but that it does not extend to theocracy. as a society we have a corporate responsiblity to be loving and just. as individuals we have a personal responsibility to walk with God, and contribute in community to being loving and just.
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Old 10-18-2003, 08:35 AM   #14 (permalink)
Location: Minneapolis
Well stated, chavos. For myself:

1. Mystic humanist. I am unwilling to assign the mythical role of GOD to any of the representations I have seen presented. On the other hand, I recognize and have experienced divine presence myself. Therefore I believe in the Sacred, but I don't know about the true nature of God except through those who, throughout history, have been conduits of the eternal: Siddhartha Gautama, Jesus of Nazareth, Mohammed, among many others who are less famous and may even still be alive. I see the nature of God as being reflected in the wisdom, compassion and conviction that these people exemplify.

2. Religious government is dangerous precisely because it cannot be held accountable. To what earthly authority can one appeal if the divine Authority's representatives on Earth have denied your request? And how can such a government be made to answer for its errors, or even its crimes? Absolutes, such as the absolute power of a God, have no place in the subjective and endlessly compromising world of government. Yes, this statement is an absolute; but it is one of my favorite paradoxes, and it is a valid position. Someone will always be advocating for one absolute or another; the trick is not to allow one to gain primacy over the others. Thus, government will include those who seek to introduce God into its workings, and this is acceptable and a good thing. What is not acceptable is for them to succeed. That would lead to oppression, massacres and destruction for all who do not align with the ruling God-concept.

3. A society succeeds if it can provide the greatest possible freedom to individuals while simultaneously maintaining its sense of communal belonging and responsibility. These freedoms may include the acquisition of wealth, while responsibility may likewise include caring for those who make your earnings possible. Exploitation, greed and corruption, representing an imbalance to one side or the other of the individual/state contract, would not thrive in such a society; it would care for its members without fail, and without arbitrarily imposing unnecessary strictures.
"I would not dare to so dishonor my Creator God by attaching His name to that book (the Bible)." -- Thomas Paine
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Old 10-18-2003, 11:49 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Location: San Jose, CA
(I didn't read any responses yet, just offering up my unpolluted opinion)

<i>1. would you identify yourself more as a conservative Christian or a secular humanist?</i>

Secular humanist. I've proclaimed myself an atheist since I was about 10, although these days I'm more interested in the philosophy of Zen and Taoism (as opposed to the Religion of Zen or Taoism, which is a different thing entirely).

<i>2b. If you are a secular humanist, what are you afraid would happen to society if religion were allowed to guide government and public policy?</i>

Religion, to me, is about blind faith and unswerving loyalty. Things like the legislation of the teaching of creationism in science classes in Kansas. The mormon belief until recently that blacks were marked by god as inferior, stuff like that. Science, also, is not always open to new beliefs, but the scientific philosophy of exploration and openness to new ideas is a beautiful system. Organized religion is a system of repression and control through guilt and peer pressure. Anyone doing an unemotional analysis of religion should be able to see that easily.

<i>3. What qualities do you think identify a "successful" society? (I think we probably have a lot in common here, we just disagree about the best way to achieve these aims.)</i>

It's important to realize that physical and economic domination is part of being a successful society. You can be the most intellectual people in the world and still get beaten by your enemies, just ask the Greeks. So "society" as an organism isn't always in line with the needs of the people. Totalitarianism has been a successful societal structure many times throughout history.

I most admire the founding fathers. People like Jefferson, Franklin, Emerson, Tom Paine, Thoreau. These guys had their faults, but they had a fundamental vision of a society Of the people, By the people, and For the people. Making those three ideas apply to as many people as possible is my idea of a perfect society.
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Old 10-19-2003, 04:53 AM   #16 (permalink)
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I dont really fit into either category, but of the two I lean more toward the secular humanist. (More exacting; an agnostic that would like to find faith in a higher power)

With relation to the US; a point Im hearing allot lately is its not just to go against having God or more specific; Christian beliefs integrated in the government. (The Pledge of Allegiance, The Ten Commandments at the courthouse, the President using the word Lord in speeches, etc) This basis for this point being this country was founded on such values. I dont argue that. but I think the US has changed since its conception.

I wonder how much the knowledge gained from science affected the expansion of Christianity through the years. The Puritans certainly didnt have the knowledge we have now, nor did the Founding Fathers. I strive to find peace in meeting science and faith halfway the same in which ARTtelevsion has (I think thats what Ive interpreted from his comments) but I find difficulty in doing so.

My greatest concern with religion in political office:

is that one of the three main: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism will be practiced by someone in office. Ive read the Bible and the Koran; and give both the weight of Homer's Odyssey. My religious background: raised Roman Catholic until 5th grade, worshipped Protestant, then Baptist --my second baptism, Jehovah Witness, Pentecostal, Judaism, and back to Baptist. After a year in the military I saw the Bible with a different perspective. It was then I began to see extreme contradictions within it.

This has brought me to a place where my interpretation of the Bible has left me with great concerns if world leaders base their value system on it. ***Before anyone gets offended Im not saying Christians or Muslims have distorted values. I believe political leaders are in such positions where such beliefs should be set aside.

IMO The most important thing is the search for meaning and purpose with relationships and love, understanding and knowledge, experiences and emotions, or elsewhere.

There is no absolute Truth that applies to all people; ultimate knowledge of the nature of existence cannot be communicated, it can only be reasoned or experienced personally. The natural state of most individuals is uncertainty, motivating curiosity, open-mindedness and appreciation for the experiences and thoughts of other people.

Morality is relative to individual circumstances and relationships. Any action's intimate rightness or wrongness can only be determined by those involved in the action. Good and evil; are ideas that can be useful, but are inaccurate if used to describe the nature of the universe.

Social structures such as governments and institutions are useful insofar as they help individuals to flourish- that is, become and remain healthy and able to work toward their goals that do not interfere with the rights of other to work toward their own goals.

The only limitations against humanity's potential should be the physical laws of the Universe; instead I see the single biggest limitation is humanity itself with regards to itself. Globally I see that technology has evolved, with social evolution of Earth becoming stagnant if not regressing.

"Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear". --Thomas Jefferson

This subject was also raised in this TFP poll

To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.- Stephen Hawking
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Old 10-21-2003, 04:43 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Location: San Jose, CA
I just wanted to bump this post because I thought the answers were interesting and I thought some more of you might want to reply.

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