Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dogma and Humanism

I have questions. As I state in my profile, I want to know everything. Oftentime, as I debate or question or interact with people, when I touch on a sensitive peach of their dogma they are offended and attack.
I understand. I do not hold this against them. If I were defending something I cherish, something (or someone) to which I have devoted myself, emotion would take over. Staying cool and harmonious in a defensive posture is tough.
I remember when my newborn was terribly ill and in the hospital. I remember when I was in the hospital after my car crash. I remember when my wife was in the hospital literally at deaths door. In each case someone asked me if I was praying. In each case the follow up was, 'why not? it can't hurt."
My reply was this: by that logic when you pray you should pray to every god out there, after all, it can't hurt.
And then they would get upset and drop the issue.

But the fact is it can hurt. When you have to go against what you believe and understand, it hurts.

So often I hear people define liberalism or humanism or reform etc, as a feeling, as an attidue that has no substance. There is no recognition of an underlying philosphy or understanding of the world we inhabit.

So I will give a brief synopsis of what humanism means to me. I must live in a manner that makes healthy harmonious sense. In order to do this I must live with the recognition that I am ignorant and have zero understanding of anything. I breathe and I work on breathing. I recognize that we as people are biological beings and therefore we have no flaws or imperfections, we have no perfection either; we exist. We exist occurding to the laws of our physical natural world. Our reality has ingrained in our species certain imperatives which we have codified into laws and a general guide to a healthy life for this version of reality. Laws such as, don't sleep with your close family and don't murder etc. I accept these laws because unlike the chicken and the egg, these laws came first. These laws developed from a natural state. Furth, archeology has shown that these laws, and others, were followed by many societies long before any religion in existence today.
But people are people. For tens of thousands of years people had even less understanding of the world than we have today. Tribes developed. Important people and cultures and societies were built. Laws were imposed. Prayers were developed. Gods were invented. And this continues today.
Maybe one or more of those peoples or cultures were right and had the truth. But so far what I have found is that most of what we think we know is wrong. We don't know a whole lot more than what we do know. So the idea that people think they have the truth is more than a little frightning. Humanism, for me, is about recognizing that I don't know a whole lot more than what I do know. But living based on someone else view of the truth can hurt and does.


Shaul B said...

Very interesting column.

Here is another story about an atheist in the same quandary - to pray or not to pray?

The Way said...

Thank ou for passing that on.

Although it ws interesting, my dillema was not to pray or not, I don't and did not. (I do meditate and perform many other satisfying rituals, which according to a study synospisised in Scientific American, creates the exact same delta waves as prayer.) I am interested in the concept that people assume that humanism is somehow "less" of a guiding principle for life than for example, orthodox judaism. No orthodox jew would think to pray to allah on the chance they are wrong in their faith. Yet, that same person can't understand why I would not pray to their version of god on the chance I might be wrong.

That being said, chag sameach.

Shaul B said...

You're not alone among "humanists"; it was a very popular philosophy espoused by no less than Aristotle. (Incidentally, even Aristotle came to believe in one G-d, though he believed that G-d created the universe and then left it alone, as opposed to the Jewish version of constant hashgacha pratis.) And yes, there were many great minds who did not believe in any World to Come, and nonetheless held themselves to very stringent moral standards.

I definitely think it is possible for a person to lead an ostensibly "moral" life without believing in G-d, and I can think offhand of several examples.

But people go through very difficult tests in life, and when it comes to the crunch, assuming a common set of moral principles, I'm afraid the "humanist" is way more likely to fail than the man of faith. It's a lot easier to do the right thing when you believe that there is an omniscient, omnipresent Creator watching over you; the humanist who only has himself to answer to will quickly discover that he is "nogea badavar", and he will be able to rationalize practically anything.

I'm not saying a religious person can't rationalize things, but when he weighs up the possibility of being found wanting by his Creator, he is more likely to take the path of eschewing the fleeting pleasures of this world in favor of the eternal reward of the World to Come.

And that, in short, is my reason for agreeing with the position that humanism is less of a guiding principle than Orthodox Judaism.

The Way said...

To be clear, when you speak of a creator and religious people, are you referring to ortho-judaism? or do you include all religions and their orthodox?

Shaul B said...

I'm speaking of all religious people; the same dynamic applies across the board. It's a separate question as to whose religion (if any) represents absolute truth. But on the yardstick of adherence to one's moral principles, the guy who believes that he has G-d to answer to will generally perform better than the guy who only answers to his own conscience.