Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Humanist Manifesto III

I admit I am having an identity crisis. I have called myself in the course of writing this blog an Earthling, a Humanist, an Atheist, a Sexy Atheist (or a Pantheist), an Agnostic, a Panentheist (although I am skeptical of that one), a Skeptic, a Liberal, a Freethinker, a Progressive, a Non-Realist, a Radical, a Pluralist, a Naturalist, a Materialist, a Darwinist, a Feminist and a Human Being. I am happy to put the adjective Christian in front of all of them (and Presbyterian for that matter).

I suppose in some cases the adjective could be the noun. Whatever the case, I desire to be all verb.


More labels will be forthcoming, I am sure.

I finished Greg Epstein's book
Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. I liked it very much. I think he might have a bit of an identity crisis too. He is an Atheist Jewish Rabbi Humanist Chaplain. In the appendix of his book he included The Humanist Manifesto III.

What do you think?

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life's fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature's resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature's integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

39 comments:

  1. Is anyone walking with you through this "identity crisis"? IMO you've been having it for some time. Praying for you now.

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  2. I don't care what identity you end up with. I'll still type your bulletins for you!

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  3. Jesus walks with me.

    @Snad, I'll be praying for you.

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  4. I just call you a really cool dude, John. I know that's hopelessly West Coast for a Southern boy like myself, but it fits you well.

    I haven't read the book. But if the author's primary point is consistent with the title, then he's right. Obviously one does not have to subscribe to any religion to be a good person.
    Christianity does not have the exclusive on good people. That too painfully obvious.
    Much of the morals that we all grew up with are derived from religious text. So religion does have a dog in the race, but a very slow one to be sure.

    I have known many people who have never read a single letter of any religious text yet conduct themselves in a far more "Christian" fashion than any of the rabid Bible thumpers that infest our lives.
    I've met Muslims that were kinder, more honest and hard working than Pat Robertson has ever been or will be. I'll pull over and help someone change a tire. So will an Atheist.

    As a believer in Jesus and his doctrine, a person being good comes first. And if there is a heaven, some might be surprised to find out just how few religious people are there and just how many Atheists are.

    Jesus said something to the effect of "Those who are not against us are for us". He would never condemn a good person for not knowing Him.
    That just isn't consistent with His teachings.

    Like I said, didn't read the book. But the title alone did inspire my to write several paragraphs more that usual.

    Thanx for being you, John.

    Praying for those who are praying for you. ;)

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  5. I like the statement. As the title presumes, however, humanism can be anthropocentric. I am wondering if a naturalist humanism could be developed that would further recognize humanity's intrinsic connection and interdependence with the universe.

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  6. Will, I think these two statements might be developed to allow an expansion away from anthropocentric thinking:

    Humans are an integral part of nature....
    and,
    Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern

    I think folks who are involved in Deep Ecology have developed those ideas further.

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  7. For some time, now, I've believed that secular humanism (not the church) is the heir to the Christian Spirit. It's that whole you will know them by their fruits thing.

    This sounds like an interesting book. I'll have to put it on my list.

    Oh, and don't think of it as an "identity crisis." It's an adventure! :D

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  8. It is an identity crisis, John. Most of those terms do fit together. Like, say, Christian Pluralist. Or Christian Freethinker. Or Christian Humanist, or Liberal, or Earthling. Christian radical is cool. Even Christian Agnostic has some meat to it.

    But Christian Atheist? There is, in the combination of those concepts, an unresolvable internal dissonance. And no, being a Christian Sexy Atheist doesn't make it better, particularly if a thong is involved.

    Epstein's crisis is of a somewhat different nature. "Jewishness" is something that, for many Jews, has to do with blood and culture. In that context, being a Jew and an atheist is entirely possible. My father-in-law is just such a soul.

    But the "Christian" thing works rather less well in the intentional absence of faith in God. The core message of the synoptics is the proclamation of the immanent Reign of God. The core message of John is the existential fusion between Jesus and God, which we participate in through the Spirit. Ditching faith in God as "outdated" or "unnecessary" critically undercuts the central themes of Christ's message as it is presented to us.

    I realize it is entirely possible to be in sympathy with the ethical teachings of Jesus and not believe in God. I know many good souls who consider themselves in that category. But they would not call themselves Christian, because to do so would be inaccurate.

    I know you don't see your crisis in quite the same way. It'll be interesting to see how you resolve this.

