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Jeff Dorchen


God Is a Secular Humanist

Posted: 06/27/07 12:58 PM ET

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to ... The Outer Limits.

The new global society seems to be plagued by gang warfare. Like the West Side in West Side Story, turf wars fueled by dehumanizing bigotry are giving Simon Oakland and Officer Krupke heartburn. Is there anything that hasn't given Simon Oakland heartburn? I don't think so. When Kolchak, the Night Stalker, used to stalk the night and find monsters, Simon Oakland was guzzling a gallon of pink liquid antacid every day. And he grew cynical.

Let's be clear: there is little will among national leaders to end violence, whether it be on the Palestine-Israeli border, in Iraq, in Darfur, Kashmir, or Afghanistan. And where there is will, there are the countervailing forces of money-hunger and power-hunger cajoling and poking from within and without and generally preventing any enduring equitable conclusion to conflict.

Even the West, whose internal turf wars are fought ideologically through propaganda, for the most part, seems to be moving farther away from a system of social communication that would allow rivals to reconcile and thus make room for the process of equalizing opportunity.

There are, of course, carefully and carelessly orchestrated economic accidents that keep injustice and war alive throughout the world.

But just for kicks I thought I might share a few thoughts about the religious chauvinism playing a larger role every day in exacerbating conflict. Religious ideologues today rival the capitalist social Darwinists for unrepentant fanning of the flames of social conflict without regard for the bloody consequences. The specialized language they've always used to prevent mutual understanding between social groups is today a lingua franca. I'd like to address that language.

There are those who believe that religions other than the one they subscribe to were created by an Evil Force to deceive humanity. There are those who believe other religions are nice attempts, but wrong. Still others believe that religions they don't subscribe to were created by God to test humanity, and that only those who pick the right faith, theirs, achieve favor in God's eyes, or are equipped to otherwise escape pain, whether eternal or temporal.

All of these are finesses of one general idea: whereas the Mithraists, the Orthodox Jews, the Satmar Jews, the Bobover Jews, the Jains, the Buddists, the Saiva Hindus, the Visnaiva Hindus, the Left-handed Tantrists, the Right-handed Tantrists, the Wahabis, the Shiites, the Sufi, the Quakers, the Shakers, the Mormons, the Nestorians, the Gnostics, the Greek and Roman pagans, the Isis cults, the Copts, the Catholics, the Methodists, the Episcopalians, the Presbyters, the Evangelicals, the Baptists, the Anabaptists, the Animists, the Maya, the Shinto, the Baha'i -- leave out the one that's you -- whereas they all got it wrong, you somehow, using the exact same reasoning, got it right: you know what Good and Evil are, considered from the perspective of an invisible power with more moral authority than the human ethical mind.

These other punks did the exact same thing you did: read their books, learned from their elders, their holy people, their seers, prayed their prayers, abluted their ablutions, made their obeisances, fasted their fasts and practiced their pieties -- but they were doing so to no one and nothing, fooling themselves with superstition, while you've been communicating with God or Something, in wisdom or at least on the right road to wisdom, redemption, eternal bliss, release from suffering, union with the godhead, what-have-you.

How did you get so lucky? How did you get so smart?

Now, look at it from the secular humanist point of view, which says that you are all either 1) engaging the same numinous forces but dressing them in your respective cultural masks, or 2) all pretty much equally superstitious, getting it more or less equally wrong.

If you can't tell the difference between Secular Humanism and Religion, you have failed the test, and the true God, who is a Secular Humanist, is very disappointed in you. There are no real consequences to you for disappointing God, who has many genders and will therefore be called "it," except that it shakes its many heads in pity and sometimes mocks you to its friends, the Secular Humanists, homosexuals, and Hollywood Jews.

Now, there are those who have faith but do not consider every other style of attempt at placating or connecting with God, the gods, or godhead to be or have been an utter mistake. These are Ecumenical Religious Humanists, and I suppose many Secular Humanists aren't secular at all but rather fall into the Ecumenical Religious category of Humanist.

And that's fine. God, who is a Secular Humanist, admires the Ecumenical Religious Humanists for finding a way toward a reasonable version of the stupid thing all the mutually exclusive religions got wrong.

Now it's certainly possible that only one very specific sect of one religion has a monopoly on the true way. It doesn't seem very likely, but if something is true, its likelihood is a moot point. It could be the most unlikely thing in the universe, but if it's true it's true. But let me ask you this: you've seen magicians do card tricks, saw people in half, make things disappear. You've seen many, many of these people do these tricks. You know they're just tricks, there's no actual magic involved. You might believe in the magic while in the theater, suspending your disbelief, but when you leave you return to your senses and know very well that it was all trickery.

So, let me ask you something. Why don't you pick one of these guys and say that what he does is magic, even though what the others do is trickery? Why don't you get in arguments with one another about who's the one true magician? Would that be any stupider than arguing over who has the one true faith? Or even just believing there is a one true faith?

