Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Everyday Humanism book launch with Prof Anthony Pinn

Posted in Professor Anthony Pinn and Everyday Humanism book launch by sheelanagigcomedienne on December 7, 2014

I attended the book launch of Everyday Humanism with Professor Anthony Pinn being interviewed by Andrew Copson CEO of the British Humanist Association. It was a stimulating discussion and, inevitably, there were comparisons  made between the British and the American situation, and more specifically the experience of black Americans atheists and Humanists. Everyday Humanism bookThe launch was in the Clerkenwell Centre near the BHA office. (I was intrigued to find that from Old Street station I had to cross a Galway Street –  Galway is my home town.)

prof anthony pinn       Andrew Copson

Equinox Publishers

Everyday Humanism seeks to move the discussion of humanism’s positive contributions to life away from the macro-level to focus on the everyday, or micro-dimensions of our individual and collective existence. How might humanist principles impact parenting? How might these principles inform our take on aging, on health, on friendship? These are just a few of the issues around everyday life that needed interpretation from a humanist perspective. Through attention to key issues, the volume seeks to promote the value of humanism at the level of the ordinary, typical occurrences and conditions of our existence.

Anthony Pinn is an American professor, prolific author, and public intellectual working at the intersections of African-American religion, constructive theology, and humanist thought. Pinn is the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University..Director of Research for the Institute for Humanist Studies in Washington, D.C  Anthony B. Pinn – Wikipedia,


Throughout his work, Pinn refers to his approach to humanism as a “religion.” In so doing, Pinn cites humanist Gordon Kaufman’s  definition of religion as “that which helps humans find orientation ‘for life in the world, together with motivation for living and acting in accordance with this orientation.’” In other words, for Pinn, religion need not be theistic.


I understand where Anthony is coming from but I disagree that we can’t blithely redefine religion to suit our own purposes. I think we have to stick with the definition of religion as ‘an understanding of the world through the supernatural – usually a belief in god/gods and a life after death’

I have just responded to a consultation on the need to include what is termed as an annex on Humanism alongside the options of seven other annexes on religions in the GCSE syllabus. The new Secretary of State Nicky Morgan a ‘devout Christian’ has excluded the Humanist annex which is recommended and supported by almost all RE councils/specialists.


So, if we can be demanding to be included in Religious Education why can’t others be claiming Humanism as a non theistic religion? This is the bizarre position that we are forced into by religion. I see parallels with feminism and women’s complaint that we are always being asked to be squeezed into a patriarchal, male defined world and that it we are never starting from a ‘level playing field’ – that’s another story- Sin scéal eile. Indeed, I made the point that  Humanism as a label can be a shorthand to include other identities like feminism, socialism etc. Then I found this blog by Jarune  Uwujaren a Nigerian -American writing a piece for Everyday Feminism Magazine Comments on: Why Not Say Everyday Humanism


Anthony Pinn is an African American. Patheos Atheist website writer Hemant Mehta wrote in When Dr. Anthony Pinn Came Out as an Atheist. “He has long been an advocate of the need for more racial diversity in our movement and I’m thrilled that his memoir is finally available. It’s called Writing God’s Obituary: How a Good Methodist Became a Better Atheist (Prometheus Books, 2014).”

Anthon Pinn bookPinn differentiates Black humanism from other non-theistic worldviews such as atheism. Thus, oppressed African Americans need not waste their time disproving God’s existence, but are simply better off seeking their liberation with the human tools of “desire for transformation, human creativity, physical strength, and untapped collective potential.”

Anthony Pinn in the atheism v humanism discourse wrote: ‘So many humanists held to a separation of church and state agenda, although they were also worried that commitment to science could easily turn into scientism. I believed rejection of superstition and supernatural claims wasn’t the end of the conversation but was only the beginning, a starting point that had to be followed quickly with attention to what humanists and atheists believe, and what those human values do in the world’


Pinn made his initial mark with Why Lord? Suffering and Evil in Black Theology (1995), and establishes himself as a black liberation theologian and Black humanist. In Why Lord?, Pinn seeks to critique various responses found within Black religion to the question of theodicy, or God’s role in the suffering of humanity. As black theologians have no evidence that God is working on behalf of the oppressed and any such claims are that are redemptive suffering theodicy only perpetuate African American suffering. his is from his own website Anthony Pinn Welcome

