Secular humanism faces a new attack

by Paul Kurtz

Secular humanist should be aware of a new book recently published that unfairly castigates millions of Americans who are unbelievers. Mind Siege: The Battle for Truth in the New Millennium, by Tim LaHaye and David Noebel, issues a call to arms for evangelical Christians to battle against secular humanism. LaHaye is co-author of a series of eight Left Behind tribulation novels, best-sellers today: some 23 million copies of these books are in print (see Edmund Cohen's review in the Spring 2001 Free Inquiry). LaHaye is founder of the fundamentalist Creationist Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation. His wife, Beverly LaHaye, heads Concerned Women of America. David Noebel is the head of Summit Ministries and an outspoken opponent of secular humanism. Free Inquiry published an exchange with him a few years ago ("The Religion of Secular Humanism," Fall 1996).

This new book, a theological-political sequel to LaHaye's Left Behind novels, is issued by a major publisher, Word Publishing, a Thomas Nelson company. Further, Mind Siege hit the best-seller list when first published. It repeats an unfounded litany of charges against secular humanism, first aired by LaHaye in Battle for the Mind in 1980. That book was influential two decades ago in opening up a major fusillade against secular humanists and helped to galvanize both religious and political opposition to secular humanism during the early years of the Reagan presidency. Attacks on secular humanism subsided in the 1990s as the Religious Right turned to other enemies.

What is unique this time around is that Mind siege concentrates on Humanist Manifesto 2000, first published in Free Inquiry in the fall of 1999. HM-2000 is held to constitute "the Bible of humanist', along with Humanist Manifestos I and II. The authors also attack me personally throughout the book. LaHaye and Noebel deplore "scientific naturalism" and "planetary humanism," which they charge are undermining Christian faith and American patriotism. Their scholarship is highly questionable, for they shift back and forth between the various Manifestos, even though the older ones were written decades ago when global political and economic conditions were different.

The main thesis of LaHaye and Noebel are, first, that secular humanism is a "religion." One reason the critics of secular humanism sought for years to pin the religion label on secular humanism is that they hoped to extirpate it from the schools as a violation of the anti-establishment clause of the First Amendment. While it is true that all the other humanist groups in America do have religious exemptions, the Council for Secular Humanism does not, and it has repeatedly denied that secular humanism is a 'religion." We have affirmed that secular humanists can lead a moral life and be good citizens without religious faith. Secular humanism is an ethical, philosophical, and scientific outlook. I have called this a eupraxsophy- good wisdom in practice. In this broadside, all humanist organizations in the United States are equally condemned, though LaHaye and Noebel's main focus is on secular humanism, not simply humanism.

Second, LaHaye and Noebel claim that the secular humanist ideology dominates the major institutions of American life - including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization of Women, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the major television networks, the major foundations (Ford, Rockefeller, etc.), the National Council of Churches, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, the United Nations, UNESCO, Harvard, Yale, and two thousand other colleges and universities! This allegation of influence by secular humanism is rather amusing for secular humanists, who often feel isolated and beleaguered - though it is undoubtedly true that a secular outlook and humanist values permeate modern culture; for modernism and secular humanism are in a sense synonymous. To reject the secular humanist influence in the modern world would be to turn back the clock to a premodern age of faith to the detriment of human welfare and progress.

Third, LaHaye and Noebel unfairly indict secular humanists for having "undermined the moral fabric of America." This is a scurrilous charge against millions of Americans, which we explicitly deny. We hold that secular humanists have made significant contribution to American life, to democratic freedom and human rights.

Fourth, LaHaye and Noebel issue marching orders to evangelical Christians (80 million strong) urging them to gear up for an all-out battle to root secular humanists out of public life; their bottom line is that "No humanist is fit to hold office." They urge that only fundamentalists be elected to office, that conservative judges be appointed, and that funding for the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Department of Education, and other "humanist' agencies be cut.

The five tenets of secular humanism that they attack are (a) atheism, including nontheism and agnosticism; (b) evolution - Darwin is their archenemy; (c) "amorality", which they characterize as to include pre and extramarital sex, the feminist and gay agendas, abortion, euthanasia and the right to die; (d) autonomous man - the view that it is possible to lead an ethical life without belief in God, confidence that human beings can solve problems by their own resources, and the humanist conviction that there are positive human powers for doing good that can be tapped; and finally (e) globalism - the concern with the planetary rights of all humans in the world community. They apparently want to create a theocratic Festung America!

Secular humanists should be apprehensive about this vicious indictment. Let us hope that it is not the beginning of a major new assault, and that it will not be used by the Religious Right or their cohorts in the Bush administration and the conservative media to restrict not only the rights and freedom of secular humanists but of all Americans.

(Courtesy: Free Inquiry - Summer 2001)

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