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Developing a Humanist narrative
Posted: 03 August 2008 11:03 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Most people prefer stories over statistics. Every nation, organization and religion has a narrative. Christianity has succeeded because it has a powerful narrative.

Humanism has a narrative, too. The courage of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Faith of Jonas Salk and Annie Sullivan, the genius of Albert Einstein are just a few examples. The Humanist narrative is also told in fiction: Macbeth’s power lust, Othello’s consuming jealousy and Lear’s vanity are just three examples from the dark side. In a sense, evolution is part of our narrative, too. I would even include Wilson and Holldobler’s treatise on The Ants because it tells how organisms functioned when their mental processes were no more than action centers. Then of course, there’s music: In Mahler alone we have spiritual rebirth (2nd symphony, “The Resurrection”), nature (3rd symphony) and tragedy (6th symphony). Art, literature, politics, history, science - they’re all part of our narrative.

I’ve been compiling a list for quite a while, but the going is slow and many heads are better than one. So I am opening this topic to invite participants to share their ideas. It could be something obscure, perhaps a favorite story that has made an impression. If it has stuck with you, there’s probably a reason. I’m inviting people to discuss ideas in the interests of putting together a Humanist narrative. This is a topic that doesn’t need daily attention. If someone could feed it every few days, it could be quite successful.

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I cannot in good conscience support CFI under the current leadership. I am here in dissent and in support of a Humanism that honors and respects everyone.

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Posted: 03 August 2008 11:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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PLaClair - 03 August 2008 11:03 PM

Most people prefer stories over statistics. Every nation, organization and religion has a narrative. Christianity has succeeded because it has a powerful narrative. ...

One might say it actually doesn’t—it just has an attractive myth. IMO the great works of literature are as morally instructive as anything one can read into the bible.

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Posted: 04 August 2008 04:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Well, part of any humanist narrative should be the fascinating history of humanist ideas:  their foundations in ancient Greece; the loss of these threads for centuries in Europe (and their retention in Islam!); rediscovery during the Renaissance; perfection of them during the Enlightenment; plus the history of the great figures involved, from Lucretius, Democritus, Aristotle, etc., through to Copernicus, Galileo, Leonardo, etc.; to Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Jefferson, Madison, and on and on. While the more recent figures you cite are also very important, I do think it’s necessary to argue for the deep and extensive root-system of the humanist, rationalist and secular enterprise. Much of the rhetorical pull of religion is the use of the word “tradition”, as though that somehow conveyed legitimacy. We can reject the link between tradition and truth while at the same time defusing the rhetoric involved by pointing to the grandeur of the humanist tradition as well.

[ Edited: 04 August 2008 04:55 AM by dougsmith ]
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Posted: 04 August 2008 08:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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One of the advantages of humanism is that it gives credit where credit is due-to the humans who really produce the ideas, the art, the courage that they often attribute to something outside of themselves and nature. So in a sense, we can claim credit for all human achievement. The great religious art of the Renaissance, the perserverance of those Irish monks who maintained key pieces of learning and culture through the Middle Ages, the poetry of the Bible, etc. These are all ultimately human achievements even if their authors didn’t always give themselves the credit. Now, this may not establish a formal lineage of humanism in the philosophical sense, but I think if we’re looking for a narrative we really have the whole of human history to point to. We cannot afford to ignore the achievements that religious traditions claim as their own, since they make up the great majority of human activity. Scientific geniuses that were religious are not an example of the strength of religion or god but of human beings, and we need to make that case. Shakespeare is no less a genius for being a Christian, a racist, a sexists, etc. So while I can point to specific works of art and science that have played a great role in my life, I’m not sure if they fit your list since most of them are only part of the humanist tradition in the larger sense I’ve identified.

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Posted: 04 August 2008 11:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Nature made Wagner a wonderful composer.
Religion made Wagner a hateful anti-Semite.

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Posted: 04 August 2008 01:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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A Voice of Sanity - 04 August 2008 11:10 AM

Nature made Wagner a wonderful composer.
Religion made Wagner a hateful anti-Semite.

So what can we draw from Wagner as part of a Humanist narrative? For me, his Ring cycle is the grand epic story of opera, even considering all the things about him that we may not find so attractive.

I like all Doug’s ideas, but I also agree with Brennen: “So in a sense, we can claim credit for all human achievement.” To me, that’s the key to this undertaking. I would just word it a little differently. All of human achievement says something about human beings, and that’s Humanism, no matter what people have called it.

