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You Might Be a Humanist If…(1)


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From Phil:

Good morning, friends. It is good to be back after yearly meeting and Fifth Sunday. After speculating three Sundays ago that if Jesus were alive today, he’d be a humanist, I am announcing the beginning of a new series entitled, “You Might Be a Humanist If…” In the Sundays ahead, I will be sharing with you the priorities and values of humanism, which I believe to be consistent with the moral precepts and historical priorities of Quakerism. You’ll remember we defined humanism as having a strong interest in or concern for human welfare, values, and dignity.

Though the word humanist has been used as a pejorative by many evangelical Christians, I want to affirm my appreciation for the aims of humanism, which include the assertions that 1) knowledge and wisdom are best obtained by studying the observable world using the scientific method as opposed to words from a god whose existence we cannot indisputably prove and whose actions we cannot reliably predict, 2) that humans arose through evolution, are self-aware, possessing the ability to discern right from wrong, and 3) that our moral principles are not determined by divine commandments, but by examining the results that our actions yield in the lives of real men and women. Simply put, if our actions result in happiness and well-being for ourselves and others, they are moral. If not, they are immoral.

Today, I want to speak about the first assertion, that knowledge and wisdom are best obtained by studying the observable world using the scientific method as opposed to words from a god whose existence we cannot indisputably prove and whose actions we cannot reliably predict. You’ll remember from high school that the scientific method is the process of objectively establishing facts through testing and experimentation. We trace its origins to the early 1600s and attribute its founding to the Italian mathematician and astronomer Galileo and the English philosopher Francis Bacon. For their efforts, Galileo was placed under house arrest by Pope Urban VIII and Francis Bacon died in disgrace, bankrupt and alone, confirming the adage that no good deed goes unpunished.

Where does knowledge come from? I was at yearly meeting last week and heard a man say that God is the giver of all knowledge and that if we wanted to be wise, all we had to do was ask God to show us the truth and God would. I tried that in high school after failing to study for a chemistry test. I sat quietly at my desk, bowed my head, and asked God to fill my mind with the Periodic Table, but apparently God was busy helping another high schooler because I flunked the test.

When I started having gallbladder attacks this summer (Have I mentioned my gallbladder attacks?), if I had gone to a doctor and they had placed their hands on my abdomen and asked God to cast out the demons tormenting my body, I would have found another doctor. Instead, the doctor employed the scientific method, objectively establishing facts through testing and experimentation, thereby deducing my gallbladder was, in her words, “underperforming,” which Mike Goss noted was the theme of my life.

Let’s think about this. In nearly every aspect of our lives, we employ the scientific method, whether we’re seeking medical advice or financial guidance or relational insight, we’ll seek out someone who depends upon the scientific method to acquire their expertise. When we do that, we are affirming the value of humanism, whether we realize it or not.

Several years ago, I was at the Dairy Queen and another pastor in town was standing in line behind me. He said, “Did you know I had a heart attack and almost died?”

I said, “Yes, I had heard that. I’m glad you’re alright.”

He said, “My wife drove me to the hospital, and they airlifted me to St. Vincent’s and the doctors operated on me and here I am. God took care of me.”

I couldn’t help myself. I said, “Not to mention the helicopter pilot who took years learning to fly a helicopter and surgeons who spent fifteen years learning to do heart surgery. Plus, the scientists who invented the drugs keeping you alive today. And let’s not forget your wife who drove you to the hospital in a car someone else invented and manufactured. They helped too.”

He said, “No, it was the Lord.”

And there you have it, friends, the utter refusal to admit our indebtedness to our fellow beings for their contributions to our well-being.

Humanism teaches us how to be grateful. Humanism asks us to be honest about the observable, verifiable facts of our lives. Humanism allows us to be appropriately aware of and appreciative of the good things that happen in our lives. To acknowledge that we have been blessed by human knowledge and kindness in no way denigrates God. It’s no secret that I have married one of the finest persons on Earth. If I were to wake up each morning thanking God for Joan but neglected to whisper a word of gratitude to her, I would be thoughtless and inconsiderate. It’s important in this life to know when and to whom to be grateful.

Friends, there are many bright and helpful people making real differences in our world. To discount their contributions is to deny the value, worth, and dignity of humankind. Goodness is goodness, wisdom is wisdom, to be appreciated no matter their author. For God to be good, humankind need not be evil. For God to be wise, humankind need not be foolish.

Today, I am grateful for Galileo and Francis Bacon, who with so many others, have taught us not only the value of observation, but the importance of knowing whom to thank and when and why.

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Phil Gulley I presume?

He seems to be writing to a certain religious demographic. 

11 hours ago, PaulS said:

He said, “My wife drove me to the hospital, and they airlifted me to St. Vincent’s and the doctors operated on me and here I am. God took care of me.”

