‘Ol Time Humanism

In his blog post for August 22nd, the day after the eclipse tracked across the entire continental United States, the entrepreneur Seth Godin wrote something titled “The market for used eclipse sunglasses.” It goes like this:

It doesn’t matter how many you have.

It doesn’t matter how much you paid for them.

It doesn’t matter how long the line was yesterday…

The market is gone. It’s a sunk cost. Falling in love with what you have and reminding yourself of what it cost you is no help at all.

The same goes for the value of the assets we invested in, the rare skills we used to possess, the position in the marketplace we worked so hard to get.

New days require new decisions. (http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/)

That is where Humanism is today. Humanism is no longer the alternative to Christianity that John Dietrich and other early Humanists imagined it to be in the teens and twenties of the last century — there are many alternatives to Christianity nowadays, including Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age, and a host of others.

Nor is Humanism any longer the antidote to European Christian colonialism that was embraced by many after the carnage of the Second World War. Both European Christianity and European (and US) colonialism are in the dustbin of history.

Neither is Humanism any longer merely an insistence upon a materialistic, naturalistic, scientific approach to human knowing. (Unfortunately, many UU humanists are stuck in this model, but fact is, most people embrace this worldview, whatever their chosen religion.)

Those versions of Humanism are, as Seth Godin phrases it, a “sunk cost.” As Godin puts it, “the assets we invested in, the rare skills we used to possess, the position in the marketplace we worked so hard to get” — these are in Humanism’s past. Humanism’s first century. “New days require new decisions.”

“Humanism” isn’t even a particularly good word for what Humanism is becoming in our time. Yes, religion and philosophy are human disciplines and human concerns. Black bears and ostriches and marmots have no interest in human religion or in human obsessions with human meaning and purpose. In this way, Humanism is about human experience, human subjectivity.

But, the black bears and the ostriches and the marmots are impacted — threatened — by the consequences of human actions. They are threatened by life in the Anthropocene, this epoch created by human arrogance and human ignorance. Across the globe, human children are threatened by war and social strife and by poverty and violence.

All the while, Humanists must ask the old subjective question: How is it with your spirit? For, despite the rise and fall of empires; despite the smiles and frowns of the wealthy and the powerful; despite all of our collective arrogance, each of us, each hour and each day, is living and dying. And watching those we love live and die.

“Humanist” is no longer a very good word for those concerned with our threatened climate; for the threatened living things on this planet; for the threatened psyche of each of us in this fragile, transitory existence.

But “Humanism” is a word that has labeled what a group of freethinkers have been doing for more than a century. So we’re kind of stuck with it.

Humanism is first and foremost about the liberation of people. Political liberation. Cultural liberation. Personal liberation. Humanism is utterly dependent upon the separation of church and state; freedom of speech and of assembly; and freedom of knowledge and expression of self.

By these things we are tied to the past. But only as prologue.

Humanism today is concerned with liberation, not labels; pluralism, not compartmentalization; integrity, not name-calling; conversation and connection, not conversion. Humanism is about human liberation in the face of the scarifying effects of poverty, oppression, superstition, and ignorance. It is not, however, up to individuals — locked as we are in our own cultural assumptions — to impose on or expect others to conform to our expectations, but rather to empower others to find their own opportunities.

Integrity. Connection. Justice. These things have been the foundation of Humanism since the beginning. Their meaning for living, breathing human beings has changed with time.