The Humanity of Humanism

Despite the arrival of the vernal equinox last week, my part of the world seems determined to keep wearing its winter clothes.  Hope that this changes so we get to see some summer skies and meteor showers before too long…

I love Stephen Fry.  So much so that I started a post ages ago about his approach to the world and how he meets his challenges with grace and dignity (I had just finished watching Fry’s Planet Word on TVO- LOVE that series).  It’s one of a few posts that languished for too long in the drafts folder and then ended up in the trash since I couldn’t quite figure out where to go with it.  As can be seen in the clip, he speaks so well all by his ownself, he certainly doesn’t need me to reiterate the wisdom that he shares with his world.

Then my friend Lenny, over at Lenny May Say, posted the link the other day, and I’ve seen it pop up in a few other places since.  I love its succinctness, especially given my propensity of late to, um, let’s say, ‘run on’ about things more than a little bit.  Another one of those cases when something teetering on the edge of your mind finds expression outside of yourself.

I am often asked the question:  how do I find meaning in the world if I don’t believe in a god/gods.  It has been hovering implicitly- never quite out loud, most people have more manners than that- even more, recently, with the loss of my Dad.

It’s hard- although not impossible, even in this day and age and in downtown Toronto, to put together an organized ‘funeral’ (or celebration of life by another name) without including the trappings of religion/religious belief/sentiment.  People are so very well-meaning.  I say that with a feeling of complete sincerity that has been reinforced this past while as wonderful friends and acquaintances expressed condolences and concern in the days leading up to and following Dad’s passing.

Offered prayers and blessings are always gratefully accepted in the spirit in which they are offered.  One person’s prayer is another person’s positive message to the universe is another person’s demonstration of solidarity and support in this here world of ours, after all.

By whatever name it’s an expression of the connectivity we humans share in times of loss and pain.  And in times of joy and new beginnings, for that matter.  We want to help one another.  To share or attempt to alleviate the burden of sorrow and celebrate the wondrous happenings with those we love.

People ROCK.

I’m not a ‘defensive atheist’.  I’m comfortable with my non-belief and the reasoned and rational steps that led me to my worldview.  I don’t feel the need to defend it- although I will, at times and if under attack, stand my ground.  It’s ground on which I feel secure.

I’ve done my homework.  Years and years and years of it.  And the learning never stops.

My beliefs about the world- and the larger cosmos (are you watching that show, by the way?  You should be.  Neil deGrasse Tyson is another guy we all need to be watching) are well-examined.  I do my best to investigate the wisdom of those who have come before me and to temper their findings with my own experiences and awareness of the world as I see it.

I am not bereft– in any way- as a result of this non-belief.   I have heard things along the lines of ‘poor you, not knowing the love of the god in your heart’- over the years.  It leaves me bemused.  I am not bereft because I truly believe that the human imagination that can create gods with the compassion and love they are gifted with (when they aren’t being vengeful or judgmental) certainly has access to those same things in ourselves.  In our human selves.

I’ve been fortunate in my life to have met a whole lot of people who do so.  Access and manifest the kindness and love and goodness that others might deem the sole province of a created deity.

I’m all about this world.  My world.  The world that holds the people and places and things that I love, and respect, and wish to preserve.  It’s not a perfect world.  It isn’t inhabited by perfect people.  But I don’t see any value in hedging my bets by envisioning a ‘better’ next world- one that includes judgment and punishment and divisiveness in the name of one imagined deity or another.

If your worldview does include such a perspective on what might come after, I say ‘excellent.’  Whatever gets you through the days/weeks/years.  Whatever allows you to contribute positively to this world.  I have no problem at all with other people holding whatever beliefs they care to hold.  This is part of the freedom that we value and that work to preserve- here at home, and around the world when need be.

(Although this is not to say that I think we should be interceding all the time.  There is always more at work than differences of opinion as to what, exactly, constitutes freedom.  And politics and greed tend to get all mixed up in there a whole lot of the time- so all such actions must be handled with care.

Oh, and please don’t use your personal freedom of religious belief to attempt to diminish my personal freedoms and those of others whose opinions might not aline with your particular theology/ideology.  Do that, and my tendency to stand my ground might become a little more emphatic.  But I digress…)

A dear family friend- the connections between our two families are myriad- honoured us by speaking about Dad on Monday.  She is a retired Anglican priest (among other things equally interesting and illuminating), and she and Dad locked horns on any number of occasions about points of theology and belief.