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  9. @irreverance Yes an adventure. I am not having a crying in my beer breakdown. It is a time in which labels are elastic.

    @captain Thanks! I appreciate ya. (They don't say that on the West Coast : )

    @Don freethinker is very nice...

    @Will I hear that. I kind of like Earthling more than Humanist. I am thinking of expanding on my Earthling's Creed.

    @Snad A Deep Ecology Humanist. Another good label to add!

    @Beloved I can think of a number of Christian Atheists, JS Spong, Lloyd Geering, Paul Tillich (Ground of Being? What kind of bullshit is that?) Many, many others simply haven't admitted it. Why call yourself an atheist and automatically be excluded from life in our Christian culture?

    But of course we can play the game that Christians have played since we self-identified as such.

    "I'm a Christian. You're not."

    Ho hum.

    Christian certainly is cultural.

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  10. Before the religious right took up the term "secular humanist" as an enemy it actually meant something even to real Christian intellectuals. When the main body of the Christian Reformed Church came to the US after WW2 they started their own schools to avoid the secular humanism in public schools.

    But that question aside what is more intellectually interesting today is to look at the varieties of secular humanists. They spread from the right to the left just like Christians although with less of what Christians might consider doctrine. Some of those folks at Fox News are actually right wing secular humanists.

    So ya might want to choose your friends carefully.

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  11. So ya might want to choose your friends carefully.

    And Christians are better?

    It is not group think. Everything stands or falls on its own terms. It isn't a matter of who might be a humanist or who might be a Christian and what assholes they are.

    Read the statement. Is it helpful, unhelpful, good, bad, need improvement, etc.

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  12. "Christian" is certainly cultural around these parts!

    I'm glad you're having some fun with the label thing. I've got a nice label maker. We can use it while we laugh over a beer, which as Vonnegut said, is easier to clean up after and get on with my day than crying. Besides, I prefer to add salt to my beer the old fashioned way - with a shaker.

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  13. The HMIII jives nicely with the 7 principles of Unitarian Universalism:

    1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
    2. Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.
    3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
    4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
    5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and society at large.
    6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
    7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

    So I am a Christian Unitarian Humanist, who believes Jesus was no more divine than you or I; that god is present wherever there is justice and life, and is absent wherever there is injustice and death.

    This is very confusing to folks who think that fundamentalist Christians are the only Christians, or that if you don’t believe that Jesus is God you can’t be a Christian.

    This comment is too long, but there it is.

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  14. Christian Unitarian Humanist

    Another one! Snad is going to be busy with that label maker.

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  15. @ Talking smack about the Ground of Being? OooOOOOh. Now I'm really mad. ;)

    Tillich was a neoplatonist...not an atheist. At least, that's the charge agin' him for folks who could figure out what the hell he was talking about. Huuuge difference, unless you're a fundamentalist, in which case they may as well be the same.

    I'm curious...why would one want to be part of the culture around you?

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  16. Tillich.

    Tomato tomahto. Tillich did not affirm the existence of a supernatural being...hence a-theist. I think Barth called him a pantheist which as we know is an atheist who sounds spiritual a sexy atheist. :)

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  17. @ You've read Tillich, right?

    Tillich understood the ground of being as outside of the bounds of temporal existence. He was painfully, over-verbosely specific about that. That means he ain't a pantheist. Alfred North Whitehead? Pantheist. Paul Tillich? Not a pantheist, and he'd tell you the same himself in impossibly complex and extravagant Germanic sentence constructions. If he wasn't dead, that is.

    Not to beat a dead horse, but pantheism isn't...um...really atheism either. Saying "God is manifest in the interconnection and wholeness of everything" is rather fundamentally different than saying "there is no God."

    Ah well. Given that words apparently can't mean what they mean without that being "labeling," I suppose we're just back to potato, potahto.

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  18. @ You've read Tillich, right?

    You truly are an ass.

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  19. Me? An ass? Without question. My boys remind me of that regularly, bless their non-Christian souls.

    As for reading Tillich, it's a serious question. Well? Have you? Because from what you've said, you don't seem to understand what the hell he's talking about. I don't blame you if you don't. He's often woefully and self-indulgently obscure. Heck, Barth didn't understand him.

    That's probably why I enjoy him so much.

    And, hey, let me know if I'm getting too troll-ish here. I'm just fascinated and up for some meaty discussion, but if this is pissing you off too much, I'll happily stick to commenting on topics we agree upon.