I was stymied for a long time trying to reduce the human narrative just to life stories, or just to this or that. When I realized that different parts of it are best told through different lenses, or media, I began being more productive.

As people get thoughts and ideas, I hope they’ll post them here. I’m looking especially for examples. And for example, I just received Albert Schweitzer’s autobiography in the mail today. I look forward to reading it. As with any great person, his life illustrates many values. I’m looking forward to seeing what made him exceptional.

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I cannot in good conscience support CFI under the current leadership. I am here in dissent and in support of a Humanism that honors and respects everyone.

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Posted: 06 November 2008 10:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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dougsmith - 04 August 2008 04:31 AM

Well, part of any humanist narrative should be the fascinating history of humanist ideas:  their foundations in ancient Greece; the loss of these threads for centuries in Europe (and their retention in Islam!); rediscovery during the Renaissance; perfection of them during the Enlightenment; plus the history of the great figures involved, from Lucretius, Democritus, Aristotle, etc., through to Copernicus, Galileo, Leonardo, etc.; to Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Jefferson, Madison, and on and on. While the more recent figures you cite are also very important, I do think it’s necessary to argue for the deep and extensive root-system of the humanist, rationalist and secular enterprise. Much of the rhetorical pull of religion is the use of the word “tradition”, as though that somehow conveyed legitimacy. We can reject the link between tradition and truth while at the same time defusing the rhetoric involved by pointing to the grandeur of the humanist tradition as well.

Superbly stated, Doug, and absolutely essential in comprehending our movement and its promise. I recently needed to provide such a reference as a chapter in a book, and decided on a source easily accessible: Robert Grudin’s summary of Humanism in britannica.com .

Many don’t know Petrarch from Pepperoni, but the Italian Humanists and other contributions, notably the Irish, Germans and Dutch rescued the underpinnings of our civilization. Often under the watch and efforts of the church, too, and all in Latin or Greek.

Today the Secular Humanists would have us believe that Humanism=atheism, but we as Humanists are inclusionary and must never let them capture our flag. What the two camps are up to are right there in their respective words, and, as Paul Simon wrote “Written on the subway walls, and tenement halls.” We cry out for Human solidarity.

Humanism is about constructively moving ahead as the apologists for and critics of our own kind, homo sapiens, and our imminent integration of ourselves and the planet under one banner.

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“Our lives teach us who we are.”
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Posted: 07 November 2008 01:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Martinus - 06 November 2008 10:03 PM

Today the Secular Humanists would have us believe that Humanism=atheism, but we as Humanists are inclusionary and must never let them capture our flag. What the two camps are up to are right there in their respective words, and, as Paul Simon wrote “Written on the subway walls, and tenement halls.” We cry out for Human solidarity.

Actually I thought that is why atheists who are humanists called themselves secular humanists and not just humanists - they are a sub-set of humanists?Still humanism does not exclude theists, if it did it would not be humanism! wink

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Posted: 07 November 2008 01:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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faithlessgod - 07 November 2008 01:20 PM
Martinus - 06 November 2008 10:03 PM

Today the Secular Humanists would have us believe that Humanism=atheism, but we as Humanists are inclusionary and must never let them capture our flag. What the two camps are up to are right there in their respective words, and, as Paul Simon wrote “Written on the subway walls, and tenement halls.” We cry out for Human solidarity.

Actually I thought that is why atheists who are humanists called themselves secular humanists and not just humanists

So you see the word secular as an addendum to Humanism, a superset rather than a narrowing of it?

..they are a sub-set of humanists?Still humanism does not exclude theists, if it did it would not be humanism! wink

Agreed. And if we notice the logic here, if we’re including theists as (possible) Humanists, then we, as Humanists, just lost all the secular Humanists from the ranks of being pure Humanists.

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Posted: 07 November 2008 02:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Hi Dwight, martinu is my eastern eurpoean nickname, and one I use on other boards, how did you get your handle?

Not much to say before was just a comment in passing and much more would be off thread, Noting that and since you ask:

Martinus - 07 November 2008 01:32 PM
faithlessgod - 07 November 2008 01:20 PM
Martinus - 06 November 2008 10:03 PM

Today the Secular Humanists would have us believe that Humanism=atheism, but we as Humanists are inclusionary and must never let them capture our flag….

Actually I thought that is why atheists who are humanists called themselves secular humanists and not just humanists

So you see the word secular as an addendum to Humanism, a superset rather than a narrowing of it?

