Posts Tagged ‘secular humanism’

SERMON: “A Fish to Hook?” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Though I identify myself as an atheist, when it comes to the heart of my ethics, I’m a humanist.  I tend towards pragmatism when it comes to social issues, and I embrace a humanistic view as it seems to be the best of all possible approaches to making life as good as it can be for as many people as possible.  I recognize the enormous potential we humans have for cooperation and altruistic behavior.  We are capable of being very kind to each other and, on occasion, rising above the raging desire for short-term advantage and choosing, instead, to delay our instant gratification for a reward that we are (sometimes grudgingly) willing to share with others, even strangers.

As you can see by the way I describe the “good” in us humans, I do not shy away from the bad.  How can I?  I am human too, and I know all too well the impulses in my own consciousness that are necessarily modulated by that lately-added lump of brain tissue in my frontal lobes.  My motives for self-understanding are no more or less noble than my own social survival and hope for success in life and love (the two go together for us social primates).

All religions recognize the cognitive tensions (the result of mediating conflicting desires) that are our natural inheritance.  To me this tension is a not-surprising product of our natural evolution, while to the religious it is the result of sin entering into the world through our defiance of God.  Leaving aside the God idea for a moment (and looking instead at the actual evidence of our origins) why should it shock us to find powerful animal reactivity in us when we have spent most of our evolutionary history as animals living in the wild like any other?  Have you considered just how recent is our rise to modern human status?  Or the exponential increase in our numbers and multiplication of our technical and cultural achievements that is even now sweeping us forward like a flood toward our future?

Religions base their doctrines and orthodoxies on the ins and outs and ups and downs of human nature.  (They have to if they are going to a) appeal to humans, and; b) be of any practical use whatsoever).  But a mark of religions is their consistent inability to resist the temptation to re-brand whatever problems they aim to fix (or the solutions they offer) as something unique and special unto themselves.  This is not the spreading of truth: this is commercialism and team-building for the sake of building a brand.

I think Humanism is our best shot at doing the best for the most.

Humanism, on the other hand, does not (I think) go about things in that way.  It continually throws people back upon their own naturally-derived (and therefore already-owned) resources, while encouraging those that have a surplus to share with those that (through the vagaries of genetics or place of birth) have a deficit.  Churches often work to help the poor and the needy, but they are always doing it in part to increase the size and power of the church.  As the late Christopher Hitchens liked to point out, they may claim to have their eyes on the rewards in the next life, but they sure seem to spend a lot of time building up kingdoms in this one.

How many times in my Christian years was I told “the fields are white for harvest”, as if people were stalks of wheat to be gathered with sickle and wagon?  Or exhorted to be a “fisher of men”, as if people are fish to be caught with bait, hook or net and gathered into the boat?  Think about what this says about how the unsaved are viewed by the saved.

Do you want to know why American Evangelical preachers lash out so vehemently at “secular humanism”?  Because humanists are out there offering every single benefit that religion offers without the small print, the hidden costs, and the requirement to sign away your reason, your autonomy, and your eternal soul (these same Evangelicals often have as little sympathy for the religious humanists in their own ranks).

As an aside, this all points to one of the basic flaws in this whole “church of bob” concept (at least in terms of a business model): I have nothing at all to hold over anyone who might come here to read, enjoy, learn or laugh.  I have no threat of hell to wield, or any hint of a deity’s displeasure (there are very few, I think, concerned about incurring the decidedly temporal “wrath of bob”).  That’s why this “church” will never work like a real church (and it is why I’ll never be the slick preacher driving his new Escalade up to his mansion with his trophy wife, just counting the days until my evangelistic empire is brought to ruin by a shocking sexual scandal — sigh).

I go back and forth on my feelings for humans.  On the one hand, we sort of deserve whatever we get in terms of fouling our own global nest.  But, then, why should I be any more harsh on the human species of animals than I am on any other?  Did the dinosaurs “deserve” to go extinct?  No.  Yes.  I don’t know.  Anything that is living has earned its moment in the sun through dint of the eons of sheer survival and adaptation that is represented by the surviving DNA in every single living organism (including you and me).  And that is why — being an atheist and a humanist — I mourn and I ache for a life that is cut short by the willful act of another.  What right does one human have to knowingly make life more miserable for others (especially when they use some bullshit religious justification for it like: “Well, if they were innocent, God will make it up for them in Heaven” — nice)?  (I am not addressing, here, the spectrum of discomforts that some humans have with the fact that our very survival requires us to consume other life forms, be they animal or vegetable — one more “tension” we must deal with in life).