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  20. @BS
    You call Tillich a neoplatonic, and you wonder whether John knows what Tillich was talking about?!? Wow...just wow...

    ROFLMAO!

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  21. @Beloved

    And, hey, let me know if I'm getting too troll-ish here.

    Yeah, you are. And while we are at it, I didn't appreciate the blog post you wrote about me either. If you insist on making me and my ministry your business I might mistake you for a busybody.

    As far as Tillich goes, I am no expert but yes I have read a number of his works. My favorites include his sermons and his book Love, Power, and Justice.

    I may be off base remembering him as a pantheist, but I am not the only one. Check all the theological articles about him when you google Tillich Pantheist

    Like this one:

    Paul Tillich, an avowed antisupernaturalist, said that the only nonsymbolic statement that could be made about God was that he was being itself. He is beyond essence and existence; therefore, to argue that God exists is to deny him. It is more appropriate to say God does not exist. At best Tillich was a pantheist, but his thought borders on atheism.

    So excuse me, Mr. Expert.

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  22. John,

    I think if the manisfesto is an accurate definition of a humanist, I would wager that God is a Humanist.

    I mean, what is the Incarnation all about, if not the ultimate Humanist Manifesto?

    @Beloved,

    If you can't make sense even to somebody like Barth then obviously you just don't make sense.

    OTH, if you think you are the only person who really understands Tillich, when not even somebody like Barth does, you might consider the very real alternate possibility that perhaps you are a bit delusional and/or schizophrenic.

    They have pills for that.

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  23. I mean, what is the Incarnation all about, if not the ultimate Humanist Manifesto?

    That is the best definition of incarnation I have read in a long while!

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  24. Beloved Spear reminds me of one of my favorite Bertrand Russell quotes: "to be great is to be misunderstood."

    The inverse is not necessarily true, though.

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  25. Interesting, Jodie, now that you mention it about the incarnation being the ultimate human manifesto. Think about it: why else would God put his son on earth?

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  26. I remember reading Tillich. He used the word "spirit" in three different ways and didn't define any of them.

    Some very good sermons though

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  27. @ John: Love, Power, and Justice is an exceptional little book. Good stuff. As for trolling, I could tell things were getting unconstructive...and I certainly wouldn't want to be a busybody. Such an unpleasant label. I'll happily throttle back.

    As for blogging my thoughts on your atheism...well...surely you must recognize that it is an unusual thing for a Minister of Word and Sacrament to profess, and that it is going to be challenging for those of us who have not abandoned the idea of faith.

    @irreverance: If you've read Plotinus, the primary philosopher of the neoplatonic movement, you know that he viewed all of being as springing from a transcendent "One." Plotinus' "One" and Tillich's "Ground of Being" are nearly identical conceptually, a similarity that Tillich himself recognizes in his review of the philosophical underpinnings of Christian thought. I'm not quite sure why this is funny.

    @ jodie: I understand Tillich because, frankly, I've studied him at a graduate level at both a public university and in a progressive seminary. My professors seem to have felt I understood him. I'll trust their judgment on that.

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  28. And their judgment on Barth was that he did not?

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  29. As for blogging my thoughts on your atheism...well...surely you must recognize that it is an unusual thing for a Minister of Word and Sacrament to profess, and that it is going to be challenging for those of us who have not abandoned the idea of faith.

    You answer that "challenge" (which is your problem not mine as if my ministry was any of your business in the first place) by taking pieces of what I wrote out of context and creating out of them your own little invention of what I "profess?" Then you bring my church into it? Piss off.

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  30. @ Jodie: My professor of systematics was a hard-core Barthian. We had a few discussions over lunch about the two. Barth radically disagreed with Tillich on a range of issues, and rejected Tillich's understanding of God and his focus on rationality. I tend to find tremendous value in Tillich, and think that Barth's perspective on him was skewed by his own theological bias. If you want to get to know someone, it's best to listen to them directly, and to take the words of their opponents with a grain of salt.

    @ John: If I have misconstrued or misrepresented what you've said, I will apologize for that right now. You are not an atheist? You do not feel that Richard Dawkins and his view on the essential irrationality and dangerous character of faith are correct? I read your writings enough to have a sense of your perspective, and don't feel I am taking you out of context. Again, if I have oversimplified what you believe, then tell me in what way, and I will admit my fault.

