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The humanists' odd encyclical

There is no reason to be dismayed by the fact that religion is the target of sharp attack by the modern humanists. But it is useful to see where this new attack is coming from and where it may be headed.

The issue at controversy arises from the way many of the "born again" evangelical Christians and some others entered the political arena during the recent presidential camv paign. They used their television and radio pulpits to favor certain candidates and did not mind leaving the impression that those who disagreed with their political policies and values were somehow immoral. This kind of dialogue seemed to be intended to poison the political dialogue.

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I would defend earnestly the right of these people to utilize their constitutional guarantee of free speech to expound their convictions. Religious leaders should not be barred from the political forum.

But now comes a counterappeal which proposes a cure that to me is more dangerous than the offense.

It comes in the form of an encyclical recently issued under the title of "A Secular Humanist Declaration." It is signed by 61 prominent scholars, philosophers, physicians, writers, and scientists from seven countries. The draft was prepared and the signatures obtained by Dr. Paul Kurtz of the State University of New York at Buffalo. It is published in a new magazine called Free Inquiry, edited by Dr. Kurtz.

The humanists affirm that they put the highest value on rationality and logic. But when they apply them, they seem to me to reach conclusions from which logic is absent.

For example, their declaration sweeping contends that "dogmatic authoritarian" religions -- and their definition is very broad -- are an enemy of intellectual freedom, human rights, democracy, and the scientific mind.

Really? Wherein does scientific inquiry, wherein does logic provide the basis for the foregoing assertion? Has "humanist logic" taken account of the fact that in many countries where religion is active and dominant the institutions of democratic freedom are strongest, and that in many countries where religion is weak or suppressed the institutions of human freedom are weak or nonexistent?

In Poland, where Roman Catholicism is a dominant force, religion is playing a major role in helping to recover human rights for the Polish people. If religion is an enemy of human rights and democracy, as the humanists seem to claim, it could hardly be performing such a valuable service.

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In the United States, where churchgoing people of all denominations make up the overwhelming majority of the population, religion is not proving to threaten human rights -- as the reasoning of the humanist "Declaration" contends -- without, as I see it, logically and scientifically looking at all the facts. Quite the contrary, religion is usually a boon to democracy and freedom. eligionists and humanists live under the same Constitution, and it strikes me as illogical for the humanists to suggests that religion should not be heeded in society's decision-making while humanists' views should be heeded. That would be a pretty one-sided democracy -- humanist style.

I happen to believe that during the 1980 presidential campaign as during the 1928 campaign when Al Smith was running for president, some radio preachers were overly assertive in seeking to corral their followers into one political camp. But they were exercising one of the democratic freedoms which religion has done so much to nourish and preserve.

If the humanists want to warn of dangers in the free expression of religion -- while seeking increased exposure for their own views -- it seems to me they are, I am sure unintentionally, therein becoming the enemy of freedom.

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