Image via WikipediaBy Mriana
I was born in May 1966, a few months before the Star Trek Original Series came on TV. From the very first episode, my mother watched it, with me on her lap nursing, without knowing or at least not comprehending the Roddenberry’s underlying message, which even Majel confirmed that Gene did use the media to convey a message to the public. I attribute this message as being part of what kept me holding on to some sanity, even though I did not figure out what the philosophy was until I stumbled onto it in my teens. This gift, which I now hold dear, was taken from me, by my mother, even before I had a chance to claim it as my own, but it was not lost forever, even though it became a long journey to make my way back to it again. I guess you could say I grew into their philosophy and they indirectly helped raised me. Maybe I did not better humanity in some manner, but I was struggling to better myself and it was indeed a struggle.
I read Sam Harris’s “End of Faith” and Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion”, but it left me flat and caused me to ask, “But what are alternatives to theism that are fulfilling and satisfying, without dehumanizing the individual?” I know my search is not one size fits all nor would I think to impose it on anyone either, but it helped me and I feel it could give people, who are looking for an alternative philosophy some ideas to shorten their own search for meaning and recovery from Evangelicalism.
If I was ever going to recover from the damage of Evangelicalism, as well as what my elders had done, I had to work on loving myself first, fulfilling my own needs, in an effort to better myself. I am not going to bore people with my long journey out of theism, but rather my path to living life more fully without superstitions. However, I did learn from Bishop Spong to look at the subject of religion in a different way than the one in which I was raised. Even so, I will go from A to C, covering very little, if any, of B, except to say, that I do not agree with everything Spong says, yet he did say some things that caught my attention a few years ago. He made statements such as “theism is dead”, “Living fully, loving wastefully, and being all that we can be,” and that we need to strive to be fully human.
What does that mean? How do we go about learning what it means to be fully human? While some Humanists look towards the religious to find out what it means to be human, I turned to Humanists in order to become fully human. Mind you, I am not there yet and I doubt it is humanly possible to do so completely, because few of us know what it means to be fully human. The thing is Spong said many things, even in his books that sounded like humanism. Therefore, I wrote him one day a few years ago, without even admitting that I had left the Episcopal Church and became a Humanist, to ask him about his statements that sounded very much like humanism. His response to me was, “Mriana, Humanism is not anti-Christian or anti-God. It is through the human that we experience the Holy, the Other. The Divine is the ultimate depth of the human.”
This Christian humanist, or humanistic Christian, was encouraging and his words said to me, that if I had admitted to being a Humanist in the fullest sense of the word, he would not be offended as many other Christians are. However, Spong did say in a different letter, which I complained to him about my mother and her religious views, “Love your mother. She is acting out of the higher she has. What she needs is more love.” Oh, that last is very difficult given her theistic attitudes and dogma, but still, it was through Humanism that I learned to love myself. One has to love themselves before they can love others and in order to that, they sometimes need to recover from what other humans have done to them. In a process of reason, compassion, and education that contributes to bettering themselves and maybe others, of course. I would say science, but for me it goes beyond just science and while therapy helped, it was not until I returned to the philosophy of humanism that I recovered from an eating disorder. No, I would not use the word “cured”. The word ‘cured’ is not an accurate term, but I no longer have the obsessive-compulsive behaviours of one with anorexia. Yet humanism is a non-theistic worldview that helped and it continues to help me to this day. The recovery from an eating disorder was only the beginning, because Humanism is not the end of a long struggle away from religious ideology and dogma, but rather a beginning. It is, for me, a sense of freedom to study religion critically, as well as any other subject that applies to the human condition. It is a freedom to acquire knowledge and to think for oneself, which I seem to crave greatly.
Another thing is Humanism is concerned with life, not the afterlife, which I was not actually living at the time. For me, it changes the focus of life greatly and gives it a richer meaning, without constant struggle to appease others or muddle through the misery that comes with theism. Instead of some deity being the center of things, the human is at the center and no one is forced to believe any ideology, creeds, or dogmas. This is something that is missing from the Christianity I knew, because it denied the “human-being-ness” of the individual. There is no denial of scientific discovery in favour of superstition and one is free to express themselves as long as it does not degrade others or take away human dignity. The last thing, or rather the best thing, is self-fulfilment. Now that is something you will not hear much of in various religious ideology. Instead, there is no god or master to serve or please, but rather one has to please themselves in order to be fully human. This is not to say one does not serve their community or society. On the contrary, humans are social creatures and dehumanizing others does not help anyone reach their full potential. However, there has to be the freedom for everyone to better themselves as well as humanity as a whole, but one has to stand on their own two feet without any reliance on the supernatural, facing the present and future with courage and confidence (see "Humanism: Beliefs and Practices", by Jeaneane Fowler or see: http://humanisteducation.com/index.html RSP100 course).