As I understand it, a secular humanist is just a type of humanist - one that makes a reference to themselves that they are both a humanist and an atheist and possibly that they reject a religious based flavours of humanism. They are still humanists though, that is that anyone and everyone should be considered equally regardless of beliefs, the same as any other humanist would do.

Martinus - 07 November 2008 01:32 PM
faithlessgod - 07 November 2008 01:20 PM

..they are a sub-set of humanists?Still humanism does not exclude theists, if it did it would not be humanism! wink

Agreed. And if we notice the logic here, if we’re including theists as (possible) Humanists, then we, as Humanists, just lost all the secular Humanists from the ranks of being pure Humanists.

[edit] Aha I see what you are getting at. There is no reason prevent a theist from being a humanist, but that is up to them and, if so, they just would not be secular humanist (and, of course, many theists are not humanists) e.g. see the Society for Humanist Judaism [/edit]

Now back to the thread wink

[ Edited: 07 November 2008 02:55 PM by faithlessgod ]
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Posted: 07 November 2008 02:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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faithlessgod - 07 November 2008 02:48 PM

Hi Dwight, martinu is my eastern eurpoean nickname, and one I use on other boards, how did you get your handle? 

My family name is Martin and it’s also my stepson’s name. And of course we classical Humanists must affect latin names. wink
My daughters are Markianna and Maraysha, so there some Eastern Euro names on my side as well?

Now back to the thread wink

As I understand it, a secular humanist is just a type of humanist - one that makes a reference to themselves that they are both a humanist and an atheist and possibly that they reject a religious based flavours of humanism. They are still humanists though, that is that anyone and everyone should be considered equally regardless of beliefs, the same as any other humanist would do.

Well good, you too see that definition.

To what do you attribute the great amount of anti-religion attention, by secular Humanists, who think they are the only Humanists in many instances, versus the positive contributions Humanists might offer of their own?

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Posted: 07 November 2008 03:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Martinus - 07 November 2008 02:59 PM

To what do you attribute the great amount of anti-religion attention, by secular Humanists, who think they are the only Humanists in many instances, versus the positive contributions Humanists might offer of their own?

Sorry I have not given it any thought, maybe someone else could answer.

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Posted: 05 January 2009 12:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I recently finished a collectively-written book published in 1986 by Michael Albert, Leslie Cagan, Noam Chomsky, Robin Hahnel, Mel King, Lydia Sargent and Holly Sklar called [I]Liberating Theory[/I].

It focuses on analyzing society in four distinct spheres: politics, economics, kinship, communnity. It argues against monistic and pluralistic theories in favor of what they call Complimentary Holism. In other words, no sphere is constantly dominant nor can explain society as a hole, but we can analyze and explain more (and be able to offer more suitable visions and strategies with better information) when considering the complimentary role between each sphere with the others.

It draws a lot from science to explain the social theory:

“In the words of physicist David Bohm, all phenomena are ‘to be understood not as… independently and permanently existent but rather as product[s] that [have been] formed in the whole flowing movement and that will ultimately dissolve back into that movement.’”

and:

“Modern quantum physics, for example, teaches that reality is not a collection of separate entities but a vast and intricate ‘unbroken whole.’ Ilya Prigogine comments, ‘The new paradigms of science may be expected to develop into the new science of connectedness which the recognition of unity in diversity.”

Anyway, the book ends with two chapters: Developing A Humanist Vision and Developing A Humanist Strategy.

I personally think the book contributes a lot to what many on here advocate while providing the groundwork for understanding what many on here may not adequately understand (ie participatory economics).

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Posted: 08 January 2009 11:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I would love to hear a good explanation of the difference between the classical humanists of, say, the 16th century, and humanism as practised today. Specifically, can anybody related Erasmus, the Prince of Humanists, to modern humanism?

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Posted: 08 January 2009 12:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I think Erasmus “carried the ball” during an early period and, as a Christian theologian, kept the church authorites at bay from sheer force of personality. I don’t see any great ideas floated by him, in fact he may have begun the association of the present day of Humanism= atheism by being so involved in church-reform matters (as many were during his era, of course).

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Posted: 11 January 2009 12:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I like narratives but I really like statistics. This phrase, told to me by a university professor has stuck with me for the better part of two decades.

One million seconds is 12 days…

One billion seconds is 32 years! 

Cool, no?

PS

For those of you who are curious, one trillion seconds is 31,702 years or approx. 317 centuries.

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