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Symbols, Gods, and Humanists

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It is a common mistake to assume that humanism is an atheistic “ism.” We Humanists tend to have unconventional ideas of deity, but not only (or even primarily) negative ones. There is no pope of Humanism. Practices vary. Humanist honor every person and every person’s attempts to find meaning and purpose in this life, including trying on various styles of “god.” 

For example, I have a book of poetry published in the late-nineteenth century by two Unitarian ministers, Frederick Hosmer and William Gannett. The title is The Thought of God: Hymns and Poems.

No, they aren’t declaring what God thinks, as some of their fundamentalist fellow-ministers were and still are declaring. Rather, for Hosmer and Gannett, the contemplation of the god-symbol and god-concept are the stuff of imagination, just as Dante has Beatrice doing in Paradise. 

The poem begins: 

One thought I have, my ample creed,

So deep it is and broad,

And equal to my every need,—

It is the thought of God.

To them, thinking of God is enough of creed. An attractive thought, but it can’t be true, can it? Both men were ordained Unitarian ministers who had studied the radical side of Protestant theology. Their God wants only good things for “his” people.

But what happens when “god” begins to order war, mob violence, female genital mutilation?

As a Humanist, I dismiss those sorts of thoughts concerning God as damaging social concepts. 

As the Revs. Hosmer and Gannett well knew, the question of a god is a question of symbolic thinking, meaning an object, sign, image, or word that represents, stands for, or suggests an idea, belief, action, or entity beyond its literal meaning.

So, yes, “god” is a symbol before we begin, then, we continue to add “things,” don’t we? Such attributes as “powerful” or “jealous” or loving or just. Those sorts of things that we “like” in our god.

The very manipulability of the symbol is what I find dangerous about it.

I practice my Humanism as a religion of no-religion, by which I mean that I accept those things that are considered “real” through common objective reasoning (by “reasoning” I mean mental focus.) This “reality,” plus each person’s individual, subjective exploration of human consciousness, is what I mean by “common reality.”

Humanists don’t think big profound thoughts, then? 

Many Humanists are what is nowadays termed “religious naturalists,” meaning that that our “thoughts of god” is of nature itself. 

As a Humanist, I say that “the sacred” is human beings gathered in relationship. 

Humanism is a worldview that claims that we as human beings are responsible for the well-being of other humans, other living beings, and the planet. Humanism is about taking responsibility, even though our human capacities to fix the world are limited. This is a question of human agency that is not “allowed” by some conceptions of the gods.

But if not we, who?

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