I was recently requested to moderate a panel of religious leaders discussing “The Spiritual Aspects of Death and Dying.” The panel was composed of representatives from four different denominations. I was challenged by the opportunity, but could find no resource material on the subject of humanistic spirituality. Apparently humanists have discarded the use of the term, along with the words prayer and religion because they have such strong connotations of mysticism. I refuse to give orthodox religions exclusive use of these poetic terms so I did a little research and found resources and definitions that I find humanistically comfortable.
In the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, the author Harold Kushner refers to the French sociologist Emile Durkheim’s 1912 publication “Elementary Forms of the Religious Life” in which he suggested that the primary purpose of religions at its earliest level was not to put people in touch with god, but to put them in touch with one another. Religious rituals taught people how to share with their neighbors the experiences of birth and bereavement, of children marrying and parents dying. There were rituals for planting and harvesting, for winter solstice and for the vernal equinox. In that way, the community would be able to share the most joyous and the most frightening moments of life. No on would have to face them alone. (Page 119)
As a humanist I find that definition of religion completely compatible with the social passion of Humanist Manifestos I & II.
A recent issue of “The American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care” (Sept/Oct 1991, Page 17) Thomas Welk says:
It is important to make a distinction between spirituality and religions. In explaining the issue of spirituality it becomes necessary to emphasize that this is the most central, deepest and most complex of human needs. It is often referred to as the integrative, creative function. It is our way of making sense, meaning, and significance out of life.
In the same issue of the magazine (page 33) another author, Richard Dershimer, writes, “I used spirituality in the secular sense, that is, humans turning their attention away from worlds beyond and toward this world and this time without, necessarily, recourse to religious creeds or doctrines. The spirit can be described as that force within each person that fosters good, the just, the beautiful and the truthful in life. It is both mysterious and consciously concrete, but it results in maximizing human awareness and connection to life.”
After finding this material on religion and spirituality and with the late Harold Scott’s definition of prayer, “The expression of the highest of human aspirations.” Recalled to consciousness, I was able to comfortably accept the offer of moderating the panel on “The Spiritual Aspects of Death and Dying.”
Mission Statement of the Humanists of Utah
- We affirm our association with the American Humanists Association, the North American and International Humanist movement, and support their goals and policies.
- We accept the Humanist Manifestos I & II as the basic philosophy of the humanist movement, not as a credo or dogma, but as an expression of a living and growing body of knowledge.
- It is our goal to identify all Utahns who accept the humanist philosophy and to gather them into an association of humanists where all can have a sense of belonging to a larger community and find friendships and support.
- We recognize that humanism is a satisfying and positive philosophy of life which meets the challenges of our times, and we declare our intention to spread the knowledge of humanism throughout the State of Utah.
- It is our goal to learn as much as we can about humanism and its application to our lives. We will educate and inform our membership about the philosophy of humanism, social issues of current interest, and the activities of the chapter.
What is Humanism?
This Journal has printed a number of definitions of humanism, mostly from other chapters. The AHA prints a card which can be handed out to interested people with its own definition. I include it here because it seems to me to be as good as any I have seen:
Humanism affirms the inherent dignity and worth of every human being and asserts that individuals are responsible for the realization of their aspirations and that they have within themselves the power of achieving them.
Humanism is free from any belief in the supernatural and is dedicated to the search for meaning and values for individuals on Earth through reliance upon intelligence and the scientific method, democracy and social empathy.
Humanism contends that humans have emerged as a result of continuous evolutionary process, and that all their values–religious, ethical, political and social–have their source in human experience and are the product of their culture.
To summarize, humanists believe in (1) the ideal of the perfectibility of humankind, (2) the scientific method of obtaining knowledge, (3) in the evolutionary process, and (4) in human experience as the source of values and ethics. Everything else follows from these four main points.
In this issue of the Journal, I will discuss briefly the Scientific Method. In subsequent issues, I hope to follow with other three. (Better still, perhaps I can find someone else to do it who is more qualified.)
I had some difficulty finding information about the scientific method. Many books write about it, none seemed to give an explanation of what it actually was, so I went back to original sources. This explanation of the scientific method is from the book Right Thinking – A study of its principles and methods, by E.A. Burtt (1928, 1931, 1946), whose analysis is derived from John Dewey’s How We Think (1910). Both are signers of A Humanist Manifesto. I also took some information from Webster’s dictionary.
There are a total of six steps:
Step One: Occurence of a Perplexity
To perplex is to be unable to grasp something clearly or to think logically and decisively about something.
