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Archive for the ‘Humanism’ Category



Supreme Court Ruling on Public Prayer Re-enforces Christian Supremacy

May12

by: Warren J. Blumenfeld on May 12th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

American politicians have prayed before public gatherings since the Founding Fathers crowded into a stuffy Philadelphia room to crank out the Constitution. The inaugural and emphatically Christian prayer at the First Continental Congress was delivered by an Anglican minister, who overcame objections from the assembled Quakers, Anabaptists and Presbyterians. The prayer united the mostly Christian Founding Fathers, and the rest is history.

Indeed, as U. S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy write in the 5-4 majority opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway , “…the rest is history.”

Church Ave and State Street intersect in Knoxville, Tennessee. Credit: Creative Commons/ Wyoming_Jackrabbit

While a strict separation of synagogue and state, mosque and state, Hindu and Buddhist temple and state, and separation of atheists and state and virtually all the other approximately 5000 religions and state has been enacted, on the other hand, church – predominantly Protestant denominations, but also Catholic – and state, have connected virtually seamlessly to the affairs and policies of what we call the United States of America, from the first invasion of Europeans in the 15th century on the Christian Julian to the Christian Gregorian Calendars up to 2014 Anno Domini (short for Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi – “In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”).

In the court case, two local women from Greece, New York filed suit against city officials for approving invocations with primarily overtly Christian content at monthly public sessions held on government property. However, according to Kennedy, “The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition, and does not coerce participation by nonadherents.”

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From Bullying to Genocides: Reflections on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Apr28

by: on April 28th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

As we observe Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, which lasts until sundown today, I reflect upon my familial history: two scenarios with somewhat varied outcomes.

When I was a young child, I sat upon my maternal grandfather Simon Mahler’s knee. Looking down urgently, but with deep affection, he said to me, “Varn,” (through his distinctive Polish accent, he pronounced my name “Varn”), “you are named after my father, Wolf Mahler, who was killed by the Nazis along with my mother Bascha and most of my thirteen brothers and sisters.” When I asked why they were killed, he responded, “Because they were Jews.” Those words have reverberated in my mind, haunting me ever since.

We later learned that Nazi troops forced most of my Krosno relatives into the surrounding woods, shot them, and tossed their lifeless bodies into a mass unmarked grave along with over two thousand other Jewish residents. The Nazis eventually loaded the remaining Jews of Krosno onto cattle cars and transported them to Auschwitz and Belzec death camps. The handful of Krosno Jews who survived liberation of the camps attempted to return to their homes that had been confiscated by the non-Jewish residents. No Jews reside today in Krosno.

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A Not So Modest Proposal: Africa and Homophobia

Feb13

by: on February 13th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

In the last several months I have visited services in several faith communities – Jewish, Catholic and Muslim.  Sunday before last I was in my own house of worship, Union Methodist, a historically Black congregation.  After religious services, we gathered in the basement to discuss the vexed question of whether or not our pastors could or could not officiate over same-sex marriages.  The meeting took no formal vote, but the overwhelming sense of the gathering was that all people had a right to equality.  A thirteen year-old girl stood up and cried when she spoke of the bullying of a boy at her school.  An elderly Caribbean woman denounced gay bashing. A middle-aged father of two spoke of how he had slowly come out to his two daughters.  A Puerto Rican psychologist spoke movingly of how his early view of homosexuality had turned him away from a call to the ministry.  A young man from the Deep South spoke of the long darkness in his soul as he wrestled with demons, sexual and otherwise.  We had church.   

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Theaster’s Way

Feb6

by: on February 6th, 2014 | Comments Off

Photo credit: Studio Museum of Harlem

Theaster Gates has been dubbed “the real-estate artist,” “the opportunity artist,” “an anthropologist, urbanist, activist — the 21st-century artist,” “the poster boy for socially engaged art,” #40 in Art Review’s “2013 Power 100, A ranked list of the contemporary art world’s most powerful figures,” and even “the Mick Jagger of social practice.”

