Humanism and the Faith that Unites
January 2, 2009
Many of this symposium’s postings are so thought-provoking that no quick comment of reaction could be possible. But I do want to draw special attention to a terrific posting about humanism and faith. Mansur Ahmed’s contribution, titled “ The Great Religious Divide ” struck a chord with me. If I read him correctly, he is mainly pointing to the divide between the different religions’ faiths (so divisive!) and the simplicity of humanism’s promotion of universal love. And that is a huge divide. Lots of religions claim to be the one true faith that promotes love. But isn’t there something paradoxical about a claim that “only our true religion knows this universal truth of love?” If it’s a universal truth, how could it be tied down to a single religious perspective?
That makes a huge contrast with humanism, which in Ahmed’s view does not require any blind faith in a religious dogma. He writes, “at first glance you may think the idea of humanism to be a pretentious, cultlike system looking to gain your veneration. It’s not that at all, nor does it disregard any of the great religions of our world. Humanism is simply an ethical approach to life that seeks to find human solutions to human arguments without recourse to supernatural or spiritual elements that involve god, gods, sacred texts, or religious creeds. I’m not saying that religion is a bad thing. Faith is very powerful. It can motivate people to achieve noble dreams and ideals. But it can also be a kind of translucent barricade that keeps us divided, ultimately making some of us feel superior to others because we place our beliefs on a higher platform. In that sense, religion can be negative. But there is a lot of positive I think humanism percolates from all the great belief systems. It gets to the bone and reminds us the fundamental obligations we have towards one another.”
Ahmed is quite right that humanism does not require dogmatic faith about transcendent matters. That sort of faith does create divides. On the other hand, faithfulness towards our ethical ideals is exactly what is needed to make humanism effective and practical. Do religions share in that sort of faithfulness? Ahmed concludes his essay in this way: “The best way to do this is to consider a more abstract meaning of religion: love for our fellow man. A concept that with an open mind, good will, and tolerance can enhance human well-being and ultimately create a better world for us all.” Perhaps there is something crucial here that religions and humanisms can agree on. If we stop treating faith as a noun, as a substantial thing connecting us to a transcendent world, and start treating faith as an adverb, as meaning “faithfully”, then faith is about what we do and how we do it. Being faithful towards our ethical ideals, even when our ample evidence of a world in trouble and a humanity lost in strife makes such faith seem foolish, is what can make humanism the most powerful thing in the world. As Ahmad suggests, the faithfulness of humanism might bridge the world’s religious divides without simply becoming just another religion itself.
#1 Vadjong on Saturday January 03, 2009 at 8:11am
In the words of Daniel Dennett :
#2 Bill Archer (Guest) on Saturday January 03, 2009 at 11:53am
I agree with you John! And Ahmed’s suggestion to end the divisiveness that one religion’s claim causes when it proclaims to have the exclusive spiritual answer is well taken. But until the verb “love” is changed from its passive mode to its transitive verb form of “to love” than difficulty will remain.
If each religion taught its members that the highest standard of practice is to love one another then the other differences would be inconsequential. Sadly, harmony has not been the goal of religions once they became business institutions.
But the difficulty here is compounded by those religious leaders who refuse to relinquish their hold on that exclusiveness, and all the power and influence that exclusivity means to them. It seems the leaders in the various camps of exclusivity use their differences as a way to keep their members in a zealous competition with one another. This also keeps the military industrial complex in business.
Until a majority of the world’s people become self reliant and responsible for their own loving actions, in the here and now, and rejects the militancy of religious leaders who dangle the “carrot of salvation” in a life after death proposition, then nothing will change.
An aside: In the late 50’s the University of Buffalo football team won a berth in the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Florida. When told that they would have to leave their two “Negro” players home because of a Tangerine bowl agreement that forbade interracial athletics on the field, the team refused to appear in the bowl. In an act of peaceful humanistic defiance the team rejected racial discrimination. Today Buffalo is playing Connecticut in the International Bowl in Toronto, Canada.
#3 r strle (Guest) on Saturday January 03, 2009 at 12:29pm
“If I read him correctly, he is mainly pointing to the divide between the different religions’ faiths….I’m not saying that religion is a bad thing.”
But John, I think you should say it is a “bad thing.” I think that the evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that this is the case where human conduct and morality are concerned. Religion is based on “faith” in “something” (usually some sort of god) and faith is unsupported (no credible evidence) belief in something (usually also some sort of god). Belief (faith) allows religion(s) claims to truth without the necessity of evidence and this can and often does give license to most any kind of atrocity or socially destructive behavior. For reference I suggest “God Is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens and “The End Of Faith” by Sam Harris. If all religion(s) did was believe things, like children believing in Santa Claus, I would agree that religion was mostly harmless and not a bad thing. But it doesn’t work that way in the real world does it? I contend, and I think it should be a humanist position, that belief in anything (religious or otherwise) is unnecessary and would even go so far as to say “it is bad.” Bad for the individual and bad for humanity. Allowing belief(s) (religious or otherwise) serious consideration in negotiations of any sort of social political contracts will eventually lead to “bad things.” In addition to the books referenced above I offer the ongoing examples of bad things coming coming about from religion (beliefs) in the news and current events of the Middle East and the mess about to be left in the U.S. after 8 years of a government led by the George Bush Administration.
#4 r strle (Guest) on Saturday January 03, 2009 at 1:09pm
“On the other hand, faithfulness towards our ethical ideals is exactly what is needed to make humanism effective and practical. Do religions share in that sort of faithfulness?”
“Faithfulness towards our ethical ideals?”
What are “our” ethical ideals? Who wrote them down?