While perfection is impossible an individual, and humanity itself, should be free to choose goals that are conducive to progress. Thus, humanism is positive, something I need to assist me in reaching my full potential, instead of the negativity of religious dogma. Referring back to Fowler, “the essential element of the human being is ego, that ingredient of the human being that is all “I” centered.” “…for Humanists it is not something to be denied in order to reach some kind of ultimate knowledge and state of equilibrium that transcends the world, as in much eastern thought. Nor is it something that has to be subjected to divine will as in western religious thought.” Something I needed greatly, but Fowler goes on to say much more, including, “But it could be argued that without love and respect of self, how can the human being extend love and respect to others? Self-denial and self-humility are not the ingredients of a balanced person in the eyes of many Humanists. Human consciousness is of necessity egoistic identity, and to operate in life without ego is impossible. It is ego that is bound up in feelings and emotions of individuals and these are essential ingredients of humanity, not disposable ones.” To a person with even a minimal knowledge of psychology, this makes sense and the sense of self-worth was one of many ingredients I did not have. I did not have a sense of self at all for that matter, because I buried my own feelings for so many years and they were coming out in the form of depression and self-starvation. My id and super-ego were well developed, but there was nothing in between to balance the two, so there was a constant struggle between the id and super-ego with no fully developed mediator in between to balance the two.
This is pure Freudian psychology, granted, but recall what I mentioned about one’s development being stunted by abuse in my previous blog? Well, the superego develops between three and six years of age, while the ego is suppose to emerge in early infancy, and the id is found at birth. The ego, the conscious, rational part of the personality ensures the id’s needs, which are biological needs and desires, are satisfied in accordance with reality. The superego, or seat of conscience, contains values of society and is often in conflict with the id’s desires. The superego also develops from interactions with parents, who eventually insist that children control their biological impulses. Once the superego is formed, the ego is faced with the increasingly complex task of reconciling the demands of the id, the external world, and the conscience. In essence, my ego was stunted into pleasing the external social world to avoid harm from others, while my id demanded to be heard, metaphorically of course. My ego could not please the id as it strived to satisfy the superego’s ever-demanding insistence to make sure others were pleased to avoid angering them. Therefore, whatever happened to my own ego was not the norm and it did not develop, as it should. Luckily, our brains have plasticity, even in adulthood, and with effort, we can change our thinking processes.
If I was ever going to recover from the damage of Evangelicalism, as well as what my elders had done, I had to work on loving myself first, fulfilling my own needs, in an effort to better myself. The psychology degree I acquired, after my first divorce and while my sons were toddlers, was not going to do me any good, anywhere, no matter how impressive my grades are, until I worked on my own wellbeing. In a sense, the philosophy I claimed for myself was assisting me to get the mote out of my own eye. It still is for that matter. Something that theism could never do for me. Humanism, for me, is a change in my own cognitive thinking, which I call self-cognitive therapy. It was the final tool, I needed, to break free of the psychological damage that religious dogma and abuse did to my life. However, living in the Bible Belt and having relatives who are Evangelicals, I am not free from religious dogma. I don’t know if moving else where, even if I had the means to do so, would solve that problem, but other places have more Humanists, even Humanist organizations, which could also be beneficial, at least for me.
One could say I exchanged one religion for another, but Humanism is not a religion. It is a philosophy and way of life, which is dependent on reason and compassion, starting with oneself. If I was going to live this one and only life I have, I had to make changes, starting with my thinking. I made a complete overhaul of my own life as threw out those things that appalled me. Oddly enough, the first was following Mother Kathy’s advice. She was one of the Episcopal priests I ranted to about the paganism in Christianity that upset me so badly, such as the crucifixion, Maundy Thursday, the theophagy called communion, and all the other revolting bloody horrors. She did not deny any of my accusations concerning Christianity. Instead, she said, not in a hateful manner, but in a matter of a fact way, “If it upsets you so much, don’t participate.” My response to her was, “But what would other people think?” I was people pleasing again, yet she did not accuse me of that. Instead, she pointed out that not everyone partakes of communion or other rituals. Of course, I eventually took it further than she was suggesting, but since I could not believe any of it nor could I ever tolerate such violent and barbaric rituals, it all went. Religion as a lip service to others was out the door. It had to be my choice as to what I do believe, but no one died for my sins nor did I ever want such a barbaric ritual in the first place. Regardless of my decision, we are still friends today.
