Essays from the Humanist Institute
Robert B. Tapp
Committee for Humanism (NACH)
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Jone E. Johnson: Humanists and Global Ethics
Khoren Arisian: Globalism and the Human Future: An Extended Personal Abstract
Gerald A. Larue: Human Values for the 21st Century
David E. Schafer: The Clash of Visions: Toward a Humanist Response to Huntington
Robert B. Tapp: Globalization Theory and Humanism
Pat Hoertdoerfer: Religious Humanism: The Past We Inherit; The Future We Create
Jane F. Koretz: The Futures of Science
KHOREN ARISIAN: Minister Emeritus, First Unitarian Society, Minneapolis; President, Friends of Religious Humanism
PATRICIA HOERTDOERFER: Universalist Unitarian Minister; Ethical Culture Leader; Children's Program Director, Unitarian Universalist Association
JONE E. JOHNSON: Leader, Northern Virginia Ethical Society; Universalist Unitarian Minister; Ethical Culture Leader
JANE F. KORETZ: Professor, Center for Biophysics and Department of Biology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
GERALD A. LARUE: Professor Emeritus of Biblical History & Archaeology, Adjunct Professor of Gerontology University of Southern California; Leader, Ethical Culture Society
DONALD PAGE: Electrical Engineer, former editor U. S. and Canadian humanist publications
HARVEY B. SARLES: Professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, University of Minnesota
DAVID E. SCHAFER: Molecular Biologist, Veterans Administration Hospital, West Haven, Connecticut; founder of Humanist Association of Central Connecticut.
ROBERT B. TAPP: Dean of The Humanist Institute; Professor Emeritus of Humanities, Religious Studies, and South Asian Studies, University of Minnesota
The Humanist Institute was founded in 1982 in order to help in the education of professional and volunteer Humanist leadership. Sponsored by the North American Committee For Humanism (NACH), its students and its faculty are drawn from universities, seminaries, and the various Humanist associations--the American Ethical Union, the American Humanist Association, the Humanist Association of Canada, the Council for Secular Humanism (formerly the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism), the Friends of Religious Humanism (formerly the Fellowship of Religious Humanists), the Society for Humanistic Judaism, the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Many people have supported the work of the Institute with their energies and their resources. More than 50 students have completed the three&emdash;year course of studies and many are at work in various Humanist organizations as ministers, counselors, Ethical Culture Leaders, association executives, elected organizational officers. Other students have applied their Humanist studies in their work-lives as lawyers, doctors, business people, journalists, teachers.
This is the 12th issue of Humanism Today, a project of the faculty and students of The Humanist Institute. Each issue has addressed a theme emerging from the annual Faculty Colloquium of the Institute or during an annual conference of The North American Committee for Humanism (NACH).
Our Institute faculty share a common nontheistic, naturalistic way of thinking. For some of us, the critique of religion and irrationalism is central, whereas others put primary emphasis upon practical ways of living out such a philosophy in our own times and places, an historic moment tinged with both conservatism and anomie--both deadly to historic humanism.
We also share the experience that unbelief is a common door into humanism but is, itself, not a substitute for humanism. The bloody experiments of our century in Russia, Germany, and China should have removed all doubts on this score. Our Humanism assumes an unbelief in traditional supernatural religions PLUS a commitment to human reason as particularly exemplified in the modern sciences; democracy as the logical extension of universal human rights; morality/ethics as the reflection/action of humans upon their human situations.
Labels have both dictionary definitions and usage definitions. The Humanism of the Institute embraces freethought, atheism, secular humanism, religious humanism, ethical humanism. By bringing together individuals holding these varied qualifiers, the Institute classes and faculty colloquia are enriched and the varied movements are brought into better mutual understanding. This more realistic goal supplants any ephemeral mergers, and helps us avoid the organization blunderings of the past.
At the 1997 Colloquium, the faculty addressed "Globalization and Humanism," exploring what has now become a cultural buzzword. When we first decided on the topic in 1996, various technical and scholarly discussions had not yet crept into popular usage. If anything, ordinary persons might think of the term as denoting the spread of Coca-Cola or capitalism. And street discourse, to be sure, seldom uses the term 'humanism'.
As this volume is going to press, the Russian ruble is falling precipitously, provoking world panic. This should remind us that economic and monetary globalization has its downside, and that as yet no international theory or relief fund has found ways to anticipate and avoid the impact of instantaneous capital transfers. Jeffrey Garten, now Dean of Yale's School of Management, was a pusher of globalization in the early Clinton administration. But he now says that we are seeing the "downside" and claims that "Nobody ever said that globalization was just a great thing, that it only means economic progress for everyone." Another stock market observer says any belief that the U. S. markets can remain strong while deflation occurs elsewhere would be "rank cynicism or hopeless optimism." But there are surely more components to globalization than stock exchanges and markets.