His works include his signature Dorchester Projects, 12 Ballads for Huguenot House and numerous others. In 2012, he was awarded the WSJ innovator of the year art prize. In 2013, he was named a United States Artists fellow and also received the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Arts and Politics. There are many more accolades than I can name.

So when I went to the Studio Museum of Harlem on January 16th for the activation of See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court (2012) — tables, chairs and desks salvaged from a now-closed public school on Chicago’s South Side, I believed the hype but still wasn’t sure what to expect.

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Making Radical Decency a Daily Practice

Oct14

by: on October 14th, 2013 | Comments Off

My recent blog, The Case for Radical Decency, brought the following provocative reaction – the subject of this week’s reflection:

“If ‘picking and choosing’ where to practice Radical Decency is ‘doomed to failure’ does that mean only saints can succeed? How does one incrementally improve?”

“If Radical Decency is doomed to failure unless applied at all times to everything, must I be a Buddhist monk or the equivalent?”

(Credit: Creative Commons)

How this Mindset Traps and Defeats Us

Radical Decency seeks to diverge from the culture’s wildly out of balance emphasis on competitive, win/lose values, advocating a decisive shift in priority toward a more humane set of values. That is its central purpose.

With this in mind, notice the extent to which this self-judgmental approach replicates the very values the philosophy seeks to replace. Tally up the evidence and make a judgment: Have I succeeded in being radically decent – or not? Am I a saint – or a failure?

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Holistic Healing — Embracing the Practical and the Radical

Sep27

by: on September 27th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Radical Decency is a comprehensive approach to living. It is not about feeling better – or about treating others more decently – or about saving the world. It is about all of these things. The reason? We are profoundly creatures of habit and, as a result, each area of living is deeply and irrevocably intertwined with the others.

Thus, seeking to act differently at home but not at work, or in politics but not in our self-care, we fatally underestimate the extent to which the culture’s indecent values – its predominant habits of living – insinuate themselves into the overall texture of our lives. When we focus our healing efforts on a single area of living, these mainstream values, continuing to operate elsewhere without meaningful challenge, inexorably infiltrate and subvert our more limited islands of decency.

For this reason, healing needs to be “holistic”; a concept that many healers embrace, at least in principle. The problem, however, is that in most cases they fail to follow through on its implications.


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The Problem with Partition: Human Rights Provide an Alternative for Israelis and Palestinians

May17

by: William K. Barth on May 17th, 2013 | 36 Comments »

If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.
- Ehud Olmert, former prime minister of Israel

While international attention has shifted to the war in Syria, little media focus is given to the recent successful initiative at Blair House in Washington, D.C., between Secretary of State John Kerry and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani on behalf of Arab League states. Sheikh Hamad agreed with Secretary Kerry to endorse the American backed proposal for a two-state solution that partitions Israel in order to create a new Palestinian state. As Arab state representatives retreated from their prior demands that Israel return to its pre-1967 borders, the Arab League initiative represents progress toward a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli West Bank barrier

Graffiti marks the wall dividing the Palestinian city of Bethlehem from Israelis in the West Bank. Credit: Creative Commons/Montecruz Foto.

Currently, Israelis and Palestinians live interspersed together within non-contiguous borders. However, the problem with partition is that it divides the population based upon ethnic, racial, religious, or linguistic characteristics. Partition actions use types of profiling to assign people to states based upon their human characteristics. The use of profiling contradicts human rights because equal treatment requires that people be recognized as individuals irrespective of their ethnic, racial or religious identity. So, Israelis and Palestinians must reject obnoxious forms of human profiling should they agree on a partition plan. This poses a particular challenge for Israel because it is the homeland of the Jewish peoples who are themselves a persecuted religious group.

