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.