Step Two: Clarification of the Perplexity
To clarify is to be free of confusion and to make understandable.
Step Three: The Appearance of Different Solutions
Or working hypotheses of the perplexity. To hypothesize is to form a tentative assumption made in order to draw out and test its logical or empirical consequences.
Step Four: Deducing Implications of the Suggested Hypothesis
A deduction is the deriving of a conclusion by reasoning, specifically of an inference in which the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises.
Step Five: Verification of the Chosen Solution
By some action or observation, engaged in the purpose of determining which, if any, of the suggestions as developed, offers an adequate solution of the perplexity.
Step Six: A Reiteration of the Preceding Thinking
To uncover any inadequacies that might be corrected.
Not long ago I told an old friend, an active LDS, that I had become a humanist. His reply was, “Well, it depends on who you believe has the authority,” which is the kind of answer I would expect if he was comparing one religion to another, and I wasn’t sure that he understood me.
Perhaps he didn’t, but maybe he did, because authority is a central question. To the LDS, authority is the Priesthood and the source is God. To the humanist, authority is the scientific method and the source of nature.
These two means of acquiring knowledge have been at war with each other probably from the very first time someone asserted that they spoke for some supernatural being, and someone else discovered from the observation of nature that something to the contrary was the truth.
Corliss Lamont, in his book The Philosophy of Humanism, which is given to all new members who join the AHA, writes:
An objective study of science shows that all knowledge, even the simplest mathematical proposition, springs originally from human experience within this natural world. Scientific method operates without any dependence on or need for supernatural mental faculty in man that gets in touch with a supernatural truth-giving Being or that draws ideas out of some mysterious realm beyond Nature. There is no ground, either, for alleging that “scientific” truth originates in the this-earthly experience of man, but that “spiritual” or “ethical” truth comes from on high in an altogether different way. It is the Humanist contention that all truth or knowledge has the same natural status and origin.
Lamont also states:
Humanism believes that the greatest need of our age is the application, insofar as it is possible, of the method and spirit of science to all human problems and that the acquisition of this method and spirit constitutes a training of the mind far more important than the assimilation of any number of individual facts.
What They Said
Fundamentalist Rev. Roger Leach of Madera, Calif., complained in March of a state program to teach self-esteem in elementary schools, because it leaves children with the belief that they can solve problems themselves and thus do not need God in their lives. As many as 15 parents have removed their kids from the school for this reason.
From News of the Weird, Real news collected from the mainstream press by Chuck Shepard, printed in the November 1991 issue of Funny Times
The life of the humanist is not devoid, because of his naturalistic philosophy, of moral and spiritual value. Like those who believe in God, he loves his wife and cherishes the fondest hopes for his children; he is concerned for the well being of his fellow men; like them, in his heroic moment he will give his life for another, he gazes upon the same art as they, communes with the same nature, his spirit uplifted by the same music, his will steeled by the same high resolve, his life shattered by the same tragedies. Atheism does not make the humanist morally bad; it cultivates in him the cosmic loneliness of those who believe that their only companions in life and death are their fellow man and the mute world that has unknowingly cast them up, and will unknowingly reclaim them.
The strength of the humanistic religion is its supreme commitment to reason, its faith in man’s creative intelligence, faith that he has the power to discern, articulate, and solve his problems. The humanist is confident that under the guidance of good will the patient process of scientific thought may eventually win through for the amelioration of society and the achievement of human happiness. Nowhere is there greater confidence in education, in man’s power to affect his won character or to determine the course of history. Humanism denies that there are uniquely religious experiences and refuses to distinguish between the sacred and the secular. It declares instead that religion embraces every worth-while human attitude and activity, and it grounds its moral ideals in the living experience in the individual and society. Man is the primary object of its interest and devotion. Its instruments are science and democracy, and its goal is the good life.
–Sterling M. McMurrin, PhD
Setting the Record Straight
Recently, a letter appeared in the editorial section of both the Provo Daily Herald and the Deseret News. The letter claimed that “we are witnessing the greatest occult explosion of all time.” It then went on to lump secular humanism with “New Age” occultism:
The “New Age” occultism has influenced almost every aspect of our contemporary life, from self-help psychology and holistic medicine to politics and public education. (In broad definition, the New Age is a combination of mysticism, the occult, secular humanism, Eastern religions, Native American tribal religions, the ancient goddess religions and the goddess of Mother Earth cult.)
