Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Reflections on Humanism

These days it is difficult to escape the constant barrage from the Christian right. From the fish symbols and "Real Men Love Jesus" bumper stickers to Bush advocating the teaching of "intelligent design" in our public schools, there is a radical retrenching of progressive thought going on in this country. Instead of living in the moment, taking our cues for what is right and what is wrong from how we are received by our fellow human beings, an increasing number have opted to put their faith in the Bible and its ancient teachings, which profess an otherworldly origin for life and mankind's place in it. Instead of looking outward for the answers to questions like, "What is our purpose?", I look inward. I look at who I am and what I have to offer others to make this world a better place, because I believe that what we see, you and I, is all there is. We don't answer to a higher God, we answer to each other. There is no heaven and there is no hell. There is only this life and what we make of it. And we are all in this life together, so the greatest good is to do the best we can for each other--Christ's message but without Christ in it--because the reward is not in heaven, it is here in this life.

To this end, the greatest virtue becomes personal freedom. This country declared its independence for the purposes of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." One of the most disturbing trends in government today is the legislation of morality, which runs counter to everything the founding fathers had in mind. If what I do does not affect you, then why should you be able to tell me whether or not I may do it? Whatever happened to "live and let live"? If issues such as drug use, abortion and gay marriage make people uncomfortable enough that they press their legislators to pass laws against them, then the problem is with these people, not with the behavior. They need to understand that the world is made up of different people with different values, and that it is not up to them to make everyone the same. What advantage does it serve? Does it ease the conscience to know our prisons are full of drug law offenders? It would be more advantageous to society if we understood that most people are doing the best they can and that if that requires behavior other people do not agree with, then so be it.

More than anything, this resurgence of Christian fundamentalism amounts to the dumbing down of modern society. It has become acceptable to display bumper stickers with slogans like "Let go! Let God do it!" and "God is my co-pilot!" To me, this is the same thing as saying, "The universe is a complicated place and I don't understand it, so I'm going to throw up my hands in frustration and give my destiny over to God and his mystical ways, even though I don't understand them, because I have faith." Wouldn't it be more productive to think that our concept of God is a stepping stone to free thought? In simpler times, before we understood that we're all riding a small rock around a small star at the edge of a galaxy full of mostly bigger stars--some of which probably have life similar to our own circling them--in a universe that has no bounds, we needed God to explain the unexplainable. And the God concepts of heaven and hell helped to keep the masses under control, in a state of servitude toward a reward in the afterlife. We are way past that now. We know our place in the universe, at least geographically, and we know more about the workings of this planet and its inhabitants than would have been thought possible just a hundred years ago. We have invented technology and medicine that have made our lives longer, healthier and more comfortable than they even need to be. But instead of looking ahead to what new discoveries we might make, many in society have chosen to look backward, almost in nostalgia, to the simpler times. If we believe the Bible, Christ lived and died as an example to us of how we should live. It is time for us to take his example and apply it to our modern situation: Don't live in fear of spiritual retribution for perceived sins. Rather live for each other, in trust and empathy, that we all may prosper in this life. Think for yourself!