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The Promise of Humanism

Every religion has its promise, the special reward it offers to the faithful. Such a promise is often the main feature that attracts outsiders in. As such, it can become a primary selling point and motivator.

The ancient promise of Christianity is eternal life in heaven. I can remember a number of years ago listening to one radio preacher describing it in detail with vivid word pictures as he rhapsodized over how wonderful it would feel to be there. I can remember as a child learning about the streets paved with gold and rivers flowing with milk and honey.

Different denominations also offer secondary promises, such as wealth and happiness in this life, God’s helping hand in times of trouble, and even physical healings.

In Buddhism, the promise is somewhat different. If you follow the Noble Eightfold Path of conduct, you will experience inner peace and eventually, through a series of rebirths, the state of Nirvana. This state is the blowing out of all craving, attachment, and desire.

New Age religions tend to promise increased powers of mind that will bring about inner peace, happiness, power over external events, cosmic knowledge, and ultimate union with God.

Like in politics, so in religion: the key is PROMISE BIG.

In the past, humanists have sometimes thought of themselves as too noble and honest to stoop to such strategies for gaining converts. So, instead of offering our own “campaign promises,” we used to prefer to run down the promises of all the other groups. Instead of focusing on a better way of our own, we kept the spotlight on those ideas we disagreed with. Only we didn’t seem able to do it with the captivating music of Omar Khayyam:

Of threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain√?¬Ę??This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

This seemed to be our message, and to some it still is. But, if this is our message, are humanists merely the consumer crusaders of the metaphysical world, the Ralph Naders of the religious realm? Is our only role that of protecting the gullible from the purveyors of spiritual Florida swamp land?

This is, of course, a noble calling, worthy of the best efforts of talented individuals. Some of the √?¬Ę??New Atheists√?¬Ę?? are providing this service. But is it all we should be about? When we have addressed church-state issues and the problems of faith, have we exhausted our repertoire of humanist concerns? Because if we have, then we are limiting our relevance and encouraging our own marginalization. By overspecializing on religion and superstition, we effectively look forward to the day when success will put us out of business. And from much of our older rhetoric, you would think that was our goal.

Although not all of our older rhetoric.

If we take a look at the history of liberal religion, humanism, and freethought√?¬Ę??if we look at the tradition found here at the Fellowship of Humanity√?¬Ę??we will see there has always been a strong social activist component that goes beyond mere debunking of traditional faith or pursuit of intellectual interests. The freethought movement of the eighteenth century in particular spawned the rise of democracy, human rights, reform in the handling of criminals, and the advance of science. In the nineteenth century it was one of the engines behind the movement to abolish slavery. Unitarians, Universalists, and freethinkers joined forces with others to abolish child labor as well as to advance public health, sanitation, and sex education. Many of the great 19th century freethought organizations were active in areas well beyond the narrow range of religious criticism. Freethinkers were heavily involved in the labor movement and fought for social reforms like birth control and women’s rights. Freethinkers opposed racism and fought against unsafe living and working conditions. Freethinkers advanced public schools and promoted child protection legislation.

In fact, did you know that it was the acceptance of Darwinism, in effect, that made the first child protection legislation possible in this country? It was the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that launched the effort, declaring that because an abused child was a member of the animal kingdom such a child was entitled to all the protections the law already accorded to other animals. And that was the beginning of the child abuse legislation we have today.

Now consider the Ethical Culture movement, this nation’s oldest continuing humanist effort outside Unitarianism and Universalism. In 1877 Ethical Culturists established the first free kindergarten in New York and San Francisco. That same year they established the Visiting Nurse Service, the first of its type that did not do missionary work for organized religion but focused exclusively on the physical care of those in need. In the 1880s, the Ethical Culture movement established schools for the children of the working class, engaged in relief work, founded the City Club to fight political corruption in New York City, established the first settlement house in the United States to address the social needs of urban slum communities, founded the Child Study Association to develop knowledge about the human nature of children, and launched the Legal Aid Society. To the end of the 19th century, Ethical Culture helped the disabled, built schools, campaigned against child labor, worked for slum clearance and improved public health, and developed food cooperatives.

In the twentieth century, the movement advanced moral education for children, helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, engaged in union arbitration, launched the American Civil Liberties Union, aided refugees, developed adult education programs, and developed progressive summer camps for youth.

