Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Secular Humanism

I was talking with my dad the other day about my project, and he asked, Why focus on the Jewish perspective in particular?  Isn't this issue of a broad human concern, that should cut across all sectarian lines?

Well, I googled "secular humanism adoption", "secular humanism orphan", and so on.  Well, surprise, surprise, not a whole lot.  I did find a charity that built a children's village in Tanzania for HIV+ orphans.   Some on-line discussions about how difficult it is to find a non-religious adoption agency, and a bunch of people venting about Pat Robertson's recent idiotic remarks about special-needs adoptions.

Well, then.

If I were to try to do a Secular Humanist version of this blog, where would I look for sources?  Most Secular Humanist thinkers focus on how we should be able to live our lives in freedom without having religious fanatics run our lives for us.  Which is true.  There are also Secular Humanist organizations which create a social context that fills in the space left by religious services.  Fair enough.  Communal services do serve a function in both the individual psyche and the social fabric.  So they get together, talk about shared values, perhaps support a food bank for the feel-good aspect of it.  I don't see Secular Humanists really putting their life on the line for anything.  They will work for causes they believe in, yes, but only up to a point. If our life on Earth is all there is, if there is no Higher Power for us to look up to, then doesn't it just boil down to "feelin' good was good enough", a la Janis Joplin?  Without the framework of religion, why would one take on the challenge of a special needs orphan?  Would one have what it takes to work a miracle, without the belief in miracles in the first place?


  1. To answer your last question, no, one would not. At least not in my opinion! I really appreciate your blog and perspective. I just read about your project and a few weeks back had been envisioning the same exact thing in my own church! Good to 'meet' you!

  2. Welcome! I hope you find stuff you can use here.

    I know quite a few Secular Humanists/Atheists. They are often very nice people. They are reasonable, they have standards of behavior and they generally know how to get along with others. But they will not put their lives on the line for anything except their immediate families. The causes they believe in and support tend to focus on making their own lives better or easier. Any humanitarian causes they support do not make a huge demand on them.

    Of course, we also know plenty of religious people who show the same (low) level of commitment to such causes. The difference is that their religion does not support this stand, so they do have a force in their life that pushes them out of themselves.

    If any Secular Humanists want to prove me wrong, please do! I'd happily eat my words on this!

  3. I agree on both counts -- in general Atheists, and secular organizations, do not put themselves out on the line the way religious charities do. (And yes, I'd be delighted to be proven wrong about this.)

    A blogger named James Lileks once commented that one sees this again and again, in terms of the organizations that are at the forefront of disaster relief. During Hurricane Katrina, for example, there were several organizations that sent volunteers into the storm, to save lives before the storm itself had passed. They were the organizations you'd expect -- Red Cross, Chabad, and so on. Lileks commented that he kept wondering when the Global Organization of Secular Humanists would show up.

    I think your reference to Atheism was also correct... you capitalize it as though it's a religion in its own right. I'd contend that it is, since Atheism requires a leap of faith just as much as any other religion does. (Whenever anyone defiantly tells me that there is no G-d, my response is: "Prove it".)

    Please keep in mind, though, that many secular humanists are not Atheists, but agnostics... which in my view is NOT a religion, because it does NOT require a leap of faith.

  4. "I googled 'secular humanism adoption', 'secular humanism orphan', and so on. Well, surprise, surprise, not a whole lot."

    I googled the same thing when I first discovered the need for special needs international adoption. I'm a secular humanist; I feel much more comfortable giving my time and money to secular organizations. My results were the same as yours: not a whole lot.

    The answer for this is readily obvious. Organized religion is, well, organized. Secular humanism is by its very definition a belief system oriented around the individual. Atheists don't get together one day a week and talk about atheism. We aren't a centralized, hierarchical group. To quote Homer Simpson: "D'oh."

    It's not only erroneous, but also incredibly offensive, to extrapolate from this that secular folks somehow care less, or give less, to social justice causes than religious folks. I'm a recent college graduate living just above the poverty line while I apply to PhD programs; I am still committed to giving 10% of my monthly income to charity. Not many religious people do that, even those whose religion explicitly commands it.

    I do this not because I believe I will be punished or rewarded in the afterlife, or in this life, on the basis of my actions. I do this because as an atheist, I value nothing more than human relationships. We live in a remarkable, beautiful network of interconnectedness. All communities, all individuals. There is no greater good than the enrichment of these communities and the lives of the individuals within them. I don't need a god or gods or goddess or flying spaghetti monster to reach this conclusion. I just need reason and compassion, my two guiding lights.

    I am a member of a Unitarian Universalist church whose core aim is community activism. We are as involved, if not MORE involved, in philanthropy both locally and internationally than most Christian churches in my area. Almost all my friends are also secular; they too give generously to various causes with both time and money.

    "[secular humanists] will not put their lives on the line for anything except their immediate families. The causes they believe in and support tend to focus on making their own lives better or easier. Any humanitarian causes they support do not make a huge demand on them."

    Really? Is this I donate my time to tutoring kids with behavioral and learning challenges? This is why I volunteer at an animal shelter? This is why I'm planning on becoming a foster and adoptive parent? This is why I skip lunch one week every month and shop entirely secondhand so that I can pour my money into charitable causes? It's because I want to live a comfortable, ego-centered life?

    Frankly, EVERY charge you just threw at atheists can be turned right back around to the religious. My beliefs make the same demands upon my character as yours do. I believe those demands are made of EVERYONE, religious or not. Some of us choose to heed the call; some don't. Some need religion to prod them to action; some don't. It's as simple as that.

    Also, in response to "Whenever anyone defiantly tells me that there is no G-d, my response is: 'Prove it'": You can't prove a negative. It's a basic logical principal. I can no more prove there isn't a god than you can prove there aren't leprechauns living in my garden. This is one of the most easily defeated arguments flung at atheists. I suggest you get more sophisticated material.

    I don't believe in miracles. I believe in something much more difficult: personal and civic responsibility. I'm an atheist. I'm an orphan advocate. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, for me the former necessitates the latter.


Jewish Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf