Am I the only one who notices that people who call themselves “humanists” seem to despise their fellow man?
“Humanist” of course has shades of meaning. A humanist can be someone like me who is schooled in what used to be called”the humanities”, that is history, classical literature and a smattering of philosophy. Or humanism can mean what the French call laicite, the conviction that human beings should be unconcerned with the things of God and only concentrate on the things of man.
Of course both strands of humanism tends to produce insufferable snobbery. The first kind of humanist tends to despise what Socrates* would call the “unexamined life” of sadly ordinary people just floating along immersed in their cultural surroundings. This sort of humanist is usually cured of snobbery when he graduates from college, realizes he is unemployable, and starts to envy all those “unexamined” machinists, nurses and engineers with good jobs. His encounter with economic realities teaches him the wisdom his schooling failed to provide him.
The second kind of humanist does not seem to be curable, because reality only embitters him. Now, this humanist may define himself as an atheist, agnostic or deist. He may even define himself, usually with qualifications, as a believer. His main concern, however, is not (unless he is a total crank**) religion, but the wonders and possibilities of the human race. While the religious vision tends to see human nature as more or less static, (humans 10,000 years ago are pretty much the same as humans will be 10,000 years from now), the humanist sees human nature as malleable.
In this vision, once humanity is freed from what the humanist considers to be superstition, meaningless tradition, and narrow parochial interests, and governed only by the dictates of pure Reason (Reason as defined by the humanist) all of humanity’s problems will be solved.
The problem, of course, is that most people have no interest in being governed by the the humanist’s idiosyncratic vision of Reason. They are content to pursue their own economic interests, to care for their own little families and towns, and to live (or fail to live) by the standards of righteousness inherited from their ancestors. They do this because they are human, much to the humanist’s chagrin.
The humanist always finds that humans fail to live up to his standards. He is forever disappointed. His rational discourse falls on deaf ears, his central planning is resented or ignored, his government programs undermined. If he finds himself in a position of power he could well react with violence.
But that is inevitable. The humanist does not love humans for what they are, but for what he wants them to be.
* The difference between Socrates and most people who study the humanities: Socrates seemed to genuinely like people.
** I might be wrong here. A brief perusal of “humanist” websites reveal an unhealthy obsession with atheism. That makes no sense, since there is nothing keeping a believer from being a humanist in the forms I’ve described. I can only imagine that either some atheists are using the title “humanist” to pretend they are about something rather than nothing, or that some atheists form a subset of humanism.
But it is interesting that most atheists I know despise the rest of the humanity.