Episode 36: When Heroes Turn Out To Be Mere Human
In this episode we find out that even Humanists have concerns about people we honor as Humanists of the Year and that is a good thing. Douglas then talks about the recent report released by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Freedom From Religion Foundation about the connection of Christian nationalism to the January 6th Insurrection.
00:51 AHA Humanists of the Year Hindsight
19:08 Christian nationalism & the January 6th Insurrection
Voice Over 0:02
This is Glass City Humanist, a show about humanism, humanist values by a humanist. Here’s your host, Douglas Berger,
Doug Berger 0:11
In this episode, we find out that even humanists have concerns about people we honor as humanists of the year. And that’s a good thing. Then I talk about the recent report released by the Baptist joint committee for religious liberty, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation about the connection of Christian nationalism to the January 6 insurrection.
Voice Over 0:31
Glass City Humanist is an outreach project of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie, Building Community Through Compassion and Reason For A Better Tomorrow.
Doug Berger 0:51
In recent years activists and others have been forcing our government, both federal and local to reconsider people and events of the past that have been honored in light of current ideas about social justice. For example, black activists got the state of South Carolina to stop flying the Confederate flag outside their state house, other people supporting social justice. Finally, were able to get statues of traitors who fought for the Confederacy removed from public squares and parks. And other activists have convinced school boards to not name schools located in minority neighborhoods after historical figures who own slaves. I totally support removing those types of honors. The Confederates lost the war. Why should we honor any confederate? They’re traitors? Removing those honors doesn’t change history. The South still lost the war. And you have to ask yourself, why don’t we have a Fort Grant anywhere in this country. There are quite a few military installations that are named for Confederate generals, such as Fort Bragg. But none for the guy who ultimately defeated the south Ulysses S. Grant. These social justice actions are the result of evolving thought on how we treat people. Back in the day, little to no thought was given about putting up a monument to the Confederacy on a street corner in Ohio, or naming a school after the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Today, we try to be more thoughtful, even as we pull some people kicking and screaming along the way. The Humanist Movement also has skeletons in its closet. You may have heard about the American Humanist Association rescinding the Humanist of the Year Award from Dr. Richard Dawkins and Dr. Lawrence Krauss. Dawkins award was removed due to his controversial comments disparaging women, social justice and trans people on Twitter and other social media outlets. Krauss’ award was rescinded due to his continuing issues with women and personal boundaries. The Humanist of the Year award is the premier recognition by the AHA and it’s usually given out during their conferences on the webpage, listing all the awardees as well as people that have been awarded other recognitions from the various AHA adjuncts. It gives a short description of the award.
Doug Berger 3:26
“The Humanist of the Year Award was established in 1953. To recognize a person of national or international reputation, who through the application of humanist values, has made a significant contribution to the improvement of the human condition. Selection of the awardee is based on research derived from biographical data writings, studies and contributions to humanity. Nominations are accepted from the AHA members and considered by the AHA board awards committee.”
Doug Berger 3:57
With that in mind, the other day, I was working on some social media graphics to highlight some African-Americans who either were AHA humanists of the year or had been given another award like the humanist Heroine Award. I didn’t find them directly online. And I really didn’t want to copy somebody else’s work. So I decided to create my own. So I went to the list of awardee on their website, and many of the names. I didn’t know who they were, believe it or not, I didn’t know who all of them were. So I looked them up online using the regular websites like Wikipedia, and I did a general Google search if they didn’t have a Wikipedia page. And I came across some people who were given awards back in the day that would never be honored by the AHA and 2022. For example, old letters from biologist E.O. Wilson, who was the 1999 Humanist Of The Year He passed away in December of 2021. His letters were given to the Library of Congress recently, and a lot of the and researchers went through and found that a lot of the content showed that Wilson held some extreme racist beliefs and supported scientists who were known to advance racist agendas. 2006 awardee Steven Pinker has some issues with being linked to the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, and continues making controversial negative comments about social justice on social media. And in interviews.
