If Jim Al-Khalili is an accomodationist, then so am I

In an interview for the Rationalist Association Jim Al-Khalili, the new president of the British Humanist Association, admitted to being an accomodationist. To some people this is just plain common-sense but to others it is the worst crime an atheist can commit. Well I’m with him on this one and here’s why….

The BHA says on its web-site that “We work on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical lives on the basis of reason and humanity. We promote Humanism, a secular state, and equal treatment of everyone regardless of religion or belief.” 

Take out the words “non-religious” and “Humanism” and read it again. “We work on behalf of people who seek to live ethical lives on the basis of reason and humanity. We promote a secular state, and equal treatment of everyone regardless of religion or belief.” Almost all the religious people I know would support that sentiment.

I’m not pretending that that all religious people would. There are those who think morality can only come from their god, but equally, there are those who assert that rationality can only come from atheism and atheists.

There are large numbers of religious people who are opposed to, for example, the current government’s austerity agenda. Some will feel that their conviction that this is wrong is based on their religion. I’m sure there are also a lot of atheists (me for instance) who feel the same way. Our conviction is obviously not based on religion, but we should not kid ourselves that it is entirely rational either. Most convictions and beliefs are more deeply rooted in upbringing and experience than in rational analysis.

But what we do with our beliefs, how we examine and re-examine them, question them, sometimes change them, and how we try to persuade others to share them, that is where rationality comes to the fore. And it does so for religious people too. The ones who say “It’s right because it’s in the Bible” are in the minority (despite their large numbers on BBCs Big Questions). And that majority, the non-dogmatic on both side should be natural allies.

That this is understood by most religious people is demonstrated by the very existence of organisations like Ekklesia, and British Muslims for Secular Democracy , and the coalition which formed recently to campaign for ‘Insulting’ to be dropped from section 5 of the Public Order Act. This quote from Barack Obama illustrates what I mean.

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all”

I think there is a tendency for some parts of some religions to become more dogmatic, reactionary, and fundamentalist. This may be a reaction to a perceived threat from declining numbers and increased secularism. This trend means many religious people who might be considered liberal and progressive are left opposing the dogma of their own churches. The reaction of many Christians to the C of E’s positions on equal marriage and women bishops is an obvious example.

I would like these people to see their common purpose with Humanism. And I would like Humanists to see their common purpose with them. This doesn’t mean compromising beliefs on either side. If we are debating the existence of God then we can vigorously (and hopefully politely) argue, but if we are discussing, say, equal marriage then I think we can agree that our religious beliefs, or the lack of them, are irrelevant.

I would love it if we started to hear people describe themselves as “Christian Humanists” or “Humanist Muslims”.

So, lets leave the stridency to the fundies, and embrace Jim’s fluffy, friendly, and welcoming humanism.

PS – I know I used the “S” word at the end there, but this is not a criticism of Richard Dawkins. I think he’s doing a great job and is actually very polite.

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4 Responses to If Jim Al-Khalili is an accomodationist, then so am I

  1. Leif says:

    Who are You, I like what you write, is as if I think these things and then you write them.

  2. John says:

    How can you be a “Christian Humanist” when a defining feature of a humanist is one who rejects the idea of the supernatural and is therefore an atheist or agnostic?

    • Dave Watts says:

      Hi John,
      You are, of course, correct. Technically you cannot be a religious humanist because part of the definition of humanism is a non-religious world view. I suppose what I am saying is that perhaps that definition could be widened a bit. No, that’s not really what I mean, Humanism, as a philosophy, could never support a religious world view. Perhaps what I mean is that Humanism, as a human organisation and/or movement rather than as a philosophy, could be inclusive of people who would see themselves as religious.
      Maybe we need another, umbrella, organisation for Humanists and religious people who share everything but the atheism?

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