    As for what you believe being my business, well...are we or are we not a relational church? You and I have taken the same vows. Presumably the ministry of reconciliation and Christ's justice is not "mine" or "yours," but something we share.

    You are also a public thinker, which I respect. When you articulate yourself into the blogosphere, you are presumably doing so to invite discussion, including with people who disagree with you.

    Some of the best and most transforming conversations I've had on my own blog have been with folks with whom I have areas of disagreement. If you really aren't up for exploring your beliefs through dialog, I will of course "piss off."

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  31. So if Barth disagreed with Tillich it is because he didn't really understand him. If only he understood him (as well as you do), then Barth would have agreed with him.

    Is that what you are saying?

    Unfortunately we cannot listen to either one of them directly, but I think Barth was a better role model than Tillich. In my line of work at least, it is not WHAT a teacher thinks that matters, but HOW they think.

    I think Christianity should take a lesson from Judaism on that one.

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  32. If I have misconstrued or misrepresented what you've said, I will apologize for that right now.

    The comment of mine you quoted on your blog posting was out of context and misconstrued. That is one example. Further you used a conversation on another blog to paint me in a bad light as if I don't have integrity being a minister. The whole tone of the post had the effect of discrediting me. The two who commented understood that.

    You are not an atheist?

    Maybe, maybe not. Depends how you define it. Perhaps I am an atheist in the way Paul Tillich was an atheist. Also Lloyd Geering, John Shelby Spong, etc. I don't need to answer to you anyway.

    You do not feel that Richard Dawkins and his view on the essential irrationality and dangerous character of faith are correct?

    My response to the Presbymergent article was about the derogatory comment made about atheists (including Dawkins) such as he never saw one in a dentist's chair or that atheists have no way of determining the good. I found this quote particularly insulting:

    “The very concept of “good” is relative to individual perception in a atheistic worldview, so a world full of atheists doing whatever is “good” in their own eyes could range anywhere from helping end genocide in Africa to being the one perpetuating it.”

    I don't agree with everything Richard Dawkins writes, but I am pleased that he is writing his books.

    I read your writings enough to have a sense of your perspective, and don't feel I am taking you out of context. Again, if I have oversimplified what you believe, then tell me in what way, and I will admit my fault.

    I don't even know what I believe, so how the hell do you know? I change my mind on a regular basis. If you read what I write you will notice that I write to provoke thought.

    As for what you believe being my business, well...are we or are we not a relational church? You and I have taken the same vows.

    Then file a charge.

    You are also a public thinker, which I respect. When you articulate yourself into the blogosphere, you are presumably doing so to invite discussion, including with people who disagree with you. If you really aren't up for exploring your beliefs through dialog, I will of course "piss off."

    I am all for disagreement. And I am all for public comment. When you write about me in such a way to threaten my ministry (bringing my church into it, questioning whether I should be a minister) that goes beyond disagreeing on interesting topics. That is personal. You crossed the line.
    Don't do it again.

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  33. Beloved Spear (BS for short?)

    As far as my limited understanding of this relational church goes, the only people who should be allowed to determine if John is fit to minister to this church are those in this church. We love John.

    So, do indeed feel free to piss off.

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  34. @ Jodie: No, I think Barth disagreed with Tillich because he understood the significant space between their positions. The way he typified Tillich, though, would not have been how Tillich would have expressed himself. In terms of their personal integrity, I think your observation about Barth is accurate.

    @ Snad: As you wish.

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  35. Sorry, Spear -

    You said: If you really aren't up for exploring your beliefs through dialog, I will of course "piss off."

    You don't get it do you? You got called on the carpet for trying to do serious damage to someone's livelihood for no reason other than your own smug self-satisfaction.

    And then you want to play at intellectual snobbery with a comment like that? Sorry, but you don't get credit for taking the high road once you've already rolled in the mud.

    Hi ho.

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  36. Well...anyway, after that rather distasteful reparte, I am happy to talk about a new book I am reading in preparation for Evolution Sunday. It is David Sloan Wilson's Evolution for Everyone.

    On page 1, he writes:

    Allow me to introduce myself: I am an evolutionist, which means that I use the principles of of evolution to understand the world around me. I would be an evolutionary biologist if I restricted myself to the topics typically associated with biology, but I include all things human along with the rest of life.

    You could call the book better life through evolution. It is a fun book and may explain our behaviors...such as when I perceive that my livelihood is threatened and I bite back like a badger in heat. : )

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