Humanists and Death
I have pondered how a humanist deals with the death of a loved one since my wife died eight years ago. I was born, raised, and married in the Mormon faith and lived according to its teachings until I was about 25 years old. My studies in philosophy, astronomy and the arts raised serious doubts in my mind about the concepts associated with an anthropomorphic god, and I eventually became an atheist. Around the age of 30 I was introduced to the Unitarian philosophy by a close friend, and had the good fortune to learn about humanism from the Reverend Harold Scott.
During the next several years I survived a divorce, the usual travails of raising three teenagers, career challenges, and a very happy, satisfying new marriage. My atheist-humanism was a fulfilling value-support system until my second wife died following an agonizing 18-month battle with cancer. I found it difficult to accept the finality of our separation, and the religious Mormon doctrines that I had learned in my youth once again seemed feasible, even if unbelievable.
At that critical time, my Unitarian-Humanism support system was very weak. The Unitarian minister was not available to assist with funeral arrangements, nor give me spiritual support. He never once offered me an opportunity to discuss my feelings of loneliness, nor my concerns about the meaning of death.
Humanism has a very real challenge to be supportive during human crises. That is one of the reasons I have become a Humanist Counselor, and a volunteer bereavement counselor in the Hospice movement. I hope that I can be available and sensitive when Utah Humanists need an understanding fellow human being to share their moments of agony and pain.
Domination and Fear vs. Self-Determination and Love
The following is a summary of the presentation given to Humanists of Utah by Jan Tyler September 19, 1991
We are living in a time where there is a Crisis of Perception, where the most pressing issue of our day are not being addressed by our leaders, because their current mode of thinking consists in looking at the parts of problems, not their whole.
Society is now looking at the whole. We are seeing how one part of our world can influence the rest. A good example is our rain forests. We are realizing that if we do not preserve our natural resources, then they, and eventually we, will cease to exist, because of our interconnectedness.
The problem lies with our “leaders.” Society is ahead of the decisions our “leaders” are making. “Leadership” ideas need to move from a mechanistic mode to an organic way of thinking and behaving. We need to take responsibility for the universal well-being of the earth and its people everywhere. Each one of us is an earth-mate going through an earth-walk.
Becoming aware of our interconnectedness is a personal decision, and as Carl Rogers has said, “That which is most personal is most universal.” If I am feeling something is amiss, then it is usually felt universally.
There is a need to shape society using the premise of the power within, not the power over. Our leaders should have or acquire the interconnected systems orientation.
We are presently in the insanity mode, which in effect means doing the same old thing over and over again, expecting different results. A way out of this mode is to move from looking at the parts to looking at the whole, and seeing things from a different perspective.
The twentieth century will remembered as the egocentric, traditional period of time where the parts, not the whole, were mainly considered; where people were confused by paradox; where society polarized and separated, and people felt alienated. This century will be marked as a “fear-based” time period.
Hopefully, the twenty-first century will have a shift in patterns. It will be “love-based” in nature. A unitive, rather than a dualistic mind will transpire. We will see the whole, contextually. Societies will understand and resolve paradoxes. The world will deal with dichotomies. It will integrate and unify. And as a result, people will feel part of the larger whole.
Many of today’s college students are reflecting the 21st century love-based philosophy because they are challenging the systems that are fear-based.
The bureaucracy in the state of Utah reflects a substantial amount of religious addiction which manifests in fear-based power addictions. within the government, there is the “King and I” syndrome. This is the practice where no one is allowed to have his/her head higher than the king’s. There is an intellectual and institutional inbreeding where no one dares to cross the “leader,” and an elite remains an elite because of this. This inbreeding over a long period of time creates imbeciles. Our leaders surround themselves with the “incestuousness of imbeciles.” With this overlay of religious power and addiction everyone loses out on the richness of our diversity here in Utah.
The fear-based mind is threatened by differences, for to be different means to be wrong. The fear-based patterns take on judgmental roles which are generally negative in nature. The need to control is the main dynamic, and scarcity is the result.
The unitive mind, on the other hand, is love-based. It is self-determining, enjoys diversity, and celebrates it. The focus is on abundance and freedom – the right to make choices. It is self-defining and self-governing.
Cult behavior is prevalent in our American society, and it runs congruent with the religious and power addiction. A cult offers a feeling of belonging. It attracts those who have experienced a crisis in their life such as the loss of a loved one, or a divorce. Cult leaders capitalize on the vulnerabilities of people. The first major characteristic change that takes place when one joins a cult is the subjugation to group compliance. Second comes the fostering of allegiance to the leader. Third is the devaluing of outsiders. And fourth is the avoidance of dissent. And, if a member decides to leave the cult, s/he pays a dear price in emotional distress. Religious addiction can even become toxic.
The dominant theme in cult behaviors and addictions is the defense mechanism called denial. The “leaders” deny the experience the victim is having, so the control and abuse continue.
One of the ways to change ourselves is to become aware of our own addictions and patterns; to be mindful of the here and now, and conscious of the interactions with others. As we grow in awareness we can change. We can become cognizant of our behavior and language and ask ourselves, “Does it leave people out, and/or put people down?”