Secondly, was the aforementioned overabundance of people pleasing. There is a time and a place for that, but not on a constant basis and as a constant means to avoid people’s anger or any other violent action. It was time to decide what I want in life that would make me happy. Starting with my choice of what I do believe. Humanism is an affirmation of what I believe, instead of what I don’t believe. It is less confrontational than saying, “I don’t believe in the god of religion” or “I do not believe in the barbaric crucifixion or the supernatural zombie resurrection of Jesus Christ.” I’m sure people get the idea and there is a time and a place to express my feelings about religion too. I don’t need to tell liberal Christians that I don’t believe, but sometimes there is that annoying Fundie that just gets your goat. That is when expressing one’s feelings in a manner that is diplomatic can come in handy. Confrontation is not my thing, but I am slowly learning to speak my mind in a manner, which I can hope does not cause more friction, even if it would be easier to just to relocate.
The next steps were focused on human needs, especially my own, and attempt to label what I felt or wanted when needed or I was not going to better myself. I could not place everything outside myself, because it was not out there, but rather it is within me. Every thought, feeling, and desire I had to claim as my own, which included my philosophy. I had to focus on what is human, even acknowledge other humans, in a positive manner even though I was never an unfriendly person, in the process. This meant, I could not allow myself to fear other people’s reactions, which is still sometimes a difficult one. The list goes on and on, but it is all in keeping with Humanism, and I am still learning what it means to be human. I have not stopped learning just because I claimed humanism for myself, without the pressure of others. Eventually, I learned live life, enjoy the only life I have, as well as find meaning and beauty in it.
I also found new meaning in helping others, because I wanted to see them succeed. For example, I am not actually into politics, but during the primaries, our current president gave a speech that acknowledged people, not just some people, but all U.S. citizens. I knew, without a doubt, I wanted him as our president and it was the first time I got involved, by going to door-to-door and making phone calls. I ran into hateful people and was concerned my candidate would lose, but I did not give up and it was not just because of what Obama said, but rather my own desire to better humanity, which I felt Obama could help achieve that goal. In the end, I was part of making history that my sons can share with their children, which I never considered before I saw that he won and I did not get involved because Obama is charismatic, but because I wanted to assist in helping him achieve his goal. Therefore, the philosophy and goals are ideals that one can share with others, even if they are not Humanists, and especially if they are working for the greater good of humanity.
To make a long story short, because there is far more to the subject that could be potentially beneficial for others, once I returned to Humanism and claimed it as mine, it began a course of self-discovery and self-wellbeing, because it began a process of self-psychology without theism, which was very much dead for me. While Humanism was not what lead me out of religious theology and belief, it did become a new beginning and was for me an alternative, one that saved my life and I attribute the Roddenberrys for showing me the way at an early age. I went through a lot in between, but there was still that human drive within myself to keep living in order to find a new philosophy to live by and acquire what I needed in order to become whole. For me, it was a gift the Roddenberrys gave me, over four decades ago; long before they both died, and they left it open for me to choose when I was ready, unlike my Fundamgelical relatives with their brand of Christianity. What greater welcoming gift can one give an infant, knowingly or unknowingly, than to hand them the keys to what it means to be human? I only had to reach out and grab those keys, which I snatched them long before I left theism, but it took time to gain the courage to use them. I know I have the human potential, as well as the courage, to be all that I can be, to love wastefully, live life fully, and become fully human. Along the way, I hope to help others find themselves, regardless of the means one achieve this, and while Humanism may not be for everyone, it could very well be for others who are searching for some alternative that will be meaningful and helpful for them.
Some people find themselves, as well as meaning in life, through Buddhism, while others find themselves via other means. However, atheism, agnosticism, or non-theism alone is not something I find therapeutic for myself and I doubt I am alone in this thinking. Thus, I find books that do not give alternatives to theism rather unfulfilling and do not help to give meaning to an individual. After reading such books, I want to make my voice heard and say, “Suggest alternatives to religion or they will never leave it, even if they want to leave it”. Non-theism, agnosticism, and alike words only state what I do not believe, but Humanism says what I do believe, which is the potential of all human beings to strive to better themselves and others, which brings us back to the old Star Trek mantra, “We strive to better ourselves and work for the greater good of humanity”. What better way to live a fulfilling life or more life affirming than those two basic goals, which are in the Humanist Manifesto?