I couldn’t help myself. I said, “Not to mention the helicopter pilot who took years learning to fly a helicopter and surgeons who spent fifteen years learning to do heart surgery. Plus, the scientists who invented the drugs keeping you alive today. And let’s not forget your wife who drove you to the hospital in a car someone else invented and manufactured. They helped too.”

He said, “No, it was the Lord.”

This is the basis for an old joke: Parable of the drowning man.

A storm descends on a small town, and the downpour soon turns into a flood. As the waters rise, the local preacher kneels in prayer on the church porch, surrounded by water. By and by, one of the townsfolk comes up the street in a canoe.

"Better get in, Preacher. The waters are rising fast."

"No," says the preacher. "I have faith in the Lord. He will save me."

Still the waters rise. Now the preacher is up on the balcony, wringing his hands in supplication, when another guy zips up in a motorboat.

"Come on, Preacher. We need to get you out of here. The levee's gonna break any minute."

Once again, the preacher is unmoved. "I shall remain. The Lord will see me through."

After a while the levee breaks, and the flood rushes over the church until only the steeple remains above water. The preacher is up there, clinging to the cross, when a helicopter descends out of the clouds, and a state trooper calls down to him through a megaphone.

"Grab the ladder, Preacher. This is your last chance."

Once again, the preacher insists the Lord will deliver him.

And, predictably, he drowns.

A pious man, the preacher goes to heaven. After a while he gets an interview with God, and he asks the Almighty, "Lord, I had unwavering faith in you. Why didn't you deliver me from that flood?"

God shakes his head. "What did you want from me? I sent you two boats and a helicopter."

Edited by romansh
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7 hours ago, romansh said:

Phil Gulley I presume?

Yes.  Thanks - I added that to clarify.

7 hours ago, romansh said:

He seems to be writing to a certain religious demographic. 

Yes, it's from his newsletter which is subscriber based (free) so presumably it attracts those that are partial to his messages.

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On 8/17/2022 at 9:10 PM, PaulS said:

1) knowledge and wisdom are best obtained by studying the observable world using the scientific method as opposed to words from a god whose existence we cannot indisputably prove

Well ..  have sort of being saying this for awhile ... have I not?

On 8/17/2022 at 9:10 PM, PaulS said:

we cannot indisputably prove and whose [God's] actions we cannot reliably predict

There is no inductive "proof". All we can do is postulate and find corroborating or conflicting evidence. So without giving us any of the "Properties of God®" then this line of thought are empty calories. Sounds good, but a waste of time.

On 8/17/2022 at 9:10 PM, PaulS said:

2) that humans arose through evolution, are self-aware, possessing the ability to discern right from wrong,

I think Gulley is accurate on the evolution/awareness bit, but Gulley here begs the question. He is assuming right and wrong exist in the their own right. But this alleged God in Genesis 3 counsels us not to think in terms of right and wrong.

On 8/17/2022 at 9:10 PM, PaulS said:

3) that our moral principles are not determined by divine commandments, but by examining the results that our actions yield in the lives of real men and women. Simply put, if our actions result in happiness and well-being for ourselves and others, they are moral

Well here at least Gulley defines by what means by moral, and it is similar to the way many secularists might define morality. Philosophically it might be labelled Consequentialism. I think Consequentialism might be a good rule of thumb, but then there is the Buddhist line of thought, life is suffering. And the Campbellian observation, You yourself are participating in evil, or you are not alive. Whatever you do is evil to someone. This is one of the ironies of creation. And here Gulley seems to beg the question that we want to live a life where there is no evil or suffering?

Just as a style suggestion I would provide a link to Gulley's piece and highlight a few bits and comment on them.

 

 

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A bit like Humanist/2

Quote

 Our evolution as humans required unfathomable, innumerable steps from the earliest microbes to our present-day form. Indeed, we are still evolving, to better survive our ever-changing universe.

Unfathomable, and yet in the rest of the essay Gulley begins to fathom it? Obviously this fathoming requires a lot of education, experimentation and verification never mind hard work.

Generally I agree with Gulley's sense of awe (I am presuming here). I have that sense of awe too. For me awe, is what passes as spirituality.  The question I would like to ask Gulley, Why do we have to filter this through the lens of Christianity? OK, I suspect Gulley being a Quaker might quietly answer, We don't. Having said that, that to reach his "audience" (wrong word) he has to use this particular lever.

Paul ... have you sent Phil Gulley a link to these discussions? 

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On 8/21/2022 at 12:39 AM, romansh said:

Just as a style suggestion I would provide a link to Gulley's piece and highlight a few bits and comment on them.

Good suggestion.

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On 8/21/2022 at 12:59 AM, romansh said:

Paul ... have you sent Phil Gulley a link to these discussions? 

Yes, when I first requested permission to post them, and invited him to participate if he so wanted to.

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On 8/21/2022 at 12:59 AM, romansh said:

Generally I agree with Gulley's sense of awe (I am presuming here). I have that sense of awe too. For me awe, is what passes as spirituality.  The question I would like to ask Gulley, Why do we have to filter this through the lens of Christianity? OK, I suspect Gulley being a Quaker might quietly answer, We don't. Having said that, that to reach his "audience" (wrong word) he has to use this particular lever.