Where do I look them up?
How could I have taken all those philosophy courses and missed the one titled “Our Ethical Ideals.”
I apologize for being so sarcastic and pedantic but I wanted to make the point that the problem with discussions of these issues is the lack of physical connection between human behavior and the “real” universe. Instead of confusing the issue with words like “faithfulness towards our ethical values” that imply some sort of faith, which in this case I take to mean faith in some sort of unspecified “ideal” ethical standards, why not look to human behavioral psychology and evolution to determine the ethics and social laws and customs that work best? I offer as a start the work of Steven Pinker. A good place to start would be his book “The Blank State.” Another good place would be the writings of the arguably faithless writers of the U.S. Constitution. I am not aware of any evidence that would support the need for faith in the loving nature of humans or the basic ethical nature of humans or the goodness of humans or any other kind of faith or belief in humans.
#5 r strle (Guest) on Saturday January 03, 2009 at 1:16pm
Steven Pinker’s book is “The Blank Slate”
Sorry for the typo.
#6 Humanist Faith? (Guest) on Sunday January 04, 2009 at 2:47pm
Ever seen that bumper sticker that uses religious iconography to spell out the word “Coexist”? I hate that bumper sticker. People who place “faith” (defined as unfounded belief held for its own sake) in a proposition or set of propositions are engaging in an extremely dangerous method of thinking. By allowing belief to be held for its own sake, we remove all ability to doubt the reasons (there are none) for said belief from the discourse. Every proposition is self-justifying.
Ultimately, as we have all no doubt seen, this breeds intolerance, bigotry, and underscores many of the saddest chapters in world history. It is of no consolation to me that science or humanism can be “reconciled” with religion or coexist with it in its current forms. Personally, with all due respect to the author, I find the notion that humanism shares with religion some sort of “faith” in vague ethical propositions repugnant. Changing faith from a noun to an adverb still calls to mind how “faithfully” history’s True Believers held to their time-honored beliefs amid history’s most appalling atrocities; how “faithfully” the ignorant have repeated the words of their beloved Bible and their audacious demagogues; how “faithfully” interlocutors have steadfastly asserted redundant drivel while in the same breath condemning their social inferiors, applauding oppression of minorities, and defying all manner of reasoned inquiry.
So I say, “thanks, but no thanks” to Mr. Shook’s association. Leave the faithfulness to the pew-fillers. Maybe, just maybe, some day an ethical principle that had never occurred to me will present itself; and on that day, I’d like to think I’ll give it an honest, logical evaluation. If I ever find myself tenaciously clinging to any sort of treasured beliefs, there’s a danger that won’t happen. And that’s a risk I’m not willing to take.
#7 r strle (Guest) on Sunday January 04, 2009 at 4:09pm
Members of congress remember in all your deliberations that
BELIEF IS UNNECESSARY AND
“By allowing belief to be held for its own sake, we remove all ability to doubt the reasons (there are none) for said belief from the discourse. Every proposition is self-justifying.”
Instead of a prayer every day to open congress I propose that the above be read by a different member of congress every day.
#8 Marty (Guest) on Sunday January 04, 2009 at 11:06pm
I’m not a fan of that “coexist” bumper sticker either.
To me, it says, “Choose a faith, know that you’re justified in believing it, hunker down, and just try not to kill the other players in the religion game.
How about one that says “Help each other,” with the “H” represented by the Happy Human symbol? (
#9 Jeff P (Guest) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 at 2:20pm
“On the other hand, faithfulness towards our ethical ideals is exactly what is needed to make humanism effective and practical.”
That statement got my attention, too. Does “faithfulness” mean:
1)being unwavering in belief?
2)being consistently loyal?
3)being NOT adulterous or promiscuous?
5)being accurate and true?
6)being a loyal party supporter?
I think I agree with the posters above who are able to part with the semantic gymnastics of the word “faith” when it is used to describe a worthy concept such as truth, or accuracy, or loyalty.
I’m reminded of Mitt Romney’s declaration that even atheists have “faith,” :...“even those who don’t believe in God believe in something bigger than themselves…”
Well, of course most of us don’t “believe” we are the alpha and omega of existence (ie, there is nothing bigger than ourselves,) but some of us don’t “believe” we are the apple of an Omnipotent Creator’s eye, either. That takes religious “faith.”
#10 r strle (Guest) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 at 4:22pm
Well, of course most of us don’t “believe” we are the alpha and omega of existence (ie, there is nothing bigger than ourselves,) but some of us don’t “believe” we are the apple of an Omnipotent Creator’s eye, either. That takes religious “faith.“
Well said!! And some of us just find belief in anything unnecessary. With all due respect and credit to Richard Dawkins I call it the “Belief Delusion.”
#11 Jeff P on Wednesday January 07, 2009 at 6:46am
...“some of us just find belief in anything unnecessary…”
I totally agree.
There’s a great discussion of the concept of “belief” written by an anthropologist professor in Colorado, David Eller. He’s written a couple of books that I’ve really learned a great deal from, “Natural Atheism” and “Atheism Advanced,” that are really good explanations about non-belief—I enjoyed his writing style as much as Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchins and Harris.
Check them out sometime if you get the chance, they’re very much worth the time.
#12 r strle (Guest) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 at 9:25am
“Check them out sometime if you get the chance, they’re very much worth the time.”
Thank you for your suggestions!! I am unaware of professor David Eller and the books he has written but I plan to reduce this ignorance as soon as possible!
#13 Computers Software (Guest) on Sunday January 18, 2009 at 10:16am
To be useful vegitariantsem.
And apart from that there is a carrot.
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