Meanwhile humanists, individually and collectively, were making their presence felt on the national and international scene. In the United States, humanist Margaret Sanger was the central leader in the effort to promote birth control. Speaking of the organization with which I have been the most active over the past 34 years, the American Humanist Association, its various activist involvements became known almost from the organization√?¬Ę??s origin in 1941. Throughout the 1940s and 50s, AHA humanists were involved in numerous civil liberties, birth control, and environmental protection cases tried in court. One of the most prominent of these humanists was Corliss Lamont, a philosopher who successfully stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Another prominent humanist at this time was Vashti McCollum; her U.S. Supreme Court victory in McCollum v. Board of Education established that American public schools must be religiously neutral.

Around the same time, three prominent humanists became first directors of major divisions of the United Nations: Julian Huxley of UNESCO, Brock Chisholm of the World Health Organization, and John Boyd Orr of the Food and Agricultural Organization.

In postwar Europe, humanist secular organizations sprang up in a number of countries, particularly Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands. In India, M.N. Roy launched the Radical Humanist Movement to reform Indian politics and Gora, an associate of Mohandas Gandhi, expanded the Atheist Centre, a humanistic social service institution he had established in 1940. Nehru, the first prime minister of India, was an outspoken humanist.

Then, in 1952, at the Municipal University of Amsterdam, Julian Huxley chaired the first international humanist gathering. Over 200 humanist leaders from around the world, including Gilbert Murray of the U.K., Jerome Nathanson from the U.S., and human rights activist V.M. Tarkunde of India met and formed the International Humanist and Ethical Union.√??√?¬† Today this organization, representing over 3 million humanists worldwide, is involved in social service projects in various parts of the developing world and is active in the Council of Europe and the United Nations.

At the aforementioned 1952 meeting, the IHEU adopted a declaration setting forth the fundamentals of modern ethical humanism. This declaration offers humanism as “a third way out of the present crisis of civilization,” being an alternative to revealed religion on the one hand and totalitarian systems on the other. It states that humanism supports democracy, not only in the political realm but in “all human relationships.”

In the words of this declaration, “Humanism is ethical,” affirming human dignity and “the right of the individual to the greatest possible freedom of development compatible with the rights of others.”√??√?¬† It “insists that personal liberty is an end that must be combined with social responsibility in order that it shall not be sacrificed to the improvement of material conditions.”√??√?¬† And humanism is “a way of life, aiming at the maximum possible fulfillment, through the cultivation of ethical and creative living.”

Early in the decade of the 1960s, the American Humanist Association became the first national membership organization to endorse elective abortion. Furthermore, many of the leading abortion-law reform groups launched during this time were top-heavy with humanists. Also during the decade, the AHA and the American Ethical Union worked together to establish the rights of nontheistic conscientious objectors. Prior to this, one essentially had to be a Quaker to stay out of combat√?¬Ę??humanists and atheists remained in the foxholes!

AHA leaders also actively worked to establish memorial societies that offered alternatives to the traditional mortuary-controlled burial arrangements dominant at the time. As a result of this humanist advance, cremation and humanistic memorial services became more widely available and less costly.

Further in this connection, in 1974, the National Commission for Beneficent Euthanasia was established as an AHA program. It issued the groundbreaking statement, “A Plea for Beneficent Euthanasia,” a position paper signed by medical, legal, and religious leaders.√??√?¬† It called for “a more enlightened public opinion to transcend traditional taboos and move in the direction of a compassionate view toward needless suffering in dying.” All of this was long before the activism of the Hemlock Society, Jack Kevorkian, and current public support for right to die legislation.

In 1977, the AHA took a stand against age discrimination in matters of employment and retirement. “A Declaration for Older Persons” was signed by members of Congress, labor leaders, business executives, and religious leaders, earning it national attention. Many of the principles expressed in this statement have since become codified into law.

In the 1980s, the Council for Secular Humanism developed Secular Sobriety and the AHA developed Rational Recovery and its spinoff, SMART Recovery√?¬Ę??substance-abuse recovery programs that offer a workable secular alternative to the more traditional-religion based Alcoholics Anonymous. As a result, today, in many communities, the courts allow alcoholics and drug addicts more choices in the selection of a substance-abuse recovery program.

