We are happy to announce that after 5 years we have upgraded to our own domain, neverthoughttoquestion.com. The format and content will stay mostly the same. The hope is to add more interesting humanism and atheism related content, reach more people and create more discussion. The site was created with the hope of sharing ideas and doing our part to make the world a better place. We wanted to fight the good fight, even if in the end it only amounted to a just a drop in the bucket. It’s been a great 5 years with a couple of breaks but now it’s time for a bigger, better contribution to this crazy but amazing thing called life.
One of the more difficult things for a humanist or unbeliever of any kind is finding hope and meaning. We covered it briefly before in hope and meaning but only began to explore it. Daily life is stressful and people are sometimes bad to us in different ways. The news brings doom and gloom reporting everyday and unless you are lucky enough to have a optimistic mind faith in humanity can be very hard to have. Faith in humanity, however, is still important to try and have if we are to succeed as individuals and as a collective.
Unbelievers know that faith is no reason to believe in anything because it is literally a belief held without evidence and accepting something without evidence is at the very least a risky thing to do. So why faith in humanity? Because we can, ironically, prove humanity is often worth believing in. Faith may be the wrong word because we have evidence that people are capable of great things. This possibility is where believers and unbelievers can find hope.
It’s certainly hard to find good things in the midst of all the chaos and misery that the news brings us but here are a couple of my favorites:
- http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/ Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life.
- http://www.sunnyskyz.com/good-news A few annoying pop ups now but still pretty good
- https://www.nasa.gov/ Space exploration is always positive and a humbling. The Hubble site is pretty great as well
There are also some good news sites that are at least mostly, if not entirely, unbiased as well.
There are many good news sources but unfortunately you need to do your homework to find the good ones. By good ones I mean ones that even when delivering bad news are neutral in their reporting and avoid dramatizing and exaggerating and are free of political and other kinds of bias.
Humanity is truly capable of amazing things. This list is a good example. What constitutes great things is sometimes a matter of definition though. For example one of the ways I define great is humanity’s ability to survive despite the human condition. Despite wars, disease, political and economic turmoil and weapons of mass destruction we are still going strong. The good in humanity is out there. It is a shame you have to look past media culture’s tendency towards sharing bad things but faith in humanity is possible and once you know where to look it is a whole lot healthier.
In summary faith in humanity is possible but one must sometimes deliberately see past all the negative in modern culture, especially on the web. A surprising amount of good news and positivism is out there and hope is alive you just gotta look for it.
Altruism, like the core humanism value compassion, is a state of caring for another person’s well being (applies to animal’s and sometimes even things or places too). Altruism, however, goes one step further and says that our compassion should also involve self sacrifice. In fact, altruism goes so far as to say that people have a moral obligation to place other people’s interest above their own. According to altruism it’s also important that our self sacrifice be done without any desire for praise or reward. This kind of selfless giving to others is held by many as the highest form of compassion.
Auguste Comte is credited with first creating the idea, or at least making it popular.
“The sacred formula of positivism: love as a principle, the order as a foundation, and progress as a goal.” ― Auguste Comte
Comte felt we are actually born with this obligation. Altruist’s, generally speaking, envision a utopian society where everyone selflessly makes sacrifices to help each other achieve health and happiness.
Questions like what constitutes self sacrifice? When does your self-sacrifice obligate others to, in turn, help you and is it moral to obligate them in such a manner? What if someone doesn’t want or need help? and so on have been discussed at length. In fact altruism has had it’s fair share of critics:
Nietzsche: Nietzsche argued that altruism is detrimental to the self. He felt that wanting to sacrifice yourself meant you had no self worth (you don’t want to help yourself). He thought it to be nothing more then a glorified type of pity:
Pity is the practice of nihilism. To repeat: this depressive and contagious instinct crosses those instincts which aim at the preservation of life and at the enhancement of its value. It multiplies misery and conserves all that is miserable, and is thus a prime instrument of the advancement of decadence: pity persuades men to nothingness!”
— Nietzsche, The Antichrist
Ayn Rand: Rand also felt that self sacrifice for the sake of others was connected to low self-worth. She said that altruism violates a person’s right to self-direction and robs us of the feeling of accomplishment that goes with accomplishing one’s own goals.
