Using Humanistic Psychology to win the culture wars

Handling arguments like a HumanistUsing Humanistic Psychology to win the culture wars

I am a Humanist. At the moment, the non-religious segment of our population is growing rapidly. I view this overall as a good thing. It means that the public discussion about what is right and what is wrong and what is moral and what is not now has a really cool secular voice in the mix that can no longer be ignored. Morality is now not the sole purview of religion.

However, within the non-religious community, there is an ongoing debate about how to encourage people to be more rational, more compassionate and more responsible for their actions over all. This push towards rationality is actually a push towards a more rational ethic. And this has caused what is commonly known as “The Culture Wars.”   It is actually the ethics wars as what we are discussing and arguing about is actually what the proper basis of ethics really is. And it’s a great argument to have. I don’t think we should ever be finished with this discussion. It is healthy to talk about how we know whether something is good or bad or not. Humanism encourages that sort of active thinking about ethics.

The problem is that one side of the culture wars holds an absolute ethic based on what they think the will of God is and that’s not something that is considered debatable. It is because, well, even people of faith debate what the will of God really is. Regardless, for people who already think they know, it’s not debatable.

Which leaves us with a rather one sided conversation that usually goes something like this Rational Ethic:  I think gays should be allowed to marry because a) they aren’t harming anyone and b) they love each other and c) it would do a lot of good for society.  Religious Ethic: God hates gays and if we allow them to get married, God will destroy us, He already is, we must repent.  When this is our available debate, there is no debate.

Dr. Berger, Humanist, PsychologistEnter Glenn Berger, Humanistic Psychologist and full blown Humanist. He wrote a great essay about applying both Humanism and positive psychology to this problem of culture clashes ( Read it here – ) It’s long but totally worth the effort since he is bringing his training and as a psychologist to the problem and you know how I love using science to solve our problems.

Anyhoo – here is what he says. Basically, there is no real point is debating someone who isn’t open to changing their mind. So true. However that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t argue in the free market place of ideas. He says that “In order to win the argument against the fundamentalists, first, we must use our powers of thought, feeling, creativity, and love to become the best people we can be. Second, we must do all that we can, in the political marketplace, to promote and sell the humanistic ideal to as many people as possible, so that we become the majority. The way to deal with a malevolent segment of society is not to destroy it, which is impossible anyway, but to marginalize it, to prove to the majority that such ideas are wrong, and bad. We don’t have to censor or eliminate the other side — we just need to come up with a more effective and appealing viewpoint. There will always be fundamentalists. We simply need to make their ideas unpopular.”

Arguing with fundamentalists isn’t going help us achieve that because, as I point out in a previous post (last week) engaging in pissing matches is childish and the adults around end up thinking both sides are to blame. Instead, we need to find ways to advocate for our viewpoint that don’t involve us demonizing the people with whom we disagree. It is enough that we disagree for rational, compassionate and responsible reasons.

Am I always able to take this good advice? No. I am not. I get freaked out and angry at times to. And, yes, I have labeled the entire Republican  Party religious zealots bent on trying to convert America into a theocracy even though I know that’s not technically true. Freaking out like that didn’t do me any favors and didn’t help me make my point. It just made people tune out.

So, yeah – I agree with Dr. Berger. As Humanists, we have a moral obligation to make our voices heard and to argue against the forces of fundamentalist religion. However, we must do so as Humanists, being the best, most ethical people we can be and not as a secular version of a religious warrior bent on winning at any cost, oblivious to the carnage being caused.  Compassion, reason and responsibility: this approach is quiet and not very controversial and that’s exactly why it trumps religious extremism every time.  We just have to be willing to stand up and speak out for these values in a way that is consistent with these values.

If you want to learn how to integrate these values into your life better so that you can be that courageously compassionate rationally responsible person – check out my Humanist Life Skills Course.

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Image: “Girls Looking At Each Other” by Stuart Miles