This Week in Humanism 2017–10–16

Scott Douglas Jacobsen

“Unlike MythCon a couple weeks ago which was shrouded in controversy for good reason, the Pennsylvania State Atheist/Humanist Conference is not only focused on good works and positivity, but it will include good works as well, culminating in an Atheists Fight Hunger event on Sunday. This will be the second time that PAStAHCon includes this service project — the first time being in 2015. I attended that conference as well and took part in the project.

Aside from the Atheists Fight Hunger event, the conference will include humanism-related presentations by Alix Jules and others, as well as activism-focused talks featuring David Silverman and more.

Integrating service projects into atheist conferences is not only helpful to the community, but it’s beneficial for the atheist movement as well. When PAStAHCon did this back in 2015, they raised over $7,500, much of it on the spot from actual volunteers working the event, and as a result, fed over 30,000 people. So far, organizers have raised over $6,000 and are hoping to surpass the mark they set in 2015.”


“Today’s political landscape is confusing, to say the least. The old framework of left and right seems to be crumbling before our eyes. In the USA, the suffering working class voted overwhelmingly for a multi-billionaire dedicated to cutting taxes for the rich and cutting medical cover for the poor. In the UK, the extreme right worked hand-in-hand with the extreme left to force Brexit on a badly informed public on the basis of xenophobia. In Greece, the population put their faith in the “extreme” left, only to find themselves betrayed by their apparently helpless leaders and shackled to even crueller and more degrading fiscal punishment. The panorama is different in each country, but the confusion of left vs right is endemic.

So what is it that characterises left and right?

This is the point; there is no real solid definition because the priorities and political conditions are different in every place. For some the right is characterised by, a belief in the economic dogma of “free markets”, competition as an economic driver, recognition of the importance of capital as a generator of social progress, unlimited personal freedom, undying patriotism, etc. In this framework left is a belief in government-regulation of the economy, cooperation as an economic driver, recognition of the importance of labour as a generator of social progress, social responsibility and solidarity with the weakest, human rights, etc.”


“In fact belief in a God isn’t necessary to appreciate the rich wonder of life, to stare in awe at the night sky, to be moved by great music or art, or to feel love and compassion for our fellow creatures.

These are all sides of our lives which can be described as spiritual.

The term has also been applied to activities as diverse and Godless as crystal healing and tarot card reading.

Spirituality has such a broad meaning that it is difficult to see any good reason why Humanists should not have been able to contribute in the past.”


“Art history has always been important to me. When I was starting out, I wasn’t familiar with the history of art and it wasn’t until after I arrived at art school that I learned how art was involved with the humanities. When I had my first art-history class, I realized I could have a dialogue with all these very moving areas of humanism — philosophy, psychology, aesthetics — and soon enough these areas became driving devices for me. I became very curious about what it meant to be human — what humanity’s true potential was, and how we might achieve a higher state of being through art. Art history became a way of exploring precisely that.

When I was younger I found it interesting that European artists of my generation would speak about art history in a negative manner and say things like, “As an American artist, you don’t have to carry the weight of art history on your shoulders, which gives you, Americans, the freedom to move around and make gestures that are open and powerful.” It has always been just the opposite for me. From the American perspective of Western European art, one could see that an artist like Manet was able to become Manet through an awareness of Titian, Velázquez, Watteau, and Goya, and this sense of connectivity was a really beautiful thing. It shows how one is able to find interest in something greater than the self.”