Because I believe David Copperfield is the one true magician. When he saws a woman in half, she's actually cut into two pieces, which only David Copperfield can then reassemble. When other magicians cut women in half, the women's torsos are never actually severed from their hips and legs - there's some kind of trickery involved - mirrors, midgets, superconducting supercolliders, fishing line.

And when other magicians make things disappear, the things are really still there, just hidden behind some prop or in a secret pocket. When David Copperfield makes things disappear, though, they actually depart from the universe -- you will not find them even with the most sophisticated detection device. I know because I was at one of his shows, and a scientist happened to be there with a highly sophisticated ping-pong ball detector, but could not detect the ping-pong balls David Copperfield made disappear. They had simply gone off the radar. And David Copperfield hadn't even known that scientist was going to be there, and had never even heard of the machine in question. That double-clinches it, that triple-clinches it! All the other magicians are just skilled practitioners of stage mechanics and sleight-of-hand, but David Copperfield is doing actual magic. Further proof of this is how popular he is, and that he gets to shtup Claudia Schiffer.

I'm sorry, did I hear you say, "That's stupid?" Well, is it any more moronic than believing that all religions but one's own are false? If you answered "no," you just might be a Secular Humanist. If you answered, "yes, a little," you're still probably on the right track. If you answered, "how dare you?" God, who is a Secular Humanist, still loves you, but thinks you're a schmuck.

Regarding logical foolishness, of course religion has no monopoly. As a category of understanding, though, religion certainly presents one with more opportunities for logical foolishness than, say, learning how to bake. Can we really quantify opportunities for logical foolishness? Yes, we can, although it's an inexact science.

Consider these two statements: 1) every human being ought to have the opportunity to learn to read, and, 2) every human being who doesn't follow a given set of precepts will have a more difficult time after they die than those who do.

Both statements reveal themselves to be vague if examined closely. But I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that the first statement could not be spoken by someone who only said insane things, while the second could easily be said by such a person. The first, that every human being ought to have the opportunity to learn to read, may be considered impractical, or objected to by people who hold certain opinions, such as that women who are taught to read are more apt to treat their children sadistically, consort with the devil, or indulge in orgasming. But a person whose every statement was without sanity could not utter that statement, that every person ought to have the opportunity to learn to read, because it is simply and inarguably a sane statement, by any standard other than a perversely speculative one. It is either utterly benign, benevolent, or ill-advised, but it cannot be said to be insane. I think someone who disagrees with me on this is merely being perverse or disagreeable for perversity or disagreeableness's sake.

The second statement, though -- that every person who doesn't follow a given set of precepts will have a more difficult time after they die than those who do -- could easily be uttered by someone who was somehow unable to say anything sane. It doesn't even matter what the given precepts are. It could be "thou shalt not rip thine own face off with a garden rake," or it could be "thou shalt not eat butter on Tuesdays," or it could be "thou shalt take so-and-so as your personal savior," or it could be "be kind." There are any number of actual day-to-day social situations in which such a statement would be understood as insane by the standards of a community of individuals, even those who held similar opinions of the details of a world beyond that in which human beings pursue their day-to-day pursuits of sustaining health and happiness for themselves and their loved ones.

That last statement is nearly indefensible. But I'm going to let it slide.

My assertion is that, "one must follow the laws of Gloinkenshpinkel or be reincarnated as a tormented lobster," could easily be a true statement, but even if true, is not a sane statement. Even if everyone in the world believes it's true, it's not necessarily sane.

I say this with some confidence because I believe there is a growing understanding of the difference between subjective opinions and subjective reality, and that such understanding is becoming a globally shared understanding, spoken of in a lingua franca of its own. Technology is not yet a thing as normal and entrenched in human experience as air. Anyone who can operate in the contemporary world with enough ease to read what I've written here has had to put a certain kind of naïveté about nature and cause-and-effect behind them. They have entered the world where we can all agree that asserting someone is damned is a different kind of activity than asserting someone's right to learn to read.

If one religion is true and all others false, then why did the deity or deities or creative force of that religion make it appear just as likely that humans or the devil made the true religion up as that he or they made up the false ones? Again, I suppose we're back to tests of faith, and assertions about God or the devil tricking people into picking the wrong religion.

Faith is something insane people can have just as well as sane people. But the socially effect combination of kindness and courage and organization and leadership and compassion is really only possible when certain basic standards of the sane -- non-religious, non-poetic, non-mystical descriptions of a shared reality -- are agreed upon.

I don't really believe there's a Secular Humanist god. It's a joke, because the very notion is a paradox. And being a paradox it may be true, and if it were true, the world wouldn't look any different than it does now. The same pertains to how the world would look if any of the other religions are true, too.

Nothing is simple. But let's not play the game that we don't know what a just society that respects everyone's rights to think, learn, and achieve would look like. Let's certainly not allow religious ideologues and social Darwinists to play that game. Things aren't as subjective as all that. We are all human beings, after all, and there are certain similarities from any one to any other of us.

Except David Copperfield. He's magic. No offense to those of you who believe in some other magician. Like that false messiah David Blaine.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!