The Spirit of a Humanist
Rev. Paul D. Daniel, Minister
A religion old or new wrote the UU Carl Sagan, “that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by conventional faiths.
He had us in mind as Humanist Unitarianism Universalism, for we are a free faith that values both myth and the facts of science. We support no dogma and certainly no literal understanding of scriptures. The sources of our faith are as many and varied as there are philosophers and theologians.
We have come to rely on our own intellect and innate power to find inspiration and an inner strength to meet the challenges of modern life.
We set great store by the scientific method to define the world and our place in it.
Religious humanism is more than just a minor secular source of our evolving religion. At least half of all Unitarian Universalists claim to resonate with our core humanist belief that ethical behavior is a matter of individual responsibility and action.
The humanists Rev. Sarah Oelberg describes this defining principle:
“humanism leads me to find a sense of wider relatedness with all the world and Its peoples, and It calls me to work for a sound environment and humane civilization.
Robert Hoagland, defines his humanism differently, “It requires an imaginative psychology as well as an analytical logic, an inward look as well as an extroversion… to hold eternity in an hour glass and to see the world in a grain of sand. Both are valid human endeavor …that call out to the undefined values of tomorrow, standing in tension with the values which have egregiously failed our today.”
Again Beverley Earles put it somewhat differently, “Humanism is a celebration and a promise; of the integrity of human
reason, responsibility and compassion, and it promises a satisfying lifestyle that can be counted on.
No more deprecation of the human condition; rather, an opportunity to remain true to ourselves by having both feet in this world and responding to the challenges of existence with excitement and pragmatic service to others.
Humanism is a faith that has finally come of age; at long last we humans can live dignified lives. At long last, civilizations can find ultimate fulfilment through bringing out the best in humanity for the sake of humanity. ” And finally,”… YES; Humanism can be the most meaningful and livable kind of religious way of understanding and living life.
It offers views of people and [their] place in the universe that is a religious philosophy… Overarching and under girding it all, there can be a haunting sense of wonder which never leaves one for whom life itself is a mystery and miracle. Where did we come from, why are we here, where are we going with all the effort, frustration, the grief, the joy?
To be caught up in this sense of wider relatedness, to sense our being connected in live ways with all the world and everyone in It…. is the heart dimension of religion”.
The roots of religious humanism run deep in our faith and contrary to popular myth, humanists are neither strictly secular nor anti-religious. UU Rev. David Bumbaugh writes the creation of the Humanist Manifesto of 1933, “affirms the ongoing importance of religion for human life, it defines religion as the quest for abiding value across all of humanity. The Manifesto did not seek to abolish religion, but rather to set out some imperatives by which to structure and revitalize religion so that it might more adequately serve the human community in modern times.
The signers of the Humanist Manifesto hoped to challenge the various dualisms which fractured the human community, defined as separation of body and mind,
humanity and nature,
sacred and secular,
knowledge and faith, and
reason and revelation.
Early humanists envisioned a radical unity out of which might emerge a truly moral and ethical social structure.”
Personally, I find religious humanism to be one of many powerful ways of expressing the holy within. As a humanist, I believe in the power of the mind, science and evolution yet
find that the entire mystery of creative evolution to be equally spiritual by its very nature.
Who among us is not moved by the power of the human spirit, the vision of our imagination combined with the findings of logic and science. All this is ultimately reducible to a spiritual, religious impulse that the humanist holds fast to. All that is human and rational embodies a certain spirituality, a unifying principle if you will…
Any religion that creates a duality, separating, mind from body from spirit is an artificial construct originating, I believed, with the narrow-minded early fourth century church fathers afraid of their own passions and body. Our intellect and passion are fraternal twins separated by ignorance and fear.
The mind is the source of ail creativity-of ail that is aesthetic and sensual and spiritual: art, music, literature, poetry, dance and drama. The spirit, logic and reason occupies the same space and have the same point of origin.
Being a humanist who values logic at the core of our faith does not mean we reject other sources of inspiration. Rather, humanism provides us with the tools to a free and responsible search for truth, it demands that we think for ourselves, explore, question and doubt.
In so doing we honor reason and the integrity of our own spiritual journeys,
even if that rational and relational process leads to God.
Humanism like other aspects of Unitarian Universalism is rooted in love and compassion for ail of humanity and for the earth that sustains us. What happens to this world depends on us, as an integral part of the web of existence. We are the cause and cure global warming and almost all other man made ills that threaten the very survival of our species. What we do and how we relate to nature matter.
I remember a hiking trip with my sons, many years ago atop Mt Cannon, NH.
The mountains were old, closed in upon themselves by fog. The weight of the rock felt heavy upon me. There was no view from the shrouded summit, but at our feet we found a whole world in a “clay jug” unfolded in Incredible beauty and mystical wonder. There were lichen and mushrooms, and a carpet of moss sheltered under stunted old growth pines.
It was a microcosm, a unique eco system demonstrating the secret of survival above the dew and frost line of a New England mountain. In that moment I felt a connection to all that was and would be. I understood in my body and soul that natural law and the spiritual had combined in majesty to produce an experience of beauty, ineffable and transcendent. It was a moment of reawakening to that which pulsed at the core my being. It was as real as sinew and bone. It made me feel gloriously alive. It was enough for me that beauty, nature, life Itself, sprung from an unnamable inexpressible source. That satisfied and calmed the humanist in me.
We all seek such moments of bliss that connect us to the web of existence. In a profound way we do enter each other’s lives and touch at the most fundamental point that T.S. Eliot calls the “still point of the turning world”. As we struggle to find connection and to push back our loneliness we find a human commonality that can make us whole. Humanism as a movement is the guardian of that harmony, of the sacred and healing message that all personal experience has value. I’ll even venture to say that humanism encourages us to find the spark of divinity in all things.
The tenets of humanism are not inherently “religiously hostile” rather
it is a way of realizing that we are simultaneously ego and spirit, autonomous and connected. Humanism at its most profound and healing is not a turning away from or denial of anything, but rather it is a healing embrace of the profound depths of the human experience. While that experience can sometimes take us down unexplored paths to enlightenment it also can lead us into a mental, emotional cul-de-sac. The struggle to move out of that dead-end loneliness and brokenness, into healing and fullness embodies the existential struggle that humanism addresses.
As religious Humanists, we wrestle constantly to have faith in our own ability and to connect to the universe and all that transcends our narrow lives.
When we do that we are truly a spiritual humanist.