I can only imagine that it is the familiarity with a life-long journey within Christianity that keeps him tethered to this lens.  Perhaps its the hope of life after death in some form or another that keeps him (and others) tethered?  That 'hope' you know.  Maybe it's just a bit too much to acknowledge that whilst it's all wonderfully awesome and all, this does all end one day, not that we'll know that when we pass.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Humanist 3

Here Gulley ponders what the most dangerous day in history was.
An interestingly line of thinking:

Quote

... if the most perilous day in human history was when it first occurred to someone that if they convinced others that God spoke to them, and them alone, imparting rules to live by, that they could acquire the greatest power of all–the authority to tell their fellow beings what they could and could not do.

Now of course if we take a look at this question through my world view ... any particular day is simply the sum of all the antecedent days. And here we just draw an arbitrary line in the sand and give it special significance. But in this particular example Gulley almost takes an atheistic point of view to the question. Interesting.

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1) knowledge and wisdom are best obtained by studying the observable world using the scientific method as opposed to an appeal to divine revelation,

2) that humans arose through evolution, are self-aware, possessing the ability to discern right from wrong, and

3) that our moral principles are not determined by divine commandments, but by examining the results that our actions yield in the lives of real men and women

Don't particularly agree with 2) but we certainly have developed the concept of right and wrong.  Also while we are self aware, I would argue this self awareness is incredibly limited and it is this limited self awareness is from where our feeling of free will stems.

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Simply put, if our actions result in happiness and well-being for ourselves and others, they are moral. If not, they are immoral.

Hmmn ... when my football team loses I am unhappy ... the opposing team is being immoral? But to be fair to Gulley, this is a consequentialist argument that many non believers will go for. So where would we but Ukraine fighting back? Is this moral and should we worry about it being moral?

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There is nothing so dangerous as one who claims to speak for God

In Rex Weyler's book The Jesus Sayings, Weyler suggests that one of the few lines we can can reliably ascribe to Jesus is to not trust those that speak for God. Here I tend to agree with Gulley, though the actual thing that is dangerous is believing someone is actually speaking for God. Also, I would argue that we not trust anyone who does not take a slightly agnostic stance on life, universe and everything. By all means we can argue passionately for a particular point of view.

Edited by romansh
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On 9/4/2022 at 6:01 AM, romansh said:

Don't particularly agree with 2) but we certainly have developed the concept of right and wrong.  Also while we are self aware, I would argue this self awareness is incredibly limited and it is this limited self awareness is from where our feeling of free will stems.

I would tweak Phil's right and wrong and suggest we have the ability to discern when we are causing harm to another or not (generally speaking anyway).  We also have the ability to take action and choose not to harm that other if we so choose.

On 9/4/2022 at 6:01 AM, romansh said:

Hmmn ... when my football team loses I am unhappy ... the opposing team is being immoral? But to be fair to Gulley, this is a consequentialist argument that many non believers will go for. So where would we but Ukraine fighting back? Is this moral and should we worry about it being moral?

Yeah, I'm not comfortable with defining happiness as a product morality either.

On 9/4/2022 at 6:01 AM, romansh said:

In Rex Weyler's book The Jesus Sayings, Weyler suggests that one of the few lines we can can reliably ascribe to Jesus is to not trust those that speak for God. Here I tend to agree with Gulley, though the actual thing that is dangerous is believing someone is actually speaking for God. Also, I would argue that we not trust anyone who does not take a slightly agnostic stance on life, universe and everything. By all means we can argue passionately for a particular point of view.

100%.  The ultimate arrogance concerning belief in God is not accepting that at least a little part of your beliefs (if not all of them wholesale) could be wrong.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Humanist 4

I am beginning to find him a little repetitive.

Though this bit was interesting ... a glimpse under the Vatical veil

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I visited this week with someone who has a family member at the Vatican, a man in a position of great power who enjoys a close friendship with the Pope. This man and the Pope have privately discussed their desire to bring women into leadership, but are unable to do so, knowing too many cardinals, bishops, and priests would not stand for it

It would seem that all the colonels etc. seem to have some suasion. 

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For me, the paragraph that saddens me most is this truth:

...Despite that, most of Christianity embraced a theology of gloomy despair, telling us over and over that we were fallen, full of sin, deserving of and destined for everlasting punishment. The great philosopher George Carlin described this religion to a T when he said, “Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you.”

It is incredibly amazing to me to try and fathom that so many well-meaning Christians in the world, who in so many ways demonstrate compassion and caring, somehow think it is fair and reasonable for 'God the Father' to send their friends and loved ones to an eternity of hell and suffering, because they didn't get their theology right during their short life span on this blue orb.  70 or so years vs billions and billions of years (eternity) of pain and suffering equals justice and goodness?  Yet so many Christians adhere to this belief.  Why?

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