Press Conference Speeches
Executive Director of the American Humanist Association
There are millions of Americans of strong moral character who don’t happen to believe in a god. Humanists have always understood that you don't need a god to be an upstanding citizen, but many other Americans have not, and that’s one reason we’ve been running ad campaigns.
This year, we’re going further in our attempt to challenge the intolerant view that atheist and agnostic humanists can’t be good without Bible derived morality.
In fact, morality doesn't come from religion at all. Science can tell you that people quite naturally develop a sense of right and wrong as kids. Let me explain.
Psychologist Jean Piaget came to understand this when he looked for morality in very young children, who had not had much time to be exposed to a complex moral system in their secular or religious education. Nor did they have the mental equipment yet to understand a taught morality.
He looked for morality in the game of marbles. Piaget found several stages of development among small children. In the first phase, marbles were simply an object of motor skills; and infants tasted them, buried them, and piled them up; and so on. Next, some of these behaviors became ritualized, as if associated with particular thoughts of the infants performing them.
Within two years, small children old enough to speak were making some effort to imitate the rules of the game as practiced by older children.
They were incapable of remembering or understanding all these rules, and each child played only against herself or himself, but they still considered the rules “sacred.”
Later, as children mastered the rules of marbles, a keen sense of fairness arose that influenced the creation and use of the rules.
Finally, though fairness remained key, older children came to regard the rules as their collective creation, a contract they formed to be able to play with one another. Sound familiar?
It should, because this is analogous to our modern system of law.
Just like law, the rules of marbles evolved to define the conditions for cooperation, the penalties for defection, and how rules might be amended or replaced. This research nicely shows how humans are rule-creating animals that start developing individualized moralities in early childhood.
At its best morality is a set of values based on empathy, fairness, and experience.
This also happens to be the essence of the humanist worldview. Humanism is a progressive philosophy that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
As our past president Kurt Vonnegut, once put it, “Being a humanist means trying to behave decently without any expectations of rewards or punishment after you are dead.”
Humanist values have a foundation in reason and recognize that everyone has inherent worth and dignity. Humanists are active contributors to the community and to charitable causes. Concern for ourselves and other minorities makes us supportive of a secular, religiously-neutral government.
Like many liberal religious people, the American Humanist Association also advocates: freedom of religion, freedom from religion, and freedom of conscience. We’re activists against discrimination in many forms, including bias based on religion, gender, and sexual orientation. That keeps us working with progressive religious allies against the religious right, especially after this election cycle when you have tea partiers and religious conservatives convinced that this is a Christian nation.
Past advertisements by the American Humanist Association includ, “Don’t believe in god? You’re not alone,” and “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” and “No god, no problem,” and most recently, “In Good We Trust.”
Today a prejudice exists against our community, even among some of our progressive religious allies. It is commonly assumed that one cannot be good without god. We want to move along the path from that current intolerance, to tolerance of our nontheist perspective, to a mutual respect for our humanist viewpoints, to a day when there is a common appreciation for our reason based, science oriented approach to solving problems.
Instead of simply asserting our ability to be good without a god, we decided to go deeper in our attempt to educate about the 34 million non-religious Americans, many of whom live by a humanist philosophy. Through these ads we’re showing the forward looking stand humanists have regarding peace, freedom, and the rights of women and minorities.
As in the past, we’re raising the flag for atheist and agnostics who are already humanists, but didn’t know the term, and didn’t know there was an advocacy organization for them that they might join instead of a church. We’re directing them to learn more about the campaign at www.considerhumanism.org and more about humanism at www.americanhumanist.org.
We’re also providing a message to progressive Christians, Muslims, and Jews and liberal people of other faiths.
The message to progressive people of faith is: When you look at these ads, isn’t it clear that your allies are humanists and freethinkers, not biblical literalists? In Letters to a Christian Nation, author Sam Harris challenged progressive religious people to stop giving a pass to fundamentalists. He pointed out that making it taboo to criticize religion was giving fundamentalists a shield with which to defend their backward thinking. With these ads we’re also reaching out to mainstream Christians and Jews and asking them: Why identify with conservative religion if your values are essentially secular and humanistic?
And we’re also providing a message to people who claim the bible is the inerrant word of god. That message is: Really? Even when you hear what is written on these pages? While the bible may contain some valuable lessons, it has messages promoting hate and war, teaches ethnic and religious bigotry, and presents values that are the antithesis of American self reliance, individual liberty, and equality before the law.