Anthony Pinn in an interview with Chris Stedman On race and atheism: An interview with Anthony Pinn said

I understand the type of security, place, and expression of love that my religious commitments and religious family provided me. As James Baldwin said regarding his own religious youth, you have to belong to something—and for him it was the church. For me, it was the church. It smoothed over the rough patches of life.
Andrew and Anthony taking  questions

Andrew and Anthony taking questions

Anthony Pinn is concerned about the need for a ‘soft landing’ for Black American atheists/Humanists and this reflects his own experience and background being brought up as a Baptist and becoming  a preacher starting out as a youth pastor for a church in Brooklyn. Dr. Anthony B. Pinn speaking at Atheists United – YouTube


Professor Pinn’s perspective is derived from his experience and, without a doubt, a belonging to a community a mainly black religious community, will be a rather different experience to someone brought in Catholic Ireland in the 50s and 60s or being brought up in England in a Church of England dominated ethos. For someone, like me, brought up in that all pervasive Catholicism I didn’t feel I belonged to a particular community because everyone went to mass on Sunday and there was nothing else to be involved with to give the social sense of belonging to a minority distinctive, supportive, ethnic or racial community.  Indeed, I said this privately when I was chatting with Professor Pinn before the interview with Andrew and pointing out, as I often do, that the membership of the BHA consists mainly of white C of E atheists, with a few ex Catholics and a sprinkling of people brought up in other religions and sects  and none, all of whom are surrounded by the culture of the state religion which is headed by the monarch as its supreme Governor.


As a gathering of Humanists – a hum of Humanists- we were people involved in everyday humanism – a motley of celebrants, pastoral care volunteers, SACRE members, school speaker volunteers, Humanists group chairpersons and some of our distinguished supporters, colleagues from Scotland etc. Compared to black Americans I don’t think many of us would feel the need for the ‘soft landing’ that our speaker spoke of. Of course, we know that people leaving Islam, Judaism Jehovah’s Witnesses  etc could experience a greater wrench because of their racial or cultural identity. Indeed, one audience member who was Moroccan and attending his first ever atheist/humanist meeting, spoke movingly about being an apostate from Islam and the inherent dangers and loss of family and community that goes with it.

 A lively audience enjoys the launch of Everyday Humanism

A lively audience enjoys the launch of Everyday Humanism

As a black man, Pinn is very well aware that the gurus on atheism/humanism are white males and often determined to disprove the existence of God and to promote science and rationalism. His thesis is that we don’t need to be obsessed by that. I agree with him. I don’t feel any need to disprove the existence of God, challenge the man made books of religions or an afterlife. I only have to say I can’t and don’t believe in any of it and that informs how I live. Of course, like other atheist/humanists I am a committed secularist and will challenge religious privilege and discrimination against non-believers. I recently attended the All Party Parliamentary Irish in Britain Group and complained that as an atheist I could not , if I  so aspired, be President of Ireland and that therefore the Irish Constitution has to be changed. (Of course, I also,  called for the repeal of the 8th Amendment of the same Constitution that was so influenced by the arch Catholic De Valera Petition: Repeal the 8th | Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland) . Sin scéal eile


I also agree with his distinction between atheists and humanists. Besides the obvious distinction of atheism being defined by a negative the other is that atheist groups are more predominantly patriarchal than humanist ones. Sin scéal eile

I did, of course, buy the book and got the very eloquent, charming, humorous and stylish Anthony Pinn to sign it. And I will report and review it.

From the twittering classes……..

Anthony Pinn tweeted:  Great conversation on “Everyday Humanism” arranged by the British Humanist Association. Looking forward to continuing it.

Listening to Anthony Pinn talking about – about humanism, community and social activism

Listening to Prof Anthony Pinn at launch of Everyday Humanism. He’s talking about how a Methodist minister in Texas became a humanist.

Thank you & for a fascinating discussion at book launch tonight


It was an inspiring discussion and it was great to chat to to some colleagues – old and new.


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