She is well aware of Dad’s non-traditional approach to the life and teachings of Jesus.  She knows that he didn’t place a whole lot of importance in the divinity or non-divinity of the guy.  For Dad, Jesus’ message about community and social action was the teaching to which he held fast and afforded primary importance.

As she started her tribute- she is a true and talented storyteller- I knew that she would impart a message that was in keeping with both ways of viewing the world- her own and Dad’s.  She told a story about a child asking about what happened to people when they died- and the adult telling the child to look to the stars when such questions come up.  She pointed out the awareness we now have- through our scientific discoveries- that all life on earth is made up of pieces of stardust.  We are all stars.  And, as stars, we can never really be gone.  We are part of the universe forever.

It was a lovely amalgam of belief and science- and hit the perfect note as a remembrance of my Father.  These things can, and should, work together.  Just as we- whether we self-define as believers, scientists or atheists (or any number of other things over the course of our lives)- must work together.

Defensive, reactionary rhetoric is never progressive or remotely useful.

Stephen Fry knows this.  A lot of us do.  We just need to give those voices the airtime, rather than those who see fit to declaim their unexamined beliefs as statements of fact about how the world should work and why.

‘Slow slow slow, come come
Someone come come come
Even love is goin’ ’round
You can’t ignore what is goin’ ’round

Slowly rebuilding
I feel it in me
Growing in numbers
Growing in peace

People they come together
People they fall apart
No one can stop us now
‘Cause we are all made of stars’

Disclaimer: I don’t, actually GET Moby.  I’m not into his type of electronica and I find his persona somehow off-putting.  But this song is the obvious choice to accompany this post, so I’m giving it a chance.  Evidently he wrote the song as an expression of hopefulness following the September 11th attacks.  I can honour that- and empathize with the spirit and sense of the song.  And it is appropriate.  Even if it isn’t among my top picks.   We are all made of stars.

19 comments on “The Humanity of Humanism

  1. […] The Humanity of Humanism. […]

  2. lennymaysay says:

    Excellent write-up Cole.

  3. This is lovely, and it sounds as though your friend has a heart of gold and honored your dad as the gem he was. That’s what remembrance is really about – honoring, loving, dignity. I’m so glad.

    I hope my words or questions have never offended you or crossed the line in any way. If they have, I apologize here and now. I never want to be that person.

    Praying for the new job, the difficult emotional times ahead, and letting you know that it does get easier with time. Even though that hole never goes away, it is filled in part with loving memories, laughter, and warm guidance that comes out of nowhere when we least expect it.

    • colemining says:

      Thank you, Susan. You have never offended- please be assured of that. I welcome questions and dialogue and discussion- it is how we interact and come to understand one another. This is ALWAYS a good thing. Differences of opinion needn’t lead to lines that can never be crossed. We have to learn how to agree to disagree, at times, or we’ll never be able to all share this wonderful planet of ours.

      Thank you, as always, for reading, for your insights and perspective, and for your prayers. I’m taking it one day at a time, but looking forward to new good things as I remember the old good times and lessons. xo

  4. Doobster418 says:

    Excellent post and, I must say, you pretty much captured my own thoughts and feelings about religion and belief, as well as my worldview.

    And yes, I do watch and thoroughly enjoy “Cosmos.” I’m even old enough to remember watching Carl Sagan’s original “Cosmos” series on PBS.

    • colemining says:

      Thanks, Doobster. I remember the original series as well- and I’m really impressed with the reboot- mainly because of the great respect I have for Dr. Tyson. He’s a phenomenal spokesperson for the reasoned approach to viewing the world/universe.

      I appreciate your visit and the comment!

  5. My condolences, Cole. Your father sounds like he was a special and wise man. As for God, that the moon possess the exact combination of diameter and orbital distance to perfectly cause a solar eclipse is one of those magnificent coincidences that might make one wonder as to whether or not their was a Higher Authority or some unknown creative agency at work. Bode’s Law, too.

    To each, their own, I suppose. We are indeed star dust.