Truly, the secular values of atheist and agnostic humanists are shared by most religious Americans. We are highlighting that fact today.
Member of the American Humanist Association Advisory Board
and President of the Todd Stiefel Foundation
Humanists Launch Largest National Advertising Campaign Critical of Religious Scripture
For millennia, the Bible and Qur’an have been the foundations of moral authority and claimed ethical superiority for religious fundamentalists.
Until now, they expected a reference to their scripture was sufficient to unquestioningly settle a moral debate.
That time is over.
Unfortunately for fundamentalists, their scriptural foundation is faulty and collapsing under the weight of a mix of both admirable and corrupt ethical lessons.
I would like to present two quotes for you to compare:
First: “(They) must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.”
Second: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”
Which of these is from the Qur’an and which is from the Bible?
It’s hard to tell.
Both are in the context of war with an enemy of a different religion.
Both advocate mutilation and genocide.
The first is in the Bible; Hosea 13:16.
The second is the Qur’an 8:12.
Does either quote present a useful moral lesson?
Does either enrich our lives with wisdom or do they lead to fear and tyranny?
Regardless of the context of the horrors of war, is there ever a situation where chopping off fingers and heads or mutilating pregnant women and killing children is acceptable, even if they are your enemy?
Of course not; the modern civilized world rejects such brutality.
Thousands of years ago, though, these ethics were the best our primitive ancestors had in the ancient deserts of the world.
Their barbaric moral codes were encoded into scripture.
The scripture reads the same today.
For example, the Bible continues sanctioning and encouraging (go slow):
- inequity for women
If you do not believe this, stop ignoring the pastor and actually read the Bible.
Fortunately, times have changed.
Ethics have evolved.
Religious and secular Americans both now reject such evil.
Scripture cannot change.
It is unable to learn from the ills of history such as wars, terrorism, crusades, inquisitions or slave labor.
Much scripture has become outdated.
Humanity has learned.
Most of us, religious or not, ignore the immoral aspects of scripture and pretend it is not there.
Today, the secular values of humanists are shared by most religious Americans.
Humanists value love, equality, peace, integrity and freedom.
Most religious Americans value these things as well.
The key exceptions in America are the Christian biblical fundamentalists of the religious right.
They have not learned from history.
Their hate-based morals are stuck in antiquity.
These fundamentalists preach inequality for gay people and justify it with Bible quotes such as, "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads." Leviticus 20:24 (New International Version)
Yet, the Bible also says, "Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man." Numbers 31:17-18 (New International Version).
If we should use law to repress gay Americans because the Bible says so, does this mean we should legalize virgin sex slavery because the Bible also sanctions this...so long as they are the daughters of your enemies?
Of course not.
Both of these Biblical versus are morally corrupt.
We must denounce politicians that contend US law should be based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments.
It is not based on these and should never be.
Our Founding Fathers created a secular democracy not a Christian theocracy.
For example, not a single one of the Ten Commandments can be found in the US Constitution.
The Fourth Commandment states that we must remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
The Bible goes on to say the punishment for violating this in Exodus 31:15.
“For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.”
If we base our laws on the Ten Commandments, we will be required to institute the death penalty for people doing yard-work or checking emails on Saturday.
This would be a horrific restriction on freedom.
The Ten Commandments and their punishments are un-American.
There is much noise being made in opposition to the use of Sharia Law in the US.
Biblical law is equally as nefarious as Sharia Law.
We call on humanists and Americans of all stripes to stand against the fundamentalists of the religious right.
They claim they speak for all American Christians.
They do not.
And, they do not speak for humanists either.
The values of mainstream American Christians are more aligned with humanist values than the malevolent values of the religious right.
You may ask: who are humanists to question scripture?
Just like you, we are everyday Americans who have the right to question anything we read.
We are atheists, without a belief in any gods, that do believe in:
- kindness over bigotry
- freedom over slavery
- science over ignorance
- reason over fear
- peace over war
- love over hate
In sum, we are humanists.
And, you might be too.
Communications and Policy Assistant of the American Humanist Association
The Consider Humanism campaign is the largest ad campaign in the history of the humanist and freethought movement. With a budget of more than $200,000, it stretches across print, web, outdoor and TV, reaching out to a wider audience than ever attempted.