In the 1990s the AHA and the Humanist magazine spoke out vigorously on the issue of landmines, those millions of machines of death and dismemberment buried in 64 countries worldwide that were killing or mutilating 2,000 people a month. It also declared with Lester R. Brown and Ted Turner that population growth control must be the centerpiece of any sustainable environmental program. Prominent humanists were also vocal about overseas sweatshop conditions where major U.S. products are made, and the problem of international trafficking in women.

In this new millennium, the AHA formed Humanist Charities and brought significant aid to victims of the Asian tsunami, the Kashmir earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, and the devastation in Haiti.

Then there is the Fellowship of Humanity. It took the lead in the End Poverty in California movement, which served as Upton Sinclair√?¬Ę??s campaign for the California Governorship. The Fellowship was also the first organization in Oakland to protest World War II, it√?¬Ę??s first action being to contact all churches in the East Bay to attend a conference on peace and disarmament. Having been endorsed by the Oakland Council of Churches, many religious ministers and laypeople were quick to respond. Out of the conference a peace committee was formed: Citizens Call to Peace. Arrangements were immediately made for a peace demonstration and many of the sturdier and more dedicated Christian ministers and their followers responded, making the demonstration a great success. The Fellowship was also one of the very few organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area that would allow blacklisted people in the 1950s to speak in public opposing √?¬Ę??red baiting√?¬Ę?? as well as the wars in Korea and Vietnam. And finally, the Fellowship is responsible for a California law that allows modern humanism to function as a religion on a legal par with traditional faiths.

I could go on and discuss the many other humanist programs and positions, as well as the social action of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. I could talk about humanists in India who work to secure the release of temple prostitutes, humanists in the Netherlands who provide hospital counseling services, and humanists in Mexico who struggle to outlaw bullfighting. There is so much that humanists are doing domestically and worldwide that it would take a dozen speeches to scratch the surface of them.

A central part of our humanist message is that we human beings can make the world over in any way that we will. If we can agree on it and work toward it, we can eventually have it. That√?¬Ę??s why there’s no more smallpox. That’s how we have international law. There’s much that humanity has accomplished as a species. But there is so much more we can do. If the dual humanist values of reason and compassion are among the best tools for building a better world, then it is humanists who should put those tools to work for that purpose. And humanists have.

Of course not all humanists, freethinkers, and the liberally religious agree with each other on how best to express our values. And so we sometimes fight among ourselves. But the solution here is to allow different organizations within the larger community of reason to be who they are. Some atheist and freethought groups will focus exclusively on debunking religion and defending church-state separation. Ethical Culture groups will, by contrast, veer away from metaphysical and theological issues and focus on ethical living. Different humanist groups will be interested in philosophical debate or social activism. And so it goes. We don√?¬Ę??t have to be concerned about what each group does. We can cultivate our own gardens and let other allied groups cultivate theirs. This allows us to come together in a friendly, cooperative way on any area of common concern or interest.

Which is where the United Coalition of Reason comes in. As the leader of this organization, it√?¬Ę??s my job to visit all the major cities in the United States where there are multiple groups in the community of reason. My task is to bring all these atheists, agnostics, Brights, freethinkers, secular humanists, religious humanists, Humanistic Jews, Ethical Culturists, UUs, and so forth to the same table√?¬Ę??to hold a local summit meeting and get the leaders of these societies, clubs, student groups, and meetups to accept major publicity funding from the United Coalition of Reason. This funding is used to promote to the public a new, local Coalition of Reason that acts as a clearinghouse for all the groups. People can more readily find the group of their choice that way. And all the groups can also celebrate occasional joint events together or plan joint strategies on which they could all agree.

All of this is predicated on the idea that folks like us are just as capable of working together as are those on the religious right. It is also predicated on the idea that each group within our larger movement can have its own identity without getting in the way of the others. So, yes, we can all get along. And this is so even if we don√?¬Ę??t reduce our activities to the lowest common denominator among us. We can each branch out and take wing in our own separate directions, with apologies to no one.

In that larger context I find that, today, as humanist groups in particular spring up all over the country, many are directing their focus on what humanism has to offer instead of what√?¬Ę??s wrong with traditional religion.

And when that is done, the relevant question for them becomes “What is the promise of humanism?”

