Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Response to PB's "Vague Buddhists" post

I suggest you read Peacebang's post first.

First of, all I don’t think her ideas are crazy or stupid, so no one should assume that I will. In general, looking for negativity makes us find more of it.

This is a really thought-provoking post. As someone who has been studying formal logic, I can’t agree with

1. Most religions mention God in a creed except for Buddhism
2. UUism doesn’t mention God in something that isn’t a creed anyway.
3. UUism must be like some form of Buddhism.
4. Strong Buddhists have set beliefs.
5. UUs don’t have set beliefs
6. UUs must be like weak Buddhists.

So I don’t see her conclusion as following from her premises. (I realize I’ve oversimplified what she was already terming as an oversimplification. But you get my point.)

I’m not really the “spiritual” type. I tend to shun meditation and really anything overly ritualistic. OK, I don’t exactly shun it, but I don’t tend to get much out of it and I don’t look for it. I did read some texts on “Mindfulness” that included some Buddhism last year, but they didn’t resonate with me the way historical Humanism does. Give me Emerson any day.

I’m not reading as much Humanism I should, but as PB noted that’s going to be true of just about anybody who doesn’t do religion professionally. I gaurantee you my mom hasn't read any Christianity books in decades and my record is better than that.

I think I do better on the faith life and ethical commitments, though. I often think about the old joke about the guy trapped in a flood who refuses a raft, a boat and a helicopter, pronouncing that God will save him. When he eventually drowns, he meets up with God in Heaven and upbraids God for not saving him. God says “I sent a raft, a boat and a helicopter. What did you expect me to do?”

For me, whether God exists or not and in whatever form, Humanism is about facing the reality that I am the helicopter. Ethical commitments are of tremendous importance to you if they’re all you have and humanity’s need to take care of one another becomes very obvious.

The only religious ed I’m involved with is YRUU. For them, my Humanism comes out in doing my best to give the YRUU folks tools to live an unambiguous life in an ambiguous world. My particular calling at least right now seems to be to teach respect for Republicans, Christians and the groups generally less fashionable among liberals and UUs. But my YRUU kids are generally in good shape. At least, I never smell pot on them, which is more than I can say for my GRE students.

. I like to point out to the YRUUers that one can do worse than to take the simplest premises of science and apply them philosophically. Matter is neither created nor destroyed, chaotic behavior appears to be random but is ultimately internally deterministic, All things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed together. If I’ve gotten across a message or two about not living your life by other people’s standards, but not selling yourself short either, so much the better.

But viewing things scientifically also teaches that we shouldn’t run around excluding theories just because they aren’t what we’ve believed before. (Non-String-Theorists will tell you that I’m being idealistic, but this is a religion conversation.) After all, infinite examples won’t prove us right, but one good example can prove us wrong. So I think that there is great value in having Pagans, Christians and other people who are researching similar data around, even if their methodologies differ from my own.

So anyway, that’s where Humanism takes me. If that’s not exactly a historically Humanist direction, OK, but I don’t think it is a Vague Buddhist one either.



LaReinaCobre said...

I don't know enough about Buddhism to even comment!

LaReinaCobre said...

Oh, one thing I would love is if I could study the teachings of humanists at church. That would be awesome! I attended a four-part transcendentalists class earlier this year but had to drop it due to other commitments.

Did you know there was a First Existentialist Congregation in Atlanta, Georgia? That sounded pretty exciting to me!

I make a distinction between philosophy and religion: Philosophy and philosophizing are about ideas, and the process of coming to new ones or discarding ones that don't work. Religion is the process of enacting a code of living that underscores my stated values, that keeps me honest, so to speak. That's very articulate. So I would say that I am practicing a religion although I am a humanist. It's not a religion based on what God said, but that doesn't make it any less rigorous. I am striving to be more disciplined, and systematic about it, but I believe that's for me to do.

In exchange for intellectual and spiritual freedom, I had to give up someone else laying it all out for me: what I should do, what I should read, and so on.

PeaceBang said...

I don't think I was very clear, but your initial list was way off from what I was trying to say. Oh well. My bad.

fausto said...

they didn’t resonate with me the way historical Humanism does. Give me Emerson any day.

Emerson wasn't Humanist. He was a Romantic; Humanists are supremely rational. Emerson was a Transcendentalist, or pantheist, or monist.

For me, whether God exists or not and in whatever form, Humanism is about facing the reality that I am the helicopter. Ethical commitments are of tremendous importance to you...

That's an articulation of the Humanist ideal that I can get 100% behind.

...if they’re all you have

But that's where I part company with Humanism. Most Humanists would agree with this proposition. The historic Humanist manifestos all affirm in one way or another that there's nothing bigger than ourselves, so we need to be big by ourselves (and that we do have the capacity to be). Christianity and other religions, in contrast, affirm that when we act in ways that transcend ourselves, something more transcendent than ourselves -- something that is real and not merely figurative -- shows itself among us.

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Matthew 18:20

Theistic UUs may have a very different understanding than conservative Christians as to what the "I" in that verse refers to, but most of the folks I know who would consider themselves real Humanists (as opposed to merely influenced by Humanism among other things) would call it outright nonsense.

Which means, when the UU Enforcer says on PB's thread, "I think most UUs conflate/ confuse Humanism with atheism," I think he's wrong. I think most UUs understand correctly that twentieth-century Humanism with a capital H presented itself primarily as an atheist system of philosophy and ethics.

It remains to be seen whether we as UUs will be able to transform that skeptical twentieth-century pairing of affirmation (of human greatness and moral obligation) with negation (of anything larger) into a more inspiring twenty-first-century "UU" system of faith, by not only continuing to insist upon the human calling toward greatness rather than depravity, but also finding satisfactory ways to express and observe the possibility that if such a call can be discerned, its source may also be real.

Steve Caldwell said...

CC wrote:
"UUism doesn’t mention God in something that isn’t a creed anyway."

While it's true that the most current version of the UU Principles adopted in 1985 and revised in 1995 don't mention God, we do mention God in the "sources" portion of the UUA Principles and Purposes.

I would suggest that anyone who suggests that we voted to make our Principles totally non-theist should re-examine this claim in light of the "sources" portion of our Principles.

When one views the Principles in their full context (with the sources of our living tradition), it's factually inaccurate to say that our Principles are totally non-theist.

Perhaps this claim that we voted theism out of our principles is just a simple misunderstanding?