In considering globalization, now such a Protean term, we need to think not only in terms of science and technology. Ideologies too are exportable. The recent Cold War was a prime example of that general observation and its complexities. Was the issue democracy vs. totalitarianism, economic vs. political democracy, capitalism vs. Soviet-style 'socialism,' freedom vs. the common good. Or was the main issue an unhealthy polarization in which each side welcomed those allies who opposed or feared the other side, regardless. Remember Syngman Rhee, Mobutu, Saddham Hussein, Batista, Somoza? (Most of us would prefer to forget such unsavory alliances of our side).
One of the salutary recent concerns has been the ecological, the realization that we are all in the same small world ('spaceship earth'). This, more than even a revulsion with wars and violence, has thrust upon us the awareness of a 'humankind' that transcends our nations, ethnicities, GDPs, and religions. It was those aspects of globalization that became the focus of the Colloquium and are reflected in this present volume.
Ever since Kant, the ethical has been the necessary focus of any philosophic system. For liberal religionists and humanists, ethics have occupied center stage. Unitarians in the last century spoke of "salvation by character," and Ethical Culturists praised "deeds not creeds." Universalists stressed a loving God as against Calvinism's predestining God. Liberal Protestants developed a social gospel which focused on the social sins rather than individual ones.
One of the most interesting meetings of recent times was the Parliament of World Religions held in Chicago in 1993. This meeting commemorated the 1893 Parliament which had been one of the first signs in Euro-American history that the exclusive religions could enter a more-or-less equal dialogue with other faiths. London has earlier fielded a Religions of Empire conference also having a similar effect. Religious conservatives were conspicuous by their absence in 1893. The fact remains that the success of the meetings was due to the heavy support of Unitarians, Universalists, Ethical Culturists, and liberal Protestants.
The more recent meeting drew much wider support, and included more representation of mainstream world religions. Two of our authors were directly involved in the 1993 Parliament--Arisian and Johnson. Their reports should encourage those who see much common ground among persons of good will. The discovery of a broad ethical solidarity among followers of varied religions and humanists should end, once and for all, the frequently-heard assertion that some specific religious theology is necessary if we are to have ethics.
Johnson asserts that the global ethic generated by the Parliament was indeed "humanistic," and reached agreement on the "overarching rules of ethical conduct." Arisian, reflecting on his experiences at the Parliament, argues that various ideologies should work toward "synthesis" rather than syncretism or eclecticism.
Larue's paper grows out of a Korean conference on ethics. His own position draws heavily on ethical declarations of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Readers should compare these three papers to see ways in which humanists depart from and go beyond their more mainstream colleagues in specificity and content.
In recent years the universalism implied in the Kantian emphasis on values that could be developed, nurtured, and defended "by reason alone" has come under sharp attack. Postmodernists have rejected universals as well as humanism, and this position is unfortunately widespread in British and American university circles.
A quite different attack comes from re-energized religious conservatives and their fundamentalist cousins. They assert that ethics are grounded in some particular religious faith-stance, and that a 'secular' position cannot deal with ethics. Since religions clearly differ (an understatement!), very little progress can be made toward common ethics. Samuel Huntington has recently taken this position to a depressing conclusion. He argues that the world will shake down into confrontive and incompatible civilizations, each grounded in an historic religious perspective.
Schafer starts the process of a humanist response to Huntington, arguing that the position is both oversimplified and lacking in empirical substance, and proposing a middle course Tapp addresses this situation from a perspective of Roland Robertson's sociological treatment of globalization as a reflexive process involving a very recent recognition of 'humankind' as well as ideologies flowing from the more 'developed' societies. Page's paper makes this quite specific in exploring some very real differences between the U. S. and Canada in terms of achieving any kind of pluralistic society.
Sarles pursues 'paradox resolution' as a way of understanding cultural differences. The complexities of any given culture make the path to any kind of universalism, ideological or ethical, much more difficult. Hoertdoerfer explores the tensions within U. S. society regarding 'racial', gender, and sexual differences and proposes a 'liberation humanism' as the necessary stance. She also faults traditional humanism as lacking ecological sensitivity.
When one imagines globalization as a flow from industrially-developed societies toward the rest of the world, the earliest and most obvious process is science, and the technologies based on science. Koretz addresses this by examining some popular misunderstandings of science and technology, and then discusses ways in which societies must oversee technology. She also addresses some of the more recent attacks on science from postmodern perspectives.
The 1997 Colloquium represented here concluded by sketching out theme and topic-assignments for April 1998. The next issue will deal with the various sources and supports of modern humanism, with particular attention to Reason. This perennial subject demands revisiting in these times of postmodern nihilism and widespread cynicism regarding politics and morals. Those papers and discussions will comprise Humanism Today Volume 13. (RBT)
NOTE. Brian Jones and Ana B. Martinez have shared in preparing this volume, but any remaining errors and omissions remain at my desktop. I have chosen to retain Canadian spellings, and to respect authorial idiosyncrasies in the capitalization of humanism/humanist.
ERRATUM: An inadvertent misspelling of Roy P. Fairfield as 'Fairchild' occurred in Volume 10, pages v and 45-58. Apologies to Professor Fairfield.
© 1998 by the North American Committee for Humanism (NACH) All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof in any form, including electronic media, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
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