We need to empower people at the young age, so they can develop the social tools to defend themselves. We need to give them a type of mental karate. And we need to pay attention to our own responses, and not retaliate like our aggressors have done.
We can change our attitude from power over others to power within ourselves. We can move to a partnership philosophy wherein our community becomes inclusive, and our boundaries are soft and nurturing. We can move beyond democracy with the freedom to speak out and buck the trends we see as being unproductive. We can move from the unconscious to the mindful. And as we become self-determining in our behavior, then others will see this and emulate it.
What is Humanism?
There is no humanist catechism. There are the Humanist Manifestos, but that is no dogma. Humanists as the local level have tried to define what is important to them. Here are some experiments.
“Since the earliest days of philosophic reflection in ancient times in both East and West, thinkers of depth and acumen have advanced the single proposition that the chief end of human life is to work for the happiness of man upon this earth and within the confines of Nature that is his home. This philosophy of enjoying, developing, and making available to everyone the abundant material, cultural, and spiritual goods of this natural world is profound in its implications, yet easy to understand and congenial to common sense. This man centered theory of life has remained relatively unheeded during long periods of history. While it has gone under a variety of names, it is a philosophy that I believe is most accurately described as humanism.”
From Corliss Lamont: The Philosophy of Humanism.
Here’s what they say:
Atheist: There is no god.
Theist: Oh, yes there is.
Polytheist: There are lots of them.
Pantheist: They’re everywhere – in trees, music, people.
Agnostic: You can never really tell if they exist.
Ignostic: Who cares? God and evil are real – and human
Humanist: We’re human, so let assume people matter most
Freethinker: What matters is freedom to keep asking questions
From Contact! the newsletter of the Humanist Fellowship of San Diego.
Dogs, Cars, and Guns: An Analogy
Human beings reason by analogy a lot: if a woman is like chattel, then it’s okay to beat her up; if war is like assisted mass suicide, then it bad, but if it like organized sports, then its a good place for a man to show his mettle.
There is a sensational trend among lonely, frustrated males in their thirties to get fast-shooting weapons, create carnage and kill themselves afterwards. Single digit murders don’t make the headlines anymore. In the last five years more Americans died from gun shots than in the Vietnam war. Don’t outlaw the guns, says the National Rifle Association, for they are not to blame, and neither are the responsible gun owners. So let’s see what we do with other annoying and potentially dangerous things.
Are Guns Like Dogs?
In most apartment communities, pets are not allowed. That’s peculiar, because cats can be kept inside full time, and dogs can be trained to do their business in inoffensive places. So why discriminate against animals and their friends?
I used to live in a place that allowed pets. The sand box there smelled like a cat box. The kids could not play on the grass or the side walk, and the poor guy who came to cut the lawn had to wear a full-length rubber coat and goggles. My wife would get very angry at the people who owned dogs the size of calves, and threatened to have our baby play naked on their stoops and leave them an organic deposit there, because what makes pet waste any less filthy than diaper filling?
I don’t want to gross you out. The point is this: in the case of pets, many communities don’t determine what particular pets, and which particular owners, are offensive. They make the responsible people suffer with the irresponsible ones, and deny everybody the pleasure of an animal friend.
Are Guns Like Cars?
Cars are guided missiles that emit toxic fumes and can kill on impact at speeds as low as 20 miles per hour. Lawmakers realize their potential for destruction. Even though our communities are structured in such a way that a full life seems only possible with automotive transportation, we deny access to the steering wheel to the young, the physically unfit, and the mentally unstable. We make everybody show that they are able to drive well and know the rules. We require that everybody show that they are able to drive well and know the rules. We require that everybody who drives is covered by liability insurance, so that those who cause harm to others will be able to pay the damages. We demand that every vehicle is registered and accounted for: if you sell it, you must make sure the new owner is known. And, in this state at least, we insist that the car is inspected once a year, to see if it is fit for use.
Is a gun as dangerous as a car? I think so. I can avoid a car easier than I can avoid a bullet. Is a gun as necessary to a full life as a car? NRA members seems to think so: the right to bear arms is incorporated in the Constitution, they insist; the right to drive is not mentioned there.
At this time, if you want to buy a new handgun, all you have to do is fill out a federal firearms form, and state that you are over 21, a U.S. citizen, a Utah resident for more than 6 months, and not a criminal, a convict, a fugitive, or a drug addict. There is no background check, so if you lie and your form gets spot-checked by the Bureau of alcohol, tobacco and Fire-arms, all you’ll get is more trouble than you had already. If you were born after 1965, you also need to have a “safety card” to show that you did the state’s hunter education course. Of course, if you don’t want to go to all that trouble, you can also read through the classifieds, and buy a second hand gun.
To those who don’t own them, guns are at best annoying and potentially harmful, and at worst a means of violent aggression. As in the case of pets, I don’t think the members of a community are required to distinguish between good and bad owners, if they deem guns as superfluous. In case they regard guns as essential, they should separate the fit from the unfit, and make the conditions for gun use and ownership as rigorous as those for cars.