Doug Berger 5:41
Now, I, I have been so disappointed with Steven Pinker, and I believe he is such a poor person to honor that I have directed my group to refuse to promote his work or support him in any way. And then we have Margaret Sanger, who was the humanist of the year in 1957. And she is well known to have supported the eugenics movement for population control back in the 20s and 30s. If you’re not familiar with eugenics, that’s where people arbitrarily decided whether or not certain individuals could procreate. And they used state enforced sterilization. And other means that were wholly anti democratic, violated due process of people and unnecessarily subjected a lot of people to a lot of hurt and stress. And it’s been rejected. eugenics is no longer a policy that anybody, any humans, any rational humanist supports. Then we have Dr. Ben Munson. He was given the humanist Heroine Award in 1984, for performing illegal abortions in South Dakota before 1973 When Roe v Wade was decided, in fact, he was the only doctor in South Dakota at the time that would perform abortions, and even though they were still illegal. And then after even after Roe v Wade was decided, he was put on trial for sending home a woman with an incomplete abortion who later died. Robin Morgan who was awarded the humanist Heroine Award in 2007, at some real nasty comments about a trans woman in a keynote speech at the West Coast lesbian conference in 1973. The trans woman who was the target of her harassment and comments, was the woman who organized the event. And I’m just I was reading about it and it just shocked me. But yet we gave her the humanist Heroine Award in 2007 for all her work that she did besides that, and I personally observed the 2001 humanist heroine Diane Russell, use her acceptance speech time to personally attack that year’s humanist pioneer awardee Wendy Kaminer over Kaminer’s longtime support a pornography. Russell was very very anti pornography. And she used her time to personally attack Wendy Kaminer because Kaminar supported pornography. Now I didn’t do a comprehensive check of all the awardees on the list. I spent a few hours going through ones but hopefully you get the picture. Some of the humanist of the year that we gave humanists Of The Year Two probably would not be honored today. And while I supported the resending of the award for Dawkins and Krauss, I don’t necessarily support recinding awards as a first principle. Many of the people have passed away and to be honest, some of their thinking back in the day was cutting edge. But then it but then it’s become rejected now. There was a psychiatrist named Thomas Szasz, who was awarded a humanist of the Year award in 1973. And his study or Well, his claim to fame was that he believed that mental illness didn’t exist. He believed it was a metaphor for describing how a person was living at that time. So what that meant, you know, and that was just totally radical 1973. And it’s now, nobody follows that anymore. That is not, you know, mental health is a disease, it does exist. And there are treatments for it, and simply addressing somebody life, or how they’re living isn’t going to solve mental illness in most cases. So that just gives you kind of an example.
Doug Berger 10:33
I don’t totally agree with judging a body of work from history with 2022 eyes. That doesn’t mean I won’t, but I mean, you’re a little bit walking a fine line. In fact, the AHA makes a point about pointing out hindsight judging on that awardees page, and they write on the page,
Doug Berger 11:01
“The Humanist of the Year Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award, recognize the accomplishments and work of the individuals reflecting humanist values up to the date of the award. And in concert with the prevailing humanist thought of the time. Since humanism is an evolving philosophy, where we continually strive for improvement, some awardees, we recognize in the past would no longer meet our current standards. As humanists, we also recognize that people are imperfect, and may at times lose sight of the values and ethics that previously guided their humanistic behavior. “
Doug Berger 11:40
And I’m, I’m so pleased to see that noted, because they didn’t need to put that on there. But I’m sure you know, after Krauss and Dawkins lost their award, and they probably got some people probably like me, that looked up other people and say, Hey, what’s he doing on there? But, you know, it’s more of a historical record, rather than current thought, just like the manifestos. You know, we have three manifestos now. And manifesto three, also called the aspirations, that’s current humanist thinking. That has supplanted Humanist Manifesto one and two, that doesn’t take away from what one and two said, or the people that signed them, but a current manifesto three is the current consensus of humanism. So that’s how that works. Another way of thinking about it, is when I was a kid, many, many, many moons ago. Back Back in the old days, we had a playground that I played at regularly, it was near the Riverside Park in Findlay. And it had concrete sewer tile that you could crawl on and around. Alright, concrete, the sewer tile just set on the ground, that kids could run around and go in and climb on. Okay. We had a kind of thing that looked like a fort. But it was made of metal metal piping. And the sides had metal plates. There was diamond plate, treads on the stairs, and a roller slide. So it was like, if you go into like a speedway or gas station, and they have those hot dogs on the machine. That’s what this slide look like. Okay, we had that. And we also had a very tall metal slide. Now, most kids today don’t get to enjoy sliding down a metal slide in the middle of August, with the blazing sun out very, very hot. You know, and there was no padding on the ground. It was just dirt. Just compacted dirt from all the kids. You know, there wasn’t any rounded corners. Exposed bolts weren’t taken care of. Oh, it was just And you wonder how we survived Well, now a days and 2022 when people build playgrounds, now they are more. They think more about the safety of the children. So they might put mulch down or rubber pellets or something on the ground. They’ll use plastic more often than metal The slides aren’t baked in the sun and hot, they still are warm, but they’re not hot now. And if you have a Fort, it’s made out of wood. And they expose bolts are dealt with or cut away or hidden or capped or, you know, and, and you would not have concrete concrete sewer tile to climb on.