$86,000 was spent on television, $78,000 on print, $33,000 on outdoor and $7000 on Internet.
I’m now going to introduce each ad and cite the outlets in which they will appear. The Raleigh News and Observer rejected a series of ads that appear only on our Consider Humanism website, including:
The Bible: “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” Luke 12:5 (New International Version)
Humanism: “Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” Bertrand Russell
The first ad in our campaign is as follows:
The Bible: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” I Timothy 2 (New International Version) or
Humanism: “The rights of men and women should be equal and sacred—marriage should be a perfect partnership.” Robert Ingersoll, in a letter dated April 13, 1878
This ad is featured in today’s issue of USA Today, as well as a billboard in Moscow, Idaho. As of Nov. 15, this ad will be featured on bus tails in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, phone booths in New York City, and two billboards located on I-95 outside Philadelphia. This ad is also one of three ads appearing in the D.C. metro and the interior of D.C. buses, which will debut Nov. 15 as well.
The following ad will appear today in the Atlanta Constitution Journal, Seattle Times and Raleigh Durham Herald Sun, as well as the full page ad in tomorrow’s edition of the Triangle Independent Weekly and the December issue of the Progressive and Reason magazines. The Seattle Times required we put a “paid advertisement” border around the ad, as well as cite the American Humanist Association as the organization sponsoring the campaign.
The Bible: “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.” Exodus 21:20-21 (New International Version)
Humanism: “We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.” Humanism and Its Aspirations
The next ad will appear in today’s edition of the San Francisco Chronicle:
The Bible: “The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.” God, Hosea 13:16 (New International Version)
Humanism: “I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own—a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.” Albert Einstein, column for The New York Times, Nov. 9, 1930 (reprinted in The New York Times obituary, April 19, 1955)
Today’s edition of Village Voice and the Arizona Republic, the full page ad in tomorrow’s edition of the Triangle Independent Weekly, and the December issues of the Progressive and Reason magazines will include:
The Bible: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple." Jesus, Luke 14:26 (New International Version)
Humanism: “I'm an atheist, and that's it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other.” Katharine Hepburn, Humanist Arts 1985, Ladies Home Journal, 1991
The D.C. metro and interior of the D.C. buses will feature the following ad:
The Bible: "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." 1 Samuel 15:3 (New International Version)
Humanism: “We need international authorities that can keep interstate and interethnic disputes from erupting into outright war, and adjudicate and enforce measures to punish acts of genocide.” Carl Coon, humanist and former Ambassador to Nepal (One Planet, One People: Beyond ‘Us vs. Them’ pg. 111)
As well as:
The Bible: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5 (New Living Translation 2007)
Humanism: “There's all the difference in the world between a belief that one is prepared to defend by quoting evidence and logic and a belief that is supported by nothing more than tradition, authority, or revelation. “ Richard Dawkins, author and 1996 Humanist of the Year (Humanist Jan/Feb 1997)
The final ad will be published in the December issues of Reason and the Progressive magazines, and tomorrow’s issue of the Triangle Independent Weekly:
Islam: I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.” Qur'an (8:12)
Humanism: “The American Humanist Association, in support of the creation of a global community, affirms the aim of avoiding the use and distortion of creeds, beliefs, ideologies, and worldviews as a justification for violence (or even for the threat of violence) in pursuit of a goal” AHA Resolution on Global Community and International Affairs, 2008
The current political climate is suffering an unfortunate wave of Islamaphobia, and as humanists, atheists and nontheists, we sympathize with and disprove of the religious discrimination Muslims face. However, the scriptural literalism being used by the Christian right to condemn and oppress, is also sometimes found within Islam. This is why we have included the Qur’an quote in our campaign.
On Nov. 12, a Consider Humanism commercial will air nationally on NBC’s Dateline at 9 p.m. EST.
Commercials will also air on stations such as MSNBC, CNBC and the Bloomberg Business Channel.
Facebook, Google AdWords and blogs, such as the Friendly Atheist, will run short ads pointing to the Consider Humanism campaign.
All quotes featured in the ads were checked by multiple scripture scholars to ensure accuracy, context and proper translation from original languages. Each quote featured in the campaign can be found at www.considerhumanism.org.