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Humanistic Jews Plant a Tree

Mar8

by: Rob Agree on March 8th, 2013 | 12 Comments »

Humanistic Judaism is a comprehensive response to the needs of contemporary Jews to create personal and communal experiences that celebrate identity, values, and connection. In my experience as the lay ceremonial leader of a congregation of Humanistic Jews, the pursuit of these experiences can lead to great rewards in unexpected places, places never visited by the other branches of the modern Jewish tree.

Our congregation includes the Levy family: mother, father and seven year-old (adopted) daughter, Ruth. Last year, the parents asked me to help them prepare a celebration of Ruth’s conversion to Judaism (her birth parents were not Jewish). We discussed Humanistic Judaism’s philosophy that adoption is a better term than conversion, and that it requires no ritual to accomplish, merely an affirmative identification and association with Jews, their historical and cultural experiences, and the values of Humanistic Judaism. The parents still wanted to do something special to welcome Ruth -an active member of our Sunday School – into the Jewish family, and, consistent with our philosophy, to allow Ruth to declare her adoption of Humanistic Judaism.

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Darwin and Religion for the Nonreligious

Dec24

by: on December 24th, 2012 | Comments Off

As an agnostic appreciator of spirituality and amateur student of evolution, I like this article by the UK’s Chief Rabbi on Darwinian reasons why religion persists. Jonathan Sacks asks why it is that “still in Britain three in four people, and in America four in five, declare allegiance to a religious faith.” A couple of quotes point to his answer:

To put it at its simplest, we hand on our genes as individuals but we survive as members of groups, and groups can exist only when individuals act not solely for their own advantage but for the sake of the group as a whole.

…It [religion] reconfigures our neural pathways, turning altruism into instinct, through the rituals we perform, the texts we read and the prayers we pray. It remains the most powerful community builder the world has known. Religion binds individuals into groups through habits of altruism, creating relationships of trust strong enough to defeat destructive emotions. Far from refuting religion, the Neo-Darwinists have helped us understand why it matters.

I agree, subject to the usual caveats that strong group identity can be highly toxic: viz, history of Christianity. Granted that in strong community groups we too easily give in to group-think, excessive elevation of leaders, and demonization of outsiders. Nonetheless, we need community. And it’s remarkably hard to create it among freethinking liberal/lefties. There’s a persistent hankering for community among many of the folks I know best. Still, new efforts are being made. From the American Humanist Association:

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Nonviolence and Killing

May22

by: on May 22nd, 2011 | 7 Comments »

In the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s killing a very active discussion emerged on the email forum used by the community of trainers certified with the Center for Nonviolent Communication. One thread of this conversation has been about responses to the particular event, and especially how to relate to the people celebrating Bin Laden’s death. This exploration was the primary inspiration for my previous entry (to which I still intend to come back). Another thread has focused on a more general question: can killing in any way be compatible with nonviolence?

This is by far not a new dilemma in human affairs. The Dalai Lama, one of the living icons of nonviolence, also engaged with this same question, citing a Buddhist scripture that suggests killing may sometimes be necessary, so long as it’s done with utmost compassion and in extreme and rare circumstances. Whether or not the stringent criteria implicit in the story were met in this circumstance, the Dalai Lama’s essential claim is that Buddhism, in principle, is not categorically opposed to killing.

Others, including Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist leader who is also deeply associated with peace and nonviolence, and others who embrace a consciousness of nonviolence, are suggesting that killing is never to be done. For some, true nonviolence entails the willingness to die rather than to kill.

Earlier today an NVC trainer from Germany who is also a Sikh posted on the email forum, and included this sentence: “Killing seems to be part of nature – the question to me really is, what is the consciousness behind it.”

With some significant changes and additions, I am posting here my response to this post. This is an invitation to engage with this question, with all questions, with complexity and with love. In our times, with what we are facing, I don’t believe that simple one-dimensional answers will do. I sense that paradox and complexity are essential for our survival.

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