Adrienne “Tess” Morris, a member of the Humanists of Utah, who doesn’t mind being associated with unpopular causes, but does mind being linked with the supernatural, had the following response published in both newspapers:
Ms. Griffin’s recent letter about the “occult explosion” contained a startling error. In her “New Age occultisms (sic)” she lists mysticism and various religions, but also includes secular humanism.
Secular humanism is in no way a new-age occult or a cult. “Secular” means not religious, and humanism has a skeptical legacy as old as the classical Greeks. Secular humanists deplore any explanations of the world in supernatural terms. In other words, we are the opposites of mystics and cultists; as independent free-thinkers, we believe neither gods nor devils, heaven nor hell, magic nor faith, miracles nor dogma.
On the contrary, humanists are committed to reason and science for the understanding of the universe and the solving of human problems. We reject anything which denigrates human intelligence and looks outside nature and the real world for answers, help or “salvation.” As a matter of fact, humanists work for a happy, healthy humanity in the here an now, and are also concerned about new-age nonsense and “demonology.”
Unfortunately, any system of thought which attributes imaginary causes for real effects has the potential for great human harm. Such a belief as “Satan is real” may produce as many problems as if he were.
New World Order
“Lithuania in the New World Order” was the topic of discussion at the November 14, 2001 meeting of Humanists of Utah. The guest speaker was Dr. Andy Schoenberg, former aerospace engineer now a Professor of Bio-engineering, and president of the local chapter of the World Federalists.
Lithuania is a Baltic State about the size of Ohio with approximately 3.6 million people. The language is of Latin derivation and originated in 2,000 B.C. Catholicism is the major religion having a percentage of 85.
Lithuania became a state in the thirteenth century. It unified with Poland during the fourteenth century and became Christian. In 1918 Lithuania gained independence. In 1940 the Russians took over, and then was followed by the German invasion in 1941. The Soviet forces reoccupied the state in 1944.
The current situation is as follows: Last March the people voted to secede from the Soviet Union. In September Lithuania was recognized as an independent state. Presently the economy is in turmoil and the Soviet army is still stationed there. President Landsbergis and his government are negotiating with various countries for trade and help. The future is uncertain for the country, but the people are optimistic because Europeans are inclined to help each other, and Poland is in no position to invade.
The economy is 60% industrialized with its major resource being major appliances, machine tools, ceramics, and electronics. Forty percent of the economy is agricultural with meat and dairy products having been the major exports. Oil and gas are imported from Russia.
Lithuania exports electric power from a very large nuclear power plant, the waste products from which have polluted much of the water systems in its vicinity.
Dr. Schoenberg was born in Lithuania in 1939. He moved to Germany in 1941. He lived through the war and was brought up to be intensely nationalistic. He was born Catholic, but now describes himself as being a Unitarian and World Citizen. Andy teaches a World Peace Seminar and is concerned about his students’ attitudes regarding the justifiable reasons to go to war. (20% of his students polled believe it is legitimate to overthrow a dictatorship and establish democracy as long as we don’t kill over 50% of the population!)
The European community see the New World Order as a means to reduce barriers by having common rules of law, common currency, and a confederation. There is less paranoia regarding the arms race, and Europeans do not like the Super Power domination of NATO. They want to integrate with Eastern Europe and are not a missionary society.
Lithuania wants independence from both Russia and Poland. There is a movement to secure independence from each other without bloodshed. There is a major change of thinking in all governments based on the concept of “Principled Negotiations,” a Harvard University course attended by officials of the Soviet Union.
There is enough democratic thinking going on to probably prevent dictatorship. Whether or not independence and democracy succeeds will be determined by the amount of chaos that transpires. People have a tendency to grasp onto leaders with definitive ideas and easy answers when in a crisis. Lithuania wants a democratic and free market system. The question is how will small countries survive with the Super Powers. They are on the threshold of deciding how they are going to live with one another in peace.
The World Federalists do not see war as a way to solve problems. They hope to achieve the goal of “no war” through global awareness, education and world citizenship. World peace begins in the mind and the heart. Humanistic ethics in every human being is considered valuable. No one, or no nation, should externally impose anything on others, even in the name of democracy. There must be a federal type of rule much like the United States has established in order to settle problems and disagreements between the states.
Dr. Schoenberg considers Gorbachev a sincere reformer who initiated a remarkable move toward democracy.
The world needs to eliminate anarchy by establishing law. The only security for any people today is the creation of a system of world order that enables nations to retain sovereignty over their own cultures and institutions, and that creates a workable authority for regulating the behavior of nations in their relationships with one another. There are nuclear imperatives which dictate the need for world law.
For more information check the website.