Doug Berger 15:27
You know, and in fact, I think at the park that I used to go to they took that out, you know, several years ago, because it was just a way of getting hurt. You were just trying to find a way of getting hurt. And that’s the way the thinking evolved. And that’s how the thinking evolved with the humans of the year is that somebody that wanted in 1952 probably would not be awarded in 2022. That doesn’t mean the person that won it, or was awarded it in 1952 is any less of an honoree it’s just that at that point of time, they were sliced bread, put it put it that way, they were sliced bread. Now they’re not.
Doug Berger 16:13
Now however, I do think there are some red lines, we shouldn’t cross when giving awards like a human so the year racism is one. Anybody with any history of racism or bigotry, they should be disqualified. Misogyny is another. That’s why Dawkins kind of lost his award is because he disparaged women constantly on social media. I think if a humanist in 2022, still supports eugenics, that should disqualify them. And I also think that if a potential awardee rejects or give short shrift to social justice, and social justice issues, then they shouldn’t be considered. Because that’s where we’re going. We’re going towards social justice, we’re going to anti racism, anti bigotry, that’s where we’re headed. Since the humanist of the Year Award is up to the board of AHA, they could vote to rescind an award at any time, and I’m fine with that. I think the group should have the ultimate control on who it honors and who it doesn’t. It’s also good to know that people whose ideas or work was honored in the 1950s turned out to be wrong in 2022. And then we don’t hide it. That shows that our principles of values can change when we gain new information or insight. And that just proves the humanist philosophy.
Doug Berger 17:56
I did enjoy reading some of these biographies of the awardees who I really didn’t know before I started my project. And I would would really like to see the AHA revise the awardee page and include some by biographical information. Maybe the reason the person was awarded or honored at that time, or like they’ve done recently with recent awardees include links to the acceptance speeches published in the Humanist magazine or in other repositories if they have them available. We shouldn’t avoid honoring people who do good work, but we should make sure that there won’t be any surprises in the future.
Voice Over 18:40
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Doug Berger 19:08
Christian nationalism is a serious threat not only to religious freedom in this country, but it’s a threat to our democracy. Christian nationalism is at the foundation of the forces that attempted to coup on January the sixth 2021 When they attempted to overturn the election of President Biden and attack the Capitol building. The Baptist joint committee for religious liberty sponsored a report along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, titled Christian nationalism and the January 6 2021 insurrection. It was released on February the ninth, the report details Christian nationalist rhetoric and symbols that cropped up at events that preceded the insurrection and at the event itself. When we talk about Christian nationalism, we aren’t talking about your neighbors attending church on Sunday giving food to the food bank and, and stuff like that. We’re not talking about mom and paw Christian, praying and reading the Bible having Bible studies and things like that. Christian nationalists believe that the US is meant to be a Christian nation and want to take back the US for God. Experts say that Christian associated support for right wing politicians, such as Donald Trump, and social policies, such as legislation related to immigration, gun control and poverty is best understood as Christian nationalism, rather than as evangelicalism. And try to give you a summary of what Christian nationalists believe. They believe that the federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation. The federal government should advocate Christian values. The federal government should not enforce the strict separation of church and state. The federal government should allow religious symbols and public spaces. If you follow at least here in Ohio, the US Senate race, we do have a candidate who espouses a lot of those things, those phrasings especially about allowing prayer in the public schools. Not going to name him, but he used to be the state treasurer. And now he’s trying to get to be on the US Senate. And he’s he said a lot of these things. He’s been campaigning at, at religious conservative churches around the state. And yeah, so it’s it exists here in Ohio as well. Christian nationalism in the United States is all about supporting white supremacy. And that is why many white supremacist can be found as pastors in churches spouting off against secular government. For example, in the report, author Andrew Seidel, director of strategic response for the Freedom of Religion Foundation, writes that Christian nationalist symbols and references were ubiquitous at at the gatherings, the, the pre insurrection and the insurrection gatherings, as well as that the insurrection itself flags with superimposed American flags over Christian symbols, and “Appeal to Heaven” banners, prayers recited by members of the extremist group proud boys shortly before the attack, or by others as they stormed the Capitol. And if you saw the video of the attack, you would have seen many of those symbols. