Eupraxophy, Living Without Religion
Eupraxophy, Living Without Religion written by Paul Kurtz, was published by Prometheus Books in 1989.
Paul Kurtz is the Editor of Free Inquiry and President of CODESH. “Eupraxophy” is a word coined by Kurtz to more accurately define humanism. The Greek roots of the word are eu, good; praxis, conduct; and sophia, wisdom. His excellent book of only 160 pages is an exciting exploration of the various aspects of positive humanism. Eupraxophy is about the nature of the universe and how to live a meaningful, moral life. It also deals with the humanist challenge of creating a just society. Kurtz offers concrete recommendations for the development of humanism as an individual and as a community. It deserves a reading by every serious humanist. I read a Salt Lake County library copy, but plan to add it to my growing library of essential humanist books.
The Essence of Humanism
I was challenged to quickly define Humanism during a Humanist conference in Columbia, Maryland, a few years ago. A passenger on an elevator noticed my convention name tag and said to me, “What’s Humanism?”; before I could think of a 30-second sound-bite definition the elevator stopped and the person left. That incident made me realize that we need to clarify for ourselves and for others just what we are all about.
Let me remind you of a familiar story that may illustrate basic Humanism. It’s the story of the man who bought a piece of ground overgrown with weeds and filled with debris. He spent a lot of time, effort and money in clearing the land, constructing a nice home and landscaping the yard. One morning while he was weeding his flower garden a local minister walked by and commented, “What a beautiful place you and God have created.” The man replied, “You should have seen it when God was taking care of it alone.”
That story indicates the main thrust of Humanism—Humans are responsible for the state of the world, we created the beauty and the ugliness of the human condition. We can take credit for the things that go right and we must take responsibility for the things that go wrong.
In 1933 a group of men put their signatures to a document defining human responsibilities and possibilities. They said the document was the result of much study and discussion, that it was representative of a large number of people who were forging a new philosophy about the human condition. They called the document “A Humanist Manifesto.”
The introduction says, “The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs throughout the modern world. Science and economic changes have disrupted old beliefs. Religions of the world are under the necessity of coming to terms with new conditions created by vastly increased knowledge and experience.” They defined religion as “the quest for life’s highest values and life’s abiding values.” They proposed their manifesto as a new statement of the means and purposes of religion. They set forth fifteen principles defining what they called Religious Humanism. Let me summarize those principles.
Religious Humanism regards the universe as self-existing and not created.
Asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural origination of human values.
Considers the complete realization of human personality to be the goal of life.
In place of the old attitudes involved in worship and prayer, the humanist finds religious emotions expressed in a heightened sense of personal life and in a cooperative effort to promote social well-being.
Believing that we must work continuously to define the virtuous life, humanist seek to explore the possibilities of life, aim to foster human creativeness, and encourage conditions that add to the satisfactions of life.
The manifesto concluded with:
“Though we consider the religious forms and ideas of our fathers no longer adequate, the quest for the good life is still the central task for mankind. Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement.”
(Parenthetically, I should point out that in that period of time the use of the male pronoun was an acceptable reference to both sexes!)
Forty years later the manifesto was revised and published as Humanist Manifesto II. The preamble to the 1973 document recognizes the tremendous progress of the preceding 40-years noting: “We have virtually conquered the planet, explored the moon, overcome the natural limits of travel and communication; we stand at the dawn of a new age, ready to move farther into space and perhaps inhabit other planets. Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life. Humanity, to survive, requires bold and daring measures. We need to extend the uses of the scientific method, and to fuse reason with compassion in order to build constructive social and moral values.”
The second Manifesto is organized into six major sections. The first section restates the humanist attitude toward religion concluding with the statement, “We appreciate the need to preserve the best ethical teachings in the religious traditions but we reject those features of traditional religious morality that deny humans a full appreciation of their own potentialities and responsibilities. No deity will save us, we must save ourselves.”
The second section deals with ethics and says “We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics stem from human need and interest. Reason and intelligence are the most effective instruments that humans possess.”
Section three deals with the individual, saying “The preciousness and dignity of the individual is central to humanist values. Individuals should be encouraged to realize their own creative talents and desires and freedom of choice should be increased.”
