In a bid to nurture more understanding for the humanist way of thinking, the Humanist Association of America has launched a new advertising campaign contrasting the shortcomings of religion with the benefits of humanism. Marketing experts have said the campaign probably will not succeed in converting many people, but will succeed in directing the discourse on religion.
The campaign attempts to highlight the negative aspects of religion—especially Abrahamic faiths such as Christianity and Islam—in part by citing passages from the Bible and Quran which describe crimes against humanity. For Roy Speckhardt, head of the association, these books contain “horrific material, and to say you get your morality from there” is problematic. One technique of the campaign is to take violent or sexist verses from holy books and contrast them with more compassionate, humane quotations from progressive and humanistic thinkers, such as renowned physicist Albert Einstein.
According to Speckhardt, the goal of the campaign is to make humanism more acceptable by challenging right-wing, fundamentalist ideas about ethics and morality. Paraphrasing Speckhardt, CNN’s Richard Allen Greene explains that “[t]he target audience is people who may not realize they are humanists”. “We’re targeting for criticism those who read the Bible literally, not those who pick and choose what they like,” he quotes Speckhardt as saying. “We’re telling (people who pick and choose), ‘You’re more like us.’ Biblical literalists and Quranic literalists are holding us back.” Speckhardt wants to try to convince people that people can be good without belief in God: “We know that you can be good without God, but many folks in America don’t know that”. In addition, he states, the AHA does not expect to convert people with the new billboards, but, he adds, there are 34 million people in America unaffiliated with a religion, and the AHA hopes to make it easier for these individuals to be open and honest about their humanistic beliefs. “We feel those (unaffiliated) folks don’t yet know they can admit that they don’t believe in God”, Green quotes him as saying.
Marketing analysts agree that the AHA’s goal should be in making humanism more acceptable, not necessarily in trying to convert people, at least not with its current campaign strategy. According to marketing expert Allysen Stewart-Allen, “[o]ne of the things that the humanists need to articulate is what success looks like for the campaign—if it’s converts, I wouldn’t think that is a realistic measure”. Indeed, it seems rather improbable that humanists will change any minds soon with slogans such as “Some believe; humanists think”. Stewart-Allen does, however, see potential for the campaign to broaden and deepen the discussion on religion: “It will certainly get people talking”. Of course, as mentioned above, the campaign’s goal has never necessarily been to convert people, but rather to foster an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding, thus it seems plausible that the campaign should succeed.
Not all of the AHA’s campaign epigrams insult the intelligence of the faithful, however. Some of them are simply thought-provoking. One particular catchphrase that the organization has exploited asks people to “be good for goodness’ sake”, and not just because it pleases an almighty deity or god. In other words, the idea suggests, ethics possess their own inherent value, and we should be ethical toward our fellow human being because of the value of being ethical, not because some god told us to. That would just be “sucking up”.
Open and honest discussion about different spiritual beliefs and philosophies has always been an important part of the ULC Monastery’s interfaith mission, so we look forward to seeing how the AHA’s campaign turns out, and whether it succeeds in making people consider new and fresh ideas about religious faith, and, perhaps, even inching closer yet toward a place of reconciliation. If nothing else, hopefully the efforts will level the playing field in religious discourse and provide a calm, rational, alternative voice to the often zealous, fundamentalist beliefs being promulgated far and wide across America.
Learn more about apatheistic humanism, and how it contrasts with atheism, by visiting our guide to world religions.