Not a very long or interesting one, just something I'd been meaning to post for a while, that robhu
s post got me thinking about. Although I wouldn't level any of the same charges at CUHmmmSoc
, I did get very annoyed at them recently, when I discovered they'd changed their name to CU Atheist and Agnostic society. Almost
bearable, until you discover the reason actually given on their website is "We changed our name simply because most students didn't know what 'humanism' is!
Err, no. If you're an olive society, and most students don't know what olives are, you can't sell yourself as a chocolate sauce society. Otherwise you will become a chocolate sauce society simply by the members you attract!
Anyway, I sent them a ranty email:
I am writing to let you know my disappointment and sadness at the renaming
of Hmmsoc. I feel the new name (the Cambridge University Athiest and
Agnostic Society) is a bad thing for at least two reasons
1) As your website clearly states, you encourage people of all religious
persuasions to join and argue their views reasonably. Your new name is
discouraging to those with a belief in God. Even if you believe God exists,
you may still believe (indeed I do) that people should look at the world
rationally, base their morals on experience of the world, and believe in the
importance of mankind for their own sake, not just because they belong to
God. Your new name seems to exclude people with these views.
2) You are not representative of all Athiests and Agnostics. If CICCU
started to call itself the Cambridge University Beliving in God Society
there would be an uproar from those of other faiths! There are many
athiests who do not believe that humans have a basic worth, that
responsibility and social cooperation are important, or that there is any
point in trying to improve the world.
I would urge you to go back to calling yourselves the humanist society, and
educating the people of Cambridge University until they know what that is.
I believe Humanism is very important, and a great and powerful force for
good in the world, and it saddens me to see it hidden under the current name
of the society
And I got a ranty reply and let it drop. But it still annoys me.
> I am writing to let you know my disappointment and sadness at the renaming
> of Hmmsoc.
Well, thanks for your thoughts, but I'm surprised that you are writing five
months after the name change. Have you attended any of our events?
> I feel the new name (the Cambridge University Athiest and Agnostic
> Society) is a bad thing for at least two reasons
> 1) As your website clearly states, you encourage people of all religious
> persuasions to join and argue their views reasonably. Your new name is
> discouraging to those with a belief in God.
No more so than when we were called the Humanist Society.
> Even if you believe God exists, you may still believe (indeed I do) that
> people should look at the world rationally, base their morals on
> experience of the world, and believe in the importance of mankind for
> their own sake, not just because they belong to God. Your new name seems
> to exclude people with these views.
But it doesn't: we make clear, as you have already said, that anyone can
join- membership of CUAAS does not indicate any particular stance.
HmmSoc was always a *secular* humanist society, so anyone like yourself who
(if I understand you correctly) shares many aims with secular humanists but
who is also a theist is not, by definition, a secular humanist. This doesn't
bar you from membership of course, but it does mean that this society is,
well, not 'aimed' at you.
> 2) You are not representative of all Athiests and Agnostics.
Aren't we? How do you know this?
(By the way it is spelled 'atheists'.)
> If CICCU started to call itself the Cambridge University Beliving in God
> Society there would be an uproar from those of other faiths!
Yes, because those other faiths have many attendant beliefs that include
things other than simple theism. This is not the case with
atheism/agnosticism which, simpliciter, have no other attendant beliefs. The
term 'atheists & agnostics' covers all flavours of non-belief in God or
> There are many athiests who do not believe that humans have a basic worth,
> that responsibility and social cooperation are [not] important, or that
> there is any point in trying to improve the world.
Yes indeed- a few of our members share that view. But so what? As I like to
say, we are a broad non-Church! Indeed I myself am, at best, only a very
> I would urge you to go back to calling yourselves the humanist society,
> and educating the people of Cambridge University until they know what that
> is. I believe Humanism is very important, and a great and powerful force
> for good in the world, and it saddens me to see it hidden under the
> current name of the society
I think you are confusing two slightly overlapping but distinct kinds of
The term was first used during the renaissance for a form of Christian
philosophy, but that is NOT what HmmSoc/CUAAS was/is about. Instead we
were/are a *secular* humanist group, like those that began during the
Now, before you say that our name should have specified this, I don't think
it should have, since only the latter definition of 'humanism' has been in
common use for the last two hundred years (the BHA doesn't bother to specify
It is true that some Cambridge students know of the earlier meaning, but
that is due to the vagaries of the History course here!
The reason we changed our name was because most potential members either did
not know what humanism was at all or else mistook it for the Christian
variety; this wasted our time and effort in endless explanation and lost us
many potential members. Since changing our name I am happy to report we have
had a record level of membership and interest.
