North American Science, Skepticism, and Secular Humanism 3— To Proselytize or To Be Alone in Heaven: Won’t Not and Can’t Not
James A. Haught was born on Feb. 20, 1932, in a small West Virginia farm town that had no electricity or paved streets. He graduated from a rural high school with 13 students in the senior class. He came to Charleston, worked as a delivery boy, then became a teen-age apprentice printer at the Charleston Daily Mail in 1951. Developing a yen to be a reporter, he volunteered to work without pay in the Daily Mail newsroom on his days off to learn the trade. This arrangement continued several months, until The Charleston Gazette offered a full-time news job in 1953. He has been at the Gazette ever since — except for a few months in 1959 when he was press aide to Sen. Robert Byrd.
During his six decades in newspaper life, he has been police reporter, religion columnist, feature writer and night city editor; then he was investigative reporter for 13 years, and his work led to several corruption convictions. In 1983 he was named associate editor, and in 1992 he became editor. In 2015, as The Gazette combined with the Daily Mail, he assumed the title of editor emeritus, but still works full-time. He writes nearly 400 Gazette editorials a year, plus personal columns and news articles. Haught has won two dozen national newswriting awards, and is author of 11 books and 120 magazine essays. About 50 of his columns have been distributed by national syndicates. He also is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, Contemporary Authors and 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century. He has four children, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. For years, Jim has enjoyed hiking with Kanawha Trail Club, participating in a philosophy group, and taking grandchildren swimming off his old sailboat. He is a longtime member of Charleston’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation. Haught continues working full-time in his 80s.
Here we talk about tact.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Scientific skeptics tend to raise questions rather than impose an ideology. Religious zealots, at times, aim for conversion through proselytization to the One True Faith.
By the nature of some of the beliefs, believers must reach the unconverted or previously converted (the de-converted) to bring them back to the light, the truth, of the One True God.
How can a secularist and scientific skeptic maneuver politely in the common cultural waters of those feel the need to proselytize in American society?
Jim Haught: Religion is such a touchy topic that anger can explode during any confrontation. (Bertrand Russell said it’s because believers subconsciously realize their beliefs are irrational, so they can’t bear to have them challenged.)
To avoid ugly clashes, I urge skeptics to stay calm, avoid belligerence, and mostly ask questions: Ask a believer: “The Bible says anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death. Should we obey the Bible?” Or this one: “The Bible says brides who aren’t virgins shall be stoned to death on their fathers’ doorsteps. Should this command from God be obeyed?” And the clincher: “Why did an all-loving, all-merciful God create breast cancer and cerebral palsy — and mass-killing twisters, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc. — and why did He make foxes to rip rabbits apart?”
Jacobsen: One, with enough time and experience, gets the sense of the true believer who proselytizes as an individual who does not take religion as a personal and private matter alone.
The trying for conversion to the Good News becomes something the true believer won’t not do and, furthermore, simply can’t not do because of the nature of the belief’s imperatives. God commands thusly. What is undergirding this form of thought and behaviour in American life and history?
Haught: Believers need to convert others as a way affirm that their supernatural dogmas are true. But it’s a losing struggle. Increasingly, intelligent young people cannot be converted to swallow magic tales. Religion is dying rapidly in educated western democracies. Hurrah.
Jacobsen: How does Secular Humanism provide a healthy alternative approach to thinking in private and behaving in public?
Haught: Humanism means helping people — and secular humanism means doing it without supernatural faith. It’s actually the foundation of democracy and human rights. Ever since The Enlightenment, secular humanism has been growing relentlessly until it’s now the bedrock of modern life and society (in the West, but not in Muslim cultures). I hope this tide keeps growing forever.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Jim.
Haught: Keep the faith, baby.