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Archive for the ‘Humanism’ Category

A Bar Mitzvah on the Jewish Frontier


by: on August 22nd, 2010 | 5 Comments »

I live in Espanola, New Mexico, a town of 9,000 people, mostly Hispanic and Native American, with a lot of churches but without a Jewish synagogue. I live in an agrarian mestizo community: most of my neighbors are of mixed Spanish and Native American descent dating from the arrival of Juan de Onate in the 16th century. Leaders in my community worry about passing their cultural heritage on to the next generation in the face of industrial encroachment. Rio Arriba County reminds me of Israel at the time of Akiva, immediately preceding the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.

Although I invited my Hispanic Rio Arriba colleagues to my son’s Bar Mitzvah, none came. Many of my more urbane Hispanic friends in Santa Fe were present. They lived in “the city.” Many had moved away for college and then returned. They were familiar with Jews. I wish I could explain the significance of the B’nai Mitzvah to my struggling agrarian friends. It has helped the Jewish people to maintain our identity in exile for thousands of years.


Be Ready for Overwhelming Joy


by: on April 19th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

Last week, I had the privilege of reading from my novel, Hold Love Strong, at Pete’s Candystore, a great venue in Brooklyn, a few blocks from 334 Manhattan Avenue, where once I lived in the middle of a friend’s apartment and often climbed the fire escape to the roof where I began to piece my life back together; or rather, began the process of reflection and self-possession necessary for living a full and meaningful life. After I read, Nadia and I had the chance to speak with Mira Jacobs, one of the curators of the event and a mother to a one-and-a-half-year-old son, Zakir, a name that means remembering and/or grateful. Talking about new motherhood, pregnancy, and childbirth, Nadia repeated a phrase a friend had recently said to her, and although she meant it in reference to having a baby, it is, I think, at the very core to the solutions of our present social and political problems, and thus what we — those of us who wish for a peaceful, humane world if not for ourselves then for our children — must do and anchor ourselves to in order for there to be the chance for the world we can imagine, the world we deserve.

“Be ready,” she said, “for overwhelming joy.”


Humanist Easter: Egg Art, Feminist Rabbits, Muddy Romps


by: on April 4th, 2010 | 5 Comments »

When I was a child, my family celebrated Christian holidays in a fairly standard secular way, decorating a tree on Christmas and hunting eggs on Easter, not to mention joining in the customary consumption of marshmallow peeps, “jelly bird eggs” (whatever those are), and other foods invented by companies with a clever eye for turning a profit from a holiday.

My version of Easter lacks the radical Christian religiosity that Nichola laid out in her recent post about Good Friday as a time “to look at the crucifixions necessary to preserve the fiction of Pax Americana, or any false peace maintained by force, whether violent or hegemonic.” It lacks the progressive rethinking of the resurrection narrative that Rabbi Lerner highlighted in his spiritual wisdom of the week post with a quotation from Peter Rollins. But it’s still one of my favorite holidays of the year.

On its surface, the humanist Easter I grew up with may have seemed drained of meaning to religious onlookers, but it was actually highly ritualized and deep in its own way. I want to share my family’s three main rituals — an Easter eve afternoon of collaborative egg art, the collective reading aloud of a surprisingly feminist bunny book from the 1930s, and a morning of romping, outdoor egg hunts in bitter spring weather — as a resource for nonreligious families who want to celebrate a secular Easter that’s about more than just candy.


Radical Passover: Celebrating Collective Resistance


by: on April 4th, 2010 | 1 Comment »

Why is there an olive on the Seder plate? Why is there an orange on the seder plate? And how can the liberation story of Passover relate to our modern-day struggles against oppression? Traditional Passover haggadot (the books of readings used at seder services) are full of answers but not to these questions. But then again, most seder plates don’t have olives and oranges on them …

I’m always interested in efforts to reclaim, reinvent, or renew religious holidays in ways that make them newly sustaining and politically energizing, so I was excited to learn through my friend Traci of a radical, anti-racist haggadah full of poetic writing and ideas about how to find new relevance and depth in the rituals of Passover: “The Love and Justice in Times of War Haggadah Zine” by Micah Bazant and Dara Silverman. The authors intentionally did not copyright the piece and have made it available for free on the web, encouraging people to print it out and use it as the basis for a “choose-your-own-adventure progressive seder.” Traci used the zine as the basis for a joyful and politicized seder that I had the pleasure of participating in earlier this week.

