with cross-references to the original article by the Passantinos to clear up possible misunderstandings.
Copyright Norm R. Allen, posted here with permission from the author
July 25, 2001
Norm R. Allen Jr.
FREE INQUIRY Magazine
P.O. Box 664
Bob and Gretchen Passantino
Answers In Action
P.O. Box 2067
Costa Mesa, CA 92628
Dear Mr. & Mrs. Passantino:
Paul Kurtz has just given me a copy of your article “Imagine There’s No Heaven: Contemporary Atheism Speaks out in Humanist Manifesto 2000.” I visited your Web site and read other articles there. First, however, I will offer some comments on the aforementioned article.
Atheism does not mean, “one who believes that God does not exist. It is a Greek word and simply means without a belief in a god or gods. That is to say, we humanists do not define atheism “as an absence of belief.” The word’s originators defined it that way. Similarly, the term agnosticism means “without knowledge of a god or gods.”
I am happy to see that the two of you do not write with a “masculine bias.” That is to say, I like your use of “his or her” and “he or she.” I certainly cannot say the same about the blantantly sexist biblical writers. This provides a good segue into my next point.
The two of you continually say that humanists have no justification for humanist ethics. You write as though Christian morality is immutable. But this is just another popular Christian fantasy. Christians do not base all morality on a belief in God. Christians learn just as humanists and all others do–by trial and error.
At one time Bible thumpers believed in chattel slavery. This is not surprising because slavery is condoned throughout the Bible. In Luke 12:47-48, the Bible commands masters to beat disobedient slaves with many lashes. In Ephesians 6:5-6, the Bible commands slaves to be obedient to their masters. In I Timothy 6:1-4, the Bible condones slavery and deems mere opposition to it sinful. But only the most disgracefully reactionary Christian believes that slavery is moral today. How did Christians become civilized? At what point did God change his mind and determine that slavery is immoral after all? It never happened! Christians became more civilzed, learned the error of their biblical ways, and decided to end slavery. The early Christians had no consistent, evolved theory of universal human rights. There is no Bill of Rights in the Bible. Civilized human beings developed this notion as a result of trial and error, experience, careful observation, and compassion. If they had seriously and consistently grounded their morality in the Bible, they would have never ended slavery.
The Bible condones other disgusting crimes against humanity as well. For example, though you two condemn Hitler, he had great biblical role models. In Numbers 31:17-18, Moses commands his people to kill male infants and toddlers, but to kidnap young virgin girls as booty for themselves. Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel, and Gideon were brutal mass murderers. Yet they are considered to be heroes by biblically illiterate people throughout the world. Again, when did God decide that genocide is immoral for Hitler yet moral for his special people? Again, when Christians became increasingly civilized, they learned on thier own not to follow all of the savage ideas of the biblical writers. Otherwise, they would still be launching bloody “holy wars” today.
You claim that humanists must present “some sort of justification” for our emphasis on the use of reason. This is absurd. Asking us why we place such a high value on reason is like asking why a fish swims or a bird flies. Why would any other animal have to “justify” to any other why it uses its best assets to survivie? We have a neo-cortex. Those of us that are consistently rational use it in all areas of life. We examine theistic claims just as we do all others. If they fail to stand up to critical examination, we reject those claims. We are in no need of any sort of justification for using our brains.