So when I attack religion (which I often do, seeing it as but the fat middle of the bell curve of human irrational beliefs of all kinds), I am not attacking my fellow humans, but rather hoping to appeal to (and encourage) our “better natures”.  Some will claim that this is what religion does as well, and I will allow that for some people religious conversion does serve as an entry-level introduction to not acting like a complete and total selfish prick.  But because religion always has (at its heart) a fearful view of the world, an enshrined sense of self-loathing, and a preening need to be the only game in town, the results are ever going to be mixed.

I think humanism, then, is the way to go.  It is not perfect — for it will always be rooted in the reality of actual human behavior — but it is the most reality-based mix of hope and evidence, poisoned the least by denial and absent the religious demand for human debasement before the throne of an imaginary totalitarian in the sky.  No humanist will ever think of a person as a fish to hook, or a sheaf of wheat to chop with a scythe.

But, then, it’s not easy to take full responsibility for consciousness — for existence.  Too little attention is paid to the challenge that simply being alive and aware entails, I think.  Like the button I saw in a store last week that said “Stuck in that awkward phase between birth and death”.  Truer words could not be spoken.

All I’m saying is this: let us each do the bit that we can to make that “awkward phase” a bit less awkward (or miserable or tragic) for both ourselves and our fellow human beings.  If we end up losing a god who doesn’t seem think that highly of us anyway in the process of achieving the fullness of our humanity, is that such a bad thing?

I, for one, don’t think so.

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “There is No God, Yet God Exists” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

I remember the pointed rebuke from many a preacher that proclaimed that the great sin of modern man is that he makes himself God.   Meaning that “New Age” beliefs, or the dreaded “Secular Humanism” are guilty of elevating Man above God, where Man’s desires are made King, and the Devil dances a jig of victorious delight.

But it turns out that Man is God after all, but not in the way the preachers feared.  No, it’s much worse than that, and also not bad at all.  It simply is.

The person we come to know as God is, and has always been, the part of our own consciousness with which we are able to converse (more specifically, the part that talks back to us.)  This is why it can feel like we’re talking to a real person when we “pray”.  (Because, well, we are!)

Blasphemy of blasphemies, I am denying the existence of God!  Don’t be silly.

I am actually affirming the existence of God, for that person that we address exists, no doubt about it.  It’s you.  It’s me.

Now the actual essence of what the preacher thinks is that we non-believers are taking a part of our earthly selves and replacing the God of the Universe with it and, basically, acting too big for our (lowly) britches (and insulting God to boot.)

This, of course, assumes the existence of an actual, physical, all encompassing God.  Such a God may or may not exist, but considering the rather impressive plasticity and agility of our own consciousness, there is little in the way of “spiritual” phenomenon that requires any further external personage (other than our own differing levels of consciousness and perception) for its explanation.

So here’s the funny part in all of this:  As is ever the case (it seems) the preacher is accusing another of his own crime, for it turns out to be him that has made himself (literally) God.  For isn’t that what he does?  He talks to his own consciousness, his consciousness answers him back (from within his own skull) and he proclaims his own murmurs to be the words of God!

Now I don’t want to be too hard on him, for these sort of fictions are very useful to us humans who — being as social as we are — have a hard time acting solely from our own desires.  Therefore it can be useful to have “better” reasons to not go with this person to that event, or some such.  So having the ability to say “I’ll need to pray about that”, can be a more feather-smoothing way to say “I don’t want to do that, but I need to find a way to get out of if that doesn’t damage our relationship, which I may well need in the future.”  (I’ve made that sound more crass than it needs to be, but you get the point).

I could sum this all up by saying: There is no literal God, even though the thing we humans have always known as God does, in fact, exist.  And although it seems a huge disappointment to find that the actual God is not all we thought him (generally him) to be, the real God can survive the disappointment and turns out to be completely unchanged by the ordeal and can, in fact, continue functioning as before with no diminishment in his — or her, or its — capacities.

For God’s capacities (or “powers”) have always been limited, if we are honest with ourselves.  How many prayers have really been answered?  Some, to be sure, in seemingly remarkable ways.  But our minds are tuned to noticing most the outcomes that confirm our beliefs (a tendency called “confirmation bias”), and we are top-notch magical thinkers, which is a huge help in keeping the idea of an external, autonomous God alive.

This is who and what we are.  I’ve come to realize and accept this.  Which brings me to the odd place of agreeing with every believer in God, or at least finding no solid intellectual grounds for telling anyone that they have made up their entire experience of God.  Of course they haven’t.  And, of course they have.  If you get my meaning.

There is no God, yet God exists.
There is no Heaven above.

There is no God, yet God exists,
In the hearts of those who love.

There is no God, yet God exists,
We pray to our own buried soul.

There is no God, yet God exists,
Ever just beyond our control.

t.n.s.r. bob