None of our business?
Welcome to another great leap forward for New Humanist. From this issue onward, we will be going bimonthly. It is the culmination of our efforts to gain a wider readership that has seen the magazine's design completely overhauled, attracted a number of wellknown writers as contributors, and put us on the shelves of bookshops around the country. Our efforts are paying off. Over the past year we have managed to almost double our subscribers, and New Humanist is now regularly quoted in the national press.
New Humanist now tackles a wider range of issues than ever before, from Islamic charity to postmodern theory, from the importance of ecological humanism to the relevance of gifts in human society. Staying true to the original objective of what was once called the Literary Guide, we have built up an excellent stable of reviewers to discuss the latest books of interest to humanists and rationalists. And cartoons have served both to make the magazine more colourful and provide incisive visual comments on the issues discussed. Without Martin Rowson's devastating brush New Humanist would not be receiving the attention it does today.
Which brings us to a different kind of criticism. Like other progressive publications and organisations, our efforts at rational inquiry are not appreciated by those who hold superstition above reason. This shows that we are being heard and have been ruffling the right feathers. We wouldn't be doing our job if snakeoil peddlers and religious demagogues didn't take affront at what appears in these pages. Astonishingly though, criticism is coming also from some more moderate branches of religion, at a time when one would have thought they had their hands full saving the sinking ship. And often, this criticism displays the misunderstanding about humanism and atheism that skews more rational debate between both sides.
Take for example an article that appeared a few weeks ago in the Times Higher Education Supplement. Readers of the THES must have been astonished to learn from the dean of Emmanuel College Cambridge, Jeremy Caddick, that there was "an unholy alliance between fundamentalists and atheists". While leaving the reader unclear about the exact nature of this alliance, Caddick claimed that its mission was "to choke more humane forms of religious expression". The ridiculous suggestion that fundamentalists in the Anglican Church and atheists would want anything to do with each other aside, the accusation levelled at atheists is simply untrue. Although most atheists would prefer a world in which superstitious beliefs played no role, the consensus is generally that moderate expressions of religion are better than the fundamentalist form. But at a time when the fundamentalists appear to be winning more and more battles, it is curious to suggest that we stand idly by while the church burns as if it were none none of our business. Take two recent events:
- a BBC crew recorded the senior Vatican cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo suggesting that the single most effective method of preventing the spread of sexual disease, condoms, should not be used because it couldn't stop AIDS;
- after an emergency meeting at Lambeth Palace, 37 leaders of the Anglican world communion released a declaration in which they condemned the planned consecration of a priest in New Hampshire on the grounds that he is gay.
Is it wrong to point out that these events set worrying precedents? How can the Catholic Church reject the sound advice of medical science the world over and warn people against using condoms to protect themselves from AIDS? Every single further victim means blood on its hands. How can a church which prides itself on being among the most progressive communions in the world still discriminate against its members on the basis of sexual preference? Anglicans will henceforth feel justified in discriminating against gays in other situations. We have reported on recent laws that have paved the way for such discrimination and will continue to do so.
The argument put forward by religious people that their beliefs are their own business falls flat, because the results of their pronouncements and decisions will be felt beyond their own communion in society as a whole. Far from wanting to "privatise" religious belief as Mr Caddick has claimed, we want to bring it out into the open and subject it to public scrutiny. To prevent its more pathogenic forms from infecting society we are keen to work together with progressive members of the various faiths. What we have in common is more important than the finer points of metaphysics that divide us.
Meanwhile, we hope that you will continue to support our efforts to make New Humanist "indispensable to every reader of liberal and advanced literature", as Charles Albert Watts said in the first issue of this journal in November 1885. You can send us your suggestions by post or email, comment on articles on our new website (www.newhumanist.org.uk), and engage others in discussion in our online forums. Look forward to exciting articles and brilliant reviews, as we continue to do our best to challenge conventions and keep our critics on their toes.