I think you can tell the strength of an idea lies not in where it is, but in where it goes. Great ideas go somewhere. They progress from beta to 1.0 to 2.0 to 3.0, etc. The bare facts remain, but the implementation gets better over time. This is why the modern rubber car tire is essentially still a wheel, yet vastly improved from the stone disks that were the beta wheel.
Some ideas don’t make the jump to the next level. At some point, they become overextended. Their evolution proves their shortcomings. These ideas are best left in beta, where expectations are low and buggy functions are overlooked.
Humanism only works in beta. As soon as it starts to roll towards a production version, it disappoints.
Greg Epstien, the humanist chaplain at Harvard, thinks he’s ready to roll out Humanism 1.0 – a sort of organizational humanism that fills in the gaps that a buggy, beta humanism has been known for. And what’s the standard he’s using? The church.
This morning, this story hit the AP wire and was picked up by news agencies everywhere. The article says:
Epstein wants to plant local humanist centers nationwide that perform many of the community-building functions of a church, only in service of the humanist creed. He will promote his idea as he tours the country to promote his book, “Good Without God,” which is scheduled to be published by HarperCollins later this year.
Good without God is not a new idea. People of non-faith have periodically tried to demonstrate a level of morality apart from a righteous standard. Nevertheless, it’s rarely got very far past the theoretical, or perhaps the one-off project. Unbelieving individuals have certainly contributed to society, but organized, anti-faith individuals have rarely stayed organized long enough to do much good. You will search long and hard to find an Atheists Children’s Hospital or a humanitarian program that is solely dedicated to the idea of the individual.* The very nature of individualism makes it difficult for those sorts to cooperate on anything beyond themselves. The phrase ‘herding cats’ comes to mind.
Epstein is touted as starting small groups for humanists, dedicated to hashing out shared beliefs. To me, these sound like a nightmare. Try facilitating a discussion about shared beliefs when the one shared belief is that each person’s beliefs are supreme in themselves. Again, I refer you to the idea of herding cats, but this time the cats are rabid.
In the closing part of the article, he says…
“Salvation is here on earth…We have evolved over 14 billion years without purpose. Now we want purpose, we need to build it into our own lives.”
This smacks of the ego that humanists are characterized by….that suddenly, after all these years of history, they are the ones who can build a purpose into their lives. All those generations before were somehow sub-developed, lesser men not capable of yearning for purpose…and here we are, not only capable of wanting it, but of making it on our own.
You’re right about this, Chaplain Epstein. Humanity needs community. Humanity needs purpose. Where you’re wrong is in thinking we are suddenly so much better than our ancestors that we will be satisfied long term with the answers we find within ourselves.
*To clarify, there are a number of ungodly motivated humanitarian efforts, but few anti-faith efforts. Largely, these ungodly efforts embrace all faiths – surely a low road for intellectuals trying to synergies incompatible realities, but one smooth enough to allow for substantial buy-in from many different faiths, providing no one thinks too much about what’s going on.
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