This subject did not occur to me until I saw an intriguing article through the New York Times: Link.
The article is worth a read, if you’re patient, but the basic idea is this: Humanists consider their brand of communion to be a viable – and, really, a more reasonable – alternative to traditional religious institutions. Or, they emphasize the notion that you don’t need God to find meaning in life. As such, why wasn’t humanism represented at any point during the tragedy in Newtown, CT?
Aside from the fatal blow that is obvious to most people – that is, without God, without an eternal reality, haven’t you rendered everything meaningless? – I found this to be an interesting question. The article mentions, after all, that humanists are readily available to celebrate a wedding, and most other life events.
But it doesn’t ask the really interesting question. Rather than ask, it assumes that humanism IS a viable alternative to faith in God (or gods, or at least spiritualism). It assumes that humanism has answered, with perfect rationality and without appealing to anything beyond that which can be experimented upon, every human longing and lament.
The article could have been aborted before it was born. Though, even then, there was nothing to terminate.
Humanists weren’t there because humanists don’t have an answer.
Let’s back up.
Humanists share the answer of faith until a critical point. That is, there is such a thing as evil in the world. For the humanist, this treatise dies when a person ceases to exist, biologically. There really is nothing else to say, because that consciousness has been utterly annihilated.
So when a gunman, whatever his motivation, kills your 6 year old child – there is simply nothing else to say. The humanist can offer condolences, but that suggests hope, however meekly offered. What hope does humanism offer?
The humanist might suggest that you dedicate your life to preventing tragedies like this from occurring elsewhere. (Think about that). Have you ever heard of a surer path to insanity? This kind of tragedy has never been prevented, not completely, not always and everywhere, in all of history. Humans have always done terrible things to each other, and we’re not done yet. No parent, no set of 20 parents, is going to prevent any and all such tragedies from happening ever again.
(I don’t want to spend the time saying this, but feel compelled – I am not saying it’s not worth the effort to investigate the causes and the context of the tragedy, and to try to remediate them. However, to rest one’s fervent hope on success – which is only the absence of failure, in this case – is to expect perfection from imperfect creatures. It is to run without stopping, which is impossible).
No, humanists weren’t there because humanists have nothing to offer which the bereaved also want, so long as they are honest and consistent with their doctrine. If they borrow or steal from religion, it may sound like they have something to say. I don’t mean that humanists aren’t good people, who could have offered a sense of compassion, and perhaps some of the charitable measures which marked people of all faiths from all over the world.
Rather, if you are a parent, or can put yourself in the place of one – you do not want compassion or charity in place of your child’s life. You want hope eternal. You want to believe, more than you believe anything else, that God has redeemed their suffering so thoroughly that they have already forgotten about the bullets and the terror of their final moments on earth.
Whether it is true or not is another question.