Well, as I√?¬Ę??ve said, we already know what we can’t promise. As sober realists and no-nonsense straight-shooters, we’re experts in throwing the wet blanket of rationalism over the fondest hopes of our fellows. We know the “bad news,” but what’s our “good news,” what is the gospel of humanism?

One way to find out is to ask ourselves how we would present humanism to someone who has never been exposed to traditional religion. Here would be a person in no need of disillusionment and possessing no idols in need of smashing. We could now go directly to the goal of offering the “good news” of humanism.

If some humanists would find themselves speechless in a situation like this, it could be because they believe humanism is simply the “default” condition of humanity, the “natural state” that prevails when no brainwash is present. And I’ve known a number of humanists who have put it to me in exactly those terms.

But, if that’s the case, then the solemn duty of every humanist when confronting a person unexposed to religion is to immediately teach him or her all about it! In this way, the person will learn what to watch out for, will be prepared, and will be put on guard.

But I don’t accept that humanism is the default condition of humanity. And I have indeed been confronted with individuals unexposed to traditional religion. I used to confront them every day. They were my children.

How did my wife and I teach our children humanism? Well, we didn√?¬Ę??t do it by running down religions they√?¬Ę??d never heard about. We didn√?¬Ę??t do it by exposing them to the varieties of religious experience. Instead, we exposed them to the varieties of worldly experience. Our children, by the time they reached kindergarten, already enjoyed travel, pictures, movies, music, people, animals, flowers, daydreams, stories, words, numbers, shapes, colors, and the joy of learning. We wanted them to live the good life envisioned by humanism, to experience the promise first hand. That’s why, back in 1988, when I asked my eldest daughter, Livia, what the praying hands in front of the Oral Roberts medical complex were doing, she exclaimed, “They’re clapping!”

Did my children become humanists? They did indeed. And other humanist parents I know who have used a similar approach have been pleased with the results. The implication is clear. The promise of humanism is a good life here and now.

So, let’s discuss it in detail. What IS the “good life?” Can it be pursued directly? Can everyone have it (that is, do we have a promise we can keep; can humanism deliver the goods)? And finally, will it play in Peoria?

Lloyd and Mary Morain talked about the good life in their 1954 Beacon Press book, Humanism as the Next Step, when they wrote:

As a starting point let us take the idea that this life should be experienced deeply, lived fully, with sensitive awareness and appreciation of that which is around us.

This was the first of their seven key ideas of humanism. They elaborated further, saying:

Back through the centuries whenever people have enjoyed keenly the sights and sounds and other sensations of the world about them, and enjoyed these for what they were√?¬Ę??not because they stood for something else√?¬Ę??they were experiencing life humanistically. Whenever they felt keen interest in the drama of human life about them and ardently desired to take part in it they felt as humanists.

Referring to this attitude as “zest for living,” they were following the lead of Bertrand Russell who, in his book The Conquest of Happiness, referred to “zest” as “the most universal and distinctive mark” of the happy individual. People with this quality, Russell argued, are those who come at life with a sound appetite, are glad to have what is before them, partake of things until they have enough, and know when to stop.

This vision reminds us again of Omar Khayyam:

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,

A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread√?¬Ę??and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness√?¬Ę??

Oh, Wilderness were Paradise now! . . .

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,

Before we too into the Dust descend;

Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,

Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and√?¬Ę??sans End!

Which sounds like the hedonistic doctrine humanists are accused of advocating:

Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Or, as Mad magazine once put it √?¬Ę??

A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and Thou√?¬Ę??

Pretty soon I’ll be drunk, fat, and in trouble.

But there is much more involved in the humanist notion of the good life. The physical pleasures are only a part of it, not to be denied of course, but far from representing the whole. For the humanist there are also the pleasures of an unfettered mind making new discoveries, solving problems, and creating. There is the enjoyment of art, music, dance, and drama. There is the joy of helping others and the challenge of working to make the world a better and more peaceful place. And, of course, there is that warmth associated with love and family. The humanist seeks the enjoyment of as many of these as possible.

In this, we are clearly at one with the ancient Greek ideal of wholeness and the integration of life. For example, in the ancient Olympic games, competition included not only athletics but drama, music, poetry, and philosophy. And the whole combination was viewed as a religious event. The Greeks put it together and did it all. So can we.