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, that was February 9th, Seidel highlighted what he called the preponderance of openly militant rhetoric that conflated religion and violence. He pointed to William McCall Calhoun Jr, a Georgia lawyer, who reportedly claimed on social media that he was among those who kicked in Nancy Pelosi’s office door on January the 6th. Calhoun later claimed in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, that he did not personally enter any office. “God is on Trump’s side. God is not on the Democrat side,” Calhoun allegedly wrote in a social media post. “And if Patriots have to kill 60 million of these communists, it is God’s will think ethnic cleansing, but it’s anti communist cleansing.”
Doug Berger 23:39
Whoa. Some people will hear this information and ignore the implications since it possibly doesn’t directly affect you. Yet. There are some places like in Tennessee, just this past few weeks where there have been book burnings. They’ve been pulling books that they didn’t like out of public school libraries and public libraries and burning them. Whole states have outlawed the discussion of racism at public schools. Ohio’s considering such a law in other places, right wingers are trying to take over state election systems to make overturning results they don’t like easier. The US Supreme Court ruled during the pandemic that church services are essential and so they should be exempt from lockdowns and they are currently looking at a case about a city refusing to fly the Christian flag on a pole in front of City Hall. Several justices seem sympathetic to the group wanting to fly their flag. Christian nationalism seems to be at the root of all of these things. And if it isn’t stopped, it will be bad for secular people. And it will be bad for people who become victims of white supremacy. I also just I didn’t participate. But I was there during the press conference, it was a webinar, it was online when they presented this paper. And so I put a link to the paper and a link to a article from the Religious News Service. So you can check it out. But I really would encourage people to check this out, check out the report, and read it. And, and see these examples. I mean, this stuff is going on now. I don’t want to hype it as if there’s no possible way of getting around it. It’s just, it’s very disheartening. You know, we’ve come so far with real religious freedom. And it looks like we’re going to take a massive step back. And it’s going to start with these Christian nationalists that pack the courts and are in our state legislature and in Congress, and they’re going to, they’re going to roll back the clock on a lot of these rights, and protections that we’ve enjoyed as secular people. And we need to get on board, we need to get on the same page. So I put a link to the report and to some other reportage on this issue. And I really strongly advise you to check it out. And really keep up on this issue and respond in kind when needed. I know our group, the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie, you know, I’ll make sure I send out alerts if we need alerts, especially if something’s going on locally or in the state. And you know, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. And it does it’s going to be a bumpy ride. We’re going to see how that January 6th committee turns out and hopefully we’re able to get through this and and have our democracy survive. I really do.
Voice Over 27:24
Thank you for listening. For information about the topics in this episode, please visit the episode page at glasscityhumanist dot show. Glass City Humanist is an outreach of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie, and is supported in part by a grant by the American Humanist Association. The AHA can be reached at americanhumanist.org SHoWLE can be reached at humanistswle.org. Glass City Humanist is hosted, written and produced by Douglas Berger, and he is solely responsible for the content our theme music is Glass City Jam composed using the ampify studio See you next time.
[Transcript also available for offline reading HERE]
Written, produced, and edited by Douglas Berger and he is entirely responsible for the content. Incidental voice overs by Shawn Meagley
The GCH theme is “Glass City Jam” composed using Ampify Studio
This episode by Glass City Humanist is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.