Monday, May 19, 2014

Humanism is a worldview distinct from religion.

Yesterday I visited the Bell St. Chapel to attend an "Archival Project Reception" entitled, "Bell Street Chapel: 125 years of Respect, Justice, and Spirit" which covers the remarkable history of one of Providence's most unusual churches. While there, I came across the following passage from their May, 2014 newsletter (emphasis mine):
In 1937, in the midst of the Depression, there was a tremendous struggle about the life and future of the chapel. There was strong dissension between the congregation and trustees, with some feeling the chapel was too open to humanism and doubters, and undermined the original trust of James Eddy.

Through appeals and a vision, the chapel, then roughly 70 individuals, committed to building a future, investing in an open, "liberal" faith – and decades later, we are able to gather because people we never met had faith that liberal religion deserved a home in the West End of Providence.
When philanthropist James Eddy first endowed the Bell St Chapel trust, his intention "was that the society would continue its devotion to freedom of thought in religious seeking while giving due credit and allegiance to God." Eddy believed that religion and science were always in accordance, a sort of transcendentalist pantheism that steps right up to the line of reason, atheism and Humanism, but refused to take that important last step into naturalism.

Bell Street's struggle of 1937 reflects the push and pull of rationality and religion. The Humanist Manifesto was signed only four years previously, and while not rejecting the existence of God outright, the Manifesto did allow for the inclusion of atheists and downplayed the importance of supernatural beliefs. 

One can see how a movement towards pure Humanism and the inclusion of "doubters" would cut against Eddy's commitment to "giving due credit and allegiance to God." Likely, there were similar battles throughout the world as Humanism sought to separate itself from liberal supernatural belief systems. Ultimately, Unitarian Universalism would slide back into a comfortable position of being, as one thirteen year old described it to me yesterday, "a religion where you can believe whatever you want" even as Ethical Culture moved away from such concepts of the "ethical manifold" and towards a more purely naturalistic worldview.

The idea of a "rational religion" is at its core oxymoronic. Religion has too long been marinating in supernaturalism to ever completely free itself of irrationality and dualism. This is why Humanism is not a religion. Humanism, when best practiced, is free of the kind of constraints transcendentalists like Eddy might try to impose on it. 

Humanism is a worldview distinct from religion.

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