In having zest for living, we join with the ancient Chinese who, in following Confucius, saw much of life as play√?¬Ę??which accounted for their enjoyment of ceremony and especially their love of toys.

This worldly and good-natured view of life that claims no ultimate knowledge stands out when contrasted with Hinduism. Whereas the Yogi is often seen as renouncing desire, living an ascetic lifestyle, and acquiring eternal knowledge, Socrates, the sage of the ancient Greeks, deliberately provoked certain appetites in himself, lived a social and active life, and professed to have no knowledge whatever!

It is also radically different from traditional Christianity, which has sometimes called this world a vale of tears, has seen pleasures as vanity, and seems to find the goal of human life beyond the grave. Such believers might quote Ecclesiastes√?¬Ę??

Better to go to the house of mourning
than to the house of feasting;
for to this end all men come,
let the living take this to heart.
Better sadness than laughter,
a severe face confers some benefit.
Jerusalem Bible

As an antidote, Robert Louis Stevenson offered these words in his √?¬Ę??Christmas Sermon√?¬Ę??:

Gentleness and cheerfulness, these come before all morality: they are the perfect duties. If your morals make you dreary, depend on it they are wrong. I do not say, “give them up,” for they may be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better men.

Edwin H. Wilson, the grand old man of religious humanism who, for 90 plus years, lived the promise, summed it up when he wrote:

The Humanist lives as if this world were all and enough. He is not otherworldly. He holds that the time spent on the contemplation of a possible afterlife is time wasted. He fears no hell and seeks no heaven, save that which he and others created on earth. He willingly accepts the world that exists on this side of the grave as the place for moral struggle and creative living. He seeks the life abundant for his neighbor as for himself. He is content to live one world at a time.√??√?¬† . . . His interests are here.

The way those interests should be carried out is described by Havelock Ellis in his book, The Dance of Life. There he presents living as an art, one best characterized as a dance. In this he follows the ancient Greeks who chose the image of dancing because, unlike walking or running, dancing is not generally viewed as a goal-oriented activity leading from point A to B. One dances for the sheer joy of the activity. It is the process more than the product that counts. And this is how the humanist good life is to be lived.

So, when someone asks a humanist, “What is the purpose of life?” the humanist should answer, “Life is not purpose, life is art.” The meaning is found in the doing.

This is a revolutionary and truly unique way of looking at the world. It is a way that finds the question of cosmic purpose irrelevant, one that is unmoved by the author of Ecclesiastes who, in contemplating the question of ultimate value, writes√?¬Ę??

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and what vanity it all is, what chasing of the wind!

The humanist response is that Solomon missed the point. The people, ideas, things, and actions we love do not depend for their worth on how long they last or their supposed cosmic significance. They are things in themselves to be enjoyed for their own sakes. Life is an art, not a task. Life is for us, not for the universe. And life is for now, not for eternity.

But there’s more. We can take Edwin Wilson’s statement that this life is all and enough and beef it up a bit to declare that this life is more than enough. Then it will express the humanist optimism of Robert Louis Stevenson when he wrote in A Child√?¬Ę??s Garden of Verses:

The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

(We ought to get some rosary beads and repeat this every day.)

There is more in this world than I could experience in a thousand different lifetimes. There is a richness here, a cornucopia of choices, a wealth of opportunities. There is so much to see, to do, to read, to learn. The question is not, “What shall I do with my life?” but “What shall I do next?!”

Different people choose different things. Most humanists will choose a life oriented outward, not only to enjoying the good life, but sharing the good life through helping others. Yet other people may choose the inner life of meditation. By making such a choice, each one misses something the other is enjoying. But that can’t be helped. Any time one makes a choice in the use of one’s time, one fails to engage in all the other possible uses for that time, including having other experiences.

So, if a monk or celibate priest speaks to me about the ecstasies of spiritual contemplation, I respond by sharing how thrilled I was in the birthing room watching my children being born. If a young fundamentalist describes to me the experience of being “born again,” I can’t wait to talk about the exciting moment when I first appreciated geometry. If heaven is described to me in graphic detail, I immediately want to show my photographs of sunsets, seascapes, and mountain ranges.

I’m in love with life, and too busy with it to find time for things allegedly outside it.

