The Humanist Interviews: Jack Rivall

The Interview was originally published at Skepoet at the Crossroads of Critical thinking in 2009. That blog is now defunct.  (Note: These interviews seem particularly naive to me now).

C. Derick Varn: Do you see any humanist allies in theistic or religious communities?

Jack Rivall: Yes, typically among the more liberal theists. And, of course, among religious humanists. These are the folks who are less bigoted towards irreligious or secular humanists. Secular humanism itself is at odds with faith-based religious systems on many issues. However, it is dedicated to the fulfillment of the individual and humankind in general. That’s a tune we can all dance to.

C.D.V.:  Why do you think cultural relativism has become vogue at current?

Jack Rivall: I’m not sure that it has. I cannot say for sure. If it has, as it is suggested in the question that it has, I would ask, “Where?”

C.D.V.: Do you find it ironic that the far right has started using both the legal and philosophical tactics of the left to push their agenda? Using the language of human rights, for example, as a way to stop critique?

Jack Rivall: Extremely. As outrageous as the Christian Right’s (‘far right’) overall agenda is, their specific arguments and beliefs can be worse. I have posted many articles exploring the arguments and beliefs advocated by the Christian Right in order to reveal just how awful, and awfully absurd, they can be. I’ve never seen any groups on the radical/religious right not claim to be the keepers of absolute truth – particularly when it comes to moral issues. Using their bibles and twisted interpretations of the Constitution, they advance incredible ideas about the nature of society and humanity which are inflexible and intolerant. Genuine democratic dialogue cannot possibly take place in such an atmosphere

C.D.V.: In regards to relativism, I actually don’t either, but I have heard a lot of skeptics attack postmodernism in the humanism specifically for promoting relativism in some seemingly massive way.  How do you think the so-called “New Atheists” have helped humanism? Do you think there are any ways they have hurt it?

Jack Rivall: From what I have witnessed and believe to be the case, the “New Atheists” have helped the causes of humanism in many ways. I mostly examine nonreligious humanism. Imagine if you will a person who identifies as nonreligious. This person may also identify as a humanist concerning where they discern their morals and ethics. We begin with the absence of religion and build on this with humanism. The foundation, though, is the irreligious characteristic. This is also atheism. The “New Atheists” mission is essentially similar to the movements in the 70’s through the 90’s for homosexuals in that the want for openness and understanding is desired, and that the need for the arrest of hatred and malice should cease. A web search of “New Atheists” provides: “An increasingly outspoken community of atheists and agnostics is getting fed up with being marginalized, ignored and insulted.” I think that chances are, if you identify as an atheist, you understand the challenges that come up as a result of revealing your atheism to family, friends, co-workers, and others. You can experience (and even expect) prejudice and bigotry. One might ask: “Why is that so?”.

Thus, by promoting a social advance for nonreligious folk, the group of “New Atheists” by virtue of their websites and their now popular OUTcampaign are most definitely helping the causes of humanists and the public understanding of humanism and nontheism in general. If the drums are loud enough, people wonder where they are coming from.

The only criticism I might have would be the demanding nature of those involved in this movement. Many in the ‘mainstream’ of our culture do not respond well to that. I can hardly blame those involved, though. There is a sense of urgency… for the bigotry and misconceptions are hurting all parties. Atheists and secular humanists do not want to be patronized, belittled, scoffed at, mistrusted, or condescended to any more than another person does. Discrimination can be subtle and indirect, which at times is even worse than outright hatred. The call to be heard is getting louder as atheists grow more courageous and comfortable.

C.D.V.:: Why do you think atheism is more stigmatized than say humanism? I mean, I label as an ignostic and even though that makes me a functional atheist, I know atheists get a MUCH harder time.

Jack Rivall:I think that, quite simply, the word ‘atheist’ or ‘atheism’ itself has become taboo. It isn’t too hard to find people attack or criticizing atheism and atheists. There are websites devoted to it, people who write columns about it, and you can even find them in letters to the editor of different newspapers. Very little of what you read there is justified. Occasionally, someone will make comments which fairly apply to some atheists, but it is very unusual to find attacks which fairly apply to all atheists or to atheism in general.

Never has there been more misconceptions, misunderstanding, and outright fallacies regarding nontheism. Why? Misunderstandings arise because many theists imagine that all atheists fit a narrow, limited concept of atheism. Reliance on dishonest apologists and cheap dictionaries only exacerbates the problem. Most ‘folks’ hear the word “atheism” and have been brought up in their communities and families to either pity, ignore, condescend to, patronize, or even outright hate a person talking or adhering to such a thing.
Like so many things, education is the answer to this problem.

C.D.V.:: Anything you’d like to say in closing?

Jack Rivall:Only that I’ve enjoyed your questions and hope that others may continue asking about secular options. My desire is to help promote freethought and an understanding of science in all areas of human interest. A quote usually ties things up nicely: “MUNDIS VULT DECIPI” (The world wants to be deceived) — James Branch Cabell

Poets, priests, politicians, psychics and psychoanalysts, and many others make pleasingly plump livings by simply telling people what they want to hear. It’s up to each individual to digest what they hear and are exposed to. I’d always say a dose of skepticism is prudent when evaluating claims posed as truth.


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