On Saturday, March 3, 2012, the Council for Secular Humanism and the Center for Inquiry presented one of the feature events of their cosponsored conference, “Moving Secularism Forward,” held at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida. Four distinguished speakers from across the political spectrum addressed the question, “Does Secular Humanism Have a Political Agenda?”
“Secular humanism does not mandate acceptance of a detailed moral code or a comprehensive political, economic, and legal agenda,” wrote Ronald A. Lindsay (“Freedom of Thought,” FI, February/March 2009). “Contrary to the perceptions of some, secular humanists are not a subgroup of the left wing of the Democratic Party.” Yet Christian conservatives often accuse secular humanists of being wedded to the political Far Left.
The results of a 2010 telephone survey of Free Inquiry readers could be read as buttressing that charge. Their politics:
Socialist 7% Liberal 41% Progressive 27% Moderate 12% Centrist 3% Libertarian 7% Conservative 3%
Whew! Some 75 percent self-describe as liberal, progressive, or socialist. Still, a full quarter fall elsewhere on the political spectrum, and the libertarians, in particular, defend their views with a vigor that belies their numbers. So, to whatever degree Free Inquiry readers represent the larger atheist/humanist/freethought movement, we can draw at least two conclusions:
- Liberal/progressive/leftist positions are significantly overrepresented relative to their prevalence in the general population.
- Though “lefties” predominate in the herd, they do not own the ranch.
Still, this fails to address two larger questions: Is it merely coincidence that secular humanism attracts more than its share of political leftists? Or is there an inherent link between progressive politics and our brand of value-enriched religious unbelief? And if so, how do we explain Ayn Rand? (Oops, that’s three questions.)
Clearly it’s a fertile ground for controversy, and each of the four panelists approached it in a distinctive, not to say idiosyncratic, way.
Patricia Schroeder, who served in Congress from 1973 to 1997 and was the first woman to serve on the House Armed Services Committee, donned the progressive mantle. We present an edited transcript of her talk, in which she exhorted progressives attending the conference to expand their political involvement—frankly, while they still can.
Razib Khan, founder of the website SecularRight.org, champions the conservative viewpoint. In his essay, he seeks to demonstrate that a Burkean conservatism might be more compatible with secular humanism than our movement’s demographics might lead one to expect.
Ronald Bailey, libertarian activist and science correspondent for Reason magazine, probes the secular-humanist mind-set from a libertarian viewpoint . . . and comes away worried.
Finally, liberal blogger Greg Laden, speaking on behalf of the hard left-liberal viewpoint, offers a scholarly analysis of the links between secularism and liberalism.
Does secular humanism have a political agenda? Let’s listen as our panelists take the floor.