Archive for January, 2010


Confucian Humanism

Tu Weiming, professor of Chinese history and philosophy and of Confucian studies at Harvard University speaks in a radio interview about the revival of Confucius humanism in China. The Communisit authorities are apparently encouraging a return to this traditional form of nontheism now that Communist beliefs are fading.


Humanism on TV

Here is a link to the ABC News segment on Greg Epstein, which includes a few seconds of video of the Humanist Small Group, and also coverage of the autumn service project.



At this week’s Humanist Small Group meeting, we discussed the South African ethical concept of ubuntu, that a person becomes a person through a relationship with other people.

We had three tables full of people discussing this concept, so I can only report what was discussed at my table. I think most of us were sympathetic to the concept, but there was concern that the concept might tend to exclude people who are non-joiners by nature or have some aspect of Asperger’s Syndrome. I think we pretty much agreed that Humanism is pro-social and we encourage people to interrelate with one another, but we’re not pushing for anything to be compulsory. If a person shares Humanist values but doesn’t want to participate in a Humanist community, that is their right to do so.

While some of our discussion was about the personal nature of relating to one another, there was also discussion of the political aspects of community. I expressed my own feeling after the political events of this week that secularists need to start organizing communities to provide mutual support and social service to others rather than focusing on getting the government to pass social legislation. The prospect for progressive social legislation is growing increasingly dim; rather than wait for government to solve social problems, we need to work on these problems directly–as some religious denominations already do.

Please comment on this or any other aspects of todays discussion, or anything related to the concept of ubuntu.


An Anti-Human Supreme Court

In a stunning decision that overrules precedent, the Supreme Court has ruled (pdf) that corporations can spend unlimited funds from their general treasury on political campaigns. The court many have the law on its side, using a literal reading of the First Amendment:

“Although the First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech,” §441b’s prohibition on corporate independent expenditures is an outright ban on speech, backed by criminal sanctions.”

It seems to me that a strictly literal interpretation of the First Amendment would also prohibit any legislation preventing telemarketing robocalls from computers (thus awarding computers the rights of individuals).

Actually, the Court was not strictly literal in its decision, in that it wrote:

“Laws burdening such speech are subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the Government to prove that the restriction “furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.” WRTL, 551 U. S., at 464. This language provides a sufficient framework for protecting the interests in this case. Premised on mistrust of governmentalpower, the First Amendment stands against attempts to disfavor certain subjects or viewpoints or to distinguish among different speakers, which may be a means to control content. The Government may also commit a constitutional wrong when by law it identifies certain preferred speakers. There is no basis for the proposition that, in the political speech context, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.”

So the Court, in fact, decided that to distinguish between human beings and corporations was discriminatory and unconstitutional. Corporations are essentially granted the rights of individuals, even though unlike individuals, they’re only mandate is to seek profit and not to act as citizens of a democracy (it’s not clear to me, but I think the ruling means that foreign corporations are also free to spend unlimited funds on U.S. political races).

Not being a lawyer, I can’t really speak authoritatively to the Court’s legal logic. However, it does seem to me that the instinct to read literally from texts is a reflection of a religious mode of thinking–as if God himself guided the hand of Thomas Jefferson as he wrote the text of the First Amendment.

We secular people are more attuned to the idea that rules are not infallible, and good judgment is needed when to apply them. It certainly does say that “Congress shall make no law…” but in our experience, any rule taken as infallible is likely to lead us astray in some cases.

Certainly Thomas Jefferson didn’t have computer robot callers in mind when he wrote the First Amendment (not even Christians claim he was a prophet–and Thomas Jefferson wasn’t even a Christian!).

It shouldn’t have to be necessary to amend the Constitution to give it the flexibility to accomodate good judgment. The amendment process is so unwieldy that it is essentially impossible to change when there is not an overwhelming public consensus.