The fourth section supports the Democratic Society, saying “To enhance freedom and dignity the individual must experience a full range of civil liberties in all societies. This includes freedom of speech and the press, political democracy, the legal right of opposition to governmental policies, fair judicial process, religious liberty, freedom of association, and artistic, scientific, and cultural freedom.
We would safeguard, extend, and implement the principles of human freedom evolved from the Magna Carta to the Bill of Rights, the Rights of Man, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The fifth section expands to the world community and deplores the division of humankind on nationalistic grounds. Quoting from Manifesto Two: “We have reached a turning point in human history where the best option is to transcend the limits of national sovereignty and to move toward the building of a world community in which all sectors of the human family can participate. This world community must renounce violence and force as a method of solving international disputes…and must engage in cooperative planning concerning the use of rapidly depleting resources. The cultivation and conservation of nature is a moral value.”
The sixth and concluding section says “At the present juncture of history, commitment to all humankind is the highest commitment of which we are capable; it transcends the narrow allegiances of church, state, party, class, or race in moving toward a wider vision of human potentiality. What more daring a goal for humankind than for each person to become in ideal as well as practice, a citizen of a world community. We believe that humankind has the potential intelligence, goodwill, and cooperative skill to implement this commitment in the decades ahead.”
Conversion to Humanism
So much for the history and the philosophy of Humanism, now I would like to spend a few minutes explaining how I came to be an advocate for Humanism. I believe my first conscious awareness of my need to find an acceptable philosophy was triggered by events of the Second World War. During a furlough home I was asked to speak to the Sacrament meeting of my Ward. The focus of my talk was my concern about the ethics and morality of a Mormon from Salt Lake City being required to kill a Mormon from Berlin, Rome, or Tokyo. I was deeply bothered by the conflict of loyalty to God and loyalty to country. To this day, I continue to believe that members of all religions must wrestle with that conflict.
My concern about ultimate loyalty led me to do a great deal of reading about wars, their causes and resolutions. I discovered that the Old Testament contains a great deal of history about religious wars, that the history of Europe is filled with religious wars; the history of relations between the Jews and the Arabs is a continuous religious war that has lasted thousands of years. I eventually came to the conclusion that if beliefs in God created so much bloodshed, even among those who share the same basic religious concept, then I needed to find a basic belief that holds more hope for the future of the human race and for peaceful resolutions of conflicts. I believed then, and I believe now, that humans are more capable of coming to terms with conflict when they have a deep respect for life and for one another than when their highest allegiance is to a supreme being.
My personal experiences as a member of the Utah State legislature and as a political reporter for several years made me acutely conscious of the need to be alert to religious pressures in state politics. One example occurred when I was a member of the House of Representatives in 1957. A bill that required an appropriation of several thousand dollars for a project favored by the LDS church failed to get the two-thirds vote required for passage. The Speaker of the House, Jerry Jones, said he wasn’t posing as a prophet but he was predicting that the bill would eventually pass. The next day several legislators announced that they had received telephone calls during the night “explaining the bill in more detail” and they moved for reconsideration of the defeated measure. As you might have guessed those “explanation phone calls” came from Church lobbyists and, just as Speaker Jones had prophesied, the bill passed with votes to spare!
I only need to remind you of the LDS Church involvement in State liquor laws, a State lottery proposal, the Equal Rights Amendment, and horse racing legislation to point out how effectively the Church influences politics in Utah.
Now I don’t take the position that the Church should be silent on legislative and political matters. Religious leaders have the same freedom of expression that every citizen enjoys. Churches have the same right as all other organizations to take positions on social and political issues. The problem is not religious involvement, the problem lies with individuals who, because of authoritarian religious indoctrination, accept their authoritarian religious leaders as also being their authoritarian political leaders.
Religion is rooted in authoritarianism. All religions accept the concept of an infallible God, the word of God as the final authority, the ultimate truth. Anything attributed to God is absolute truth: the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud. And to question anyone accepted and recognized as a spokesperson for God is considered to be grounds for excommunication in many religions. It is this “authoritarian mind-set”, encouraged by religions, that makes religious involvement in politics a dangerous problem. Religious leaders speaking on political matters poses a danger of theocracy replacing democracy.