But now we can ask, if this is the promise of humanism√?¬Ę??if this is the promise of liberal religion√?¬Ę??is it a promise limited only to the affluent, the intelligent, the educated? If so, then are we making a promise we can’t always keep? This is the criticism leveled against us by the otherworldly religions. While we say that they can’t keep their otherworldly promises, they explain that they turned to this other world because we humanists didn’t keep our worldly promises.

Otherworldly faiths offer the “joys of the spirit” to those who have been denied “the pleasures of the flesh.” And the claim is that such spiritual joys are more permanent and universal than is our pleasure. But why give up so easily, denying oneself worldly enjoyment to feed on a mirage in its stead? Isn’t this settling for less, and retreating into an unwarranted resignation? Bertrand Russell thought so when, in chapter 2 of The Conquest of Happiness, he took the author of Ecclesiastes to task for denouncing the very things that make happiness possible and give life meaning.

Nonetheless, I must admit that I benefit from growing up in a middle-class environment in a wealthy country where I have access to such variety. But all is not lost in more impoverished environments in less wealthy countries. At the Atheist Centre in Vijayawada, India, an extended family of humanists teach the poor the joys of traditional folk dance, music, athletics (especially acrobatics), science, animal husbandry, occupational skills, and, most important of all, the vast world made possible only through reading. Many of the beneficiaries of this effort are not only poor and uneducated, but often suffer from severe physical disabilities or have been abandoned. Yet in a country steeped in an ancient tradition of other worldliness due to just such harsh realities, the promise of humanism is offered and met. The International Association for Religious Freedom, the world organization of liberal religions, has similar projects in India and is getting similar results. The promise is no illusion.

And I look at my own life, asking myself how useful the promise of the good life would be to me if I suddenly went deaf, or blind, or couldn’t walk. Yet I can answer with Robert Louis Stevenson that the world is indeed so full of things that can make me happy. A calamity is a limitation, but if I were limited only to reading, I would find the world is so full of a number of books that I could not read them all in this lifetime. If I were limited only to seeing, I could not see all I want to see in this lifetime. If I were limited only to hearing, I could not hear all I want to hear in this lifetime. I have not tested all the thoughts I want to test, or worked out all the ideas I have started but don’t have time to develop. I haven’t written all the speeches I want to write. I haven’t met all the people I could meet or faced all the challenges I could face. Calamities destroy the promise usually because we concentrate on what we have lost instead of letting the misfortune simply focus our pursuits in a new direction.

Thus the Stoic remedy for misfortune is as much a part of this promise as is the Cyrenaic enjoyment of good fortune. When misfortune limits you, shift your focus and move on. I would argue that we can, in most cases, keep the promise of joy in the here and now. And even when all cannot be joy√?¬Ę??for life indeed includes a large share of obligations, struggles, sorrows, and pain√?¬Ę??the larger context can still be that of an artful life.

And when, in those rare instances, we find that the realization of the promise is futile, as in the case of an agonizing terminal illness, humanism offers the freedom to exit this life at will and with dignity. This is voluntary euthanasia or self-deliverance, an area of great importance to humanists.

So, in the end, the promise is not a perfect one. But we admit that. Others may seem to offer more perfect promises, but can they deliver? I have no evidence that anyone has ever gotten to heaven, realized Nirvana, or merged with God. But I see evidence every day that the promise of the good life, the meaningful life, the life of service is no mirage.

So, I’ll stick with the honesty of humanism, that this life is all there is, and with the promise of humanism, that this can be more than enough. And this promise will serve as my motivation to make life better when all is not as it should be. For I can better enjoy the promise on a clean rather than a dirty planet. And I can enjoy it better when I am helping others to participate in it.

This is a philosophy I can be proud of. Being proud of it, I can confidently share it with others. I can offer the “good news” of its promise and know I am doing something valuable for others.

As a result, humanism need no longer be a philosophy exclusively for those bold enough to face an uncaring cosmos with defiance, for those fearless enough “to go where no one has gone before,” and for those impudent enough to call the majority of humanity cowards for fleeing to a sweeter tale. Most people are moved by exciting promises. They are captivated by thrilling visions. And this philosophy can be for them to.

There’s nothing wrong with offering a zesty promise if we have one. And have one we do. So let us humanists stress it, publicize it, and present it as our entry in the religious/philosophical sweepstakes. I submit to you that this one shift in our focus will do more to counter the harmful effects of otherworldly belief than all the rationalistic arguments of history’s greatest freethinkers. So let’s give it a shot.