“Altruism permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man—a man who supports his own life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others…it permits no concept of benevolent co-existence among men…it permits no concept of justice”
These criticisms are indeed valid. If one sacrifices themselves to the detriment of themselves then, in an altruistic society, others would have to help them. Critics of altruism rightfully state that when we help ourselves, if we are good people, others around us benefit. For example, if I made more money I would be able to give more to charity and be more be sure my children have everything they need. Or when I make myself healthier I am less of a burden of the health care system and my loved ones won’t have to worry about me as much.
True altruism is also unrealistic. Humanity, in it’s present form, is not prepared for a truly altruistic society. Bad people would take this for granted, sometimes with disastrous results. Some one could, for example, use their charm to convince an altruistic person do things with no intention of also doing things for someone else. It then becomes a matter of the selfish abusing the altruistic, robbing them of hard earned money or time. In extreme cases the altruistic person could end up in financial trouble or their personal lives in shambles from neglecting their own responsibilities. Thus altruism, like many things, must be used in moderation or risk abuse and ruin at the hands of the selfish and unethical.
In summary altruism is indeed the ideal form of compassion and in many cases a noble characteristic but would cause suffering at the hands of the dark side of humanity. Altruism is also a danger to autonomy and self-direction. Thus this blog rejects altruism except in cases where sound judgement is used (is this a danger to me? Is this person taking me for granted?…etc).
There are a lot of self-righteous charity videos that are a transparent attempt at attention or fundraising for something not charity related. Some of these videos are corny and cliche and overdone but this is not one of them. These guys spent a week living on the street to raise money for the homeless and then actually used it to give to the homeless in a very heartwarming way.
When any person makes a claim we have the right to ask for proof. Proof can come in many forms and what constitutes as acceptable varies from situation to situation. However, the burden of proof is always on the person(s) making the claim. If it were not this way we would open the floodgates to believing anything, no matter how absurd. This, in turn, can have dangerous results.
We could try to disprove a claim if we wanted to. If someone, for example, were to claim leprechauns exist we might cite lack of evidence or show that show that leprechauns have only ever appeared in works of fiction. However, is not up to us prove their non-existence and we can rightfully dismiss it until the claimant shows us acceptable proof.
Proving a negative
When a person says something like ‘you can’t prove leprechauns don’t exist’, they are asking you to prove a negative. This is sometimes called shifting the burden of proof. If we allow this all a person has to do is make any claim, no matter how absurd, and say it is true because the other person hasn’t or can not prove it’s not true. We have no reason to accept a claim until proof is provided and it is not the responsibility of the respondent to prove it’s non-existence. A famous example is Russell’s teapot.
Proving a negative also demands that a person be omniscient. In order to prove that something doesn’t exist we would require knowledge of all possible things at once (omniscience)
“…to know that a X does not exist would require a perfect knowledge of all things (omniscience). To attain this knowledge you would require simultaneous access to all parts of the world and beyond (omnipresence). Therefore, to be certain of the claim that X does not exist one would have to possess abilities that are non-existent.” (2)
Thus, asking a person to prove a negative rejects reason and asks the impossible. Requiring proof, especially on important matters, is just smart. For example, if you had a loved one who was hurt and I said I want to pour my magic potion on them to make them better you would want to know what is and be provided pretty solid proof it works without side effects before you allow me to try and treat your loved one with it. You certainly wouldn’t let me go ahead if I said ‘You can’;t prove this doesn’t work’. Exceptional claims like a cure for cancer or mental illness, the existence of alien life, the existence of God…etc. would require exceptional evidence and can’t be accepted simply because someone said you can’t prove they don’t work/exist…etc.
It’s been two years since my last post, that’s a long time. I have decided to change this into a full .com website and resume posting once or twice a week. I will update the atheism library and start one for humanism. There is a lot of ground to cover and as always it’s a crazy, mixed up world so there are lots of things to write about. The hope, going forward, is to focus on the positive effects of humanism and the sciences. There are some serious problems with what we hear in the news so this blog will also be starting a little more inquiry into some of the things in the news that are suspect, bias…etc. Have an idea? drop us a line a we appreciate the help/feedback.
