Saturday, December 08, 2007

Humanist institutions

Time to keep pushing this one!

Neil said: "Why is it necessary to have "special" institutions that pass on humanistic belief? Surely it would be done from a humanist to his family, his workplace - sounds like evangelism! Schools and Universities would be the best example of humanist/secular "institutions". Art and Media is then influenced by humanism, which we see presented on television, the internet, etc etc. So there's no humanist churches. And there's no special humanist "institution", but does that mean that humanistic beliefs and attitudes do not influence society at large?"

If I might say so, this is a classically Protestant response!! But what I wanted to pick up on was the example of universities. These do indeed have a particular aim and ethos, and they are very good at instilling particular practices and habits in the students that attend (and later teach) at such institutions. So they could be called - with a nod to Robert M Pirsig - the 'Church of Reason'. I would even go so far as to accept that they teach particular virtues, eg commitment to the truth and to honesty in research (which, by the by, shows up one of the dependencies of "scientific" research on moral culture). Yet would it be generally accepted that the universities produce people who are 'more moral' or 'more good' than the average? To go back to Scott's summary of my quest, "I want to know where humanism is building up society in such a way that more people will tend to do good rather than evil."

In addition to that, the universities and schools, especially in this country, are obviously dependent upon the Christian tradition for their founding and initial establishments and ethos. What is a) the distinctive humanist contribution to academic study, and b) what is the benefit to the good of society from that contribution.

The same thing applies in other fields. Think of hospitals and medical care generally - where, again, the Christian influence is pretty explicit. In terms of training of nurses or doctors today there are certainly institutions which - in theory - can shape people to work for the good of society. But what does humanism bring to this? Especially now, when the UK health care system has been overrun by the meddling mediocrities from Whitehall, and what matters is the meeting of some abstract 'target' rather than the healing of an individual person. (And there are issues lurking behind this as well, to do with the healing of the whole person rather than simply the 'broken mechanism' of their body).

Where is the humanist institution that is concerned with creating better people? (And it begs the question: what are people FOR?)

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