I am also upset with the tendency in our political system to equate being religious with being patriotic and the converse of not being religious with being unpatriotic. George Bush said during the 1982 presidential campaign that he didn’t think it possible to be President and not be religious. Such intertwining of religion and politics is in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Utah Constitution (Article 4, paragraph 3, of the U. S. Constitution and Article 4, sec. 4, of the Utah Constitution). Even with these constitutional restrictions George Bush made his statement about the Presidency and religion and many candidates continue to cite their religious activities as evidence of their qualification for office. Such statements I believe are an inferred “religious test” imposed indirectly and contribute to a public tolerance of theocracy.
This nation is politically and economically secular. In 1833, U. S. Representative Rufus Choate of Massachusetts said “We have built no temple but the Capitol, we consult no common oracle but the Constitution.” That quotation is engraved over a doorway in the U.S. House of Representatives. Maintaining the independence of religion and politics and the separation of Church and State is a major principle of Humanism, and is one of the reasons I have become an advocate of Humanism.
So far I’ve discussed the philosophy of Humanism, the historical development of Humanism and my conversion to Humanism. I’d like to now spend a few minutes discussing what I think are the challenges to the Humanist movement.
If Humanism is to become a major part of the human enterprise I believe we must recognize the need to develop the attributes of community. We must increase our awareness of the role religions play in the lives of humans and position ourselves as an alternative to religion rather than an esoteric philosophy.
We must make an effort to recognize the important role emotions play in life. Humans are more than just cerebral beings, we are feeling animals as well as thinking animals. Feeling has been the primary appeal of religions; they call it spiritual, it’s really emotional. We are more than rugged individuals, we are also social animals; we are more than independent and something more than dependent, we are interdependent. We are not loners, we are joiners; we have a need to belong, to share, to care with and about each other. Human relations and human involvement are a vital part of life and Humanism must find ways to recognize this and develop ways of bringing humanness into Humanism.
Kahlil Gibran speaks on Reason and Passion in The Prophet saying:
“Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite. Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody. But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements? Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else beheld at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction. Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing; And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above it’s own ashes. I would have you consider your judgment and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house. Surely you would not honor one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and the faith of both.”
Symbolism, rituals, poetry, moving prose, they are all important aspects of community and the big challenge for the Humanist movement is to recognize this and find ways to involve the finest aspects of the human intellect and human emotions. Ed Wilson knew the importance of this. In 1986, writing for Volume Two of the publication Humanism Today, said: “The whole field of secular art, poetry, literature, drama, music is ours to claim and use selectively for inspiration and renewal, for the enrichment of the heart.”
For many years I thought the Unitarian Church was the religion of Humanism, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there remains a very strong element of Deism and Theism in Unitarian Universalism and therefore Humanism must find its own distinctive and distinguished ways to appeal to the whole human personality. Humanism must talk about morality, the values and the standards that are vital to an effective and worthwhile human community. We must talk about ethics, reasonable and acceptable ways of treating each other.
If we are to become a major player in the struggle for human allegiance, Humanism must find ways to speak to, in the words of Gibran, “Reason and Passion.”
The Gospel of OOPS!
A humanist recently had to buy an older used car. He took it to his mechanic and friend of 25 years for his evaluation, who said that the car was in good condition. The humanist bought it. Shortly thereafter, the car broke down, and it was taken back to the mechanic. The mechanic apologized and said that he felt very “guilty.”
“I don’t believe in guilt!” said the humanist. “I believe in The Gospel of OOPS! As in OOPS! I made a mistake and I’d better fix it.”
“OOPS! Why OOPS?” asked the mechanic, not believing what he heard.
“Well it’s like this,” the humanist went on, “Once you believe in guilt, then comes sin, repentance, salvation, judgment day and so on, it just never ends. OOPS! does it all.”
“Okay. No sin, no guilt, just OOPS! Right!” said the mechanic as he happily began to fix the car.
Gender Unity and Humanism
Who Is Going To Decide Things?, asked Dr. Alan Coombs in his lecture on Progress at the Humanist meeting of July 8, stating further that this is one of the most important decisions a new society or organization can make.