My empathy and compassion as a Humanist extends to other human beings and also to sentient beings of other species. While corporations have their uses, they are legal fictions, not human beings.

I think this is an issue that should unite liberals and conservatives. While certain political operatives may be salivating at the prospect of corporate spending in support of their candidates, the likely result of this ruling, if it cannot be altered through legislation, which is questionable, is that governments will be increasingly run for the benefit of corporations and use their taxing power to raise funds to pay for contracts to said corporations. This will undermine both liberal hopes for more equality and conservative hopes for a less costly government.

Robotic literalism is bad all around.


Haiti Earthquake

Haitian Earthquake Victim

According to the New York TImes, (bottom of the article) Pat Robertson said that the earthquake in Haiti was a “blessing in disguise” and as a result of the pact Haiti had made with the devil 200 years ago.  According to the same article, Rush Limbaugh adivsed people NOT to donate to charities for the earthquake relief as we already donate through our income taxes.

This, to me, is the epitome of anti-humanism.  I will not judge all religious people to be as crass and unloving as Robertson but I will say that I don’t know which I despise more, the people who make these statements of hate and fear, or the people who listen to these crackpots.  How can anyone who has gone through our 12 years of education agree to follow these cultists? 

Anyone who as a human and is capable of sympathy and empathy should know that the important issues aren’t “pacts with the devil” but rather questions.  I am on the Board of Eritaj which is a foundation set up to provide health and education assistance to the children and adults of Haiti.  We have set up an 800 number for the local Haitians to call with questions about their friends and family.  And that’s what it’s all about right now – questions.  There are no answers coming from a country whose infrastructure, including telecommunications, has been destroyed.  And there are no answers coming from some unseen god.

Those here in the Boston area are wondering if their loved ones are safe, or injured, or dead, or missing.  If safe, are they able to live in their houses or are they homeless?  If injured, are they slightly injured or critically injured?  If dead, is anyone able to take care of their bodies or are they piled up on the street with the thousands of other bodies?  If missing, what will it take to make contact with them?

Anyone who has anything less than sympathy and empathy for these Haitians who are slow-dying, is less than human and has no right to be in a position where people listen to them.  (And these are the same people who will say that Humanists don’t have any morals or ethics.)


Haiti Relief

As you must know by now, Haiti has been rocked by a devastating earthquake with a large loss of life and a large need for humanitarian relief.

As Humanists, we can’t say that “our prayers are with the people of Haiti” but we can display our compassionate intentions by donating to earthquake relief.

One avenue for providing relief that I can recommend is the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund of the Unitarian Universalist Association. The UUA is liberal denomination with a lot of Humanists, and I’m confident they will handle the money appropriately.


Humanism and Human Rights

Realizing that there is no hierarchical body of Humanists that can and would speak for the society of Humanists, let me ask each individual reader:  As a Humanist, what are your views on Human Rights?  Specifically, what are your beliefs in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was presented largely through the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt through the new United Nations in 1948.

 Just as most “religionists” who insist on posting the 10 Commandments don’t know that most of the Commandments deal with man’s actions with a god rather than other men, most Americans, and I would venture to say even most Humanists, do not know specifically what is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  (UDHR at Wikipedia)  The Declaration, as a declaration of the fundamental and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, was approved by the UN General Assembly.  The UN Commission was also tasked with drafting a legally binding international treaty on human rights and with creating effective means for implementing these. 

 For political reasons, the 30 Articles were set up as two Covenants:  The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and The Covenant on Economical, Social, and Cultural Rights.  The Soviet Union ratified the Economical/Social/Cultural Covenant but refused to ratify the Civil/Political Covenant.  The United States ratified the Civil/Political Rights but has not yet ratified the Economical/Social/Cultural Covenant.  Jimmy Carter finally signed this Covenant, but Congress has yet to ratify it.

 What does the Economical/Social/Cultural part contain that’s Americans are afraid of?  Here are some examples: Continue reading ‘Humanism and Human Rights’