In addition, while I was worried that the national bodies to which we are
affiliated (BHA/NSS/RPA/GALHA) would be unhappy with our new name, on the
contrary they have congratulated us on the idea- they realise that the new
name is clearer to those we wish to attract.
So, again, thanks for your message, but we have no plans to change our name
back. I hope this answers your query.
Hmmph. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that CU doesn't appear to have a humanist society anymore. Or at least that it's not sure what its got. The website
goes on and on about humanism, and the fact they're a humanist society under a different name, but that reply clearly states that they have members who are nihilists (is that the word I mean? Atheist in a "this is all pointless" sense, rather than in a "lets make our own moral code without God sense") I just think it's sad.
There is an odd parallel with UCCF changing its name/re-branding as The "CU" movement. Although, it seems now that they're still called UCCF, so maybe I misrepresent them (or the renaming didn't work).
I share atreic
's objections to the renaming of the humanist society. If they really wanted to make themselves clearer, they'd have called themselves the "secular humanist society". The change of name is actually a way of changing (or maybe just a reflection upon) the beliefs of members.
There's also an intriguing parallel between Christian rebranding and that which we see here. I'm frequently told that Christians should stop using words that people don't understand because simple believers will get confused about "what the gospel really is". Thus, the level of the conversation is often brought down to the level of that of the 5 year old, and, sure enough, then accusations start that Christians don't think. The real reason that lies behind all of this seems to be along the lines that if people can't understand what we believe, then they won't join us. That's certainly the rationale that we see above. I'd argue that if people really want to know what Christians (or anyone) believes, then they have to make some effort to find out, and ask some questions, and do some hard graft just like you have to do if you want to be a mathematician. Also, hard graft involves more than just dismissing one particular version of a religion or tradition that one might be exploring.
When I was at university, I remember chatting to members of the humanist society at the Freshers Fair, and I used to be on their mailing list. I think that the change of name reflects a change of character, and I doubt I'd have been interested if they'd have been called "the atheist and agnostic" society. It appears that I've been penalised by, d'uh, being more educated, and knowing about the renaissance term "for a form of Christian philosophy" (and it wasn't through the vagaries of the history course either). This may not have been what the humanist society was about, but the name allowed a certain kind of ambiguity that has now been lost. Amusingly, this links with my post on Common Worship's understanding of Corpus Christi.
|Date:||April 3rd, 2005 10:09 am (UTC)|| |
There is an odd parallel with UCCF changing its name/re-branding as The "CU" movement. Although, it seems now that they're still called UCCF, so maybe I misrepresent them (or the renaming didn't work).
They're still called Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF). uccf:thechristianunions is just a "trademark" (do charities have trademarks? or is there a different word for it?).
I'm frequently told that Christians should stop using words that people don't understand because simple believers will get confused about "what the gospel really is". Thus, the level of the conversation is often brought down to the level of that of the 5 year old, and, sure enough, then accusations start that Christians don't think. The real reason that lies behind all of this seems to be along the lines that if people can't understand what we believe, then they won't join us.
I'm not too sure this is anything particularly to do with Christianity. Isn't it just basic conversational skills? If you want someone to understand something you explain it in a language they understand; you only use jargon when talking to people you know will have the same vocabulary (or if you are trying to impress/intimidate people with your superiour knowledge). I'm making the comparison with when I try to explain computer related things to non-geek people. I think it is possible to explain technical things in a helpful way without resorting to unexplained technical jargon, and without sound too patronising. (Although, I do think the ability to do this is a skill which not everyone has!) I think explaining Christianity is the same.
As for who should be making the effort. The one explaining making the effort to make things understandable, or the person being explained to making the effort to understand. I think both parties have to put in the effort to communicate. So I do think Christians should make the effort to think how best to explain things to people in a language they can understand. The parallel I'm thinking of is the translating of bibles into English. I think having church services in Latin which the overwhelming majority of people present could not understand was (and is) not a good thing. I think it is a good thing that people put the effort of translating the bible into English so I could have something I can read without putting in the effort to learn Latin/Greek/Hebrew/etc... (having said that I would like to learn them at some stage).
|Date:||April 3rd, 2005 09:45 am (UTC)|| |
I've had contact with that twit. He's the sort to respond to any theological argument with "but Dawkins says!" (by which I mean he actually did do that when I spoke to him). He got rid of one god and took another.