From a female perspective, the results of those who make decisions can be critical, far-reaching and very personal in nature, because the decision-maker not only determines the course of events an organization takes, but also defines the amount of power, control and freedom each member of the group can exercise.
Theories about how women and men look at the world are well documented. Though not everyone fits the mold, it helps us to become aware of the generally attributed differences. Men tend to be direct, status-conscious, and hierarchical in their inter-actions. The feminine perspective is steered toward people, intimacy, and interdependence. Women see themselves as persons in a network of connections, cognizant of human inter-relatedness. As Deborah Tannen explains in her 1990 book You Just Don’t Understand, “Life [to women] is as community, a struggle to preserve intimacy and avoid isolation. Though there are hierarchies in the female world, they are more of friendship than of power and accomplishment.”
Because men tend to focus more on control and independence, and women generally place more emphasis on closeness and connection, we can expect differing leadership styles to be practiced between the two. Consequently, the decisions a leader makes in an organization, whether male or female, will reflect their personal biology, their conditioning, their experiences, and their biases. And these biases, if left unchecked, can lead to narrow perspectives and alienation.
In some ways we’re all alike, but in other ways each person is different, and these differences may conflict with each other from time to time. To ensure that our differences do not become a major source of conflict, we must begin with awareness. Linda Galindo in an October, 1991 article in Network states: “Being aware of differing orientations or preferences can assist all of us in pulling together, rather than seeing the way things are done as right and wrong. The most successful people are those who integrate their own cultural orientation with the organizations to preserve the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of the individual while achieving the organization’s goals.” Hopefully, the organization’s goals will be gender inclusive and equitable.
We all must face the fact that gender is an issue that will not go away, nor should it; for both women and men could benefit from learning each other’s frame of reference. Becoming aware of our different approaches to life can provide a “starting point to develop not only self-understanding, but also flexibility–the freedom to try doing things differently, if our own ways of doing them aren’t having entirely successful results.” (Tannen)
The more women and men work together on an equal basis, the more they will be modeling behaviors that benefit each other. Men can learn how to listen and be more personal, more caring, and connected in their interactions. And women can learn to be more assertive, independent, and forthright in their approach. Women and men would both do well to learn strategies typically used by members of the opposite sex, not to switch over entirely, but to have more strategies at their disposal. Then perhaps over time, our gender differences will be minimized because males and females will be better integrated. Both will have discovered and developed their female and male counterparts and learned to use them effectively and appropriately.
An obvious question is, Can people really change their ways of thinking and behaving? I sincerely believe if they want to, yes, they can. But it will take a conscious effort, and an inclusive approach. Both women and men would be included in decision-making and policy-making within an organization because of their different approaches to life. And both need to listen to each other, respect differing viewpoints, and have the courage to try new and perhaps better ways of doing things. Honest and sometimes heated disagreements should be expected to occur, but if negotiation and compromise are valued in an atmosphere of having the freedom to disagree, then perhaps wiser and more humane decisions could be the result.
Humanist, Elizabeth R. Johnson, sees more women and men acting with a spirit of unity, making the world a better place. “As courageous wives, mothers, and daughters liberate themselves from traditional bondage, they find many bold men are also shaking off the undemocratic, restrictive shackles of the past, and adopting a more humanistic attitude, philosophy and lifestyle. They are bravely working out their own destinies. In every instance, these more mature and more responsible women and men, while learning from the past but devoted to the present and the future, are displaying intellectual and social integrity combined with an impressive spirit of unity. Bringing a new vitality, a new social consciousness and conscience to human relationships, these individuals are doing their utmost to make this world a healthier and more civilized place. These women and men are the instigators of meaningful change. They speak with the voice of reason, combating ignorance and stupidity with knowledge and compassion. Whether they are working at the home, community, national, or international level, their positive influence is unequivocal.” (Free Inquiry, Fall, 1990)
Because of its inclusive philosophy, Humanism should be at the forefront of this evolutionary change. Both women and men will be the benefactors of this approach.
“A true democracy welcomes differences and disagreements, and cherishes as a creative force in society, minority criticisms of existing institutions and prevailing patterns of thought.” (Corliss Lamont, 1965, The Philosophy of Humanism)