I used to be a very spiritual person. I considered myself to be a Buddhist, believed in God (in a deistic kind of way) and meditated a lot. Now I’m a secular humanist. I reject the idea of God as possible or even knowable. I also find religion to be unhealthy and unnecessary for anything vital to human existence (with a few exceptions in the present). A psychologist friend said to me one day that being spiritual and being a humanist are not mutually exclusive. (After, I might add, a lengthy discussion on the topic) Turns out, she may be right about that.
Looking at why being spiritual is different than being religious will help bring an understanding as to why being spiritual is compatible with being a humanist.
The word itself derives from the Latin root spiritus, which means ‘breath’—referring to the breath of life. Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel defined spirit and mind synonymously. In modern culture it has two popular meanings. The first defines spirit as some kind of non-corporeal entity that exists inside and/or outside of the material world. Spirit is also popularly defined as a life force of some kind (i.e. has has great spirit).
However you define spirit that doesn’t really help us understand what it means to be spiritual. It has a secular and non-secular meaning. In the religious sense being spiritual means pursuing a lifestyle and values as defined by that particular religion. For the secular it means a’ …non-religious quest for spirituality also includes identifying oneself as part of a larger community, as well as developing a vital, enthusiastic involvement with nature, the arts, and science. Here spiritual fulfillment equates with feeling fully, vibrantly alive and connected to others, as well as to our broader environment.’ (source). To be spiritual can take on quite a personal definition as well, from lofty religious piety to something as simple tending to your garden or adding a stamp to your collection.
Psychologists are divided on the issue ‘On one end of the spectrum, most of mainstream psychology does not concern itself with issues of consciousness and spirit and rejects what is not scientifically quantifiable. On the other end, many contemporary spiritual traditions view the psyche as an unreal construct and believe that psychological work is an indulgent reinforcement of the story of the false self.’ (source) However most psychologists do recognize the benefit of spiritual practice. Some even go so far as to advocate its use as a means of psychotherapy. Maslow felt spiritual awakening ranked even above self-actualization. Following Carl Jung and Williams James’ suggestion of its importance psychologists like Victor Frankl and Otto Rank helped form transpersonal psychology which Ken Wilber described as: ‘ those deeper or higher aspects of human experience that transcend the ordinary and the average—experiences that are, in other words, ‘transpersonal’ or ‘more than personal,’
The ambiguity of the word but the importance of its existence has lead us to many different things being passed off as spiritual, attaching an aura of mystery to everyday things such emotions, ideas and the natural world. Out of this combining of existential pondering and psychology we get what is called ‘new age’ spirituality. While new age spiritual pursuits are mostly harmless there are some valid criticisms of it:
- Pseudo-science: Pawning off everything from feng shui, to magical crystals and astrology charts that promise the world and actually do nothing at all.
- Religious cherry picking: Taking bits and pieces from various religions like angels, God and other kinds of archaic nonsense religion has brought the world and ignoring the rest.
- Self-Absorption: New age beliefs are very egocentric (my body, my future, my success, my health, my relationships…etc.) and it has a love of pretentious language
New age beliefs do sometimes come close to the mark in their treatment of psychology. Self-improvement and the pursuit of meaning are necessary if we are to survive with our sanity intact. However these pursuits can be done without the pseudo-science and the scams. In fact some would argue that the pursuit truth is itself very spiritual.
On the difference between being spiritual and being religious the Dalai Lama said:
I believe there is an important distinction to be made between religion and spirituality. Religion I take to be concerned with faith in the claims to salvation of one faith tradition or another, an aspect of which is acceptance of some form of metaphysical or supernatural reality, including perhaps an idea of heaven or nirvana. Connected with this are religious teachings or dogma, rituals, prayer and so on. Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony which bring happiness to both self and others. While ritual and prayer, along with the questions of nirvana and salvation, are directly connected with religious faith, these inner qualities need not be, however. There is thus no reason why the individual should not develop them, even to a high degree, without recourse to any religious or metaphysical belief system. This is why I sometimes say that religion is something we can perhaps do without. What we cannot do without are these basic spiritual qualities.”
So, is humanism compatible with being spiritual? Absolutely. In fact, you can even find some who define themselves as religious humanists such as Ethical Culturalism or the Universal Unitarians. Wherever it is you find meaning and hope, to whatever it is that helps you get through life, you’d be surprised just how spiritual that might be no matter how secular you are.