We have nothing to lose but our minority status.

This thirty-minute talk (stretched in delivery to 45) was delivered Sunday, January 9, 2011, at the Fellowship of Humanity in Oakland, California.


Fred Edwords

© Copyright 2011 by Fred Edwords, all rights reserved.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Some Universal Laws and Rules

1) The universe is not THE Universe. †Therefore, we can’t know all the laws.

2) The four fundamental forces (nuclear, weak, electromagnetic, and gravity) are properties of the continuum.√??√?¬† Consciousness is a fifth, but partially outside our four dimensional matrix.

3) The three laws of thermodynamics apply only to our macro realm.

1st) Energy is neither created nor destroyed, only transformed.

2nd) An isolated system will gain entropy.

3rd) At absolute zero temperature, entropy is zero.

4) Cosmic evolution proceeds by the survival of the stable.

5) There is no conservation law for information in either the macro or quantum realms.√??√?¬† In adjoining realms, there may be.

6) Organisms are open systems which can reproduce.

7) The universe is organismic.√??√?¬† But we don’t know if it reproduces.

8( Over time, open systems will self-organize toward complexity (acquire information and store energy).

9) Evolution is bush-like — adapting in many directions, including complexity and simplicity.

10) Life develops holons which tend to survive the extinction of taxa.

11) Higher levels of active consciousness require individuation.√??√?¬† The individual is the universe’s microlens.

12) The informational search space of the universe is many orders of magnitude greater than its material components can explore through one universal timeline of evolution.√??√?¬† Therefore, free will exists and reality is art.


Sterling Bunnell


Joel Nakamura


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The Troika



Three horses in the nights of several winters pull the sled through ice and snow’s resistance. The snow’s desire to bring everything to absolute zero causes ceasing. The ice’s desire to enforce status quo and crystalization causes unquenchable greed. Time, money, and altruistic human behavior were the sunlight’s thawing, melting, and removal of evil most malignant. Your church, our church, this church we were once fated to be sold for $3 million, razed, and developed into two dozen condos. It was a done deal, a fiat accompli.

Except pillars of strength stood in the way as others disavowed, distanced, and denied their support. Some even went insane. In the wilderness a third voice cried, “Yes, you are sane!” It’s just that some times the world is upside down and you have to see things in reverse when only a mirror blanks out the evilness. The Apostles of Lucifer come to talk to the third pillar, the third horse of the team, the troika, that drew the sled through several winters, and many nights of darkness offer declined — then the Byzantine Kafkaesque torments, and trials and tribulations of a trial began the final act was played out in the grand office of Benedict Arnold the Norwegan. Quizzling. Are you ready to negotiate? Are you tired of being tired and tied to the railroad ties of commerce and corporations? A chance to give in and an opportunity to capitulate was declined for reasons that shall forever be perfectly clear, integrity and honesty, and not one calorie of compromising.


Our lawyer’s surprised look, made it Visa Card priceless when I said: “Let me talk this over with David and Florence and then I’ll get back to you.” I am always reminded of two ways of showing your your support:


1) Putting your warm butt, seat, body, presence in a most obvious and visible position of support;

2) cold cash is another expression of support.

Without compunction or regret to this day, I gave Florence and David my whole hearted support of time and money. And now, well now, the next door neighbors’ condos are financially “under water” and walked away defaulters out number the occupants. The lawyers continue with their poser attitudes of liberals and progressives. The politicians continue to seek higher office and because David was the first to formulate “not one calorie of compromise” and articulate it openly, Florence continued her support and began to see the wisdom.


So today you have an oasis in Oakland’s chocolate fueled, solar powered theater for world premiers of films and documentaries and you have the continued forum for dissension, disagreement, and discussion so highly valued by those of us who can recall J. Parnell Roberts, Joe McCarthy, HUAC, and black listing red scares. A deep green and sustainable and organic culture exists. Also a great Board and an even greater membership: H.D. Moe, pacific archangel of great ferocity. And now, the legal minds of two outstanding women: Linda Hope Clarke and Jill Morton — thanks again, you big sweet, smart membership for having the wisdom to show your support for David Oertel by electing him President!