Meet HuffPost’s New Religion Editor, Paul Raushenbush


by: on March 4th, 2010 | Comments Off

On February 24, Rev. Paul Raushenbush issued a call for articles entitled “Dear Religious (and Sane) America” to inaugurate the launch of the Huffington Post’s new religion section. According to the article,

HuffPost Religion is dedicated to providing a provocative, respectful, and hopefully productive forum for addressing the ways in which religion intersects our personal, communal, national and international life. HuffPost Religion will demonstrate the vibrant diversity of religious traditions, perspectives and experiences that exist alongside and inform one another in America and throughout the world.

Huffington is clearly trying to expand its reach and become one of the big players in religion media, much as it already has in politics, popular culture, and even business. Based on initial responses to the section, it appears to be well on its way.


Constraining Play: How Surrealist Art Can Nourish Our Political Imaginations


by: on February 27th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

In one image a winged bird flaps her wings but remains rooted to the ground. In another a fork-headed monster rushes by, a small bird fluttering at its heart. Nearby a masked bundle of writing appears to be stuck in a toilet bowl.

These are just a few of the uncanny creatures that emerged three years ago when some friends and I started playing “exquisite corpse,” a collaborative drawing game invented by surrealists in the 1920s.

So many of the drawings evoke unexpected scenes of constraint. The creatures are tangled up in themselves. They’re tangled up in each other. They’re tangled up in the surrounding environment. But unlike most images of constraint in pop culture today, most of the drawings portray structural constraints (such as the bird’s physical rootedness in the ground) rather than overt scenes of domination. Many of the surrealist creatures seem oddly joyful and calm despite their limitations.

The subtle entanglements in these pictures are not unlike the constraints that global political, social, and economic forces exert on radical efforts to build a more just and caring world.

(To see more collaborative drawings, visit the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery.)


Why Atheists Choose Religion


by: on February 18th, 2010 | 42 Comments »

The idea “to be religious is to be a theist” as Christopher Hitchens stated in his debate with Lorenzo Albacete is a quite ethnocentric claim. It is true that in the West we have often associated a theistic God with religion, but this neglects Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Jainism and numerous religious traditions which have adopted a deistic, pantheistic, panentheistic or other understanding of God. And as I pointed out in my critique of Hitchens last week, Unitarian Universalism contains 19% of people who identify as atheist/agnostic.

In the over 140 comments I received from my post “Christopher Hitchens: The Orthodox Protestant Atheist” both on the Tikkun site and in the version crossposted on Alternet.org there was both surprise and disbelief that atheists could be religious leaders. I described how I am in seminary at Starr King School for the Minstry studying alongside atheists and agnostics who are in training to become religious leaders and ministers. This seemed to be an oxymoron as for some of the respondents all religion is evil and always associated with God. So I thought it would be helpful to include a few statements from atheist students in seminary studying to be religious leaders.

From a fellow atheist seminarian at Starr King:

First, I think there is a difference between being an atheist and being anti-religious. They are orthogonal. There is also a difference between being anti-religious and being opposed to the effects of particular religious traditions. These terms should not be conflated. Since when did not believing in God mean that you are opposed to other people believing in God and or practicing religion regardless of whether they believe? I am an atheist. Just to be clear, by that I mean I don’t believe that there is a god, a higher consciousness, or a spirit. I am also opposed to the effects of certain religious traditions. But I am not by any means anti-religious. I don’t deny the value that religion or religious practice, (whether actual belief in god and the afterlife, or simply liking the pretty candles at mass and multiple opportunities for community) brings to people including myself. Religion has a lot to offer and to deny that is to deny the complexity of the human condition.


