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Archive for the ‘Humanism’ Category

A Not So Modest Proposal: Africa and Homophobia


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.   


Theaster’s Way


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.


Making Radical Decency a Daily Practice


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?


Holistic Healing — Embracing the Practical and the Radical


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.


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


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.


Humanistic Jews Plant a Tree


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.


Darwin and Religion for the Nonreligious


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:


Nonviolence and Killing


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.


‘Of Gods and Men’: A film of enormous spiritual power


by: on March 4th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

Lambert Wilson as Christian (left) and Michael Lonsdale as Luc, flanking a villager

A little-noted outgrowth of the current wave of popular upheaval sweeping the Arab world is that Algeria’s nearly 20 year rein of martial law has been lifted. Most of the 1990s were marked by a savage civil war that pitted a variety of Islamist insurgent groups against Algeria’s military regime and against each other. By the time it petered out early in the 2000′s, the massacre of whole villages, urban bombings, shootouts and assassinations had claimed 150,000 to 200,000 lives.

Eventually, this conflict engulfed the French Cistercian Trappist monastery situated in a remote village, where its monks were much loved by their Muslim-Arab neighbors. They incorporated them into their everyday lives, even inviting them to family weddings and other life-cycle events.

Michael Lonsdale, the dignified bilingual French actor, plays Luc, the elderly monk and physician who ran a much-needed medical clinic. From the vantage point of his once secular life, Luc is charmingly depicted providing advice on love to a village girl who tends the abbey grounds and seeks out his wisdom.


Guest Post: “The artist formerly known as Molly Norris,” By Christopher Stedman


by: on September 23rd, 2010 | 2 Comments »

Last week the atheist blogosphere lit up with reports that Molly Norris, the Seattle cartoonist who inadvertently inspired “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” (EDMD), had been forced to change her identity and go into hiding due to death threats she received from extremists.

How did these same bloggers who promoted EDMD respond to this news? They expressed sadness and frustration. And who wouldn’t? Poor Norris – imagine having to give up everything you knew because your life was in danger. They are right to condemn those who have targeted her.

However, many also used it as yet another opportunity to take broad swipes at Muslims.

For example, popular atheist writer P.Z. Myers addressed Islam as if it were a single entity, writing: “Come on, Islam. Targeting defenseless cartoonists is your latest adventure in bravery? That’s pathetic. It’s bad enough to be the religion of hate, but to be the religion of cowardice ought to leave you feeling ashamed.”

I’m disappointed at such assessments, and I have a feeling Norris would be too. After EDMD took off, she insisted that she did not wish for it to become a movement. In a post on her now defunct website, Norris asked people to try to find common ground with others instead, adding: “The vitriol this ‘day’ has brought out… is offensive to the Muslims who did nothing to endanger our right to expression in the first place. I apologize to people of Muslim faith and ask that this ‘day’ be called off.”