Michael Kelly

Painting from ArtNow.Ru

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Water at Humanist Hall

We at the Fellowship of Humanity believe that it is not gods or money that are sacred but such things as food, water, and community. There cannot be life without liquid water, which is one of the many unique things about the Earth. The Earth lives in that planetary √?¬Ę??Goldielocks√?¬Ę?? zone between searing Venus and frigid Mars. Venus and the other inner planets are too hot for liquid water √?¬Ę?? Mars and the other outer planets are too cold. In the search for life on the moon, or Mars, or far out in the universe, the main indicator is the presence of water. Deprived of water, people die in a week or so, one can go much longer without food.

So why do Americans disrespect water? Why do they use it to carry away excrement or wash their cars? This madness that disregards the essentials for life and overvalues the products of the consumer culture, has led us to the brink of oblivion. The evidence is everywhere, a billion people go hungry, the biosphere is experiencing a mass extinction, the oceans are tanking, economies are tanking √?¬Ę?? the list is endless.

So what can we do here at Humanist Hall to express our reverence for life, for nature, for the whole planet? One answer is to respect water. That is why we focus our humble resources on three fronts: rainwater catchment, greywater, and drought-tolerant plants.

Rainwater Catchment

We are slowly developing a rainwater catchment system. Our friends at DIG Co-op, Ingrid and Tondre, are helping us put the pieces in place. They have been very patient with our trickle of resources used to support their work. This fall they delivered a 3000 gallon tank to store the water. This happened before the Grassroots Economic Festival, so that we could promote rainwater catchment at that event. Recently, they prepared our gutters to deliver to one downspout, most of the rainwater hitting the North-facing part of the roof. When we have more money, they will set the tank in a bed of pea gravel and install the plumbing to deliver the water from the roof to the tank.

Initially, we planned to use the water on the landscaping during the dry months, but it became clear that we could get much better utilization if we used the water all year long to flush the toilets. Otherwise, our tank would quickly fill up at the start of the rainy season and most of the water hitting the roof would flow towards the storm drains. Our water utilization is about 10,000 gallons/month, so our 3,000 gallon tank, would only supply the Hall for about 10 days! Of course, here we are using our sacred water to handle excrement, but we still have to live in the world, and dry toilet systems would be very challenging given the large crowds that come to the Hall, some 10,000 people/year. Hopefully, future caretakers of the Hall will be in a position to create dry waste systems, with the full support of City officials and new kinds of infrastructure, and water could be used exclusively for drinking or left in the source habitat, where it belongs.

According to Tondre, one problem that he has run into is that asphalt shingling does not produce potable water. So Matthew Richardson, our new handyperson, is investigating steel or tin alternatives. If the economy is going through a Soviet-style collapse, then we think it will be very important to be able to produce potable water ourselves and not have to rely on a lot of complex and shaky infrastructure. There is also the moral issue of robbing distant watersheds to meet our needs here in Oakland. We don√?¬Ę??t want to prosper at the expense of life elsewhere.

After the basic pieces of the rainwater catchment are in place, we plan to create an overflow pond to support the local wildlife. This will have to be away from the Oak trees which don√?¬Ę??t like too much water near their surface roots. Fish will be used to control mosquito larvae. It would be preferable to have potable water for the sake of any wildlife that rely on this pond.


Our friends at Greywater Action, Laura and Andrea, are constructing greywater systems here at the Hall. This past summer, they gave a five-day course to licensed contractors wanting to expand their skills in a green direction. The hands-on part of that course involved creating a greywater system using the faucets in the two bathrooms. This system carefully waters the plants in the yard nearest the Hall. They plan to conduct a second similar course in March which will deliver water to the front of the property on 27th Street.

Drought Tolerant Plants

This is the third part of our water plan. We have been evolving our gardens toward native and draught-tolerant plants. We were turned onto native plants by Louise Lacey, native plant author and expert, who continues to advise us on our native plant affairs. The East garden on 27th Street now contains succulents, poppies, and other wildflowers needing little water. What water that they do need will come from the kitchen at some point in the Hall via another part of the greywater system.

The West garden, which is currently a lawn, should also be replaced by greywater and drought tolerant landscaping during the Greywater Action course in March.

Thank you to anyone who has taken the time to read this.


David Oertel


Front Garden at Humanist Hall





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