Christopher Hitchens: The Orthodox Protestant Atheist


by: on February 9th, 2010 | 97 Comments »

Despite having engaged in numerous debates with Christians, Muslims and Jews across the liberal/conservative spectrum Christopher Hitchens still holds to an amazingly ignorant understanding of the liberal religious heritage. His understanding of who is and who isn’t a Christian is perhaps the most disappointing and surprising piece of evidence for his myopic interpretation of religion. While rejecting conservative Christians’ theological claims about God, the Bible and Jesus, he accepts their understanding of who is and is not able to be considered a Christian. In a recent interview with Marilyn Sewell, a Unitarian Universalist minister and self-professed liberal Christian, Christopher Hitchens paraphrased C.S. Lewis to explain the boundaries of who constitutes a Christian. It’s not surprising then that a recent blog post by Dr. Ray Pritchard of “Keep Believing Ministries” for a conservative Christian site called Crosswalk was entitled, “Christopher Hitchens Gets it Exactly Right.”

During a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, noted atheist Christopher Hitchens laid down some seriously good theology… In one of the delicious ironies of our time, an outspoken atheist grasps the central tenet of Christianity better than many Christians do. What you believe about Jesus Christ really does make a difference.

What did Hitchens say?

Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Why is Hitchens so quick to accept such an orthodox interpretation of the boundaries of Christianity? His brain seems to short-circuit when he has to think about religion in complex ways. He wants to hold firmly to an either/or dichotomy–the very same one which he is critiquing fundamentalism for. In debates he has stated that he is “Protestant atheist” meaning that he recognizes the validity of the various reformation movements which liberalized, expanded and diversified Christianity. But which denomination of protestant atheist is he? This isn’t clear but it is apparently not one which falls outside of his or C.S. Lewis’s orthodox boundaries of inclusion/exclusion. Isn’t is shocking that of all people, Christopher Hitchens is in agreement with the many forces in history which have led to the extermination, torture and destruction of “heretics” for simply believing the “wrong” form of Christianity? Since when is Hitchens so concerned about who is and isn’t a Christian?


Good Deeds on a Small Scale #3


by: on February 6th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

I’m fascinated by the germination of good deeds. Where do they begin? How do they grow from a mere idea to an actuality?

On the 26th of January, I caught up by phone with José Chavez, a custodian in the San Jose, California, Unified School District who’s been instrumental in creating a library for the village school in Limón, Michoacán, Mexico, where he grew up. (I learned of his project through a librarian friend who was soliciting books in Spanish.) Not only did he lead the library project, but he helped (physically) build a concrete plaza and paved areas in the village. When that was finished, the priest in the village called him up and said, “Why don’t you help us make a little room behind the church for people to meet?” So he raised $3,000 from among his friends and relatives in the immigrant community, many of whom gave $50, $100, $200.

I imagine that many people, like me, dream about all the good we’ll do someday when we acquire enough wealth to have a personal foundation. Here was a working class person who didn’t wait to be rich before taking action.

Below are extracts from our conversation:

LK: Tell me about how you started this library.

JC: I was born in Limón, Michoacán, and when I came here in 1974, I was thinking one day, ‘We don’t have any books [in the village].’ Three of us came from the same school, and [when we went there] the government only gave us three or four books, so I said to my friends, “Why don’t we try to build a library for the kids in that school?” So we [Salvador Andrade, Mario Andrade, and José] filled out an application to the government in Sacramento [Mexico] to see if the government will help us. The government said it would give 75 percent, if we would give 25 percent. So we started to collect the money [from other immigrant friends and family in the San Jose area].


What the New Humanism offers spiritual progressives


by: on November 10th, 2009 | 2 Comments »

Picture 4We have been talking with our friends at Tikkun for some months about a new online magazine that is now well launched. Tikkun Daily asked us to introduce ourselves to you. Rick Heller is our editor and he has written the following to explain why “spiritual progressives” may appreciate what our authors have to say.

Rick Heller writes:

Readers of Tikkun and spiritual progressives are cordially invited to peruse the new online magazine, The New Humanism, a publication of the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy. Secular humanists get a little nervous around the word “spiritual” because we don’t believe in the supernatural, but to the extent that it refers to positive emotions like love, joy and empathy, we’re spiritual too. Humanism is a philosophy of life that is socially progressive. Although humanists are atheists, agnostics, skeptics, or otherwise non-religious, not all non-religious people are humanists. An emphasis on compassion distinguishes humanism from the libertarian atheist philosophy of Ayn Rand, while a respect for democratic processes separates humanism from communism as practiced in the former Soviet Bloc.

There’s also a bit of a distinction–a much smaller one–between the New Humanists and the so-called New Atheists.