This Week in Humanism 2018–12–09
“Geoff Naylor (Letters, 29 November) speaks of the “sense of belonging” within faith communities, and of their “selfless collaboration for the inclusive good of one another”. But is this to do with faith, or with an intuitive tribalism?
Since different religions began to co-exist within communities, they have always defined their identity largely by what they are not — Christians aren’t pagans, Muslims aren’t Jews or Christians, Protestants aren’t Catholics, and so on, and the “sense of belonging” operates within the faith community. So is the “inclusive good” actually the “exclusive good”?
The only worldview that seeks to transcend this tribalism is secular humanism — we are all people, and no belief system is privileged over any other. This worldview is gaining (largely unacknowledged) acceptance — look at the way humanist models of wedding and funeral ceremonies have been increasingly aped by “secular” and religious celebrants. It is well on the way to becoming the “new normal”.”
“Certainly, God was liberally invoked as was Christian scripture during the elegant, moving funeral. But, as a nontheist, I experienced the odes to spirituality as peripheral to the glowing humanism that deeply informed every beautiful, heartfelt eulogy and shone forth from faces in the pews.
It was fitting, I thought, that the first and arguably most eloquent tribute Wednesday to the former president — “Poppy” to his kids and grandkids — was delivered by an acclaimed American historian, Jon Meacham, not a clergyman. Among other books, Meacham wrote Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, the definitive biography on the man.
“The story was almost over even before it had fully begun,” Meacham said in the opening words of his eulogy.”
“Let’s begin with a story. Last week, a friend posted his relief at having received a perfect grade for a grad-school paper. My problem, upon hearing this? His paper depicted the U.S.-Mexico border crisis–something I knew deeply affected him and his communities, and as such had consequences far beyond the page. Here he’d been, worrying about his ability to perform for a theory class, because of its impact on his ability to improve the world later… when the paper in question involved the need for greater action now. So when I saw his tweet, a floodgate of memories opened from my last term as a post-secondary instructor in Canada. I remembered, in general, the struggle to improve the relevancy of course material to student needs. I remembered, in particular, a moment when standardization pressures came in direct conflict with my humanist practice.
For fairness’s sake, though, I should first mention that I was already pretty burned out when this incident happened. After realizing in Fall 2016 that I’d have to leave my PhD program two dissertation drafts into the process, I had intended to slip out of academia after teaching one last course at another university. However, an opportunity arose to teach at a technical college in May, and even though I was reluctant to continue in post-secondary, I had yet to envision how I would pay for whatever came next. So how could I say “no” to one more month of income?”
“Morality is a system of conduct and beliefs designed to guide people in the customs, taboos, and mores of society. While the moral codes of one society may differ from those of another, there is considerable overlap in the moral ideals of most societies. For example, compassion, caring, trustworthiness and honesty are common moral values, while murder, deceit, greediness, and violence are moral taboos in most societies.
Many philosophers and moral thinkers use the terms morality and ethics almost interchangeably. For those who use the terms differently, moral principles arise from the everyday working out of situations which result in harmony within a society. For example, honesty is good because it works out best in most situations. In that sense, honesty is practical and socially useful.
On the other hand, ethics takes a slightly more cerebral approach in determining which principles are the best ones to follow. Ethics attempts to seek out broad principles such as truth, justice, equity and fairness, while morals are more concerned with codes and rules that result in an harmonious society. Thus the ethical principles of Aristotle and Plato differ in their emphasis from the moral imperatives of Immanuel Kant. However, in the end, these differences may be more matters of approach than of substance.”