|Date:||April 3rd, 2005 10:22 am (UTC)|| |
Although this society apparently didn't yet exist, under any name, when I was a student at Cambridge, I think I would have been more likely to join it (as an atheist) if it were called CUAAS than HmmSoc. I could probably be better informed on the history and varieties of humanism, but whenever I have read about it (including, just now, on the CUAAS webpages) I have felt it did not correspond very well to my views. I would not want to call myself a humanist - though neither would I say that I had no moral views or was a nihilist. As examples of what I object to (from the society's pages):
Humanism is based on a belief in the worth of Mankind
I don't have a belief in the "worth" of Mankind. Just calling it "Mankind" seems to dignify our species excessively; turning it into a sort of mystical entity with objective value. I think value/worth etc. are themselves qualities which only exist in our minds (and perhaps the minds of other conscious beings), rather than being "out there in the world" as objective things to be determined. To say that Mankind has a "worth" seems almost as superstitious and mystical as saying that a god exists, to my mind.
I might be said to have a moral belief in the "worth" of life generally (though I wouldn't normally put it in those terms) in that I prefer to avoid killing living creatures unless they're directly compromising my own existence. Actually, I'd say this is more a personal/aesthetic preference (like appreciating Escher or cheese), like my other "moral" views, than a rational belief that Life is Good (because where would that property of "goodness" come from, if I don't believe in any kind of supernatural force? It exists only in our own perceptions). Still, calling myself a "humanist" seems to put too much emphasis on our species, at the expense of other species. I don't think that "the proper study of Man is Man" (or God, for that matter - sorry if the quote's not quite right); I think the proper study of Man is the whole universe around (and including) us, inasmuch as we have any "proper" subject of study at all.
...Mankind, which humanists believe is capable of solving its own problems
I don't believe that humans are necessarily capable of solving their own problems (nor do I believe that a god is likely to solve them). I think some problems are just insoluble! And some problems, while perhaps theoretically soluble, may not in practice be things that humans can bring themselves, en masse, to solve e.g. poverty, environmental damage, conflict over resources.
Humanists strive to encourage people to look at the world rationally, rejecting all forms of superstition.
I would have no problem with this bit!
|Date:||April 3rd, 2005 10:40 am (UTC)|| |
Oh, I have no problem with there being a CUAAS. I just feel annoyed that it's eaten HmmSoc. I think there's space in the university for a CUAAS and a HmmSoc, I'm just pissed off that the new CUAAS committee are pretending they're the same thing, rather than admitting that there is no Humanist society anymore.
|Date:||April 3rd, 2005 10:50 am (UTC)|| |
HmmSoc is simply a cooler name [far more descriptive of agnosticism, anyway] than whatever ghastly acronym they've got now! Cambridge student societies seem to go in for acronyms far more than Bristol and LSE, uselessly enough.
Plus they could sing it to the tune of Mmmbop by Hanson, and thus gain an easy and catchy jingle.
In fairness CICCU doesn't really represent all Cambridge Christians in practice. If you look at their doctrinal basis
it states that they believe in The divine inspiration and infallibility of Holy Scripture as originally given, and its supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.
whereas I know Christians who believe that parts of the Bible are fallible. They also believe Justification as God's act of undeserved mercy, in which the sinner is pardoned of all his sins, and accepted as righteous in God's sight, only because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, this justification being received by faith alone.
but I thought that Catholics believed in salvation through faith and good works rather than just through faith alone.
Those are just stated doctrinal differences before we even get into their Calvinistic tendencies and quite conservative views on issues such as homosexuality.
|Date:||April 3rd, 2005 01:41 pm (UTC)|| |
Oh yes. But just because CICCU are just as stupid as CUAAS when it comes to giving themselves ridiculous names-that-look-all-inclusive-but-arn't-at-all-what-we-believe, doesn't mean that CUAAS arn't idiots :-) And I wanted an example when the society is a specific type of belief / not belief in God, and you can't get more specific than CICCU ;-)
How are you attracting these twits? Only a day or two after that catabrigenesis dude was so rude you get this!
|Date:||April 3rd, 2005 01:42 pm (UTC)|| |
Ah, this was months ago now. It was just that your post reminded me about it.
Just call me Miss Twit-magnet... maybe it's a like seeks like thing... *worries*
The website goes on and on about humanism, and the fact they're a humanist society under a different name, but that reply clearly states that they have members who are nihilists
Presumably they're not proper nihilists, though. A true nihilist would see absolutely no point in going to a weekly debate on moral issues as all possible outcomes are futile.