    • colemining says:

      Thanks Nav- to each their own, indeed! Where some see coincidence or acts of god, astrophysicists seek answers. I don’t claim to understand the theories they posit-most of the time, anyway, but I see beauty, and synchronicity and opportunities to seek answers and expand our horizons at every turn. The ‘wanting to know’ resonates with me very personally.

  6. I see a wonderful interconnectivity between science and faith and the universe. Rather than lessening my faith it explodes it sometimes. I appreciate a world where, as your dad said, the teachings of Jesus or indeed any deemed holy person would help people to live more harmoniously together recognising justice and a working towards a better world. Organised religions have in so many ways caused untold grief. It begs the question whether people ever get the essence of the message or become hung up on humanly created tenets that are divisive.
    As Nav says one day we will all know. But, in the meantime, there is so much mkre we all could do to embrace humanity borne of love pure and simple.
    Your dad sounds like he was a wonderful person, Cole. And I know you must be hearing a lot of this since his passing. But to have made the impact on you and others that help create a better humanity is such a testament of the power of love and thought in his life.
    Years ago I read a fabulous book called ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’. I reread it every so often. It addresses so many confusions and distortions people have while looking at the subject of mental health in a sort of down to earth cosmic way. What a bloody awful book review that just was! Seriously, I loved it. Nkt least because it did address differences in perception between people based on the arts and science. It married the two in a quote I’ve never forgotten. ‘And what is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good. Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?’
    What did you say about ‘running on’? 😉 Oops!
    Yourposts are always so thought provoking. That’s my excuse. 🙂
    Blessings and prayers from the stardust that invades our lives in all sorts of different ways.x
    Btw, do you get Stephen Fry’s ‘QI’ programme where you are? Really humorous and ‘Quite Interesting’. Love the guy for his wit and quick thinking repartee.

    • colemining says:

      Anne-Marie- I read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ so long ago… perhaps it’s time for a re-read.

      The current glut of science vs. religion (and vice versa) articles and programmes and debates… I don’t understand the polarization. While I don’t need to believe in a god to see beauty and purpose in this world, there are many who choose to do so- and not all stand in opposition to science and its discoveries.

      It’s symptomatic of everything I’ve been ranting about here- debate rather than dialectic. ‘Winning’ such debates doesn’t actually give us ‘winners’ at all. We still remain in conflict unless we can discuss these things without dismissing other perspectives out of hand.

      Institutionalized religion frequently destroys the core message in favour of social control and holding power over others- this was one of the main issues my Father had with the church. But he saw potential for revivification- of a new institution in which the message was the emphasis. It was one of the few points on which we disagreed.

      I will have to look for ‘QI’- I am so continually impressed but what the guy has to say- and the humour with which he always delivers his message/ideas.

      Thanks for reading- and for your always insightful comments. You know I’ll never worry about them being over-long. Birds of a feather, we are ;P

  7. Grumble Girl says:

    I love this… and I love Stephen Fry… and I love that tune by Moby… and I love you. Great post, Humanist.

    • colemining says:

      Love you right back, GG, fellow-Humanist. Your fb post was the second prompt I needed to write something about the guy. And I knew you’d appreciate the Moby- even if I don’t, really. xoxo

  8. Wonderful post! Your humanity and humanness is palpable!

    This coupled with the post on your father is beautiful and soulful.

    My condolences.

    My father died just over a year ago, I did not have the relationship with my father which you had with yours, which is a deeply touching one so thank you for sharing it. I can relate though with the complexity of dealing with the private side of loss versus the public, community, side of it. It can be a difficult labyrinth to navigate.

    Take care of yourself, take time to grieve… privately… forget what others need from you, focus on what you need from you. Grief is a precious thing as it touches our deepest and most private places.

    • colemining says:

      Thank you, Ursula. Still processing it all, TBH. Having to deal emotionally now, with what I’ve taken on board intellectually. I appreciate your lovely and insightful thoughts.

  9. […] the academic and lay viewers out there in Televisionland.  Stephen Fry, as I mentioned in that post about humanism, is an excellent candidate- and he is contributing incredible examinations of facets of humanities […]

  10. […] I got home and checked email there was a message from that wonderful being who spoke so beautifully at Dad’s […]

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