Humanism Now
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Humanism Now

#Humanism and Basic Questions

Photo by Steve Leisher on Unsplash

Two very basic questions are the foundation for humanist ethics: The first is “What is my truth?” and the second is: “How should I treat others?”

These two questions are intertwined — commitment to our individual truth leads to meaningful and compassionate action for the sake of others.

If we believe that a particular sort of god created a hierarchical universe in which some people inherently mean more and deserve more than others, we will act in a particular way. US founding-father John Adams wrote, “God Almighty has decreed in the creation of human nature an eternal aristocracy.” That’s one way of seeing things.

If we believe there is no god — or at least no god that interferes in human history — and that the universe is a series of random or chance events, we will act in another sort of particular way, since we know that we are the only ones who can take care of each other. As ethicist Carol Gilligan writes, “an ethic of care rests on the premise of nonviolence — that no one should be hurt.”

Or as Confucius saw it, “self-regard” (shu) leads to “other-regard” (zhong).

And, of course, there are many, many ways of living between those two world-views.

Photo by Kiara Sztankovics on Unsplash

In theology and philosophy the consideration of the question of being itself is called ontology. Like a pancreas, you have one even if you don’t know you have one. (Unlike a pancreas, you can operate on your ontology without anesthesia.)

Ontos derives from the Greek word for “being;” and logy derives from Greek, “study of.” Ontology is the study of being, or the study of what is.

Ontology has traditionally been studied under the rubric of metaphysics, since central questions include what exists and what does not exist, and does more than one realm of being exist?

In addition, ontological practice has considered which qualities place things into which categories, if and how hierarchy exists, and why.

As a bottom line, all individuals and groups must decide the nature of being in the natural and social conditions they find themselves in (or have others decide it for them). With that determination, action is possible in the reality imaged by a particular ontology. As I said, everyone has an ontological stance, often without considering its implications.

As I mentioned above, one ontological position claims that there is a rational god who created the universe and rules over it, creating the conditions that we experience.

A more recent Western view has been called “process ontology.” In this way of seeing reality, objects appear as they appear at this moment, but they may well have exhibited different attributes in the past and may demonstrate still others in the future. It’s all a process. This way of viewing reality says, “Yes, there are poor people and oppressive social structures, but they don’t deserve it; and perhaps we can do something to alleviate the suffering and oppression.”

Many conservatives believe in the first ontology I mentioned. Many liberals believe in the second. Again, those are the opposite poles and there’s lots of variety in between. But you get the point.

Notice that both of these ontologies, however, have an implicit bias toward human beings. Reality is as human beings perceive it, and other beings have lesser understandings, and rocks don’t have any understanding at all.

This attitude has led Western cultures to treat the planet and its living things as commodities. Raw material.

Photo by Christopher Windus on Unsplash

But there is a new ontology in town. The latest speculation on the nature of being is called “object-oriented ontology.”

(I have written about this movement in a previous post.)

Object-Oriented Ontology (“OOO”) views traditional understandings of being as anthropocentric. For Triple-Os, all objects are equal in value. That’s why it’s called “object-oriented.”

You are probably way ahead of me here: “Object-oriented ontology” is not much more than a complex Western philosophical way of stating that age-old pantheistic truth: everything is sacred. Object-oriented ontology harkens to animist and pantheist understandings of realities

It’s only that the OOOs carry that a bit further, claiming not only the equality of all things, but the moral imperative to preserve and cherish all things.

The implications of this way of thinking? More in my next blog post.

Unitarian Universalist Humanists



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