It seems to me that CUAAS (pronounced koo-arse?) has broadened its mandate too far. While humanists of atheist/agnostic/deist persuasions all favour rationality and believe that people are basically good, there is almost no commonality between general atheists beyond a belief that no god exists. What can a rationalist and an anarchist reasonably discuss?
there is almost no commonality between general atheists beyond a belief that no god exists. What can a rationalist and an anarchist reasonably discuss?
This seems to me the crucial flaw in the idea. The mere absence of a particular belief surely cannot provide sufficient common ground to base a meaningful discussion. I am at a loss to see what purpose such a broad society could serve.
Grrrrr... That has got to be the most annoying email reply I've ever read. He must have to have a lot of anger stored up to answer your questions in such a curt, and frankly rude, manner. Correcting things he considers you to be wrong about is one thing, but to correct a typo/sp. mistake in such a sarcastic way is incredibly annoying. OK, so the biggest thing I was annoyed about on reading it was the insertion of the word 'simpliciter' where it does not contribute any more than the English word 'simply' - grrrrrrrrrrr...
But, um, I don't think I'm well-versed enough in humanism to comment on content. Except that I never thought of it as a secular movement, though I could just be ignorant *shrug*
The guy writing the email is a bit of an annoying chap by all accounts. As someone who's been on the HmmSoc/CUAAS mailing list since Freshers' Fair of first year (the only society I thought it worth paying to join, for one whole English Pound) but never been to any events, I get far more email from him than from other societies I'm subscribed to, and most of it's annoying :)
I get the impression quite a few people have objected to the name change in much the same way Sally does, and as someone who a) knew what humanism was before university and b) joined HmmSoc because it was specifically humanist and not generically atheist, I prefer the old ways too.
|Date:||April 3rd, 2005 02:21 pm (UTC)|| |
That's just annoying. I would consider myself to be a humanist in the sense that I think humans need to think for themselves, but by no means an atheist. The two ideas are different, I think that there is space for both in Cambridge, I'm not sure that I know what an atheist soc. ought to do but I don't think that it ought to do the same things as hmmmsoc. Then again, CUAAS is still a 'humanist' society at heart - their discussions are structured arround humanism, just that whist there are atheist humanists there are also deist humanists and atheist not-humanists. Plus they had a better name before. I might right to them aswell.
|Date:||April 3rd, 2005 06:09 pm (UTC)|| |
I'm really glad I'm not relgious and generally apathetic ;) Means I have far fewer things to worry about :D
Yes, because those other faiths have many attendant beliefs that include things other than simple theism. This is not the case with atheism/agnosticism which, simpliciter, have no other attendant beliefs. The term 'atheists & agnostics' covers all flavours of non-belief in God or gods.
Ooooo! Can I throw Ewan at them? Pleeeease!
|Date:||April 4th, 2005 02:02 pm (UTC)|| |
Ooooh, please! :-)
One of my friends was briefly involved a while ago, and I got the impression that a large part of it *was* driven by people who wanted to promote athiesm and agnosticism. So perhaps the new name is more appropriate after all?
|Date:||April 4th, 2005 02:07 pm (UTC)|| |
Well, I used to know Tom Oliver and Mark Clewlow, and I got a very strong feeling that in those days it really was a humanist society. I mean, if you wanted just to be an atheist society why would you affiliate to all the other specific humanist bodies? I'm prepaired to admit that it's changed, and that the new name is more appropriate for where the society now is (and it will move even more strongly in this direction with the new name, I'm sure) but it really annoys me that they say "we're only doing this because people don't know what humanism means" and "we're the humanist society really" No. If they want to be an Atheists and Agnostics Society, then that's fine. But I don't see why they needed to eat the humanist society on the way!
|Date:||April 6th, 2005 08:32 am (UTC)|| |
I hate the humanists. Or at least the religious ones. Because they are too stupid to have their own name. "Humanism" as a school of thought already existed in renaissance Italy and it meant quite a different (and much better) thing, meaning study of the Humanities in the context of university and post-university scholarship. These humanists, including Machiavelli, Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, actually achieved something whereas the ones you describe couldn't even invent their own name properly.
So, I suppose, I support their change of name, because I don't like clever people in the past being tarred with the idiotic brushes of the unoriginal morons of the present.
|Date:||April 6th, 2005 08:37 am (UTC)|| |
As to "the vagaries of the history course here", if he doesn't think we should be teaching people about mankind's finest cultural, philosophical, political (and often religious) achievements then how seriously does he take the notion mankind matters?